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Preview: FT Arts

FT Life of a Song

Each month FT music critics and contributors discuss the story of a song, from its origins and early recordings through cover versions good and bad. Formerly called FT Arts.

Published: Fri, 20 Apr 2018 19:03:40 GMT

Last Build Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2018 11:00:22 GMT

Copyright: Financial Times

Sincerity or self-branding: what defines millennial music?

Fri, 20 Apr 2018 19:03:40 GMT

From the unstoppable rise of hip-hop to the 'millennial whoop', what does today's new music sound like? And how has social media changed the relationship between artists and fans?

Harriet Fitch Little, India Ross and Griselda Murray Brown discuss Drake, Cardi B and DJ Khaled - in particular 'Wild Thoughts' ft. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller from 2017, which leans heavily on the melody and mood of Santana's 1999 hit 'Maria Maria', the coming-of-age soundtrack for the oldest cohort of millennials. 

Warning: this podcast contains a live 'millennial whoop'.

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Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 11:30:00 GMT

When "Wuthering Heights" was released 40 years ago this year, it became the first song written and performed by a woman to reach number one in the UK charts. What was the song's — and Bush's — special appeal? Why have there been more parodies than straight covers? And why is it so popular now, with re-enactments of the music video taking place around the world? FT music writers Jude Rogers, Helen Brown and David Cheal discuss the song and its afterlife.

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1968: The Year that Music Changed

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 05:00:00 GMT

Set against a backdrop of protest and upheaval, the songs released in 1968 represent a turning point in music. FT pop writers David Cheal and Peter Aspden are joined by author Tot Taylor to debate the year's most important songs and artists, from Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Beatles and Pink Floyd to Joni Mitchell and Tim Buckley.

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The best Christmas music: a definitive guide

Tue, 19 Dec 2017 05:00:00 GMT

What makes a good Christmas song? Should it be cheesy or serious? And why do millennials love them? 

FT pop writers discuss festive classics old and new - from carols to Mariah Carey, Greg Lake to Phil Spector, Sufjan Stevens to Run-DMC. Plus, which 2017's best Christmas song: Gwen Stefani's 'You Make it Feel Like Christmas' or Sia's 'Santa's Coming for Us'?

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The Life of a Song: Strange Fruit

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 15:15:00 GMT

Billie Holiday’s 1939 'Strange Fruit' was called 'the first significant protest in words and music, the first unmuted cry against racism'. Other singers attempted it, from Nina Simone and Diana Ross to Jeff Buckley and Kanye West. But could any match the power of the impassioned original? FT pop writers David Cheal, Fiona Sturges and Helen Brown discuss the song's origins and afterlife.

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The Life of a Song: Make You Feel My Love

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 10:00:00 GMT

From Bob Dylan to Adele, the song that was first called 'a spare ballad undermined by greetingcard lyrics' is now a karaoke tearjerker. FT pop writers David Cheal and Helen Brown debate the origins, meanings and cover versions of 'Make You Feel My Love'.

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The Hits that Shook the World

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 04:00:00 GMT

In a special episode to mark the publication of The Life of a Song book, FT pop critics Helen Brown, David Cheal and Ludovic Hunter-Tilney debate whether a song can really change the world. Hear the stories behind the hits, from Bowie's 'Starman' to Jay-Z's 'Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)'.

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The Life of a Song: Wild Thing

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 10:40:00 GMT

It achieved distinction in an era of elemental riffs, and journeyed effortlessly to and fro across the Atlantic. It also marked a turning point in the career of the greatest guitarist who ever lived: Jimi Hendrix. FT pop writers Peter Aspden and David Cheal discuss "Wild Thing" 50 years after Hendrix's groundbreaking performance at the Monterey Pop festival.

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The Life of a Song: Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 10:47:00 GMT

The singer’s old label boss called the song ‘a morbid mess’, but it shot to number one in the US. Ahead of the 40th anniversary of Elvis’s death in August, FT pop writers Peter Apsden and David Cheal discuss the song's origins, dark appeal and afterlife. Credits: 104pro Media, Legacy Recordings, Entertain Me Ltd, Spectrum, Omnivore Recordings, Vengeance Records

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The Life of a Song: Radiohead's No Surprises

Tue, 13 Jun 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Twenty years after they headlined Glastonbury, Radiohead return to the British music festival. FT pop writers Ludovic Hunter-Tilney and David Cheal discuss the band's lullaby of despair 'No Surprises' from their 1997 album OK Computer. Credits: Sire/Warner Bros,, XL Recordings, Easy Star, SKIP Records

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The Life of a Song: (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Sun, 21 May 2017 22:00:00 GMT

David Honigmann looks at how a sleeping Keith Richards dreamt up a riff that would later develop into a number one hit for Rolling Stones and become one of the most recognisable rock anthems of all times. Credits: ABKCO Records Inc, Universal International Music B.V, Rhino Atlantic, Virgin Records Ltd.

