Music Feed

The Death of Songbird Karen Carpenter (February 4, 1983)




Singer Karen Carpenter died on Feb. 4, 1983, one month shy of her 33rd birthday (the Post headline has her age wrong).  She died from heart failure brought on by the strain of weight gain after struggling with anorexia (which at the time was a relatively new medical condition).  She and her older brother Richard formed the popular singing duo known as "The Carpenters".  Besides singing, Karen also played the drums. The Carpenters had twelve top-10 hits in the first half  of the 1970s, beginning with Close to You, then quickly followed by We've Only Just Begun, and Merry Christmas, Darling.  In addition to their initial burst of hits, other favorite Carpenters songs of mine include For All We Know, Top of the World and Touch Me When We're Touching (and an honorable mention goes to Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft!).




Gay men seem to be drawn to Karen, but why?  Perhaps it was the pretty songs she sang about love and heartache that "sensitive" boys could identify with.  Or was it the gender incongruity of Karen expertly playing the drums while singing so beautifully (and often while wearing a gown)?  Seeing Karen sitting behind the drums made her different from "girlie" girls, almost like a big sister. 





The first 45-single I ever bought was the Carpenters' Rainy Days & Mondays in the summer of 1971.  Back then I had no clue about my sexual orientation, but a survey of my album collection was certainly an indicator.  In addition to the Carpenters you'd find Carly Simon, Carole King, Bette Midler and ABBA.  




Finally, on Jan. 1, 1989 a TV movie about Karen's life, The Karen Carpenter Story aired on CBS.  It was the third highest rated TV movie of the 1980s.   

Beyonce Sings National Anthem at Super Bowl (February 1, 2004)

Beyonce_at_superbowlXXXVIII Since Super Bowl XXXVIII (Feb. 1, 2004) was being played in her hometown of Houston, 23-year-old Beyonce Knowles was invited to sing the National Anthem.  Not surprisingly, she looked beautiful and did a faaabulous job (I rank it up there with Cher's and Jennifer Hudson's renditions). 


However, Beyonce's performance has been long forgotten by most because this was the Super Bowl that witnessed the infamous Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake "wardrobe malfunction" (which, ten years later, still reverberates).  I may have been one of the few persons watching the game who missed this incident as I was in the kitchen washing dishes.  However, I did see Beyonce make Houston proud.   




Beyonce_superbowl2Happily, nine years later Beyonce received a lot more attention when she was chosen to provide the halftime entertainment at Super Bowl XLVII and wowed viewers with her Victoria's Secret meets dominatrix outfit.

Barry Manilow Sings "National Anthem" at Super Bowl (January 22, 1984)

Young_barry_manilow Female vocalists asked to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl have outnumbered male vocalists by 2:1.  This select group of male singers includes Barry Manilow, who was given the honor in 1984 at Super Bowl XVIII - the same Super Bowl made memorable for airing Apple's famous "1984" TV commercial that introduced the company's new Macintosh computer.  (Beyonce's singing of the Anthem in 2004 was similarly overshadowed - by the scandalous "Nipplegate" incident during halftime.) 


(Unfortunately, the clip of BM's performance that used to be in this space is no longer available.)


In addition to Manilow, other male singers who've sung the Star Spangled Banner include Neil Diamond; Billy Joel (twice); Aaron Neville (once solo, once w/Aretha Franklin); Harry Connick, Jr.; and Garth Brooks.  Other divas have included Cher; Diana Ross; Whitney Houston; Mariah Carey; Jennifer Hudson - and Luther Vandross (in 1997).      

Madonna Performs on "American Bandstand" (January 14, 1984)

Madonna_on_americanbandstand Believe it or not, there was a time when Madonna was unknown, but on Jan. 14, 1984 the 25-year-old fledgling megastar gained mainstream exposure when she appeared on American Bandstand.  She kissed Dick Clark's ring and lip-synched her song Holiday, which had entered Billboard's Top-40 a month earlier - her first single to do so.  Although it's now a classic, it wasn't one of her more successful singles as it peaked at only #16.  However, thirty-seven top-10 hits would follow (twelve of which went to #1).  When Clark asked Madonna what her plans were for the future her very prescient reply was "to rule the world".  To view this 5-minute clip, double click here.


