Modern Pop [July 2010]
Are you ready for a new radio format? When modern rock (aka new wave and later alternative) was launched in the U.S. in the early 1980s, it filled a niche between top 40 and mainstream rock and became the radio home for music that was deemed too alternative for top 40 or too electronic for rock. Since the mid-1990s, this format has evolved to sound just like traditional rock. So it’s time for a rebirth in 2010. Let’s call it modern pop and you can follow its playlists on our Baylindo sister site.
Is there a market for a different top 40 format? Well, many people still don’t care for hip-hop. Listeners in their 20s may feel they’re a little “old” to be listening to Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. And Nickelback and Creed put some to sleep.
Since 98.9 KQAK, one of the first modern rock stations in America, started here in the Bay Area, it’s only right that we should reboot and introduce modern rock 2.0.
For more background info, refer to The Death of Modern Rock.
Theremin [July 2010]
If you love electronic music, you’re probably familiar with the Moog synthesizer. But you may not have heard of the theremin, the first electronic musical instrument. Invented by Leon Theremin in 1920 and mass-produced by RCA later, this instrument was featured in such 1945 Hollywood classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” and Billy Wilder’s “The Lost Weekend” as well as many sci-fi movies in the 1950s and ’60s. It was heard again in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” (1994).
The Beach Boys famously used a similar-sounding instrument during the recording of 1966’s “Good Vibrations.” Without Theremin, Robert Moog might never have invented his synthesizer. And without the synthesizer, dance music would have lost a key instrument. The synthesizer is to dance music what the electric guitar is to rock music.
A recent episode of “History Detectives” on PBS (pbs.org/opb/historydetectives) featured a segment on Theremin. For a list of electronic music pioneers, go to our Music Camp page.
Someone should interpolate the song “Pyramid” and call it “Theremin.”
Google Music [June 2010]
When Google quietly rolled out Google Discover Music (music.google.com) last fall, it piqued our interest because any potential competition for Apple is a good thing. Perhaps sensing a disturbance in the Force—to use a “Star Wars” analogy—Apple and MySpace promptly acquired two of Google’s partners in this endeavor.
Well, that’s not enough to derail Google’s plans for world domination. Rumor has it that the company will launch a full-blown music store by the end of the year.
Music Stores [May 2010]
We’ve finally published a list of some of the international and regional music retailers.
If you live in a major metropolitan area in the U.S., tell us some of your favorite regional stores, especially for dance music. We also need input for large European markets such as Germany, France, and Italy. And we don’t want to forget about Canada and Latin America.
Taking a Bite out of Apple [November 2009]
Imagine if you were asked to develop a retail site for your business. Would you require your visitors to download some proprietary software? Of course not. But that's exactly what Apple did a few years ago with iTunes. The company got away with it because record labels and music retailers were dragging their feet in regards to selling digital music.
Until now, the only other major U.S. Web site that boasts a large selection of digital songs and albums is Amazon.com. The recent release of Google Discover Music (music.google.com) gives consumers another alternative to iTunes. Even though this new service looks like a search engine on top of Google's partners in this venture, it has the potential to become something more given Google's resources and clout.
You get to preview featured songs in their entirety (snippets otherwise). Enter "tiesto" and his remix of a Three 6 Mafia song is listed among the results (who knew?). Type "king of my castle" and the first match that comes up is not Wamdue Project but a remake by Yanou (interesting). Check it out.
Full disclosure: Our Dance Radio Megamix page includes links to Amazon.com.
Towering Loss 
The end of 2006 also marked the end of the once proud Tower Records, a California institution since it was founded in Sacramento in 1960. Known for its wide selection and reasonable prices—until mass merchants started selling records—Tower became an international brand and reached an estimated $1 billion in sales at one time. Always a supporter of the single—vinyl and later CD— Tower was one of the few major retailers to sell 12” vinyl singles and their digital replacements, CD maxi-singles. Indeed, the company went to great lengths to rally the industry to save the CD single in the 1990s. To offset the dwindling supply of domestic CD singles in the 2000s, Tower stores began stocking more import CD singles.
For consumers of dance music, the days of browsing and listening in a conveniently located store are over. The Internet has been a wonderful alternative to that physical, tactile experience; we just didn’t figure it would have to be the only way so soon. For one thing, there aren’t too many on-line stores that can match or beat Tower’s brick-and-mortar prices ($5.99 for most domestic CD maxi-singles and $7.99 for most import CD maxi-singles). But the loss of Tower has ramifications beyond the immediate future. The Tower Web site was sold at the auction and continues to operate under new ownership.
