Caught up in the rapture: my TURNING THE TABLES ballot

Ann Powers has done the world a huge service by spearheading the TURNING THE TABLES project at NPR Music; the canon of “great albums” is bullshit with only token female representation, and Powers and her compatriots are doing their damnedest to right some of that wrong. To close the first year of TURNING THE TABLES, they want to know what everyone else thinks are the greatest albums ever made by women.

My list only includes no albums released since 2000, which I recognize is potentially problematic. But in coming up with my list, I went with the albums I go back to time and again and wear out over and over. That’s not to say there are no great albums made by women in the past quarter-century — see below — but for me, none of those have yet made grooves in my soul like these 10.

About the albums that did make my list: Grant changed the game for CCM with Unguarded; Wendy and Lisa’s debut proved to the world just how much Prince got from his lieutenants; the anti-Anita Bryant benefit album Lesbian Concentrate is proto-riot grrl with acoustic guitars and in some cases more sexual politics; Ndegeocello’s soph effort is a remarkably realized vision that pointed the way to what would come from her; Rapture is the only quiet storm album you need. As for my #1, Williamson’s The Changer and the Changed is written, produced, mixed, engineered, recorded, and performed by women, and it truly dumped a lot of notions of what women in music could do, right upside down. These are beautiful songs by and for women, and “women’s music” such as we know it wouldn’t exist without this landmark record.

1. Cris Williamson, The Changer and the Changed
2. Anita Baker, Rapture
3. Meshell Ndegeocello, Peace Beyond Passion
4. Diana Ross, diana (1980)
5. Various Artists, Lesbian Concentrate: A Lesbianthology of Songs and Poems
6. Aretha Franklin, Amazing Grace
7. Wendy and Lisa, Wendy and Lisa
8. Amy Grant, Unguarded
9. Joni Mitchell, Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm
10. Mary J. Blige, Mary

And a further five from this century:
1. Carly Rae Jepsen, E*MO*TION
2. Meshell Ndegeocello, Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape
3. Mary J. Blige, Strength of a Woman
4. Lee Ann Womack, There’s More Where That Came From
5. dumblonde, dumblonde

Posted in lists

My favorite albums: Inner City, ‘Paradise’

a/k/a The One Where One of the Fathers of Detroit Techno Makes the Perfect House Artist Album.

Kevin Saunderson, one of the famed Belleville Three, teamed up with vocalist Paris Grey in 1987 and formed house duo Inner City, who then made what might be the greatest artist album in house music history (apart from say, Masters at Work’s Nuyorican Soul, but that was nearly a various artists record; Inner City were a very self-contained unit). And Detroit house was different from Chicago house; this wasn’t as plush as a Frankie Knuckles production, but more angular, owing to Saunderson’s background. The keyboards are more staccato and urgent. But combined with the gorgeous, soaring vocals of Grey, they made magic. “Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'” was a Chaka Khan cover. “Do You Love What You Feel” wasn’t. “Good Life” and “Big Fun” you (should) know, of course, and Saunderson’s techno side pokes through more on songs like “Set Your Body Free.” Sexy and sinuous, Paradise jams from start to absolute finish.

Posted in 1980s, my favorite albums

Hot hits: February 2018

Personal faves of note getting me through the past month.

Chris Jeday has written for just about every current star in the reggaeton universe, so when it came time for his second single, 2017’s “Ahora Dice,” he could cash in some chips: it featured superstar J Balvin, rising star Ozuna, and up-and-comer Arcángel. And it earned over one billion-with-a-“b” views on YouTube. So, almost a year later, how do you make it even hotter? If you’re Jeday, you add on the online-huge Puerto Rican rapper Anuel AA, and then you spike the ball by bringing in the current queen of hip-hop and her crown prince, Cardi B and Offset. Like she does on Ozuna’s own “La Modelo,” Cardi sings en Español and then spits bars in English, and completely takes over the song. (Offset’s verse is fine, but it can’t compete with the fire his fiancé brings.) Not to mention that the core melody of “Ahora Dice” is sugary-sweet like a bowlful of Pixie Sticks. This can’t miss, and it doesn’t.

BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix started the month by turning two hours over to techno genius Lone, and he gave back one of the warmest not-explicitly-deep-house mixes I’ve ever heard in my 47 years. He sprinkles his own productions, largely but not exclusively techno but heavily influenced by house and breakbeats, throughout the mix, knitting them together with the likes of Future Sound of London, DJ Haus, and Autechre (to name a few of the bigger “names” included), not to mention a jaw-on-the-floor gobsmacking re-edit of Alicia Myers’s post-disco classic “I Want to Thank You” from Earls Booom!!!. (Here’s the full tracklist.) If I hear a better mix set this year, I will sincerely be surprised.

No idea whatsoever how I’d never heard this Chicago soul classic until now, but in researching a project about 1973 hits I came across the original “Love Jones,” and holy shit, these four teenagers turn it outBrighter Side of Darkness‘s same-titled album is worth your time, too, but nothing can come close to its magnificent title track.

This single really holds up. My review for The Singles Jukebox: Finally, a good single from Reputation. First off, I love the sentiment of the chorus: “I wanna be your end game/I wanna be your first string/I wanna be your “A team”/I wanna be your end game.” I mean, who doesn’t want that? Sheeran raps, and I’ve gotta admit, not horribly. Future of course does too, and of course is better. Weirdly they both sound right in this Max Martin/Shellback musical setting. Swift dials down the snark and sounds honest-to-goodness sincere, the synth chords behind the chorus sound gorgeous and expensive, the drums sound delightfully cheap, and both Sheeran and Future chime in later in the song on some ad-libs, not just “do a verse and leave” as is so often the case these days. On paper, this should not work — Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and Future, really? — but on record, it actually does. And I’m as surprised as you are, maybe more. And it sounds better the more I play it. I’m genuinely shocked that this was a kind of flop single. Maybe Swift’s time has passed?

Posted in 2018, new music

My favorite songs: “I Just Wanna Be Mad”

Canadian country singer/guitarist Terri Clark has never gotten the credit she deserves. From 1995-2004 she notched 10 top 10 country singles in the US, seven of those going top three (including a pair of #1s), but today she seems to have been largely forgotten. Which is a shame, because her rich voice and fine guitar pickin’ — she’s kind of the female Brad Paisley — should be much better-known than they are. 2002’s “I Just Wanna Be Mad,” a #2 country hit, may well be one of the greatest, truest songs ever written about relationships. Kelley Lovelace and Lee Thomas Miller’s lyrics just nail part of the essence of being in an LTR, to wit its chorus:

“I’ll never leave, I’ll never stray
My love for you will never change
But I ain’t ready to make up or get around to that
I think I’m right, I think you’re wrong
I’ll probably give in before long
Please don’t make me smile
I just want to be mad for a while”

OH my god, how perfect is that? Byron Gallimore and Keith Stegall’s production takes good care of the song, putting Clark’s delivery of these killer lyrics front and center. This is easily one of my favorite songs of the ’00s, in addition to being one of my favorite country singles. Everything about it rings true, and sometimes, that’s all you need from a great song.

Posted in 2000s, country, my favorite songs

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.
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