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Archive for the ‘Pop’ Category

Al Jarreau

Posted by purplemary54 on February 12, 2017

You might only remember Al Jarreau if you are a person of a certain age or if you were a huge Moonlighting fan.  A consummate singer and performer, Jarreau had pretty much dropped out of the spotlight in the last couple of decades.  In fact, I think the last pop culture hit he had was the theme to Moonlighting.  At 76, Mr. Jarreau has moved on to the next plane of existence.

Take a minute to familiarize yourself with Mr. Jarreau if you don’t already know his work.  He was originally a Jazz singer, but he crossed into so many genres that he was impossible to pigeonhole.  And wow, was he smooth.  No.  Not just smooth.  Al Jarreau was smooooooooooth.  His voice was silky and pure and clean.  There were no missed notes, no extraneous flourishes, no gratuitous posturing. There was just music, and it was good.

Now all the smooth leaves no room for rough edges, which means Jarreau was never quite to my taste.  But this, singing his 1981 hit “We’re in This Love Together” is how I will always remember him.  Another great voice is just a memory, but it’s a pretty fine one.

Posted in Jazz, Music, Obituaries, Pop, R&B/Soul | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

John Wetton

Posted by purplemary54 on February 9, 2017

Real life has been a little hectic, and I neglected to note the passing of Asia frontman John Wetton last week.

Asia was always one of those reliably catchy bands that I listened to on the radio, but never really thought too much about.  I’ve got a few of their songs on the iPod, and I’ll sing along when I hear them.  I guess my relationship with this band can be described as casual, an acquaintance I’m generally happy to bump into but not someone I seek out for anything special.  But they were responsible for one of those songs that is inexplicably special to me: The 3 AM Song.

So thanks for that, John Wetton.  I’m so glad you shared that little bit of musical serendipity with me.  Considering the state of my life right now, I can use the inspirational boost I get every time I hear “Days Like These” more than ever.

“What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.  And today I am strong enough, and anyway I love the rain.”

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“A Whole New World”

Posted by purplemary54 on January 29, 2017

Some years ago (at least three, but probably more) the Disney behemoth began advertising its Hawaiian resort Aulani with this utterly enchanting version of “A Whole New World” from Aladdin.  Even in the little bit they played in the commercial, I was in love with it.

I’ll be the first one to admit I don’t know much about Yuna, the singer who created this song (anyone who does can click here).  But she gives me the general impression of being quite charming.  I also believe she is a Muslim, which means she is persona non grata in Trump’s worldview; all Muslims are terrorists to him.  Even the one’s who sing songs as wholesomely American as Disney songs.  Of course, this particular Disney movie is now suspect in Trump’s vision of the world.  It is, after all, set in an Arab country and features brown people as characters.

I didn’t mean to make this one political at all.  The song is just an innocent romp meant to further the Disney-fied romance between Aladdin and Princess Jasmine.  And this cover is, as I stated earlier, utterly enchanting.  I just wanted to share it with you.  And to remind you that not all Muslims are out to get Westerners.  Some of them just want to create music.

 

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George Michael

Posted by purplemary54 on December 25, 2016

I shouldn’t be posting this after so much wine, but goddammit, I’m just so tired.

George Michael has passed at 53, presumably from heart failure.  Carrie Fisher had a massive heart attack at 60 just a couple days ago, although she is still hanging on (and will hopefully recover).

No one should die at Christmas.  I know that there is a statistical increase in deaths this time of year, but my heart tells me that no one should die during a time of celebration.  Logically, that would mean no one would ever die anywhere because there is always a celebration of something happening somewhere on the globe, but the heart wants what the heart wants.  In this case, the heart wants no one to suffer or feel pain during a time of joy in my world.  Self-centered maybe, but there it is.

I was never a Wham! fan, and had little patience for most of Michael’s solo work.  I did like “Faith,” though.  It was one of those perfect little Pop songs that burrowed into your consciousness and never let go.  It is a relentlessly catchy song, with an irresistible hook.  And Michael delivers it with the ease and charisma of a true Pop star (in spite of the fact that he used a butt double at the beginning of the video).  I always thought his pussyfooting around his sexuality was kind of wimpy.  (It took him a very long time to confirm the fact that he was homosexual, something everyone already knew–and no one is ever going to convince me that Wham! didn’t break up because he and Andrew Ridgely ended their affair.  Facts be damned!)  But he had style and popularity, and he could sing with the best of them.

It’s just been so bad that it’s hard to follow the dictum of George Michael’s song and have faith.  There have been some small victories and minor miracles on the personal front in recent days.  I have hope that there are better times, a light at the end of this really long dark tunnel, etc, etc.  I do still have faith in the Universe.  I try to be accepting of the pain that seems to be unending these days, because I know in my head that you cannot have yin without yang, dark without light, enlightenment without suffering.  But my heart still says that all of this is wrong, that the balance of good and bad is desperately out of whack.  Like the song says, I need a little time to pick my heart up off the floor.

Posted in Music, Obituaries, Pop | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

R.I.P.

