Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Rock Albums Post VI: Pop Music

This post includes albums which cross the lines of pop music, ballads, jazz, R&B and other lite and easy styles of music. All these albums, in their own way, are pop music classics and have generated influence and inspiration on musicians and music listeners alike.

Anita Baker - Rapture (1986)

Anita Baker has been on the music scene since 1975 first with the Detroit based soul group Chapter 8. But it wasn't until 1986 that Baker finally reached fame with her soulful silky contralto. Her second solo album "Rapture" focused on romantic but gospel-influenced R&B/pop ballads and catapulted Baker to international success, reaching #11 in the U.S., #13 in the UK, 332 in Sweden and #35 in Australia. To date the album has sold more than 8 million copies worldwide (with 5 million in the U.S. alone). The album won two Grammy Awards including Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and a Best R&B Song Grammy for the song "Sweet Love".  In 1989 "Rapture" was listed #36 in Rolling Stone Magazine's 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980's.

The first single released from the album "Watch Your Step" failed to spark interest with the public, although it did reach #23 on the U.S. R&B chart. Finally it was "Sweet Love", the album's 2nd single (and her 6th single overall) that hit the upper portions of the charts. The song hit #8 on Billboard's U.S. Singles chart, #2 on the R&B chart and #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart as well as reaching #13 in the UK.

After "Sweet Love" became a huge hit the album scored 3 more hits with "Caught Up In The Rapture Of Love", "Same Ole Love (365 Days A Year)" and "No One In The World". At this point in time Baker was destined to continue her wave of hits to become one of the most cherished vocalists of the 80's and onward. "Caught Up In The Rapture Of Love" proved to be as durable a hit as "Sweet Love" as it became an anthem for many a lovestruck couple. The song made it to #37 on the U.S. pop charts but reached the top 10 on both the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts as well as #51 in the UK.

Bobby Darin - That's All (1959)

That's All, Bobby Darin's second LP, is his most important record. Darin's reputation as a teen idol was established in 1958 and 1959 with the Top Ten hits "Splish Splash," "Dream Lover," and "Queen of the Hop." Later in 1959, That's All broadened his appeal and secured his immortality. The LP begins with Darin's trademark song, Threepenny Opera's "Mack the Knife" which was number one for an impressive nine weeks. That's All won Grammy awards for Record of the Year and Best New Singer. In his first attempt to select more mature material, Darin chose songs like Ira and George Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So" from Porgy and Bess and the Hammerstein song "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise." That's All is an album of pop standards but also includes the Top Ten hit "Beyond the Sea." Much is made of Frank Sinatra's band leader Billy May, but Richard Wess shines on Darin's early LPs. His orchestration in "I'll Remember April" is a brassy and swinging success. That's All was on the Billboard charts for 52 weeks and peaked at number seven. The album also reached #9 on the Cashbox momo albums chart and #16 on the Cashbox stereo album charts. There were spearate Cashbox charts for mono and stereo albums until 1965.

"Mack The Knife" was first introduced to the United States by Louis Armstrong in 1956 but it was bobby Darin who turned the song into a classic. Darin took the song to #1 in October 1959 and stayed there for an impressive 9 weeks.  It also reached #6 on the Black Singles chart, and earned him a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. The song was certified gold in the U.S. for selling more than 1 million copies. The song also reached #1 in the UK. Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht wrote "Mack The Knife" in 1928 for the German play The Threepenny Opera. "Mack" is Macheath, the title character, portrayed as a criminal. The light melody can make this feel like an upbeat song, but it contrasts sharply with the lyrics, which are about a murderer. Darin took a chance when he recorded this. His previous hits like "Splish Splash" and "Dream Lover" were aimed at a teenage audience, and this song had very dark subject matter. Darin's management didn't want him to record this, but he ignored their advice and it paid off: it introduced him to a wide audience of adult listeners.

Continuing his streak of top ten hits, "Beyond The Sea" reached #6 in the U.S. and #8 in the UK. "Beyond the Sea" is a 1946 contemporary pop song with music taken from the song "La Mer" by Charles Trenet and lyrics by Jack Lawrence. In English La Mer translates to The Sea. Beyond The Sea was also the title for the 2004 movie about Darin's life starring Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin. Spacey himself performed most of the songs in the movie.

