Tomorrow’s Top 40: First Aid Kit, Lido Pimiento, Soweto Gospel Choir and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes

Welcome to another edition of Tomorrow’s Top 40. These artists that I am about to highlight all have recently released new material that is noteworthy in one regard or another. I encourage you to give each artist your attention because, as you know, these songs that you are hearing today could all potentially be tomorrow’s Top 40. So, let’s goooooooo!

Palomino by First Aid Kit

Johanna and Klara Soderberg of First Aid Kit. Both sisters are singing at a microphone and each are playing a guitar, too.
Johanna and Klara Soderberg of First Aid Kit.

I have written in the past about what life was like during the early stages of the COVID pandemic and how I used some of that time in lockdown as a way to discover new artists and bands. While I have spoken mostly about bands such as Idles and Fontaine DC, a third group that caught my attention and held it was First Aid Kit. This duo is composed of Swedish sisters, Johanna and Klara Soderberg. I first discovered them when they released their amazing cover of “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush *(before it became a monster hit for Bush via the TV show, Stranger Things, when it seemed as though every artist was covering that song. You can watch that video here). Because I watched that video, the YouTube algorithms took me to more of their work. It was all equally interesting. They did a second amazing cover…this time for “America” by Simon and Garfunkel. The thing about that video is that they performed the song live at a Royal Gala concert with Paul Simon in attendance. Well, when the song ended, Simon jumped to his feet and gave a standing ovation. What made that noteworthy was that he had broken royal protocol by doing so before the Swedish King had risen. I guess it was a bit of a diplomatic incident. *(You can watch that video here). The third video of theirs that I saw was an original song by them called “Emmylou”. This song was written about the legendary singer, Emmylou Harris. First Aid Kit performed it for her and did such a good job that it brought Harris to tears. *(You can watch that performance here).

For fifteen years now, Johanna and Klara Soderberg have been perfecting their musical craft. They harmonize beautifully. Their voices are strong and clear. Their respect for those pioneers who have paved the way for their own success is clearly shown. Now, they have a new album of original music called Palomino. From that album, the first single is called “A Feeling That Never Came”. First Aid Kit is easily one of my favourite discoveries of the last five years. Give them a listen and they might just become the same for you as well. Their latest song, “A Feeling That Never Came”, can be heard here. ***The lyrics version is here.

Miss Colombia by Lido Pimienta

Lido Pimiento faces the camera. She is wearing a pointed tiara-like crown. She is wearing colourful feather boas and a pink gown.
Lido Pimienta

Lido Pimienta is a Colombian-born singer/artist/activist who has lived in Canada for the past decade or so. She came into the national spotlight in 2016 when she released an album of original music called La Papessa which went on to be declared the Album of the Year in Canada and which helped her to win the Polaris Prize. Much of her music revolves around ethnicity and gender issues. Her latest release is called Miss Colombia. The album title stems from an infamous incident from a few years ago when the Miss World Pageant crown was mistakenly awarded to the contestant from Colombia by host Steve Harvey, only to have it taken away moments later when it was revealed that Harvey had misread the card he was given and had announced the wrong contestant’s country. That moment brought deep embarrassment to Steve Harvey, but it also brought deep anger to the country of Colombia and to many Colombians who were watching, such as Lido Pimienta. Her anger stemmed from the disrespect she felt on the world stage from being someone from Colombia. Pimienta stated that the country’s legacy of being colonized, along with its association with drug cartels has caused all Colombians to bear a mark of shame wherever they travel in the world and that she has never felt at home regardless of where she has lived.

The first song from her new album is sung entirely in Spanish and it sounds amazing! The video is worth watching because of the striking visuals involved and because of the story it tells. The song is called “Eso Que Tu Haces” which translates into “That Thing That You Do”. The story behind the song is of Colombian slaves seeking freedom. The video is set in a village called San Basilio de Palenque, which was the first “free town” for slaves seeking their freedom in Colombia. The dancers who appear in this video perform a series of modern and traditional dances that relate directly to the story of emancipation from slavery in Colombia. The music is excellent and the visuals are extraordinary. Lido Pimienta is definitely her own person, but if you need a comparable performer to measure her against, then someone with the artist pedigree of Bjork comes to mind. “Eso Que Tu Haces” is an incredible song that is well worth checking out. That it is sung entirely in Spanish didn’t affect my enjoyment in the least. Well worth checking out…which you can do here.

