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Sound And Vision: Cover Me — Ten Remakes Of Great Songs That Are Better Than The Originals

“Have you lost your mind?!”

That’s the thought bubble I could have sworn I saw spring from my friend’s head several weeks ago when I mentioned that my all-time favorite remake is Aretha Franklin‘s 1971 Sunday-morning-at-the-pulpit rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” “You mean her version isn’t the original?” he asked, totally floored. No, she borrowed it from Simon & Garfunkel, who had hit No. 1 with it the previous year, and never gave it back.

Every time I think of Franklin and the crafty way she used to take ownership of other people’s hits (Dionne Warwick‘s “I Say a Little Prayer,” Ben E. King‘s “Spanish Harlem” and most famously, Otis Redding‘s “Respect”), I remember a story Dusty Springfield once told me. Franklin was originally offered “Son of a Preacher Man,” and when she turned it down, Springfield snatched it up. Shortly after Springfield’s version hit the Top 10, she met Franklin for the first and only time in an elevator. Franklin walked in, put her hand on Springfield’s shoulder and simply said, “Girl.” Not another word. “I just about fell out!” Springfield told me, still in shock and awe decades later.

Franklin eventually recorded “Son of a Preacher Man,” and Springfield so liked what Franklin did to her hit that she began performing it in concert Franklin style. And that, folks, is what you call running off with someone else’s song. (For the record, I prefer Springfield’s original.) Now, here are ten other cases of musical robbery.

Marvin Gaye “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” Just one year before Gaye went to No. 1 for seven weeks with his biggest hit, Gladys Knight and the Pips took their gospel-infused version of one of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s two crowning achievements (the other being the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”) all the way to No. 2. Both are spectacular, but Gaye’s moody, brooding take, which actually was recorded first, making it a “cover” in timing only, will always be definitive.

Marvin Gaye “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (a capella)

Harry Nilsson “Everybody’s Talkin’” and “Without You” Little-known fact: The late singer-songwriter who wrote Three Dog Night’s “One” had his two biggest hits singing other people’s words. Fred Neil‘s 1966 original version of his own “Everybody’s Talkin’,” though moving, lacks the mournful tremulousness and vocal drama that Nilsson brought to it three years later. Nilsson’s emotional bells and whistles sell the song. “Without You,” his biggest and signature hit, was written and recorded by Badfinger in 1970, two years before Nilsson took it to No. 1, and has since been covered by Mariah Carey and seemingly at least one contestant per season on American Idol. The song, however, belonged to Nilsson in life, and it still does in death.

Harry Nilsson “Everybody’s Talkin’”

Billy Paul “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” Bob Dylan’s song has been done to death—by Peter, Paul and Mary, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, The Four Seasons (under the pseudonym The Wonder Who?) and so many others—but Paul’s jazz-inflected rendition gave it a certain soulful urgency lacking in every other version I’ve heard. This is one of those rare times that someone not only did one of Dylan’s compositions justice but did it better than Dylan, too.

Billy Paul “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

Anne Murray “You Won’t See Me” I’d read it many times and always assumed it was a suburban myth, so when I met Murray in the ’90s, I asked her, “True or false: Did John Lennon really tell you that your 1974 version of “You Won’t See Me” was his favorite Beatles cover?” True. Better than Marvin Gaye’s “Yesterday,” Elton John’s “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and Aretha Franklin’s “Eleanor Rigby.” (I wonder what he would have made of Tiffany’s “I Saw Him Standing There” had he lived eight years longer to hear it.) Once again unwrapping her gift of interpretation six years later, Murray took the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” and made it listenable at last.

Anne Murray “You Won’t See Me”

Linda Ronstadt “You’re No Good” Dee Dee Warwick recorded it first, and Betty Everett took it for its first trip up Billboard’s Hot 100 (to No. 51 in 1963). As great old-school soul singers go, both were up there with the best, but what made Ronstadt’s version pop and rock and sent it to No. 1 for one week in 1975 was the mix of Peter Asher’s haunting production, a tough-as-nails Ronstadt at the peak of her vocal power and the best instrumental outro in the history of ’70s rock. Love and anger rolled into one of music’s great transcendent kiss-offs.

