Saturday, March 30, 2013

In Memory of Phil Ramone: His Most Notable Work

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Producer Phil Ramone died on March 30, 2013, in Manhattan of a brain aneurysm. He was 79. He was married to Karen Ichiuji-Ramone. They had three sons.

Nicknamed “The Pope of Pop,” he was the winner of 14 Grammys, including three for Album of the Year. He was born on January 5, 1934, in South Africa, but grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He was a child prodigy who started playing violin at age 3 and performed for Princess Elizabeth at age 10. He trained as a classical violinist at Juilliard in the late ‘40s. He opened his own recording studio before the age of 20 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1953. He is considered a CD pioneer, as he was the producer for Billy Joel’s 52nd Street, the first album made available on compact disc. He has also produced concerts (Simon and Garfunkel: The Concert in Central Park), film (A Star Is Born, Flashdance), Broadway (Chicago, Seussical), and television productions.

As a record engineer and producer, he is most associated with Billy Joel, but also worked with Burt Bacharach, The Band, Ray Charles, Chicago, Bob Dylan, Gloria Estefan, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Quincy Jones, B.B. King, Madonna, Barry Manilow, Paul McCartney, George Michael, Olivia Newton-John, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart, Barbra Streisand, James Taylor, Dionne Warwick, and Stevie Wonder.

He had a long chart history, first hitting Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1963 as an engineer on Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” all the way through to 2011’s “Body and Soul” by Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse. Here is a select discography of some of the most-celebrated work (and some of their most noted awards) in which he had a hand:

Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” (1963)

Quincy Jones produced this #1 hit with Ramone serving as an engineer. The song makes the DMDB’s top 1000 songs of all time list as well as the RIAA’s 365 Songs of the Century list.

Stan Getz & João Gilberto’s Getz/Gilberto (1963)

Ramone served as engineer on the album, which won Grammys for Best Engineered Recording and Album of the Year. The DMDB ranks it as one of the top 1000 albums of all time and top 30 jazz albums of all time. It also in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The song “The Girl from Ipanena” also won the Grammy for Record of the Year, is in the Grammy Hall of Fame, the National Recording Registry, and makes the DMDB’s top 1000 songs of all time list as well as the RIAA’s 365 Songs of the Century list.

Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (1967)

This song is featured in the DMDB book The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, thanks to appearances on multiple best-of lists including Mojo, NME, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone. The song is also in the Grammy Hall of Fame and is one of the world’s all-time best-selling songs.

B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” (1969)

The song, written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, was used as the theme for the Robert Redford/Paul Newman film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The song makes the DMDB’s top 1000 songs of all time list as well as the RIAA’s 365 Songs of the Century list. According to Billboard, this is the top-ranked song associated with Ramone.

Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years (1975)

The first of Ramone’s three wins for producing an Album of the Year is another Grammy Hall of Fame entry.

Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks (1975)

Ramone served as the session engineer on Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. The DMDB ranks it as one of the top 100 albums of all time, as do the BBC, The Guardian, Mojo, NME, Q, Rolling Stone, and VH1.

Barbra Streisand “Evergreen (Love Theme from ‘A Star Is Born’)” (1976)

This was the Grammy Song of the Year and ranks as one of the top 1000 songs of all time according to the DMDB. The DMDB ranks the soundtrack as one of the top 50 of all time and it is also on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of albums.

Billy Joel’s The Stranger (1977)

The Stranger was the first Billy Joel album produced by Ramone. It is another Grammy Hall of Fame album and ranks in the DMDB’s list of the top 1000 albums of all time. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also named the album to its list of defintive albums.

The album spawned the hit song, “Just the Way You Are,” which won the Grammys for Record and Song of the Year. It also makes the DMDB’s list of top 1000 songs of all time, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll list, and the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Billy Joel’s 52nd Street (1978)

The second of Ramone’s three wins for producing a Grammy Album of the Year. Billboard also named it Album of the Year. It is also another entry on the DMDB’s list of the top 1000 albums of all time. It is also the top-ranked album associated with Ramone, according to Billboard.

Flashdance (soundtrack, 1983)

The Flashdance soundtrack won the Grammy in 1984 for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special. According to the DMDB it is one of the top 1000 albums of all time and one of the top 50 soundtracks of all time. It is also one of the top 100 All-Time World’s Bestsellers.

Frank Sinatra with various artists: Duets (1993)

The album was notable for giving Sinatra a late-career boost. It peaked at #2 on the Billboard album chart and is the only Sinatra album to achieve triple platinum status. The album, which paired Sinatra with a host of guest stars, marked the first use of a fiber optics system to record tracks in real time from different locations.