***Sorry, there isn’t an English lyrics version for this song…which is kind of the point of it all when it comes to Pimienta’s assertion that she and all Colombians should be accepted for who they are. Enjoy.

Hope by The Soweto Gospel Choir.

Ten members of the Soweto Gospel Choir sing in unison, each with their left arm raised toward the sky.
The Soweto Gospel Choir

If you know your history at all then you will be aware that Soweto is a city in South Africa and that it was one of the hotspots when it came to ending Apartheid in that country several decades ago. The Soweto Gospel Choir have been in existence for many years and have earned an international reputation for the beauty of their harmonies and the passion with which they sing and the pride with which they represent African culture. Over the years, The Soweto Gospel Choir have won numerous Grammy Awards for Best Traditional World Music Album. They have also toured with super stars such as Robert Plant and Peter Gabriel (who co-wrote a song of theirs that was included in the WALL-E soundtrack, which was nominated for an Academy Award).

Their latest album, Hope, is their first in four years. It is filled with covers of songs from the US Civil Rights movement, along with original music from the era of resistance to Apartheid in their home country of South Africa. On Hope, they cover Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder and Hugh Masekela, among others. The Soweto Gospel Choir was originally sponsored by Reverend Desmond Tutu. They carry on his legacy by promoting a programme called the 46664 Campaign which, again if you know your history, was Nelson Mandela’s identification number while in prison. The first single is called “Stand Up”, which is an original song inspired by the best Gospel/Soul songs of the Civil Rights Movement from the US. That a choir from Africa can so accurately capture the spirit of resiliency and hope that the US Civil Rights marchers exuded just shows how universal the experience of racial oppression actually is and how connected Africans and African-Americans actually are. “Stand Up” is more than just a song, it is an anthem. I can picture this song winning awards before the coming year is through. You can listen to it here. ***There is no lyrics version of this song but a link to a print version of the lyrics to “Stand Up” is here.

Live in Cleveland ‘77 by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes

Southside Johnny and Steven Van Zandt sing together at one microphone. Two horn players stand behind them, to their left.One has a trombone and the other has a saxophone.
Southside Johnny and “Miami” Steven Van Zandt and some of the Jukes.

In the early 1970s, Asbury, New Jersey was one of the hotbeds of rock n’ roll music in America. A young man named Bruce Springsteen was launching his career by playing epic sets in bars all up and down the Jersey shore. But he was not the only one doing so. At the time, there were other acts that were ripping it up as well. One of the most famous was a band called Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The “Johnny” in question was a man named John Lyon. The use of a horn section that helped create a sound that encompassed Blues, Soul, as well as elements of the Beatles style of rock n’ roll was characteristic of a sound that came to be known as the Jersey Sound. The songs that Southside Johnny sang often dealt with the lives of working class people who found themselves in positions where they were underdogs. Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes put on live performances that rivaled the epic sets that their compatriot, Bruce Springsteen, became known for. Jon Bon Jovi is credited with stating that it was Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes who directly inspired him to become a singer.

As was the case with many bands, there was a lot of cross-pollination between bands in the Asbury scene in the 1970s. In fact, Bruce Springsteen regularly wrote songs for Southside Johnny to sing while guitarist Steve Van Zandt actually was a member of The Jukes until Springsteen went big. He was called “Miami Steve” back then. In any case, like many bands, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes had dreams of finding success beyond the borders of the Jersey shore. So, it was with much appreciation that they discovered their early tunes were being played on a radio station in Cleveland, Ohio. In gratitude for such support, the band traveled there and put on a couple of shows that were recorded live. At one of the shows, the band was supported by the legendary Ronnie Spector. She covered a hot tune at the time, “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” by a rising New York singer named Billy Joel. *(You can listen to that song here). Live in Cleveland ‘77 captures Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in their prime. After listening to this album, it is easy to understand why Southside Johnny is considered an equal to Bruce Springsteen by many who were there at the time. If you have never heard this band before then, buckle up! They were truly something back in ‘77!

