Monday, January 31, 2011

Singles Serving

Yasmin - On My Own. What a treat! Downbeat trip-hop hasn't produced a single this great since they heyday of Massive Attack. The 21 year-old London DJ made her first vocal appearance on last year's "Runaway," by Devlin, who also has a new single this week.

Jessie J (feat. B.o.B) - Price Tag. "Do It Like a Dude" isn't even 2 months old, and is still in the top 10, but that's not stopping the British singer from a quick follow-up. This collaboration with American rapper B.o.B shows a softer side to Jessie J, offering up a mid-tempo, soulful groove.

Rihanna - S&M. After the more laid back sound of "What's My Name," Rihanna is back with something faster, harder and dirtier for Loud's third single. It's a great song, blending sharp beats and fuzzy synths with Rihanna's most assertive vocal yet. But will FCC-wary radio embrace a song about kinky sex? After a slow start, the track is finally in the top 40 at pop radio.

Devlin (feat. Labrinth) - Let It Go. British grime rapper Devlin teams up with Labrinth for this third single from his album Bud, Sweat and Tears, delivering a darker, funkier track than we got with "Runaway." It's okay, but not a showstopper and not as good as "Runaway."

Tinchy Stryder (feat. Melanie Fiona) - Let It Rain. After breaking out big in 2009 and scoring two #1 hits, Stryder has had a hard time finding a hit from his recent album, Third Strike. This fourth single teams him with Canadian R&B singer Melanie Fiona, a Grammy nominee last year for her hit "It Kills Me." The song features the usual layers of processed synthesizers and beats we've come from to expect from Stryder. As such, this continues his trend of releasing unremarkable singles.

Music of 1991: January

Madonna's 1990 compilation, The Immaculate Collection, officially closed the book on her '80s songs, a decade-defining body of work that gave the singer seven #1 hits (the set also contained her first '90s #1, "Vogue"). It also pointed to way to her '90s future, with two new distinctly different tracks that basically served as a preview of Erotica. First up was the Lenny Kravitz-produced "Justify My Love," a rather gutsy move from a pop singer to release an almost solely spoken-word track. Despite its oversexualized tone, radio embraced it anyway, sales were strong, and the fact that MTV banned its even racier video, meant that Madonna was able to successfully market the first music video single for commercial purchase. The song was the first Hot 100 #1 hit of 1991 and Madonna's ninth.

"Love Will Never Do (Without You)" was the seventh and final single released from Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814. Like the previous six, it reached the top 5, and also hit #1, becoming the album's fourth #1 hit and Jackson's fifth overall. As a run of hits, the album's singles reached 1-2-1-4-2-1-1, making it arguably the most successful pop album of all time in terms of generating hits. I've always thought the song sounded like it should be a duet based on its arrangement and theme, a fact I've later confirmed that the producers toyed with. Thus Jackson sings the first verse in a lower octave, like it's the "guy" part, and the second one higher, as the "girl" part. Even without some hot male singer in tow, the song works great. It also had a notable video, shot by famed photographer Herb Ritts, that showcased Jackson's recently toned physique.

R&B group Surface had their biggest hit in January 1991. They'd reached the top 5 in 1989 with "Shower Me with Your Love," but "The First Time" became their first and only #1 hit. It's a mellow R&B love song typical of the time. I remember I used to really like this song, but hearing it now, I don't find it particularly exceptional. The group would have one more top 40 hit later in the year with "Never Gonna Let You Down" (#17).

Damn Yankees was a hard rock supergroup formed in 1990 that had a decent run of hits on the rock mainstream chart. On the Hot 100, "High Enough" was far and away their most successful single, reaching #3 in January 1991. The song features a robust guitar and strings melody. Listening to it now, it's surprising they never had another big hit, as they continued releasing singles into 1993 (they came close with "Where You Goin' Now" in 1992, which reached #20).

In the late '80s and '90s, New Edition spawned a whole family tree of musical acts, as the group's demise led its members to either go solo (Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill) or form a new group (1990's hit act Bell Biv Devoe), and even nurture new acts Boyz II Men and Another Bad Creation. Among the soloists, Ralph Tresvant had the least successful chart run, but did manage to score one big hit, "Sensitivity," which hit #4. It was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who would bring Tresvant on for their 1992 soundtrack to the movie Mo' Money.

In the late '90s, it was common for labels to promote albums with songs not released as singles, so much so that Billboard re-engineered the Hot 100 in 1998 to account for this. Back in 1991 though, it was a novel concept, and in fact the practice can probably be traced to early 1991, during which there were two songs that became major hits without a accompanying physical single. The first was The Simpsons' "Do the Bartman," a promotional tie-in to the popular Fox comedy, which at the time was in its second season (it is now in its 23rd year, making it the longest running American sitcom in television history). "Do the Bartman" was not released as a single in the U.S., but despite that, hit #9 on the pop airplay chart, and its video was a major hit on MTV. The song was written and produced by Michael Jackson, a fan of the show, and it sounds like he's doing the chorus backup vocals too. In countries like Britain, Australia and Ireland where the song was released as a single, it became a #1 hit.

Teen pop sensation Debbie Gibson was 21 years old at the start of 1991. As a full-fledged adult then, she released her third album, Anything Is Possible, still pop but featuring a more mature sound than her previous efforts. As satisfying as the title track was, it was the album's only top 40 hit, and not a major one at that, peaking at #26. This was Gibson's ninth and final top 40 hit. I think this is a cool song and wish it had been a bigger hit for her.

Cher had a movie-music crossover hit with her remake of the '60s song "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" from her film Mermaids. Although the song performed poorly in the U.S., peaking at #33; however, it was a major hit internationally, including a #1 hit in Britain and other European countries.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

UK Singles Chart, February 4, 2011

1. We R Who We R - Ke$ha

American pop singer Ke$ha knocks Bruno Mars from #1 this week with "We R Who We R." It's her first #1 hit in the UK, after breaking out big last year with 3 top 10 hits and 3 others that peaked within the top 20. This is the third #1 hit in a row that was also a #1 hit in the US. The last time there were so many consecutive British #1s that were also American #1s was 1987, when Madonna's "Who's That Girl" started a run of four consecutive singles that were also U.S. #1s, followed by Los Lobos' "La Bamba," Michael Jackson's "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" and Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up."

5. Blind Faith - Chase & Status (feat. Liam Bailey)

British electronic duo Chase & Status score their second top 10 hit on the eve of the release of their second album, No More Idols. It's a great dance single, featuring an easily recognizable sample of Loleatta Holloway's "Love Sensation." Their album is chock full of big-name guests (Dizzee Rascal, Tinie Tempah, White Lies, Clare Maguire and Cee Lo Green), so I expect there will be more singles to come.

10. Yeah 3x - Chris Brown

Chris Brown scores his fifth top 10 hit with "Yeah 3x," the lead single from his upcoming album, F.A.M.E.

14. Let It Rain - Tinchy Stryder (feat. Melanie Fiona)

Tinchy Stryder climbs 11 notches to #14 with "Let It Rain," the fourth single from his album Third Strike. After missing the top 10 and even the top 20 with his last two releases, Stryder looks to be turning things around with this track. It gets its official single release tomorrow, so perhaps it will be top 10 next weekend.

17. Higher - Taio Cruz

Taio Cruz climbs 19 notches to #17 with "Higher." So far, the song has been charting in its original album version, but next week should chart as the single version which came out this weekend. As a single, there are different versions featuring Kylie Minogue and Travie McCoy, both of which are available for purchase. Although the Kylie version has been promoted as the "main" version in Europe, the Travie McCoy version is the one getting played on stations like Radio 1 and Capital FM. Presumably, the sales of all these versions will be combined next week, so it will be impossible to tell whether the Kylie, Travie or original version is really the most popular.

21. F**kin' Perfect - Pink

Pink debuts at #21 with "F**kin Perfect," the follow-up to "Raise Your Glass," well ahead of its Feb. 20 release date. "Raise Your Glass" was a #1 hit in the US but underperformed in the UK, peaking at #13.

31. The Roller - Beady Eye
32. Post Break Up Sex - The Vaccines

Rock music seeks to be suffering on the charts of late. I'd have expected both of these to be easy top 10s, if not #1 contenders, but instead they can't even make the top 30. Wow.

36. Someone Like You - Adele

So hot is Adele's new album that its second single, "Someone Like You," is already charting as a track download. This is her sixth top 40 hit. Adele's new album, 21, is #1 on the albums chart this week, while her last album, 2008's 19, is #4, giving her the rare distinction of having two albums in the top 5, neither of which are greatest hits releases. I believe the last time such a thing happened was early 1999, when The Corrs were in the top 5 several times with both their newer album, Talk on Corners, and their older album, Forgiven, Not Forgotten.

New Albums, February 2011

February, while not being super-exciting, has some interesting releases, particularly from the now Noel-less Oasis renamed as Beady Eye, an acclaimed new album from PJ Harvey, and the debuts from James Blake and Alexis Jordan.


Beady Eye - Different Gear, Still Speeding (2/28). Brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher were never known for having an amicable relationship. Their infamous spats were the fiery undertow of Oasis, the Britpop band that ruled British music during the mid-to-late '90s and continued to be popular for most of the last decade. Two years ago though Noel had finally had enough and exited the band after a particularly heated exchange with his brother. The remaining band members have decided to continue under a new name, Beady Eye, signaling a fresh start, although from the likes of first single "The Roller," not a new sound.

