Transcending: A Conversation with Paula Cole

Every music aficionado finds multiple albums they love, but it’s not often they find an album that changes the tone of how they listen to music. These albums are few and far between, but sometimes there are facets of our mind we don’t realize need to be unlocked. When this happens, it creates a vacuum of self-exploration, a new favorite album, and often another favorite singer.

Recently, I found the album that did just that. Ballads by Paula Cole has taken mycomplete music world by storm and has caused me to explore a layer of my mind I didn’t know existed (Read my review on Ballads here).

Many of us know Cole from her renowned album This Fire, which sparked the top ten hits “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone” and “I Don’t Want to Wait.” She went on to win the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1998 and This Fire was certified 2x platinum in the U.S.

It is not often when you get to speak to the artist that touched your soul, but I had the opportunity to speak with Paula Cole about her new album, what she is doing now, and how to define Jazz.

Before our conversation got underway, I had to tell Ms. Cole exactly where I was coming from. I have literally been a fan of hers for almost two months now, but I could not be a bigger fan today. Her music is fresh in my mind. After I fell in love with Ballads, I quickly and consistently listened to Cole’s complete catalog of releases, beyond her two biggest hits, finding multiple gems in each album.

That is my story in a nutshell. People think of me for those hits, then they move on. They don’t give it another thought and yet, I’m grateful for the hits, but there is so much more to what I am. I mean it was even ill fitting at the time when I was in the spotlight for one minute. It felt ill fitting and I needed to go away. I have always felt I was more of a catalog artist. That was odd, the whole hit thing anyway.

Cole had started out as a Jazz singer when she attended Berklee in the early 1990’s. She was offered a few record contracts at the time, but she turned them down. She felt that she wasn’t good enough to sing Jazz and that she could not meet the standard it took to sing Jazz professionally. This surprised me, as I would not think a vocalist as talented as Cole would have this level of insecurities.

That’s definitely one of the reasons. I had 3 or 4 reasons…It’s a waste of one’s life. It’s a tragedy to be that cruel to one’s self and deprive yourself of artistic expression, for what? I needed to get out of that loop and try and I knew that now having lived at least 25 years in the music business and nearly 50 years in life, I know I can do this. I know that I was being unnecessarily mean to myself, and that I have something to say here…It’s time to just try.

Although what I quickly realized, as our conversation evolved, was that turning these deals down wasn’t just a case of the butterflies, it was a part of Cole’s artistry. There was going to be a time to make a Jazz album, and when it was, it had to be done correctly. She knew what she wanted from her own Jazz album because it is personal to her.

The two Jazz deals that I got…I wouldn’t have been able to make this album [Ballads]. I think that I would have been pushed by A&R at the record company, and the producer that they were selecting for me, to make it much more shiny and polished and piano based, even choosing some of the songs, and walking into the control room of the studio and requesting certain changes…I wouldn’t have been able to stand my ground. You learn that when you are young and you get your first record deal, that you have to make some compromises in order to stay in that place of fortune and power of having a record deal…You have to make compromises, so if I had taken the Jazz deal then, it would have been thick and I wouldn’t have been proud of what I really wanted in my heart. I knew who I wanted to work with. I wanted it to be rootsy…So finally under the right conditions, me being the record company, me being accustomed to producing myself, and having fans that funded a Kickstarter project, I was able to make it the way I wanted it to be all this time.

If Ballads had been made 25 years ago versus today, it would not be the same album. Cole would not have been completely satisfied with it, although she did tell me it would have been beautiful in its own way.

Now, I wanted to get down to the essence of Ballads. It’s a mystical album that takes you on journeys through songs from the 1930’s through the 1960’s. Not only does she take classic Jazz standards and make them her own, she takes classic American songs and turns them on their head. At this time, I asked her how she arrived at ballads at this juncture in her life and why it had to happen now.

I have several items on that giant to-do list in the sky, well actually on my notepad on my iPhone, that are life items, things on my bucket list, and making my own Jazz album was one of them. It was uncanny the way an attempt of a Jazz album would manifest and it would go away, manifest and go away. So I knew I needed to do it for me and do it the way I wanted it, which was rootsy and blended genres that I think really stand side by side with Jazz and what Jazz is. I think it is also because I’m doing a lot of reflection right now in my life. My kids are growing up and they’re out of the house a lot. I’m feeling a bit of empty nest. My parents are getting older, more fragile; I have a sense of their mortality. I’ve lost love ones and I feel a sense of my own mortality and my dad is still here and I want to thank him while he is alive. 

