Diana Ross: A Concert Review: It’s Her House

When it comes to defining superstar look no further than Diana Ross. From the elegance of her smile to her ageless vocals, she is the entire package.

Recently, I saw Ms. Ross’ during her mini-residency at New York City Center. Her final night was Saturday. This was my fourth time seeing Ms. Ross in concert and although my pocket-book feels pain, I feel completely blessed.

Ms. Ross started the concert out with her iconic 1980’s anthem “I’m Coming Out.” The energy in the room was magnetic, drawing all eyes to the stage as one began to hear her fragile, yet demanding voice. The atmosphere turned electric when she stepped on stage.

She quickly followed with a near chronological order of some of her biggest hits and fan favorites. She started out with the timeless tunes from her tenure with the Supremes. These songs have lost none of their splendor with Ms. Ross. It’s nearly impossible not to sing along with her with the likes of “Baby Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “Stop! In The Name of Love.” I don’t think she has aged a day since The Supremes 1962 debut.

It wasn’t soon that Ms. Ross turned to her everlasting solo career with some of her top dance/disco hits, “The Boss,” “Upside Down,” and “Love Hangover.” There are no words for the energy she produced in the room. A few lucky fans were even lucky enough to be chosen by Ms. Ross to come dance alongside her during “Upside Down.”

Although Ms. Ross knows how to throw a party with a song, some of my favorite moments of the concert were when she slowed it down and simply sang. “Touch Me In The Morning” and “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going Too)” are always amongst my favorite moments from each show I have seen of hers. For this concert, my favorite moment was when she embarked on Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain.” No one will ever be able to sing a song like Holiday, but Ross also proved that no one can sing a song like her.

Then Ms. Ross began to close the show. This is a process at one of her concerts. It’s hard to come off the high of Ross. She begins with her first solo hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” This song immediately had me on my feet. And yes, she can hit all the same notes she could when the song was released.

Then comes her cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Again, it’s impossible to sit as she walks the stage in her 5th gown of the evening belting a number everybody relates too. This is her closing number, but there is always room for an encore if the audience properly requests it (I’ve been to shows where she hasn’t returned). She closed the night with another one of her early hits “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).”

With each show I see of Ms. Ross’ I have always walked away amazed, not only from her pure musical talent, but the atmosphere she creates for an audience. When the music begins and her smile comes to the stage there is immediately a feeling of acceptance. When Ms. Ross sings she immediately erases your background, race, age, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. Her music and presence bring people together. This atmosphere is created through the love she portrays for every fan. It’s seen in the halls of the auditorium and the random dance partners found all over the concert hall.

I had two thoughts as I walked away from this show. First, entertainers just aren’t constructed the same as they once were. Ms. Ross comes from a land where autotune didn’t exist and dancers were not a necessity. She is the fully rounded performer.

My last thought walking away was, “When’s the next show?” I think I could see her a dozen more times and still want to see her again. Not many artists do this for me, and I’m often a tough critic, but it’s not just the music that brings me back. It’s the memories and love that I have wrapped up in her music and celebrity and how she brings this element together amongst everybody in the room. That is what keeps me returning.

Basically, when Ms. Ross enters a room, she makes it her house.

Slaying Since The 60’s: Happy Birthday Cher

Today is a musical holiday. They should stop the presses, close the banks, and hold the mail. It is the Prime Minister of Pop, Cher’s Birthday.

I am going to take a gamble that you have probably not heard Cher regarded as the “Prime Minister of Pop.” Often times we hear loads of people saying that Madonna is the “Queen of Pop.” Cher fans argue otherwise, but to be honest, being the queen is beneath Cher.

Let’s take a step back into our English Government Class or lack there of. We all know there is a Queen, but England is no longer a dictatorship. Today the title is held mostly ceremonially with limited powers. The position with all the decision-making is the Prime Minister.

In the case of music, we have a queen of pop based on pedigree, Madonna, then we have the Prime Minister of Pop, Cher, who gets sh*t done. Cher was the original female pop star, garnering 3 number one solo hits in the early 1970’s with countless other charting hits. She had a show with her husband Sonny Bono and when that ended in divorce, she had her own popular variety show. At the same time she quickly became a fashion icon with her over the top costumes and hip length straight black hair. She is even the first lady to ever show her stomach on TV.

Cher didn’t need a shock factor. She didn’t have to roll around and moan in a wedding dress. She used her natural sex appeal and underrated vocals to pave the way for future female pop stars.

