Broadcasting, Music, Radio, Retro Rock

Back in the Summer of ’69

I got my first real six string,

Bought it at the five and dime,

Played it til my fingers bled,

Was the summer of ’69.

But when I look back now,

That summer seemed to last forever,

And if I had the choice,

Yeah, I’d always wanna be there,

Those were the best days of my life.

 

The “Summer of ‘69” was a time when Canadian rocker Bryan Adams was buying his first guitar and reminiscing about that summer being the “best days of his life.”

That summer of 1969 was an eventful time for those in the United States. The Vietnam War continued with over 500,000 American troops still in Southeast Asia and Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

During August, the Woodstock “3 Days of Peace and Music” Festival happened, with over 400,000 people attending one of the greatest events in rock music history. Meanwhile, the Beatles recorded their last album, “Abbey Road” just before John Lennon quit the legendary rock band.

The summer of 1969: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” to quote Charles Dickens from his book, “A Tale of Two Cities.”

Various Records that I bought during the summer of 1969.

It was during the hot summer of 1969, that I listened to the radio 10 to 12 hours a day and made a decision that I wanted to be a radio announcer when I grew up. My pursuit to become “DJ Dave” started in the summer of ‘69.

I have fond memories of listening to Top 40 radio during the summer of ‘69. Living in Roanoke, Virginia during this time, I would mostly listen to legendary Top 40 WROV 1240 AM in the daytime, with DJs Jack Fisher, Fred Frelantz and Bart Prater. I also would occasionally tune into WBLU 1480 AM Salem, a second Top 40 station in the Roanoke radio market. WBLU DJ’s Chris Shannon, Les Turpin and Bill Cassidy played the hits, while Dave Moran was the general manager at the station.

At sundown, WROV reduced their power and WBLU signed off the air, so I tuned my radio into stations hundreds of miles away from my Virginia home. Since radio waves changed on a nightly basis, I would listen to a variety of 50,000 watt, clear channel AM stations on any given night.

Various records that I bought during the summer of 1969.

The two main stations that I listened to during the nighttime were WLS 890 AM Chicago and WABC 770 AM New York. On the Big 89 WLS, Larry Lujack, Chuck Buell and Kris Erik Stevens were my favorite DJs. When listening to WABC, Dan Ingram and Cousin Brucie (Bruce Morrow) are the two radio DJ voices that I remember from that hot summer.

On nights that WLS or WABC were hard to pick up, I had other clear channel stations that I could listen to. Among those other stations: WOWO Fort Wayne, WCFL Chicago 1000 AM, CKLW Windsor, Ontario (Detroit) 800 AM, WKBW Buffalo 1520 AM and WKYC Cleveland 1100 AM.

Because I spent so much time listening to Top 40 radio that summer, I decided that I wanted to become a DJ when I became an adult. My desire to work in radio became a reality for me five years later in 1974, as I landed a remote engineer position with WROV Roanoke when I was 18 years old.

Dave Woodson playing records for WROV Roanoke remote broadcast during 1974.

For the remaining portion of this message, I will be focusing on the music that was played on Top 40 radio during the summer of 69. I will be highlighting hits songs from 50 years ago that are still considered relevant here in 2019.

Musically, the summer of ‘69 is considered part of the “Golden Age of Top 40 Radio.” Diversity accurately describes the music that accounted for the biggest hits during that summer.

It was not uncommon to hear different genres played back to back: A DJ might start a music set with country crossover, “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash, segueing into a gospel song, “Oh Happy Day” from the Edwin Hawkins Singers and finally playing a reggae tune, “Israelites” by Desmond Decker and the Aces.

 

Various records that I bought during the summer of 1969.

To further show the diversity of the music, here are five songs that reached number 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Cash Box Top 100 charts during the summer of 69:

 

1. Get Back—The Beatles with Billy Preston

2. Love Theme From Romeo and Juliet—Henry Mancini & his Orchestra

3. In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)—Zager & Evans

4. Honky Tonk Women—The Rolling Stones

5. Sugar, Sugar—The Archies

 

In addition to those five songs, “In the Ghetto” by Elvis Presley spent the last week of June at the number 1 position on the Cash Box Top 100 chart.

 

WLS Chicago Hit Parade Surveys 7/21/69 & 8/4/69. Courtesy of Pete Battistini: Author of AMERICAN TOP 40 WITH CASEY KASEM (THE 1970’S)

Before I reveal my Top 10 most relevant songs from 50 years ago, I am going to share some other significant songs from the summer of ‘69.

Top Underrated Songs:

1. I’m Free—The Who

2. See—The Rascals

3. Marrakesh Express—Crosby Stills and Nash

4. Spinning Wheel—Blood Sweat and Tears

5. Polk Salad Annie—Tony Joe White

 

WROV Roanoke Super Summer Survey 8/24/69. Courtesy of DJ Steve Nelson and WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Top Love Songs:

1. What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)—Jr. Walker & the All Stars

2. Love (Can Make You Happy)—Mercy

3. Baby, I Love You—Andy Kim

4. My Cherie Amour—Stevie Wonder

5. My Pledge of Love—Joe Jeffries Group

 

My 45 RPM single of the Rascals “See” record that I bought in 1969.

Top Miscellaneous Subject Songs:

1. Grazing in the Grass—Friends of Distinction

2. Color Him Father—The Winstons

3. Black Pearl—Sonny Charles & the Checkmates

4. Sweet Caroline—Neil Diamond

5. More Today Than Yesterday—Spiral Staircase

 

My 45 RPM single of Oliver’s “Jean” record that I bought in 1969.

Now I will be focusing on what I consider to be the top ten 1969 summer radio songs. These are songs were either released and/or were hits between June and September 1969.

The top ten songs that I have selected fit into the following categories: I deem the 10 songs to still be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant. There are no rankings with my listing and the songs are placed in a random order.

 

My 45 RPM single of CCR’s “Fortunate Son/Down on the Corner” record that I bought in 1969.

One—Three Dog Night

When the Beach Boys and the Byrds started to wane on Top 40 radio, a new vocal powerhouse came upon the scene: Three Dog Night. Group members Chuck Negron, Danny Hutton and Cory Wells were all talented vocalists and their blended harmonies and vocal versatility soared with their catchy, up-tempo rock tune. “One” spent 3 weeks at number two on Cash Box Top 100 chart and was the first of 21 consecutive songs to reach the Billboard Top 40 between 1969 and 1975 for Three Dog Night.

Easy To Be Hard—Three Dog Night

Just after their song “One” became a hit, Three Dog Night had a second smash tune during the summer of 69: “Easy To Be Hard” from the Broadway musical “Hair.” Chuck Negron has excellent passion when singing the lyrics that question the harsh treatment of humanity: “How can people be so heartless, how can people be so cruel, easy to be hard?” Three Dog Night went on to have a 3rd Top 10 hit with “Eli’s Coming,” a Laura Nyro tune, during the fall of the same year.

Bad Moon Rising—Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR)

The second CCR song to reach number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, after “Proud Mary” in the spring of ‘69, is considered to be one of the first tunes in the “Swamp rock” genre of music. Plus, “Bad Moon Rising” has perhaps the most misheard lyric ever in modern music history. Many folks think CCR’s leader John Fogerty sings “There’s a bathroom on the right” instead of “There’s a bad moon on the rise.” “Bad Moon Rising” remains popular and is still played at many sporting events here in 2019.

