meta-scriptLiving Legends: David Johansen On The New York Dolls, Helping Found Punk & His New Martin Scorsese-Directed Documentary |
Living Legends: David Johansen On The New York Dolls, Helping Found Punk & His New Martin Scorsese-Directed Documentary
David Johansen

Photo: Courtesy of Showtime/Paramount


Living Legends: David Johansen On The New York Dolls, Helping Found Punk & His New Martin Scorsese-Directed Documentary

As punk legend David Johansen's legacy receives the Scorcese treatment in Showtime's 'Personality Crisis: One Night Only,' the trailblazer looks back on his career and evolution as one of the genre's wildest icons.

GRAMMYs/Apr 13, 2023 - 06:28 pm

David Johansen changed everything when he and his band the New York Dolls exploded onto the music scene in the rollicking 1970s. Thanks to a fiercely independent penchant for subversiveness, norm-breaking style and outrageous stage presence, Johansen is widely credited as a founding member of a genre which would later be known as punk, with acts ranging from fellow punk rockers The Clash and The Ramones to hair metal bands KISS and Guns N' Roses all influenced by the Dolls' unique creative presence. 

Since then, Johansen continued his reputation as an unflinching and multifaceted artist, letting his passion for raw self-expression guide his way through what's become an iconic career — whether through performing as his alter-ego Buster Poindexter, acting, or a successful cabaret-style live act. 

It's a rollercoaster of a story recounted in the new documentary Personality Crisis: One Night Only, named after the Dolls' classic 1973 song. Co-directed by Martin Scorsese, the Showtime film is filled to the brim with decades of memorable performances and jaw-dropping stories, all through the gaze of Johansen's singular and sardonic point of view. 

Before the doc's April 14 premiere, the trailblazing icon spoke to about a career spent pushing the envelope, how the film came about and his very punk answer to what he thinks about punk itself.

You're one of the fathers of punk. Looking back at what you helped birth, what do you think about how it's grown up? 

I don't really have any thoughts about that. It never occurred to me. What is punk? We had a rock and roll band with the Dolls and were playing to the best of our ability. We wrote some really good songs. I don't know what people were inspired by, but I met a lot of kids who were into being creative and were looking for something to use as a vehicle for their energy. I don't really know what "punk" means, though. 

I know a lot of great rock and roll bands like The Clash were very inspired by what we were doing. But also years later, all of those hair metal bands said they wanted to be like the Dolls. So I guess we spawned alleged-punk and alleged-hair metal, like Cain and Abel for kids. 

So many acts were influenced by you, from the Ramones to many others. Who were you musically influenced by when you first started performing and writing?

So many bands, I couldn't even list them all. If I hear something that I like, I grab onto it. If I hear something that doesn't interest me, it just goes through me. 

What makes a person creative, whatever they have in them to put out, they get it from so many different sources. I was into so much stuff, whether the New York folk scene in the 60s, all of these bands that came out of MacDougal street like The Lovin' Spoonful or the Blues Magoos. I used to go see all of those bands as a kid. 

I went to see Mitch Ryder at the Murray the K show, he totally blew my mind. He was inhuman. I was also a really big fan of Janis Joplin, I'd see her every chance I got; everytime she played in New York I'd go see her. 

And that's just me, so everybody in the band had their own gang of influences. That adds up to some incalculable amount when you think about it. You put all of that together; those characters and what music we dug, it comes out to a big list of different inputs that went into the Dolls. That's pretty much what I suspect every band does. 

Throughout your career, starting when you founded the Dolls, you were always a proponent of pure self expression. In the documentary,  you said something that I think sums up your art and creative point of view: You wanted to bring the walls down and have a party. Why were you so passionate about beings so subversive?

I think it was because when I was coming around, I was involved in so many different things. Like going to a lot of protests and also being involved with (the '60s-era experimental genre) Ridiculous Theater. All my friends were a very different and diverse gaggle, so I just started thinking that way. So I wasn't trying, I just happened to think that way.

How did the documentary come together? What was the initial seed of the project?

Well, I'd perform at the Carlyle Hotel where usually I'd sing songs that I didn't write, which is part of the conceit of my [alter ego] Buster Poindexter, which is doing whatever I want to do. So one run came up and I didn't really have much enthusiasm to learn and interpret 20 brand new covers. Usually I'm ready, but that time I just didn't feel like it. So I decided I was going to do Buster Sings the Songbook of David Johansen, because I knew all of those songs by heart. So Mara, my wife, helped me put that show together and started to take notes about stories I'd tell over the years about my life and sing the songs I'd write.

From there, how did it go from stage to screen?

The run at the Carlyle was winding up, and it was a big success and we had so much fun. We wanted to make it last and take it to a theater or something like that, and started calling people to advise us. Mara happened to call Marty [Scorsese] to say she wanted him to see the show. So he came by and brought a lot of people who work with him. 

When he saw the show, we went and sat with him at the Cafe after it closed and he said he wanted to film it. And then they started building it; getting old footage, getting Mara and I's daughter to interview me, and they put together this whole package. 

Do you remember your first time meeting Martin Scorsese? You're both two unique New York figures. When did your paths cross, in the '70s?

Yeah, in the '70s. He's a New York guy who went to NYU and is an artist. He told me when we first met that he used a Dolls record when he was shooting Mean Streets to rile up his cast before filming a fight scene. I also did some tunes for Boardwalk Empire and I'd see him around at parties and restaurants. So we're cordial with each other.

