The First Family of the Rock Era: The Jacksons.

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I can’t believe that it is February 6, that the Super Bowl is over, and that we are moving into the last month of boys’ high school and men’s college basketball seasons (no offense to the ladies, because I really was a varsity assistant coach at the first school where I taught in the 90s). This coming Sunday, I will be making my annual snarky Grammy comments on Facebook for reasons unbeknownst to me. I just do it. I guess its my way of making up for KISS’ Destroyer album not getting nominated for Album of the Year in 1976 (I really don’t keep many grudges, but this one I do).

So, in keeping with Black History Month, I thought it would be kind of fun, though it turned out being daunting, to list the Top 100 Songs from Members of the Jackson Family, to honor Michael’s daughter, Paris, for her first Rolling Stone cover pic. The Jacksons are the most successful family in music history during the rock era. Their were nine children born to Joseph and Katherine Jackson, originally of Gary, Indiana. A tenth child died after birth. The first surprising fact is that I discovered that ALL nine Jackson kids have scored gold records. Rebbie, Jermaine, La Toya, Michael and Janet have all earned individual gold records, while Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, Michael and Randy earned gold records as part of either the Jackson 5, while on Motown, or the Jacksons, while signed to Epic Records.

After consulting one of my favorite music websites, http://www.vfmusic.com, I compiled a Top 100 list for the Jackson Family’s hit songs. I did a little juggling to allow La Toya to join the fun, but I didn’t want to leave out the one true rebel of the family with one of her hit dance songs that was released in the wake of Michael’s overpowering of the music industry in 1984. After Michael crushed the world with Thriller, even La Toya, the future Playboy model of the family, got a singing contract. Now, this whole week is in celebration of the rock era’s first family of music: The Jacksons. Let’s begin the countdown of the Top 100 Songs by Members of the Jackson Family.

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100. La Toya Jackson – “Heart Don’t Lie” (1984). When this song peaked at #56 on the Hot 100, La Toya became the final Jackson to actually rack up enough sales of this single to earn a gold record. This record proves how long and strong Michael’s coattails were back then.

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99. Rebbie Jackson – “Centipede” (1984). Arguably, the sister with the best voice, Michael stepped in to write, produce and sing back-up on this great and former Dance Chart #1 record that propelled the eldest Jackson sibling to her only gold record. It had to be Jackson fatigue in 1984 that kept this song from being a bigger hit.

98. The Jackson 5 – “Little Pretty One” (1972). Didn’t they perform this song on their Saturday morning cartoon? If not, they missed the perfect vehicle for this tune.

97. Jermaine Jackson – “I Think It’s Love” (1986). Back in the mid-70s, when the rest of his brothers left Motown for Epic, he remained loyal to Motown. Why? Because he had just married Motown owner Berry Gordy Jr.’s daughter. Oops! He didn’t perform with his brothers until the ill-fate Victory Tour of 1984.

96. Jermaine – “Dynamite!” (1984). Never understood why this song was so popular with a title/chorus using a word made popular in the mid-70s by Jimmy Walker’s character on the TV show Good Times. Maybe that word made the song more timeless than I realized.

95. Michael Jackson – “Farewell My Summer Love” (1984). So, when Thriller blew up and there was talk of ALL of the Jackson men joining forces on a summer of 1984 tour, Motown must have felt they deserve a cut from this money train since they had originally discovered and nurtured this talent. So, Motown cleaned out this Michael Jackson vault, cleaned up this demo, and released this turd of a record on to the public hungry for anything Michael.

94. Jermaine – “Let Me Tickle You Fancy” (1982). This song is almost likeable.

93. The Jacksons – “This Place Hotel” (1980). No where in the lyrics of this song does the title come up! In fact, the chorus mentions a “Heartbreak Hotel”, but the label thought this song would be confused with Elvis Presley’s song of the same name. In the words of Dr. Evil, “Riiiiiiight.”

92. The Jacksons – “Torture” (1984). Yes, this song WAS torture to listen to. By then, everyone knew Michael was saving his best material for his albums. So, Jackie had to come up with this song.

91. The Jacksons – “Blame It on the Boogie” (1978). This song is so much fun to dance to. But, it is not a good pop song, since it has no real chorus. Too bad.

