The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #406 …In Bloom by Nirvana.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #406: In Bloom by Nirvana.

“In Bloom” comes from the most successful and influential album of the last quarter century, “Nevermind”. “Nevermind” was the second album released by Nirvana. It was released in 1991. It contains such stellar hits as “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Lithium”, “Come As You Are”, “Polly”, Territorial Pissings” and “In Bloom”.

When Kurt Cobain was writing the songs for “Nevermind” he did so in a way that drew from punk bands such as “Black Flag” and “Bad Brains”. The album, also, was influenced by Alternative groups such as “The Pixies”, “The Melvins” and early “R.E.M.”. Finally, many of the power guitar chords used can be traced back to rock icons such as “Black Sabbath” or more radio-friendly rock groups such as “The Smithereens”. While some may dismiss Nirvana as simply a “grunge” band from Seattle, the fact was that much of the reason for the enormous success of their album, “Nevermind” was because it was such an amalgam of genres; all brought together in a manner that had never truly been done before. It had universal appeal. However, it was because of that universal appeal that Kurt Cobain feared its success and loathed the price he felt obligated to pay.

“In Bloom” is a song that chronicles the price of success for those who care about the craft of creative expression. Even before Nirvana became a headlining act, Cobain was distrustful of the music industry, as a whole. He was very much enamoured by the purity of creating songs that were expressions of his inner thoughts and feelings. He truly liked the feelings that came with playing in front of a tightly packed, sweating, madly thrashing crowd. He admired other bands who eschewed the limelight and stuck to their core belief system. He respected fans who stuck by those bands because they recognized the integrity with which their conducted their musical affairs. But, sometimes, talent being what it is, it is hard to stay small and remain ensconced in the humbleness of one’s family. Sooner or later, word seeps out and a newer, larger audience becomes aware of your existence. Mathematics being what it is, eventually, your visibility starts to grow exponentially until it reaches the point when you no longer recognize yourself in the faces of your audience. That was the point that Nirvana had reached by the time Kurt Cobain wrote the lyrics to “In Bloom”.

By the time he was writing the songs that came to fill out “Nevermind”‘s track listing, Nirvana’s audience began including jocks, preppy-types and all sorts of other folks who were simply there to have fun and sing and bop mindlessly along with the songs being played. The chorus to “In Bloom” captures Cobain’s disgust perfectly.

“He’s the one

Who likes all our pretty songs.

And he likes to sing along

And he likes to shoot his guns

But, he knows not what it means.

He knows not what it means.”

It isn’t easy to be creative and remain creative over the full course of one’s career. There is tremendous pressure to “just play the hits”. Some artists accept that deal with the Devil and become very successful and well known as a result. But, for Kurt Cobain, that was a deal that he could never quite reconcile himself to accept. At his core, he was a musician, a writer or words and a singer of songs that had deeper meanings than his new audience could have ever imagined. Their unwillingness to accept him for who he felt he was contributed to inner, mental turmoil which, eventually, led him to take his life a few short years later. Being under-appreciated and misunderstood is a tough cross to bear for anyone. It certainly was for Cobain.

The official video for this song won awards for Video of the Year when it was released. It draws upon the old “Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show” motif for its inspiration. The idea was to highlight the endless screaming and adoration being heaped upon the band regardless of the content of their lyrics. The band always found it somewhat amusing that the very people being mocked in “In Bloom” for mindlessly singing along were, in fact, always mindlessly singing along with the song (as seen in the video). If you watch this video, you will see that it opens with an announcer on screen. His voice will sound familiar if you close your eyes and are of a certain vintage. He is Doug Llewellyn, the announcer made famous on “The People’s Court” TV show. Anyway, enjoy “In Bloom” from Nirvana.

As you read this post, know that when I finished with this post, I was off to Walmart, of all places, to have my life-saving first dose of Covid vaccine. The irony of this song and of Walmart saving my life are simply too rich. Have a safe, meaningful day, everyone!

The link to the music video for In Bloom by Nirvana can be found here.

The link to Nirvana’s website can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for always understanding good music when they hear it. A link to their website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #407 …Want You Back by The Jackson 5.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: THe Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #407: Want You Back by The Jackson 5.