The Dolls' performances always pushed the envelope. I'm thinking of a story where you were playing a show and every member of the band vomited during the set and kept on playing. How did that stage style form? 

It's funny because where we come from, living in the East Village in New York, we did what we did, so a lot of it just kind of happened organically. It's not like we had a plan, "Let's do this, let's do that!" That wasn't our thing at all. Our thing was just to play music. 

Some people would be upset about the way we we'd perform and I'd say "Go f— yourself" or something like that, and that became something a lot of other bands incorporated; having an attitude or something. For us, it was just the way we were and how we'd talk to other people and each other.

In the '70s, did you get a lot of pushback from critics, venues or even politicians, the way today that people, politicians or whoever try to be morally upstanding? 

You name it! When we made a record and started going around, certain people were freaking out about it. But in New York, pretty much everybody got hip to it. To them it was like this grand theater thing. But a lot of people, it seems, take things literally. 

If you hear something that really appeals to you and you want to dig it, you want to dig it. You don't want to just go halfway with it, you want to go all the way with it. For the rock and roll genre, it was a pretty big departure. But other bands were doing the same thing like the MC5 who had been around since the '60s. Iggy Pop was a wild man in the '60s. I don't know what it was about us. They just didn't get it. We used to gas the squares, is what I'm trying to say. 

I found it interesting how you and the Dolls would cover songs from the '50s that may otherwise seem square. I'm thinking of tracks like "Stranded in the Jungle" by The Cadets or "Bad Boy" by the Jive Bombers, which you recorded as Buster Poindexter. Were these songs you grew up with and wanted to cover, or did you discover them later?

I had older brothers and sisters, so there were a lot of records in the house when I was a kid. It wasn't that I had to go out and find music, I came from a family that dug music. When I showed up the record player was on. I'd hear a song like "Pills" by Bo Diddley and would bring it to the band since it seemed simple enough to play. Or a song like "Don't Start Me To Talking," I'd bring that in for the band to play. I was a Shangri-La's fan, so we used to do that "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" song. I don't do anything I don't like, which is what it essentially boils down to. 

You went from those wild performances all the way to cabaret-style shows. What era of your evolution has been most gratifying as an artist? 

They all are, because as soon as something starts to bore me and it feels like you're punching a clock, it's time to move on. That's my motto. 

I don't really have any kind of thing to protect, like a big money-making operation. That's what happens when people get stuck doing the same thing over and over again. 

When you have an attitude, "I won't make as much money if I do this or that," that's kind of sad. I guess money is king, but I never fell into that belief. To me, there's so much music on this planet that I dig; I want to revel in it. 

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Remembering Robbie Robertson: 7 Essential Tracks From The Roots Music Trailblazer
Robbie Robertson in 2013

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage


Remembering Robbie Robertson: 7 Essential Tracks From The Roots Music Trailblazer

The driving force behind the influential act the Band died Aug. 9 at age 80.

GRAMMYs/Aug 10, 2023 - 02:17 pm

As a songwriter, guitarist, artist, composer and armchair historian, Robbie Robertson richly impacted music throughout a 50-plus-year career. The multiple GRAMMY nominee and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award died on Aug. 9 at age 80. 

Those who think of Robertson as the architect of the Band have unquestionably identified his most essential work, but they also risk selling short his immense contributions to music. He backed Bob Dylan, led a band that laid the foundation for Americana, was the subject of one of cinema’s great concert films, and enjoyed a long affiliation with Martin Scorsese as one of his musical muses. 

Born Jaime Royal Robertson in Toronto, Ontario, to a family with Jewish and Mohawk ancestry, Robertson found himself drawn to American traditions — from the blues and country music, and to both's ethos of self-invention. These traditions would greatly impact his prolific musical output, as well as the sound of rock. 

Robertson first hooked up with the members of the Band at age 15 when they were the Hawks, the backing band for rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins. In the mid-’60s they became the backing band for Bob Dylan’s famed first electric tour. That turned into recording sessions with the Bard in Woodstock, N.Y., ultimately released almost a decade later as the renowned the Basement Tapes

The Band’s first two albums — 1968’s Music from Big Pink and 1969’s self-titled the Band — were both critically acclaimed records that were unique amalgams of rock, folk, country and blues immersed in American iconography. Both albums, as well as the Basement Tapes, have been inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame. 

"The Band’s music shocked the excess out of the Renaissance and were an essential part of the final back-to-the-roots trend of ’60s," Stevie Van Zandt tweeted in eulogy. 

The Band’s breakup was immortalized with the 1978 Martin Scorsese-directed The Last Waltz, which Rolling Stone called the greatest concert film of all time. 

Not long after, Robertson began working with Scorsese as a composer and music supervisor, including on such towering films as Raging Bull and Goodfellas. His solo output included Storyville, a nod to the history and music of New Orleans, and Music for Native Americans, which honors the spirit of his own Mohawk roots. 

As a solo artist, Robertson has earned five GRAMMY nominations, including Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media for The Wolf Of Wall Street in 2015. Robertson also wrote several books, co-authoring Legends, Icons and Rebels: Music That Changed the World and an autobiography, among other tomes. At the time of his passing, Robertson had recently completed his 14th project with Scorsese, Killers of the Flower Moon.

In a statement, Scorsese called Roberston "one of my closest friends, a constant in my life and my work." The filmmaker continued to note that Robertson and the Band's music "seemed to come from the deepest place at the heart of this continent, its traditions and tragedies and joys. It goes without saying that he was a giant, that his effect on the art form was profound and lasting."

