You are beautiful, no matter what they say: a self-love & self-empowerment playlist

Last year, my then-therapist gave me a “homework assignment” to come up with some tangible examples of how I could better love myself. (Self esteem has been a problem area for me for the better part of 35 years.) So I did what I do, what gets things done for me and helps me feel zen at the same time: I went to my iTunes library and made a playlist. I asked for suggestions from my Facebook friends list as well, and received some good ones. Some I used, some I didn’t; I was fairly picky. I ended up with a playlist of 20 songs, nice & tidy & succint, I think, and all of them apply to me in one way or another. All of them make me feel better, too. YMMV, of course. In alphabetical order by title.

  1. “Baby I’m A Star,” Prince and the Revolution — I mean, if you wanna feel like a rock star, this is the way to go, right?
  2. “Be Good to Yourself,” Journey — More triumphant, fist-pumping-ness from guys who know how to do it better than most. And the gist is right there in the title!
  3. “Beautiful (Peter Rauhofer Extended Club),” Christina Aguilera — I’ve got a story to tell you. I lived in Norfolk, VA from 2000-2004, as some of you know. And during that time, in the early days of blogging, I became friends with (via blogs) a number of gay men in Washington, DC, only 3 hours away. On one trip up in the summer of 2003, I went to some cavernous gay dance club, name unknown and probably closed now anyway, and I had the most transcendent dancefloor experience with Rauhofer’s remix of Aguilera’s self-love anthem. Had it not been for that moment, I might never have connected with this song in this form, but I had it and I did. In my 2003 year-end singles list, I placed this #18 and wrote, in part, “If “Up With People” were actually inspiring, it’d sound like this minor masterpiece. Rauhofer gets much of the credit here, for creating a mega-anthem, yet somehow doing it subtlely.” Still true for my today, almost 15 years on.
  4. “Closer to Fine,” Indigo Girls
  5. “Confident,” Demi Lovato — Perhaps this decade’s “Beautiful”?
  6. “Express Yourself,” Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
  7. “Express Yourself,” Madonna — Don’t go for second-best, baby.
  8. “Greatest Love of All,” Whitney Houston — I mean, mock if you feel the need, if you’re that cynical, but it’s true: it the greatest love of all really is inside of us.
  9. “i (Single Edit),” Kendrick Lamar — In its single (read: clean) edit it’s less about killing racist cops and more about loving one’s self. And the way that sample from the Isleys’ “That Lady” is used is straight fire.
  10. “I Am What I Am,” Gloria Gaynor — Fast version.
  11. “I Am What I Am (from La Cage aux Folles),” George Hearn — Slow, original version. I love Harvey Fierstein (who sang this in the 2011 Broadway revival of La Cage) (and who wrote the book for this show), but Hearn owns this song forever as far as I’m concerned, with a vocal simultaneously heartbreaking and powerhouse. This video of him singing it from a Jerry Herman tribute a decade later is perfection. As is this, from the 1984 Tony Awards (Hearn sings starting at 4:10). Jerry Herman’s lyrics are so gorgeous, so perfect, so true.
  12. “I Love Myself,” Chaka Khan feat. B. Slade
  13. “I’m Beautiful Dammit!,” Uncanny Alliance
  14. “I’m Too Sexy,” Right Said Fred
  15. “I’m A Fire,” Donna Summer — From her final album, 2008’s Crayons, this song is really about being a fire because of the love and passion you have for someone else, but I tend to hear it as “I’m a fire!,” as a big, beautiful house anthem of empowerment. And Summer sings as good as she ever has.
  16. “Just Fine,” Mary J. Blige — Well, you wouldn’t expect me to put together a playlist of songs for self-love and empowerment and not include one from MJB, would you?
  17. “Masterpiece (Mona Lisa),” Jazmine Sullivan — With lyrics like “Every part of me is beautiful/And I finally see I’m a work of art/A masterpiece,” good lord! It’s hard to top this. Sullivan could’ve “diva’d this out,” but wisely chooses to instead undersing it, giving the lyrics more heft.
  18. “Super Bad,” James Brown
  19. “Supermodel (You Better Work) (Ready to Wear Mix),” RuPaul
  20. “Test,” Ministry — This unlikely entry came from my BFF Tim, who didn’t want my playlist to be all pop divas and dance music; it’s the musical equivalent of having a drill sergeant barking “YOU CAN DO IT!” in your face.
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Posted in personal, playlist

Don’t close your eyes: the best of ’88

In alphabetical, unranked order. For once I went with Soto‘s rule that if an album’s on my list, no singles from that album are included. Why 1988? Well, besides the fact that it flowed nicely from doing ’98 (30 vs. 20 years ago), it’s also the year I both graduated from high school and started college. A very important year for me musically, with a number of all-time favorites (Moz, P.E., Sonic Youth) coming from here, and the singles! It wasn’t a great year for top 40 radio, but it was nonetheless a superb singles year. Not to mention awesome New Jack Swing from the likes of Al B., Bobby B., his former bandmates N.E., and most of all Teddy Riley, the man behind most of the big New Jack hits of ’88.

