American Epic Sessions

Among the things that somehow escaped me over the past few years is the 2017 documentary film The American Epic Sessions. The film surrounds the restoration of a 1920’s recording system, apparently the first to use an electronic microphone to record a room full of performers. The system cut a wax disc directly from the performance, and the cutting lathe was driven by a descending 100 lb. weight that provided about 3-1/2 minutes of recording time.

Once the restored system was operational, an A-list group of musicians showed up to take turns cutting tracks for the movie and for an expanded set of records.

Jack White created this gem, “Matrimonial Inclinations”. One take perfection.

Here’s Elton John with Jack providing a bit of backing.

And finally, here is Willie Nelson and the late Merle Haggard, who passed away before the film’s release.

Brittany Howard – Defying Categorization

Brittany Howard, leader of the band Alabama Shakes, is up for four Grammy Awards this year in four different musical categories. Defying musical categorization is something Howard has done since the beginning of her career, but this year she’s stretched those boundaries even further. Her first solo album, Jaime, was released in September and is up for Best Alternative Music Album. It’s an award Alabama Shakes won as a band in 2016 for Sound & Color.

“Stay High” is nominated for best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song. An early release of the single “History Repeats”, which is included on Jaime, was nominated in this category last year, and these awards were won by Alabama Shakes in 2016 for “Don’t Wanna Fight”.

Brittany is also up for Best American Roots Performance for “Short and Sweet”. This is an award Alabama Shakes won in 2018 for “Killer Diller Blues” from the documentary movie American Epic Sessions. Here’s a solo acoustic version.

Finally, Brittany is up for Best R&B Performance for “Goat Head”. This is Howard’s first nomination in this genre. Here’s a live performance featuring the killer band she’s put together, from the Save Our Stages Festival. The lyrics, which start at about 1:30 are worth the wait.

1.5 Billion Views – 1 Grammy Nomination

The 2021 Grammy nominations were announced on Tuesday, and rather than the big news being who was nominated, the buzz has been about who was snubbed. High level – sales and popularity don’t count for much.

Tops on the snub list is The Weeknd. His single “Blinding Lights” from After Hours set a new record for most weeks in Billboard’s top 10, 40, and the video below has been viewed nearly 300 million times on YouTube. Nary a Grammy nom for The Weeknd. Maybe it’s all the blood.

K-pop superstars BTS released their first single in English this year, and the video has been watched 650 million times on YouTube. In fact, the video broke the YouTube record for most concurrent viewers when it debuted – over 3 million. The song earned them their first Grammy nomination, in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance catagory, but nothing more.

Getting a lot of press today for her negative comments on the Grammy process, Halsey has never been nominated for a Grammy for her own music. Her third studio album Manic, released in January of this year, was her best seller out of the blocks. It includes “Without Me”, her top single of all time that has racked up nearly 500 million views.

Rock Hall 2020

A couple of weeks ago the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted its Class of 2020. T. Rex, The Doobie Brothers, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Whitney Houston and the Notorious B.I.G. Wow. Let’s sample some of that breadth.

Marc Bolan and T. Rex were credited with launching glam rock, and this video of their biggest hit “Bang a Gong” shows off some satin and glitter in a sea of other 1971 styles. And who’s that sitting in on keyboards? Someone who would set new standards for glam himself, Elton John!

Joan Jett covered T. Rex’s “Jeepster” for the tribute album AngelHeaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T. Rex. The album was released this past September, in time for the band’s Rock Hall induction, and Joan did a pandemic performance on The Late Late Show to show it off.

Depeche Mode got off the ground with their first U.K. top ten hit “Just Can’t Get Enough” in 1981. In 1984 they achieved their greatest single hit, “People Are People”, and 1989’s Violator was their masterpiece and top charting album. Here’s a video of “People Are People” and Johnny Cash’s cover of Violator’s “Personal Jesus”.

Whitney Houston scored three #1 singles from her eponymous 1984 debut album, including “How Will I Know” with a synth intro worthy of a Depeche Mode track.

One of the best selling singles of all time was Whitney’s “I Will Always Love You” recorded for the movie The Bodyguard. The song was written and recorded by Dolly Parton nearly 20 years earlier. Since Whitney’s soaring chorus is burned into your memory, here’s Dolly’s original.

Tainted Love

A friend and reader turned me on to a great musical arc that is right in Music Now & Then’s wheelhouse. Thanks, David!

In 1964, Motown singer Gloria Jones recorded “Tainted Love”. The song was a B-side and didn’t get much attention (nor did the A-side), but in the early 1970’s it started to turn up in British “Northern Soul” dance clubs.

Marc Almond, half of the synthpop duo Soft Cell, heard the song in such a club and made it part of Soft Cell’s live sets after the group formed in 1977. When Soft Cell released the song as a single in 1981, it catapulted the band to fame. It was a No. 1 hit in 17 countries (No. 8 in the U.S.), and spent a then record 43 weeks in the top 100.

The song was later covered by an unlikely collection of musical acts ranging from Marilyn Manson to Pussycat Dolls. Check out this article for a sampling. The Soft Cell version was also the driving sample for Rihanna’s first #1 single in the U.S., “SOS”, released in 2006. Believe it or not, this video has been viewed 115 million times.

If you have another five minutes, hear the story of “Tainted Love” as told by Gloria Jones herself, and learn about her relationship with one of last week’s 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees.