For more than 30 years, Aerosmith has defined American Rock ‘n’ Roll. Just a brief overview of their remarkable career is truly mind-boggling: over 100 million albums sold, countless awards (Grammys, American Music Awards, Billboard Awards, MTV Awards), and a diehard fan-base numbering in the millions worldwide. As the band embarks on yet another world tour to support the group’s 25th release, Honkin’ On Bobo, the members of Aerosmith remain creatively vital, and are the platinum standard for artistic and commercial success in the music business. Through it all they have defeated the odds, silenced their critics and have undeniably withstood the test of time.
It began almost by chance back in 1969, in of all places, Sunapee, New Hampshire. Drummer/singer Steven Tyler, then fronting a New York City band called Chain Reaction, dropped into the local dive, a club called the Barn, to check out The Jam Band featuring guitarist Joe Perry and bassist Tom Hamilton. Steven was blown away; “The energy was just so intense. I looked and it was like Joe Perry was the electric guitar. If I can put that energy together with something that my father gave me, that classical influence, we might have something.” By the next year, the three had joined forces. They recruited Tyler’s old Yonkers buddy, drummer Joey Kramer, and christened the new band “Aerosmith,” though one key slot remained open. Brad Whitford was a talented young guitarist from the Boston area who seemed destined to round out the Aerosmith line-up. “The first time I played with Brad, it just seemed to work.” says Joe Perry. “The chemistry was right.”

Brad climbed aboard, and with the legendary line-up now in place, the quintet soon set to work establishing their reputation for fiery live shows and bad behavior. Sharing an apartment in Boston at 1325 Commonwealth Ave, the band lived and breathed their music. It was a time when the only sure things in life were the threat of eviction and their shared determination to rock the world. But as their reputation grew, it seemed only a matter of time.

Their time came in 1972 in NYC, the night the band played the legendary Max’s Kansas City Club. In the audience that night was the famed record exec Clive Davis himself, who was so impressed with Aerosmith that he signed them to Columbia Records on the spot. Remembers Tyler, “After the show, Clive Davis put his arm around me, gave me a little squeeze and said (as immortalized in the Aerosmith song, “No Surprize”): ‘Steven, you’re gonna be a big star.'” They soon released their debut self-titled album, Aerosmith, and took to the road to spread the word, and spread they did. They toured relentlessly over the next two years, taking time off only to record their follow up LP, Get Your Wings, which went gold. Aerosmith was on the way, it seemed as though nothing could stop them.

1975 saw the band back in the studio working on their watershed album Toys In the Attic. Joe Perry: “When we started to Make Toys In the Attic, our confidence was built up from constant touring.” “Toys” was a breakthrough album for Aerosmith, selling in the millions. According to Tom Hamilton, “We knew this album would launch the band like a missile ¡­ it was an incredible time.” The momentum continued with the 1976 release of Rocks. The band turned a significant creative and commercial corner in this era. The hits came fast and furious: “Last Child,” “Sweet Emotion,” “Back in the Saddle,” “Walk This Way,” plus the surprise re-released smash “Dream On,” an overlooked gem from their first album. Their endless roadwork paid off in platinum and exploded into sold-out pandemonium culminating with massive crowds of over 80,000 at the legendary Texxas Jam ’78, and to a sea of over 350,000 at the famous CAL Jam in 1978. Aerosmith’s status as one of the most popular live acts of the decade was achieved by word of mouth alone, a fact that was hard to swallow for the radio programmers, and the press who had somehow missed the boat on the Aerosmith phenomenon.

It wasn’t long before the intoxicating pace of rock stardom took its toll. The fire that had fueled them began to burn them from within. “We were drug addicts dabbling in music rather than musicians dabbling in drugs,” recalls Joe Perry. As the decade drew to a close, half-hearted albums (1977’s Draw the Line and ’79’s Night In the Ruts), canceled performances, and internal strife dogged the band and began to weaken them at their core. After a final dressing room blowout in July 1979, Joe Perry announced his departure from the group to form The Joe Perry Project. Brad Whitford followed suit shortly thereafter to form Whitford-St. Holmes. The remaining 3 members soldiered on to eke out 1982’s Rock In a Hard Place, but the magic was gone. Says Joey Kramer: “I wish somebody would have smacked us back then. But we were one of the biggest bands in the world. There was literally no one who could tell us anything.” By the early 1980s, Aerosmith was all but over.

Brad Whitford: “People kept coming up to me and saying, “‘When are you guys getting back together?’ I just told them, ‘When Steven and Joe bury the hatchets.'” Remarkably, the ice slowly began to thaw over the next few years, and in 1984, Perry and Whitford rejoined the group, and Aerosmith hit the road for the Back in the Saddle Tour. “We paved the road so to speak,” said Tyler. “So why not get in our cars and drive down it again.” In 1985 they signed a new record deal with Geffen Records and released Done With Mirrors, but things really began to take off in ’86 with a most unusual collaboration. At the suggestion of Def Jam’s Rick Rubin, Aerosmith and the groundbreaking hip-hop band Run DMC “walked their way” into rock ‘n’ roll history by remaking the classic, “Walk This Way.” The experiment was a success, giving rise to a massive hit single and video that redefined MTV, not to mention, putting Aerosmith back on the map for good. The song’s timeless, groovacious, rhythm-driven lyric became the landmark hybrid of rap and rock that has stood the test of time as evidenced most recently by Eminem’s and Dr. Dre’s master mix of “Dream On” into “Sing For The Moment.”

The success of the “Walk This Way” remix with Run DMC sparked the same determination in the band that won them their first fame more than a decade earlier. Refocused, locked and loaded, they released 1987’s Permanent Vacation. It was just the first in a string of chart-topping releases that brought them more fame, success, and accolades than ever before. Their videos tormented the censors and raised the bar for music video excellence and controversy with the hot, edgy “Dude Looks Like a Lady,” “Angel” and “Rag Doll.” Never one to rest on their laurels, Aerosmith answered with 1989’s mega smash Pump, which spawned hits “Love in an Elevator,” “Janie’s Got a Gun,” “The Other Side,” and “What it Takes.”

Proving that it’s not all about Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ roll, Aerosmith made a statement of unyielding support for America’s First Amendment right for freedom of speech in 1992 when they stood up to defend and restore funding for a sexually explicit art exhibit at the List Visual Arts Center at MIT, whose original support was rescinded by the federal government. That same year, the band participated in campaigns for MTV’s Rock the Vote, including the organization’s groundbreaking massive national TV campaign encouraging America’s youth to vote in the 1992 Presidential election.

The band’s first musical offering of the nineties was the 13 million-selling Get a Grip, again loaded with radio slam dunks: “Livin’ on the Edge,” “Cryin’,” “Eat the Rich,” “Crazy,” “Amazing.” Nine Lives followed in 1997, debuting at #1 on the Billboard charts, and boasted the hit singles “Pink” and “Falling in Love is Hard on the Knees.” Aerosmith’s so-called “second run” proved to be even more spectacular than their first go around in the 70s. Their concert dates sold out, not only North America, but in Japan, Australia, South America and Israel, They closed out the decade with a first in their career: a #1 hit single, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” from the “Armageddon” soundtrack, and rung in the new one with the release of Just Push Play, featuring the hit “Jaded.”

By the time the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, they had already received 2 People’s Choice Awards, 6 Billboard Music Awards, 8 American Music Awards, 23 Boston Music Awards, 12 MTV Video Awards, 4 Grammys, an Academy Award nomination for Best Song, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” as well as being selected as one of the Best Rock Bands by Rolling Stone and Hit Parader magazines. They were then chosen as the first rock band to be honored as MTV Icons.

Since 1972 they have toured so much that they’ve criss-crossed the globe nearly 36 times, almost nonstop, performed at 2 Super Bowls (reaching a combined viewing audience of nearly 2 billion), and turned on millions of fans along the journey. In the meantime they also pioneered the role of rock on the Internet with Aerosmith World 3D chat environment, and in interactive videogames such as Quest for Fame and Revolution X.

So how did a bunch of misfit rockers go from the Barn in Sunapee, New Hampshire, to the stage of the Super Bowl, not once but twice? Perhaps Steven Tyler sums it up best: “We weren’t too ambitious when we started out. We just wanted to be the biggest thing that ever walked the planet, the greatest rock band that ever was. We just wanted everything. We just wanted it all.”