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake (2/13). The acclaimed British singer-songwriter releases her eighth album, the follow-up to her 2007 album, White Chalk. Harvey has said this album's themes are more political and historical. Critical reaction to the album has already been very positive: Q Magazine awarded the album its rare highest 5-star rating, calling it a stunning "state-of-the-nation" address.

James Blake (2/7). British electronic music artist James Blake releases his self-titled solo album next month. The musician ranked second in the BBC Sounds of 2011 poll and achieved modest chart success with his recent single, "Limit to Your Love." Blake has said the album's sound, called "post dubstep," was influenced by The XX, which is a good sign, considering that album was one of my favorites of 2009 (it went on to win last year's Mercury Award and is a nominee for the Brit Award for Best British Album).

Alexis Jordan (2/27). Everytime I hear a new Alexis Jordan song, I fear it's going to be pop/R&B, and the dance song is just a remix. Refreshingly, Jordan appears to actually be a dance artist, not another urban clone, despite having come to the limelight under the guidance of Stargate and Jay-Z. Her first single, "Happiness," was a #1 US dance hit and a #3 single in Britain. Her second single, "Good Girl," is dance pop too, although I wouldn't be surprised if her debut hits on some pop, R&B and ballads too.

Other Releases

Ricky Martin - Musica + Alma + Sexo (2/1). The latin pop singer, who (finally) came out of the closet last year, releases his ninth album. This one is mostly Spanish with a couple of English tracks. The album is produced by Desmond Child, the guy behind such Martin hits as "Livin' La Vida Loca" and "She Bangs."

The Streets - Computers and Blues (2/7). Mike Skinner releases his fifth and reportedly final album under the name The Streets. Although once quite popular, The Streets' star has faded significantly, as this album arrives with little fanfare. Claire Maguire does a guest vocal on one track.

Now That's What I Call Music, Vol. 37 (U.S. Edition) (2/8). Wow. I hadn't realized this series is up to #38 already. This edition kicks off with seven recent #1 hits from Eminem & Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, P!nk, Ke$ha, Rihanna and Far*East Movement.

Roxette - Charm School (2/11). Swedish pop duo offers its first album in 10 years. Will it be a comeback for them?

Bright Eyes - The People's Key (2/15). Conor Oberst's band releases its 10th album. It's described as having a more electronic sound, akin to the band's 2005 release Digital Ash in a Digital Urn.

Akon - Akonic (2/21). His fourth album, featuring recent single "Angel."

Thirteen Senses - Crystal Sounds (2/21). Third album from the British rock group.

Clare Maguire - Light After Dark (2/27). Fifth-place artist in the BBC Sounds of 2011 poll releases her debut album.

Despite February being a bit dull, March promises the be very exciting, with new albums by Kanye West & Jay-Z, R.E.M., Elbow, Pet Shop Boys, The Naked and Famous, Avril Lavigne, The Vaccines, Katy B, Jessie J, The Strokes and Britney Spears.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Essential Albums of the 80s: Paula Abdul - Forever Your Girl (1988)

Today, Paula Abdul is best known as a former judge on the hit TV reality show American Idol, but she first came to fame as a dance pop artist in the late '80s. The album was a major success, generating four #1 hits--a record for a debut (shared with Mariah Carey)--but its success wasn't apparent at first.

When initially released in the summer of 1988, Forever Your Girl generated little interest. Its first single was a minor hit, charting just outside the top 40 but making the R&B top 10. Its follow up, "The Way that You Love Me" fared worse, peaking at #88, although it too did well on the R&B chart. With the release of the album's third single, "Straight Up," Abdul's popularity finally took off, with the single climbing to #1. This success was helped in part by the song's cool video, a black & white dance routine of a video directed by David Fincher and featuring guest Arsenio Hall. Fincher also directed Abdul's next three videos, including "Cold Hearted," an homage to Bob Fosse's All That Jazz. Most of her videos featured choreographed dancing, no surprise given that Abdul had been a dance choreographer for the L.A. Lakers' cheerleaders and later Janet Jackson's Control-era videos.

I received Forever Your Girl as a Christmas present in 1989 (along with Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 and Milli Vanilli's Girl You Know It's True). At the time, I was a bit disappointed with it because most of the singles sounded different on the album because they had been remixed as they were released. This is particularly true of "Forever Your Girl," which has more keyboard layers in its original form and less interesting drum programming, and "Opposites Attract," which lacked the MC Skat Kat rap.

The album is mostly upbeat save for one ballad, "Next to You," which isn't particularly memorable. What is memorable are the songs that you know the most, such as the minor-keyed dance pop classics "Straight Up" and "Cold Hearted," both produced by Elliot Wolff and Keith Cohen with prominent bass keyboards and sharp beats. And although it wasn't one of the biggest hits, I've always been partial to the sleek opening track, "The Way that You Love Me."

Best: Straight Up, Cold Hearted, Opposites Attract, The Way that You Love Me, Forever Your Girl

Friday, January 28, 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, February 5, 2011

1. Grenade - Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars' "Grenade" returns to #1 for a third week, it's third time at #1. It's fairly common for singles to fall from #1 and return again once, but twice? That's not so common. In fact, "Grenade" is only the fifth single to ever do it. Quite remarkably, it happened three times in 2008, twice by the same artist, as T.I.'s "Whatever U Like" and "Live Your Life" both had three runs at #1, along with Leona Lewis's "Bleeding Love." Prior the that, there hadn't been a three-turns-at-number-one #1 hit since the end of 1978/beginning of 1979, when Chic's "Le Freak" spent 1 week, then 2 weeks, then 3 weeks at #1.

3. Black and Yellow - Wiz Khalifa
4. Tonight - Enrique Iglesias

Two singles both move up two places this week, emerging as potential #1 contenders. This week "Tonight" becomes Iglesias's fifth top 5 hit.

6. Hold It Against Me - Britney Spears

It's massive first-week sales surge having abated, Britney falls to #6 this week, but she's still gaining heavily at radio, earning this week's Airplay Gainer award. This could certainly return to #1 in the next few weeks.

10. Hey Baby (Drop It to the Floor) - Pitbull (feat. T-Pain)

After scoring two of his own top 10 hits in 2009, Pitbull's biggest 2010 were as a guest on other artists' hits, namely Enrique Iglesias's "I Like It" and Usher's "DJ Got Us Falling in Love." In 2011, he returns to the top 10 with his own hit, "Hey Baby," his fifth appearance in the top 10. It's a been awhile since we've seen T-Pain in the top 10. I think the last time was 2009 as a guest rapper on Jamie Foxx's "Blame It."

11. F**ckin' Perfect - P!nk

Pink's new single is proving to be just as massive as her last, climbing 19 places to #11 this week and earning the Digital Gainer. It's currently #1 at iTunes. On the radio, the song is just "Perfect," with "less than" repeated in the place of "fuckin'" for obvious reasons. Surely this will become Pink's 11th top 10 hit next week.

20. Fuck You! - Cee Lo Green

Speaking of the F-word, Cee Lo Green's profane hit climbs back into the top 20 this week, riding a second wave of popularity. The track is #25 and rising on the Mediabase top 40 radio chart. Although the song was instantly popular abroad when released in the fall, it wasn't as big in the US--charting more as a novelty than a true hit. With the exposure from Glee and its Grammy Award nominations, the song has demonstrated longevity and enduring popularity beyond that of a chart novelty.

37. Moment 4 Life - Nicki Minaj (feat. Drake)

Nicki Minaj scores her fourth top 40 hit from her debut album, Pink Friday, as "Moment 4 Life" climbs 7 spots to #37. Adding Minaj's six guest appearances makes this her 10th top 40 hit overall.

39. Don't You Wanna Stay - Jason Aldean (feat. Kelly Clarkson)

Kelly Clarkson scores her latest top 40 hit under somewhat unusual circumstances, appearing as a guest singer on country star Jason Aldean's latest hit. Aldean first appeared on the country chart in 2005 and he's become a major force in recent years, with his last five singles hitting either #1 or #2 on the country tracks chart. Clarkson of course is known as a major pop star, but she's no stranger to country. The Texas native had a #2 country hit with Reba McEntire in 2007, singing a country version of Clarkson's 2005 pop hit "Because of You." This is Clarkson's 12th top 40 hit and the 5th for Aldean, whose biggest hit was "Big Green Tractor," which reached #18.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Singles Serving

Beady Eye - The Roller. Formed from the ashes of Oasis, who disbanded once Noel Gallagher finally abandoned ship, the rest of the guys return sounding just as great as they did with Noel. This feels like their typical style of guitar-driven, pop-leaning rock. Nicely retro, good melody and you'd think ready to hit the charts, although at midweek, this looks like it's not generating very much interest. Well, I like it.

The Vaccines - Post Break Up Sex. This British rock group placed third in the BBC Sounds of 2011 poll. This is their second single, preceding the March release of their debut album, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? They show a lot of promise with this song, a fun, upbeat number that wastes no time getting to the hooky chorus.

Chase & Status feat. Liam Bailey - Blind Faith. Yet another dance track to utilize the classic 1980 dance hit "Love Sensation" by Loleatta Holloway, Chase & Status score with this new composition, which looks set to become their biggest hit yet.

