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I’M STILL IN LOVE WITH YOU – Al Green – Hi Records – 1972

Al Green’s 1972 album I’m Still In Love With You is a personal one: an album for smooth Saturday nights and sweet Sunday mornings, for both weddings and double digit anniversaries. It recalls time spent with family, friends, and lovers, and inspires memories to be made in the future. It’s an album made for lasting connections, and is undoubtedly one that is best enjoyed when shared.

In this episode, we examine the foundation of this iconic record and explore the greater musical landscape from which it was born. We discuss the one-of-a-kind house band that gave the album its distinct sound, the Southern stronghold that informed the album’s character, and the producer who oversaw it all, mixing all the elements together to create what is arguably one the greatest American soul records of the 20th century. An album is only as good as the sum of its parts, and here, we examine how I’m Still In Love With You remains an upstanding example.

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Introducing the ’77 Music Club podcast

Last Halloween, my best friend, Carly Jordan, had an idea: what if we turned all the time we spent analyzing every little thing about albums for fun and turn it into a podcast? Every other week, we’d discuss a different album and share our unconventional love of older music; we’d try to bridge a generation gap; we’d try to carry the torch.

After a few months of questioning if it was an appropriate time to release a music podcast, it’s here. In the coming months you’ll hear us talk about a variety of albums, from Betty Davis to Talking Heads to Big Star. But to start, we kicked off with our favorite (obviously) — this little known nugget from Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham from their days before Fleetwood Mac — because how could we not? Sneak a peak of each post below and be sure to follow (details below) for more.

77-music-club-buckingham-nicksTwo years before joining Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham had no idea what lay ahead of them. They were just two kids who wanted to make great music — and they just happened to be in love.

A cult favorite of Fleetwood Mac fans, this album is curiously still only available on vinyl. While bootlegs of the album can be streamed on YouTube, it has never been (officially) released on cassette, CD, or to streaming services like Spotify. This is perhaps part of the attraction to the album — this is music that doesn’t outright present itself; it must be found.

In this episode, we discuss why we both call this album our favorite of all time, what makes it unique, and why it still takes our breath away hundreds of listens later.

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On Bella Donna, Loyalty, and Trust

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An analysis of Stevie Nicks’s Bella Donna, which was released 35 years ago today.

When most people think of Bella Donna, the debut album from Stevie Nicks as a solo artist, they paint their picture of it with broad brush strokes. The general public may not immediately know the album title, for instance, but they know the cover image, the iconic portrait of Stevie Nicks draped in chiffon with her white winged dove. They might think of the HBO concert special, one of the earliest and most watched specials on the network. They think of the singles it produced — ”Edge of Seventeen,” “Leather And Lace,” “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” — the songs you’ll hear the most on the radio, the ones that get scream-sung late at night when people who have had more than a few drinks try their hands at karaoke.

But good singles do not a good album make. Even if every song on the album is near perfection, it still may not be a good album. No, there has to be a relationship between tracks, a red thread from the first song to the last that ties everything together. There has to be a connection of sorts that makes the listener understand what exactly it is they’re feeling, how the puzzle pieces fit together to form the whole picture, even if they may not be cognizant of it.

A good album needs to accomplish the difficult task of having a concept without becoming a concept album. Not many albums can do this. Not even all Stevie Nicks albums do this. But Bella Donna does, and it succeeds in a way that few albums do.

Bella Donna is a trust album. It’s a loyalty album. From its inception to its songs — even the ones that were cut from the final output — to its legacy, the theme never wavers. It’s introspective and highly personal, at times clearly lines pulled from a diary, but it manages to convey feelings universal enough for others to identify with.

It poses questions about loyalty and trust in relationships: What do you do about the possibility that your lover may not be loyal when you’re not there — and why would he want to stray? How do you have faith that he’s telling the truth? Can you trust that someone will stop playing with your emotions? Can you trust yourself to know the difference between what is good in the heat of night and good in the reality of day? How do you ask for someone to be loyal to you without losing your independence, without seeming needy? Could you love me only? Really — could you? (“Kind of Woman,” “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” “How Still My Love,” “Leather And Lace,” “Outside The Rain”)

It makes you think about your own self: Can you stay loyal to who you are, truly, underneath all the things that change, particularly with fame and success? Do you have enough trust in yourself to not quit, to know that things will work out, no matter how hard it may get? Do you have enough trust in other people to relentlessly charge forward, to know that good people are out there, no matter how tragic or terrifying the world may seem? How do you stay loyal to your dreams and aspirations when they may be difficult, when they may be inconvenient for those around you, when you have to make sacrifices to do so?(“Bella Donna,” “Think About It,” “After The Glitter Fades,” “Edge of Seventeen,” “The Highwayman)

The themes of loyalty and trust seep out of the album and touch both its creation and legacy. It was a project pursued for personal reasons, out of a loyalty to herself. Nicks had to do something with the songs she had spent years putting away in storage, the ones she felt obligated to share with the world. She owed it to herself to make her voice heard just a little bit louder. To do so, she had to trust herself. Could she stand alone as an artist, without the support of Fleetwood Mac behind her?

In return, Fleetwood Mac had to invest trust in her. Very few bands see a lead singer pursue a solo project without it hurting the group as a whole. If they’re a breakout star, the band won’t survive — think Linda Ronstadt without the Stone Poneys, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel without Genesis. If they bomb, it’s a lasting pockmark on the band’s history — see Mick Jagger sans the Rolling Stones or Roger Daltrey without the Who.

There had to be a mutual trust that Nicks would be okay, that the band would survive her wild success or her grand failure, whichever it may be. It wasn’t easy then, and it certainly wasn’t a move any successful band with the rarity of having a girl as one of their leads would make. It rarely works today, even, though Nicks’s anomalous success inspired a new generation to try their hand — look at No Doubt and Gwen Stefani, Rilo Kiley and Jenny Lewis, Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé.

And those who do succeed at finding their own identities outside bands change a little. They have new producers who help them find their new, different sound. Their backup band may change members. Their friends and collaborators may come and go.

But Stevie Nicks is loyal to a fault, and that is the legacy she created 35 years ago. She wasn’t going anywhere. She didn’t go anywhere. Bella Donna hit number one on the Billboard charts. It remained a bestseller for nearly three years. It firmly cemented her artistry and her ability to do things on by herself, with no one there to catch her if she fell. And still, she returned to Fleetwood Mac.

Stevie Nicks is great on her own, but she wasn’t going to turn her back on the people who make her better. She wasn’t going to leave the people who were there by her side when she was still a struggling artist, cleaning houses and waiting tables. Thirty-five years later, and her backup singers are still the same women who harmonized with her when they had no idea if the project would be a success or a bomb. Her band leader is still Waddy Wachtel, the same man who played on the first album she made with Lindsey Buckingham 43 years ago. She still sacrifices vacations and more solo projects and family to work with Fleetwood Mac. Thirty-five years later, and everything has changed, but everything still remains the same.

Songs, money, success — all that comes and goes. Loyalty and trust — those endure. And that’s what makes Bella Donna a great album: it’s more than the music. It’s the overall tone it sets between the lines and long after it stops playing.

Beyoncé’s Lemonade is the Female Empowerment Album We Need

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This piece originally appeared on Inspirer

The year is 2016, A.L. (“After Lemonade”). Years from now, our children may ask us where we were the moment Beyoncé unveiled her second surprise album in the form of a short film, possibly getting the most people to stay home on a Saturday night since the early days of SNL, before DVR and Hulu were things.

It’s easy to joke about Beyoncé, the cultural phenomenon. It’s easy to joke about anyone with that much power and that much control over their public image. It’s harder to talk about Beyoncé, the artist. It’s harder to talk about the deeper issues she tackles, the way she uses her power to shed light on topics that aren’t discussed in a meaningful manner in mainstream media.

Lemonade asserts Beyoncé’s position as reigning queen of the music industry, not that anyone really debated that. Musically, the album demonstrates mastery of a variety of styles, proving that the artist — and more importantly, black women in general — can handle any genre, be it rock and roll or country or soul or pop. But the cultural implications of Lemonade are what we really need to talk about.

Beyoncé has made a career out of being able to seamlessly blend well-crafted pop with empowering themes, and over the years, they’ve evolved: “Independent Women Part I” gave us “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” which became “Run the World (Girls),” and bled into “***Flawless.”