David Gray - White Ladder (1998-2000)

David Gray is an English singer-songwriter who released his first album in 1993 before reaching worldwide acclaim seven years later with his classic album "White Ladder". Initially "White Ladder" was released in November 1998 on Gray's own label IHT Records, but failed to garner any attention and slowly faded into obscurity. In an effort to promote the album Gray toured the U.S. opening for the Dave Matthews Band. It was Matthews who recognized the potential in "White Ladder" and released the album in the U.S. on his label ATO. "White Ladder" was the first album released on Matthews label which was distributed by RCA Records.

The album's first single "This Year's Love" released in March 1999 failed to captured very little attention but did manage to reach  #25 on the Irish singles charts. The 2nd single "Babylon" released in July 1999 failed to chart anywhere. The 3rd single "Please Forgive Me" fared a bit better reaching #26 in Ireland and #72 in the UK. Despite his minor showings on both the UK and Irish charts Gray had eluded any enduring chart success.

Finally after Matthews took hold of Gray's career "Babylon" was re-released as a single in June 2000 and that's when the major breakthrough happened. This time around the song showed solid chart positions reaching #5 in the UK, #31 in Ireland and his chart debut in the U.S. at #57. He also made it to #8 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart. Gray was finally on his way to a permanent residence on the landscape of popular music. "babylon" remains Gray's biggest hit to date.

From here "White Ladder" was also re-released in several countries around the world between March and October of 2000. The album became a universal hit selling over 7 million copies worldwide. It reached #1 in both the UK and Ireland as well as making it to #4 in New Zealand, #18 in Norway, #34 in Australia, #35 in the U.S., #51 in the Netherlands and #59 in France.

Jack Johnson - Sleep Through The Static (2008)

Before making music Jack Johnson was a professional surfer. He was born and raised in Oahu, Hawaii, the son of well known surfer Jeff Johnson. Jack took an interest in surfing at the young age of five. At age 17, he became the youngest invitee to make the surfing finals at the Pipeline Masters on Oahu's north shore. One week later, however, his stint as a professional surfer ended when he suffered a surfing accident at the Pipeline that put over 150 stitches in his forehead and knocked a few of his teeth out. 

After graduating from high school he moved to California to attend the University of California, Santa Barbara, and graduated with a degree in film. While in college, he developed his passion for music, and in 1993 played rhythm guitar for the party band Soil. Johnson got his first break in music when G. Love recorded his song "Rodeo Clowns" in 1999 for his album Philadelphonic. 2 years later Johnson began recording his own albums.

"Sleep Through The Static" is Johnson's 5th studio album and was released on February 1, 2008. The album has reached the top 3 in more countries around the world than any of his other albums. It's chart performance is staggering as follows; the album reached #1 in the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. It peaked at #2 in Germany and Switzerland, #3 in Austria and Portugal, #4 in Holland, #5 in Denmark, #6 in France, #8 in Belgium, #9 in Greece, #13 in Sweden, #14 in Spain and #17 in Norway. The album also did very well in Japan but chart data in Japan is not available at this moment.
In the album's liner notes it states that the album was recorded with 100% solar energy, printed on 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper, and carrying the 1% For The Planet logo. It's easy to say that Jack Johnson is an advocate of "green" technology.  

"Sleep Through The Static" is Johnson's most personal album to date having been recorded at the time of the death of his cousin Danny Riley (who sang backup vocals on "If I Had Eyes"). Johnson has commented, "Some of the songs on this album are about making babies. Some of the songs are about raising them. Some of the songs are about the world that these children will grow up in; a world of war and love, and hate, and time and space. Some of the songs are about saying goodbye to people I love and will miss."

The first single from the album "If I Had Eyes" is a bluesy somewhat upbeat number which was released in December 2007 via his MySpace page. "If I Had Eyes" is about the break-up of a longterm relationship, he had some good friends who were in the middle of a divorce. Johnson attributes his song Moe (3years old at the time) for giving him inspiration to write this song. Moe is a helpful source of ideas for his songs, and he contributed to the chorus of "If I Had Eyes." Johnson told the interviewer with a smile, "I'll have to give him a songwriting credit. The little conversations we're having are ending up as the basis for a lot of songs, because he's always asking me, 'Why?' He's at the 'Why?' stage."

"Hope" is the 2nd official single from the album having been released in May 2008 for digital download. The third single "Sleep Through The Static" contains Johnson's classic acoustic style electro-groove that is effective in getting a crowd swaying to the music. Johnson is an enthusiastic eco-warrior and he explained to the Sun newspaper January 25, 2008 how this song reflected his concerns, "'Sleep Through The Static' is about how we have the ability to turn off the war whenever we please. Or you can use a plastic bag to bring home all your groceries. You throw it in the waste and then you don't see what happens but it sits there for 2,000 years. A lot of things are out of sight, out of mind for us and it's easier to 'sleep through the static'."

