In the late 1980s, Basia Trzetrzelewska was the hottest thing on adult contemporary radio, thanks largely to the rise of VH1 in that period. What a lot of people in the US audience DON'T know is that Basia was previous vocalist for a popular UK jazz band called Matt Bianco. She left that group not acrimoniously, but to pursue the very solo career that would define her internationally.
This song, a top 5 AC hit in the US, was also a huge rallying song as apartheid was ending in South Africa. Basia's style has been described as a mix between samba, bossa nova, and jazz, and you can hear that shine through here. She has a three-octave range that is tested in this vocal exercise.
The video above, for the worldwide audience, shows how comfortable Basia is with a band. However, US music marketing dictates that a female vocalist must be the focus of ANY music video. Also, a wind machine is required by US Code. Look it up. It's true.
So, her record label commissioned a new video for the US market.
ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill died this week, aged 72.
We pay tribute with a feature of their breakthrough song/video from 1983, the lead single form their Eliminator album, which brought them to a new audience. Fun fact: the guitar solo is a guitar DUO, played on two different guitars with different tunings.
This song was really my introduction to ZZ Top as well. And what an introduction!!!
You don't usually affiliate hard rock music with keyboards. However, that's exactly what Lita Ford did, when she moved from hard rocking music with the Runaways to her more glam-rock solo career, and it helped the song gain crossover appeal. The song itself starts slow and builds quickly to a chaotic, energetic conclusion.
This song, a breakthrough for her in 1988, came after a management change to Sharon Osbourne Management - yes, that Sharon Osbourne. It hit #12 on the US charts and kicked off a period of generally strong success. Lyrically, the song is somewhat sexually charged - she's singing about getting laid - or not - which wasn't a typical subject women tackled in 1988.
It was Ford's boldness that made her something of a feminist icon - and probably contributed to this song being featured in the movie Captain Marvel.
Ford did take a long hiatus from the mid-90s until about 2010, but she is back and still performs this song.....
The first single from 1985's Hounds of Love, this was Kate Bush's most successful single in the 1980's - and her first of the decade in the States. But why is she making a deal with God and running up hills??!
Well, the original title of the song was "A Deal With God", which her record label balked at, because, well, that title doesn't get airplay in some countries (probably including the United States). Her point was, men and women don't always understand each other, so making a deal with God to swap places.... well, that might help.
The video is interpretive dance. That's not something you see every day.
The original song is very synth-heavy, which, well, 1980s. When she finally performed the song live, Kate Bush appeared with David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, a frequent collaborator - and the synth was replaced with guitar.... and it still worked. You'd never think a keyboard solo would work on guitar, and it does, seamlessly.
In 2012, Kate Bush released a new mix of the song, in conjunction with the Olympic Games in London. This version, which debuted at the opening ceremony, was also a chart hit for Bush. (EDITOR'S NOTE: but the IOC won't let us share it, so here's audio)
For about 20 minutes in the 1990s, Fred Durst was everywhere. This song, released in 1999, vaulted hs band, Limp Bizkit, into superstardom (they were already moderately known), and was a big rock radio hit with some pop radio crossover.
This is despite some of the most abysmal reviews in history.
The song was a bitter breakup song, dealing with a rough relationship that Durst had with a recent ex.
If you were were not aware, also in 1999, Limp Bizkit played Woodstock 1999, where a riot broke out during and after their performance. This was not the song that incited that riot, but Fred Durst and the rest of the band were wanted for and in fact arrested for inciting that riot with their words and actions, when he told people to keep breaking stuff.
But this performance does show their energy. Also, no one was breaking stuff at this point.
You'd think that Cypress Hill would have risen to prominence on something having to do with weed.
You would be wrong. This song was their first hit, their debut single, and featured homages to many popular hip hop and punk artists of the day, with Q-Tip and Ice Cube making cameos in the video. See if you can hear the Suicidal Tendencies reference near the end of the song.
I mentioned homage. This was the height of the popularity of so called "gangsta rap" groups such as NWA - and I really hate typing that name out, because it generalizes and minimizes such a broad category of music. The violence referenced here by three very high guys is absolutely homage, and having these guest stars in the video drives that home.
At any rate, it's an enjoyable tune, and I hope you give it a listen.
Remember when Tiffany and Debbie Gibson were two artists you had to choose between? They never bought into that, so neither did I. Besides, they did different things. Tiffany is best known for, well, a cover. Clearly, I have zero issue with that - and if you have not seen Totally Covered, you need to.
But this was different. Whereas you'd expect a young pop artist to be singing songs written by others, especially in the mid-1980's, that's not what Debbie Gibson did. She WROTE this song in 1984 - when she was 14 - and recorded it in 1986.
The video was recorded in Asbury Park, near where she lived. The song was a top 5 hit in September 1987.
In 1998, Deborah Gibson re-released the song, with a different remix, after she left Atlantic Records. The new version is 1) more mature, and 2) notice the name change.
