Back in 1986, “That’s What Friends Are For” was named the #1 single of the year by Billboard. But the history of the track actually goes back a little further. Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sager wrote “Friends” in 1982. At the time, Rod Stewart recorded it for the movie Night Shift. He did an ok job with it, but something was missing. That something being Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Gladys Knight.
The quartet got together to record their own version in 1985 as a charity single to benefit AIDS research. Adding their energy and retooling the arrangement made the song infinitely better. Dionne starts it off with her distinctive vocals, Stevie brings in the harmonica, Elton’s on the piano, and Gladys wraps it up strongly. Their voices and styles mesh really well together. It’s not surprising that this was a huge hit, winning the Grammy for Song of the Year. And even better, it raised much needed funds for a worthwhile cause. Keep smiling, keep shining.
Twenty years ago, “Lady Marmalade” gitchie gitchie gitchie ya-ya’d onto the scene. This was actually a cover of the song that dynamic girl group Labelle made famous in 1974. Flash forward to 2001, where superstar Missy Elliott produced a remake for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. It was an appropriate choice considering both the song and the movie featured prostitutes. And a little bit of French. Missy assembled an impressive lineup of singers for the project and gave each woman a chance to shine. Mya kicked it off with her light silky vocals. Pink followed with her rocker style. Lil’ Kim broke it down with a rap, “We independent women, some mistake us for whores/ I’m sayin’, why spend mine when I can spend yours?” Then Christina Aguilera brought it home with roaring vocals that were bigger than her hair in the music video. When you added in Missy’s bombastic production you had a remake that equaled the greatness of the original. A rarity. Just like in 1974, the track went to #1. It also earned the quartet a Grammy. Hey sistas!
A love song that doesn’t care about “I love you”? It’s not such a crazy concept actually. Extreme’s “More Than Words” is an ode to a show me, don’t tell me kind of love. It’s easy to give someone a verbal confirmation, but to prove how deeply you feel with your actions is more powerful. “More than words/Is all you have to do to make it real/Then you wouldn’t have to say/That you love me/Cause I’d already know.”
Those lyrics matched with a smooth acoustic guitar came together to form a beautiful song. It also marked a departure for Extreme. Up until then they were known as a hard rock group, but going the ballad route really put them on the map. The single went to #1 in the US and several other countries in 1991. At that time, I remember it being played at every middle school dance. I didn’t care much about slow dancing, but I loved hearing that song. Still do.
In 1971, Carole King released her landmark album, Tapestry. It’s the perfect name for the mix of rich beautiful songs she crafted. Up until then Carole was known primarily for being a songwriter, creating memorable hits for other artists. Tapestry allowed her to step fully into the spotlight as a singer. The album stayed on top of the charts for 15 weeks, launched two #1 singles, and won 4 Grammys. Lets wrap ourselves up in Tapestry and take a look back.
Like a fairy tale set to music. You’re not quite sure what she’s trying to say or how you should interpret it. Not a bad thing. The melody is quite pretty.
11. Smackwater Jack
SJ sounds like an old folktale you’d hear growing up about outlaws and lawmen. It’s fun.
An inspiring ode to self-confidence and loving yourself. If you believe you’re beautiful and put that out into the world, the same energy will come back to you.
9. Where You Lead
Carole is so devoted to her man she’ll follow him anywhere. The right person is worth trekking across the world for.
8. Home Again
“Snow is cold, rain is wet”. It’s a simple lyric but you feel the pain and longing in her voice. Wanting so badly to be home and comforted.
7. Way Over Yonder
This sounds like a traditional gospel song you’d hear in church. Carole and the amazing Merry Clayton bring so much soul to it. I want to get to over yonder too.
6. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
Carole originally wrote this for The Shirelles in the 60s, one of their biggest hits. This version is stripped down and raw.
5. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
Of course, this song is always going to be associated with the Queen of Soul, but Carole wrote it. She pours all of herself into it.
4. So Far Away
We can all relate to pining for loved ones that are miles away. It’s gorgeous and timeless.
3. It’s Too Late
A sad song lamenting the end of a romance. They’ve outgrown each other and the relationship can’t be salvaged. I particularly like the line, “Somethin’ inside has died and I can’t hide and I just can’t fake it”.
2. I Feel the Earth Move
Love feels like an earthquake for Carole. Everytime her man comes around her world starts shaking. It’s an apt description for a passionate new love.
1. You’ve Got a Friend
A heartfelt song about the power of friendship. I love her vocals and the beautiful piano arrangement. “Winter, spring, summer, or fall/All you have to do is call…”
The legendary Dionne Warwick turns 80 today. Singer, actress, Solid Gold host, Godwill Ambassador, reality tv contestant, and, recently, prolific Tweeter. Dionne has done it all. Let’s say a little prayer for her on her milestone birthday.
“The Winner Takes It All” was the first single off ABBA’s Super Trouper album. It paints a vivid picture of the aftermath of a breakup. ABBA isn’t known for the depth of their lyrics (what the hell is “Super Trouper” about anyways?), so it’s interesting how detailed this song is. They find an inventive way of comparing a relationship to a game. “The winner takes it all/The loser’s standing small/Besides the victory/That’s her destiny”.
The music is beautiful, going between a soft piano arrangement and a midtempo beat. It makes you sad and reflective, but you want to dance too. The vocals are also great. My favorite part is Angetha’s soaring “alllllll” on the last verse.