Ke$ha - Blow.
Ke$ha scored her second-biggest hit with "We R Who We R," which she follows up with this second release from the Cannibal EP. While not as instantly likable as her last hit, it's not bad, and certainly follows in the same vein of electro-dance-pop that we've heard from her before, perhaps even more club-oriented this time. This one is produced by Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Benny Blanco and Kool Kojak.

Mann - Buzzin'.
As usual, you can tell by the opening musical "tag" that super producer J.R. Rotem helmed this surprisingly fun hip-hop track that samples the classic '80s track "I Can't Wait," a top 5 hit by the Portland-based Nu Shooz. Great choice.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Nominees - Suprises and Snubs

It's the President's speech taking precedence this evening, but this morning was all about The King's Speech, snagging 12 Oscar nominations--the most of any film this year--including best picture. My predictions were pretty good this year. I was spot on for actor, actress, supporting actress, cinematography, and animated feature, and one away for picture. Here are my biggest surprises and snubs:

Surprise: A strong showing for 127 Hours. I thought this film would get 3 nominations, but it ended up with 6, including adapted screenplay, score and editing.

Snub: Black Swan received far fewer nominations than I thought it would--just 5, whereas I thought it would get 10. I found the film's artistry and sound to be quite important in creating the environment for telling this chilling story, so I expected it would get nods in categories like art direction and sound, but apparently it didn't catch the eye of the academy members. I wasn't even expecting a nod for Mila Kunis or Barbara Hershey, although I would have loved to have been surprised by that.

Surprise: John Hawkes manages to get a support actor nod for Winter's Bone, as the first creepy but later redeeming uncle of the main character.

Snub: Thus Andrew Garfield was shut out of the supporting actor race, although The Social Network still managed to get eight nominations, which is pretty good for a non-period piece.

Surprise: Joel and Ethan Coen snag a nod for best director. In fact, True Grit was rather warmly embraced with the second-most nominations (10). It's young star, Hailee Steinfield also received a nod in the supporting actress category, answering the question about whether the academy would consider her a lead or supporting player.

Snub: Despite it receiving eight nods, Inception's director, Christopher Nolan, was shut out of the directors' race.

Snub/surprise: Waiting for Superman was the year's most popular documentary, so I'm very surprised it didn't receive a nomination for documentary feature. Even its song "Shine" was on the possible list for best song and didn't make the cut.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Oscar Nominee Predictions

I can't resist trying to predict the Oscar nominees. I guess I like to play oracle. Here are my thoughts for this year. Watch the nominees live tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. EST.


Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
The Town
Toy Story 3
True Grit

With 10 slots to fill, the pool of likely nominees feels really small this year. In fact, convention wisdom says there are 11 films for the 10 slots this year. The Social Network and The King's Speech are of course the frontrunners to win, and Black Swan, The Fighter, and Inception are shoo-ins to be nominated. In the old days, those would be the five nominees. Toy Story 3, True Grit, and The Kids Are All Right are looking pretty likely. That leaves 3 films vying for the last 2 slots. Given last year's outcome, I'm going with the more convention two, 127 Hours and The Town, leaving grim indie Winter's Bone off the list. Wouldn't it be fun if something from left field got nominated that no one expects, like Another Year or The Ghost Writer? It can happen. There are always surprises.

Spoiler: I'd love to see Blue Valentine snag a nomination. It's a difficult, but beautiful film, acted with such skill by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Intimate, heartbreaking stuff.


Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

They might as well just give it to Colin Firth now--we all know he is going to win. James Franco looks like a sure thing to be nominated, and Jeff Bridges and Jesse Eisenberg are likely. I had Robert Duvall (Get Low) on my list until today--I've finally succumbed to those who think Javier Bardem has the momentum to make the cut instead (I haven't seen either film). I think Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter) is going to be left out.

Spoiler: Again, I'd love to see some love for Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine. Perhaps instead of Jesse Eisenberg or Jeff Bridges.

Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, The Fighter
Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

Bale will probably win in this race that comes down to him and Rush. Mark Ruffalo sure better be nominated, and I think Jeremy Renner will be too, although there is slight chance for his co-star Pete Postlethwaite (The Town) to get a posthumous nomination. If that happens, or the more likely scenario of John Hawkes (Winter's Bone) being nominated, then Garfield might find himself off the list.

Spoiler: Justin Timberlake proved his acting chops in The Social Network, holding his own against Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield. Could it lead to his first Oscar nomination?


Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

The ladies are tough this year, which is why I grouped them together. While Annette Bening and Natalie Portman are sure to duke it out for the win, it gets murkier after that. The problem is that there are three potential performers, none of the frontrunners, who could possibly be nominated in either the lead or supporting category. Although they may be campaigning for one or the other, that doesn't matter to the Oscar voters, who choose which category a performance gets nominated in. Recall Kate Winslet a few years ago. Her studios pushed her for lead actress for Revolutionary Road and supporting actress in The Reader, presumably so that she could be nominated for both and avoid canceling herself out. Instead, voters nominated her performance in The Reader as a lead. The three performances this year are Hailee Steinfield (True Grit), who's being pushed in the supporting category for what is really a lead role; Lesley Manville (Another Year), who I've seen mentioned in both categories (I haven't seen the film); and Julianne Moore (The Kids Are All Right), who is falling prey to sexism if people see her performance as a supporting one (if her character was a man, there would be no question it is a lead role). In the end, I think they could all lose out in the lead race, as voters go for performances for which there is no confusion: Kidman, Lawrence, and (hopefully) Williams.

Spoiler: Once again in a year where Annette Bening is getting major Oscar buzz, Hilary Swank (Conviction) could swoop in and spoil it all. For a real offbeat nomination, how about Noomi Rapace for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Adams, Leo, and Carter are the frontunners here, and I'm sure they will all be recognized. I think Steinfeld will end up here anyway (I know I said Oscar voters weren't fooled by Winslet, but they have been fooled in the past, like nominating The English Patient's Juliette Binoche in supporting, even though she had more screen time than "lead" Kristin Scott Thomas). Also, I haven't seen Animal Kingdom, but Jacki Weaver seems to have good buzz.

Spoiler: Would love to see a nod for Black Swan's Mila Kunis or Barbara Hershey. Both were great.


Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David O. Russell, The Fighter

This is the Directors' Guild lineup, which is a safe bet, but if there is a deviation from that, perhaps the Coen Brothers (True Grit) or Danny Boyle (127 Hours) could find a spot on the list.

Adapted Screenplay

Social Network
The Town
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Original Screenplay

Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech


Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
The Social Network


Black Swan
The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

Art Direction

Alice in Wonderland
Black Swan
The King's Speech
True Grit

Costume Design

Alice in Wonderland
Black Swan
The King's Speech
The Tempest
True Grit


Alice in Wonderland
Barney's Version
The Wolfman

Visual Effects

Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter 7.1
Iron Man 2
Tron Legacy

Sound Editing

Black Swan
Toy Story 3
Tron Legacy
True Grit

Sound Mixing

Black Swan
Shutter Island
The Social Network
True Grit


Alice in Wonderland
How to Train Your Dragon
The King's Speech
The Social Network


"You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," Burlesque
"If I Rise," 127 Hours
"I See the Light," Tangled
"We Belong Together," Toy Story 3
"Shine," Waiting for Superman

Animated Feature

How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

Documentary Feature

Exit through the Gift Shop
Inside Job
The Tillman Story
Waiting for Superman

Sunday, January 23, 2011

UK Singles Chart, January 29, 2011

It's a pretty exciting chart this week, with half of the top 10 consisting of new entries this week.

1. Grenade - Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars is hot, hot, hot this week. His hit "Grenade" holds off a formidable challenge from Adele to remain the #1 single for a second week. Reportedly, he moved another 100,000+ copies, which is truly amazing for a January release in its second week. Mars scores a chart triple this week, also topping the airplay chart and the albums chart with Doo Wops & Hooligans, which was released last year in the US but held from release in the UK until this last week.

2. Rolling in the Deep - Adele

With Mars at #1, British pop singer Adele must be content to score the second #2 hit of her career, as her new single, "Rolling in the Deep" slides into the runner-up slot. Early in the week it was #1, but could not hold off the enduring popularity of "Grenade." Although it's been 3 years since the release of her last album, Adele has not been far from the singles chart. In fact, she's been in the top 10 most of the last few months with her single "Make You Feel My Love," which has benefited from appearances in various reality shows, most notably The X Factor. Although there was some fear the sustained attention for that single would detract from this new one, those fears appear to have been unwarranted, as Adele manages to score her third top 10 hit. Her new album, 21, is out tomorrow.

4. Coming Home - Diddy-Dirty Money (feat. Skylar Grey)

Sean Combs' new group, Diddy-Dirty Money, debuts at #4 with its first single, "Coming Home." I'm a bit surprised to see this chart so high, as it's not really taken off in the US.

5. Traktor - Wretch 32 (feat. L)

Debuting at #5 is the first single from another act in this year's roundup of the hot new acts of 2011. Wretch 32 is a British grime rapper from London and "Traktor" is a pretty cool slice of hip-hop, with some surprisingly tuneful turns and a cool sample of the infamous Pulp Fiction instrumental, "Misirlou."

