Frank Sinatra at 100 Still Has Got The World On A String

imageWhen I think of romance and love, the first person that comes to mind is Frank Sinatra.  The backing brass and big band sound, accompanied by his smooth and calming voice that flows through the lyrics of classics such as Fly Me To The Moon, Love and Marriage, and I’ve Got The World On A String gives me chills.  These songs bring me into an image of a club in the 1940s as people dance cheek to cheek.  Sinatra is one of the best selling artists of all time.  He has sold more than 150 million records worldwide, and is considered one of the most popular and influential artists of the twentieth century.

He was more than a singer.  Sinatra was an actor, producer, director, and he created a vision and persona around all that he was as an artist.  A perfectionist, known for his impeccable dress sense.  Image and sound were important to him.  He always insisted on recording his band live during sessions so the sound was organic.  Being a singer that learned music by ear and never learned to read music, I think he needed the sound to be live because it was how he learned to sing and react to the instruments being played.

It is the year of Sinatra’s centennial as society celebrates a hundred years of his existence.  Even though he is gone, his legacy lives on through his music and movies.  In the film On The Town, a construction worker asks Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Jules Munshin “What can happen in one day?”  It isn’t important what can happen in a day, but those moments in a day that can change you as a person over a lifetime.  He did that with every word he sang.  What is interesting is the songs that Sinatra sang were never songs he wrote, but collaborations with various composers and lyricists – he was the one that made the songs famous; he was the one that made them classics.

Come Fly With Me, Witchcraft, and All The Way are iconic, and the epitome of sound that Sinatra stood for during the 1950s.  In 2016, the 1950s are starting to show back up in music like with Panic! At The Disco’s new album Death of A Bachelor.  It is full of trumpets, big drums, but a mix of rock n’ roll on tracks such as Crazy = Genius. Other artists like Michael Buble have that same old style, no matter how pop he tries to be.  Songs like Haven’t Met You Yet, You and I, and Everything remind me that heartbreak can be minded, dreams can still be a reality, and a smooth voice can give you hope.

Sinatra followed and idolized artists like Bing Crosby.  He wanted to work hard, and for everyone else to follow suit.  In 1945 & 1946 he sang on 160 radio shows, recorded thirty-six times, shot four films, and performed up to forty-five times a week singing up to a hundred songs daily.  He won eleven Grammys over his career.  He release one hit after another, but my favorite will always be Young At Heart.  Granted it isn’t one of his more popular songs, but the lyrics by Carolyn Leigh defines what it is like to get older and still feel that coloring or swinging in the park is great idea.  In the words of Frank –

“You can go to extremes with impossible schemes.
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams.
And life gets more exciting with each passing day.
And love is either in heart, or on it’s way.
Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth
To be young at heart.”

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TLC – ‘Waterfalls’ Domination of the Summer of ’95

TLC – four platinum albums, five Grammys, sold more than sixty-five million records, and ranked the best selling American female group of all time.  Members Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins, Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez, and Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas lit the world on fire with their R&B, Funk, Hip-Hop, Urban, and Soul sound.  TLC signed with Antonio L. A. Reid at LaFace Records in ’91, and their debut album (Ooooooohhh…On the TLC Tip) was released in February ’92. The album was a critical and commercial success becoming a four time platinum album in that year.  Written primarily by Lopez and producer Dallas Austin.  This album led to three Top 10 singles (Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg, What About Your Friends, and Baby-Baby-Baby), as well as a national tour as the opening act for MC Hammer.

Their second album (CrazySexyCool) made them even bigger.  With four singles that reached the top five Hot 100 (Creep, Waterfalls, Red Light Special, and Diggin’ On You), worldwide sales hitting fifteen million, Diamond Certification from RIAA, and won two Grammys in ’96.  They seemed unstoppable, except life has a way of hitting you in the face.  Watkins was dealing with medical bills and an illness, and Lopez had a drinking problem, domestic disputes with her then boyfriend, as well as an arrest record for arson.  The Group declared chapter 11 bankruptcy in ’95.  Some articles say it was the bills and problems that the girls got into while others directed it towards the expenses, fees, and royalties that the label and management team were receiving.  It seemed the more money the group made the less money the group got.  They were selling millions of records and performing, but after all the costs, fees, and other expenses the girls were left with $50,000 a piece after years of blood, sweat, and tears.  I think the lesson here is to really understand what you are signing with management and a label, and if you don’t understand the agreement or need to negotiate bring in an entertainment lawyer.

