Rita Wilson's filmography is peppered with pop music, including "Raise Your Voice" (in which she played the mother of an aspiring singer) and the big-screen version of "Mamma Mia!" (which she and her husband, Tom Hanks, executive produced). Next week the L.A. native takes the mike herself with "AM/FM," an album featuring interpretations of 14 hits from the 1960s and ’70s. Wilson spoke with Pop & Hiss ahead of her gig Friday night at the Troubadour.
You picked some great songs for "AM/FM": "Wichita Lineman," the Supremes’ "Come See About Me," "Never My Love" by the Association. Choosing what to sing must have taken forever.
Completely. We started with a lot of songs -- at least 100, maybe more. I looked at each song as a monologue: What is this person trying to say?
Did that make you hear anything in a new way?
I grew up a first-generation American, and my mom drilled into us that our reputations were so important. So "Angel of the Morning," when I first heard it as a teenager, I thought it was sung from a teenager's point of view. It was this story about a young girl who decides to sleep with this guy; then it's the reality of, ‘Oh my God -- he didn't really love me!’ When I started recording it, I thought of it differently: This could be a woman who's had a whole life, and now she's just longing for some kind of companionship.
The album's title implies a relationship with the radio. How do you discover new music?
I still use the radio -- FM and XM [satellite radio]. I also have kids, so they keep me fresh on some of the current music.
Your son Chester scored a viral rap hit last year under the name Chet Haze. Should we expect to see a family band soon?
Yes, we're touring as the Hanks 5 [laughs]. When they were growing up, I was pretty adamant that they take music lessons. I didn't try to tell them what instrument to learn, so they tried different things: trumpet, piano, bass, drums. But they all still play music, and that was the goal.
The holiday-industrial complex that props up Valentine's Day has little use for specificity. (Readers without children may be shocked to discover that Dora the Explorer and Mater from "Cars" harbor virtually identical views on romance, at least as presented on kids' paper valentines.)
As a form, though, the love song continues to offer nearly infinite room for the precise details of love as it's lived. In that spirit, here's a Valentine's Day playlist filled not simply with the best love songs (whatever that means), but with some of those that take a more particular stance.
The Best Love Song About a Heartbroken Guy Raging Against the Machine
T-Pain, "Default Picture"
The unofficial king of Auto-Tune takes his obsession with technology to appealing new heights in this cut from last year's sorely underrated "Revolver." The setup is simple: T-Pain falls for a woman based on her Twitter avatar, then describes the agony of unrequited love in the age of social media. ("Am I bothering you?" he asks at one point, "Should I be un-following you?") Yet the emotion T-Pain wrings from the ubiquitous vocal-processing software is anything but easy; indeed, Auto-Tune's android-like qualities paradoxically increase the desperation in T-Pain's voice, adding yet another layer of outsider-looking-in. The result is a perfect marriage of form and function.
The Best Love Song in Which a Guy Changes His Mind About Birth Control
R. Kelly, Tyrese, Robin Thicke, The-Dream, "Pregnant"
In this all-star R&B slow jam -- the six-minute finale of Kelly's 2009 "Untitled" album -- we're told of a man with no appetite for commitment: "See, I'm a player, so I ain't trying to take her on no dates," Kelly sings right at the outset. One night at the club, though, he finds himself bewitched by a woman with "an unbelievable booty," and before he knows it he's asking her to "put them pills on chill"; meetings with a Realtor soon follow, as do promises of shopping sprees (presumably at A Pea in the Pod) and a transformed attitude about love. "Around the world, in and out of clubs, hanging with chicks," Thicke recalls of the bad old days, "And I don't see nothing wrong with having a kid." (Warning: The song, which is here, contains a bad word.)
The Best Love Song in Which the Object of the Singer's Affection Is Readily Available for Purchase at 7-Eleven
Toby Keith, "Red Solo Cup"
The tough-talking country star's 2011 album, "Clancy's Tavern," contained some of the gentlest material he's done. But Keith saved his most heartfelt declaration for this spirited string-band hoedown, which recently earned an unlikely airing on "Glee." "I love you, red Solo cup," Keith sings of the disposable drinking vessel, before adoringly outlining its attributes ("You're easy to stack") and rather maturely acknowledging its drawbacks ("You're easy to crack"). Before it's over he's even managed to make using the cup sound like part of being a good American: "In 14 years they are decomposable / And unlike my home they are not foreclosable / Freddie Mac can kiss my" — well, you know.
The Best Love Song in Which the Object of the Singer's Affection Turns Out to Be the Song Itself
Selena Gomez & the Scene, "Love You Like a Love Song"
Like Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head," the Disney Channel tween star's single compares a great man to a great melody. Or might it be the other way around? "You play through my mind like a symphony," Gomez sings. "There's no way to describe what you do to me." The fun of "Love You Like a Love Song" -- beyond its irresistible electro-disco groove, a typically crafty creation of Mouse House regulars Tim James and Antonina Armato -- is flipping between the two interpretations, imagining Gomez first as a love-struck young lady, then as the world's most glamorous pop critic.