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Jessica Simpson

Listen to Jessica Simpson’s In This Skin, and you will hear many things: Love. Romance. Sexuality. Sweetness. Maturity. Peace of Mind. Yet chief among the things you will hear is the sound of a woman becoming her own person and staying true to her heart.
Cowritten by Jessica — with contributions from Fran Gold, Damon Elliott and Trina Harmon, and production by Ric Wake and Rob Fusari, In This Skin shines a light on a side of Jessica that she’s never had the opportunity to let free. “I’ve been searching my soul for things I wanted to sing about and things I wanted to say and so I came up with this record, “Jessica explains. “When people listen to this record it will make them happy.”

That’s because the songs on In This Skin reflect the happiness and growth that Jessica has been experiencing. Now married to long time beau Nick Lachey (of 98 Degrees) and firmly in control of her life and creative output, Jessica has reached deep inside to come up with an album that may well be most personal of her career. In This Skin might be Jessica’s third collection but, in terms of emotional honesty and stylistic range, it is, in a real sense, the first album that’s truly her own. That’s because In This Skin marks Jessica’s debut as a songwriter and her lyrical and musical influences fuel the album’s thematic journeys. “I’ve wanted artistic control for a long time but in the past I wasn’t able to get it,” she confesses. “Being in charge of your creative destiny is beautiful for any artist, especially someone like me who wants to sing about positive things and to inspire others. This time I really wanted to make an album that was real and organic and that you could listen to all the way through and maybe be inspired to fall in love or follow your dreams. ”

That sense of liberation is abundant on the album’s first single “Sweetest Sin.” Written by hit maker Diane Warren and produced by Ric Wake, “Sweetest Sin” is unabashedly carnal and, as Jessica notes, a marked change from the giddy teen pop that launched her career. “I’m not dancing around this time,” she laughs. “I’m not wearing that head set mic ever again in my life!”

A celebration of love, her marriage, and making love, “Sweetest Sin” signals a new artistic direction for Jessica. “You’ll definitely know I’m a woman after hearing this song,” she offers. “It’s a deeply sensual song but it’s also romantic and recording it was one of the most natural things I’ve done. It’s so great to be able to sing about things you’re going through because it makes you relate even more to the music which makes that music beautiful.”

In This Skin is filled with both beauty and love, with lyrics drawn from personal experiences and journal entries to create an album resonating with a captivating reality. Just listen to the bittersweet ballad “You Don’t Have To Let Go.” “I wrote that song for my dad,” Jessica says. “It was so hard for him to walk me down the aisle and for him to handle the idea that I was getting married and, in his eyes, leaving. So I wrote this song for him about our relationship and all that he sacrificed for me.”

“Underneath,” an emotional ode to the ups and downs of romantic love, was penned during a turbulent period in Nick and Jessica’s relationship when the pair embarked an ill-fated separation. Jessica cites the love and support of her fans as the motivation behind the album’s title track’s message of determination. Set to a gentle acoustic-laced groove “In This Skin” is, according to Jessica, about “…being comfortable in your own skin, being worthy and feeling beautiful. I wrote in the liner notes that this is for all the fans. I want them to listen to the song and let the lyrics serve as an inspiration.”

Inspiration and spirit have always been crucial to Jessica. From the beginning of her career she has aimed to be more than just some cutie pie teen star: she’s always invested her songs with positive outlooks and lived her life in a manner that stays true to her beliefs.

Jessica Simpson first made her mark in the world of contemporary Christian music. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Jessica was sharing bills with gospel great Kirk Franklin and Ce Ce Winans while still in junior high. Word of the then-teen’s phenomenal voice and stage presence soon filtered out of the Christian circuit and, in the late 90’s, Jessica signed with Columbia Records. Sweet Kisses, her major label debut, was released in 1999 and spawned the smash singles “I Wanna Love You Forever,” “I Think I’m In Love,” and “Where You Are.” Following the release of her debut, Jessica hit the road, wowing audiences worldwide with her soaring emotion-packed vocals and high-energy stage presence. “It was an amazing time for me,” Jessica recalls. “I was 17 and seeing the world, doing what I loved and doing it in a way that felt right.”

The title track to Irresistible, her 2001 follow-up, was a crossover smash, charting on the Hot 100 (#15), the Rhythmic Top 40 (#12), Top 40 Mainstream (#3) and Top 40 Tracks (#5).

Since the release of Irresistible, Jessica’s been working on her acting r?um? In addition to her recurring role on “That 70’s Show,” Jessica can be seen in an episode of UPN’s “The Twilight Zone.” Meanwhile, Jessica and new husband Nick Lachey will share their lives with fans in an upcoming reality TV series on MTV.

But music remained one of Jessica’s truest loves and, when it came time to make In This Skin, she was ready for this vital next stage in her career. “I knew the sort of songs I wanted to sing and write,” she says. “Songs that are uplifting and real.”

With her new album, Jessica Simpson comes into her own as a woman and refines her ever-evolving voice as an artist. Collaborating with a crop of up-and-coming writers and producers, Jessica has created an album that sounds fresh and rings absolutely true. Her message? “It’s about love and confidence and loving where I am in my life.”

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John Mayer

Enthusiasm is contagious and that’s why songwriters with a genuine, obvious passion for their craft can’t help but attract an audience. John Mayer has earned a legion of devoted fans in and around his adopted hometown of Atlanta, where he moved in 1998 after a stint at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. His creative songwriting and warm stage presence establish him as a formidable musical force, and the smoky swagger of his voice at once evokes Sting, Dave Matthews and Jakob Dylan.
Mayer grew up in Connecticut listening to pop radio until, at age 13, he discovered blues music when a neighbor gave him a Stevie Ray Vaughan tape. Mayer picked up a guitar, and within two years he was performing at local blues bars stunning audiences with his mature playing. But he soon realized that the world of guitar virtuosity was not for him.
“There’s this really distracting glory in wanting to be the best guitar player because all that really is, is copying somebody, seeing who can play ‘Sky Is Crying’ better than the next guy,” Mayer says. “I wanted to be listenable and play tunes that other people could play but not the way I play them.”

Mayer dedicated himself to developing his songwriting skills, toning down the guitar pyrotechnics in favor of memorable melodies and distinctive rhythmic textures. At 19 he enrolled at Berklee but realized in a matter of months that he was more interested in playing music than studying it. “It was a great learning experience, but not because of class,” he laughs. A friend from Atlanta convinced him to head south, and Mayer soon became a regular at such Atlanta songwriters’ nightspots as Eddie’s Attic. In 1999 he released Inside Wants Out, an album consisting mostly of solo acoustic renditions of his energetic, earnest songs, as well as several tracks recorded with a full band.

The local press soon discovered Mayer and sang his praises. “This young man knows how to captivate a crowd with his six-string guitar and honest lyrics,” wrote Atlanta CitySearch. The Atlanta Journal Constitution saw all the makings of a star as they described Mayer’s qualities, “sophisticated, accessible folk rock sound dominated by striking acoustic guitar playing, video-ready looks and a sizable grass-roots following born in clubs across the South.”

Mayer’s passion for songwriting is immediately evident. “The very nature of standing in front of a mic with a guitar that’s in tune, the millions of songs that could happen at that moment – I love that!” he says. “The best feeling that I will ever have in my life is just walking, just being, the night that I finish a song.”

In March 2000 Mayer headed to Austin, Texas, to perform at the prestigious South By Southwest music conference and afterwards was courted by several record labels, eventually signing with Aware/Columbia Records. He began recording his major label debut in the fall with producer John Alagia (Dave Matthews Band, Ben Folds Five). The new album, entitled Room For Squares, is a full-band electric effort. Mayer was joined in the studio by bassist David LaBruyere, (who also accompanies him on the road), as well as drummer Nir Zidkiyahu (Genesis, Alana Davis). Mayer recently met with legendary producer Jack Joseph Puig (Eric Clapton, Weezer, The Black Crowes) at Ocean Way Studios in Los Angeles. They remixed seven songs, including the single, “No Such Thing.” Also included on the re-released CD is a brand new track which was recorded with producer John Alagia entitled “3 x 5.”

It’s the dedication to his songs that inspires Mayer to keep writing. “When you hear a great song, you trace it back to who the singer is,” he says. “When you can offer people that piece of you, that’s what keeps them listening to you.”

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Incubus scored a multi-format radio smash and mass success in 2001 with the lilting, sing-along “Drive,” which hit #1 on Modern Rock charts and also landed in the uppermost reaches of the Top 40. But the band’s core fans will be stoked that their new album, A Crow Left Of The Murder, kicks like a mule.

