"Use Your Mentality, Wake Up To Reality": How 'Red Hot + Blue' Reimagined Classic Pop Songs To Enact Social Change


"Use Your Mentality, Wake Up To Reality": How 'Red Hot + Blue' Reimagined Classic Pop Songs To Enact Social Change

Featuring heavy hitters ranging from David Byrne to Debbie Harry and Tom Waits to the Thompson Twins, the 1990 compilation led fans to new favorites and opened eyes to a disease destroying countless lives

GRAMMYs/Oct 23, 2020 - 08:02 pm

There are more than a million nonprofit organizations in the United States alone, each founded with a dream to make the world a better place. In the late ‘80s, New Yorker John Carlin felt the weight of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and knew he had to do something. "A lot of my friends got sick and died even before it was clear what this was," he told PopMatters in 2011. And as a professor and a member of the East Village art scene, Carlin decided the best way forward would be to fuse pop culture, art and philanthropy in one beguiling package. His way to change the world, to make a difference for the many suffering in the AIDS epidemic, would be to convince the most exciting musicians of the moment to cover classic pop songs by Cole Porter.

One of the all-time American songwriters, Porter knew how to write about hope—the dream that just one moment could be the start of something life-changing. His wit and wonder have fueled countless love stories, from the dizzying "voodoo" spell of "You Do Something To Me" or the endless yearning of "Night and Day." Much of his songbook thrived on Broadway stages, and then went on to become the mystic thread in more personal moments. They can be grand and explosive, or as minute as the lark singing in "Every Time We Say Goodbye." And considered in the context of a time when homosexuality was a beyond-taboo subject and rumors persisted of Porter’s preferences, those acts of hope feel that much more powerful and bittersweet.

In 1989, Carlin officially co-founded Red Hot Organization with Leigh Blake, and just one year later Red Hot + Blue (released in September of 1990) realized his dream of bringing Porter’s spirit to the present. Featuring heavy hitters ranging from David Byrne to Debbie Harry and Tom Waits to the Thompson Twins, the compilation led eager fans to new favorites and opened eyes and hearts to the disease destroying countless lives. And now, a few months after the 30th anniversary of the record’s release, Red Hot plans to reissue their groundbreaking foray into the intersection of music and activism. The compilation is set to be released digitally on World AIDS Day (Dec. 1), with a vinyl LP reissue to follow on Dec. 4.

In the intervening years, Red Hot has released documentaries, TV specials and handfuls of compilations focused on a variety of genres and traditions. Compilation albums and tribute albums seemed to hit a peak in the ‘90s, but the scene for Red Hot’s passionately focused take was set with Neneh Cherry’s fiery hip-hop re-envisioning of "I’ve Got You Under My Skin."

Though perhaps not the most high-profile name on the disc, the Swedish singer-songwriter provides a perfect introduction to the record’s ability to transport bronzed classics into the tragic, visceral present, with the associated blend of nostalgia and anger. "Spreadin' faster than an eye can blink, so I had to sit down and take time to think/ Of how to spread the word to people all across the lan, to make sure they putting out a helping hand," she raps, putting the double meaning of the song’s title on full display.

While the element under the skin of the protagonist in Porter’s idyllic pop past may have been love, it was never representative of a reality for those that went without a voice for so long. In Neneh Cherry’s hands, there’s something shadowy boiling in the vein, a killer disease that was still going largely unspoken of despite the generations passing. Recasting these songs in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic, however, gives the opportunity to bring those perspectives to the fore. K.d. lang’s torchy "So In Love" leans extra hard on the aching repetition of "Deceive me, desert me/ I'm yours 'til I die." Later on the compilation, Bronski Beat vocalist Jimmy Somerville’s plaintive take on "From This Moment On" betrays a hint of tragedy lingering beyond the hope that this love should be endless.