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The Life of a Song: A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

Sun, 14 May 2017 22:00:00 GMT

David Cheal looks at how Bob Dylan took inspiration from an old Scottish border ballad while writing this era-defining apocalyptic vision of what he saw as the violent, ignorant and hypocritical socio-political landscape of 1960s America. Credits: Sony Music Entertainment Inc, A Wing & A Prayer Ltd, Vanguard Records, Virgin Records. Patti Smith Nobel ceremony recording courtesy of:

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The Life of a Song: Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus

Sun, 07 May 2017 22:00:00 GMT

Helen Brown looks at how Serge Gainsbourg's infamously salacious love song originally written for Brigitte Bardot would become a hit for the French composer and his English girlfriend Jane Birkin, despite facing widespread bans and condemnation. Credits: Mercury France, Mercury Music Group, Rarity Music, Parlophone UK, Barclay.

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The Life of a Song: The Message

Sun, 30 Apr 2017 22:00:00 GMT

Ian McCann takes a look at one of the greatest and most culturally influential rap songs by genre pioneers Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. A hit urban anthem, it almost wasn't recorded... Credits: Castle Communications, Warner Bros, Wagram Music, The Island Def Jam Music Group, Atlantic Records

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The Life of a Song: Tainted Love

Sun, 23 Apr 2017 22:00:00 GMT

Sue Norris explores how a B-side by a little known American singer, Gloria Jones became a cult hit on the 1970s English northern soul scene, before being turned into one of the most recognizable pop songs of all time by Soft Cell. Credits: Universal Music TV, Universal Music Enterprises, Parlophone UK, Interscope Records, The Island Def Jam Music Group, Tacca Musique

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The Life of a Song: O Sole Mio

Sun, 23 Apr 2017 22:00:00 GMT

Ian McCann looks at how a turn-of-the-century Neopolitan ballad was adapted into a hit for Elvis, before becoming an anthem for ice cream lovers and football fans alike. Credits: Bongiovanni, Delta, AP Music Ltd, Nuova Canaria, Randy's Group, Inc, Autarc Media GmbH

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The Life of a Song: Let It Go

Sun, 16 Apr 2017 22:00:00 GMT

Helen Brown looks at how the most successful Disney song of all time became an unlikely favourite among prisoners and a "coming out anthem" for the LGBT community. Credits: Walt Disney Records, Black Crow Records

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The Life of a Song: Hotel California

Mon, 03 Apr 2017 11:00:00 GMT

Peter Aspen looks at how The Eagles turned a few improvised chords into one of the most iconic, and enigmatic, rock songs of the 1970s. Credits: Rhino/Elektra, Parlophone UK, UMG Recordings, Elemental Records, Sony Music Entertainment

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The Life of a Song: Midnight Train to Georgia

Sun, 26 Mar 2017 22:00:00 GMT

Sue Norris on how Cissy Houston and Gladys Knight respectively transformed the sound, and meaning, of Jim Weatherly's country number. Credits: X5 Music Group, Jim Weatherly, Carinco AG, Capitol Records LLC.

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The Life of a Song: 9 to 5

Sun, 19 Mar 2017 23:00:00 GMT

Harriet Fitch Little on how Dolly Parton's anti-work anthem went from the movies to the White House to a muddy field in Glastonbury. Credits: Sony Music Entertainment, Capitol Steps, Pumpin' UK Records, Dolly Records, BBC/Glastonbury

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The Life of a Song: Try A Little Tenderness

Sun, 12 Mar 2017 23:00:00 GMT

Amy Walker on how a saccharine love song was transformed by Otis Redding into a provocative and impassioned soul classic. Credits: Baierle Records, Cool Note, 104pro Media, Daxa production, Digital Remasterings, ABKCO Music & Records Inc., Rhino Atlantic, Universal Island Records, Roc-A-Fella Records, LLC/Shawn Carter

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The Life of a Song: Wild is the Wind

Sun, 05 Mar 2017 23:00:00 GMT

David Cheal traces the song's journey from a forgotten 1950s melodrama to an enduring love ballad covered by Nina Simone, David Bowie and George Michael. Credits: Old Style, Blooming Jazz Records, Rhino/Warner Bros., Parlophone UK, One Little Indian Ltd, Lakeshore Records, Sony Music Entertainment UK Ltd.

