Pata Pata was the signature song of South African pop singer Miriam Makeba. She hit number 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1967 with the Xhosa-language international hit song. The song and it's name (which means Touch Touch) were inspired by a style of dance popular in Johannesburg. A couple years before her massive international hit she became the first African to win a Grammy Award, which she won alongside Harry Belefonte for their 1965 album An Evening With Belefonte/Makeba. Makeba is considered to be one of the first African musicians to achieve worldwide popularity, and she was well-known as a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement. She was born in Johannesburg, and was singing professionally there by the early 1950's when she around 20 years old. In 1956 she had a solo hit single in South Africa with Angel Eyes - the song was also released in English and became the first South African song to chart on the US Billboard Hot 100. In 1959 she briefly appeared in the anti-apartheid film Come Back, Africa, which led to concert engagements in London and New York City. In 1960 she moved to New York, and she recorded her first two solo albums there that year. Later that year when she tried to return to South Africa for her mother's funeral the government refused her entry. Makeba had originally recorded Pata Pata in the 1950's with her girl group The Skylarks, but her most popular and well-known version of the song was recorded in the United States for her 1967 studio album of the same name. The following year, in 1968, exiled Makeba married Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Black Panthers Party, which brought on a backlash in the United States. Before long, when she was traveling outside of the US, her visa was revoked, causing her and Carmichael to settle down in Guinea. In her remarkable life she had numerous marriages, including to famous South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. In 2008, just after performing Pata Pata in Italy, the 76-year old anti-apartheid and civil rights icon collapsed on stage and died after an apparent heart attack.
In 1969 Jamaican singer and musician Jimmy Cliff wrote and recorded Many River To Cross. The 21-year old musician's song told the story of his struggles to find success as a singer after moving to the UK. Cliff began writing songs when he was in primary school, and by the time he was fourteen he had his first hit single in Jamaica, and he had adopted the stage name Jimmy Cliff. He moved to the UK as a teenager, and he expected it would be easier for him to "make it." He wrote this song out of frustration. In the song, when exclaims "wandering I am lost, as I travel along the White Cliffs of Dover" he is referring to the many times he traveled to the mainland and back across the Strait of Dover (between England and France) chasing gigs in France and Germany. At the time, he felt his dreams were fading away. He had written the song while working on his second album for Island Records. The song was included on that album, which was originally released as Jimmy Cliff. The album was later retitled Wonderful World, Beautiful People, taking it's name from the album's single that scored a US release. Meanwhile, less-noticed Many Rivers To Cross made it into the movie and soundtrack of the 1972 film The Harder They Come - a film starring Jimmy Cliff, portraying a character based on notorious real-life Jamaican criminal Rhyging. The influential movie is credited with bringing worldwide attention to reggae music, and sparking a breakthrough for reggae music in the United States. Although the movie is in English, the heavy "Patois" accent in the film required subtitles for the films release in the US. It was the first time an English-language film was released with English subtitles.
In 1967 Comme d'habitude, the original version of My Way, was written by French composer Jacques Revaux and lyricist Claude Francois. The original French version of the song was about a relationship falling out of love, and it was inspired by Francois' recent breakup with French teenage pop sensation France Gall. The 4-year relationship had started after Francois' wife left him, and the relationship ended the year he finally divorced his wife. Francois had been a popular singer know for his French reworks of American songs. Moving foreward, he re-invented his stage show to feature a bevy of female dancers, and after reworking a previously scraped song he had a chart topping hit with Comme d'habitude - which translates to "As Usual." In 1968 Paul Anka re-worked the song with new English lyrics for Frank Sinatra, and on December 30, 1968 Sinatra recorded the song that would become his signature song. Sinatra later confessed he loathed Anka's rework song and it's lyric's message. Just before Anka's re-work, David Bowie had re-worked the song into English first - only to have it rejected. Throughout his fabled life, Claude Francois continued having relationships with well-known singers and models, at one point having 2 children with model Isabelle Foret - hiding news of the second so he wouldn't ruin his image as being a "free man." In 1971, the exhausted ladies man was forced to take a brief break after he collapsed on stage. He later started a record label and modeling agency, and acquired a celebrity magazine. After a couple of bizarre brushes with death, he tragically died in 1978 after he accidentally electrocuted himself while taking a bath. And in the years that followed, apparent offspring surfaced. The 2012 biographical film about him was appropriately titled My Way. And that defining song - it was apparently a favorite of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who was known to blast My Way in his cell while he was on trial for crimes against humanity in 2002. The first line of the song goes - "And now, the end is near, and so I face my final curtain." Interestingly, in 2017, just after his inauguration, Donald Trump requested the song for his awkward and somewhat bizarre first dance as newly elected president of the United States.
Gil Scot-Heron's poetic masterpiece Winter In America was not originally included on his 1974 album titled Winter in America. That monumental album was recorded by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jones in tiny D&B Sound Studios in Silver Spring, Maryland for Strata East Records - their only release on the small independent jazz label. The album included the grim dancfloor classic The Bottle, which would be the only single from the album. The Winter in America album had been released with a very limited pressing, and quickly became hard to find and rare. When the album was re-issued on CD 30 years later, a live version of the song Winter in America recorded in 1982 was included on the album. The song Winter in America was first introduced on the duo's following studio album in 1975 - The First Minute of A New Day. The former album's Winter in America title was actually conceived before the song - it had been intended as a metaphor for the urban sociological theme of the 1974 album. Originally the plan was to title that album Supernatural Corner, and the fantastic cover art had been commissioned for an album titled as such. Supernatural Corner had referred to a seemingly haunted house Gil and Brian had shared in Washington DC's Logan Circle. Although they kept the commissioned cover art for the Winter in America album, the original title and title song were both scrapped.
