Latest Blog Posts
1. Justin Timberlake: “The 20/20 Experience” has the highest sales week of a male solo artist in nearly 5 years. JT’s not only bringing sexyback, he’s bringing salesback.
2. Ariana Grande: “The Way” with Mac Miller soars to No. 1 on the iTunes chart. That’s some kind of “Victorious” feat for the Nickelodeon star
3. MTV Awards: To commemorate the 30th anniversary, the awards show is moving to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. It’s time to break out “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” for the promos.
4. “The Voice”: Blake and Adam return with new friends Shakira and Usher as the talent show’s rating tower over “American Idol,” which scored its lowest rating ever on Thursday. There’s a new sheriff in town.
5. Rolling Stones: They are set to headline Glastonbury Festival. What? they didn’t want to wait until their 75th anniversary?
6. J Dash: His song “WOP” brings new life to his career after Miley Cyrus posts a video of her twerking her way through the tune in a unicorn outfit. Girl, you better Twerk!!
7. Marilyn Manson: The shock rocker is the new poster boy for fashion brand Saint Laurent because when we think high fashion we think the pasty-faced Manson....
8. Public Image Ltd: The Johnny Lydon -led band gets cleared to play in China, and yet China bans Kraftwerk from playing. Is Xi Jinping a closet Sex Pistols fan?
9. Michelle Shocked: Her craziness continues as she shows up to protest the cancellation of her gigs with duct tape over her mouth and a ski mask. Will someone please get her some help?
10. Rick Ross: Just because the word “rape” isn’t used, doesn’t mean it’s not unwanted sex. Shameful....
"Doctor Who" is back, and I have some thoughts on tonight's episode, and the current state of the franchise, coming up just as soon as I invent the quadricycle...
Phil Ramone worked with such a vast array of artists over 50 years that it’s impossible to narrow down his essential work to only 10 recordings, but we’ve given it a shot. While we left out his work with Dionne Warwick, Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Rod Stewart, Lesley Gore and his Broadway productions, as well as so many projects, they are all worth exploring. Ramone, who died today at age 79, won 14 Grammys and was nominated 33 times.
Phil Ramone, who died today at 79, had me at “The Stranger.” I was already a burgeoning young music freak when the landmark Billy Joel album came out in 1977, but I hadn’t really paid attention to producers and the role they played.
“The Stranger” changed all of that.
I wanted to devour everything about that album. It’s the first album I remember really dissecting every track over and over and trying to figure out how the instruments fit together and marveling at the arrangements. I know every word, even album tracks like the spiky “Get It Right The First Time” and the soulful “Everybody Has A Dream.” I have Ramone’s brilliant production to credit for kicking off a lifelong love of how records came together.
Ramone, a Julliard-trained engineer turned producer, make every instrument pop, whether it was Joel’s piano on the intro to “Only The Good Die Young” or Richie Cannata’s saxophone on “Movin’ Out” or, of course, the entire epic majesty of “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.” The projection was clean and vibrant. I knew that even when I was playing it on my cheap turntable. For someone raised on top 40 gloss, “The Stranger” had a grittiness and attitude that other songs I’d listened to didn’t.
For Ramone’s obit, go here.
Flash forward almost 30 years. It’s the morning after the 2006 Grammy Awards. I’m at Capitol Studios in Hollywood watching Tony Bennett record “Rag To Riches” with Elton John for “Duets,” Bennett’s hugely successful album featuring him performing with John, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Tim McGraw and several others. Phil Ramone is the producer.
As talent editor and then West Coast Bureau Chief for Billboard, I’d met Ramone several times already and interviewed him, but this was my first time being in the studio watching him work. In all my times in the studio, I had never and have never seen anyone so calm and in control. Bennett cuts everything live, which means if anyone goofs, it’s back to square one (of course, they picked people to be on the album who could really sing and who didn’t need to have their vocals comped). Elton showed up wearing a beautiful tailored suit instead of his usual track suit because he knew Bennett would be dressed to the nines, which he was, and he wanted to show Bennett the respect he felt he deserved. “For Mr. Bennett, you wear a suit,” I remember him telling me.
Ramone set the professional, yet relaxed, tone. Including rehearsals, John, Bennett, and Bennett’s trio did no more than six takes before it was a wrap. (I remember the publicist told me not to be late because the session would go fast... she wasn’t kidding).
At the end, Bennett made a suggestion that he wanted to try. I was in the control room with Ramone and it was clear from his reaction to the previous takes that Ramone knew they had it down, and that they didn’t need to do it again, but out of deference to Bennett and with a graciousness that I’ve rarely seen in the studio, he told Bennett that he thought they had nailed it, but, of course, they could try it again the way Bennett wanted to. Want to know how Ramone brought out the best in everyone? That’s how... he made the artists and musicians feel valued, special, and respected. There was no way that Ramone was going to use the take with Bennett’s suggestion. He knew that, I knew that. Hell, probably Bennett even knew that, but Ramone was delighted to give it a try because he knew that’s how he’d continue to get the best from Bennett for the rest of the session.
On his Facebook page, producer Tony Visconti brought up what a great raconteur Phil Ramone was and I found that to be my experience too. When I interviewed him, I knew to set aside at least double the amount of time that we had planned because he had such amazing stories and he was so generous sharing them. He rambled and would go off on tangents, but I was always so happy to go down any road with him because I knew I was getting gold, whether he was talking about serving as music producer the night Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” to John F. Kennedy to hoping to find the next big rock act.
Read excerpts from my 2003 interview with Ramone for Billboard.
Ramone was incredibly active right up until his death. For several months over the last year, he’d been in Los Angeles, staying with producer Gregg Field and singer Monica Mancini, while he produced new projects from Matthew Morrison, Dionne Warwick and Latin singer Alejandro Fernandez. Longtime friends, Ramone produced Mancini’s 2010 album, “I’ve Loved These Days.”
I reached out to several colleagues of Ramone’s this morning to get their reactions. These aren’t artists who worked with Ramone, other than Monica Mancini. Instead they are people who worked in the trenches beside him or admired him because they shared the same craft.
”Phil was a better friend than producer and he was the best music producer I have ever know. Phil would stay in the "Phil Ramone Suite" in our home whenever he was in L.A.. The best memory? So many, but that would be the two of us at the end of the day having a ritual nightcap before heading to bed. And then doing it all again the next day.” — Gregg Field, Grammy-winning producer and co-producer of Matthew Morrison’s upcoming album with Ramone
“Phil Ramone was a friend, mentor, brother, father and partner. He was the personification of everything good that we do in music and in life. He selflessly shared his vast experience and knowledge with anyone that asked, or for that matter, didn't ask but needed to be set straight. He was a child prodigy, classically trained musician that spent his entire life serving the music and the people that made it. I'm having a difficult time imaging a world without him, on the other end of the phone, or the other side of the studio glass. We are all better off that he was in the world, leaving an incredible legacy of timeless music, and incredibly worse off that he is gone. Our hearts are broken, that's for sure. —Grammy Award-winning engineer and producer Ed Cherney
“We were on the New York NARAS board together. He was so humble. So Interested in what I was doing that when he called me at home (we both live in Connecticut) I thought someone was pranking me. ‘It's me, Phil...’ While ‘The Stranger’ changed my life, I have often looked back and referenced many of Phil’s records. Most notably, when I first started working with Art Garfunkel, I went back and listened to ‘Breakaway.’ Along with records he produced for Paul Simon, Phoebe Snow, Rod Stewart, and many others, Phil has always been a source of inspiration. He is one of those producers I always admired ‘on and off the court.’ May he rest in peace.—Grammy-award winning producer Billy Mann
“Phil was our resident houseguest for three months, I used to make him breakfast every morning: he’d have English Breakfast tea, fruit and and English muffin. It was just a moment that we all just relished. Every morning, we’d talk about the night before and then it started all over again, it was like ‘Dad’s coming down for breakfast!’ There are no words about what it’s like to work with him as a producer, it didn’t get better than that. Just a smile would come over his face. The reason he was there in the first place was he produced a number of the original songs I was doing, including Billy Joel and Paul Simon. He had the sensibility and passion from the day the original songs were created. He would get so many phone calls at our house. That man would be working ‘til his dying day. People were calling him on a daily basis to work with him.” —Singer Monica Mancini
Here is Billy Joel’s statement about Ramone upon learning of his passing:
"I always thought of Phil Ramone as the most talented guy in my band. He was the guy that no one ever ever saw onstage. He was with me as long as any of the musicians I ever played with - longer than most. So much of my music was shaped by him and brought to fruition by him.I have lost a dear friend - and my greatest mentor. The music world lost a giant today."