A.R. Kane, 69
Al B. Sure!, In Effect Mode
Amy Grant, Lead Me On
Anita Baker, Giving You the Best That I Got
Bobby Brown, Don’t Be Cruel
Cocteau Twins, Blue Bell Knoll
Enya, Watermark
Galaxie 500, Today
Guy, Guy
Ice-T, Power
Joe Jackson, Live 1980-86
Joni Mitchell, Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm
k.d. lang, Shadowland
Keith Richards, Talk Is Cheap
Let’s Active, Every Dog Has His Day
Mica Paris, So Good
Morrissey, Viva Hate
My Bloody Valentine, Isn’t Anything
N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton
New Edition, Heart Break
Pet Shop Boys, Introspective
Pop Will Eat Itself, This Is the Day… This Is the Hour… This Is This!
Public Enemy, It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
The Pursuit of Happiness, Love Junk
Revolting Cocks, Live! You Goddamned Son of a Bitch
Sade, Stronger Than Pride
The Smithereens, Green Thoughts
Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
Sugarcubes, Life’s Too Good
Tina Turner, Tina Live in Europe
Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
Traveling Wilburys, Volume One

BAMFF, “Crevice Tool”
Barney Bentall & the Legendary Hearts, “Come Back to Me”
BeBe & CeCe Winans, “Heaven”
Bob Dylan, “Silvio”
Bon Jovi, “Bad Medicine”
BulletBoys, “Smooth Up in Ya”
Cherrelle feat. Alexander O’Neal, “Everything I Miss at Home”
Cinderella, “Gypsy Road”
Daryl Hall & John Oates, “Downtown Life”
Depeche Mode, “Behind the Wheel/Route 66”
Dinosaur Jr., “Freak Scene”
Duran Duran, “I Don’t Want Your Love”
E.U., “Da Butt”
Elton John, “I Don’t Wanna Go on with You Like That”
Eric B. & Rakim, “Paid in Full (7 Minutes of Madness Remix)”
Freddie Jackson, “Nice ‘N’ Slow”
George Michael, “Monkey”
George Strait, “If You Ain’t Lovin’ (Then You Ain’t Livin’)”
Gipsy Kings, “Djobi Djoba”
Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine, “1-2-3”
Graham Parker, “Get Started. Start A Fire”
The Grapes of Wrath, “O Lucky Man”
Hank Williams, Jr., “Early in the Morning and Late at Night”
Jeffrey Osborne, “She’s on the Left”
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, “I Hate Myself for Loving You”
Johnny Hates Jazz, “Heart of Gold”
The Judds, “Give A Little Love”
Karyn White, “The Way You Love Me”
Kathy Mattea, “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses”
Keith Whitley, “Don’t Close Your Eyes”
L’Trimm, “Cars with the Boom”
Little Feat, “Hate to Lose Your Lovin'”
The Mac Band featuring the MacCampbell Brothers, “Roses Are Red”
Ministry, “Stigmata”
Morris Day, “Fishnet”
My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, “And This Is What the Devil Does”
National Velvet, “Flesh Under Skin”
Neneh Cherry, “Buffalo Stance”
New Order, “Fine Time”
Ofra Haza, “In Nin’alu (Played in Full Edit)”
Pebbles, “Mercedes Boy”
Prince, “Alphabet St.”
R.E.M., “Orange Crush”
Raze, “Break 4 Love”
Renegade Soundwave, “Biting My Nails”
Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock, “It Takes Two”
Robert Palmer, “Early in the Morning”
Robert Plant, “Heaven Knows”
Rosanne Cash (Duet with Rodney Crowell), “It’s Such A Small World”
Samantha Fox, “Naughty Girls (Need Love Too)”
Sheena Easton, “The Lover in Me”
Siouxsie & the Banshees, “Peek-A-Boo”
Talking Heads, “(Nothing but) Flowers”
Taylor Dayne, “Prove Your Love”
Teddy Pendergrass, “Joy”
Teena Marie, “Work It”
They Might Be Giants, “Ana Ng”
Tracie Spencer, “Symptoms of True Love”
U2, “Desire”
Vanessa Williams, “Dreamin'”
Will Downing, “A Love Supreme (Arthur’s Jazz House Mix)”
Wire, “Kidney Bingos”
Womack & Womack, “Teardrops”
Yazz & the Plastic Population, “The Only Way Is Up”

Posted in 1980s, best of

Music sounds better with you: the best of ’98

In alphabetical, unranked order. For once I went with Soto‘s rule that if an album’s on my list, no singles from that album are included. It’s been fascinating reading everyone’s 1998 lists in the wake of Pitchfork’s celebration of said year, considering that so few of those albums are on my list. In ’98, I was listening to (and buying) a lot of Masters at Work 12″s and French touch, way more than anything else.