90. Janet Jackson – “Son of a Gun” (2001). Not really one of Janet’s better songs. Also, it was one of the first indications that Janet was losing her hot touch with music.

89. The Jacksons – “Can You Feel It” (1980). See what I said for #92, because it works here too.

88. Michael – “One More Chance” (2003). The new song on Michael’s Number Ones album was not a keeper.

87. Michael – “Give in to Me” (1993). Was Michael trying to set a record at the time to release ANOTHER song from Dangerous?

86. Michael – “Butterflies” (2001). I think all of the child molestation charges were affecting his music, because 80s Michael would have buried this piece of smelly crap in his backyard then. Or, had The Jacksons record it.

85. Janet – “Go Deep” (1998). Janet told us that her The Velvet Rope album was the equivalent of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On. If this song is any indication, the comparison is wrong. Maybe, she should have given this song to her brothers for them to do.

84. The Jackson 5 – “Sugar Daddy” (1971). This song reminds me of the bubblegum music era. So, were the boys singing about the candy of the same name or La Toya’s future hubby? You make the call.

83. Janet – “Got It ‘Til It’s Gone” (1997). Another ill-advised song from her The Velvet Rope album.

82. Janet Jackson with Nelly – “Call on Me” (2006). Wasn’t this really a Nelly song to begin with? Oh, who cares?!?! Nelly AND Janet were creatively spent by this song.

81. Janet – “The Pleasure Principle” (1987) #14. I LOVE this song! I can’t believe it wasn’t a bigger hit since the video showed a svelte Miss Jackson “practicing” her Paula Abdul-choreographed dance moves in a studio by her lonesome self. Still dig this song!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are at the end of today’s first 20 songs in My Top 100 Songs of the Jackson Family. I am not sure that a family as large as this one is as talented as this family. I would go out on a limb to state that no other family can match this one for their mental health issues, though sometimes I feel like I am a whole Jackson family rolled up into one crazy head. But, that’s another blog…NOT!

I Forgot It’s February! Black Musicians Influence on the Music We All Love

As a former teacher and coach, I really tried to overlook the color, nationality and/or creed of my students and athletes. For the most part, I feel like I was successful in reaching students as important individuals to my life. Since this is Black History Month, I got to thinking back to three situations that occurred to me with students that told me that I must be reaching them as people and not members of a race, country or religion.

The first situation happened during the next-to-last year of my teaching career. For the last six years of teaching, I taught mostly Honors Chemistry classes, which consisted of the strongest students the school had to offer in every sophomore class. In this particular class, we were finished with our final, and everyone was quietly talking. Now, I used to describe these classes as my United Nations classes since the kids were from all kinds of varying backgrounds. Anyway, the students were excited about Winter Break, when one of them innocently asked a Muslim boy what he did on Christmas. The boys quickly and dryly retorted, “Sleep.” He looked at me, and we started laughing like crazy.

The next circumstance happened once again right before Winter Break in that same school’s Honors Chemistry class. This time, one of my young lady Muslim students quietly came up to me at the end of class and handed me two candy canes, slightly bowed toward me and walked out of the classroom. I did not know what to think. Here, this young lady was giving me two candy canes, which have not only implications of Christmas, but also Christian overtones. After asking a couple of colleagues about their thoughts of the situation, they concluded that the young woman was showing both me and my religious belief the same respect that I had shown her all semester long. That action still brings tears to my eyes to this day.

Finally, back in 2004, when I was teaching at a different school, this time in an Integrated Chemistry and Physics class, a small group of young African American kids named me an Honorary African-American for the month of February that year. The girl who spoke for the group said it was because I didn’t really treat them any different from the other kids and that they trusted and respected me. All I could say was “Thank you”, as my eyes filled with tears.

So, since I was once named an Honorary African-American, I thought I would list my 25 Favorite Black Musicians of All-Time since it is Black History Month. Like I always told my students, once they had me as a teacher, they would always be honorary children in my family. Some of them I am still friends with them to this day, while the rest I wonder about all the time. Well, here’s my list, with my favorite album and song by each artist.

25. R. Kelly. Sure, the man had some problems in his past, but one things for certain: he’s THE R&B man of the 90s and beyond. 12 Play. “I Believe I Can Fly”.

24. 2pac. The man was, and still is, THE best emcee of all-time. Greatest Hits. “Changes”.

23. Mariah Carey. One of the greatest voices of all-time, Mariah has been a hit factory over the years. Daydream. “Fantasy”.

22. Lionel Richie/Commodores. I get it why Lionel felt he had to go solo, but how much more killer would have his solo stuff have sounded when played by the Commodores? Can’t Slow Down. “Easy”.

21. Janet Jackson. C’mon now! Put her into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame all ready! She has had nearly the same number of Top 40 hits as Michael and more than her other siblings, including the Jackson 5/Jacksons. Rhythm Nation 1814. “That’s the Way Love Goes”.

20. Smokey Robinson/Miracles. Smokey was named by Bob Dylan as the greatest poet of our generation. High praise from a Nobel Prize Laurette. A Quiet Storm. “Tears of a Clown”.

19. Chic. I won’t yell at the RRHOF about them again. We are talking about the funkiest, jazz-infused, rock-influenced disco band of all-time. Nile Rodgers Presents the Chic Organization: Up All Night. “Good Times”.

18. Whitney Houston. What a shame about Miss Houston. She had the purest voice ever, with just the right amount of sass to make her heads above the rest. Whitney Houston. “I Will Always Love You”.

17. The Isley Brothers. These guys have had hits in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s AND 2000s! Easily the most adaptable band to the current trends of the day, but for my money, it’s their early- to mid-70s output that defines them. 3+3. “That Lady”.

16. Earth, Wind & Fire. I just watched a video of a concert of theirs from 1980. There were musicians moving all around the stage, yet they sounded so tight. The brought the spiritual funk to us. Gratitude. “September”.

15. Sly & the Family Stone. This racially-integrated band from the Bay Area took the funk to the rock world seamlessly. Go watch the movieĀ Woodstock to see how they ruled the weekend. Greatest Hits. “I Want to Take You Higher”.

14. The Temptations. THE Motown vocal band with the sharpest moves, the Temps transcended the times with their impeccable tunes. Anthology. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”.

13. Little Richard. The original androgynous rocker scared the parents of teens who loved his music. I think it’s a crime that Pat Boone stole his songs and removed the soul from them in order to sell them to sanitized white kids.

12. Diana Ross/Supremes. Look up a list of the group’s hits, then Miss Ross’ list, and tell me they don’t belong here. The Motown Collection. “Stop! In the Name of Love”.

11. George Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic/Bootsy’s Rubber Band/Parlet/Brides of Funkenstein/Horny Horns/etc. During the 70s, no one could touch Clinton’s musical empire. Parliament initially held down the funk, while Funkadelic did the rock. After a while, it became unclear which band was playing as they began to overlap in sound. Still, they took the funk to places that others have yet to discover. One Nation Under a Groove. “Atomic Dog”.

10. Bob Marley. Where would reggae be without Bob Marley? It wouldn’t be the music it is today. Legend. “One Love”.

9. Marvin Gaye. This was the man who changed how Motown dealt with their talent. Finally, the label began to allow their artists some autonomy. This change in philosophy paid off immediately with Gaye and Stevie Wonder. What’s Going On. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”.

8. Ray Charles. Brother Ray brought together the worlds of blues, country and gospel into a new sound that we now call rock & roll. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. “Hit the Road Jack”.

7. Aretha Franklin. The diva of all divas, Franklin brought powerhouse gospel vocal power to her R&B hits. 30 Greatest Hits. “Respect”.

6. James Brown. The Hardest Working Man in Show Business. The Godfather of Soul. Soul Brother #1. Regardless of your preference of a nickname for Mr. Brown, the man invented the whole funk language that influenced the work of Sly & the Family Stone; Earth, Wind & Fire; George Clinton’s musical empire and all of the Hip Hop nation. Star Time. “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud”.

5. Chuck Berry. During an 18-month period of time in the mid- to late-50s, Chuck Berry wrote all of his most influential songs that were the basis of the Beach Boys’ early surf hits and of the complete career of the Rolling Stones. Twenty-Eight Greats. “Johnny B. Goode”.

4. Jimi Hendrix. With and without the Experience, Hendrix completely changed the sound and use of the electric guitar. He died WAY too young. Everyone from George Clinton’s Parliafunkadelicment Thang through Living Colour and Fishbone to The Roots and Gary Clark Jr. are still trying to unravel his secrets. Electric Ladyland. “All Along the Watchtower”.

3. Stevie Wonder. Along with Marvin Gaye, Wonder successfully fought Motown for creative control over his music. And, if you though Stevie’s 60s music was a revelation, then how would you describe his 70s output when all things musical were under HIS control? That was rhetorical. Songs in the Key of Life. “Higher Ground”.

2. Michael Jackson. With his brothers, Michael was terrific. But, on his own, he was simply transcendent. He made the music world of the 80s colorblind in that everything that follow his Thriller album needed to be giving him thanks for their pop sound. Thriller. “Billie Jean”.

1. Prince. Really, I could have switched Michael and Prince and been happy. BUT, Prince was so creative throughout his life that it was difficult to fully digest his latest project before he was releasing a totally new one. But when one focuses on the years of 1982 through 1989, NO ONE was creating as much truly great music as His Royal Badness. The only thing, he followed up those years with another burst of creativity from 1992 to 1996 that many of us are just warming up to. Prince could play nearly any instrument with session player proficiency, write songs in all genres, record a choir of his own vocals in perfect harmony, dance as well as James Brown or Michael Jackson AND wail on a guitar like a blues or metal god. He was the total package in that skinny little body. Unfortunately, he and Michael both left us too soon. Sign ‘o’ the Times. “When Doves Cry”.

At this time, I would like to apologize to Otis Redding, Afrika Bambaataa, Lenny Kravitz, Living Colour, Fishbone, the Busboys, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, The Notorious B.I.G., Chaka Khan (with or without Rufus), Tina Turner (with or without Ike), OutKast, the Four Tops, Jimmy Cliff, Rick James, Peter Tosh, among the countless others who I have left off this imperfect list. But, this is what is perversely fun about making these lists – seeing who I left off. Here’s to all the black artists who have made my musical listening experiences that much more enjoyable over the years.

Let Us All Remember the Greatness of Blondie

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Yesterday was pain pump refill day. The procedure itself is not too bad, but the total time of the trip is dependent upon how quickly Dr. D is taking to refill those patients in front of me on the schedule, which there were only two. But, he told me the first patient was difficult for him to “hit” the small port on her. Yet, he still got the jump done, as well as another man’s and my pump. So, after an hour of “sitting”, more like pacing, in my room, it was time for the return trip to Pendleton, so my wife can get on with her day, and I can adjust to the dosage change.

Anyway, I suffer from ADHD, which might not be a surprise at all to my friends, family and former students and athletes. That condition may have been the basis of my success as a track coach, which I always likened that coaching job to being the ringmaster of a circus. So, it will affect my music tastes from moment to moment. Let’s see, just two weeks ago I was all about rap music, and thinking, “Screw rock music!” Now, I went through a quick run on arena rock, which no longer takes too long since I’ve been in a relationship with that type of music for 41 years. Anyway, today, I dip my toes into some of the music that was a reaction against many of the arena rock bands and their influential groups, like the Zep, The Who and all of the others that were popular in the mid-70s in the US.

In 1976, we began to hear records from the punk bands who had been playing at the CBGB’s leading up to their signings. In 1975, Patti Smith started things off with the released of her Horses album, followed by the eponymous titled Ramones debut album and by the poppier band on that scene, Blondie, with their self-titled debut LP. And, we were off to the races with the largest, most influential music scene of the mid-70s through the early 80s. Ironically, the band that was considered by those of the NYC punk scene thought Blondie was the weakest band, but they proved to be the most successful.

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Today, I present to you my Top 20 Favorite Songs by Blondie or Debbie Harry. Here’s a toast to the kitschy pop/rock that Blondie, and more specifically Deborah Harry, created. Dare I say that Deborah Harry paved the way for Madonna, Janet Jackson and all of the posers from the late 80s onward? Lady Gaga definitely carries Harry’s DNA.

20. “In the Flesh” (1976 – Blondie). One of the songs off the band’s debut album that hooked me during my middle school days.

19. “I Want That Man” (1989 – Def, Dumb & Blonde). This cut of late-80s electronic dance music from Harry’s third solo album displays her ability to sound natural all forms of music.

18. “The Hardest Part” (1979 – Eat to the Beat). Just when you think Blondie has forgotten their punk roots, they release this song on their fourth album.

17. “Sunday Girl” (1978 – Parallel Lines). The thing that made Blondie so intriguing was their love of early-60s girl groups like the Ronettes and the Shangri-La’s. This song in particular conjures up memories of that era.

16. “(I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence Dear” (1977 – Plastic Letters). I have always been attracted to this song, but I’m not sure why. Is it a straight up love song, or, more disturbingly, is it a stalker song? Either way, it’s still a great 60s girl group pastiche.

15. “Rip Her to Shreds” (1976 – Blondie). Yet another song that Blondie perfected early on that can be taken successfully on many different levels.

14. “Feel the Spin” (1985 – Krush Groove OST). Blondie was well-respected in the NYC underground art scene. The band shared a mutual respect with the rap artists of the era. Thus, here is a Deborah Harry solo track of electronic funk placed in the middle of a hip hop soundtrack album. And, her song fits in perfectly. No surprise there!

13. “French Kissin'” (1986 – Rockbird). This solo Debbie song would have been better served by a Blondie reunion. Regardless, it’s a fantastic song.

12. “Island of Lost Souls” (1982 – The Hunter). This song comes from the last album Blondie would record for another 17 years. This arrived just as MTV was hitting the Midwest, so the song could have had been a bigger hit if they had recorded a more charming video. However, the tensions within the band, along with guitarist, and Debbie’s long-time boyfriend, Chris Stein’s poor health made this a swansong of sorts. Still, I loved the Caribbean touch.

11. “Maria” (1999 – No Exit). THE comeback! Too bad the USA did not warm up to it because the public missed out on a genuinely great pop song. The more brilliant people of the UK sent the song to Number One on their pop chart.

10. “The Tide Is High” (1980 – Autoamerican). Sure, the album was uneven. But, there is no denying that this reggae tune was just what was ordered for us during the winter of 1980-81.

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9. “Backfired” (1981 – Koo Koo). The first song from Harry’s first album that was produced by the Chic Organization (Nile Rodgers AND Bernard Edwards, the capitalized “AND” is for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that Chic was more than Rodgers!). When Harry goes flat-out disco, she is at her best.

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8. “Call Me” (1980 – American Gigolo OST). This was the song that dominated radio in central Indiana, so I kind of forgot what a great song this was, and what a great producer Giorgio Moroder was for Blondie, though I have heard this was more of a Debbie Harry solo project than a Blondie song. This may have been the straw that broke up the band.

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7. “One Way or Another” (1978 – Parallel Lines). This great rocker of a song is timeless. Need I say more?

6. “Union City Blue” (1979 – Eat to the Beat). I never understood why the singles off this album never took off. This song is another great rocker that the band killed on Saturday Night Live during the season premiere of that ill-fate fifth season during 1979-80.

5. “Hanging on the Telephone” (1978 – Parallel Lines). Did you know this song is a remake of a song by the short-lived power pop band The Nerves. In Blondie’s hands, it goes from a sugary power pop song into a muscular, full-blown rocking classic.

4. “Dreaming” (1979 – Eat to the Beat). Another rocking song from Blondie’s underappreciated fourth album. The song still sounds fresh today.

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3. “Atomic” (1979 – Eat to the Beat). Identity crisis in the band? After the success of their ironic disco song, “Heart of Glass”, the year before, some band members began to flex their love of dancing music (Harry, Stein and drummer Clem Burke).

2. “Heart of Glass” (1978 – Parallel Lines). The song that blew the band wide open to the world began as a humble song of irony entitled “The Disco Song”. Producer Mike Chapman loved the song so much that he convinced the band to cut it for real. And the rest, they say, is history.

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1. “Rapture” (1980 – Autoamerican). I honestly have loved this song from the beginning and have never gotten enough of it. I don’t know, but when the rap starts, I’m hooked.

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That’s my salute to Blondie and their lead singer, the incomparable Deborah Harry. Long live Blondie!