Fortunate Son—Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR)

Summer of ‘69 was huge for CCR. The band played at Woodstock, 4 hit singles charted and their “Green River” album was released. Then in September, the band released “Fortunate Son.” The song quickly became an anti-war movement anthem and is considered a signature song for John Fogerty. In 2013, “Fortunate Son” was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

 

Crystal Blue Persuasion—Tommy James and the Shondells

With the Vietnam War ongoing, Tommy James had his 3rd consecutive top 10 hit, a song longing for a future age of brotherhood, harmony and living in peace. James has been quoted multiple times, stating that the inspiration for “Crystal Blue Persuasion” came from him reading the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Revelation in the Bible. The melodic acoustic guitar and organ on the tune help to make this song still sound good, 50 years later.

Get Back—The Beatles with Billy Preston

A song that was originally performed at the historic Beatles “Rooftop” concert in January 1969, the single “Get Back” was the first number 1 song, on both Billboard and Cashbox charts, during the summer of ‘69. The Beatles’ “Get Back/Don’t Let Me Down” single is the only time that another artist was credited on a Fab Four recording, with Billy Preston sharing the honor for the biggest Beatles single in 1969. “Get Back” was also the Beatles’ first single released in America in true stereo.

Get Together—The Youngbloods

With the catchy chorus, “Come on people now/Smile on your brother/Everybody get together/Try to love one another right now,” the Youngbloods created a timely classic with their “Love and Peace” anthem “Get Together.” American involvement in the Vietnam War remained strong in 1969 and the song was a huge hit on Top 40 radio. It was also embraced by many Christian churches during this time period, that wanted to promote “Love and Peace” in their congregations. A true quintessential song from the golden age of Top 40 radio.

Put a Little Love in Your Heart—Jackie DeShannon

It is interesting to look back on how many of the most significant songs from 50 years ago were on the subject of love and peace. Jackie DeShannon’s biggest hit record, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” is one of those “Love and Peace” songs that resonated with radio listeners in the summer of 69. Along with DeShannon’s other big hit, “What the World Needs Now,” her message of seeking love and peace, rather than war, is still relevant today.

In the Ghetto—Elvis Presley

For most folks who think about Elvis songs, very few remember his songs of social concerns. “In the Ghetto” is completely different than almost every other Elvis tune and provided a comeback for the “King of Rock and Roll” in 1969. The Mac Davis-written song tells a narrative of generational poverty that is set in the city of Chicago. With the success of this song, Elvis charted two consecutive number 1 songs in 1969: “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds.”

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes—Crosby Stills and Nash (CSN)

When CSN played at Woodstock during August 1969, the band opened up their set list with “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” The song was the second single from the CSN self-titled debut album, after “Marrakesh Express” and was released as a single in September ‘69. The tune is made up of four separate sections and is seamlessly woven together by excellent harmonies of the band. Truly, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is the signature song for CSN.

 

Various records that I bought during the summer of 1969.

Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on the most significant singles from the summer of 1969, I am curious to find out your opinion on the music from 50 years ago.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of music from the golden age of Top 40 radio. The songs that you feel are the best from the summer of 1969 could be completely different than my selections.

So I am asking for your opinion: What songs do you feel are the best, greatest or most significant singles from the summer of 1969?

Listening to the music on Top 40 radio in 1969 highlighted some of the best days of my life. Rock on!

I leave you with the ending lyrics to “Crystal Blue Persuasion:”

Maybe tomorrow.

When he looks down,

On every green field,

And every town,

All of his children,

In every nation,

There’ll be peace and good,

Brotherhood,

Crystal blue persuasion

 

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Artist Profiles, Music, Virginia Artists

David Hollandsworth: Musical Maestro

My music makes you dance and gives you spirit to take a chance,

And I wrote some rock ‘n roll, so you can move,

Music fills your heart, well that’s a real fine place to start,

It’s from me, it’s for you,

It’s a worldwide symphony,

I am music and I write the songs.

Bruce Johnston wrote the above lyrics for the tune “I Write the Songs,” which became a number 1 hit in America for Barry Manilow in 1976.

Although Johnston’s lyrics are referring to God and not an individual person, the concept of writing multiple musical songs for the world to hear reminds me of composer David Hollandsworth.

David Hollandsworth 2019

Over the past 10 years, David Hollandsworth has written hundreds of short, instrumental songs and melodies that have been used in countless TV shows, movies and commercials. The Roanoke, Virginia resident has also written many full-length instrumental tunes, some which have been heard by millions of listeners, via SoundCloud, YouTube and other online music platforms.

More than likely, most have never thought about the instrumental music playing while watching reality shows, movies on Netflix or even viewing commercials. Quite frankly, this is probably a topic that many have never considered prior to reading this message about Hollandsworth and his prolific career.

Some may be wondering how Hollandsworth got started on a career path of writing musical tunes. I had the opportunity to interview David earlier this month to find out how his musical past during childhood and as a young adult helped influence his career.

The seeds of Hollandsworth’s musical talent began during his high school years in southern California. Jethro Tull was a favorite band of David’s, and he asked his mother Dot Hollandsworth to buy him a flute. His mom thought a flute was too expensive so she bought him a cheap classical guitar instead of David’s desired woodwind instrument.

Young David Hollandsworth with Guitar

After Hollandsworth received his guitar, he took lessons for around a year. As a young adult, David started playing guitar during his church’s morning worship services, where his father Jimmy Hollandsworth was the pastor

During this same time period, Hollandsworth started listening to the “Jesus Music” scene in Southern California, which was being developed by the Calvary Chapel fellowship in Costa Mesa. David’s favorite artists at Calvary Chapel both played the piano: Chuck Girard, who played in the band Love Song, and singer-songwriter Erick Nelson.

With the influence of Girard and Nelson’s music, Hollandsworth decided he wanted to play the piano. Since David could not read music, he taught himself how to play the piano by ear.

In 1977, Jimmy Hollandsworth moved his family to Roanoke, Virginia and founded a new church. David and his mother became the worship leaders at the new Church of the Living Way.

David Hollandsworth with Piano 1986.

Eventually David’s mom stepped away from playing piano and David became the sole worship leader for his father’s church. Piano became the instrument of choice for Hollandsworth with these new duties.

For the next 20 years, Hollandsworth was the worship leader for the same church: first called Church of the Living Way and then renamed Grace Covenant Church in 1990. Here in 2019, David is still involved with music ministry.  Hollandsworth continues to play keyboard in the worship band, most Sunday mornings, at the church where he now attends.

David Hollandsworth Playing Guitar 1986

When the Internet grew in popularity during the mid 90’s, Hollandsworth took his love and knowledge of Contemporary Christian Music from his teenage years and made a website called “One-Way.org: A Decade of Jesus Music 1969-1979.”

David wrote about the early days of Jesus Music, covering artists like Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Keith Green, Love Song, 2nd Chapter of Acts and many other pioneers in this genre of music.

