The Greatest Artist You’ve Never Heard Of

What if I told you that there’s an artist that has been active since 1983, has over 100 songs that received airplay, is the only artist to ever have seven hits on Billboard’s Hot 100 at the same time, has been nominated for six Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, and seven Grammys (with one win)? Would you guess that this artist has a world-wide fan base and can fill any stadium, and is a household name?

You’d guess wrong. In fact, I’ll bet you’ve never heard of this artist. But chances are, you know and love most of her songs. Her name is Diane Warren. She can’t sing all that well. She couldn’t fill an auditorium. She has a tiny fan base and almost no notoriety outside the music industry.

She’s not a singer, not a member of a band, not a soloist. She’s a songwriter whose songs have enjoyed phenomenal success, starting with “Solitaire” in 1983 and continuing into the present day. She’s worked with too many artists to name.

She’s my favorite songwriter. And this post is my tribute to some of her best known songs. Continue reading “The Greatest Artist You’ve Never Heard Of”

Chicago: A Hard Habit to Break

In my previous post, I discussed a cassette tape that I made by taping it from the radio. Ironically, I made it with my friend Caleb, who (as an audiophile) would never deign to make a tape from the radio. The sound quality would never be up to his high standards.

For the second side of that tape, I copied the album Greatest Hits: 1982-1989 by Chicago. Chicago has always been a personal favorite, especially this particular album. I don’t care for much of what they’ve done before or since. Though I’d still like to see them in concert someday.

Most unfortunately, my ex-fiance and I considered this “our album.” We had planned on telling the DJ at our wedding that all of the songs from this album had to played at some point during the evening.

The first track is “Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Away.” Written by the usual teaming of Peter Cetera and David Foster (with Robert Lamm as well), it’s a power ballad with a short little ditty at the end. As good as this track is, the short-lived boy band Az Yet had the better version by far.

“Look Away” is written by Diane Warren, my favorite song writer; a living legend in the songwriting field. When I started listening to the old 93Q in Toledo (which is now an Oldies/Classic Rock station with a mundane lineup compared to the more raucous lineup, which included ESPN personality Steve Mason before he was famous), I remember this song specifically as one of my personal favorites.

I first heard this album in the car when my parents and I were on our way to some destination that I’ve forgotten. I also don’t remember which song that I heard first, but it hit me how much like this song the arrangements and vocals sounded. So I immediately put my book down and asked, “Is this the same group that sings ‘Stay the Night?'”

“Stay the Night” was a staple on the muzak when I worked at Taco Bell. I loved it. Which turned out to be a good thing because it was played repeatedly, usually two or three times per day.

My dad told gave me a resounding yes, and informed me that that very song was also on this album! I was excited and started to listen more intently to this album. As it happened, I liked all of the songs on it. Needless to say, I borrowed the tape from my dad to listen in my own car.

Eventually, I copied the tape onto the B side of the tape I had made with Caleb in the previous post. My ex bought an official cassette tape of this album as it became “our album.” I later bought a CD version, which I still have only because my wife doesn’t actually understand the significance of this album in the mythos of my ex and I.

Until she reads this, of course!

When my ex and I had broken up (one of the many, many, times that happened), to try to win her back I convinced her to come out in my car and I played her this power ballad, “Will You Still Love Me.” I don’t remember the circumstances of our breakup, but I know that I had somehow messed up big time. Therefore, its lyrics made a powerful point:

I am just a man who never understood / I never had a thing to prove / Till there was you / You and me / Then it all came clear so suddenly / How close to you that I wanna be

She took me back. I’m not sure, looking back on it, if that was for good or for ill. But it is what it is, I guess.

Despite the strong connection to my ex, this remains my favorite Chicago song of all time. I blast it whenever I hear it on the radio. My daughter seems to like it, so I guess she won’t mind if I keep blasting it. She need not know its significance in Daddy’s past.

Although I can’t remember which song was playing when I realized that I recognized at least one song from this album (“Stay the Night”), I’m almost sure it was this song.

I really have little to comment on this particular track. It was never my favorite, but I still enjoy hearing it. Not surprisingly, it was written by David Foster and Peter Cetera.

I’ve always thought it would be amusing to re-work secular pop music with Christian lyrics while leaving as much of the song in tact as you could. This would be a prime candidate for such a transformation:

Tell me, what kind of man would I be? / Living a life without any meaning? / And I know you could surely survive without me / But if I have to live without you / Tell me what kind of man would I be?