Before Michael Jackson became “The King of Pop”, he was a member of a family singing group called The Jackson Five. Managed by the mercurial hand of their father, Joe Jackson, The Jackson Five sang and danced together all through their childhood years. Michael, Marlon, Tito, Jermaine and Jackie performed throughout the “Chitlin’ Circuit” in the 1960s. As they did, father Joe reached out to all manner of established stars and music industry-types to sign the family up and help them to realize the success that he knew existed within the group. Eventually, they were seen by Gladys Knight and were brought (by her) to the attention of Barry Gordy, the Head of Motown Records. He agreed that there was something unique and special about the five brothers (especially, the youngest one, Michael) and he signed them to a contract.

The Jackson Five became part of the Motown family and, as such, they were incorporated into the hit-making factory that was Motown Records at the time. At Motown, The Jackson Five were assigned a producer and a songwriter. They spent their initial months recording covers of existing Blues and Motown hits. Eventually, a marriage of convenience was arranged and The Jackson Five were formally paired with existing Motown star, Diana Ross, whose job it was to act as mentor to the group. It was in this arrangement that The Jackson Five released their first record for Motown called, “Diana Ross presents The Jackson Five”. On that record was a song called, “Want You Back”. That song was the first of four consecutive #1 hits released at Motown (“ABC”, “I’ll Be There” and “The Love You Save”, being the others).

“Want You Back” was first performed live on a TV show that Diana Ross had back in the day called “Diana Ross’ The Hollywood Palace”. But, their big break came a month or so later when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. After that appearance, The Jackson Five became worldwide sensations, laying the foundation for the emergence of Michael Jackson as a solo performer a decade later. “Want You Back” went straight to #1 on the charts, selling six million copies worldwide. It has ended up being inducted into the Song category at The Rock n’ Roll hall of Fame, along with The Jackson Five (as a group) and Michael Jackson (as a solo artist). If you want to see what all the fuss was about then, here is the video for “Want You Back” by The Jackson Five. Even waaaay back then, the talent and charisma were obvious. Enjoy.

The link to the music video for Want You Back by The Jackson 5 can be found here.

A website dedicated to maintaining the legacy of The Jackson 5 can be found here.

A website dedicated to maintaining the legacy of Michael Jackson can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #408 …Kiss by Prince.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #408: Kiss by Prince.

In the mid-1980s, Prince was arguably one of the top five most popular entertainers in the entire world. With record sales near 100 million albums, Prince ranked among the likes of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Madonna in the stratosphere of music royalty. Prince was riding high on the success of the album, “Purple Rain” and already had enjoyed hit records such as “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Little Red Corvette”, “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry”. He was The Purple One; donning ruffled shirts and purple waist coats, oozing sexuality and cool, thumbing his nose at the prudent forces at work in America (such as Tipper Gore). Prince was on top of the world. And, as fans, we waited with bated breath for what he would do for a follow-up.

Like many creative genius-level talents, Prince was never content to simply repeat his cycle of success. He sought to re-invent himself. In doing so, Prince tossed away his frilly frocks and opted for a slicked back, film-noir look of tailored suits and serious looks. He produced a movie called “Under the Cherry Moon” (which was universally panned) and released a soundtrack album called “Parade”. On that album was a song called, “Kiss”. “Kiss” was released in 1986 and became a #1 hit. It was certified Gold and sold in the millions and, along with 1987s “Sign O’ the Times”, it became his last big time taste of commercial success.

Like many Prince songs, “Kiss” is all sexual innuendo and anticipation. The official video is one of the most “revealing” out of all of the songs that appear on this list of the Top 500 Songs. In fact, there are multiple versions of it in existence; the “cleaner” version of which appeared on MTV when MTV was still showcasing music videos. “Kiss” was famously covered by a band called, “Art of Noise” who, for their version of the song, called upon the talents of famous 1970s Welsh icon, Tom Jones, to sing the lead role. Their cover version of “Kiss” remains equally popular among music fans. Needless to say, I will show you both.

