Friday, November 27, 2015
Song:Rock Of Ages
Album:Vault: Def Leppard Greatest Hits
Though Def Leppard had their highest level of chart success in the late 80s with hits like Pour Some Sugar On Me, it's unlikely they would have had that level of success without earlier hits like Rock Of Ages to establish them. They were formed in 1977 as Atomic Mass in Sheffield, England by guitarist Pete Willis, bassist Rick Savage and drummer Tony Kenning. Joe Elliott joined as lead singer and he brought the name Deaf Leopard which was changed to Def Leppard in tribute to Led Zeppelin. Guitarist Steve Clark joined in 1978 and Kenning was replaced by Rick Allen. Willis was fired for alcoholism in 1982 and replaced by Phil Collen. And that was the lineup through the 80s. Def Leppard signed with Mercury Records and had immediate success when their 1980 debut album All Through The Night was certified Platinum. But things picked up for them when Robert "Mutt" Lange became their producer. It was during the recording of the 1983 album Pyromania that Collen replaced Willis. The singles Photograph and Rock Of Ages hit the top 20 and fueled album sales. Pyromania was certified 10XPlatinum. MTV's constant play of Rock Of Ages was a factor too. The song has biblical roots as Joe Elliott based the lyrics on the hymn Rock Of Ages. When Def Leppard went to record their next album, Lange wasn't available. They brought in Meat Loaf producer Jim Steinman. Then Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash. Instead of replacing him, a setup was rigged so he could play with one arm. When the Steinman sessions weren't working, Lange returned, scrapped those recordings and produced the 1987 album Hysteria. One would think the time gap would have hurt them but it didn't. Hysteria was an even bigger hit and so were the singles Pour Some Sugar On Me and Love Bites. And again MTV was a huge factor as they played the videos a lot. Their next album Adrenalize wasn't released until 1992 due to Clark's alcoholism and 1991 death. But Def Leppard continued and they are still around today. You can get all their 80s hits on this comp. They released a new CD in Sept. and they are on tour in England. They will tour the US in the new year. Here's the video for Rock Of Ages by Def Leppard.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
Album:Pippin: Original Cast Album
Though he has had success in films and TV, Ben Vereen started out on Broadway and won a Tony award for his role as Leading Player in the Stephen Schwartz show Pippin. He was born Oct. 10, 1946 in Miami and he grew up in Brooklyn, NY. Vereen was adopted but he didn't know that when he was a child. His dad was a church deacon so Vereen grew up in the church choir. He attended New York's High School for the Performing Arts. Vereen took odd jobs while trying to get established on Broadway. His big break came when Bob Fosse hired him for the touring company of Sweet Charity. Vereen also appeared in the 1969 film. He appeared in Hair and he was understudy for Sammy Davis Jr. in the London production of Golden Boy. Then he was nominated for a Tony for playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. Pippin was Stephen Schwartz's first Broadway musical. If you're wondering about Godspell, that was off-Broadway. Like Godspell, Pippin is an ancient tale told in a modern setting. Motown financed the production. The title character Pippin was played by actor John Rubenstein. Bob Fosse choreographed the show so he already knew Vereen. The show was a huge success and Vereen won a Tony award. It led him to films and TV. Vereen appeared in the 1975 film Funny Lady and Bob Fosse's 1979 film All That Jazz. But his biggest success was as Chicken George in the 1977 landmark mini series Roots. Vereen was nominated for an Emmy. He also hosted a brief variety series on NBC. And he recorded two albums in the mid-70s with producers Bert DeCoteaux and Tony Silvester on Buddah Records which have never been released on CD. Those two guys were hotshot producers in the 70s. He continued to appear on TV in the 80s including a 1981 TV production of Pippin. Vereen was a regular on the sitcom Webster. But mostly he has done guest shots on episodic TV and appear in occasional films. After he was nearly killed in a 1992 car accident, Vereen returned to Broadway in the musical Jelly's Last Jam. Today he still does TV guest shots on shows like How I Met Your Mother and Hot In Cleveland. He also released a live CD in 2010 on Ghostlight, a Broadway specialty label. Here's Ben Vereen performing Glory in the 1981 TV production of Pippin. This is available on DVD.