A career so varied deserves a varied list of essential musical memories. Read on for seven releases that demonstrate Robbie Robertson's varied musical genius. 

"Yazoo Street Scandal" (1967)  

The Robertson-penned "Yazoo Street Scandal" is one of the first true Band recordings, though they were still the Hawks at the time. Though released formally in 1975, the track was part of the original Basement Tapes bootlegs recorded with Dylan in 1967. 

The blueprint was already apparent: the earthy and rambling playing, Levon Helm’s unstudied and twangy singing, and Robertson playing where mythology meets reality in the form of a narrative around an actual Arkansas street called Yazoo.  

"The Weight" (1968) 

"The Weight" was most of America’s introduction to the Band and the group's first "hit" (it peaked at No. 63 on the U.S. charts), the song would prove more influential on the artist community than the mass market. The song established the Band as progenitors of what would become known as Americana, with blues and country overtones, roadhouse piano and its cryptic story rife with Southern gothic and Biblical allusions. 

Covered numerous times over the years, Aretha Franklin’s noteworthy version features Duane Allman on slide guitar. 

"Up on Cripple Creek"/"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (1969) 

This double-sided single was the Band’s biggest hit, with "Cripple," the A-side, hitting No. 25 in the United States. Though Robertson has said even he doesn’t know the meaning of the song, it seems to turn on the strength and solace men derive from women. 

But it’s "Dixie" that has become a Band signature. A story song that feels like authentic folklore, it takes a seemingly empathetic view on the Civil War South. Critics have argued it glorifies the antebellum South, while others see in it a personal story of a Southerner caught up in a senseless war. Joan Baez’ hit version made it a staple in the summer of 1971.  

"If You Know What I Mean" (1976) 

Neil Diamond would seem an unlikely client for Robertson the producer, but the latter likely related to Diamond’s Brooklyn roots and Brill Building history. Beautiful Noise was a song cycle of sorts about Diamond’s early years in Don Kirshner’s song factory and his bittersweet remembrances of a time gone by — all of which would have resonated with Robertson’s appreciation of music’s roots and traditions. 

"If You Know What I Mean" just missed the U.S. Top 10, but the album went platinum and was one of Diamond’s most critically well-received, proving Robertson’s versatile abilities. It’s also one of the few albums in pop history where the producer shares top billing with the artist on the album’s cover. 

"Webster Hall" (1980) 

Raging Bull, Robertson’s first collab with Scorsese as a music supervisor/composer, happened to produce what many critics consider one the top films of all time. 

"Webster Hall" is a jaunty jazz club instrumental with some sterling keyboard work by the Band’s Garth Hudson. Most importantly, it was the start of a yearslong association between Robertson and Scorsese that began with the latter directing the Band concert film the Last Waltz

 "Broken Arrow" (1987) 

Robertson released only a handful of solo albums, each one moving progressively toward ethereal instrumentals and new agey world music. "Broken Arrow" came from his first effort, released in 1987 and produced by Daniel Lanois

Robertson’s haunting growl, the detailed arrangements and guests such as Peter Gabriel and Manu Katché show he was exploring a broader soundscape than the Band allowed. A 1991 cover went Top 20 for Rod Stewart

Robbie Robertson Visits The GRAMMY Museum

20 Albums Turning 50 In 2023: 'Innervisions,' 'Dark Side Of The Moon' 'Catch A Fire' & More
Clockwise: Stevie Wonder 'Inversions', Pink Floyd 'Dark Side of the Moon', the Allman Brothers Band 'Brothers and Sisters', Al Green 'Call me', David Bowie 'Alladin Sane,' Roberta Flack 'Killing Me Softly'


20 Albums Turning 50 In 2023: 'Innervisions,' 'Dark Side Of The Moon' 'Catch A Fire' & More

1973 saw a slew of influential records released across genres — many of which broke barriers and set standards for music to come. reflects on 20 albums that, despite being released 50 years ago, continue to resonate with listeners today.

GRAMMYs/Jan 24, 2023 - 04:08 pm

Fifty years ago, a record-breaking 600,000 people gathered to see the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band and the Band play Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. This is just one of many significant historical events that happened in 1973 — a year that changed the way music was seen, heard and experienced.

Ongoing advancements in music-making tech expanded the sound of popular and underground music. New multi-track technology was now standard in recording studios from Los Angeles to London. Artists from a variety of genres experimented with new synthesizers, gadgets like the Mu-Tron III pedal and the Heil Talk Box, and techniques like the use of found sounds.  

1973 was also a year of new notables, where now-household names made their debuts. Among these auspicious entries: a blue-collar songwriter from the Jersey Shore, hard-working southern rockers from Jacksonville, Fla. and a sister group from California oozing soul. 

Along a well-established format, '73 saw the release of several revolutionary concept records. The EaglesDesperado, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Lou Reed’s Berlin and the Who’s Quadrophenia are just a few examples that illustrate how artists used narrative techniques to explore broader themes and make bigger statements on social, political and economic issues — of which there were many.

On the domestic front, 1973 began with the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade. Internationally, the Paris Peace Accords were signed — starting the long process to end the Vietnam War. An Oil crisis caused fuel prices to skyrocket in North America. Richard Nixon started his short-lived second term as president, which was marked by the Watergate scandal. 

Politics aside, the third year of the '70s had it all: from classic- and southern-rock to reggae; punk to jazz; soul and R&B to country. Read on for 20 masterful albums with something to say that celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2023. 

