Saturday, September 29, 2007

Kanye West “Stronger” hit #1


Kanye West with Daft Punk

Writer(s): Kanye West, Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Edwin Birdsong (see lyrics here)

Released: July 31, 2007

First Charted: July 22, 2007

Peak: 11 US, 12 RR, 11 BA, 12 DG, 30 RB, 12 UK, 13 CN, 2 AU, 30 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 10.0 US, 0.27 UK, 14.55 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 0.4 radio, 453.4 video, 1194.39 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

In 2007, Kanye West was “the most interesting person in all of popular music. He knew it, too. If anything he knew it too well.” SG On the strength of his critical and commercial successes with his first two albums, College Dropout and Late Registration, he “had emerged as a new evolution of the A-list rap star – the middle-class striver who produces his own tracks, who’s more interested in fashion and tastemaker business than the sometimes-hermetic rap world, and whose insecurity and egomania often melted together into one enormous whole.” SG

After touring stadiums as an opening act for U2 and the Rolling Stones, he “figured out that dense wordplay and meditations on internal conflict simply couldn’t work on that big a scale. Instead, Kanye wanted to make…songs that would sound enormous, songs that could trigger mass singalongs. ‘Stronger’ might represent the biggest, loudest, most successful example of the form.” SG

The song is built on a sample of “French house duo Daft Punk’s almight 2001 track ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.’” SG His first exposure to the group was via the Busta Rhymes’ 2005 “Touch It” which sample Daft Punk’s “Technologic.” Kanye’s tour DJ, A-Trak, played more Daft Punk for Kanye, who decided he had to sample “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” A-Trak thought it “was a terrible idea, that the samle was too obvious. Kanye didn’t care.” SG

Interestingly, Daft Punk built the song on a sample as well – of “Edwin Birdsong’s 1979 funk obscurity ‘Cola Bottle Baby.’” SG Birdsong and both members of Daft Punk get songwriting credits on “Stronger.” West “arguably did more with his Daft Punk sample than Daft punk did with their Edwin Birdsong sample” SG and “encouraged other hip-hop artists to incorporate house and electronica elements into their music.” WK Kanye also “did everything in his power to make the original track sound ever bigger and more cinematic,” SG reportedly remixing the song 75 times. WK Daft Punk were “delighted” WK with the results.

West, however, did not “give that same obsessive attention to his ‘Stronger’ lyrics,” SG a song “about the resolve that comes when one is faced with adversity.” WK “Most of Kanye’s lines are about his own greatness” SG and some of the lyrics are “dumb…and “derivative”SG but also nonspecific enough “that people can use [them] as thei own anthems.” SG That’s why the song ultimately works “as a colossal anthem about personal empowerment.” SG


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First posted 6/25/2023.

Kanye West's Graduation debuted at #1


Kanye West

Released: September 11, 2007

Charted: September 29, 2007

Peak: 11 US, 13 RB, 11 UK, 11 CN, 2 AU

Sales (in millions): 5.0 US, 0.6 UK, 6.06 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: rap


Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. Good Morning
  2. Champion (3/8/08, 99 RB)
  3. Stronger [with Daft Punk] (8/11/07, 1 US, 30 RB, 1 UK)
  4. I Wonder
  5. Good Life [with T-Pain] (9/22/07, 7 US, 3 RB, 23 UK)
  6. Can’t Tell Me Nothing (6/9/07, 80 US, 20 RB)
  7. Barry Bonds [with Lil’ Wayne]
  8. Drunk and Hot Girls [with Mos Def]
  9. Flashing Lights [with Dwele] (11/10/07, 29 US, 12 RB)
  10. Everything I Am [with DJ Premiere]
  11. The Glory
  12. Homecoming [with Chris Martin] (1/19/08, 69 US, 9 UK)
  13. Big Brother

Total Running Time: 51:23


3.960 out of 5.00 (average of 23 ratings)

Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

Kanye’s first album, The College Dropout “was one of the most anticipated debuts of the early 2000s.” AMG On Late Registration, his second release, he worked “extensively with multi-instrumentalist rock producer Jon Brion” AMG and people wondered If “Kanye’s hubristic tendencies would get the better of it.” AMG

“With Graduation, there was Takashi Murakami’s artwork, a silly first-week sales competition with the decreasingly relevant 50 Cent, and chatter about synthesizers running wild. That was about it, but it all seemed loud and prevalent, due in part to a lack of high-profile rap albums released in 2007.” AMG

