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“NOW” and Then: U.K. Compilation Series Celebrates Three Decades in Three Discs

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Now 30 YearsWhen I was heavily ensconced in a retail job, I had the task of stocking new music and movie releases and sharing the new releases with the rest of the store on Tuesday morning. Without fail, every time a NOW That’s What I Call Music! compilation came out, someone would marvel how many such compilations existed, prompting me to tell my co-workers that they should check out the NOW series as it originated in the U.K., back in 1983, where they were double albums and released with slightly more frequency to the point where the 84th volume hit stores in March (as opposed to the single-disc 47th volume that streeted in the U.S. last Tuesday).

Of course, here at The Second Disc, I’m surrounded by record collectors and pop enthusiasts, so this illumination is nothing new. (That’s one of many reasons why I’m a lot happier editing these pages, I’ll tell you that!) But anyway, the point is that NOW That’s What I Call Music is indeed celebrating 30 years – and its doing so with a new, triple-disc compilation of highlights from its lengthy run.

NOW That’s What I Call 30 Years features an interesting, semi-chronological hodgepodge of pop cuts from the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and today, from Michael Jackson to Madonna, Take That to the Spice Girls, Adele to PSY. It’s disappointingly centered on the traditional pop scene on both sides of the Atlantic, thereby ignoring some of the R&B and rock-infused diversity that the NOW series was often known for (Radiohead appeared on at least one volume, for cryin’ out loud). As such, it’s a very, very patchy portrait of pop, passing a good chunk of the mid-1990s and mid-2000s. (Also, a considerably more minor quibble, but what’s up with the 20th Century-Fox meets Pink Floyd cover art?)

But NOW are one of the best – and one of the only – games in town as far as anthologizing pop music for the masses, so NOW That’s What I Call 30 Years might be a set for your collection when it’s released May 27 in England. Hit the jump to check out the full track list and order your copy off Amazon.

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In Memoriam: Phil Ramone (1934-2013)

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Phil Ramone 1Today, The Second Disc remembers Phil Ramone.

The multiple Grammy-winning producer, 79, died on Saturday, leaving behind a legacy of song from artists ranging from Barbra Streisand to Paul McCartney, Barry Manilow to The Band.  Yet unlike so many of his contemporaries, Phil Ramone didn’t have a signature style.  Instead of molding a band or singer to a preferred sonic specialty, he was a true architect of sound, tailoring each production to the individual artist.  Ramone was equally comfortable with pop, rock, jazz, R&B, and the worlds of Broadway and Hollywood, not to mention classical – the genre in which Ramone started his love affair with music, as a Juilliard-trained violin prodigy.

Phil Ramone modestly titled his 2007 memoir Making Records, because that’s precisely what he did, from the day he and partner Jack Arnold opened the doors of New York’s A&R Studios in 1959.  Prior to that, he had been mentored by Charles Leighton at JAC Recording.  At A&R, Ramone perfected the art of engineering.  He earned his first Grammy for Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto’s immortal Getz/Gilberto, and soon A&R was the preferred destination for producers Burt Bacharach and Hal David to craft their movies-in-miniature with Dionne Warwick.  Ramone’s eclectic C.V. as an engineer and later, producer, took in pop princesses (Lesley Gore), folkies (Peter, Paul and Mary), jazz legends (Tony Bennett), superstars (Barbra Streisand), Beatles (Paul McCartney), Geniuses (Ray Charles), and Chairmen (Frank Sinatra), as well as everyone in between.

Chicago, Phoebe Snow, Kenny Loggins, Carly Simon, B.J. Thomas, Liza Minnelli, Rod Stewart, and of course, Paul Simon and Billy Joel all logged studio time with Phil Ramone at the console.  With Simon, Ramone helmed such beloved albums as There Goes Rhymin’ Simon and Still Crazy After All These Years, still cornerstones of the singer-songwriter’s catalogue.  With Joel, Ramone embarked on a seven-album, nine-year partnership that remains one of the most successful in rock history.  The duo also hold a place in the history books, as Joel’s 52nd Street, produced by Ramone, became the first commercially released compact disc when it hit stores in Japan on October 1, 1982.