The Best Love Song That Today, at Least, Seems Not About Love
Whitney Houston, “How Will I Know”
Before Saturday afternoon, this up-tempo highlight from Houston's self-titled debut felt like an explosion of pop-soul exuberance. (Consult YouTube for a stunning a cappella version of the tune that showcases the vocal character required of our stars in the pre-T-Pain era.) And of course "How Will I Know" will once again resume that happy mantle: No less than Madonna or Michael Jackson, Houston long ago hit the cultural saturation point at which a star's music becomes bigger than a strict reflection of her circumstance. But in the wake of her death, Houston's sunniest hit now sounds washed with melancholy, the words describing an innocent uncertainty that's turned all too definite. Handle with care.
As the May release of its sophomore full-length album draws closer, Boston-based electro pop duo Sonnymoon has revealed a stream of new single “Just Before Dawn” via its label Plug Research.
Singer Anna Wise and producer Dane Orr create a swath of shimmering synth-laden brush strokes and sporadic low-end punches -- a gentle sound with a dash of psychedelic sultriness. So far, the pair of graduates from Boston’s Berklee College of Music are staying true to the down-tempo aesthetic of such previously released tracks as "Near Me," 2009 debut "Golden Age" and an attention-grabbing take on Drake’s "Houstatlantavegas."
Of local interest, Sonnymoon has also uploaded an alternate take of its new song featuring L.A. based mulch-instrumentalist/composer and Flying Lotus collaborator Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, who superimposes graceful strings on the track. The group will soon be hitting the road with Brainfeeder beatsmith Teebs and Time Wharp from late March to early April.
Matisyahu is promising some musical changes in 2012 and to prove it, the Hasidic Jewish reggae artist has shaved.
Once known for his long beard (and his musical talent, of course), Matisyahu tweeted a picture of his clean-shorn mug to fans on Tuesday along with the phrase, "At the break of day I look for you at sunrise When the tide comes in I lose my disguise."
He explained in a related blog post on his website, "No more Chassidic reggae superstar. Sorry folks, all you get is me…no alias."
He goes on to talk about his religious journey, his need to submit himself to the strict rules in order to become a good person, and finally his need to reclaim his own identity. Hence, the clean face.
He concludes, "Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth. And for those concerned with my naked face, don’t worry... you haven’t seen the last of my facial hair."
Matisyahu in 2012: handlebar mustaches and zydeco?
Actually, the rapper has two albums in the works. Earlier this year, he talked to Billboard about "Akedah: Teaching to Love," an album recorded with his current touring band, Dub Trio, and based on the biblical story of Abraham preparing his son Isaac for sacrifice to God. He also has another album that he says is a more hip-hop-oriented set, which he told the magazine would be more Top 40 than alternative.
And to clarify that he's not turning his back on the Jewish faith, he followed up with the tweet: "For all of those who are being awesome, you are awesome. For all those who are confused: today I went to the Mikva and Shul just like yesterday."
Ever wonder what songs were buzzing through an artist's head before he finally created a recipe to make his own? It's a common question that's especially pertinent in the realm of Boom Bip's blatantly eclectic style of electro. For the last decade, Boom Bip mastermind Bryan Hollon has gained a reputation for reformatting his musical approach, working it through a lathe of creative ambition that can leave us either very appreciative or very confused.
In many ways, Boom Bip's full-length effort "Zig Zaj" seems par for the course. Encompassing a variety of ambient and in-your-face approaches, the album (released Tuesday on Lex Records) is flooded with strokes of harsh electronica, solemn jazz and New Wave that don't always sound as if they belong on the same track list. Luckily, Hollon has broken his influences down in very distinct fashion for us on his exclusive "Album Parallels Mix," a handpicked mix of songs by artists that inspired "Zig Zaj."
"This mix has been selected by the similarity in tone and placed in order corresponding to the tracks on the album," Hollon said in a statement accompanying the mix.
If Charlie Sheen's omnipresent catch word, "Winning," hasn't already reached pop culture overkill (repeated endlessly during TV interviews, radio spots, emblazoned on T-shirts, tweeted, Facebooked and becoming the basis for a multistate tour), he's got one more for you.
"Winning" (the song) hits the airwaves Tuesday. And while you'd be forgiven a reflex eye roll, the tune, penned and performed by Snoop Dogg with music by former Korn guitarist Rob Patterson, is no joke.