Graduation is neither as bold nor as scattered as The College Dropout, and it’s neither as extroverted nor as sonically rich as Late Registration. Kanye still makes up for his shortcomings as an MC and lyricist by remaining charmingly clumsy, frequently dealing nonsense through suspect rhyme schemes: ‘I never be picture-perfect Beyonce / Be light as Al B. or black as Chauncey / Remember him from Blackstreet, he was black as the street was / I never be laid-back as this beat was.’” AMG

“The songs that are thematically distanced, introspective, and/or wary; there are many of them are, in turn, made more palatable than insufferable. That his humor remains a constant is a crucial aspect of the album, especially considering that most other MCs would sound embittered and hostile if they were handling similar subjects, like haters new and old, being a braggart with a persistent underdog complex, getting wrapped up in spending and flaunting, and the many hassles of being a hedonist.” AMG

“Those who have admired Kanye as a sharp producer while detesting him as an inept MC might find the gleaming synth sprites, as heard most prominently throughout Flashing Lights and Stronger, to be one of the most glaring deal-breakers in hip-hop history. Though the synthesizer use marks a clear, conscious diversion from Kanye’s past productions, highlights like I Wonder, The Glory, and Everything I Am are deeply rooted in the Kanye of old, using nostalgia-inducing samples, elegant pianos and strings, and gospel choirs. So, no, he’s not dreaming of fronting A Flock of Seagulls or joining Daft Punk. He’s being his shrewd, occasionally foolish, and adventurous self.” AMG

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First posted 12/24/2008; last updated 4/30/2022.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

50 years ago: West Side Story debuted on Broadway

West Side Story

Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics)

The Musical

Opened on Broadway: September 26, 1957

Number of Performances: 732

Opened at London’s West End: December 12, 1958

Number of Performances: 1040

Cast Album

Recorded: September 29, 1957

Charted: March 17, 1958

Peak: 5 US

Sales (in millions): 2.5 US, 0.6 UK, 3.1 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: show tunes


Charted: October 23, 1961

Peak: 154 US, 113 UK, -- CN, -- AU

Sales (in millions): 8.0 US, 0.1 UK, 8.1 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: show tunes

Songs on Cast Album:

  1. Prologue
  2. Jet Song
  3. Something’s Coming
  4. The Dance at the Gym
  5. Maria
  6. Tonight
  7. America
  8. Cool
  9. One Hand, One Heart
  10. Tonight
  11. The Rumble
  12. I Feel Pretty
  13. Somewhere (Ballet)
  14. Gee, Officer Krupke!
  15. A Boy Like That/I Have a Love
  16. Finale

Songs on Soundtrack:
  1. Overture
  2. Prologue
  3. Jet Song
  4. Something’s Coming
  5. The Dance at the Gym
  6. Maria
  7. America
  8. Tonight
  9. Gee, Officer Krupke!
  10. I Feel Pretty
  11. One Hand, One Heart
  12. Quintet
  13. The Rumble
  14. Somewhere
  15. Cool
  16. A Boy Like That/I Have a Love
  17. Finale

Singles/Hit Songs:

As was common in the pre-rock era, songs from musicals were often recorded by artists not associated with the musical and released as singles. Here are some of the most notable hit singles resulting from the show:

  • “Maria” – Johnny Mathis (#78, 1960), Roger Williams (#48, 1962)
  • ”Tonight” – Ferrante & Teicher (#8, 1961), Eddie Fisher (#44, 1961)
  • ”Somewhere” – P.J. Proby (#91, 1965), Len Barry (#26, 1966), Barbra Streisand (#43, 1986)


4.909 out of 5.00 (average of 12 ratings for cast album and soundtrack combined)

Quotable: “Takes up the American musical idiom where it was left when George Gershwin died.” – John Chapman, New York Daily News WK

Awards (Cast Album & Soundtrack): (Click on award to learn more).

Awards (Cast Album): (Click on award to learn more).

Awards (Soundtrack): (Click on award to learn more).

