Thank You, Next: 18 of 2018’s Other Epic Singles

Friends, robots, Kardashians, lend me your ears. Remember the days when you didn’t rely on a streaming algorithm to turn you onto new music? That’s right, back when your parents, older siblings, radio DJs, record store clerks, opinionated friends, underpaid magazine writers, and niche bloggers used to fill this role? Well, it’s time to bring back those jobs!

Make America a Mixtape Again

Before we begin, here’s that Arianna Grande video referenced in the headline (no bait and switch here):

‘Thank you, next’ will surely be the biggest song of the year — it’s charming for sure and the chorus will surely make it a breakup anthem for the ages, but the only reason it is THIS big is because of Grande’s celebrity, allowing fans to devour and gossip about the disses to her exes laid out in the verses and video. It’s really nothing more than another episode in her real-life reality TV series.

Beyond the phenomenon of this moment, 2018 delivered hundreds of amazing singles across every genre. To open your eyes and expand your ears beyond what you’ll see in Entertainment Weekly, I weeded through thousands of good tracks to whittle down this list — some were promos, but most I bought on CD, vinyl or at least digital download. Have a go. Stream em if that’s your jam; but if you really want to put more than $0.00000002 cents in any of these artists’ pockets, buy these tracks or go see em live in concert.

#1: Dominique Pruitt ‘High in the Valley’

Popdose last spotlighted Dominique Pruitt in (gasp) 2012, when she burst onto the scene with the new millennium Patsy Cline singalong, ‘To Win Your Love‘. The world appeared to have been hers for the taking — but her stellar debut album never materialized (beyond some promos that made the rounds) and suddenly we find ourselves here six years later, not with an album (yet) but with one new song. Well, the wait was suddenly worth it, straight from the opening line, “Closest that I’ve ever been to God is a Bible on a nightstand at an old roadside motel.” Pruitt delivers a gem straight outta Marty McFly’s 1950’s Hill Valley, with detours through the tattered maps connecting John Waters and Quentin Tarantino soundtracks.

Pruitt tells Popdose that the song recalls her 18th through 20th years, passing the the time with her sister in Conoga Park, getting high with a little help from her friends. She co-wrote it with Jasmine Ash,​ ​Joseph Holiday and Kenny Fleetwood. Holiday produced, with an ace ensemble backing Pruitt up:  Travis Daggett (Guitar), Kevin Conroy (drums), John Schreffler (pedal steel) and Zach Kibbee (bass). This stellar band is primed and ready to play Grand Ole Opry — or Hollywood’s Hotel Cafe — and if nothing else, some smoke filled bar along Ventura Boulevard in the Valley.

#2 Volk • ‘Honey Bee’

Gird your loins my friends for nothing can possibly prepare you for the awesome sonic ear hole sandblasting this track will throttle into your brain cave. Nashville-based Volk follows in the footsteps of Local H, the White Stripes and the Black Keys in terms of duos that could level a stadium without auxiliary touring musicians. Eleot Reich’s lead vocals scorch the rafters while she flat out pummels the drum kit — Phil Collins and that dude who sang ‘Sister Christian’ attempted the same feat, but with much mellower songs (and none rocked bedazzled eyelids and a glitter dress the way she does). Chris Lowe’s guitar unleashes a tornado of Reverend Horton Heat, Nashville Pussy, Jack White, Nick Zinner and Nuno Bettencourt style riffs (sometimes all at once) as he burns the song’s bridge with a deliriously deranged preacher rant. Average American Band (out now on Romanus Records) is their second EP, following Boutique Western Swing Compositions that they recorded totally old school in Berlin (watch a mini doc here) after being inspired by Dave Grohl’s Sound City documentary.

#3: Joan Jett and the Blackhearts • ‘Fresh Start’

A Star is Born might be cinema’s finest fictional romance of the year, but the award for best real life love story caught on film goes to rock icon Joan Jett and producer Kenny Laguna, as it is told in Kevin Kerslake’s celebrated documentary, Bad Reputation (now available on VOD). If you think you know everything about Jett’s dramatic career after seeing Kristen Stewart’s Runaways biopic, think again. If you’ve ever been knocked down and can’t seem to find the strength to get up again, look no further. Should the rollercoaster of Jett’s rise and fall and return to the top of the charts not move you, her music surely will. As for the new single, ‘Fresh Start’, Jett proves she still has monster hits in her heart and a blazing fire in her soul. The Bad Reputation official soundtrack contains the single and a crash course in Jett set living.

#4: Ashley Delima • ‘Stay in America’

Popdose profiled Ashley Delima earlier this year with a song that is STILL just as urgent and visceral as it was months ago when we still cared about family separation at the border. Yes, that feels like 36 years ago in the Trump news cycle, but the song, ‘Stay in America’, is worthy of a fresh listen. Now with her eyes set on worldwide pop domination, Delima’s latest single, ‘Cigarette‘(which is against toxic relationships and not pro smoking), features a seductive beat and a tight guest rap by $tandard. Connect with Ashley Delima on facebook.

#5: Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers • ‘I Hate Chicago’

When the Against Me! singer approached Chicago’s alt-country power label Bloodshot Records about releasing a side project, one would imagine it would be in the vein of current and former stablemates Robbie Fulks, Neko Case, or Lydia Loveless — well, think again my friends. Bought to Rot returns Grace to her abrasive punk roots, her most visceral since Reinventing Axl Rose, while building upon the ridiculously addictive songwriting she’s perfected ever since (New Wave, White Crosses and Transgender Dysphoria Blues all topped my Best Albums lists in their respective years). ‘I Hate Chicago’ will now forever hold a place on my Breakup Tunes Playlist, giving all the weepy ballads a swift kick in the caboose right when it’s time to get over it and move forward.