Lead-off track “Megalomaniac” sets the tone for a reaffirmation of the hard-rock thrust that is key to the Incubus sound. After an exquisite build-up of instrumental tension, the song unleashes the kind of riffage that rises from the sea breathing fire and lays waste to Tokyo. This gives way momentarily to a spare verse pulsing with intimations of electronic menace – then singer Brandon Boyd hurls his urgent invective: “Hey megalomaniac, you’re no Jesus/ Yeah, you’re no fucking Elvis/ Wash your hands clean of yourself baby/ And step down, step down, step down.”

The “Megalomaniac” video, shot by acclaimed director Floria Sigismondi, illustrates the cut’s potential for political protest, but the political is impossible to separate from the personal in much of A Crow Left Of The Murder (released Feb. 3) In “Pistola,” another bad-ass outing (and Lollapalooza crowd favorite), Boyd states explicitly: “My pen is a pistola … a patriot’s weapon of choice.” “Talk Shows On Mute,” with its invocation of Orwell’s “1984,” and “Made For T.V. Movie” – which manages to recall both The Beatles and Alice In Chains – simmer with social commentary. But songs like “Agoraphobia” (boasting a huge pop chorus), “Beware! Criminal” and the driving “Leech” are more intimate explorations, more reflections of interpersonal agendas than global ones.

There’s no doubt from the sound and fury of A Crow Left Of The Murder that Boyd – frequently singled out among his generation of rock songwriters as a model of positivity – is pissed off. And it’s not just war and injustice and man’s general inhumanity to man that’s likely got him down. Perhaps the thematic tone of “Priceless” (which finds guitarist Mike Einziger channeling Primus’ Larry LaLonde) and the swinging, hook-heavy indictment of materialism called “Zee Deveel” indicate that Incubus has been in the game long enough to face some measure of disillusionment.

It seems reasonable to assume that in 1991, when Boyd, Einziger, drummer Jose Pasillas and original bassist Dirk Lance (Ben Kenney joined in 2003 upon Lance’s departure) began Incubus as high school sophomores in the San Fernando Valley outpost of Calabasas, they coveted the trappings of rock stardom. But maybe, now that they’ve attained some of these prizes, a heightened awareness of their position – and its treacheries – has begun to bubble up.

After all, Boyd and company have double-platinum plaques for 1999’s Make Yourself, home to the breakthrough, Top 10 hit “Pardon Me,” as well as airplay champs “Stellar” and the aforementioned “Drive,” and 2001’s Morning View, which debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 and introduced such radio staples as “I Wish You Were Here” (#2) “Warning” (#3) and “Nice To Know You” (#9). And Incubus is one of the very few acts who can claim to have toured with Ozzfest and Family Values but also with Moby’s Area: One, presumably hobnobbing along the way with more than a few admired peers and a handful of boyhood idols. Moreover, the band has managed to remain interesting for more than a decade, praised by critics for rampant experimentation amid all the melodic crowd-pleasing. And yet, the world is still a very fucked-up place, and the people who once seemed to be “keeping it real” just aren’t.

But Incubus has never been a one-note band, and Boyd has never been a one-mood writer. Despite the anger and outrage, a palpable sense of catharsis and even triumph pervades A Crow Left Of The Murder – “Yeah, I’m down, but not out/ And far from done,” Boyd promises on “Beware! Criminal.” Nor is the disc without its spiritual musing and tender moments. The title track gallops along an adventurous aural pathway espousing a Zen-like embrace of experience for experience’s sake; “Here In My Room” is a lovely, hushed ballad, with Boyd confiding: “If the world were to fall apart/ In a fiction-worthy wind/ I wouldn’t change a thing/ Now that you’re here/ Love is a verb/ Here in my room”; “Smile Lines” finds him so crushed out he swears, “High school never ends”; and “Southern Girl” transmits the abandon of new love, the singer telling the object of his affection, “Look no further/ I am yours.”

As a singer, Boyd reaches heretofore unimagined heights of vocal dexterity on A Crow Left Of The Murder. His signature syncopated phrasing remains intact – clearly, the heart of a beat poet beats in the heart of Brandon Boyd – but he has jettisoned some of his talk-singing for pure falsetto flight, deftly punctuating his delivery with these disarming departures. Bassist Ben Kenney, who during his many years with The Roots longed to rock, also opens it up on Crow. The thunder of “Megalomaniac,” in particular, bears his stamp, as do (among others) “Pistola,” “Smile Lines” and the epic thrash-o-rama “Sick, Sad Little World,” wherein Einziger also waxes virtuosic, conjuring Hendrix in a lengthy, satisfying solo.

That jam is emblematic of the fearless creative energy, uncanny sense of dynamics and high-wire eclecticism that Incubus pumps into all 58-odd minutes of A Crow Left Of The Murder: There’s a dub breakdown; a bit of wah-wah guitar played through a Leslie speaker cabinet; a jungle interlude where the snare and high-hat groove like Memphis; some intricate, jazzy drumming – finessed, mind you, while Pasillas is preventing the whole thing from spinning out of control – and then Einziger’s fabulously freaky guitar workout.

Harnessing this unbridled artistry was producer Brendan O’Brien, who pushed Incubus’ fondness for unearthly washes of distortion – not to mention beeps, whirs, squidges and other assorted robot noises – to 11. Which isn’t to say that Crow sounds like it was made by robots; it sounds like it was recorded in the factory where they make the robots, though the swooping cello part on “Here In My Room” orchestrated by Incubus cohort Suzy Katayama tempers this a bit, along with the organic accents like tambourine and handclaps heard throughout the record.

This tapestry of texture is perforated by a seemingly endless array of surging guitar theatrics, explosive drumming, beefy basslines, sturdy collaborative songcraft and Boyd’s consistently insistent vocal performances. It’s Incubus, only more so. Some may view the intensity of A Crow Left Of The Murder – exemplified by the Top 10 “Megalomaniac” – as a sonic response to the mellow vibe of “Drive.” Others may consider the band’s renewed ferocity a reaction to the mixed bag of stardom. But Incubus’ many rabid fans won’t give a shit; they’ll just be happy their heroes are still cranking out the post-modern head-bangers that made them rabid fans in the first place.

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“Sounding like a revamped Jackson 5 for the ’90s, Hanson came storming out of Tulsa, OK, in 1997 blessed with photogenic looks and a surprisingly infectious sense of melody. Hanson had a sunny pop sense that stood in direct contrast to the gloomy grunge that dominated the ’90s, yet they also arrived with hip credentials — a handful of the cuts on their debut were produced by the Dust Brothers (Beastie Boys, Beck, Sukia), and the rest were produced by Steve Lironi, who helmed Black Grape’s debut. Along with the hip production, the record was comprised of songs co-written by the band with professional songwriters like Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil and Desmond Child. It had the sound of a hip recording and the craft of professional pop record, making Middle of Nowhere the best of both worlds.

Related: Korn

Hanson were certainly reminiscent of an earlier era, namely the early ’70s, when teens could rule the top of the charts. Like the Jackson 5, the Cowsills and the mythological Partridge Family, all of the members of Hanson were brothers. Isaac, aged 16 at the time of their debut, played guitar; 13-year-old Taylor sang lead and played keyboards; drummer Zac was 11 years old. As children in Tulsa, they sang around the dinner table, often ’50s and ’60s rock and R&B; standards and gospel songs. Eventually, the group began playing around Tulsa, performing at local festivals, at school, around town. The brothers first attempted to break into the music industry around 1992, when they approached music attorney Christopher Sabec and sang a cappella for him. Impressed with their talents, he became their manager and began shopping them to major labels. Between 1992 and 1995, five labels passed on Hanson. The group decided to release a pair of indie records while waiting. The album Boomerang, which was filled with slick pop, appeared in 1995. Following the release of Boomerang, Hanson began playing their own instruments, which strengthened their writing considerably, as shown on the single “MMMBop,” which signalled that they were moving towards a fresher, hip-hop and soul-influenced direction. The group signed with Mercury Records on the strength of “MMMBop,” and they were hooked up with producer Steve Lironi, who helped the band with arrangements. Over the next year, the group worked on their album with a variety of collaborators, including co-writers like Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Desmond Child and Mark Hudson; nine of the 13 tracks on the final album featured contributions from professional writers. They also recorded a handful of tracks with the Dust Brothers, who were riding high on the success of Beck’s Odelay.