Over the course of a career that spanned over thirty years, Prince (and The Revolution) maintained a high level of control over his musical affairs (recording endlessly at his Paisley Park studios in Minnesota), he was as electrifying a live performer as there was (his appearance as the half-time act at The Superbowl is generally ranked as the best performance there of all time) and he was a generous sponsor of other acts (such as Sinead O’ Connor, Sheena Easton and Sheila E.). Prince may be best known for the “Purple Rain” soundtrack *(We will see those songs later in the countdown) but, he still produced some of the funkiest, most vibrant and original music ever, of which, “Kiss” holds a special place in his musical canon. Here are both versions of “Kiss”. Enjoy.

The link to the “official” music video for Kiss by Prince can be found here.

The link to a live music video for Kiss by Prince can be found here.

The link to the music video for Kiss by Art of Noise (featuring Tom Jones) can be found here.

As one might expect, Prince has a website worth checking out. You can do so by clicking on the link here.

Thanks to KEXP for being such solid supporters of important music made by important artists. A link to their website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #409 …I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #409: I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers.

The genre known as “Folk Rock” has had a long and storied history. It gained popularity way back in the 1960s, with groups such as The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as well as, singers such as Bob Dylan. It has remained a popular form of musical expression through the decades and includes more current bands such as Bon Iver, Mumford and Sons, along wth today’s featured artists, The Avett Brothers.

“Folk Rock” is, essentially, a genre of music that focusses most on the storytelling nature of the lyrics and the vocal harmonies of the singers. While a band known as a “folk rock” band may have an actual lead singer, more often than not, they have multiple singers who use their voices as much like an instrument, as any guitar, piano or drum. The Avett Brothers consist of two brothers named Scott (vocals, banjo, piano, guitar and kick-drum) and Seth Avett (vocals, piano, guitar) who handle most of the singing chores on their songs. They, also, have a backing band consisting of Bob Crawford (bass, violin, backing vocals), Joe Kwon (cello, backing vocals), Mike Marsh (drums), Tania Elizabeth (fiddle) and Bonnie Avett-Rini (piano). The Avett Brothers are known for playing everything from Bluegrass to Punk to Folk but mostly, they are known for their incredible ability to harmonize in the Folk Rock style.

The Avett Brothers had toured for years in the late 1990s and into the mid 2000s and had established a, sort of, cult following among music fans, which had culminated in them being named as “Group of the Year” and “Best Emerging Artists” by the American Music Association in 2007 for their album called, “Emotionalism”. Their first major-label commercial release was an album called, “I and Love and You”, from which, today’s song was the debut single. The song became a Top Ten hit for the band but, one of the most interesting aspects of its release was how many different ways the band used to market their song.

First of all, the song was originally released for free on their website as a digital download. Radiohead had begun doing this as a way to circumvent the control that the music industry had over artistic expression. The Avett Brothers, among others, took notice and released “I and Love and You” on their own website first and invited fans to download it for free. Such exposure led to a word-of-mouth, groundswell of positive reviews. The band moved beyond its core audience by having the song released as a Starbucks/iTunes “Pick of the Week”. Finally, they toured and toured and made the rounds of most late night talk shows thus, bringing their music to a mass audience.

The chorus of the song speaks of “Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in”. It refers to a concert the band played in Brooklyn, NY, which, according to them, was the furthest they had ever played from their home, geographically, as well as, the calibre of venue they were in. That moment made them feel like they had reached a new level of accomplishment and respect and that they were ready to ascend to a new level of musical fame. If you have never heard this song before, you are in for a treat. It sounds lovely and tells a great story along the way. So, without further delay, here is “I and Love and You” by The Avett Brothers. Enjoy.

The link to the music video for I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers can be found here.

The official website for The Avett Brothers can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #410 …Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley and The Comets.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #410: Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets.

If you want to have a starting point for the birth of Rock n’ Roll, you could do a lot worse than to begin with “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets. By today’s standards, “Rock Around the Clock” seems almost quaint and sepia-toned in our recollections. But, in 1955, when it was released, it was destined to become the anthem for a teenage rebellion that had been percolating since the end of World War II. Into a buttoned-down America, “Rock Around the Clock” helped launch a culture of souped up cars, slicked back hair and pent up sexual longing. And it all really began with a movie soundtrack.