6. Hold It Against Me - Britney Spears

Britney Spears debuts at #6 with her latest, "Hold It Against Me." Although this was originally slated for February, the digital release was moved up to this week, likely to ward off piracy, since the track was available in other countries last week. Although it's caused quite a ruckus in the US, where it debuted at #1 this week, its reception is significantly less instant in Britain, where it debuts at a respectable but not earth-shattering #6. Britney's recent chart reception in the UK has been muted in compared to that in the US. All of her Blackout singles charted at the same or a higher position as they did in the US; however most of her singles from Circus on have charted lower in the UK than in the US.

8. Like U Like - Aggro Santos (feat. Kimberley Walsh)

Another British rap act debuts in the top 10. This is the second top 10 hit for Aggro Santos, following "Candy" which hit #5 last year. That single featured vocals from Kimberly Wyatt, while this single features another Kim, Kimberley Walsh, best known as a member of Girls Aloud. After Cheryl Cole and Nadine Coyle, she's the third member of the group to chart on her own, although as a featured vocalist, it's still not a solo credit for her.

14. Now or Never - Jodie Connor (feat. Wiley)

Jodie Connor scores her first solo hit with "Now or Never," which debuts at #15. Connor was the vocalist on Roll Deep's #1 hit from last year, "Good Times." Rapper Wiley, a member of Roll Deep, makes a guest appearance here.

19. Make You Feel My Love - Adele

Getting well out of the way of Adele's new single, her old one, "Make You Feel My Love," makes a 12 spot dive to #19 this week.

29. What the Hell - Avril Lavigne

She's been away too long it appears, as the release of a new single from the once mighty chart force Avril Lavigne seems to garner little notice this week as it slides into #29. The first singles from her previous albums peaked at #2 ("Complicated" and "Girlfriend") and #5 ("Don't Tell Me").

Next week: Look out for "The Roller," the new single from Beady Eye, the reconstituted Oasis (minus Noel Gallagher), as well as dance act Chase & Status's "Blind Faith," a great tune that samples the classic Loleatta Holloway track, "Love Sensation." Ke$ha's big US hit "We R Who We R" gets its US release, Devlin & Labrinth's "Let It Go" is out, plus hot new act The Vaccines make their debut with "Post Break Up Sex."

Essential Albums of the 80s: Phil Collins - No Jacket Required (1985)

Because it was so great to have a balding 30-something British man as one of the biggest pop stars of the '70s (i.e. Elton John), the Western world decided to do it again in the '80s. Phil Collins didn't look like your typical pop star, but he certainly was a big one, scoring seven #1 hits in the US during the '80s, many of which were also UK #1s.

His biggest solo success came with his third album, No Jacket Required, a commercial and critical success that won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and the Brit Award for Best British album while going platinum 12 times in the US and 6 times in the UK.

The album mixes upbeat tracks like the synth-charged "Only You Know and I Know" and the #1 single "Sussudio" with slower, quieter tracks like the tender ballad "One More Night," another #1 hit. Also notable is "Long Long Way to Go," a darker, downbeat song described as Collins' most political work, for its references to global conflicts, which Collins sets up in contrast to his own problems, which he acknowledges are small by comparison. The song's tone echos his prior hit "In the Air Tonight," which is also reflected in top 10 hit "Take Me Home," a song that like that early '80s classic, starts quiet and gradually builds and features a surprisingly layered drum rhythm for a pop song. That shouldn't be a big surprise when you consider that Collins' other musical hat is as drummer (and lead singer) for his band Genesis, although it surprise some to know that Collins embraced drum machines on the album, which are used alongside live drumming on several tracks, including "Don't Lose My Number," another top 10 hit.

I wasn't a major Phil Collins fan in the '80s, although I did purchase his 1989 album, ...But Seriously, and was familiar with his earlier work mostly because I had some friends who were big fans. Listening to this now, I found the album to be surprisingly satisfying. I love its stuck-in-the-80s keyboard and drum machine textures, which don't feel out of place among the decently crafted pop songs.

Best: Sussudio, Long Long Way to Go, Only You Know and I Know, One More Night, Take Me Home

Further Listening

Genesis - Invisible Touch (1986). Following the major success of No Jacket Required, Collins returned to his band Genesis to make what would become their most commercially successful album, which scored five US top 5 hits, including the #1 title track. Although more mainstream than their earlier works, it still maintained some of the band's traditional progressive rock textures--more apparent if you listen to the longer original versions of the songs than the shorter single versions. I've always particularly liked the sinister track "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" with its anxious blend of keyboards and layered rhythm tracks. Best: Tonight Tonight Tonight, In Too Deep, Invisible Touch.

Phil Collins - ...But Seriously (1989). Collins concluded the '80s with another solo album, ...But Seriously, which was another major success for him. Like No Jacket Required, it was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy Award, and generated four US top 10 hits, including the homeless issues ballad "Another Day in Paradise," a #1 hit in many countries. I'm also partial to the rather grand "I Wish It Would Rain Down," which was one of the earliest #1 hits on my personal chart. Best: Another Day in Paradise, I Wish It Would Rain Down, Do You Remember?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Best of 2010 - Other Media

Although I envisioned doing these separately and writing about each entry, it's just not going to happen. So, without much fanfare, here are my favorite movies, TV shows and books of 2010.


1. The Kids Are All Right
2. Black Swan
3. The King's Speech
4. The Social Network
5. The Fighter
6. Blue Valentine
7. 127 Hours
8. Inception
9. Toy Story 3
10. True Grit

TV Shows

1. Mad Men
2. Modern Family
3. Lost
4. Glee
5. Project: Runway
6. Walking Dead
7. Sherlock
8. Parks & Recreation
9. Top Chef
10. Hot in Cleveland


1. Room - Emma Donohue
2. Half Broke Horses - Jeannette Walls
3. The Millennium Trilogy - Stieg Larsson
4. The Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins
5. Solar - Ian McEwan
6. The Lonely Polygamist - Brady Udall
7. C - Tom McCarthy
8. So Much for That - Lionel Shriver
9. Gate at the Stairs - Lorrie Moore
10. The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachman

Personal Chart, January 22, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, January 29, 2011

1. Hold It Against Me - Britney Spears

Britney Spears returns to the Hot 100 in fine form this week, debuting at #1 with "Hold It Against Me," the first single from her forthcoming and as yet untitled 7th album, due in March.

The single's impact has been immediate and record-breaking, selling 411,000 copies in its first week--the most first-week copies sold of a single by a female artist--and getting record first-week airplay. On the Pop Songs chart, which tracks top 40 airplay, she debuts at #16 with 4,071 spins, the most first-week spins on that chart and the second-highest debut position after Mariah Carey's 1993 hit "Dreamlover," which bowed at #12 (it is tied with Madonna's "Frozen," which also debuted at #16 in 1998).

This is Spears' fourth #1 single and second to debut at #1, a feat she also achieved with her last single, "3." The only other artist who has debuted at #1 more than once is Mariah Carey, who also did it consecutively with her 1995 singles "Fantasy" and "One Sweet Day," as well as 2 years later with "Honey."

5. Black and Yellow - Wiz Khalifa

Rapper Wiz Khalifa takes his "Black and Yellow" into the top 5 for the first time this week, making this the first week since January 1 that the top 5 is not composed solely of current and former #1 hits.

13. What the Hell - Avril Lavigne

Canadian pop singer Avril Lavigne returns to the top 40 after a 4-year absence, debuting at #13 with "What the Hell," the first single from her upcoming fourth album. Her last top 40 hit was "When You're Gone," which reached #24 in the summer of 2007. That year she also hit #1 with "Girlfriend," her highest-charting single. "What the Hell" is her 9th top 40 hit.

17. Rocketeer - Far East Movement (feat. Ryan Tedder)

Far East Movement is in position to score their second big hit as Rocketeer enters the top 20, up 6 to #17. The song features Ryan Tedder, lead singer of OneRepublic, on guest vocal.

23. H.A.M. - Kanye West & Jay-Z

The much-touted collaboration album by Kanye West and Jay-Z gets a preview with its first single, "H.A.M," which debuts at #23. It will be interesting to see if this really takes off though, as it's not caught on at radio yet. Although West's most recent album is brilliant, it hasn't generated any major hits.

30. F**kin' Perfect - P!nk

P!nk's "F**kin' Perfect" enters the top 40 this week, climbing 27 notches. It's the second single from her greatest hits compilation following "Raise Your Glass," a former #1 hit that slides to #8 this week. It is this week's Digital Gainer and Airplay Gainer. On the radio the song is known simply as "Perfect," due to the expected editing. This is P!nk's 17th top 40 hit.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Singles Serving

Adele - Rolling in the Deep. Although "Make You Feel My Love's" enduring appeal has kept her close to pop audiences, this is the real deal--the first single from her second album, 21, which follows 19 from 3 years ago. "Rolling in the Deep" is a great pop record for Adele, who delivers a soulful, confident vocal over an upbeat tune of guitar, hand claps and '60s-style girlgroup backing vocals.

Wretch 32 - Traktor. Meet Wretch 32, a British grime rapper that's one of this year's hot new things (according to BBC and MTV at least). "Traktor" is his first single. On first listen, it's not really my thing, but subsequently it's grown on me a bit. The key is to turn it up really loud. I really like the piano bit that comes in for the bridge, since I wasn't expecting that in this mix that's otherwise just beats.