Although this website may seem antiquated by today’s standards, Hollandsworth’s website was one of the first to document the history of “Jesus Music” on the Internet. Below is a quote from David about the beginnings of his creation:

“The idea for this site started as a wild thought back in 1995. This thing called the World Wide Web was the new buzzword all over the world. As I surfed around I realized that there wasn’t much to be found about the Jesus movement, its history and music. Then and there, I decided that I would put together a site dedicated to this music and the artists who created it. Call it a historical, pictorial, musical archive of a very special time in Christian history.”

While Hollandsworth doesn’t currently maintain or update the “Jesus Music” website he created, it is still available for viewing on the Internet.

During the mid 2000’s, David slowly exchanged his “Jesus Music” historian activities for composing instrumental music tracks. This undertaking was not an overnight venture for Hollandsworth, as he slowly developed his skills and learned how to record music on a professional level.

 

Ten years ago, Hollandsworth started the process of composing music on a computer, utilizing the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI). With the MIDI technology, David used a keyboard to create multi-track files.

Since that time, David has created hundreds of music tracks. Some songs are full-length songs, lasting 3 minutes or longer, while “production” tunes that Hollandsworth creates are shorter segments of music, generally lasting less than two minutes in duration.

In my interview with David, I asked him to classify the type of music he composes and he replied, “I would classify most of the music I have out there for the public as new age, neo-classical and ambient. I also have some albums of orchestral and vocal/choir music.”

Hollandsworth went on to explain to me how TV producers and commercial writers utilize his instrumental music. “Reality TV uses a lot of different genres of music these days. If you listen to a show, you will hear dozens of short cues used throughout a program. The most commonly used are quirky, “dramedy” shows with a hip hop/urban feel and tension music. Tension music is big with all the crime, CSI, investigative type shows on the air.”

David continued, “Other types of music used a lot in commercials and ads are what they call positive, uplifting, or corporate music. Often these have a pop feel to them or use a piano motif to convey what they want to get across. I’ve even done some creepy music for horror/alien type use.”

“A lot of times I will hear something on TV that will spark an idea for a composition. I have dozens of unfinished projects that I will often go back to years later and finish,” Hollandsworth said.

 

Below are various links for David Hollandswoth’s music:

“Discovery” album was voted Best Ambient album 2015 by One World Music Radio. https://music.apple.com/us/album/discovery/1065067459

The song “Flow” has been streamed over million times on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/davidhollandsworth/flow

The official Webpage of David Hollandsworth music: http://davidhollandsworth.com/

The IMDB link: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm8392380/

David Hollandsworth 2019

Before ending my conversation with David, I was curious to find out what artists and genres of music that he listens to on a regular basis. Hollandsworth quickly stated, “Anything with piano is my favorite.”

Core artists that Hollandsworth plays frequently include: Windham Hill artists; pianists/keyboardists Yanni, George Winston & David Lanz; synthesizer artists Vangelis & Tangerine Dream; Progressive rock bands Emerson Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd, Traffic & Yes; plus jazz fusion artists Pat Metheny and Spyro Gyra.

David’s music is available on multiple outlets, throughout a variety of sources on the Internet: streaming platforms such as Soundcloud, Pandora, Spotify, Apple and Amazon. His music is also available for purchase on his official website and various other online media platforms.

David Hollandsworth 2019

As I think about the prolific musical scores of Hollandsworth, I am amazed by how this man has written hundreds of tunes over the years but can’t read music. (Paul McCartney is also a person who can’t read music but it hasn’t hurt his career). Obviously, the fact the David doesn’t know how to read music hasn’t stopped him from creating professional music either.

The other thing that I admire about David is his tenacity to start a new career writing and composing music later in his life. His perseverance to switch careers and perform in an area in which he is gifted is extremely encouraging to me.

When all is said and done, instrumentalist David Hollandsworth is truly a musical maestro.

 

To subscribe to my blog via email, please click the “Follow” button in the menu above. I am looking forward reading your comments on my latest blog message. Rock on!

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Music, Theatre Reviews

Hamilton: In the Room Where it Happened

What’s your name, man?

 

Alexander Hamilton

My name is Alexander Hamilton

And there’s a million things I haven’t done

But just you wait, just you wait

 

These lyrics come from the song “Alexander Hamilton,” the opening number of the Broadway smash hit Hamilton: An American Musical.

So why is DJ Dave writing about Hamilton? My family and I attended a matinee performance of Hamilton on Broadway in New York on May 1st. While my daughters Amy, Stephanie and Julianne had all attended shows on Broadway in the past, this was the first opportunity for my wife Priscilla and I to attend a show in New York.

For this edition of my musical musings, I will be exploring my first ever attendance of a Broadway musical, specifically focusing on the music of Hamilton. My daughter Stephanie will also be sharing some of her thoughts on the biggest Broadway musical hit in recent memory.

The playwright, lyricist, and star of Hamilton is Lin-Manuel Miranda. He based his musical on a 2004 biography of founding father Alexander Hamilton, written by historian Ron Chernow. Miranda bought a copy of Chernow’s book and took quite a few years researching Alexander Hamilton’s life before coming up with the finished product.

In fact, as Miranda told CNBC: “It took me seven years to write this show. This is no overnight success — took me a year to write the second song in the show ‘My Shot.’ I’m in awe of people who can just write well and quickly.”

“…[I]t took me a long time to be able to write about that guy, but that was sort of what inspired me about his story,” Miranda stated in the CNBC interview.

Hamilton stage door at Richard Rodgers Theatre, 46th Street, New York. May 1st, 2019.

A tweet Miranda wrote in 2009 shows the struggle behind his genius: “Spent the entire day working on one couplet about George Washington. Hamilton’s slow-going, my friends, but I promise you it will be worth it. It’s hard converting whole swaths of history into a hot 16 bars.”

Since this message is strictly about the music and songs of Hamilton, I will not be critiquing the traditional theatre aspects of the play, or the historical accuracy of Miranda’s script. Much has been written on those features during the past four years, and you can check out those unique evaluations elsewhere by searching the Internet.

Julianne, Stephanie and Amy Woodson in front of the Schuyler Sisters silhouette, Richard Rodgers Theatre. May 1st, 2019

After seeing Hamilton on Broadway, it is evident to me that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music is the glue that holds together the story of the script. I estimate that some type of music was played at least 98 percent of the time during the play.

The show actually contains 46 songs. According to Leah Libresco from FiveThirtyEight, there are “20,500 words in the Hamilton script and an average of 144 words are-sung, rapped or spoken per minute.”

In an interview by Rembert Browne of Grantland, Miranda stated it would be impossible to tell Hamilton’s story at the traditional pace of a Broadway play.

“It would have to be 12 hours long, because the amount of words on the bars when you’re writing a typical song — that’s maybe got 10 words per line,” declared Miranda.

Hamilton clocks in at 2 hours and 23 minutes and is broken down into two acts. The pace of the play is excellent, aided by the carefully crafted songs. I consider the majority of the songs in the show to have up-tempo rhythms but there are select ballads that are normally associated with Broadway theatre.

Hamilton playbill autographed by Austin Scott, the actor who plays “Alexander Hamilton” in New York. May 1st, 2019.

The music from Hamilton is altogether different than most other musicals on Broadway. Miranda utilizes hip-hop as the unifying musical style throughout his theatre masterpiece.

However, don’t misunderstand: Hamilton is more than just a hip-hop music vehicle. The play also incorporates unique and diverse sounds from genres such as R&B, big band jazz, pop, rock, rap, and traditional show tune melodies. Miranda’s blending of multiple musical genres has proven to be a groundbreaking success in the world of Broadway musicals.

As stated above, Hamilton’s script contains over twenty thousand words. Miranda’s fusion of lyrics with various styles of music is brilliant. So what makes the blending of words and music in Hamilton come alive during this Broadway play?

Stephanie Woodson is front of Hamilton silhouette, Richard Rodgers Theatre. May 1st, 2019.

According to my daughter Stephanie Woodson, Miranda’s use of repetition is one of the keys to success with Hamilton: “As an English teacher, I cannot stress enough the importance of an author using repetition. There is something immensely satisfying about it. Hamilton’s use of repetition indeed left me satisfied. The connections within the lyrics are simply a work of genius. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a true artist.”

So you may be asking: What are the best Hamilton songs, from purely a musical standpoint? After spending my afternoon watching the play, I have fresh comprehension of Miranda’s music.

While many Broadway critics have ranked what they consider to be the “best” songs from Hamilton, I am going to refrain from this type of critique. The rest of my message will chronicle what I feel are the most significant songs from a diverse musical perspective.

Please note that as I transition to a detailed accounting of Hamilton songs, none of the songs I am listing are ranked and are all placed in a totally random order.

 

Stephanie, Amy and Julianne Woodson on Times Square, two hours prior to attending Hamilton show. May 1st, 2019.

My Shot

 

“My Shot,” the third track from Act 1, is a quintessential throwback to 90’s old school hip-hop. The song features a killer beat, is catchy and reminiscent of golden age rap.

 

The phrase, “I’m not throwing away my shot” is repeated in multiple other songs that follow and the unforgettable line is a foundation for the entire show. This is an impressive song.

 

The Room Where It Happened

 

“The Room Where It Happened” by far is one of the most musically complex songs in Hamilton. The music fuses big band/ New Orleans style jazz, new wave, pop, hip-hop and even features a banjo. “The Room Where It Happened” has a prominent backing chorus and is similar to traditional show tunes on Broadway.

 

Stephanie and Priscilla Woodson inside Richard Rodgers Theatre, just minutes prior to the start of Hamilton. May 1st, 2019.

Helpless

 

“Helpless” is song that focuses on the romance and eventual wedding of Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton. I describe the song as classic Motown/R&B/hip-hop, girl group groove. Lyrics are half-rapped, half-sung cadences and the upbeat, sing-a-long chorus help make “Helpless” one of the more memorable songs from Hamilton.

 

Wait For It

 

“Wait For It” has Aaron Burr lamenting about Alexander Hamilton’s quick rise to power and showing determination to ultimately prevail against his foe. The tender pop ballad has an excellent mix of stuttering beats and a Jamaican reggae dancehall sound. A cello played with the melody line gives the song a superb vibration.

 

Satisfied

 

“Satisfied” features a duet between Angelica Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton. Arguably the most popular song in the play, it combines R&B/hip-hop grooves with a string section and chorus line backing. The rapid-fire vocal delivery, followed closely by singing of operatic vocal runs by Angelica is absolutely amazing.

 

Priscilla and David Woodson in front of Hamilton silhouette, Richard Rodgers Theatre. May 1st, 2019.

You’ll Be Back

 

“You’ll Be Back” is an outstanding tribute to British Invasion pop/rock and American Sunshine Pop from the 60’s. I definitely heard influences of the Beatles’ songs “Penny Lane” and “Getting Better” during the play, as well as positive vibes similar to the Turtles’ song “Happy Together.” Miranda’s musical salute to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is the catchiest song in his award-winning musical.

 

Non Stop

 

“Non Stop” is the last song of Act 1 before intermission and utilizes the best of multiple musical genres. This melodic tune blends piano based synth pop, samba, reggae, funk and even record scratching as part of the mix. The diversity and blending of musical styles on this song is a masterful work of art.

 

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

 

“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” completes the Hamilton play as the last song of the show. Although it is most like traditional Broadway show-tunes, the song still fuses R&B/hip-hop/pop with a lush classical orchestra musical bed. With the entire cast singing on this selection, the song is a crown jewel as the finale of the show.

 

 

Priscilla and David Woodson at Times Square, two hours prior to attending Hamilton show. May 1st, 2019.

Obviously, there are many other excellent songs in Hamilton but I have limited my writing to just the 8 tunes listed above. For additional information on Hamilton music, please go to the official Hamilton New York online site.

Before I leave the topic of Hamilton, I must ask the question: Will the music of Hamilton appeal to all different types of theatre patrons? Especially those loving traditional old school Broadway plays?

Since some people have an aversion to any type of hip-hop music, I understand how those folks will never embrace the music of Hamilton. Even though Miranda’s story is based on the beginning history of America’s founding fathers, Hamilton’s music will never resonate with some individuals.

However, for the rest of us, Hamilton’s music is riveting, exhilarating and stimulating. Without a doubt, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical theatre achievement is one of the most engaging Broadway plays to be performed during the 21st Century

Julianne, Stephanie and Amy Woodson with Austin Scott, the actor who plays “Alexander Hamilton” at Richard Rodgers Theatre stage door. May 1st, 2019.

As I ponder back on my first ever Broadway play experience, I was definitely blessed to attend Hamilton as my first show. I told my family, “I’m not throwing away my shot” and missing the opportunity to see Hamilton in New York. Sharing this event with my family will always be a fond memory for me.

Lyrics for “The Schuyler Sisters” song summarizes my final thoughts on Hamilton:

 

Look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now!

History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be,

In the greatest city in the world.

 

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Artist Profiles, Music, Radio, Virginia Artists

Robin and Linda Williams: The Shenandoah Valley’s Musical Pioneers

When I want to hear quintessential Americana music, all I need to do is to travel up the Shenandoah Valley, 90 miles from Roanoke to Staunton, for the music of Robin and Linda Williams.

Known to many for their regular performances on Garrison Keillor’s live radio show “A Prairie Home Companion,” the husband and wife duo have been making music from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia since the 1970’s.

As their official website states: “For more than four decades now, Robin & Linda have made it their mission to perform the music that they love, ‘a robust blend of bluegrass, folk, old-time and acoustic country that combines wryly observant lyrics with a wide-ranging melodicism.

“Today some might call it ‘Americana,’ but these two revered music masters were living and breathing this elixir 20 years before that label was turned into a radio format.”

Robin and Linda Williams in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Last month, I spoke with Robin and Linda via phone to find out what the couple has been doing musically over the course of their career and to check out what their plans are for 2019.

I first met Robin and Linda during my junior year attending James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia during the late 70’s. I worked at public radio station WMRA and was the producer of a daily radio program called “Country Afternoon.”

My radio program featured folk, bluegrass and old time country music. Once a month, “Country Afternoon” would have bands and performers from the Shenandoah Valley come to the station to give a live one-hour concert on the radio. Robin and Linda performed on my “Country Afternoon” radio program. Little did I know that this husband and wife duo from Augusta County would one day be nationally known for their iconic music style.

