Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fifty Years Ago Today: The Ronettes charted with “Be My Baby” (8/31/1963)

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The Ronettes “Be My Baby”

Writer(s): Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector (see lyrics here)

First charted: 8/31/1963

Peak: 2 US, 4 RB, 4 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): 2.0 Video Airplay (in millions): --

Review: This “staple of oldies radio” AMG represents “the quintessence of the ‘girl group’ aesthetic of the early 1960s” NRR but also served as “the Rosetta stone for studio pioneers such as the Beatles and Brian Wilson.” RS500 He called the song his favorite RS500 and even recorded an answer song, “Don’t Worry Baby,” with his group the Beach Boys. SF

The song is also one of the best examples of the wall of sound NRR a method introduced by producer Phil Spector of layering multiple instruments to create “a slow-burn pop symphony.” AMG Ronnie Bennett, the only Ronette to sing on the song, RS500 has speculated that her then-blossoming romance with Spector may have inspired the song. SF They would marry in 1968, but when they split six years later, the song actually figured into the divorce settlement with Bennett denied the right to sing the song on TV. SF In 1986, though, she did revive parts of it in Eddie Money’s top 10 pop hit “Take Me Home Tonight.” SF

Ironically, “Spector’s most grand most grandiose production to date” was crafted around “the least polished vocalist in his stable.” AMG He “built a rock and roll cathedral around what little her voice had to offer” MA-22 by making Bennett rehearse for weeks and then doing 42 takes once in the studio. RS500 Despite her vocal shortcomings, “Be My Baby” actually works because “her voice radiates pure baby-doll sexuality.” AMG

The song has remained a music fixture for movie soundtracks, most effectively used in the opening credits of Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and in the 1987 blockbuster Dirty Dancing. AMG

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Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Roy Orbison Charts with "Oh Pretty Woman": August 29, 1964

Originally posted 8/29/11. Reposted 8/29/13.

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This content is taken from the The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999, available at as a standard book or ebook!

Orbison and co-writer Bill Dees were writing when Roy’s wife interrupted them to ask for some money to go to the store. Dees shot back that a “pretty woman never needs any money.” RS500 From that, Roy came up with the idea of a man watching a pretty woman walk by and wondering if she might be lonely like him.

The path from inception to release was, as Dees says, “the fastest thing I ever saw.” KL He says they wrote the song on a Friday, recorded it the next Friday, and by the following Friday it was released. KL Chet Atkins called it the “best commercial record I ever heard.” HL

The flirtatious nature of the song was amusingly ironic, depicting Orbison (or at least the song’s protagonist) “as a trolling stud.” MA The image was far better suited to singer David Lee Roth’s machismo when his hard-rock band, Van Halen, took their 1982 cover of the song to #1 on the album rock chart and #12 on the pop charts. Six years later, Orbison died of a heart attack, but as a testament to the song’s timeliness, a version recorded live in September 1987 hit the adult contemporary and country charts in 1989 – twenty five years after the original.


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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Elvis Costello! / His Top 20 Albums

Originally posted on 8/25/12 as a top ten list alongside a list of Elvis Costello’s top 50 songs (see that list here).

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Elvis Costello was born Declan McManus in Liverpool, England, on August 25, 1954. He came out of the British punk/new wave scene in 1977 and became one of the most celebrated musicians of all time with his diverse abilities for dipping his toe into multiple musical genres including R&B, country, and classical. While these lists reflect a definite emphasis on his work from the ‘70s and ‘80s, Costello continues to make adventurous music. His fans never know just where he might go on his next album.

Sales, chart date, awards, and appearances on best-of lists are factored into Dave’s Music Database. Here are the results for Elvis Costello’s top 20 albums:

The Top 20 Elvis Costello Albums

1. This Year’s Model (1978)
2. My Aim Is True (1977)
3. Armed Forces (1979)
4. Imperial Bedroom (1982)
5. Get Happy!! (1980)
6. King of America (1986)
7. Blood and Chocolate (1986)
8. Spike (1989)
9. Trust (1981)
10. The Delivery Man (2004)

11. Punch the Clock (1983)
12. When I Was Cruel (2002)
13. Almost Blue (1981)
14. National Ransom (2010)
15. Mighty Like a Rose (1991)
16. The River in Reverse (with Allen Toussaint, 2006)
17. Brutal Youth (1994)
18. Secret, Profane and Sugarcane (2009)
19. Painted from Memory (with Burt Bacharach, 1998)
20. Momofuku (2008)


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Friday, August 23, 2013

Fifty Years Ago Today: The Beatles released “She Loves You” (8/23/1963)

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The Beatles “She Loves You”

Writer(s): John Lennon, Paul McCartney (see lyrics here)

Released: 8/23/1963, First charted: 8/29/1963

Peak: 12 US, 16 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 3.0 US, 1.9 UK, 6.0 world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): 1.0 Video Airplay (in millions): 31.34