Kanye West & Jay-Z - H.A.M. The reception for this superstar rap collaboration has been decidedly muted. It debuted at #30 in the British singles chart, and it's #20 at iTunes right now, so I expect a similar reception in the US. Surely the album will do well, but I think this first taste is pretty good. It's quite over the top (it has an operatic middle 8), leading me to believe it's more West's influence than Jay-Z's.

Keri Hilson - Pretty Girl Rock. The woman best known for 2009's "Knock You Down" and 2007's Timbaland collaboration returns with the first single from her second album. It's not bad, but I can't say it's a knockout. It has a sweet piano refrain, but it's too repetitive.

Chromeo feat. Elly Jackson of La Roux - Hot Mess. This is just a bit of fun from one of last year's best synth-drenched '80s throwbacks. Elly Jackson doesn't sing, but offers some spoken word bits sprinkled throughout.

Update: Turns out there's a new version of "Hot Mess" that features more Elly Jackson vocals than the album version. I just heard it on the radio and it's great.

Monday, January 17, 2011

'Hold It Against Me' Red Hot

Britney's new single has taken the charts by storm unlike any other in recent memory. The track has been #1 at iTunes since its debut last Tuesday, and Billboard reported that it's expected to surpass 400,000 copies sold.

At top 40 radio, the song has just exploded. It's currently #16 with 4618 spins, all of that a gain of course, making it the biggest 1-week spin gain I've ever seen. It's daily spin gain of 700+ is bigger than the weekly spin gain of all but the five fastest growing tracks.

Clearly it will top the Billboard Hot 100 this week, giving Britney her fourth #1 and second single to debut in the top spot.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

UK Singles Chart, January 22, 2011

1. Grenade - Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars' second solo single, "Grenade" tops the singles chart this week with a rather solid 150,000 copies sold, an amazing haul for a January single. The only #1 hit last year that wasn't a charity or Christmas release that moved that many copies was Cheryl Cole's "Promise This." When adding his appearance on B.o.B's "Nothin' on You," this is Bruno Mars' third turn at the top. All three of his UK chart-toppers also hit #1 in the US, where he is also #1 this week with this single.

2. Do It Like a Dude

Jessie J makes a three-spot jump to #2. She's had a pretty impressive climb since first debuting with this single in late November. With this, she matches the highest chart peak of the BBC Sounds of 2010 winner Ellie Goulding, who hit #2 late last year with "Your Song," which fell out of the top 10 this week.

6. Who's that Chick - David Guetta (feat. Rihanna)

New peak for "Who's that Chick," which climbs 4 spots this week. Since Rihanna's "Only Girl" falls out of the top 10 this week, the singer must be content with having only two top 10 hits this week. Pity the poor girl.

7. Make You Feel My Love - Adele

It seems this single's popularity cannot be squelched, as it returns to the top 10 for a fourth time since October. It's spent 19 weeks in the top 40 now, making it Adele's most enduring hit, ahead of the 14 weeks she spent in the top 40 with "Chasing Pavements." Let's hope it doesn't overshadow her brilliant new single, "Rolling in the Deep," out tomorrow.

10. Eyes Wide Shut - JLS

Fans who can't wait for the release of JLS's new single are buying the album version, sending "Eyes Wide Shut" into the top 10 ahead of its release in mid-February. Since the single version is different--containing a guest appearance by Tinie Tempah not heard on the album--they will surely buy it again.

11. Invincible - Tinie Tempah (feat. Kelly Rowland)

Speaking of Tinie Tempah, his new single refuses to die, climbing another notch to a new peak at #11 this week. It's certainly been good for Kelly Rowland, who has yet to see a release for her third album, now shelved for sometime in 2011, since its singles have charted so poorly.

25. Telephone - Glee Cast
35. Empire State of Mind - Glee Cast

The second season of Glee has finally arrived in Britain, meaning its time for Glee songs to appear in the top 40 again. Both of these singles reached the US top 40, along with "Billionaire," which is #48, and "Listen," which is #51. I'll be particularly interested to see how high the two biggest hits of the season so far can chart--"Teenage Dream" and "Forget You."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Essential Albums of the 80s: Diana Ross - Diana (1980)

They say that disco died on July 12, 1979, the day radio DJs held an anti-disco demonstration in Chicago during a baseball game where they collected disco records from the crowd and blew them up in the middle of the field. It was a dramatic publicity stunt that signaled the public's shifting taste in popular music. But "died" is a rather harsh and really inaccurate term. Sure, disco was in decline, but it wasn't dead--not by a long shot. The second half of 1979 and 1980 saw disco tracks by major artists continue to top the chart, like Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough," Donna Summer & Barbra Streisand's "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" and Lipps Inc's "Funkytown." Disco was still hitting #1 as late as mid-1981 with the "Stars on 45" Medley.

So that Diana Ross would release a disco pop album in 1980 wasn't really so unusual. Despite having limited success with disco during its late '70s heyday (She hit #1 in 1976 with "Love Hangover," but had no other major hits until this album), Ross landed a major hit with Diana, which became the biggest-selling album of her career. Its first single, "Upside Down," was a #1 hit in the US and #2 in the UK. Other singles included top 5 US hit, "I'm Coming Out," which was later appropriated as a gay anthem, and "My Old Piano," a top 5 hit in the UK.

Musically, the album owes much to its producers, Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, although the final cut differed significantly from what they produced. Best known for their #1 hits "Le Freak" and "Good Times," the duo excelled at the funkier side of disco, and that sound is evident here, where silky string arrangements blend with funky guitar melodies to form an unmistakable disco sound. "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out" are perfect examples of this, with the guitar being particularly prominent, while the strings shine more on the second track, "Tenderness."

There was apparently a rather significant clash between Ross and her producers over this album. According to Wikipedia, he original cuts didn't turn out that great and its a he-said/she-said issue exactly why. From what I've read, they accused her of singing flat and she accused them of burying her voice with the album's funkier musical elements. Ross took the album to engineer Russ Terrana, who removed the songs' long instrumental sections, sped up certain elements and worked with Ross to re-record vocals. The Chic producers were not party to this and, although they objected, they didn't go as far to demand to be taken off the album's credits. The original Chic versions were later released with the 2003 remastered version (I have only the original version, so I can't comment authoritatively on how they differ, although I have listened to the previews at iTunes and there does seem to be a tonal problem between the vocals and the background).

Ross continued churning out hits in the early '80s, most notably the #1 duet with Lionel Richie, "Endless Love," which spent 9 weeks at #1 in 1981. Rodgers continued to produce very successful albums in the '80s, including David Bowie's Let's Dance and Madonna's Like a Virgin, while Edwards went on to work with artists like Duran Duran and Jody Watley. Despite the animosity with Ross, both producers would eventually work with the singer again.

Best: Upside Down, I'm Coming Out, Tenderness

Eric Prydz, Niton (The Reason)

Swedish DJ/producer Eric Prydz returns this year with a new single, "Niton (The Reason)." I just watched the video, and it is really cool. I love the animation style, which looks a bit old fashioned. Prydz is best known for his UK #1 hit from 2004, "Call on Me," and subsequent top 10 hits "Proper Education" and "Pjanoo." It is rumored that we'll finally get an album from Prydz this year.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, January 22, 2011

1. Grenade - Bruno Mars
2. Firework - Katy Perry

For the fourth week in the row, Bruno Mars' "Grenade" and Katy Perry's "Firework" are the top 2 singles, and for the 3rd week they've switched places, making the #1 hits this year so far "Firework," "Grenade," "Firework" again, and then "Grenade" again. The last time 2 singles switched places like that over 4 weeks was in late 2008. That year on Dec. 6 the #1 hit was T.I. & Rihanna's "Live Your Life," followed on Dec. 13 by Beyonce's "Single Ladies," then "Live Your Life" again Dec. 20, and then "Single Ladies" again Dec. 27.

3. What's My Name - Rihanna (feat. Drake)

The rest of the top 10 is pretty static this week, with #5, #6 and #9 standing pat while #3 and #4 switch places and #7 and #8 switch places. Rihanna and Drake climb back up a notch to #3 and are this week's Airplay Gainer. Rihanna also climbs back into the top 10 at #10 with "Only Girl." The top 5 is made up entirely of current or former #1 hits. Along with Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are" at #9 and "Only Girl," 7 of the this week's top 10 singles have been at least a week at #1.

36. Higher - Taio Cruz (feat. Travie McCoy)

Taio Cruz scores his third top 40 hit with "Higher." The single features guest Travie McCoy. There's also a version with Kylie Minogue floating around, although it isn't yet available to purchase.

Brit Award Nominees

Best British Single
  • Alexandra Burke ft Pitbull - All Night Long
  • Cheryl Cole - Parachute
  • Florence & The Machine - You’ve Got The Love
  • Matt Cardle - When We Collide
  • Olly Murs - Please Don’t Let Me Go
  • Plan B - She Said
  • Scouting For Girls - This Ain’t A Love Song
  • Taio Cruz - Dynamite
  • Tinie Tempah - Pass Out
  • The Wanted - All Time Low
The Best British single category is generally heavily influenced by sales. Just run down the list of the year's biggest hits, identifying the ones by British artists, and you'll have your nominees. At least that's how it seems to work. When it varies, it's strange. You'd think Ellie Goulding's "Your Song," the 21st biggest hit of the year, would have been a shoo-in, especially considering that she's up for British female and British breakthrough, but neither that nor her album were nominated. Also shocking is the exclusion of Take That's "The Flood," a major year-end hit that was huge at radio and responsible for propelling its parent album to be the year's biggest selling long-player. I'm not surprised to see Scouting for Girls' "This Ain't a Love Song," as it was either that or "Kickstarts" for the 9th spot in my prediction (good call that I picked "You've Got the Love" over "You've Got the Dirtee Love"). I'm more surprised to see Cheryl Cole's "Parachute" and Alexandra Burke's "All Night Long" selected over those artists' #1 hits, although these are actually the better songs.