Ray Charles with various artists’ Genius Loves Company (2004)

The third of Ramone’s three wins for producing an Album of the Year also took home the Grammy for Pop Vocal Album of the Year and is yet another of the DMDB’s top 1000 albums of all time.


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Thursday, March 21, 2013

National Recording Registry Adds 25 Recordings: March 21, 2013

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Each year, the Library of Congress announces 25 recordings (albums, songs, radio broadcasts, and other sound recordings) to be added to its National Recording Registry. This year’s entrants are:

  1. “After You've Gone” Marion Harris (1918)
  2. Bacon, Beans and Limousines by Will Rogers (Oct. 18, 1931)
  3. “Begin the Beguine” Artie Shaw (1938)

    Begin the Beguine

  4. “You Are My Sunshine” by Jimmie Davis (1940)
  5. D-Day Radio Broadcast, George Hicks (June 5-6, 1944)
  6. “Just Because” by Frank Yankovic & His Yanks (1947)
  7. South Pacific cast album (1949)

  8. Descargas: Cuban Jam Session in Miniature by Israel "Cachao" Lopez Y Su Ritmo Caliente (1957)
  9. Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 performed by Van Cliburn (April 11, 1958)
  10. President's message relayed from Atlas satellite, Dwight D. Eisenhower (Dec. 19, 1958)
  11. A Program of Song by Leontyne Price (1959)
  12. The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman (1959)
  13. “Crossing Chilly Jordan” by The Blackwood Brothers (1960)
  14. “The Twist” by Chubby Checker (1960)

    The Twist

  15. Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s by Clarence Ashley, Doc Watson, et al. (1960-1962)
  16. Hoodoo Man Blues by Junior Wells (1965)
  17. Sounds of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel (1966)
  18. Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company (1968)
  19. The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (1973)

  20. Music Time in Africa by Leo Sarkisian (July 29, 1973)
  21. Wild Tchoupitoulas by The Wild Tchoupitoulas (1976)
  22. Ramones by The Ramones (1976)
  23. Saturday Night Fever soundtrack by The Bee Gees et al (1977)

  24. Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson (1979)
  25. The Audience with Betty Carter by Betty Carter (1980)

Among this list are two songs which rank in the DMDB’s list of the Top 100 Songs of the Pre-Rock Era (“After You’ve Gone” and “Begin the Beguine”), one song which ranks in the DMDB’s list of the Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era (“The Twist”), and four albums which rank in the DMDB’s list of the Top 100 Albums of All Time (South Pacific, Dark Side of the Moon, Ramones, and Saturday Night Fever). For more information on these and other entrants in the National Recording Registry, check out the links below:

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Anatomy of a Viral Smash: Bauuer's "Harlem Shake"

Originally published in my "Aural Fixation" column on on March 18, 2013. See original post here.

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So are you ready to gouge out your eyes and slice off your ears if forced to endure one more version of “Harlem Shake”? With 700 million views and counting, someone’s paying attention. The question is: What made it into such a viral smash?

“I love these videos. They’re great.”

“What are they doing?”

“My side is hurting.”

“What? What, what, what?”

“This is horrifying.”

“I think they’re all yucky.”

“It was very weird. It was awkward.”

“I just don’t understand.”

These are a few of the responses captured in the Fine Brothers’ Kids React online series in which the under-18 set is asked for opinions on “Harlem Shake” (10 March 2013).

Anyone who has escaped seeing a dozen or so clips of the song either a) has no connection to the Internet or b) no interaction whatsoever with other human beings. In a viral explosion unheard of since, well, the days of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” mere months ago, the song has become the go-to favorite for office drones needing a 30-second reprieve from cubicle life.

In fact, the workplace is a popular setting for fans to create their silly but simple clips to accompany the irrepressible earworm. For those just returning from long, tech-free sabbaticals, the premise of the homemade videos is that onlookers ignore a sole dancer, generally wardrobed in a helmet or mask, for about 15 seconds before joining in after a jump cut with their own crazy gyrations and costumes.

Exactly how did this sensation start and why did it get so big? According to The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern, amateur comedian Filthy Frank uploaded the first version to YouTube on February 2 (“Meet Baauer, the Man Behind the Harlem Shake”, 18 February 2013). The satirical blogger, known for performing video skits decked out in a pink body suit, created a clip of himself grooving wildly to the song with three cohorts.

Filthy Frank version

It was quickly replicated by five Australian teens who called themselves Sunny Coast Skate. They created the template of one person dancing while the others ignored him, only to jump into the fray after the beat drops. Kevin Allocca, YouTube’s trend manager, reported that in just over a week about 12,000 “Harlem Shake” videos were posted (“The Harlem Shake Has Exploded”, 12 February 2013). Since then, more than 700 million people around the world have seen one of the 100,000 versions of the song (The Independent, “A brief history of the Harlem Shake”, 3 March 2013).

Sunny Coast Skate version

Among the most popular are renditions from The Simpsons, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Fallon, Playboy Playmates, the Norwegian Army, the University of Georgia swim team, and the Today show. Check out some of them here.  YouTube itself joined in the fun showing its logo dancing before the entire page busts a move (click here, and watch what happens to your screen). 

The explosion has been fueled by Billboard’s recent change in chart methodology. The immediate effect of the magazine’s decision to factor in YouTube plays alongside radio airplay, digital sales, and streaming was the song debuting at #1 on the Hot 100 chart (“Baauer’s ‘Harlem Shake’ Debuts Atop Revamped Hot 100”, 20 February 2013). Of course, the song’s digital sales were shaping up just fine by then as well – “Harlem Shake” was shown the love on Valentine’s Day when it nabbed the top slot on iTunes (, “How the Harlem Shake went from viral sideshow to global phenomenon”, 18 February 2013). As of the March 23rd issue, the song had held on to the top spot on Billboard for four weeks.

The man behind the song is Harry Bauer Rodrigues. He was born in West Philadelphia, but his dad’s financial consultant job took him to Germany, London, and Connecticut before he went to New York for college. The now-23-year-old DJ/producer got signed last year to PR agency Biz3 who released the song as a free download in June (Billboard, “Movers and Shakers”, 2 March 2013).

Baauer's full version

Success hasn’t come without controversy. The New York Times’ James C. McKinley Jr. reported that “Harlem Shake” features unlicensed samples, including the famous “Do the Harlem Shake” admonition taken from rap group Plastic Little’s 2001 song “Miller Time” and the opening line “Con los terroristas” from Hector “El Father” Delgado’s 2006 single “Maldades.” Both are seeking compensation from Bauuer’s label, Mad Decent Records (“Surprise Hit Was a Shock for Artists Heard on It”, 10 March 2013).

A street interview with Harlem residents elicited strong responses that the dance associated with the song is not the Harlem Shake (“Harlem Reacts to ‘Harlem Shake’ Videos”, 18 February 2013).

Deadspin’s Emma Carmichael said the original dance “is really not much more than a little side-to-side shoulder shimmy” (, “If You’ve Been Hearing About the ‘Harlem Shake’ Video Craze, Here’s How It May Have All Started”, 14 February 2013). Here are instructions for the dance:

The New York Times reported that the dance originated in the ‘80s. Albert Leopold Boyce, aka Al B., performed it during streetball games in New York’s Rucker Park. The dance, which is much rawer and fluid than what is showcased in the videos, became known as the Harlem Shake when local teenagers started mimicking it. Specifically, the four-man dance crew Crazy Boyz, who used to hang out at Rucker Park and watch Al B., have been widely credited with taking the dance to the mainstream in the ‘90s (“It’s a Worldwide Dance Craze, but It’s Not the Real Harlem Shake”, 28 February 2013). In a documentary by Kien Quan, he goes so far as to call them the Original Harlem Shakers (26 February 2013).

How did “Harlem Shake” become so huge? In the Kids React series, kids said the videos were funny, easy to make, and made people want to be part of a new thing.’s Zeke Camusio says viral hits engage audiences, entertain or educate them, create memorable experiences, and are short and focused (“What Makes Videos Viral”, 2009).

Allocca did a TED talk identifying three reasons a video becomes a viral hit (“Why videos go viral,” November 2011). It takes off when a tastemaker, such as a talk show host or well-known blogger, picks it up. Next, the community participates by passing the video along or putting their own twist on it. Finally, video hits have unexpectedness – something which is unique and gets attention.

In dissecting why Psy’s “Gangnam Style” became the most-watched video in YouTube history with over a billion views, Chicago Tribune’s pop culture columnist Jae-Ha Kim said there was a kind of “freak-show mentality, where people are like, ‘This guy is funny’” (, “What the Heck Is This ‘Gangnam Style’ Video Craze You’re Hearing About? We Explain”, 19 September 2012).

