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Diva Madness Round 2: 1980s

In round 1, this category of divas had only a few competitions that were note-worthily close.  No wins were at 100%, but some of them got close to that.  Before looking at the scores, I had the impression that more of these were upsets, but it turns out that I was just rooting for the underdogs in a few more match-ups than usual.  We might as well get on to the devastation, see the new match-ups, and make some more hard choices.

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Madonna (1) vs. Paula Abdul (9)

Ok, I have to admit that this match-up seems somewhat meant to be, especially now that we get to watch some dance tracks, which both of these divas own.  Don’t get me wrong, I was under no impression that Grace Jones (an icon ahead of her time) would beat commercial powerhouse Madonna.  But Chaka Khan!?  I take personal issue with anyone who voted Paula over Chaka.  Including 8 year old me, who most certainly would have.  Anyway, these two dancers grew into massive superstars, and now this feels like it was meant to be.  It’s up to you to decide: Paula or Madonna?

Stevie Nicks (5) vs. Gloria Estefan (4)

More and more in this tournament, we are seeing legends go head to head, and this is another one of those instances.  As a solo artist, Stevie Nicks gave us a huge range of emotion and energy, and without her we may never have heard Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor,” which heavily sampled and and drew inspiration from “Edge of Seventeen”.  Gloria Estefan had a much nastier fight with Pat Benatar to get to this round, but she’s here ready to represent with one of the best party songs of the 1980s.  This could get ugly, but both these epic women will certainly look great in the process.

Janet Jackson (3) vs. Annie Lennox (11)

Both of these particular 80’s divas really took their careers to the next level in the 90’s, and continue to shine as maternal music figures even now.  With last year’s album, Unbreakable, Janet is solidly in her 4th decade of new material and touring.  Annie Lennox performed one of the only upsets in this bracket category, barely giving Heart’s lead sister, Ann Wilson, any chance of moving forward.  She continued to remind us that her voice is no joke when she showed up at the 2015 Grammys and made us forget nearly every other performance that night.

Cyndi Lauper (7) vs. Whitney Houston (2)

I really thought Sade might have had a chance against Cyndi, but it was not meant to be.  We all know “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” already, so instead I’ll leave her doing a Prince song – I adore her version of this.  Whitney destroyed Debbie Gibson to be here, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.  To be honest, I was shocked to see Debbie get the few votes she did receive.  Similarly, I won’t play Whitney’s biggest dance track, but instead here is a solid single that happens to be one of my personal faves.

There is still some time to vote in round 2 of the Classic Divas – until the night of Saturday, March 12th – so head over there if you haven’t yet, and come back tomorrow for the next category!

Old New Borrowed Blue #11: Janet

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This Monday post of Old New Borrowed Blue is brought to you by my exploding excitement about seeing Janet Jackson live in Toronto tomorrow night.  In case you missed it, Janet. Jackson. LIVE.  To prepare myself, and invite all of you into my very happy expectations, let’s listen to some Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue songs from Ms. Jackson (if you’re nasty).

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Something Old: Obviously the most difficult category to choose for, seeing as Janet has 3 decades packed full of energy, sass and nostalgia.  Since I’ve spent some time in the past writing about Rhythm Nation, and recently included “Control” in an ONBB post, I think I will plant myself firmly in Janet’s 90’s catalogue.  In 1993, Janet. (read Janet Period) was the album that signalled a new persona for the youngest Jackson.  Not only did she create distance from the Jackson legacy (and controversy) by dropping hjanetalbumer family name, she also changed from a modest, socially-conscious Rhythm Nation badass into an iconic sex symbol.  And “If” is the single that signals this shift more than any other.  So before I launch into an entire blog post about Janet., let’s enjoy this futuristic, genre-fusion dance track that is bold with desire – “If I was your girl, the things I’d do to you…” – while respecting your boundaries – “but I’m not, so I can’t, then I won’t”, while also making absolutely brilliant musical references to both Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” and Diana Ross’ “Someday We’ll Be Together”.  My wife recently asked me to pick my favourite Janet track from each decade and I suggested “Together Again” for my 90’s pick… but I think I just changed my own mind.

Something New: One of the many reasons I’m so excited for tomorrow night is to hear a few more new tracks that we can expect to find on Janet’s new album, Unbreakable.  In the meantime I am very happy with the first single/music video “No Sl333p,” which is clearly from the same Janet that gave us the gifts of other sexy slow jams like, “That’s the Way Love Goes” and “Any Time, Any Place.”

