<p>Nicki Minaj</p>

Nicki Minaj

What did Nicki Minaj just do that no other woman has ever done?

Eminem, Jay-Z and Kanye West are with her every beat

Nicki Minaj managed to do today what no other female artist before her has done: she landed on MTV’s Hottest MC in the Game list.  Minaj comes in at No. 6. Who came in higher than she?  No. 1 is Eminem, and then Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake and Rick Ross.

MTV recaps Minaj’s year--bear in mind she hasn’t even had an album out yet (although that all changes next month) and the list was so exhaustive, we had to take a nap. In addition to her own No. 1 with “Your Love,” she collaborated with the likes of Kanye West, Jay Z, DJ Khaled, Drake, Christina Aguilera, Sean Kingston, Usher, Jay Sean, Trey Songz and millions more. 

The artists on the list were chosen by an MTV braintrust (no jokes...) based on the MCs shyme skills, commercial success, web presence, business ventures and cultural influence. In other words, the list is totally subjective.  It's the third year the list has been compiled.

Rounding out the top 10 are Lil Wayne (7),  Waka Flocka Flame (8), B.o.B. (9) and Ludacris (10).


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U2 returns to Nashville for first concert in nearly 30 years

Irish rockers hit Music City in July 2011

Music City: Say hello to four lads from Dublin. For the first time in nearly 30 years, U2 will play Nashville and they are returning to same place that hosted them way back in 1981.

U2 will bring its 360 Tour to  Vanderbilt University on July 2, 2011 at the Vanderbilt Stadium, according to the Tennessean. The last time wasDec. 2, 1981, also at Vandy, and we’re sure it wasn’t at the stadium, which holds 45,000 people.  Tickets are $30-$350. Florence and the Machine will open.

The presale for fan club members starts Oct. 26, with tickets open to the general public on Oct. 29. 

U2 has added a number of additional dates for Australia New Zealand, Mexico City and South Africa. For a complete list of tour dates, go to www.u2.com.

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<p>Taylor Swift</p>

Taylor Swift

'Speak,' Glee and Ferry: Taylor Swift, Mark Salling, Bryan Ferry lead new releases

'Treme' soundtrack also hits the streets

Really, all you need to know this week, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock, is that the new Taylor Swift album comes out Oct. 25.  Sure there are other noteworthy releases, but T-Swift is the one everyone is talking about. Here are a few other selections, some of which join Swift with an off-cycle Monday release date, whereas others are on the normal Tuesday release date.

Jeff Beck
, “Live and Exclusive From the Grammy Museum” (Atco): Sometimes the title says it all.

Bryan Ferry
, “Olympia” (Astralwerks): Ferry reunites with his Roxy Music band mates for first single, “You Can Dance,”  and is joined be a slew of artists on his first album in eight years.  Also joining the elegant party are Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, and members of the Scissor Sisters.

Buddy Guy
, “Living Proof” (Silvertone/Jive): Legendary gunslinger is joined by a few other legends: B.B. King and Carlos Santana, for his latest set. Remarkably, “Stay Around a Little Long,” his tune with King, marks the first time the two icons have performed together on a studio release.

Mark Salling
, “Pipe Dreams” (Pipe Dreams): “Glee’s” Puck is the first of the cast to get out a solo album since the show’s launch. It’s a one-man affair as he wrote the music and plays all the instruments on the set. 

Senses Fail
, “The Fire” (Vagrant): Emo rockers release fourth studio album and their first with guitarist Zack Roach.

Taylor Swift
, “Speak Now”  (Big Machine): Maybe you’re heard of her.  Country singer who’s now taken the pop world by storm. She had a little run in with Kanye West. New album out today. Read review here.

Avey Tare, “Down There” (Paw Tracks): Animal Collective member (say the name quickly) releases his solo debut that focuses on an ambient vibe and electronic sounds, but blends in such out-there sounds as bells and birds. The cover is a a painting of a man with a crocodile head for a face. The album is worth it for the cover art alone.

Various Artists
, “Treme: Music from the HBO Original Series Season 1” (Geffen): Soundtrack to acclaimed HBO series focuses on the magnificent musical playground that is New Orleans. Among the artists featured are Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffins and more.

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Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush of Sugarland

Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush of Sugarland.

Credit: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Chart preview: Does Sugarland keep Kings of Leon from ruling the Billboard 200?