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The Life of a Song: Sukiyaki

Sun, 26 Feb 2017 23:00:00 GMT

The Japanese hit has been renamed and redefined by western artists from the Gipsy Kings to Snoop Dogg. Credits: JB Production, K-Tel, New Jersey, 2012 Carinco Neue Medien AG

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The Life of a Song: My Way

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 23:00:00 GMT

Paul Anka originally wrote the song for, and in the persona of, Frank Sinatra, claiming he'd "never written something so chauvinistic, narcissistic, in-your-face and grandiose."

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The Life of a Song: The Long Black Veil

Sun, 12 Feb 2017 23:00:00 GMT

For more than 50 years, this ballad's haunting charms have proved irresistible to many of the world's leading musicians. Credits: Firefly Entertainment, Black Sheep Music, X5 Music Group, Manhattan Records, UMC, Mute/BMG, Sony Music Classical, RCA Records Label

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The Life of a Song: I Put a Spell on You

Sun, 05 Feb 2017 23:00:00 GMT

Songs can be mixed blessings. Screamin' Jay Hawkins' most famous one brought bliss to all who touched it - except its composer. Credits: AP MUSIC LTD, Universal Music International Ltda., Rhino

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The Life of a Song: Some Velvet Morning

Sun, 29 Jan 2017 23:00:00 GMT

The song crystallises a moment in time between the optimism of the Summer of Love and the darkness on the desert horizon. Cathi Unsworth explores its history. Credits: Boots Enterprises, Inc., 4AD, Columbia, Ever

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The Life of a Song: She's Lost Control

Sun, 22 Jan 2017 23:00:00 GMT

Joy Division's stripped-down sound signaled a new direction for music in 1978, but the lyrics to this song would prove horribly portentous. Credits: WM UK, London Records, Universal Music International Ltda, Palare, BBE

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The Life of a Song: Red Red Wine

Sun, 15 Jan 2017 23:00:00 GMT

Ian McCann charts the transformation of UB40’s number one hit, from Neil Diamond’s country ballad to iconic reggae ditty. Credits: Virgin Records, Universal Music International Ltda, Sanctuary, Capitol Records, Authentic Jamaican Music, K-Licious Music

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The Life of a Song: The Chain

Sun, 08 Jan 2017 23:00:00 GMT

The song that defined Fleetwood Mac's high water mark went on to be covered by country-folk and hip-hop artists Credits: Rhino/Warner Bros, Charly Digital, Universal Music International Ltda, S4DK

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The Life of a Song: Stairway to Heaven

Fri, 30 Dec 2016 15:40:47 GMT

David Honigmann follows Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway' from its origins in a Welsh cottage to 'Wayne's World', the White House and bedrooms everywhere

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The Life of a Song: '1999'

Fri, 23 Dec 2016 11:48:56 GMT

Prince wrote his song about partying in the face of nuclear threat during the cold war but it gets heavy rotation to this day

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The Life of a Song: Good King Wenceslas

Mon, 19 Dec 2016 00:00:00 GMT

This 1853 Christmas Carol, set to the melody of a 13th-century Nordic Hymn, has since fallen into the hands of Joan Baez, Tom Jones and Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple.

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The Life of a Song: I Believe in Father Christmas

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 16:50:07 GMT

Greg Lake died this week, and this track remains an enduring Christmas classic. Credit: Syco Music, Universal, Decca, Symphonia

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The Life of a Song: Not Fade Away

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:31:24 GMT

Buddy Holly's 1958 London performance of the song inspired the young Mick Jagger to form his own band. Credits: Universal, Not Now Music

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The Life of a Song: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 00:00:00 GMT

It's been the theme tune for the BBC's review series 'Film' since 1971, but Nina Simone's cover turned it into a civil rights anthem. Credits: Universal, Eagle Records, Rhino Atlantic, Decca

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The Life of a Song: Over the Rainbow