Today, in honor of Cher’s legacy, I have created a list of my favorite Cher songs. They are not in any particular order, because it is impossible for me to rank them nor is this list conclusive. They go from obscure to huge hits and from the 1960’s to today.

“Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” (1966)

This is one of Sonny Bono’s greatest pop inventions. “Bang Bang” has now been covered by numerous artists over nearly every genre. It takes love and encapsulates it in a child’s arms showing both the simplicity and intricacy of this emotion. Cher “remixed” this song on her 1987 self titled album. I have included the original here, but here is a link to the other. This remix shows how versatile Cher’s vocals are and also how Cher’s voice has grown over her career.


“Classified 1A” (1971)

This song barely ever sees the light of day, but it is one of Sonny Bono’s greatest musical masterpieces. The song tells the story of a woman being told that her husband has been killed in a war. “Classified 1A” was released in the midst of the Vietnam War in 1971. Cher can stylize with the best divas, but the raw emotion she portrays on this recording is hard to come by. She has always has a way of shooting straight to the heart through her deliverance of ballads and this is one of her best.


“Train of Thought” (1971)

This should have been a huge hit! I don’t know the exact story of this song, but it has all the mechanisms of a number one. It’s one of those songs that just gets my blood flowing.


“By Myself” (1973)

Easily one of Cher’s least successful albums, Bittersweet White Light, is a diamond in the rough. Within this album, she visits the American Song Book that she has expressed much love for. This is one of the best tracks from this album, but her Jolsen Melody and her take on “The Man That Got Away” should not fall on deaf ears.


“Take Me Home” (1979)

This song makes me want to go struttin,’ much like John Travolta in Staying Alive. The beat is infectious and roller skates are a must. Mixed with Cher’s sex appeal, this record is classic. She could take me home any day…..


“We All Sleep Alone” (1987)

As children we are taught to aspire to have a spouse and a family. We are surrounded by images of the nuclear family that never really existed. What they didn’t tell you was that we are all alone in the end. While being a dark and cryptic song to say the least, Cher lives this song as her power house vocals lay across this power ballad.


“Save Up All Your Tears” (1991)

This is the best song to belt in your car when you are mad at someone. Try it.


“The Gunman” (1995)

This is one of Cher’s best vocal performances. Her warm voice shivers down my spine as she speaks of love having no mercy. She again shares her raw emotion from experience. It leaves you thinking and hitting the repeat button over and over again.


“Our Lady of San Francisco” (2000)

This song comes from, Not.com.mercial, the only album Cher wrote nearly every song. She sings of a homeless woman and how she is looked at as garbage on the street. She speaks to humanity and how many times we have become inhumane. Helping people with the basics is dear to Cher’s heart as seen in her acts of kindness in countries like Armenia and the current Flint water crisis. To this day this album, has not been widely released.


“Love One Another” (2001)

Okay, only two more. This song is from Cher’s 2001 release Living Proof. It is a “filler” song, but Cher, nonetheless, gives it her all. I think she might just believe in its message.


“Lie To Me” (2013)

Cher knocks another ballad out of the park. This time she doesn’t quite use those soaring vocals that she is well equipped with, yet she stays in a modest tone. The beauty of this song is all in her conviction. This comes from her latest studio album in 2013 and is the only true ballad on the entire album. I love EDM Cher, but her voice is magnificent stripped down.


“You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me” (2010)

Lastly comes one of Cher’s songs that has helped me out the most in life. Once I hit my adult life, I have found myself kicked down by career, relationship, and life choices just like everyone does. It is always easy to back up into a corner, but you can’t. Cher is a living example that lying down is never an option. I’ve had this song on repeat many times and belted it off-key. It is really the best thing that came out of Burlesque. 

As it is often said with Cher: “After the nuclear holocaust there will be cockroaches and Cher.” Don’t let them ever see the last of you.


As these videos and a proper lesson in music history makes clear, Cher is the first female pop star to call all the shots. She pushed the envelope, but she did not need a shock and awe factor. Her raw talent catapulted her into the icon she is today. She became a legend when there wasn’t a legacy to follow.

Basically, she slays.

So on this day we celebrate Cher’s 35th birthday once more. While I’m lowering my flag to half staff, I’m ok with calling Madonna or one of those other little pop starlets the queen of pop. It’s just an honorary title. Remember, everybody on the tball team gets a trophy.

And while queens have tiara’s, Prime Ministers have headdresses, because you don’t need to see what’s around them while you follow. There is nothing to see. They are paving the way while walking into uncharted territory.

But as always, the wise Cher summarizes her contemporaries perfectly.

Follow this you bitches.