Related: Kelly Rowland

Prior to the spring 1997 release of their debut album, Middle of Nowhere, Mercury put the publicity machine in full gear, hiring Tamara Davis (Sonic Youth, Luscious Jackson) to direct the video for “MMMBop” and courting the press and radio. The efforts worked, as “MMMBop” debuted at number 13 on the U.S. charts upon its April release, and the album earned positive reviews, both becoming among the biggest hits of the year. Hanson became major teen idols, and as the holidays approached they issued a Christmas LP, Snowed In; in 1998, they reissued their earlier independent recordings as Three Car Garage, and also released a concert album, Live From Albertane.

Following that flurry of activity, Hanson remained largely silent while they worked on the proper follow-up to Middle of Nowhere; in the meantime, thanks in part to Hanson’s breakout success, teen-pop acts like Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, Cristina Aguilera, and ‘N Sync came to dominate the pop landscape. Hanson finally emerged in the spring of 2000 with This Time Around, a more mature, measured record that represented a bid for credibility outside their primarily teenage audience; featuring guest spots from Jonny Lang and Blues Traveler’s John Popper, the album reflected the new influence of rockers like Matchbox 20. The record didn’t make much of an impression on the charts, setting the stage for a departure from their label during the recording of their third album. Following their separation from Island, Hanson set up their own label, 3CG Records, which debuted with the group’s third record, Underneath, in April of 2004. The album featured songwriting collaborations with Matthew Sweet and Gregg Alexander. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide

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Hilary Duff

Life is sweet – and getting even sweeter – for the pop world’s favorite girl-next-door. Sure, Hilary Duff starred in a monstrously huge TV show but that’s, like, so yesterday ’cause Hilary’s exercising her right to change her mind and act her age. No more trying to fit a circle into a square. With her first real pop-rock album, Metamorphosis, and the #1 single “So Yesterday,” Hilary is finally free to be who she wants to be.
“Change is a very important and natural thing,” says Hilary. “We called the album Metamorphosis because it’s about changes that everybody experiences. It’s not just about me, but it is very personal. The change might seem a little sudden because most people are used to seeing me as a character through Lizzie McGuire and movie roles that I played. So this music is a good way to get everyone to know the real me. Everyone evolves and changes.”

Related: Korn

A triple-threat talent, Hilary has become a music, film and television phenomenon thanks to an unbroken string of hits that began with her starring role in the Disney Channel Original Series Lizzie McGuire, the record-breaking #1 show in its timeslot. Hilary made her singing debut on that hit sit-com, lending her fresh vocals and sunny style to “I Can’t Wait” from the RIAA-certified platinum Lizzie McGuire Television Soundtrack. In her motion picture debut, Hilary co-starred with Frankie Muniz in this summer’s action-adventure hit Agent Cody Banks. Next came singing and starring roles in The Lizzie McGuire Movie, in which Hilary played – prophetically enough – an American tourist mistaken for a huge singing star.

Proving that life imitates art, Hilary’s singing career is exploding on Top 40 radio, MTV and Top 200 retail charts. Metamorphosis – her amazingly appealing new album of 13 songs – shipped well in excess of gold with 800,000 copies on August 26, 2003 and is #2 on the Billboard 200. Its debut single, “So Yesterday,” became an instant #1 retail hit at, and stormed the pop singles charts on July 29, hitting the #1 spot after quickly making top-request waves at national Top 40 radio and on MTV’s signature program “Total Request Live,” where Hilary’s “Why Not” music video (from the RIAA-certified platinum The Lizzie McGuire Movie Soundtrack) had already been a Top 10 staple for months.

MTV also hosted a prestigious premiere for the “So Yesterday” music video on its July 21 presentations of Making The Video and TRL All-Star Backyard BBQ and featured Hilary in MTV Diary. Duff recently was a presenter at both the MTV Video Music Awards and the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards, where she accepted the trophy for “Favorite TV Show” on behalf of Lizzie McGuire. And although there’s not one molecule of space left for another top award her shelf, “So Yesterday” has become the #1 most-streamed video on AOL.

“I’ve always sung, ever since I could talk,” says Hilary. “At home, at school, in the choir, everywhere. But about two years ago I decided to be a real singer, and started working with really cool singers, musicians and songwriters. Best of all, I started working in the studio, experimenting and putting material together. I’ve really fallen in love with the studio. I just know that a lot of my fans relate to the album.”

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What kind of music can fans expect from Hilary on Metamorphosis? A chameleon-like variety of changing moods, from the romantic ballad “Where Did I Go Right?” to the ultimate break up song, “So Yesterday.” From the tough-talkin’ “Party Up” to the hard rockin’ “Little Voice.”

“The music on the album is a little different from the pop songs everyone’s heard from me before, because Metamorphosis has all the kinds of music I like to listen to,” Hilary explains. “There are a lot of different sounds, from rock to eletronic – with a whole range of tempos from some deep, slow songs, to some high-energy rock songs to give me a boost. Everybody goes through different moods and different feelings and sometimes when you put on your favorite song it makes you feel a little bit better.”

The 13 pop-rock songs on Metamorphosis were produced, arranged, written and mixed by the very best in the business. The album’s behind-the-scenes-talent includes Charlie Midnight (Joe Cocker, James Brown, Joni Mitchell) who contributed to nine tracks; The Matrix (Avril Lavigne, Christina Aguilera), the producing masterminds behind “So Yesterday,” “Where Did I Go Right?” and “The Math”; Chico Bennett (Madonna, Usher, Destiny’s Child); Matthew Gerrard (Nick Carter); John Shanks (Michelle Branch); Kara DioGuardi (Celine Dion, Enrique Iglesias); singer-songwriter-producer Meredith Brooks; plus some of the best pop-rock musicians anywhere.

“Can I tell you how awesome everyone’s been to work with? They are the very best writers and producers and musicians ever, and they’ve been so open to my opinions,” Hilary says. “It was important to me that all the songs we recorded really meant something special to me personally. I got to talk with some of the writers and say, ‘You know, I feel like this . . .’ and they really got it, which is so cool. I loved the whole process. It’s so exciting. I love that the whole album really relates to me and my life.”

Two songs were special contributions from Hilary’s number one idol: her talented big sister, Haylie Duff. “Since she knows me better than anyone else in the world, Haylie wrote ‘Sweet Sixteen,’ a really fun song that totally relates to my life right now. She also came up with ‘Inner Strength’ and it’s really beautiful. Very empowering and uplifting.”

Speaking of idols, here’s what another one has to say: “Hilary is just completely a light to the world,” no less an authority than Britney Spears told Popstar! magazine. “So beautiful and so incredibly sweet. Her music is amazing . . . she should just be herself and never change.”

It’s difficult to comprehend all that Hilary Duff has accomplished in the past few years. Prior to Metamorphosis, Hilary had already sold 2.2 million albums, spent six weeks in the Billboard Top 10 and earned two platinum album awards. She has starred in one #1 television series, two hit movies, and has already made two more major films (20th Century Fox’s Cheaper By The Dozen with Steve Martin, and Warner Bros.’ A Cinderella Story) to be released later this year. Plus, not one but two television specials will honor the big day she turns “Sweet Sixteen.”

Not bad for someone who really just wants her driver’s license.

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With three Double-Platinum albums to his credit, smoldering singer Ginuwine has smoothly and defiantly sealed his reputation for consistently sexy, romantic, and danceable soul across the urban-pop landscape. Now, by the artist’s own estimation, it is time to “graduate” to the next level, thus, the title of his intentionally edgier new Epic Records release, The Senior.
“The Senior is about growth,” the Washington, D.C. native explains. “In school, you’re not the same person as a senior that you were as a freshman. This is my fourth album, so it’s like my senior year. And everything relates back to learning and growing. It’s me as a man vs. me being young and just getting into the business. This album is more the real me.”

This is not to say that the man who set the radio and video worlds on fire with his debut hit “Pony” as well as the man who melted the hearts of women across racial and generational lines with the beautiful ballad “Differences” weren’t authentically Ginuwine as well. However, over time comes evolution. Now that “G” has been in the spotlight for seven years, he’s comfortable enough to shed more of his glittering exterior to show the man inside.

This process began in earnest when he followed up his red-hot sophomore album, 100% Ginuwine (1999 – featuring “What’s So Different,” “So Anxious” and “None of Ur Friend’s Business”) with the more confessional The Life (2001 – featuring “Differences,” “2 Way” and “Two Reasons I Cry”). The latter was a project deeply affected by the passing of both his parents within a year’s time. With that existential trial behind him, Ginuwine moves forward with a project that finds the artist looking deeper inward to define himself, improve upon the things he’s already done best, and to boldly embark upon new challenges.

Assisting Ginuwine on the songs and interludes of The Senior are producers Bryan Michael Cox (Usher, Janet Jackson and B2K), Troy Oliver (composer of “Differences”), Scott Storch (Dr. Dre, Next and The Roots), and Troy Taylor (the tunesmith behind Tyrese’s hit “Sweet Lady”).

The Senior’s first single, the in-your-face club anthem “Hell Yeah” featuring guest rapper Baby (a.k.a. The Birdman), was personally given to Ginuwine by R. Kelly. “I appreciate that he was even down to work with me,” Ginuwine states, “because, usually, male solo artists don’t want to work with other male artists. He hooked me up with something fast to come out with first. ‘Hell Yeah’ is a club joint for everybody in the club, male and female.” Interestingly, R Kelly wasn’t in the studio for “G”’s vocal session. “I didn’t meet him until after I recorded it,” he explains. “R. put the song on Pro Tools, sent it to the studio and I sang it…my way.” The result so impressed both men as well as Epic, the duo might soon work on a “slow joint” together.

Other highlights of The Senior include the super steamy “Sex” (featuring saxophonist Jimmy Sommers…and an unidentified female) and the funky flirtatious “Those Jeans,” both guaranteed to bring the heat like “G” brought it on his 1996 debut, The Bachelor (1996 – featuring “Pony,” “I’ll Do Anything/I’m Sorry” and a cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry”).

But what the ladies really want to know is how Ginuwine plans to top the emotional wallop of his now-classic hit “Differences,” among the most played songs at Black radio for 2001/2002.

The answers (yes, plural) are “I Love You More Everyday” and “Better To Have Loved Than Not At All.” Of the latter, Ginuwine confesses, “I was in the studio listening to this music Troy Taylor brought me. I could feel it trying to tell me something… I screamed out, ‘I need an old cliché,’ and everybody in the studio started calling their moms and grandmas! They came up with, ‘Better to have loved than not at all.’ Within five minutes I had the hook. I thought, ‘This is coming to me so easy, it’s got to be right!’ I finished the whole song that night.”

There is also a surprisingly romantic collaboration with rapper Method Man titled “Big Plans.” That’s a song about a guy wanting to get married and letting a girl know if she sticks in there, I’ve got big plans for her,” Ginuwine shares: “Marriage, children and being together forever.”

As usual, Ginuwine co-composed about eighty percent of his new album. The song he feels he artistically “stretched out” on the most is the harrowing story piece, “Lockdown.” “I put my thinking cap on for that one,” he states with pride. “I ventured out to create a song that went beyond just saying ‘I love you’ or ‘I want to sex you.’ ‘Lockdown’ is about me going to a club, getting into trouble and getting locked up for murder…even though it was in self-defense. I do an interlude where I want Johnnie Cochran to be my lawyer. I’ve heard several stories like this and I know a lot of people will be able to relate…anybody who went out one night and later thought, ‘Dag, I wish I’d just stayed in the house.’ It’s a great song.”
Generally speaking, there is an edgier circumference surrounding The Senior, discernible from jump on the opening track “Niggas Get Ready,” featuring West Coast rap godfather Snoop Dogg. “He’s the first voice you hear on the album,” Ginuwine exclaims excitedly. “I’ve wanted to work with him for awhile. This song basically says I’ve been through a lot, so don’t mess with me! All my real fans know that I’m not a thug…but I’m not soft, either. Everyone else will probably think, ‘I knew he had some of this in him, too.’”

The release of The Senior follows Ginuwine’s hit soundtrack single “Stingy” from the film Barbershop (note: “G” also has the all-new song “Excuses” in Deliver Us From Eva). He also kept himself in the public eye via smash hit collabos with rappers Fat Joe (“Crush Tonight”) and P.Diddy (“I Need A Girl”). Both gentlemen show their allegiance to Ginuwine by appearing on The Senior along with Tweet, Trina, Missy, Trick Daddy, Nas, possibly Mariah, plus TV stars “A.J.” (from BET’s 106 & Park) and “Tigga” (from BET’s Rap City: Tha Basement).

Industry observers will note the absence of Ginuwine’s longtime producer, Timbaland, on The Senior. “Timbaland was scheduled to get down, but was running late and I wasn’t in a position where I could wait. But the plan is for my next album to be titled Back to the Basics and, hopefully, Tim and I will do the whole thing together.”

As a kid, Ginuwine knew that he’d be an entertainer once he saw Michael Jackson’s riveting “Billie Jean” performance on Motown 25. Like Mike, Ginuwine is just as known for his stage presence and dancing as he is his singing. He vows to take both to another level on tour and in the videos for The Senior. “I’m going back to the lab to come up with something different. I look at videos everyday and everybody’s trying to be Michael. I realize I’m the one who kind of brought that style of dance back. Now it’s time for me to be a leader again.”

Beyond the music, Ginuwine has been involved in several other ventures.

At the movies, he was featured in the 2002 comedy Juwanna Man playing “Romeo,” the cheatin’ singer/playboy/boyfriend of actress Vivica Fox’s character. Later this year Ginuwine will be seen playing himself in the film Honey, which is about a female choreographer trying to make it “in the industry” (note: it also co-stars Rodney Jerkins, Jessica Alba and Lil’ Romeo.) “For my next movie, I’d like to do an action picture or play a super hero,” Ginuwine confesses.

Ginuwine also has personal fragrances on the market: 100% Ginuwine for women and G-Spot for men. The biggest of Ginuwine’s career moves, however, is that he’s starting his own record label, Bag Entertainment (with “Bag” representing “M.O.N.E.Y.”).

Ginuwine’s immediate focuses are pleasing his fans while continuing to surprising them, as well as remaining a consistent, Platinum-plus seller and performer. “I want people to know that I work hard and put forth 110% effort,” his says with dead seriousness. “You can’t tell me how to ‘do me,’ so I do a lot by myself. It’s a burden, but in the end, it’s all worth it. I’m not greedy. I just want to be consistent. I don’t want to sell 6 million one album then not be able to sell 500,000. I like to be the underdog.”

“Sometimes,” he cautiously continues, “I’ve felt like people wrote me off in the beginning…saw me as a gimmick, a pretty boy, or a one-hit wonder. Proving myself is a never-ending situation.”

Summing up the various vibes of The Senior, Ginuwine insists, “It’s all me. I’ve still got the love joints and the sexy joints, but I’m also showing an edgier person that people will get to know. I’m not trying to come hard or soft. I’m just trying to be who I am at this point in time.”

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George Michael

As the history of popular music develops, one fact shines through: talent wins. You can’t cheat and survive for any length of time. You can’t hype and fool people more than once. You can’t hide behind image makers, or alluring videos, or the cut of this season’s clothes. Or you can – but then you die. To survive you must evolve, improve, have faith, still thrill. Longevity depends on making the best music.
George Michael has never thought of popular music as a career: it’s far more personal – more precious – than that. But he has always taken the long-term view, that ultimately an artist’s achievement will not be judged in terms of number one singles, or magazine covers, or prestigious awards, but by a large body of work, a collection of albums over time, a lifetime’s development in an artform that no longer depends on shock or rebellion or the quick burn-out to make a mark.

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In 19 years, and at 38 years of age, George Michael can already look back on more than 67 million record sales worldwide. He’s notched up six US No.1 singles from his debut album, eleven British No.1 singles and six No.1 albums to date. He has also played at some of the biggest and most important concerts in history (Live Aid, the Nelson Mandela Freedom Concert, the Freddie Mercury Tribute), all in front of capacity audiences at Wembley Stadium and in front of many millions watching throughout the world. But that was the beginning, an early phase or two.

George Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou on 25 June 1963 in North London, and went on to meet his future Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley at a nearby comprehensive school. They formed their first band, The Executive, in 1981, but soon realised their chosen path lay as a duo: Wham! was born.

Within a year they had released their classic debut single, ‘Wham Rap’, but it was their second single, ‘Young Guns (Go For It!)’ which became the first in a string of Top 10 hits.