In 1955, the #1 hits of the day included, “Mr. Sandman” by The Chordettes, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by Fess Parker, “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford and “Ain’t That a Shame” by Pat Boone. By comparison, “Rock Around the Clock”, with its speedy tempo and jangly guitars didn’t quite fit into the musical landscape of the time and was almost viewed as more of a novelty song than a song to be taken seriously. As a result, initial sales of “Rock Around the Clock” were disappointing and the song seemed destined to become a musical after-thought. That was, until a new movie was made called, “Blackboard Jungle”. Starring Sidney Poitier, Glenn Ford and Vic Morrow, “Blackboard Jungle” was a movie about life at an inner-city high school. It featured gangs, insubordination and violence by students against teachers. It was viewed as “shocking” and “gritty” when it first came out. When the movie was still in the production stage, producers were toying with the idea of pairing the movie with a soundtrack that featured modern music suitable for the “urban” environment depicted in the film. Lead actor Glenn Ford turned to his own teenage son and asked to borrow some of his newer records. Among those he borrowed was the single for “Rock Around the Clock”. “Rock Around the Clock” appeared over the opening credits of “Blackboard Jungle” and immediately came to symbolize the teenage rebellion being seen onscreen. In fact, the song was so inspiring that many teens danced in the aisles of theatres as it played and, in some cases, there were actual riots, resulting in damage to the theatres showing the film. In time, some theatre owners boycotted the film out of fear for the safety of patrons and of the interior of their theatres. A cultural revolution was launched with a rock n’ roll beat, which went a long way toward pairing Rock n’ Roll music with uncivilized, unseemly behaviour. Many who love Rock n’ Roll revel in the unseemliness of it all but, even today, you will find others who think of it as one of the reasons for the decline of our civilization. Regardless of your stance on the virtues or, lack thereof, of Rock n’ Roll, most critics agree that the revolution began with Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”.

Because of its’ societal impact, “Rock Around the Clock” has been inducted into the Song category of The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, as well as, being enshrined in the US Library of Congress. It was Bill Haley’s biggest hit, as well (in a musical catalogue that also included songs such as “Shake, Rattle and Roll”.) As you watch this video, I will leave it to you to determine whether you are looking at the Devil Incarnate or, as my girls would probably say, a nerdy white guy with greasy hair. Either way, “Rock Around the Clock” and the movie, “Blackboard Jungle” changed the way music could be played and the impact that it could have; especially, on teenagers. Get ready to move and groove because here are Bill Haley and His Comets with the history-making, “Rock Around the Clock”. Enjoy.

The link to the music video for Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and The Comets can be found here.

There is a website dedicated to maintaining the legacy of Bill Haley and The Comets. It can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

Thanks to KEXP for supporting new and important music since….well, forever, it seems! A link to their website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #411 …Hey Ya by Outkast.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #411: Hey Ya by Outkast.

***Just saying….this song might not be about quite what you think it is about. Read on and learn why. But, you have been warned. 👍

“Hey Ya” by Outkast is one of the more popular songs that gets played in our home. All three girls enjoy the chorus and the call-and-response portion toward the end where the men all answer the question of “What’s cooler than cool?”…..”Ice Cold!” and then, the ladies all have their turn to “shake it like a polaroid picture”. Alright! Alright! Alright! Our home is not alone in holding this song in high regard. “Hey Ya” became a #1 hit for Outkast and helped the duo sell millions of copies of the song. However, “Hey Ya” is one of those songs in which there is far more going on than meets the eye. In all of these 500 songs I am profiling, “Hey Ya” is, in fact, highly unusual in many ways, as you shall soon see.

First of all, “Outkast” was actually a duo comprised of singers/rappers, Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Both of these men had a successful partnership but, by the time they released, “Hey Ya”, they had become estranged. “Hey Ya” comes from a double-album entitled, “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below”. One side of this double-album…”Speakerboxx”, was written and performed entirely by Andre 3000. “The Love Below” was written and performed entirely by Big Boi. When the group was invited to perform on Saturday Night Live, each man sang one of their songs alone. There would be no further collaborations between the two men ever again, even though they toured and performed as “Outkast” for a while longer.

