ALBUM REVIEW: Believe Again, 20 Years of Cher’s “Believe”

Some hits are timeless, while others eventually fall to the wayside. It’s safe to say that Cher’s 1998 hit, “Believe,” is here for good.

It has been 20 years since Cher released this iconic single, accompanied by its equally trailblazing album. The album Believe comes off the heels of Cher’s 1995 album, It’s A Man’s World. Although It’s A Man’s World truly shows the scope of Cher’s vocals, it was a commercial failure, only selling 700,000 copies worldwide to this day.  Believe came at a “do or die” moment in Cher’s career…..

Read the full article here on VENTS Magazine.

INTERVIEW: Pat Boone, An Original

It’s not often you find originals.  Everything seems to be a copy or some kind of transposition from something that has been made or done before. This encompasses careers, culture, and even everyday items.

Pat Boone, Vinyl Culture

I find this adage to be true in music today. Now I have to consider that a lot has been said, but nothing new seems to happen anymore. That’s why I collect vinyl and listen to the “original” artists of popular, R&B, and rock and roll today. One of the greatest originals that paved the way for modern music is Pat Boone.

Last week I spoke with Mr. Boone about his career, what he did for music, and where he sees music today.  We started out with the basics. How did Boone begin his career and how was his interest in music sparked?

I began to sing in my hometown of Nashville in my family. Mama was not a musician, but she could play some chords on the ukulele. She taught my brother and I those chords and we could sing at our family gatherings. Then in school starting in the 8th grade and into high school, whenever there was a need for a guy who could carry a tune and sing, I would either volunteer or be asked to do it. In high school, I was known as ‘Blue Moon Boone.’ I could sing “Blue Moon” anytime, anywhere.

From there, “Blue Moon Boone” began entering many talent contests, but couldn’t quite get to the top spot, always coming in 2nd. He eventually won a talent contest that sent him to NYC to try out for the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, the original American Idol, Boone informed me. Although right before he could have won the show, he went down to CBS and tried out for the Arthur Godfrey show and won! Dot records then contacted Boone and nearly 8 months later he was in the studio cutting his first hit record “Two Hearts, Two Kisses.”


It wasn’t long until Boone was recording million seller after million seller and making nearly three albums a year, not to mention graduating from college getting married, and having 4 children. Needless to say, he had his hands full. This helped lead way to his trademark, family friendly image.

When I graduated in ’58 from Columbia, Magna Cum Laude, I was on the cover of TV Guide in my cap and gown because of the TV show, “The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom.” It went out live, it wasn’t pre-taped or anything, it went out cold live every week!…You open up the TV Guide that I’m on the cover of and there is a picture of Shirley, my wife, and our four little girls. I was 23. It was a hectic, hectic time, but I was selling millions of records and during that period I was Elvis’ only competition.

Pat Boone, Vinyl Culture

What many people do not realize is that in the latter part of the 1950’s Boone and Presley matched nearly single for single in the charts and in sales. This rivalry was quite friendly though. As Boone later told me, they were “good buddies” and played flag football regularly.


Boone was now on the cusp of the new “rhythmic” music they were calling rock and roll. He had already recorded some R&B covers like Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” and Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti.” Boone was excited to discuss his records that were rock and roll, but he also wanted to clear up a misconception. Many are quick to say these pop artists “stole” these records from R&B artists, but that simply wasn’t the case with Boone.

Fats Domino’s record of “Ain’t That a Shame” was a rhythm and blues hit on rhythm and blues radio…R&B music was not played on pop radio and the artists were not known on pop radio…when I recorded “Ain’t That a Shame” his [Fats Domino] had been number one on the R&B charts and sold 150,000. I recorded “Ain’t That A Shame” and it went to number one on the Pop Charts and sold 1.5 million copies….he was thrilled, same with Little Richard and “Tutti Frutti”…both said they were making more money off my recording of their songs than they were…


Today, Boone is a music business veteran who keeps on going. To this day, he still performs and is an active political and religious commentator. Boone made his records when the music industry was vastly different then what it is today. What was his take on where the industry had gone and what were the differences?