The link to the official website for First Aid Kit can be found here.

The link to the official website for Lido Pimienta can be found here.

The link to the website for The Soweto Gospel Choir can be found here.

The link to the official website for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes can be found 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 express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #379: Be My Baby by The Ronettes.

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 #379: Be My Baby by The Ronettes.

***Warning: The story of “Be My Baby” is not a happy one, as it turns out. It involves domestic abuse, among other things. If you are someone who would find this disturbing then, please, stop reading now and skip this post. Happier songs and stories await in future posts.

The story of “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes reads like one of those “Unsolved Mystery” television detective shows. It involves fame and love and kidnapping and murder and redemption, too. It is an epic saga that spans several decades and ultimately ends in vindication for the lead singer of The Ronettes, Ronnie Spector. But, more than anything, it is a very human tale of love gone wrong, opportunities lost and a lifetime of wonder at what might have been if things had evolved differently. Here is the story of Ronnie Spector, The Ronettes and their biggest hit, “Be My Baby”.

Before The Ronettes came to be, the three singers were better known as “The Darling Sisters”. All three were family; lead singer Veronica Bennett, her older sister, Estelle Bennett and their cousin, Nedra Talley. Like many singers of colour back in the 1960s, The Darling Sisters performed at church basements and local community events. Many folks complimented them on their harmonies and their good looks. The girls were encouraged to try and take their talent to “the next level”, as it were and sing professionally. So, the girls began visiting night clubs and jazz hotspots in NYC. Soon, they were offered jobs as back-up dancers and back-up singers. One night, when the scheduled singer failed to show up for their gig, the nightclub owner asked Veronica if she had songs she could sing and, if so, would she mind filling in. She was delighted to sing her church songs, backed by a professional band. The audience took to her right away. Veronica and her sister and cousin were invited to come back to the club and take a regular slot performing with the band. One person who was in the audience that night and heard Veronica sing was a man who was becoming increasingly influential in the music business. His name was Phil Spector and he was about to change Veronica Bennett’s life forever.

Phil Spector was a record producer. He is best known for what became known as his “Wall of Sound”-style of music-making. Spector’s “Wall of Sound” created a full, rich aural experience by using all manner of instruments that produced sounds at all ranges of the sound spectrum. Thus, when you listened to a typical Phil Spector-produced song, you heard sounds in combinations that were fresh and original and awe-inspiring. Spector worked with everyone from The Beatles, to The Rolling Stones, to The Righteous Brothers, to Ben E. King, to Ike and Tina Turner and then, to a young girl named, Veronica Bennett. When Spector heard Veronica Bennett perform that night in the club, he immediately assessed her voice as possessing hit-making ability. He invited her to audition for him. Veronica was thrilled do so for a man of Spector’s renown. But, one thing that Phil Spector was known for, in addition to his talent at producing hit records, was his all-controlling nature. Typically, Spector handled all aspects of the recording of the songs he produced; everything from the recording of each track, to the sound mixing, the planning of rehearsal schedules, the booking of studio time…..everything! When he worked with male singers or bands, he was a hard task-master but he was professional, too. When he worked with females, Phil Spector was different. For example, he was very dismissive of Tina Turner. He claimed that she had no particular talent and that her husband at the time, Ike, could have trained any number of women to be his, “Tina”. So, when the small-town, young and inexperienced Miss Veronica Bennett showed up for her audition, Spector immediately began belittling her. He mocked all of her song choices. He ridiculed her vocal range. In the end, he told her that she would amount to nothing without his guidance and training. This was a pivotal moment in Veronica Bennett’s life.