This album Ballads, dedicated to her father and his musical influence on her, was just as much retrospective as it is a modern take on iconic songs. Ballads was a completely new concept for Cole in many ways due largely to the fact, that she didn’t write any of the songs. Her catalog is vast and covers many genres, topics, and styles; yet now she was honing in on one genre with covers of well-known songs.

Did she have struggles making this album without having any writing credits? Was she intimidated by covering other musician’s music?

I think that I sing them as myself and I’ve arrived at many of these songs without even hearing these famous singers’ versions of them first. Many of them I came to myself by reading the music at my piano and learning them and teaching them to myself … I was able to find the song first myself…

Cole, being a professor now at Berklee and a music scholar, had a deep connection to these artists she was covering.

I have been listening to Billie Holiday so much. I have so much profound respect for her and she could quite possibly be the best Jazz singer that ever lived…I can hear her influence more on “I Cover The Waterfront,” but in general I think it is more of a spiritual connection. I didn’t worry about sounding like other people. I feel pretty well formed as a person and that’s probably why I could make the album now. I trusted myself. I didn’t feel nervous in the way that you are asking. Yes, I’m singing these legends’ songs. I’m doing it because I love them. I love them. I’m channeling them and worshipping at their altar.

My next question dealt with Cole’s song selection. As I mentioned earlier, the songs on this album range from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. Some of these songs would be completely misplaced on a Jazz album, like “Ode to Billie Joe,” which is considered country.

What struck me the most was Cole’s choice of “protest” songs. The three songs that stood out for me was “I Wish (I Knew How It Feels to Be Free),” “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” and “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.” I had to know why she made these unconventional choices for an album categorized as Jazz.

I’m white. I’m from a little New England village called Rockport, MA. I knew kindness from my parents…I went to Berklee at 18 and I joined the gospel choir…I had never ever been in such a world like that. I was now the minority. I wish every white person could have that experience and what that feels like. I was so humbled and so moved. It really changed my life…I was in a much more diverse community that opened my eyes and that started me along the path of the music business and where I was able to live in a much more mixed way. 

Now I’m here, a mom to a biracial daughter, and I care very much about race and it needs to be a conversation. I’m moved by these songs because they speak to me and the way I feel. I think they are as relevant today as ever and I wanted to underscore that by including them in this collection.

Music is a pioneering place, but I remind myself always of a quote Picasso said, “Artists are the politicians of the future.” We have to be that voice, that love, and sometimes I stumble into uncomfortable conversations, sometimes I stumble into awkward places, but we must try.

It is here that genres and musical categories began to blend in our conversation. Earlier, Cole had already shared her dissatisfaction with being categorized as a certain musical genre, but now I didn’t even feel like we were talking about Jazz anymore. What I found out though, was that I really didn’t understand what Jazz and even music as a whole was, and neither did Cole. This brought me to the simple question of how does one define Jazz?

I really don’t think I can answer that question. It’s something I’ve been searching for my whole life. I’ve been one to transcribe horn solos and learn Miles Davis and John Coltrane and they are my heroes, but so is Billie Holiday, and she never improvised a note. I think of her as one of America’s great singer/ songwriters and yet, she’s Jazz. Nina Simone to me is gospel and classical and folk and a little bit of Jazz, but yet she is categorized as Jazz. I don’t understand what Jazz is. Maybe it’s a sense of freedom and the ability to improvise. I’ve always been drawn to that. Maybe it’s deeper musicianship, that you care about chord changes and the ability to be free within the confines of traditional music. Maybe that is Jazz to me, exploring the boundaries and being freer in what we understand as music. That’s Jazz to me.

I then asked, “so Jazz is a loaded word?”

Yes. I have this book of interviews with Jazz musicians and the question they pose at the beginning of every chapter is, “What does Jazz mean?” Jazz has no etymological roots that they can trace. People have every different understanding of what Jazz means. A lot of times what people come back with is “fucking,” a brothel word from the brothels of New Orleans. So who knows what it means? Who knows? It could mean that, maybe something else. I think it’s fantastic. And that’s kind of where we are at with it. I worship at the altar of several Jazz musicians and also Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris and Bobbie Gentry. And you know if Johnny Cash could sing Shel Silverstein lyrics and Nina Simone could cover Bob Dylan songs, then what is it? Why are we categorizing?