The breakout music hit of 1987 was "Luka" by Suzanne Vega. A singer/songwriter from Greenwich Village, the song was from her second album, Solitude Standing. Some albums, you remember where you were when you bought them. I bought this one at Record Town at the McKinley Mall in suburban Buffalo. It is the last cassette I ever bought in a cardboard longbox. And, it was a revelation.
This song is written and performed from the point of view of an abused child. This isn't something that was common in 1987, let alone for a hit song - #3 on the pop charts, and her 2nd biggest worldwide hit. Give it a listen.
You didn't know Agnetha from ABBA had a solo career, did you?
I say "had". She's still releasing music. In fact, she reached her high water mark in 2013, with her album A. This song is not from that album, but rather from her 1983 English language debut solo album (she had Swedish language albums prior to ABBA, beginning in the late 1960's, and did have some major hits in her home country), Wrap Your Arms Around Me. It is Agnetha's biggest US solo hit to date, reaching #29 in 1983.
The song is a pretty typical 1980's pop/rock song, penned by Russ Ballard.
You all remember Eddie Murphy from all his movies, or maybe from Saturday Night Live.
Did you remember that he make music, too?! His biggest hit was this single, written and produced by the late great Rick James and recorded in James's Buffalo NY studio. My biggest surprise in researching this post was that Rick James had a Buffalo, NY studio.
The lore of the song is more interesting, though. The story goes, it was the result of a $100,000 bet between Murphy and Richard Pryor, over whether or not he had musical talent. No word on whether or not the bet was paid out, but the song reached #2 on the Billboard charts.
So, let's get the things I know I'm going to hear out of the way.
"Why are you posting THIS SONG on a Friday!?" Because it's a great song any day of the week. I won't fit inside your box.
"Wait, didn't Apollonia 6 record this first?" Well, yes, they did, with Prince - the songwriter - but he pulled the song from their album - that version would not be released until 2019. So, this was the first released version of the song. And it's amazing - showcasing the harmonies of which the Bangles are capable, as well as giving Susanna Hoffs a chance to shine on lead vocal, as opposed to Debbi Peterson.
"But wait. Their VERY NEXT SINGLE 'If She Knew What She Wants' was essentially the same situation, except Jules Shear wrote that, and that was on Totally Covered, so why not put this there?" Jules Shear released his version a year before the Bangles did. Come on, now. We do our research.
"But wait. Their IMMEDIATE PRIOR SINGLE was 'Going Down To Liverpool' by Katrina and the Waves. I read Totally Covered. I know the score." Again, Katrina and the Waves recorded and released that song years before - and RERELEASED it after this as the B side to "Walking on Sunshine".
"You've called songs covers for a lot less. Did you think we'd forget the whole 'One of Us' debate?" Yes. You may remember the agony over that decision.
Great. Now I'm out of time. Let's just get to the song.
"But wait. Don't you traditionally include a live version of these songs?" Well, yeah. We do like to do that. Here's one from 1986.
As many of you know, Amy Grant is a Christian music superstar. Her first seven studio albums, plus the compilation The Collection, which was something of a crossover breakthrough, were quite overtly Christian in themes, with some of her songs taking lyrics right from the Bible. And they were hits - many of them went gold or platinum, despite primarily being sold in Christian bookstores.
Her eight studio album, Lead Me On, was the one that really started the wiggle to secular music, but it was still pretty Christian.
On March 5, 1991, Amy Grant's ninth studio album, Heart In Motion, was released. It was a very strong secular turn - but still did well on Christian charts. This song remains her biggest hit to date -it's a standard, cheerful pop song that will make you smile.
By now, you probably think you see a pattern. However, despite what you might think, Cibo Matto was an AMERICAN band.... formed by Japanese expatriates. They tended to be avant garde in their musical style, mostly singing about food.
This song is from their debut album, Viva! La Woman. It's about knowing your chicken.
This version of the song was recorded live in 1996. This iteration of the band featured Sean Lennon - son of John and Yoko - on bass. It's glorious.
Yesterday, I talked about BABYMETAL. There would be no BABYMETAL without Shonen Knife, the three Japanese housewives who decided to form a Beach Boys/Ramones influenced band in the early 1980's. Their songs tended to address pretty mundane subjects, like how much fun cycling is and riding on rockets.
They still rock today. From their 2014 album Overdrive, this song does a pretty good job of explaining itself. For a song about spending your days like a cat, it has a Ramones-esque feel.
Yes, a Japanese version of this musical cat video exists. They are, after all, Japanese. It also does an excellent job of explaining itself.
Here is the band performing the song live in 2014. I can tell you they are still going strong.
Like most of you, my initial reaction when hearing BABYMETAL was "What the hell did I just watch?"
The group is really the women singing and dancing in front. The backing band is session musicians - consistent, known ones, but they aren't the focus. The focus is the women that you are expecting to sing light pop music, and who instead blow your expectations out of the water.
The music is metal. It's metal that's a throwback to early 1990's bands that rocked this hard. They got their start in 2010 as a subunit of the Japanese idol group Sakura Gakuin,, but broke away and became so so much bigger than that.
