Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Grammys ... 2012

I've got to tell you ...
This is the most I've looked forward to a Grammy Awards Show in longer than I can even remember!
Some great music and artists are nominated this year ...
(The complete list of nominees can be found here ...
And check out this list of performers ...
A virtual "Who's Who" of artists from every genre (offering something for every generation!)
ADELE (who is performing for the very first time since her tour-ending vocal cord surgery)
THE BEACH BOYS (making their first public performance since reuniting for their 50th Anniversary Tour! ... performing with ADAM LEVINE and MAROON 5 and FOSTER THE PEOPLE)
TONY BENNETT performing with CARRIE UNDERWOOD (his duet with the recently departed AMY WINEHOUSE is a Grammy nominee this year)
GLEN CAMPBELL (in the midst of his farewell tour, performing with THE BAND PERRY and Country Male Vocalist of the Year ... and "Voice" mentor ... BLAKE SHELTON)
Inaugural American Idol KELLY CLARKSON (with JASON ALDEAN)
BRUNO MARS (one of the very best of the new talents out there today)
PAUL McCARTNEY (singing a track from his brand new CD, "MY Valentine")
What a line-up!  (Plan your bathroom breaks carefully for this one!!!)
It all airs tonight on CBS Television ... 8 PM Eastern / 7 PM Central
On the eve of Music's Biggest Night, came the sad, sad news of Whitney Houston's death.  While not totally unexpected (we never really knew WHEN it was going to happen ... but always suspected that it would ... kind of like the Amy Winehouse tragedy of a year ago), it's still sad to see such a GREAT talent go to waste like this.  Her musical legacy is unmatched by many ... eleven #1 Pop Hits ... and one of the greatest voices ever to grace the airwaves.  Expect Whitney to be saluted at tonight's awards ceremony ... I'm sure Clive Davis (who championed Houston her entire career, through good times and bad) will have a few words to say ... and I hear that Jennifer Hudson and Chaka Khan are expected to salute her in song.  (Other tributes took place last night at a pre-Grammy ceremony once the news hit of her death.)
Houston was denied the nomination of Best New Artist in 1985 because she had previously released duets with Teddy Pendergrass and Jermaine Jackson ... a TOTAL miscue by the Academy.  Her debut album (titled simply "Whitney Houston") was an absolute SMASH, topping Billboard's Album Chart for 14 weeks and sold over 12 million copies, spawning four Top Ten Singles (two of which went all the way to #1).  Her career immediately skyrocketed ... and she became one of the most idolized (and emulated) female singers on the planet.  
She followed that with "Whitney", another #1 Album (11 weeks) and then topped things off with her movie soundtrack LP to "The Bodyguard", #1 for 20 weeks in 1992.  (iTunes is reporting that Houston's "Greatest Hits" CD knocked Adele's "21" album out of the #1 spot with downloads last night after news of her death hit the media.  Ironically, Adele's album just passed "The Bodyguard" on Billboard's All-Time #1 Albums list when it reached its 21st week at the #1 spot!)
Despite this early snub by the Academy, Whitney was nominated 26 times for Grammy Awards ... and won six times ... Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, for "Saving All My Love For You" (my personal favorite Whitney Houston song) in 1986; Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", 1988; Album of the Year, 1994, for "The Bodyguard"; Record of the Year, 1994, for "I Will Always Love You" (from "The Bodyguard") ... it also won Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, that year ... and "It's Not Right, But It's OK", Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, 2000.
An official cause of death has not yet been announced ... and I can't imagine that it's going to be a pretty picture.  (Houston appeared "disheveled" on Thursday, displaying erratic behavior at a public appearance according to the L.A. Times ... reports say that she smelled of cigarettes and alcohol and was reportedly doing handstands by the pool.)  kk
I can only describe it as a "not-so-shocking headline" ... the news of Whitney Houston's death, while still shocking, was not totally unexpected ... and, if anything, came a decade later than many of us first expected to hear it.
Her rise to the top of the top was nothing short of meteoric ... her first solo chart hit in 1985, "You Give Good Love" peaked at #3 ... and then began a string of seven straight #1 Records ... "Saving All My Love For You", "How Will I Know", "The Greatest Love Of All", "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", "Didn't We Almost Have It All", "So Emotional" and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" kept Houston at the top of the charts for the next three years.  And this run didn't even include her biggest chart hit of all ... "I Will Always Love You", the Dolly Parton tune that Whitney sang in her movie debut "The Bodyguard", topped the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart for 14 incredible weeks.  (Houston hit the top spot three more times ... "I'm Your Baby Tonight" in 1990, "All The Man That I Need" in 1991 and "Exhale" in 1995 ... for a total of ELEVEN #1 Pop Hits!  Even her live rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" (recorded at Super Bowl XXV) became a Top 20 Hit!  (Re-released a decade later, "The Star Spangled Banner" went all the way to #6 on Billboard's Hot 100 Pop Singles Chart!)
