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From the KORD writers:

How ‘Is This Love’ cemented Bob Marley’s afterlife legacy

Somewhere along the way, Bob Marley’s Legend was accepted as absolute truth.

Legend, the hits collection released three years after the iconic singer’s death, is by leaps and bounds the best-selling reggae album of all time, moving more than 12 million copies in the U.S. and an estimated 25 million copies globally — a perennial chart blockbuster that for many listeners defines both Marley’s career and reggae as a whole. Legend did not just make history, however: it also changed history, reframing Marley’s music and message to make him more palatable to a broader audience, primarily by de-emphasizing his signature songs of resistance and revolution while foregrounding lighter, more uplifting fare — a modus operandi established with the retrospective’s opening track, the buoyant “Is This Love.”

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How MTV buzz launched Blind Melon’s ‘No Rain’ into the stratosphere

No hit single is more symbiotically tied to its hit music video than “No Rain.” Blind Melon’s lone Top 40 entry and its fantastical Samuel Bayer-directed clip linger in the collective consciousness as conjoined twins: inseparable, indivisible, different but the same. Premiering on cable network MTV in mid-1993, close to a year after the release of Blind Melon’s eponymous debut album, “No Rain” made a pop culture sensation of the video’s outsider heroine, the bespectacled, tap-dancing Bee Girl — a character whose meteoric rise ultimately eclipsed the music of the star-crossed five-piece responsible for bringing her to life. 

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How Def Leppard brought on the golden age of power ballads

“Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” isn’t simply the best power ballad of the 1980s; it’s also the savviest. The second single from Def Leppard’s sophomore album High ‘N’ Dry ushered power ballads squarely into the pop mainstream, demonstrating that ostensibly earnest love songs burnished with the sound and spirit of hard rock could dominate commercial airwaves — a formula for success proven time and again throughout the decade, and beyond.

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Vampire Weekend creates a ‘Holiday’ worth celebrating

The surface of Vampire Weekend’s “Holiday” is all sun, but darkness lurks underneath its ska-punk bounce. “It’s about a member of my family who gave up meat when we invaded Iraq,” lead singer Ezra Koenig explained to British music weekly NME in 2010. “They were horrified by what was happening, and they lost their taste for meat. It wasn’t even an overt protest, it was a physical reaction.” It’s a strange origin for a single that many (including advertisers) interpreted as a non-denominational song written specifically for the end-of-year holidays, but then again, most everything about Vampire Weekend seems conjured in Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory: college students in polo shirts fusing street music from globe-spanning locales with trends from across American pop history, their career was jolted to life by the internet, a then-emerging technological force the nascent Vampire Weekend leveraged in fresh, fascinating ways. 

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‘All I Wanna Do’ follows a fairytale path to the top

“All I Wanna Do” is one of the most unlikely breakout songs ever released. A pop confection on an album full of earnest roots rockers, it was also an outlier among the grunge and hip-hop that dominated cultural discourse during the first half of the 1990s. Were it not for a series of quirks of fate involving a used bookstore, an obscure poet, and an informal group of Los Angeles musicians who called themselves the Tuesday Music Club, “All I Wanna Do” might not even have seen the light of day. The song’s climb to the top of the charts was all but impossible, yet it made Sheryl Crow a star.

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‘ABC’ spells success for the Jackson 5

When the Supremes’ Diana Ross introduced the world to five singing siblings from Gary, Ind., she lit the fuse on what would become one of America’s defining and most enduring musical families. Since 1969, we’ve known the Jackson 5 for a series of impeccable Motown Records singles spearheaded by an inchoate, irrepressible Michael Jackson: there’s the grandiose introduction (“I Want You Back”), the wistful ballad (“Never Can Say Goodbye”), the uptempo burner (“The Love You Save”), and then there’s “ABC” — the crown jewel among the group’s number one hits. More than any of their songs, “ABC” captures everything that made the Jackson 5 such a unique force in pop: its pace is flawless, its energy is irresistible, and its narrative hinges on a creative twist that only an 11-year-old virtuoso frontman could have pulled off.

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Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ celebrates infatuation and innovation

From the pounding thump of its programmed drums to its synth-based violins (a literal embodiment of the term “heartstrings”), Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2011 smash “Call Me Maybe” ranks among the best songs about young love ever recorded — a masterclass in pop songwriting that perfectly captures the thrill of infatuation. Its success also represents a sea change in music marketing, one defined by both technology and interconnectivity: on its own, “Call Me Maybe” might never have attracted much attention outside of Jepsen’s native Canada, but thanks to fellow Canadian Justin Bieber’s superstar sway and the increasing cultural influence of user-generated digital content, the single (and its singer) catapulted to international renown.

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The KORD Guide to James Jamerson

Bassist James Jamerson was the bedrock of Motown Records’ legendary studio band the Funk Brothers, between 1959 and 1973 playing on no fewer than 23 Billboard Hot 100 number one hits as well as 56 Billboard R&B chart-toppers. Famed for his inventive, deeply melodic rhythms, Jamerson was largely unsung during his brief lifetime, but he was declared the greatest bass guitarist of all time in 2017 by Bass Player magazine, earning the same honorific in 2020 from Rolling Stone. Explore Jamerson’s indelible contributions to the Motown Sound via the playlist below.

DETROIT – CIRCA 1965: Motown bassist James Jamerson a key member of the studio band known as the Funk Brothers poses for a photo circa 1965 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
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The KORD Guide: Motown Masterpieces of 1971

Motown Records scaled new heights in 1971, the label’s final year in its physical and spiritual home of Detroit, Mich. prior to relocating to Los Angeles. The year kicked off with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” — the title track of his then-forthcoming LP, arguably the most celebrated release in the Motown canon — and continued with classics from established acts and newcomers alike. Here are five singles underlining the ongoing evolution and expansion of the Motown Sound.

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