Secondly, the subject matter of “Hey Ya” is about the concept of relationships and whether or not they are meant to last. Obviously, shades of the relationship between Andre 3000 and Big Boi help colour the lyrics of the song. But, as well, Andre 3000 speaks about the relationships between men and women, too and whether or not “Love is the exception”, as his sings so evocatively. So, as much as this is a fun song to bop to, “Hey Ya” is really a song that questions the concept of “happily ever after” when it comes to relationships.

Finally, one of the aspects of this song that gives it such wide appeal is the party atmosphere it presents. The song sounds like dozens of people are there, all dancing and singing along. In reality, Andre 3000 did all of the musical roles himself and is the only male voice present on the entire song! It may seem like many men are there but, what happened was that Andre 3000 recorded various versions of himself singing each line and playing each instrument; the end result being a wall of sound that makes it seem like a party is going on when, in fact, he is all alone. The female “voices” are all just one person, too. There was a female production assistant there who recorded the female parts in the same way that Andre 3000 recorded the male parts. Sometimes, things are just not how they seem to be…..which is the point that Andre 3000 was trying to make with “Hey Ya”.

“Hey Ya” remains a very popular tune and will continue to be so in our house, too, no doubt. But, it stands as one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted songs in modern music history. How you choose to view it, going forward, is entirely up to you. For now, I will simply air the official video (which is a take-off on the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show) and you can watch it all unfold with somewhat wiser eyes. Enjoy…sort of.

The link to the music video of Hey Ya by Outkast can be found here.

There is a website dedicated to Outkast. It can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #412 …Maybellene by Chuck Berry.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #412: Maybellene by Chuck Berry.

One of the trends that has developed over the first 80+ songs on this list of all-time greats, is a recognition of performers who were pioneers in their genre. We have recently had Massive Attack and Afrika Bambaataa (Trip Hop and Hip Hop), we learned about DJ Shadow (the first to release an album entirely comprised of samples), we read about how Iggy Pop and the Stooges set the table for the Punk Movement that followed and, finally, we have listened to many of the early bands who started the New Wave/Alternative genre off such as The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen and so on. Today, we meet one of the biggest names of them all…Mr. Chuck Berry. Chuck Berry is rightly credited as being one of the architects of a musical sound that became known, simply as, Rock n’ Roll. His songs were filled with vivid descriptions of fast cars and sexual longing, powered by sizzling electric guitar work; all of which, were built upon a foundation of the Blues. Chuck Berry ushered in a sound that shattered the conventional music world as it existed in the 1950s and paved the way for singers like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard to follow. Chuck Berry had many, many hits including, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Rock and Roll Music”, “Sweet Little Sixteen” and, of course, the granddaddy of them all, “Johnnie B. Goode” but, the one that knocked down the door and started everything off, was “Maybellene”.

“Maybellene” was recorded in 1955. America was a much different place at the time. The mythology of it all is reflected in images such as Mrs. Cleaver (from the tv show, “Leave It To Beaver”); all pearls and high heels, bustling about the home, cleaning and preparing supper. Crooners filled the airwaves. Black musicians, like Berry, were relegated to the sidelines of the Entertainment world. Seeking a way into the music world, Berry sought the counsel of Blues legend, Muddy Waters who, in turn, directed him to a production company in Chicago called Chess Records, that was known to be open to producing the work of Black musicians. At the time, Berry’s version of the song that would end up as “Maybellene” was called “Ida Mae”. Berry recorded it, and several others, and left the studio hoping that Chess Records would work their magic. Berry heard nothing from them for weeks until, one day, he happened to hear his song, in his voice, being played on the radio. Delighted and intrigued, he purchased a copy of the single. This is when the story of Rock n’ Roll took a turn.

Unbeknownst to Berry, “Maybellene” had become involved in a practice that was quite common at the time which saw record companies make secret side deals with radio DJs to play their song more often and in more favourable time slots. In return, the record company would assign the DJ a “songwriting” credit on the song thus, they would earn royalties on every sale of music their were promoting on their shows. This arrangement became known as “Payola”.

