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Monday, October 31, 2011

Bing Crosby hit #1 with "White Christmas": October 31, 1942


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Happy Halloween! And Merry Christmas? Hey, if the retail world can break into the yuletide spirit two months in advance, then so can Bing Crosby. “White Christmas” isn’t just a seasonal favorite – the DMDB ranks it as the #1 song of all time.

Much of its rating can be attributed to an estimated 56 million sales worldwide, putting it nearly 20 million ahead of its closest competition, Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997”. Bing perched atop the charts for 11 weeks in 1942. The song recharted eleven times over the next dozen years, even picking up two more weeks at #1 in 1945 and a fourteenth overall week on top in 1947. The song logged over 100 weeks on the pop charts over 20 Christmas seasons.

Irving Berlin, who was often insecure about his work, referred to “White Christmas” not just as the best one he’d ever written, but the best anyone had ever written. LW He wrote his “beautiful, longing ode to snow and the Christmas spirit” BC for the film Holiday Inn; it even won the Academy Award for Best Song. However, much of its success had to do with its addition to the Armed Forces Radio playlist. NPR The song “captures both the celebration and underlying melancholy present for many at the holiday,” BC a theme which resonated with soldiers yearning for better times when they were back home. LW

The song also took on a life beyond Bing’s recording. The five million in sales for the sheet music made it one of the ten best-selling sheet music songs of the first half of the century. WHC With over 500 versions in dozens of languages, “White Christmas” has also become the most recorded Christmas song. BC At the end of 1998, ASCAP named it the most-performed holiday song of the century. The song is also notable for helping to usher in the era in which performers outdistanced the songwriters in popularity. “Tin Pan Alley had passed into history.” NPR




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Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Top 30 Songs by Diane Warren


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The October 29, 2011 issue of Billboard has a feature on songwriter Diane Warren (“Diane Warren Teams up with Universal Music Group for International Publishing Deal”). Usually such features come accompanied with best-of lists, but this one did not. Since they didn’t make such a list, I will. Here are the top 30 songs written by Diane Warren, as determined by Dave’s Music Database. By the way, the link on #1 goes to a DMDB blog entry which was coincidentally written just this week!

1. Un-Break My Heart…Toni Braxton (1996)
2. Because You Loved Me…Celine Dion (1996)
3. How Do I Live…LeAnn Rimes (1997)
4. I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing…Aerosmith (1998)
5. Look Away…Chicago (1988)
6. Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now…Starship (1987)
7. How Do I Live…Trisha Yearwood (1997)
8. There You’ll Be…Faith Hill (2001)
9. Love Will Lead You Back…Taylor Dayne (1990)
10. Blame It on the Rain…Milli Vanilli (1989)

11. Don’t Turn Around…Ace of Base (1994)
12. When the Night Comes…Joe Cocker (1989)
13. Missing You Now…Michael Bolton with Kenny G (1992)
14. How Can We Be Lovers…Michael Bolton (1990)
15. If You Asked Me To…Celine Dion (1992)
16. When I See You Smile…Bad English (1989)
17. Can’t Fight the Moonlight…LeAnn Rimes (2000)
18. Rhythm of the Night…DeBarge (1985)
19. By the Time This Night Is Over…Kenny G with Peabo Bryson (1993)
20. If I Could Turn Back Time…Cher (1989)

21. I’ll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me…Expose (1993)
22. For You I Will…Monica (1997)
23. When I’m Back on My Feet Again…Michael Bolton (1990)
24. Time, Love & Tenderness…Michael Bolton (1991)
25. I Learned from the Best…Whitney Houston (1999)
26. I Get Weak…Belinda Carlisle (1988)
27. I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love…Chicago (1988)
28. Set the Night to Music…Roberta Flack with Maxi Priest (1991)
29. I’ll Be Your Shelter…Taylor Dayne (1990)
30. Just Like Jesse James…Cher (1989)


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Paul Whiteman’s “Whispering” hit #1: October 30, 1920


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This was the debut chart single for Paul Whiteman, and what a beginning it was. The song was the second biggest hit of the year WHC and the biggest chart success of Whiteman’s career. It was the first of Whiteman’s 30 songs to go all the way to the top and helped him to become the most popular bandleader of the pre-swing era and the dominant force in American popular recording. PM “Whispering” sold over two million copies which, considering the number of record players in use then, would be the equivalent today of sales of 20 million. TY

The Whiteman orchestra started playing the song early in 1920 in Los Angeles during a gig at the Ambassador Hotel, TY but Ray Miller & His Black and White Melody Boys recorded it first on July 1, 1920. WK By year’s end, Victor Records released Whiteman’s version which TY backed by “The Japanese Sandman” (also a #1), became the first charted version.