National Exposure [May 2013]
We championed Taio Cruz long before he broke through stateside with two hit singles. We promoted two tracks by another U.K. male artist the last 12 months. If you watched the first part of the season finale of “Dancing With the Stars,” you’d agree country singer Kellie Pickler’s freestyle was the best of the night. And whose song did she dance to? That would be Labrinth’s “Beneath Your Beautiful.” This duet with Emeli Sande has received minimal airplay at top 40 radio so far. If nothing else, the free TV exposure should help spur sales of the song. You can watch Pickler’s freestyle on the ABC show’s official site as well as, we suspect, YouTube.
Dancing Flippers [April 2013]
Humans may not be the only ones that like to put on their dancing shoes. There was that Backstreet Boys-loving bird. Now a sea lion at UC Santa Cruz shows how she likes to groove to Earth, Wind & Fire/The Emotions.
And here's a clever video of a musical raccoon.
The Joy of Late-Night TV [March 2013]
While channel-surfing in the wee hours of the morning recently, we came across a rerun of “Soul Train” on a local Spanish-language station’s second channel. It was a 1977 episode that featured performances by Donna Summer and The Moments (“Love on a Two-Way Street,” “Sexy Mama”). This is our first time watching Summer and host Don Cornelius since they both passed away in 2012. She lip-synched “Spring Affair” while seated on a stool the whole time (artists seldom performed live on “American Bandstand” [1957-1989] and “Soul Train” [1971-2006]). One of her backup singers was Pattie Brooks, who would score several club hits on her own (“After Dark”).
Watching old episodes of “Soul Train” is almost like listening to a radio station’s original broadcast—you get not just the big hits but also obscure tracks like The Whispers’ remake of “Make It With You” and Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “A Real Mother for Ya.” We all know minor hits don’t usually become part of the go-to gold catalog radio stations rely on years later.
If you live in the Bay Area, check out 66.2 KFSF.
Alternative Radio Goes Mainstream (In a Good Way) [February 2013]
We don’t think three different alternative artists have ever swept the three top awards at the music industry’s biggest show before. But that’s what happened recently when Mumford & Sons, Gotye, and Fun won the Grammy awards for album, record, and song of the year, respectively. To appreciate the significance of these results, you should keep in mind that Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Smiths, and New Order were never even nominated in these categories. Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was also ignored.
Since August 2011, when Foster the People’s “Pumped up Kicks” became a crossover top 10 hit, other alternative acts such as Fun, Gotye, Alex Clare, and The Lumineers have kept the streak going. Imagine Dragons and Of Monsters and Men made the top 20 as well. Let’s hope Atlas Genius and Capital Cities will be next.
For much of the 1990s and 2000s, alternative radio and mainstream rock radio shared virtually identical playlists. The alternative format started out very differently in the 1980s (as documented in our Death of Modern Rock article). By the late 2000s, the two formats have diverged a little more than usual. As pleasantly surprised as we are by the success of alternative acts at the recent Grammys, we are more excited about the prospect of the alternative format returning to its roots and cultivating a distinct sound again.
A for Letterman [January 2013]
As ABC moves Jimmy Kimmel's show to a new time slot, other late-night talk shows are trying to up their game. Kimmel's show usually has the most EDM guests--he is the second youngest among the five hosts on the three major networks (six if you count Conan O'Brien). But recently David Letterman's guest list has included Germany's Zedd (performing with Foxes) and Canada's Diamond Rings. We all know Letterman, 65, has very little to do with the booking of musical guests. So kudos to his staff.
JC Remixed [August 2012]
If Barack Obama could “sing” “Call Me Maybe,” any public figure is fair game for a music video. The latest is a remix of JC—not Jay-Z but Julia Child. To celebrate her 100th birthday, PBS has released Child’s first official music video.
[►] Julia Child Remixed
Foodies should be able to identify all the chefs and episodes featured in this video. Give yourself extra credit if you recognize the black-and-white footage as well. PBS has hired the same man, melodysheep (perfect name for what he does), to create similar videos before.
[►] Mister Rogers Remixed
[►] Bob Ross Remixed
The first of these artificial songs to crack the Billboard Hot 100 was Antoine Dodson’s “Bed Intruder Song” created by the Gregory Brothers in 2010. PBS should consider selling Child’s “Keep on Cooking” song on the Internet.
Chicken a la Dictator [December 2011]
Check out the “Last Dictator Standing” TV commercial from Nando’s, a fast-food restaurant chain based in South Africa. The company has reportedly pulled the satiric ad from the airwaves after complaints from said dictator.
The song is a remake of Mary Hopkin’s 1968 classic “Those Were the Days.” Foodies will recall “Primal Grill” host Steven Raichlen preparing chicken wings inspired by Nando’s signature Peri-Peri chicken.
