Tag Archives: music

Bob’s Top 10 Pop Songs of 2017

Here we go again. This is my 9th annual countdown of the top pop hits of the year.

Some frequently asked questions that recur:

1. Why is it all pop music?
I chose to do a pop music countdown because I wanted to limit to songs that most readers have heard. For that reason, it’s not necessarily my favorite songs of the year–that would be a different countdown.

2.  Do you not like other genres? 
I do enjoy songs that are off the beaten chart and genres other than pop. I’d love to hear your selections in those areas.

3. Which songs are eligible?
I start with any song that made the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in any week of 2017. This year, there were 66 songs that qualify. Then I start to eliminate some from consideration. Any song that made last year’s top 10 is ineligible for this year’s top 10. There are four such songs: “Starboy” by The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk, “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars, “Closer” by the Chainsmokers ft. Halsey and “Bad Things” by Machine Gun Kelly & Camila Cabello.

Okay, that leaves 62 songs for consideration, including one song released in 1994 that just hit the top 10 for the first time. While I did not make that song officially ineligible, I decided against ranking Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” because it just feel right to put it among the top songs of this year.

4. Which songs are ineligible?
If it didn’t make the top 10 at any time this year, it does not make this countdown. Some of this year’s biggest songs were near misses. There were three big hits that peaked at #11: James Arthur’s “Say You Won’t Let Go,” “Issues” by Julia Michaels and “Slow Hands” by Niall Horan. Other big hits that didn’t quite make it are “Redbone” by Childish Gambino and Kesha’s comeback hit, “Praying.”

Beginning on December 26, I will reveal my number 10 song, followed by two more songs each day in this space. I will reveal my number one song on New Year’s Eve.

On the whole, 2017 was a mixed year. There were quite a few songs I don’t like, but my top five songs this year would be strong contenders for number one in just about any other year I have done this. If I had to describe 2017, I’d call it the year of former band members going solo.

As usual, I welcome comments and criticism, and feel free to bring it. So, without further babbling, here is my list:

1. Love On The Brain, Rihanna, Westbury Road/Roc Nation
I have long thought that Rihanna has a great voice, but doesn’t always use it on many of her records. “Love On The Brain” allows her to shine. Adele’s 25 and Beyonce’s Lemonade got a lot of attention in 2016, but Rihanna’s Anti album was quite good—her best. The fourth single from Anti, “Love On The Brain” was released in September 2016. I was well aware of the song last year, but it didn’t hit the top 10 until March 2017. It’s a throwback—a song you might have heard from a pop-jazz diva back in the doo-wop era. Like Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect,” it has a 12/8 time signature, unusual in modern pop. Written mainly by producer Fred Ball, ‘Love On The Brain” details the excruciating highs and lows of a tumultuous relationship. It allows Rihanna to pour in some emotion and belt it out at times. Her timing and phrasing is exquisite, a potential defining moment in her career. In most countries, it took some time to catch on, perhaps due to not sounding like a pop hit from this era. It did take off in Poland, where it spent four weeks at number one in 2016. In the USA, it was originally released to urban R&B radio. Pop radio discovered it over time, and “Love On the Brain” took off in March 2017 and peaked at #5 later that month, more than six months after the single’s release and more than a year after the album release. Rihanna first performed the song on television for the Billboard Music Awards in May 2016. This is Rihanna’s third appearance on my year-end top 10 lists, following “Take Care” with Drake in 2012 and ‘FourFiveSeconds” with Kanye West and Paul McCartney in 2015.

Official video: YouTube link
Alternate black & white video: YouTube link
Live at 2016 Billboard Music Awards: YouTube link
Stay/Diamonds/Love On The Brain medley, 2016 MTV Music Awards: YouTube link
Jessie James Decker cover: YouTube link
Little Mix live cover: YouTube link
Kelly Clarkson cover from Facebook live: YouTube link

2. Chained To The Rhythm, Katy Perry featuring Skip Marley, Capitol
Katy Perry’s fifth album, Witness, is a departure from her past adult pop sound. Unfortunately, in trying to be different, she would up with an album that’s uneven and really all over the place. The first single from Witness is easily my favorite Katy Perry song. You can hear the influence of four major songwriters. Perry came up with the concept and prolific Swedish writer Max Martin gives it a strong dance melody. Skip Marley, grandson of the great Bob Marley, adds the Jamaican dancehall feel. He is a featured artist on “Chained To The Rhythm.” Another songwriter is Sia, who also provides uncredited backup vocals. Sia gives the song a little of her edge. The collaborative effort is outstanding. On the surface, it’s a catchy dance tune about dancing to a favorite song. Dig deeper into the lyrics, and there’s a clear message about living in a bubble and ignoring troubles. According to Perry, the song concept was borne out of her frustration with the 2016 presidential election, however, the lyrics are not at all specific to any individual. “Chained To The Rhythm” was released in February and hit number one in Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Serbia. It peaked at number five in the U.K. and number four in the U.S. This is Skip Marley’s first appearance on my year-end top 10 lists and Perry’s second. “Firework” made my 2010 favorites.

Official video: Vevo link
Live at the BRIT Awards: YouTube link
Perry singing with the semifinalists of The Voice France: YouTube link
Boyce Avenue acoustic cover: YouTube link
Cover by Rebecca Black with Adam Goot: YouTube link
Alexander Stewart cover: YouTube link

 

3. Havana, Camila Cabello featuring Young Thug, Syco/Epic
I was obsessed with this song the first time I heard it. The bouncy piano, the Latin groove, the understated brass, and well, I just love a good cha-cha rhythm. Camila Cabello is a 20-year-old Cuban-born singer who first gained fame as a member of Fifth Harmony, a girl band put together by Simon Cowell on The X Factor. She released two collaboration singles on her own in 2016—one (“Bad Things”) hit #4 and made my year-end list for that year. In December 2016, Fifth Harmony announced Cabello’s departure. Going solo appears to have been a great decision. “Havana,” co-written by Pharrell Williams, who also sings backup, has hit number one in six countries, including Australia, Canada and the U.K. In the United States, “Havana” shot up the charts in November and spent five weeks at number two behind “Rockstar” by Post Malone. Now I don’t quite understand this but reportedly, a YouTube hack artificially (but legally) inflated the chart position of “Rockstar,” likely preventing “Havana” from hitting number one. It marks the biggest hit for either Cabello or for Young Thug, who performs the rap verse. Young Thug is an Atlanta-based rapper who has had considerable success with mixtapes and has recently done well as a featured artist on pop hits. There is a rap-free solo version that excludes Young Thug designed for play on radio stations that avoid playing rap, but I prefer the version with Young Thug. The video, which features a young woman obsessed with telenovelas, delightfully captures the steamy sultry nature of this track. “Havana” is still at number three headed into 2018, behind “Perfect” and “Rockstar.” It’s still one of the songs I actively search for on my car radio.

Official video: Vevo link
Live on NBC’s Today: YouTube link
European Music Awards performance: MTV UK link
Spanglish version, Latin American Music Awards, Los Angeles: YouTube link
Spanglish remix with Cabello and Daddy Yankee (audio): YouTube link

 

4. Perfect, Ed Sheeran or Ed Sheeran Duet with Beyoncé, Atlantic
I can’t remember the last number one hit with a time signature of 12/8. Ed Sheeran’s love ballad, written for his girlfriend Cherry Seaborn, seems more suited to a Viennese waltz dance floor than pop radio. Sheeran manages to pull it off. Originally a solo hit from his ÷ (Divide) album, “Perfect” was a top ten hit worldwide, including in the United Kingdom and the United States. A duet version with Beyoncé was released on December 1. Billboard treats an alternate version as the equivalent of the flip side of a record. In some cases, the B-side becomes the A-side. The December 16 issue listed the solo version at #3 as the A-side. The following week, the duet was the A-side, giving Sheeran had his second #1 hit. It’s Beyoncé’s seventh #1 and her tenth if you include Destiny’s Child songs. The duet remains #1 headed into 2018 and has reached #1 in 16 countries. In the UK, Sheeran’s duet version also boosted “Perfect” to #1, giving Sheeran and Beyoncé the prestigious Christmas Number One status. More recently, a version with Andrea Bocelli has been released, but the bulk of American airplay is divided between the solo version and the Beyoncé duet. One more trivia chart fact—in the UK in March 2017, Sheeran had all the top five songs, and 16 of the top 20 the week his album debuted. “Perfect” spent a week at number 4 long before its chart run near the end of the year. On my year-end lists, “Perfect” is the second appearance for both Sheeran and Beyoncé. I’ll end with a misheard lyric. When I first heard this song, I wondered what was up with the “barefoot on the cross” line, before eventually coming to realize it was Sheeran’s pronunciation of “grass” that had me confused.

Official video: Vevo link
Official audio with Beyoncé: YouTube link
Official video with Andrea Bocelli: Vevo link
“Live” duet with Beyoncé: YouTube video
Live performance on X-Factor Italy finale: YouTube link
Anthony Alexander cover on NBC’s The Voice: YouTube link

 

5. Feel It Still, Portugal. The Man., Atlantic
Portugal. The Man. is not just a man, and not from Portugal. It’s actually a five-man band from Wasilla, Alaska. Yes, that Wasilla. Their breakout hit, “Feel It Still,” was a major airplay hit in America before it really took off on the Billboard Hot 100. The retro-sounding lead single from the band’s Woodstock album borrows just enough from “Please Mr. Postman” to give the song a clear 1960s feel while still sounding original. “Feel It Still” originally hit big on rock and alternative stations. After a mid-March release, “Feel It Still” was number one on the Adult Alternative chart by the week ending May 9. It took a bit longer on the Alternative Songs chart, but spent a record-breaking 20 weeks at the top of that chart. Eventually, pop radio got in on the act. “Feel It Still” entered the Billboard Top 20 in mid-September. The band’s first big hit went on to spend nine weeks in the Top 10, two of them at its peak position of four. The lyrics are intentionally vague (“am I coming out of left field”) and are reportedly somewhat of a political statement, mainly frustration with the whole political party structure. Some of the better songs of recent years have a retro-feel; I suspect that trend will continue. “Feel It Still” was one of few songs to top six different Billboard airplay charts, but did not hit number one on the Hot 100. It was successful worldwide, but only reached number one in one country: Slovenia.

Official video: Vevo link
Live at the American Music Awards: YouTube link
Stripped down studio version: YouTube link
London rooftop performance: YouTube link
Acoustic cover by Megan Davies: YouTube link

6. Despacito, Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, Universal Music Latino/Raymond Braun/Schoolboy/Def Jam/UMLE/Republic
I’ll pre-emptively state that the version with Justin Bieber is the only one eligible for this countdown. “Despacito” was a record-breaking hit in so many ways that it’s hard to list them all. A chart-topper in at least 47 countries, “Despacito” was a clear winner of Billboard’s official Song of the Summer competition, and is the only song in history to spent all of June, July and August at number one. It’s tied for the longest-running number one hit with “One Sweet Day,” at 16 weeks. Luis Fonsi is a Puerto Rican superstar who is well-known in the Latin music community. Daddy Yankee is also from Puerto Rico and is a reggaeton star, mostly known to U.S. listeners for his 2004 hit, “Gasolina.” “Despacito” was originally released in January 2017 and immediately took off on the Latin charts. Starting in mid-February, “Despacito” spent 35 straight weeks atop the Billboard Hot Latin songs chart. In mid-April, a remix featuring Justin Bieber was released, subsequently, sales and airplay surged dramatically in English-speaking countries. By August, its original YouTube video, without Bieber, became the first video ever to hit 3 billion views. It has since reached 4.5 billion. Perhaps surprisingly, “Despacito” was only the second-biggest hit of 2017, according to Billboard, however, that is mainly because Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” came out well before the Bieber remix, giving Sheeran’s hit a big head start. “Despacito” has already won four Latin Grammys, and is nominated for three more Grammy Awards, for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. This is the first appearance for Fonsi and Daddy Yankee on my top 10 lists, and the third for Bieber.

Official video (without Bieber): YouTube link
Official video (with Bieber): YouTube link
Merengue cover by Antony Santos (audio): YouTube link
Croatian duo 2Cellos: YouTube link
Peter Bence piano cover: YouTube link
Postmodern Jukebox Broadway-style cover: YouTube link
Luis Fonsi and others at the Latin Grammys: YouTube link
Daddy Yankee in Merida, Mexico: YouTube link
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee at the Billboard Latin Music Awards: YouTube link
Luis Fonsi and Justin Bieber in Puerto Rico: YouTube link

7. I Feel It Coming, The Weeknd featuring Daft Punk, XO/Republic
The Weeknd makes the list for the third straight year with this year’s entry, “I Feel It Coming,” his second straight single to feature French electronic duo Daft Punk. Their previous collaborative single was the title track to the Starboy album, which opened 2017 at number one. “I Feel It Coming” was released in November 2016 and is a little less edgy and more dance pop than “Starboy.” “I Feel It Coming” entered the Billboard top 20 as “Starboy” was falling down the chart. It peaked at number four in April and spent just four weeks in the top 10. It was a number one hit in France and Mexico. Daft Punk appears on my lists for the third time, following last year’s “Starboy” and my number one song of 2013, “Get Lucky.” Both “Starboy” and “I Feel It Coming” were nominated but lost in the Top R&B Collaboration category at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards  Starboy is nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the upcoming Grammy Awards in January 2018.

Official video: Vevo link
Live at the Grammy Museum’s Clive Davis Theater: YouTube link
Anthony Alexander and Michael Kight on NBC’s The Voice: YouTube link
Spanish cover by Chilean singer Kevin Vasquez: YouTube link
English cover by K-Pop star J. Fla: YouTube link

8. Million Reasons, Lady Gaga, Streamline/Interscope
I could probably not give you a million reasons why I think you’ve at least heard this song, but since Lady Gaga performed “Million Reasons” at halftime of the Super Bowl, odds are that you have heard it at least once. “Perfect Illusion” was the first single from Lady Gaga’s album, Joanne, released in September 2016. Although it hit number one in France and Spain, it was a bit of a disappointment here, peaking at #15. “Million Reasons,” the second single is a minimalist ballad written by Lady Gaga with Mark Ronson and country songwriter Hillary Lindsey. I credit Lady Gaga for taking what is a so-so country-tinged ballad and adding a little funk to it. It still didn’t chart very well initially. “Million Reasons” peaked at number 52 in December 2016, but re-entered the chart at #4 following her performance at the Super Bowl in Houston. “Million Reasons” was never intended to be a single. It was supposed to be a promotional extra for people pre-ordering the Joanne album. After performing “Million Reasons” on a carpool karaoke segment with James Corden, demand for the song led to its official release as the album’s second single. “Million Reasons” also earned Lady Gaga a Grammy nomination for Pop Solo Performance. This marks the fifth song for Lady Gaga on my year-end top 10 lists and the first since 2011.

Official video: Vevo link
Live at Super Bowl 51: YouTube link 
Carpool Karaoke segment on The Late Late Show with James Corden: YouTube link
Live from Saturday Night Live: YouTube link
Royal Variety Performance (orchestral backing), Hammersmith Apollo in London, December 2016: YouTube link
Cover version by Bob Weir and Trey Anastasio, Wanee Music Festival: YouTube link

9. Thunder, Imagine Dragons, Kidinakorner/Interscope
It would be difficult to rationally explain why I like “Thunder.” The target audience seems to be around ages 6-8. It’s very repetitive, the synthetic voice shift is corny, the synthesizer bridge is weird and the transition into that bridge is not at all smooth. It has shown up already on more than a few worst songs of the year lists, however, it was among the most requested songs on radio at the end of 2017. “Thunder” topped the charts in Belarus, the Czech Republic and Latvia and was truly an international sensation. Released in April as the second single from the Evolve album, “Thunder” hit the Billboard top 10 in late October and remained in the top 10 for the rest of the year. It spent two weeks at #4 and seven additional weeks at the #5 position. “Thunder” has topped some of Billboard‘s other charts, including Adult Top 40, Alternative Songs, Mainstream Top 40 and Hot Rock Songs. Perhaps the “so silly it’s good” strategy is working. “Thunder is nominated for a Grammy in the Pop Duo/Group Performance category. “Thunder” is also the first Imagine Dragons song to make any of my year-end Top 10 lists.

Official video: Vevo link
Live from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: YouTube link
Live at the Wind Music Awards at Verona, Italy: YouTube link
Live mashup at the Billboard Music Awards with Khalid’s “Young Dumb and Broke:” YouTube link

10. Strip That Down, Liam Payne featuring Quavo, Hampton/Republic
All five former members of One Direction hit the top 40 in 2017. Three of them had top-10 hits and Niall Horan just missed (“Slow Hands” peaked at #11).  Payne’s first big hit takes him into more of a dance/hip-hop direction than that of his former bandmates. “Strip That Down” is a result of a collaboration between Payne and Ed Sheeran along with producer Steve Mac. They wrote the song in the summer of 2016 and brought in Quavo to perform the hip hop verses. Quavo, who seemed to be the featured artist of 2017, is listed as a songwriter with Payne, Sheeran and Mac along with a slew of other songwriters. The writers of “Strip That Down” borrowed from Shaggy’s hit “It Wasn’t Me,” which itself borrowed from a War song called “Smile Happy.” Every credited writer on both of those songs is credited on “Strip That Down.” Released in May 2017, “Strip That Down” was intended to be the first single from Payne’s first album, although that album has yet to be released. It began to pick up airplay throughout the summer and hit the top 20 in August. Although it hung around for some time, it only spent one week at #10 in September. I chose this as my number 10 song of the year after going back-and-forth with another song that peaked at #10, “Malibu” by Miley Cyrus. I settled on “Strip That Down” as recently as December 26. In addition to the songwriting credit, Ed Sheeran’s vocals are on “Strip That Down,” but uncredited.

Official video: Vevo link
Performance from BBC’s The Graham Norton ShowYouTube link
Live performance at the Capital FM Summertime Ball at Wembley: YouTube link

 

Favorite George Michael songs (including Wham)

George Michael left quite a legacy. I think that if you asked 20 people to name their favorite George Michael songs, including Wham, you would probably get 10 different answers. I recently asked that question on social media and it didn’t take me long to get to eight different songs.

Here are the top 20 songs I selected as my favorites, in reverse order. Some good ones did not make my list. Thoughts and comments welcome. What is your favorite?

george_michael

20. Praying For Time, George Michael (1989/1990)
“Praying For Time” was the first single from Listen Without Prejudice and marked his first release after the hugely successful Faith album. It was his last number one in the US and peaked at #6 in the UK. MTV Unplugged version

19. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Wham! (1984)
“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” pretty much introduced the world to George Michael and Wham. It spent two weeks at #1 in the UK, three weeks in America. The “Choose Life” shorts from the video were part of an anti-drug, anti-suicide campaign. Official video

18. Heal The Pain (Duet Version), George Michael & Paul McCartney (2005/2008)
“Heal The Pain” was first released in 1991 as the fourth single from Listen Without Prejudice. I have a slight preference for the duet version with Paul McCartney from his Twenty-Five album. Video link

17. Fastlove, George Michael (1996)
“Fastlove” was the first single released by a then-new company called DreamWorks. It hit #8 in 1996 and was Michael’s last new song to hit the Billboard Hot 100 (Wham’s “Last Christmas” charts seasonally). Official video

16. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, George Michael and Elton John (1991/1992)
There is a generation who doesn’t know that “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” was originally Elton solo. The live remake outperformed the original and hit number one in February 1992, making the line, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Elton John” famous. Official live video

15. Too Funky, George Michael (1990/1992)
Later that summer in 1992, “Too Funky,” from the Red Hot & Dance album, cracked the top 10. It notably starts with a sound clip of Anne Bancroft from The Graduate. Official video

14. Freedom, Wham! (1984/1985)
“Freedom” was a #1 hit in the UK from Wham’s breakthrough album Make It Big. It hit #3 in the USA right around the time that Wham was dealing with overexposure. Freedom is one of those songs I got tired of at the time but sounds better given the distance of time. The official video was shot in China, where Wham was among the first western bands to tour.

13. Round Here, George Michael (2003/2004)
“Round Here” is from George’s Patience album and was a minor hit in the UK. It’s about his recollections of life as a child and his parents when they were young. One of my favorite of his “unfamiliar songs.” Official video

12. A Different Corner – George Michael (1985/1986)
For some, “A Different Corner” is George’s best. In the USA, this was officially George Michael’s first solo hit, even though it’s on a Wham album and Andrew Ridgely performs on it. “Careless Whisper” was really Michael’s first solo, but in America it was billed as “Wham! featuring George Michael.” “A Different Corner” has a very understated production but it’s a powerful song. Official video

11. Waiting For That Day – George Michael (1990)
“Waiting For That Day” was the third single off Listen Without Prejudice and was a disappointment commercially. It’s loosely based on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards share songwriter credits with Michael. YouTube audio

10. Careless Whisper, Wham! featuring George Michael (1983/1984-85)
It was on a Wham album. was co-written by Andrew Ridgeley, but in most of the world, it was a solo song by George Michael. Because the record company did not want people to think Wham had broken up, it was credited as “Wham! featuring George Michael” in Japan, Canada and the USA. It’s one of George’s most recognizable songs and was Billboard’s biggest hit of 1985. It has become well-known recently as the walk-up music for outfielder Josh Reddick. His unusual selection has led to baseball fans singing along as he walks up to home plate. Official video

9. One More Try, George Michael (1987/1988)
The fifth single off Faith was also his third straight number one hit. “One More Try” also topped the R&B chart and the Adult Contemporary chart. The title only appears once in the lyrics–the final three words. Official video

8. Where Did Your Heart Go?, Wham! (1986)
“Where Did Your Heart Go?” was Wham’s last single in 1986. A cover of a Was (Not Was) song, it was among Wham’s more subdued tracks. It missed the top 40 in America. Clearly not Wham’s most successful singles, but in my mind “Where Did Your Heart Go?” is among their best. Official video

7. I’m Your Man, Wham! (1985)
One of the last singles by Wham has become one of my favorites. Written by George Michael, it’s a bit of a glimpse into what we would hear on his solo album, Faith. “I’m Your Man” was also the last song Wham performed on stage, at Wembley Stadium. Here is George Michael performing it live in 1991: YouTube link.

6. Faith, George Michael (1987/1987-88)
“Faith” is perhaps George Michael’s most well-known song. It spent four weeks at #1 spanning 1987 and 1988 and was the number one hit in America for the year in ’88. The organ intro into the guitar break are as recognizable as the lyrics. It has been covered by Limp Bizkit, among others. Here is a live version from 2008: YouTube link.

5. Last Christmas, Wham! (1984)
I remember resenting all the airplay this song got when it came out. I mean, they have one hit and now they get to have a Christmas song? Pay your dues, punks. Of course. “Last Christmas” became a Christmas classic and it became one of my favorite modern holiday songs. It would rank even higher if they could remix it with the ’80s synth toned down a bit. It be a bit sadder “this year” now that George Michael passed away on Christmas Day. Official video

4. Freedom! ’90, George Michael (1990/1990-91)
The second single from Listen Without Prejudice has a similar title to a Wham song, hence the year in the title. Known especially for its video featuring supermodels and no George Michael, it seemed he wanted to blow up his MTV past. Ironic that in doing so, he had a big video hit. It hit #3 in the US and #1 in Canada. Here’s a 25th anniversary video with younger models: YouTube link.

3. Father Figure, George Michael (1987/1988)
“Father Figure” was the song that really got George Michael noticed by R&B radio. He would go on to win two American Music Awards in the Soul/R&B category. It was also his first Grammy-nominated solo song. The video really propelled its success, but the haunting R&B sound proved memorable. A #1 hit in America, “Father Figure” only reached #11 in the UK, although it is reportedly one of his most requested songs on British radio. Official video

2. I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me), Aretha Franklin & George Michael (1986/1987)
Probably my favorite superstar duet of all time. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” hit number one in both the USA and the UK in 1987. Despite its success, it almost seems to have become a somewhat forgotten track for both artists. Official video

1. Kissing A Fool, George Michael (1987/1988)
People. If “Father Figure” established Michael as an R&B star, the final single from Faith, “Kissing A Fool” showed that he had some crooner chops. He recorded the vocals a cappella in a single take. His phrasing and timing are impeccable. By the time “Kissing A Fool” was released, very few fans did not already own the Faith album. Still, this one reached #5 in America and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Video link

State Songs: South Dakota – Wyoming

Here are the final 10 states alphabetically. The task—pick a favorite song that references the state or a place in the state. It must be a clear geographical reference — you can’t pick “Fly Me To The Moon” because there happens to be a Moon, Pennsylvania. Common sense rules still apply. This is the end!

What would you have picked??

Links to the first 40 states:
State Songs: Alabama – Georgia
State Songs: Hawaii – Maryland
State Songs: Maine – New Jersey
State Songs: New Mexico – South Carolina

South Dakota: Rocky Raccoon – The Beatles (1968)
From the White Album, Rocky Raccoon was from Minnesota on one earlier take. He wound up being from the “Black Mountain Hills of Dakota.” Safe to assume that’s the “Black Hills,” indicating South Dakota. Five of 10 participants selected “Rocky Raccoon” for South Dakota.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sif7Br-K1mI

Rocky Raccoon is a game piece in the Beatles' version of Monopoly. Photo from Beatle Brunch at http://www.brunchradio.com/Features/Articles/monopoly.html
Rocky Raccoon is a game piece in the Beatles’ version of Monopoly. Photo from Beatle Brunch at http://www.brunchradio.com/Features/Articles/monopoly.html

Tennessee: Dixie Chicken – Little Feat (1972/1973)
A lot of choices for Tennessee and at one point I was going to use “Honky Tonk Women.” I decided on “Dixie Chicken,” Little Feat’s signature song from the album of the same name. Although it never charted, “Dixie Chicken” has had staying power and has been covered by many bar bands. From “The Midnight Special:”   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z-GwdaKrn8

Texas: El Paso – Marty Robbins (1959/1959-60)
Perhaps the greatest story song of all time. Marty Robbins wrote and recorded “El Paso” in the Fall of 1959 for his Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album. It became a major country and pop hit and was the first number one pop song of the 1960s. Here is a live version:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ir0vUqGmUCU

Utah: Cell Block Tango – Chicago cast (original – 1975)
Found a few Utah songs but not many stand out for me. The “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago mentions Ezekiel Young from Salt Lake City. He’s the guy who can’t hold his arsenic. I guess he had it coming. Here is the movie version:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrrz54UtkCc

Vermont: Moonlight In Vermont – Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong (1956)
The song is a pretty clear winner–picking the artist is trickier, as many greats have covered this song. It was written by John Blackburn and Karl Suesdorff and originally recorded by Margaret Whiting in 1944. This version is from the 1956 album, Ella & Louis. Seven of eight participants chose this song, but many different versions were chosen.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esynsha53A8

Virginia: Who’ll Stop The Rain – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969/1970)
CCR was cranking out the hits between 1969 and 1971, but famously never had a number one song. “Who’ll Stop The Rain” and its B-side “Travelin’ Band” spent two weeks at number two in March 1970, one of five CCR records to peak at #2. This one had the great misfortune of being released at the same time of one of the greatest singles of all time, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Written about Fogerty’s trip to Woodstock. Here’s John Fogerty solo:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAgFR_wmLiY

Washington: Rock’n Me – Steve Miller (1976)
Could have gone Perry Como or a few other ways, but nothing grabbed me that much. The Tacoma reference wins it for Steve Miller. I’ve always wondered why the girls are warm in Northern California–some of those coastal towns are cold. Spent a week at #1 in November 1976. A live version:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5V7JKYaYeuM

West Virginia: Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver (1970/1971)
Easiest choice of the whole exercise. West Virginia even slapped “Almost Heaven” on its license plates. Released in April 1971, it took until late August to peak at #2 behind “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.” Here’s an unusual cover by Hermes House Band from 2001 that was a top 10 hit in the U.K. and other locations (my choice remains the John Denver version).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVz_IJoyO6Y

Wisconsin: The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald – Gordon Lightfoot (1975/1976)
“The ship was the pride of the American side.” Canadian Gordon Lightfoot wrote of the tragedy of the ship coming back from a mill in Wisconsin. “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” was hitting its peak one year after the tragedy. Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night” denied Lightfoot another number one hit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKJNBxDCMIs

Wyoming: The Beaches Of Cheyenne – Garth Brooks (1995/1996)
Garth Brooks was on fire in the 1990s, after Billboard’s soundscan technology revealed he was more popular than anyone had ever realized. The third single from Fresh Horses was a tragic song that hit number one on the country chart in March 1996. It’s hard to find Brooks on YouTube, but here’s a live performance that hasn’t yet been taken down.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiJWl9cFgJI

So that’s it. Thoughts or comments??

State Songs: New Mexico – South Carolina

Here are the next 10 states alphabetically, leaving only 10 to go. The basic idea—pick a favorite song that references the state or a place in the state. It must me a geographical reference — songs about a girl named Virginia don’t count for the state of Virginia. Common sense rules still apply. Here are my choices—about 10 people participated in this exercise.

This set of 10 included some of the tougher states to find songs.

Links to the first 30 states:
State Songs: Alabama – Georgia
State Songs: Hawaii – Maryland
State Songs: Maine – New Jersey

New Mexico: By The Time I Get to Phoenix – Glen Campbell (1967)
“By the time I make Albuquerque….”
Glen Campbell’s version of Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” is the most famous. Johnny Rivers recorded it in 1965. Campbell’s version peaked at #26 late in 1967 but went to #2 on the country chart. Campbell did win two Grammys for it.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUg5p3BncuQ

New York: Native New Yorker – Odyssey (1977/1977-78)

http://s1220.photobucket.com/user/wellens/media/wellens097/1548425_zpst2td11gi.jpg.html
http://s1220.photobucket.com/user/wellens/media/wellens097/1548425_zpst2td11gi.jpg.html


I am picking a disco song over classics by Frank Sinatra and Billy Joel, which may seem to take some audacity, but is more of a testament to how much I really like “Native New Yorker.” The song was written by Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell, who also wrote “A Lover’s Concerto” and “Working My Way Back To You.” “Native New Yorker” spent two weeks at #21 in February 1978 but has proved to be a disco standard.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1rH_iaZkv0

North Carolina: Wagon Wheel – Bob Dylan (1973); Old Crow Medicine Show (2004)
Originally a Dylan song, versions by Old Crow Medicine Show and later Darius Rucker have made this song more famous. I have to include the Old Crow Medicine Show because their verses include Raleigh, North Carolina when they expanded on the Dylan tune.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gX1EP6mG-E

North Dakota: I’ve Been Everywhere – Johnny Cash (1996)
I should credit Hank Snow, a Canadian who first sang the North American version. This song was originally about places in Australia. The good news is that Cash mentions Fargo. The bad news is that I can no longer use this song for a difficult state.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WoIfglXAbh0

Ohio: Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970)
Ohio, referring to the Kent State shootings earlier in 1970, was not a single from the Deja Vu album that was recorded before the shootings. That created an unusual chart situation in which “Teach Your Children” (from the album) and “Ohio” were climbing the charts almost simultaneously. For one week in August 1970, “Teach Your Children” was at #16 and “Ohio” at #17. The following week, “Ohio” peaked at #14 but the Neil Young protest song’s lasting impact is undeniable. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAis0cKjJFY

Oklahoma: Never Been To Spain – Three Dog Night (1971/1972)
There were a few possible selections for Oklahoma, including the musical and a Bacharach-David song by Gene Pitney. “Never Been To Spain” was written by Hoyt Axton, who also wrote the group’s biggest hit, “Joy To The World.” It was the second single from their Harmony album and spent two weeks at #5 in February 1972. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKSrHMqQTEI

Oregon: City Of Roses – Esperanza Spalding (2012)
A track from her Radio Music Society album. I have had the chance to see Esperanza Spalding in concert–she’s best known for an upset Best New Artist Grammy win. Pretty rare when that award goes to a chamber music artist. Very talented and deserving. City of Roses is Portland’s nickname and the song is a tribute to her childhood home.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjTUyFZqkP0

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Freedom – The Elton John Band (1974/1975)
I wonder what Bernie Taupin thought when Elton told him to write lyrics for a song to be called “Philadelphia Freedom.” Elton wrote it for Billie Jean King, who at that time played for the Philadelphia Freedoms of the World Team Tennis league. Taupin came up with some odd lyrics with a few gems–“the whippoorwill of freedom zapped me right between the eyes!” Spent two weeks at #1 in April 1975.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqnGeSFhKV4

Rhode Island: Sweet Rhode Island Red – Ike & Tina Turner (1974)
From the album of the same name from 1974, a decent track by Ike & Tina. There weren’t a lot of options for Rhode Island. Later covered by John Waite. Tina Turner once covered Waite’s biggest solo hit, “Missing You.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8H8y51GymqU

South Carolina: Dancin’, Shaggin’ On The Boulevard – Alabama (1997)
I considered “Greenville” by Lucinda Williams but all evidence I could find suggested inconclusively that the Greenville is not the one in South Carolina. There’s a “new country” song by Jason Aldean called “She’s Country” that clearly references South Carolina. I just can’t say I like that song though. That brought me to Alabama, a band who played a lot of clubs in Myrtle Beach. Since all of the places in the song are in Myrtle Beach, it counts. Hit #3 on the country chart in June 1997.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZYOJQ79DOw

State Songs: Maine – New Jersey

Let’s keep going. Here are the next 10 states. The challenge is to pick one song for every state and it has to clearly refer to a place in that state. Common sense rules still apply. Here are the middle 10 states alphabetically.

Massachusetts: Dirty Water – The Standells (1965/1966)
I lived in Boston for a few years and thus became very familiar with this song. That was before it was played at the end of every Red Sox home win, but radio there did play it quite a bit. It edges out Massachusetts by the Bee Gees for me. The Standells were an L.A. band who took this song to #11 in July 1966. Here is a televised lip-sync version.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5apEctKwiD8

Michigan: Dancing In The Street – Martha & the Vandellas (1964)
One person in the group posted this for Maryland and I resisted the temptation to say “coming soon to another state.” I originally had “Don’t Stop Believin'” penciled in here but I couldn’t pass on this Motown classic that references “the motor city.” It spent two weeks at #2 in October 1964 behind “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2wSiOs2rs8

Minnesota: Leader Of The Band – Dan Fogelberg (1981/1982)
“One went to Chicago and the other to St. Paul.” Fogelberg was on a soft rock roll in the early 1980s. “Leader Of The Band” hit number 9 in March 1982. He did better on the Adult Contemporary Chart, with two weeks at number one in February. It’s a bit sad–he wrote it for his father who had passed away, Even more sad that Fogelberg died young.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYFVEB4j6zI

Mississippi: Ode To Billie Joe – Bobbie Gentry (1967)
One of the greatest and most mysterious story songs of all time, the mentioned Tallahatchee was indeed in Mississippi. If that’s not enough, there is a reference to Tupelo as well. Gentry reached rare air with this megahit–she hit the top 20 on the pop, R&B and country charts. It spent four weeks at number one at the end of the summer of love….and oh, by the way……The Tallahatchie Bridge of which she sang collapsed in 1972.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZt5Q-u4crc

Missouri: Kansas City – Wilbert Harrison (1959)
Written by Leiber & Stoller in 1952, “Kansas City” has quite the history and has been covered many times. Wilbert Harrison has be far the most successful version, released in 1959. It spent two weeks at number one in May of that year.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlN-JA1u1JY

Montana: Come Monday – Jimmy Buffett (1974)
Not surprised to see that others agreed. This was a far bigger Easy Listening hit that a pop hit. Peaked at number three on the softer chart and at #30 on the Hot 100 in 1974. Buffett had not yet blown up into a big star by that point.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKGw_hrlaOY

Nebraska: You And I – Lady Gaga (2010/2011)
“You And I” was the fourth single from Born This Way. The song spent five weeks in the top 10 in the fall of 2011 and peaked at number six in September. She had already performed it on the Today show as early as July 2010. The single features Brian May on guitar but in her live shows, it’s a piano power ballad. Nebraska is mentioned six times. I’ll start with the studio/video version:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9YMU0WeBwU
Live on The View:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUliJz26clg

Nevada: Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash (1955/1956; 1968)
It’s one of Cash’s signature songs. Originally recorded and released on Sun Records in December 1955, the song was already a Cash classic when he released his live version in 1968. The live version hit #1 on the country chart and was a Grammy winner.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1xSt7iganA

New Hampshire: New Hampshire – Jason Reeves (2007)
I really couldn’t find much else. From the album The Magnificent Adventures Of Heartache (And Other Frightening Tales…). Reeves is best known for writing “Bubbly.” the Colbie Caillat song. That’s about all I’ve got.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=af3077-gVG8

New Jersey: Palisades Park – Freddy Cannon (1962)
Freddy Cannon’s biggest hit was intended to be a B-side. A DJ in Flint, Michigan played “Palisades Park” by mistake and several weeks later, Cannon had a #3 hit. Who wrote this unintended classic? Chuck Barris, the TV producer host who would later create The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show, was working for ABC in the early 1960s. One of his roles was to keep an eye on Dick Clark after the 1959 payola scandal. Barris wound up producing records and writing songs. “Palisades Park” was by far his most successful composition.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBgaf5gXJcc

So that’s it. Done with 30 states and 20 more to go. Thoughts and opinions?

 

State Songs: Hawaii – Maryland

Continuing with one song for every state. A reminder of the rules–the song must mention a place in that state, use common sense. And you can’t use the same song for more than one state. Here goes the next set of states, alphabetically.

Hawaii: California Girls – The Beach Boys (1965)
“I dig a French bikini on Hawaii island.” I like the sound of Hawaiian music and really liked the music from The Descendants, but I’m not familiar enough with it to find a song that has the geographical reference. Using the Beach Boys here is a bit of a cop out but it’s within the rules. Peaked at #3 late summer 1965. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oRb9-mypxg

Idaho: What’s Your Name – Lynyrd Skynyrd (1977/1978)
More people who participated used Lynyrd Skynyrd for Idaho than for Alabama, which is somewhat surprising. “It’s eight o’clock in Boise, Idaho” and for another weak state, that’s a winner. Peaked at #13 in March 1978. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlKJiZ8ymM4

Illinois: Bad, Bad Leroy Brown – Jim Croce (1973)
I was going to go with the Kankakee reference in “City of New Orleans” but upon further thought, I like this song better. It’s a childhood favorite that holds up. It spent two weeks at number one in July 1973. Croce died in a plane crash in September of that year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwPRm5UMe1A

Indiana: Indiana Wants Me – R. Dean Taylor (1970)
It’s a decent pop hit and I just couldn’t think of anything better. This was Canadian Taylor’s only U.S. hit and was supposedly inspired by Bonnie and Clyde. It hit number five in November 1970. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZL_tZxyBDo

Iowa: Iowa – Bing Crosby (1944)
Iowa was tough, real tough. This song was written by Meredith Willson, who also wrote “Gary, Indiana” and other songs from The Music Man. Willson was born in Iowa and he wrote a few songs about Iowa, including the fight songs for the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. I don’t think Bing released this single, but he had some fun with it on his radio show. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uSbp5NHaH0

Kansas: Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell (1968/1968-69)
Looks like two songs are popular for Kansas, including this one. I’m going with Campbell’s version. Written by Jimmy Webb about a lineman in Oklahoma, but Wichita fit the song better. “Wichita Lineman” peaked at #3 but hit number one on the country chart and the easy listening chart late in 1968. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9q20Hj4FWbc

Kentucky: Kentucky Rain – Elvis Presley (1969/1970)
Should be no surprise to anyone who paid attention to my Elvis countdown and my rain songs countdown–I like this song quite a bit. That’s Jerry Scheff on bass, Ronnie Milsap on piano and Eddie Rabbitt is the songwriter. It spent two weeks at #16 in March 1970.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YU2U3QAUGak

Louisiana: Walking To New Orleans – Fats Domino (1960)
Tough to choose just one for Louisiana. The Animals, Arlo Guthrie, CCR and Poco are among those with strong contenders. Few singers are as associated with one city as Fats Domino is with New Orleans. In 1960, he recorded this Bobby Charles composition. The New Orleans Symphony string section was brought in to add to the finished recording–a wise move. Peaked at #6 in August 1960. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-eWAuFmjN0

Maine: King Of The Road – Roger Miller (1964/1965)
Not surprisingly, others have chosen “King Of The Road” for Maine, we could have had back-to-back Roger Miller entries. Miller’s follow-up single, Engine Engine #9, mentions Baltimore. King Of The Road peaked at #4 in March 1965. Engine Engine #9 hit #7 in June. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0hI-8oybIU

Maryland: Moonlight Feels Right – Starbuck (1976)
In the end, however, I chose Starbuck over Roger Miller for Maryland. “Moonlight Feels Right” was Starbuck’s first and biggest hit. Spent two weeks at #3 in the summer of 1976. It references Ole Miss in addition to Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay. Here’s a recent live version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_10voFFPKaI

Comments or suggestions?

Beyonce and Prince dominate Top 40

You’ve never seen a Top 40 chart ever that was so dominated by two artists. In 1964, the Beatles had seven of the top 40 songs in April 1964, including the entire top five. That top five record may stay around a few more years or decades. However, both Lil Wayne and Taylor Swift have matched the seven simultaneous top 40 hits.

That is, until this week. You may not find it surprising that Prince has eight songs in the top 40 for the week ending May 14, 2016. His untimely and tragic death  brought back a lot of his catalog. So yes, Prince has broken the Beatles’ record with eight top 40 hits this week. Incredibly, in the same week, Beyonce also broke the record with eight top 40 hits of her own. Clearly her Lemonade album is generating a lot of buzz and a lot of downloads.

So here is the record setting Top 40, courtesy of Billboard.com.

Last week’s chart position in parentheses.

1. (1) Panda, Desiigner
2. (3) One Dance, Drake featuring WizKid & Kyla
3. (2) 7 Years, Lucas Graham
4. (17) Purple Rain, Prince and the Revolution
5. (5) I Took A Pill In Ibiza, Mike Posner
6. (4) Work, Rihanna featuring Drake
7. (6) Work From Home, Fifth Harmony featuring Ty Dolla $ign
8. (20) When Doves Cry, Prince
9. (8) Pillowtalk, Zayn
10. (-) Formation, Beyonce
11. (-) Sorry, Beyonce
12. (7) No, Meghan Trainor
13. (-) Hold Up, Beyonce
14. (14) Don’t Let Me Down, The Chainsmokers featuring Daya
15. (9) Love Yourself, Justin Bieber
16. (13) Stressed Out, twenty one pilots
17. (10) Me, Myself & I, G-Eazy x Bebe Rexha
18. (-) 6 Inch, Beyonce featuring The Weeknd
19. (12) My House, Flo Rida
20. (29) Little Red Corvette, Prince
21. (15) Dangerous Woman, Ariana Grande
22. (23) Needed Me, Rihanna
23. (28) Kiss, Prince and the Revolution
24. (11) Cake By The Ocean, DNCE
25. (39) Let’s Go Crazy, Prince and the Revolution
26. (16) Never Forget You, Zara Larsson & MNEK
27. (41) 1999, Prince
28. (-) Don’t Hurt Yourself, Beyonce featuring Jack White
29. (18) Low Life, Future featuring The Weeknd
30. (22) Oui, Jeremih
31. (21) Sorry, Justin Bieber
32. (19) 2 Phones, Kevin Gates
33. (-) Raspberry Beret, Prince and the Revolution
34. (24) Middle, DJ Snake featuring Bipolar Sunshine
35. (-) Freedom, Beyonce featuring Kendrick Lamar
36. (26) Close, Nick Jonas featuring Tove Lo
37. (-) Pray You Catch Me, Beyonce
38. (-) All Night, Beyonce
39. (-) I Would Die 4 U, Prince and the Revolution
40. (25) Pop Style, Drake featuring The Throne

There are Beyonce songs at #41 and #43, so had Prince not died, Beyonce would have 10 of the top 40!

I could only imagine how Casey Kasem would have counted this down if he were alive and doing his weekly countdown. A lot of current artists took big chart tumbles this week to make room for 16 Beyonce and Prince songs.