Band On The Run - Paul McCartney & Wings

Laid down at EMI’s studio in Lagos, Nigeria and released in December 1973, the third studio record by Paul Mcartney & Wings is McCartney’s most successful post-Beatles album. Its hit singles "Jet" and the title cut "Band on the Run" helped make the record the biggest-selling in 1974 in both Australia and Canada.

Band on the Run won a pair of GRAMMYS the following year: Best Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus and Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical. McCartney added a third golden gramophone for this record at the 54th awards celebration when it won Best Historical Album for the 2010 reissue. In 2013, Band on the Run was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame. 

Head Hunters - Herbie Hancock

Released Oct. 13, Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters was recorded in just one week; its

four songs clock in at just over 40 minutes. That the album was not nominated in the jazz category, but instead Best Pop Instrumental Performance, demonstrates how Hancock was shifting gears.

Head Hunters showed Hancock moving away from traditional instrumentation and playing around with new synthesizer technology — especially the clavinet — and putting together a new band: the Headhunters. Improvisation marks this as a jazz record, but the phrasing, rhythms and dynamics of Hancock’s new quintet makes it equal parts soul and R&B with sprinkles of rock 'n' roll. 

The album represented a commercial and artistic breakthrough for Hancock, going gold within months of its release. "Watermelon Man" and "Chameleon," which was nominated for a Best Instrumental GRAMMY Award in 1974, were later both frequently sampled by hip-hop artists in the 1990s.

Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. - Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen, 22, was the new kid in town in 1973. This debut was met with tepid reviews. Still, Greetings introduced Springsteen’s talent to craft stories in song and includes many characters The Boss would return to repeatedly in his career. The album kicks off with the singalong "Blinded by the Light," which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 100 four years later via a cover done by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. This was the first of two records Springsteen released in 1973; The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle arrived before the end of the year — officially introducing the E Street Band.

Innervisions - Stevie Wonder 

This Stevie Wonder masterpiece shows an artist, in his early 20s, experimenting with new instrumentation such as TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra) — the world’s largest synth — and playing all instruments on the now-anthemic "Higher Ground."

The song reached No.1 on the U.S. Hot R&B Singles Chart, and Innervisions peaked at No. 4. The album won three GRAMMYS the following year, including Album Of The Year. Wonder was the first Black artist to win this coveted golden gramophone. In 1989, Red Hot Chili Peppers kept the original funk, but injected the song with a lot of rock on their cover — the lead single from Mother’s Milk.

The Dark Side Of The Moon - Pink Floyd

Critics perennially place this Pink Floyd album, the band's eighth studio record, as one of the greatest of all-time. The Dark Side of the Moon hit No.1 and stayed on the Billboard charts for 63 weeks.

A sonic masterpiece marked by loops, synths, found sounds, and David Gilmour’s guitar bends, Dark Side of the Moon is also a concept record that explores themes of excessive greed on tracks like "Money." Ironically, an album lambasting consumerism was the top-selling record of the year and has eclipsed 45 million sales worldwide since its release. The album’s cover has also become one of the most recognized in the history of popular music.

Pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd - Lynyrd Skynyrd

This debut release features several of the northern Florida rockers' most beloved songs: "Gimme Three Steps," "Tuesday’s Gone" and "Simple Man." The record, which has since reached two-times platinum status with sales of more than two million, also includes the anthemic "Free Bird," which catapulted them to stardom. The song with its slow-build and definitive guitar solo and jam in the middle became Lynyrd Skynyrd's signature song that ended all their shows; it also became a piece of pop culture with people screaming for this song during concerts by other artists.

Houses Of The Holy - Led Zeppelin

The first Led Zeppelin record of all originals — and the first without a Roman numeral for a title — Houses of the Holy shows a new side of these British hardrockers. Straying from the blues and hard rock of previous records, Houses of the Holy features funk (“The Ocean” and “The Crunge”) and even hints of reggae (“D’Yer Mak’er”). This fifth studio offering from Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham also includes one of this writer’s personal Zeppelin favorites — "Over the Hills and Far Away.” The song was released as the album’s first U.S. single and reached No. 51 on the Billboard charts. Despite mixed reviews from critics, Houses of the Holy eventually achieved Diamond status for sales of more than 10 million. Interesting fact: the song “Houses of the Holy” actually appears on the band’s next record (Physical Graffiti).

Quadrophenia - The Who

The double-album rock opera followed the critical success of Tommy and Who’s Next. Pete Townshend composed all songs on this opus, which was later adapted into a movie. And, in 2015, classically-scored by Townshend’s partner Rachel Fuller for a new generation via a symphonic version (“Classic Quadrophenia”). The story chronicles the life of a young mod named Jimmy who lives in the seaside town of Brighton, England. Jimmy searches for meaning in a life devoid of significance — taking uppers, downers and guzzling gin only to discover nothing fixes his malaise. With sharp-witted songs, Townshend also tackles classicism. His band of musical brothers: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon provide some of their finest recorded performances. The album reached second spot on the U.S. Billboard chart.

Berlin - Lou Reed

Produced by Bob Ezrin, Berlin is a metaphor. The divided walled city represents the divisive relationships and the two sides of Reed — on stage and off. The 10 track concept record chronicles a couple’s struggles with drug addiction, meditating on themes of domestic abuse and neglect. As a parent, try to listen to "The Kids" without shedding a tear. While the couple on the record are named Caroline and Jim, those who knew Reed’s volatile nature and drug dependency saw the parallels between this fictionalized narrative and the songwriter’s life.

Catch A Fire - Bob Marley & the Wailers

The original cover was enclosed in a sleeve resembling a Zippo lighter. Only 20,000 of this version were pressed. Even though it was creative and cool, cost-effective it was not — each individual cover had to be hand-riveted. The replacement, which most people know today, introduces reggae poet and prophet Robert Nesta Marley to the world. With a pensive stare and a large spliff in hand, Marley tells you to mellow out and listen to the tough sounds of his island home.

While Bob and his Wailers had been making music for nearly a decade and released several records in Jamaica, Catch a Fire was their coming out party outside the Caribbean. Released in April on Island Records, the feel-good reggae rhythms and Marley’s messages of emancipation resonated with a global audience. A mix of songs of protest ("Slave Driver," "400 years") and love ("Kinky Reggae"), Catch A Fire is also notable for "Stir it Up," a song American singer-songwriter Johnny Nash had made a Top 15 hit the previous year. 

The New York Dolls - The New York Dolls

The New York Dolls burst on the club scene in the Big Apple, building a cult following with their frenetic and unpredictable live shows. The Dolls' hard rock sound and f-you attitude waved the punk banner before the genre was coined, and influenced the sound of punk rock for generations. (Bands like the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and KISS, cite the New York Dolls as mentors.) Singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren — who found time to release A Wizard, A True Star this same year — produced this tour de force. From the opening "Personality Crisis," this five-piece beckons you to join this out-of-control train.

Aladdin Sane - David Bowie

This David Bowie record followed the commercial success of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars. Many critics unfairly compare the two. A career chameleon, with Aladdin Sane, Bowie shed the Ziggy persona and adopted another alter-ego. The title is a pun that means: "A Lad Insane." For the songwriter, this record represented an attempt to break free from the crazed fandom Ziggy Stardust had created.

A majority of the songs were written the previous year while Bowie toured the United States in support of Ziggy. Journal in hand, the artist traveled from city to city in America and the songs materialized. Most paid homage to what this “insane lad” observed and heard: from debauchery and societal decay ("Cracked Actor") to politics ("Panic in Detroit") to punk music ("Watch That Man"). Top singles on Aladdin Sane were: "The Jean Genie" and "Drive-In Saturday." Both topped the U.K. charts.

Faust IV -Faust

This fourth studio album — and the final release in this incarnation by this experimental avant-garde German ambient band — remains a cult classic. Recorded at the Manor House in Oxfordshire, England (Richard Branson’s new Virgin Records studio and the locale where Mike Oldfield crafted his famous debut Tubular Bells, also released in 1973), Faust IV opens with the epic 11-minute instrumental "Krautrock" — a song that features drones, clusters of tones and sustained notes to create a trance-like vibe. Drums do not appear in the song until after the seven minute mark.

The song is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the genre British journalists coined to describe bands like Faust, which musicians largely did not embrace. The rest of Faust IV is a sonic exploration worthy of repeated listens and a great place to start if you’ve ever wondered what the heck Krautrock is.

Brothers & Sisters - the Allman Brothers Band

Great art is often born from grief, and Brothers & Sisters is exemplary in this way. Founding member Duanne Allman died in 1971 and bassist Berry Oakley followed his bandmate to the grave a year later; he was killed in a motorcycle accident in November 1972. Following this pair of tragedies, the band carried on the only way they knew how: by making music.

With new members hired, Brothers & Sisters was recorded with guitarist Dicky Betts as the new de facto band leader. The Allman Brothers Band’s most commercially successful record leans into country territory from the southern rock of previous releases and features two of the band’s most popular songs: "Ramblin’ Man" and "Jessica." The album went gold within 48 hours of shipping and since has sold more than seven million copies worldwide.  

Call Me -  Al Green

Call Me is considered one of the greatest soul records of the 20th century and Green’s pièce de résistance. The fact this Al Green album features three Top 10 Billboard singles "You Ought to Be With Me," "Here I Am" and the title track helps explain why it remains a masterpiece. Beyond the trio of hits, the soul king shows his versatility by reworking a pair of country songs: Hank Williams’ "I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry," and Willie Nelson’s "Funny How Time Slips Away."

Killing Me Softly - Roberta Flack

This Roberta Flack album was nominated for three GRAMMY Awards and won two: Record Of The Year and Best Female Vocal Pop Performance at the 1974 GRAMMYs (it lost in the Album of the Year category to Innervisions). With equal parts soul and passion, Flack interprets beloved ballads that showcase her talent of taking others’ songs and reinventing them. Producer Joel Dorn assembled the right mix of players to back up Flack adding to the album’s polished sound. Killing Me Softly has sold more than two million copies and, in 2020, Roberta Flack received the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award.

The album's title cut became a No.1 hit in three countries and, in 1996, the Fugees prominently featured Lauryn Hill on a version that surpassed the original: landing the No.1 spot in 21 countries. The album also includes a pair of well-loved covers: Leonard Cohen’s "Suzanne" and Janis Ian’s wistful "Jesse," which reached No. 30.

Bette Midler - Bette Middler

Co-produced by Arif Mardin and Barry Manilow, the self-titled second studio album by Bette Midler was an easy- listening experience featuring interpretations of both standards and popular songs. Whispers of gospel are mixed with R&B and some boogie-woogie piano, though Midler’s voice is always the star. The record opens with a nod to the Great American Songbook with a reworking of Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael’s "Skylark." The 10-song collection also features a take on Glenn Miller’s "In the Mood," and a divine cover of Bob Dylan’s "I Shall be Released." The record peaked at No. 6 on the U.S. charts.

