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In the Thicke of It: The Latest on Robin Thicke’s Legal Woes

He may have recently been honored as one of Entertainment Weekly‘s Entertainers of the Year, but Robin Thicke has spent a good portion of 2013 defending his hit song “Blurred Lines.” First, there were the (completely justified) claims that the song promotes rape culture and is derogatory to women. Then, of course, there are his legal troubles “ late Motown legend Marvin Gaye’s surviving family members claim that Thicke’s hit borrows a bit too much from Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up.” Multiple suits and countersuits have been filed since August, making the legal action a little bit tricky to follow. That’s why we’ve compiled this handy timeline of each court claim filed by both Thicke and the Gaye family. After the jump, you can check out each track that allegedly steals from Marvin Gaye (spoiler alert: there are now four) to determine for yourself whether Thicke is guilty of infringing on the motown artist’s intellectual property.

Thursday, August 15: Knowing that Gaye’s estate plans to move forward with legal action if the “Blurred Lines” singer doesn’t compensate them for the song, Thicke, along with co-writers Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris Jr., take preemptive action and file a suit which states that Blurred Lines is starkly different from Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up.” The lawsuit states, “The basis of the Gaye defendants’ claims is that ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Got to Give It Up’ ‘feel’ or ‘sound’ the same. Being reminiscent of a ‘sound’ is not copyright infringement.
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Sound And Vision: Post-Mortem Pop, Starring Drake’s Aaliyah Resurrection and the Second Coming of Whitney Houston

Drake must be the luckiest guy in music. He’s got an enviable portfolio of assets: looks, talent, street cred, excellent connections, gold and multi-platinum. Now the Canadian rapper has a beautiful woman, too”at least a controlling interest in her legacy. But is ownership of the next posthumous phase of Aaliyah’s career one benefit too many?

That’s what some are wondering as we approach the 11th anniversary (on August 25) of the death of Aaliyah, who was killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas in 2001, at age 22, cutting short one of the most promising careers in music. Since then, there’s been scant new material issued under her name. I Care 4 U, a posthumous album released in December of 2002, was followed by nearly a decade of silence.

Until now. Earlier this month, Drake unveiled a new Aaliyah track, Enough Said, credited to Aaliyah featuring Drake and produced by the rapper’s Take Care collaborator Noah 40 Shebib. There’s more: Drake has promised a new Aaliyah album, executive produced by himself and 40, with 13 or 14 tracks, to be released later this year.

“Enough Said” Aaliyah featuring Drake

But is it a true Aaliyah album if key players in her life and legacy”namely her immediate family”are left out of it? Her brother, Rashad Haughton, went so far as to deny the family’s involvement on Aaliyah’s Facebook fan page. There is no official album being released and supported by the Haughton family, he posted on August 7, several days after Drake released the new single. (more…)

Sound and Vision: Usher Vs. Justin Bieber Vs. Chris Brown– Will the Next King of Pop Please Stand Up?

For ages in pop, it’s been all about the women: Adele and Katy Perry this, Rihanna and Lady Gaga that, with Britney, Beyoncé, Ke$ha, and”lately”Carly Rae Jepsen each demanding her own spotlight.

But this summer, as pop’s three hottest males”Usher, Chris Brown, and Justin Bieber“release new albums, the guys will be giving the ladies their stiffest competition in years. Are any of them most likely to succeed Michael Jackson as the new King of Pop, this season or in seasons to come? Read on….

The Princes-in-Waiting

Usher Vocally, Usher is without a doubt the most-talented man in pop, and he already has a hit list that’s long enough to guarantee his place in music history. Commercially speaking, though, he seems to be settling into middle age, a comfortable place where he’s still good for the occasional big hit single (2010’s No. 1 “OMG” and his recent David Guetta collaboration “Without You”).

But he’s hardly a chart shoo-in anymore. “Climax,” the first single from his new album Looking 4 Myself, which was released on June 12, peaked at No. 17 on Billboard’s Hot 100, 16 notches lower than “Yeah!,” the premiere single from 2004’s Burn that spent 12 weeks on top. Meanwhile, after one day in stores, Looking 4 Myself was projected to sell only up to 130,000 copies in its first week, some 200,000 less than 2010’s Raymond v. Raymond. (more…)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The EditoriaList: Ten Interesting Backstories To Pop Songs

Ever wonder what that song is about? Here’s what these songs are about:

Cry Me A River “ Justin Timberlake

The video Justin Timberlake made for his solo hit, featuring a familiar-looking blonde and a glimpse of a photo in an errant frame, did nothing to dispel theories that this track was about Britney Spears’ cheating ways. Goddam you, Britney, how could you?!

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Winehouse's Lionness And The Tricky Prospect Of The Posthumous Release

We haven’t heard the last of Amy Winehouse yet, folks.

The BBC reports that Lioness: Hidden Treasures will be the third and potentially final release from the tragic singer. Coming out in December”just in time for the holidays”the twelve-track collection consists of assorted curios; b-sides, demos, covers, reworks and outtakes. Lioness supposedly shows fans where Winehouse was going with her sound at the time of her death and includes some unreleased material that gives the listener a true sense of her musical identity and influences. The project was curated by members of Winehouse’s family along with producers that Winehouse had worked with in the past, and though there is “a trove” of live performances from which to cull more material for future releases, this appears to be the final studio offering of the late singer.

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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”

Rapper's Delight: Kameleon Beats

With a devotion to live instrumentation and an appetite for classic ’70s vinyl, Kameleon Beats is basically the epitome of an old school hip hop producer. A lot of producers get caught up in strictly hip hop (which is understandable) and forget how useful other genres can be. Drum machines and MIDI keyboards can be useful in a pinch, but they lack the soul of an old jazz sample, or better yet, a live instrument. Kameleon grew up listening to old classics in his basement, ranging from Bob James to Marvin Gaye, and actually plays piano, sax, guitar and bass himself.

Enthusiasm for music is great, but every producer needs somewhere to work. In 2003, Kameleon co-created Soul Students Records and, along with producer Al Bumz, drafted a dream-team squad of emcees and producers. On top of producing for the guys in Soul Students Records, Kameleon has several thousand beats in his personal stash. Check out his solo instrumental album, Midnight Sun, to get a glimpse of what he’s capable of”and that will help prepare you for the awesome work he’s done with Awon and Tiff The Gift. A self proclaimed instrumentalist, Kameleon’s touch really makes these albums pop. His homegrown blend of hip hop and jazz, folk and rock is not a new formula, but he brings them all together with his own style.

Kameleon has been with us at OurStage for quite a while, and we love what he brings to the site. He’s done pretty well for himself, too, with several Top 10 badges, some quality time in our Best of Urban charts  and a ton of encouraging comments from fans. Keep doing what you’re doing, Kameleon. Take a listen to the player below for two tracks that he put together with Awon along with one of his instrumental beats:

Sound And Vision: Where Is the Love? — The Disappearing Power-Ballad Duet

Back in the day, every major female pop star had one: a male pop star (or two, or three or more) who loved her”at least on the record and on the charts. Over the years, Barbra Streisand had Neil Diamond, Barry Gibb and Bryan Adams. Diana Ross had Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie and Julio Iglesias. Olivia Newton-John, Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Nicks had their pick of men (Andy Gibb, Don Henley, Aaron Neville, Tom Petty and John Travolta, among them.) Whitney Houston had Teddy Pendergrass, Bobby Brown, Enrique Iglesias and George Michael. Madonna had Prince. Celine Dion had Peabo Bryson and R. Kelly. Mariah Carey had Luther Vandross, and so did Janet Jackson.
But where did the love go? Though there have been scattered duet hits in recent years (Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown‘s “No Air,” Ciara and Justin Timberlake‘s “Love Sex Magic”), they are fewer and much farther between. On the Billboard Hot 100 dated March 19, 2011, “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson‘s country chart topper, was the only traditional male-female duet, way down at No. 34.
I’d say that part of the blame lies with the faltering power ballad, which isn’t the chart force that it was in the days when Celine Dion ruled the airwaves. Consider pop’s leading single males: Both of Usher‘s and Enrique Iglesias’s two recent Top 10 Hot 100 singles have been not ballads but dance-oriented collaborations with rappers and, in the case of Usher’s “OMG,” Will.i.am. Chris Brown’s comeback-in-progress also has been harder-edged and boosted by male guest stars like Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes, and of Justin Bieber‘s two Top 10s to date, neither has been a ballad, both were with rappers.
But it’s not just about what the public seems to want” it seems to be what the artists want, too. Why play the conventional good girl, duetting with Usher or Iglesias, when it’s so much more fun being bad? In the past year or so, both Rihanna and Katy Perry have gone Top 10 with rappers (Eminem and Drake, and Snoop Dogg and Kanye West, respectively). Meanwhile, Ke$ha went there with electronica hipsters 3OH!3 (after scoring her first hit riding shotgun with Flo Rida), and Beyoncé and Lady Gaga got there together.
As for the guys, boy-on-boy (or boys) rule: Bruno Mars with B.o.B and Travie McCoy, Jeremih with 50 Cent, Usher and Iglesias with Pitbull, Iglesias and Bieber with Ludacris. If it were 2001, Iglesias, or Ricky Martin, probably already would have zipped up the charts with Katy Perry and/or Rihanna on his arm. But it’s 2011, and just as every good girl wants a bad-boy rapper by her side, it seems the hit-making males would rather roll with the rough boys than mush it up with the ladies.
Will the power ballad survive the current disinterest in them? Can singing couples make a comeback? I’d be surprised if they didn’t. Pop music is cyclical, and if Jennifer Lopez can rise again, so can love (which, incidentally happens to be the title of J. Lo’s upcoming album, minus a question mark). All it needs is the right tag team to deliver it back into the public’s good graces and up the charts. I’d pay money to hear Pink and Adam Lambert together, but would the masses buy it? I’m not so sure, but wouldn’t it be just like them both to try and find out?