Posted by purplemary54 on October 24, 2016

I’ve spent an awful lot of time this year memorializing people in popular culture.  I am really sick of it.  There’s still a couple of months left in the year, and I’m kind of still waiting for the other shoe to drop; I’ve had this terrible feeling that as bad as it’s been for music and other arts, it’s just gonna get worse somehow.  I really, really, really hope I’m wrong.

Sadly, I’m not wrong today.  The news has come out that music has lost two very different sorts of Pop singers.

First up is Bobby Vee, who passed as a result of Alzheimer’s complications.  Vee was a teen idol in the early 60s, when the music industry had, temporarily at least, managed to sanitize and contain Rock & Roll into safe, marketable, bland Pop stars.  It didn’t take, thank goodness, but during this more gentle time in music history, Bobby Vee and his clean-cut ilk ruled the airwaves.  His music isn’t to my taste, but that doesn’t mean it’s less entertaining than anything else.  His music has a nice doc-wop quality that makes it quite listenable.

The other Pop singer we lost today is, visually and stylistically at least, on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Dead or Alive had a big hit in the 80s with “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” and singer Pete Burns made the most of it.  His flamboyant style was perfect for the big hair, big money, big gloss decade of my adolescence.  This song happens to be a favorite of mine.  Bouncy and dancey with just enough sex and menace to make people nervous.

Neither one of these performers was currently on the cultural radar, but then again, not much else is right now besides the election.  But for their brief times on top, they both shone like stars.

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“I Quit”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 19, 2016

No, I’m not really quitting anything.  I’m just feeling kind of frustrated and cranky.

This song is from a soundtrack of music used in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, most of which was pretty good.  I don’t know much about Hepburn, aside from the fact that they’re obviously English (“The situation’s vacant for me” is a dead giveaway).  I didn’t even know they were an all-female band; this is the first time I’ve seen the video.  Given that this song is close to twenty years old now (yeah, it’s been that long), it’s aged well.  But then again, a well-crafted Pop/Rock song is always a thing of eternal beauty.

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I’m Not in Denial About the State of Things. . .

Posted by purplemary54 on July 18, 2016

The world kind of sucks right now.  My personal world hasn’t been a bed of roses lately, either.  (I’m assuming the phrase “bed of roses” refers to the soft petals and not the thorny bush.  And my choice of metaphors will make sense in a moment.)  I’m not denying any of it, and I’ll probably post something about it soon.  I just don’t want to be sad and angry right now.  Which is why I’m posting this song.

“Love is Rose” is a Neil Young song, but Linda Ronstadt owns it.  I’ve always preferred her version anyway.  Like Neil, his version of the song tends to be kind of prickly; his focus seems to be on the thorns and not the flowers.  “Love is a rose, but you better not pick it” seems to be sound advice as far as he’s concerned.  Fool around to your heart’s content, but don’t fall in love; it’ll only end in tears when you gash your hand open and bleed all over the place while screaming in pain.

In Ronstadt’s version, that line is also a warning but the emphasis is different.  Let’s do it.  Let’s fall in love, but don’t try to own me.  Don’t  imprison me in your world.  Let me grow and thrive in my own environment.  If you do try to cut me off from the things that made you want me in the first place, I will cut you.  Her version is more joyful somehow, more about the cooperation a relationship requires.  “Give me a lift, and I’ll hay your wagon” is mostly a metaphor for sex, but it’s also an idea about how two people can work together to make something good happen.

Since Neil Young wrote the words, the interpretation of the songs could be exactly the same.  But the slower pacing gives Young’s version a more cautious, unhappy feel.  Ronstadt’s delivery and choice of arrangement makes “Love is Rose” softer and more buoyant.  I know part of the reason I like her version better is because I heard it first.  But I also enjoy the carefree tone.  There’s an edge, but you aren’t going to hurt yourself too badly on it.  At least, you won’t as long as you give her a little breathing room, enough to drink, and lots of sunshine.

 

 

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“Words”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 26, 2016

Dear Counter-Protesters at White Supremacist Rallies:

I get it.  I do.  White Supremacist groups are horrible.  They are bigots and all they seem to want to do is spread violence and hatred.  But they are people.  And they do have rights, including the First Amendment right to free speech and to peaceably assemble.  When I heard about what happened today in Sacramento, my heart sank.  Those people (racists and bigots, but I feel the need to stress again that they are people) had a valid permit to hold their rally or protest or whatever they were calling their gathering.  There were only about thirty of them, so you know just how unpopular these kinds of things really are.  They had the right to be out in public at the state capitol spewing whatever nasty opinions they have.  Several hundred counter-protesters showed up.  While this is not necessarily bad, the counter protesters arrived only with the goal of preventing the original groups from using their rights.  A brawl broke out and seven people were stabbed, many others hurt less seriously.  This is wrong.  I don’t like bigots, either, but they have the same Constitutional rights as you do.  They have the right to express their opinions.  You do NOT get the right to infringe on their rights because you don’t like what they have to say.  Yes, bigots of all stripes are coming out of the woodwork more publicly these days, emboldened by eight years of racist hatred toward our black President and certain spray-tanned presumptive Republican nominees.  But if they follow the rules and laws, then you need to as well.  It’s that simple.  Shouting them down, preventing them from using a valid permit to assemble, deliberately infringing on their rights does not send the message that racism is bad.  It makes you look like racists and bigots.  Speak out.  Get your own permits and hold counter-rallies.  Acting illegally this way makes you look like the people trying to keep little black children out of schools in the South.  It makes you seem as irrational as judges and county clerks who refuse to recognize same-sex marriages.  You are sinking to their level by acting this way, and I am ashamed.

