With the recent flurry of fascinating documentaries about underappreciated musicians that started with last year's Oscar-winning Searching For Sugar Man, you might be wondering where to start with these artists' discographies. Here's the lowdown on five artists whose stories have recently played out on the big screen.
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me told the story of one of the finest bands of the 1970s, Anglophile power pop geniuses from Memphis whose career was hampered by record label incompetence and intra-band squabbles. The star-crossed Big Star Third, recorded by guitarist Alex Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens after the rest of the band had left, is justifiably considered the band's masterpiece. But that album's inebriated darkness makes a little more sense after hearing the first two, #1 Record (the only Big Star album to feature co-founder Chris Bell) and the near-perfect Radio City. Those two are available on a single CD on Fantasy Records. Or you can get the 2009 box set Keep An Eye on the Sky (Rhino Records), a four-disc behemoth heavy on the alternate mixes, outtakes and live tracks.
One of the focal points of the joyous Twenty Feet From Stardom, Darlene Love was the secret weapon of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. Literally, in some cases: The Crystals' 1962 #1 hit "He's A Rebel" was sung not by The Crystals themselves, but by Love and her group The Blossoms. The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love (Sony Legacy) gathers the finest of Love's work for Spector, including that incognito hit but not, annoyingly, her signature song "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." If you're interested in The Blossoms' non-Spector work, the fantastic U.K. reissue label Ace Records hits the high points on So Much Love: A Darlene Love Anthology 1958-1968.
The other standout of Twenty Feet From Stardom, powerhouse soul goddess Merry Clayton is best known for her thundering vocals on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," which was also the title track of her 1969 solo debut album. Though that LP and its three follow-ups are all long out of print, the recently released The Best of Merry Clayton (Sony Legacy) documents these excellent pre-disco R&B discs. It also includes her other best known track, "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow," which was used as the theme for Robert Blake's '70s cop series Baretta. So both Clayton and Love were professionally connected to famous men who were later convicted for murder. Weird.
The fascinating (though, some have charged, not entirely factual) documentary Searching For Sugar Man unexpectedly revitalized the career of a man who had been one of rock's most obscure cult figures, Detroit-born singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez. An inner-city version of Bob Dylan or Phil Ochs with a soulful, haunted voice, Rodriguez released two albums in the early 1970s, Cold Fact and Coming From Reality. Several years before Searching For Sugar Man came out, the estimable reissue label Light In The Attic Records resurrected both albums in digital, CD and sumptuous vinyl editions. Both are excellent, but 1970's Cold Fact slightly gets the edge for the creepily gorgeous "Sugar Man," a paean to the neighborhood drug dealer that remains his best-known song.
The most obscure act of the lot, Death were a mid-'70s hard rock trio consisting of three teenage African-American brothers (like Rodriguez, from Detroit) whose self-released 1975 single "Politicians In My Eyes" was for years a holy grail of underground punk collectors. The brothers Hackney only recorded seven songs during the band's lifetime, all of which can be found on the 2009 compilation ...For The Whole World To See (Drag City Records). As seen in the intimate film A Band Called Death, bassist/singer Bobby Hackney's three sons have their own punk band Rough Francis, named after a short-lived pseudonym of their late uncle David Hackney, Death's guitarist. Rough Francis just self-released their debut album Maximum Soul Power.
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It's all about Madonna. The Material Girl was voted the greatest woman in music history in a recent VH1 poll--and it's not surprising. Madonna is the most successful female chart act of all time with worldwide sales of more than 140 million records. VH1 also reports that Madonna's title track to the upcoming James Bond pic Die Another Day will debut Oct. 7. The video for the tune, which was shot in Los Angeles earlier this month, features the 44-year-old pop diva in death-defying situations, including being strapped into an electric chair and having her head held underwater by double agents. Madonna also has deadly bowler hats flung at her by the nephew of Harold Sakata--the Oddjob character from Goldfinger. The soundtrack to the film, which features seminal house DJ Paul Oakenfold, will be released Nov. 12. Die Another Day, starring Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry, hits theaters Nov. 22.
Jurasssic Park author Michael Crichton and his 13-year-old daughter were bound and robbed by two masked men who broke into their Santa Monica home at about 5 a.m. Monday, Reuters reports. Crichton and his daughter were able to untie themselves and call police once the gunmen left. A spokesman for the writer said Crichton and his daughter were unharmed by the armed men, who stole undisclosed personal items.
Freddy Got Fingered producer Lauren Lloyd has joined Columbia Pictures' Easy Rider A.D., the sequel to the 1969 classic starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson. According to Variety, the sequel picks up with Wyatt "Captain America" Earp in prison, falsely accused of the murder of George Hanson. A new charcter sets out to prove his innocence. Shooting is set to begin next spring.
Bob Geldof and his production company Castaway Productions, Ltd., which owns the worldwide rights to Survivor, are suing the makers of a TV show that stranded B-list celebrities in the Australian bush, claiming they stole the idea from the hit CBS show, The Associated Press reports. Legal proceedings began yesterday against Granada and London Weekend Television, the makers of I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! The show stranded eight celebs in the Australian jungle, where they survived on rice and water as viewers voted them off one by one.
Minnie Driver is going to have a U.S. TV series built around her next year, Reuters reports. NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zuckersaid Thursday the series is set for the 2003-2004 season, but neither the network nor the actress has a firm concept for the series yet.
One of the most legendary unreleased tracks in rock history surfaced on the nation's airwaves this week. Nirvana's "You Know You're Right," recorded in January 1994--three months before singer Kurt Cobain killed himself--was finally aired after a long fight between surviving Nirvana members Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Cobain's widow Courtney Love over the band's legacy. It remains unclear how the song finally aired, but several radio stations said they obtained it when first surfaced on the Internet, Reuters reports.
A deal could be reached as early as today in the breach of contract case between Courtney Love and Universal Music. The case is set to go to trial next week, but sources told Reuters negotiations had concluded and the deal was just waiting to be signed by both sides. The case goes back to December 1999 when Love decided to stop recording for Geffen, the Universal Music label named in the suit. Geffen/Universal sued Love for five undelivered albums in 2001 and Love countersued the same year.
A judge has decided that a former personal assistant who wrote a tell-all book about John Lennon was bound by a confidentiality agreement, AP reports. The ruling, according Yoko Ono's lawyer, will prevent Frederic Seaman "from future exploitation of the Lennon family." Ono sued Seaman--who pleaded guilty to second-degree larceny in 1983 for stealing Lennon's diaries--in 1999, claiming he exploited the musician's death by stealing priceless family photos and selling them to collectors.