Daughter of Gospel Singer Cissy Houston, Cousin of Pop Songstress Dionne Warwick and God-Daughter of The Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin (with whom she recorded the hit duet "It Isn't, It Wasn't, It Ain't Never Gonna Be"), Whitney seemed destined for success ... until drugs took their toll and destroyed her career and once-perfect voice and looks.  Her demise was tragic to watch ... and every time you thought she was on the mend, another relapse / set back sent her career spiraling again. (Ironically, "Sparkle", a new film / musical was in post-production at the time of her death.  Houston appears on screen in the film and sings a duet with American Idol Winner Jordin Sparks over the end credits .. and, from what I've read, looked and sounded great!) 
More details are forthcoming ... but we got flooded with emails as soon as the news was announced.  (They actually interrupted regular programming Saturday Night with a "Special News Bulletin" banner in the 9:00 hour here in Chicago ... typically the type of coverage reserved for "royalty".  In a sense, she was ... Whitney had it ALL ... and then threw it all away, publicly destroying her career in the process.  Very sad news on Grammy Eve ... expect several mentions during tomorrow night's broadcast.  (kk)
My earliest Grammy memory has to be 1964 ... that's the year newcomer Roger Miller cleaned up in nearly every category.  (My Mom was a BIG Roger Miller fan and, as such, we listened to all of his music at our house growing up ... making me a pretty big Roger Miller fan, too!)
Unfortunately, too often the "stuffed shirts" that decided the outcome of these awards were rarely in-tune with what was really happening musically at the time ... this was especially true in the '60's and into the early '70's.  Then we hit The Stevie Wonder Era ... and all of a sudden things and trends began to change.
Listening to this year's annual "Grammy Nominees" CD, I cannot help but wonder about some of the nominations ... I mean, the Grammys are supposed to stand for "Musical Excellence" ... and I believe they may have expanded into too many categories these days to really narrow down this field into what most would consider to actually be "The Very Best of the Very Best" ... but then I consider that LAST year Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You" was nominated for Song of the Year ... and I think, "Man, The Grammys really HAVE come a long, long way." (The song was inescapable ... yet didn't win in most of the categories for which it was nominated.)
Anyway, this year's ceremony is shaping up as one of the best ever ... so you can bet that I'll be glued to the TV screen Sunday night, watching many of my favorites.  (Early word this morning is that Bruce Springsteen will open the show ... and Paul McCartney will close it ... three cheers for "Dinosaur Rock"!!!  I suppose, if I'm being totally fair an objective, today's kids are probably bemoaning the fact that The Grammys are acknowledging the wrong people this year, too, by featuring artists whose careers peaked DECADES ago with such prime spots in this evening's broadcast.  Proof again that what goes around, comes around, I guess!!!)  kk
Here's another one of our famous "Bobby Darin Flashbacks" ... here's how we reported the Second Annual Grammy Awards in our month-long Bobby Darin Series ...
There is no question that Bobby Darin idolized Frank Sinatra ... but his inspirations and influences were every bit as much Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr., Donald O'Connor and others.  (You can also add Harry Belafonte to that list ... according to songwriter Steve Karmen, Bobby came across as a Belafonte wannabe in his earliest nightclub act!)  In 1962, Bobby would release an album called "Bobby Darin Sings Ray Charles", a tribute to the genius of Brother Ray, which spawned the hit single "What'd I Say", a #24 pop hit later that year.  (His #3 smash "You're The Reason I'm Living" was more than a passing tribute to Ray Charles, too ... it's practically a note-for-note rip-off of Charles' #1 Hit "I Can't Stop Loving You"!)
Bobby's brash cockiness was legendary ... he once told "The Saturday Evening Post" that "there is a difference between conceit and egotism ... conceit is thinking you're great;  egotism is KNOWING it."  When Darin told the press "I want to make it faster than anyone has ever made it before ... I'd like to be a legend by the time I'm twenty-five years old," they took this as simply one more obnoxious comment ... but, in fact, Bobby had his career planned around the medical time-table he personally had to contend with.
By 1960, Bobby Darin was coming off the biggest hit of his career.  He followed "Mack The Knife"'s nine week run at Number One with another classic show-stopper ... the French tune "La Mer" was remade into "Beyond The Sea" and Bobby was quickly back in The Top Ten.  (It peaked at #6 in Billboard.)  
Bobby was pretty busy in 1960 ... with his image-changing breakthrough LP "That's All" still  on the charts, he went on to release FOUR more albums that year.  (Besides these commercially released albums, he recorded enough additional material to fill two more LPs, which sat in the can until 1963 and 1964 and were released after Bobby had already left the label.)  He also became one of the biggest money-makers and largest draws in Las Vegas and nightclubs all over the country. 