#6: The Ocean Blue • ‘Therein Lies The Problem With My Life’

HOLY CRAP — has it already been SIX years since The Ocean Blue returned from a long hiatus with one of their best-ever albums, Ultramarine? Like Against Me!, this band released some of the most essential records in my life on Sire Records before setting out on their own. Thankfully, they’ve at least eeeped out a few tracks as b-sides and Korda Kompilation contributions since then; here’s hoping we don’t need to wait another six years for the next album. This song doesn’t stray too far from their shimmering guitar, dreamy vocal formula because why mess with perfection? Speaking of perfection AND Sire Records…

#7: Cait Brennan • ‘Just an Old Fashioned Love Song’

Arizona power pop goddess Cait Brennan came thiiiiiis close to signing with Sire founder Seymour Stein before fate took her career in another direction. Brennan once topped my best albums list with her self-released classic, Debutante, before signing to Omnivore Recordings to release her second album, Third. The way I first described her sound remains one of my all-time descriptions of any recording artist: “Imagine David Bowie fronting the Beach Boys, covering Cheap Trick and Babys songs with producer Jeff Lynne.”

While I pine relentlessly for her actual third album, she’s been keeping me satiated with a steady stream of singles. ‘Miss Valentine’ anchored the third disc on Omnivore’s massive International Pop Overthrow Volume 21 release earlier this year. She also contributed ‘Home‘ to producer Fernando Perdomo’s guest-studded compilation Fernando Perdomo Has Lost His Voice. And now, she delivers another chestnut on the rising star studded Paul Williams tribute album, White Lace and Promises: The Songs of Paul Williams (out December 7). Now, speaking of Caits I adore…

#8: Cait • Stay Out

 

My other favorite Cait (with all apologies to the other Ms. Jenner), is a singer/songwriter/fashion icon who has been steadily releasing killer pop tracks with producer Brian Phillips for the past year or so. ‘Stay Out’, co-written with Phillips and Devin D’Amato, is a slinky breakup jam.

“Essentially, this song is about being rejected,” Cait tells Popdose. “True story: Many years ago, I told one of my best friends that I had feelings for him, and he did not feel the same way (gut punch). I originally wrote a sad victim-y ballad called ‘Stay Out’ that sat on the shelf for years. I revisited the song last year, and realized I wanted to rewrite it with a stronger and more confident tone. Now, it takes on new life as a song for anyone to jam out to after a break-up or rejection that isn’t going to make them sadder – but feel empowered.”

‘Stay Out’ just came out a few weeks ago and Cait’s already followed it up with her first holiday single, ‘Run Away For Christmas‘.

Now, with such a common moniker, you need some stealth sleuthing skills to find Cait on a Google or Amazon search, unless you also know the names of her songs. Start with these two, continue with her sultry update of No Doubt’s ‘Just a Girl’, and then deep dive into the rest. Why get lost? Connect with Cait on facebook.

And speaking of HARD TO FIND artists…

#9: Cat Pierce • ‘Sometimes You Lose’

Cat — aka Catherine Pierce and NOT the person “we need you to rap” on Prince’s ‘Alphabet Street’ — has been steadily releasing adventurous singles under her full and abbreviated names since her harmonic sister act, The Pierces, went on hiatus. While her sister Allison went the mainstream country route on her solo outing, Year of the Rabbit, Cat keeps taking the bold, romantic, mysterious, and entrancing chances that landed The Pierces’ fourth album, You & I, atop my best albums list in 2011. Cat sings straight from a David Lynch fever dream and remains a woman of mystery despite my obsessive fandom these past 10 years. And speaking of women of mystery…

#10: Alana Sweetwater • Gotta Get Up

Another Popdose blast from the past is Alana Sweetwater of Los Angeles. We spotlighted her single, ‘Love More Than Anything‘, back in 2013 when she was fronting a band, Sweetwater and the Satisfaction, and rocking a delicious mix of Amy Winehouse, Joan Jett, and No Doubt. In the years that passed, Sweetwater took a creative sojourn to Nashville where she booked some time to record at RCA Studio A. At the time, Ben Folds was in the midst of saving the Music Row institution by getting it listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Those introspective sessions were the foundation of what eventually became Sweetwater’s 6th album, Compass, recorded upon her return to Los Angeles. She also found time to open for The Push Stars on tour before reinventing herself once again as a solo artist and a composer for film and television projects.

Songs throughout Sweetwater’s career have helped her deal with the rollercoaster of life. While the size of her live venues will surely grow, as will the stream counts on her songs, Sweetwater has also tapped the power of music in performances few will see and in songs few may hear. She’s the founder of Sweetwater Soul Sessions, a songwriting workshop that helps people with addiction or trauma to work through their feelings by composing (weekend #1) and recording (weekend #2) their own song under the guidance of industry professionals. Journaling, sharing, and collaborating are all part of the therapeutic process, usually done on location at the treatment facility. The recipients walk away with a fully produced song they can share with the world or simply hold close to their heart.

For 2019, Sweetwater has a small batch of new tunes on the way with hopes of dropping a new album. She kicks off the year with a gig at Hollywood landmark Hotel Cafe.