So quit it.  You may not like what they have to say, but you need to remember that they have the right to say it, period.

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I Know This is a Cheesy Song. . .

Posted by purplemary54 on May 29, 2016

Yeah, I chose just about the cheesiest song about war you could possibly pick for a Memorial Day-themed post.  I don’t care.

The thing is, the hero in this song dies.  People die in wars.  It’s one of those ugly facts that we just can’t avoid.  It’s why we have a Memorial Day in the first place.  To remember the men and women and service animals that died protecting American ideals.

Some people have co-opted this day as an excuse to wave the flag about all service people, living or dead, but the point of this day is to remember the dead.  To honor them with solemn ceremonies.  To find a way to send thanks to the universe for their sacrifice.  I don’t knock service people; they do an incredibly difficult and dangerous job so that people like me don’t have to.  Because we have an all volunteer military, these people chose this job (we didn’t always, and I am especially indebted to those who didn’t choose to serve but were conscripted).  And a significant number of them never come home.  But Memorial Day isn’t about knee-jerk patriotism, and anyone who says it is ought to be reminded of the horrors of war.

Because it is horrible.  William Tecumseh Sherman got a lot of flack for the total war he waged on the South during the Civil War, but he had a point.  War is hell, and he made sure every living being in his line of fire knew it.  It is violent and ugly and unfair, and it should only be used as the last resort when there is literally no other choice to be made.  Too many times lately, young men and women have been deliberately sent into the line of fire without clear cause or justification.  The “war on terror” isn’t a clear enough directive or reason to endanger anyone’s lives.  You cannot fight a war on an idea, an emotion.  The idea or emotion will always prevail, and you will look like a vicious war-monger.  You want to stop terrorists?  Stop blowing civilians up.  Stop invading countries that have not committed an act of war on you.  (No people, Afghanistan and Iraq did not attack us on 9/11; it was a group of thugs that were actually mostly Saudi Arabian.  Why didn’t we attack that country?  Oh yeah.  Oil.)  Most terrorists are simply criminals.  A street gang with better weapons and religious zealotry.  Al Qaeda and ISIS are basically the equivalent of the Crips and the Bloods.  We should be arresting them and putting them in prison, not waging war on a bunch of innocent civilians.  Too many people have already died on this incredibly futile quest.  It is time to end it.

I am not dishonoring the dead to say these things.  I am honoring them.  Because the ideals they believed they were fighting for were ideals like the freedom of speech I am exercising.  I don’t agree with any war, but the ongoing wars we’ve been waging for the last fifteen years are especially egregious.  All we’ve succeeded in all this bloodshed is to destabilize a significant portion of the planet, damage the environment, waste a LOT of money, and kill a whole bunch of people.  Oh, and there’s the added bonus of the destruction of hundreds of thousands of artifacts from the beginning of civilization.  Way to go, America.

If you have a service person in your circle who died in combat, please light a candle for them.  Display your flag if you have one.  And go ahead and enjoy your barbecue.  But remember that there is a way to stop all the Billys in the world from becoming dead heroes.  Wage peace.

Posted in Music, Pop | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

“Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head”

Posted by purplemary54 on May 24, 2016

One of the nice things about being on a They Might Be Giants kick is finding myself back in their wonderfully insane world.  It’s hard not to enjoy this band’s oddities and quirks because they’re delivered so joyfully.  TMBG songs might be as surreal and experimental as, say, Pere Ubu, but with the addition of a childlike glee that makes all the weirdness less weird.

Take this classic from their first album.  “Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head” is a disjointed collection of one-liners and accordion music that John Flansburgh and John Linnell somehow make seem like the best party ever.  Well, it would be a great party if you’re a nerd like me.

After a few listens, you realize this isn’t a song about some sinister cult that forces people into puppetry as a form of psychological torture; it’s just another coming of age song (a whole sub-genre of Country music).  The absurdity of life, of responsibility, of how out of place you feel as you move from teenager to adult, is summed up with the insolent “Memo to myself: Do the dumb things I gotta do.  Touch the puppet head.”  Who hasn’t felt strangled by the pointlessness of all the things we have to do when we adult?  (I love how usage has turned a boring nondescript noun like “adult” into a really descriptive, if vague, verb.)  Why does the singer have to touch the puppet head?  Who knows, and who really cares?  The puppet head is just another version of Hitchcock’s Macguffin.  It’s the thing that puts the action of the story into motion, but is never really clearly defined and might not ever even be seen.

Kind of like growing up.

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