Linda Ronstadt “You’re No Good”

Amii Stewart “Knock on Wood” Eddie Floyd‘s 1966 original is a soul classic and deservedly so, but Stewart’s 1979 cover—which went all the way to No. 1—is a highlight of the era of disco balls, bell bottoms and white polyester.

Amii Stewart “Knock on Wood”

Darlene Love “River Deep – Mountain High” I know, sacrilege! How dare I say that anyone ever topped Ike & Tina Turner’s 1966 classic! But there you go. Recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Love, whose voice is one of the greatest instruments ever committed to record, covered the Phil Spector track for the 1985 Broadway musical Leader of the Pack, and nailed it effortlessly on the cast recording. She sang it with a soulful clarity and technical precision that matched and then surpassed the Queen of Rock & Roll because Love, unlike Turner, didn’t have to claw her way out of Spector’s great, big, oppressive “Wall of Sound.”

Darlene Love “River Deep – Mountain High”

Marc Almond Featuring Special Guest Star Gene Pitney “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart” Topping Gene Pitney is hard work, but when Pitney revisited his own 1967 UK hit as a male-on-male duet with Soft Cell’s Marc Almond, the result not only improved on its source material, but it gave the singer one final trip to No. 1 in 1989.

Marc Almond Featuring Special Guest Star Gene Pitney “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart”

David Cook “Always Be My Baby” In what remains one of American Idol‘s greatest moments, during season seven, Cook took a sappy Carey song I’d always despised and turned it into a grungey, slow-burning stalker anthem. In the process, he proved himself a true artist and Carey a songwriter capable of greatness.

David Cook “Always Be My Baby”

Sound And Vision: Top 40 Show Tunes — Seven Music Icons Whose Songs Should Rock Broadway

Though I’ll probably never be a huge fan of the Broadway musical, occasionally, they rock. Such has been the case for Great White Way song-and-dance productions based on the music of the Who, Bee Gees, ABBA, Queen, Billy Joel, Dolly Parton, Green Day and Elton John (twice). But poor Paul Simon. He flopped hard—and embarrassingly—with The Capeman in 1998. The moral of this particular west side story? When launching expensive stage musicals, it pays creative and/or commercial dividends for rock and pop stars to fall back on their classics—or in the case of John’s Aida, a classic opera—for inspiration.

And then there’s U2. The normal rules of art and commerce have never applied to Ireland’s greatest musical export. Although Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, with original music and lyrics by U2 frontman Bono and guitarist The Edge, has been dogged by bad buzz, negative reviews (for the staging, if not the music) and behind-the-scenes snafus, it’s been a box-office success since debuting in previews last November, more than six months in advance of its official June 14 opening.

Whether their Spidey show tunes will spin their web for months or years remains to be seen, but it’s hard not to wish that Bono and The Edge had adapted their band’s enduring catalog for a musical instead. If they had to take Manhattan, why not do it using songs we know and love from The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, two of its best and most successful albums, as inspiration rather than a superhero human-arachnid mutation (who’ll be returning to the big screen shortly in the form of The Social Network‘s Andrew Garfield)?

Maybe someday. In the meantime, here are some other iconic artists who ought to be waiting in the wings with their own spotlight musical. (Sorry, no Beatles—I’ve heard enough bad covers of the Fab Four’s catalog, including those from the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to last several lifetimes!)

David Bowie: Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been waiting so long for new music from Bowie. Or that my favorite Bowie song inspired the name of this very column. But more likely, it’s all about Space Oddity, a  rock & roll classic which tells a story that conceivably could be stretched out into a two-hour musical format and rounded out with many other Bowie hits. His ’70s output was more or less created to be performed onstage, and his theatrical music and visual lyrics could so easily translate to the rock-opera format. Meanwhile, Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke—parts Bowie played to perfection on record and in concert—are star-making roles if ever there were four of them.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David: “Walk on By.” “Message to Michael.” “Wishin’ and Hopin’.” “I Say a Little Prayer.” “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” Put these Bacharach/David compositions together—adding “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and many more—and what have you got? A Broadway miracle that’ll have more fans singing along than any musical since Mamma Mia!.