Something Borrowed:  Janet Jackson is a queen of both borrowing and being borrowed.  I’ve heard that on the tour I’m about to experience, she actually shows video of Kendrick Lamar performing his Janet tribute, “Poetic Justice,” which is built on samples of “Any Time, Any Place”.  When Janet borrows from someone else’s music, it’s usually both an intentional reference and a sign of great respect.  She is known for not only sampling, but inviting Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell into the studio to rerecord lines from their hit songs for “Son of a Gun” and “Got Till It’s Gone” respectively.  Although there are many examples of “something borrowed” in Janet’s discography, the choice was easy, since one of my favourite Janet dance tunes of all time samples one of my favourite jazz/funk tunes ever, recorded by Herbie Hancock as “Hang Up Your Hang Ups”.  You will probably recognize Janet’s version, “All Nite”, from one of the most memorable music videos of her career.

Here is Hancock performing “Hang Up Your Hang Ups,” live for your reference and enjoyment.

Something Blue: This is already a category that I tend to stretch a little, as genres generally can be quite elastic.  It seems most appropriate to offer something from Janet’s darker and more introspective album, The Velvet Rope, that maintains her sexually charged image while also addressing peVelvetRopersonal issues and conflicts such as domestic abuse, body image, and mental illness.  Incidentally, this is also the album that secures Janet’s place as a gay icon, addressing AIDS, Homophobia, and reimagining Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night” as a lesbian love song.  Have I mentioned that this woman is my hero?  Anyway, what is the blues if it doesn’t include longing for an ex-lover?  Without further ado, “I Get Lonely”.

Old New Borrowed Blue #4: FemBosses

Today is all about a few of my favourite women in music.  Enjoy!

Something Old:  Because there may not be another artist that was as influential on my tastes growing up than Ms. Jackson (if you’re nasty).  And because I am already counting down the days (54) until I see her live for the first time (finally).  I’m hoping she performs some career-defining throwbacks like this, with or without the keytars.  Song starts around the three minute mark, but you might want to watch the whole thing, because this video from 1987 is EVERYTHING.

Something New:  The inspiration for today’s femboss theme is without question this short film released by MIA a couple weeks ago.  Over the years she has become one of my favourite women in music with her catchy dance tunes and her bold statements through music videos like “Bad Girls” and “Born Free”.  Matahdatah Scroll 01: Broader than a Border features two songs, “Swords” and “Warriors”, and footage of people doing fabulous and ordinary things in India.

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Something Borrowed:  #SorryNotSorry to those who are not big fans of MIA, but this is too fun not to post.  Here is MIA’s tribute to Beyonce.  Though it’s called a remix of “Flawless”, “Baddygirl 2” borrows from other Yoncé tracks such as “Diva”, “Drunk in Love” and “Run the World (Girls)”.  Let me know if you notice any other references or samples that I missed!

Something Blue:  So many of my favourite women in music have made some incredibly beautiful, blue music, but possibly my all-time favourite sad songs is Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”.  Originally written in 1930 as a poem, Holiday’s recording has become one of the most popular racism protest songs of the century.  It’s imagery is dark and haunting, and elicits a fairly physical reaction in me every time I hear it, so it’s a less-frequently-played favourite, but favourite just the same.

Top 10 Super Bowl Halftime Moments

Warning: this post has nothing to do with albums at all.

After watching  Super Bowl XLIX (49)’s halftime performance, I was inspired to re-watche every halftime show I could find online since 1991.  In case you didn’t know, 1991 is the year that the biggest American sports event of the year seemed to realize the intermission was actually an opportunity for marketing and expanding their audience.  Previously, this gig was reserved for marching bands and Disney characters.  Surprisingly, it was NKOTB that launched us into this new tradition, but it wasn’t until two years later that halftime became the pop-star driven spectacle it is now.

Anyway, I am a sucker for a top 10 list.  So here are some moments that make this a performance I don’t want to miss each year.

10.  The Rolling Stones, 2006

I found it pretty strange that in the post-Janet era, between 2005 and 2010, half of the halftime acts for this uber-American event were Brits.  All were men.  Rolling Stones LipsOverall, I think the Rolling Stones approached this gig strangely, playing only 3 songs including the lame and forgettable “Rough Justice”.  However, Jagger had the energy of a young colt, as usual, and danced around a stage shaped as The Stones’ trademark lips.  That was cool.