Of course, instead of a woman being the object of this song, it would be God. But, that would sort of contribute to the misconception that people go around raping and pillaging until they discover God, then they suddenly become good Christians and never commit another atrocity. We all know that’s false. I’ve already discussed the morality-ethics distinction on JCM, so I’m not getting into that here. I want to reminisce about old music.

Signature Chicago song: “You’re the Inspiration.” Perhaps another candidate for conversion into a song with Christian lyrics, assuming that you meant God to be the meaning in your life, and its inspiration.

The short-lived boy band Az Yet came out with a remake of “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” which featured back up vocals by Peter Cetera. Simultaneously, Cetera released a cover of this song with back up vocals by Az Yet.

“I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love” is the second of the two songs written by Diane Warren, this one with her former partner in crime Albert Hammond. Warren has had quite a string of chart toppers beginning in 1983, and this song was no exception. Good song.

If “Love Me Tomorrow” wasn’t the song playing when I realized that I knew some of the songs on this album, it was certainly this song. Of course the title of this post derives from this song, because Chicago is a hard habit for me to break. Especially this album. The songs are all so great.

Okay, I actually don’t like this song. NEXT!

I’ve been considering entering the realm of Christian fiction. As an apologist who argues that personal appearances of God mean something only to believers, I would never have God make a personal appearance to a character; rather, I would have the character realize the power of the Holy Spirit is directing his life in more subtle ways. That’s the way God works in real life. If I’m not mistaken, for all of the personal appearances of God recorded in the Bible, only one converted an unbeliever (Saul, and he actually believed in God himself, but not Jesus as Messiah).

This song is an example of how God works in mysterious ways. When a lover cheats, it’s a painful discovery. However, this song puts a positive spin on personal tragedy. The writer is glad (looking back) that his previous lover cheated, as it enabled him to meet someone much better for him: “If she would have been faithful / If she would have been true / Then I would have been cheated. . . .”

Also, let’s not forget that this song contains the best lyric of all time: “It’s a paradox / Full of contradictions.” I burst out laughing the first time I realized what was said.

If “Will You Still Love Me” is my favorite Chicago song of all time, then “We Can Last Forever” is my second favorite Chicago song of all time. I think I can first remember hearing it on the muzak when I worked at Taco Bell. Like “Stay the Night,” this was played quite frequently. The lyrics are nicely written (by then-Chicago newbie Jason Scheff with John Dexter) and the music is quite catchy.

And that’s my trip down memory lane with Chicago. What a great CD.

Voice Actors: the Unsung Heroes of Cartoons

When I first realized that I wanted to write for a living, I started paying closer attention to the creative teams behind the final movie product. I started noticing that many of the movies I loved were directed, written, or produced by the same people.

So I’ve been starting to pay more and more attention to how things function behind the scenes. Voice acting has recently interested me, so I’ve started paying attention to who voices characters that I like.

There are two types of people doing voice over work. The first are celebrities lending their voices to a project, usually to give it some recognition that it would otherwise not have. They are distinguished by the fact that they voice one character and use their normal voice. The original Transformers movie from the 80s had several examples: Judd Nelson voiced Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime, Robert Stack (the Unsolved Mysteries guy) voiced Ultra Magnus, Leonard Nimoy voiced Galvatron, and the inimitable Orson Welles voiced Unicron.

The second type are professional voice over artists. They usually voice a half-dozen or more characters, many with a voice that sounds nothing like their own. The original 80s Filmation He-Man and She-Ra cartoons featured a cast of thousands of characters, yet only five voice-over artists were predominate. John Erwin, Alan Oppenheimer, Linda Gary, and executive producer Lou Schiemer (credited as Erik Gunden) literally voiced all of the characters in the show.

However, those who pay careful attention to voice-over artists may notice something interesting. Occasionally, the voice-over artist resembles the character they portray!

For example, Erika Scheimer voiced the mighty Queen Angela in the She-Ra series. Compare Scheimer with Angela. They look quite a bit alike. They both have blonde hair cut to about the same length, they both have the same body type and face shape.

Personally, I think that Erika Scheimer voiced Queen Angela closest to her own voice, though my wife thinks that Queen Marlena is closer to Erika’s original voice.

Then, there’s the unquestionable resemblance between Woody and Tom Hanks. Both are thin, both have brownish hair, both have similar body language. Makes me wonder if the Pixar folks cast Tom Hanks before they had a clear conception of Woody, and then based Woody’s appearance on Tom Hanks.

Or, if they had a clear conception of Woody but modified the conception to more closely resemble Tom Hanks once the latter was cast. Either is a plausible scenario.

Finally, this literally has nothing to do with voice artists, but isn’t anyone else creeped out by the resemblance of the sitting pope to Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars? I noticed it a while ago but never said anything (save for clipping the pope’s picture out of a newspaper and adding the Force lightning from his fingertips as a joke at work). But seriously. It’s eerie.

An Afternoon With an Old Friend Nets Forgotten 90s Tracks

My friend Caleb was always more persistent in our friendship. He fought for the friendship harder than I did. In many ways, his de-conversion from Christianity could have been prevented if I had been more persistent in working through the issues with him, challenging him when he started to drift.

One day, Caleb called me up and invited me over to his house. Mostly as an excuse not to go, I told him that I had planned to stay home and listen to Rick Dees and the Weekly Top 40 to record some music. (I had a habit of recording music off the radio; Caleb, a self-described audiophile, wouldn’t deign to such a pedestrian way to obtain music since the playback would be atrocious.) He suggested that I come over and do that at his place, since he had the better stereo system. How could I say no to that?

So we spent the afternoon listening to Dees spin the hits for that particular week. We talked as the hits played. I don’t remember about what. I think he showed me his Star Wars collection at one point. It was extensive back then. As I recall, I ended up having a lot of fun. I can’t remember if we talked about making that a weekly appointment, but I have no other radio recordings made at Caleb’s house.

Recently, I found that tape and gave it a listen in the car as I ran various errands today. I’m glad Caleb and I made the tape, because it contains many songs from the 90s that are quite good, and I would have completely forgotten if it weren’t for this tape! Continue reading “An Afternoon With an Old Friend Nets Forgotten 90s Tracks”

Did Nate Dogg and Warren G Have to Regulate?

The song “Regulate” by rappers Warren G and Nate Dogg is a pure adolescent male fantasy. Cruising the town without a real agenda, meeting some hot women, intimidating some obvious bad men, then taking the girls to a sleazy motel for a party that would entail what Judge Mathis frequently sarcastically labels “Bible study.”

In 1994, as a senior in high school, I could share that sort of fantasy. Even if I didn’t much care for rap. But that was a rare gem among rap music, earning two Grammy nominations in 1995.

One lyric from the song always amused me. “Nate Dogg and Warren G had to regulate.” Had to, Nate raps. As in, “there was no other way, we had to ‘regulate.'” Of course, in this song, as the introductory spoken words indicate, “regulate” is code for killing people.

At first blush, it might be self defense. After all, Warren G rapped just moments ago “They got guns to my head / I think I’m going down.” These thugs just relieved him of his “wealth:” “They took my rings / They took my Rolex / I looked at the brotha said, ‘Damn, what’s next?'”

Clearly, they outnumber Warren. Nate says, “They got my homey hemmed up and they all around.” We can see what the intent of these thugs happens to be. They took a lot of jewelry and an expensive watch. They don’t want witnesses, so Warren is about to get lead poisoning.

The problem is that the legal standard for self defense is to only use what force is necessary to stop the attack. After Nate appears with his gun drawn, that is so intimidating that a gang of thugs armed with guns of their own hadto flee (see what I mean about the adolescent fantasy?). Nate says, “Now they dropping and yelling / It’s a tad bit late / Nate Dogg and Warren G had to regulate.” It is reasonable to assume that they are running away at this point.

It is only after this gang of toughs attempt flee the scene that Nate Dogg opens fire and “lay[s] them bustas down.” It stopped being a self defense situation when the thugs ran away with tails between legs. This means that Nate Dogg and Warren G just described a clear-cut homicide. In a Grammy-nominated song that went to number 2 on the U.S. music charts, #22 on the end of the year Billboard chart, and was rated #98 on VH1’s Top 100 Greatest Hip Hop Songs.

So far as I can tell, I’m the first to raise this issue and the song’s been out for sixteen years. This is proof of both the declining moral situation in the United States (which is a subject best left for Josiah Concept Ministries), and of the fact that no one really listens to song lyrics.