Loretta Lynn: It’s a mystery why no one has thought to revive Coal Miner’s Daughter on Broadway. The 1980 film has got the music, the story and the Oscar pedigree. But why stop with Loretta Lynn when you can add the music of Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline and stage Honky Tonk Angels, all about lives and loves in a ten-cent town?

Johnny Cash: No need to revisit Walk the Line just yet. The hero of Ring of Fire (which I always thought would have been a better title for the film since it was co-written by June Carter Cash about her and Johnny, while Cash’s first wife inspired him to write “I Walk the Line”) could be a man in black by another name. Lyrically, the best of Johnny Cash already hits on all the stages of an extraordinary life, from outcast (“A Boy Named Sue,” which was actually written by Shel Silverstein and not Cash) to outlaw (“Folsom Prison Blues”) to would-be saint (“Walk the Line”) to corpse (“Don’t Take Your Guns to Town”).

The Eagles: Picture this: Hotel California, featuring the Eagles signature title song plus “Desperado,” “Lying Eyes,” “Take It to the Limit,” “New Kid in Town” and all of those other ’70s country-rock classics. If there’s gonna be a heartache tonight (or any other night), I can’t think of a better musical cure.

Fleetwood Mac: Because the band deserves so much better than Glee‘s very special “Rumours” episode, which, criminally, left out “You Make Lovin’ Fun” and “Gold Dust Woman.”

Eminem: Speaking of outlaws, it’s probably just a matter of time before the ’80s musical outlaw movement known as rap invades Broadway just as it did Middle America in the ’90s. I can’t think of a rapping storyteller whose songs are more deserving of the full-on stage treatment than the guy who brought us “Stan,” “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” and “Love the Way You Lie.” If 8 Mile could win an Oscar, its Tony Award possibilities as a Broadway musical are probably close to endless.

Whose music would you like to experience on Broadway?

Sound And Vision: 10 Reasons Why I Wanted To Hate Lady Gaga’s New Album Before I Heard It

By now you’ve read the (mostly glowing) reviews, and Born This Way is probably well on its way to becoming Album of the Year. So who needs me on the Lady Gaga bandwagon? She’s already sold millions of albums and singles without the benefit of my adoration, and her second full-length effort (launched worldwide on May 23) is destined to pad her coffers with more gold and platinum. But after single after sound-alike single from The Fame and The Fame Monster EP, I was hoping for a change of course, her very own Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, a follow-up to a mega-platinum breakthrough that defies expectations and stands on the strength of the music alone. (Remember how George Michael made only one video for that album, and he didn’t even appear in it?)

I like Gaga best at her piano with a bare minimum of camp and circumstance, and I wish she’d go there more often. There’s something about way-over-the-top freaky Gaga that leaves my eyes in perpetual rolling motion. Plus I’m generally allergic to anything that’s hyped by the majority of the universe. I won’t bother to review the new album since pretty much everyone with an opinion has offered it on Facebook, Twitter or any other social-media forum where people will read it, but I’ll say this: Since the marketing of Gaga is often more interesting than the music she releases, my expectations were low. This time, though, in a nice surprise twist, she exceeded them. Still, it’s so hard to listen without prejudice, unaffected—positively or negatively—by a publicity push that shoved Gaga in our faces 24/7 and screamed, “You must love her!” So what exactly fueled my pre-release discontent and keeps my Gaga resentment bubbling just under the surface of my grudging respect? Read on.

1. “Judas.” Here we go again! Another busy video in which Gaga bombards us with visual stimuli. (Enough with the religious iconography, girl!) This one’s an eyesore, and I’d rather go blind than ever watch it again. But the biggest problem with “Judas,” the second Born This Way single, is that it isn’t much of a song—it’s basically just a noisy rewrite of her previous hits. No wonder it spent all of one week in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100, at No. 10, after its initial characteristically over-hyped release.