Aretha Franklin, A Rose Is Still A Rose
Jeff Buckley, Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk
Kruder & Dorfmeister, The K&D Sessions
Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Manic Street Preachers, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours
Miles Davis, Panthalassa: The Music of Miles Davis 1969-1974 (Reconstruction and Mix Translation by Bill Laswell)
New Radicals, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too.
PJ Harvey, Is This Desire?
Pulp, This Is Hardcore
Rod Stewart, When We Were the New Boys
Shake, …Waiting for Russell EP
Tortoise, TNT
Tricky, Angels with Dirty Faces
UNKLE, Psyence Fiction
Whitney Houston, My Love Is Your Love
Various Artists, Paris Is Sleeping Respect Is Burning Vol. 2
Various Artists, Velvet Goldmine: Music from the Original Motion Picture

Aaliyah, “Are You That Somebody?”
BeBe Winans, “Thank You (MAW Mix)”
Bob Sinclair, “Gym Tonic”
Brandy & Monica, “The Boy Is Mine”
Dixie Chicks, “Wide Open Spaces”
George Michael, “Outside”
George Strait, “We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This”
Janet feat. BLACKStreet, “I Get Lonely”
Jay-Z feat. DMX, “Money, Cash, Hoes”
Jermaine Dupri feat. Da Brat and Usher, “The Party Continues”
Juvenile feat. Lil’ Wayne and Mannie Fresh, “Back That Azz Up”
Lee Ann Womack, “A Little Past Little Rock”
Luther Vandross, “Are You Using Me? (Masters at Work 12″ Mix)”
Madonna, “Frozen”
Mousse T vs. Hot ‘n’ Juicy, “Horny”
R. Kelly, “When A Woman’s Fed Up”
Reba McEntire with Brooks & Dunn, “If You See Him/If You See Her”
Roni Size/Reprazent, “Watching Windows (Roni Size Meets Nuyorican Soul)”
Seal, “Human Beings”
Sheryl Crow, “Anything but Down”
Stardust, “Music Sounds Better With You”
Total feat. Missy Elliott, “Trippin'”

Posted in 1990s, best of

Hot hits: January 2018

The best records I’ve discovered in the past month — new or old, doesn’t matter, though both of this month’s are new.

In the past 30 days, Lil Wayne has dropped a pair of mixtapes in his Dedication series, Dedication 6 and D6: Reloaded, with 35 tracks across them. As you might expect, there’s plenty of dross — and his continued insistence on pushing C-level folks like Gudda Gudda is frustrating and occasionally baffling — but there’s also reminders of why 10 years ago, Weezy was largely considered the best in the game, no argument. His Young Money lieutenants each appear once, Nicki Minaj on a new take on “Rockstar,” while Drake teams up with his mentor to freestyle over Jay-Z’s “Family Feud” beat. No I.D.’s track for “Family Feud” was blazing to begin with — that loop from the Clark Sisters’ “Ha Ya” is fire — and both Drizzy and Wayne acquit themselves beautifully here. Drake provides a handy reminder that, no matter how much he mumbles or sorta-sings, he’s a rapper at heart — and is capable of being a damned great one — and Wayne just lets his words trip off his tongue like he did at his mid-’00s peak, going ham all over the track. This is the most vital single (or “single” if you prefer) I’ve heard in months.

I’m 47. I own that this makes me thoroughly middle-aged. And I’m at the point now where I’m starting to “age out” of some musics, hip-hop kinda at the top of the list, particularly because I don’t really care at all for trap. I’m old-school when it comes to most hip-hop, and my interest in it tends to die around 5 years ago, generally speaking. So this throwback jam from Trick Daddy (who I once Pazzed!) and Trina along with a newer rapper, Mike Smiff, hits all my buttons. It’s based around a loop from Meli’sa Morgan’s 1986 superjam “Fool’s Paradise” (#24 R&B), so right there, I’m inclined towards it. (Said song is also interpolated on Jay-Z’s breakthrough single “Can’t Knock the Hustle.”) But weirdly — and delightfully — they twist it up. The song is a paean to their home of Miami back in the day, which they call “Paradise” — but the song says “Paradise/You better think twice/’Cause it’s not very nice.” Talk about mixed messages! That said, I love confusing, mixed musical messages, so I’m down all the way. It’s also, frankly, just nice to hear Trick Daddy and Trina back from wherever they’ve been; their voices have been missed (by me at least).