The concept was originally a traditional idol fusion with metal music - but it has evolved into something of a reverent metal tribute. This song, which was something of a worldwide breakthrough for them in 2015, deals with a woman's desire to... well, eat chocolate, along with the pressures of maintaining one's figure. I'm not kidding. Enjoy.
You see, today is the day that the Marvel Cinematic Universe returns from its forced pandemic hiatus, with the movie Black Widow. The title character is, of course, played by actress Scarlett Johansson, and it is a movie everyone wanted for YEARS.
What you didn't know you wanted was to hear her musical collaboration with Pete Yorn. Recorded in 2006, the album was not released until 2009 - the year before Iron Man 2 was released. Their collaboration was seriously good - and as much as I am making more Black Widow jokes than Captain Marvel jokes that I made yesterday, Scarlett Johansson is an excellent, nuanced vocalist.
Their album didn't do great in the States, but was certified gold in France. Here they are performing the song for French television in 2009.
In 2010, the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was released. With it came a pretty epic soundtrack. At the center of the film was a song called was "Black Sheep", by Toronto band Metric. This wasn't a new song of theirs - they had performed it live for years. The song, belted by Metric lead vocalist Emily Haines, was included on the soundtrack.
Here is the original version from the soundtrack. It's a great song in its own right.
This live performance of what is possibly their best known song from 2015 is absolutely amazing. Right?
If you have seen the movie, you know where this post is about to go.
You see, Emily Haines didn't sing the song in the movie. The song in the movie was performed by fictional band Clash at Demonhead - who were admittedly based on Metric - fronted by Envy Adams, who was played by real-life actress who can sing and future Captain Marvel, Brie Larson.
In 2010, Metric insisted that the original version, with Haines on vocal, be included on the soundtrack. As they should. It's their song. However, this made a lot of fans of the movie - and the Brie Larson vocal - very unhappy.
Fast forward to December 24, 2020. After much fan encouragement, Brie Larson released this video on her YouTube channel... I won't make you sit through the first 6 1/2 minutes....
Also, yes, those are sheep on her sweater..
Finally, in June 2021, Metric released the song as a single, accompanying an extended version of the film's soundtrack. There was much rejoicing and something of a resurgence in interest in the movie.... and it's still on the US Rock charts as I write this.
A lot of people like to request Smashing Pumpkins as posts on this blog.
What they don't know is that I was a fan from the very beginning. This song, one of the few the band still performs live from their debut album, Gish, was their second single - although the "single" was really the EP Lull. It remains to this day one of my favorite songs. It starts slow and quiet and builds to a frenzied wall of noise.
By the way, D'arcy isn't really throwing the ball backwards, people. It was filmed in slow motion and run backwards.
I did not choose a modern performance of the song for the live showcase. I *did* choose one from 1991, which highlights just how important D'Arcy's bass was to the band's sound. The song is more subdued than the original for a longer time, but eventually builds to the noise.
The most infamous song of 2020 is finally here on Wicked Guilty Pleasures.
The song itself was a huge hit worldwide, both commercially and critically, but let's look at it a little closer.
It is a collaboration between two women who rap, a field largely dominated by men. It is, in fact, arguably the biggest hit by two collaborating rap artists.
It is a very explicit song, almost to the point of absurdity. And, it is unapologetically so - neither of these women care if you're offended.
And the song is a true collaboration. As much as their music demands a bit of bravado, neither upstages the other.
Plus, the use of tigers in the video sparked a feud with Carole Baskin.... so, there's that.
I have to admit something.
I wasn't a huge fan of this song until I heard this mashup with "We Appreciate Power" by Grimes. Completely different song. Brilliant choice both titular (look at what that title spells) and musically.
Couldn't have pushed that up a little for me, Ella?
Well, people are already talking about it being the Song of the Summer. While it's still a bit early for that, the song is really cool and mellow. While it does bear a resemblance to the Primal Scream song "Loaded" (which yeah, we posted earlier this week), Primal Scream is surprisingly OK with it.
We may never do this again. It's a rare album that is worthy of such a focus and such praise. This is that rare album.
And, on this Canada Day, I chose an album that thoroughly celebrates a part of Canada.
At the beginning of June, I mentioned in a blog post an all-piano album that I could not stop listening to. I still can't. I first heard the album on its day of release, thanks to Spotify, and in fact listened to it more than once that day. I was on vacation and sitting in a hotel room, and... it hit me just right.
The artist is Cœur de Pirate, and the album is Perséides. It is, thus far, my favorite album I've heard this year. Clocking in at just over a half hour, it is 100% piano. There is no vocal. There is no other instrument I can hear.
This is a woman who, because of surgery, could (temporarily) not talk, let alone sing, and yet she found a way to compose, perform and release these deeply personal songs about places in Quebec that mean so much to her. It's truly magic.
If you are not able to hear the album using the Spotify link, here it is on YouTube. It is a playlist that starts from the first track: