Sunday, December 16, 2012

Best Albums of 2012

As regular readers of this blog know, I've basically moved on from writing about pop music to writing full-force about cooking and restaurants on Cook In / Dine Out. But I didn't want the year to go by without sharing my list of the best albums of 2012. I may not be writing about music, but it's still part of my life.

1. Taylor Swift - Red. Not what I expected would top my list, but it's a work of undeniably great country pop songs, creating a mix of sounds that still adhere cohesively into an album. Swift's greatest work yet, showing the consistency of her last album, Speak Now, with the pop hooks of her 2008 Grammy Album of the Year-winning Fearless. Essential: "I Knew You Were Trouble," "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," "Red."

2. Saint Etienne - Words and Music by Saint Etienne. I'd never listened to Saint Etienne before, but I fell hard for the British indie-dance group's eighth album, the year's best work of dance pop. Essential:  "Over the Border," "I've Got Your Music," "Popular."

3. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange. Ocean's mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, made my list last year, when I said he was tipped to break out as a major star this year. Couldn't have been more right about that--Ocean's success is one of the year's biggest music stories. His background almost overshadows the soulful beauty of this R&B debut that deftly mixes old-school sensibility with modern electronic production. Essential: "Thinkin Bout You," "Super Rich Kids," "Lost."

4. Jessie Ware - Devotion. British singer Ware's Devotion offers up gorgeous electronic pop. A stunning debut that sounds best after the sun goes down. Essential: "Wildest Moments," "Running," "Sweet Talk."

5. Jack White - Blunderbuss. White Stripes are over, but Jack White continues to make great music. This solo work, nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy, is as close as we've gotten to a White Stripes album as good as Elephant. Essential: "Missing Pieces," "Hypocritical Kiss"

6. The XX - Coexist. I devoured The XX's 2009 self-titled debut (I listed it as #4 on my 2009 recap, but, in retrospect, it deserved #1). This follow-up is almost as good, residing in similar slinky, minimalist synth territory. Essential: "Reunion," "Fiction."

7. Mumford & Sons - Babel. The British folk rockers' second album managed to cement their status as one of the world's hottest bands, a unlikely status for sure, but certainly deserved after the success of their first album. Similar to and probably just as good as Sigh No More. Essential: "I Will Wait," "Hopeless Wanderer."

8. Rihanna - Unapologetic. Rihanna's seventh (!) album is markedly better than her disappointing Talk That Talk and more consistent even than her 2010 hit Loud. Basically, it resurrects the dark themes from Rated R and wraps them around a mash-up of pop stylings a la Loud or Good Girl Gone Bad. Essential: "Loveeeeeee Song," "Stay."

9. Maccabees - Given to the Wild. Although it's the third album from the British rock group, the atmospheric Given to the Wild is something of a breakthrough for the group. Essential: "Ayla," "Pelican."

10. Bruno Mars - Unorthodox Jukebox. Mars avoids the sophomore slump with this naughty but still lovable second album, kissed with touches of Motown, disco and even The Police. A worthy successor to Doo-Wops and Hooligans. Essential: "Locked Out of Heaven," "Moonshine."

11. Beach House - Bloom. Baltimore "dream pop" group's fourth album is lovely and lush. Let it float you away. Essential: "Myth."

12. Alicia Keys - Girl on Fire. It's been awhile since I bought an Alicia Keys album. This, her fifth, shows Keys is still the classiest act in R&B. It's tempting just to listen to her beautiful piano intro over-and-over, but then you'd miss her singing, which seems to only get better. Essential: "Girl on Fire."

13. Daughn Gibson - All Hell. A little bit country, a little bit rock & roll and a lot of darkness is a good way to describe Gibson's haunting solo debut. Essential: "A Young Girl's World."

14. Pink - The Truth About Love. Now onto her sixth album, Pink continues to prove she's one of pop music's most consistent, if not under-appreciated, talents. Essential: "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)."

15. Fun. - Some Nights. This indie pop group made a big splash this year with their energetic second album. Essential: "We Are Young."

16. Scissor Sisters - Magic Hour. "Let's Have a Kiki" may have become a gay dance club anthem this year, but it's only one reason to love the fourth album from this just-outside-the-mainstream pop group. Essential: "Only the Horses."