The Scruff After The Shave

I remember the first time I ever heard Neil Diamond. Actually, wait, no I don’t. For as long as I can comprehend there was Neil Diamond. He was not one of those artists that captivated me when I was young, yet I always knew he was somebody important. I was certain he was of legendary status, but I just never explored his music.

FullSizeRender 2Neil Diamond is much like the “American Popular Song,” the first track off of his album You Don’t Bring Me Flowers. Diamond’s catalog and musical genius goes on and on. This album truly encompasses Diamond’s raw talent in the middle of his biggest days.

This vinyl also contains the Diamond classic “Forever in Blue Jeans.” This is a song for summer. With its light guitar and uptempo beat, it reminds me of a warm summer afternoon with that special someone. It strips love of all its complexities into a simple afternoon in blue jeans.

This albums next milestone comes with Diamond’s version of “You’ve Got Troubles.” His rendition of this song comes with all the Diamond charm, including those scruffy vocals, and a riveting piano line, yet it is mixed with a slight disco/ folk feel. I could easily roller skate or protest to this song.

After these light-hearted songs of love and troubles comes the pinnacle of this album and one of the finest songs that Neil Diamond had a hand in composing. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” a duet with Barbra Streisand, has been a long time favorite of mine. I find it to be the companion piece to Lionel Richie and Diana Ross’s “Endless Love.” These songs together show both extremes of romance, yet they can flow in and out of each other.  Streisand’s vocals flow effortlessly over the piano and strings, but Diamond’s vocals provide the concrete of the song.

FullSizeRender 3One can feel the angst in his voice as he contemplates the idea of separation, and he is placing himself in a vulnerable position. It’s clear the downfall of this relationship lies with both sides, yet it is sprung by the simplest situation. They simply no longer bring flowers home anymore, a metaphor that can mean many things. This song is about the spark in a relationship that is essential through little actions and what it means when they go undone.

As one flips this album they are immediately met with a pure dance anthem, “The Dancing Bumble Bee/Bumble Boogie.” This song is composed of pure funk arrangements with a spinning disco ball in mind. This tune insists you must dance.

The listener is then confronted with an eerie and light guitar rift that turns into a dramatic menagerie with “Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Sons.” This song makes me picture the pilgrims landing on Plymouth in bell bottoms and crop tops coming down the Mayflower with a little boogie. Not a bad idea.

The last three songs on this album are solely written by Diamond. The biggest gem from this trilogy is “Diamond Girls.” It’s a Diamond power ballad with a major disco bass line that tells the story of a girl giving her all for the sake of her dreams and a better life. This is Diamond’s version of Gentry’s (or McEntire’s) “Fancy.”

IMG_2108Diamond is in all his glory with this album. He encompasses many emotions from the air of an uptempo disco party to the trampling of flowers. What I find most intriguing about this album though is his vocal performance. You Don’t Bring Me Flowers really brings Diamond’s voice to fruitionI’ve listened to him many times, but I have now finally pinpointed exactly what his voice mirrors.

Diamond’s vocals are essentially the scruff you get hours after a good shave. His voice is crisp and clean yet it possess a grit. A man can never fully rid himself of this issue, just like Diamond has been in music forever. One cannot quite get a hold of those tiny 5 o’clock shadow hairs either, just like one cannot pinpoint Diamond’s voice, writings, and longevity.

Diamond’s music is timeless. His writings are authentic. He is a pillar in the evolution of music.

He is the scruff after the shave where it gets real.

 

A Spring Record Haul…In January

Today I went out to a few record shops here in Oklahoma City, where it is 74 degrees! I haven’t taken a look at these stores in at least a month or more. I have been striving to save money and listen to what I have, yet that never satisfies us vinyl collectors does it?

I mean food, rent, or vinyl? I think the obvious answer is vinyl

I did sacrifice today though. Instead of keeping the vinyl I don’t like I took it back for trade in. I didn’t get nearly the amount I paid for them in the first place, but I’d rather somebody enjoy them then collect dust on my shelf.

IMG_1789I made my first stop at Guestroom Records. This is where I found the Tina Turner 1980’s compilation. It’s clearly an 80’s press trying to capitalize off of her Private Dancer success. I can never resist a Turner album I don’t have, even if it is merely a compilation.

Next I made a stop by Monkey Feet Music. They are a newer store here in the OKC metro, but I am quickly finding them a force to be reckoned with. I always find nice clean vinyl there and Chris, the owner, is always looking out for my favorites and suggesting new favorites. This is where I found my nearly mint David Bowie Let’s Dance, Cher’s disco infused Take Me Home, and The Judd’s first mini LP.

