December 4, 2016 - Janis Martin Enlivens Dead, Jose's "Feliz," Gayla's "Hippo" Brighten Seasonal TV
AMC's The Walking Dead has gone rockabilly with "Bang Bang" by Janis and her Boyfriends, the billing Janis Martin was using in 1958, just before RCA Victor Records dropped the singer once called "The Female Elvis" from its roster. The song was written by Clavelle Isnard, a mysterious music man from the equally enigmatic state of Kansas; how this killer tune, and a deadly barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat named after B.B. King's guitar "Lucille," turned up on television's insanely popular walker/biter/roamer/lurker show are among 2016's non-political mysteries.
Pop culture carols gone completely commercial: Jose Feliciano's longstanding December favorite "Feliz Navidad" provides the audio on the latest ad for Chili's restaurants, while pint-sized Gayla Peevey's 1953 novelty song "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" has been chosen by the U.S. Postal Service for its holiday commercials. No word yet from USPS overseers on whether a hippo-sized package would be accepted for priority delivery.
November 13, 2016 - Moonlight Divas: Irma, Aretha and Barbara, Plus "Crying" Roy and "Funny" Willie
Recapping recent retro rhythm and rock developments: it appears Moonlight will be a heavy player in the upcoming awards season; a promotional spot for the movie, directed by Barry Jenkins, makes dramatic use of Irma Thomas's 1964 Imperial opus "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)." Other story-enhancing diva delights (no spoilers here!) include "One Step Ahead," a previously concealed '65 gem by Aretha Franklin and the 1963 Barbara Lewis smash "Hello Stranger."
AMC's The Walking Dead finds Daryl Dixon (played by Norman Reedus) in a difficult spot, forced to listen to some pretty bad music and one great song, "Crying" by Roy Orbison. Nike celebrated the Chicago Cubs' World Series victory (first in 108 years) with a commercial underscored by Willie Nelson's 1962 version of his often-recorded classic "Funny How Time Slips Away."
November 1, 2016 - Brook Benton, Boots Brown and Tony Bennett: "The 3 Bs" of Current Commercials!
The smartphone wars have heated up since Google began promoting its new Pixel phone with cleverly-conceived commercials, the latest making delightful use of "Devoted" by Brook Benton, the flip side of his 1958 Vik Records hit "A Million Miles From Nowhere." Rival Apple has chosen a hit from the same year for its MacBook Pro QWERTY campaign...or maybe it's a coincidence! The spot commences with "Cerveza" by Boots Brown and his Blockbusters, but it turns out to be the 2016 track "Run" by U.K. singer-rapper Tiggs Da Author featuring rapper Lady Leshurr, which samples "Cerveza" throughout. And while we're on the subject of beer, Michelob Ultra takes a more direct approach with Tony Bennett's 1960 cover of "Put on a Happy Face" from the musical Bye Bye Birdie.
October 10, 2016 - Simone's "Fruit" Powers Birth of a Nation, Bridget Jones Songs Take a Lighter Approach
Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation, which bears the same title as the controversial and extremely popular 101-year-old film by D.W. Griffith, suggests this different-but-connected production is an important work of art, indicated in part by the inclusion of "Strange Fruit" by Nina Simone from her 1965 Philips album Pastel Blues (the song was famously recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939). Simone's profoundly moving recording is also featured in a trailer for the film, which went into wide release this past weekend.
Bridget Jones's Baby, the third installment in the rom-com movie series starring Renee Zellweger, rocks the cradle with vintage hits by Dionne Warwick ("Walk on By"), Marvin Gaye ("I Heard it Through the Grapevine" and "Let's Get it On"), Dean Martin ("That's Amore") and The Ronettes ("Sleigh Ride," a few months early). This next item comes way late: I've been binging on first season episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the Netflix comedy starring Ellie Kemper. The show has a soft spot for LaVern Baker; her hits "Tweedlee Dee" and "Get Up Get Up (You Sleepy Head)" are both heard, in addition to The Five Blobs' theme from the 1958 movie "The Blob" playing in the background of a Halloween scene.