Weezy finds himself in a Rod Stewart/Elton John sandwich

Country will rule again on the Billboard 200 for the fourth time in the last five weeks as Sugarland’s “The Incredible Machine” is poised to power itself to No. 1 next week. While it’s still possible that  Kings of Leon’s “Come Around Sundown” will surpass “Machine,” it looks like Sugarland will sell around 200,000 compared with KoL’s 180,000.

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<p>Kayne West</p>

Kayne West

Credit: Chris Pizzello/AP

Music Power Rankings: Taylor, Rihanna and Kanye all have a great week

Who is Tim Quirk and why is he on the list?

It’s a first for Music Power Rankings. We rank a genre at the top spot.  While rock seems to be languishing--Linkin Park was one of the few rock groups to top the Billboard 200 this year-- country is flourishing.  The  fourth country acts  in five weeks will reach the summit next week when Sugarland comes in at No. 1. And, as you’ll read below, the domination ends no time soon.

1. Country Music (not ranked last week): With Sugarland in the lead to top the Billboard 200 next week, that will make four country acts to top the big chart in five weeks:, Zac Brown, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith and now Sugarland. With Swift’s album out Oct. 25, there’s no question she’ll follow Sugarland into No. 1. The only question is how long she’ll stay.

2.Citi Bank (not ranked):  The music and financial world are watching the Terra Firma/Citigroup Trial as EMI’s fate hangs in the balance.

3. Lil Wayne (No. 6): Yep, he’s still in the hoosegow, and yet he accomplishes what no artist has done in years. “I Am Not A Human Being” debuted at No. 2 two weeks ago based solely on digital sales. Two weeks later, Weezy added physical sales to the mix and that was enough to boost his rocket from 16-1. http://www.hitsdailydouble.com/news/rumormill.cgi

4.Taylor Swift (No. 1): Anticipation is building for her third album, “Speak Now,” as she releases one track a week on iTunes. Will “Speak Now” sell enough in less than two months to become the top seller of the year, topping Eminem’s “Recovery?” We’d never say never.

5.Kanye West (not ranked):
The rapper continues the buzz for his forthcoming album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” by previewing the accompanying 35-minute movie, “Runaway,” in both L.A. and N.Y. and then proceeds to go after a LA Times reporter via Twitter who accidentally leaves the word “beautiful” out of his story. This is the kinder, gentler Kanye?

6.Rihanna (not ranked): She changes management  to Jay Z’s Roc Nation company just in time for the release of her new album, ‘’’.  She’s also starting a new company called Rihanna Entertainment that will include all her ventures including music, film, fragrance, fashion and books. Forget “Rated R.” Rihanna is now rated $$$. It might get “Loud.”

7. Wind-Up (not ranked): We thought this indie’s best days were long past it, but apparently not, as a number of suitors, including Sony Music, are circling the home of Creed, Seether, Evanescence, and, let’s not forget, Emily Osment, for a possible purchase price of $30 million.

8. Irving Azoff (not ranked): He starts a new management company in Nashville with Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta and Jewel’s manager, Virginia Davis, called B.A.D. The sun never sets on Irving’s empire. 

9. Tim Quirk (not ranked): The former Rhapsody executive and Too Much Joy lead singer is tapped to possibly head Google’s music service, although sources tell Billboard his title will be director of content programming for music, not head honcho.

10. K’naan (not ranked): You may only known the Somalian-Canadian artist for “Wavin’ Flag,” his anthem for this summer’s world cup, but just wait. Soon he’ll be teaching the world to sing as part of a $300 million Coca-Cola global marketing deal.

Music Power Rankings appear every Friday.

Last week


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<p>Matthew Monkey</p>

Matthew Monkey

Watch: Matthew McConaughey stars in Jamey Johnson's 'Playing the Part' video

Does Johnson make a monkey out of him?

Ever have the overwhelming urge to see Matthew McConaughey in a gorilla suit? Well, here’s your chance. On the video for Jamey Johnson’s “Playing the Part,” McConaughey hides his pretty, pretty package in a chimp suit as he strolls through Venice and Hollywood dejected and worn down by the L.A. grind. He even seeks solace at King Kong’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Things, however, turn much brighter when he saunters (or saunters as much as a gorilla can), into some downtown honky tonk where Johnson is playing. Johnson is so laid back here it’s a damn miracle he’s upright.

McConaughey’s director’s cut premiered on Vevo today and it has much that will undoubtedly be cut out of the real version including a pointless opening with a sleazy boss having phone sex until he’s distracted by the poor schlub he’s hired to put on the gorilla suit and spin a sign outside of his hubcap establishment. It explains why McConaughey is in a gorilla suit, but can definitely be edited.  Otherwise, the video is a fun look at sites many of us who live here with a very familiar with, including the characters who inhabit Venice Beach and Hollywood Blvd.