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Song:Rock Me Amadeus
Rock Me Amadeus was one of the more curious number one hits in pop music history. Falco was a big pop star in Europe, especially Germany. He was born Johann Holzel Feb. 19, 1957 in Vienna, Austria. He showed musical talent as a child but he had problems in school and left at age 16. He briefly studied at the Vienna Music Conservatory but he left and played clubs with his jazz rock band. Then he took the name Falco after an Austrian ski jumper. He was in a few bands, most notably the punk band Drahdiwerbl who had some success locally. Falco was spotted by producer Markus Spiegel who signed Falco to a solo record deal with his label GIG Records. Distribution was by CBS in Europe and by A & M in the US. Falco had immediate success in Europe with the single Der Kommissar. An English cover was a hit for After The Fire in the US. When Falco's second album wasn't as successful as his first, he decided to write in English. He also hired the Dutch duo Bolland & Bolland to produce. Brothers Rob and Ferdi Bolland were successful recording artists in Europe. Rock Me Amadeus was inspired by Milos Forman's hit film Amadeus which of course was about Mozart. There's nothing much to the song. It's a repetitive hook with Falco reciting facts about Mozart. It's not singing but it's not really rapping either. Somehow the record caught on and it topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1985. I guess it proves that a good hook is all one needs to have a hit record. Also, the video was played a lot on MTV. His follow up single Vienna Calling reached the top 20. And the album Falco 3 reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 200. That was it for Falco in the US. But he continued to have success in Europe into the 90s. You can get all his hits on this budget comp. Falco was on holidays in the Dominican Republic when his car collided with a bus. He died instantly on Feb. 6, 1998 at age 40. Tests showed Falco was under the influence of drugs and alcohol when he died. He was planning a comeback at the time. Here's the video for Rock Me Amadeus by Falco.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
I got the idea for this column while watching Charlotte defend the WWE Divas Championship against Paige on last night's RAW. The ending and post match stuff was particularly lame and leads me to believe that though the WWE is trying to sell this as a revolution, Vince McMahon's decades old preconceptions about women's wrestling are still in effect. And that is that women wrestlers can't do the same things the guys do. The match itself was OK but nothing special. It wasn't any better or worse than Sunday's Survivor Series match. The WWE is still under the false impression that if they give these women longer matches, the match quality will improve. But that depends who the wrestlers are. At this point in her career, Charlotte is unable to deliver a four star match. But they insist on pushing her for other reasons. As we have seen with Roman Reigns, the WWE fails to learn from their mistakes. Fans simply won't accept a top babyface being forced on them. It puts Charlotte in an untenable position. She can't succeed. And as we saw at last week's contract signing, she's getting desperate and it backfired on her. At this point, they need to get the belt off of her. But as I said a couple of months ago, she never should have been put in this position in the first place and going back to NXT would probably help her in the long run. I thought they might get the belt off of her last night. But instead they did a lame double countout followed by Paige applying her PTO (Scorpion Crosslock) finisher on the announce table. Double lame. It's the second time they have had Paige do that. When any of the guys use the announce table, it's usually for a choke slam or something similar. It looks painful but once the monitors are removed, the table collapses easily. I can only assume that Vince believes that women shouldn't do those moves on the table. We know some of them can do those high impact moves because Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley have done them on NXT. But Vince's sexist double standard still rules on the main roster. Until that changes, the Divas Revolution will continue to sputter. Of course Michael Cole tries to sell the Paige's move as devastating. No one buys that. After it was widely criticized the first time they had Paige do that move on the table, one would think they wouldn't repeat it. I can only assume they like the visual and one thing Charlotte is good at is screaming in pain. But it doesn't make any sense for Paige to use that move on the table. Her DDT variation would be more effective. But it doesn't come with the same aesthetic. Check out last night's match for yourself.
Album:The Best Of Najee
Smooth jazz sax player Jerome Najee Rasheed has been very successful since Sweet Love was his debut single in 1986. I'm not a big smooth jazz fan because it's too watered down for me. But it's a big market so I don't fault Najee for going that route. He was born Nov. 4, 1957 in New York City. His guitarist brother Fareed Abdul Haqq was Najee's manager and part of his band for the early part of his career. Najee's father died when he was four years old so he was raised by his mom. He learned to play clarinet as a child and he listened to his mom's jazz records. He learned tenor sax in the Jazzmobile program from Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster and Ernie Wilkins. After graduating high school, Fareed suggested that Najee use the soprano sax as his main instrument. Najee has acknowledged that Grover Washington Jr. was the main reason he went the smooth jazz route. Najee toured with Chaka Khan in the early 80s and his solos got the attention of veteran producer Charlie Elgart who had worked with other smooth jazz artists. Najee signed with Capitol Records. Najee's Theme was his 1986 debut album and his cover of Anita Baker's Sweet Love was the first single. It was very successful and it earned Najee a Grammy nomination. Najee recorded for Capitol until 1995. His final album was Najee Plays Songs From The Key Of Life: A Tribute To Stevie Wonder produced by George Duke. This budget comp was released in 1998 and it covers Najee's Capitol recordings. After one album for Verve Forecast, Najee recorded several albums for Heads Up. He currently records for Shanachie and his latest CD You, Me and Forever was released earlier this year. Najee's CDs top the jazz charts consistently so he obviously has a loyal fanbase. And he's always on tour as he is now. I just don't think it's real jazz. Here's Najee performing Sweet Love 1991.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Album:Welcome To Mali