I then had to touch on Cole’s vocal technique and approach to this album. Anyone familiar with Cole’s catalog knows that she is a vocal acrobat. She can sing the softest love song, croon a torch ballad, and compete with the greatest belters of the past.

Although on this album, Cole took a rather reserved approach to her vocals. Her voice was retrospective. Was that intentional? Had she created this formula before going into the studio?

No, it was not any kind of executive decision at all. I think it comes from an internal, personal place where I’m just not wanting to scream as much. I have been doing some retrospective shows where I play This Fire and frankly, it’s exhausting. I can feel my 20-year-old self and I feel my anger and my frustration, especially in kind of being treated a little second class in the music business. I don’t want to sing like that on Ballads. Sometimes I do. It’s absolutely liberating. It’s victorious and I find the audience loves it. There is a time and place for that, but it wasn’t on these songs. No, no. I wanted something more gentle. I wanted to sing for the lyrics not for vocal prowess. I wanted to sing for the lyrics and the stories of these songs now.

There is so much to the album Ballads. So much, that I can’t even begin to describe what the album means and what one is supposed to take away from it. The album is transformative as Cole weaves in every genre, sings in sync with the greatest artists of all time while conveying a message of strength, social injustice, and self-worth.

Lastly, as a teacher at Berklee, I wanted to know what Cole had to say in regards to millennials and this album. What was she wanting my generation to take from this record?

I want millennials to listen to the masters in music and I want them knowing that history to go forward and be a voice that the world needs. They need to stand up. They need to make this world better. We’re counting on you. We as “Xers” or “Boomers” above you need to walk the walk, too, but we need you now because you’re young and you are relevant and you are forming the modern pop society right now. You’re forming the modern culture right now. We need you to look back and hear our stories and bring it into the light and be the politicians of the future through your art.

That call to action has been rolling in my head since this conversation. Now, in the light of the recent tragedy in Vegas, it seems to ring even louder. It’s time for everybody, but especially young people, to stand up and stop hate. We have to look at the legacy of our family, country, world, and humankind and move forward. I believe we hold the answers, finding them is the difficult part.

This album has moved me in many ways, freeing my mind to think on a larger scale. Cole achieved this through song selection, vocal style, and never putting up walls to categorize music. Her vision is clear and she is using the only universal tool known to mankind, music.

As I contemplated my interview with Paula Cole, I listened to Ballads again. Her words inspired me, many of which are not written here. Her album has given me a clearer direction on what music is, especially Jazz; yet, it has completely muddied the waters. This album is retrospective in both music, cultural issues, and situations each individual faces. This album is also innovative due to its musicality and message. This album simply transcends time, genres, categories, and ideas.

What I have learned from Cole is that music truly has a home in every heart surpassing time. It’s artists like Paula Cole that bring that universal connection together to all of us.


Buy Ballads on Amazon or her official site.

Visit Paula Cole’s official Website here.

Check out Ms. Cole’s Twitter and Facebook.

Liza Minnelli, New Feelin’: She’ll Do As She Pleases

For my fourth installment for Women’s History Month, I bring you Liza Minnelli! I was extremely excited to see her Facebook live event this week with Michael Feinstein. You can watch that video here. Ms. Minnelli looked amazing and most importantly, she looked happy!

It was also Ms. Minnelli’s birthday yesterday, Sunday, March 12th. The legend turned 71 years old, but she shows enough energy to compete with any of today’s entertainers. Michael Feinstein also dropped a little teaser on his Facebook that he and Ms. Minnelli are working on shows for 2018, of which I have to say…..

Liza, take your time. We’ll still be here ready for you when YOU are ready.

With all this Minnelli excitement, I decided to revisit one of her albums that has always stood out to me, her 1970 release, New Feelin’. This album took on a new direction for Minnelli and it gave many many American standards a new identity.

This album takes songs like “How Long Has This Been Going On?” “The Man I Love,” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine” and gives them a pop and soulful twist with a hint of folk stylings. We all know Minnelli can deliver these American classics unlike any other artist, but this album presents them in a completely new way.

Fun Fact: This record was recorded at Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

The album starts out with a funky, horn-filled version of “Love For Sale” by Cole Porter. She then immediately goes into the classic ballad “Stormy Weather.” This song is filled with heavy piano and gospel inspired background vocals. Then comes one of my favorite tracks from the album, “Come Rain or Come Shine.” This song sounds like something straight out of Motown’s vault if Motown was located in Nashville. Then there is that ending note that just doesn’t stop shining.