The Big Whine Up [November 2011]
We must admit we don’t care much for Kat DeLuna’s music. But after watching Iraq veteran and “All My Children” actor J.R. Martinez perform his freestyle dance to a rendition of 2007’s “Whine Up” on “Dancing With the Stars,” we’ll at least have fond memory of this song. Kudos to ABC for casting Martinez after canceling “Children.” Otherwise, a Kardashian might have won “DWTS.” You can watch Martinez’s final freestyle on ABC’s own site and YouTube.
Black Friday [November 2011]
If you watched TV days before Thanksgiving, you might have seen Kohl’s Black Friday commercials featuring an interpolation of that hated Friday song. Give the department store credit for poking fun at this song, originally performed by someone named Black, while using it to promote its post-Thanksgiving sale. Before the Internet, songs like this and the “Bed Intruder Song” would never have become a part of pop culture. Yes, they both made Billboard’s Hot 100.
Two Docs [September 2011]
If you love music as much as we do, check out these two documentaries from 2008. Until filmmakers like the Burns brothers decide to tackle the subject, “Airplay: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio” (travisty.tv/airplay.html) will have to do for now. This all-too-brief documentary covers the history of radio since the 1950s. It includes such legendary names as Alan Freed, Murray the K, Wolfman Jack, Casey Kasem, and Tom Donahue. You’ll meet some other DJs that you may not be familiar with: Dick Biondi, Jerry Blavat, Dan Ingram, Cousin Brucie Morrow, and Jim Ladd. Find out how program directors came to be in charge after a certain scandal, the same investigation that brought down Freed. The Chicago DJ who organized the 1979 disco demolition must realize his actions were no different from the attacks on R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll records in the 1950s.
The second documentary follows a chorus during a seven-week rehearsal for a new show in Northampton, Mass. This 25-plus-member singing group has toured all over the world (the U.K. filmmaker attended a show in London). Two things set this chorus apart from many others: the average age is 82 and its repertoire includes mostly rock songs between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s, a selection that probably reflects the sensibility of the group’s 53-year-old director. The name of the chorus and the name of the documentary is “Young@Heart” (youngatheartchorus.com).
You’ll appreciate how these senior singers learn and master the Clash (“Should I Stay or Should I Go”), Sonic Youth (“Schizophrenia”), James Brown (“I Got You [I Feel Good]”), and the Pointer Sisters (“Yes We Can Can”), among others. Do the math and you’ll realize most of them were in their early 40s when Brown’s “I Got You” came on the radio, so it’s not totally inconceivable that some of them might be familiar with the godfather of soul. But the Ramones and the Talking Heads? Not likely. Songs like Colplay’s “Fix You” and Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” take on new meanings. The chorus director tries to bring back two former members, who had to quit for health reasons, for the new show in front of a hometown audience. Will they—and all the other members—make it to the show? We won’t spoil it for you.
PBS stations air these documentaries from time to time. You can always ask your local library to order a copy.
It’s All About the Music [August 2011]
To kick off Paris week on “Le Late Late Show Avec Craig Ferguson,” he “performed” Plastic Bertrand’s “Ca Plane Pour Moi (This Life’s for Me)” (No. 47, 1978) last night. He’s been doing these musical openings since 2009. He can lip-sync better than a certain pop star.
Czech It Out [May 2011]
Our Czech Meganauts might want to check out Petra Nemcova’s dance moves on the American edition of “Dancing With the Stars.” Even though she was eliminated a few weeks ago, she did do better than the three models who competed before her. Go to http://abc.go.com/shows/dancing-with-the-stars. For a show that’s hip enough to use a Deadmau5 song (“Ghosts N Stuff”) in the competition, ABC should do something about the musical guests. The selection ranges from the predictable (Jennifer Hudson) to the ridiculous (Wayne Brady).
Campaign 2010 [June 2010]
As some of you know, 88-year-old actress Betty White got to host “Saturday Night Live” on NBC after a well-publicized Facebook campaign. So our Meganauts should start a campaign to get ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” to book more dance/electronic artists for the show next season. The last time such a musical guest appeared on the show was Scissor Sisters four or five years ago. Since they’ve never had a top 40 hit, someone on the show must be a huge fan or something. We should focus on artists who have not had much exposure on American network television.
We suspect “DWTS” has considered booking Cascada and David Guetta (with Chris Willis) as they have both scored top 40 hits. If Cascada’s not available, September and AnnaGrace would be logical substitutions. Guetta’s natural replacement would be Bob Sinclar (with Steve Edwards). Next to Sinclar, another dance artist with the potential for crossover success is Kaskade (with Haley).