2. The onslaught of Born This Way teasers. Though Gaga would surely have us believe that this is yet another of her brilliantly “original” ideas, Taylor Swift did the exact same thing in the weeks before the release of her third album, Speak Now, last October, and Katy Perry pulled a similar stunt with Teenage Dream. After the title track, Born This Way‘s three follow-up singles were released in too-quick succession to have much impact, and when you add the streaming of songs from the album on Farmville in the days leading up to May 23, it’s like an extended trailer that gives away the entire plot to the Event Movie of the Year, to which Born This Way was born to be the musical equivalent. I’m surprised she didn’t add “in 3D” to the title!

3. Her publicity blitz cut into my Justin Timberlake time on the Saturday Night Live season finale. Watching Justin Timberlake host SNL made me long for the good old days of gimmick-free pop stars who weren’t trying to save their fans from the big bad evil world. He’s talented, nice to look at and his music stands on its own. He don’t have to take his clothes off to have a good time, or to make his tunes interesting, though he’s certainly welcome to! So why should he have to share the SNL spotlight with musical guest Gaga?

4. “You and I” was not a pre-release single. If anything good came of Haley Reinhart’s run on American Idol, it’s this: She dug up a then-unreleased Gaga track called “You and I” and almost did it justice. I immediately marched over to YouTube and sought out Gaga’s live performance of the song on the Today show last year. I felt like I was watching a female Elton John in her prime. Too bad the Born This Way version is more heavily produced by Shania Twain’s ex, Robert John “Mutt” Lange.

5. As an Idol mentor, she didn’t even acknowledge the free publicity Haley gave her little-known song. Did it happen off screen? Does she not watch the show, or was she simply unimpressed by Haley (Lord knows I usually was)? That said, Gaga made an excellent mentor and gave constructive advice. James Durbin didn’t do as he was told (come on, dude, put some Elvis into it!), and look what happened to him.

6. She’s probably going to leave Adele’s 21 in the dust as the top-selling album of 2011 so far. But then again, Adele made her mark fully clothed without the benefit of flashy videos and a billion-dollar publicity campaign. She didn’t even bother to get out of her seat in the “Rolling in the Deep” clip, and the single still went to No. 1.

7. Does every Gaga video need a cast of thousands? Just once, I’d like to see her go stark and minimalist, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”-style—no controversial imagery, no cheap group choreography, no grandiose aspirations. Yes, there’s strength in numbers, but less could be so much more.

8. “The Edge of Glory” is like a bad ’80s flashback. It would have been perfect for the Top Gun soundtrack. Images of Kelly McGillis dance in my head. Bonnie Tyler, or Stock, Aitken and Waterman-era Donna Summer, would have killed for this. I almost expect Laura Branigan to rise from the dead and start singing back-up halfway through. If only it were half as good as “Gloria” or “Self Control.”

9. She wasn’t born that way. Isn’t it ironic that the singer who sells artifice better than anyone scored one of her biggest hits—six weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100—with a song called “Born This Way”?

10. Her return is totally eclipsing Beyoncé’s. Queen B should have done what Kelly Clarkson did and sit out a few months while Gaga rules. A stronger first single would have helped, though. If the premiere of the “Run the World (Girls)” video on Idol and Beyoncé’s May 22 Billboard Music Awards performance don’t put her in charge, maybe she can still pull a Britney/Rihanna and get Gaga to add her two cents to a “Run the World” remix and watch it soar straight to No. 1.

Sound And Vision: How Mainstream And Cutting-Edge Learned To Co-Exist In Pop Harmony

A few weeks ago, Melbourne hosted the TV WEEK Logie Awards, which is like Australia’s Emmys, only with more reality TV, more cooking shows and music. Katy Perry and Maroon 5 represented American pop, and then there was rising UK star Jessie J, representing… well, I’m still not 100 percent sure. As she stalked the stage, decked out in glam-Goth basic black, performing her No. 1 UK hit “Price Tag,” my friend peeled his eyes away from the television, turned to me and announced, “Her look is cool and alternative, but her music is so lame and poppy. They don’t match at all!”

