Fred Bronson discusses the influence of Indian music, the Dixie Chicks controversy, and songs covered by international artists with readers.
SENSING A CONNECTION
Sean Paul blasts his way toward the top of Billboard's Hot 100 with his Diwali-influenced "Get Busy." Diwali is a style of music relating to a joyous Hindu festival. Even though Paul hails from Jamaica, the island's population has multi-cultural influences that include many people from the continent of India.
Forty-two years ago this week, Lawrence Welk's former No. 1 song "Calcutta" spent its last week in the top-40 portion of the chart and 21 years ago this week, Indian born-British raised Cliff Richard spent his final appearance in the top-40 with his hit "Daddy's Home".
P.S. Did I happen to mention that one of the hottest and most critically acclaimed alternative R&B artists currently is Grammy award winning India.Arie?
You've mentioned a few examples of eastern influences on pop music, but there's more. Here's an excerpt from the "Singles Minded" column that appears in the April 12 issue of Billboard, with more details:
BOY TALK: With the infatuation of all things Eastern lately in the R&B/Hip-Hop world, it is no surprise to see Panjabi MC take Hot Shot Debut honors on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart at No. 59 with "Beware of the Boys (Mundian To Bach Ke)." Originally released nearly four years ago in Europe, the producer-driven single, with vocals by Labh Janjua, draws from bhangra, an Indian folk dance and music, and is blended with a sample of the theme from the '80s TV show "Knight Rider," a sample that was also used in "Turn It Up," a top-10 for Busta Rhymes in 1998. Mashing up the dancefloors in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe since its release in January 2003 on Instant Karma, "Beware of the Boys" was recently picked up by Sequence Records for distribution in the U.S. After garnering airplay at WPOW Miami and some other outlets across the states, it came to the attention of Jay-Z, who added some verses to the musical melting pot. Both versions have been merged and see an increase of 4.5 million in audience impressions, though the Jay-Z-aided rendition is receiving the bulk of the airplay.
Available at retail since March 18, the maxi-CD and 12-inch vinyl do not feature the Jay-Z version, although a re-release with that rendering will be offered on April 14 and will also be included on the album "Sequence Mixtape Vol. 1," which is slated for a June 17 release. While it is the first mostly Indian record to chart on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks, there have been a slew of records on those charts recently that sample Indian music including "Addictive" by Truth Hurts featuring Rakim (No. 2 peak), "React" by Erick Sermon (No. 12), and "Disco" by Slum Village featuring Ms. Jade and Rajeshwari (No. 93).
I was thrilled to see the return of Simply Red to the top-10 of the U.K. singles chart with the single "Sunrise" and the U.K. album chart with "Home." Mick Hucknall and gang have made a really excellent jazzy blue-eyed soul record with this one. I immediate bought an import copy.
Does Simply Red still have a contract in the U.S.? I'd love for them to have more success here, but may have to add them to my list of U.K. favorites that are unknown here (Robbie Williams, Gabrielle, Texas, Westlife).
I know the group has fared very well in the U.K. How does the U.K. success compare with the U.S., chartwise?
St. Petersburg, Florida
The relationship between Simply Red and the act's former label, EastWest, ended in 2000, and now Mick Hucknall is trying a new model of business, according to a front-page article by Olaf Furniss in Billboard's sister publication, Music & Media. The album "Home" was issued in the U.K. on Hucknall's own simplyred.com label through Ministry of Sound, but it is being released by a patchwork of independent companies across Europe, including Bonnier Music in Scandinavia, V2 in the Benelux countries, NUN in Italy, Musikvertrieb in Switzerland, edel in Austria, Blanco y Negro in Spain, and Universal Music for France.
There's no word yet on a U.S. release for the album that is a mixture of original songs and cover versions, including updates of Bob Dylan's "Positively 4th Street" and the Stylistics' "You Make Me Feel Brand New."
Simply Red has had seven chart entries on Billboard's Hot 100, starting with the No. 1 single "Holding Back the Years" in 1986. The only other single to also make the top-20 was a remake of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "If You Don't Know Me By Now," No. 1 in 1989.
In the U.K., Simply Red had 29 chart singles before this new album was released. The only title to reach No. 1 in the U.K. was "Fairground" in 1995. Of the 29 singles, eight made the top-10.
DIXIE CHICKS CONTROVERSY RAGES ON
I was very disappointed with your defense of radio stations yanking the Dixie Chicks from airplay. Clearly the stations were not obligated to keep their songs on the air, and true, no one has the right to radio airplay. But I cannot agree with your stance that retaliating against someone for their exercise of their right to criticize the President is the moral equivalent of exercising the right of free speech in the first place. Just because one has the right to do something, doesn't mean they should do it.
Whether intentional or not, the effect of the retaliation against the Chicks will be a chilling effect on free speech; artists, and others, will think twice about criticizing the President if they need to worry about their livelihoods. And as a result, we're all just a little less free, and our country a little less democratic. The proper response to speech with which one disagrees is to offer a counterargument, not to make the other person suffer for exercising their right.
I'd also remind you that radio stations have a different set of obligations, moral if not legal. The airwaves belong to the people, and the broadcasters operate under license. I can't go out and set up my own radio station to counter one that broadcasts music I don't like, or opinions with which I disagree. Even though the "Fairness Doctrine" no longer exists, one would hope that broadcast media outlets would at least recognize that due to their exclusive power they should attempt to present points of view in addition to their own.
So the prospect of radio stations using their power to retaliate against someone with whom they disagree (or with whom they perceive their listeners disagree) is especially troubling. As Paul Krugman noted in his March 25 column in the New York Times, large radio chains are spearheading pro-war rallies, perhaps in order to curry favor with the administration. What's happening to the Chicks is part of a larger pattern that is threatening to the American system.
On the surface, the comparisons to the boycotts against Dr. Laura Schlesinger's TV show seem apt. But there are some important differences. First, Dr. Laura got on the air, even though the show ultimately failed because of bad ratings (a not uncommon scenario for radio hosts on TV -- see Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern). Here, the Chicks were yanked off the air, without having the chance to see how their comments might affect the listenership. Second, there is a big difference between the two types of speech. As I recall, Dr. Laura made comments to the effect that gays were "biological mistakes," and other inflammatory comments; moreover, she said them repeatedly over a show that gave her an outlet to do so. [Dixie Chicks lead singer] Natalie [Maines], unlike Dr. Laura, made a political comment, the type of speech at the very heart of our constitutional freedoms, and did it a single time, in front of a limited audience. Playing "Landslide" or "Travelin' Soldier" on the radio would not give any more exposure to anti-Bush sentiments.
I've heard Natalie's comments described as "anti-American," "unpatriotic," and even "traitorous," when they were nothing of the sort. They were merely anti-Bush, and unfortunately in the current environment criticizing the President is seen by many as equivalent to treason. I do appreciate that unlike many of those in radio, you yourself believe in free speech enough to print letters from readers whose opinion differs from yours.
We may have to agree to disagree, but there is a big difference between defending the radio stations that stopped playing the Dixie Chicks because of Natalie Maines' comments about President Bush and expressing the thought that they had as much right to not play the Dixie Chicks music as Maines had to make her comments. I wouldn't defend the decision that some stations made to stop playing "Landslide" and "Travelin' Soldier" because I don't agree with that decision. Nevertheless, this is about the marketplace and not free speech. There is no inherent right to have your music played on the radio.
While the airwaves belong to the people, the people don't sit down and decide what music radio stations will play every week. You can vote by making requests and purchasing records and not listening to radio stations you don't like, but if you show up for the weekly music meeting, you'll be shown the door.
There was another flood of Dixie Chicks-related E-mails this week -- too many to post, so I have chosen a small representative sample.
STILL MORE DIXIE CHICKS COMMENTS
As one who is a music lover, a chart lover, and a political junkie all rolled into one, let me throw in my two cents on the trials and tribulations of the Dixie Chicks.
The bulk of the Dixie Chicks' fan base is rooted in the south and among the nation's most fervently conservative population. For Natalie Maines to have said what she said tells me that she either doesn't understand her fan base or doesn't care about them.
Of course the Dixie Chicks were going to suffer after that statement; it had nothing to do with freedom of speech. It had to do with all the Bush supporters who make up the bulk of that fan base. What's a radio station in a red Bush state supposed to do when their listeners start boycotting them for playing the Dixie Chicks in these troubled times? Remember, radio is big business these days.