So, when Chuck Berry purchased that single of his song, he was quick to note that the songwriting credits were split three ways! One went to a man who operated a printing office and was given a cut of the sales in lieu of Chess Records paying their printing bill. The second name on the 45 single was a nationally-known DJ named Alan Freed. In the 1950s, there was no Internet, no YouTube, no MTV/MuchMusic to promote a singer or a band. Instead, performers had to tour relentlessly or else, they had to get their songs played on national radio shows. In those days, there were several DJs who had a nation-wide status…Wolfman Jack, Dick Clark and Alan Freed. Eventually, lawsuits were launched and the practise of Payola was outlawed. Dick Clark and Wolfman Jack agreed to stop extorting payola from record companies and went on to have long and illustrious careers. Alan Freed, on the other hand, was made the poster child for this abusive racket and was drummed out of radio and had his career ruined. As for Chuck Berry, it took him almost forty years (!) to gain the sole songwriting credit for “Maybellene”. In that time, he lost thousands and thousands of dollars in royalties that were rightfully his.

The video for this song is noteworthy, too. Check out the make up of the audience, their fashion and their demeanour as Berry plays. Because radio is an aural medium, many people did not know that Chuck Berry was actually Black until he appeared on the stage. Note how he came on late, after the introductions were made, even though his back-up band was already playing. While he is, generally, accorded much respect these days, it was different back then. It wasn’t easy for Black musicians to stray from their lane, as it were. Berry not only strayed from his lane, he obliterated the dividing lines. But, as this video clearly shows, the white audience doesn’t quite know what to make of him and their reception is, somewhat, chilly. Like Jackie Robinson in Baseball, Chuck Berry was a brave man.

The story of “Maybellene” is one of the more important chapters in modern music history. It helped launch a new genre of music that changed popular music completely. Secondly, it helped expose the grift known as Payola and, as such, every musician who has followed in Chuck Berry’s wake has benefitted by being able to keep more of the earnings that they were entitled to. But, finally, and, perhaps, most importantly of all……”Maybellene” is a terrific, rocking song. So, let your toes tap and fingers snap to the electrifying sounds of a true legend and trailblazer….the Man, himself, Mr. Chuck Berry! Enjoy!

Payola = three “songwriting” credits but, only one actual songwriter (C. Berry).

The link to the music video for Maybellene by Mr. Chuck Berry can be found here.

There is a website dedicated to maintaining the legacy of Chuck Berry. It cab be accessed by clicking on the link here.

Thanks to KEXP for supporting important musicians and promoting the music they produce. A link to their website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #413 …True Colours by Cyndi Lauper.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #412: True Colours by Cyndi Lauper.

Cyndi Lauper burst onto the music scene in 1983 with one of the most successful debut albums ever for a female artist. Her album, “She’s So Unusual” spawned four now-classic songs: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, “Time After Time”, “All Through the Night” and “She Bop”. She won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist that year, too. Lauper had several other hits over the course of her career but, none were more important and inspiring that a song called, “True Colours”.

“True Colours” is one of those songs that has ended up having a legacy that extends beyond the original meaning of the song when it was written. It is a song that has become a very personal and yet, collective, anthem for the Gay Rights Movement around the world. For Lauper, herself, it was to be the final #1 hit she had in her very successful career. The song (when she sings it) is about a dear friend who had died of AIDS. But, as irony would have it, it was the only song on the album, “True Colours” that she had no role in writing. The song, “True Colours” was written by two men, Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. The song was written about Steinburg’s own mother and was, originally, given to Anne Murray (of all people) to record. Murray declined so, next, the song was shown to Lauper. She liked the song but didn’t think the musical arrangement worked (it was based upon “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”) so, she re-constructed the arrangement and came up with something that now seems absolutely perfect for the song.

One of the most ingenious aspects of “True Colours” is the universality of its message. The song is about accepting someone as exactly who they are and who they were meant to be. It is about true love; which is welcoming and protective and reassuring and warm. “True Colours” can be sung by parents toward children, husbands toward wives (and vice versa), friends toward friends and so on. It is a song about being seen. Truly seen. And loved for it.

