Thomas "Tom" J.D. Shepherd, a retired partner at Deloitte, the official accounting firm of The Recording Academy, died May 2. A cause of death was not disclosed. He was 87. Born in England, Shepherd served in the Royal Air Force and later became a chartered accountant before moving to the United States with his family in 1959. After relocating, he began his career at Deloitte, which tabulates final votes for the annual GRAMMY Awards. Given his involvement with The Academy and as a member of the American Federation of Radio and Television Arts, Shepherd had the opportunity to present the sealed envelopes containing the names of the winners on the GRAMMY telecast. Shepherd retired from Deloitte in 1985. In 1998 he was named an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
RIAA Tallies Decade's Top-Selling Artists
Beyoncé was the leading artist with 64 gold and platinum certifications from 2000–2009, including albums, digital songs, master ringtones, and videos, according to a RIAA report. George Strait received the most album certifications with 29 and Taylor Swift received the most digital song certifications with 25. 'N Sync's No Strings Attached, OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and Shania Twain's Up! tied for the decade's highest-selling album with sales of 11 million, and Flo Rida's "Low" was the highest-certified digital song with sales of 5 million. (2/17)
Twitter Traffic, Staff Up
Traffic at Twitter increased 8 percent from December to January and the site logged an 11 percent increase in worldwide unique visits to 73.5 million, according to a comScore report. Twitter has experienced a unique visitor growth of more than 1,000 percent compared to January 2009. The company now has more than 140 employees, an increase of more than 50 percent compared to last July. (2/17)
Italian Music Market Down 19 Percent In 2009
The recorded music industry in Italy experienced a 19 percent drop in 2009, according to figures released by major labels representative body FIMI, and collected by auditing company Deloitte. Overall recording industry turnover dropped to $196 million, compared to $242 million in 2008. Sales figures for CDs and musical DVDs fell 24 percent to $168 million. The country's digital music sales experienced a 27 percent growth compared to 2008, reaching $27 million for the first time. (2/17)
Songwriters, Blues Halls Announce 2010 Honorees
Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Leonard Cohen; members of GRAMMY-winning Earth, Wind & Fire's Philip Bailey, Maurice White and Verdine White; and GRAMMY winners Jackie DeShannon; Larry Dunn; David Foster; and Johnny Mandel; and Al McKay are among the 2010 Songwriters Hall of Fame honorees. The Blues Hall of Fame also announced their 2010 inductees, GRAMMY-winning artist Bonnie Raitt, bluesman Lonnie Brooks and GRAMMY-nominated artist Charlie Musselwhite. The Blues Hall will recognize their honorees on May 5 in Memphis, Tenn., while the Songwriter Hall inductees will be honored on June 17 in New York. (2/17)
What can we learn from an artist's first album? In the case of singer/songwriter Elvis Costello, as it turns out, quite a bit.
He recorded his debut album, My Aim Is True, for a cost of £2,000 in only 24 hours, leveraging his sick days and holidays from his job as a computer operator. On paper, it was not an auspicious start.
My Aim Is True arrived in 1977 while music was in the midst of a punk-rock revolution courtesy of the Clash, Sex Pistols, and Ramones, but Costello borrowed from a different wellspring.
The son of a musician, the Englishman poured more material into his debut than his pigeonholed "new wave" label could hold, and he's spent the next 40 years revealing the seemingly endless depth of influence his music has conjured.
By 2007, My Aim Is True was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in recognition of its standing as one of rock and roll's greatest recordings.
With that in mind, and in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the classic album's original U.K. release, here are five moments on My Aim Is True — and select tracks left from its cutting-room floor — that set the tone for Costello's prolific career.
The first 14 seconds of pleasure in "Welcome To The Working Week"
In the first line of the first song of his first album, Costello came out swinging with a crafty musical and irreverent lyrical phrase that landed a stiff punch: "Now that your picture's in the paper being rhythmically admired/And you can have anyone that you have ever desired."
The dreamlike reverie album opening paints a crude picture of fame and privilege before jolting it all back into the blue-collar worker's harsh reality.
Just 14 seconds into "Welcome To The Working Week," Costello demonstrates the genius and snarl he's capable of: a gorgeous key-borrowing modulation (tossing in a "II major" chord for those theory types keeping score at home) under a sly, taboo lyrical reference turned into a snarl of "why, why, why, why."
Costello would incorporate these devices in many of his greatest songs throughout his career, from the delicately intricate "Almost Blue" to the venomous "20% Amnesia" and everywhere in between.
A dark take on tenderness in "Alison"
The lone ballad on an album known for its wound-up velocity, "Alison" has somewhat ironically become My Aim Is True's most enduring song.
In both construction and execution, "Alison" is as unsettling as it is graceful. The song provided a glimpse of Costello's harmonic touch, lucid vocal delivery and artistic range that teased a bevy of beautiful ballads to come, including "Shipbuilding, "Favourite Hour" and "I Want To Vanish," each with its own searing streak of darkness.
While "Alison" never charted for Costello, it did for Linda Ronstadt, who recorded a trifecta of Costello songs for her 1980 album, Mad Love, including "Girls Talk," "Party Girl" and "Talking In The Dark." Over the years, he's would also be covered by Aimee Mann, Johnny Cash, Fiona Apple, and his wife, Diana Krall, to name a few.
