If you look at the early days of the UK singles chart you will find numerous entries by Winifred Atwell. Winifred was a talented pianist and enjoyed a series of boogie woogie and ragtime hits. In fact she sold over 20 million records.
Winifred was born in Trinidad and studied in the USA before moving to the UK where she had gained a place at the Royal Academy of Music. Although she revelled in a complex virtuoso rhythmic technique it was the popular ragtime tunes that brought her fame.
By the mid fifties Winifred was earning $10,000 dollars per week and her hands were insured for £40,000. She was, by far, the biggest selling pianist of her time and is the only holder of two gold and two silver discs for piano music in Britain. She was the first black artist in the UK to sell a million records and the first black artist to have a number one single. Winifred Atwell was indeed a superstar.
Alabama 3 are one of music’s best-kept secrets. They found fame with “Woke Up This Morning” – the theme tune to The Sopranos. However they always seem to avoid the mainstream and have pursued a successful career for many years without stepping too far into the limelight.
This is one of my favourite Alabama 3 songs. It comes from their debut album – Exile on Coldharbour Lane which was issued in 1997. This video was recorded in 2009 and the female lead vocals come from Zoe Devlin. Zoe later appeared, quite successfully, on the X Factor where she was introduced as a waitress and single mum!
Amy Winehouse passed away five years ago. Had she still been with us she would have been celebrating her birthday this month. It’s perhaps an appropriate moment to reflect on the enormity of the talent we lost.
I have seen her live, once, in 2007. Her performance at that year’s Isle of Wight festival was mesmerising. Looking back and having attended many IOW festivals it is hard to think of any artist that has provided such a spell binding set in the middle of the afternoon. A thousand words won’t do it justice so the thing to do is just watch the video…..it’s brilliant.
When I was at school in the 1970’s the term progressive rock was applied to a lot of bands, including Curved Air. They became well known for featuring a violin, something quite uncommon in those days. Back Street Luv was their only single hit although they did quite well with a string of studio albums.
Sonia Kristina provides the haunting vocals on this track. She joined the band at its inception in 1970 and despite leaving and returning on more than one occasion is still with them following their reformation in 2008.
Here’s a classic. Shirley Ellis was never a prolific recording artist and retired from music in 1968. Much of her work bordered on novelty – ‘The Clapping Song’ springs to mind. On the ‘Nitty Gritty’ she reminds us what a great vocal talent she was but on this video it is the dancing that takes centre stage.
Featured front and centre among the dancers is Bobby Banas who seems to be performing like his life depends on it. He had a long career, appearing on Broadway, in film and on T.V. He appeared in ‘Lets Make Love’ with Marilyn Monroe and was an original cast member in West Side Story.
If this blog keeps going for a few years there’s a good chance that it will contain every video that David Bowie has made. Basically I’m a big fan and have been for a long time.
‘Blackstar’ is David’s latest offering, taken from his upcoming album, also called ‘Blackstar’, which is out on 8th January 2016 – Bowie’s 69th birthday. Now if you are not a Bowie fan, or perhaps you only like his early work, then you might find this quite tough to chew on. But bear with it.
Classical music fans will know that Bruckner’s 9th symphony is not the most accessible piece of music. Nonetheless it is highly regarded and rewards repeated listening. ‘Blackstar’ is much the same. Give it time and it will give something back. Bruckner died before he completed his 9th symphony but it is still heard over 100 years after his death. ‘Blackstar’ is complete and is likely to enjoy the same longevity – you just need to give it time.
Time to go off piste with a bit of trivia. You wouldn’t think that a boxing match would make a good subject for a song but that didn’t stop Johnny Wakelin. In 1974 Mohammed Ali had beaten George Foreman in a world heavyweight bout fought in Kinshasa in Zaire. Foreman, of course, is more famous these days for the George Foreman Grill. Wakelin subsequently came out with a tribute to Ali – ‘Black Superman’ – in 1975. However he scored a much bigger hit the following year with ‘In Zaire’ – a song about the fight that had become known as The Rumble in the Jungle.
It’s standard 70’s stuff that rarely gets seen or heard these days. Some people would call it disco but that would be charitable.
If you ask me who I rate as the best live act I’ve seen I’ll probably tell you that it is a tie between The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen. So here, for me, is the best of both worlds. Bruce joins the Stones onstage for a cracking rendition of ‘Tumbling Dice’.
This was filmed in 2012 and I often hear people say that The Stones must be past it. They might tell you that they saw them in a back room in a Hammersmith pub in 1962 when they had real raw energy. Well I’m pretty sure they still have plenty of energy, and with the equipment now available they will certainly sound much better today than they did 50 odd years ago.
This song is doing the rounds again in some Johnny Walker commercials for 2015. For some reason I always seem to smile when I hear it. It was released in 1978 by Belgian singer Plastic Bertrand. It reached Number 8 on the UK singles chart and was a hit worldwide. The video shows Plastic in later life demonstrating that he can still remember the words!
‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’ is often described as punk but in reality is a slice of pure pop. You need no excuse to dance to this.