Today’s/Tomorrow’s Top 40: January, 2023

In today’s post I am going to be featuring three songs that are currently charting around the world and three songs that are hot off of the presses and may turn into the chart-topping songs of tomorrow. So, let’s get started with three of the hottest songs in the world.

TOP OF THE CHARTS

Pointless: Lewis Capaldi

Lewis Capaldi

Lewis Capaldi is a Scottish-born singer who burst onto the world music scene in 2019 with the monster hit song “Someone You Loved”. This song helped Capaldi win the Brit Award for Best New Artist, as well as having the song nominated for Song of the Year in England as well as in the U.S. Lewis Capaldi has a new album coming out in the spring time and is presently pre-releasing singles in advance of his album coming out. The first single is a song called “Pointless”, and let me tell you, it is the first song of 2023 to be mentioned as a potential Song of the Year candidate for this year. It is a four-tissue tear-jerker of a song about a mother’s love for her son. Capaldi insists that the song is not biographical but one has to wonder. The video for this song plays like a home video from my own life. So many of the moments that he alludes to and captures on film are exactly right based upon my own recollections of being loved by my own mom. In a morbid sort of way, I predict that, from this point onward, “Pointless” will become the #1 song played at funerals for mothers. If you are a mother of a son or sons, or if you are a son with a loving mother, this song was written expressly for you. As you read these words, “Pointless” by Lewis Capaldi is #1 on the BBC Radio 1 charts. ***Lyrics video is here.

Anti-Hero: Taylor Swift

The “real” Taylor Swift learning to live with the “celebrity image” that she portrays when on brand, as seen in her Anti-Hero video.

Taylor Swift’s latest album, Midnights, dropped just prior to the Christmas shopping season. In press releases that accompanied the release of this new album, Taylor Swift said that each song on the album reflected some part of her life in which there were problems, fears, questions or concerns that kept her awake at night. The album has been well-received by fans and critics alike, with the song “Anti-Hero” being the one most are pointing to as being the best track. In literature or the movies, an anti-hero is a character caught somewhere in the netherworld between heroes and villains. An anti-hero often seems to possess the desire to act in a villainous manner, but in the end behaves in a good way. For Taylor Swift, this song is about the nature of living a life under the weight of being a celebrity. Swift claims that her life is actually different from her image, but that it is difficult to just be herself when her every move is scrutinized to such a tremendous extent that she can barely breathe. I have stated in previous posts that I harbour not a single ounce of envy for those living in the glare of the spotlights. It may seem glamorous on the surface, but as someone who values privacy and freedom of movement and calmness, having my every utterance analyzed would be almost unbearable. “Anti-Hero” is Taylor Swift’s musical declaration that she finds being the living embodiment of her own brand is growing wearisome and that she longs to live a normal life. As you read these words, “Anti Hero” has been a #1 song in the U.S. and remains in the Top Ten of many charts around the world. ***Lyrics version is here.

Sza: Kill Bill

Sza

Sza (pronounced SIZ-a) is a female Hip Hop singer. She has had much success over the past few years but really has a hit on her hands with the song “Kill Bill”. This song was inspired by the Quentin Tarantino movies Kill Bill and Kill Bill Vol. 2 that starred Uma Thurman as a revenge-seeking woman who is determined to bring her ex-lover to justice no matter who stands in her way. As is customary from Tarantino, both Kill Bill movies were very violent. That sentiment that equates violence to Art is at play in Sza’s song. In her song, “Kill Bill”, Sza is a spurned lover who seeks to kill the girlfriend of her ex-boyfriend because her love for him is just too strong to ignore. Sza is being praised by fans and critics for creating a song that displays such honest emotions. Have a listen to this song for yourself and see if you agree that killing in the name of love is a praise-worthy accomplishment. As you read these words, “Kill Bill” by Sza is the #1 song on Billboard, Spotify and KEXP-FM charts, as well as a Top Ten song on most charts around the world. ***Lyrics version is here.

NEW ALBUM RELEASES

Living On Mercy by Dan Penn

In a recent post *(which you can read here) I wrote about Dan Penn and the important role he played as a songwriter at the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama during the 1960s and 70s and how he had contributed to the launch of the genre of music called blue-eyed soul. What I didn’t really do is give the man his due as a performer in his own right. I wish to correct that oversight here and now. Dan Penn has written some of the most important and recognizable songs in the history of modern music and has written for everyone from Aretha Franklin to Wilson Pickett on to Janis Joplin, Percy Sledge, Hank Williams Sr., Sam and Dave, Ronnie Milsap, Faron Young, Albert King, Nick Lowe and many more. But, as much as Dan Penn is respected as a songwriter for hire, he is equally respected for producing excellent albums of his own. Just as the pandemic was getting underway in 2020, Penn released an album called Living On Mercy, which contained a series of restrained Soul-influenced songs that tap into the wisdom of a man who has seen and done much in his eighty years on this planet. The lyrics track can be listened to here.