Review: With record-breaking advance orders of 300,000, “She Loves You” became the first million-selling single in the UK KL-95 and was the song that launched Beatlemania in the UK. AMG The song became the biggest single of the sixties CR-830 and was the top-selling UK single until 1977 when the Wings’ “Mull of Kintyre” (led by ex-Beatle Paul McCartney) passed it. SF

It spent a whopping 36 weeks on the UK charts, marked by two stints at #1. It held the top slot for four weeks, slipped, and then climbed back for another two-week run after a seven-week break. It was their own “I Want to Hold Your Hand” which dethroned them the second time, making the Beatles the first artist to knock themselves off the top of the UK charts. TB-56

In a reversal of the British charts, “She Loves You” followed “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to the pinnacle of the U.S. charts. Capitol Records broke the Beatles in the U.S. with the latter song BR1-144 and then Swan Records re-released “She Loves You.” In an unprecedented achievement, TB-56 the Beatles followed that with a third consecutive chart-topper in the U.S. with “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

Paul McCartney explained he’d planned on an answer song to Bobby Rydell’s “Forget Him” in which “a couple of us would sing ‘She loves you’ and the other ones would answer ‘Yeah Yeah.’…So we sat in the hotel bedroom for a few hours and wrote it; John and I, sitting on twin beds with guitars.” SF

After hearing it, McCartney’s father said, “Son, there are enough Americanisms around. Couldn’t you sing, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ just for once?’ McCartney said, ‘You don’t understand, Dad. It wouldn’t work.’” RS500 Ever since, the music universe has been grateful Paul didn’t heed his father’s advice.

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Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


Monday, August 19, 2013

The Best Live Acts Now According to Rolling Stone

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In the August 15, 2013, issue of Rolling Stone, more than 20 musicians and others in the music industry were asked to list up to 50 of their favorite live acts. Rolling Stone then crunched the numbers and created a list of current live acts using the critiera that the artists must have toured within the past five years and not announced their retirement.

1. Bruce Springsteen
2. Prince
3. The Rolling Stones
4. Arcade Fire
5. Neil Young
6. Jay-Z
7. Radiohead
8. Jack White
9. Rage Against the Machine
10. My Morning Jacket

11. U2
12. Wilco
13. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
14. The Black Keys
15. Paul McCartney
16. Alabama Shakes
17. Nine Inch Nails
18. Metallica
19. The Roots
20. Kanye West

21. Red Hot Chili Peppers
22. Tom Waits
23. Pearl Jam
24. Dave Matthews Band
25. Phish
26. Leonard Cohen
27. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
28. Patti Smith
29. Muse
30. Madonna

31. David Byrne
32. Sleigh Bells
33. Beyonce
34. Foo Fighters
35. Bruno Mars
36. Florence & the Machine
37. The National
38. Queens of the Stone Age
39. Rush
40. Eric Church

41. Tame Impala
42. Skrillex
43. Mumford & Sons
44. Janelle Monae
45. Lady Gaga
46. Tool
47. Sigur Ros
48. Green Day
49. Taylor Swift
50. Fiona Apple

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Elvis Presley hit #1 with “Don’t Be Cruel”/ “Hound Dog”: August 18, 1956

Originally posted 7/13/2014.

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Elvis Presley “Don’t Be Cruel”

Writer(s): Otis Blackwell/Elvis Presley (see lyrics here)

Released: 7/13/1956, First charted: 7/27/1956

Peak: 111 US, 16 CB, 110 CW, 16 RB, 24 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 8.0 US, -- UK, 10.0 world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): 4.0 Video Airplay (in millions): 5.05

Review: Elvis had already shaken the music world with two chart toppers in 1956 when “Don’t Be Cruel,” backed by “Hound Dog,” topped the chart for 11 weeks. Joel Whitburn, the go-to chart historian for Billboard magazine with his Record Research books, calls it the only single in history to have both sides go to #1. He backs up the claim by pointing out that “Hound Dog” hit the charts first and had the initial buzz, but that airplay began to favor “Don’t Be Cruel.” SF

The single was also the first to top Billboard’s pop, rhythm & blues, and country & western charts. WK Not only was it the biggest song of 1956, WHC but the biggest hit of the rock era for the next 36 years, when Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” finally bested it. In terms of chart success, there has never been a more successful double-sided hit in history.

Presley took a demo by Otis Blackwell and reworked the arrangement on piano, changing the music and lyrics, just as he had done with other Blackwell compositions. WK Elvis recorded “Cruel” on July 2, 1956 at RCA’s New York City studio with his regular band featuring guitarist Scotty Moore, bassist Bill Black, and drummer D.J. Fontana. The Jordanaires provided backup vocals. WK

They recorded eight takes of the song after they’d already knocked out thirty takes of “Hound Dog” in the same session. WK Elvis invented a new style for himself when he decided to slap the back of his guitar for extra percussion. RS500

Sam Phillips, Presley’s former producer, was floored when he heard the song, saying that the first time he heard it on his car radio he had to pull over. CR Phillips said later, “they have finally found this man’s ability.” CR

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