Mastercard British Album

  • Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
  • Plan B - The Defamation of Strickland Banks
  • Take That - Progress
  • Tinie Tempah Disc - Overy
  • The XX - XX
What exactly is a "Mastercard Brit?" Is it someone in Britain who walks around with a magnetic stripe on their back? In any event, the albums list has Plan B, Take That, and Tinie Tempah as I suspected. I'm glad to see The XX, but I wouldn't have thought they would qualify, since their album is from 2009. Same goes for Mumford & Sons. It's a hard choice whether I'd back XX or Take That for this. Both are excellent. It would be nice to see Take That win, since they've never won the album category.

International Album

  • Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
  • Cee Lo Green - The Lady Killer
  • Eminem - Recovery
  • Katy Perry - Teenage Dream
  • Kings Of Leon - Come Around Sundown
With the exception of Cee Lo, this is pretty much what I expected. Would have been nice to see Rihanna's Loud in the mix, since it's a better pop album than Katy Perry's.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Brit Award Nominees Tomorrow

Who's going to get nods?

For Mastercard British Album, Take That have got to be front-runners, and I have a good feeling about Plan B and Ellie Goulding there too. Tinie Tempah might make the cut as well. Other contenders are Rumer and Eliza Doolittle. There's not a good rock contender this year, but even so, the album award tends to be a little more highbrow (as Brit Awards go), so I don't expect to see JLS, The Wanted or Olly Murs.

For International Album, I expect to see Eminem, Rihanna and Katy Perry, maybe The Script, Arcade Fire or Kings of Leon.

For Best British single, if they go with 10 nominees, with they usually do, I expect to see:

1. "The Flood" Take That
2. "Your Song" Ellie Goulding
3. "She Said" Plan B
4. "All Time Low" The Wanted
5. "When We Collide" Matt Cardle
6. "Pass Out" Tinie Tempah
7. "Dynamite" Taio Cruz
8. "Pack Up" Eliza Doolittle
9. "Kickstarts" Example
and 10. "You've Got the Love" Florence & The Machine

Singles Serving

Britney Spears - Hold It Against Me. Britney's new single arrived this week, and I'm pleased to say that it's pretty fantastic. The song uses a cliched double entendre that's really an old joke "if I told you I wanted your body, would you hold it against me?" He he he indeed, but with the dance beat as hot as this, who cares. With Max Martin and Dr. Luke behind the studio dials, Spears has crafted her clubbiest single yet.

Avril Lavigne - What the Hell. Also returning with a new single this week is Avril Lavigne, who has been absent for almost 4 years now. It's not bad, but it's not a knockout. It's nod to retro-'60s-via-retro-'80s smacks of a repeat of what she did with "Girlfriend," a clear homage to Toni Basil's "Mickey." This adheres to that formula very closely. Like Britney's "Hold It Against Me" this is also co-produced by Max Martin, along with Shellback. The album, Goodbye Lullaby, is due in early March.

P!nk - F**kin' Perfect. For the second single from her fall greatest hits set, P!nk turns to a pretty rockin' ballad that should be another slam dunk for her. Oh, and as if he wasn't getting enough business, this is also produced by Max Martin (along with Shellback).

Grenade - Bruno Mars. This single gets its UK release this week and looks on track to be the #1 single this weekend. It's darker than "Just the Way You Are," and almost just as good. It is not produced by Max Martin, but rather by Mars himself along with two other guys.

Take That - Kidz

Take That announced today that the second single from Progress will by "Kidz." Although rumored to be the case, it was also rumored to be "S.O.S." Although I like both songs, I agree that "Kidz" is the better choice.

Here's a video from their track-by-track series that talks about the song. I love that they are making so much information available about the making of this album. Between the documentary and these newer track-by-track videos, there's lots of great insight about their creative process.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Listen to Hold It Against Me Now

Britney decided to release her new song a few hours early. Listen here.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Get set for Britney's "Hold It Against Me"

The eradication of polio. The fall of the Berlin Wall. The second coming of Christ. Throughout history, humanity has anticipated many momentum events. Tomorrow, another such event will take place when Britney Spears releases a new single.

Okay, I suppose it's not that momentous, but for pop music lovers it's a pretty big deal. "Hold It Against Me" is the first single from her forthcoming untitled seventh album, due in March. It will become available tomorrow at midnight (I guess technically midnight is the beginning of Tuesday, but you get the idea). It will be available simultaneously to radio and consumers via iTunes in the US (its UK release is set for Feb. 21).

Spears revitalized her career in 2008-2009 with the album Circus and its big hit singles, most notably the international #1 smash "Womanizer." It was followed closely by a greatest hits set and another #1 hit, "3." Following such success, expectations for Spears' new album will be high, creating that difficult decision whether to repeat the sound from the last album or risk something different. Most likely, she'll try to walk a line between the two.

"Hold It Against Me" is produced by Max Martin, the Swedish producer responsible for many of Spears' early hits as well as the recent one "If U Seek Amy, and Dr. Luke, who produced "Circus." A demo of the song has leaked on the 'net, although Spears claims the real thing will be even better.

UK Singles Chart, January 15, 2011

1. What's My Name - Rihanna (feat. Drake)
2. When We Collide - Matt Cardle
(9. Only Girl - Rihanna)
(10. Who's that Chick - David Guetta feat. Rihanna)

This week brings the first new #1 hit of 2011, ending the 3-week reign for the X Factor champion Matt Cardle's "When We Collide." The song is, appropriately, but one of 2010's biggest pop artists, Barbadian pop/R&B/dance pop singer Rihanna, scoring her fifth #1 hit. Along for the ride is rapper Drake, with his first #1 hit. "What's My Name" has taken its time getting to #1, hitting the top spot in its 8th week. In contrast, Rihanna's last single, "Only Girl," topped the chart in its second week of release. In the US, quite the opposite happened, with "What's My Name" hitting #1 in its first week of release, and "Only Girl" doing so later after 11 weeks on the chart, despite having been released first.

Last year there were several weeks where Rihanna had three hits in the top 10, and she repeats the feat this week as David Guetta's "Who's that Chick" on which she does a guest vocal returns to the top 10 at #10, just one spot below "Only Girl," which drops 3 notches this week.

4. Lights On - Katy B (feat. Ms. Dynamite)

Katy B debuted at #4 two weeks ago, then dropped quickly out of the top 10, making it look like "Lights On" wasn't to have much longevity. In a reversal, this week the song climbs back up 7 notches to its original peak position. Clearly, the single should not yet be discounted. Katy B's last single, "Katy on a Mission," had a similarly odd chart run. After debuting at #5, it spent the next 4 consecutive weeks at #8.

5. Do It Like a Dude - Jessie J

Congratulations go to Jessie J for winning the BBC Sounds of 2011 poll this week. Benefitting from the ensuing promotion, Jessie J's debut single jumps 13 spots to #5 this week. The single initially debuted at #25 in early December and then begin falling, but has been climbing quite dramatically the last 2 weeks. I though the song was "meh" when it came out, but it's been growing on me and I think I'm starting to like it.

15. Me & You - Nero

Another BBC Sounds of 2011 artist arrives at #15 with his debut single, although unfortunately he failed to claim a spot on the poll's top 5 list.

18. The Flood - Cheryl Cole

The once mighty Cheryl Cole appears to have landed a chart dud this week with "The Flood," the second single from her second album, Messy Little Raindrops, and follow up to #1 single "Promise This." In contrast, her first album generated two more top 5 hits following its first #1 hit "Fight for This Love." In truth, this new album isn't that great, and she may have difficulty finding a third track that's worthy of a release. I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see one--Leona Lewis after all didn't get a follow-up single after she misfired with "I Got You"--although "Yeah Yeah Yeah" is a pretty decent song.

20. Happiness - Alexis Jordan

Alexis Jordan climbs four spots to #20 this week, the second week in a row the song has climbed. She's also climbing at radio, up four to #25. It's a welcome sign for a great song.

24. It's Okay - Cee Lo Green

It's no "Fuck You," but Cee Lo Green's new single manages to make it to the top 40 this week finally (it was released in December). It's been getting pretty strong support at radio, which may have helped it along. His aforementioned previous single is still going strong, back up a notch to #11 this week.

26. More - Usher

Another one that's been around for awhile is Usher's "More," which, in its 7th week in the top 40, climbs to a new peak of #26 this week. I'm ready to write it off, but I guess I shouldn't, considering that his last single, "DJ Got Us Falling in Love," didn't reach the top 10 until its 9th week of release.

27. Make Me Feel My Love - Adele

What is this still doing around? Good grief.

29. Hello - Martin Solveig (feat. Dragonette)

Here's one of those dance songs that, for whatever reason, manages to conquer the global market. French DJ Martin Solveig's "Hello" has already been to #1 in Belgium, The Netherlands and South Africa, and enters the top 40 this week at #29. It features Canadian electronic group Dragonette.