I had the privilege of seeing Cyndi Lauper open for Cher in Toronto about fifteen years ago or so. It is not a stretch to say that Keri and I were among the only straight people in the entire audience. Both Cyndi Lauper and Cher have a huge following in the LGBTQ community and the love and respect flowed both ways that night. “True Colours” is one of the most revered songs by this community and has come to be paired with the iconic rainbow flag as the true manifestation of this song’s title. For those who may not be aware, the original eight colours of the Pride Flag stood for: Pink: Sexuality, Red: Life, Orange: Healing, Yellow: Sunlight, Green: Nature, Turquoise: Art, Indigo: Harmony and Violet: Soul. When you look at these colour meanings, it is easy to see how they help form the core characteristics of any self-actualized human. The message of “True Colours” being that regardless of how much of each colour we possess, we are all beautiful and worthy of acceptance and of love. That is one powerful message and, it all started with the title track of an album by a funky girl with crazy hair of her own. So, spend a few minutes of time today and think good thoughts about someone who would welcome your kind regard. That is how we bring sunlight into the darkness. Have a wonderful day.

The link to the music video for True Colours by Cyndi Lauper can be found here.

Cyndi Lauper has her own wonderful website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #414 …Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #414: Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack.

I always admire ingenuity and innovation. It is super easy to repeat successful formulas and produce pleasing results that will always be well-received because you know that what you are creating has already proven to be popular. But, for me, there is a difference between those who follow trends and those who create them. Today, we will take a pleasing look at a group that took an established genre of music (Hip Hop) and created something completely different out of it by using the same techniques (sampling, scratching) but, by approaching it in a completely different way. The group is known as Massive Attack. They are comprised of a group of DJs and sound engineer-types out of Bristol, England. The main group members were Tricky (who has a fine career as a solo artist, too), Grant “Daddy G” Marshall, Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles and Robert “3D” Del Naja. Here is a bit of trivia for you about Del Naja….there is a fairly strong rumour circulating in Art circles that Del Naja is actually the creative force behind guerrilla artist, Banksy. If you know anything about Banksy and the clever, politically-sharp silhouette style art that he pops into place, here and there then, you might have a sense for the creativity that was brought to bear in music with his group, Massive Attack.

If you took the time to read my post about Afika Bambaataa last week, you will already know that there was a strong movement in Hip Hop circles throughout the 1980s, to create music that was a hybrid of styles; funk, techno, rapping, etc. This created a genre of music that was very dance-oriented and energetic and fun. People like to dance and to party so, not surprisingly, this style of Hip Hop became popular. But, to the minds of those in Massive Attack, they looked at the foundational techniques used to create Hip Hop (music sampling, record scratching, etc.) and wondered what would happen if they turned the intent on its head? What if, instead of creating peppy, dance music and anthemic chants, they inverted the philosophy and created something that was cerebral and ethereal. In doing so, Massive Attack (along with Bristol compatriots like Portishead) invented a style of music that has become known as “Trip-Hop”. As with any new movement in musical circles, for a new movement to take root, a song/album must capture the attention of critics and fans alike. That album was “Blue Lines”, released in 1991 and, the song was “Unfinished Sympathy” by Massive Attack.

“Unfinished Sympathy” is a beautiful, soulful, highly orchestrated song about love and longing. It is about a relationship that began and was satisfying to the female singer, Shara Nelson but, which fell apart before it took firm root. The title for the song is a play on Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” which should give you a sense that this Massive Attack song is more in the classical genre than it is in the old-school Hip Hop genre.

The video for this song is noteworthy, too. It was shot in Los Angeles so as to capture a “golden sunshine” that can only be found there, apparently. But, what is special about the video is that it was one of the very first to ever be filmed in one, long continuous shot. In the video, Nelson walks through a section of downtown L.A., oblivious to the goings-on around her (and, there are something distraction-worthy things happening as she walks and sings about her lost love!) The song is quite soulful and Nelson’s singing is beautiful. *This video was paid homage to in the song, “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve, as well as, noted in an earlier [post, by folk-rocker, Elliott Smith and his modern day, fan, Phoebe Bridgers, who all did that “walk-about L.A.”-thing because of this video by Massive Attack.

Anyway, I don’t want the term “Trip-Hop” to scare you away and keep you from checking out this song and video. This is chill music. The construction of the song is lush and layered and very thoughtfully done. If the brains behind Banksy are involved then, you can assume that it is special. And, it is. Enjoy the genre-defining genius of Massive Attack and their first big hit, “Unfinished Sympathy”.

The link to the music video for Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack can be found here.

A link to an article all about the artist known as Banksy can be found here.

