Sunday, August 30, 2015

50 years ago: Bob Dylan released Highway 61 Revisited

Highway 61 Revisited

Bob Dylan

Released: August 30, 1965

Recorded: June – August, 1965

Peak: 3 US, 4 UK, -- CN, -- AU

Sales (in millions): 1.5 US, 0.1 UK, 10.0 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: folk rock

Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)

  1. Like a Rolling Stone [6:13] (7/20/65, #2 US, #4 UK)
  2. Tombstone Blues [5:56]
  3. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry [4:09]
  4. From a Buick 6 [3:19] (9/7/65)
  5. Ballad of a Thin Man [5:58]
  6. Queen Jane Approximately [5:31] (2/14/66)
  7. Highway 61 Revisited [3:30] (12/21/65)
  8. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues [5:32]
  9. Desolation Row [11:21]

All songs written by Bob Dylan.

Total Running Time: 51:26

The Players:

  • Bob Dylan (vocals, guitar, harmonica, piano, siren whistle)
  • Mike Bloomfield, Charlie McCoy (guitar)
  • Paul Griffin, Al Kooper, Frank Owens (piano/organ)
  • Harvey Brooks, Russ Savakus, Joe Macho Jr. (bass)
  • Bobby Gregg (drums)
  • Bruce Langhorne (tambourine)


4.791 out of 5.00 (average of 21 ratings)

Quotable: “Dylan’s most relentless and flawless album.” – Josh Tyrangiel and Alan Light, Time magazine

Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

Highway 61 Revisited is “Bob Dylan’s most relentless and flawless album,” TL but also his “most accessible rock album and its historic importance cannot be understated. This record changed the face of popular music, and serves as proof of his legendary status as one of the true masters of both words and music.” NO

“Taking the first, electric side of Bringing It All Back Home to its logical conclusion, Bob Dylan hired a full rock & roll band” AMG for Highway 61 Revisited. The result? He “invents folk music from the future. Dylan didn’t abandon folk music; he just hauled it forward a few centuries. Out went acoustic hymns of protest, in came a whirlwind of images – mad, random, yet cruelly precise.” BL

The Recording Sessions:

While previous album, Bringing It All Back Home, “manages to sound essentially like electrified folk” MP-19 Highway 61 “uses the sidemen’s rich instrumentation to craft…a more full-bodied sound” MP-19 “powered by Mike Bloomfield’s slashing guitar lines and Al Kooper’s bracing, rudimentary organ.” TL Bloomfield was a blues guitarist from Chicago who Dylan met a few years earlier. Kooper was a guitarist invited by producer Tom Wilson to attend the June 16 recording session for “Like a Rolling Stone.” When Paul Griffin, the organ player, moved over to piano, Kooper – despite almost never having touched the instrument – suggested, “Why don’t you let me play the organ? I have a really great part for this.” MP-52 One of rock’s most identifiable organ riffs was born.

The album was recorded in two blocks of recording sessions. The June 15-16 “Rolling Stone” sessions were overseen Wilson. He’d produced Dylan’s previous three albums, overseeing Dylan’s switch to electric music and his development as a rock star. During the sessions, Wilson tried to minimize Kooper’s role, arguing that “that cat’s not an organ player,” MP-78 to which Dylan responded “Don’t tell me who’s an organ player and who’s not.” MP-78 Dylan also sarcastically suggested bringing in Phil Spector, the famous producer known for the “wall of sound.” MP-78

Dylan later claimed ignorance over the change of producers when they resumed recording from July 29 to August 6. Those sessions wore overseen by Bob Johnston, who went on to produce Dylan’s albums for the next five years. Kooper said his “only quality as a producer” was knowing “how to pat the artist on the back.” MP-81 However, Johnny Cash – whose renowned live albums at Folsom and San Quentin prisons were produced by Johnston – called him “an artist’s dream.” MP-81

The Album Title:

“The music combines elements of Mississippi blues and Dylan’s Minnesotan roots, thus the title Highway 61 Revisited.” RV The highway winds from the Canadian border through Dylan’s hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, down to New Orleans. The route, which runs along the Mississippi River, famously passes through the Delta and near the birthplaces and homes of Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, Charley Patton, and Son House. The intersection of highway 61 with Route 49 is allegedly the crossroads where blues singer Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil. WK