To every project, Ramone brought an understated, subtle touch of class that squarely put the emphasis on music and sound: making each musician and singer’s contribution heard, cleanly and resonantly.  Even a partial list of songs with Ramone’s involvement is staggering: “Times of Your Life,” “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” “It Never Rains in Southern California,” “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star is Born),” “Loves Me Like a Rock,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Afternoon Delight,” “Poetry Man,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Maniac.”

Phil Ramone could have ushered in 2013 basking in the glow of acclaimed recent albums from Dionne Warwick and Tony Bennett, but he remained active.  At the time of his death, he was working on a variety of characteristically diverse projects with artists such as George Michael and Glee star Matthew Morrison.  Bette Midler eulogized him as “kind beyond words,” echoing the sentiments of so many others.  Ben Folds called him “brilliant, generous, talented,” while Tony Bennett noted his “wonderful sense of humor and deep love of music.”  To celebrate the career of the legendary Phil Ramone, Mike and I have each contributed a playlist of ten favorite projects on which he worked.  These aren’t necessarily his most significant, or his most famous, though some might indeed be.  Taken together, they simply represent twenty slices of the versatility, dynamism and sheer hallmark of quality that made Phil Ramone an in-demand talent, and sympathetic collaborator of so many, for over fifty years.

If there’s a rock-and-roll heaven, you know they’ve got one helluva band, true.  But now there’s one helluva producer sitting at the desk.

Hit the jump for two interactive Phil Ramone Top 10s! Read the rest of this entry »

Take the Box: Amy Winehouse’s Live Career Chronicled on New Multi-Disc Set, “Album Collection” Packages Complete Studio Works

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The work of talented, troubled British soul singer Amy Winehouse, who passed away last summer at the too-young age of 27, will be celebrated in box set form this year.

Following the solid listening experience of Lioness: Hidden Treasures, a single-disc outtakes compilation released last year, Universal Republic will release Amy Winehouse at The BBC, a 3-DVD/1-CD set showcasing the starlet’s live performance history.

The set begins with A Tribute to Amy Winehouse by Jools Holland. The former Squeeze keyboardist and longtime British television personality was an avowed fan of Amy’s, and featured her several times on his Later… series and annual Hootenanny variety shows. This playlist, compiled for the BBC after her death, features multiple performances from 2003 to 2007 and includes guest spots by Holland himself (who duets on standards “Teach Me Tonight” and “Tenderly” with Winehouse) and mod king Paul Weller (who covers “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and Etta Jones’ “Don’t Go to Strangers” with her).

The second disc is the CD, a compilation of performances recorded by the BBC on various radio shows and music festivals. From early singles like “Fuck Me Pumps,” recorded at the T in the Park Festival in 2004, to familiar hits (“Rehab,” “You Know I’m No Good”) and covers (Phil Spector’s “To Know Him is to Love Him,” The Zutons’ “Valerie”), Winehouse’s smoky voice is front and center here.

The third disc spotlights a set recorded by Radio 1 at London’s Porchester Hall in the summer of 2007. Back to Black had been released the fall before, and “Rehab” was starting to break Winehouse in the States; as such, this performance draws heavily from that seminal LP. Finally, one last DVD features a part-performance, part-documentary about Amy’s 2006 trip to a small church (with a capacity of 85) in Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland. The performance, recorded for Irish music series Other Voices, features a set culled entirely from Back to Black and shows off Winehouse in one of the most unique venues of her career.

The box features new liner notes by Dan Cairns of The Sunday Times, and will feature a new interview with BBC producer Mark Cooper and a foreword from rapper Nas, a longtime admirer of Winehouse. All royalties from the set will be donated to The Amy Winehouse Foundation, a non-profit set up in Winehouse’s memory to aid young people beset by health problems, disability or addiction.

Look for it in stores on November 19, and hit the jump for the full track list, as well as a look at a forthcoming box set featuring all three of Amy’s studio albums.

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Written by Mike Duquette

September 24, 2012 at 10:22

And the Tracks Are…: “2012 Grammy Nominees” Disc Due

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With the 54th Annual Grammy Awards mere weeks away on February 13, it’s getting close to one of music’s most vaunted pre-Grammy traditions: the release of the annual Grammy nominees compilation.

