Good Mood Music: Rhapsody in Blue and Moonlight Sonata

As a former violinist and very short time cellist, I have a long standing and still strong love of classical music. One of my favorite pieces is Rhapsody in Blue. The combination of instruments is uplifting and, at 16-and-a-half minutes, is long enough for you to lose yourself in it for a bit.

Most people know this Gershwin work without being able to identify it by name, most famously because of an United Airlines ad campaign that featured it in the 1990s. The part of the song the campaign pulls from primarily is around 11 minutes in, give or take.

The ending of this piece is magnificent. It’s all good, but the final minute is all but perfect.

Bonus: Moonlight Sonata
This is another piece I’m not sure can be played and I not lose myself in it, especially the first movement of the its three–the beginning 6 minutes approximately.

Gymnastics, Music

Good Mood Music: In the Mood

Another genre of music I enjoy: big band or swing.

The genre was at its peak in the 1940s, although it had a resurgence in the late 1990s into the early 2000s. Big band music is typified by four sections of instruments: saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and a rhythm section that consists of a guitar, piano, double bass and drums.

One of the most recognizable pieces of big band music is “In the Mood.” The most popular version of this song was done by Glenn Miller and Orchestra in 1939, but it was actually a cover of the original done by Edgar Hayes and Orchestra the year prior.

The Glenn Miller version got a big boost when it was featured in the movie Sun Valley Serenade in 1941, a movie I profiled a musical scene from last year.

I first heard the song as a part of Kim Zmeskal’s floor routine in the early 1990s. (Side note: I just happened to publish this blog entry on her birthday.)

It’s actually one of two big band songs that make up her music. The other is “Sing, Sing, Sing,” originally done by Louis Prima and the New Orleans Gang. The two songs, as well as many others, are commonly heard together because of a compilation medley done by Larry Elgart in the early 1980s called Hooked On Swing.


Good Mood Music: ‘Butterfly’ and ‘You’

It’s a 2-fer this month. This year marked the 10-year anniversary of two of my favorite albums: Butterfly by Mariah Carey and The Velvet Rope by Janet Jackson. Both albums are landmarks releases of what were already legendary careers at the time. Both albums were also both products of introspective periods and produced a number of songs I’ve consistently listened to since 1997.

Butterfly, Mariah’s first release after her split from husband and manager Tommy Mottola, signaled her transition into a more independent self. It was when she took full control of her music and image, exhibiting a side of her that had been hidden since she made her debut at the beginning of the 1990s.

The album’s title track is a straightforward take on how she felt like she was finally emerging from the cocoon of the previous chapter of her life. I can play the album from start to finish without skipping a track, but “Butterfly” is my absolute favorite. In fact, it’s probably only behind “Can’t Let Go” on my list of favorite Mariah songs, if not 1B.

The Velvet Rope is a concept album revolving around the metaphor of the velvet rope as the boundary you set around your emotional availability. Who do you let in? Who do you keep out? I remember in an interview Janet saying that this album was her letting people behind her velvet rope. Throughout the album many sensitive subjects are touched upon such as: the then-emerging phenomenon of social networking, depression, sexuality, homophobia, domestic violence, and self-worth.

You” is the song I go to when I need a musical kick in the rear. It’s a good pick-me-up when I begin to wallow in self doubt. Other songs on the album like “Got ‘Til It’s Gone,” “Together Again” and “I Get Lonely” became much bigger hits, but none were as impactful to me.


Good Mood Music: Got It Good

Usually it’s the singer that initially draws me towards a piece of music. However, in the case of “Got It Good” it was the producer.

During one of my periods of exploration, I came across the Haitian-born Canadian DJ by the name of Kaytranada and got hooked on the stylings of his mixes.

“Got It Good” is a cut from his debut studio album 99.9% that came out in 2016. It contains a sample from “Olho de Vidro” performed by Jaime E. Nair, and features the vocals of Craig David, whose music I’ve also enjoyed over the years.


Good Mood Music: You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else

“…’Cause if you ain’t loving me
I wanna know who in the world you lovin’
Tell me if you don’t want me around…”

Fed up. Those two words sum up the Jones Girls 1979 release “You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else.” The Jones Girls were a group of 3 sisters from Detroit, who got their start in the music business singing backup for acts like Aretha Franklin, Teddy Pendergrass, Lou Rawls, Diana Ross, and more.

“You Gonna Make…” was featured on the sisters’ self-titled debut album. Although the song only peaked at #38 on the Top 40 chart, it did make it to the top 5 on the R&B chart. The song has been covered and sampled countless times over the years. The catchiness of the percussion and synth used in the underlying track no doubt play a part in its ability to endure within different time periods and genres of music. Despite the subject matter, it’s a pretty upbeat tune.

You may also know of another song from The Jones Girls debut album: “Who Can I Run To.” That song was the B-side of the single release for “You Gonna Make…” and was covered by the group Xscape in 1995. The Xscape version reached #1 on the R&B charts, along with being a top 10 pop hit.


Good Mood Music: Expression

You know life
Is all about expression
You only live once, and you’re not coming back
So express yourself, yeah…

Salt-N-Pepa exhibited “Girl Power” years before the Spice Girls hit the music scene. “Expression” off the Blacks’ Magic album is my favorite Salt-N-Pepa track. It was the first song Salt (Cheryl James) wrote and produced herself — and it happened to go Platinum. Not a bad debut.

Recently, the group (which also includes Sandra Denton as Pepa and DeeDee Roper as Spinderella) highlighted 15 songs from their over 3 decade long career and told Rolling Stone why they tell the tale of their career. “Expression” was one of them. Of the song, Salt said:

Personally, it was me trying to see if what I witnessed and learned was something I could actually implement. And liberation from being Hurby’s girlfriend. I wanted to start taking over the voice of Salt-N-Pepa more in the studio – more in control of what we wanted to say. And that might have been because of “Twist and Shout.” That might have been a backlash. [Laughs.] I don’t know. I just know I had it in me.

For background, “Twist and Shout” is a cover of The Beatles tune. Hurby Azor, a producer and songwriter who up until that point was very involved in the creative direction of the group, suggested the song. Salt-N-Pepa basically recorded the song under protest, feeling it wasn’t right for them. They hardly ever performed it in the U.S. because of a lackluster response. The response was a little better in Europe, but eventually they’d stop performing it all together.

A factoid about the video is Pepa was pregnant and wasn’t quite feeling her normal, expressive self on set. But what are friends for?

I remember having a hard time doing the video and I remember Salt having a little “pep” talk with me – literally – like, “Pull it together girl, you could do this.” You know, I’m feeling all big and fat and just crazy. I’m usually being sexy or something in the video, and now I know even being pregnant is sexy, but back then, I’m thinking, like, “What?” I didn’t feel it at the moment. … She had the little talk with me, and then something just came over me and I just took charge and I owned it, and I killed the video.