#11: Holden Laurence • ‘Indian Summer’

Cleveland’s Holden Laurence has landed on my year-end Best Albums list both as a solo artist and as a guitarist for The Modern Electric. In a perfect world, both acts would be on the precipice of international success. While a leap from the Beachland Ballroom (where they share the bill for this year’s Northcoast Christmas concert on December 23rd) to Wembley might be a stretch, Europe is much more open to their brand of well produced, emotive, cinematic, alternative pop. Look no further than kindred spirits, James, that released one of their best and biggest albums in 2018 (Living in Extraordinary Times). If you’re a fan of James or the aforementioned The Ocean Blue, or have albums by Pulp, The Wild Swans, Echo & The Bunnymen, New Order, or The Smiths tucked away in your collection, then Laurence’s solo album and the two platters by The Modern Electric are just what you’ve been looking for. Laurence’s ‘Indian Summer’ is an epically melodic solo single to tide us over between last year’s spellbinding Wild Empty Promises and a new album that could hit the market in 2019.

But before we enter 2019, let’s go back (gasp) 20 years…

#12: Charli XCX & Troye Sivan • ‘1999’

It’s been a lifetime since Charli XCX released True Romance, one of the best dark wave dance pop albums of all time (way more Siouxsie and Goldfrapp leaning than her current work). Around that same time, she delivered worldwide smashes for Icona Pop (‘I Love It’) and Iggy Azalea (‘Fancy’). While her sophomore album, Sucker, didn’t ride the momentum, XCX has been delivering a metric ton of delicious singles ever since. In today’s digital and streaming age, that likely makes the most sense from a promotion and profit perspective. Whereas Prince’s 1982 classic, ‘1999’, looked forward to what will be, Charli XCXs ‘1999’ (no relation) looks back on what was. It sends up all the pop culture milestones of the year and beat Arianna Grande’s very similar ‘thank you, next’ video to the punch by several months (co-singer Troye Sivan appears in both clips). Charli’s video comes out on top by a mile by being 100% free of cameos by Kris Jenner. Now what could possibly be better than either of these videos? Perhaps…

#13: Carly Rae Jepsen • ‘Party For One’

If he or she or they never called you maybe, then it’s time to take matters into your own hands. Jepsen never fails to drop huge, freaking, earworm hits every time she steps to the plate, and this latest single certainly hits it out of the park. It’s perhaps the best ode to self love since ‘I Touch Myself’ by Divinyls, Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing With Myself’, or ‘Fingers’ by P!nk. The video wraps an entire sleazy hotel anthology series into a single 3-minute clip, complete with the big (emotional) release at the end. And speaking of bodies and souls…

14: Teddy <3 • Body and Soul

Am I the only person here who fondly remembers Love Monkey, the short-lived CBS drama starring Tom Cavanagh (Ed, The Flash), Jason Priestly, Judy Greer and surprisingly hip list of music biz cameos (see em all on IMDB). From what I recall, Teddy Geiger played the potential pop star that could save Cavanagh’s struggling record label (This is 40 pretty much turned this concept into a movie, with Graham Parker taking over the Geiger role). Geiger went on to pen some pretty freaking big pop hits for herself and other artists while slowly coming to terms with her gender and re-emerging on the scene as her true, beautiful self. Teddy <3’s debut single is a down and dirty rock and roll booty shaker that might jar some of her mainstream pop fans but it’s about time we salute those who are about to rock.

Speaking of rock stars, let’s listen to one of my favorites make some sweet, sweet  jazz…

15 • Jeff Goldblum Featuring Haley Reinhart • ‘My Baby Cares Just For Me’

If you can suffer through Jeff Goldblum’s relentless mugging, then Haley Reinhart’s two appearances on his album with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra (which is more of a combo than an orchestra) are quite charming. Reinhart has been having a stellar 2018, soaring along one of the most exciting, prolific, and constantly surprising careers of any American Idol alum. In addition to these jazzy outings, she’s released two sweetheart non-album solo singles, ‘Last Kiss Goodbye‘ and ‘Don’t Know How To Love You’ and a pop banger, ‘Something Strange‘ with Vicetone. In recent years, she’s been a session ringer for stacks of acts, including Scott Bradlee & Postmodern Jukebox (steampunk covers of just about every mega-hit of the past 20 years), Big Easy legends Irvin Mayfield and Kermit Ruffins (including a surprisingly not awful version of ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’), and several tracks with affable fellow Idol, Casey Abrams.

Speaking of Idols, two more make our hit list below…

16: Blake Lewis • So Alive

I’ll be honest, I did not care much for Lewis’s human beat box schtick on American Idol, but my former wife LOVED it. The futuristic 8th grade class photo cover art for his debut album, 2007’s Audio Day Dream (A.D.D.), is among the cheesiest of all time, but then his music hit me and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. ‘Heartbreak on Vinyl‘, the title track of his second album is a love song and elegy for independent record stores. Every song that has followed has taken adventurous twists and turns, buffered by cameos with Scott Bradlee & Postmodern Jukebox as well. Blake’s latest, Our Fragile Heart: Remixes & Rarities, collects some remixes of past hits, along with two new songs. ‘So Alive’ bears no relation to the mega Love & Rockets hit from the 80s, but it still sounds like a bonafide dance floor jam from the era. It’s fresh off the boat, so I can’t find an embed, but it’s easily tracked down on Spotify. Now, to complete our lost Idols trilogy…