In the summer of 1984 George unveiled a glimpse of what was to come by releasing the classic ‘Careless Whisper’. His first solo single while still with Wham! became one of the signatures of the Eighties and one of the most-played radio songs of the decade. It was written when he was still only 17.

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His growing maturity was further established with the release of ‘A Different Corner’, his second solo single, and another mature ballad of lasting worth. A few months later George and Andrew decided that Wham! should disband while still at the very peak of their success. This announcement was followed by a unique final concert at Wembley, an emotional farewell in front of 72,000.

Their place was assured as one of the most exuberant pop bands of the Eighties. Equally certain was that George was set for a remarkable solo career.

In 1987 George became the first white male vocalist ever to duet with soul great Aretha Franklin. The resulting recording, ‘I Knew You Were Waiting’, shot straight to the top of the charts worldwide, starting off a year which saw George jetting between London and Denmark, recording tracks for his outstanding debut album ‘Faith’.

The album, released in November 1987, showed George Michael to be one of the finest songwriters of the decade and guaranteed him a whole new audience. The album was a No.1 on both sides of the Atlantic, with worldwide sales approaching 15 million.

‘Faith’ received a Grammy for the Best Album of 1988, and won George two Ivor Novello Awards for ‘Songwriter Of The Year’ and ‘International Hit Of The Year’ (‘Faith’). George also won American Music Awards for ‘Favourite Male Vocalist’ (pop/rock), ‘Favourite Male Artist’ (soul/R&B) and ‘Favourite Album’ (soul/R&B).

In America, the outstanding success of ‘Faith’ was marked by six No.1 singles: I Want Your Sex’, ‘Faith’, ‘Father Figure’, ‘One More Try’, ‘Monkey’ and ‘Kissing A Fool’.

The live ‘Faith’ tour followed in February 1988, taking the hits package to a momentous opening date at Tokyo’s Budokan Stadium, and then on to ecstatic audiences in Australia, Europe hand North America. In June, George interrupted the tour to sing three songs at Wembley Stadium’s Nelson Mandela Freedom Concert.

By September 1990 George had gathered together a new body of work – ‘Listen Without Prejudice: Vol.1’ – and another new direction was visible from the first single, ‘Praying For Time’. Much of the album had a raw, stripped-down feel, and drew heavily from classic Sixties tracks, black rhythm and jazz moods. Mostly they were personal, increasingly philosophical songs; once again they went against the prevailing chart trends.

His videos created new waves too: it was almost unheard of for an artist of his stature not to appear centre-stage, but for ‘Freedom 90’ he found other stars – Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista. This was the first time these supermodels had been seen together away from the catwalks, and it was an attraction no one found able to resist thereafter.

The album was another British No.1, and also spawned the hit singles ‘Waiting For That Day’, ‘Heal The Pain’ and ‘Cowboys and Angels’. Still in his Twenties, Michael was already being classed alongside those artists he admired most, and with whom he had the honour of dueting: Aretha Franklin, Elton John and Stevie Wonder. He brought out an autobiography to coincide with the new album (‘Bare’, co-written with Tony Parsons), and was granted a UK television special, an ultimate cultural sign of arrival.

In November 1991 George released ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’, a duet with Elton John from one of George’s Wembley concerts. The song was another No.1 worldwide, and all proceeds went to the AIDS hospice London Lighthouse and the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity.

A few months later George was in the charts once more with ‘Too Funky’, a single from the ‘Red Hot and Dance’ AIDS charity album, which included a collection of remixed hits by artists such as Madonna and Seal as well as three brand new George Michael songs – the only new songs on the album.

‘Too Funky’ went on to become Europe’s most played record of 1992, helped partly by the video directed by George and styled by designer Thierry Mugler.

Early in 1993 George spent three weeks at the top of the charts with the ‘Five Live EP’, featuring duets with Queen and Lisa Stansfield on tracks from the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert and from his own Cover To Cover tour in 1991. All proceeds went to the Freddie Mercury Phoenix Trust.

In October of the same year, in a bold statement, making headlines worldwide, George appeared in court against his record company Sony Music Entertainment, as he attempted to break free from the company he claimed no longer accepted his musical direction. Nine months later, the judge found in favour of the record company. An appeal was issued, and was due to be heard in 1996.

On 1st December 1993, World AIDS Day, George played a benefit concert in front of the late Diana, Princess Of Wales. This ‘Concert Of Hope’ also featured K D lang and Mick Hucknall and was televised worldwide, doing much to raise funds and awareness of the disease.

Towards the end of 1994 Michael performed a new song on the first MTV European Music Awards, in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. ‘Jesus To A Child’ was the first new George Michael song the huge television audience had heard for almost three years, and the acclaim was universal.

Undeterred by the fact that he still wasn’t able to release any new material, ‘Careless Whisper’ was voted Londoner’s ‘Favourite record of all time’ in January 1995 in a competition run jointly by the capital’s leading evening newspaper and radio station. He was then voted Best Male Singer by the same radio station, and by the readers of a national newspaper.

By July 1995, after many months of negotiations, it was agreed that Michael would leave Sony and sign two new deals, one with Virgin Records for the World excluding the United States and the other with Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s newly formed SKG Music in North America.

In April 1996, George won the Capital Radio award for ‘Best Male Singer’ once more and was also honoured with an ‘Outstanding Contribution To Music’ award.

George’s first album for Virgin Records, ‘Older’, was released on 13th May 1996 and thusfar the global sales have been outstanding. The album has already earned multi-platinum and/or gold status in 34 countries, including 5 x platinum in the UK.

Written, arranged and produced by George Michael, ‘Older’ was recorded in London and features 11 brand new tracks including the huge international hits, ‘Jesus To A Child’, ‘Fastlove’ and ‘Spinning The Wheel’, the double A-side ‘Older’ / ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ and ‘Star People ’97’.

The video for ‘Fastlove’ was also the top choice of MTV Europe viewers in September 1996, as it picked up the ‘MTV Europe International Viewers Choice Award’ at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York.

At the beginning of October 1996, George performed his first live shows for five years with a gig for Radio 1 FM followed by an Unplugged Session for MTV. Although these concerts were attended by the smallest audiences George has ever played to, he claims they were nevertheless two of the most enjoyable, due to the intimacy of the occasion. The Radio 1FM audience consisted of just 200 people and the MTV Unplugged session slightly larger at 500. Both audiences included competition winners, some of whom had flown to London from all over the world, as well as various specially invited guests.

At both these events, George performed a stunning set which included the tracks ‘Father Figure’, ‘One More Try’, ‘Waiting For That Day’, ‘Freedom 90’, ‘Fastlove’ and ‘Older’, closing with the uptempo ‘Star People’ which had the audience up on their feet begging for more.

In 1996, George was voted ‘Best British Male’, at the MTV Europe Awards and the BRITs; and at The Ivor Novello Awards, he was awarded the prestigious title of ‘Songwriter of The Year’ for the third time.

On 8th September, George released a 4 track E.P. entitled ‘You Have Been Loved’ which debuted at number 2 making him the first artist in chart history to have 6 top 3 singles from one album.

On 24th November 1997, his former record label Epic released ‘If You Were There’ – the long-awaited collection of Wham’s Greatest Hits and on 1st December Virgin Records released a limited edition version of George’s “Older” album which contained a bonus disc of 6 remixed tracks entitled ‘Upper’. The ‘Upper’ CD is exclusive in that it includes interactive elements, allowing fans access to George’s web site, videos and fan club through the internet.

In 1998 ‘Ladies and Gentlemen – The Best of George Michael’ was released on Epic Records as agreed in the Sony settlement in 1995. The album soared to the top of the charts in the week of its release, 9th November, and remained at Number 1 for eight weeks, selling over 2 million copies, during the notoriously competitive Christmas period.

The album features songs from every era of Michael’s career from ‘Careless Whisper’ to the three brilliant brand new tracks. ‘Outside’ was released on 19th October 1998 with an accompanying video that had George Michael’s controversial stamp very clearly on it.

The end of 1998 brought George Michael more accolades. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ shot straight to number one (and is now eight times platinum) in the UK. The album also reached number one on the combined European Album Chart. Michael also topped the polls of the 95.8 Capital FM Hall of Fame for a record eighth time. On 5th December 1998 a 1 hour Parkinson special was screened on BBC 1 to universal critical and public acclaim.

On 8th March 1999, George Michael released ‘As’ a duet with R&B Diva Mary J Blige, written and originally released by Stevie Wonder on his ‘Songs in the Key Of Life’ album.