All but two songs on the compilation came complete with music videos, including cuts directed by film legends such as Wim Wenders and Jonathan Demme. The video for "From This Moment On" isn’t exactly subtle in its messaging, the club beat fading out as a dollar bill dissolves, replaced by a message that reads "FIND A CURE." Tom Waits and Jim Jarmusch team up again four years after Down By Law, meanwhile, for the woozy clip for "It’s Alright With Me," the croaky crooner dancing on his back porch as shaky footage of California neighborhoods burns over the top of his lanky-limbed wobbling. Even the production credits are star-studded, as the legendary new wave and post-punk producer Steve Lillywhite supervised the album as a whole and produced several individual tracks, while Nigel Godrich is credited as assistant engineer a few years before he connected with Radiohead.

Not every track deals as overtly with the topic for which the compilation was created to fundraise. The disc is a fascinating look at a moment in time—and that moment’s own interest in toying with other eras. Carlin wasn’t the only person interested in juxtaposing the "purity" of past pop culture with the conservative sociopolitical swing of the '80s. The swing revival began kicking off around the same time as the founding of Red Hot, the West Coast breeding its own surreal retro trend to match the Broadway remodeling of Red Hot + Blue. Ever one to blur the line of sincerity and mischief, David Byrne’s take on "Don’t Fence Me In" comes complete with zydeco accordionist Jimmy MacDonell, among many others, thus finding a new home for the Wild West twang. Iggy Pop and Blondie’s Debbie Harry, meanwhile, team up for "Well, Did You Evah," a song once sung by an equally legendary comedic duo, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. There was some escapism to throwing back to the past, but also the opportunity to pick apart exactly how the conservatism of the past led to the pain of the present.

"Red Hot pioneered using pop culture for social change—good propaganda—to fight for LGBTQ rights and to promote safer sex,” Carlin told Rolling Stone in announcing the record’s reissue. "We raised millions of dollars through album sales and gave it away in ways that no one else was doing at the time." And while much has changed in the fight against AIDS, the reissue deserves to raise millions more, as the record holds yet more mystic strength worth learning from in this new context of a world facing further conservatism and epidemic.

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Robyn, The Isley Brothers & HAIM To Headline Pitchfork Music Fest 2019


Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images


Robyn, The Isley Brothers & HAIM To Headline Pitchfork Music Fest 2019

The 14th annual music festival will take over Chicago's Union Park July 19-21

GRAMMYs/Mar 7, 2019 - 04:14 am

Pitchfork has revealed the lineup of their 14th annual Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park in Chicago set to take place July 19-21. The exciting, eclectic musical offering is perfectly embodied by its headliners: GRAMMY-nominated dancefloor-pop innovator Robyn, GRAMMY-winning godfathers of funk The Isley Brothers and GRAMMY-nominated folky-pop sister trio HAIM.

The Isley Brothers, consisting of remaining members Ronald and Ernie Isley, will be celebrating their 60th anniversary as a group at the fest, bringing the funk with "special guests," Pitchfork reports. GRAMMY winning blues and gospel icon Mavis Staples will bring her long-time musical excellence to the the three-day event as well.

GRAMMY-nominated hip-hop powerhouses Earl Sweatshirt, Jeremih and Pusha T, along with fellow GRAMMY nominee and electro-pop stalwart Charli XCX are also slated to play.

Several innovative acts that got their start in the '90s will be performing: London-based avant-garde dream-pop group Stereolab, Scottish folk-pop band Belle & Sebastian and Swedish GRAMMY-nominated MC Neneh Cherry, who earned a nod for Best New Artist at the 32nd GRAMMY Awards in 1999.

The festival prides itself on highlighting emerging talent; some of the up-and-comers on the lineup are 20-year-old dream-pop artist Clairo, L.A.-based social activist/rapper JPEGMAFIA, French-Cuban electro-soul sister duo Ibeyi and 21-year-old NYC-based rapper Rico Nasty.

Weekend and single day tickets are on sale now; visit the fest's site for more info and the complete lineup.

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Dan Auerbach, Fun., Jay-Z, Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean, Kanye West Lead 55th GRAMMY Nominations

The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Fun., Jay-Z, Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean, and Kanye West lead diverse field with six GRAMMY nominations each; the Black Keys, Chick Corea and Miguel earn five nominations each

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

Nominations for the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards were announced tonight by The Recording Academy and reflected an eclectic mix of the best and brightest in music over the past year, as determined by the voting members of The Academy. For the fifth year, nominations for the annual GRAMMY Awards were announced on primetime television as part of "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night," a one-hour CBS entertainment special broadcast live for the first time ever from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Fun., Jay-Z, Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean, and Kanye West top the nominations with six each; the Black Keys, Chick Corea and Miguel each garner five nods; and producer Jeff Bhasker, mastering engineer Bob Ludwig and Nas are each up for four awards.