17. Halo Circus • ‘Commander’

Rocker David Cook went further, winning Season 7, and Daughtry went bigger, scoring platinum hits, but the best rock album from an American Idol finalist goes to Just Like You by Season 8’s Allison Iraheta. Despite scoring a plum 70+ city opening slot for Adam Lambert (who also lost that season to Kris Allen, finishing 2nd to Iraheta’s 4th), the album never truly enjoyed sales worthy of its greatness. Instead of slinking into obscurity (or off Broadway shows), Iraheta formed a band, Halo Circus, and built a loyal following on social media before heading out on tour to cities where fans proved the demand was there. Their debut album, Bunny, featured tracks co-authored with none other than Paul Williams (how’s that for a callback, see Cait Brennan above) and John Taylor of Duran Duran. Popdose hosted the world premiere of their ‘Nothing at All‘ video and the album landed high on my year end list. Just when you think you’ve got her pegged, Iraheta reinvents herself again, pairing down the act to just herself and bassist/keyboardist turned husband Matthew Hager. Robots and Wranglers was launched with ‘Narcissist’ a ferocious techno dance track that spits out like ‘Hollaback Girl’ on Red Bull; its perhaps the perfect theme song for the Trump era.

The album, one of this year’s best, takes exciting twists and turns at every moment — returning to our Top 18 List, ‘Commander’, a deep album cut, is one of Robots and Wranglers‘ emotional anchors. Now speaking of the year’s best albums…

18. Dua Lipa (Featuring Silk City) • ‘Electricity’

When I named Dua Lipa’s self titled album as my #1 title for 2017, the most common reaction was, “Who the hell is Dua Lipa???” Well, that question was certainly answered in 2018 while her tour played festivals around the world, she cleaned up at just about every award show she attended while her singles shattered streaming records on YouTube (one billion views of ‘New Rules’ alone) and Spotify. As her 2-year long album cycle drew to a close this fall, she expanded and re-released her album as the 2CD Dua Lipa Complete Edition (available this week for only $10 on Amazon), collecting some one-off singles with Calvin Harris and the Mark Ronson/Diplo project, Silk City. The bonus disc alone will likely rank near the top of this year’s best albums list, and in terms of total plays on my own stereo, the complete set just might repeat at #1 for 2018.

And finally, since it is the year 2018, why not blow this 18 song list out to an even 20 with two of the years biggest tracks that need no explanation:

Coming next week — yet another list of the Top Albums of 2018.

Soul Serenade: Dee Dee Sharp, “Ride!”

When we think of Philly Soul, we tend to think of Gamble & Huff and their work with the Intruders, Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, the O’Jays, and many more. We also think of Thom Bell and his work with the Delfonics, the Stylistics, and the Spinners. And while those producers, songwriters, and artists certainly represent the peak of Philly Soul, the fact remains that there was great music coming out of Philadelphia before any of them arrived on the scene. Case in point, Dee Dee Sharp.

Dione LaRue was born in Philadelphia and when she was 16 years old she began her career as a background singer. It wasn’t long before the newly christened Dee Dee Sharp was stepping out on her own. Her first hit was a duet with Chubby Checker called “Slow Twistin’,” although Parkway Records failed to credit her on the record label. Her first hit on her own came with the smash “Mashed Potato Time” in 1962. The Cameo Records single ran all the way up the Billboard Hot 100 to #2.

“Mashed Potato Time” was followed by “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes),” and “Ride!,” both of which also reached the Top 10 that same year. Sharp’s final Top 10 hit was “Do the Bird” in 1963. She also released “Rock Me I the Cradle of Love” and “Wild!” that year and both singles made the charts but neither had the kind of success that the earlier hits did. Subsequent Cameo singles like “Where Did I Go Wrong,” “Willyam, Willyam,” “Never Pick a Pretty Boy,” “I Really Love You,” and “It’s a Funny Situation” also found only minor chart success.

A marriage made in Philly Soul heaven took place when Sharp married Kenny Gamble in 1967 and began recording as Dee Dee Sharp-Gamble. The disco era brought a bit of a career renewal for Sharp-Gamble as she released a moderately successful cover of the 10cc hit “I’m Not In Love” on her husband’s Philadelphia International label in 1976. Sharp and Gamble were divorced in 1980 and Sharp subsequently remarried. Her last chart single was “I Love You Anyway” which reached #62 on the R&B chart in 1981.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Ninety One

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Ninety One

The post-Thanksgiving definitely helped fuel Jon and Rob’s latest installment of Radio City…  A conversation with no bullet points but just natural, deep, sometimes filled with fire and with a lot of humor.  You get a whole lot of “oh yeah” with this particular show.

If you have any leftovers, kick back and get cozy, because this one is a powerhouse that you will not want to miss one second of!

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Ninety One


The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

TV Reviews: “House of Cards” and “The Kominsky Method” on Netflix

The final season of “House of Cards” could be subtitled “The Ghost Of You.” Kevin Spacey was fired from the series after sexual assault allegations surfaced, but the character he plays (Frank Underwood) is still very much part of the show — even though the actor playing him is nowhere to be seen in the six episodes. Instead, the show focuses on Claire Underwood, Frank’s wife, who became president toward the end of season five after Frank resigned in the wake of impending impeachment hearings.

