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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

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Whitney Houston 1963-2012

Posted by Big Boo on February 13th, 2012

Whitney HoustonIt came as quite a shock when I happened to read this morning that Whitney Houston had died. I think because I saw it on a Google Alert e-mail my first reaction was “it must be a hoax” but no, a brief search seemed to reveal that it most definitely wasn’t.

At the time of writing this the cause of her death is still not known, but it is for sure that she was discovered in her hotel room in the Beverley Hilton, where she had been staying before being due to sing at a pre-Grammy awards party.

Whitney Houston was born in New Jersey in 1963. The daughter of John Houston, an entertainment executive, and Cissy Houston, a noted Gospel singer, her upbringing meant that becoming an entertainer was probably always very likely. Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick were her cousins, and Arethra Franklin was her Godmother, so singing was kind of in her blood.

She started her singing career when she used to get up on stage and sing in some of the nightclubs that her mother worked at. In 1977, at the tender age of 14, she became a backing singer for the Michael Zager Band, and the following year she featured as a backing singer on Chaka Khan’s hit I’m Every Woman, a song that Whitney herself would become noted for in later life.

The years that followed saw her mixing singing with modelling work, until in 1985 she got her own solo recording contract and her first album, title simply Whitney Houston, was released. Featuring such hits as The Greatest Love of All, How Will I Know and Saving All My Love For You, the album shot Whitney to stardom.

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Blancmange – Living on the Ceiling

Posted by Big Boo on October 14th, 2011

BlancmangeThis entry is about the Eighties band, not the dessert, so apologies to fans of milk based jelly-like puddings…

Whilst writing about the dessert Blancmange the other day I was reminded of the band Blancmange, and it occurred to me that whilst I remembered them being a band, I couldn’t actually remember any of the songs they did.

So a quick Internet search later and I bring to you Living On The Ceiling, a song I definitely remember and I hope you will too. If you’re not sure you do, then check out the video clip at the end of this post.

Blancmange themselves were a two piece outfit consisting of singer Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe, the synthesiser guy. They formed in 1979 and were fairly successful during the early Eighties, with them calling it a day in 1987. The pair did some solo work after that, but they recently reformed, and their fourth album, Blanc Burn, was released in March 2011.

Living on the Ceiling is a catchy song (probably why I remember it), with some interesting lyrics (I’m up the bloody wall!) and a mix of good old Eighties synthesiser and the sort of middle Eastern music you always associate with busy marketplaces and belly dancers. Oh, and surprise, surprise, the video itself contains a lot of middle Eastern style imagery to boot.

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R.E.M.

Posted by Big Boo on September 26th, 2011

R.E.M.It came to my attention the other day that pop group R.E.M. have decided to call it a day and will be disbanding after their next album which is due imminently. This surprised me on two counts, firstly I didn’t really realise they were still going, and secondly, I didn’t realise they were actually a band from the Eighties!

Here in the UK I don’t think R.E.M. really made a big splash until the early Nineties, with the release of their album Out Of Time, which contained songs such as Shiny Happy People and Losing My Religion, and indeed I always thought that they were a new band at the time. How wrong I was though, as they actually formed right back in 1980!

In January 1980 lead singer Michael Stipe met guitarist Peter Buck in a record shop where Buck worked. They got chatting and discovered they shared similar tastes in music and became friends. Later they met up with bass guitarist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry, fellow students from the University of Georgia, who had been playing music together for a while, and they decided to have a go at forming their own group.

Before long the band felt they had something good going and dropped out of school to go touring around the southern US. They became a bit of a local phenomenon but it wasn’t until the summer of 1981 that they finally recorded their first single, Radio Free Europe. Despite only limited distribution, this song went on to become one of the New York Times best 10 singles of the year!

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The Vapors – Turning Japanese

Posted by Big Boo on July 8th, 2011

Turning Japanese - The VaporsBeing successful in the music world must be really tough, as the number of “one hit wonder” bands we can no doubt all think of testifies. Why is it that a group can come out with one song that somehow ticks all the right boxes and becomes incredibly popular, yet then fail to find that magic mix again?

The Vapors apparently thought themselves that they could become a one hit wonder after writing Turning Japanese, to the extent that they held the song back to be their second released single, in the hope that this damning fate wouldn’t happen to them. Sadly for them the strategy didn’t work, and so they will now forever be known to the masses just for this song.

However, it’s a good song to be remembered for, as its distinctive oriental sounding snatches make it instantly recognisable right from the start. The song is a very lively one with a catchy chorus that you only need to hear once to have it indelibly stamped into your brain (to be fair though the whole chorus does just consist of the following three lines repeated four times, so perhaps it’s no wonder)

I’m turning Japanese
I think I’m turning Japanese
I really think so

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Stocking Fillers - Suppliers to Father Christmas
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The B-52’s

Posted by Big Boo on June 15th, 2011

The B-52'sI’ve covered bands before which have been popular in the UK but are considered one hit wonders in other parts of the world (e.g. Dexys Midnight Runners) so now it’s time for one which many in the UK would consider a one hit wonder – The B-52’s.