Massive Attack has an excellent website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

Thanks to KEXP for supporting groups such as Massive Attack and good music, in general. A link to their vital website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #415… Man In Black by Johnny Cash.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #415: “Man in Black” by Johnny Cash.

Johnny Cash was “The Man in Black”.

There is so much to say about this legendary singer that I almost feel that I don’t need to say much of anything at all. But, what fun would that be? So here goes my shortened take on the life of one of the greatest musicians in all of music history, Mr. Johnny Cash.

Johnny Cash began his musical career at the same time as Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee under the controlling hand of Colonel Tom Parker. Initially, Cash was a gospel singer and auditioned for Parker by singing several gospel songs. Parker turned him away, famously telling him to come back once he had sinned and had more interesting material for his songs. Not to gloss over things but, one of the most fundamental aspects of Cash’s life going forward, was his battle with alcoholism, drug abuse and his run-ins with the Law. While never actually ending up in prison, Johnny Cash did serve time in several local jails…one night here, one night there….for intoxicated behaviour the resulted in property damage and/or injury to others.

A second fundamental aspect of his life and, one that is reflected in many of his song choices, was a railing against authority and a championing of people he considered to be underdogs in society. For example, he often wrote songs about Native Americans and the raw deal the US Government had dealt them. He was, also, famous for performing in prisons. Some of his most famous and successful albums of all time, “Live at San Quentin Prison” and “Live at Folsom Prison” were recorded with an audience of hardened felons.

What helped Cash navigate his way through life were several important people who ended up taking on mentoring or guardianship roles. The most important of which was his second wife, June Carter. A bit of Canadian trivia regarding Johnny and June is that Johnny Cash proposed to June Carter on stage at the old London Gardens arena in London, Ontario. She only agreed to marry him if he dedicated himself to cleaning up in act when it came to drugs and alcohol. He promised he would and, while not always successful, he stayed as true to his word as he could because of his love for June. June Carter Cash died several months before Johnny did but, in one of her final conversations with him, she urged him to spend his final days recording anything and everything he could. One of the songs that arose out of his grief was his cover of Nine Inch Nails, “Hurt”, which is generally regarded as one of the best covers of all time. The video for this song (which is, essentially, the story of his life) earned him an MTV award for Music Video of the Year.

A second influential person in Cash’s life was fellow singer and “Highwayman”, Waylon Jennings. Along with Kris Kirstofferson and Willie Nelson, Cash and Jennings formed a Country supergroup known as The Highwaymen. It was Jennings who started helping Johnny Cash maintain his health (they both had heart surgery at the same time, in the same hospital), as well as, with some of his career choices later on in life. As we all know, it is the mark of a true friend when they don’t hesitate to offer honest advice, even if it isn’t what we want to hear. This was true of Jennings, when he discouraged Johnny Cash from releasing a series of novelty songs that his record company was urging him to release in order to boost sagging record sales. Integrity matters. It did to Waylon Jennings and, ultimately, it did to Johnny Cash, too.

In a career that spanned nearly a half century, Johnny Cash sold millions of records and produced music that ranged from Country, to Blues, to Gospel, to Rock, to Traditional Roots musicians and so much more. He was a singer, an actor, a product spokesperson and a tv show host. He is one of the very few artists to be in both, The Country and Western Music Hall of Hall and The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame at the same time. He was a singer who was as comfortable on the stage of The Grand Ol’ Opry as he was surrounded by murderers and rapists in the gymnasium of a Federal prison. He was a man’s-man, who was loyal to his friends and faithful to his wife. Johnny Cash was The Man in Black. He says that he adopted his “look” because he felt it better reflected those people he sought to ally himself with (as opposed to the glittery outfits of singers such as Porter Wagoner). As you listen to the song, “Man in Black”, you will get a terrific sense of the values Cash held and the people he felt needed his representation. As legends go, they don’t come much bigger than the “Man in Black”, Johnny Cash. Enjoy.

The link to the music video for Man In Black by Johnny Cash can be found here.

The link to the music video for Hurt by Nine Inch Nails, as covered by Johnny Cash, can be found here.

The official website for Johnny Cash can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for supporting good music in all of its forms and manifestations. A link to their great website can be found here.