Here are some strong vocalists for “DWTS” to consider: Reina, Nadia Ali, Kim Sozzi, Jes, Sophia May (“I Can’t Help Myself” should’ve been a top 40 hit stateside), Sam Sparro (they’ve played “Black and Gold” on the show before), and Lucas Prata (he’s been on NBC’s “Today”). If they want hit-making DJs, they should check out StoneBridge (with Therese), Chris Lake (with Nastala), Morgan Page (with Lissie), and Deadmau5 (with Rob Swire).
Then we have two groups that are vying to be the new Human League: Alphabeat and Example. Don’t forget Mylo and Calvin Harris. And for something a little on the cutting edge, “DWTS” should look no further than Little Boots and Crystal Castles.
All About the Music [April 2010]
Just as some folks read certain pictorial publications for the articles, you should watch “Dancing With the Stars” (abc.com) for…the music. On last Monday’s show, the “DWTS” house band performed Electric Six’s “Danger! High Voltage.” This is not the first time the American version of the show has surprised us with its eclectic songbook. You’d never see anyone perform an Electric Six song on those karaoke shows on Fox. By the way, we played “Danger” on our Webcast back on July 28, 2007 (simradio2007.blogspot.com).
Oops He Did It Again [March 2010]
If you live on the East Coast and didn't stay up to watch "Jimmy Kimmel Live" after the Oscars (or if you live outside the U.S.), go to his YouTube channel and check out his latest star-studded sketch called "Handsome Men's Club." It's another viral video like the one with Ben Affleck from a year ago. Has Leno or Letterman ever produced anything that became a YouTube hit? ABC will rerun this show this Saturday, March 13. Check your local listings.
A Movie Theme Song…Sort Of [March 2010]
It’s Oscar time and we should point out the obvious: Rihanna’s “Russian Roulette” from last year is a James Bond theme that isn’t a James Bond theme.
DWTS Update [November 2009]
For the first time in the nine seasons of "Dancing With the Stars," the winner will be someone from the music industry. That's because the three finalists are all singers. Kelly Osbourne and Mya are no strangers to dance music. Osbourne's "One Word" was a No. 1 club and dance radio hit in 2005. "Lady Marmalade" by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya & Pink was a top 10 club hit in 2001. Donny Osmond has never had a club hit as far as we know (was there a "Soldier of Love" remix?).
Torn Between Two Dancing Stars [September 2009]
Since we write about music, we feel it's our duty to root for a contestant from the music industry. So for the ninth season of the American edition of "Dancing With the Stars," we urge everyone to support the two O’s: Kelly Osbourne and Donny Osmond.
Whether you agree with the politics of Tom DeLay or not, you must admit he held nothing back--unlike Master P and others.
Global Listening [July 2009]
Check out "Strictly Global" on your television. Though it is not a dance/electronic program per se, recent episodes have featured the latest videos from The Prodigy, Moby, Ladytron, Electric Six, Major Laser, and La Roux. To live up to its name, a whole hour was devoted to J-pop two weeks ago.
This music-video show is currently seen on more than 20 stations in large markets such as Chicago; Bay Area; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Miami; Seattle; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Denver; Salt Lake City; Las Vegas; and New Orleans.
In the Bay Area, you can catch "Strictly Global" on 60-2 KCSM San Mateo (kcsm.org) every Friday at 8 pm and 9 pm. These shows are repeated the following Sunday at 11 am and 12 pm and Monday at 12 am and 1 am (Tuesday technically) and Thursday at 1 am and 2 am (Friday).
Editor's Note: This show ended in 2011 after a seven-year run. Try strictlyglobal.org at archive.org
More Television “Hits” 
Television continues to break European acts in the U.S. Dirty Vegas, Telepopmusik, and Caesars received tremendous exposure when their songs were used in TV ads. The latest beneficiary is a trio from Sweden, Peter Bjorn and John (peterbjornandjohn.com, almostgoldrecordings.com), who licensed their song “Young Folks” to a telecommunications company. The charmingly static animation in the accompanying video has also helped sell this whistle and bongo number to America. Call it a PB and J treat.
Another Swedish artist, Koop (k-o-o-p.com, dieselmusic.se), got a boost from U.S. television as well. “Come to Me,” a track from the acid jazz duo’s third album, was featured in an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” in March 2007. Then it was used again in a promo spot on ABC. So even people who don’t watch that top-rated show were exposed to this effervescent song, which is better than the girlish-sounding Corinne Bailey Rae and the overrated “Smile” by Lily Allen. Koop’s second album landed on the U.S. Dance/Electronic Albums chart in 2002. We suspect “Come to Me” might end up on the next “Grey’s Anatomy” soundtrack.