Side Two also comes with plenty of new experimental arrangements of these classics. “How Long Has This Been Going On” is mixed with an enthusiastic horn section and sounds Americana in style. Then Ms. Minnelli covers Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child, a song she would sing to near perfection two years later on her award-winning TV concert, Liza With a “Z”. This version adds more backing vocals giving it a doo-wop feeling mixed with gospel stylings.

Lastly, there is Ms. Minnelli’s standard, “Maybe This Time.” This takes on a completely new image. This starts out as pure country. As the song progresses, it begins to take on a blues facade with rhythmic bass, horns, and melancholy backing vocals. Although this song does not have its usually dramatic deliverance, it is still a gem in its own right. This song is about taking that first step to self-fulfillment. Ms. Minnelli delivers this message with the same conviction she always does, but just a little more casual.

This album takes songs that people twice her age at the time were singing. She was known for performing these same selections in her live shows. On New Feelin’, she gave these compositions a twist of her own. Her vocals remained constant, shattering every ceiling, but they still felt right with these different arrangements. Ms. Minnelli just does as she pleases.

Revisiting this record has me pumped for what Ms. Minnelli is planning for her fans, but more importantly, it has me excited for where she is in life. I hope and pray she is truly happy, relaxed, and self-assured that she is loved. In her recent interview with Michael Feinstein, Ms. Minnelli spoke directly to her fans stating, “You are what make me happy. I mean it….and I love you.” You hear celebrities say that all the time. The odd thing is, Ms. Minnelli sounds like she means it. I know she meant it.

So join me in celebrating Ms. Minnelli’s career and whatever she damn well pleases to do.

Unfortunately, this album is not on Spotify, but I did find these on some of her compilations.

Feeling a Little Dusty: Dusty Springfield, Dusty

Another week is upon us which only means one thing…it’s another week to celebrate female musicians for Women’s History Month!!

For my second installment to celebrate women’s history, I bring you the blonde haired, blue-eyed soul of Dusty Springfield.

Dusty is consistently on my list when I record shop. I discovered her a few years ago when I was in a job that was not personally fulfilling and I desperately needed an out. I can not even remember what brought her to my attention, but thank goodness for neglecting my duties!

img_1617Tonight, years later, I find myself sitting and listening to the first Dusty Springfield album I ever purchased. It was her second album she released in the United States, but it was really her first record she released in Britain. In the United States, this album is known as Dusty and in Britain, it is known as A Girl Called Dusty.

Although this album was not met with as much praise as her first release, Stay Awhile/I Only Want to Be with You,it is still filled with some of my favorite Dusty tunes. For starters, it has her modest pop hit “All Cried Out.” This song blends 1960’s soul and pop seamlessly, which is exactly what Dusty did perfectly.

The album possesses some great covers of Dusty’s soulful contemporaries including “Can I Get a Witness” by Marvin Gaye and “Don’t You Know” by Ray Charles. There are some great Dusty originals here as well like the mysterious “Guess Who” and “Nothing.”

Then there is the commanding and dramatic ballad, “Summer is Over.” This song has some of Dusty’s best early vocals. It shows how she isn’t merely a little singer, but that she can belt and deliver a song with the best of them. This song was co-written by her brother Tom Springfield.

dusty_springfield_youngWhat I found extremely interesting was the elegant soul she brought to this album with the songs “My Coloring Book” by the famed Fred Ebb and John Kander, and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Both of these writing combinations have become staples in today’s cabaret, ballad, and American Songbook ethos.

“My Coloring Book” was originally recorded by Barbra Streisand and Dusty’s version differs drastically. Where Barbra sang it proficiently, Dusty’s vocals brought a childlike perspective to the song while maintaining its sad tone. Dusty’s version of “I Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” is by far my favorite. It is the impeccable mix of classic vocal style with 60’s pop.

The album Dusty began to truly shape her future recording career, while providing an innovative style in a time when music desperately needed to find itself.

As if Dusty’s music wasn’t enough, she also created an iconic image with her bleach blonde bouffant style hair and her excellent showmanship. Add on a lot of eyeliner, and you have one of the biggest influences on popular music. She is the original Adele and based on their voices, they could be mother and daughter.

Sadly, Dusty left this world in 1999 due to breast cancer, but her influence will continue to live on both in what she was and her innovative image and vocal combination. She pushed the envelope in a doo-wop society and helped bring soul music to the forefront of American and British culture.