It’s all suits, programming, and executives running things. It used to be where if a doo-wop group made a demo they could walk into a radio station, give it to the DJ, he could play it, and it would become a hit. Now there is no such thing…That was a time when the public was choosing what they liked. Now they have to take whatever the record companies produce and give them. They will spend a half million on a record that will bomb and go nowhere, where we would spend three or four thousand and sell a million records…It was a time of creativity and innovation…millions are spent on finding the next hit, not something brand new and fresh.


Pat Boone, Vinyl CultureThere was once a time when music was organic and innovative. People were not restricted to just “big money” music, anybody could get a record on the air. If it was good, it got played. Sure there must have been some corruption here or there, but it really was that simple.

Boone comes from this era of simple innovation where originals were produced. He was one, if not the, original pop superstar that literally took over the radio and tv air waves. Always keeping his integrity, he paved a way for artists to come from the 1960’s to today. Copies are quickly and rapidly produced, but originals are hard to come by. Pat Boone is an original superstar that many imitate, but can never recreate.


Don’t forget to check out Israel’s 70th anniversary Gala hosted by Pat Boone here.

To learn more about Pat Boone visit his official website here.


Connect with Pat Boone:

Pat Boone Twitter

Pat Boone Facebook

Pat Boone's Instagram

 

PLAYLIST: Nina Simone, A Calm Exhaust

Sometimes you are at a loss for words. Then you listen to Nina Simone….and you are still at a loss for words.

Lately, I have binge-listened to Nina Simone. I don’t really like to write over her because it’s so hard to put words to her voice, but I feel the need to say something.

Simone’s voice is complex. Her voice pierces my soul. When I put on one of her records, I may feel whole, but by the time the album makes its final spin, I’m mush. This happens every single time. As exhausting as this sounds, she is still one of my go-to comfort vinyl. Her voice calmly exhausts me.

I could literally write a book over each Nina Simone album I listen to, but for the sake of brevity, I wanted to compile a list of my current favorites. Although it is safe to note, this list may change by the time this article is published.


1. “Mood Indigo” from Little Girl Blue

This song does me in by many artists, but Simone’s upbeat version takes me astray. Instead of the songs usual instrumentation of gloom, it takes on a new feeling with an upbeat tempo.

2. “Papa, Can You Hear Me” from A Single Woman

All music theater and jazz fans know this song from Barbra Streisand and the movie Yentl. Nina Simone’s version is very different, not just in a vocal sense, but an emotional one. Simone didn’t have a close relationship with her father and this song serves as a solemn farewell plea.

3. “The Other Woman” – “Cotton Eyed Joe” from Nina Simone at Carnegie Hall

What I hate about this song is how autobiographical it became for Nina Simone. The song is a tear-jerker, especially with the emotion Simone evokes. What I do love is how well she captures the true essence of this song’s lyrics. She lived it in more ways than one.

4. “Go to Hell” from Silk and Soul

Simone’s mid to late career was mirrored in bluntness. This song, from what I would argue is one of her most iconic studio albums, continues this tradition.

5. “Summertime” Instrumental and Vocal from Nina Simone At Town Hall

When Simone plays the piano, I can feel her fingers hit the keys. Now, this may be my imagination, but this factor stuns me with this song in particular. Her vocals are nonchalant. It sounds like Simone is just saying words that come to mind as she goes through this classic.


What does it mean for an artist or piece of music to pierce your soul? I don’t have the answer. These are just the words that distinctly come to mind every-time I listen to Simone. I’m not sure if a digital file could quite do it like vinyl. It’s gut-wrenching and unexplainable when on this medium. It steals my words. There are layers to our bodies and emotions, yet Nina Simone skips every level to strike the deepest.

This playlist barely touches the brim of what Simone means to me. She expresses the highest highs and the lowest lows that I’ve only experienced with Judy Garland as well. With each listen, she strikes that exact cord within my soul that needs strumming, and I could not be more thankful.

