Listen to this track by original country music outlaw, singer-songwriter, and everyone’s favourite Americana octogenarian Willie Nelson. It’s “I Never Cared For You”, a song dating back to his days as a Nashville hitslinger in the 1960s, here re-imagined as a single as taken from 1998′s Teatro.
The song appeared on an early live album in 1966 (Live Country Music Concert) and again in 1982 as a part of a joint double album with Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, and Brenda Lee called The Winning Hand. But, on the Daniel Lanois-produced Teatro, it shines as a high-point in his career during a time when country music artists of his vintage and calibre were taking an opportunity to simplify their approaches in the wake of younger artists garnering all of the attention of the country music establishment. Part of what this meant was going back to the things that made them singular artists in the first place, unshackling themselves from the demands of that same establishment that had written them off as being outdated.
But Nelson had made a point of making a nuisance of himself where this fickle establishment was concerned from the very beginning in any case. And how so?
Listen to this track by neo-soul pianist, singer, songwriter, and R&B ingenue Alicia Keys. It’s “Fallin’”, the first single as taken from her debut record Songs In A Minor, a record that succeeded in making her the talk of the town when it was released in 2001. Part of that buzz was down to it’s classic feel, plugging into the spirit of classic soul music.
Further to that connection to music of past eras, the themes would be familiar too; a troubled relationship that cannot be denied, despite the pain that is associated equally with the pleasure it brings. This is certainly a common theme in pop music, and R&B music from a woman’s point of view in particular, from Billie Holiday’s take on “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”, to Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man The Way I love You”, to Keys’ contemporary Macy Gray, with her song “I Try” by the end of the 1990s.
How does that tradition play out here? (more…)
Listen to this track by dual-frontman outfit and pop-music-with-a-head-for-wordplay purveyors General Public. It’s “Tenderness”, their biggest hit as taken from the debut record in 1984, All The Rage. The song would make them more of a chart draw in North American showings than in their native UK, with top forty play and heavy video rotation too.
General Public was something of a Two Tone and British second wave ska survivor band, featuring members of The Beat and The Specials. This new band also included members of Dexy’s Midnight Runners and even, briefly, Mick Jones of the Clash before the record was released. The two primaries would be Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling who had been the lead vocalists for the aforementioned Beat, a band that had made a lot of headway in North America through college radio before fragmenting by 1983.
This song was the second single from their debut album, with the self-referential “General Public” being the first. And it made a cultural impact in a hurry, being a part of soundtrack albums (Weird Science), and on MTV that got the song heard by new audiences.
And speaking of audiences, what did the success of this song mean where the cultural landscape in North America was concerned? (more…)
Listen to this track by London pop musical era cross-polinator duo Groove Armada. It’s “At The River”, a single from 1997 that was re-released two years later as a part of their Vertigo album.
The album was released during a period when chillout and downtempo beats were becoming equally celebrated in clubs and on the radio as pop songs in Britain. As such, both contexts and audiences are served here, with pop hooks and beats intertwining to make one of the most appealing confections of a genre that marked the times before the 20th century became the early 21st.
The central hook here comes from tin pan alley pop singer Patti Page’s “Old Cape Cod”, a single from 1957 that came in turn out of a poem as written by one Claire Rothrock who’d fallen in love with the titular destination. The song was a hit, salty air and quaint little villages and all, and Patti Page would be celebrated by the region of Cape Cod for many years after for being a cultural ambassador because of her hit with this earlier pop single.
But, what’s it doing being referenced on a late-20th century dance record made in rainy London? (more…)
Listen to this track by future Fleetwood Mac stalwarts and Californian folk duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, AKA Buckingham Nicks. It’s “Frozen Love”, the closing track to their 1973 pre-Mac record called, appropriately Buckingham Nicks. It would be their sole (to date!) album together as a duo.
The record was created when the two young musicians were championed by producer and engineer Keith Olson, in turn helped by sessioner Waddy Wachtel who would be a frequent collaborator with Stevie Nicks in her solo career years later. Before they were signed as a duo, Buckingham and Nicks had both been a part of a rock band, Fritz, that had served as an opening act for some of the biggest acts of the late-60s, including Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Jefferson Airplane. Before that, the two had known each other in high school, and had informally collaborated since they were teens.
When Fritz broke up, the two splintered into a duo, and eventually were signed to Polydor, whereupon they’d recorded this debut album that established both musicians as unique and supremely gifted singer-songwriters. But, the record didn’t sell, thanks to the inattention of Polydor at the time.
Showbiz strikes again!
But, this track in particular would help to lead the two out of the pop music briar patch. (more…)
Listen to this track by groove-oriented post-post-punk indie-rock outfit from Glasgow, Franz Ferdinand. It’s “Jacqueline” the opening track to their 2004 Mercury Prize-winning debut record cleverly entitled Franz Ferdinand.
The band took their sound from various sources, particularly from the late-70s and early 80s new wave and disco, with a simple goal in mind; to make records girls can dance to. It’s a good goal when you’re looking to make pop music, sell records, and to bring things back home where pop music that speaks to an audience is concerned.
At the time, the band was a part of a retro movement that drew from this same era, perhaps with similar goals. But, what separated Franz Ferdinand from the crowd was this; they had the songs.
Beyond that, they had something else, too. (more…)
Listen to this track by self-motivated pop song interpreter and songwriter Kirsty MacColl. It’s “A New England”, her 1984 single of Billy Bragg’s original song that would get her to the top ten in Britain.
By the time this single was recorded, MacColl was a latter-day signee to Stiff records. While there, she’d record a few singles. But, it would be this one that would make the most impact during her tenure there, with a tale of a young person suddenly confronting the end of a relationship, corresponding with the end of innocence, too. It also talks about love and its complexities, and its power to create as much disappointment as it does to create joy.
Besides filling out the song in an arrangement full of jangly guitars and spacious production, it’s MacColl’s ability to carry the material off which separated it from it’s original context, and created a new one in its place. And the song’s author would help with that process. (more…)