Flash-forward to season six and Frank is dead, Claire is still president, but she is about as reviled as Frank was when he held the office. She also has to confront many of the debts Frank was set to pay as president — one of which is to the Shepard family who wants Claire to sign a bill that will benefit their Koch Brothers-like family business. Then there’s the death of Zoe Barnes in season two that lingers throughout the series as her editor tries to pin her murder squarely on Frank. Add to that Frank’s loyal foot soldier Doug Stamper plotting to kill Claire as she suspects that Frank was murdered. Oh, it’s all so improbable (or is it?), but that’s what “House of Cards” excels in. The scheming, the audacious acts, the ability of some characters (okay, really just the Underwoods) to see five or six moves ahead of their opponents in the political chess games they play, only accentuates the corrupting influence of power.

While “The Final Season” shows stresses and strains of milking drama from increasingly boilerplate characters, Robin Wright is the glue that holds this mess together. She doesn’t always succeed in her abilities to command the screen in the face of weak scripts, but she’s commanding enough to see it through to its revealing end.

First, there was “The Golden Girls” and now Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin are treading familiar waters as Golden Boys in “The Kominsky Method.” Tragedy and comedy alternate in this series starring two seasoned actors who know how to liven up sometimes mediocre material. The plot centers on Sandy Kominsky (Douglas) and his agent, Howard Newlander (Arkin). Sandy is a revered acting teacher in L.A. who can’t find any acting work — despite the fact that Howard runs a pretty successful agency (Think William Morris Endeavor). The episodes deal with spousal death, enlarged prostates, medication, dating when older, and a whole host of other situations that are pretty standard stuff.

If it wasn’t for the acting talent of Douglas and Arkin, the series would probably tank. As it is, the two keep the chuckles (but not belly laughs) coming, and it’s Arkin who shows some range in the series. He has to play grief-stricken, sarcastic, confused, and sympathetic while Douglas kind of plays the straight man who is trying to stay relevant and attractive while the years catch up with him. Arkin has always been a master at delivering comedic lines, and in “The Kominsky Method” he doesn’t disappoint:

Norman: So how’s your love life? You still seeing, uh, what’s her name? Triscuit?
Sandy: Tristan…and no.
Norman: Oh, that’s too bad. She was kinda cute.
Sandy: Well, we didn’t have much to talk about…she was half my age.
Norman: Listen, half your age is still an old woman.

There are a few more zingers in the series like this, but more often than not, the plots tend to cover very little new territory for what’s essentially a sitcom (without a laugh track) about old age. Still, if you’re in the mood for some predictable, but enjoyable, old man comedy, “The Kominsky Method” will do in a pinch.

Soul Serenade: The Clovers, “Love Potion No. 9”

It has been said that when the British Invasion bands appeared on these shores and on our radios they were bringing American music back to America. The British musicians were steeped in the knowledge of American blues, R&B, and soul in ways that most Americans just weren’t. Today’s record is a case in point; an American R&B hit that was brought back to these shores a few years later by a British Invasion band that turned the song into an even bigger hit.

The Clovers have had a long and distinguished career that began when they got together in Washington, D.C. in 1946 and goes on to this day in some fashion. The original lineup included Harold Lucas, Billy Shelton, and Thomas Woods. They were joined shortly after that by lead singer Buddy Bailey. There have been many lineup changes over the years and I won’t detail them all, but by 1948, Shelton and Woods were gone, replaced by Matthew McQuater and Harold Winsley.

The quartet released their first single, “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” for Rainbow Records in 1950 and soon after that became a quintet with the addition of guitarist Bill Harris. By 1951, the Clovers were signed to the fledgling Atlantic Records label. The first single for the label was “Don’t You Know I Love You,” a song written by Atlantic co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, b/w the standard “Skylark.” It was the Clovers first Top 10 R&B hit and remained on the chart for five months.

The second Clovers release for Atlantic was “Fool, Fool, Fool,” and that one went all the way to the top of the R&B chart. Bailey was drafted and replaced by John Phillip but the hits kept coming. The Clovers hits the charts with songs like “One Mint Julep,” “Middle of the Night” (another Ertegun composition), “Ting-A-Ling,” “Hey Miss Fannie,” “Good Lovin’,” “Lovey Dovey,” “Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash,” and several other singles.

Bailey eventually returned from the Army, rejoined the group, and shared vocal duties with Billy Mitchell who had replaced Charlie White, who had replaced Phillip. Whew! The thing is, the hits never stopped, no matter who the Clovers were. “Blue Velvet,” “Nip Sip,” “Devil or Angel,” “So Young” and “I I I Love You” (the latter two songs arranged by Quincy Jones) were all hits.

The Clovers

In 1957, the Clovers Atlantic contract expired and their manager, Lou Krefetz, got them signed to Poplar Records the following year. Poplar was subsumed by United Artists the following year and in June 1959, the Clovers entered the recording studio to record their signature hit “Love Potion No. 9.”

The song was written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. It was released in July and this time it not only raced up the R&B chart to #23 but found equivalent success on the pop chart. It was by far the biggest hit of the Clovers long career. It was also the last time that the Clovers ever hit the R&B or pop chart but it wasn’t for lack of trying. They kept recording up until 1968 with an ever-shifting lineup and a variety of record labels. At times there was more than one band using the Clovers name, there were breakups and reunions, and the deaths of various members over the years.

A British band, the Searchers, covered “Love Potion No. 9” in 1964. Their version reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Remember what I said about bringing our music back to us?

As of 2013, a legal agreement has allowed two different groups to perform under the Clovers name.

TV Review: “House of Cards” and “The Kominsky Method” on Netflix

The final season of “House of Cards” could be subtitled “The Ghost Of You.” Kevin Spacey was fired from the series after sexual assault allegations surfaced, but the character he plays (Frank Underwood) is still very much part of the show — even though the actor playing him is nowhere to be seen in the six episodes. Instead, the show focuses on Claire Underwood, Frank’s wife, who became president toward the end of season five after Frank resigned in the wake of impending impeachment hearings.