17. Maroon 5 - Overexposed. Maroon 5 looked to be on the way out (or at least down) after their third album, Hands All Over, initially failed to generate a major hit. Then came The Voice, "Moves Like Jagger," and this album's massive first single, "Payphone," (and it's even bigger follow-up, "One More Night") and the band is hotter than they've ever been. A true pop music comeback story. Essential: "One More Night."

18. Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again. This soulful debut from the BBC Sounds of 2012 winner reaches back to the '70s for its lush, gentle melodies. Essential: "I'm Getting Ready."

19. Emeli Sandé - Our Version of Events. Another retro-soul album, but totally different from Kiwanuka's. I like her best when she throws a little trip-hop in the mix, like "Heaven," which plays like a sequel to Massive Attack's "Unfinished Sympathy." Essential: "Next to Me."

20. Escort - Escort. I wouldn't call this "retro" or "new disco," it's just plain disco, so faithfully does it reproduce the sound of dance music from 1978-1980. Essential: "Caméleon Chameleon."

21. Christopher Guglick - Earth Shaker. if you like piano-based singer-songwriter pop, here's a name you should become familiar with. He's not big yet, but just wait. I think bigger things are on the way (Guglick is reportedly working on a dance pop album for 2013--can't wait). Essential: "Hold on Tight."

22. Twin Shadow - Confess. The new wave revival may be rather long in the tooth at this point, but Twin Shadow's Confess makes a case for keeping it around just a little bit longer. Essential: "Five Seconds."

23. Madonna - MDNA. Madonna makes me list, but considering that most of her other albums would have topped the equivalent lists for their release years means this album was a disappointment, lacking the consistency and creativity she's known for. Nonetheless, there are some gems here, including the ballad "Masterpiece," which would have sounded at home on 1995's Something to Remember. Essential: "Girl Gone Wild."

24. Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society. Jazz musician Esperanza Spalding won the Best New Artist Grammy in 2011 and followed it with this, her fourth album. Essential: "Black Gold."

25. Robbie Williams - Take the Crown. Reinvigorated by fatherhood and the recent Take That reunion, Williams continues to prove he's one of pop music's singular voices. Take the Crown is more synth-driven than his other albums and continues to show his typically good hear for a pop hook. Essential: "Candy."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Remembering Whitney Houston

The passing of Whitney Houston is a tremendous loss to popular music. She was a star, she was an icon, she had true singing talent. Although her career got off-track near the end, there were times she was the biggest thing in the music business. From 1985 through 1988, her first two albums were both massively successful, earning Grammy Award nominations for Album of the Year and spawning seven U.S. #1 hits. Then in 1992-1993, she sat on top of the music world again with The Bodyguard Soundtrack and its massive hit single "I Will Always Love You."

She has always been on my personal favorites and I have many fond memories of her music. Here are a few of them.

Greatest Love of All (1986). This was the first Whitney Houston song I ever knew. My music teacher selected it for us as one of the few pop songs she let us sing in fourth grade. A little later, this was one of the few songs I learned to play on the piano (during my very brief stint playing piano).

I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) (1987). The summer of 1987 was the summer I began to listen to popular music. This was a #1 hit at that time, making Whitney Houston one of the first pop musicians I really got into (along with Madonna, Debbie Gibson and Michael Jackson). Whitney was one of the first pop albums I owned, and I listened to it obsessively. I got to know that album in a way I rarely get to know albums these days, learning to appreciate every song on it. This, though, was its highlight and it remains one of my favorite songs by her.

I Will Always Love You (1992). Like many people, I fell in love with this song instantly. It was so amazing, becoming a bigger hit than any song ever had been (a then record 14 weeks at #1). I loved how she sang the first verse a cappella, smartly riding the trend of recent hits by Boyz II Men to introduce what is otherwise a pretty traditional AC pop ballad. I remember getting The Bodyguard Soundtrack for Christmas in 1992 and being so excited to listen to it Christmas Eve.

It's Not Right, But It's Okay (Thunderpuss Remix) (1999). The summer of 1999 was the year I graduated from college and moved to Washington, D.C. to begin the adult phase of my life. It was a major time of transition, as I learned to navigate a new city, get used to the working life and make new friends. Of course, that time also involved a significant amount of time in gay bars and clubs (something I rarely do now). This was basically the soundtrack of my nightlife that summer.