Sun, 20 Nov 2016 00:00:00 GMT

Gene Wilder died Listening to Ella Fitzgerald’s cover, but it was Judy Garland who brought “Over the Rainbow” to fame. Credits: Spectra Records, Warner Bros, Blackbird, Documents 2

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The Life of a Song: Hallelujah

Fri, 11 Nov 2016 17:53:00 GMT

Leonard Cohen's most famous song nearly wasn't released after being rejected by his record label. It is now among the most covered songs, with notable contributions from Jeff Buckley, John Cale and Rufus Wainwright. Credits: Sony Music, UMOD, Syco Music, Columbia, Nonesuch

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The Life of a Song: Yesterday

Sun, 06 Nov 2016 21:00:00 GMT

“Yesterday” came to Paul McCartney in a dream one night in 1963. It’s now among the most covered songs in history, with efforts from the likes of Elvis, Marianne Faithful and Marvin Gaye. Credits: EMI, TNA Records, RCA Legacy, Universal Music

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The Life of a Song: 'Ike's Rap II'

Mon, 31 Oct 2016 00:00:00 GMT

Snippets of Isaac Hayes' classic were used by trip-hop pioneers Portishead and Tricky. Richard Clayton tells the life of a sample. Credits: Decca, Universal Music, Virgin EMI

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The Life of a Song: Smoke on the Water

Sat, 22 Oct 2016 23:00:00 GMT

The origin of Deep Purple's 1971 hit is almost as famous as its instantly recognisable guitar riff. Credits: Parlophone UK, Thompson Music P/L

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The Life of a Song: Like a Rolling Stone

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 15:40:00 GMT

Peter Aspden deconstructs the creation of Bob Dylan's legendary song over the course of a single day in the studio. This podcast was originally published in November 2015; it is republished in celebration of Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize for Literature. Credits: Columbia/Legacy

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The Life of a Song: Wade in the Water

Mon, 10 Oct 2016 15:34:00 GMT

Originally sung by slaves, the spiritual became a jazz and blues hit in the 1960s, with a cover by the British blues-rock musician Graham Bond. Credits: Repertoire Records, Isis, Edition Ahorn, UMC

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The Life of a Song: Because the Night

Sun, 02 Oct 2016 23:01:00 GMT

Fiona Sturges follows Patti Smith's lustful 1970s song of youthful abandon. Credits: Arista, Columbia, Coqueiro Verde Records, Stun Volume

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The Life of a Song: Fast Car

Sun, 25 Sep 2016 23:01:00 GMT

Richard Clayton on how Tracy Chapman's searing ballad of low income life carried her to global acclaim. Credits: Elektra, King Tubby's Music, Virgin EMI

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The Life of a Song: Rasputin

Sun, 18 Sep 2016 23:01:00 GMT

Boney M's unlikely disco ballad was a hit on both sides of the iron curtain but was banned by Soviet authorities. Harriet Fitch-Little explores its indestructible appeal. Credits: Ariola Express, Century Media, Super Cassettes Industries, MCI

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The Life of a Song: Born in the USA

Mon, 12 Sep 2016 10:06:03 GMT

Bruce Springsteen's bleak ballad of American life has been promoted by politicians from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump. David Honigmann examines the song's fraught relationship with power. Credit: Columbia

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The Life of a Song: Me and Bobby McGee

Mon, 05 Sep 2016 11:32:08 GMT

Janis Joplin achieved a posthumous No.1 hit with a rueful tale of love and loss, written by her old flame, Kris Kristofferson, which in turn helped launch him to stardom. Richard Clayton follows the song's bittersweet success. Credits: Columbia/Legacy, UMC, Top Town Records, Rhino/Warner Bros, Play Digital, Ricordi

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The Life of a Song: God Bless the Child

Sun, 28 Aug 2016 23:01:00 GMT

Billy Holiday's secular hymn was born out of a blazing family row and its swaying melody went on to become a jazz standard, with versions by Tony Bennett and Sonny Rollins. Mike Hobart follows its history. Credits: Jazz Moon, Saga, Columbia/Legacy, Island, Geffen Gold Mine

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The Life of a Song: Running Up That Hill

Sun, 21 Aug 2016 23:01:00 GMT

Kate Bush retreated to a farmhouse to craft her richly layered song of love and insecurity. It reaffirmed her place as a pre-eminent songwriter and went on to feature in the London Olympics closing ceremony. Richard Clayton follows its history. Credits: Noble & Brite, Beams, Frontiers Records, Elevator Lady, Italians Do It Better, Obsolete Media Objects

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The Life of a Song: My Favourite Things

Sun, 14 Aug 2016 23:01:00 GMT

Before Julie Andrews' famous film performance, John Coltrane had turned this Broadway number into an off-kilter jazz classic. Mike Hobart charts its history. Credits: RCA, FourMatt, Hallmark, EMI, Decca, Universal.