Sadly there is so much music and so little time. Out of my 1100 records I did not anything by David Bowie, but I have been listening to him constantly on Spotify at work. I think I have committed a music and vinyl sin not listening to him until now. May he rest in peace and his music live forever.

Lastly, I made a stop at my always favorite Trolley Stop CQYNQG0VAAAWC98Record Shop. I have been frequenting this store for a few years now and the owner, John, is a record genius. When you shop in there you find great records and get a great conversation. He is nearly an expert in musicians from Oklahoma. This is Where I found Dusty Springfield’s Custom Deluxe (A Japanese Import!) and Oklahoma’s own Lee Hazlewood’s, Houston.

Now I just have one problem. I have a friend’s birthday party tonight. Now I know I should be looking forward to this, but I really just want to sit at home and listen to all my new music. The struggle is real.

I guess I need to be a normal 25-year-old for a little while. Have a great day vinyl world and please let me know what you are spinning!

Peak-A-Bryson

The soundtrack of my childhood is that of the great R&B legends. My mom’s car was consistently filled with cassette tapes of Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, Peabo Bryson, and Diana Ross. I became in tune with my soul early in life.

Peabo_Bryson_-_CrosswindsAwhile back, I bought Peabo Bryson’s, Crosswinds. This album is his Capitol records debut from 1978. I don’t even remember where I picked it up or how long I have had it. I remembered that was one of my mom’s favorites and I grabbed it. Since I am now going through my entire collection to see what I haven’t listened to, I decided to give this album the time it deserves.

Yet, that time is still being determined considering that it has been on the turntable for part of the week, through the weekend, and is still playing at the time of this writing.

The album starts out with the title track “Crosswinds,” which I easily get caught up in. This tune set up the album pefectly on what is to become. It contains the smooth stylings and rhythmic patterns of any great R&B song, with a dash of funk, and a pinch of disco.

6c7aeff8db9766f79f22bf6d45872002Next comes “I’m so Into You.” A pure ballad that could easily fit into the Copa in 1956 as well as Studio 54 in 1978. Then comes a pure disco track that had me strapping on my roller skates, “Smile.” Needless to say, my leisure suit was at the cleaners.

The B side of the album keeps the same consistent feel throughout. I especially enjoyed “Spread Your Wings.” This is an up beat song about achieving your dreams, but sang as if whispered into your little darling’s ear. Bryson follows that with “Don’t Touch Me.” This song reminds me of Janet Jackson’s “Let’s Wait a While,” waiting for that right time where it will mean the most.

He concludes this album with “Love is Watching You.” The only “break-up” song of the album if you will, yet it still doesn’t totally encompass the end. It is an R&B power ballad stating how love can walk in and out of her life, but that heaven is watching her, eluding to future blessings.

What I find extraordinary about this album is that Bryson, at a mere age of 27, wrote and composed all the songs on this album. Each song is very different, yet they distinctly stay in sync. The lyrics barely repeat themselves and you find a new favorite with each listen. Bryson has smooth tenor vocals relative to Marvin Gaye’s, the writings of Lionel Richie, and the spunk of Smokey Robinson.

Tumblr_m55vo1WrRK1qmxcx7No wonder all the articles I read over Bryson have named him the “Kind of Balladers,” with countless praises to his writing ability. This album is his major debut. He was entrusted with a lot for a young man, yet delivered ten fold.

I don’t understand how this album has been hiding so well in my collection. I sure am glad I finally took a peek.

A Playlist for Your Labor Day

Here we are! Another year has almost come and gone and now we can no longer wear white. Labor Day is the signal of great things to come and that statement does come with a hint of sarcasm.

Labor Day was created in 1887 after the Central Labor Union and Knights of Labor had their first parade, or strike if you will, in New York City. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law declaring the first Monday of every September Labor Day. I guess back then one day was enough,  but couldn’t we have at least gone for a week?

Nonetheless, for your listening pleasure, I have collecting some labor songs to commemorate this monumental day.

“She Works Hard for the Money,” Donna Summer, 1983 

Everybody loves this disco and dance infringed number Donna Summer so graciously gave us in the early 1980’s. This song reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was later nominated for a Grammy. Inspired by real events, Summer wrote the song after talking with a restroom attendant in Los Angeles.

“9 to 5”, Dolly Parton, 1980

There isn’t a better way then to start your day then with a cup of ambition. Parton released this pop infused tune as a companion to her movie of the same title starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. Has there been a song that commemorates a working person better than “9 to 5?” I think not. Once I hear the opening of this song and its piano infringed riff, there is no stopping me. I’ll belt this song at the top of my lungs till it’s over….and then start it again.

