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Pop Music | FAST TRACKS

Old, new and, um, borrowed?

July 02, 2006|Chris Lee | Special to The Times

JUST as schools are letting out for summer vacation, three of pop culture's most ubiquitous blonds have released new music -- the kind of lighter-than-froth pop confections you hear blasting out of teenagers' convertibles throughout the hottest season.

And in each case, these singles -- from Christina Aguilera, Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson -- can be interpreted as statements of purpose. They offer, respectively, something old, something new and something apparently borrowed (although nothing they do is "blue" so much as immutably pop diva-esque).

Aguilera, departing from the in-your-face carnal abandon of her 2002 album, "Stripped," has reinvented herself as a glammed-up torch singer in the vein of Billie Holiday -- what RCA Records is touting as a "modern take on vintage jazz, soul and blues from the 1920s, '30s and '40s."

Behind the retro-leaning, jazz-inflected music is hip-hop producer DJ Premier of Gang Starr fame, making his first foray into pop. Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man," a romantic ode to new husband Jordan Bratman, glides atop a jazzy horn loop, prompting the persnickety hipster music site Pitchfork to call it "a damn good song" and give it 3 1/2 stars.

The tabloid buildup to Hilton's initial pop offering began in 2004. Greeted with the notion of Us Weekly's favorite "it" girl singing, most celeb watchers have expected the worst. Surprise, the hotel heiress' reggae-tinged lead single, "Stars Are Blind," is an out-of-the-box success. Since its digital release June 3, it has become the most requested song on KIIS-FM (102.7) and New York's Z-100 FM radio station, the most downloaded single on Yahoo music and the sixth-most-downloaded tune on iTunes.

As for Simpson, while her publicist insists that she didn't technically "borrow" anything for her single, "A Public Affair" (which was posted on her website in late June), it bears certain undeniable similarities to Madonna's 1983 hit "Holiday."

As the celebrity news website TMZ.com notes, "From the synth-pop beat to the jangly guitars in the beginning to the eight-note motifs in the verses to the choruses that begin on A and the use of the same key (B-minor), the two songs are so similar that, in a highly unscientific poll, every person to whom TMZ played 'A Public Affair' identified it as 'Holiday.' "

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Found, unreleased Sun Records songs

IT was the musicologist's version of a "Raiders of the Lost Ark" moment.

As part of its distribution deal with on-line music store eMusic, the rock 'n' roll imprint Sun Records -- once home to Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison, among others -- released its back catalog to the website's archivists. And last July, there, amid a batch of about 400 rare and out-of-print tracks, they discovered 19 songs by Sun artists Charlie Rich, Rosco Gordon, Bill Justis and Ike Turner that the label had never released.

"We started noticing, 'Wait a minute, some of these titles don't appear on any discographies,' " recalls John Morthland, eMusic's blues columnist and a consultant on the project. "Can this possibly be right that this stuff has never been issued in any form?"

Most startling to many Sun completists will be that these recordings, dating from the early '50s to the mid-'60s, were never issued even on vinyl.

"If any label with a '50s catalog has been picked over to death, it's Sun," Morthland says, "and we're still finding stuff that nobody knew about before. It's shocking.

"A lot of people don't realize: Besides being the formative label for rock 'n' roll, Sun was a blues label. James Cotton, Howlin' Wolf and Ike Turner all recorded there. Having all this stuff in one place is really significant."

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