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Angels' Descend on Pop Charts

Heavenly Trend Pervades Rock & Roll

January 29, 1999 12:00 AM ET

During the Eighties we couldn't move for songs featuring the word "fantasy," and the hoary old "hand/understand" rhyme still crops up with chilling regularity. But as the millennium bears down upon us, there's one lyrical clichT that, after much saber rattling, has begun to saturate the music landscape. The most popular word in pop is "angel."

Despite it being a word with no obvious rhyme, it seems as if every major artist has to give in and cut an "angel" song sooner or later. The Eurythmics' "There Must Be An Angel," George Michael's "Cowboys and Angels" and U2's "Angel of Harlem" spring most readily to mind, but everyone from Madonna to J. Geils Band and from Mariah Carey to Great White have contributed to the heavenly host. And though it has always had its adherents, the outbreak of angelically-inspired ditties seems to have reached epidemic proportions.

In Britain, Robbie Williams' lighter-waving smash, "Angels," has only just dropped off the singles chart after more than six months of airplay, even though another "Angel," by Simply Red, had recently been a hit. But that's nothing. In the U.S. there are currently no fewer than five seraphic songs fluttering around the Hot 100: "I'm Your Angel" by R. Kelly and Celine Dion; "Angel of Mine" by Monica; "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan; "Fly (the Angel Song)" bythe Wilkinsons and "Angel in Disguise" by Brandy, each one a masterpiece of metaphorical originality.

Next up? Maybe a rush of songs about being abducted by aliens. Or perhaps a few about that other constant companion of our age: the cell phone. Heaven only knows.

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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