Today is Cher's birthday. Lord knows I love me some Cher! I feel grateful that I grew up in the era when Cher was one to the top female movie stars, though at the time I didn't always appreciate her as much as I should have. She was one of the original scandalizers both in the tabloids and in her outfits. A true trailblazer in the category of shocking spectacles.
In appreciation of Cher and everything she is and was, I present to you my current favorite Cher record. Do I like this one because it sounds like Sonny and Cher doing their version of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood? Yes. It's as simple as that.
I grew up in the 1980s, however I consider myself a child of the 1960s. Well, actually I'm a child of 1960s nostalgia. It was during my childhood that people (white people specifically) who grew up in the 1960s were the target demographic for marketers. Today we're bombarded with nostalgic revisiting of the 1990s for the target demographic of today. But back in the 80s pop culture was saturated in nostalgic looks back into the late 1950s and the entire 1960s. From Back to the Future to Stand By Me to The Big Chill to "oldies" radio stations to the California Raisins commercials to 1950s-themed burger joints to The Wonder Years to the music featured on Moonlighting to the revival of The Monkees to Dirty Dancing to Hairspray and the list goes on and on.
Of course nostalgia is a simplified and romanticized view of something. In light of that, my understanding of the 1960s was narrow at best. And that's why for many years I had very little appreciation of Lesley Gore. All I knew of her was that she sang two of my least favorite songs "It's My Party" and "Judy's Turn to Cry". Those were the records they chose to revive during the nostalgia era. It was the 80s, the decade in which they tried to turn back the clock to more conservative values. They weren't going to be pulling out Lesley's declarations of independence or anything that would challenge the traditional conservative way of living. So, when daytime talk shows would have their "where are they now" shows dedicated to pop idols of the 1960s, it was "It's My Party" that they wanted Lesley Gore to lipsynch to. I thought she was a travesty because young me couldn't imagine letting some boy ruin my party.
It wasn't until the late 1980s that I found out about "You Don't Own Me." I'm not even sure how I heard it. I just know that it completely changed my perspective about everything I thought I knew about women of the 1960s. I rarely felt connected to the pop music of the 80s. I mean, one of the biggest hits of 1987 was "Only In My Dreams" by Debbie Gibson, who like Lesley Gore, was the teen star of her day. It is a far cry from a demand for respect of one's personal identity. That's why as I grew into a teenager who would come to identify myself as a feminist, I realized the music of the 1960s had so much more to offer me in terms of radical messages than the pop music that was made for my own generation.
Additionally, it's worth considering the magical partnership of Lesley and Pacific Northwest native Quincy Jones. I really think that even to this day it's not widely known that Q produced most of Lesley's greatest records. He often gave her a soul-pop influenced sound that was key in her phasing out of teen drama and crossing over to become a tiny giant in pop music history.
So today, I grieve for Lesley Gore. I lament the way she's regretfully been summed up in today's headlines as Singer of "It's My Party", because Lesley Gore is so much more than that. She deserves to be recognized and acknowledged as someone who lit a fuse for feminism in the hearts of millions of young girls everywhere. Her anthem was one of the reasons that women like me were able to break free from societal expectations and go our own way, and though the path we choose my be uphill and rough and rugged, at least it's ours. Our choices belong to us.
She lived the life she sang about in her songs. She took the difficult path and remained true to herself, living as a lesbian in much less accepting times. As I said yesterday, I can't imagine how difficult it must have been juggling pop superstardom as a lesbian in the early 1960s. She deserves accolades for that in itself.
Today's song of the day is another one of Lesley's songs of independence. It's also a KILLER dance record. Just a couple of weeks ago I finally got my hands on a copy (thanks to Wildman James) after years of searching. Today I ask you to salute Lesley Gore by dancing to this record and then celebrate your individual identity, what ever it may be.
Esther Phillips had easily one of the most recognizable voices in pop music history. While her unique singing style remained fairly consistent, it was cast against a backdrop of a variety of musical styles: jump blues, traditional pop, soul, jazz, blues, country, and disco. She didn't bend much to the music, but rather the music was transformed by her voice elevating it with the elegance in the artistry of her technique.
Her name should be mentioned alongside vocal greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Aretha Franklin, as someone who brought a new and completely individual and innovative expression to the table. And yet so often it seems she gets swept aside. It's a tragedy equalling that of her premature death. Like so many female musicians, her contributions are often overlooked and remain under-celebrated. That's why over the past 20+ years I've made it one of my core objectives to tell their stories and sing their praises in whatever medium available to me. And for the past 4 years I've thrown a party specifically to honor the women of classic soul and R&B. I hope you will be there to pay tribute to women like Esther Phillips on March 7th at the Spare Room.
The Record of the Day is Esther's version of a song best known to modern audiences by Amy Winehouse. This one goes way back to 1949. It began as a jazz instrumental by sax player James Moody. Vocalese pioneer Eddie Jefferson added lyrics in place of Moody's sax solo (as is the definition of "vocalese") and began performing it in his live shows. Then it was picked up by King Pleasure who had a hit with it in 1954. From there it shot off in all kinds of directions and one of those directions was a pop-jazz production featuring Esther Phillips.