39. Limit to Your Love - James Blake

Another artist who made it into the BBC Sounds of 2011 top 5. James Blake was #2, helping send his debut single "Limit to Your Love" into the top 40 for the first time.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Soundtracks

Rather than start this series with just one album, I'm giving you six: a quick look at the decade's most essential soundtracks.

Pop soundtracks aren't that big of a deal anymore, but in the '80s they were huge. In the '60s and the '70s, soundtracks were generally film scores or songs from musicals, but Saturday Night Fever popularized the use of soundtracks as showcases for pop songs. Most of the notable soundtracks feature a few hits from big artists to entice buyers and then tracks from lesser known or even unknown artists to round them out. Soundtracks continued to be popular in the '90s--The 1992 soundtrack to The Bodyguard, which prominently features Whitney Houston, is the best-selling soundtrack of all time--but declined in popularity in the '00s. The soundtracks I've chosen to feature are a mix of the decade's most popular and some personal favorites.

Flashdance (1983). The Flashdance Soundtrack mixes songs by well known and lesser known artists. Given the film's subject matter, it's mostly early '80s dance pop, particularly known for its two #1 hits, the synth-heavy "Flashdance...What a Feeling" by Irene Cara and the high-energy "Maniac" by Michael Sembello. "He's a Dream" by Shandi has a sexy early '80s growl to it, and I also like the film's instrumental, piano-driven love them by Helen St. John. Some of the songs by the bigger-name artists are my least favorite, like Donna Summer's "Romeo," a weak stab at post-disco dance pop, and Kim Carnes' "I'll Be Here Where The Heart Is," an unspired ballad, although I do like its heavy use of Blade Runner-esque synthesizers. Flashdance is notable as the only various artists soundtrack of the '80s to be nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy Award (Prince was also nominated for his soundtrack to Purple Rain, which is significant as an album, so I won't include it here). Best: Maniac, Flashdance...What a Feeling, He's a Dream, Love Theme from Flashdance.

Footloose (1984). I've never seen this movie, but thanks to its hit soundtrack, I definitely know its music. The soundtrack scored six top 40 hits, including #1 singles for the Kenny Loggins title track and Deniece Williams' last hit, "Let's Hear It for the Boy." Also memorable is the rock love ballad "Almost Paradise" by Heart's Ann Wilson and Loverboy's Mike Reno. Bonnie Tyler also contributes the memorable "Holding Out for a Hero" while Shalamar has us "Dancing in the Sheets." Kenny Loggins even had a second top 40 hit off it, the darker "I'm Free (Heaven Helps the Man)." A late '90s re-release added some more hits, including Foreigner's "Waiting for a Girl Like You" and John Cougar Mellencamp's "Hurt So Good." Best: Let's Hear It for the Boy, Almost Paradise, Footloose, I'm Free (Heaven Helps the Man), Holding Out for a Hero.

Ghostbusters (1984). The Ghostbusters Soundtrack was the first album of popular music that I ever owned. My friend Greg had it and I thought it was so cool, so I saved my money during the summer of 1987 and paid $10 for it at the local pharmacy. At the time, that was a lot of money for a cassette, and I wasn't aware yet that I could have paid significantly less for it at Tower Records. Oh well. The set is most notable for its #1 hit theme song by Ray Parker Jr., but it also features some other great songs, like The Thompson Twin's "In the Name of Love," and Laura Branigan's sassy "Hot Night" (Branigan was apparently a soundtrack mainstay, also appearing on Flashdance). At the time, I also really liked Air Supply's "I Can Wait Forever," but now it gets on my nerves, although a song I didn't used to care for, Mick Smiley's "Magic," is actually pretty decent, despite stealing its percussion from Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight." I also used to really like Elmer Bernstein's score cut, "Dana's Theme." Best: Ghostbusters, In the Name of Love, Hot Night, Magic

Who's that Girl (1987). Following Ghostbusters, this was the second album of pop music I ever bought and, notably, the first by Madonna. I listened to it nonstop for her four great tracks, a nice balance of songs produced by the two guys she worked with most at the time, Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray. The former worked with her on the lightly Spanish-flavored "Who's that Girl" and the downbeat ballad "The Look of Love," while the latter worked on the more upbeat dance hit "Causing a Commotion" and "Can't Stop." The other stuff isn't nearly as good, although Duncan Faure's "24 Hours" and Michael Davidson's "Turn It Up" are pretty decent. However, Coati Mundi's "El Coco Loco" is just plain silly. Best: Who's that Girl, Causing a Commotion, The Look of Love.

Dirty Dancing (1987). Dirty Dancing was a pretty decent hit, but its soundtrack was an even bigger one, selling over 42 million copies worldwide, making it one of the 10 best-selling albums of all time and the second best-selling soundtrack ever behind The Bodyguard. Musically, it is pretty great, an effective blend of new '80s pop song and '50s and '60s oldies favorites. The album's highlight is its first track, the wonderful upbeat love duet "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. It's one of the most enduring '80s pop duets, recently sampled for the Black Eyed Peas' "The Time (Dirty Bit)." Most of the other '80s songs are pretty good, particularly Patrick Swayze's "She's Like the Wind," which hit #3 but didn't start a pop career for the actor, and Eric Carmen's top 5 hit "Hungry Eyes." Among the older material, The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" is the best, although I also enjoy the quirky Mickey & Sylvia song, "Love Is Strange," and the classic love song, "In the Still of the Night." Tying the two eras together are two hybrid songs, a new remake of the '60s song "You Don't Own Me" by the Blow Monkeys and Tom Johnston's "Where Are You Tonight," which sounds like an old song, but apparently isn't. Best: (I've Had) the Time of My Life, She's Like the Wind, Hungry Eyes, Yes, Be My Baby.

Batman (1989). Prince released several albums during the '80s that also served as soundtracks to films. Because he didn't appear in Batman, and I would generally consider the film a bitter hit than the soundtrack, I consider Batman more of a soundtrack than an album (I consider Purple Rain more of an album). It's an unusual one for sure. Batman had an orchestral score by Danny Elfman, which was also released, but this set contains only pop songs by Prince, many of which but not all appeared in the film. The songs sound like much of what Prince was doing at the time with the added bonus of snippets of dialogue from the film, most notably on the wild #1 hit "Batdance," which consists mostly of bits of dialogue from Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton and Kim Basinger. Best: Batdance, Scandalous, Partyman.

Essential Albums of the '80s

This year's theme is a look back at the pop albums that define the decade of excess, the good ol' '80s. The decade represents a mine of riches for current day pop and post punk musicians looking for inspiration, hooks and samples. From the last gasps of disco and prog rock of the early part of the decade, through the revitalization of dance music as "dance pop," new wave, hair bands, rap, new jack swing, teen pop, and house, the '80s offered up a lot of different styles, many of which continue to endure today with little modification. Pop music of the '70s sounds really different than pop music today, whereas pop music from the '80s really doesn't. This is the decade where synthesizers and drum programming became popular and are still ubiquitous today. This is the decade where rap first got its mainstream launch. And although laughed at today, the heavy metal "hair bands" of the 80s foreshadowed the powerful surge of alternative rock music in the '90s.

Being 33 years old, the '80s was the decade where I first learned to appreciate pop music, although really not until 1987. So this look back will be part nostalgia and part discovery, as I also take a look at music from the earlier half of the decade to which I've had little exposure. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and remembrances as well.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, January 15, 2011

1. Firework - Katy Perry

Katy Perry returns to #1 this week for a fourth nonconsecutive week at #1. I have to admit that "Firework" has really grown on me lately. Although I never disliked the song, I pointed out in my review of her album that the song could have been better. While I still think that's true, it's good qualities have won me over enough to actually quite enjoy the song now. It's still no "Teenage Dream" though, her last single, which continues to endure, rebounding into the top 20 at #18 this week.

2. Grenade - Bruno Mars

With Perry back at #1, Mars has to settle for #2 with "Grenade" after just a week at #1. He could climb back up there though, as the song is still growing strong at radio. For the second week, Mars is the only singer with two hits in the top 10, as his last single, the former #1 hit "Just the Way You Are," rebounds up a notch to #9.

3. We R Who We R - Ke$ha
4. What's My Name - Rihanna (feat. Drake)
5. Raise Your Glass - P!nk

Speaking of former #1 hits, the top 5 is made up entirely of them this week, thanks to this handful of songs that have been the country's biggest hits for well over a month now and all got their turn at #1. All of them except "Grenade" are bulleted this week, so there's the chance for any of them to make a return appearance in the top spot.

6. Tonight - Enrique Iglesias (feat. Ludacris)

Here's a guy who'd like in on that #1 action. Iglesias hasn't had a #1 hit in 11 years, but he's been real close of late, with his last top 40 hit, "I Like It" having reached #4. "Tonight" climbs at notch to #6 this week. It's the Spanish singer's fifth top 10 hit.

19. Yeah 3x - Chris Brown

Just when it looked like pop music was ready to forgive Chris Brown, he goes and runs his mouth like a little twit, spouting anti-gay slurs. I don't know if that's directly responsible for the sudden drop in interest for "Yeah 3X," which had climbed steadily to #19 last week, but this week stalls without a bullet, but it certainly couldn't have helped matters. Seriously, will this guy ever grow up?