Dylan said, “Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I began. I always felt like I'd started on it, always had been on it and could go anywhere, even down in to the deep Delta country. It was the same road, full of the same contradictions, the same one-horse towns, the same spiritual ancestors ... It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood.” BD: 240-1


“Dylan had not only changed his sound, but his persona, trading the folk troubadour for a streetwise, cynical hipster” AMG and the “voice of a generation.” NO “Throughout the album, he embraces druggy, surreal imagery, which can either have a sense of menace or beauty, and the music reflects that, jumping between soothing melodies to hard, bluesy rock.” AMG This was “an existential album with some of the most vivid lyrics ever heard by the human ear,” RV “all psychic chaos and information overload.” BL

What remains astonishing is that “Dylan brought a level of intelligence to rock music that no one had previously thought possible” NO but simultaneously “it proved that rock & roll needn’t be collegiate and tame in order to be literate, poetic, and complex.” AMG “The next forty years of Dylan’s career would trace the routes mapped out on this album, and most of these songs remain part of his concert repertoire to this day.” TL

“Like a Rolling Stone”

Described as “revolutionary,” WK “Like a Rolling Stone” is “one of the greatest songs in rock ‘n’ roll history.” RV Marked by “its classic organ riff” NO and opening “pistol-crack snare,” TL it was “a rambling epic that redefined the pop song.” RV

At six minutes, it “crushed the limitations of the three-minute pop single.” NO When Dylan refused to whittle the song down, Columbia Records initially shelved the single. However, when the song started getting played at a popular nightspot, New York DJs started requesting copies of the song. MP-54 Columbia gave in to demands for a single and it became the biggest hit of Dylan’s career, peaking at #2 behind “Help!” by the Beatles.

“Tombstone Blues”

This “flat-out garage rock” AMG tune “comes on like an out-of-control freight train, the fast, bass-heavy strum of Dylan’s acoustic guitar setting the pace.” MP: 75-6 “The star of this show is Bloomfield, whose between-verse solos build from heating to blistering.” MP-76

“More than practically any other song on Highway 61, [it] revisits the spirit and myth that informed [Woody] Guthrie’s persona and Dylan’s early fascination with it.” MP-72 The song “is grassroots America, small-town Main Street America, the America of Dylan’s youth.” MP-72 Another “specifically American reality that hovers behind the song…is the Vietnam War…but to call it a song about Vietnam would be too limiting.” MP-73 By referring to “a parade of historical characters,” WK including “outlaw Belle Starr, biblical temptress Delilah, Jack the Ripper…John the Baptist…and blues singer Ma Rainey,” WK Dylan “sketch[es] an absurdist account of contemporary America.” WK

“It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”

“If there is a recurring theme in Dylan’s music, it is its constant reinvention.” MP-82 “the most radically redesigned song on Highway 61…is the enigmatically titled ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,’” MP-82 originally called “Phantom Engineer.” MP-82 Critic Sean Egan wrote that Dylan slowed down the original tempo of the song to transform it from an “unsufferably smart-alec number into a slow, tender, sensual anthem.” WK According to Tony Glover, who sat in on the recording session, Dylan reworked the song over lunch to come up with the “sweeter, bluesy version.” MP-85

Dylan has “sometimes played fast and loose with composition, either passing off some early originals of his own as songs learned on the road or, more often, borrowing from traditional songs.” MP-84 In this case, he borrows from old blues numbers such as “Solid Road” by Brownie McGhee and Leroy Carr. WK

This is also the first song on Highway 61 to “take the measure of Bob Johnston’s influence. Anticpating the Nashville tone of Blonde on Blonde, he…injects an inaugural note of country into Dylan’s song, replacing Wilson’s urbane jazz sophistication with a thicker, fuller, more down-home atmosphere.” MP-86

“From a Buick 6”

“Few gneres seem to be as deeply rooted in the…fifty-year span of [Dylan’s] work as the rural blues.” MP-91 “From a Buick” is “the most straightforwardly blues-derived song on Highway 61.” MP-91 This “raucous, up-tempo blues” WK tune is partially based on “Milk Cow Blues,” a 1930 song by Sleepy John Estes. WK “The guitar part is patterned after older blues riffs by Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton and Big Joe Williams.” WK

