Monday, September 28, 2009

It's A Celebration

“34 songs that changed the world” is the tag line to Madonna new Greatest Hits compilation coming out September 29th. Not sure if all those songs changed the world but Madonna did change the face of pop music and became the blueprint to many wannabe Diva’s and female singers.

I still remember Holiday rising up the Billboard Charts in 1983 and peaking at #16. I thought she was black because of Shannon's hit Let The Music Play which was out at the same time, the songs to me sounded similar and I knew Shannon’s was black so I assumed so was she. When Madonna released her next song Borderline I was shocked to see a blonde white woman in the video. Borderline was her first top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and it just got better, by the time Lucky Star went top 5 they had to shelve her next album to let her first one run its course.

Like A Virgin exploded onto the scene in my graduating year of High School, I was completely hooked. The album produced 4 top 5 single, plus hits from elsewhere like the #1 movie tracks Crazy For You and my favorite dance song Into The Groove. Her Icon status was cemented with albums like True Blue which produced 5 top 5 singles and my favorite album Like A Prayer. Her songs like Express Yourself, La Isla Bonita, and Papa Don’t Preach were Iconic. Madonna could dance but could also write powerful songs with an emotional message like Live To Tell or Oh Father. She finished the 80’s with the gay dance anthem Vogue, a song that today still gets everybody on the dance floor. Her videos were groundbreaking and breathtaking and her concerts like the Blond Ambition tour were a spectacle. She pushed sexuality to the forefront but not as a victim but as a powerful woman in control of her sexuality.

Madonna was definitely my pop goddess but by the 90’s she started getting too serious artistically and lose the carefree attitude she had. I found it hard supporting an artist that charges $400 a ticket. $32.50 in 1987 to see her Who’s That Girl tour does not equal $400 in 2009. Her Erotica album was OK but I never really liked Bedtime Stories. I became interested again with her 90’s opus Ray Of Light produced by William Orbit, by then it was hit or miss depending on which producer and songwriters she would use. Her best material in my opinion was in the 80’s with songwriters Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard. I never liked French remixer Mirwais’s production on albums like Music and American Life. 2006 Confession On A Dancefloor produced by Stuart Price was a step in the right direction and a return to her past.

Madonna has ended her long contract with Warner music, her last studio album Hard Candy with Justin Timberlake and Timbaland came in with mixed review by critic and fans. While It’s not her best I thought it was better then some of her 90’s output. Celebration a 2 CD set is her last contractual album with Warner and I don’t envy the producers or management who had to decide which songs would make the final cut. Madonna fans have been bitching for years complaining about tracks that have been omitted from her previous compilations The Immaculate Collection and GHV2. She has sixty eight top 40 hits in the UK, forty eight in the USA, thirty seven have made the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, and twelve made it to # 1. Forty of her songs have topped the Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs Chart, the most by any artist ever. Let’s not start about which remix or edit of a particular song should be used. The fight about album version versus remixed 12”/dance version/extra beats, has been going on since Shep Pettibone remixed the entire Immaculate Collection CD.

Just as impressive if not more a DVD collection with 47 of her videos will also hit the store shelves. Did your favorite song, video and mix make the final cut?


01 Hung Up (Album Version) 5:36
02 Music (Album Version) 3:45
03 Vogue (Immaculate Collection Version) 5:16
04 4 Minutes (Radio Edit) 3:09
05 Holiday (Album Version) 6:08
06 Everybody (7" Edit) 4:11
07 Like A Virgin (Immaculate Collection Version) 3:09
08 Into The Groove (Album Version) 4:45
09 Like A Prayer (Album Version) 5:42
10 Ray Of Light (Radio Edit) 4:33
11 Sorry (Radio Edit) 3:58
12 Express Yourself (Immaculate Collection Version) 3:59
13 Open Your Heart (Immaculate Collection Version) 3:49
14 Borderline (Immaculate Collection Version) 3:58
15 Secret (Radio Edit) 4:28
16 Erotica (Radio Edit) 4:30
17 Justify My Love (Album Version) 4:54
18 Revolver 3:40


01 Dress You Up (Album Version) 4:02
02 Material Girl (Album Version) 4:00
03 La Isla Bonita (Album Version) 4:02
04 Papa Don't Preach (Album Version) 4:29
05 Lucky Star (Immaculate Collection Version) 3:39
06 Burning Up (Album/Video Version) 3:42
07 Crazy For You (Immaculate Collection Version) 3:44
08 Who's That Girl (Album Version) 3:58
09 Frozen (Album Version) 6:18
10 Miles Away (Radio Edit) 3:43
11 Take A Bow (Album Version) 5:20
12 Live To Tell (Album Version) 5:51
13 Beautiful Stranger (Album Version) 4:20
14 Hollywood (Album Version) 4:22
15 Die Another Day (Album Version) 4:36
16 Don't Tell Me (Radio Edit) 4:09
17 Cherish (Immaculate Collection Version) 3:50
18 Celebration 3:35

DVD Track Listing:

1) Burning Up
2) Lucky Star
3) Borderline
4) Like A Virgin
5) Material Girl
6) Crazy For You
7) Into The Groove
8) Live To Tell
9) Papa Don't Preach
10) True Blue
11) Open Your Heart
12) La Isla Bonita
13) Who's That Girl
14) Like A Prayer
15) Express Yourself
16) Cherish
17) Vogue
18) Justify My Love
19) Erotica
20) Deeper and Deeper
21) Rain
22) I'll Remember
23) Secret
24) Take A Bow
25) Bedtime Story
26) Human Nature
27) I Want You
28) You'll See
29) Frozen
30) Ray Of Light
31) The Power Of Good-Bye
32) Beautiful Stranger
33) American Pie
34) Music
35) Don't Tell Me
36) What It Feels Like For A Girl
37) Die Another Day
38) Hollywood
39) Love Profusion
40) Hung Up
41) Sorry
42) Get Together
43) Jump
44) 4 Minutes
45) Give It 2 Me
46) Miles Away
47) Celebration

Monday, September 21, 2009

Million Dollar Voice

Whitney Houston "I Look To You" album review

The album opens up with “Million Dollar Bill” penned by Alicia Keys, the song is a wonderful homage to the R & B groove of 70’s and from there the album doesn’t disappoint. My favourite track is Leon Russell’s “A Song For You” which start off slow and builds to a dance floor anthem. There was a bit of confusion as to which song would be the first single, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” penned by Diane Warren was a contender and then dropped in favour of “I look To You”. I usually like Warren’s song, the lyrics are very meaningful to Whitney but there is something off with the vocal arrangement, it’s like the lyrics don’t fit the music. The beautiful title track written by R. Kelly was kept for 10 years by Clive Davis until he felt it was right for Whitney, or rather until she cleaned herself up. When reviewing an artist with a voice like Whitney I usually concentrate on the songs because she’s not a songwriter and is usually at the whim of her songwriters, but it’s no secret that Whitney has abused her vocal chords probably from smoking drugs through the years. Her voice is not what it used to be, you expect her to soar or crescendo on some of the songs but it never seems to happen, whether it was written that way or not it leaves you wondering. On the positive side her voice has a new raspy edge to it which gives it character and life. Lyrics like “I've acted out my love in stages with ten thousand people watching” come across as autobiographical, you get the feeling that all the songs were written for her. You can’t help but see the similarities to her life from the track “Nothing but Love” to the closing number “Salute” her swan song to Bobby Brown. “I Look To You” is great little collection of songs and possibly one of her most cohesive albums.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Meet The Beatles

In the fall of 1980 I bought my first stereo system and record player with my bar mitzvah money. It was a Lloyd’s system I bought it from my uncle who worked for the company. I’m not actually sure if my mom let my uncle take my money or not, I remember her arguing with him about payment. My mother went out and bought me a few album albums as gifts, one was John Lennon’s “Double Fantasy” the other was “Meet The Beatles”. I was not yet born when Beatlemania hit the shores of North America but I knew who the Beatles were, and understood their place in history. I grew up hearing their songs everywhere. I remember my friend Victor playing their anthology songbook on guitar and singing along. Playing that 33 1/3 vinyl record in my living room for the first time was like being transported back to 1963, my enthusiasm for the recording industry only grew from there.

29 years later on September the 9th 2009 I went to my local record store, they were having a Beatles party and picked up the new remastered edition of “With The Beatles”. The nostalgia happened all over again. You might notice that while the picture on the album sleeves is the same the title and track listing is different, it’s almost a different album. When Capitol Records released the Beatles in North America they amalgamated some of their earlier original UK albums to create hybrid collections. Their first Capitol album in North America had songs from both the “Please Please Me” and “With The Beatles” LP, and the single “I Want to Hold Your Hand” which was not on any LP at the time. The US version “Meet The Beatles” was released on CD for the first time in 2004 as part of “The Capitol Albums, Volume 1” box set.

As I was writing this blog I was made aware that Canada had it own version called “Beatlemania With The Beatles” It has the same tracklisting as the UK version but the cover had added text on the front and it was only released in mono. Canada didn’t get any Beatles albums in stereo till 1965.

I’ve been hearing many people ask recently what is the difference between the Beatles mono and stereo LP’s? Is one better? To answer that question I referred to one of the Beatles biggest expert and fanatic my friend Andy G., here’s what he had to say....

“Neither is better, they’re just different. The thing is that unlike most bands, the Beatles didn't just use mix downs of the stereo versions for the mono releases, George Martin made completely different mixes. So the mono isn't just "like adding the two sides of the stereo together", some of them have different instrumentation, different speeds, different takes of the song even. For example on "With the Beatles", "Money" has a different intro in mono, and parts of the mono are from take 6 while the stereo is all take 7.

Some albums (or songs even) I prefer the mono version, some the stereo. There's no real "better" overall though. The mono and stereo versions of "With The Beatles" were actually originally released (in the UK) on the same day, the mono wasn't first.”

I’m happy that the Beatles are getting the remastered treatment, they deserve it, it sounds great and the photos and liner notes are superb, my only is gripe is that over the years I’ve collected many of the Beatles CD’s which were originally released in 1988. I don’t suppose that Capitol/ EMI Records would create an exchange policy? I guess not.

It is still fun to know that in this day of digital download and throw away electronics that buying and listening to an album originally released in 1963 can still be exciting.

With The Beatles
Side A
It Won't Be Long Lennon/McCartney
All I've Got To Do Lennon/McCartney
All My Loving Lennon/McCartney
Don't Bother Me Harrison
Little Child Lennon/McCartney
Till There Was You Wilson
Please Mr. Postman Holland

Side B
Roll Over Beethoven Berry
Hold Me Tight Lennon/McCartney
You Really Got A Hold On Me W. Robinson
I Wanna Be Your Man Lennon/McCartney
Devil In Her Heart Drapkin
Not A Second Time Wilson
Money Berry/Gordy/Bradford

Meet The Beatles
Side A (LP)
I Want To Hold Your Hand Lennon/McCartney
I Saw Her Standing There Lennon/McCartney
This Boy Lennon/McCartney
It Won't Be Long Lennon/McCartney
All I've Got To Do Lennon/McCartney
All My Loving Lennon/McCartney

Side B (LP)
Don't Bother Me Harrison
Little Child Lennon/McCartney
Till There Was You Wilson
Hold Me Tight Lennon/McCartney
I Wanna Be Your Man Lennon/McCartney
Not A Second Time Wilson

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Atlantic City Boy

Pet Shop Boys Concert Review

Over 25 years in the business and the boys are still in top shape and can outdo many of their modern contemporaries. They put on a fabulous visual show but it started late and the sound wasn’t great. The doors opened at 8:00 but they didn't grace the stage till 9:50 and that was after their computer technician was testing and arranging the generated images on the screen for about 10 minutes. It was a small venue and it was great seeing them up close but the acoustics had too much bass and it almost drowned out Neil’s vocals, the venue with a low ceiling did not seem to be made for good sound.

They always have interesting set lists which include hits, fan favourites and lesser know songs. I would have replaced “Jealousy”, and the “Two Divided by Zero” medley which seem to lose momentum after Go West. The dancers, choreography and visuals were superb especially when the wall in “Building A Wall” came crashing down to reveal the back drop to “Go West”, who would have though that simple boxes could create such imagery. Many of the songs had bits and pieces of other songs, "Domino Dancing" is listed on the set list but it’s just a line or two from the song. There were so many mash ups I probably missed a few. I wish they would have sung the full version of “Closer To Heaven” which sounded beautiful in acapella. I was grateful that they added “New York City Boy” a favourite of mine which they never usually do. The crowd seem to go crazy for “Always On My Mind”, “Suburbia” and "Se A Vida E". They did 5 songs from the new album most went over well especially “All Over the World” (It would make a great single). “The Way It Used to Be” is nice on CD but it got lost in concert, I would have preferred to have heard “Beautiful People” which is being released as a single in Germany.

They did not sell out, I was able to buy tickets the night before and the room was not full. It was a strange crowd, there were some die hard fans but I don’t think Atlantic City was typical of their audiences. A fun visual concert, I’d be curious to see it in a different venue.

1. Heart
2. Did You See Me Coming?
3. Pandemonium/Can You Forgive Her?
4. Love etc.
5. Building a Wall/Integral
6. Go West
7. Two Divided by Zero/Why Don't We Live Together
8. New York City Boy
9. Always on My Mind
10. Closer to Heaven/Left to My Own Devices
11. Do I Have To?
12. The Way It Used to Be
13. Jealousy
14. Suburbia
15. All Over the World
16. Se A Vida E/Discoteca/Domino Dancing/Viva la Vida
17. It's a Sin
18. Being Boring
19. West End Girls

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