"The GRAMMY Awards process once again has produced a diverse and impressive list of nominations across multiple genres," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "This year's nominees truly represent an exceptional and vibrant creative community that exemplifies some of the highest levels of artistry and excellence in their respective fields. Combined with the fifth year of our primetime nominations special, we're off to an exciting start on the road to Music's Biggest Night, the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards, on February 10."

Following are the nominations in the General Field categories:

Record Of The Year:
"Lonely Boy" — The Black Keys
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" — Kelly Clarkson
"We Are Young" — Fun. featuring Janelle Monáe
"Somebody That I Used To Know" — Gotye featuring Kimbra
"Thinkin Bout You" — Frank Ocean
"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" — Taylor Swift

Album Of The Year:
El Camino — The Black Keys
Some Nights — Fun.
Babel — Mumford & Sons
Channel Orange — Frank Ocean
Blunderbuss — Jack White

Song Of The Year:
"The A Team" — Ed Sheeran, songwriter (Ed Sheeran)
"Adorn" — Miguel Pimentel, songwriter (Miguel)
"Call Me Maybe" — Tavish Crowe, Carly Rae Jepsen & Josh Ramsay, songwriters (Carly Rae Jepsen)
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" — Jörgen Elofsson, David Gamson, Greg Kurstin & Ali Tamposi, songwriters (Kelly Clarkson)
"We Are Young" — Jack Antonoff, Jeff Bhasker, Andrew Dost & Nate Ruess, songwriters (Fun. featuring Janelle Monáe)

Best New Artist:
Alabama Shakes
Hunter Hayes
The Lumineers
Frank Ocean

Following is a sampling of nominations in the GRAMMY Awards' other 29 Fields:

For Best Pop Solo Performance, the nominees are "Set Fire To The Rain (Live)" by Adele; "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" by Kelly Clarkson; "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen; "Wide Awake" by Katy Perry; and "Where Have You Been" by Rihanna.

The nominees for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance are "Shake It Out" by Florence & The Machine; "We Are Young" by Fun. featuring Janelle Monáe; "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye featuring Kimbra; "Sexy And I Know It" by LMFAO; and "Payphone" by Maroon 5 & Wiz Khalifa. 

For Best Dance/Electronica Album, the nominees are Wonderland by Steve Aoki; Don't Think by the Chemical Brothers; > Album Title Goes Here < by Deadmau5; Fire & Ice by Kaskade; and Bangarang by Skrillex.

The nominees for Best Rock Performance are "Hold On" by Alabama Shakes; "Lonely Boy" by the Black Keys; "Charlie Brown" by Coldplay; "I Will Wait" by Mumford & Sons; and "We Take Care Of Our Own" by Bruce Springsteen.

For Best Alternative Music Album, the nominees are The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do by Fiona Apple; Biophilia by Björk; Making Mirrors by Gotye; Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. by M83; and Bad As Me by Tom Waits. 

The nominees for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration are "Wild Ones" by Flo Rida featuring Sia; "No Church In The Wild" by Jay-Z & Kanye West featuring Frank Ocean & The-Dream; "Tonight (Best You Ever Had)" by John Legend featuring Ludacris; "Cherry Wine" by Nas featuring Amy Winehouse; and "Talk That Talk" by Rihanna featuring Jay-Z.

For Best Country Album, the nominees are Uncaged by Zac Brown Band; Hunter Hayes by Hunter Hayes; Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran by Jamey Johnson; Four The Record by Miranda Lambert; and The Time Jumpers by the Time Jumpers.

The nominees for Best Americana Album are The Carpenter by the Avett Brothers; From The Ground Up by John Fullbright; The Lumineers by the Lumineers; Babel by Mumford & Sons; and Slipstream by Bonnie Raitt.

This year's Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical nominations go to Dan Auerbach, Jeff Bhasker, Diplo, Markus Dravs, and Salaam Remi.