As was common for songs from that time, “Whispering” “has a basic stepwise melody, simple harmony, and no syncopation.” TY In addition, “the harmony lends itself to banjo and guitar accompaniment, and the melody encourages group singing.” TY In 1920, many families still carried on the pre-victrola tradition of gathering for sing-along sessions. TY

The online All Music Guide says more than 700 different versions of the song have been recorded, including versions by Harry Belafonte, Miles Davis, Tommy Dorsey, George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, Oscar Peterson, Sonny Rollins, and Frank Sinatra. WK It has also charted in four different decades. Art Hickman and John Steel followed with top-ten versions of the song. Thirty years later, Les Paul had a million-selling, top-ten hit with his 1951 recording of the song. Unlike the original slow ballad, theirs was a rhythmic version. TY Gordon Jenkins also had a minor hit with it that year and then Paul Whiteman himself re-recorded the song in 1954 and took it to #29. PM The song charted again in 1964 when Nino Tempo & April Stevens took it to #11. In 1977, Dr. Buzzard’s Original “Savannah” Band hit #27 with a disco medley including the song.




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  • the DMDB page for “Whispering”
  • Paul Whiteman’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
  • JA David A. Jasen. (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 213.
  • TY Don Tyler (1985). Hit Parade 1920-1955. New York, NY: Quill. Page 17.
  • WHC Joel Whitburn (1999). A Century of Pop Music. Menomonee Falls, WI; Record Research, Inc. Page 35.
  • PM Joel Whitburn (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Menomonee Falls, WI; Record Research, Inc. Page 447.
  • WK Wikipedia.org




Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mozart’s Don Giovanni performed for the first time: October 29, 1787


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Mozart as portrayed by Tom Hulce in the 1984 movie Amadeus


Don Giovanni is a two-act opera with music by Mozart and an Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. At the time, it was billed as “drama giocoso”, which refers to a mix of serious and comedic action. WK According to Operabase, it is the seventh most-performed opera worldwide. WK

Mozart was in Prague during the first couple months of 1787 to attend and conduct performances of several works, most notably Le nozze di Figaro, his most recent opera. While there, he was commissioned to create a new opera by impresario Pasquale Bondini. JH

The opera tells the story of seducing legend Don Juan (“Don Giovanni” in Italian) and how he is destroyed by his excesses. It premiered in Prague on October 29, 1787. Reports suggest Mozart didn’t complete the work until that day or the day before. WK It was well-received, as was generally the case for Mozart’s work in Prague. The Prager Oberamtszeitung reported, “Connoisseurs and musicians say that Prague has never heard the like.” WK By contrast, reviews of the opera’s first Vienna performances in 1788 “suggested mild dissatisfaction with the work’s extended length and unnecessary plot elaborations.” JH

The final score used double woodwinds, horns, trumpets, timpani, and strings. WK He used three onstage ensembles for a ballroom dance scene ath the end of the first act. WK In addition, “Mozart creates levels of dramatic expression through recitativo secco, recitative accompagnato, and aria styles…Recitativo accompagnato is reserved for moments of great emotion, in which the accompanying orchestra virtually assumes a dramatic role. In Act Two, Scene Ten (d), the orchestra virtually speaks for the conflicted Donna Elvira, emphatic dotted rhythms in the orchestra conveying her rage and slurred couplets giving musical voice to her sighs.” JH





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The T.A.M.I. Show was taped for television broadcast: October 28-29, 1964


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The T.A.M.I. Show is a 1964 concert film. T.A.M.I. was an acronym for Teenage Awards Music International, sometimes for Teen Age Music International. Free tickets were given out to local high school students to see two live performances taped at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on October 28 and 29. Director Quentin Tarantino has said it ranks “in the top three of all rock movies” AZ and Amazon.com’s Donald Leibenson says it is “arguably the very best rock-concert movie ever made.” AZ

Jan and Dean, who also performed, served as the hosts for a slew of significant rock ‘n’ roll and R&B acts from the time. Over two hours, audiences were treated to performances from The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Lesley Gore, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, The Miracles, The Rolling Stones, and The Supremes.