To say the least, all my pop and soul vinyl post-1963 is a bit Dusty…

 

Karen Carpenter: My Top 5

For Woman’s History Month I am going to predominately post over trailblazing female singers. I feel guilty that I did not write over many African-American artists for African-American history month, but February just got away from me. I’ll make it up.

There are so many amazing female vocalists throughout the years and many of them are amongst my top favorites. I had no idea who to start with. Then divine intervention occurred. Yesterday was Karen Carpenter’s birthday and what better vocalist is there to kick off my series?

I have been listening to The Carpenters since I was very young. My mom bought me one of their albums when I was around 6 or 7. It was a compilation of some of their best love songs accurately titled Love Songs. Karen’s pristine vocals mixed with Richard’s genius accompaniments were love at first listen for little Gabe.

My mom used to play this CD every night when I went to bed because of Karen’s rich and soothing vocals. When she would go to work on Saturdays or stay late to put in overtime I would take my prized possession, my boombox, and listen to The Carpenters as she worked. As I have grown older my fascination with The Carpenters and Karen’s voice has only grown.

For the kick off for Woman’s History month, I give you my top five songs sung by Karen Carpenter! These are in no particular order because it would be impossible to rank them. They change places every time I listen to a Carpenters album.

1. “Song For You”

This is one of my favorite songs across all genres and artists. I love that it has been sung from the original artist and writer, Leon Russell, to the likes of Whitney Houston. I have yet to find a version I didn’t like, but I will say that Karen’s is my top favorite.

2. “Superstar”

This song’s melancholy mood, yet mysterious delivery always gives me chills. I love how this song using Karen’s higher register during the chorus. Simply superb.

3. “Solitaire”

This was one of my first favorites I had of The Carpenters. I think it was because my mom had just taught me how to play solitaire on our Window’s 95 PC. That doesn’t take away from the genius of Karen’s vocals in this song. Sometimes I find myself humming or singing this song randomly for no reason.

4. “Rainy Days and Mondays”

This song doesn’t need an explanation. It’s obvious why it’s one of my favorites. I’d say it’s one of everybody’s favorite Carpenters songs. I love this live version from 1971. So many of today’s singers aren’t even worthy to hold Karen’s drumsticks.

5. “If I Had You”

This song is from Karen’s shelved solo album. I will never understand the reasoning of shelving this album. The verses of this song show Karen’s impeccable ballad style with a disco-heavy chorus. It wasn’t released until 1996, 13 years after her death.

Although I was not alive when Karen passed I still say I miss her. I’ll always listen to her catalog and know that it was not properly completed, but what she did give us was pure gold. I am so thankful that God blessed us with Karen Carpenter. He created one of the greatest voices in recording history. Rest in harmony sweet Karen.

Reba McEntire, Self-Titled: Humble Beginnings

I have been a Reba McEntire fan for nearly my entire life. You can read more about that musical journey here. When I began to collect records I knew I had to have every album she had released on vinyl, but there was one little hiccup.

img_0506For the life of me, I could not find her 1977 Mercury self-titled debut. I searched everywhere from garage sales, record stores, and eBay. There is not a significant hit on this album nor did it even chart on Billboards Country Albums. I guess that means there are not many floating around.

Well, I finally found one in Oklahoma, the perfect place for one to be! We love our McEntires in the red dirt and have supported Reba since the beginning. I have now listened to it many times over and I don’t find it insignificant, but a foretelling of what was to come. This album is her humble beginnings.

Reba’s debut album takes a more traditional route compared to her later recordings. It might sound odd to some fans, but it firmly shows where her roots are planted. The album begins with the sweet, mid-tempo “Glad I waited Just For You.” I would say this is “bubblegum country” at it’s finest. One is then quickly taken into the first ballad of the album, “One to One.” This track is a highlight.

“One to One” echoes 70’s soft rock and shows Reba’s versatile vocals. Ballads are among some of my favorite Reba songs and nobody portrays pure love and pure heartbreak like she does. Although this song is not a “break-up” song, this album does give Reba much room to sing some heart-wrenching tunes.

45db73c6bd77c9326d4e8d185119a4caReba begins to show her emotional chops with songs like “I Was glad To Give My Everything to You,” “Take Your Love Away,” and a cover of Hot’s 1977 hit, “Angel in Your Arms.” One can clearly see where “For My Broken Heart,” “She Thinks His Name Was John,” and “Till You Love Me” come into play later in her career.

