Why I Wrote About Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope

Ayanna Dozier on what The Velvet Rope says about power, sexual fluidity, and respectability politics The Velvet Rope has been with me since its release nearly twenty-three years ago in October of 1997. For most of that time, I had no intention to write about my admiration for the album. It was simply a record that I would fervently remind colleagues and friends of as time passed. But as time passed, I bore witness to the changes in Janet’s career. In the 1990s through the early 2000s, Janet was the…

Judy at Carnegie Hall: Concert vs. Album

Manuel Betancourt on why Judy Garland’s concert at Carnegie Hall and the live recording are different animals. “On the evening of April 23, 1961, 3,165 privileged people packed the world famous Carnegie Hall in New York beyond its capacity, and witnessed what was probably the greatest evening in show-business history. Now YOU will join those privileged few and thrill to the very performance which has been captured live and undiluted in this album. Here is the complete concert. These two records contain rare show-business history, recorded permanently with all the…

Judy Garland & Stonewall: Debunking a Decades’ Old Myth

Manuel Betancourt on the gay iconicity of Judy Garland Judy Garland died on June 22, 1969.  The Stonewall riots began on June 28, 1969. The contiguity of these two events have encouraged many since to see them as intimately tied to one another, going so far as suggesting that one caused the other. It’s a question that came up several times in casual conversation last year, especially during the summer as New York City celebrated their joint anniversary. Such commingling of fact and fiction fascinated me, especially as my book…

Talking Sides

Matthew Restall on the four glorious sides of Blue Moves. You may be unlikely to listen to a double album today as exactly that—a set of four sides of vinyl. And there is nothing wrong with streaming it as a single sequence of eighteen tracks (re-sequencing or editing the album is a trickier issue, as I discuss in my Blue Moves book). But it is worth considering why an album from the vinyl era was assembled the way it was—in the case of Blue Moves, by its brilliant producer, Gus…

Reg vs Elton and Other Contradictions

Matthew Restall, author of Elton John’s Blue Moves, on the many contradictions of Elton John. Contradictions are at the heart of rock and pop music. Its genres and its culture are laced with paradoxes. The personality, career, and music of Elton John are no exception. Here are a trio of such contradictions that particularly fascinate me and are reflected in my Blue Moves book. 1. Name changing is an experiment in alchemy. The intention is for the new persona to replace, even erase, the old. For Reginald Kenneth Dwight, it…

It Isn’t Yellow (and That’s Ok)

Matthew Restall, author of Elton John’s Blue Moves, on why he didn’t write a 33 1/3 on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Early in my Blue Moves book I ask the question that Elton fans almost always ask me when they discover that there is a 33 1/3 book on a John album: why did I write about Blue Moves and not Goodbye Yellow Brick Road? Yellow has sold ten times as many copies as Blue. It is the only John album consistently ranked in listings such as Rolling Stone’s Greatest…

Four Corners of an Elton John Square

Matthew Restall, author of Elton John’s Blue Moves, on the nuances of a beloved pop icon.  “I’ve probably had the greatest year of my career, at 72 years of age. I’m thrilled!” So declared Sir Elton John as 2019 drew to a close. He may have been right. At that moment, his 3-year, 330-gig sold-out farewell tour (since suspended by the pandemic but sure to return and grow) racked up its two millionth attendee. His autobiography, Me, sat comfortably atop best-seller lists. The biopic Rocketman proved to be a global…

Video Vault: Prince, “Raspberry Beret”

ANOTHER POST FOR OUR “THROWBACK THURSDAY” SEGMENT, VIDEO VAULT! ON SELECT THURSDAYS, WE DISCUSS OUR FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEOS THROUGH THE AGES.  For this Throwback Thursday, I thought we’d celebrate the 35th anniversary of Prince’s  Around the World in a Day by revisiting the album’s hit single “Raspberry Beret.” A strangely innocent song for the otherwise scandalous and seductive musician, it came right after the implementation of parental advisory warnings, for which Prince’s song “Darling Nikki” was the cause. The lyrics feature a hat-wearing hipster and her lazy teenage love interest, with…

Proximity to Blackness

Daniel Alexander Jones on David Bowie After finishing my 33 1/3 volume on David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, I’d had enough ruminating about the album on my own. Now I wanted to hear what other people had to say. So I wrote to some of the smartest and most interesting people I know to ask them for their thoughts and feelings about Bowie and Diamond Dogs. One of those people was Daniel Alexander Jones, a Guggenheim award-winning performance artist, playwright, director, essayist and educator who teaches at Fordham University. At the…

Woman Crush Wednesday: Celine Dion

Introducing our blog’s new segment: Woman Crush Wednesdays! On select Wednesdays, we will highlight trailblazing women musicians featured in our 33 1/3 series. What better way to kick off than to write about Hollywood’s most glamorous meme queen: Celine Dion. Suffice it to say, Celine Dion is a contentious figure. Naysayers decry Dion as phony and kitsch, arguing that her music is overflowing with sugar-sweet sentimentality. Fans claim that Dion’s emotional candor elevates her to the status of a musical deity, one with mass popular appeal. In Celine Dion’s Let’s…