“Take This Job and Shove It,” Johnny Paycheck, 1977

This song was originally written by David Allen Coe, but eventually fell in the lap of Johnny Paycheck. This song peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Hot Country charts. As “9 to 5” explains getting ready for the grind, this song aptly explains one’s attitude once 5 rolls around. Another interesting fact about this song, it was produced by the late and legendary Billy Sherrill.

“A Hard Day’s Night,” The Beatles, 1964

We can’t forget about the bit of romance there is in working a job….or can we? This song hit number one in both the U.S. and U.K. and was also a companion piece to a movie of the same title. The song generally speaks of one who works all day so that his girl can have everything she wants. I just hope she has a job too. Nonetheless, it’s just one of the nice sentiments that the Beatles left us. I’m sure they’ll regret this when yesterday comes.

“Is There Life Out There,” Reba McEntire, 1992

Now when one initially hears this song, they don’t think of a hard day’s work, but I think we need to leave this list on an optimistic point. This song talks about a girl, both working in her personal and private life, wondering if it is all worth it. As Reba reminds us, there is life out there and endless potential. This song is just one of Reba’s 377 number 1 singles on the Hot Country charts.

That my friends is what you can all enjoy on this fine Labor Day Monday. Sometimes working is a joy, sometimes it’s rough, but it is always worth it in the end. We may always work hard for the money, and it often takes us 9 to 5, but we can’t ever truly just take the job and shove it. Remember after a hard day’s night there is always life out there…..

And a paycheck.

Blondie, Parrell Lines: Perpendicular Shapes

When I was in high school, my family and I made routine trips to Denton, Texas. This is a musical, artistic town full of nooks and crannies to explore. It also has a few fantastic record stores.

2exm0ev11I remember looking up on the wall in one of these stores and seeing the album Parallel Lines by Blondie. The instant I saw the album cover, I was in love. I purchased the record that day, not knowing a thing about Blondie, I was only judging the band by their cover.

Sometimes covers aren’t deceiving.

I wasn’t disappointed when I got home and was able to take it for a spin. I immediately had to know more about Blondie and Debbie Harry. At the time the album was fun, but today I have discovered its innovation.

It’s hard to believe this record was released in the 1970’s, but it couldn’t be out of any other decade. The album transcends time pulling from the styles of rockabilly, pop, disco, punk, and 70’s rock. It is a collaborative album that brings together many genres and styles into a single vinyl, yet it distinctly keeps its own style.

After researching this album, I learned that Mike Chapman, a producer known for working in “British pop,” produced this album. Essentially, Chapman honed in all of the bands skills into one cohesive tool instead of 6 independently moving parts. Although Harry has referred to him as a dictator, Chapman went on to produce their next three albums. It was a love hate relationship, but it resulted in their first commercial success.

BlondieThe versatility of Harry’s vocals are well crafted in this pop foray. Sometimes from song to
song she sounds like a completely different vocalist, then her attitude and identifiable interpretative abilities come out full force. The release of this album is when Harry’s image finally took off as a vocal powerhouse and new age sex symbol.

The album opens with “Hanging on The Telephone,” a cover of a very short-lived rock group from the west coast. The energy of this song is addicting and will immediately have you pulling the needle back for repeats. This song is the hook. Next, the album goes into the classic Blondie tirade “One Way or Another.” Personally, I find this to be one of the low points of the album. It’s a good song, but better material follows. Lastly, on side A you have “Fade Away and Radiate.” A beautiful song that could be interpreted many ways, but alas, pays tribute to those who have passed on.

tumblr_m9287m8cft1qmvucdo1_5001Side B is more rewarding. It has the lonely ode “Sunday Girl.” This song is another lyrical masterpiece that leaves you with room to interpret. I also enjoyed Blondie’s updated version of “I’m Gonna Love You Too,” originally sang by Buddy Holly. Lastly, there is the disco infused, pop genius of “Heart of Glass.” Harry’s vocals effortlessly flow over this Saturday Night Live inspired tune. This song puts the listener on a high not knowing where you are headed. Is it disco? Rock? Reggae? It is truly one of the most brilliant “pop” songs ever recorded.

In the end, when listening to Blondie’s previously released material and the pop/rock of that day, this album just doesn’t fit in. It creates its own undefined space. The album is named Parallel Lines, which was the title of an omitted song, yet it doesn’t seem to run anywhere along the then musical order.

The album is just a gas creating perpendicular shapes.