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The Life of a Song: La Vie en Rose

Sun, 07 Aug 2016 23:01:00 GMT

Rising above personal tragedy, Edith Piaf wrote a defining classic for post war France. Helen Brown follows its path, as read by Anna Metcalfe. Credits: The Restoration Project, Marianne Melodie, Universal Music Group International, Thousand Mile Inc, Naïve

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The Life of a Song: Let's Stick Together

Sun, 31 Jul 2016 23:01:00 GMT

It took Wilbert Harrison a long time to get traction with his ode to fidelity, but it became a hit for him, Canned Heat and later Bryan Ferry. Richard Clayton traces its progress. Credits: The Restoration Project, Marianne Melodie, Universal Music Group International, Thousand Mile Inc, Naïve

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The Life of a Song: Mr Tambourine Man

Mon, 25 Jul 2016 15:24:20 GMT

Bob Dylan’s cryptic number is one of the signature songs of the 1960s, signalling a shift in his career. It helped launch The Byrds to stardom and was pivotal in the development of indie rock. Richard Clayton follows its history. Credits: Columbia, Legacy, Spectrum, Naxos

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The Life of a Song: Amazing Grace

Wed, 20 Jul 2016 15:15:00 GMT

The grand hymn of redemption took a long path to its current stature in American spirituality, from John Newton’s original lyric to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Ian McCann follows its turbulent history. Credits: Rhino Atlantic, Marathon, Ameritz Music, Bandleader Recordings, UMC

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The Life of a Song: A Change is Gonna Come

Fri, 15 Jul 2016 05:00:00 GMT

Sam Cooke's political lament, released after his untimely death, went on to become a civil rights anthem. Sue Norris charts its history. Credit: Universal Music Group International, Rhino Atlantic, Time Life Music, RCA

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The Life of a Song: Someday My Prince Will Come

Fri, 08 Jul 2016 13:43:43 GMT

What drew jazz musicians like Miles Davis and Chet Baker to a twinkly tune from Disney's 'Snow White'? And what became of the child star who first sang it? Lilian Pizzichini traces its history

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The Life of a Song: Ode to Billie Joe

Fri, 01 Jul 2016 14:04:46 GMT

Bobbie Gentry's understated ballad was reworked by jazz musicians, the 'rebel-country' movement and Motown - and even parodied by Bob Dylan. Ian McCann traces its history

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The Life of a Song: Will You Love Me Tomorrow

Fri, 24 Jun 2016 16:50:00 GMT

Written for The Shirelles in 1960, Carole King and Gerry Goffin's song nailed the insecurities of a new generation of women. Helen Brown looks at a classic of the female singer-songwriter canon

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The Life of A Song: By The Time I Get To Phoenix

Fri, 17 Jun 2016 16:40:00 GMT

Jimmy Webb's mournful ballad became one of the most-covered songs of the 20th century. Sue Norris explores its appeal for artists from Nick Cave to Isaac Hayes. Credit: Imperial, Capitol, Mute, Enterprise

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The Life of a Song: Apache

Fri, 10 Jun 2016 05:30:00 GMT

Before becoming one of the most sampled tunes in music history, "Apache" was an unexpected UK number 1. Richard Clayton tracks its journey. Credits: Wrasse Records, EMI, Puzzle Productions, Open Records, Sepia, Sanctuary

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Is music streaming making us better listeners?

Wed, 08 Jun 2016 23:00:00 GMT

How is music streaming changing the experience of listeners? Are the algorithms that guide us through this new world an adequate replacement for DJs, critics and knowledgable record shop owners? Could endless choice paradoxically be making us more conservative in our tastes? Lorien Kite discusses these questions with Spotify's Will Page and FT pop critic Ludovic Hunter-Tilney.