About the Show:

West Side Story is hailed as “one of the greatest musicals of all time.” RU Conceived by Arthur Laurents as a modern take on Romeo and Juliet, he recruited Leonard Bernstein for the music, Stephen Sondheim for the lyrics in what would become his Broadway debut, and Jerome Robbins as the choreographer and director. It opened on Broadway on September 26, 1957 at the Winter Garden Theatre and “ran for 732 performances (a successful run for the time), before going on tour.” WK It won Tonys for choreography and scenic design, led to an Academy-award winning film, and became a favorite of “schools, regional theatres, and occasionally by opera companies.” WK

Jerome Robbins first approached Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents in 1949 with his idea of adapting Romeo and Juliet as a contemporary musical. A first draft called East Side Story focused on conflict between a Catholic family and a Jewish family living in Manhattan on the Lower East Side. It was shelved for its similarity to plays lie Abie’s Irish Rose, WK but revived in 1955 when Laurents was approached to adapt the novel Serenade by James M. Cain. That project didn’t make it either, but it connected Laurents with Stephen Sondheim. Along with Bernstein and Robbins, they decided to return to the East Side Story. WK

The musical faced understandably difficult challenges. Critics “said the score was too rangy for pop music” WK and with more dancing than any previous Broadway show WK it would be problematic to find a cast who could sing, dance, and act. Laurents wanted James Dean as Tony, but he died before even hearing about the role. WK

However, the eventual production was well received by audiences and critics. It “galvanized Broadway with its vivid reinvention as a parable of racial intolerance and generational conflict.” SS “The story appealed to society’s undercurrent of rebellion from authority that surfaced in 1950s films like Rebel without a CauseWK and “the musical also made points in its description of troubled youth and the devastating effects of poverty and racism.” WK

“The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in American musical theatre.” WK Musically, Bernstein “integrated Latin percussion and jazz into his electrifying score” EV alongside “symphonic grandeur” RU “and a rarely heard (in Broadway) toughness.” RU Bernstein’s efforts “dazzlingly translating New York’s unique vitality into a musical idiom.” EV

Set in the mid-1950s in New York City, the story explores the rivalry between two street gangs of different ethnicities. The Sharks are Puerto Rican and the Jets are working-class white. The protagonist, Tony, is a Jet and falls in love with Maria, who is the sister of Bernardo, the Sharks’ leader.

During a challenge dance (Dance at the Gym) between the Jets and the Sharks, Tony meets Maria. Bernardo breaks up their attempted kiss and sends her home, but Tony serenades her outside her bedroom (Maria) and they profess their love to each other (Tonight). WK

The next day at the bridal shop where Maria works, she asks Tony to stop a planned fight between the Jets and Sharks. Tony tries to stop the fight (The Rumble), but when Riff, the leader of the Jets, is stabbed by Bernardo, Tony kills Bernardo in a rage. Maria is devastated when she hears, but still decides to run away with Tony. “As the walls of Maria’s bedroom disappear, they find themselves in a dreamlike world of peace (Somewhere).” WK

After Maria’s friend Anita is nearly raped by the Jets, she claims Chino killed Maria in jealousy. When Tony hears, he decides he has nothing to live for. He confronts Chino, begging to die, and is shot by him just as he sees that Maria is actually alive. The Jets now move towards the Sharks, wanting to avenge the death of another friend. With Chino’s gun in her hand, Maria tells everyone that hatred is what killed Tony and the others and that now she too can kill because she hates. However, she drops the gun in grief and gradually the gang members on both side “assemble on either side of Tony’s body, showing that the feud is over.” WK

About the Cast Album:

The cast album was recorded three days after West Side Story opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 1957. It was recorded in New York City at CBS 30th Street Studio. Leonard Bernstein oversaw the orchestration and the cast included Carol Lawrence as Maria and Larry Kert as Tony. The album spent nearly four years on the Billboard album chart.

About the Soundtrack:

A film adaptation, directed by Robbins and Robert Wise, was released on October 18, 1961. As ground-breaking as the show was on Broadway, it became another animal entirely when transferred to film. It was the second highest-grossing film of the year in the United States and won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. WK Natalie Wood was cast as Maria and Richard Beymer as Tony. The singing was handled by Marni Nixon and Jimmy Bryant. The “lavish widescreen presentation broke fresh ground by taking the story to its most impressionable audience, the teenagers who could identify directly with Tony and Maria, and opened up Jerome Robbins’ kinetic choreography through bravura camera work.” SS

While “the 1957 original Broadway cast recording still holds up today, …[it] isn’t as good as the movie soundtrack” RU which “was not merely a huge seller but a unique touchstone for an otherwise rock-oriented audience.” SS It “spent more weeks at #1 in the charts (54) than any other album in history” WR and “made more money than any other album before it.” WK It also won the Grammy for Best Soundtrack or Cast Album. Like the cast album, the soundtrack spent almost four years on the Billboard album chart.

Notes: The 1998 reissue of the cast album added nine instrumental tracks.

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First posted 3/7/2011; last updated 12/23/2021.