9.  Madonna, 2012

Three moments cross my mind for this one.  When she arrives for vogue in this chariot pulled by all the warriors/dancers who are dressed as a sort of Egyptian/Roman hybrid.  madonnachariotEpic is an understatement for this moment.  Also when CeeLo Green joins her on stage in front of a massive gospel choir to sing “Like a Prayer”, and when the Cirque du Soliel guy bounces on the wire.  These things mostly made up for the fact that she premiered that unfortunate LUV Madonna song.

8.  Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, 2009

Even though I’m personally not the biggest Springsteen fan, I feel like he’s maybe the best choice for the Super Bowl gig.  There were two great moments in this performance (aside from the fact that these guys were born to play live).  The first was his weird, excitable intro where he told viewers to “back up from the guacamole” and “put down the chicken wings!”  The second was as he slid on his knees, crotch first into the camera man.

7.  Katy Perry, 2015

Ms.EThat time that Missy Elliott made a comeback, and rap was given the stage for more than one verse.  Also, when the shark on the left was so drunk.  This link is for the whole performance, but the shark moment is around 5:40, and Missy shows up at 7:14.

6.  Janet Jackson, 2004

NO.  I’m not talking about the nip-slip that made the halftime producers afraid to put women on the stage again for 6 whole years, and that pretty much ruined Janet’s career, but as usual, left the man involvedjanet (Justin Timberlake) even more popular.  Though memorable, it may have been the worst in my books.  What I am talking about is when Janet Jackson performs Rhythm Nation 15 years after she released it, and it didn’t feel like a throwback.  Still doesn’t.

 5.  Prince, 2007

princeOne of my favourite halftime performances of all time.  Prince just performs like the legendary musician he is.  But the two moments that make this list are when he covers the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You” because it was just so unexpected and classy, and when he closes his 12 minutes with Purple Rain.  In the rain.  With an incredible solo on his symbol-shaped guitar.  Everything about that was cool.

4.  Diana Ross, 1996

“Here comes my ride!” she says, as a helicopter lands.  dianarossOn the stage (which has transformed into a helipad).  Then the diva herself gets strapped in and waves goodbye.  This is by 100% the best finale to a halftime performance ever.  And I assume this is now 100% illegal.

3.  U2, 2002

After September 11th, most performers would not touch this gig with a 10-foot pole.  This Irish band performs a humble and touching set of just three songs: “Beautiful Day,” “MLK,” and “Where the Streets Have No Name”.  The moment, of course, u2 superbowlis the entire last song when Bono sings in front of a tall fabric-screen, where a projection of all the names of 9/11 victims are scrolling.  The whole thing feels like a gift from a small nation that knows a little something about terrorism, violence, and grief.

2.  Beyoncé, 2013

When Beyoncé brings back Destiny’s Child, and Kelly and Michelle launch out of the stage from below to sing “Bootylicious”, “Independent Women Part 1”,BeyonceStankFace and part of “Single Ladies”.  The other moment is every time Beyoncé does anything.  For example, when she makes her eyes big.  Or smiles.  Never mind when she sings or dances.  Seriously, this performance is flawless in every possible criterion.

1.  Michael Jackson, 1993

This is really the performance that started it all.  The show starts with two fake MJ’s, jumping on top of the large replay screens.  Finally, the real Michael launches up center-stage, and just stands there without moving for 90. whole. seconds.  As much as I wish he used that time to add another song to the set, he just proved that he can do that.  Jennifer-Batten-Michael-JacksonAlso, he has his boss guitarist, Jennifer Batten with him, so that’s a win.  Some would call the end of his set cheesy, as he’s surrounded by some 300 children singing “Heal the World”.  The thing is, there is something seriously hopeful about this whole moment.  Like, people still believed the world could be healed.  Or maybe that was just Michael.

So there you go.  Some close calls were Sting’s duet with Gwen Stefani in 2003, Stevie Wonder tap dancing in 1999, and in 1998 when basically every surviving artist of Motown got on the same stage (and began to redeem the year before when white guys did a soul throwback).

Did you have some favourite moments from Super Bowl performances?  What did I miss?  Are you mad I left off Britney Spears or Brian Boitano?

Records for Road Tripping

ImageOn Saturday (3 More Sleeps!) I will be departing Vancouver on an epic road trip to visit my friend in Los Angeles.  There is much to be excited about: Seeing Kat, More sunshine and less rain, record shopping, Mexican food, and just as certainly, preparing music for the long drive.  Here are a few albums I’m excited to listen to while driving south – but I have to drive back to, so feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments below.  Oh, and if you want to check out any of the albums, their picture to the right will link to a Grooveshark stream.  In the order of backwards chronology, enjoy!

The Only Place – Best Coast, 2012

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Reviewers everywhere raved about this record, and the truth is, I still haven’t listened to more than one or two Best Coast singles, so it seems that now is the time.  Plus, we have so much in common: I’m going to L.A., via the coast – the band is from L.A. and called Best Coast; I’ll be on the road – this album was written while on tour; the bear on the cover is hugging a map – I’ll likely be doing some map hugging myself.  It’s pretty much destiny.

Vows – Kimbra, 2010

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Kimbra sounds like she’s having a really good time on her funky debut album, Vows, and it’s hard to imagine not having fun while it’s playing.  I am planning to save this record for a much needed dance break, or perhaps as a celebration for crossing over a state line.  The song I’m most looking forward to is absolutely the bonus track, called “The Warrior,” for which I just found this Luchadore-themed music video:

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes, 2008

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Back when I was writing a list of what I thought were the best albums of the “ohsies” decade (2000-2009), Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut was my number 5, but I put off writing about the album because I was convinced they were best heard while on the road.  This road trip seems like the perfect chance to put my own theory to the test, and maybe come home with a blog ready to publish.

Funeral – Arcade Fire, 2004

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Another one of my favourite albums from that decade, I have plenty to say about it here.  This was unquestionably the album I spent the most time listening to in 2005 – particularly in the first few months of moving into a basement in Vancouver and beginning a grad program.  This is one of those albums that I know all the words to, but can’t remember ever trying to learn them. So, for the sake of loud singing in the car, Funeral will be my go-to.  Not to mention, it will be good to have some Can-Con to remember the music of home.

Hello Nasty – Beastie Boys, 1998Image

At the music store that I work at, we found a copy of this in print form in the clearance bin, and ever since, we’ve had it on display right across from the tills where we take yo money.  The cover art alone is enough to transport me back to high school… all of those classes so full like sardines’ tins… no just kidding.  The music is nostalgic, and although I went on an early Beastie Boys kick earlier this year when Adam Yauch died, I still haven’t really returned to Hello Nasty, even thought it was one of my favourites.

Janet – Janet Jackson, 1993

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Why Janet?  Well, I love Janet Jackson for nearly any occasion – especially when she’s produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis – and the truth is, I came across the CD in my room and realized that it had been a while since I put it on. I rarely listen to it as a full album in iTunes because of all the interludes and whatnot that are often unchecked, so having to put it on in its compact disc format might actually have a advantage.

Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill, 1991

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This road trip would be incomplete without some L.A. bred rap music.  I’m considering making an L.A. Rap playlist, that will be chalk-full of Dre and Snoop and Eazy E, but this self-titled, early 90’s classic seems like the right choice for a Vancouver (which has an actual Cypress Hill) to Los Angeles drive.  At the very least, I’ll be nodding my head to this one:

Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman, 1988

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“Fast Car,” is on this album, and it’s a classic road trip song for obvious reasons: “Is it fast enough for us to fly away?”  But instead of just moving the one track to a playlist, I thought this album might be a chill break from the tunes that are meant to keep me awake and moving.  Tracy Chapman might be just what I need to reflect and rest as we watch the scenery pass by.

(IV) – Led Zeppelin, 1971

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Led Zeppelin is perfect for driving to, and this technically untitled record is not only one of their best, but also has “Going to California.”  As an added bonus, “Stairway to Heaven,” will take up a whole 8 minutes.  I’ve had Led Zeppelin in my mind all week because of this amazing website, The Bonhamizer, where you can add John Bonham drum tracks to any song you want to upload.  It’s a lot of fun, but I’d rather drive to L.A. listening to Bonham how he was intended to be heard.

Saxophone Colossus – Sonny Rollins, 1956

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Bet you weren’t expecting this one?  I will likely need some jazz at some point, so why not one of the best saxophone soloists who ever lived, playing some of his all-time best solos ever recorded?  No biggie!  I have loved this record ever since my high school band teacher gave us homework to go buy some jazz, and as a result, Saxophone Colossus was the second jazz album I ever spent my own money on (right after Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue).  Anyway, it’s catchy and awesome and I like it.

So, there are 10 albums that represent some of the diverse music that will be providing soundtrack to my epic adventure.  The problem is, if I count it up, this music will only last me about 8 hours, and the way there alone is roughly 25!  So, feel free to let me know what albums you’d be listening to on trip along the west coast in the comments below – I’m welcoming suggestions!