The song "Go On" is the album's most poignant moment with emotions running deep. In 2007, Johnson's wife's cousin Danny Riley tragically died at age 19 from a brain tumor. He had spent his final few months living with Johnson and his family. The album "Sleep Through the Static" is dedicated to Riley, and the song "Go On" juxtaposes coming to grips with Riley's death and watching his own son grow up and learn to tread water for the first time. Johnson told Rolling Stone magazine, "It's about learning how to let go of someone you love, watching them swim away."


Norah Jones - Come Away With Me (2002)

Norah Jones' debut album "Come Away With Me" released on February 26, 2002 is one of the world's most celebrated albums. To date the album has sold more than 23 million copies worldwide making it one of the 70 best selling albums of all-time in the world. 

It took a while for the album to catch on. It first entered the U.S. charts in early 2002 but took an entire year to finally hit #1. "Come Away With Me" was released on the predominantly jazz-based label Blue Note and recorded with several jazz musicians, and has been noted by music writers for its acoustic pop style and incorporation of jazz, folk, soul, and country music elements. The album has enjoyed phenomenal success reaching #1 in many countries around the world including the U.S., UK, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Ireland, Sweden. Additionally the album reached #2 in Austria and Switzerland. #3 in Poland and Portugal. #4 in Norway. #5 in Finland and finally #61 in Spain and Italy.

In 2003 the album"Come Away With Me", Norah Jones, related songs and album personnel won an amazing total of 8 Grammy Awards. The awards include: 
Best New Artist: Norah Jones
Album of the Year: Come Away With Me
Best Pop Vocal Album: Come Away With Me
Record of the Year: Don't Know Why
Song of the Year: Don't Know Why
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance: Don't Know Why
Best Engineered Album - Non Classical: Come Away With Me
Producer of the Year - Non Classical: Arif Mardin

Although she was happy about her success, Jones felt bad about sweeping the Grammy Awards. In an interview for 60 Minutes, Jones told Katie Couric: I felt like I went to somebody else's birthday party and I ate all their cake. Without anybody else getting a piece. That's how I felt. —Norah Jones
The genre of "Come Away with Me" was the subject of much debate, especially within the vocal jazz community. Many artists held that because Norah Jones made few changes to the original melody and rhythm of the covered tracks, such as "Turn Me On" and "The Nearness of You", that the album did not qualify as jazz, which entailed some degree of interpretation and improvisation. Still, the presence of accomplished jazz musicians Bill Frisell, Adam Rogers, Brian Blade, and Sam Yahel, as well as the complex and sophisticated jazz-influenced compositions of Jesse Harris, gave the album an overall jazz feel. Critics have viewed the music of "Come Away with Me" as a blend of vocal jazz and acoustic pop with soul and country music overtones.

 "Don't Know Why" was Norah Jones' first single released in July 2002. Quickly it began receiving radio, internet and music video airplay. with in a month after it's release Norah Jones and the album "Come Away With Me" began sweeping the world. The song was written by Jesse Harris and originally appeared on his 1999 album, Jesse Harris & the Ferdinandos. Harris had a big role on Norah's album writing and/or co-writing 4 other tunes for the album along with playing acoustic and electric guitar. Although the song received a good amount of airplay and was received positively by the music listening public it only reached #30 on the U.S. singles chart.

The subsequent singles "Feelin' The Same Way", "Come Away With Me", "Turn Me On" and "Nightengale" also failed to spark high chart positions in the U.S. but continued to generate mega sales for the album.

Jones did however score fairly well on the singles charts in various countries. In Australia "Don't Know Why" reached #5. "Come Away With Me" reached #2 in Canada and #3 in Italy. Finally "Turn Me On" hit #10 in Canada.

Also included on the album Jones does a tasty rendition of the Hank Williams classic "Cold Cold Heart". The song begins with a simly infectious deep bass line soon accompanied by Jones' tinkling keyboard prowess. Jones sings the song with a Rickie Lee Jones sort of feeling and gives it a downbeat sort of soul. In it's simplicity Jones' rendition of "Cold, Cold Heart" is effective in reaching out to pull the listener in to the rustic emotion of the song.

About her music Norah Jones says, "I'm not soft-spoken and romantic, at all. I must be, somewhere deep down, otherwise I wouldn't like that kind of music. But I'm only like that when I'm on stage. I'm pretty much just loudmouthed, obnoxious, and silly." 


