By now most of you will, I am sure, have seen Lady Gaga performing her David Bowie tribute at the Grammy Awards ceremony. Based upon the noise from Bowie fans online it seems to have divided opinions. From those suggesting that it was truly sublime to some deluded souls saying that they wanted to tear Gaga’s eyes out. Frankly the latter option is plainly stupid and those with that view need some urgent therapy!
I like Gaga’s music but having seen her play live a few years ago I felt that she takes pretentiousness to previously uncharted levels. However I thought her Bowie medley at the Grammy’s was a truly wonderful and fitting tribute to the Dame. Her singing was spot on, the light effects on her face at the start was splendid; dripping paint, spiders and that iconic lightning flash all made an appearance. The band, which included Nile Rogers was perfect. Just think how many of Gaga’s army of Little Monsters might now become a new generation of Bowie fans as a result of this soon to be classic performance. I would love to hear what your opinion of Gaga does Bowie is. Will the forthcoming tribute to David Bowie at the Brit Awards be better than this? Somehow I doubt it.
It seems like just days since I started this years With Just A Hint Of Mayhem Advent blog posts and yet here we are at Day 17 already. More than two-thirds of the way through. So not only is it December 17th it is also the day that you get two songs with seventeen in the title. I’m getting a little concerned that I’ll be able to find two at least half decent songs for each day up to 25th December. But I think I can!
Anyway enough of my mindless prattling, what is the first song for today I hear you cry. Well it is a beautiful song from 1975; it is Janis Ian with the Grammy winning “At Seventeen”. The song failed to chart in the UK although I seem to recall that it got a lot of airplay in 1975/ 76. It went to number three on the US Billboard chart and remains her biggest hit. Janis didn’t want to release the song at first as she felt it was too personal. The song has been covered by Celine Dion for her current album ‘Loved Me Back To Life’. In addition to piano and guitar Janis also plays organ, harpsichord, French horn and flute. She had mastered all of these by the time she reached her teens. Janis also writes science fiction and has had a number of short stories published.
The second song today comes from punk icons the Sex Pistols and is called “Seventeen”. The song was the first track on side two of their only studio album; the timeless punk classic ‘Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols’. The bass on the album was played by either Glen Matlock or Steve Jones as Sid Vicious was not a particularly competent bassist. However it seems that Mr Vicious may have played his bass on the album’s eighth track; “Bodies”. “Seventeen” was one of 15 songs that the band played at their final gig (not including reunions) at the Winter Ballroom in San Francisco on January 1978. US hardcore punk band Total Chaos have covered the song for the ‘Never Mind The Sex Pistols, Here’s The Tribute’ album in 2000.
Friday 13th December, one step closer to Christmas and a fabulous day unless you are triskaidekaphobic. So on with the show and today that show comes to you courtesy of two iconic music legends. One from the US and one from the UK. One is sadly no longer with us and the other is very much alive.
First up it’s the now departed Man In Black, Johnny Cash. The track I have chosen comes from the first of the albums that Cash recorded with Rick Rubin; ‘American Recordings‘ released in 1994. The song was written for Johnny by Glenn Danzig and it is called “Thirteen”. It took Danzig just twenty minutes to write the song. The album won a Best Contemporary Folk Album award at the 1994 Grammys. Cash joined the US Air Force in 1950 and for a time his role was to intercept morse code messages made by the Russian military. Apparently he was the first US radio operator to learn of the death of Joseph Stalin. The Cash family line could be traced back to 11th century Scotland.
The second song for today comes from that spikey, scouse minstrel Declan McManus who most of you know as Elvis Costello. The title of that song is “Thirteen Steps Lead Down” it is taken from 1994′ s ‘Brutal Youth‘ album. This was the first album that Elvis had recorded with the Attractions for eight years. The song was released as the lead track of an EP; the “Thirteen Steps Lead Down EP” which included three other tracks. Those were, “We Despise You”, “Basement Kiss” and “Puppet Girl”. Did you know that the backing band on Costello’s first album ‘My Aim Is True’ were called Clover and that they went on to form the nucleus of Huey Lewis and the News? Well you do now. I had the pleasure of seeing Mr Costello play live in June this year and he was brilliant.
I know I’m a little late but I would like to say immense congratulations to Tottenham’s finest, Adele on winning the Grab A Grammy night hands down in the US this weekend. She came away with six of the little beauties. Obviously the event had a large shadow cast over it by the sad death of Whitney Houston. But Adele’s achievement is to be applauded. The show was also in effect her come back after significant throat problems in recent months. Adele won every award for which she was nominated and now shares the most Grammys in one night by a female with Beyonce. The Foo Fighters came close to Adele in winning five Grammys.
Karl Lagerfeld has also had a few words to say about Adele recently too. he in effect called her fat and then had to go public again to ‘clarify’ his statement. He went on to say how talented and beautiful the singer is and how ’21’ is one of his favourite albums. What strikes me of this supposed fashion and style guru is why anyone would take him seriously these days. have you seen his hair? He makes Donald Trump look like Samson before he had his tresses lopped. He has either a poor syrup (that’s a wig or a rug to my US friends) or a really intricate and solid weave or comb over. I would rather take fashion advice from Steptoe and Son.
By now you may have already heard or read the reports of the untimely and sad demise of Whitney Houston aged just 48. Any comment about the cause of death at this stage is pure speculation. Her body was discovered in her Los Angeles hotel room on February 11th. She was staying there for Clive Davis‘ pre Grammys party. It was Davis who discovered Whitney singing in bars and clubs as a teenager. Whitney won 6 Grammys herself and with the ceremony taking place today it’s likely that there will be a lot of focus on her career.
Her mother was Cissy Houston, a talented singer herself. She was also related to Dee Dee Warwick and Dionne Warwick. Aretha Franklin was her godmother. She was just eleven when she started singing in her church gospel choir. As a teenager she would occasionally appear on stage to provide backing vocals for her mother. Her first big break in the industry was when she provided backing vocals on the Michael Zager Band’s hit “Life’s A Party” when she was just 14. One of the biggest hits to be graced with a Whitney backing vocal was the stupendous “I’m Every Woman” from Chaka Khan in 1978. Whitney was still only 15. She carried on as a backing vocalist for a while and even graduated to lead vocals an a Paul Jabara album.
Clive Davis signed her to Arista in 1983 and spent some time developing her and finding the right production and writers which meant that her first solo album, ‘Whitney Houston’, didn’t appear until February 1985. Eventually it rose to the summit of the USBillboard album charts and spent 14 weeks there. It also spawned three US number ones; “Saving All My Love For You”, “How Will I Know” and “The Greatest Love Of All” The album which featured duets with Jermaine Jackson and Teddy Pendergrass and backing vocals from her mother Cissy, went on to sell 25 million copies worldwide.
The follow-up album was the rather unimaginatively titled ‘Whitney’ which stormed the charts in the wake of its predecessor. As well as the album hitting the top of the US charts it gave Houston another four US number ones in; “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, “So Emotional” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”. Her third album ‘I’m Your Baby Tonight’ took her in a much tougher R & B direction and in my opinion showcased her vocal talents better than the first two did. She appeared at the Super Bowl in 1991 where she sang the US national anthem. It was later released as a single and reached the US Top 20. It was the biggest chart hit that any artist had ever had with “The Star Spangled Banner”
It was in the 1990s that her career took an even faster upwards trajectory. 1992 was a pivotal year for her. In July She married singer Bobby Brown who she had met at the Soul Train Music Awards three years earlier. She had her only child Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown with him a year later. After her initial success from 1985 she had many offers of film roles but none of them felt right to her. But eventually she took on the role of a singing superstar in ‘The Bodyguard’ which was released in 1992. She co-starred with Kevin Costner. The film may well be remembered more for its soundtrack though, which included the mega hit “I Will Always Love You”. It was a cover of a Dolly Parton song and frankly is not a song I like very much at all. But I am probably in a small minority there as it reached number one in almost every country it was released. The soundtrack album also included a great version of “I’m Every Woman” a song on which Whitney had provided backing vocals 14 years before. She went on to make a number of other successful movies including ‘Waiting To Exhale’ and ‘The Preachers Wife’
Her next studio album that wasn’t soundtrack related, ‘My Love Is Your Love’ wasn’t released until 1998. It was a much funkier sound from her and includes my favourite Whitney song “It’s Not Right, But It’s OK”. That remains an office catch phrase for me after hearing a colleague (thank you Mr Mangan) use it a lot. Basically if something is not perfect but is ok he would say, ‘It’s a bit Whitney’ meaning in very simple terms, ‘it’s not right but it’s ok’. This album was followed by her greatest hits package ‘Whitney : The Greatest Hits’ in 2000. It included a number of new songs including duets with George Michael and Enrique Iglesias. (Another greatest hits package ‘The Ultimate Collection’ was released in 2007)
The next few years might be seen as wilderness years for her in that she suffered the problems of drug addiction. Plenty has been written about those episodes of her life so I don’t see the point of adding to that here. Even during those low times she was able to release a couple of albums; ‘Just Whitney’ and her first Christmas album. She finally divorced from Bobby Brown in 2007 and got herself back on track by releasing a new album ‘I Look To You’ in 2009. She promoted a single from the album, the rather excellent “Million Dollar Bill” with an appearance on the X Factor in the UK. In 2010 she took off on her first world tour for many years. The shows received mixed reviews and a number were cancelled and rescheduled due to Houston falling ill.
Many of todays generation of female singers owe a debt to Whitney Houston and I am sure she will be sadly missed. Whatever you might think of the way she lived her life it is hard to deny that she was an incredible talent and 48 is just way too young to leave this life. My thoughts go to her family, friends and fans. RIP Whitney Houston.
To celebrate her life I have chosen some of my favourite Whitney Houston songs for you;