Flash-forward to season six and Frank is dead, Claire is still president, but she is about as reviled as Frank was when he held the office. She also has to confront many of the debts Frank was set to pay as president — one of which is to the Shepard family who wants Claire to sign a bill that will benefit their Koch Brothers-like family business. Then there’s the death of Zoe Barnes in season two that lingers throughout the series as her editor tries to pin her murder squarely on Frank. Add to that Frank’s loyal foot soldier Doug Stamper plotting to kill Claire as she suspects that Frank was murdered. Oh, it’s all so improbable (or is it?), but that’s what “House of Cards” excels in. The scheming, the audacious acts, the ability of some characters (okay, really just the Underwoods) to see five or six moves ahead of their opponents in the political chess games they play, only accentuates the corrupting influence of power.

While “The Final Season” shows stresses and strains of milking drama from increasingly boilerplate characters, Robin Wright is the glue that holds this mess together. She doesn’t always succeed in her abilities to command the screen in the face of weak scripts, but she’s commanding enough to see it through to its revealing end.

First, there was “The Golden Girls” and now Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin are treading familiar waters as Golden Boys in “The Kominsky Method.” Tragedy and comedy alternate in this series starring two seasoned actors who know how to liven up sometimes mediocre material. The plot centers on Sandy Kominsky (Douglas) and his agent, Howard Newlander (Arkin). Sandy is a revered acting teacher in L.A. who can’t find any acting work — despite the fact that Howard runs a pretty successful agency (Think William Morris Endeavor). The episodes deal with spousal death, enlarged prostates, medication, dating when older, and a whole host of other situations that are pretty standard stuff.

If it wasn’t for the acting talent of Douglas and Arkin, the series would probably tank. As it is, the two keep the chuckles (but not belly laughs) coming, and it’s Arkin who shows some range in the series. He has to play grief-stricken, sarcastic, confused, and sympathetic while Douglas kind of plays the straight man who is trying to stay relevant and attractive while the years catch up with him. Arkin has always been a master at delivering comedic lines, and in “The Kominsky Method” he doesn’t disappoint:

Norman: So how’s your love life? You still seeing, uh, what’s her name? Triscuit?
Sandy: Tristan…and no.
Norman: Oh, that’s too bad. She was kinda cute.
Sandy: Well, we didn’t have much to talk about…she was half my age.
Norman: Listen, half your age is still an old woman.

There are a few more zingers in the series like this, but more often than not, the plots tend to cover very little new territory for what’s essentially a sitcom (without a laugh track) about old age. Still, if you’re in the mood for some predictable, but enjoyable, old man comedy, “The Kominsky Method” will do in a pinch.

My Body Is Ready, But I Am Not: The Demise of FilmStruck and the Future of Streaming

WarnerMedia announced its streaming service FilmStruck announced last month that it was shutting down on November 29. The reasons WarnerMedia gave to Variety for the decision were, at best, unsatisfactory. “We’re incredibly proud of the creativity and innovations produced by the talented and dedicated teams who worked on FilmStruck over the past two years. While FilmStruck has a very loyal fan base, it remains largely a niche service.” This is the same as saying “Sure, Johnny deserves an A+ for his paper, but he’s still being held back a grade because the popular kids don’t hang out with him.” Now that I think about it, that’s a very accurate definition of adult life, but there’s no reason we should punish FilmStruck’s success.

Naturally, many cinephiles took this announcement as a personal attack. Oscar winners like Barry Jenkins and Guillermo del Toro rallied against the decision. Many other commenters wrung their hands and used this development as a rallying cry about media corporate consolidation. Petitions were created, and The Criterion Collection eventually came to the rescue and announced they’d start their own channel next year. But that’s likely not going to offer the same vast library that was available on FilmStruck.

But during all this, very few have taken a step back and examined what the shutdown of FilmStruck means for streaming. That may be because it’s going to force us to confront something streaming. It’s not going to be wave of the future that we all thought it was. In fact, it’s already making the same mistakes that cable made and will likely be mistakes that shape the future of these services.

1.) All the focus is on new content, preventing people from checking out older films – As many pointed out, FilmStruck was the only place to find Hollywood classics like Singing in the Rain or obscure titles like The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover.

Actually, the latter film was available on Netflix for many years. So were a lot of classic films. In its early streaming years, one of the biggest complaints about Netflix was the fact that no newer releases were ever showcased.

But as time went on, Netflix started developing its own content, starting with Lilyhammer. Yes, there was production company Netflix owned that bought films for exclusive distribution, including the documentaries This Film is Not Yet Rated and Super High Me. But Lilyhammer and House of Cards really broke the dam for streaming platforms creating original content. Now, there are some undeniably classic television moments on Netflix produced shows. But it was an enormous change for their business model, and as a result, more and more classic titles are leaving the service. It means that classic film fans were getting increasingly left out because that was such a niche audience. Netflix didn’t bother renewing the streaming rights to many titles because they were encouraged by the success of Cards and wanted to develop more shows.

The result is an increasingly unsatisfactory film library. Yes, some great work still resides there – as of this writing, The Third Man and Touch of Evil are both streaming. But Stripes and Strictly Ballroom are also listed under “classics,” presumably because they’re more than 20 years old. Compared to what Netflix once was – a one stop shop for practically every film you could ever imagine – today’s Netflix is far more limited.   It’s like what happened to cable channel AMC. It used to be a huge competitor with Turner Classic movies. Now, it’s more well known for airing shows like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. The movies it does air tend to be dreck and there certainly isn’t any special attention paid to them.