Lemonade — both in short film and album form — pulls no punches with continuing this evolution and tackling even more difficult, but important cultural and political issues: Black Lives Matter, intersectional feminism, female independence. More than anything else, these themes of female empowerment onLemonade are what Beyoncé addresses better than anyone else right now.

We’re at peak pop culture feminism right now. Women musicians have been singing empowering anthems for years, but it’s just now that people are really starting to pay attention. It’s also just now that some artists think making a song have a feminist slant is just as important as making it have a catchy hook.

Beyoncé isn’t trying to please people’s expectations that she blatantly be a feminist, though. She’s not trying to fit in; she’s not writing feminist songs to be trendy, and that’s why she does it so well. Her words are genuine and powerful. She’s not giggling about the media gossiping about her being a serial dater. She’s not shaming women in a pseudo-empowering anthem about curvy body types.

Instead, she combines her lyrics with words of Somali poet Warsan Shire to make statements about the societal difficulties of being a woman, misogyny, and the predicament of being in a relationship with a man who may be uncomfortable with such a powerful partner. Between songs, she delivers spoken word verses meditating on these topics:

I tried to change, closed my mouth more, tried to be soft, prettier, less awake. Fasted for sixty days, wore white, abstained from mirrors. Abstained from sex, slowly did not speak another word.

But the way she so assertively addresses female empowerment stands up on the songs themselves, the songs that will be played over the radio for everyone — not just Tidal subscribers — to hear. She delivers “Hold Up,” vilifying a cheating partner and handles a baseball bat in a way that’s more gleeful than that time Carrie Underwood smashed in the windows of her cheating boyfriend’s 4×4.

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Because when Beyoncé does it, there’s deeper significance: she’s reclaiming the angry black woman trope by doing so. She acknowledges the stereotype — “What’s worse, looking jealous or crazy?” — and moves past it. She makes it clear that her feelings are valid, that any woman’s feelings are valid, and to reduce an angry woman to a stereotype is unacceptable.

“Don’t Hurt Yourself” takes the anger up a notch, but proves that she’s not playing around. It drives home the point of being confident in your power, knowing your worth, and never backing down to please someone else:

I am the dragon breathing fire
Beautiful man I’m the lion
Beautiful man I know you’re lying
I am not broken, I’m not crying, I’m not crying
You ain’t trying hard enough
You ain’t loving hard enough
You don’t love me deep enough
We not reaching feats enough
But I leave your love, I f*cks with you
‘Til I realize, I’m just too much for you
I’m just too much for you

She addresses income inequality by bragging about her wealth and status just like any man would. Women are still fighting for equal pay. Women have been made to feel like we should make ourselves smaller, like we shouldn’t show off our accomplishments, like we shouldn’t speak too loudly or draw too much attention to ourselves. Women are still being made to believe that we’re not worth asking for more. Beyoncé makes it a point on “6 Inch” to reject that notion. Your net worth may not be $450 million, but you “work for the money from start to finish” and you’re “worth every dollar and worth every minute.” Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not.

And this theme of working hard and fighting for the best for yourself is continued on “Formation,” which was the topic of about a million think pieces when it was released in March. While the overlying significance of the song is its role as a black power anthem, it’s still making a strong feminist point. Beyoncé reclaims sexuality and power, singing about men in a way that most men sing about women:

When he f*ck me good, I take his ass to Red Lobster, cause I slay
If he hit it right, I might take him on a flight on my chopper, cause I slay
Drop him off at the mall, let him buy some J’s, let him shop up, cause I slay
I might get your song played on the radio station, cause I slay

She opens up the possibility of reaching the level of revolutionary financial influence of Bill Gates to women, particularly women of color (who are the most discriminated women in America): “You just might be a black Bill Gates in the making — I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making.” Hear that, America? The future is female.

It’s incredibly easy to joke about Beyoncé being Illuminati or being a queen or question how she’s human. It’s easy to say that Lemonade is empowering AF and call it a day. It’s harder to talk about the deep meaning beneath the swagger. It’s harder to talk about how her lyrics have the ability to open up public discussions that are long overdue. And it’s time we start.

Listen to Lemonade exclusively on Tidal
Track List:
1. Pray You Catch Me
2. Hold Up
3. Don’t Hurt Yourself
4. Sorry
5. 6 Inch
6. Daddy Lessons
7. Love Drought
8. Sandcastles
9. Forward
10. Freedom
11. All Night
12. Formation