You may have heard of Amadou & Mariam as "the blind couple from Mali". They have been recording since the 90s but became more popular after World Circuit/Nonesuch released the 2008 album Welcome To Mali in the US. They now tour the annual festival circuit. Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met in 1976 at Mali's Institute for the Young Blind. Amadou lost his sight due to cataracts. Mariam lost her sight as a child due to measles. Amadou was already an experienced musician when they met. They married in 1980 and started performing together. They moved to the Ivory Coast and performed at African music festivals. They moved to Paris in 1996 and signed with Polygram's EmArcy label. They had success in France and they worked with Latin music star Manu Chao on the 2004 album Dimanche a Bamako. Things picked up when they participated in Blur lead singer Damon Albarn's Africa Express concert. This got the attention of World Circuit Records owner Nick Gold. He signed Amadou & Mariam and Albarn produced the 2008 CD Welcome To Mali. Sabali was the lead single. They made their US TV debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The album did well considering that this will never be mainstream music. But they have mixed traditional Mali music with electronic music techniques. An album of Amadou & Mariam remixes was released in 2011. Their latest CD Folila was released in 2012 and it featured a guest appearance by Santigold. They toured over the summer and it might be time to work on a new album. Here's the video for Sabali by Amadou & Mariam.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Song:Pack Up Your Sorrows
Album:Pack Up Your Sorrows: Best Of The Vanguard Years
Richard Farina was a big part of New York's Greenwich Village folk music scene in the early 60s. He is best known for his recordings with his wife Mimi Farina. He is somewhat forgotten today because of his premature death. But several of his songs have become folk music standards. He was born Mar. 8, 1937 in Brooklyn, NY. Farina began writing while majoring in English at Cornell University and he became friends with Peter Yarrow later of Peter, Paul and Mary. Of course this led him to Greenwich Village and the folk music scene. Farina met folksinger Carolyn Hester and married her 18 days later. She had a contract with Columbia Records so he became her manager. She went out on tour and he worked on his novel. When Bob Dylan played harmonica on Carolyn's 1961 album Carolyn Hester, Farina and Dylan became pals. This also led to Dylan signing with Columbia. Farina traveled to Europe where he met 17 year old Mimi Baez, younger sister of folk music legend Joan Baez. He divorced Carolyn and married Mimi in 1963. They moved to a cabin in Carmel, CA and Farina started writing songs. They debuted as Mimi & Richard Farina at the 1964 Big Sur Folk Festival and they signed with Vanguard Records. Pack Up Your Sorrows is from their 1964 debut album Celebrations For a Grey Day. The song has been covered by many artists, most notably Judy Collins. The duo recorded three albums. Farina was producing an album for Joan Baez. And he released his novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. At a party for Mimi's 21st birthday, Farina saw a guest with a motorcycle. They went out for a ride at high speed and the driver lost control and the bike flipped. Richard Farina died on Apr. 30, 1966 at age 29. It was a big loss to the folk music community. This comp is a good sampling of Mimi & Richard Farina's recordings. Mimi moved to San Francisco and continued to perform usually with her sister Joan. She died in 2001. Here's Mimi & Richard Farina performing Pack Up Your Sorrows with Pete Seeger on his TV series Rainbow Quest 1965.
Saturday, November 21, 2015
Song:The Road You Didn't Take
Album:Follies: Original Broadway Cast
Though he has appeared in films and TV, John McMartin has performed in Broadway musicals since the late 50s and he's still doing that today. Sweet Charity and Follies are his most notable musicals. He was born Aug. 21, 1929 in Warsaw, IN and he grew up in Minnesota. He moved to New York to attend college and made his off Broadway debut in the 1959 show Little Mary Sunshine. He also married Cynthia Baer, one of the show's producers. They had two daughters and divorced in 1971. McMartin appeared in a few more shows in the early 60s. He also appeared in the daytime soap As The World Turns. But he got his big break as Oscar co-starring with Gwen Verdon in the 1966 musical Sweet Charity. McMartin was nominated for a Tony. He also starred in the 1969 film of Sweet Charity with Shirley MacLaine. He could have moved to Hollywood but he preferred living in New York City. McMartin's other significant role was as Benjamin Stone in Stephen Sondheim's 1971 musical Follies co-starring with Alexis Smith. The Road You Didn't Take is McMartin's big number in the show. Since then he has appeared in many Broadway shows. Probably his most significant show was the 1994 Broadway revival of Show Boat. McMartin has also appeared in films like All The President's Men, Brubaker and Blow Out. And he has done guest shots on TV shows like Falcon Crest, Beauty and the Beast, Murder She Wrote and Law and Order. McMartin still appears in Broadway musicals, most recently a 2012 revival of Anything Goes. He has been nominated for four Tony awards and he was inducted into the American Theater Hall Of Fame in 2009. Here's John McMartin performing The Road You Didn't Take on the 2010 TV special Sondheim: The Birthday Concert.