CrazySexyCool had the hit of the summer 1995 with Waterfalls.  A song that was smooth and soulful with the rap edge of Lopez.  Written by Lopez, Marqueze Etheridge, and Organized Noise where it touched on subjects of illegal drugs, promiscuity, HIV/ AIDS, and death.  The video was innovative, full of digital enhancements that were still new to the time, and hit real subject matter that made you think about your actions.  It was not the normal summer hit that was all fun and games, but brought you to an understanding that your actions have consequences.  These lyrics in the song sum up the concept:

“I say the system got you victim to your own mind
Dreams are hopeless aspirations
In hopes of comin’ true
Believe in yourself
The rest is up to me and you”

Waterfalls spent seven weeks at number one, won four MTV Video Music Awards, and introduced the world to Cee Lo Green who assisted with the backing vocals on the track along with Debra Killings.  I can honestly say that when I was nine years old, I was not paying attention to the deeper metaphor.  Watching MTV with my cooler older brother all I really cared about was that I got to do what the big kids do.  Now I realized how important this song was to our generation.  The epidemic of HIV/AIDS hit in the 80s and carried into the 90s.  The drug situation with the youth is terrifying and brings to light the importance of mentors in the inner cities to get kids out of the illegal drug ring.  To understand that there are better options and more opportunities than what is in front of you.

TLC dominated the charts during the 90s.  They continued to make epic music like No Scrubs which was our jam in middle school!  After their third album Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez died in a car crash in Honduras in 2002.  The group released a fourth album with some of Lopez’s raps on two of the songs, but the group made the decision to retire and never replace their sister.  Now, they are on the move to make a fifth album for the fans in collaboration with their old producer Dallas Austin.  Waterfalls will always one my favorite songs of the 90s.  There is no doubt that the new generation of girl groups had some great role models for music.  TLC was the the representation of females and excelled in a dominated boy band time and brought to light issues more than just a song about a broken heart.

Click Here and come back to the 90s with this TLC playlist. Below is the video for ‘Waterfall’.

Producers and Mix Engineers and Writers Oh My!

grammy award statuetteThe Grammys are right around the corner and the nominations are in.  We all know who the nominations are for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best New Artist, but how many of you know who the Producer of the Year, Non-Classical or Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical?  These artists are just as important as the famous singers and bands we see plastered all over televisions,  in magazines, and at concerts.  These behind the scenes superheroes sometimes do it all.  They are the project managers of an album coordinating the right sound for the artist, organizing song structure, assisting with the writing process, and mixing and mastering the album that we here once it’s released.  Some producers become the A&R person developing and growing an artists sound or even taking them in a new direction or crossing over genres like Taylor Swift did this year with Max Martin and Shellback.

There are six legendary producers nominated for the 2015 Grammy who include Paul Epworth, John Hill, Jay Joyce, Greg Kurstin, and Max Martin.  Epworth worked with ‘Pendulum’ (FKA Twigs) and ‘Queenie Eye,’ ‘Road,’ and ‘Save Us’ (Paul McCartney) in 2014 and has worked with other prominent artists such as Adele, Coldplay, Lana Del Ray, Foster the People, and Bruno Mars.  In 2012 he won the Grammy for Producer of the Year for his work on Adele’s album ’21.’

John Hill worked on one of my favorite albums this year ‘Strange Desires’ by the Bleachers.  Jack Antonoff, lead singer and songwriter of the Bleachers and the lead guitarist of the band Fun created a true masterpiece with producer John Hill.  The lyrics and the 80s type music is something that really stands out of the bubble gum pop that is predominant in today’s music culture.  On this album alone I think Hill should get the Grammy, but I’m a little bias.  Hill has also worked with artists Eminem ‘Guts Over Fear,’ Shakira ‘Can’t Remember to Forget You,’ and Christina Perri’s ‘Burning Gold.’  In the past he has also worked with Wu Tang, Nas, Kings of Leon, Pink, and Natasha Bedingfield.

Jay Joyce has produced for Cage the Elephant, Sleeper Agent, Eric Church, and Thomas Rhett, while Greg Kurstin produced some of the power artists this year such as Ellie Goulding, Sia’s ‘Chandelier,’ Lana Del Ray, and Lily Allen.  Finally there is superstar producer Max Martin who has produced and wrote some of the catchy number 1s that we have heard all over the radio over the last 2 decades.  In 2014 he produced and assisted in writing with ‘Bang Bang’ with Ariana Grande, Jessie J, and Nicki Minaj, as well as ‘Dark Horse’ and ‘Unconditionally’ (Katy Perry), Problem (Ariana Grande and Iggy Alzala), and ‘Shake It Off’ (Taylor Swift).  Martin also won the 2014 ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Award, so who knows maybe the 2014 Grammy lies in his future.

Who ever wins Album of the Year, Record of the Year, or Best New Artist everyone will know because sales will go through the roof and iTunes will be flooded with a new top song and top album list as winners are announced.  Don’t be afraid to look outside the box and check out what these producers and writers are working on; their work could become your next favorite song.  It’s hard to read liner notes now a days, but google who worked on an album, it might surprise you how many of these producers have a hand in so many different genres of music.  They are the final sound of an album and without there guidance and understanding of sound, there would be no final cut.