And here I must end because, again, Nina Simone has left me speechless.

Check out my other articles over Nina Simone:

https://vinyl-culture.com/2017/07/17/music-vinyl-blog-review-nina-simone-baltimore/

ALBUM REVIEW: Cher, 3614 Jackson Highway

Life is supposed to be a hit, much like this album.

With all the ups and downs of life lately, I found myself in some tough situations. I have questions from my career to finances, and there doesn’t seem to be a concise decision. My life status is complicated.

 

This was the exact situation Cher found herself in when she released her 1969 album 3614 Jackson Highway. It had been a few years since Cher or Sonny and Cher had a hit. Their record label ATCO were hoping to change that with this record. Instead of stringing together another standard pop album, they wanted to essentially reproduce what had happened with Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis. They wanted to give Cher a “soul” and “blues” feeling with the top studio musicians.

This is an album of mostly covers with a few newer compositions. Covers were nothing new for Cher. She had done many Bob Dylan covers on her previous albums, but this time they were going to be delivered via Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (Fun fact: Cher was the first to record at their then “new” studio, 3614 Jackson Highway). This was also her first album not produced by Sonny Bono.

The album starts with the Buffalo Springfield cover “For What’s It’s Worth.” This rootsy, almost southern rock arrangement, gives Cher’s voice a completely new venue. The first true gem of this record comes in “(Just Enough to Keep Me) Hangin’ On.” Although this song is a lukewarm song on love, Cher’s voice literally sounds like mascara stained teardrops. This theme continues throughout many of the album’s later cuts.

One can’t ignore her version of “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of The Bay.”  You can hear the dreams in Cher’s voice as she dips her toes in the bay. Side A closes with “I Walk on Guilded Splinters,” a cover from Dr. John. Lyrically, this song serves as a precursor to Cher’s future career.


Side B belongs to the ballads, although songs like “Cry Like a Baby” definitely deserve an honorable mention. Cher completely owns the ballad “Please Don’t Tell Me.” This song, again soaked with mascara-stained tears, jars the heart into vulnerability. It places you in the most helpless, yet loving moment. It’s a perfect leeway into the album’s conclusion “Save The Children.” Then there is Cher’s version of “Lay, Baby, Lay,” a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay.” Cher uses her seductively rich vocals to bring this song a new facade.


 

In my life, I have been learning to find my own voice, and that is what sets this album apart from everything Cher had made previously. This album is in Cher’s voice. She sounds as if she is talking to you from across the table about her hopes, aspirations, and heartbreak, set to a rootsy, Americana, and blues background.

Yet the album was a commercial failure. The critics loved it, but the album itself bombed on the charts stalling at number 160.

So I sit here, 49 years after this album, and I feel a deep connection to it emotionally. Cher’s vocals have always been underrated, and she has truly spoken straight to my being with this album. Life is meant to be a hit, but sometimes we walk through valleys, but they result in beauty.

So let’s look on our past and present struggles through the lens of beauty. Looking back, it will only be a stepping stone to greatness. Basically, we are all a hit. We may be a commercial failure now, but we could be a gypsy, tramp, or thieve tomorrow….or something along those lines.

Check out some of my other articles on Cher:

Cher, Dressed to Kill: There Is no “If,” It’s When

Vinyl Playlist: Slaying Since The 60’s, Happy Birthday Cher!

Vinyl Music Review: Sonny and Cher, The Wondrous World of Sonny and Cher

ALBUM REVIEW: Janet Jackson, Damita Jo – BLACKLISTED

Since I cannot quite get through Justin Timberlake’s new album, I have continued to listen to Janet Jackson. Partly in protest to his halftime show, and partly because she is exceptional.

It’s really a shame though. Since 2004, Jackson has released 4 studio albums of brand new music. Not one of these albums has reached the success it deserved. Like I’ve stated before, it’s not her best work (because you can’t top Janet or The Velvet Rope), but it’s not shabby. It’s the classic R&B Jackson has always provided for us with each album.

To continue my series of blacklisted albums by Janet Jackson, I decided to look at her immediate follow up to “Nipplegate,” Damita Jo. 


Damita Jo was released 5 weeks after the Super Bowl performance. Viacom and Clear Channel’s ban of Jackson’s singles and videos contributed to its underperformance. I’m not going to be a Jackson purest. Damita Jo is not Jackson’s best work, but there are some incredible gems within this album.

The album opens up with another one of Jackson’s classic interludes that introduce you to the tone of the album. We are then met with the upbeat and autobiographical “Damito Jo,” before heading straight into an uptempo sex scene with “Sexhibition” and “Strawberry Bounce.” All three songs are incredibly aesthetic to the ear.

Next, we come into the album’s groovy and funky portion with the songs “All Nite (Don’t Stop),” “R&B Junkie,” and “I Want You.” What’s fun about these songs, besides the beat, is Jackson’s vocal tone. She isn’t using her normal sensual purr, but she is dancing with her voice. They slightly compare to “Scream,” her duet with Michael Jackson, in the fact that they push Jackson out of her comfort zone.  The same happens with the closing song “Just a Little While.”

The last takeaway I had from this album is “Thinkin’ Bout My Ex.” With the song’s beginning guitar rift to its smooth chorus, this song returns Jackson back to her sensual side with a flush of vulnerability.


What I really took away from this album is how every one of Jackson’s albums since Rhythm Nation 1814 listens like a novel. Each album is perfectly curated into themes (scenes) with narrative introductions (interludes) while cumulating in a resolved ending.

This album deserves a lot more praise then what it received in 2004. The reviews were tainted with “Nipplegate” influences, instead of objective musical reviews. Although this album did not get its time in the light and greatly underperformed compared to Jackson’s previous releases, it still went on to be certified platinum.

This album shows, even in the face of adversity, it’s hard for Jackson to make a flop.


Check out my first article in my Jackson Blacklisted series here.

Check out my halftime protest playlist of Jackson’s music here.


ALBUM REVIEW: Sonny and Cher, The Wondrous World of Sonny and Cher

Some artists music has a timeless tone. Whether you were born when they originally made the music or are listening to it years later, there is a hint of nostalgia that follows their albums. One of those artists is Sonny and Cher.

 

I have been going through my vinyl collection and revisit old favorites that I haven’t listened to in years. While I was cleaning records the other night, I came across The Wondrous World of Sonny and Cher. This album is the iconic duo’s second, right after Look At Us, which contained the hit single “I Got You Babe.”

Although this album was not as popular or successful as their previous, it still contained the top twenty hits “But You’re Mine” and “What Now My Love.” The album also takes a deep dive into the groove that Sonny and Cher moved too. Even in the liner notes Sonny and Cher Write:

In our first album we introduced our family to you …on this album we thought it would be nice if we got to be friends personally.

The album opens with the Gershwin tune, “Summertime.” Cher’s vocals are very jazzy and I would love to lift them off this recording and set them to a piano or jazz quartet.

 

Unlike some of their previous recordings, Sonny had his own verse in nearly every song on this album. He often gets slack for his perceived lack of vocal talent, but he carried “Summertime” and many of the other tunes. The same can be said for “I’m Leaving it Up to You” and “Set Me Free.”

Side 2 opens with “What Now My Love.” This is one of my favorite songs, but I usually fancy the more ballad-esque version. Their version of this classic tune was the only version that reached the top twenty in the U.S. and U.K. Sonny and Cher made this song their own by giving it a 1960’s pop twist while leaving the ballad elements behind.

The shining moments on this album were Sonny and Cher’s solo pieces. Sonny sang “Laugh at Me,” which he also wrote, while Cher sang Harry Belafonte’s “Turn Around.” Sonny’s “Laugh at Me” is an anthem of self-acceptance, basically saying that “normal” doesn’t exist. Sonny is telling people to do what you want and express yourself. You have just as much right to be yourself as they do to criticize.