Imagination - Gladys Knight & the Pips

Released in October, Imagination was Gladys Knight & the Pips' first album with Buddha Records after leaving Motown, and features the group’s only No. 1 Billboard hit:  "Midnight Train to Georgia." The oft-covered tune, which won a GRAMMY the following year, and became the band’s signature, helped the record eclipse a million in sales, but it was not the only single to resonate. Other timeless, chart-topping songs from Imagination include "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," and "I’ve Got to Use My Imagination."

The Pointer Sisters - The Pointer Sisters

The three-time GRAMMY-winning Pointer Sisters arrived on the scene in 1973 with this critically-acclaimed self-titled debut. Then a quartet, the group of sisters from Oakland, California made listeners want to shake a tail feather with 10 songs that ranged from boogie-woogie to bebop. Their sisterly harmonies are backed up by the San Francisco blues-funk band the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils. The record opens with "Yes We Can," a hypnotic groove of a song written by Allen Toussaint which was a Top 15 hit alongside another cover, Willie Dixon’s "Wang Dang Doodle."

Behind Closed Doors - Charlie Rich

This pop-leaning country record of orchestral ballads, produced by Billy Sherrill, made Rich rich. The album has surpassed four million in sales and remains one of the genre’s best-loved classics. The album won Charlie Rich a GRAMMY the following year for Best Country Vocal Performance Male and added four Country Music Awards. Behind Closed Doors had several hits, but the title track made the most impact. The song written by Kenny O’Dell, and whose title was inspired by the Watergate scandal, was the first No.1 hit for Rich. It topped the country charts where it spent 20 weeks in 1973. It was also a Billboard crossover hit — reaching No. 15 on the Top 100 and No. 8 on the Adult Contemporary charts.

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Music's Television Empire

Netflix's "The Get Down" is the latest in a string of musical shows proving the new golden age of television is golden for music too

GRAMMYs/Aug 13, 2016 - 08:24 pm

Television series about musicians and the music industry are almost as old as TV. The first network television season was broadcast in the U.S. seven decades ago and within a few years musicians were a central part of the story. When "I Love Lucy" debuted in 1951 Lucille Ball's husband, Desi Arnaz, played a bandleader, with plenty of music performance segments on the show. In the 1960s the Monkees parlayed a hit show into pop stardom and the '70s found "The Partridge Family" telling everyone to "come on, get happy."

Reality TV hit the scene in the '00s, and the small-screen focus was on a few unscripted series that took fans into homes of their favorite artists, from Ozzy Osbourne to Snoop Dogg.

But television is always evolving. The latest resurgence of music on TV arguably started in 2009 with Fox's "Glee" and has been further punctuated by the more recent success of "Empire" — the network's latest bona fide hit, which debuted in 2015.

Last year also saw the debut of Denis Leary's FX comedy "Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll." The introduction of two acclaimed music-centric series was just a warmup for 2016, which has seen some of the biggest names in film bring stories of musicians to the small screen.

The shift coincides with what critics are dubbing the new golden age of television, a period of increased production of critically acclaimed television shows beginning in the mid-2000s. While television used to be dominated by broadcast networks CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox, scripted shows have found success on cable networks such as HBO and Showtime and, more recently, streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.

Two Oscar winners, Martin Scorsese and Cameron Crowe, and Oscar nominee Baz Luhrmann, have all come to TV this year. Although short-lived, Scorsese, along with Mick Jagger, brought "Vinyl" to HBO in February while Crowe's "Roadies" premiered on Showtime in June. Luhrmann might be taking on his most ambitious project yet, bringing "The Get Down," his much-anticipated musical drama, to Netflix. Part one of the 12-episode first season premieres Aug. 12. 

Working with everyone from hip-hop artists Nas and Grandmaster Flash to author Nelson George, Luhrmann is recreating New York circa 1977, specifically the South Bronx neighborhood, where residents witnessed the birth of hip-hop and the decline of disco all while salsa and punk infiltrated other areas of the city.   

Luhrmann — the man behind films such as The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet — believes TV, or what we used to think of as TV, is currently the perfect home for shows about music.

"Television no longer describes what we're discussing here," says Luhrmann. "The streaming services are more in the nature of broadcast. It's so great. There needs to be a new word because television used to be the place where you were super constrained — you were constrained by the times and morally, the rules. Now those two things are almost reversed."

"[Today] you have much more creative freedom. When you're dealing with music, a story about music culture, the ability to do it in segments really suits that because it's a way and space to tell the story laterally, but also horizontally. You can explore in a way you simply couldn't within a two-hour sitting."

For Crowe, who won an Oscar for writing 2000's Almost Famous, a film about a young reporter covering the fictional rock band Stillwater, the new wave of TV shows centered around music validates his belief that music is as important as ever.

"I was just hearing all this stuff about music is dead as a meaningful art form. 'It's too available, there's too many formats, nobody's paying for it, nobody values it,' and I'm just thinking, 'Bull****, that's just not true,'" said Crowe in a June interview with Forbes. "And that's kind of the thesis of ["Roadies"], music matters more than ever."

The value of music in 2016 — in the age of streaming and YouTube — is a topic of frequent debate, but the current omnipotence of music as well as the massive success of touring and festivals lends credence to Crowe's belief that even if people are not spending as much they still love music as much, if not more, than ever.

Fandom is exactly what inspired Luhrmann's vision for "The Get Down" back in 2006.

