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.
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’.
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)’.
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.
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
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.
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.
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: Nobelprize.org.
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.