In the summer of 1981, Queen and David Bowie recorded Under Pressure in an impromptu recording session in Montreux, Switzerland. Queen and Bowie were recording music separately in Montreux at the time, and a by-chance run in lead to the idea of working together in the studio. Freddie Mercury had first met David Bowie 12 years earlier when Mercury worked at a boot stall in Kensington Market and fitted a pair of boots for Bowie. The Under Pressure recording session was said to have been somewhat strained as Queen was unaccustomed to having the input of an additional fifth person. Freddie Mercury and David Bowie had very different visions of how the song would go, and how it should be mixed. Mercury was responsible for much of how the song developed musically, and Bowie was primarily responsible for the lyrical development. Due to the song being unplanned, and the busy tour schedules of Queen and Bowie, the highly acclaimed music video for the song was made using a mish-mash of video clips and stock footage. The song was the second #1 hit for Queen, and the third for Bowie. When rapper Vanilla Ice sampled the baseline of Under Pressure for his 1990 hit song Ice Ice Baby he didn't clear or credit the sample, causing a lawsuit that would give songwriting credit and pay royalities to the members of Queen and David Bowie. On his follow-up hit Play That Funky Music, Vanilla Ice was sued again after failing to clear the sample he took from the identically named song by the band Wild Cherry .
In April 1972, Apollo II took man from the earth to the surface of the moon for the fifth (and next to last) time. The day after the rocket took off on it's 11-day journey, Elton John released his classic rock ballad Rocket Man. It was the lead single off his upcoming album Honkey Chateau, and it became his biggest hit at the time. The song was inspired by the 1951 Ray Bradbury science fiction short story The Illustrated Man. The song was written by Bernard Taupin and produced by Gus Dudgeon - the producer behind David Bowie's 1969 song Space Oddity. Despite that, and the fact that the two songs inspired by space exploration coincided directly with Apollo missions, Bowie and Dudgeon insisted that Bowie's Space Oddity had no influence. Before long "Rocket Man" became a nickname for Elton John, and in 1973 he launched a record label named Rocket Records. In 2019, a biographical musical film about Elton John was released titled Rocketman. Amongst the movie's many awards, Elton John and longtime writing partner Bernard Taupin won an Oscar, Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award for Best Original Song for the film's original song - (I'm Gonna) Love Me Again.
David Bowie wrote and recorded the song Space Oddity in 1969. The song was released on his second album - his second self-titled album - and it was released as a single. The pressings were rushed to coincide with Apollo 11's historic first moon landing on July 20th, 1969. The song was inspired by Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Oddesey. Bowie's Space Oddity was used by the BBC as background music for the broadcast of moon landing, helping the song hit #5 on the UK charts. The song didn't get as much attention in the United States, and only managed to place #124 on the charts a month after the Apollo 11 landing. By 1971 Bowie had gained attention in the United States with his hit song Changes, and later with Jean Genie. In 1972 Bowies second album was re-released in the US after being re-titled Space Oddity. And the title song was re-released in the US where it became his first US Top 40 hit, peaking at #15. In 1975 the song was re-released in the UK, and it became his first #1 hit there.
In 1977, The Isley Brothers released their fifteenth album - Go For Your Guns. The album hit the top of the Billboard Soul Chart a month after it was released. The album marked the period that Ron Isley made a transition into singing the soul ballads the band would later be well-known for. Footsteps In The Dark is a classic example of the lead singers new found style, however it was not one of the several singles released from the album. The song would later become one of their greatest hits after being sampled in and popularized by Ice Cube's 1993 hit It Was A Good Day. The song was sampled the previous year in Compton's Most Wanted's Can I Kill It, and in the following years it has been continuously sampled - several dozen times.
In 1965, 23-year old Aretha Franklin recorded One Step Ahead for a Columbia Records single release, with I Can't Wait To See My Baby's Face as the b-side. The single hit #18 on the Hot Rhythm and Blues chart. One Step Ahead was never released as part of an album, and it is one of Franklin's rarest releases. Although she had recorded for Columbia for 5 years, since she was 18, Franklin never was considered a commercial success until after she signed with Atlantic Records in 1966. By 1968 she had earned the title The Queen of Soul. She recorded many great albums with Atlantic, but left Atlantic in 1979 after a series of unsuccessful albums. In 1980 Franklin signed with Arista and also famously appeared in the cult musical comedy The Blues Brothers. For years One Step Ahead was an obscure and little known track, until hip-hop produced Ayatollah sampled from the song for Mos Def's 1999 debut single Ms. Fat Booty.