This Stupid World by Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo

In a previous post *(which you can read here) I wrote about Yo La Tengo being one of the most adored and respected alternative bands in the world. They have been quietly going about their musical business for over two decades now. The band consists of a trio of performers: singer/guitarist Ira Kaplan, keyboardist Georgia Hubley and a rotating series of bass players, the most current being James McNew. I have always considered their sound to be a coffeehouse/indie vibe. Their lyrics are often lyrically evocative and filled with gorgeous sensory imagery. If you like your music on the quiet and literate side, then you will like Yo La Tengo. This Stupid World is their 17th album. The first single off of the album is a song sung by Georgia Hubley called “Aselestine”. ***Unfortunately, there isn’t a lyrics version yet.

Dance Fever by Florence and the Machine

Florence and the Machine

In a recent post *(that you can read here) I wrote about listening to the radio as I drove across the top of Toronto at nearly two in the morning. The first song I heard once the dial found radio station CFNY-FM was “Stereo” by The Watchmen. The very next song was “Free” by Florence and the Machine. For those unaware, the “Florence” in Florence and the Machine is a female singer from England named Florence Welch. About a decade ago, she was the winner of one of Simon Cowell’s on-air television talent shows and because of that was awarded a recording contract. She has released a string of hits in the years that have followed. My favourite moment of hers was when she acted as fill-in headliner at the Glastonbury Music Festival for the Foo Fighters one year when Dave Grohl had broken his leg. The first song she sang in her set was “Times Like These”, which is a Foo Fighters song. Dave Grohl and the band returned the following year as headliners. Grohl opened his set with a story about watching Florence and the Machine singing his song. It is a funny NSFW story, but it is well worth watching to get a sense of how respected Florence Welch is in music circles. *(You can watch the Dave Grohl/Florence Welch video here. You can watch Florence’s original performance here). In any case, Florence and the Machine released a new album called Dance Fever right at the end of 2022. “Free” is the second single released from it. The song is about how Florence dealt with the anxiety that was associated with the Covid pandemic and how music helped her retain her sense of inner balance. It is a peppy, uplifting song co-written by Jack Antonoff, who co-wrote the songs on Taylor Swift’s last few albums as well. You can listen to “Free” right here. ***The lyrics version is here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the written consent of the author. ©2023 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Dan Penn: Dark End of the Street…Song #21/250: Reader’s Choice

The main cast of the Netflix show, Derry Girls.

During the recent Christmas holidays, my eldest daughter Leah began pestering my wife and I to watch a television series running on Netflix called Derry Girls. Leah claimed that it was the perfect combination of comedy, music, history and storytelling and that we would love it if we gave it a chance. So, we gave it a try and boy, am I ever glad we did! Derry Girls is a fantastic series. It is set in the town of Derry, Ireland, and in much the same way that the Vietnam War permeated every aspect of the landmark comedy, M*A*S*H*, “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland make their presence felt all through this show, too. What connects Derry Girls to today’s post is something that happened in passing in the final episode of the series. All throughout the series, real historical references were liberally added to the storyline. In the closing episode, two of the female characters were having dueling 18th birthday parties and were competing to have Derry-born singer Bronagh Gallagher sing at their party. Gallagher is someone who helped make Derry proud because of her important role in the Irish movie, The Commitments, in which she plays a singer in an Irish band that is seeking to emulate the 1960s Soul and R & B sound of the American South. Gallagher ends up making a cameo appearance in the finale and helps to wrap the series up on a very satisfying and appropriate note. The soundtrack to the series Derry Girls is absolutely fantastic and comes highly, highly recommended.

This brings me back to The Commitments. The music was excellent all throughout that movie as well. The two soundtrack CDs that came out of that project both featured some of the most iconic Soul and R & B recordings ever made. In fact, for a movie known for its music, The Commitments is one of the only movies of its type ever made that features no original songs. All of the music came from pre-released classic tracks from some of music’s most famous names, all performed as covers by the actors who played the roles of band members in the movie. For those who have never watched The Commitments, it, too, comes highly recommended. It was based upon a book by Irish writer Roddy Doyle and ended up being nominated for an Academy Award, as well as winning the British Film Award for Best Picture of the Year. The storyline is simply about a dream that one young Irish man has about forming a Soul band because he believes that music is the most “real” of all musical genres. In the film, it comes out that one of the characters knows singer Wilson Pickett and boasts of being able to have him appear on stage with them during one of their shows. The connection with Wilson Pickett is a very important one because of Pickett’s musical background. In real life, “Wicked” Wilson Pickett shot to fame on the basis of several songs, the most famous being “In The Midnight Hour”. *(I wrote a previous post about this song that you can read by clicking here). A majority of Pickett’s hits were recorded at the F.A.M.E. music studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. That is an important connection because almost all of the songs found on the original The Commitments soundtrack CD had their origins in Muscle Shoals, including two songs, “Dark End of the Street” and “Do Right Woman/Do Right Man” that were co-written by today’s singer/songwriter, Dan Penn. So, even though The Commitments is an Irish movie about an Irish band, it is really a historical nod to the legacy of excellence that emanated from the F.A.M.E. music studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and is a tip of the hat to those like Dan Penn who did such groundbreaking work there. The story of Soul music in America is not just about Motown in Detroit. It is just as much about Muscle Shoals, too, as you shall soon see.