It’s a discordancy that’s starting to take over. Pop and rock and hip hop used to hang out on different sides of the playground, barely acknowledging each other, with the rare, revolutionary exception (think Run-D.M.C.‘s 1985 smash cover of Aerosmith‘s “Walk this Way,” featuring the vintage rock band on vocals and in the song’s video). If your music was too mainstream, strictly middle-of-the-road (a condition that afflicted neither Run-D.M.C.’s nor Aerosmith’s tunes at the time, which perhaps is why the hit sounded so effortless), there was no changing lanes. You could dress as wild as ’80s fashion would let you, but you would always be a pop star. Chart-toppers had little chance of drumming up street cred or working with artists whose tunes dangled from the cutting edge. Why do you think Duran Duran, one of the most influential bands of the Reagan era, still hasn’t been nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and is only now, more than two decades past its prime, publicly earning the respect of well-respected men like David Lynch, who directed the band’s recent American Express online concert?

Suddenly its cool to be alternative and pop. We’ve got Katy Perry mingling with Snoop Dogg and Kanye West on record and with bad-boy British comic Russell Brand in holy matrimony, and Ke$ha singing some of the poppiest songs on the charts and casting James van der Beek, one of Hollywood’s most white-bread actors, in her video but tarting it up just enough to come across as one of the coolest girls in school. (Ever the trendsetter, in the ’80s, Madonna had the good sense to tousle her image by marrying bad boy Sean Penn.) Meanwhile, Rihanna—a pop princess if ever there was one—holds court with Eminem and sings about how she’s “Hard” (as Young Jeezy raps in her defense).

Lady Gaga dresses like a freak and breaks every sartorial rule while singing what is basically the rave music of every ’90s teenage dream. Her former video costar Beyoncé alternates between straight-up pop (“Halo,” “Sweet Dreams”) and darker hip hop (“Diva” and current single “Run the World [Girls]“), while A Rocket to the Moon and Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy are among those who have covered “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” Try This (her 2003 flop that, in my opinion, is her best album) aside, Pink‘s ultra-commercial music has never mirrored her rock-chick attitude. Even Coldplay, one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, second perhaps only to U2, collaborated with, of all people, Kylie Minogue on the 2008 World AID’s Day charity single “Lhuna.”

As with so many recent musical trends, the current shift toward the mainstream and the cutting edge making strange bedfellows began with hip hop. If a roguish rapper like Eminem could rhyme alongside pop singers (first Dido on “Stan,” then Elton John at the 2001 GRAMMYs, and most recently, Pink and Rihanna on Recovery), couldn’t all musicians, regardless of genre, get along? Sure they can, but the commercial results have been mixed. There’ve been huge hits—the Katy Perry singles “California Gurls” and “E.T.” returned her rapper costars, Snoop Dogg and Kanye West, respectively, to No. 1 for the first time in eons—but when Alicia Keys met Jack White for “Another Way to Die,” the theme for the last James Bond flick, 2008′s Quantum of Solace, it was a one-week wonder on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 81.

Perhaps Keys’ R&B and pop fans and White’s alternative ones didn’t know what to do with the meeting of their musical minds, which was nonethess one of the best singles of 2008. Of course, there are artists who resist, too. Remember when Ryan Adams used to go off on fans who requested Bryan Adams‘ “Summer of ’69″ because he was fed up with being compared to the ’80s and ’90s pop superstar with the almost-identical name? (He once had a fan tossed out of a Nashville concert for daring to do the unthinkable!)

Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards probably was as much about the cutting edge (hip hop) vs. the mainstream (country-pop) as it was about the visual supremacy of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video. In February, I read a Billboard.com interview where empress of ’80s cool Chrissie Hynde talked about her upcoming Super Bowl weekend performance on CMT Crossroads with country diva Faith Hill, and she said she was unfamiliar with Hill’s music and admitted, “I don’t know much about country music, period.” Then there’s Kings of Leon, best known in the US for the Top 5 hit “Use Somebody”. Although the band would hardly be considered alternative in its recent hit-making incarnation, the guys  nonetheless refused to allow Glee to use “Somebody.” (I bet South Park or Dexter or Weeds would have gotten their blessing.)