Speaking of “Grey’s Anatomy”…“Young Folks” was heard on the show in November 2006. So kudos to Alexandra Patsavas, the music supervisor of “Grey’s Anatomy” and other TV shows.
Numa Mia! 
The original Romanian version of “Mai Ai Hee (Dragostea Din Tei)” by O-Zone had a respectable run at U.S. dance radio in 2004. Then out of the blue Dan Balan (o-zone.go.ro) and Lucas Prata (lucasprata.com, ultrarecords.com) performed their English version of the song on “The Today Show” on NBC in February. Thanks to the TV exposure, “Dragostea Din Tei (Ma Ya Hi)” by Dan Balan Featuring Lucas Prata managed to hit Billboard’s Pop 100 chart. “Dragostea Din Tei” means “Love Among the Linden Trees.”
It turns out a Webcam video was largely responsible for the sudden interest in O-Zone’s European smash. You see, last December a 19-year-old Web designer released on the Internet a videotape of himself lip-synching to this song and faster than you can say “Hampsterdance,” you’ve got another Web phenomenon. According to his Web host, his little video clip had received over 1 million clicks by March (go to newgrounds.com and look for Numa Numa Dance). It now comes in three mixes: the original, mildly racy version and two clean versions, including one with the Romanian lyrics and English subtitles. This parody/tribute video is certainly more entertaining than O-Zone’s own video; the low resolution only adds to its charm (the Shockwave file is less than 5MB in size).
Update: Gary Brolsma, the star of Numa Numa Dance, appeared on ABC’s “i-Caught” in August 2007, giving his first prime-time network TV interview. This viral clip has become the second most popular video in Internet history (100 million views and counting). And he’s not done with his 15 minutes of fame yet. He had a cameo on “The War at Home” on Fox in December 2006 and will appear in a Super Bowl ad in 2008.
Dance as Dance Can 
After the disco backlash of the early 1980s, dance music was banished from the airwaves for years. But if you were paying attention while watching football broadcasts on TV, you would have heard a few seconds of a dance song whenever the networks went to a commercial break. Now you can hear dance music during a commercial break. TV commercials famously introduced American viewers to Dirty Vegas and Telepopmusik a few years ago.
Here are five dance jingles from this year alone: 2004’s “Steppin’ Out” by Kaskade (kaskademusic.com, omrecords.com) and Fischerspooner’s “Emerge” from 2003 (fischerspooner.com, capitolrecords.com) are featured in TV commercials selling beer and hair care products, respectively. A soft-drink commercial revisits 2002’s “Starry Eyed Surprise” by Oakenfold (pauloakenfold.com). Another car commercial is selling to the tune of “Galang” by M.I.A. (miauk.com). The unmistakable sound of Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction” (bennybenassi.com) is used in a fast-food commercial right before the close of the year.
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)
Starting in the early 1970s, the Bay Area led the anti-apartheid movement in America. That’s why Nelson Mandela made a stop here in Northern California on his U.S. tour four months after his release from prison in 1990. What we admire about him is the way he dealt with injustice on a personal level. Anyone imprisoned for 27 years for political reasons would be understandably bitter and perhaps broken. Without rancor, he was able to put all that aside and move forward at age 71. That’s a great lesson for all of us who have experienced disappointments in our personal and professional lives.
Lou Reed (1942-2013)
Though punk rock started in the U.K., some people call Lou Reed the godfather of the punk movement. That’s significant because punk rock begets new wave/modern rock/alternative. So without Reed and The Velvet Underground, who knows what the Sex Pistols, New Order, and Nirvana would have sounded like?
The reason his “Walk on the Wild Side” still sounds fresh today is because it didn’t sound like anything else on the radio when it came out. (The use of an outdated term in the lyrics was anachronistic even in 1973, however.) The lesson for aspiring artists is this: If you want to make timeless music that won’t sound dated in a few years, don’t follow any musical trend. Get off the dubstep/boom house bandwagon now.
Roger Ebert (1942-2013)
We didn’t have a Web presence when film critic Gene Siskel (1946-1999) passed away, so allow us to use this opportunity to celebrate the accomplishment of Siskel and Roger Ebert on television. Their long-running show, which started on a local TV station in 1975, went national on PBS a year later, and moved to syndication in 1982, was a cultural phenomenon.
Simply put, they were probably the best pairing on an informational TV show. News programs had vaunted teams such as Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer on PBS and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC, but their shows didn’t rely on constant interaction between the two co-hosts. Anchors come and go on morning talk shows, and they always seem to survive. Like the songwriting team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Ebert and Siskel were better together on TV than they were alone or with other partners.