Million Dollar Bill (2009). I was disappointed that Just Whitney was not a success and troubled by what happened to Whitney during this period. So I was very happy for her when she managed to pull herself together to make one more decent album, I Look to You, which included this fantastic upbeat single.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Whitney and Madonna in the top 10 together again

Madonna enters the Billboard Hot 100's top 10 this week, climbing three notches with her new hit single, "Give Me All Your Luvin." With Billboard allowing Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" to reappear in the Hot 100 this week an amazing thing happened on the chart: two pop icons of the '80s and '90s spend time together in the top 10 for the first time in over 16 years.

Madonna and Whitney appeared on the scene within a few years of each other and went on to dominate pop charts for the next 20 years or so. During that time, they frequently appeared in the top 10 at the same time. Here's a look at those instances:

July 6, 1985. Whitney Houston's first top 10 hit, "You Give Good Love," enters the top 10 at #7 the same week that Madonna's sixth top 10 hit, "Angel," spends its last week in the top 10 at #10.

September 28-October 12, 1985. Madonna's final Like a Virgin single, "Dress You Up," and Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love for You" spend 3 weeks together in the top 10. Madonna's single peaks at #5 while Whitney's becomes her first #1 hit--the first of seven consecutive chart-toppers.

May 17-June 14, 1986. On May 17, Whitney's last Whitney Houston single "Greatest Love of All" hits #1 the same week Madonna's first True Blue Single "Live to Tell" enters the top 10. For 2 weeks, the songs are #1 and #2 and, on June 7, "Live to Tell" knocks "Greatest Love of All" from #1. The singles spend 5 weeks together in the top 10.

[August 8, 1987. A near miss: Madonna's "Who's That Girl" enters the top 10 the same week Whitney's former #1 "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" drops out of the top 10.]

August 29-September 12, 1987. Whitney's second Whitney single, "Didn't We Almost Have It All," enters the top 10 at #8 the same week Madonna's "Who's That Girl" falls from #1 to #2. The singles spend 3 weeks together in the top 10.

[October 17, 1987. Another near miss. Madonna's second Who's That Girl Soundtrack single, "Causing a Commotion," climbs six notches to #5 the same week Whitney former #1 hit "Didn't We Almost Have It All" makes its exit from the top 10.]

December 8, 1990-January 5, 1991. Madonna's "Justify My Love" from her greatest hits set, The Immaculate Collection, enters the top 10 the same week Whitney Houston's "I'm Your Baby Tonight" falls from #1 to #2. The singles spend 5 weeks together in the top 10.

[March 23, 1991. Yet another near miss. Madonna's "Rescue Me" spends its only week in the top 10 at #9 the same week Whitney Houston's ninth #1 hit, "All the Man That I Need," falls out of the top 10.]

January 16-February 6, 1993. On January 16, Madonna's second Erotica single "Deeper and Deeper" enters the top 10 at #10 the week that Whitney's massive Bodyguard Soundtrack hit "I Will Always Love You"spends its 8th week at #1. Two weeks later "Deeper and Deeper" peaks at #7; "I Will Always Love You" is still #1. Two weeks later, "Deeper and Deeper" is gone from the top 10; "I Will Always Love You" is still #1 (and will be for another 2 weeks--it was such a huge hit).

December 9, 1995-December 23, 1995. Madonna's Something to Remember single "You'll See" enters the top 10 at #8 during Whitney's "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)'s" second week at #2, which had debuted at #1 just two weeks earlier, becoming only the third single to ever achieve that feat. The Waiting to Exhale Soundtrack's single was Houston's 11th and final #1 hit. Until this week, this was the last time the two icons spent time together in the top 10.

[March 1, 1997. A near miss. Madonna's Evita hit "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" enters the top 10 at its #8 peak the same week Whitney's The Preacher's Wife Soundtrack hit "I Believe in You and Me" exits the top 10.]

Personal Chart, February 18, 2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Madonna Give Me All Your Luvin'

Madonna's new single released Friday, "Give Me All Your Luvin'" featuring Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. is taking the world by storm. After its first day of airplay, it racked up 1005 spins at top 40 radio, enough to place at #38 for the week after just one day of play. This morning, after two days of play, it's at #26 with 2264 spins.

The video displays a lot of energy, with Madonna dancing through a neighborhood set flanked by Minaj, M.I.A and a football team--a nod to today's Superbowl halftime show.

The soft itself is frothy fun, carrying through the cheerleader theme with the "L-U-V Madonna, Y-O-U you wanna" chants reminiscent of Toni Basil's "Mickey" (or Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" or Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend"). Watching the video, I finally realized what M.I.A. contributes to the song. Both her and Minaj have bridge-section solos, but M.I.A.'s is so understated compared to Minaj that it almost vanishes (and frankly could do so and the song wouldn't lose anything).

I like the song. Definitely ready for MDNA.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

Adele's 21 Racks Up Milestones

As Adele's 21 continues to dominate albums charts well into its second year of release, there are a couple of notable milestones worth mentioning this week.

1) Weeks at #1

Adele's 21 has now spent 17 weeks at #1 on the Billboard 200, the most weeks at #1 since since The Bodyguard Soundtrack topped the chart for 20 weeks in late 1992/early 1993. That puts her in the company of only 26 other albums that have topped the albums chart for that long, the champion being the South Pacific cast album from 1949, which was the nation's most popular album for 69 weeks. See the full list here.

2) Number One Singles

With "Set Fire to the Rain" having ascent to the top of the Hot 100, 21 now has three #1 hits under its belt. That puts the album in the rather exclusive camp of albums to have had three or more #1 hits.

With Katy Perry's Teenage Dream scoring five #1 hits recently, there was much written (including by me) about how there are nine albums with four or more #1s (including two with five).

The club of albums with at least three #1s widens the circle a bit, but is still a pretty exclusive group of just 19 albums:

The Supremes - Where Did Our Love Go (1964): Where Did Our Love Go, Baby Love, Come See About Me

The Beatles - Help! (1965): Ticket to Ride, Help!, Yesterday

The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour (1967): Penny Lane, All You Need is Love, Hello Goodbye

The Beatles - Let It Be (1970): Get Back, Let It Be, The Long and Winding Road

Bee Gees - Spirits Having Flown (1979): Too Much Heaven, Tragedy, Love You Inside Out

Wham! - Make It Big (1984): Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Careless Whisper, Everything She Wants

Whitney Houston (1985): Saving All My Love for You, How Will I Know, The Greatest Love of All

Madonna - True Blue (1986): Live to Tell, Papa Don't Preach, Open Your Heart

Milli Vanilli - Girl You Know It's True (1989): Baby Don't Forget My Number, Girl I'm Gonna Miss You, Blame It On the Rain

Wilson Phillips (1990): Hold On, Release Me, You're in Love

Mariah Carey - Daydream (1995): Fantasy, One Sweet Day, Always Be My Baby (*Notable for having three #1 hits and no other official singles)

Monica - The Boy Is Mine (1998): The Boy Is Mine, The First Night, Angel of Mine

Christina Aguilera (1999): Genie in a Bottle, What a Girl Wants, Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You)

Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006): Sexyback, My Love, What Goes Around...Comes Around
Fergie - The Dutchess (2006): London Bridge, Glamorous, Big Girls Don't Cry

Rihanna - Good Girl Gone Bad/Good Girl Gone Bad (Reloaded)(2007/2008): Umbrella, Take a Bow, Disturbia

The Black Eyed Peas - The E.N.D (2009): Boom Boom Pow, I Gotta Feeling, Imma Be

Rihanna - Loud (2010): Only Girl, What's My Name, S&M

Adele - 21 (2011): Rolling in the Deep, Someone Like You, Set Fire to the Rain

Personal Chart, January 28, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

Top 40: Will Katy Perry hit #1?

It looks like Katy Perry's "The One That Got Away" will not be hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song has fallen below the top 5, and with Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain" sure to claim the top spot next week and hold on for some time, I think Perry's lack of sales will prevent her from topping the chart, even if her airplay is peaking.