"I started this concept with a question 10 years ago, which was, 'How did a totally new idea [hip-hop] get born from a borough in a time where there was little care for that borough or the people [there]?" says Luhrmann. "How did they come up with a brand-new, pure creative idea? I realized when we started to look at 1977, disco was the reigning music form, but there's something going on downtown called punk, you have salsa and the Latin influence and then you have this invention going on by a bunch of kids, which is essentially a kind of folk music in a way."

It was on that journey of discovery when Luhrmann started to realize the story he wanted to tell wouldn't fit within the two-hour confines typically reserved for film, which was exactly what the executives at Netflix wanted to hear.

"I started thinking of it as a movie, and as I did I thought, 'How do you tell all of that? The very nature of it is that it's unwieldy, the very nature of it has to be sprawling.' And sprawling and unwieldy are not words executives who make movies want to hear," he says. "But sprawling and unwieldy are exactly what Netflix wanted to hear because they want to hear something that has an ongoing life and cannot just be linear. The evolution of television caught up with me, and at the right moment the two things met." 

Unlike a movie, in which stories tend to be neatly wrapped, television allows Luhrmann to think of the future. He is optimistic "The Get Down" will be renewed for a second season potentially exploring 1979, when disco was symbolically destroyed in July at famed Comiskey Park in Chicago by Disco Demolition Night, a promotional stunt that saw disco records blown up on the field following a White Sox versus Detroit Tigers game. Two months later, in September, Sugarhill Gang released "Rapper's Delight," the song widely credited with bringing hip-hop to the masses, and one of the first hip-hop songs inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame.  

For Luhrmann, as a fan of the music and the era, success is not his motivation. He is content to be the conduit to tell a story he loves.

"I care about [the story and] so many others care about it, I'm kind of the grand conductor. But it's a profound collaboration. That's also what drew me — it's a living history. In the past I've done things that were involved in the past. But this is a living history, the people are actually alive. And so I worked with them to help [tell their] story. And that's really enriching."

(Steve Baltin has written about music for Rolling StoneLos Angeles TimesMojoChicago Tribune, AOL, LA Weekly, Philadelphia WeeklyThe Hollywood Reporter, and dozens more publications.)

María José Llergo On Her Debut Album 'Ultrabelleza,' Her Upcoming US Tour & Flamenco As A Cultural Bridge
María José Llergo

Photo: Pablo Gallardo/Redferns


María José Llergo On Her Debut Album 'Ultrabelleza,' Her Upcoming US Tour & Flamenco As A Cultural Bridge

Maria José Llergo is taking her unique brand of flamenco to the U.S. for the first time. In an interview, the Spanish artist explains how she combines modern electro touches with traditional techniques to share the story of flamenco with the world.

GRAMMYs/Feb 29, 2024 - 03:58 pm

María José Llergo knows the key to her future is ingrained in the past. Demonstrating her fierce connection to her Andalusian roots, Llergo’s debut album Ultrabelleza, explores themes of home, tradition and family.

Her music is distinctly personal, interweaving the classic flamenco she was raised with alongside contemporary electronic flourishes. Following her album release in October 2023, Llergo is gearing up for a seven-date U.S. tour in March, including stops in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia.

Hailing from Pozoblanco, a small town in Andalusia's agricultural heartlands, Llergo's musical foundation is as authentic as it gets. The southern Spanish region, known as the cradle of traditional flamenco, profoundly influences her sound. Her grandfather, a vegetable farmer, taught her how to sing while they worked the fields. This connection to the earth deeply permeates her music with a feeling of grit, persistence and self-respect. 

On the album’s title track, she sings in Spanish a reassuring ode to a questioning child, "God himself/ With the water and the wind made you like this/ There is nothing wrong with you." In ‘Aprendiendo a Volar’ (Learning how to fly), she reflects on a view: "I see all the peaks, the summits, from my window/ So far from me that I have not dreamed of reaching them." 

Llergo's journey to success mirrors the lofty peaks she sings about. Following her training at the prestigious Catalonia School of Music, she released her debut EP Sanción in 2020. A year later, she made her mark on the European live music platform COLORS, when she performed a viral YouTube session which has amassed over 1.5 million views.

Ultrabelleza took Llergo’s budding stardom to the next level. She gained critical acclaim and a substantial fanbase in the U.S., which led to her highly anticipated American tour. Splitting her time between Pozoblanco, Barcelona, and Madrid, Llergo continues to pursue her musical career with passion and dedication. spoke with Llergo over Zoom about her unique brand of flamenco, her debut U.S. tour, and why her roots define her music. 

This interview, originally conducted in Spanish, has been translated into English and edited for clarity and length.

Your music is very much tied to place; you are a trained flamenco singer, a genre from Andalusia, where you grew up. How would you describe the region to someone who has not been?

Andalusia is the word "andar", walk, and "luz", light. Our people are called Andaluces; the lights that walk. It is a rich place: intellectually, it’s the home of Federico Garcia Llorca, Vicente Aleixandre, Antonio Machado, and Picasso. 

We have our very own way of living, very different to the rest of Spain. For centuries it was Arab, strategically located between Africa, Europa, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It has always been a cultural bridge, which is why there is so much art here. 

Andalusia is the cradle of flamenco and has a very deep-rooted musical culture that I identify with my style of music. Even though I combine soul, hip-hop, and R&B, flamenco will always be in my voice. 

