Dolly Parton: My Top 5

For my celebration of Women’s History Month, I have neglected to write about a legendary country artist. To be honest, it is hard to narrow down the Queens of Country music. There are so many, from Patsy and Loretta to Reba and Tammy.

I’ve touched on many of them throughout the tenure of my blog. I have always wanted to write about Patsy Cline, but I’m still searching for words. So I decided to ask my mom, who knows my music taste better than anyone, on who I should write about next. She promptly reminded me that I had not written over one of the most influential female vocalists that does it all, from writing and producing to singing and performing. For my 5th installment, I bring you my top 5 favorite Dolly Parton songs.

I have been a Dolly Parton fan since the seventh grade. It’s odd that I remember this exact time, but I remember I first became interested in her when I saw her on the Conon O’Brien show. She was promoting her latest album, Little Sparrow. Like so many artists with me, it was all down hill from there. I haven’t stopped listening to her music since and I always check the record racks for more of her vinyl.

1. “A Tender Lie”

This song was originally sung by Restless Heart and was their last number one on the country charts. Parton gives it a tinge of classic country and a full bluegrass makeover. Her voice is so fragile on this song, but we all know the strength she possesses. This song was a perfect choice for her Little Sparrow album and Sugar Hill trilogy.

2. “Here You Come Again”

I love so many aspects of this song, from the opening piano riff to Parton’s sassy and sarcastic vocals. Every time I think somebody is gone and they return, my mind always sings this song. This is classic Dolly at her 70’s best.

3. “Joshua”

Parton has some of the best story telling skills of any musician. She encompasses every theme of country music. She often does this through creative stories, not personal accounts. This is part of her legacy. “Joshua” came out in 1970 and was Parton’s first number one hit.

4. “Light of a Clear Blue Morning”

I discovered this song a few years ago when I lived in Oklahoma. Thanksgiving was coming up and I was feeling really down about my family situation. I grew up in a tight-knit family that just seemed to fall apart for selfish reasons and holidays always brought that to mind. This song was a comfort for me and for a bright future ahead.

5. “He’s Alive”

Throughout my faith journey, I have found many of Parton’s songs to be inspiring (“Raven Dove,” “Hello God”). I adore how she stands up for her faith unabashedly without the judgment of others. She shows the love of Jesus through her spiritual compositions, performances, and actions. The video above is one we all know. It is her legendary performance of “He’s Alive” from the 1989 CMA awards. I get chills every time I hear this song and see this performance.

These are my top five favorite Dolly Parton songs at the moment. It’s safe to note that this is a fluctuating list and it is not comprehensive. I would need a list of 20 songs or more to truly list all my favorite Parton songs and then I’d still miss many!

Dolly Parton is one of country music and America’s greatest treasures. I have yet to see her in concert, but I will make it soon. The fact that she is still creating new music and states that she has 100’s of songs she hasn’t recorded blows me away. She can’t stop making albums; we must not let her!! I will gladly sit and wait for every last note.

 

Diana Ross: My Top Ten

As I have pondered over my music collection, I have started to notice a trend. The artists that I go back to repeatedly are oddly my mother’s favorites as well. When she would play these singers for me when I was younger, instead of rebelling and listening to the music of the day, I fell in love with what she liked.

I think this was all part of her plan. She didn’t have a desire, nor did she like the current music. She definitely didn’t want a “rebellious” child listening to the “devil’s music” (I did grow up in Oklahoma). Needless to say, her master plan worked, and she’s had to fund a vinyl addiction since around 2004.

For my third installment for Women’s History Month, I decided to go with one of our favorites, Ms. Diana Ross. My mom and I have gone to see Ms. Ross twice in concert and both times she was impeccable. What I loved most about these shows was what Ms. Ross and her music brought out in my mom….

I found out my mom could dance! She would be a regular on American Bandstand if those moves were still in style. My mom was stopping in the name of love and literally turning upside down. Seriously, my mom totally could have been the white Supreme.

So for this post, I have gathered 10 of my favorite Diana Ross songs. This list is not comprehensive, complete, or in any order. It’s all a little glimpse into one of my musical journeys with my favorite duet partner.

1. “He Lives In You”

The above clip is the first I remember seeing of Diana Ross. In 1999, Ms. Ross starred in the made for television movie Double Platinum along with Brandy Norwood. This movie was an instant hit for my mom, which in turn became a must-see for me (whether I liked it or not). Although she is not performing one of her hits in this clip, I believe it shows how iconic Ms. Ross is. From the dress and staging to her ever fragile yet strong vocals, Ms. Ross captured my heart in this scene.

2. “I Will Survive”

I know this song was not originally Ms. Ross’, but she has made it a staple in her live performances. This song holds a very important memory for my mom and I. We had second-row seats at one of Ms. Ross’ shows in Tulsa and I had brought along Ms. Ross’ first solo album with me to wave in the air. Push literally came to shove and I found myself right by the stage holding this album in the air with a sharpie. I now have a signed album of Diana Ross on my wall, but my mom got so excited she forgot to take pictures.

3. “Summertime”

As I venture down Ross street, I have found many favorites on some of her lesser-known albums. Here is one of my favorite songs from her 1987 album, Red Hot Rhythm & Blues. Fun fact, this song was co-written by Leonard Cohen.

4. “Endless Love”

Most know this song as a duet with Lionel Richie, but she also recorded a solo version on her 1981 album Why Do Fools Fall In Love. I’m a sucker for the original, but I love Ms. Ross’ vocals on this solo recording. She is daring with her vocal technique and it is sung straight from her heart. (Sorry for the odd video, the Spotify link was not working)

5. “It’s My Turn”

This was my first favorite Diana Ross song. I’ve had many since, but I will always love this ballad of independence.

6. “Upside Down”

If I need to dance all I have to do is turn this song on. This track’s electric beat mixed with Ms. Ross’ sassy and sultry vocals makes it one of her best.

7. “The Boss”

At my first Diana Ross concert, she opened with “The Boss.” It was magnetic watching her walking down a stairway belting out “Uhhhhhh….yea…” I’ve never seen an audience jump to their feet so quickly.

8. “Home”

After I had watched Double Platinum a few dozen times, I asked my mom if we could go to Blockbuster and rent another movie Ms. Ross was in. We returned with The Wiz. Over the years as I have moved from home and embarked on my life, I have realized that home is where your mom is. On Mother’s Day a few years ago, I surprised my mom in church and sang this song to her. It holds a special place in both of our hearts.

9. “Touch Me In The Morning”

This song is classic Ross. When she sang this at one of her shows, I began to sing it with her. I didn’t realize how loud I was for a lady turned around to me and told me that I had a nice voice. It was just another great moment brought to me by Ms. Ross.

10. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

I never get tired of hearing this song. As Ms. Ross’ first big solo hit, it serves as a staple in her career, especially in defining her as a solo artist. It differs drastically from Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s version. This arrangement is dramatic and literally feels like a musical mountain range. Ms. Ross’ vocals soar over these mountains like a bird going in and out of valleys. It’s one of those songs that is just perfection.

Whew, I don’t want to stop! I could make a list of my 50 top favorite Diana Ross songs, but I thought that would be overkill. Diana Ross is an icon of icons and this list barely touches on her music catalog.

For me, Diana Ross will always hold a very special place in my heart, because she is one of the artists my mom and I love together. She’s always a safe choice when going on long car rides with my mom. There isn’t another artist that compares to Ms. Ross. I hope one day I can thank her for all the joy she has brought to me and my favorite duet partner, my mom.

Check out my full playlist here on Spotify:

 

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.