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<p>Taylor Swift, &quot;Speak Now&quot;</p>

Taylor Swift, "Speak Now"

Credit: Big Machine

Album Review: Taylor Swift's 'Speak Now' has a lot to say

John Mayer may want to watch his back

In interviews, Taylor Swift often comes across all wide-eyed wonder,  preternaturally sweet, and with girlish, bounce-on-the-bed enthusiasm. And, most importantly, she's very careful to reveal nothing.

It turns out that’s because she’s been saving all the good stuff for “Speak Now,” her new album out Oct. 25.  Her first two collections, 2006’s self-titled effort and 2008’s “Fearless,” were just warm-up acts. On “Speak Now,” she’s slashed open an emotional vein and she’s let it bleed all over the tracks. 

When “Speak Now’s” first single, “Mine,” came out in late summer, it sounded pretty much like more of the same, albeit in the romantic ditty she clearly was showing that she wasn’t a minor anymore. She even had a drawer at her boyfriend’s place, for gosh sake. The track wasn’t different enough to reveal if Swift was going to be able to make the leap from teenager to adult. Was she still the band geek swooning over the quarterback? Was she still singing about being 15 in a way that carried none of the emotional heft of the benchmark song about the hell of those teenage years, Janis Ian’s “At 17?”

In a word: no, she is not. 

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Far East Movement</p>

Far East Movement

Who knocks Bruno Mars out of the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100?

Taylor Swift comes on strong... again

We travel from Mars to the Far East this week as Bruno Mars vacates the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and Far*East Movement moves into the penthouse as “Like a G6” flies to No. 1 on the chart.  Mars had a good run, thought, logging four weeks at the summit. He falls to No. 2.

Far*East Movement is the first group to take its Hot 100 chart debut to No. 1 since D4L with “Laffy Taffy” in January 2006, according to Billboard. Let’s wish for a better fate for Far*East Movement since we haven’t heard from D4L since.

Taylor Swift continues to break records as she extends her own record for the most Top 10 debuts to seven as “Back to December” shoots onto the Hot 100 at No. 6. Next week, she’ll make it eight as “Mean” is likely to debut in the Top 10 as well. Still eluding Swift? A No. 1 on the Hot 100.

In other Hot 100 news, the Pink party continues as Pink’s “Raise Your Glass”  leaps 51-11; Mike Posner’s “Please Don’t Go” jumps 54-34, in part due to the video premiere of the song.

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<p>Neon Trees</p>

Neon Trees

Watch: Neon Trees' new video takes you back to '1983'

Bring your red leather jacket

In a Top 40 radio climate totally dominated by solo R&B-influenced males and solo females, alternative rock band Neon Trees has done the near impossible and scored a Top 20  hit with the catchy “Animal”  (In part, no doubt, due to its placement in a television commercial for Las Vegas). They are the only rock band in the Top 20.

We'll see if they can make it two in a row with their new single, "1983," the video for which premiered today. “1983”  sounds strikingly similar to “Animal” with its big chorus. The video opens like the scene in “Big,” where Tom Hanks’ character visits a fortune-telling machine. In this case, lead singer Tyler Glenn wants to go back to, you guessed it, 1983. He gets transporting to a carnival. He even gets to  wear a red, Michael Jackson leather jacket.  There’s really not much more to it than that. Bright lights, small city. Try not to be distracted by the obvious product placement by soft drink Crush.  Nothing subtle about that one.

“1983” debuts on Billboard’s alternative chart this week at No. 37. There’s a performance clip of the song that was making the rounds this Spring (you can see it here), but the official video arrived today--- 27 years behind schedule.


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What do Weezer, Elvis and Kermit the Frog all have in common?

They all recorded songs by some of the world's best songwriters

The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards once told me that the key to songwriting is “keeping your antenna up.” It’s a concept that almost every songwriter I’ve ever interviewed has repeated in some fashion.  They may be the ones with the songwriter credit, but  they are really just a conduit for something flowing through them.  Or, as Paul Williams put it Tuesday night at the Songwriters Hall of Fame (SHOF) evening at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, “There’s something in the song that didn’t come from us.”

That, however, does not mean that there aren’t often wonderfully amusing stories accompanied by the creation of the music. The Oscar-winning Williams was joined by some of the best songwriters to ever take pen to paper, as they told tales about how their most famous songs came about. The event heralded the opening of SHOF’s permanent exhibit at the museum.

