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9 Tracks With Facts: An Independence Day Playlist

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Your guests will delight in these American classics, and you can serve them bits of musical Americana, one song at a time.

1. "Star-Spangled Banner," Jimi Hendrix

Fact: Paul Allen (of Microsoft fame) now owns the white Stratocaster guitar on which Hendrix performed his famous rendition of the National Anthem at Woodstock.

2. "America," Neil Diamond

Fact: This was the theme song for Michael Dukakis’s 1988 presidential campaign.

3. "American Pie," Don McLean

Fact: Your guests will already be aware that the song was inspired by the tragic deaths of musicians Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper in a plane crash on February 3, 1959, also known as “The Day The Music Died.” But throw in a lesser-known tidbit: Don McLean was a 13-year-old paperboy on that day and learned the news the next morning when he opened his morning stack of papers and saw it on the front page.

4. "Firework," Katy Perry

Fact: The inspiration for the song came, in part, from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. The passage that inspired her:

"…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'"

5. "Pink Houses," John Mellencamp

Fact: In 1984, MTV bought a pink house in Indiana to give away as a part of a promotion associated with the Mellencamp single. In addition to the house, the winner received a pink Jeep full of Hawaiian Punch and Mellencamp grilled and jammed for her and some friends at her housewarming party.

6. "American Girl," Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Fact: The band recorded the track on the 4th of July, 1976.

7. "Living in America," James Brown

Fact: Many know it as Apollo Creed’s anthem from Rocky IV (get the MF Balboa/Creed t-shirt here) but they may not know that, despite being unfamiliar territory for Brown (singing a song someone else had written and doing so specifically for a film), it earned him a Grammy and was his second biggest hit—second only to “I Feel Good,” which he recorded 20 years earlier. Another fun tidbit: Weird Al Yankovic recorded a parody version of this number entitled “Living with a Hernia.”

8. "God Bless the U.S.A.," Lee Greenwood

Fact: A crowd-pleaser from its inception, when Greenword first introduced the song into his shows, he featured it in the middle of the show simply because it was new. After two weeks, the audience reactions to the songs forced Greenwood to move it to the end of the show as his encore. In his own words, “I couldn’t follow it.”

9. "The Star-Spangled Banner," Whitney Houston Super Bowl XXV version OR Beyonce 2012 presidential inauguration version

Fact: Everyone was in a tizzy when we learned that B lip-synced her inauguration version of the anthem, but the oft-praised 1991 Super Bowl performance by Whitney Houston was also pre-recorded. Whitney sang, but the microphone was off and the audience, both in Tampa and at home, heard a taped version. Bottom line: they are both amazing. Take your pick. You can’t go wrong, here.

Whitney:

Beyonce:

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Pop Culture
How Phil Collins Accidentally Created the Sound That Defined 1980s Music
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Unless your technical knowledge of music runs deep, you may have never heard the phrase “gated reverb.” But you’ve definitely heard the effect in action: It’s that punchy snare drum sound that first gained traction in music in the 1980s. If you can play the drum beat from “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince or “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen in your head, you know what sound we’re referring to.

But that iconic element of pop might not have emerged if it wasn’t for Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. As Vox lays out in its new video, the discovery was made in 1979 during the studio recording of Peter Gabriel’s self-titled third solo album (often called Melt because of its cover art). Gabriel’s Genesis bandmate Phil Collins was playing the drums as usual when his beats were accidentally picked up by the microphone used by audio engineers to talk to the band. That microphone wasn’t meant to record music—its heavy compressors were designed to turn down loud sounds while amplifying quiet ones. The equipment also utilized a noise gate, which meant the recorded sounds were cut off shortly after they started. The result was a bright, fleeting percussive sound unlike anything heard in popular music.

Gabriel loved the effect, and made it the signature sound on the opening track of his album. A year later, Collins featured it in his hit single “In the Air Tonight,” perhaps the most famous example of gated reverb to date.

The sound would come to define music of the 1980s and many contemporary artists continue to use it today. Get the full history of gated reverb below.

[h/t Vox]

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entertainment
‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ Could Have Been a Meat Loaf Song
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Imagine a world in which Bonnie Tyler was not the star performer on the Royal Caribbean Total Eclipse Cruise. Imagine if, instead, as the moon crossed in front of the sun in the path of totality on August 21, 2017, the performer belting out the 1983 hit for cruise ship stargazers was Meat Loaf?

It could have been. Because yes, as Atlas Obscura informs us, the song was originally written for the bestselling rocker (and actor) of Bat Out of Hell fame, not the husky-voiced Welsh singer. Meat Loaf had worked on his 1977 record Bat Out of Hell with Jim Steinman, the composer and producer who would go on to work with the likes of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand (oddly enough, he also composed Hulk Hogan’s theme song on an album released by the WWE). “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was meant for Meat Loaf’s follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell.

But Meat Loaf’s fruitful collaboration with Steinman was about to end. In the wake of his bestselling record, the artist was going through a rough patch, mentally, financially, and in terms of his singing ability. And the composer wasn’t about to stick around. As Steinman would tell CD Review magazine in 1989 (an article he has since posted on his personal website), "Basically I only stopped working with him because he lost his voice as far as I was concerned. It was his voice I was friends with really.” Harsh, Jim, harsh.

Steinman began working with Bonnie Tyler in 1982, and in 1983, she released her fifth album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It sold 6 million copies.

Tyler and Steinman both dispute that the song was written specifically for Meat Loaf. “Meat Loaf was apparently very annoyed that Jim gave that to me,” she told The Irish Times in 2014. “But Jim said he didn’t write it for Meat Loaf, that he only finished it after meeting me.”

There isn’t a whole lot of bad blood between the two singers, though. In 1989, they released a joint compilation album: Heaven and Hell.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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