Robin and Linda met in 1971 and quickly realized that they made beautiful music together. The duo started writing their own songs and by 1975, they recorded their first album, the self-titled, “Robin and Linda Williams” on Flashlight Records in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Around the same time, the husband and wife team met Garrison Keillor in Minnesota. As Robin and Linda’s website states: “They made their first appearance on a little radio show just getting off the ground called “A Prairie Home Companion” and their rich relationship with that icon of American broadcasting has continued for four decades.”

In my joint phone interview with Robin and Linda last month, I asked the Williamses if they ever lived in Minnesota? Linda replied “No. We would fly to Minneapolis on Thursday evenings prior to a Saturday show and then stay in the land of 10,000 lakes for a total of 11 days. We would then perform on consecutive Saturdays but still live in the Shenandoah Valley.”

The Virginian couple met Garrison Keillor, “when he came to see us at a venue about 60 miles from St. Paul,” Linda explained. “After watching us for a set of songs, Keillor asked us to come play the radio show. That was in the fall of 1975 and we have worked with him ever since: On the radio, doing concerts and performing on cruise ships.”

“Concerning Garrison, he has been a friend and a mentor to us and he’s the most talented person we’ve ever been around. And we’ve been around some legends”, Linda admired.   The Shenandoah Valley couple will be working again will Keillor again next winter on a Cuban cruise.

Robin and Linda Williams

Over the years, the duo has performed thousands of concerts across the United States, Canada and Europe. Additionally, Robin and Linda are known as superb songwriters. Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kathy Mattea, Tom T. Hall, George Hamilton IV and the Seldom Scene have all covered songs written by Robin and Linda.

According to their website, “Robin and Linda have made appearances on such major programs as ‘The Grand Old Opry,’ ‘Austin City Limits,’ ‘Music City Tonight,’ ‘Mountain Stage’ and they continue to make frequent appearances on ‘A Prairie Home Companion.’   Having always sung gospel music, in the late 1980s they teamed up with their old friend and “A Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor and bluegrass songstress Kate MacKenzie to form The Hopeful Gospel Quartet.

Robin and Linda Williams

One of the things that I admire the most about Robin and Linda’s music is their focus on the place they have called home for over 40 years: The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

I asked the Williamses if they could share with me the influence that living in the Shenandoah Valley has had on their music. Here are Robin and Linda’s thoughts with their four selections:

 

  1. “Stonewall Country”

 

“[This song] got its title from a little known fact that the term was used in the early to mid-19th century as a moniker for the Shenandoah Valley. Evidently the farmers used the limestone rocks they cleared from their fields as fences and walls, thus “stone wall country.”

 

“We changed the title to “Stonewall Country” because the song was written for the musical we wrote about Stonewall Jackson for the “The Theater “at Lime Kiln in Lexington, Virginia.

 

I make my home in Stonewall Country/Down a crooked lane/Where the fields steep and rocky/Took such toil to claim/Now the plows run deep in Stonewall Country/The ground gives back good yields/And the rocks that blocked the furrows/So worrisome to wield/Stand in fences ‘round the fields.

 

I may leave the Shenandoah/But she’ll never leave my heart/ Stonewall Country, clear-eyed daughter of the stars/Stonewall Country, clear-eyed daughter of the stars.

  1. “Buena Vista”

 

“Another song that comes to mind our song “Buena Vista,” a tale that mentions not only the Rockbridge County town but also some landmarks like the Maury River.”

 

So you beat a path to Rockbridge Baths/ ’cause blood kin won’t quit ya/

Or try to dry you out like they do in Buena Vista/

It’s a long walk from your front porch to the Maury River’s edge/

But it’s longer when you’re drunk and hauling back a broken leg/

So here’s to the sawbones who pinned you up and fixed ya/

But you’re out of action lying in traction down in Buena Vista

 

  1. “These Old Dark Hills”

 

“Linda got the title of the song “These Old Dark Hills” after a late afternoon winter walk around our property and looking over to the Allegheny Mountains. Seeing those mountains every day for over forty years, they almost seem like friends,” said Robin.

These Old Dark Hills/On which sore eyes can rest/These Old Dark Hills/Ridge after ridge to the west          

  1. “October Light”

 

“[This] is a song that comes quickly to mind. It’s about the beauty of fall in the Shenandoah Valley.”

Each day we walk up on the hill/And watch the setting sun/Play on the trees and fields until/It falls and day is done/Yellow, orange, blue and rose/The colors neon bright/The evening sky is all aglow/With this October Light.

 

Robin and Linda Williams

Obviously, the Shenandoah Valley is a special place for Robin and Linda. However, their songs cover a wide variety of topics and are respected by fellow songwriters all across many genres of music.

So I asked the Williams couple if they could share with me their top 5 essential songs. These would be the songs they would like for a person to hear, if they were checking out the Virginia duo’s music for the first time. Here are Robin and Linda’s thoughts on each song:

 

  1. “Old Plank Road”

 

“On the last day of filming ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ director Robert Altman’s last movie, we were asked to perform one of our songs to use for the movie soundtrack. ‘Old Plank Road,’ is a song about a music party in Batesville, VA, and Altman used seven or eight minutes of the film cutting away from us singing it to other scenes that helped develop the story line.”

Charlie you’re a good old boy Charlie you’re all right/Charlie open up the store, we’re coming down tonight/Out where you can see the stars and the living’s slow/We’ll eat potluck and pull guitars down on Old Plank Road.

  1. “Rolling and Rambling (the Death of Hank Williams)”

 

[This song] has never left our repertoire (probably the only one) and which Emmylou Harris recorded.”

Rolling and Rambling, the women loved him half to death/He sang with whiskey on his breath/His heart broke like a child/Rolling and Rambling, the sun has set out on the trail/The hobo’s drifted up the rail/He’s taken his last ride.

 

  1. “Don’t Let Me Come Home A Stranger”

 

“[This song] was in the “Stonewall Country” musical and has made it into the repertoires and recordings of several American and British Isles singers.”

Will there come a time when the memories fade/And pass on with the long, dark years/When the ties no longer bind. Lord save me from this darkest fear/Don’t Let Me Come Home A Stranger/I couldn’t stand to be a stranger

  1. “Across The Blue Mountains”

 

“[This is] a local, traditional, a cappella song that we found on a party tape with Paul Clayton singing it. We’ve sung it for over 35 years and it’s the vehicle that opened the door to our friendship with the legendary Dave Van Ronk.”

One morning, one morning, one morning in May/I heard a married man to a young girl say/Go dress you up pretty Katy and come go with me/Across the Blue Mountains to the Allegheny

 

  1. “Famous In Missouri”

 

“We’re proud of it because it was sung and released as a single by Tom T. Hall, a member of the Country Music and Songwriters Halls of Fame. He was so successful and had such respect as a songwriter that folks labeled him “The Story Teller.” His recording of our song helped us garner respect as songwriters ourselves.”

I was famous in Missouri/Everybody knew my name/Kansas City to old St. Louis/They knew how well I played my game/Now it sure feels strange /To be in South Dakota, out on the range

Robin and Linda Williams in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Being part of the Shenandoah Valley music community has always been extremely important for the Williams couple. Linda states, “We have a network of local musician friends – some professional, some not – some old, some new – and via this musical community we’ve been able make contributions to the area.

“Robin and I started a concert series at the Lime Kiln Theater during the mid-80s. We have also helped start a couple of festivals: The Oak Grove Folk Music Festival in Verona (now in its 36th year) and the Fortune-Williams Festival with Jimmy Fortune, the Country Music Hall Of Famer, which ran for 10 years.”

Clearly, Robin and Linda have been an integral part of the Shenandoah Valley music scene for over 40 years and the duo continues to work on and develop new musical projects here in 2019.

Robin and Linda Williams

One proposed project is for a new musical TV show on Virginian music called ‘Road Trip: Virginia Live.’ Robin explains, “The idea is to go to historic venues in Virginia and present a half hour music show based not only on the musical acts but also the venues.”

The other project for the Williamses this year is the production of a new album, which will be recorded at their home in Staunton. “We called our friend Kevin McNoldy, who showed up with portable recording gear and two Townsend microphones in April and we recorded six songs,” said Linda.

“Our house in Staunton is old and has high ceilings and the room sounds wonderful, better than some studios we’ve recorded in the past,” she said. “We sat in our living room with those Townsend mics and got some really good stuff. Robin and I have recorded six CDs with Kevin in the past and it’s been fun re-connecting with him. We’ll continue recording in June and July.”

Robin and Linda Williams in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Touring has always been an important part in the musical career of Robin and Linda, and the couple will have concerts scheduled between now and October. Their next show will be at The Harvester in Rocky Mount, Virginia. The Williamses’ friend, Scott Miller will be opening up for the duo at this concert venue. I am looking forward attending this concert, along with my wife Priscilla. For more information on upcoming concerts and to purchase music, please go to the official Robin and Linda website.

What will be the legacy of Robin and Linda? They are leaders in the Shenandoah Valley music scene and their fingerprints are throughout the musical landscape of Virginia. Without a doubt, Robin and Linda Williams are the quintessential duo of Americana music in America!

 

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Artist Profiles, Music

Sara Niemietz: Born for the Stage

Bruce Springsteen claims he was “Born to Run” while John Kay of Steppenwolf singings he was “Born to be Wild.” Musician and singer-songwriter Sara Niemietz, meanwhile, was born for the stage.

Niemietz started her career as a child actress, performing in theatre productions, television shows, film roles and multiple musical performances. Now as an adult, Niemietz is focused on being a musician, singing and writing music. Her new album, “Get Right” was just released on March 22nd.

Most children absolutely have no idea what they want to be when they grow up. Not so for Niemietz. She found out early in her life that she wanted to be on a stage: Singing, playing and performing for an audience. “Music is my first language. I grew up in the arms of melody and harmony,” Niemietz explains. “My mom and dad are tremendous musicians in their own right. Dad sang in rock bands in Chicago and Mom sang in church and played accordion.”

She was just a young child when an event happened that changed her life: “When I was four, my parents took me to my first concert: BJ Thomas,” Niemietz said. “I’d learned his oeuvre, thanks to many car rides singing along with my family. I’m a big fan. He saw me sitting in the front row at his concert singing along, and pulled me up on stage to sing ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ with him. It was even captured on film. That’s when I knew – this (whatever this is!) – this live performance thing – is what I needed to spend my time doing.”

By age 11, Niemietz was singing regularly on stage. If you go to the Sara Niemietz Youtube page, you can see a video of Sara at age 11, singing the Carole King/Gerry Goffin song, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the Cat Club on Sunset Strip. Even at this young age, Sara’s vocal range was strong and she was confident with her delivery on the song made famous by Aretha Franklin.

Sara was involved with music, theatre, TV and film productions during her childhood and as a young adult. (To read more about Sara’s many non-musical accomplishments, please go to her official website.

In 2012, Niemietz reunited with B. J. Thomas on the Grand Ole Opry stage and once again sang, “Hooked on a Feeling” with the pop and country singer. She has also worked with Richard Marx and Melissa Manchester with various projects.

Sara Niemietz: Photo by Joerg Preger

During the past few years, Niemietz has collaborated with W.G. Snuffy Walden, who is a musician and a composer. Walden has written hundreds of film and television soundtracks over the years. He has accompanied Niemietz on various music projects. Some are cover versions of songs, while other tunes are original compositions.

Social media is also a huge focus for Niemietz. According to her website, “Sara’s heartfelt songs and highly interactive approach to social media have garnered over nineteen million views and over a hundred fourteen thousand followers and subscribers across various new media platforms.”

The other big activity for Niemietz is being involved with Scott Bradlee’s, Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) group. PMJ is known for taking popular 21st century contemporary songs and rearranging those songs into a different genre of musical style. Many of the PMJ songs are performed in 1920’s jazz or swing format.

Niemietz’s musical taste is diverse. She enjoys, jazz, blues, swing, pop and rock. When I first communicated with Sara about the possibility of writing her musical story, I shared with Niemietz my blog message, “This is It: Yacht Rock” from last summer. After reading the post, she responded, “I myself am a massive Yacht Rock fan and Steely Dan is my favorite band.”

Obviously, Niemietz is an excellent singer. However, she is much more than just an exceptional voice talent. The 26-year old singer is also an outstanding musician. A quote from her website states: “Sara enjoys playing guitar, bass, and piano, and is often engaged in both singing and writing sessions. She can be frequently found in her natural habitat: live shows.”

W.G. Snuffy Walden and Sara Niemietz performing music. Photo by Danuta Lehmann

As I reflect on Sara’s passion for performing as a musician and singer, I am reminded of 1975 Seals the Crofts song, “I’ll Play For You”:

 

Tonight while the lights are shinin’ and the microphone is on, I’ll play for you.

So many will be the blessings and so short will the time, I’ll stay with you.

 

I’ve practiced many years and I have come a long, long way just to play for you.

My life is but a song that I have written in many ways, just to say to you.

 

And these few moments we’ll share together, and I’ll play for you.

 

The album cover for “Get Right” Sara Niemietz

Last month, Niemietz released a new album, “Get Right,” which she and W.G. Snuffy Walden produced together. Ten songs are on the new album. Nine-songs were written by Niemietz, along with various co-writers. The tenth tune is a cover of “Crying,” a song first made popular by Roy Orbison during 1961.

Here are some of Niemietz’s thoughts from the “Get Right” liner notes: “This album is musical journey that traces the arc of the last year. From magical highs to heartbreaking lows, last year brought love, loss, adventure, confusion, and wonder. Through it all, music helped me to make sense of life. It was a lens through which the picture became a bit more clear. When I’m at a loss trying to wrap my head around my day, myself, the world around, on even simple liner notes (Wink, Wink), music captures what I can’t say. It translates my deepest feelings into something definable and hopefully hummable. In fact, there is a friendly fragment of a melody swirling around my head while I type this. What a good feeling.”

The music on “Get Right” is pop-focused according to Niemietz, but it does incorporate other musical genres. As I listen to the album, I hear some jazz, blues, country and even a little gospel influence as part of the music mix.

The album opens up with, “Waiting on the Day,” which is a perfect tune that sets the tone for Niemietz’s top-notch vocal delivery. Up-tempo songs like, “Feet Don’t Touch the Floor,” “Don’t Leave Me Hanging,” and the title track, “Get Right” are all catchy and pleasing to the ears.