I have not seen Andrew Niccol's "The Host" yet, so I have no opinion to offer. It's languishing at a woeful 12% at Rotten Tomatoes so it's rather clear it's a dud. HitFix's Drew McWeeny crucified it in his review, noting that it is "one of the worst things [he's] seen in a while…a genre film that fails at every genre it attempts, and it fails at even the meager ideas it attempts to engage." Ouch.
Not gonna bog down into a political debate on the gun thing here. The liberal-minded will bang its head against a brick wall and the conservative-minded will decry the gall of another sect knowing what's best and it'll just be grossly, pathetically predictable.
That said, Jim Carrey's recent "Cold Dead Hand" video at Funny or Die taking the piss out of the National Rifle Association and its late leader actor Charlton Heston was, well, hilarious. Carrey has been outspoken about magazine limits and an assault rifles ban ever since the debate caught fire again in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.
Justin Timberlake holds onto the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 next despite strong charges from Lil Wayne and Blake Shelton.
Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience,” which sold 968,000 copies in its opening frame this week, will likely sell up to 325,000 units before the charts close on Sunday, according to Hits Daily Double.
Then comes a parade of new titles: five in a row to be exact. Lil Wayne’s “I Am Not A Human Being II” will sell up to 210,000 copies to come in at No. 2, followed by Blake Shelton’s “Based on a True Story” at No. 3, with career-high opening numbers for “The Voice” coach of up to 190,000.
The numbers drop drastically for the next set of newbies as One Republic’s “Native” and Depeche Mode’s “Delta Machine” are both poised to sell between 55,000-60,000 copies as they vie for the No. 4 and No. 5 positions on the chart.
Alan Jackson’s “Precious Memories Vol. 2” will likely bow at No. 6 with sales of up to 50,000. Bruno Mars’ “Unorthodox Jukebox” holds its Top 10 ground at No. 7, then another debut, the Strokes’ “Comedown Machine” likely starts its chart run at No. 8.
Rounding out the Top 10 are Pink’s “The Truth About Love,” and Mumford & Sons’ “Babel,” both of which are projected to sell between 30,000-35,000.
The buddy cop movie will never die.
As long as people are pointing cameras at other people and creating fiction, someone will be working riffs on the notion of two dudes with guns who have to deal with one another to accomplish something. There have been thousands of these films so far, both from Hollywood and from indie filmmakers, and I feel like I've sat through every single one of them.
In most cases, it comes down to chemistry. If you get the right two guys, the formula works. When I was part of the Warner Archive Instant beta test, one of the first movies I watched was "Freebie and the Bean," because it's freakin' "Freebie and the Bean." Alan Arkin and James Caan appear ready to beat each other to death in almost every scene of that film, and it makes me cackle every single time I see it. Sometimes you'll see a variation on the equation like one of the people isn't a cop, but is instead a convict, a la "48 HRS." Or you'll get the suicidal crazy guy teamed up with the straight arrow, a la "Lethal Weapon."