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The Life of a Song: I Feel Love

Fri, 03 Jun 2016 05:00:00 GMT

"I Feel Love" by Donna Summer changed the future of music, paving the way for today's EDM. David Cheal tracks its incredible influence. Credits: UMC, Vanilla OMP, Warner Music TV, RCA

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The Life of a Song: Skinny Love

Fri, 27 May 2016 05:00:00 GMT

Written in a log cabin when Bon Iver had all but given up, "Skinny Love" was an unlikely pop hit. Richard Clayton investigates its rise, from covers by Birdy and Ed Sheeran to X Factor hopefuls the world over. Credit: 4AD, Atlantic, Elle, Sunbiz Sessions, X Factor

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Ben Lerner reads his poem 'Index of Themes'

Fri, 20 May 2016 08:00:00 GMT

Ben Lerner is one of the most highly praised and unconventional writers of his generation. The 37-year-old recently met John Sunyer, a commissioning editor on FT Weekend, to talk about why he's 'doomed to write more novels'. Here, he reads one of his favourite poems.

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The Life of a Song: So What

Fri, 20 May 2016 05:00:00 GMT

Miles Davis' "So What" is one of the most famous compositions in jazz. Ian McCann explores its many incarnations, from Ronny Jordan's funk hit to Smiley Culture's musings on racial unrest. Credit: Not Now Music, Columbia/Legacy, Universal-Island Records, Universal.

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Digital memory in the age of social media

Thu, 19 May 2016 11:19:36 GMT

Is the abundance of information in the age of Google and Facebook storing up problems for future generations? Richard Ovenden, who as Bodley's Librarian is responsible for the research libraries of the University of Oxford, talks about the opportunites and concerns of the digitisation of memory with John Thornhill, the FT's innovation editor.

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The Life of a Song: Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Fri, 13 May 2016 05:00:00 GMT

"Every Rose Has Its Thorn" by Poison's Bret Michaels was the last popular flourish of transvestism in rock. Ludovic Hunter-Tilney discovers what inspired the classic power ballad. Credit: Capitol Catalog, Hollywood Records, Kidz Bop, BMB/Poor Boy Records

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The Life of a Song: Everything I Own

Fri, 06 May 2016 05:00:00 GMT

Before "Everything I Own" became a reggae classic, it was an ode to paternal love by Bread's David Gates. Ian McCann traces the history of one of the 1970's greatest romantic ballads. Credit: Rhino, Parlaphone UK, Sanctuary, Atlantic Records

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The Life of a Song: In The Air Tonight

Fri, 29 Apr 2016 05:00:00 GMT

The coolification of Phil Collins is among pop's most curious turnarounds. Richard Clayton explains what the song owes to gangsta rap, "gated reverb" - and a drumming gorilla. Credit: Rhino, Atlantic, Def Jam

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The Life of a Song: Song to the Siren

Fri, 22 Apr 2016 05:00:00 GMT

Tim Buckley's ode to doomed love has exerted a siren-like attraction for artists including This Mortal Coil, Robert Plant and John Frusciante. David Cheal examines its enduring power. Credit: Rhino, Warner Brothers, Chrome Dreams, 4AD, Virgin EMI, Parlaphone UK, Virgin UK

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The Life of a Song: This Land Is Your Land

Fri, 15 Apr 2016 06:00:00 GMT

Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" has been used in the campaigns of George HW Bush, Obama and, most recently, Bernie Sanders. Richard Clayton investigates the colonial overtones and contested legacy of America's alternative national anthem. Credit: Smithsonian Folkways Recording, Daptone Records, Delta, North Face and Jib Jab.

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The Life of a Song: Living in the Past

Fri, 08 Apr 2016 10:07:00 GMT

Jethro Tull's prog rock hit rejected the hippy idealism of Swinging London. Ian McCann explores its influence on musicians from Maynard Ferguson to Francis Dunnery. Credit: Parlophone UK, Wounded Bird Records, Rak, Warner Music.

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The Life of a Song: Bridge Over Troubled Water

Fri, 01 Apr 2016 14:45:00 GMT

David Cheal discovers how this hymn to friendship eventually came to divide its creators Simon and Garfunkel, but went on to inspire more than 200 cover versions. Credit: Columbia, RCA, Legacy, Atlantic Records.

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The Life of a Song: Grandma's Hands

Fri, 25 Mar 2016 09:00:00 GMT

How did Bill Withers' little blues inspire a 1990s R&B hit and a Simon Cowell-produced football anthem? Ian McCann charts its history. Credit: Columbia, Legacy, Sony, Ministry of Sound, Syco

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The Life of a Song: Dem Bones

Fri, 18 Mar 2016 16:45:00 GMT

This song has its roots in an ancient refugee crisis and the more recent struggle for racial equality. Over the years, it's been adopted by Fats Waller, The Four Lads and the rapper M.I.A. Written by Helen Brown and read by Anna Metcalfe. Credit: Hit Wonder, Document Records, Diamond Coast, Sinetone AMR and XL Recordings.