They defied conventional wisdom about who makes a good TV personality. For starters, neither was exactly what you’d call telegenic. Ebert was the portly one with big glasses; Siskel was the balding one whose tongue always got in the way whenever he talked. Then there was the subject of their show. Who knew two people talking about the movies for 30 minutes could be compelling TV?
If you think it’s easy to put someone in front of the camera to talk about the movies, you haven’t been paying attention. PBS did continue a weekly show with different hosts for almost 15 years after the departure of Ebert and Siskel, and none of them stood out. There was a series of guest co-hosts on the syndicated show in 2006 and 2007 when Ebert was on medical leave, including some of the best film critics in the country. But eloquent writing doesn’t make great TV. The four people who eventually took over the show between 2008 and 2010 were likewise forgettable.
Ebert was one of the best film critics, but his judgment was highly questionable in one area. His selection of the fellow Chicago Sun-Times critic to replace Siskel was a major faux pas; the co-ed team he and his wife assembled for a reboot of the show on PBS in 2011 was also a disappointment.
Scott McKenzie (1939-2012)
There’s no shame in being a one-hit wonder if that one song is a classic. And that is the case with Scott McKenzie’s top 5 hit “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” Though his follow-up single actually made the top 25, he’ll only be remembered for “San Francisco.” The lyrics became dated soon after the 1960s were over—nobody sings about love-in anymore—but there’s a timeless and wistful quality to the musical arrangement and his delivery.
[►] Scott McKenzie (1967)
[►] Sir Ivan (2003)
[►] Global Deejays (2005)
Among songs that refer to a specific city, this is one of the most iconic. Lest you think we are biased because our company is based in Northern California, ponder this: How many people all over the world are equally familiar with, say, Dave Loggins’ “Please Come to Boston,” a No. 5 hit that came out seven years after McKenzie’s signature song?
Donna Summer (1948-2012)
Donna Summer is much more than just “the queen of disco.” Anyone serious about electronic music should listen to—and carefully study—her seven albums released between 1975 and 1979, especially the cult classic “Once Upon a Time….” All but one of these albums were produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. Not only is she a great singer, she also co-wrote most of the songs on her albums. And “I Feel Love” remains one of those landmark recordings.
As the media reported on the news of her passing, one gets the sense many people still don’t appreciate the significance of the contribution of Summer. So it is a surprise that a lot of the Internet chatter has to do with the fact that she was denied again induction into the rock and roll hall of fame just this year. The groundswell of criticism is so great that the person in charge of the hall of fame nomination committee issued a statement and basically said the voters blew it. She’s not the first—nor will she be the last—artist who didn’t get the proper industry recognition. That’s why we don’t need a museum in Cleveland to tell anyone who’s a great artist.
You can go to Fresh Air (freshair.npr.org) to listen to excerpts from a 2003 interview. Entertainment Tonight (etonline.com) has video of a 2010 interview. According to ET, Aretha Franklin tweeted, “She and Giorgio Moroder made sales and musical history in the 70s.”
Dick Clark (1929-2012)
What a coincidence that Dick Clark and Don Cornelius—same initials—should enter the rock ‘n’ roll heaven the same year. Before MTV—when it played music videos—and before TV networks began broadcasting annual award shows like the Grammy Awards and American Music Awards, which was created by Clark, the only way to watch your favorite artists was on “American Bandstand” (1957-1989) and “Soul Train” (1971-2006). There were other weekly TV shows devoted to music, but few had the longevity of “Bandstand” and “Train.” Saturday afternoons have not been the same since the heyday of these shows. It’s too bad television is stuck with the likes of Ryan Seacrest and Carson Daly.
Between YouTube and social media—and let’s not forget reality TV—many of today’s artists are way overexposed. There’s something to be said when an artist’s appearance on TV was a rare treat.
Don Cornelius (1936-2012)
There was “American Bandstand” (1957-1989), and then there was “Soul Train” (1971-2006), the syndicated TV show whose cultural impact shouldn’t be underestimated. To paraphrase creator and first host Don Cornelius’ sign-off line: love, peace, and rest.
Etta James (1938-2012)
We’d like to think that before she passed, Etta James was aware her voice was heard all over the radio and in the clubs thanks to Avicii and Flo Rida (no doubt “inspired” by Avicii). While she didn’t need any more recognition—she’d been inducted into all the industry halls of fame you can think of—a new generation of listeners will hopefully check out more than her signature song “At Last.” Yes, she made our list of vocalists you should hear.
