April 21st marked the fourth anniversary of the untimely passing of Prince Rogers Nelson. I’ve been learning a lot about Prince recently, finishing the 2019 book “The Beautiful Ones” and now part way through the biography “Prince, Inside the Music and the Masks”. To mark the anniversary the Grammy organization aired a tribute concert on network television this week, filmed in January after the Grammy Awards show.
In the same vein as last week’s post on artists who have made covers their own, I did not know till I watched the TV tribute that the Bangles’ hit “Manic Monday” was penned by Prince. When the Bangles released the song in 1985, it rose to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, just behind Prince’s “Kiss”. What we wouldn’t give for a Manic Monday right about now.
Here’s the steamy video from “Kiss”. The guitarist in the video, Wendy Melvoin, was a member of Prince’s band, The Revolution, at the time. She performed at the Grammy tribute concert: “Mountains”
When Prince’s early promotor and collaborator, Chris Moon, was trying to get Prince his first record deal in 1976, he called Atlantic Records and told the receptionist he represented Stevie Wonder. When the receptionist put the call through Moon said, “This is Chris Moon, and I’m representing Prince. If you like Stevie Wonder, you’re gonna love my artist. He’s only eighteen, he plays all the instruments …”. Prince got an audition but not the contract. That came in 1977 with Warner Records, and Prince released his debut For You in 1978 – playing all the instruments, singing all the vocals, and doing pretty much everything else. Here’s Prince’s first single from his first album, “Soft and Wet”.
If you want even more Prince, check out my blog post from 2016 featuring his guitar shredding skills.
On occasion a singer-songwriter becomes so identified with a song written by another singer-songwriter that the ownership of the song seems to transfer. This came to mind when John Prine passed away a couple of weeks ago. Early in her career, Bonnie Raitt made Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” her own. Enjoy this early performance by Bonnie and take a look at this poignant duet from just a few months ago.
Another classic example is Patti Smith’s version of “Because the Night”, written by Bruce Springsteen. You get the same feeling watching Patti and Bruce perform the song together that you do when watching Raitt and Prine – this is Patti’s song.
And then there’s Elvis Costello’s cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”. A Costello performance staple for decades, the history of the song is particularly interesting. Lowe originally released it with his band Brinsley Schwarz in 1974. Lowe became Costello’s producer a couple of years later, working on his first five albums, and Costello’s version of the song was first released as the B-side of a Nick Lowe 1978 single. When it became a hit, the track was added to the American release of Armed Forces. Lowe generally performs softer acoustic versions of the song these days, but when he gets on stage with Elvis, it’s the Costello version they’ll do (drop into this video at 3:00). Enjoy Costello’s comic intro below, or go straight to the song at about 1:00.
My personal style of Netflix binging is working my way through its catalog of music documentaries. Recently I watched 2019’s “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool”. It’s an interesting trip through the entire arc of his career, and I highly recommend it.
I’m among those who consider Davis’ 1959 Kind of Blue one of the greatest albums ever (Rolling Stone slots it in at #12, two ticks above Abbey Road). Its consistent sales over many decades have also made it the best selling jazz album of all time. In addition to being a defining work for Miles, the group that recorded it included sax players John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb, and bassist Paul Chambers. Davis and Coltrane were the gray hair in the group at age 33.
Here’s the second track from Kind of Blue, and please listen to the rest of the album when you have some time.
A few weeks after the sessions for Kind of Blue ended in April 1959, John Coltrane began to record his masterpiece Giant Steps, drawing on Cobb, Chambers and Kelly to help out. While most of the album features the up tempo compositions Coltrane became known for, “Naima” was a dreamy departure that became a jazz standard.
Just after Cannonball Adderley walked out of the Kind of Blue sessions, he began recording Them Dirty Blues, which featured “Jeannine”.
As a way to say thanks for all they’re doing for us at this incredible time, Lizzo has been buying lunch for hospital workers across the nation. From San Diego to Boston and seemingly everywhere in between – including Henry Ford Hospital in her home town of Detroit – she’s been sending heartfelt messages on Instagram with each delivery.
In case you missed the 2020 Grammy Awards back in the kinder, gentler era of January, Lizzo was nominated for 8 awards – most of anyone this year – and walked away with three. While honored for work on her 2019 album Cuz I Love You, “Good as Hell” is from her major label debut with Atlantic Records in 2016.
Dua Lipa’s link to the pandemic is less intentional, no doubt. The chorus to “Break My Heart” features the prescient lyric, “I would have stayed at home, ’cause I was doin’ better alone”, and the video features a scene on a nearly empty airplane. Dua, by the way, won two Grammys last year, including Best New Artist.
This one’s a bit of a stretch for the pandemic theme, but Halsey plays to an empty bar in her recent video for “Finally // Beautiful Stranger”. Had to include it in this post, though, because of all the incredible women dominating pop music these days, she’s my favorite. When you’re done with the video below check out her cool piece of singing-while-painting performance art on Saturday Night Live last year.
Fifteen years ago Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke began filming and recording musicians around the world, mixing down their performances into what has become a decade’s worth of joyous covers. Several zillion YouTube views, a few compilation albums and several live concerts later, I’ve finally caught on to Playing for Change. Though clearly not conceived as an exercise in collaborating while social distancing, find some inspiration!
First up is a recent production of “The Weight”, featuring The Band’s own Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr, and a bunch of artists I’ll be researching for weeks.
Next is the exquisite Bob Marley track, “Redemption Song”. PfC even edited in some original Bob Marley footage.
I’ll close out with “What’s Goin’ On”, one of those songs we just need at this time. But if you’re totally digging these videos, check out what might be the first in the series, the sunny “Chanda Mama”, and a song that surprisingly always makes for great covers “Gimme Shelter“.