End of the Revolution: Has Pop Lost Its Social Conscience?

“You say you want a revolution,” The Beatles taunted in 1968. Seventeen years later, the Cult declared, “There’s a revolution.” When Tracy Chapman started “talkin’ ’bout a revolution” in 1988, she left the battlefield with multi-platinum spoils and two GRAMMYs. Pop music may be entertainment first and foremost, but at its most powerful, it’s also been an agent of change, social change, political change, inner change.
“A change is gonna come,” Sam Cooke sang on his 1964 classic. Surely he didn’t envision it eventually going down quite like this. I think the turnaround began in the ’90s, when U2, one of the most popular and influential political groups of all time, discovered girls and disco balls. Nearly two decades later, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Stevie Wonder and George Michael are off the singles charts, John Lennon and Marvin Gaye are still dead, and musical activism is mostly the domain of artists on the sidelines of the mainstream.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the road… Billboard’s Top 10 for the week of January 15” led by “Firework,” an anthem for doomed youth with none of the eloquence of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” from 2002”perfectly reflected the shallow mindset of 2011 pop. With its “boom boom boom, even brighter than the moon moon moon” refrain, “Firework” is more tiring than inspiring and ultimately comes across as a clunky excuse for Katy Perry to look gorgeous and set off explosives with her breasts in the video.
Further down the hit list, Bruno Mars is a fool in love”twice. Pink is getting another party started. Enrique Iglesias is flirting again. And the Black Eyed Peas”well, I gotta feeling that ripping off the Dirty Dancing theme was just a way to make more quick bucks. When it’s up to Ke$ha to bring the social commentary (with “We R What We R”), you know we’ve got a problem. Where’s the revolution, the signs of the time? There’s a grenade, yes, but it’s in the name of love, not war.
Every so often there’s a disaster”September 11th, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti”that springs pop stars into action. For the most part, though, they’re all about gold diggers, teenage dreams and bad romance. There are still some iconoclastic talents out there, though they don’t frequent the Top 10. I’m still not sure how a call to action as powerful as Muse’s “Uprising” stalled at No. 37 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 2009. Maybe the band’s Twilight-obsessed fans prefer when Matthew Bellamy is singing love songs for vampires.
M.I.A. made an unlikely trip to the Top 5 in 2008 with “Paper Planes,” but when she tried to fight the system with last year’s brutal, honest and brutally honest “Born Free,” her video was banned almost everywhere, including on YouTube, for containing violent images that actually were no more disturbing than anything James Franco does in 127 Hours, or that crazed gunman did in last season’s Grey’s Anatomy finale. The same thing happened to Madonna in 2003, when she challenged George Bush with her “American Life” clip. She was strong-armed into filming a new version of the video, the single and CD flopped, and she retreated to the dancefloor for her next two albums.
Perhaps it’s the censors who are intimidating pop’s would-be revolutionaries into inaction. If you dare to clash with rigid, arbitrary standards of decency, as 30 Seconds to Mars’ “Hurricane” video recently did (the MPAA probably would have slapped frontman Jared Leto’s antics with a PG rating at worst), you can forget about airplay. Years ago, pioneering rap acts like Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five and Run-D.M.C. documented life on the mean streets without courting controversy. When Public Enemy came along, they raised the stakes and pissed people off, probably limiting their commercial potential. I can’t imagine any of today’s swag-obsessed rap acts offering oratory as scathing as Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” or Fear of a Black Planet.
These days, rap’s primary focus, mentally and musically, is boosting egos and making money. Wiz Khalifa’s Top 10 “Black and Yellow,” in particular, represents everything that’s gone wrong with the genre. Eminem occasionally shows flashes of a social conscience” dig deeper into the lyrics of “Love the Way You Lie,” and you’ll realize that it’s an indictment of domestic violence, not a celebration of it” but in hitmaking mode, he’s mostly looking inward, not outward.
Who’ll bring social and political awareness back to the mainstream? Dixie Chicks tried their last time out, and won the 2007 Record of the Year GRAMMY for “Not Ready to Make Nice.” Since then, Record of the Year GRAMMY contenders mostly have been about sex, love and rehab. Rhythm and romance, like sex and candy, will always have a place in pop music, but who wants to party all the time? May the state of nations (wars, terrorism, collapsing economies, earthquakes, public shootings) inspire more of our stars to dim the party lights, turn some of the lust to anger, and get pop’s revolution back on track.