Due out January 24, 2012 Grammy Nominees compiles exactly the artists you’d expect, from multiple award nominees (British soul songstress Adele, pop acts Bruno Mars and Katy Perry, modern rock legends the Foo Fighters and country star Taylor Swift) to rising stars (rappers J. Cole and Nicki Minaj, alt-rockers Foster the People, dubstep artist/producer Skrillex). At 22 tracks from Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera to Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse, it’s every bit the who’s who of pop music in 2011 you’d expect.

But there’s a bit of an interesting twist this year: fans who buy the album, either physically or digitally, will be able to participate in a contest with a grand prize of tickets to next year’s Grammy Awards. Details on that event are here, and details of the album are after the jump.

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Written by Mike Duquette

January 12, 2012 at 14:41

Release Round-Up: Week of December 6

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Neil Diamond, The Very Best of Neil Diamond (Columbia/Legacy)

A new single-disc greatest hits compilation that unites classic Columbia stuff with early works for Bang and Universal and the excellent, newer stuff he’s been doing with producer Rick Rubin. The E.T. song, though? Not here.  Watch for Joe’s review later today!

Amy Winehouse, Lioness: Hidden Treasures (Universal Republic)

The late, lamented neo-soul singer memorialized with a posthumous album.

Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s, The Lost Album featuring Watermelon Man (Hip-o Select/Polydor)

James Brown catalogue titles don’t necessarily have to be chock full of James Brown, as this lost album from the early ’70s proves.

Elvis Costello and The Imposters, The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook!!! Super Deluxe Edition (Hip-O/UMe)

Which Elvis Costello box set? Oh yeah, that one.

Doris Day, My Heart (Arwin Productions)

Doris Day’s first album of original material in seventeen years hits stores in the U.S. after notching a chart success in the U.K.!  The American edition contains one previously unreleased bonus track, “Stewball.”

Bee Gees, Main Course (Rhino Flashback)

Barry, Robin and Maurice’s 1975 smash introduced the world to “Jive Talkin’,” “Nights on Broadway,” “Fanny (Be Tender with My Love)” and “Wind of Change.”  Long out-of-print, Main Course makes a budget-priced comeback thanks to our friends at Rhino!

Written by Mike Duquette

December 6, 2011 at 08:50

The “Lioness” Roars: Posthumous Amy Winehouse LP Due in December

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Whether you were surprised or not by the death of talented yet troubled singer Amy Winehouse this past summer, it’s hard to deny that her tragic passing at age 27 of alcohol poisoning cut short one of the most promising young careers of the 2000s. In December, Island Records is set to commemorate that promise with an album of unreleased demos and outtakes from Winehouse’s final years.

Lioness: Hidden Treasures captures Winehouse’s powerful, retro-soul voice through demos and rarities recorded before, during and after the release of her breakthrough sophomore album, the Grammy-winning Back to Black (2006). Winehouse had worked with longtime collaborator Salaam Remi on new material in 2008 and 2009, parts of which feature on this new album. Also included are two demos from the Back to Black era and covers of vintage pop and soul, including Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” Stan Getz’s “The Girl from Ipanema” and Ruby and The Romantics’ “Our Day Will Come.”

Not every track is new to CD. The disc features the oft-discussed version of “Body and Soul” recorded with Tony Bennett for the legend’s Duets II earlier this year – Winehouse’s last studio recording – and a cover of The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” That track, recorded for the soundtrack of 2004’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, is one of only a few tracks to feature the production of Mark Ronson, widely credited with the soul-fusion stylings of Back to Black. (The other is a demo of “Valerie,” a cover of The Zutons’ song that Winehouse sang for Ronson’s Version in 2007. Ronson and Remi both compiled the set.)

Lioness is due December 5, and proceeds from the sale of the album will benefit the Amy Winehouse Foundation. Amazon has not created a pre-order page, but the track list, courtesy of Winehouse’s official website, is after the jump.

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Written by Mike Duquette

November 1, 2011 at 12:22