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The Life of a Song: Amsterdam

Fri, 11 Mar 2016 11:00:00 GMT

Jacques Brel's impassioned tribute to the sailors and drunks of the port of Amsterdam inspired covers by Mort Shuman and Scott Walker. David Cheal traces its journey from David Bowie's stripped down version to Thierry Amiel's performance, which triumphantly returned the song to its original French.

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The Life of a Song: Lady Marmalade

Fri, 04 Mar 2016 17:08:14 GMT

"Lady Marmalade" began life as a sleazy soul anthem by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan before being funked up by Labelle, given an R&B twist by Sheila E and overlaid with cheesy rap for the film "Moulin Rouge". Ian McCann charts its evolution. Credit: Epic, 20th Century Records, Fania, Warner Bros., Polydor Associated Labels

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The Life of a Song: Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground

Fri, 26 Feb 2016 14:47:17 GMT

Blind Willie Johnson's gospelly, moaning adaptation of an 18th-century hymn might have seemed an odd choice for the disc of music attached to Voyager 1 in 1977. But artists from Ry Cooder to Jack White have been drawn to its ethereal power. Credit: Legacy/Columbia, Warner Bros., Alligator Records

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The Life of a Song: Cherokee

Fri, 19 Feb 2016 18:06:03 GMT

Mike Hobart charts the history of the tune that catalysed modern jazz and - through Charlie Parker - saw the beginning of bebop. Credits: Prestige Elite, Wild Plantage, Chronological Classics, Spotlite Records, Essential Jazz Classics

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The Life of a Song: War

Fri, 12 Feb 2016 12:57:34 GMT

Which song links a Haile Selassie UN speech with a Bob Marley vamp and the moment Sinead O’Connor was booed by 20,000 Bob Dylan fans? David Honigmann discusses “War”. Credit: Sony Legacy, 1992 Island Records, Rastafari Records, Keltia Musique

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The Life of a Song: Smells Like Teen Spirit

Fri, 05 Feb 2016 16:07:57 GMT

The quintessential grunge anthem, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ hinted at the racial politics, school shootings and ennui which entangled America’s Generation X. David Honigmann traces the song’s evolution. Credit: Universal Music TV Campaign Division, Columbia, UMC (Universal Music Catalogue), Rhino Atlantic

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The Life of a Song: Good Times

Fri, 05 Feb 2016 13:26:46 GMT

Mike Hobart explores the history of Chic’s "Good Times", a last-gasp salute to disco inspired by the Great Depression and Harlem Renaissance. Credit: Atlantic Records, Sanctuary, Castle

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The Life of a Song: Surf's Up

Fri, 22 Jan 2016 14:21:56 GMT

A pocket symphony, “Surf’s Up” was written by Brian Wilson at the peak of his creative brilliance. David Cheal discusses the Beach Boy who didn’t surf, and how he caught the wave of emerging 1960s counterculture. Credits: Capital Catalog, Smog Veil Records

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The Life of a Song: Mack the Knife

Fri, 15 Jan 2016 16:08:17 GMT

How did a dirge-like song about a serial killer written by a Marxist playwright and a left-wing composer become a swinging jazz classic and global commercial success? David Cheal follows a trail not yet gone cold. Credits: Naxos; Decca Music Group Ltd; Not Now Music; Delta

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The Life of a Song: Sunshine of Your Love

Fri, 08 Jan 2016 13:39:29 GMT

An unforgettable track whose lyrics emerged from an all-night writing session, “Sunshine of Your Love” has been covered by Jimi Hendrix and Ella Fitzgerald. David Cheal seeks the source of the song’s primal brilliance. Credits: Legacy Recordings; Polydor Ltd; LRC Ltd; Groove Merchant Records

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The Life of a Song: Auld Lang Syne

Wed, 23 Dec 2015 13:06:35 GMT

A ballad as much about reunions as separations, Auld Lang Syne can signify everything from the year's end, to closing time in Japanese department stores. David Cheal explores the many incarnations of this sentimental Scottish song. Credit: Culburne Records; Lismor Recordings; Anti/Epitaph