Everyone should experience Andalusia, it’s so beautiful. What I like about doing interviews, and being able to travel to the United States, is to show Andalusians for what we really are, not stereotypes. 

Andalusia has weathered tough times. It’s one of Spain’s poorest regions, and, as you say, often gets reduced to stereotypes by fellow Spaniards.

They make fun of it. So, art is a way to dignify ourselves and reflect who we are: a people of culture. I think any Andalusian who has had to leave their region has to prove their worth because we are undervalued.

You talk a lot about family in your songs, like "Mi Nombre," which is an ode to your grandparents. Why is family so important to you?

I learned to sing thanks to my grandfather, Pepe. I was with him when he worked the land. I played with the stones while he watered, and dug furrows in the ground to let the water pass. He explained to me how the fruits grew, and he sang through my childhood and adolescence. 

I accompanied my grandfather in the field and learned what it means to work the land and eat what you farm yourself. I think that was the best school to learn about effort and never giving up. 

He always sang and art was present in everything he did. For example, if one day he had a problem with a neighbor, he would compose a lyric and sing about it in the traditional flamenco style. I would listen to him and imitate him. We sang the songs together. 

When I knew the songs well, my grandfather encouraged me to play with my voice and add my personal touch. And so I opened other avenues to create my vocal play, just like how water plays with stones when it tries to make a new path.

You seem very proud to be from Pozoblanco, where you grew up. What’s it like being from such a rural place?

Everyone works in farming. My family [lives] off agriculture, and that’s why I have an innate way of being with nature. I’ve always cared for nature, just like my grandparents. 

I observe the changes and feel a connection. For example, looking at the sky at night, the animal tracks left in the earth, or the changing of the seasons. That soft, beautiful darkness of the plowed field, or when the grass dries, it turns an intense blonde color that sometimes seems, when you see it from afar, like the sand of a beach that never ends. 

Everything I do has an impact, just like how I am affected by everything that happens around me.

You speak with such beautiful imagery; I’m thinking of how challenging it will be to do your words justice when I translate our conversation into English.

How beautiful! I guarantee that it’ll be easy. The meaning is the same, it’s just the path that changes.

That brings me to your lyrics, which are deeply poetic and highly visual. How are you inspired?

I’m a very sensitive person. I just get inspired by feeling, creating art is my way of venting all the emotions. I love writing poetry, and I think that has helped my songwriting. I always have a little book with me to write thoughts down, but I record voice notes on my smartwatch.

I live next to a river. Sometimes I walk alongside it and sing, recording myself. I’ve thought of many songs that way. 

Flamenco is a traditional style of Spanish music, but is it something still important to the younger generation in Andalusia today?

Flamenco is our DNA. We’re fortunate to have grown up listening to flamenco. The story of our grandparents, great-grandparents and ancestors is in every word. Flamenco is our classical music. 

That being said, flamenco is very broad and is present in all of [southern] Spain. Andalusia has a difficult history with many changes and invasions. It has welcomed so many different cultures that the region has formed a unique personality.

The lyrics of flamenco tell our story. For example, during the Franco dictatorship, there was a time when music was prohibited. It was a tool of liberation, where people talked of their "duquela," their sorrows, in the language of Caló, which is the language of the Spanish and Portuguese Romani. 

Andalusia has the largest Iberian Romaní population in Spain, for which we are fortunate because they have the merit of making flamenco what it is today, without a doubt.  

So, of course, it is a very diverse region — not always understood, often despised —  but so rich on a musical level. It transcends generations. It has a truth so deep that it never, ever expires. 

It reminds us where we come from, so it teaches us where we should go. It connects us with the past, but also provides clues to the future. Flamenco is eternal.

NPR and Pitchfork have written about your own Romani heritage…

They wrote that but didn’t ask me specifically about it. I define myself as an Andalusian. My ancestry is part of my private life and I don’t think I have to justify my actions through lineage. 

Thanks for clarifying that! We’ve spoken at length about the flamenco elements of your music, but you also have a very contemporary feel. You’ve worked with producers like Knox Brown (who has collaborated with artists including Beyoncé, Stormzy, and H.E.R.), for example. 

What you hear in terms of my accent, or those flamenco elements of my music — that’s my roots. What you hear in terms of production, experimentation, and electro — that’s my wings. We can say that my music is the connection of my roots and my wings.

I look to musically express what I see in the natural world. For example, how a bird’s wing cuts through the air. Sometimes I can’t recreate that organically, so I find it synthetically. That's when I turn to electronica. 

I am using the musical resources that I have at my disposal in the time in which I live to translate my vision of the world into something tangible, which are my songs.

**What contemporary music do you listen to?
Well, I’m in love with Fred Again.. I think Kendrick Lamar’s
Element* is sublime… I’m listening to a lot of Afrobeats at the moment, Rema, Simi, Ayra Starr, Burna Boy

I also like artists like Aaron Taylor, he blows my mind, or Erika de Casier.

I have a very varied music taste, I need diversity, not just emotionally but also in what stimulates me. 

Your U.S. tour starts on March 3rd. How does it feel to tour the U.S. for the very first time?

It's an honor to share my songs so far across the pond! It’s a country I want to know more in-depth and connect with. It feels like a gift, and I'm nervous and impatient because I can't wait. I already have everything ready and prepared.

Do you feel nervous to be taking flamenco to a place that’s so culturally different to where you’re from?

Sure, but I also trust a lot in the power of music. It’s a bridge between people and we’re not all that different when we have music between us. 

Music is like a smile, if you see someone smiling, you smile back. 

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