John Mayer - Heavier Things (2003)

Heavier Things is John Mayer's 2nd studio album released on September 9, 2003. The album was a worldwide hit reaching #1 in the U.S., #3 in Canada, #4 in Australia, #5 in Denmark, #15 in New Zealand, #19 in the Netherlands, #72 in the Ireland and #74 in the UK.

The title of the album is a response to critics having called his music somewhat "lite". "heavier Things" featured Mayer's guitar magic along with an emphasis on loops and horns giving the music a layered sound with hints of funky rhythms.

The first single from the album the midtempo pop/rocker "Bigger Than My Body" was a marginal hit reaching #21 in New Zealand, 333 in the U.S., #38 in Australia and #72 in the UK. Despite it's lukewarm chart performance the song is considered one of Mayer's signature tunes. Mayer composed the song after going to a Coldplay concert. He wrote it to explain his desire to write both moving and great music, like what he found in artists like Coldplay, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Pearl Jam. At the same time, he commented on the frustration of not being able to get the music outside of his own body.
Someday I'll fly
Someday I'll soar
Someday I'll be so damn much more
Cause I'm bigger than my body

Following "Bigger Than My Body", John Mayer released "Clarity" as the album's 2nd single. This song fared even worse on the singles chart regardless Mayer considers this song to be one of the best he's done, in that it's the best in portraying his thoughts and feelings. The song is arranged with piano and drums provided, in part, by The Roots drummer Questlove.

The third single "Daughters" in many ways was the albums most successful song having reached #19 in the U.S. and #29 in the Netherlands. Many critics have called the song Mayer's best yet. Mayer earned two Grammy awards for the song Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Song of the Year. In a February 9, 2009 interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Mayer said that he thought he should not have won the Grammy for Song of the year because he thought that Alicia Keys' If I Ain't Got You was the better song. Because of this, he removed the top half of the Grammy and gave it to Keys, and kept the bottom part for himself. 
"Daughters" is a song with a dual meaning. The first one is explicit - "Fathers be good to your daughters, daughters will love like you do." In this particular instance, he's talking about a girl who was abandoned by her father as a child and who has trouble with relationships as an adult. The second message in this song isn't quite so explicit - he explains this in concerts. The song isn't simply about fathers and daughters. It's about history, and how what happens to someone in their past affects who they are now. 

Paul Simon - Still Crazy After All These Years (1975)

Paul Simon is a living American legend. Having first come to fame in 1965 in the duo Simon and Garfunkel who brought hits such as "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "The Sounds Of Silence", "Mrs. Robinson", "I Am A Rock" and several other classic tunes. Paul Simon went onto a successful solo career when S&G broke up in 1970.

"Still Crazy After All These Years" is Simon's 4th studio album (released in October 1975) and is one of his most celebrated. It is his first and only album to reach #1 in the U.S. Throughout the world the album sold very well reaching #6 in the UK, #8 in Norway, #9 in Sweden, #11 in Holland, #24 in New Zealand, #29 in Finland and #39 in Australia.

The album won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1976. In Simon's acceptance speech for the Album of the Year award, on February 28, he jokingly thanked Stevie Wonder, who had won the award the two previous years for Innervisions and Fulfillingness' First Finale, for not releasing an album that year . (Wonder won the award again for Songs in the Key of Life in 1977.) The album also won a second Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male.

A stellar lineup of musicians of musicians perform on the album including Art Garfunkel (vocals on "My Little Town"), Patti Austin (backup vocals), Phoebe Snow (vocals on "Gone At Last"), Michael Brecker (saxophone), Bob James (electric keyboards), David Sanborn (saxophone), Ralph MacDonald (percussion), Tony Levin (bass), Valerie Simpson (backup vocals). The Phil Ramone produced album was almost a who's who of 70's musicians.

The first single from the album is a duet he did with Phoebe Snow called "Gone At Last". "Gone At Last" is a gospel tinged rollicking tune featuring the Jesse Dixon Singers. The song was only a minor hit in the U.S. reaching #23 on the singles chart. A remarkable song with some excellent vocal harmonies.

The song "My Little Town" reunited Simon with former partner Art Garfunkel on record for the first time since 1970. This was the album's second single release. It fared well on the charts reaching #9 in the U.S., #17 in Holland, #24 in New Zealand and #46 in Australia. The song was included on both Simon's solo album "Still Crazy After All These Years" and Garfunkel's 1975 album "Breakaway". The song starts off very quietly, beginning with a piano solo (by Garfunkel), and almost non-existent drumwork. They begin to sing together (there are no solo parts) which further showcases their vocals, with Paul Simon providing a subdued bass-guitar line. The choruses of "nothin' but the dead and dyin' back in my little town" are played with an increased intensity, especially the final repeat-and-fadeout section following the last verse, with some horns and backing vocals added to the mix.