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The Life of a Song: The Holly and the Ivy

Fri, 18 Dec 2015 15:50:00 GMT

This much-loved Christmas Carol uses words published by Cecil Sharp in 1911. But to what extent did he graft Christian elements onto a very different original? FT arts editor Jan Dalley traces the gender shifts which define the song’s evolution. Credit: Universal-Island Records Ltd; Warner Classics

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Short story: ‘Winter Letter’ by Lydia Davis

Fri, 18 Dec 2015 12:24:20 GMT

A new short story for the holidays, from the winner of the 2013 Man Booker International Prize. The reader is Christine Spolar

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The Life of a Song: To Love Somebody

Fri, 11 Dec 2015 15:42:54 GMT

It was written for Otis Redding but he never sang it, became a hit for the Bee Gees and covered by numerous bands in various genres but who was the unlikely inspiration for 'To Love Somebody'? Ian McCann tells the story. Credits: Bee Gees/Reprise; Ace Records; Sanctuary; London Records

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The Life of a Song: Johnny Remember Me

Fri, 04 Dec 2015 16:02:28 GMT

John Leyton's 1961 "death disc" was born out of a séance and banned by the BBC but still reached Number 1. Cathi Unsworth tells the song's eerie tale and follows the trail of tears it left behind. Credit: Puzzle Productions/DMI; Goldenlane Records; Caribe Sound; EMI

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Norse code for Christmas

Tue, 01 Dec 2015 16:17:00 GMT

This year’s carol was specially commissioned by the FT with the help of Nicola Clase, Sweden’s ambassador to the UK. Jane Owen talks to Clase about the piece, which was composed by Johan Hugosson and features lyrics adapted from medieval Scandinavian rune poems. It is sung by the choir of Stockholms Musikgymnasium conducted by Bengt Ollen.

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The life of a song: Walk on the Wild Side

Fri, 27 Nov 2015 18:36:03 GMT

David Cheal explores how Lou Reed got prostitution, transvestism, oral sex and drugs past the BBC commisariat with a group of white English 'coloured girls'. Credits: RCA/Legacy, Spectralite, Sony BMG Music Entertainment

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The life of a song: Rocket 88

Fri, 13 Nov 2015 00:00:00 GMT

David Cheal investigates the roots of an explosive song often cited as the first ever rock 'n' roll record. Credits: Charly Records, Gralin Music, Famous Flames Recording Company, Proper Box.

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The life of a song: Nessun Dorma

Fri, 06 Nov 2015 15:44:13 GMT

Jan Dalley tells the story of the aria that united opera and football fans alike in a strange example of the power of posh music. Credits: ZYX Music, Naxos, Monument, Arista.

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The life of a song: Beat It

Fri, 30 Oct 2015 00:00:00 GMT

Michael Jackson's first foray into rock helped dismantle barriers of genre — and race — in the early 1980s music business. Maria Crawford tells the story. Credits: Epic, Mercury Records.

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The life of a song: I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Fri, 23 Oct 2015 15:26:48 GMT

From the origin of the "grapevine" itself, through Motown and Marvin Gaye to The Slits' punk reinvention, Hilary Kirby charts the evolution of a classic. Credits: Motown Record Company, Motown Records, Island Def Jam Records.

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The Life of a song: Going Back to My Roots

Fri, 16 Oct 2015 12:30:00 GMT

Going back to the roots of Lamont Dozier's 1977 hit, David Cheal uncovers TV inspiration, Woodstockian vibes and a question mark over the authorship of that famous guitar lick. Credits: Warner Music TV, Rhino/Elektra, Marathon Media International, Orlando Julius Afro House of High Life.

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The life of a song: Goodnight, Irene

Fri, 09 Oct 2015 12:40:00 GMT

First recorded in 1934 by Lead Belly the 'Homicidal Harmoniser', David Cheal follows the waltzing lament of 'Goodnight, Irene' through interpretations by the Weavers, Ry Cooder and Bryan Ferry. Credits: Hallmark, H&H Music, Rhino/Warner Bros, Virgin Germany.

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The life of a song: Night on Disco Mountain

Fri, 02 Oct 2015 15:49:00 GMT

David Cheal follows Modest Mussorgsky's dramatic 19th-century composition from orchestral standard to Disney classic and floor-filling disco anthem. Credits: Disney Records, Masterworks Jazz, Bee Gees/Reprise.

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