Posted in 2018, hip hop, new music

Do you wanna get rocked? The biggest and best of Def Leppard

No band in the ’80s sounded bigger than Def Leppard, and that wasn’t because of their riffage; that was thanks to “Mutt” Lange, sprinkling his magic studio dust over them in his pre-Shania years. On their biggest album and crowning achievement, 1987’s Hysteria, they weren’t afraid to spotlight electronics while still rocking harder than most pop stars out there — or most hair metallers, with whom they were unfairly lumped, because these Sheffield blokes were always more Small Faces than they ever were, say, Mõtley Crüe. (Think about it: you never once saw Def Lep in spandex, or makeup.)

The US chart story of Hysteria, the follow-up to their massive breakthrough, 1983’s Pyromania, never fails to fascinate me. But rather than run through it myself, I’ll let Billboard‘s then-Chart Beat columnist, Paul Grein, explain it.

hysteria1

And not only did “Sugar” only peak at #2 (kind of shocking when you consider its ubiquity at the time), it took the album’s fifth single to finally get the Lep their #1 (“Love Bites,” proof positive that a hard rock ballad doesn’t have to suck) — and after that, they released another two singles, for a total of seven in all! (And six of those hit the top 20.) All seven show up in my personal Def Leppard top 20 (two, including my #1, in their vital single mixes), along with album track “Excitable” — and if that seems excessive, then you probably haven’t listened to Hysteria in a while. A further six songs come from Pyromania, the album that showed the US how brilliantly these guys could pair pop songcraft with a hard rock delivery; it peaked at #2, stopped from the top only by a little record called Thriller. (It didn’t hurt matters that Def Lep embraced the burgeoning video artform, of course. MTV loved ’em.)

Some other notes: after “Rocket,” it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they were huge glam fans, born out on their 2006 covers album YEAH! 1992’s Hysteria follow-up, Adrenalize, isn’t great, but it’s not terrible, either; unfortunately, they were starting to succumb to the curse of supermarket ballads. And 1999’s Euphoria featured one marvelous return to form, the #1 AOR record “Promises.” Oh, and they still kill in concert; I highly recommend US readers catch their summer ’18 tour with Journey if possible, because Def Leppard will rock your socks off.

  1. “Pour Some Sugar on Me (Video Edit)” (single, 1988)
  2. “Animal” (Hysteria, 1987)
  3. “Photograph” (Pyromania, 1983)
  4. “Women” (Hysteria, 1987)
  5. “Love Bites” (Hysteria, 1987)
  6. “Foolin'” (Pyromania, 1983)
  7. “Promises” (Euphoria, 1999)
  8. “Hysteria” (Hysteria, 1987)
  9. “Rock! Rock! Till You Drop”
  10. “Rocket (Single Mix)” (single, 1988)
  11. “Excitable” (Hysteria, 1987)
  12. “Too Late for Love” (Pyromania, 1983)
  13. “Stagefright” (Pyromania, 1983)
  14. “Rock of Ages” (Pyromania, 1983)
  15. “Let’s Get Rocked” (Adrenalize, 1992)
  16. “Armageddon It” (Hysteria, 1987)
  17. “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” (High ‘n’ Dry, 1981)
  18. “Hanging on the Telephone” (YEAH!, 2006)
  19. “Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)” (High ‘n’ Dry, 1981)
  20.  “Make Love Like A Man” (Adrenalize, 1992)
Posted in 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, best of, rock

My favorite songs: “The Right Thing to Do”

I first wrote about this song last May, saying, “Riding that coffeehouse piano vibe, with snappy production from Richard Perry — it sounds so deliciously crisp — Simon sings the hell out of this out-and-out love song for her then-husband James Taylor. I love Simon’s lyrics, I love the melody, I love the sound of this. My favorite in this countdown, and one of my favorites of the front half of the 1970s, in fact.” Don’t make the mistake of conflating this with much of the soft pop of its era; Simon gives “The Right Thing” a slight bite, never letting her delivery lapse into pillow talk. This was preceded up the charts by the #1 smash “You’re So Vain,” which helped lead parent album No Secrets to #1 as well, but this is the real gem, that early ’70s all-too-rarity: a non-stupid love song, one you could (and can) believe. Carly Simon is tricky, and likely a better artist than you believe her to be.

Posted in 1970s, my favorite songs, pop

My favorite songs: “Music Sounds Better With You”

had to get to this at some point. This song is why I love filter house/French Touch so much: it’s disco-y goodness, it’s a chunk of a Chaka Khan record sampled and looped into infinity, it’s dance music that never fails to make me dance, it’s so smart because it’s so simple (but not basic or easy or dumb), and, in 1998, it was the past informing the sound of the future in the most literal way. Also, I’m not sure that Alan Braxe has ever been involved with a bad record.

Posted in 1990s, my favorite songs