The most amusing story came from the legendary Lamont Dozier, who, as part of the songwriter trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland, has written more than 50 No. 1s, most of them for Motown artists like Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross and the Supremes.

“I call this my infidelity song,” the good-natured Dozier told the crowd of his classic, “Stop in the Name of Love.”  “It was  six or seven in the morning. I’d had a couple. I was in a no-tell motel and I heard a knock on the door. My ‘friend’ went out the bathroom window because the woman I was with at the time was known to be a bit of a terror.” Dozier’s girlfriend came in the room and started chewing him out.  “I said, ‘Baby, please. Stop in the name of love!’ She said, ‘That’s not funny.’ I said,’ Wait. Did you hear that cash register?’” He went on to write the song that became a massive hit for the Supremes.

Dozier also told a remarkable story about Marvin Gaye recording “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). Gaye showed up at the studio with his golf clubs, unhappy to be kept off the links. He groused that he didn’t know why he was there and that he hadn’t received a copy of the song to learn it beforehand. After he heard it, “he was immediately perturbed. He was pissed because the key was too high,” Dozier says, adding with a wink, “We did that on purpose because we knew if he reached for it, he would shine.  He did the song in one take and he just heard it for the first time that day. He was a genius.”

Mac Davis talked about writing songs recorded by  Elvis Presley, including “In the Ghetto,” “A Little Less Conversation” (which he originally wrote for Aretha Franklin) and “Memories.”

Davis first met Presley at a looping session for “A Little Less Conversation,” which appeared in “one of [Elvis’s] worst movies. That narrows it down to 50,” he joked. (The song appeared in 1968’s “Live a Little, Love a Little.”)  Col Tom Parker approached Davis and said, as Davis recalled, “‘You’re a good-looking boy. Let me rub your head.’” A slightly weirded out Davis complied, and Parker said to him, “You go tell everybody  you met Col. Parker and you’re going to be a star.”  He was right.

Despite protestations from his camp,  Presley insisted on recording “In the Ghetto.”  “He fought to record that song,” Davis says. “He was used to listening to Col. Parker. He was no longer No. 1, the Beatles were.  Priscilla’s told this story. They didn’t want him to cut it. They thought it was too political. It was a white guy singing about the ghetto.” “In the Ghetto” didn’t go to No. 1, but it showcased Presley in  totally new light.

Davis most recently wrote with Weezer. “Rivers Cuomo called and asked if I’d write a song with him,” Davis said. “I now have street cred with my kids.”  The clever tune, “Times Flies,” is on Weezer’s new album, “Hurley.”

Nick Ashford, who was joined by his wife and songwriting partner Valerie Simpson, talked about how nervewracking playing a song for Motown founder/chief Berry Gordy could be.  “There was a Motown quality control board,” he said. “It would be Berry and his disciples. Berry looks like Jesus.” Ashford had been summoned to play a song, but was quaking in his boots when the board sent a song by Norman Whitfield, author of such classics as “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “Just My Imagination,” got sent back to the songwriter for more work. Ashford played “You’re All I Need To Get By” and held his breath. “Berry Gordy said, ‘We’re not going to vote on this song. We’re just sending it out.”  The song, recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, became one of the biggest R&B hits of 1968 and was the biggest duet of Gaye’s career.

In a few other tidbits, Hal David, who, with partner Burt Bacharach,  wrote everything from “This Guy’s in Love With You” to “Alfie” and “Close To You,” revealed that “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” was turned down repeatedly before BJ Thomas recorded it for “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.” The song went on to win an Oscar.  (David did not say who passed on the song, but according to lore, both Ray Stevens and Bob Dylan declined to record it for the movie).

Williams said that “We’ve Only Just Begun,” a hit for the Carpenters, was originally written as a bank commercial. As much as he loved working with a number of artists, Williams holds a special place in his heart for a piece of felt that turned into his favorite partner: Kermit the Frog, for whom he wrote “The Rainbow Connection.”  Jim Henson gave me the most freedom I’ve ever been given,” he says of his work on “The Muppet Movie.”  “‘The Rainbow Connection’ is my favorite song I’ve ever written.”

In addition to the celebrated songwriters on the stage, there were many in the audience, including Jimmy Webb, who is responsible for my favorite line ever written:  “I need you more than want you/And I want you for all time,” from “Wichita Lineman.”

What do you think is the best song ever written?

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