Ironically, Netflix somewhat addressed this complaint about classic films earlier in November when they finally released Orson Welles’ long lost The Other Side of the Wind, with an accompanying documentary about the film and Welles’ later career. This act shows how streaming services can still provide if they’re willing to do so. But that’s increasingly becoming an anomaly. And now, Hulu and Amazon are both creating new shows and not showcasing the classics. By its very nature, FilmStruck could not create any new narrative content. That, more than anything else, is likely why the service got the axe.

2.) Streaming is becoming increasingly fractured – It seems that media owners are eager to have their content move around to get fans to pay more. It happened when It’s Always Sunny and Archer moved from FX to FXX, which is a newer cable station notable for the fact there’s one more X in its name. There was no practical reason for this move except to acknowledge the fact that FXX existed and people should, despite their best interests, subscribe to it.

I mentioned Netflix a lot in my last point because that’s the service that drove every other decision by every other service. And in that decision process, more media creators started taking their content and creating their own streaming services.

That by itself isn’t a bad thing. People have different interests and may want to only focus on certain genres. That was certainly an advantage of FilmStruck. People who weren’t excited over the latest Avengers sequel had somewhere to go to watch the movies they wanted to watch.

What is troubling is that this meant, once content was removed from one service, people would have to shell out for multiple services just to get a film or TV show that had previously been available. Several classic TV shows that were formerly hosted by Netflix are now exclusively on Hulu, and it’s been promoted as something to be excited about rather than an acknowledgement that rights have transferred and that consumers have to spend more money.

During the dying days of cable, may people wondered why they couldn’t just pay for the channels they wanted to watch. After all, at most, people insisted they only watched five channels. Streaming was supposed to be the alternative to this.  We would get the content we wanted without having all the useless appendages tacked on. Netflix didn’t include sports or live events, but it did include every TV show and film that almost everyone would want. Through a few specialized services on top of that and we’d be living in our future utopia.”

But it’s not to be. Disney has already announced they have a streaming service planned. Hulu has taken most of the classic TV content away from Netflix. And WarnerMedia is apparently dreaming of something so amazing that it will make FilmStruck look like a child’s toy. Meanwhile, Netflix wants to become the Marvel Channel. (We’ll see how long that lasts when Disney launches their service) and services like HBO Go, Shudder, and FilmStruck, while they do offer an eclectic range of programming, feel like they’re never going to have the staying power that the most popular streaming services do. I have a suspicion that streaming services of the future are going to be offshoots of current branded channels – like CBS All Access. That puts them in the same category as specialty cable channels. And that means that we’re still going to suffer the same problems.



3.) There’s no longer a guarantee that your favorite things will always be available to you – Have you noticed how often I’ve mentioned content being removed from streaming services?

I’m sure many people reading this also recall when past shows would be removed from syndication on cable to make way for newer shows. Nick at Nite went through this when they stopped showing vintage sitcoms and started showing Everybody Loves Raymond. Cartoon Network went through the same thing when the yanked Looney Tunes in favor of Teen Titans Go!

One would think that streaming services, with their seemingly infinite capacity, do not suffer from the same issues. With cable channels, there are only 24 hours in a day people can program. But streaming services supposedly don’t have the same constraints. Yet, that’s what’s happening. Physical media is starting to fall out of fashion. One advantage it will always offer is that a Blu Ray will always be available for you to watch. Studios can’t suddenly not make the disc work.

But we’ve accepted a world where content is removed from a service at random. Even FilmStruck did this – and for a time, didn’t indicate what titles would be leaving. I am sure there is an algorithm that could explain why. But it doesn’t address the biggest problem we’re running into. We’re once again at the mercy of studios to legally provide us what they want to provide us.

That was something FilmStruck could address. They specialized in films that did not interest a general audience. But that was the point. It was a playground for people to go to find obscure films they likely couldn’t see anywhere else.  And that may have doomed it.


4.) Advertising is becoming the most important thing for streaming platforms

Remember when earlier this year when Netflix started experimenting with promotions for their shows in between TV episodes? Seemingly everyone reacted negatively to it, as though it was a new idea. Amazon has already been doing that same thing. And many cable channels, like AMC, introduced commercials in the same way.

I’m not necessarily stating that Netflix will introduce commercials. But so many other streaming services have added it that it we’ve barely noticed. I’m not just talking about the giants like Netflix and Hulu. Look at YouTube, the most popular video sharing site in history. Originally, there were no ads on any videos. Then they added skippable commercials before the video started. And, increasingly, they’ve interrupted videos with soap commercials. In November, YouTube added a selection of free movies for people to watch – movies that would be interrupted by ads. Is a movie like Jiro Dreams of Sushi truly enhanced by advertising interruptions? Not to mention the fact that Hulu’s basic service includes ads even after subscribers pay a price for its content.

Using films as a showcase for advertisement is another FilmStruck would never do. They don’t have any original content that needs to be promoted and no subscriber would allow a Bergman film to be interrupted by a five second commercial.  But that’s what every basic cable channel eventually did because it was incredibly lucrative.

And now? It seems inevitable the only streaming services that will survive are the ones that will be able to monetize their content beyond what subscribers pay for. That means the cost of commercial free plans will likely go up and other services will slowly start introducing regular commercials into their content. It already happened on cable and I challenge anyone to find someone who notices the difference.