This year's GRAMMY Awards process registered more than 17,000 submissions over a 12-month eligibility period (Oct. 1, 2011 – Sept. 30, 2012). GRAMMY ballots for the final round of voting will be mailed on Dec. 19 to the voting members of The Recording Academy. They are due back to the accounting firm of Deloitte by Jan. 16, 2013, when they will be tabulated and the results kept secret until the 55th GRAMMY telecast.

The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards will be held on GRAMMY Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and once again will be broadcast live in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards are produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures for The Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer and Louis J. Horvitz is director.

For updates and breaking news, please visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook.

"The Future Happened, Designing The Future Of Music" Explores The Art Of Music & Expands The Bounds Of Virtual Experience

Esperanza Spalding

Photo: Holly Andres


"The Future Happened, Designing The Future Of Music" Explores The Art Of Music & Expands The Bounds Of Virtual Experience

Presented by the Museum Of Design Atlanta, the free online offering immerses visitors in the power of music and design, featuring 40 artists from around the world

GRAMMYs/Apr 9, 2021 - 11:53 pm

Today, April 9, the Museum Of Design Atlanta (MODA) debuted a visually and sonically stunning virtual exhibit dedicated to the interplay of design, art and music. "The Future Happened, Designing The Future Of Music" features stories, sounds, videos and images from 40 artists, including Burna Boy, Laraaji, Neneh Cherry, Charlotte Adigéry, Clipping, Nep Sidhu, Daito Manabe and Spillage Village.

A statement on the website explains: "This exhibition centers on creatives who invent new realities through design and music. Exploring innovation in design and technology that deepens our relationship with music, we open our eyes to new and radical narratives that have the power to transform our ways of being in the world."

To celebrate the new digital art space, the museum is hosting "The Future Happened: Curator's Talk" on Sat., April 10, from 3 – 4:30 p.m. EST. The curators—Lawrence Azerrad, Ruby Savage, Floyd Hall and Marlon Fuentes—will discuss the major themes of the works, how they created the exhibit and why creating this space was so important to all of them.

"The Future Happened is a celebration of the power of music as a form of community building, healing, interpersonal communication and placemaking. We are living in times of accelerated change that will challenge us with reimagining the role culture, technology and identity is utilized as a force for good," co-curator Fuentes, who is also the Global Music, Contemporary Instrumental and New Age genre manager at the Recording Academy, tells

"Many of us futurists have been working on the other side of time for many years now, through fearless creativity and emerging technologies. This exhibit will showcase not only how we quickly adapt to a decentralized, borderless world, but also how the past informs the future so that more inspired creatives can shine their light on their own terms and design the future they wish to manifest."

Lead curator Lawrence Azerrad, a GRAMMY-winning creative director and author, also spoke to the power of the "The Future Happened:" "The exhibition opens our eyes to new and radical narratives that have the power to transform our ways of being in the world. It examines how design can be key in sharing our stories and amplifying our power to make a difference in the world, alongside exploring innovation in design and technology that opens our eyes to new and radical narratives that have the power to transform our ways of being in the world."

You can visit the free virtual MODA exhibit now at

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Rock Hall Announces 2011 Class

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Rock Hall Announces 2011 Class
The Alice Cooper Band, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Darlene Love, and Tom Waits are the performer inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's class of 2011. Additional inductees are industry executives Jac Holzman and Art Rupe, who will each receive the Ahmet Ertegun Award, and Leon Russell, who will receive the Musical Excellence Award. The class will be inducted at a ceremony on March 14, 2011, at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. (12/15)

Top Americana Albums Of 2010
The GRAMMY-nominated soundtrack to the film Crazy Heart topped the Americana Music Association's list of the Top 100 Albums of the Year. Placing second was Rosanne Cash's GRAMMY-nominated The List, followed by John Hiatt's The Open Road, Carolina Chocolate Drops' GRAMMY-nominated Genuine Negro Jig, and Ray Wylie Hubbard's A Enlightenment B Endarkenment (Hint There Is No C) to round out the top five. The list was compiled based on data reported to the Americana Airplay Chart from Nov. 17, 2009, to Nov. 15, 2010. (12/15)