Perfect Beat (1999-2011)
This Web site started out as a physical store in Southern California. As one of the music sites dedicated to the dance genre, it was a great resource and shopping destination. Then the site was frozen when the owner had a medical crisis last year. Now it’s completely gone and there are unhappy customers still trying to get their money back.
Steve Jobs (1955-2011)
Revisionists would have you believe that Jobs invented all kinds of things. He didn’t. The original Macintosh was inspired by Xerox technology. The iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, the digital version of the Sony Walkman. The iPhone wasn’t the first smart phone. Tablet computers were first introduced in the 1980s. The iTunes store was really created to ensure the success of the iPod.
Some people actually stated or implied that Jobs founded Pixar, which is completely false. He invested in the company when it needed cash and kept investing until he owned it all a few years later. Jobs had very little to do with Pixar’s artistic and technological achievements. Indeed, the strategy of the executive team was to keep him away from the Pixar office as much as possible. But didn’t Jobs himself make the same claim in that Stanford commencement speech? He wasn’t reading his memoir, and he probably figured “I founded Pixar” sounded better than “I bought Pixar.”
No, the genius of Jobs and company was the ability to take a good idea and put Apple’s stamp all over it, which usually means making a product more user friendly than anything before it. Still, without Apple, all that wonderful technology might still be languishing in the Xerox lab today near Apple’s headquarters. And it took Silicon Valley’s most famous enfant terrible to convince the music industry to work with iTunes.
Oddly enough, there is one thing Apple invented—though even here there’s some disagreement—which most commentators did not talk about the last few weeks. It’s something we do every time we get on the Internet. The idea behind Apple’s Hypercard is similar to HTTP, the Internet protocol that allows one to click on a Web link.
Before the turn of the century, the PC industry viewed Apple as that boutique computer company with the proprietary hardware. Apple always targeted the consumer market in general and the education market in particular. With all the handheld products released in the last 10 years, the company has become more like Sony than HP. It’s no wonder Apple dropped the word “Computer” from its name.
If you’re interested in high technology, check out our take on the history of Silicon Valley.
Alex Chilton (1950 – 2010) and Malcolm McLaren (1946 – 2010)
Baby-boomers may remember Chilton as the lead singer of the Box Tops, the Memphis area band who scored seven top 40 hits between 1967 and ’69, including the No. 1 smash “The Letter” and the million-selling “Cry Like a Baby.” His solo career never scaled the same heights, but check out the provocative “No Sex,” one of the more interesting songs from the 1980s. The Replacements recorded a song titled “Alex Chilton.”
The man who gave us the Sex Pistols and other colorful U.K. acts is underrated for his own musical contribution. McLaren’s “Paris” album was one of the highlights of the 1990s. Read our review at Music Camp and check out his 1980s dance recordings (“Buffalo Gals,” “Double Dutch,” “Madame Butterfly [Un Bel di Vedremo],” “Deep in Vogue [Banjie Realness]”).
Listening Posts [October 2010]
Pure versus mixed. As we pointed out previously, a typical dance station’s playlist in the U.S. includes equal parts dance and top 40 artists. Now our position is clear: We wish American dance stations would be a little more unadulterated and a little less diluted. Well, how do listeners feel about the sound of dance radio?
If you read the comments on BPM’s recently posted playlists on its Facebook page (facebook.com/siriusxmbpm), you’ll see that they agree with our position. Granted, people who have a bone to pick are more motivated to post a comment, especially when they are paying customers.
If we operated our own dance radio station, would we ban top 40 artists? No, but we would put them in light rotation only. Of course, there would be exceptions. For instance, Flo Rida’s “Club Can’t Handle Me” is practically a dance track, thanks to David Guetta. The same goes for The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.” And then there are dance remixes that successfully transform an otherwise unremarkable top 40 track (Dave Aude’s remix of Carmen Reece’s “Right Here” comes to mind). Unfortunately, these cases are few and far between.
The point is this: People don’t tune in to a dance station to listen to Katy Perry and Rihanna all day long. Oh, we wouldn’t play the most popular tracks for much longer than 20 weeks either. Go to Discussion Board (click on Boxes) and join our forum to talk about the state of dance radio.
Pandora’s Music Box [July 2010]
For those who don’t know, Pandora (pandora.com) is a Web radio station that gives users recommendations based on the music they like. So basically it does on a big scale what music journalists sometimes tell their readers: “If you like X, you might also enjoy Y and Z.”
What’s wrong with Pandora’s modus operandi? Well, this birds-of-a-feather approach has its limitations. We’re reminded of what Little Steven Van Zandt, member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and “The Sopranos” actor, wrote after the 2007 Grammy telecast. He thought Christina Aguilera’s performance in the James Brown tribute was “fantastic” but wondered why he’d just “discovered” her on Grammy night. (He was possibly bowled over by another “unknown” artist recently—Pink’s acrobatic performance in 2010.)
First of all, this just goes to show even people in the music business can be grossly out of touch with pop music. But no matter what songs Little Steven specifies in his profile, we seriously doubt Pandora would recommend Aguilera to him.
Yes, there are people who are content eating meat and potatoes every other day. But most of us like a little variety in our diet. And that goes for music, too. On our Megamix page, we don’t recommend just one type of dance music. Bimbo Jones is as different from Grum as Grum is different from Crystal Castles.
If history is any indication, Little Steven has probably not heard Usher’s “OMG” and Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” two of the most appealing anthems of the last few years. He just might like them, but will Pandora serve them to a rocker like Little Steven? Not likely. It’s the same with the movies. After you’ve seen a great film, you’d want all your friends to see it—regardless of whether it fits their genre preference.
Radio shouldn’t be limited to only giving the people what they want. It should inspire and challenge the listeners now and then. As anyone with young children will tell you, if you let your American kids decide what to eat, it would be Pop-Tarts and Hot Pockets everyday.
Radio Stimulus Idea [June 2010]
As album sales continue to decline in the U.S., some people still bring up Napster as the root of all evil. Give it a rest. It seems once music went digital with the adoption of the CD format in the 1980s and the Internet took off about 10 years later, everything digital would be fair game in the new global marketplace. The proverbial cat was out of the bag. And long before Napster came along, the music industry was adept at shooting itself in the foot. (You can read what we had to say about industry mistakes a few years ago at our Baylindo sister site [click on Opinion])
We’d like to suggest a way to stimulate the radio side of the music industry. Copyright holders need to stop viewing radio stations as a piggy bank. The real customers are the individual consumers and corporations (for licensing). Radio is an artist’s best partner. Nothing sells new music better than repeated airplay. We’re not saying radio shouldn’t pay royalties. But it hurts the music industry in the long run if radio stations find these fees to be a barrier to doing business.
So we recommend that record labels waive royalties the first six months after a song is serviced to radio. If all copyright holders agree to this early royalty waiver during the “spin for free” period, then radio stations would basically only have to pay for recurrents.
This is a win-win situation for everyone. Radio stations are encouraged to play new music while it’s free (call it legal payola if you want). And small stations—especially the ones on the Internet—can afford to stay in business. Listeners are happy because radio stations are finally motivated to remove a song from the playlist after six months.
Depending on the details, this new royalty model might permit anyone to set up a radio station playing nothing but (changing) new music for free. Would that be such a bad thing? First of all, a real radio station should play some recurrents. Furthermore, imagine for a moment if just a small percentage of Facebook members are free (no pun intended) to upload a mini-player (a la MySpace) with a few of their favorite new songs. It’s all about exposure and repeated airplay. And keep in mind this new model would have no bearing on oldies stations.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy [June 2010]
The reality is this: The number of full-time, terrestrial dance stations in the U.S.—excluding low-power stations and HD2 channels—is down to two, the lowest total since the revival of the format stateside in 2002. One of them is a high school station, and the other is part hip-hop. America ought to be big enough to support a few more FM dance stations.
The picture on the airwaves is indeed bleak. We didn’t just lose four dance stations in the last 10 months; three of them actually went out of business altogether. What we have here is a perfect storm of bad economy, weak signals, questionable management, and lack of industry/government support.
Deregulation and consolidation have pushed a niche format like dance to the outer fringes on the dial. Despite streaming on the Net, a strong signal still matters (Web listeners don’t count in FM ratings). You don’t think about expansion—as one of these stations announced last year—before you get your finances in order. Web radio gets no love from the music industry even though airplay remains the most dependable marketing tool.
If you run a nonprofit station, you must be very disciplined about fundraising like those PBS TV stations around the country. BBC has flourished thanks to government support. The U.S. government loves to subsidize corn growers. But when it comes to the arts—or other crops—forget about it.
So why are we humming the Bobby McFerrin song? Yes, the dance format’s best radio days are behind it. But the dance genre will never disappear. Didn’t will.i.am recently say dance music will be around forever like cockroaches? (Some people have said the same of Microsoft Windows.)
Between the mid-1970s and early ’80s, dance music dominated mainstream radio and pervaded pop culture, so much so that the subsequent backlash was almost inevitable. While discotheques sprang up during the 1960s, it’s important to note that the early years of rock ‘n’ roll were mostly about giving the kids something to dance to. After all, “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock,” “At the Hop,” and “The Twist” were dance songs of their day.
With or without the support of American radio, dance music is here to stay. And we’ll continue to keep you posted on the best releases.
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