But if Jay-Z can let the Glee kids turn “Empire State of Mind” into a show tune, if Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler can sit beside Jennifer Lopez at the American Idol judges table, if “F–k You” singer Cee Lo Green can go from collaborating with Danger Mouse (in Gnarls Barkley) to being one of Christina Aguilera‘s fellow judges on The Voice, then we might yet live to hear an Eminem track featuring Britney Spears.

 

Metal Monday: Metal Covers Of Non-Metal Songs

Cover tunes have been a big part of pop music in the last few decades, and an even bigger part of music throughout history (though the idea of a cover tune is rather new, they’re historically known as standards). Some covers are well known to be remakes, other times people don’t even know songs they love are covers. For example, you might not know Jimi Hendrix wasn’t the original performer of “All Along The Watchtower” —that one’s a Bob Dylan song. But, cover songs aren’t only for rock and pop artists.  Metal artists do their fair share of covers as well, sometimes even full albums (See Overkill, Rage Against The Machine and Evergreen Terrace).

Personally, I think metal musicians covering songs that weren’t originally metal songs is rather brilliant. Here are some great renditions of songs that are decidedly more heavy than their originals:

  1. “Still Fly” by Big Tymers, as covered by The Devil Wears Prada for the compilation Punk Goes Crunk
  2. “Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears, as covered by August Burns Red for the Punk Goes Pop Vol. 2 compilation
  3. “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, as performed by Children of Bodom on their album Skeletons In The Closet
  4. “The Sound Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel, as performed by Nevermore on their album Dead Heart In A Dead World
  5. “Everything Counts” by Depeche Mode, as covered by In Flames on their 1997 album Whoracle
  6. “White Room” by Cream, as performed by Demons & Wizards as a bonus track on their self-titled album
  7. “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” by Elton John, as performed by Flotsam & Jetsam on their album No Place For Disgrace
  8. “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen, as performed by Motörhead

Jeremy Helligar’s 10 Best Things About This Year in Pop

The year seems to be ending as it began: with Susan Boyle practically interchangeable snoozaks ruling Billboard’s Top 200 album chart. Who would have guessed? Well, I did, but enough dwelling on the bad. Let’s focus on the good stuff that happened in the last 12 months, and dream a dream that next year’s gift is a Boyle-free holiday season. And now (in roughly chronological order), the best of the rest…

1) Journey’s trek to the tops of the pops. Glee still makes my ears bleed, but by helping Journey score its first-ever UK hit—the band’s ’80s classic “Don’t Stop Believin’” piggybacked on the smash Glee cover all the way to No. 6 in early 2010—those kids finally earned a round of applause. (We’ll spare you the Glee link. Instead here’s Sam Tsui covering Glee covering Journey)

2) Alicia Keys’ sleepless nights. Sunshine from rain. Pleasure from pain. “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart” was the finest of Keys’ string of great 2010 singles. I’m still up all night myself, tossing and turning, trying to figure out how it never climbed higher than No. 27 on the Hot 100.

3) Pink goes up in the air. When I met Pink in 1999, before the release of her debut album, I was impressed, but I never suspected that a newcomer named after the hue of her hair would be a hitmaker a decade later? Topping off her continued chart success in 2010, the now-blonde, now-mom-to-be took the GRAMMYs over the top (in the very best way) with her highwire-acrobat act while performing “Glitter in the Air.”

4) Leon Russell lives! Susan Boyle isn’t the only one who began and ended 2010 on top. Russell kicked off the year wowing us at the GRAMMYs alongside the Zac Brown Band and finished it wowing us again, on the GRAMMY-nominated The Union alongside Elton John. Old Hank Wilson is back—but then he never really went away.

5) Sade returns, with guns blazing. Out of sight, out of mind, yes, but in the case of Sade, absence made the heart grow fonder indeed. Soldier of Love, the band’s first album in nearly a decade, made one of the splashiest debuts of 2010, and— in a rare, welcome twist—was worth the wait. May the long-MIA-from-the-charts Shania Twain follow suit in 2011.