At top 40 radio though, she still has a shot. She's been running neck-and-neck with Bruno Mars' "It Will Rain," with both songs waiting for Rihanna's "We Found Love" to finally release its grip from #1. This finally happened this week, allowing Mars to ascend to #1 with Perry close behind at #2. The big question is what happens next week. I see three scenarios:

1) Mars remains at #1. Certainly a possibility if his airplay loss stays minimal, but he's not going to be #1 for long, given that he's hit #1 with a spin loss and several singles in the top 5 now with gains.

2) Flo Rida hits #1. "Good Feeling" is at 12,870 today with a 7-day gain of 548. Another 500 gain will put him at nearly 13,400 next week. If Mars drops 100 spins, Flo could end up at #1.

3) Katy Perry hits #1. This is probably the least likely scenario, but it's still possible. For it to happen, Mars' spin loss has to increase, which it probably will; Flo Rida's spin gain needs to hold or lessen a bit, which is also likely; and Perry's spin gain needs to at least hold for the week and certainly not decrease. Even those I say all those things are likely or possible, it's the fact that all three have to happen that makes this scenario the least likely, in my opinion.

Finally, there is an outside shot that Adele would be #1, but I think "Set Fire to the Rain" is 2 weeks away from #1. Even a 2000 spin gain (500 more than this week) would only put her at 12,200 spins, whereas the #1 contenders are all over 13,000 at present. Never the less, after next week, #1 is all hers.

Source: Accessed January 23, 2012, 8 a.m.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Scissor Sisters "Shady Love"

Scissor Sisters return with "Shady Love," the first single from their upcoming fourth album. It's a different sound for them, but I think I'm liking it. The track features 2012 buzzy-new-artist Azealia Banks, although she's billed as "Krystal Pepsy" in honor of the failed clear '90s Pepsi product Crystal Pepsi.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

New Blog

After 6 years of "Today's Music from ww_adh," I've decided to shift my writing focus to food. Thus today is born my new blog: Cook In / Dine Out, where I will writing about cooking, eating, drinking, restaurants, etc. I will continue to post on this blog, particularly my personal chart, but I expect there will be far fewer posts as I concentrate on this new topic.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Friday, January 06, 2012

Best of 2011 - Movies

1. The Artist
. Director Michel Hazanavicius and stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo of OSS 117 fame re-teamed for this beautifully shot and lovingly rendered homage to the silent film era. A thoroughly entertaining film with a wonderful story at its heart. In a year where the love of cinema was an important theme in movies (see Hugo, Super 8, War Horse, Drive, for example)--just as moviegoers continue to show less interest in actually going to movies--this arty gem shined the brightest.

2. 50/50. Cancer is no laughing matter, but 50/50 managed the perfect balance of comedy and tragedy in this sweet portrait of a young man battling cancer and his allies that support him through it.

3. Drive. Drive manages the rather remarkable feat of paying homage to cheap '80s action flicks with a pitch-perfect production and all-star cast led by Ryan Gosling, with his best performance in a stand-out year. Let's also not forget Albert Brooks playing against type in a truly scary role.

4. Hugo. I didn't plan to see this movie and didn't know what to expect when I went into it. So I was pleasantly surprised that it was absolutely dazzling, telling love story about the movies that also pays tribute to the feats of engineering that make things work.

5. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Harry Potter movies tend to be good but not great, until now. This no-holds-barred finale was a fitting end to the film series, masterfully depicting the books' thrilling and revealing conclusion.

6. The Descendants. George Clooney sheds his usual studly demeanor to play a flawed father struggling to keep his teenage daughters in check while his wife lays dying after a boating accident. Hawaii never looked this real.

7. War Horse. Sure it's a bit over the top, but it this gorgeously retro war film from Spielberg proves the director still knows how to manipulating our hearts like no one else. Since there are so many films about World War II, it's nice to see media turn to World War I more this year (see Downton Abbey).

8. Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen's moved on from London to Paris, spinning this whimsical time-traveling tribute to great figures in historical literature. Owen Wilson's great comeback.

9. Moneyball. I'm not really into baseball, so that this movie was so engrossing despite that, was really something. Another great performance from Brad Pitt.

10. Bridesmaids. Proving that gross-out humor isn't just for the guys, Kristen Wiig and the gang scored a major summer hit and a major star-making turn for Melissa McCarthy.

Honorable mention: Hanna, Shame, The Tree of Life, The Ides of March, Crazy Stupid Love, Super 8