Then there are Cher’s haunting vocals on “Turn Around.” This is a gem of her early career that gets overlooked. It is a heavy Phil Spector inspired ballad that I think could have been a hit.

What I take away from this album are Sonny’s vocals. Although we know him as always being the butt of the joke and second when it comes to Cher’s vocals, he really is underestimated in what he can do. I’m not saying he’s Pavarotti, but he shouldn’t be tossed under the table. Read my article over his only solo album here.

Sonny and Cher will always have that special nostalgia. No matter where you are, or what song you hear them singing, it reminds you of something. From memories of watching the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour to having just pure joy when you hear their voices, their music is timeless and affects every age. They truly created a wondrous world that has stood the test of time.

ALBUM REVIEW: St. Vincent, MASSEDUCTION

It has been awhile since I have written any of my musical musings and it’s not for a lack of words. I have discovered TONS of great music over the past few months. My job went crazy and my life went into an awkward spiral, but now I’m back, thanks to St. Vincent.

Over the last few months I decided to rejoin Vinyl Me, Please. I was once a member and I don’t particularly remember why I stopped. Through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram reading all my browsing history and spying on my personal life, I received many advertisements for Vinyl Me, Please, and November’s record of the month, St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION, caught my eye.

St. Vincent Music Review, MASSEDUCTION
Vinyl Me, Please Special Edition

Now, who hasn’t heard of St. Vincent? The record stores back home in Oklahoma take pride in her career because she was born in Tulsa, but my research tells me she moved to Texas before she was 5. I’d like to call her an Okie, but I don’t know if she would accept it.

Anyways, MASSEDUCTION quickly took me by surprise. Although I had seen a lot about St. Vincent’s music, this is actually my first foray into her catalog. I already have more of her albums on order.

To be candid, I really love MASSEDUCTION. This album served perfectly as an intro to St. Vincent’s work. I understand her earlier work is different, but this record has served as my gateway drug.

There are many reasons why I love this album, so many that it is hard to pinpoint exact reasons. Each song is like an impressionist painting. St. Vincent lays out what she sees, yet she leaves much to the imagination. Like many impressionist paintings, this album is also full of color as the orchestration ranges from heavy synthesizers to basic piano.

This album explores many themes, especially in relationships and self-discovery, but the reigning motif for me was self-acceptance. St. Vincent asks to be someone’s flawed foundation in “Hang On Me,” while calling BS on this world’s standards with “Pills” and “Los Ageless.” She knows what it’s like to be lonely and how her decisions have impacted her plight in life with “New York,” Fear The Future,” and “Young Lover.”

St. Vincent Music Review, MASSEDUCTION
The Telagraph.

At the end of all these emotions and trials, she is working on accepting herself, because ” “she can’t help what turns her on” in “MASSEDUCTION.” Although this doesn’t result in her over confidence, because she is still completely vulnerable in tracks like “Happy Birthday, Johnny” and “Smoking Section.”

For me, MASSEDUCTION is not a musical journey, yet a musical process, set to the tone of purposeful “pop” if you will (Disclaimer: I think being “pop” is one of the most freeing “genres” of music. It is never a diss in my writings). Through this album’s instrumentation one can find influences of rock, dance, jazz, and electronica. This is easily seen from the rapid tempo of “Pills” to the string arrangement of “Dancing With A Ghost.”

One last note, St. Vincent’s vocals are nearly pristine on this album. Ballads, like “Happy Birthday, Johnny” really show off her “classic” vocal talent. She may be considered an indie or alternative artist, but she can sing circles with the best of them.

MASSEDUCTION completely accomplished it’s title, as it has completely seduced me into the world of St. Vincent and, apparently, I’m not alone. I was online today trying to buy tickets for her shows in New York City this weekend and they are completely sold out. Off to StubHub I go!

Check out St. Vincent’s official website here.

Check out St. Vincent’s Twitter: @St_Vincent.

Check out St. Vincent’s Instagram: @St_Vincent.

Check out St. Vincent’s Facebook here.