In the UK, the song they are best known for is Love Shack, one of those tunes that gets put on for parties because it’s such a happy sounding song, yet is still quite rock ‘n’ roll in it’s way. Some may also remember that they provided a version of the theme song for the live action Flintstones movie, though technically they were called The BC-52’s for that…

Anyway, as with most in the UK it was Love Shack that was the first B-52’s song I had knowingly heard, but the band name wasn’t new to me. I had heard of them before as, being a big fan of the Commodore Amiga home computer, I had learnt that several models of this computer had the name of a B-52’s song printed on the motherboard. For example, the extremely popular Amiga 500 had Rock Lobster printed on it’s main board.

It wasn’t until I went to college (mid 1990’s) that I actually heard some more B-52’s songs. A friend had a couple of albums, so as well as finally getting to hear what Rock Lobster sounded like I also heard a number of other songs such as Planet Claire, Is That You Mo-Dean and Good Stuff.

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Bobby McFerrin – Don’t Worry Be Happy

Posted by Big Boo on May 6th, 2011

Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry Be HappyIf you’re looking for a song to cheer you up then a good one to try is the classic Bobby McFerrin song Don’t Worry Be Happy. So popular was it that it has been used in so many films, TV programmes and adverts over the years you can’t fail to have heard it.

It was also used as one of the tracks on that rather dubious fad from the late Nineties, the Big Mouth Billy Bass. But let’s move swiftly on from that shall we…

The song was written and performed solely by McFerrin, and by perform I don’t just mean singing the vocals, but the entire music track. The music is an a cappella track, which if you don’t know means that no musical instruments were used to create it. Instead the entire tune is made up of different layers of Bobby McFerrin making musical sounds with his own voice (you know, dooooo-do-do-do-do, that sort of thing).

The song has a very laid back reggae style to it, with lyrics that illustrate several different problems that might (perhaps) crop up in your normal life, problems which you are then told to get over by just not worrying, and being happy.

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Bananarama

Posted by Big Boo on March 21st, 2011

BananaramaBananarama were one of the biggest girl bands of the Eighties, and it may surprise you to know that they are still performing today, albeit with only two of the original three members. Formed in 1979 and consisting of Keren Woodward, Sara Dallin and Siobhan Fahey, Bananarama started off performing short sets or providing backing vocals at other bands gigs.

Interestingly Keren and Sara have been life long friends, and have known each other since the tender age of four. Sara met Siobhan at College, and that was how the three came together to first become friends and then become a musical group.

In 1981 they recorded their first proper demo song Aie a Mwana, which was perhaps a bit of a strange choice given that it is sung in Swahili. However, it got them noticed and they found there first chart success when they teamed up with Fun Boy Three for T’ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It). I always remember it seemed a bit odd to me that Bananarama only got the “featuring” tag for this song, since it seemed like they did most of the singing!

This song set them up on the road to success, and it led to a string of chart successes including Really Saying Something, which was the return of a favour as it featured Fun Boy Three, Robert De Niro’s Waiting and Cruel Summer, which featured as part of the soundtrack on The Karate Kid.

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Men At Work – Down Under

Posted by Big Boo on February 28th, 2011

Men At Work Down UnderDepending on where in the world you live, there are some bands who appear to you to be one hit wonders, whilst in reality they may well have been very successful in their homeland. Dexys Midnight Runners are a good example of band that will be well remembered in the UK, but abroad may only have had a single hit.

Here in the UK, Men At Work are the opposite to Dexys. An Australian band who were pretty successful there, in Blighty they are really only remembered for one song, and that was Down Under (sometimes known as A Land Down Under, thanks to the chorus lyrics).

Down Under was originally recorded in 1981, but when it was reissued the following year it took the world by storm, hitting the number one spot in Australia, the UK and Ireland, the US, and a few more countries besides. I guess it was seen as a bit of a novelty record thanks to the funny lyrics and the catchy tune (but more on that in a bit) and that’s why it did so well.

The song tells the story of an Australian traveller touring the world, who meets various people on the way who befriend him because of his nationality. For a country brought up on Marmite it also introduced the UK to Vegemite, the Australian equivalent of the love-it-or-hate-it foodstuff. I’m sure it must have been because of Down Under that us Brits were even able to buy Vegemite in supermarkets for a while (not sure if you still can, but I don’t think so). For more on this food by product see the rather amusing Vegemite entry in the BBC’s h2g2 (An online attempt at creating a real Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, in a similar manner to Wikipedia).

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