Early October saw George Michael back on stage. He gave a rare live performance at Wembley Stadium for the NetAid benefit concert. For many this was the highlight of the evening as a full gospel choir and 20 dancers joined Michael for songs including ‘Father Figure’ and a moving rendition of ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime’. The set opened with the recreation of the ‘Fastlove’ video as Michael appeared seated in the famous black leather chair with in-built speakers and closed with the 70,000 strong Wembley Stadium audience singing backing vocals for ‘Freedom 90’.

As the 20th Century comes to a close George Michael releases his fourth solo album which features songs written by some of the greatest composers of the last 100 years. This retrospective collection released on Virgin Records includes tracks such as: ‘Roxanne’ written by Sting, ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ written by Ewan MacColl and the Frank Sinatra classic ‘Where Or When’ written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Each of the 11 tracks have been co-produced by the legendary Phil Ramone and George Michael.

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Five For Fighting

Bio Writer: “Do you feel pressured to follow up ‘Superman’ with your new record?”
John Ondrasik/Five For Fighting: “Actually, it’s the opposite. ‘Superman’ gave me a free shot, and I’m taking it.”

That, in a nutshell, is The Battle For Everything, the follow-up to Five For Fighting’s second album, the smash America Town. It’s also a finger in the eye of all who can’t see the forest for that one huge tree — “Superman” — that fills the foreground. Even more, it’s proof that Ondrasik is a singer/songwriter with real staying power.

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The evidence is all over Everything. There’s “100 Years,” the first single, a meditation on the poetry of time passing. But then there’s “The Taste,” whose delicate opening gets pulverized by slashing electric guitar and a raw, screaming vocal. A crocodile sings on “Disneyland,” loss and hope hover in the haunted melody of “If God Made You,” Heaven itself crashes and burns on “Infidel,” and, on tunes like “The Devil in the Wishing Well” and “Nobody,” turbulent lyrics and ambitious compositional structures unleashed panic back at the record label — for a minute, at least.

In fact, Ondrasik is a more contradictory figure than most who’ve made it as far as he has in this business. He’s a crotchety romantic who lives on a volatile blend of irreverence and idealism. He’s a headliner who knows how to tear it up onstage (“The concert was more than just good music, it was a total crowd experience,” raved one reviewer after a recent college show) and a UCLA math grad who still works — when he’s in town — at his dad’s office. His head is in the nimbus of stage lights, but his feet are planted on ground that feels familiar to us all. Which explains Everything — except for one thing: How did Ondrasik bring the disparate pieces of his world together long enough to cut this album? Answer: He … disappeared.

“I’m a regular guy,” Ondrasik explains. “But sometimes taking out the trash and paying the bills isn’t that conducive to writing.”

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And so, when the opportunity arose to take his family and disappear for ten full months up to the Northern California coast, write songs, seek inspiration in sunsets and sips of local Cabernet, and put together a new Five For Fighting album, he did exactly what you or I would hope to do…. He rented a place near the bluffs of Mendocino, a short jog from the studio of producer Bill Bottrell (Sheryl Crow, Shelby Lynn). There, or with guitars in hand on the front porch, and in sessions that followed in New York and L.A. with Gregg Wattenberg (America Town) producing, he conceived and recorded a set of powerful new songs, tumbling with images born from daydreams and nightmares, watered by long streams of melody and lacerated by sharp, unforgettable hooks — pictures even more vivid than those from America Town.

Yet the world has changed since that last album, as has Ondrasik, as have we all. “I didn’t have kids when I was writing America Town,” he says.” Also, traveling the world and meeting people in the military after September 11 put a different focus into my brain. And after spending twenty years trying to be heard and finally getting that chance, my challenges come from a different place.”

As a result, The Battle For Everything is a bristling mix of contemporary emotions and classic techniques. It affirms the importance of context as well as song, so that piano-driven rock, acoustic guitar pieces, ambitious structures and concise musical packages, join into one listening experience. “When I was a kid I could put on Dark Side of the Moon, turn up the sound in my headphones, lie down in the dark, and go away,” Ondrasik remembers. “I wanted that experience again, and so Bill and I were ambitious to the point of absurdity. If we wanted drama, we’d get a thirty-piece orchestra. If we wanted a rock edge, we went after it with reckless abandonment. It was like doing my own private Quadrophenia.”

One question remains: Why this title? “Because it is,” he replies. “Considering that nothing in the making of this record came easy — including concern over the title itself — in the end it was appropriate.” Or, if you prefer it in song, skip ahead to the last track, crank it up, and listen. You’ll find your answer, and the essence of Five For Fighting, there ….

From “Nobody”: “Though endings are never ever happy, it’s the happy moments along the way … that in the end … make it okay.”

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Fatboy Slim

With Fatboy Slim albums the clue is always in the title, and Norman Cook’s third outing is no exception. While ‘You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby’ was one long whoop of triumph, ‘Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars’ is the sound of taking stock.
Norman was staying at the Chateau Marmont, LA’s celebrity hotel, when the title came to him. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston had come along to see him DJ the night before, Bill Murray said hello in the lobby and the pop star life was his for the taking. But as for Norman himself?

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•I was wandering around sweating and shaking, not having been to bed for about two days, he remembers with a wry grin. “And I was thinking, ‘You can take the boy out of the gutter but you can’t take the gutter out of the boy'”.

When you remember that the whole Fatboy Slim alias started out as a fun side project to help launch Skint and have a laugh making party records to DJ with, no wonder Norman has found the last couple of years surreal. ‘You’ve Come A Long Way Baby’ wasn’t just a great record, it was a pop phenomenon that made him the world’s biggest dance artist and redefined the concept of the superstar DJ. He was the biggest British artist in the US last year.

During those two rollercoaster years, everyone from Madonna to Robbie Williams was bidding for his remixing talents, his kitchen shelf groaned with trophies and virtually every weekend found him jetting off to major DJ gigs and award ceremonies. In the midst of all this, he fell in love with, and married, Zoe Ball. A personal high, but one that made the couple reluctant tabloid material.

“I’m not moaning about it but I definitely had pop star fatigue,” he reflects. “The pressure of being in the limelight all the time was beginning to take its toll. For about three months my job was to go to awards ceremonies. When that was all I did, and I wasn’t making any music I was getting hacked off with what my life had become. I’m not very good at being a celebrity.”

In 1999 he played two defining events, the boxing-themed face-off with Armand Van Helden and a show with The Chemical Brothers at Red Rocks, Colorado, which effectively closed a chapter in his career. Time to move on.

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As the new year dawned Norman ventured back into his home studio in Brighton to make the most emotional, innovative album of his career. Norman explains the progression by pointing out that ‘Rockafeller Skank’ was the first track he recorded for his last album, and ‘Right Here Right Now’ was the last.

“I thought, ‘Actually maybe I can do something with a bit more power and soul rather than just thrills and spills. When I started this album I just sat there for about a month thinking what I didn’t want it to sound like. It took ages to work out what I did want it to sound like.”

Helpful advice came from longstanding friends The Chemical Brothers, who suggested he work with guest vocalists. Reluctant at first, Norman drew up a wish list of possible collaborators and the first name on it was charismatic soul diva Macy Gray.

They recorded two songs together in LA at the beginning of the year: the hormonal funk of ‘Love Life’ and the glorious breakbeat gospel of ‘Demons’, which Norman describes as the album’s pivotal track. Macy, meanwhile, calls it the best thing she’s ever done and she’s right, too.

“She was lovely”, Norman reports. “She’s very eccentric but really beautiful. And she smells great. That was the first thing I noticed when I met her!”

After that the album had found its heart and everything else fell into place. First single ‘Sunset (Bird Of Prey)’ is adapted from an ambient track that Norman wrote several years ago. It takes one of the less pretentious moments from Jim Morrison’s ‘American Prayer’ poetry album and blazes into the stratosphere, borne aloft on whirling beats and soaring chords.

Another key track is ‘Song For Shelter’, a heady hymn to house music with preacher man vocals from Urban Soul’s Roland Clarke. Norman debuted it to a rapturous response at Glastonbury 2000 and describes it as going back to his roots in club culture.

‘Sometimes over the last two years I’ve found myself doing things I don’t really enjoy and forget why I’m doing this,” he explains. ‘And I’m normally in a nightclub when I remember why. Every foray I’ve had into the pop world has been based on support and respect from the dance community. I didn’t want to end up just pop.”