"Look, it's a good song," Patterson said, hours after wrapping up his final My Violent Torpedo of Truth tour performance alongside his longtime pal Sheen. "But I honestly don't want people to take it seriously. It's meant to be fun and entertaining."
Sheen put it a little more bluntly on his Twitter page.
"Get ready to rock the Sheenius," he said of the song.
On Thursday night, the Museum of Contemporary Art is asking L.A.'s drivers and ping-pong enthusiasts to unite in sonic solidairty. Starting at 7 p.m., MOCA’s "In Your Car" event invites the public to participate in two concurrent sound projects broadcasting on local radio frequencies. The gathering is the latest installment of “Engagement Party” by artistic on-air independent organization Neighborhood Public Radio. It's the latest in a litany of NPR's public events designed to give inspired, young artists chances to connect to their community using inventive, socially based works.
"Park Park Revolution" -- the first experiment for the event -- will be a collective composition “played” by cars parked in the lot surrounding the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. The lot will be divided into four sections, each with its own broadcast frequency. After being directed into parking spaces, drivers will be instructed to tune their radios and crank their volumes to create a collaborative quadraphonic wall of sound. Think of it like a really big surround sound system.
Simultaneously, the night's second event, "Ping Modulation," will put people’s ping-pong skills to artistic use. Paying homage to artist Robert Rauschenberg’s film about a similar 1966 performance art piece called “Open Score,” NPR will outfit ping-pong tables with contact microphones and sound processors.
Paddle-swinging players will match up in tournaments of table tennis while the noise of their play is fed into radio broadcasts that will turn their games into a collage of swats, pops and plunks. When each experiment matches up to play together, this crazy polyphonic symphony certainly will bring an unexpected and loud suprise to downtown dwellers.
When responses such as “abomination” and “worst song ever” are the most printable comments about a hit record like Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” you know it’s fully entered the realm of pop phenomenon.
But for anyone who’s surprised that this simple ditty has connected in a big way — the 13-year-old's relentlessly chipper YouTube video is about to cross the threshold of 66 million hits — don’t be.
Patrice Wilson, the entrepreneurial musician who wrote and produced Black’s record and created the video that quickly went viral, has been both praised as a pop genius and villified as the worst sort of exploiter of youthful dreams for charging Black and her family $2,000 for the whole package.
But if nothing else, this tune demonstrates unequivocal songwriting savvy: He tapped a song structure that’s embedded in our collective DNA, one that’s been the foundation of dozens, even hundreds of hit records over the last half a century.
“Friday,” you see, is “Heart and Soul” revisited. It uses that fundamental four-chord progression almost anyone who’s ever touched a piano keyboard has learned. It’s the basis of the most-played pop radio hit of all time, the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.”
On Thursday morning, Pop & Hiss received a quick little note relating to San Pedro bassist/Stooge/composer Mike Watt's most recent project, his third opera, "Hyphenated-Man." In the missive was a link to a video by an Irish painter, Norton Wisdon, and features the artist listening to Watt's opera while working. If you've got 15 minutes to see something beautiful while you drink your morning coffee, you probably won't regret it. (Note: the backing music for this clip isn't from "Hyphenated-Man," but one of Bach's "Goldberg Variations.")
The Times spoke to Watt last year while he was working on the opera. He described it thusly: "'Hyphenated-Man' is a voyage into the middle, without being all sappy about it. You played the game, but still you confront yourself: What is 'Man'? In middle-age you start asking yourself these questions, and it's not like you've gotta figure it out. But you're more open. There's more questions than answers."
When it came time to select a theme song for MTV’s upcoming adaptation of the hit British teen drama “Skins,” the network wanted to try something a bit unconventional. So in October the brass at the network quietly launched an almost off-the-grid campaign where undiscovered artists could submit original tracks for the series.
“[We] sort of recognized the disconnect between the broader face of music and the changing face of MTV,” said Joe Cuello, the network’s vice president of creative music integration. “There is still a great music story to be told, but it’s simply grown from just the music video. The question we were faced with was how do we take the MTV brand, and all of its shows, and connect it to the music?”
Instead of rolling out a glossy promotion to tout the contest MTV partnered with Our Stage, a site that allows unsigned acts to promote their music and compete for monthly competitions -- past winners have been awarded with opening slots for artists such as Drake and John Mayer, snagged stage time at Bonnaroo and secured mentoring sessions with industry giants.
Cuello said the network had been toying with the idea of crowd-sourcing music for quite some time but had been reluctant to utilize any one specific portal.
“We have so many music heads at MTV. We wanted to collect it in an organic way without any protocol,” he said. “[‘Skins’] as a brand already has this incredible music sensibility established. It’s about independent music and sort of left of center. In many ways it reflects the MTVU brand, or ‘120 Minutes.’”
“It’s about really cool independent music that can range from bands on independent labels, or in this case artists that are unsigned.”