Niemietz showcases her exceptional vocal range on some of the ballads with the new album. “Made to Last,” “Shine,” “Hear Me Now,” and “Crying” all bring out superb and outstanding emotional outpouring when she is singing. To purchase the “Get Right” album, please to go the official Sara Niemietz website.

Currently, Niemietz is in the midst of her “Spring 2019 Tour,” playing in the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Touring with Niemietz is W.G. Snuffy Walden and Jonathan Richards. They will play in Europe through the end of April. Sara also plans to tour in the United States during the summer of 2019.

Being an independent artist without a recording contract, Niemietz has to wear many hats. For her latest, “Get Right” album, she was a producer, musician, singer and the chief promoter for this new project. Niemietz even personally mailed pre-ordered copies of the new album to fans that purchased “Get Right” prior to the March 22nd released date.

Sara Niemietz: Photo by Julien Garros

For Niemietz, one of the positive things about being an independent artist is the freedom to set her own schedule for musical activities. She enjoys interacting with her fans on social media sites as well as performing her songs in concert settings. To view any of her videos online, please go to the Sara Niemietz youtube channel.

Ever since she was four years old, Niemietz knew that she wanted to be on a stage in some type of capacity. The small seed planted at that time has now blossomed into a radiant flower for the world to enjoy. Without a doubt, Sara Niemietz was born for the stage.

 

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Artist Profiles, Music

Annie Lawrence: I Will Survive

Singer-songwriter Annie Lawrence is a survivor. A quote from her website says it all: “Roanoke raised, Nashville girl, has lived through ovarian cancer, a broken back, broken romance and being a preacher’s kid.”

With the life experiences described above, one would think that Lawrence would be an excellent writer of country music songs. However, Annie doesn’t limit herself with a single genre of music as she flows through multiple musical categories with her compositions.

Annie’s own description of her music is “Kitchen sink pop.” She blends an indie-singer vibe with rock, country, contemporary folk, alternative pop and a little bluegrass, for a refreshing musical style. Lawrence has been told by Nashville music producers that her vocal and musical style is somewhere in between Kacey Mugraves and Taylor Swift.

Annie Lawrence promotional photo for “If I’m Being Honest” album.

After I spoke with Annie via phone earlier this month, I couldn’t help but think of Gloria Gaynor’s classic disco hit from the 70’s, “I Will Survive” when thinking about her life story.

 

At first I was afraid, I was petrified,

And I spent, oh, so many nights just feeling sorry for myself

I used to cry but now I hold my head up high

Did you think I’d crumble?

Did you think I’d lay down and die?

 

Oh, no, not I

I will survive

Oh, as long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive

I’ve got all my life to live

I’ve got all my love to give

And I’ll survive

I will survive

 

Although “I Will Survive” is not a perfect song to describe Lawrence’s current status, it does reflect the mindset and lifestyle that Annie is now utilizing in her life. You can also understand Annie’s life by listening to her new album, “If I’m Being Honest,” that was just released on March 15.

Born in Roanoke, Virginia, Annie attended Hidden Valley High School and graduated in 2008. Lawrence was a good athlete in high school as she played both volleyball and softball at Hidden Valley.

During Annie’s teen years, she picked up a love for bluegrass from her father Quigg Lawrence, and her biggest influences musically came from Allison Krauss and the Dixie Chicks. She also played piano and sang during worship services at Church of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican parish in Roanoke. The first seeds of a music career were developed at that time.

Annie Lawrence promotional photo

Annie’s love for music grew during her days attending James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she graduated in 2012. She first started playing guitar during her sophomore year at JMU and performed at various music events on campus.

Lawrence credits many college courses at JMU with helping her to decide on a music career. One JMU class in particular, a song-writing course, gave Annie the desire and courage to pursue music as a lifetime goal.

Another positive influence for Annie during her JMU days was being part of Alethia Church in Harrisonburg. Lawrence played guitar and sang with the worship team. This experience was another reason she went on to pursue a music profession.

Ellie Holcomb with Annie Lawrence

The summer between her junior and senior years at JMU, Annie traveled to Nashville, Tennessee and recorded an EP called, “Light is Stronger.” Lawrence had the opportunity to work with the husband/wife team of Drew & Ellie Holcomb on the album. With this experience, Annie’s goal of a music career was already in gear.

Graduating from JMU with a “Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication” major and a “Music Industry” minor, Annie then set her sights on Nashville and moved there after graduation.

Annie Lawrence performing in Roanoke concert, 3/24/19. Photo by Quigg Lawrence.

Breaking into the music industry is never easy. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s 1967 hit, “Nashville Cats” accurately describes the country music capitol of America:

 

Well, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two

Guitar pickers in Nashville

And they can pick more notes than the number of ants

On a Tennessee ant hill

 

Yeah, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two

Guitar cases in Nashville

And any one unpacks his guitar

Can play twice better than I will

 

Annie Lawrence

With thousands of wannabe artists moving to Nashville on a yearly basis, making a living as a music artist is hard. Annie’s story is no different. And to make things even worst, she was diagnosed with cancer in November 2013. “I look back, and it’s all kind of a blur,” Lawrence said. Obviously, this totally rearranged priorities in Annie’s life.

Thankfully, doctors successfully removed the cancer from Annie’s body with surgery and she has been in remission for the past five years. It hasn’t been easy being a cancer survivor as Annie has struggled with various other health issues. Through these struggles, Annie has learned to be strong in spite of her difficulties.

During 2015, Annie recorded and released her first album, “Everything Changes.” Lawrence played mandolin for the first time on the album and singer-songwriter Natalie Grant is featured on the title track. Lawrence’s song writing showed maturity during this time period.

Annie Lawrence with Lauren Daigle

Over the past few years, Annie has toured or collaborated with Jenny & Tyler, Ellie Holcomb, Lauren Daigle, Kayla Woodson and Leslie Jordan of All Sons & Daughters. She also performed on the Grand Ole Opry stage with Natalie Grant five years ago.

Forward to 2019: Annie is extremely happy that her new album, “If I’m Being Honest” is now available for the world to hear. Lawrence’s new full-length album has 11-tracks, with Thomas Doeve and Adam Agin as the producers of this new music.

The album liner describes Lawrence’s new music as: “Inspired by a number of meaningful experiences, Annie draws inspiration from these memories as well as from songwriters including Nicole Galyon, Luke Laird, Shane McAnally.”

“If I’m Being Honest” Annie Lawrence album cover.

Two main themes of Annie’s new album are: understanding that she has been given a second chance in life as a cancer survivor and the overcoming of three broken relationships.

Annie explains, “This project is so much more than a bunch of breakup songs: it’s anxiety, it’s illness, it’s questioning faith, it’s losing people you love, it’s losing yourself, and slowly but surely finding it again, it’s overcoming, it’s triumph, it’s the heart of me, If I’m Being Honest.”

“These are the 11 songs that make up my last 3+ years and there are 5 million things I could say about each one of them. So many feelings, so many memories, so many emotions wrapped into each song.”

“I think you will find that Annie Lawrence is not who you thought she was. That in every situation there’s a lot more then meets the eye. That maybe I’ve never gotten the chance to truly be honest, until now.”