Thus, the thunderous ‘Star 69’ has the kind of crunching dancefloor momentum you’ll recognise from Norman’s remixes of Underworld and Mike & Charlie last year (along with Groove Armada’s ‘I See You Baby’ his only recent remixing jobs), while ‘Ya Mama’ and ‘Mad Flava’ are deliberately ‘old skool Fatboy’ floor-fillers. “I was allowed to have a couple,” he jokes. “Because most people have dropped the big beat thing it’s long enough ago that people are nostalgic.”

There are four more tracks, including collaborations with P-Funk legend Bootsy Collins on ‘Weapon Of Choice’ and the sublime bluesy opener, ‘Talking ‘bout My Baby’. None of them sound quite like you’d expect, but all of them sound as good as you’d hope.

If ‘You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby’ jumped and shouted with manic glee, its successor sounds no less happy but a lot more content. When Norman first asked friends for feedback they used words like ‘loved up’, ‘soulful” and ‘uplifting’. It’s a work of widescreen emotion, psychedelic soul and the best dance music you’ve heard all year.

So Norman Cook’s back, but he doesn’t want to get any bigger, just better. He’s ignored any pressure to repeat himself and instead made the album he wanted to make, with fresh ideas and pinpoint production values that outclass anything he’s done before. He’s halfway between the gutter and the stars and that’s just the way he likes it.

Fatboy Slim’s Biography – German Version

Potzblitz! Was ist nicht alles über diesen Mann geschrieben und gesprochen worden: Er hole “aus seinem Plattenspieler mehr Rock’n’Roll heraus als Noel Gallagher aus seiner Gitarre” (Rolling Stone), mit “Rockafeller Skank” habe er für die “unbestrittene Single des Jahres ’98” gesorgt (Spex) und die Musikwoche sprach von einem “Manifest der dicken Beats”…Fatboy Slims zweites Album “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” bewegte die Nation wie kaum eine andere Tanzplatte 1998, kein Club, in dem nicht zu “Rockafeller Skank”, “Gangster Tripping” oder “Praise You” mächtig gefeiert und geschwitzt wurde; insgesamt 200.000 Einheiten wurden alleine hierzulande verkauft und auch der Rest der Welt, egal ob England, Skandinavien, Australien, Japan oder die USA (wo er der erfolgreichste britische Künstler des Jahres 99 war) konnte sich der vom Fatboy ausgelösten Big Beat Welle nicht entziehen. Aber…wem erzählen wir das eigentlich? Die Geschichte des “Großmeisters aller DJs” (Max) dürfte mittlerweile einem jeden bekannt sein…

Norman Cook alias Fatboy Slim empfand die eigene Geschichte des kometenhaften Aufstiegs zum weltweit gefragtesten DJ rückblickend ein wenig surreal und nicht immer habe ihm all das, was er in den vergangenen zwei Jahren auf dieser rasanten Achterbahnfahrt durch die Musiklandschaft erlebt habe, wirklich Spaß gemacht. Dies sagt er nicht ohne ganz schnell anzufügen, daß er sich wirklich nicht beschweren wolle/dürfe, doch irgendwann sei er des Popstar-Daseins einfach müde gewesen: “The pressure of being in the limelight all the time was beginning to take its toll. For about three month my job was to go to awards ceremonies. When that was all I did, and I wasn’t making any music I was getting hacked off with what my life had become.” Der unglaubliche Hype um seine Person nahm zum Teil schon groteske Züge an, jeder wollte mit dem personifizierte Big Beat Phänomen zusammenarbeiten, die Anfragen für seine exzellenten Remixfähigkeiten kamen von jedem, der Rang und Namen hat (von Madonna bis Robbie Williams war wirklic h jeder dabei)…und Cook? Der machte das einzig richtige, was man in einer solchen Situation tun kann: Kühlen Kopf bewahren (zumindestens was die Arbeit angeht), um sich bei all dem Trubel um seine Person in eine Frau verlieben, die er letztes Jahr auch heiratete. Richtig so!

Die Fangemeinde war erbost. “Da verliebt sich der Mann Knall auf Fall, heiratet in aller Seelenruhe und läßt uns mit unserer freudigen Erwartung auf ein neues Fatboy Slim Album einfach im Regen stehen.” Ungeduldiges Murren bei Jung und Alt, überall, wohin man auch hörte. (natürlich war gar niemand erbost – hoffentlich! – aber irgendwie will der Übergang zum Wesentlichen gestrickt sein!). Ende letzten Jahres hatte Mr. Cook ein Einsehen und begab sich in seiner Heimatstadt Brighton ins Studio, um den lang ersehnten Nachfolger von “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” aufzunehmen; gewiß keine einfache Aufgabe, denn die Erwartungen und Spannungen dürften bei nur wenigen Alben der letzten Monate größer gewesen sein als bei dem von Fatboy Slim. Und das in erster Linie nicht nur wegen der großen Klasse, die das letzte Album hatte, sondern weil sich wohl jeder von uns fragt, wie Norman Cook auf den längst vergangenen und verebbten Big Beat Hype reagieren würde.

Er hat es sich nicht leicht gemacht, zunächst habe er über einen Monat nur dagesessen und darüber nachgedacht wie das neue Album nicht klingen soll, aber “it took ages to work out what I did want it to sound like”. Mit “Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars” liegt uns jetzt das Ergebnis dieses langen Denkprozesses vor, ein Ergebnis, das zunächst einmal sprachlos macht, denn dieses Album ist zweifellos in der Kategorie “Innovative Dancemusik” der späte Höhepunkt des Jahres 2000, wobei wir mit dem Label “Innovative Dancemusik” die erstaunliche Vielfältigkeit dieses Albums nicht wirklich erfaßt bekommen. “Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars” ist mehr als “nur” Tanzmusik, es vereint Screamadelica-Psychedelic-Soul, House, Pop, Gospel und “Old-Skool-Fatboy-Floor-Fillers” zu einem kohärenten, überragenden Ganzen. Bester Groove und entspannter Flow reichen sich hier die Hände und tollen gemeinsam durch die insgesamt 11 Songs, um uns wahlweise sehr relaxt (fast schon selig), wild zappelnd oder aber einfach nur wie ein kleines Kind sprachlos-staunend zurückzulassen. Grandios die beiden Stücke mit Soul-Diva Marcy Gray, bei denen einem ganz wunderlich zumute wird (Cook selbst beschreibt “Demon” als den zentralen Song/das Herzstück des kompeltten Albums). Gleiches gilt für die erste Single “Sunset (Bird Of Prey)”, ein Song, der nicht zuletzt wegen des Jim Morrison Samples für eine schaurig-schöne Gänsehaut-Atmosphäre sorgt (die Single gibt es übrings ab dem 04.10.00 inklusive eines Remixes von Underworlds Darren Emerson).

Auf der anderen Seite kommen Stücke wie beispielsweise “Star 69” oder “Mad Flava” stürmisch-krachend daher, wobei letzteres eines von zwei Stücken, das am ehesten an die alten Zeiten erinnert (“I was allowed to have a couple. Because most people have dropped the big beat thing it’s long enough ago that people are nostalgic” – so der nicht ganz ernst gemeinte Kommentar von Norman Cook). Nicht auf jedes Stück kann hier ausführlich eingegangen werden; an dieser Stelle soll kurz die kongenialen Zusammenarbeit mit Roland Clarke von Urban Soul (mit dem sehr schönen, housige “Song For A Shelter”, welches an Cooks alte “club-culture-roots” erinnert) und mit P-Funk-Legende Bootsy Collins (mit “Weapen Of Choice”) besondere Erwähnug finden.

“Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars” ist Dance Musik in strahlender Perfektion, ein berauschendes Fest sowohl für die Sinne als auch für den Körper, ein Album, das viele in der Form vielleicht nicht erwartet hätten; ein Album, das die hohen Erwartungen nicht nur erfüllt, sondern eher übertroffen haben dürfte. Respekt, Herr Cook!

Was fehlt, ist Norman Cooks Erklärung für den seltsamen Albumtitel. Die Idee kam ihm nach einem Auftritt im Palladium in Los Angeles, als er gemeinsam mit Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston und Bill Murray in der Hotellobby saß: “I was wandering around sweating and shaking, not having been in bed for about two days. And I was thinking, ?You can take the boy out of the gutter but you can’t take the gutter out of the boy'” Ein Statement so großartig wie diese Platte!

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