31. Mine - Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift's old single, "Mine," climbs 11 notches to #31 and is this week's airplay gainer. Airplay gainer? Really? Why? I'm a bit mystified over this one.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Music of 1990: Albums

I'd been planning this post to briefly recap a few key albums from late in 1990, but didn't get around to finishing it last year. But I think it's still worth doing, so here it is.

Pet Shop Boys - Behaviour. Less dance pop than Introspective before it and Very after it, Behaviour was Pet Shop Boys' stab at something a little more stately. Although more subdued than their usual sound, it's not a bad listen, not by a long shot, representing one of the most finely crafted works in their catalog. "Being Boring" is a lovely piece of history-inspired synth pop. "This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave" is more insistent, but also reflective. "To Face the Truth" injects a bit of melancholy, while "How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously" (they really liked the long song titles for this one) was a bit more upbeat. "Nervously" is a sweet tale of a first romantic liaison, and despite the fact that Neil Tennant hadn't come out yet, it's a pretty gay song (there are no "shes" but plenty of "hes" thrown out). Best: Being Boring, This Might Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave, How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously, So Hard (4.5).

Cathy Dennis - Move to This. Cathy Dennis would later become one of the most successful British pop music songwriter-producers around. Her credits include Kylie's "Can't Get You Out of My Head," Britney's "Toxic" and the Sugababes' "About You Now." But before she was in the back of the studio she spent some time in the sound booth too, recording some pretty heady dance pop in the early '90s, first as a member of D-Mob, and then as just a solo act. Her best songs were her vibrant, Euro-styled hits "Just Another Day" and "Touch Me (All Night Long)." Producer Shep Pettibone had a hand in this album, and his style is most obvious on "Everybody Move," which sounds quite a bit like the smash he produced for Madonna, "Vogue." The dance pop outshines the ballads, except for "Too Many Walls," which was also a hit. Other ballads aren't nearly as good though, such as "My Beating Heart," which sounds like a limp take on Paula Abdul's "Rush Rush." Best: Just Another Dream, Touch Me (All Night Long), Everybody Move, Too Many Walls (3.5).

Whitney Houston - I'm Your Baby Tonight. With her third album, Whitney Houston tried to update her sound for the '90s with edgier, more R&B-styled productions courtesy of producers extraordinaire Babyface and LA Reid, but the bet was hedged against songs that sound like her late '80s output as well. Thus more modern fare like the bouncy "I'm Your Baby Tonight" and "My Name Is Not Susan" share space with songs like "Lover for Life" and "I Belong to You," which sound like leftovers from the recording of Whitney. None of these are bad songs though, they just sound a bit disjointed together. I used to not really care for this album, but it's grown on me quite a bit. As usual, the big ballads "All The Man that I Need" and "Miracle" are solid songs that went on to be a #1 and top 10 hit respectively. The only misstep is "Anymore," which sounds like a carbon copy of the production Babyface did for Karyn White's "Secret Rendezvous." Best: I'm Your Baby Tonight, My Name Is Not Susan, All the Man That I Need, Lover for Life, I Belong to You, Miracle (4/5).

Madonna - The Immaculate Collection. Madonna finished 1990 with a greatest hit set that pulled together 15 of her biggest hits from the last 7 years plus two new tracks that would also become hits for her. It became Madonna's second diamond-selling album after Like a Virgin, one of the best-selling and most revered greatest hits collections of all time. And despite the fact that it's indisputably wonderful, there's some odd things about it too. The strangest thing from a purists perspective is that none of the songs are either the single or album versions--all of the songs were remixed for the album by Shep Pettibone and edited for length to fit them all on. Some of the remixing is minor--you have to really listen to tell that the intro to Borderline has slightly different instrumentation--but some of it is dramatically different, like the decision to use a dance remix of "Like a Prayer" rather than the classic original. The tracks are sequenced in release order, except that "Lucky Star" and "Borderline" are switched. Really, these are minor gripes though, and since I've sinced gathered all the album and single versions of Madonna's hits, it's kind of fun to also have these strange slight remixes. Best: All 17 tracks represent pop perfection, so I couldn't possibly choose (5/5).

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Music of 1990: December

This is the last of this series. If I have time, I have an albums post I'd also like to do.

United States

In the US, the biggest hit of December was Stevie B's "Because I Love You (The Postman Song)," far and away the singer's biggest hit, although not his only one. He had a couple of singles that reached the top 40 in 1989. In 1990, he hit #29 with "Love Me for Life," then #15 with "Love and Emotion" before finally reaching #1 with hits fifth top 40 hit. "Because I Love You" is a tender love ballad with minimal instrumentation--pretty much just keyboard, synthesizer and some light drumming. Although it was one of the year's biggest hits, in retrospect, it's a pretty lightweight song that doesn't really hold up. Stevie B followed it up with his second-biggest hit, "I'll Be By Your Side," which hit #12 in early 1991, and he had one more top 40 single in 1995.

With "I'm Your Baby Tonight," Whitney Houston worked with Babyface to transform her '80s pop sound into an edgier '90s R&B/pop sound. It's a great track, one that I've actually appreciated more with age. It became the singer's 8th #1 hit in early December, the first single from her third album, also titled I'm Your Baby Tonight.

After reviving her pop music career in 1989 with the #1 hit "Wind Beneath My Wings," Bette Midler released Some People's Lives in 1990, which became the most successful album of her career. Its first single, "From a Distance," was a major hit for the singer, hitting #2 and receiving a Grammy Award nomination for Record of the Year.

The coolest hit single of December 1990 was Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner." As remixed by DNA, it gave Vega her second and last major pop single, following her #3 hit from 1987, "Luka." (see the August post in the UK section for more info).

Wilson Phillips finished out 1990 with a third top 5 hit, "Impulsive," another mid-tempo pop song, although by hitting #4, it was their first single to miss the top spot. They would have one more #1 hit in 1991, "You're in Love," before their chart fortunes would fade away (although, as John will attest from his recent interview with them(!), they are still around and going strong).

Rockers Poison had their last major hit with the ballad "Something to Believe In," which hit #4. It was their sixth and last top 10 hit. Two more top 40 singles from 1990 album followed in 1991, but weren't major hits.

George Michael's "Freedom '90" was another notable release from the singer. This, more than any other track on Listen Without Prejudice, stated his desire to step away from the sexy pop singer image cultivated for Faith, to make music on his own terms. The video, like that for "Praying for Time," does not feature Michael, although it does include images of Michael burning the props from his Faith days, including his iconic leather jacket going up in flames and the jukebox from the "Faith" video exploding. The video also features a number of big-name supermodels lipsynching to Michael's lyrics, including Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista. Such a great song--another one that I appreciate more today than when it came out.

United Kingdom

In Britain, the biggest single of the month was Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby," a recent US #1 that spent 3 weeks at #1 in the UK. It relinquished the top spot for Cliff Richard's "Saviour's Day," which was the Christmas #1. The single was Richard's 13th #1 hit and third Christmas #1. His most recent #1 hit in 1999, "Millennium Prayer," gave the singer his 14th #1. At present, he is tied with Westlife for the third most #1 hits after Elvis Presley (21) and The Beatles (17). Madonna is a close fifth with 13 chart-toppers.

Speaking of Madge, she had a hit in December, "Justify My Love," which reached #2. The track was the first single released from The Immaculate Collection, her greatest hits set released in late 1990. That album deserves its own entry (I really need to write that too, okay this series is going to extend into 1991 a bit). "Justify My Love" is sexy spoken-word song with a minimal arrangement produced by Andre Betts and Lenny Kravitz, the latter also doing backing vocals. The song is great of course, but it was its racy video that got it the most attention. As directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, the video was stylishly filmed in grainy and black and white and featured highly sexualized images of Madonna and other leather-cladded friends (including her then-boyfriend, Tony Ward) romping through an old hotel. Famously, MTV banned the video, which led it to be released on videocassette as the first ever video single. It sold handsomely.

English indie rock band EMF achieved major mainstream success with "Unbelievable," an upbeat track that hit #3 in Britain and, the following year, #1 in the US. Another British band, The Farm, also had their biggest hit in December with "All Together Now," which hit #4. The song was inspired by the famous Christmas Day truce of World War I during which soldiers from both sides put down their arms and actually met in "no man's land" to exchange gifts.

Rod Stewart and Tina Turner teamed up for a top 5 remake of "It Takes Two," a song originally released in the '60s by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston. Despite Stewart being pretty big in the US at the time, this was not released there. As cool as that is, my vote for coolest hit single in Britain for December goes to "Falling" by Julee Cruise. The austere, synth-laden track, in its instrumental form, was the theme song to the acclaimed but short-lived series Twin Peaks. It's quite lovely and it's cool that it was a hit. In the US, the single was popular on modern rock stations, but was not a mainstream hit.

Also reaching the top 10 in December were "Mary Had a Little Boy" (#8) by Snap!, the group's fourth top 10 hit, and "This One's for the Children" (#9), another top 10 hit for New Kids on the Block, which had been a US hit the previous holiday season.

Finally there was "Wicked Game" by Chris Isaak (#10), a seductive song with a gentle guitar melody under his expressive, crooning vocal. The single was also a top 10 hit in the US the following year. Its black and white video, directed by Herb Ritts, is certainly the sexiest music video ever made.