Madonna_firstalbum I bought my first Madonna single, Everybody, a year earlier in January 1983, one of her few not to crack the top-40. (I also remember hearing her being interviewed on the radio back then.)  And during the spring of 1984 I bought a 12-inch version of Burning Up, a song that wasn't released as a single but was popular in gay clubs.  For some reason I never got around to buying her first album.  




The Village People Appear on "American Bandstand" (January 6, 1979)

Villagepeople.americanbandstandThe mainstreaming of gay culture began on the afternoon of Jan. 6, 1979 when the Village People performed their hit song YMCA on American Bandstand (the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for pop music).  Then in April they would crash that bastion of rock'n roll, Rolling Stone magazine, by appearing on its cover.  Having the Village People embraced by the general public was similar to when Wonder Bread came out with a line of whole wheat bread.  Indeed, their Bandstand appearance may have been the beginning of gay culture infiltrating the mainstream - the song made it all the way to #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.  Such acceptance by the masses was what conservative politicians and the religious right feared (and was one of the driving forces behind the rise of the "Moral Majority").  




Was the public so benighted that the innuendo-laden message of this and other VP songs such as Macho Man and In the Navy completely eluded them?  (Then again I was also surprised that the "milk mustache" campaign took off because from the very start I thought it had a pornographic connotation.)  Or had they suddenly developed an appreciation of "camp"?  Whatever was behind it, their fascination faded the following year when the Village People "jumped the shark" by appearing in the dreadful movie Can't Stop the Music (co-starring Bruce Jenner, long before plastic surgery).





This movie fiasco can't take away from the accomplishment of our merry band of troubadours in introducing some gay culture into the zeitgeist of mainstream America.  

"Like a Virgin" is Madonna's First #1 Song (December 18, 1984)

Like_a_virgin Madonna's first single, Borderline, peaked at #16 on Billboard's Hot 100 in 1983.  The next, Holiday, went to #10 and was followed by Lucky Star which rose to #4.  Then during the week of Dec. 18, 1984 her fourth single, Like a Virgin, went all the way to #1 (on Billboard's Hot 100) - where it stayed for six weeks.  Virgin was the first of her twelve singles to top the charts in the U.S. (Altogether she's had 37 top-10 hits - more than any female artist).  It was her risque live performance of Like a Virgin at MTV's 1st Music Video Awards in 1984 (she rolled about the stage wearing a wedding dress) that propelled her to superstardom.  (Click here to watch it.)  Three other singles from the Like a Virgin LP were top-5 hits:  Material Girl (#2); Angel (#5); and Dress You Up (#5).  


Olivia Newton John Muscles "Physical" to the Top of the Charts (Nov. 16, 1981)

81_physical_98 Olivia Newton John has had a kangaroo's pouch worth of hits during her career.  And by far the biggest was Physical, which began its first of 10 weeks atop Billboard's "Hot 100" the week of Nov. 16, 1981.  The song created controversy because, despite its catchy bubblegum beat, its lyrics were suggestive - at least by 1981 standards (this was the same year Sheena Easton's saccharine-sweet Morning Train was a big hit!).


Sure, salacious songs weren't uncommon in the R&B, disco or rock genres, but top-40 pop was a different matter.  Some parents were a bit unsettled to hear little Sally innocently singing lyrics like, "there's nothin' left to talk about unless it's horizontally".  But despite the song being stigmatized as "raunch pop" by some, Billboard Magazine reported it was the most popular song of the 80s.  (Nearly 30 years later ONJ appeared in an episode of Glee in its first season and performed Physical with Sue Sylvester.) 


A part of the song that still sticks with me was a wolf howling in the background as Olivia sang "let's get animal, animal".  However, after buying the album I was surprised to discover that the howling was added by the radio station I listened to, New York's WKTU.  In addition to the racy lyrics the accompanying video had a gay twist at the end.  This didn't create much of a stir, probably because cable penetration was still very low (MTV had been on the air for just four months) and 24/7 digital media (such as You Tube) was still a generation away. 





Xanadu And although I like the song just fine, it's not one of my favorite ONJ efforts.  So what are my top 5?  They are: Deeper Than the Night (it just missed the top-10 on the Billboard Hot 100); Xanadu (a cheesy delight); A Little More Love (sexy but not blatantly so like Physical); If You Love Me Love Me Know (one of her first); and Hopelessly Devoted to You (always brings back memories from the movie Grease of Sandy singing it while looking into the wading pool as the face of John Travolta's character Danny appears - ah, young love!). 