Sadly, this album only charted two songs, “I Don’t Want To Be A One Night Stand,” which came in at 88 on Billboards Country Singles chart, and “(There’s Nothing Like The Love) Between A Woman and A Man,” coming in at 86. Each of these songs is memorable, but not chart toppers for late 70’s country.

Lastly, two of the biggest gems are “Why Can’t He Be You” and “Invitation To The Blues.” The first was written by Hank Cochran and previously recorded by Patsy Cline. The later was written by Reba’s Oklahoma contemporary, Roger Miller. Reba’s version of “Why Can’t He Be You” is almost the exact same arrangement as Cline’s and although it still falls short of Cline’s greatness, it is remarkable. Reba’s version proves she had the performing chops in 1977 and it has shown a light to her later career. She was going to be a show stopper.

This album shows an Okie girl making it in the big music world. It’s merely her humble beginnings, just like her ones in the fields of Oklahoma. Although not considered a commercial hit, this album sets a precedent and lays a foundation for Reba’s career.

Happy Birthday Amy Winehouse: Reliving “Frank”

Today Amy Winehouse would have been 33 years old, had numerous more critically acclaimed albums under her belt, and multiple Grammys to go with them.

Winehouse was before her time, yet she was also a beacon of the past. Her vocals proclaimed a renaissance in modern music while being distinctly reminiscent of legendary vocalists past. I cannot find a word that penetrates to the core of Winehouse’s artistry. She was simply unexplainable and for me, completely intriguing.

fullsizerender-9Although Winehouse is mostly remembered for her album Back to Black, in which she won five Grammy awards, her previous record Frank is just as memorable. This album is one of the best compositions of the 21st century and is a must for every lover of music. It doesn’t belong to any one genre.

This album has a completely different vibe then Back to Black. It again defies all genres, but in a different way. Throughout this album Winehouse’s vocals remind me of a pure jazz singer, but not every song is necessarily jazz or has jazz elements.

The essence of jazz music is that each time you sing a jazz song it can be sung a different way through different stylization and emotion. It’s truly an artist’s genre and is completely freeing to the vocalist. This is where Winehouse’s vocals lie in Frank, completely free.

Frank begins with the song “Stronger Then Me.” Like most of the tunes on this album, this song is co-written by Winehouse. This song mixes R&B, soul, and jazz. Winehouse sing’s over these lyrics with her distinct brass and sarcasm. This song sets the tone for the entire album.

Although Winehouse is distinctively wanting someone stronger than her current boy, she immediately goes from the woman in charge straight into the one down position with “You Sent Me Flying.” This sentiment is quickly forgotten as she sings about her new friend, “Cherry,” who has now taken the place of her boy. I’ve never heard someone explain a guitar so affectionately.

Moving on down side A, we have the song this album is most known for, “F*ck Me Pumps.” The lyrical content of this song is about those women that seem to make clubbing a living while seeming to live shallow lives, when they actually just want to settle down. We all know the ones. This is a hard one not to get caught in your head with its addicting rhythm and piano riff.

Another standout on side A is “Moody’s Mood For Love,” a classic jazz  song that has been covered by many artists. This song really shows how savvy Winehouse is in pure jazz. I can just imagine her singing this in an underground jazz club in NYC. This sound parlays into side B.

fullsizerender-10Side B opens with “Take The Box.” This is one of the prize possessions of this album. “Box” takes a ballad turn, while keeping a consistent R&B beat. The metaphorical lyrics are nearly brilliance and I find them to be some of Winehouse’s finest. This song is easily coupled with “What is It About Men?,” which follows the same vibe, yet with a sensual touch.

As I walk away from this album, I am just as intrigued with Winehouse as I was the first time I heard her voice. What I find truly exquisite is how this record reads like a story-book filled with poetry. You can find different meaning in each song depending on your emotional and physical surroundings, but each has a distinct setting. The same goes for Winehouse’s vocals. They are a never-ending book. There is always something new and profound to find in her stylings.

So today we celebrate her life and music that will last decades. Her legacy is much like that of Buddy Holly’s, although her career short, her influence in music is permanent. This album was named Frank due to her “frank” telling of the truth and also in tribute to Frank Sinatra, one of her biggest influences. This album and everything that proceeded was bound to be legendary.

Now only time will measure the legacy and footprint that Amy Winehouse has left on music. Happy Birthday to this beautiful songstress. May you rest in peace while taking another seat too soon in that heavenly choir.

 

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.