Annie Lawrence

Here are the 11 songs on the “If I Am Being Honest” album.

  1.  Fallin’
  2.  Over Thinkin’
  3.  Ashes & Smoke
  4.  Good Luck
  5.  New York or Me
  6.  Dead To Me
  7.  Losing You
  8.  3 Years
  9.  Out of My Head
  10.  Follow Through
  11.  Last Goodbye

Annie Lawrence and band practicing for “If I’m Being Honest” tour. Photo by Quigg Lawrence.

My favorite song from Annie’s new album is “Good Luck.”

The lyrics begin by mentioning Lafayette, Indiana and it reminds me of a song by the 1970 “one hit wonder” R. Dean Taylor and his number 1 tune, “Indiana Wants Me.”

 

“Indiana wants me

Lord, I can’t go back there

Indiana wants me

Lord, I can’t go back there

I wish I had you to talk to”

 

Annie now has an answer follow up song to “Indiana Wants Me” with her “Good Luck” tune, as she sings during the chorus: “Nothing you can do can bring me back to Indiana, good luck to YOU.” A clever song, indeed!

Annie Lawrence with her guitar

You can purchase Annie’s new album, “If I’m Being Honest” at Annie Lawrence Music.

Lawrence is now touring with a band in support of her new album. Stops include New York City, and four Virginia cities: Vienna, Harrisonburg, Richmond and Roanoke.

Annie’s story is unique to her.   Her life experiences continue to mold and shape who she is and where she is headed in the future. “If I’m Being Honest” is a direct outcome of Annie’s struggles, understanding and acceptance of daily life realities.

When I interviewed Annie, I came away with the following: No matter what trial or tribulation Lawrence faces in life, she is determined to make lemonade out of lemons. “If I’m Being Honest” is a reflection of that mentality. Her honesty in exploring hard topics is refreshing. Without a doubt, Annie Lawrence is a survivor!

 

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Music, Music Countdowns, Radio

Billboard Hot 100: Comparing Ariana Grande with the Beatles?

Ariana Grande has an excellent singing voice. Her four-octave vocal range makes her one of the best pure singers over the past ten years.

February 19th, 2019 was a historic day for Grande. She became only the second artist ever to achieve the top three positions on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, matching the feat first accomplished by the Beatles in 1964.

(Now it must be noted that the Beatles actually held all five of the top spots on the Billboard Hot 100 for one week during April 1964, at the height of Beatlemania in America. Obviously, the Beatles holding all 5 songs at the Top of the Hot 100 is still the overall record with the Billboard chart).

 

Still, it is impressive that Grande held down the top three spots with these songs for the Billboard Hot 100 survey dated 2/23/19:

  1. 7 Rings
  2. Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored
  3. Thank U, Next

 

 

Even more impressive are the Beatles and their overall record, with the Top 5 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending April 4th, 1964:

1: Can’t Buy Me Love

2: Twist And Shout

3: She Loves You

4: I Want To Hold Your Hand

5: Please Please Me

 

 

While I admire and respect the accomplishment of Ariana Grande, I am wondering how can we accurately rank Grande’s historic position in relation to the Beatles holding down the top 5 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 during 1964?

For over 60 years, Billboard Magazine has tracked the top songs in America with their Billboard Hot 100 chart. Since 1958, Billboard has tracked song popularity by using various metrics.

During the early days of the Billboard Hot 100, the chart was calculated based on:

  • Record Sales
  • Radio Airplay
  • Radio Stations Top Hits Surveys
  • Jukebox Plays

 

The first number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Poor Little Fool” by Ricky Nelson, on August 4, 1958.

 

 

During the golden age of Top 40 radio, major market radio stations played a key role in songs becoming hits. If either Cousin Brucie on WABC New York or Larry Lujack on WLS Chicago played your song on their radio stations, the song generally reached the top 10 and quite possibly the number 1 position on the Billboard Hot 100.

 

 

Over the years, the way people bought and listened to music changed and so did the policy of criteria used by Billboard to calculate the Hot 100.

When record and singles sales dropped during the 90’s, Billboard switched the Hot 100 from a singles chart to a songs chart. Album cuts were also considered for the first time during this time period.

Last decade, Billboard introduced digital downloads and online audio streaming to the Hot 100 process and earlier in this decade added video streaming from YouTube and other sources to the Hot 100 mix.

Today the Hot 100 tracks radio airplay by audience impressions as measured by Nielsen BDS, sales data compiled by Nielsen Soundscan, both at retail and digitally, and streaming activity provided by online music sources, according to Billboard.

 

 

As you can tell, the criteria that Billboard uses here in 2019 is completely different than what they utilized in 1964 when the Beatles held the top 5 spots on the Billboard Hot 100.

My question that I pose for you: How can we compare the Billboard Hot 100 chart success of Ariana Grande (or any other artist today) with the historic Beatles music feat of 55 years ago? Isn’t this comparing apples to oranges?

The only constant thing for over 60 years is that Billboard has created a weekly Hot 100 chart. Everything else about the chart: How the songs are measured, are completely different now compared to Hot 100 calculations in 1964.

Should we even compare rote facts and figures associated with the Hot 100 from 1958 with the music of 2019? Is it fair to place a song like, “Can’t Buy Me Love” next to, “Thank U, Next?”

 

 

I’ve asked a couple of my friends to speak on this topic. Al Weed, General Surgeon for the Veterans Medical Center in Salem, Virginia, stated to me, “It is like comparing sports records from different eras” but Grande’s historic achievement is “still an impressive feat.”

Dave Delaney, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for Lutheran Churches in Virginia, also agreed that Grande’s topping of the Hot 100 “is an impressive achievement.” Delaney went on to say, “regardless of what you think of Grande’s music, she has prevailed over an extremely large field of gifted performers.”

I am in agreement with both Al Weed and Dave Delaney with their assessment of Grande and her recent historic success. However, I still wonder how to accurately rank the music feat of the Beatles: Which happened 55 years ago, to the chart topping Billboard Hot 100 record, just set by Grande?

Can I reconcile the totally different set of criteria used by Billboard in 1964, compared to the music measurements used by the Hot 100 in 2019? Quite frankly, I do not consider there is a fair and accurate way to evaluate extreme differences of Hot 100 benchmarks between the 1960’s and today.

Ranking music over a 60-year period of time can be subjective. My thoughts could be totally different from what you think on this subject. Reasonable minds can agree to disagree when it comes to opinions on music.

I find it extremely hard to properly rank and place music, compiled over 6-decades, when the metrics and categories of measurements have radically changed over the course of time.

Billboard will probably continue to crank out their Hot 100 chart, as long as there is recorded music on a national level. Many will debate music history as it relates to the current music scene. More than likely, people will have dialogue on the Billboard Hot 100 for years to come.

 

What are your thoughts on Ariana Grande and her recent Billboard Hot 100 music performance? Is it equal to the Beatles 1964 Hot 100 achievement? Better? Not as good? Different?   Ariana or the Fab 4? Which do you choose?

Obviously, there are no definitive answers on this topic. The only sure thing that I can come up with is from the song, “Spinning Wheel” by Blood Sweat and Tears:

“What goes up, must come down, spinning wheel, got to go ‘round.”

 

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