Diana_ross_muscles A year later Diana Ross released the single Muscles (written and produced by Michael Jackson), which also had masculine physicality as its theme.  However, unlike Physical, it was slinkier and more sensual - and nowhere near the mainstream hit Physical was (it peaked at #10).  But its "camp" factor made it very popular among "the gays".  




Jacques Morali, Creator of "The Village People", Dies of AIDS (November 15, 1991)

Jacques-MoraliFrench music producer Jacques Morali, creator of the Village People, succumbed to AIDS in Paris on November 15, 1991 at the age of 44.  Besides the Village People, Morali also wrote classic disco hits for the all-female group the Ritchie Family, including Best Disco in Town, Life Is Music and African Queens.  Morali died one week after Magic Johnson announced he was HIV+ and a week-and-a-half before Queens' Freddie Mercury died of AIDS.


Part of the burgeoning gay scene of the late '70s, The Village People were embraced by gay men with the release of their song San Francisco/Hollywood.  Despite lyrics filled with gay double entendres they crossed over to the general market, which got a kick out of the group's "camp pop".  First came Macho Man followed by the ubiquitous YMCA, which spent three weeks at #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 in the winter of 1979.  Their third album Go West was released in the spring and the single In the Navy went to #3.  Rolling Stone Magazine even put them on its coverHowever, overexposure soon ensued and the group "jumped the shark" in 1980 with their embarrassingly bad movie Can't Stop the Music.




The late '70s happened to be my formative coming-out years.  I bought the Village People's eponymous first album (right) during the spring of my junior year at Penn State.  I'd get a frisson of excitement listening to the lyrics of songs such as Key West and Fire Island - places I'd yet to experience.  The dorm complex I lived at in University Park was where many members of the football team lived and some on my floor occasionally asked to borrow this LP for parties. 




Unfortunately, Village People videos from You Tube aren't available for sharing but here's one of the Ritchie Family performing African Queens.  From it you can see/hear the origins of the Village People sound/costuming.






The Beginning of Leonard Bernstein's Ascent (November 14, 1943)




On Nov. 14, 1943 25-year-old Leonard Bernstein became the first American to conduct the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  At the time Bernstein was the assistant conductor and was called upon at the last minute (without the benefit of rehearsal) to fill in for the conductor who had been taken ill with the flu.  The concert was at Carnegie Hall and broadcast to a national radio audience.  13 months later Bernstein showed off another talent when On the Town opened on Broadway, a show for which he composed the music. 


Like other gay men of his generation (e.g., Stephen Sondheim, Edward Albee, Malcolm Forbes, Philip Johnson) Bernstein led a discreet personal life that was largely kept from the public eye.  To learn more about Bernstein, both professionally and privately, the blog Gay For Today does a good job of covering all the bases.  And, of course, Amazon has a huge inventory of all things Bernstein.

Cole Porter Seriously Hurt In Horseback Riding Accident (October 24, 1937)

Cole_porter_at_pianoIn the summer of 1937 the nation lost the brilliant composer George Gershwin to a brain tumor at the age of 38.  Then just three months later tragedy struck another renowned American songwriter when 46-year-old Cole Porter's legs were crushed in a horseback riding accident.  He was riding with friends at a country club near Oyster Bay, Long Island on October 24, 1937 when the accident occurred.  (1937 also saw the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and the death of blonde bombshell Jean Harlow.)


Coleporter_sepiaKissmekateThe accident left Porter crippled and in constant pain for the rest of his life (he died in 1964).  However, despite the challenges posed by this debilitating accident he continued working and wrote classics such as From This Moment On; I Love Paris; Begin the Beguine; and the score to the Broadway musical Kiss Me Kate.  


Jack_cassidyIn the summer of 2013 actress Shirley Jones (The Music Man; The Partridge Family) published her memoir, and in one chapter she discussed the homoerotic dalliance her ex-husband, actor Jack Cassidy, had with Porter after his accident.  As she tells it, Cassidy would make Porter crawl to him if he wanted to service Cassidy and his legendary huge cock.