But despite all this pop chart success, Bobby wanted more.  The truth is, in his heart, Bobby didn't believe that rock and roll would last.  Like many of the older generation, he felt that rock was just a fad that would eventually peter out.  (In all fairness, you need to keep in mind that by 1959, Elvis was in the army, Buddy Holly had died in a plane crash, Jerry Lee Lewis had already been forsaken by his fans after marrying his cousin, Little Richard had left rock and roll for the church and several new poster-boy Teen Idol wannabes like Fabian, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell were now prominently on the scene.)  Bobby knew that the key to a successful, long lasting career was to capture the hearts of the older audience as well ... and if he could take the kids along with him, all the better. 
Darin would be criticized throughout his career for using rock and roll as a stepping stone to a bigger musical career.  Indeed, some of his own comments early in his career would indicate that he wasn't particularly fond of the genre ... but there is no question that he could write it and sing it and connect with the young teenage audience.  (After recording "Splish Splash", Bobby told long-time friend Richard Behrke, "You'll vomit when you hear it.")  He always said that it wasn't a great song ... but that it captured what the kids wanted.  Lyrical references to Peggy Sue and Good Golly Miss Molly insured its place alongside these other early classic rockers.  He as much as admitted to his master plan in an interview with "Down Beat" Magazine in 1960:  "Pat Boone was using rock and roll as a device ... which is all well and good.  It's exactly what I did."
There was no question that Bobby wanted to branch out and do more musically.  When he first talked about doing an album of standards, his contemporaries told him it was career suicide.  Close friend Dick Clark pretty much spelled it out for him ... he would lose his audience and alienate his fans if he even TRIED to change his style.  Bobby felt that if he simply stuck with rock and roll, he'd just be one of a thousand other singers ... but if he could continue to polish up his stage act ... and reach a broader, more mature audience, he could take his career to levels never even dreamed of ... and sustain a much longer lasting career than any flash-in-the-pan rock star.
Darin was determined to prove the cynics wrong.  Despite all the advice he received to the contrary, he went in and cut the standards album he wanted to make. With that thought in mind, "That's All", for all intents and purposes, may very well have been the very first concept album.  Bobby wanted to show his versatility as an artist and when the unlikely pop / rock candidate "Mack The Knife" was selected as his next single, it blew the lid off EVERYTHING else that was out at the time.  It shot straight to #1 and stayed there for nine incredible weeks.  Besides several other previous chart appearances (most often as "The Theme from 'ThreePenny Opera'" or "Moritat"), Bobby made the song his own ... to the point that every "eek" he ad-libbed in the studio have now become permanently etched as part of the lyrics of the song ... you end up singing along with each and every one of them every time you hear it.  Richard Wess did an INCREDIBLE arrangement and the song took on a whole new life of its own.  "Mack The Knife" was a radio SMASH, crossing over to ALL genres of music ... rock and roll, Top 40, pop ... even the JAZZ stations played it!
Bobby was rewarded a few months later when he was nominated for four Grammy Awards.  In the Music Industry's second-ever (and first televised) ceremony, "Mack The Knife" was nominated for Best Arrangement. (Richard Wess lost to Billy May, who had done the arrangement on Frank Sinatra's hit "Come Dance With Me".)  Darin and Sinatra (and the same two songs) faced off again in the Best Vocal Performance Male category and Sinatra 
won THAT award, too.  But then Bobby rebounded with the Best New Artist award and topped off the evening by winning The Record Of The Year Award for "Mack" (which just happened to  crush Sinatra's "High Hopes" recording!)  By now, the comparisons to Frank Sinatra had really started to escalate and would follow him for most of the rest of his career.  (How ironic that these two crooners would go head-to-head in so many categories at that year's Grammy Awards!) 
At the end of the evening, whether he was pumped up by the excitement of the day's events or overcome by his own massive ego, exhilaration and / or exhaustion, Bobby made a comment that would haunt him for the next several years.  When pressed by UPI's Vernon Scott about challenging Sinatra in all four categories (and winning in two), Darin reportedly said "I hope to surpass Frank in everything he's done."  Soon newspapers all over the country were talking about the cocky young kid with the big mouth, who was WAY out of line for even hinting that he deserved to mentioned in the same breath as "Old Blue Eyes" ... despite the fact that those same newspapers had been playing up the comparisons for months already.
While Darin would spend the next several years denying or down-playing the remark, Sinatra refused to comment.  In hindsight, it seems to have been more of a feud fueled by the press than anything personal between the two artists.  Photos circulated of Sinatra and Dean Martin using a Bobby Darin album cover as a dartboard .... but the truth is that Darin was close with fellow rat-packer Sammy Davis, Jr. most of his life.  (In fact, the liner notes for Bobby's big crossover album "That's All" even reprinted a telegram sent by Sammy Davis, Jr. stating "I've just heard the dubs for your new album.  What can I say?  They're so good I hate you!  But seriously, Bobby, I think the album's another step in a career that I feel will last a long time.") 