However, the most-talked about performance from the show belonged to James Brown. Producer Rick Rubin has said it “may be the single greatest rock & roll performance ever captured on film.” WK The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards has said that performing after Brown may have been the biggest mistake his group ever made. WK

The movie gained legendary status because, after its original airing in December 1964, it was not officially released until 2010. Fans had to make do with bootlegs of the performances.




Awards:
  • National Film Registry

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Glenn Miller charts with "In the Mood": October 7, 1939


Check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts. Also check out books by Dave Whitaker, including the collection of past blog entries, No One Needs 21 Versions of “Purple Haze”…And Other Essays from a Musical Obsessive.



“In the Mood” is “one of the best known musical themes of the World War II era” NRR and one of the big band era’s most recognizable songs. It was the biggest hit of 1940 WHC and of Miller’s career. The song, however, went through several others’ hands before it ended up with Miller.

Joseph “Wingy” Manone, a New Orleans jazz trumpeter and bandleader, wrote and recorded a song in 1930 called “Tar Paper Stomp”. Thanks to copyright laws of the day, a song not written down and registered with the copyright office was fair game. WK Tin Pan Alley composers Joe Garland and Andy Razaf arranged “In the Mood” based on Manone’s song and the Edgar Hayes’ Orchestra recorded it in 1938. WK

The song ended up in Artie Shaw’s hands, but the more-than-eight-minute arrangement was too long for him to record. SF Glenn Miller then arranged the song to include the famous tenor sax battle WK with solos by Tex and Al Klink as well as trumpeter Clyde Hurley. PM

Chart purists debate the song’s true peak position. Miller’s “In the Mood” topped the jukebox list for 13 weeks, but it never hit the top 15 on the sheet music chart, which was generally considered the true mark of a song’s success at the time. WK

The song enjoyed a chart life beyond the big band era. In 1953, Johnny Maddox went to #16 with it and Ernie Fields revived it for a #4 hit in 1959. At the end of the Beatles’ 1967 #1 hit “All You Need Is Love” the orchestra plays a snipet of “In the Mood”. SF Bette Midler had a minor hit with it in 1974. In 1977, Ray Stevens had a top 40 hit with a novelty version of the song in which he performed it bar-for-bar in clucking chicken sounds. That version was credited to the Henhouse Five Plus Two. In 1989, Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers’ #11 hit “Swing the Mood” fused “In the Mood” into a medley with early rock and roll hits.




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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Was Grunge the Last American Musical Revolution?

Originally published in my "Aural Fixation" column on PopMatters.com on Oct. 4, 2011. See original post here.

image from cutcaster.com

To borrow a phrase from my kids’ favorite cartoon, Phineas and Ferb, “Why, yes. Yes it was.” While music constantly evolves, every generation since the beginning of recorded music has introduced a game-changing genre. Until now.

Ragtime was the popular style of choice at the onset of the 1900s. It eventually gave way to jazz. The Swing Era in the ‘30s transformed into the Sing Era in the ‘40s. Rock ‘n’ roll altered the musical landscape in the ‘50s and punk and grunge emerged in the ‘70s and ‘90s as evidence that rock wasn’t dead.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of what has been called the Year of Grunge. The year 1991 saw the releases of Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten. Those albums put Seattle on the musical map and flannel and army boots in every sullen American teen’s wardrobe. Adolescent angst was back in vogue and came soundtracked with a brand new anthem, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

Of course, Nirvana and Pearl Jam would acknowledge that they no more birthed grunge than any other genre’s tent pole artists invented their respective forms of music. Grunge offered plenty of contemporaries with which to share credit. Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, and the Screaming Trees are among the most frequently cited.