One “can spot numerous obscured traces…of Dylan’s relationship with Sara Lownds.” MP-92 Dylan met the former model and Playboy hostess in 1964 through manager Albert Grossman’s wife Sally and they married in November 1965. She was “a mystical kind of chick…into all sorts of Eastern religions” SH: 325-6 who “accepted him for what he was, without trying to groove on knowing the great Bob Dylan.” SH: 325-6 “As love songs go, ‘Buick 6’ runs along the dark side of the road, in contrast to the sunnier fare generally available at that time.” MP-95 “‘Buick 6’ shovels a rare glimpse of what love might look like on Desolation Row.” MP-92

“Ballad of a Thin Man”

Called one of “the purest songs of protest ever sung,” WK “Thin Man” epitomizes “the ‘hip exclusivity’ of the burgeoning counterculture” WK while it also “looks at the media and its inability to understand both the singer and his work.” WK “In stanza after stanza, the once self-impressed Mr. Jones is repelled ever more frantically around an alternate reality that he can neither escape nor fathom.” MP-107 Mr. Jones, the song’s central character, is “one of Dylan’s greatest archetypes…superficially educated and well bred but not very smart about the things that count.” SH-280

“Mr. Jones has inspired more speculation about his true identity than practically any other Dylan subject” MP-108 with people suggesting it is Pete Seeger, Tom Wilson, Joan Baez, or an actual Jones – Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones or journalist Jeffrey Jones. MP: 108-9 At, poster Klark_Kent offers a detailed breakdown of the song, saying that Dylan is talking about himself and “ends up becoming a ‘thin’ man by the end of the song. But the desire to know ‘what is’ drives him on even as he mocks his own failed attempts.” LI

Musically, “Thin Man” is “hallucinatory and chilling, a raunchy slow blues that crawls under the listener’s skin.” MP-111 The song “is driven by Dylan’s piano, which contrasts with ‘the spooky organ riffs’ played by Al Kooper.” WK Interestingly, this is “practically the only song of Dylan’s that, although frequently performed live, has never significantly changed.” MP-111

“Queen Jane Approximately”

“Queen Jane is Mr. Jones’s female counterpart, another stranger in a strange land she thought her own, but spared his drastic fate because of her humility – or simply because of her gender.” MP-114 It has been speculated that the song is directed at Joan Baez and the folk movement, while others have suggested it is about “the stifling nature of an upper class existence.” WK In 1964, Baez recorded the song “The Death of Queen Jane” about the “nine-day mini-reign of Henry VIII’s wife Jane Seymour – Queen Jane momentarily.” MP-118 “Not only was Dylan aware of Baez’s connection to the song, but he also knew his ex-lover would get the reference.” MP-118

Dylan’s early career was given a significant boost because Baez championed his songs. However, “what most people admired about Baez – her clear voice and earnest commitment – were precisely what Dylan appreciated least in her.” MP-114 “Dylan wanted no part of the heart-on-the-sleeve empathy that would define so much of Baez’s career and music.” MP-116

Musically, the song “stays low-key,” MP-118 offering the listener “a chance to catch one’s breath…[it is] a rest stop along the way, relatively lighthearted and lightweight.” MP-113 It offers a “touch of sympathy and even comfort in place of relentless mockery.” MP-113

“Highway 61 Revisited”

The title cut references the Bible and God’s request that Abraham sacrifice his son. Considering Dylan’s father was named Abram, the song takes on a possible meaning that God is asking for the head of the singer himself. AG:87-8 At least in Dylan’s version, Dad isn’t quite so willing MP: 119-20 although at this stage in his life, Dylan was barely on speaking terms with his father. Abram wished Bob would devote himself to education and a career instead of wasting his time on music. MP-121

Of course, “this celebration of a highway central to blue’s history” WK “is more than just the King Bob Version” MP-120 about “the conflict between a son and his real or symbolic fathers,” MP-121 including Wilson and Grossman. MP-123 “With so many of Dylan’s songs at the time, cultural references crowd in from a variety of sources.” MP-120 Dylan makes “the highway a road of endless possibilities, peopled by dubious characters and culminating in a promoter,” WK likely based on Grossman, MP-123 who “seriously considers staging World War III out on Highway 61.” AG: 87-8

Musically, “the song is quick…and energetic, pushed along by Bloomfield’s slashing bottleneck guitar.” MP-126 Kooper suggested Dylan substitute the police siren for the harmonica: “A little variety for your album – suits the lyric better as well.” ND-39

