Music Throwback: We Are the World

I didn’t buy the single which was #1 for four weeks on the pop charts and two weeks on the soul charts.

This being the birthdays of both Ray Charles (b. 1930) and Bruce Springsteen (b. 1949), the song We Are the World came to mind. Both singers had significant solos on the track.

Let’s back up. Back in 1983-1985, there was a terrible famine in Ethiopia. In reaction to the television reports, Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats) and Midge Ure (Ultravox, Thin Lizzy) wrote Do They Know It’s Christmas? in 1984. “It was first recorded in a single day on 25 November 1984 by Band Aid, a supergroup put together by Geldof and Ure and consisting mainly of the biggest British and Irish musical acts at the time.” It was re-recorded three times: in 1989, 2004, and 2014 for various charities.

American singer Harry Belafonte thought that if a bunch of Brits could do this, what could Americans do? Initially thinking of a benefit concert, Belafonte was convinced by “Ken Kragen, who managed an impressive roster of talent, that they could raise more money and make a bigger impact with an original song; Belafonte agreed…”

From Rolling Stone: “‘Check your egos at the door’ read the sign on the front door of A&M Studios in Los Angeles on the night of January 28th, 1985. Producer Quincy Jones had placed it there because dozens of the nation’s biggest singers were walking through that door, and he had exactly one night to cut a record that would save lives by raising money to help alleviate a famine in Ethiopia.

“The result, USA for Africa’s We Are the World, was released… on March 7th, 1985, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. By all accounts, some people, especially the rockers, didn’t particularly like the song. But it was Springsteen who refused to undermine the process and kept that faction in check.

Here are the lyrics, with indicators of the soloists.

The success of the Band Aid and USA for Africa singles led to benefit concerts such as Live Aid, also in 1985 and the various Farm Aid concerts.

I didn’t buy the single which was #1 for four weeks on the pop charts and two weeks on the soul charts (and #76 on the country charts) and sold four million copies in the US alone. I bought the album, which also sold well, but was lightly regarded.
Listen to:

Do They Know It’s Christmas (1984) here or here

We Are the World here or here (long version)

Queen at Live Aid here

We are the World (2010), for Haiti here

The making of We Are the World here

Music Throwback Saturday: I’ll Be Good To You

I was in a doctor’s office back in October 2015 which played surprisingly good, and eclectic, music.

Quincy_Jones_-_Back_On_The_Block-frontBack in 1989, I picked up this album produced by Quincy Jones, called Back on the Block. “The album features legendary musicians and singers from across three generations, including Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Joe Zawinul, Ice-T, Big Daddy Kane, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, George Benson, Luther Vandross, Dionne Warwick, Barry White, Take 6, Bobby McFerrin, Al Jarreau, Al B. Sure!, James Ingram, and El DeBarge.”

The album went to #9 on the Billboard album charts and was so eclectic that it hit #1 on both the Top Contemporary Jazz Albums and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts.

The first single of the collection was I’ll Be Good To You, featuring Ray Charles and Chaka Khan. It was a hit, #18 on the US pop charts, and #1 for two weeks on the rhythm and blues charts in 1990.

I was in a doctor’s office back in October 2015 which played surprisingly good, and eclectic music. I hear I’ll be Good To You, but it’s surely not the Quincy version. It turns out that it was by The Brothers Johnson, who I’ve mentioned on this blog before.

How did I miss this version, written by the Brothers Johnson (George and Louis) and Sonora Sam, and produced by Quincy? It got up to #3 for three weeks in 1976, as well as #1 on the r&b charts.

I’ll Be Good To You:
Quincy Jones, Ray Charles & Chaka Khan

The Brothers Johnson
The Brothers Johnson
The Brothers Johnson on Midnight Special

Quincy Jones turns 83 on March 14.

Music Throwback Saturday: I Don’t Need No Doctor

It’s quite likely that I heard the Humble Pie version before I heard the Charles iteration,

ashford-and-simpsonAs is my custom, I was playing a bunch of the music of Ray Charles, in honor of his birthday on September 23. (It was also Bruce Springsteen’s birthday that same day.)

One of the songs on a greatest hits album was I Don’t Need No Doctor, written by the great Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, with Jo Armstead. But I remembered a very different version in my LP collection.

Humble Pie was “an English rock band… during 1969. They are known as one of the… first supergroups… The original band lineup featured lead vocalist and guitarist Steve Marriott from the Small Faces, vocalist and guitarist Peter Frampton from The Herd, former Spooky Tooth bassist Greg Ridley and a seventeen-year-old drummer, Jerry Shirley.

“In 1971 Humble Pie released… a live album recorded at the Fillmore East in New York entitled Performance Rockin’ the Fillmore. The live album reached No. 21 on the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold by the RIAA… But Frampton left the band by the time the album was released and went on to enjoy success as a solo artist.”

It’s quite likely that I heard the Humble Pie version on college radio, or some other FM radio hit before I heard the Charles iteration when I was listening primarily to Top 40 back in my hometown, since Ray’s take didn’t chart high enough.

There are several more versions of the song – The Sonics, The Chocolate Watch Band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, metal bands W.A.S.P. and Great White, The Nomads, Styx, John Scofield, John Mayer, and jazz singer Roseanna Vitro, among others.

I Don’t Need No Doctor:
Ray Charles, #72 US pop, 45 R&B, 1966
Humble Pie, #73 US pop, 1971 (Billboard Hot 100)

Put Billy Preston in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

on what would have been Billy Preston’s 65th birthday, I’m making a pitch for him to make it into the rock hall as a session musician.

Billy Preston, George Harrison, President Gerald Ford, all deceased.

While I’m less and less caring about who gets selected for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the Performer category, I’ve become more and more interested in categories such as early influences and non-performers. I’m especially intrigued by the sideman category since Leon Russell was inducted in 2011. After all, he was a performer of some commercial success, but not enough to make it as a performer. But he played on a lot of albums for other artists and was inducted based on that.

The late Billy Preston is similarly situated. He had greater singles success than Russell, with songs such as Outa-Space, Will It Go Round in Circles, Space Race, and Nothing from Nothing, though less so with his albums. But he was well known as a session musician. “Preston collaborated with some of the greatest names in the music industry, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Band, Nat King Cole, Little Richard, Eric Burdon, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, George Harrison, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, King Curtis, Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin, the Jackson 5, Quincy Jones, Mick Jagger, Peter Frampton, Phyllis Hyman, Richie Sambora, Sly Stone, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Norah Jones, and Ringo Starr.” Not to mention gospel great Mahalia Jackson. Both Russell and Preston played on the legendary Concert for Bangladesh.

The label on the “Get Back” single credits “The Beatles with Billy Preston”. Here’s the famed Beatles doing Get Back, live on the rooftop.

More Preston appearances:

Ray Charles & Norah Jones-Here We Go Again. Billy on organ.

John Lennon-God. Billy on piano.

Johnny Cash-Personal Jesus. Billy on piano.

Ringo Starr-I’m the Greatest. Billy on organ.

But probably my favorite piece is Billy at the organ on The Rolling Stones-I Got The Blues from the album Sticky Fingers.

So, on what would have been Billy Preston’s 65th birthday, I’m making a pitch for him to make it into the rock hall as a session musician.

Oh, and here’s the first song from Billy’s first Apple album, That’s The Way God Planned It, a song called Do What You Want To.

 

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