“Winner” went to #1 in several countries. It was the group’s last top ten song in the US, which is odd considering there were strong follow up singles like “Lay All Your Love on Me”. Those people who didn’t get ABBA were the real losers.
On this last day of October, I thought of a melancholy Barry Manilow song. He has a few of those, but “When October Goes” is most appropriate for today. The song was included on Barry’s 1984 album 2:00 AM Paradise Café. It’s sad and wistful as well as touching and beautiful. Like the other songs on the album, “October” was recorded live in one take. The simple stripped-down nature of the recording adds to the feeling of track. I also hate to see October go (really, this month flew by), but I enjoy this Manilow moment.
In 1995, Mariah Carey released Daydream, one of the best albums of her career. It’s certainly in my top 3 for her. The record is a fantastic mix of pop, ballads, and midtempo r&b. She also creeped into the hip-hop world with a certain remix. Critics praised her new work and fans rushed to buy it. The album went platinum ten times over and spawned three #1 singles. Let’s take a look back.
12. When I Saw You
A simple ballad. But basic for Mariah is still infinitely better than most singers at their best.
11. Open Arms
Standard cover of Journey’s classic song. My arms are halfway open for it.
A throwback to a 50s or 60s sound, but with Mariah’s signature tone. I could almost hear this playing in the background of an old Sandra Dee movie.
9. Daydream Interlude (Sweet Fantasy Dub Mix)
She takes us to the club with this hypnotic interlude, giving us a brief moment to dance it out.
8. Long Ago
Midtempo 90s r&b in a nutshell. She flows easily over this bass line.
7. Melt Away
The ballad sister of Long Ago. She wrote it with Babyface, producing a smooth jam
6. One Sweet Day
The longest running consecutive #1 (16 weeks) up until 2019. Mariah partnered with Boys II Men on this track about losing a loved one. It’s equally sad and beautiful. My favorite part is the run-filled back and forth between Mariah and Wanya.
5. I Am Free
With a title like “I Am Free” you wouldn’t think this was a love song. Mariah writes about being a prisoner locked inside herself until someone came into her life and freed her with their love. It’s a hopeful message captured with soaring high notes.
4. Underneath the Stars
A pretty melody matched with some of the best layered vocals. It makes you imagine first-time love on a starry summer night.
3. Looking In
One of her most introspective songs where she lays out all of her raw emotions. “She smiles through a thousand tears and harbors adolescent fears. She dreams of all that she could never be She wades in insecurity.” It’s quietly powerful and heartbreaking.
2. Always Be My Baby
A fan favorite that never gets old. ABMB marked the beginning of a long history of collaborations between Mariah and producer Jermaine Dupri. They know how to make the hits that become the soundtrack to our lives.
The first track off the album, as well as the first single by a female artist to debut at #1 on the Billboard 100. Her ninth #1 overall. She’s backed by an infectious sample of the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love”. Then she flipped it with the remix featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard. At the time, putting a mainstream pop singer with a rapper seemed crazy. But Mariah grew up loving hip hop. These days every female pop star does a song featuring a rap artist. I’m not saying Mariah invented this “hip-pop” genre. But I’m not not saying it either. In any case, Fantasy gave us the iconic lyric “Me and Mariah go back like babies with pacifiers”. It doesn’t get any sweeter than that.
As I mentioned one post earlier, Mya’s “Case of the Ex” went to #2 on the Billboard 100. What kept it from reaching #1? Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women”. Beyonce, Kelly, and Michelle stomped on Mya’s chart-topping dreams with this hit. The group recorded the track for the 2000 movie adaptation of Charlie’s Angels. Coincidentally, DC had just downsized to a trio, matching up with the Angels. Ironically, they had kicked out a Farrah.
“Women” focuses on capable self-sufficient ladies who can buy their own shoes, cars, and houses. They don’t need any men to do it for them. A strong message backed by DC’s smooth vocals and the Trackmasters’ slick production. My favorite moment is the breakdown where the ladies harmonize perfectly. It makes you want to throw your hands up at them for sure.
It’s after midnight and she’s on your phone. Saying come over cause she’s all alone. I could tell it was your ex by your tone.
From the opening lines you know “Case of the Ex” is about a trifling chick. In this case, Mya’s boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. She came out of nowhere and is showing inappropriate interest in Mya’s man. Reaching out to him at odd hours normally reserved for booty calls.
Now what it is that she wants? Tell me what is it that she needs? Did she hear about the brand-new Benz that you just bought for me?
Her goal is to breakup Mya’s relationship. She’s probably pissed that she didn’t get a new car when she was dating the guy. Jealousy is a motivator.
Cause y’all didn’t have no kids. Didn’t share no mutual friends.
Further proof that he shouldn’t be messing with this girl. They have nothing holding them together. Hang up the phone, dude.
And you told me that she turned trick when y’all broke up in ’96.
My favorite lyric. Hats off to whoever thought of rhyming trick with ’96. I love how much of a shade-fest “Ex” is. Mya drags this chick, verbally, for a good four minutes. Add in that da-da-da-da-da-da-dum beat and you have a great track.
“Case of the Ex” went to number #2 on the Billboard chart in 2000 and became one of Mya’s most popular singles. There was also the fierce video where she breaks it down in the desert while wearing studded denim. Very hot indeed.