In consolidating these criteria, several key elements emerge which explain the immense success of the “Harlem Shake” meme:

  1. The videos are funny and have a bit of freak-show element to them.
  2. They have a surprise element. Even though viewers know there will be an eruption of group dancing at the 15-second mark, they don’t know what to expect in the way of the crowd’s choice of costumes.
  3. Because the videos are short, they can be quickly viewed and passed on to others.
  4. When it starts to take hold with the general public, media stars will latch on to it as well, reporting about it and even mimicking it.
  5. Because of the ease in making the videos, the community actively participates by flooding the market with even more versions.
  6. In the end, whether people are making their own videos, passing them on to others, or just watching them endlessly on their own, they become part of the viral community.

Love Bauuer or hate him for inflicting “Harlem Shake” on the world, he has made a permanent stamp on pop culture. Of course, even if he’d been given this handy-dandy list prior to his song’s dominance, he couldn’t have manufactured such success. There’s an inexplicable X-factor behind unleashing a phenomenon. As one of the pre-teens in the Kids React video said, “I just don’t understand.” That’s okay. No matter how much science and analysis is applied to this phenomenon, I don’t understand, either.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Quincy Jones born: March 14, 1933 / His Top 40 Songs

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In honor of producer Quincy Jones’ 80th birthday, the March 16, 2013 issue of Billboard did an extensive cover story on him. Among the features was a list of his top 40 songs. Here they are (numbers in parentheses indicate peak position and year of peak on the Billboard Hot 100):

1. “Billie Jean”…Michael Jackson (#1 – 1983)
2. “We Are the World”…U.S.A. for Africa (#1 – 1985)
3. “Beat It”…Michael Jackson (#1 – 1983)
4. “Rock with You”…Michael Jackson (#1 – 1980)
5. “Baby, Come to Me”…Patti Austin with James Ingram (#1 – 1983)

6. “Man in the Mirror”…Michael Jackson (#1 – 1988)
7. “The Girl Is Mine”…Michael Jackson with Paul McCartney (#2 – 1983)
8. “The Way You Make Me Feel”…Michael Jackson (#1 – 1988)
9. “It’s My Party”…Lesley Gore (#1 – 1963)
10. “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”…Michael Jackson with Siedah Garrett (#1 – 1987)

11. “I’ll Be Good to You”…The Brothers Johnson (#3 – 1976)
12. “Bad”…Michael Jackson (#1 – 1987)
13. “Dirty Diana”…Michael Jackson (#1 – 1988)
14. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” (#1 – 1979)
15. “Give Me the Night”…George Benson (#4 – 1980)

16. “You Don’t Own Me”…Lesley Gore (#2 – 1964)
17. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’…Michael Jackson (#5 – 1983)
18. “Strawberry Letter 23”…The Brothers Johnson (#5 – 1977)
19. “Thriller”…Michael Jackson (#4 – 1984)
20. “She’s a Fool”…Lesley Gore (#5 – 1963)

21. “Judy’s Turn to Cry”…Lesley Gore (#5 – 1963)
22. “Smooth Criminal”…Michael Jackson (#7 – 1989)
23. “Human Nature”…Michael Jackson (#7 – 1983)
24. “Stomp!”…The Brothers Johnson (#7 – 1980)
25. “She’s Out of My Life”…Michael Jakcson (#10 – 1980)

26. “Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)”…Donna Summer (#10 – 1982)
27. “Off the Wall”…Michael Jackson (#10 – 1980)
28. “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”…Michael Jackson (#10 – 1983)
29. “Just Once”…Quincy Jones with James Ingram (#17 – 1981)
30. “Another Part of Me”…Michael Jackson (#11 – 1988)

31. “One Hundred Ways”…Quincy Jones with James Ingram (#14 – 1982)
32. “Angel”…Aretha Franklin (#20 – 1973)
33. “I’ll Be Good to You”…Quincy Jones with Ray Charles & Chaka Khan (#18 – 1990)
34. “Yah Mo B There”…James Ingram with Michael McDonald (#19 – 1984)
35. “That’s the Way Boys Are”…Lesley Gore (#12 – 1964)

36. “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows”…Lesley Gore (#13 – 1965)
37. “Maybe I Know”…Lesley Gore (#14 – 1964)
38. “Stuff Like That”…Quincy Jones (#21 – 1978)
39. “Get the Funk Out Ma Face”…The Brothers Johnson (#30 – 1976)
40. “We Are the World 25: For Haiti”…Artists for Haiti (#2 – 2010)


Friday, March 8, 2013

The Top 50 Albums of the 1950s


You can check out the top albums of all time or for other decades by clicking here. Here are the top 50 albums of the 1950s according to Dave’s Music Database:

1. Miles Davis...Kind of Blue (1959)
2. South Pacific (soundtrack, 1958)
3. Elvis Presley...The Sun Sessions (archives: 1954-55)
4. My Fair Lady (cast album, 1956)
5. Elvis Presley...Elvis Presley (aka Rock ‘N’ Roll in the UK) (1956)
6. Frank Sinatra...Songs for Swinging Lovers (1956)
7. Dave Brubeck...Time Out (1959)
8. The Sound of Music (cast album, 1959)
9. Harry Belafonte...Calpyso (1956)
10. The King and I (soundtrack, 1956)

11. Frank Sinatra...In the Wee Small Hours (1955)
12. Hank Williams...40 Greatest Hits (compilation: 1947-53)
13. Mario Lanza...The Student Prince (soundtrack, 1954)
14. The Music Man (cast, 1957)
15. West Side Story (cast, 1957)
16. Ornette Coleman...The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959)
17. Charles Mingus...Mingus Ah Um (1959)
18. George Gershwin...An American in Paris (soundtrack, 1951)
19. Henry Mancini...Music from Peter Gunn (soundtrack, 1959)
20. Guys and Dolls (cast, 1950)

21. Little Richard...Here’s Little Richard! (1957)
22. Miles Davis...Birth of the Cool (1950)
23. Howlin’ Wolf...Howlin’ Wolf (aka The Rocking Chair Album) (1958)
24. Gigi (soundtrack, 1958)
25. Jackie Gleason...Music for Lovers Only (1952)
26. Sonny Rollins...Saxophone Colossus (1956)
27. The Kingston Trio...At Large (1959)
28. John Coltrane...Giant Steps (1959)
29. Thelonious Monk...Brilliant Corners (1956)
30. Gypsy (cast, 1959)

31. Howlin’ Wolf...Moanin’ in the Moonlight (1958)
32. Duke Ellington...At Newport (1956)
33. Erroll Garner...Concert by the Sea (1955)
34. Oklahoma! (soundtrack, 1955)
35. Frank Sinatra...A Swingin’ Affair (1957)
36. The King and I (cast, 1951)
37. Elvis Presley...Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957)
38. Frank Sinatra...Sings for Only the Lonely (1958)
39. Ella Fitzgerald...Sings the Cole Porter Songbook (1956)
40. Miles Davis with Gil Evans...Miles Ahead (1957)

41. Elvis Presley...Golden Records (compilation: 1956-58)
42. Johnny Mathis...Johnny’s Greatest Hits (1958)
43. Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers...Moanin’ (1958)
44. Elvis Presley...Elvis (1956)
45. Buddy Holly & the Crickets...The Chirping Crickets (1957)
46. Jane Froman...With a Song in My Heart (1952)
47. The Quintet...Jazz at Massey Hall (1953)
48. John Coltrane...Blue Train (1957)
49. Count Basie...The Complete Atomic Basie (compilation: 1957)
50. Show Boat (soundtrack, 1951)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Temptations hit #1 with “My Girl”: March 6, 1965

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Writer(s): William “Smokey” Robinson/Ronnie White (see lyrics here)

Released: 21 December 1964, First charted: 9 January 1965

Peak: 11 US, 2 CB, 2 UK, 27 AC, 16 RB (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, -- UK, 2.0 world

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

Review: Smokey Robinson’s body of work is impressive enough to have earned him praise from Bob Dylan as one of “America’s greatest living poets.” BR1 With his group, the Miracles, Smokey gifted the world with such iconic hits as “Shop Around,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” and “The Tears of a Clown.” However, some of his biggest hits were for other Motown acts, including Mary Wells’ #1 “My Guy” and the Temptations’ “My Girl.”

Smokey wrote the latter about his wife, Claudette, SF with Ronald White. All three were members of the Miracles and naturally Smokey intended his group to record it. When the Temptations heard it, though, they begged Robinson for the song. RS500

He relented, having already been looking for something for the Temptations’ “throaty tenor David Ruffin” RS500 to “belt out” WK that was also “melodic and sweet.” WK Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks had assumed lead vocal duties for the group; Kendricks even sang lead on the Smokey Robinson-penned “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” However, when Smokey saw the Temps perform as part of a collective tour of the Motown roster, he determined Ruffin was the group’s “sleeping giant.” WK

Robinson’s hunch proved right. Not only did “My Girl” become a #1 in the hands of David Ruffin, but it gave the Temptations their signature song. Ruffin stepped out front as the primary lead singer after that. SF The song is so tied to the Temptations that the group evoked boos from their audiences when they tried cutting it from their set. NPR

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