F.A.M.E. owner Rick Hall working with singer Etta James.

Muscle Shoals, Alabama is a relatively small town of approximately 12,000 people that sits in the upper northwest corner of Alabama, along the Tennessee River. Muscle Shoals came into existence as a result of Franklin Roosevelt’s economic stimulus initiative known as the Tennessee Valley Authority Act. Among the many things that this Act did was to bring industry to those communities situated along the Tennessee River. It accomplished this by laying down power lines and modernizing the infrastructure of formerly rural, under-developed places like Muscle Shoals. One of the first industries to come to Muscle Shoals was the Ford Motor Company. It built an automobile assembly line factory there that brought with it a workforce that swelled the ranks of Muscle Shoals citizenry. During the 1950s, an entrepreneur named Rick Hall saw an opportunity to take advantage of Muscle Shoals’ improved economic situation by opening a recording studio just as Rock n’ Roll was set to become the next big thing in America. However, more than just being a business owner, Hall was a white man who believed that laws that separated the races in America were wrong. Hall loved music, and, in particular, he had a fondness for Soul music. So, at great danger to himself, he opened a music studio called F.A.M.E. (which stood for Florence, Alabama Music Enterprises) with the intention of making it a fully-integrated recording facility. As you may know, integration was a very loaded word in the American South at that time and there were many who thought that Hall’s idea that “music should be colourblind” was outrageous and naive. But Hall thought otherwise and set out to prove the naysayers wrong. One of the first acts to record in Muscle Shoals was Wilson Pickett. One of the next to come through the F.A.M.E. studio doors was a young black female singer named Aretha Franklin. Aretha was no Queen of Soul in those days. Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she was just starting out in her career. As such, Franklin was in need of good songs to sing. One of the songwriting teams assigned to work with her was the team of Dan Penn and Chips Moman. From their creative minds came the song “Do Right Woman/Do Right Man”, which ended up becoming one of the songs that launched Aretha Franklin’s career. The team of Penn and Moman also wrote a song called “Dark End of the Street”, which they gave to a singer named James Carr. Carr’s version of this song is considered by most fans and critics as being the definitive version of this classic Soul track.

The Ford Motor Company left Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1971. However, instead of drying up as many one-industry towns do when that one industry up and leaves, Muscle Shoals doubled down on music. Since then, this small community has become the epi-centre of music production in the American South and has seen artists as varied as Duane Allman, Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Cher, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens and many more all record there. Regardless of which artist was recording at any one time, the F.A.M.E. music studio has always been fully integrated with engineers, mixers, session players, back-up singers and so on all being the best available people regardless of gender or race. One of those who has worked there for over six decades now is Dan Penn. Although Penn is most known as a songwriter for hire, he has produced several albums of his own material and is well-regarded as an authentic voice of a sub-genre of music known as “Blue-eyed Soul”. It is, therefore, not surprising that Dan Penn’s name should appear not once but twice on the soundtrack for the movie The Commitments for his songs “The Dark End of the Street” and “Do Right Woman/Do Right Man”. After all, when writer Roddy Doyle wrote about an Irish band singing “blue-eyed soul” it is only right that he should go directly to the wellspring of its source, Mr. Dan Penn, for material.

Dan Penn was nominated as a Reader’s Choice selection by my friend Andrea Storm. Andrea is a retired teacher who used to work with my wife, Keri, which is how I first came to know her. Since then, Andrea and I have teamed up to create this very post that you are reading (and all of the others that I create). Andrea has volunteered to act as my copy editor and in that role is responsible for reducing my use of commas by over fifty percent at least for each post. Andrea is also a music lover and regularly attends more concerts in one year than I have seen in my lifetime. So, thank you Andrea for your help with these music posts and for nominating such an interesting and important figure from the world of music in the form of Dan Penn. To anyone else reading this post, I happily take requests for artists, bands and songs from any era and from any genre of music. If you have a good suggestion for one of these Reader’s Choice profiles, then by all means send it along and I will be happy to oblige at some future date. Until then, thank you all for being part of this music blog experience. I hope to see you all again in a week with the next installment of Reader’s Choice. Bye for now.

The link to the video for the trailer to the Netflix series Derry Girls can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie The Commitments can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Do Right Woman/Do Right Man” written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman and sung by Aretha Franklin can be found here. ***For the lyrics version I can only find the Jennifer Hudson cover version which is here.

The link to the video for the song “Dark End of the Street” written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman and sung by James Carr can be found here. ***Once again, I could only find cover versions for the lyrics version. So, from the movie The Commitments, here you go. Their version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer of a documentary called “Muscle Shoals” about the history of Muscle Shoals and the F.A.M.E. studios can be found here.

The link to the official website for the F.A.M.E. music studio can be found here.

The link to the official website for Muscle Shoals, Alabama can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com