It isn’t just that multiple artists fell under the grunge banner. There were also a slew of predecessors who laid the groundwork. Analyze the alternative rock and indie scene of the late ‘80s and one can see the seeds of grunge being sown. Rewind another decade and it becomes clear how much grunge was really just recycled punk.

In fact, the flagship grunge and punk groups – Nirvana and the Sex Pistols – share more than a few similarities. Both grew out of eras when disenfranchised youth were tired of pop radio and music journalists were fond of writing articles sounding rock ‘n’ roll’s death knell.

The Sex Pistols emerged from the gloomy rain-soaked London scene in 1975 while Nirvana surfaced from the gloomy rain-soaked Seattle scene from the late ‘80s. Both groups exploded after signing with major labels and releasing hugely successful and rebellious singles – “Anarchy in the U.K.” for the Pistols and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for Nirvana.

They were also fronted by oversized personalities that aggressively railed against the frustrations of their generations, even if the establishment was less than overjoyed. Then again, joy didn’t enter the picture for the bands, either. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and the Pistols’ Johnny Rotten were troubled, angry young men who found no peace with their bands’ phenomenal successes and the greater audience upon which it afforded them opportunities to spew their venom.

Strong, destructive personalities brought about quick demises for both bands which roughly coincided with the lifespans of their respective genres. Cobain and the Pistols’ Sid Vicious suffered from heroin addiction, drug overdoses, and volatile relationships. Sid was charged with murdering girlfriend Nancy Spungen before his own death in 1979 which some call an overdose and others call a suicide. In 1994, Cobain’s suicide had conspiracy theorists insisting that his wife Courtney Love had him killed.

Parallels can also be drawn between the genres’ runner-ups – Pearl Jam and The Clash. These bands also claimed lots of attention in the spotlight, but less than their genre’s flag bearers. Both bands survived beyond their genres’ peaks and gained reputations for political activism within and beyond their music.

Of course, punk and grunge also grew out of similar circumstances. The bands tapped into teen’s frustration with the nation’s political climates which had left them feeling downtrodden. They were also responses to the by-the-numbers dance pop which ruled radio.

Both genres were embraced as back-to-basics rock ‘n’ roll bands which reminded the public that the music was supposed to be raw and raunchy. They were responses to bloated and over-the-top rock which, either took itself too seriously – such as progressive rock in the ‘70s, or not seriously enough – like the hair bands of the ‘80s. Performances were about frontmen who screamed and jumped around on stage and musicians who thrashed wildly on their instruments.

Of course, just as grunge was really just punk mixed with a dose of heavy metal, punk was largely a return to garage rock. In reality, every “new” genre of music is really a reshaping of the previous generation’s music. Every decade’s new batch of teens seeks out a way to distance themselves from the status quo with a new sound – one which the elders don’t understand and turn up their noses at, saying “this isn’t music.”

However, the 20th anniversary of grunge is an uncomfortable reminder that music hasn’t given us anything “new” on such a grand scale since then. This generation still awaits its musical revolution. 

We have, however, experienced one of recorded music’s greatest revolutions in regards to how music is delivered and marketed. The beginning of the 20th century saw sheet music and piano rolls. The phonograph forever changed music in that it now became about hearing actual performances from artists. Over the decades, radio, juke boxes, eight track and cassette tapes, and compact discs all played important roles in letting the music reach the masses.

However, none of those forms had the reach and impact of the Internet. In just over ten years, the way people access music has been permanently altered – for better or worse. A few clicks of the mouse or one’s mobile phone and any song imaginable is there for the listeners’ pleasure. However, much to the chagrin of the record companies, illegal downloads have ravaged their business while also giving consumers more control than ever before.

Perhaps it’s precisely because of the digital revolution that we have not seen a generation-defining genre since grunge. For one genre to so completely saturate the market requires, well, a music industry with immense control over the market. Has downloading destroyed the hope for any new genre domination? I hope not. I’d like to think that in a small club in some metropolitan area there’s a local band slogging it out that’s destined to get music journalists salivating. The magazine headlines will boldly ask “Are they the next big thing?” and hopefully we can respond that, “Yes. Yes they are.”