I think this is the most sensual version of this song on record. She stuck to the jazz phrasing, but decorated it with yards upon yards of velvet brushed with sophisticated soul. This performance is so warm and cozy, it's like curling up next to a crackling fire on a cold winter night. So nestle up next to Esther's voice for a spell and listen to my selection of the day.
I love a solid country tear-jerking ballad! In fact, one of the things I appreciate about country music is that it's often a celebration of sadness. It doesn't try to escape it, but rather embraces heartbreak and disappointment and accepts them as a part of life. Why? Because it builds character. Heartbreak makes you stronger and better equipped to deal with the day to day challenges of life. Why not embrace it? So when people claim that country is all about people whining about life, I have to argue with that assessment. Country is music by people not afraid to face the reality of life.
This record perfectly illustrates that point. Connie Francis is saying, HEY my heart is freshly broken! Leave me alone for now. It's ok for me to have a broken heart. Eventually I'll get over it. Don't worry about me, I can handle it. It's just life. Shit happens. Let me have my feelings and leave me alone.
I love it.
I also love this production. Following in the footsteps of Les Paul & Mary Ford, Connie's doing a lovely duet with her overdubbed self. Say what you will about Connie Francis, but she DEFINITELY had her own distinctive style. No matter what genre she was dabbling in at the time or what language she was singing, you can always identify a Connie Francis record.
People don't seem to talk about Connie much these days, but did you know that Connie Francis recorded records in 10 different languages and was at one time simultaneously voted the #1 vocalist in nearly a dozen countries? That's quite an accomplishment. Connie is a survivor and thriver in multiple ways and she'll be celebrating her 76th birthday in just a few weeks.
So cozy up with Connie and her brand new broken heart.
For a long time I struggled to categorize the music of Norma Tanega. Particularly while I was doing my soul radio show. Can I get away with playing this on my show? She was really a one of a kind artist who didn't really fit into a specific category. Her lyrics and vocals really lean more towards early 60s folk, but clearly the instrumentation of some of her records qualify as soul or at least gospel-influenced. Also she was on Bob Crewe's record label and he was sometimes soul, but sometimes not. So I waffled a little bit with that one for a while. Ultimately I decided to follow my heart and play whatever I want. I like pushing boundaries.
The Record of the Day sounds like a folk song making sweet sweet love to a soul song. Enjoy the intermingling!
Happy November! Here's a sweet mellow one for your Halloween weekend recovery day. Most people of my generation know this song best by Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters. In fact, we'd swear the song originates inside that ukulele at that 1970s campfire by the beach. It turns out, that is not true. It reaches back all the way to the 1920s. There were two hit versions released in the 50s (this is one of them) and it continued on in popularity into the 1960s.
This version is by Idaho native Karen Chandler and singing cowboy Jimmy Wakely. It's definitely more pop than Western though, and it is the perfect song to ease you into your day. Before you know it, this record will have you humming along and maybe even send you skipping along down the damp side streets of Portland.
Who doesn't love a good break-up song?! It's like a wonder drug that carries you through the rough patches and its only hangover is that you have a lingering feeling of greater self-respect. "Boom Boom, My Honey" is actually my favorite break-up song dressed in a different title.
I've never met a version of "Gonna Get Along Without You Now" I didn't like. Word on the internet is that it was originally recorded by Teresa Brewer in 1952 in a swingin' big bandish style (with a jaw harp thrown in as a gimmicky hook to remind us that sometimes Teresa likes to get a little country). Since then, it has been recorded in an endless array of styles. It's really hard to choose which I like the best. Is it the Latin R&B of Trini Lopez? Or the 1950s kiddie pop of Patience & Prudence? How about Skeeter Davis? Or maybe Laverne & Shirley? The truth of the matter is, my favorite version is whatever version I'm listening to at any given moment.
This version is by "sister act" Cynthia and Kay Strother who performed as the Bell Sisters in the early to mid-1950s. It's a bit of a curiosity featuring a calypso rhythm accompanied by an unusual atmospheric vocal arrangement. It's true this record walks that fine line between the incorporating of influences and the cultural appropriation/exploitation that was so prevalent in mid-century America. It kind of sounds like a 1940s Disney princess singing her answer to Harry Belafonte's "Jamaica Farewell." But for some reason, it works for me. It leaves me feeling as if I'm sailing away into the sunset of a happy ending in an enchanted animated feature film. Are there three tiny fairy godmothers dancing around my head waving magic wands? When I listen to this record, it feels likely.
DJ Action Slacks
I'm excited to highlight some of my favorite records in a variety of genres (soul, R&B, classic country, rockabilly, oldies, garage rock, etc). These won't all necessarily be "dance" records per se. They will all be records that I believe deserve a special listen. I simply love good music, rare or not. Hopefully you will spend some time here and love music right along with me! Lets give this a shot!