6) Carrie Underwood hooks Ted Mosby. Britney Spears’s How I Met Your Mother guest spot got more hype in 2008, but Underwood, in her acting debut, was just as good in March’s “Hooked” episode, nailing her stunt casting as a pharmaceutical-selling hottie stringing Ted along. Not even that adorable teacup pig could upstage her. More, please.

7) Robbie Williams hearts Gary Barlow in the “Shame” video. Boy meets boy, boy falls for boy, boy and boy live happily ever after in the newly reunited Take That members’ send up of Brokeback Mountain. If only real life were so simple.

8) Vanity projects that rock. Timbaland’s “If We Ever Meet Again” (featuring Katy Perry, from Shock Value II) and Mark Ronson’s “Bang Bang Bang” (with Q-Tip and MNDR’s Amanda Warner, from Record Collection) were pop rarities in 2010: distinctive producer-as-artist singles that matched the behind-the-scenes best of the guys who created them. David Guetta, king of the sound-alike musical tricks, this is how you do it.

9) The British are coming… again! With Coldplay and Amy Winehouse in a holding pattern, La Roux and Florence + the Machine picked up the UK slack. La Roux became the first UK act in forever to reach the US Top 10 with “Bulletproof,” and Florence + the Machine finally became more than hipster darlings as their debut disc, Lungs, burst into the Top 20, while their “Dog Days Are Over” single became a big enough hit to get the Glee treatment.

10) Girls girls girls! Love or loathe them, it was refreshing to see single ladies like Katy Perry, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, Gaga and others continue to transform music from a man’s man’s man’s man’s world into an estrogen-fueled empire. What are you waiting for, Shania? Come on, join the party!

By Jeremy Helligar

Jeremy Helligar is a former staff writer for People, Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly, who now writes about celebrities and pop culture from his couch in Buenos Aires.

Pop Is a Battlefield

Musicians are an unruly bunch. They’re in constant competition on and off the charts, going for each others’ jugulars—talking first and thinking later. Rappers have been throwing stones back and forth since the ’80s days of LL Cool J vs. Kool Moe Dee and Roxanne Shanté vs. The Real Roxanne. From the Supremes and the Rolling Stones to the Verve, Oasis and Sugababes, infighting among groups is nothing new. Solo pop stars, in comparison, were relatively cordial for years, and then the steel claws came out.

In a 1998 Movieline interview, Jennifer Lopez asked that Madonna not “spit” on her acting craft, while also aiming her slingshot at then-non-singer Gwyneth Paltrow as well as Winona Ryder.  Elton John, perhaps the most outspoken guy in pop, not only criticized the quality of his former BFF George Michael’s 2004 Patience album, but he also went on the record to caution Michael on the evils of his substance-abusing lifestyle. John, who famously pitched a hissy fit directed at Tina Turner while the two were rehearsing for VHI Divas Live in 1999, also once called “Die Another Day” by Madonna “the worst [James] Bond tune of all time.”

The bigger you are, the harder they go after you, and these days, Taylor Swift aside (and more on her later), nobody’s bigger than Lady Gaga.

Former Spice Girl turned designer Victoria Beckham went to town on Gaga in an interview this month with Women’s Wear Daily. “If I’m being completely honest, is it fair to say she may have become a little bit of a parody of herself?” she asked. Maybe, maybe not, but it’s quite the turnaround from Beckham’s Gaga POV in a Daily Mirror interview this past July: “Bit by bit she is finding her image, and it’s nice to see it, as she is undoubtedly a talented girl.” I suppose it’s a pop star’s prerogative to change her mind—and it definitely makes for more interesting reading.

So does M.I.A.’s take on Gaga. She griped in NME last spring that Gaga was ripping off Madonna and Grace Jones and dismissed her as a “good mimic.” Then in June, Katy Perry took a thinly veiled swipe at Gaga’s controversial “Alejandro” video, tweeting that “Using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke.”

Gaga isn’t the only one bringing out the beast in her fellow performers. Elaine Paige referred to her No. 1 fan Susan Boyle as a “virus” during an interview after the South Banks Show Awards in January. And depending on whom you believe, Lou Reed may have blocked Susan Boyle’s attempt to sing his “Perfect Day” on America’s Got Talent in September (his people say US licensing issues, not Reed, were to blame), but he made it up to her by directing the video for Boyle’s “Perfect Day” video.

All is forgiven. If only things had gone so smoothly for Kanye West.  After he dissed Taylor Swift last year at the MTV Video Music Awards, legions of stars, including Kelly Clarkson, Pink and Adam Lambert jumped to Swift’s defense. Of course, Katy Perry joined the anti-West brigade tweeting the following message to the rapper: “FUCK U KANYE. IT’S LIKE U STEPPED ON A KITTEN.” Meow!

When words fail them, some stars let their videos do the dissing. Pink lampooned Jessica Simpson, among other starlets, in her 2006 “Stupid Girls” video. Eminem has skewered Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, ‘N Sync, Moby and Michael Jackson in his videos, and he’s gone several rounds with his alleged (by him) ex-lover Mariah Carey, who retaliated by dressing in drag as Eminem and playing him as a stalker in her “Obsessed” video.

Over in the U.K., Lily Allen has stood in for Gaga as a favorite pop-star punching bag since she broke on to the global pop scene in 2006. Katy Perry, naturally, started a war of words with her a few years back when she described herself as being a “slimmer version of Lily Allen.” In retaliation, Allen called Perry “crass” and in a truly post-millenial move, threatened to post her telephone number on the internet. What happened to simply challenging her to a fist fight, as an irate Mary J. Blige did in the ’90s during an Interview magazine chat with model Veronica Webb?

Joss Stone also took aim at Allen last year, calling her “more of a personality than she is a singer,” and responded to her anti-filesharing stance by saying, “[Lily] needs to sell records because she’s not a singer, and that’s not an offence to her because I think that she knows that too.”

And on October 31, UK X Factor judges Cheryl Cole and Dannii Minogue gave Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay a rather frosty reception after his band performed on the show because of some expletive-laden comments Kay made about the show and the credibility of its judges shortly before his appearance. (The printable portion: “You’re useless. The pair of you.”) Cole won the war a week later when her second solo effort, Messy Little Raindrops, entered the UK album chart at No. 1, six notches above Jamiroquai’s new Rock Dust Light Star. Check. Mate.

By Jeremy Helligar

Jeremy Helligar is a former staff writer for People, Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly, who now writes about celebrities and pop culture from his couch in Buenos Aires.

Tour De Force: Ridin’ Dirty

Over the years, the touring artist’s contract rider has proved to be one of the most intriguing and amusing aspects of the music industry. This infamous document describes a list of conditions that must be satisfied before an act will perform, and has often resulted in ridicule, rumor and scandal for those more high-maintenance artists. For most touring artists, even if they are just starting out, a modest rider is perfectly acceptable and a good chance for the band to eat something other than beef jerky and hot dogs from a gas station. As with most things in the music industry, a nice rider only comes after paying your dues and dealing with the sometimes crappy space/food the venue provides. Below we’ll take a look at some what-to-do and some what-not-to-do’s, but before we get into the juicy stuff let’s take a look at the history of “the rider.”

The Beatles are widely considered to be the first band to require something similar to a rider. Basically just some simple amenities (black-and-white TV set) and refreshments. Considering that they are arguably one of the greatest  bands of all time, not that big of a deal. It wasn’t until bands like The Rolling Stones and Van Halen came bursting out on the scene that pre and post-show demands got a little out of hand. Probably one of the most infamous incidents of prima-donna behavior from a band is the David Lee Roth “Brown M&Ms” fiasco of ’82. It is said that after finding forbidden brown M&Ms in the bowl in their dressing room David Lee Roth would trash Van Halen’s dressing room, and in one instance, cause $85,000 of damage to the backstage area. However, as years have gone by, it seems there may have been a method to his madness. Van Halen was one of the first bands to travel with an extremely elaborate stage set-up that required a lot of attention to their technical requirements, and failure to comply with these often resulted in some dangerous situations. The case where Roth had allegedly caused $85,000 of damage was actually spun from the unfortunate fact that the technical requirements were not met and the staging sank through the floor.

Continue Reading Tour De Force: Ridin’ Dirty

 


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