I hope we can get back to a time when streaming genuinely offered a glimpse into the future – a future where people could access seemingly unlimited content. But, with the trends we’re seeing, that’s becoming increasingly unlikely. Maybe buying your favorite film on Blu Ray isn’t such a waste after all. I’m thankful for the two years I got out of FilmStruck, but now I’m concerned that’s a moment that will never be equaled.

Concert Review: Fleetwood Mac, Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA 11/25/2018

Fleetwood Mac at the Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA.

If there’s one word that describes the members of Fleetwood Mac through the years, it’s this: drama. The band’s rise to superstardom has been chronicled many times, but the continued tension between band members (most notably Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham) has been a source of ongoing conflict since they joined the group in the mid-’70s. However, any sense of lingering acrimony between the players after Buckingham’s dismissal from the group in January (and subsequent lawsuit by Buckingham citing breach of contract) was absent on Sunday night in Oakland. Not that one would expect pros such Fleetwood Mac to air their dirty laundry in front of a paying audience, but it was pretty obvious a major component of the group was missing. To fill the gap, the current Buckingham-less Mac found replacements for Lindsey who both hit all the right notes and brought a heavier sound to songs that are more Adult Contemporary in flair. Mike Campbell and Neil Finn are from musical backgrounds that are quite different from one another. Campbell’s career is mostly known for being the lead guitarist and songwriter of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Finn’s success is more new wave, with stints fronting Split Enz and Crowded House. Finn ably sang Lindsey’s songs and played mostly rhythm guitar, while Campbell filled the guitarist role Buckingham used to play in the group. Their addition to the group, while kind of a puzzler on paper, worked well in practice. Finn could sing in Buckingham’s key, and Campbell provided a more raw lead guitar sound to Fleetwood Mac classics. Would I have like to hear Buckingham singing “Monday Morning,” “Go Your Own Way,” and “Second Hand News?” Well, duh. Yeah. Of course I would! But Finn sang the songs with such gusto that the choice to put him in front of classic heavy hitters was the right one. In short, not only could he handle the job, he excelled at it. Sure, there are going to be purists who long for Buckingham’s return to the fold, but Fleetwood Mac has weathered changes in their line-up — with Buckingham, Nicks, Christine McVie leaving at various times. This tour, however, there are no pretensions the group can produce new music that can match the heyday of their 1975-1987 output — so they stuck to the hits on Sunday night, with a few deep cuts thrown in for good measure.

The band played for over two hours, and they started strong with “The Chain,” followed by “Little Lies,” “Dreams,” and “Second Hand News.” The hits kept on coming through “Black Magic Woman” and “Rhiannon.” And then, something unexpected happened: they played a deep cut from 1970. “Tell Me All The Things You Do” is a blues rock song that sounds like a heavier version of The Grateful Dead. But in the hands of the altered line-up, the band made it a blistering jam that reflected their more free-form ‘60s roots. Paired with an extended “World Turning” from the 1975 self-titled album, it proved to be a great transition into a Mick Fleetwood drum solo where he trotted out his Mad Dogs and Englishmen energy to really raise the energy level of the Oracle Arena. Mick Fleetwood may be the drummer of the band, but during his solo, he was clearly a leader who had the audience in the palm of his hands.

Mike Campbell was even given a moment in the spotlight when he sang lead on “Oh Well” from the 1969 record, “Then Play On.” His nasally voice sounded like a cross between Petty and Bob Dylan, but the guy just killed it on guitar; taking what was already a very heavy blues rock song and adding more crunch — with the band responding in kind. This tour is clearly a retrospective that leans a lot on the hits, but the deep cuts gave the setlist variety. Speaking of variety, Neil Finn got to dust off the biggest hit of his career (“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House) after Mick Fleetwood gave it a detailed and heartfelt introduction. Although Mick didn’t come out and say it outright, he obliquely spoke about the importance of the song’s lyrics and how relevant they are in today’s world.

“Landslide” proved to be the most popular song of the evening. Though it’s been a staple of Fleetwood Mac’s setlists since 1975, the song wasn’t a single until it was re-released as a live version in 1997. Smashing Pumpkins were the first to cover the song in 1994, but The Dixie Chicks really brought their harmonies to the song and made it a hit again in 2002. After that, it seemed everyone and their mother-in-law covered the song — either professionally, at karaoke night, or in a car listening to the radio. That was clear when most of the women in the audience belted out a sing-along with Nicks. The rest of the set kept the heavy hitters coming until the last song on the encore, “All Over Again.” An odd choice for a duet between Nicks and Christine McVie since that song appeared on the record “Time” — an album that Nicks did not appear on.

Overall, Fleetwood Mac sounded fantastic on Sunday night. All the players are seasoned pros, but they played with vitality and didn’t have any hiccups — like the show in San Jose where Nicks forgot the lyrics to “Landslide.”

As a critic who listens to music professionally to assess the merits of the work (and not someone who slags something just to slag it), I will say that Fleetwood Mac delivered a production that was excellent. I’m not a big fan of their music, but I am a big fan of people who craft great songs, can play with passion and precision, and bring an audience to their feet with solid performances. That’s exactly what Fleetwood Mac did at Oracle Arena on Sunday night. I went in expecting a ho-hum greatest hits rehash, and came out thrilled by the experience of a wonderful show full of drama — that played out in the song’s lyrics and the music.

Encore: A cover of “Free Fallin’” in honor of Tom Petty.