Had this been Eminem, Snoop Dogg, or maybe even Madonna, while the backlash would have happened, it wouldn't have been as severe as with the Chicks. The message to artists is: This is a free country, and you are allowed to freely express your opinion. But please know your fans, and consider their sensibilities, particularly when you're touring overseas, before criticizing our government. 'Nuff said.
It's true that other artists have expressed their feelings about war and President Bush without suffering the kind of backlash the Dixie Chicks have experienced. And that is definitely because their fan base tends to be more conservative, although Eminem and Dixie Chicks fans come in all political flavors.
Rather than assume Natalie Maines doesn't understand her fan base or care about them, one could argue that she was brave to say what she did, knowing that her fans were more likely to disagree with her than fans of rock or rap artists. Whether you agree with someone or not, someone who doesn't express their true feelings because of commercial considerations is being less than honest.
I wanted to address some comments from this week's Chart Beat Chat. You say that radio is reflecting what's going on in the real world in relation to the Dixie Chicks' decline -- but is the purpose of the Hot 100 to reflect world events or popular music? When a song that was as popular as "Landslide" falls because radio programmers and a FEW passionate listeners decide to boycott the music, is that really an accurate reflection of the popularity of the SONG?
Also, I contend that radio IS limiting the free speech of the Dixie Chicks. You point out that just as Natalie has a right to voice her opinion, radio programmers do as well. True, but that would mean radio programmers went on-air and voiced support of the war. What they did, though, was to boycott the music of the Chicks (i.e. punish them for having an opinion). That is a more dramatic, and directly punishing, action than Natalie Maines making a comment at a concert.
Thanks for reading.
I didn't say that radio was reflecting what was going on in the real world. Radio did what it did. What I said was that the charts were reflecting what happened in the real world. A reader suggested that the charts needed fixing because the Dixie Chicks' songs took such dramatic dives. I think the opposite is true; radio stopped playing the Chicks and as a result, their songs plunged on charts where airplay data is used. That tells me the charts are working just fine, accurately reflecting what is so, not what we wish would be.
WHAT A BEAUTIFUL THING TO SAY
Much ado will be made over the Dixie Chicks' drop from the top-10 to No. 43 on last week's Hot 100 (likely due to Natalie Maines' anti-Bush comments), but I'd like to look at the lighter side of the situation; "Landslide" now becomes the most aptly-titled single since the consecutive, self-descriptive titles from Christina Aguilera's latest album.
San Diego, Calif.
I love it when you talk "dirrty."
ONCE, TWICE, THREE TIMES A HIT
In response to Pat Kelly's challenge to find songs that have charted at least three times, each time by an act from a different country, I've got one winner and one also-ran. My winner happens to be one of my favorite songs, "I Only Want To Be With You." It's charted five different times -- three of those being versions by British acts (Dusty Springfield, Samantha Fox, and the Tourists) once by a Scottish act (the Bay City Rollers), and once by an artist from the U.S. (Nicolette Larson).
I think I've come pretty close also with "Dancing in the Street". It was a top-10 hit for Martha & the Vandellas (U.S.) and Mick Jagger & David Bowie (U.K.), as well as a top-40 hit for (cheating a bit here) Van Halen (Eddie and Alex Van Halen were born in the Netherlands). If you really wanted to bend the rules, it was also a top-100 hit for the Mamas and the Papas, whose membership included Dennis Doherty (born in Canada).
I should point out that you're using Canadian charts as a source. I also count "I Only Want To Be With You" as one of my favorite songs. It's hard to beat Dusty Springfield's original, but the version by the Tourists, the group that included Annie Lennox as lead vocalist in her pre-Eurythmics days, is also terrific. The Samantha Fox version was a lot of fun.
MORE TRIPLE TREATS
In response to Pat Kelly's letter, I have come up with at least two other songs that have reached the Hot 100 for artists from at least three different countries, one of which reached the top-40 by artists from three different countries. Certainly, neither of these is an obscure entry as each has had at least one version hit No. 1 on the Hot 100:
"Can't Help Falling in Love":
Elvis Presley, U.S., No. 2, 1962
Corey Hart, Canada, No. 24, 1987
UB40, U.K., No. 1, 1993
"The Power of Love":
Jennifer Rush, U.S.
Laura Branigan, U.S.
Air Supply, Australia
Celine Dion, Canada, No. 1, 1994
Long Island, N.Y.
Good detective work. I think Pat Kelly will be happy to see your E-mail, along with Vince's letter, posted above.