Like many young women, when faced with power imbalances with powerful men, Veronica was being pressured into doing nothing less than relinquishing a fair degree of control over her life. Unsophisticated and unprepared as she was in that moment, she agreed to work under Phil Spector’s rules. The first rule he insisted upon was that she was to no longer share equal billing with her family members. In fact, she was to turn her back on her family ties, altogether. The intoxicating effect for Spector of having a female completely under his thumb caused him to propose marriage. Veronica was hardly in a position to argue so, not only did she change from Veronica to Ronnie but, also, from Bennett to Spector and thus, his new, legally-bound protégée, Ronnie Spector, came into being. While most people marry for Love, Phil Spector married for control. He insisted that she record and release the song “Be My Baby” and to tour relentlessly under his watchful eye. In the years that followed, “Ronnie” brought forth many other songs that she wanted to sing but, Phil Spector rejected her choices, time and time again. Often, he would give her song choices to other singers that he was working with, leaving her without any new source material to help advance her career. The song, “Be My Baby” became a #1 Hit and helped bring attention to “Ronnie Spector”, who was careful to always appear happy and upbeat when on stage and/or being interviewed by the media.

But, behind the scenes, she was being, quite literally, held captive within the walls of the home she shared with Spector. He even kept her shoes under lock and key so that she wouldn’t have anything to wear should she have ever decided to leave him. If she did wish to leave, Spector said he would kill her and her family. Eventually, with her mother’s help, she was able to file for divorce but, as a condition of divorce, she had to relinquish all rights to her hit songs to Spector. Even in divorce, she was subjected to years of abuse and control by Spector that would have continued ad infinitum if not for a serious event that happened to another female singer.

One day a 911 call was placed by staff who worked at Phil Spector’s studio. A woman had been shot in the mouth and ended up dying. Phil Spector was seen holding the gun in his hands, muttering that “I think I’ve just killed someone”. He was charged with murder and placed in jail. That unfortunate incident was what freed “Ronnie Spector” from her imprisonment. With Spector removed permanently from her life, Veronica was able to step back out into the real world and establish her own life again.

One of the first things that happened was that her song, “Be My Baby” was selected for induction in the Song Category of The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Previously, when Phil Spector was a free man, he actively campaigned against the honour, claiming that his ex-wife was undeserving of such an award and that, without him, she would still be “nothing more” than a back-up singer in small time clubs. But, now that he was in jail, Spector had no more influence on her life and, as such, she was free to accept the induction and to step back into the limelight.

We often allow ourselves the privilege of viewing celebrities as being different from us. We lend them an air of glamour that, in some cases, only serves to mask the human drama that exists in their private lives. From everything I have read, many people knew of Phil Spector’s treatment of Veronica but, because of his position as a Kingmaker in the music industry, no one reached out to help her throughout the years that they were married, including those years when they were divorced. Once Spector was jailed, people felt freer to approach Veronica. One highlight for her was a musical collaboration she did with singer, Eddie Money, called, “Take Me Home Tonight”. The song was a hit for them both. From that song, “Ronnie Spector” was accorded the respect given to veteran singers (such as Diana Ross or even, Tina Turner) based on the strength of “Be My Baby”. What most did not know until much later was that she had only a small career, with a few minor releases and collaborations, after “Be My Baby”. Veronica Bennett could have had a whole string of hits and Gold records to her name but, instead, was denied, again and again, by a man who sought to control her rather than promote her and help her realize her dreams. Of all of the stories behind the songs that make up this list of the greatest songs of all-time, the story of “Be My Baby” is, arguably, the saddest of them all.

Away from the glitz and the glamour, Veronica remarried and is now known as Veronica Greenfield. She lives quietly in Connecticut with her husband and family. She performs on occasion but tends to avoid the bright lights and the big stages. From everything I have read, she is now happy and content with her life. That is important. As for Phil Spector, he spent the remainder of his life being controlled by prison guards. Upon entering prison, one of the first things that happened to Spector is that the authorities took his shoes. He died in custody in January of this past year, having been incarcerated for longer than he had been married to Veronica Bennett.

The link the video for “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, can be found here.

The link to the website for The Ronettes, can be found here.

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