The third single, "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover", is the one that propelled the album to #1. The song was an immediate hit worldwide receiving radio airplay on every top 40 format radio station in the world including several AOR FM stations in the U.S. The song reached #1 in the U.S. and Canada, #2 in France, #18 in New Zealand, #23 in the UK and #42 in Germany.

"50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" creatively starts off with a fantastically all-embracing linear drum lead by Steve Gadd which became the hook and color for the song. Simon wrote this song shortly after his divorce from first wife Peggy Harper, the song is a mistress's humorous advice to a husband on ways to end a relationship: Just slip out the back, Jack/Make a new plan, Stan.

 The fourth single release is the title track "Still Crazy After All These Years" which (along with "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover") has gone on to become a modern day pop music standard. Although the song was not much of a hit on the worldwide scale as it only charted in the U.S. at #40 and in France at #10. Simon came up with the phrase "Still Crazy After All These Years", he then created a story to go with it. The song's unusual chord changes were inspired by a bass player and composer named Chuck Israels that Simon was studying with at the time. Pop singer Karen Carpenter loved the song so much that she recorded a lightly jazz inflected version of it for her solo album along with "I Do It For Your Love" which was the b-side of Simon's single release. The latter song did not make it on Carpenter's solo album, but is widely available on the internet as a bootleg download.

Julieta Venegas - Limón y Sal (2006)

Julieta Venegas is a Mexican singer, instrumentalist, and songwriter, who performs Spanish-language rock and pop music.She was born in 1970 in Long Becah, Califronia in the U.S. but was raised in Tijuana, Mexico. She began studying music at age eight and was a member of the popular Mexican band Tijuana No!. In addition to singing and writing her own songs, she plays instruments including acoustic guitar, accordion, and keyboards. She has won five Latin Grammys and one Grammy. She has sold more than 8 million albums worldwide.

Limón y Sal (Lemon and Salt) is Julieta's first and so far only album to place on Billboard's U.S. Top 200 Albums chart. It reached #177. The album was released on May 30, 2006 and has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide. This is Julieta's 4th studio album. To date it is her most successful album reaching #1 in Mexico and Argentina, #4 in Spain, #9 in Italy and #14 in Switzerland. It also made it to #65 on the European albums chart.

The album was nominated for two Latin Grammy Awards in 2006, including Album of the Year and Best Alternative Music Album. she won the latter of the two. The album's producer, Cachorro Lopez, won the Latin Grammy for Producer of the Year. Along with winning the two Latin Grammy Awards the album also won a regular Grammy Award for Best Latin Pop Album. 

Some notable songs are "Primer Día" and its reggae rhythm, sung in a duet with Dante Spinetta. In "De Qué Me Sirve" she plays the accordion in a tango and "bolero" fashion. "Eres Para Mí" is a duet with Chilean singer Anita Tijoux. The song "Canciones de Amor" was used in the 2007 film The Heartbreak Kid.

The 1st singled released from the album, "Me Voy" is Venegas' most successful single to date having reached #1 on the U.S. Latin music charts and #1 in Mexico, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Switzerland and reached #6 on the European Hot 100. The song was especially huge in Mexico retaining the #1 spot for 12 amazing weeks. The song is a Ranchera styled pop tune about the breakup of two lovers.

The 2nd single "Limón y Sal" wasn't quite as successful as the first single but captures an optimistic view on love and relationships and loving a person for who they are including their strengths and weaknesses.

"Eres Para Mi" featuring French/Chilean rapper Anita Tijoux. The reggae influenced song is one of Venegas's most successful songs in the U.S. Hot Latin Charts, reaching a peak of 5 in just a few weeks. The song reached the top 10 throughout Latin America and has already managed to top the charts in Argentina and Colombia; in Perú it peaked at #11. The song has a catchy rhythm that strikes a good sunshiny feeling as you listen to it.

Julieta Venegas went for one last single from this very successful album in releasing "Primer Día"to radio station and internet download sites. Although not quite as big a hit as the previous three singles the song did manage to catch the attention of the music listening public garnering airplay throughout Mexico, South America and several region in Europe. The song features rapper Dante Spinetta.

1 comment:

  1. Hi!
    Out of these I like John Mayer and Jack Johnson the most.
    This is not really my kind of music, but those two are someone I could listen to.



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