The Blackbyrds is a jazz-funk band formed in Washington DC in 1973. The group and it's name were inspired by trumpeter Donald Byrd, the teacher of the group of Howard University students that started the band. They released seven albums between 1973 and 1980, and had several hit songs including 1974's Grammy-nominated Walking In Rhythm. In 1975 they released their third studio album City Life, which included the song Rock Creek Park. The song was a tribute to expansive nature oasis that stretches across Washington DC, which was a popular spot amongst the band members. On the song, the female vocalist that chants "Do It" is Merry Clayton, who was not a Howard University student. She was a vocalist best known for singing on the Rolling Stones 1969 recording of Gimmee Shelter, singing duet with Mick Jagger. Then, in 1972 Clayton was the original Acid Queen in the first production of The Who's Tommy in London, and in 1974 she sang backup vocals on Lynard Skynard's hit song Sweet Home Alabama. She had started her career in 1962 singing a duet with Bobby Darrin on Who Can I Count On - when she was 14 years old. Her additional singing and acting credits are immense and impressive. In 2013 she was prominently featured in the documentary film 20 Feet From Stardom - an Oscar-winning film about the contributions of lesser-known backup singers.
Stevie Wonder recorded Higher Ground for his 1973 album Innervisions. Wonder played most of the instruments himself on the album, and he is the only credited musician on Higher Ground. The song was entirely written and recorded in just three hours. The Innervisions album was released three weeks before a near-fatal car accident landed him in a coma for four days. While in a come his tour manager was singing this song directly in his ear, eventually Wonder started moving his fingers to be beat of the song. This was the first sign that he was coming out of the coma. Higher Ground hit #1 on the US Hot Singles Chart, yet it only reached #29 on the Hot Singles Chart in the UK.
Shining Star is a song off the soundtrack of the unsuccessful 1975 film That's The Way of the World. The soundtrack to the film was recorded by Earth Wind & Fire, who appeared in the film as a music group being produced by star Harvey Keitel. The album was a major hit for Columbia Records, and it was the first R&B album to top the US Pop charts and the US Album charts at the same time. Major record labels took notice to the album's success, which showed that Black bands could sell albums and not just singles. Shining Star was the only song from Earth Wind & Fire to hit #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, and the hit song also topped the Hot Soul Songs chart at the same time. Because of the popularity of the song, the film That's The Way of the World was rereleased with the title Shining Star.
Look-Ka Pi Pi was the title track off the second studio album from legendary New Orleans-based funk pioneers The Meters. The 1969 album was a follow-up to their self-titled debut album earlier in the year. The instrumental funk album appeared on the Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time list in 2003, 2012 and again in 2020. Look-Ka Pi Pi peaked at #11 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart, and the album hit #23 on Billboard's R&B Albums chart. The group was formed in 1965 by keyboardist and vocalist Art Neville, who had established a successful solo career in New Orleans since the mid-1950's. Neville left The Meters in 1977, a few years before the group officially broke up, and formed the group The Neville Brothers with three of his brothers. In 2018 The Meters were honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and they have been nominated and lost four times for an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Ironside was a TV series about a retired San Francisco police detective who had been shot by a sniper and was paralyzed from the waist down. The NBC crime drama starred Raymond Burr and aired from 1967 to 1975. In 1971, for the show's fifth season, composer and producer Quincy Jones was commissioned to create a new theme song for the show. Jones also scored the entire sound track for the 2-hour season opener and the first eight episodes of the season. The iconic theme song marked the first time that a synthesizer-based theme song was used for a television show. A full 4-minute version of the song appeared on the Quincy Jones 1971 album Smackwater Jack. The Ironside theme song has been sampled well over a hundred times in songs across many genres of music from hip-hop to reggae to electronic. The notorious siren sample from Ironside was also prominently used in Quentin Tarentino's American martial arts film Kill Bill, in both volume 1 and 2, from 1993 and 1994.
In 1939 Bing Crosby first recorded the classic Irish folk standard When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. The song was published in 1912, and written by vaudeville composer Ernest R. Ball and lyricists George Graff Junior and Chauncey Olcott. In 1913, Olcott performed the song in the unsuccessful play The Isle O' Dreams. The play set in Ireland in 1799 opened at New York City's Grand Opera House and shut down in less then a month. In 1923, during World War I, the song was recorded by Irish tenor John McCormack, but it wasn't until Bing Crosby's 1939 recording that the song gained widespread popularity. In April 1943 When Irish Eyes Are Smiling was the subject of a copyright dispute that was settled by The Supreme Court of the United States. In 1949, Bing Crosby performed the now popular song with actress Ann Blyth in the film Top O' The Morning. The song is now in the public domain. Smiling with your eyes has come to be known as a Smize - a neologism that has gained popularity the past couple years as people have had their faces covered with masks.
"If you like to lounge