Bobby also remained on excellent terms with Sinatra's daughter Nancy and her then-husband Tommy Sands.  There are even reports that suggest that after Sinatra broke away from Capitol Records to form his own record company, Reprise Records, Bobby was approached about jumping ship from Atlantic to record for Ol' Blue Eyes.  (Darin reportedly turned down the offer, feeling he'd be the lost, forgotten artist amongst Sinatra's rat-pack pals also signed to the label ... in fact, Bobby signed with Capitol to record alongside his other idol Nat King Cole, hoping to fill some of the void left by Sinatra's departure!)  Another well recounted incident tells that after one of Bobby's nightclub engagement, comedian Jerry Lewis approached Darin and told him that he was all alone in the league ... Frank, Dean, Sammy and Jerry were all several years older ... and NOBODY else was doing what Bobby was doing ... he had the whole arena to himself.  The only one who could louse it up for him was Bobby himself ... otherwise, there was NOBODY out there that could touch him.  Bobby took the advice to heart.
The most-famous comment Sinatra ever made on the subject when asked what he thought of Bobby Darin was:  "I sing in saloons.  Bobby Darin does my prom dates."  Darin called it "one of the greatest single lines of all time" and said that he was only too happy to play his prom dates ... until graduation!

ISN'T IT IRONIC?:  Years later, Frank Sinatra would cut his OWN version of "Mack The Knife", using a virtually identical arrangement to Bobby Darin's!!!  In fact, on his 1984 album "L.A. Is My Lady", Sinatra added a lyric paying tribute to some of the previous "Mack" hit-makers:  "Satchmo Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin and Lady Ella, too ... Old Blue Eyes can add nothing new."  (kk)

DIDJAKNOW?-1:  Against the best wishes of his musical colleagues and his record label, Bobby Darin released his "That's All" album in March of 1959.  Atlantic Records didn't know what to do with the record ... it was SO different from anything else that Bobby had recorded ... and, in fact, different than anything the label had released up to this point.  Coming off the heels of Bobby's smash hit single "Dream Lover", they didn't know what to release next ... all they knew was it had to be big.  The decision was pretty much made for them ... radio jumped on the lead LP track and started playing "Mack The Knife" ... in fact, it quickly crossed over into EVERY style of music, getting played not only on the rock and roll stations but also the pop / contemporary stations, the big bands stations, the jazz stations and everything in between.  It was, by ALL definitions, an across-the-boards SMASH.  Atlantic had no choice but to release it as a single ... which they did in August of that year ... incredibly, a full FIVE MONTHS after the song first hit the streets as an LP track!  (kk)

DIDJAKNOW?-2:  Bobby Darin was criticized by some for "glamorizing" the character of Mac Heath ... it was basically a song about a murderer!  Bobby mostly patterned his arrangement after the Louis Armstrong hit from 1956 but the musical "ThreePenny Opera" 
was also making a comeback in the theater at the time Bobby's song hit the charts.  One of the characters mentioned in the lyrics was Lotte Lenya ... who was actually the widow of Kurt Weill, one of the original songwriters of "Moritat" ... which became "Mack The Knife"!  In fact, Lotte was starring as Jenny in the off-Broadway revival of "ThreePenny Opera" at the time that Bobby's record hit!  Ironically, Lotte Lenya had discussed the possibility of recording some of her late husband's songs with Atlantic Records label head Ahmet Ertegen ... when Bobby came to Ertegen with the idea to record "Mack The Knife" 
for his new album of standards (a song he had already been performing in concert for months) it was a COMPLETE coincidence.  (kk)

WHAT DID MACK THE KNIFE SOUND LIKE BEFORE BOBBY DARIN?:  "A Theme from 'The ThreePenny Opera'" was a Top 20 Hit three times in 1956.  Richard Hayman and Jan August took their instrumental version to #12.  It was surpassed by the similarly named Dick Hyman Trio (actually billed as "The UNFORGETTABLE Sound of the Dick Hyman Trio" on the record label of single), who released the similarly sounding "Moritat ... A Theme from 'The ThreePenny Opera'".  Their version went all the way to #7 in Cash Box.  (Hey, didn't they use to play this on the old Ernie Kovacs television series all the time?!?!?!)  In fact, three MORE instrumental versions also reached the charts that year when released by Lawrence Welk, Billy Vaughn and Les Paul.  Finally, Louis Armstrong took his vocal version to #20 that year as well.  It's the Bobby Darin 1959 
version, however, that's become the definitive take ... and most certainly his signature tune.)  kk