In 1974, Living In The City earned Stevie Wonder two Grammy's, Best Rhythmn and Blues Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. The album the song appeared - Innervisions - won Grammies for Album of the Year and for Best Engineereed Non-Classical Recording. The album has been considered on of the greatest albums of all-time. Stevie Wonder plays all the instruments and provides all the vocals on Living For the City. The song takes on systematic racism in it's story about the struggles of a boy from Mississippi who moves to New York City, when the young man is arrested for drugs and thrown in jail his dreams are crushed. The song addresses many social and political issues. Three days after Innervisions 1973 release, Wonder was in a car accident with a logging truck after a performance in South Carolina. A flying log hit him in the forehead and knocked him unconscious, leaving him in a coma for 4 days.
In 1978, singer and songwriter Randy Newman released his most successful song Short People - an inadvertent novelty song. The song may be one of the most misunderstood hit records of all-time. What appears to be an attack on short people is actually a song about prejudice. Newman jokingly considered the song a "bad break", as it had earned him threats, and a #2 spot on the pop charts right behind Stayin' Alive. After the release of Short People the overly sensitive Maryland delegate Isaiah Dixon attempted ban the song from the airwaves. Newman attacks prejudice and racism with an undercut in a similar way with in his 1974 song Rednecks. Despite his misinterpreted "novelty" hit, Newman is also known for many successful songs. In the 1980's he went on to composing films, and earned dozens of nominations and awards for his work.
In the little-known 1955 prison film Unchained, American actor and opera singer Todd Duncan introduced the widely-known standard Unchained Melody. Duncan earned the song a Oscar nomination for Best Song that year. From 1930-1945, Duncan taught voice at Howard University in Washington DC. In 1935, he found instant fame when George Gershwin personally selected him for the role of Porgy in the premiere of Porgy & Bess. The shown opened in Boston before it's run on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre - now the Neil Simon Theatre. In 1936 the show made it's way to Washington DC's segregated National Theatre. In Washington DC, Duncan led the cast in a protest that persuaded the theatre to allow an intergrated audience for the first time. In 1945, trailblazing Duncan was the first black person in America to sing with a major opera company at The New York City Opera. In 1955, when Duncan's small film role in Unchained scripted him the first recording of Unchained Melody the significance was unapparent. The song would become one of the most recorded songs ever - recorded by several hundred artists around the world. The song was an instant hit, with three different versions of the song appearing on the Billboard Top 10 in 1955.
In 1987, Irish new age pop pioneer Enya released her self-titled debut album. The album was a compiled selection of music Enya composed for the BBC TV series The Celts. The album was released on vinyl and cassette before the show aired on television. The album was successful enough to secure her a record deal, and after her following two albums Enya remastered and re-released her debut, and re-titled it The Celts. The 1992 re-release hit number 10 on the UK Albums Chart, and it was an huge international success that far outperformed the original release. The album produced several hits, including Bodecia - a song later sampled in The Fugee's massive 1996 hit Ready Or Not. The Fugees had not cleared the sample or given credit to Enya's song Bodecia. Enya was moving forward with a copyright infringement lawsuit, but she was convinced to settle out of court when she was assured that the rap group was anti-drug and had a positive message in their music. Apparently The Fugues were not familiar with copyright clearance at the time, and they were grateful of Enya, who agreed to a arrangement that gave her proper credit. Boadicea has been sampled many other times, including by producer P. Diddy for Mario Winans 2004 hit I Don't Wanna Know.
On January 30th 1964 Sam Cooke recorded the timeless civil rights anthem A Change Is Gonna Come - it is considered to be one of the greatest and most important songs ever written. Inspired by Bob Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind, the song reflected on his real life struggles as a black man. The song appeared on his eleventh and final album Ain't That Good News, released March 1st of that year. Cooke performed the song on the Johnny Carson Show just before the albums release on February 7 - it would be the only time he performed the song. The performance of his unusually personal and political song was overshadowed by The Beatles first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show 2 days later. By December of that year, A Change Is Gonna Come was finally prepared to be released as a single on the b-side of his hit song Shake. On December 11th, 2 weeks before the records release date, 33 year old Cooke was shot to death at a Los Angeles motel. Although his death was ruled a justifiable homicide, the unusual events and reports of his badly beaten body leave a lot of unanswered questions. After his death the song became a major hit and an important part of the civil rights movement. The song entered the pop charts on the first week of 1965, where it stayed for a few months. Those months were marked by significant events such as the clash on the Pettus bridge during a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.
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