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”

“Unlike the comic dysfuction parading by in ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ this is deadly serious, an escape literally and figuratively gone south.” MP-129 Over six verses and no chorus, the song follows an anti-hero to Juarez, Mexico on Easter. While on tour in Melbourne, Australia, in 1966, Dylan explained that Tom Thumb was a painter who’s “about 125 years old but he’s still going…and, uh, this is when he was going through his blue period, painting.” MP-130 The narrator faces “dangers from predatory women to narcostic dissolution…to rampant corruption and indifference.” MP-128 In the final verse, the narrator announces his intent to return to New York City, “conceding that even the decadence of the Naked City is preferable to what he’s just experienced.” MP-131

Musically, the song is embued with an Old West vibe thanks to “Paul griffin’s barroom piano” and “Bobby Gregg’s heavy-reverb drums, a mix of the cowboy past and hotrod present.” MP-128

“Desolation Row”

The title may be derived from John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels. Kooper suggested it refers to a stretch of Eight Avenue in Manhattan “infested with whore houses, sleazy bars, and porno-supermarkets totally beyond renovation or redemption.” MP-133

This is “a cowboy song, the ‘Home on the Range’ of the frightening territory that was mid-sixties America, a distillation of all the frontier ballads, cowpoke’s laments, tales of murder and of gamblers on the run.” MP-139 “Individuality is eradicated in favor of bland anonymity…, its denizens either processed or eliminated by the faceless powers that be.” MP138 “This is one of the most immaculately frightful visions ever set to music.” MP-136

The song features “a Fellini-esdque parade of grotesques and oddities featuring a huge cast of iconic characters,” AG-89 including blibical characters Noah, Cain, and Abel; Shakespeare’s Romeo and Ophelia; Casanova, Cinderella, and the Phantom of the Opera. “Most of the characters seem to lead mysterious alternate lives, to perform other, darker functions on the side.” MP-135 For example, Albert Einstein, “‘disguised as Robin Hood,’” is “ a ghoulish , drug-addled wreck, a shadow of the man ‘famous long ago for playing the electric violin.’” MP-136

The “reflective folk-rock,” AMG “acoustic 11-minute epic” NO featured Charlie McCoy on guitar. “While Dylan’s panoramic lyrics and hypnotic melody sketch out the vast canvais, it is McCoy’s fills that give it their shading.” MP: 141-2


Alternate recordings, including a full disc’s worth of “Like a Rolling Stone” outtakes, are featured on the six-disc box set The Cutting Edge: 1965-1966 (The Bootleg Series Vol. 12).

Review Sources:

  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Bob Dylan
  • Dave’s Music Database: “Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” charted fifty years ago today (7/24/1965)
  • AMG All Music Guide review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
  • BL Blender Magazine (Oct. 2008). “100 Greatest American Albums
  • BD Bob Dylan (2004). Chronicles Volume One. Simon & Schuster: New York, NY.
  • AG Andy Gill (1998). Classic Bob Dylan: My Back Pages.
  • LI
  • ND No Direction Home: Bootleg Series, Volume 7 (2005). liner notes. Columbia Records.
  • NO review by Steve Marshall
  • MP Mark Polizzotti (2007). 33 1/3: Highway 61 Revisited. Continuum International Publishing Group: New York, NY.
  • RV The Review (October – November 2001; Vol. 128: numbers 12-23). “100 Greatest Albums of All Time” by Clarke Speicher
  • SH Robert Shelton (2003). No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan. Da Capo Press: Cambridge.
  • TL Time Magazine (11/13/2006). “All-TIME 100 Albums” by Josh Tyrangiel and Alan Light
  • WK Wikipedia
  • WR The Wire (June 1992: #100). “The 100 Most Important Records Ever Made”

Other Related DMDB Pages:

First posted 8/30/2013; last updated 9/5/2021.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Brad Carl: 50 Songs from the 70s and 80s That Still Hold Up

Brad Carl:

50 Songs from the 70s and 80s That Still Hold Up

Brad Carl is a former radio personality who wrote this book (published 8/28/2015) in which he picked 50 songs he believes still sound good against today’s popular music. He doesn’t claim it to be a definitive list, but one which hopefully sparks conversation.

Below are the 50 songs featured in that book, as ranked by Dave’s Music Database. The top 20 songs appear in the top 1%, or roughly top 1000 songs of all time, according to Dave’s Music Database. The top 5 songs are featured in Dave’s Music Database’s book The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999.

Click here to see other lists from critics and individuals and here to see other lists from publications and/or organizations

DMDB Top 1%:

1. Michael Jackson “Billie Jean” (1982)
2. The Police “Every Breath You Take” (1983)
3. Queen “Bohemian Rhapsody” (1975)
4. Eagles “Hotel California” (1977)
5. Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (1988)

6. Soft Cell “Tainted Love” (1981)
7. The Knack “My Sharona” (1979)
8. AC/DC “You Shook Me All Night Long” (1980)
9. Frankie Goes to Hollywood “Relax” (1983)
10. The B-52’s “Love Shack” (1989)
11. Tracy Chapman “Fast Car” (1988)
12. Boston “More Than a Feeling” (1976)
13. Dire Straits “Money for Nothing” (1985)
14. Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime” (1980)
15. Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight” (1981)
16. Phil Collins “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” (1984)
17. Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated” (1978)
18. R.E.M. “The One I Love” (1987)
19. The Clash “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (1982)
20. Aerosmith “Sweet Emotion” (1975)

DMDB Top 2%:

21. UB40 “Red, Red Wine” (1983)
22. Cheap Trick “I Want You to Want Me (live)” (1979)
23. Billy Idol “White Wedding” (1982)
24. War “Low Rider” (1975)
25. Cameo “Word Up” (1986)

DMDB Top 5%:

26. Elton John “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” (1983)
27. Stevie Nicks “Edge of Seventeen” (1981)
28. Katrina & the Waves “Walking on Sunshine” (1985)
29. U2 “Angel of Harlem” (1988)

DMDB Top 10%:

30. Edie Brickell & New Bohemians “What I Am” (1988)
31. The Church “Under the Milky Way” (1988)
32. Billy Joel “The Longest Time” (1984)
33. Enya “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)” (1988)
34. Billy Vera & the Beaters “At This Moment” (1981)
35. The Jacksons with Mick Jagger “State of Shock” (1984)
36. Whitesnake “Still of the Night” (1987)
37. Georgia Satellites “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” (1986)
38. Bangles “Hazy Shade of Winter” (1987)
39. Echo & the Bunnymen “The Killing Moon” (1984)
40. Traveling Wilburys “Hande with Care” (1988)
41. Rainbow “Since You’ve Been Gone” (1979)

DMDB Top 20%:

42. Benny Mardones “Into the Night” (1980)
43. Pixies “Where Is My Mind?” (1988)
44. Scandal “The Warrior” (1984)
45. Frida Lyngstad “I Know There’s Something Going On” (1982)
46. John Lennon “Nobody Told Me” (1984)
47. Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band “Turn the Page (live)” (1976)
48. The Jeff Healy Band “Angel Eyes” (1988)
49. Sammy Hagar “I Can’t Drive 55” (1984)
50. The Firm “Radioactive” (1985)

Resources/Related Links:

First posted 11/14/2019; last updated 10/11/2021.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Max Martin: Top 40 Songs

image from

More than any other individual, Max Martin may be responsible for the sound of pop music in the 21st century. As a producer and songwriter, he made a name for himself in the late ‘90s as the man behind hits by Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, and N Sync. He went on to helm songs by Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Pink, and Taylor Swift. He has co-written 21 #1 songs (noted below) on the Billboard Hot 100, putting him third behind Paul McCartney (32) and John Lennon (26). He’s been behind 54 top-ten hits, putting him ahead of Madonna, Elvis Presley, and The Beatles. He has produced 19 #1 hits, putting him second only to George Martin (23).

So, in celebration of Martin’s accomplisments, here are his top songs of all time according to Dave’s Music Database:

  1. Britney Spears…Baby One More Time (1998) #1
  2. Katy Perry…Roar (2013) #1
  3. Katy Perry with Juicy J…Dark Horse (2013) #1
  4. Taylor Swift…Shake It Off (2014) #1
  5. Katy Perry…I Kissed a Girl (2008) #1
  6. Taylor Swift…Blank Space (2014) #1
  7. Katy Perry with Snoop Dogg…California Gurls (2010) #1
  8. Taylor Swift…We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (2012) #1
  9. Kelly Clarkson…Since U Been Gone (2004)
  10. Katy Perry…Hot N Cold (2008)

  11. Maroon 5…One More Night (2012) #1
  12. Backstreet Boys…I Want It That Way (1999)
  13. Taio Cruz…Dymamite (2010)
  14. Katy Perry with Kanye West…E.T. (2011) #1
  15. Pink…So What (2008) #1
  16. Taylor Swift…I Knew You Were Trouble (2012)
  17. Katy Perry….Teenage Dream (2010) #1
  18. Ariana Grande with Izzy Azalea…Problem (2014)
  19. Britney Spears…Oops! I Did It Again (2000)
  20. Ellie Goulding…Love Me Like You Do (2015)

  21. Usher with Pitbull…DJ Got Us Falling in Love (2010)
  22. Katy Perry…Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) (2010) #1
  23. Katy Perry…Wide Awake (2012)
  24. Pink…Raise Your Glass (2010) #1
  25. Taylor Swift…Bad Blood (2015) #1
  26. Kelly Clarkson…My Life Would Suck Without You (2009) #1
  27. Katy Perry…The One That Got Away (2011)
  28. Jessie J with Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj…Bang Bang (2014)
  29. Jessie J…Domino (2011)
  30. Pink…Fuckin’ Perfect (2010)

  31. Taylor Swift…22 (2013)
  32. Katy Perry…Part of Me (2012) #1
  33. Pink…Who Knew (2006)
  34. Kelly Clarkson…Behind These Hazel Eyes (2005)
  35. Britney Spears with Nicki Minaj & Ke$ha…Till the World Ends (2011)
  36. Taylor Swift…Style (2015)
  37. The Weeknd…Can’t Feel My Face (2015) #1
  38. Avril Lavigne…What the Hell (2011)
  39. Pink…U + Ur Hand (2006)
  40. Backstreet Boys…Quit Playing Games with My Heart (1996)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Weeknd hit #1 with “Can’t Feel My Face”

Last updated 2/7/2021.

Can’t Feel My Face

The Weeknd

Writer(s): Ali Payami, Savan Kotecha, Max Martin, Abel Tesfaye, Peter Svensson (see lyrics here)

Released: June 8, 2015

First Charted: June 14, 2015

Peak: 13 US, 14 RR, 13 AC, 2 A40, 111 RB, 3 UK, 11 CN, 2 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 7.0 US, 0.6 UK, 9.09 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 1134.3 video, 1012.0 streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

There seems to be some controversy over what this song is actually about. The line “I can’t feel my face” is taken from the 2001 movie Blow; Bobcat Goldthwait’s character utters it after taking cocaine. SF This led to speculation that the song is about cocaine. The idea isn’t without merit, considering Canadian singer Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, is “clearly out of sorts over something that he knows isn’t good for him, but he can’t resist.” SF Musically, the unpredictable nature of the song simulates the erratic feeling cocaine induces. SF

The Weeknd himself seemed to confirm this when he marveled about winning an award at a kids show for a song about “a face-numbing off a bag of blow.” WK However, The Weeknd could just as easily be singing about “a passionate affair with a woman that he knows is no good for him, but is enjoying too much to stop.” SF He sings “she’ll always get the best of me, the worst is yet to come.” SF Rolling Stone magazine suggested that he is “cleverly disguising his obsession with drugs beneath a metaphor about a dangerously hot fling.” SF

This was the first #1 song for The Weeknd and the twenty-first with Swedish songwriter/producer Max Martin in the credits. However, his previous efforts had all been by groups or solo female artists. This was his first by a male solo artist. SF The song also reached #1 in Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa and went top 10 in Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom. WK

Billboard magazine critics voted this the best song of 2015, saing “There are enough hooks in this one single for a dozen chart-toppers.” SF Rolling Stone also ranked it the song of the year, saying The Weeknd’s “showstopping vocal performance is what makes it an instant classic.” SF Spin magazine’s Brennan Carley called the song “a thoroughly definitive, all-in jam.” WK Pitchfork’s Renato Pagnani acknowledged the Michael Jackson-esque nature of the song, saying it “could have come from an alternate-dimension Thriller produced by New Age composer Vangelis instead of Quincy Jones.” WK

The song was nominated for Grammys for Record of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance.

Resources and Related Links:

Drake charted with “Hotline Bling”

First posted 2/14/2021.

Hotline Bling


Writer(s): Aubrey Graham, Paul Jefferies, Timmy Thomas (see lyrics here)

Released: July 31, 2015

First Charted: August 22, 2015

Peak: 2 US, 2 RR, 111 RB, 3 UK, 3 CN, 2 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 8.0 US, 1.2 UK, 10.08 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 1712.6 video, 819.0 streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

“Hotline Bling” could be called the lead single from Canadian rapper Drake’s fourth album, Views. However, the single came out in August 2015 and the Views album wasn’t released until nearly nine months later in April 2016, which really makes “Hotline Bling” more of a stand-alone single. The song was Drake’s eighth trip to the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart as a lead artist, equalling the #2 peak of “Best I Ever Had.” He’d also gone top 10 as a guest artist six times, including the #1 “What's My Name?” with Rihanna in 2010.

Critics praised it for its production and the revelation of a more emotional side for Drake. WK Pitchfork’s Jason Greene called it a “halting, aching song” WK and NPR’s Brad Wete called it a “remarkably catchy” song that “twinkles with bright organ riffs and boasts a bass line fit to thump in clubs.” WK Billboard noted that the song “finds Drake giving rap a hard pass and singing his heart out.” WK

Lyrically, however, the song met with some criticism. Drake remembers late night booty calls from his former lover. He is jealous that his cell phone is now silent and that she may be with someone else. SF The Frisky’s Carol H. Hood described it as “an incredibly salty and self-centered rant” WK and Bullett’s Allyson Shiffman had issue with the “super sexist lyrics.” WK Fusion TV’s Tahirah Hairston said Drake pettily “opts to condescendingly slut-shaming” his ex for moving on. WK

Rap-Up magazine said the video “shows just how suave [Drake] can be with his moves,” WK but the video was also mocked for what was seen as Drake’s awkward dancing. SF The director, Director-X, said he hoped the video would be an inspiration for men to dance more. WK

“Hotline Bling” was nominated for Grammys for Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Performance. It won the American Music Award for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Song. It also won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Hip-Hop Video.

Resources and Related Links:

Friday, August 14, 2015

50 years ago: Sonny & Cher hit #1 with “I Got You Babe”

First posted 3/15/2021.

I Got You Babe

Sonny & Cher

Writer(s): Sonny Bono (see lyrics here)

First Charted: July 10, 1965

Peak: 13 US, 12 CB, 14 HR, 19 RB, 12 UK, 11 CN, 3 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.37 US, 0.77 UK, 2.14 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 32.5 video, -- streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

When Sonny Bono met Cher, he was working as the West Coast promotion man for Phil Spector hiring musicians and backup singers. He brought the 16-year-old Cher in as a backup singer to work on classics like the Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron,” the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” and the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” BR1

Spector produced one obscure single for Cher, but wasn’t interested beyond that so Bono borrowed some money and produced a session for her. She was nervous so she asked him to sing with her on “Baby Don’t Go.” Legendary label mogul Ahmet Ertegun was interested in the duo and they were signed to Atco Records. Their first single was the ballad “Just for You,” which failed to chart. However, the follow-up, “I Got You Babe,” turned the pair into stars. BR1

Bono wrote the song late at night in the basement of the couple’s Laurel Canyon home WK on a piece of cardboard. SF Cher told Billboard magazine “Sonny woke me up in the middle of the night to…sing it. And I didn’t like it and just said, ‘OK, I’ll sing it and then I’m going back to bed.’” SF After Bono changed to key to the bridge to better suit her voice, she loved it. SF

However, when they sent it to Ertegun, he wasn’t sold on it either, instead wanting to release “It’s Gonna Rain” as the single. Convinced that it was “Babe” that was the hit, Bono took it to Hollywood radio station KHJ. He made a deal with program director Ron Jacobs that he could have exclusive rights if he played the song once an hour. BR1 The reaction to the song convinced Ertegun to release “I Got You Babe” as the single. SF

It became their signature song and “a defining record of the early hippie countercultural movement.” WK Billboard and Rolling Stone magazines both named it one of the greatest duets of all time in 2011. WK

Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Sonny & Cher
  • BR1 Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 181.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia