Stevie Wonder’s extraordinary burst of productivity after his 21st birthday in 1971—a time now celebrated as his “classic period”—was a direct result of his contractual maneuvers with Motown Records.
On his 21st birthday, when he was no longer a minor, Wonder gained access to 10 years’ worth of royalties that had been accruing in a trust set up for him when he’d signed his first contract, at age 11.
He also allowed his Motown contract to expire at that moment, meaning that one of pop music’s hottest stars was now both financially secure and a free agent. If Motown wanted to keep him, it would require a deal unlike any the label had previously granted.
Wonder negotiated a new contract with Motown that granted him full artistic control over his music, his own publishing company, and an unprecedented royalty rate. It was a revolutionary deal that initiated one of the greatest sustained runs of creativity in the history of popular music.
This according to “The greatest creative run in the history of popular music” by Jack Hamilton (Slate 19 December 2016; RILM Abstracts 2016-48645).
Today is Stevie Wonder’s 70th birthday! Above, in his turning point year; below, Superstition, his #1 hit from 1972.
BONUS: Tearing the roof off Sesame Street in 1973.
Born in the South Bronx, New York, Willie Colón has been a leader in the salsa tradition for over 50 years. In an interview, he discussed the music and its background.
“A lot of people like to characterize salsa as a pastiche of Cuban son. There’s no denying that there is a Cuban influence and a Cuban base to it, but it’s so much more.”
“Salsa is not a rhythm, it’s a concept. It’s a way of making music. It’s an open concept and the reason that it became so popular is because it was able to evolve and accept all of these other musics. We put the bombas and plenas in it; we put calypso, samba, bossa, and cumbia in it. It’s definitely not even a Puerto Rican or a Cuban music. It’s a reconciliation of everything you can find.”
“I think it could have only happened here in New York, where you had so many different kinds of people living and playing together. We used to get a lot of the black jazz players. They wanted to come and play salsa so they can blow over the changes. Where are you going to find players like that other than in a big city like New York? This was not going to happen in Cuba or Puerto Rico; it had to be here.”
Quoted in “Willie Colón: Salsa is an open concept” by Frank J. Oteri (NewMusicBox 1 March 2009).
Today is Colón’s 70th birthday! Above, an iconic record cover from 1971 (right-click to enlarge); below, a 2018 performance.
The soundtrack for the reality television show Flying wild Alaska uses audioreelism—sound-design components that express the lived realities of indigenous peoples—to portray the daily life of an Alaska Native family in the airline business. It also uses sound worlding—bringing the world into being through sound—and audible indigeneity—the stereotypical ways in which listeners determine whether or not music sounds Native.
This soundtrack is unprecedented in its use of music by indigenous musicians from Alaska and the circumpolar Arctic. Featured artists set lyrics in indigenous languages to popular musical styles such as hip hop, rap, funk, and R&B. The overall sound combines local musical styles, licensed third-party music by indigenous artists, synthesized distortion effects, and sounds such as propeller engines, aircraft alarms, and bird strikes.
This range of sounds unsettles conventional musical representations of The North. Audioreelism and Native sound worlding therefore challenge settler-colonial representations of the indigenous Arctic.
This according to “Inuit sound wording and audioreelism in Flying wild Alaska” by Jessica Bissett Perea, an essay included in Music and modernity among First Peoples of North America (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2019, pp. 174–97).
Above and below, Pamyua, one of the groups whose music is used in the series.
In 2019 Ediciones Universidad Alberto Hurtado launched Contrapulso: Revista latinoamericana de estudios en música popular (ISSN 2452-5545), a peer-reviewed online journal devoted to popular music in Latin America and the Caribbean at all times in history—from the musical, literary, technological, and/or performative scrutiny of the popular repertoire to the study of the formation of collective identities through this music. Issues are published yearly in January and August.
Below, Pamela Cortés’s Cristales rotos, one of the songs discussed in “Fonograma erotizado: Producción musical y mujer en la música popular de Guayaquil” by Luis Pérez Valero and Samaela Campos; the article is included in the inaugural issue.
A 2017 study compared the personality traits of Croatian classical and heavy metal musicians with norms for the Croatian population, and data on alcohol consumption with a representative sample of the general Croatian population.
Participants in the study were men (N = 249) playing either classical (N = 113) or heavy metal music (N = 136). Personality was measured with the IPIP-50 personality questionnaire, and participants answered several questions about alcohol consumption.
The study found no significant differences in personality traits between classical and heavy metal musicians, but both classical and heavy metal musicians differed significantly in personality from the norms, having higher scores on extraversion, agreeableness, and especially intellect.
Belonging to a heavy metal group was associated with consuming alcohol more often, and the frequency of alcohol consumption was statistically higher for heavy metal musicians than in the general population.
This according to “Personality traits and alcohol consumption of classical and heavy metal musicians” by Ana Butkovič and Dunja Rančić Dopuđ (Psychology of music XLV/2 [March 2017] pp. 246–56).
Above and below, members of Hladno Pivo (Cold Beer) discuss the study’s findings.
Related article: Eläkeläiset inebriated
The Japanese rap pioneer and activist ECD (Ishida Yoshinori, 石田義則) was neither the earliest nor most commercially successful rapper, and he would have eschewed calling himself a leader of any protest group; nonetheless, he was what Gramsci would have called an organic intellectual of the working class.
The frankness of his music, writing, and performances touched his audiences at an affective level, connecting them to the movements in which he participated. His life embodied the worlds of hip-hop, contentious politics, and the working class, and his songs convey a vivid account of his life, reflecting his personal and political concerns as well as the ambience of street protests.
ECD was a key figure in the development of the underground hip-hop scene, organizing events that allowed it to take root and to be lifted into commercial viability. He was on the front lines of several Japanese social movements—anti-Iraq War, anti-nuclear power, anti-racist, pro-democracy, and anti-militarization. He wrote protest anthems, inspired Sprechchor, performed at protests, and helped to establish a new mode of participatory performance that engaged protesters more fully. His sheer presence at demonstrations, constant and reliable, energized and reassured protesters.
This according to “‘It’s our turn to be heard’: The life and legacy of rapper-activist ECD (1960–2018)” by Noriko Manabe (The Asia-Pacific journal: Japan focus XVI/6 [March 2018]).
Today would have been ECD’s 60th birthday! Below, one of his music videos.
In contrast to their American counterparts, English musicians in the late 1960s found psychedelic inspiration in their childhood reading lists, which, for just about every English child, included Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Kenneth Grahame, and A.A. Milne.
Songwriters like Robin Williamson (Incredible String Band), Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd), Peter Daltrey (Kaleidoscope), and others went on to create their own fantastical characters, nonsense verses, and imagery around themes of anthropomorphism, lost childhood, and The Quest.
This according to “Grumbly grimblies, frozen dogs, and other boojums: Eccentricity from Chaucer to Carroll in English psychedelia” by Peter Grant, an essay included in The Routledge companion to popular music and humor (New York: Routledge, 2019, pp. 49–57).
Above, Richard Dadd’s The fairy feller’s master-stroke, a painting beloved by fans of psychedelia; below, Syd Barrett’s The gnome, from Pink Floyd’s debut album.
Stephen Sondheim’s Company is considered to be one of the first concept musicals, moving in a different direction from the book musicals of creative teams such as Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The construction of Company combines aspects of a concept musical with a psychological narrative. An investigation of the musical’s dramatic layers furthers a metadramatic understanding of Sondheim’s unique and innovative version of the concept musical—a version that refuses to subjugate character development and emotional accessibility for conceptual didacticism.
This according to “Concept meets narrative in Sondheim’s Company: Metadrama as a method of analysis” by Natalie Draper (Studies in musical theatre IV/2  pp. 171–83).
Today is Sondheim’s 90th birthday! Above, a photo from around the time Company was produced; below, the show’s climactic song, Being alive, from a 2011 concert production.
In Ghana, hip hop music and culture have morphed over two decades into a whole new genre called hiplife—not merely an imitation or adaptation of hip hop, but a revision of Ghana’s own century-old popular music called highlife.
Local hiplife artists have evolved an indigenization process that has facilitated a dynamic youth agency that is transforming Ghanaian society. These social shifts, facilitated by hiplife, have occurred within Ghana’s corporate recolonization, serving as another example of how neoliberalism’s global free-market agenda has become a new form of colonialism. While hiplife artists are complicit with these socioeconomic forces, they also create counter-hegemonic projects that challenge this context while also pushing aesthetic limits.
This according to The hiplife in Ghana: The West African indigenization of hip hop by Halifu Osumare (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
Above, hiplife dancers photographed by Sadik Shahadu; below, Sarkodie, a current hiplife star.
The narratives of Bruce Springsteen’s songs resonate with many queer people, who are well aware of the possibility of a life-altering freedom that presents itself as the reward for stepping into your true self (even when that freedom comes, as is often the case, at great cost).
Springsteen is far from gay; some might argue he is one of the straightest men alive. Nonetheless, some fans regard his work as, in Rosalie Zdzienicka Fanshel’s words, “homoerotic or queerly suggestive”.
There’s also Carmen Rios’s “We’re here and we’re queering Bruce Springsteen” at one of the longest-running sites for queer women, Autostraddle; the queer writer Tennessee Jones’s short story collection Deliver me from nowhere, based on the album Nebraska; and the many queer Bruce Springsteen zines, from Because the Boss belongs to us to Butt Springsteen.
What exactly is so queer about Springsteen? Is it his extreme butchness, so practiced and so precise that he might as well have learned it from the oldest lesbian at a gay bar? Is it because his hard-earned, roughly hewn version of love is recognizable to those for whom desire has often meant sacrifice? Or is it something simpler? Do many queers love Springsteen because nearly every song he has produced in his 50-year career reflects a crushing, unabiding sense of alienation and longing—and what could be more queer than that?
This according to “Things that can only be found in the darkness on the edge of town: The queerness of Bruce Springsteen” by Naomi Gordon-Loebl (The nation 6 November 2019).
Below, Springsteen’s Tougher than the rest, a song (and video) discussed in the article.