Calling Mr. Oswald on "Less Than Zero"
At 22 years old, Costello demonstrated a sharp social consciousness. "Less Than Zero" took on a former British fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, who had re-emerged in British media to try and clear his name. According to Costello, "The song was more of a slandering fantasy than a reasoned argument."
But the track's passion and anger were very real. "Less Than Zero" itself became a pawn in a different sort of protest match when Costello lashed out against the imposed constraints of corporate controlled broadcasting, stopping a performance of the song mid-verse on live TV in favor of a blistering version of another statement song, "Radio Radio." The stunt resulted in a ban from "Saturday Night Live," the show where the whole fiasco went down.
Sinister imagery and the genius of Steve Nieve on "Watching The Detectives"
Although not included in the original album release in the U.K., "Watching The Detectives" was added to the U.S. release of My Aim Is True. Producer Nick Lowe, an influential artist/songwriter in his own right, went with a different rhythm section for "… Detectives," calling upon the aptly named young classical keyboardist, Steve Nieve.
The signature organ parts and eerie sounds Nieve added to the song were tip of the iceberg to the dressing he lavished on subsequent Costello numbers such as "Shot With His Own Gun" and the mad and moody masterpiece, "I Want You."
In his GRAMMY-nominated 2015 autobiography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, Costello attributed the inspiration for "… Detectives" to a cinematic influence: the noir films based on Raymond Chandler stories, especially 1944's Double Indemnity.
"The shorthand of cinematic directions in 'Watching The Detectives' lyrics came pretty easily after memorizing all those films," Costello explains.
The country song that didn't make the album, but surfaced later
One of only three outtakes from the My Aim Is True sessions, "Stranger In the House" never had a chance at making the cut. According to the Costello-penned liner notes for the album's 1993 Rykodisc re-release, "The inclusion of a 'country song' was thought to be commercial suicide in 1977."
But the echoes of "Stranger …" refused to fade. Costello's country hero, George Jones, recorded a cover in 1979, on which Costello guested. Costello's version of the song appeared later on a 1980 B-sides collection, Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How's Your Fathers.
Costello's knack for collaboration and genre dexterity have served him well throughout his career, as he recorded full albums with a variety of musicians and styles, including classically trained mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, R&B legend Allen Toussaint and songwriting mastermind Burt Bacharach. (Not to mention the fabled co-writing he did with Paul McCartney).
Alison Krauss is the top female GRAMMY winner of all time with 27 wins. She is one of only five women to win Album Of The Year twice: Raising Sand with Robert Plant (2008) and the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2001).
Six-time GRAMMY-winning producer Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, headed home with another golden gramophone after the the 59th GRAMMY Awards. This year he earned Album Of The Year honors as a producer on Adele’s multi-GRAMMY-winning 25. His previous wins include a 2010 nod for Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical and a slew of multigenre best performance, album and song wins reaching back to 2007.
In her tweet announcing the then-forthcoming album, Adele referenced her approach to the writing of 25 with a nod to the bittersweet nostalgia and subtle self-loss often felt amidst the struggle to navigate the transparent border crossing between the early and the late 20’s: "I'm making up with myself. Making up for lost time. ... I miss everything about my past, the good and the bad, but only because it won’t come back."
— Adele (@Adele) October 21, 2015
Applied nostalgia is an increasingly common theme in contemporary projects and releases, perhaps speaking to a shared sense of navigating a similarly transitional time and space.
Alongside his work on 25, Burton has been busy with projects of his own — most recently a forthcoming series of covers and reimagined arrangements of notable tracks from the early 1960s titled Resistance Radio. It is a conceptual project both inspired by, and tangentially in collaboration with, the Amazon Studios original series "The Man In The High Castle," which is based on the 1962 dystopian novella of the same name by Philip K. Dick. Artists signed on for Burton’s project include GRAMMY winners Beck and Norah Jones, and GRAMMY-nominated indie-rock band the Shins, among others.
In a recent sit-down with NPR for a +1 edition of "All Things Considered," Burton discussed his approach to re-interpreting these '60s songs, framing the album conceptually as a fictional "pirate" radio station. "Based on the subject matter of the show, it worked. You could do a dark record, because it was a dark time. It's resistance radio ... so that's what helped us pick the songs."
Burton will co-produce the album with Sam Cohen, the former Yellowbirds and Apollo Sunshine member behind some notable early releases on Burton's Columbia imprint label 30th Century. The production and arrangements on Resistance Radio perfectly match the bleak, dystopian vibe of "The Man In The High Castle," creating a complete musical period piece.
While analysis of the album's dual service as a legitimate creative work and a practical piece of conceptual marketing for a TV show could fill an article of it's own, the album's place among the ongoing resurgence of the 1960s sound and increasing preference for the aesthetic warmth and feel of vinyl recordings within the music industry merits equal interest.
GRAMMY winner Jack White's own Third Man Records opened its doors in February on a brand-new 10,000-square-foot vinyl pressing plant capable of churning out 5,000 records per hour and operating continuously 24/7 if demand requires. Reportedly, production pressing requests are already streaming in from artists and labels worldwide.
In his recent speech at the 2017 Producers & Engineers Wing GRAMMY Week celebration, White expressed sentiments that mirrored Burton’s approach to Resistance Radio, saying simply "You let the music tell you what to do. You don’t tell the music what to do."