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Archive for the ‘Top 5’s’ category

Five for John Holt…R.I.P.

October 22nd, 2014

Holt

Of late I’ve been remiss in paying tribute to dearly departed musicians here on the blog, but when word of John Holt’s passing came through earlier in the week, I knew I’d be writing a bit about this man, his amazing voice and some of my favorite tracks. What I always appreciated about Holt was his smooth delivery. So cool, just effortlessly breezy, in the way the words flow. Without a doubt I’m sure Holt was a major influence on maybe my favorite singer from Jamaica, Gregory Isaacs, and his songs have been a delight to all who’ve heard them. While most people know Holt’s “The Tide Is High,” because mega pop stars Blondie covered it in the 1980s, the man cut a number of fantastic sides, originally with his group the Paragons and just by himself. These five are the ones I’ll remember him most for.

The Paragons – Wear You To The Ball

“The Tide Is High” and “On The Beach” got more acclaim, “Wear You To The Ball” is as good if not better. Maybe it’s just because of the story in the song, where the singer is taking a date to the Ball, that other people wouldn’t. As Holt croons, “Though you don’t suit those other guys, you suit me fine.” I’m a sucker for underdog/ugly duckling stories. Additionally, “Ball” has one of the most distinctive openings for a rock steady song. Just great all around.

The Paragons – I Want To Go Back

Along with all the other songs on the Paragons’ album On The Beach, I discovered this one on my first trip to the Bay Area as an adult back in 1997. I don’t know exactly how long it took, but I was convinced for years that the Beatles covered Holt and the gang, not the other way around. This version was just so good, so thoroughly soulful that it couldn’t have originated from anyone else. To this day I can’t even listen the Beatles version…for me there’s just no comparison.

John Holt – A Love I Can Feel

Another cover that I didn’t know was a cover until years later, in this case the Temptations, “I Want A Love I Can See.” Might be a little up-tempo to fully qualify as Lover’s Rock, but that sentiment and Holt’s phrasing make it just about perfect.

John Holt – Let’s Build Our Dreams

“Let’s Build Our Dreams” is without a doubt one of the most soulful reggae I’ve ever heard. Some of that comes through in the just ever so slightly slower riddim and those notes on the organ. But it’s Holt’s singing, the style and the sentiment that kills me every time. The interplay between John Holt and Slim Smith also is deeply soulful. A classic amongst classics.

John Holt – Ali Baba

One of my all-time favorites. Not a week goes by where for one reason or another either the first line, “I dreamed last night about Ali Babe, with the 40 thieves…” or “I rode through the valley with the princess by my side…” pops into my mind. My response is almost always the same, whether I’m walking down the street, sitting in my office or in my car, in the shower, wherever…I start singing it and dance a very particular reggae step. The riddim just by itself would have made this one a classic. Holt’s cooler than cool delivery makes it legendary, just like the man himself.

LouReed1

All week long I’ve been planning a tribute to Lou Reed (which will broadcast today from 4-6pm on KPFK), who passed away at the age of 71 exactly one week ago. As I’ve been listening to music from Reed. I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out exactly when I heard music from his seminal group the Velvet Underground. I have a very vague memory of hearing “Walk On The Wild Side” sometime in middle school on the radio and even then realizing that there were things going on in that song that were far beyond my 9 or 10-year old understanding of the world. But for the life of me I can’t recall the moment I actually heard the Velvet Underground. By the time I’d gotten to college and began working at Album 88, it seems like I’d already heard of the group. Mo Tucker lived in Atlanta and would always come down to the station asking to be interviewed about some new project and people would complain that, “just cause she was in the Velvet Underground doesn’t mean we ‘should’ interview her now.” It’s a strange feeling with a band so iconic and with such a distinct sound, to not be sure when you heard it first. What I’ve basically figured out is that part of the reason that it seemed like I’d just always heard much of Lou Reed’s music was that it was all over the place, in terms of the massive influence his work had on musicians since the 1960s to the massive amount of covers that had been done of VU and Reed songs. Here are 5 of the ones that I’m sure I heard before I truly became a fan of the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed.

Tribe Called Quest – Can I Kick It

Now, I know this isn’t technically a cover or Lou Reed song, but it samples “Walk On The Wild Side,” (before Marky Mark’s version, which I wish I can actually unhear from my mind) and was probably one of the first Hip-Hop songs where I absolutely knew the sample and then could recognize that other aspects of the song weren’t from that sample, thus sending me out to find those other elements. So, there you have it, Lou Reed is partially responsible for much of the crate diggin’ I’ve done in my life.

Swervedriver – Jesus

Shortly after hearing the Tribe song above I feel in love with this shoegazey band from the UK. As remains the case when I fall head over heels for a group I try to get my ahnds and ears on every single bit of music I can from them and this cover of what now is one of my favorite VU songs was on a single release that included “Sandblasted,” called “Reel to Real.” I have the vaguest recollections of thinking to myself, “maybe I should check out the original version,” but I still don’t think that was what actually led me to discover the music of the Velvet Underground.

Jane’s Addiction – Rock’n’Roll

Around the same time I heard Swervedriver covering the VU, Jane’s Addiction was all the rage. It took me a little while to work backwards to their live recording, essentially their debut, from 1987. For sometime I just had this on a cassette, so it wasn’t until years later that I realized it was a cover. By that time I’m pretty sure I’d already heard the earlier stuff from the Velvets, but hadn’t really heard anything from Loaded. It was probably a few years later until I realized what a profound effect Lou Reed must have had on this band and so many others.

Cowboy Junkies – Sweet Jane

This was something that I didn’t hear until I made my way into college radio at Album 88, where the Cowboy Junkies and “Sweet Jane” were already staples of programming by the time I arrived in 1993. In a similar fashion to Jane’s Addiction above, there was a bit of ignorance on my part for quite a while before I realized that this was a cover and actually fully heard the original version, which also came from the album Loaded, which was both the last album from the group that I heard any music from, but strangely also THE album that finally made everything click for me and made a massive fan of the Velvet Underground.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – All Tomorrow’s Parties

Final cover of note comes from an artist who I now realize must have been profoundly influenced by Reed, Nick Cave. Around 1994, I heard “Do You Love Me” from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and was floored. Seeing them live at Lollapalooza later that year completely sealed the deal and I’ve been a major fan ever since. Over the course of a couple of months I got nearly every record Nick Cave and the boys had recorded, and eventually found my way to the collection of covers, Kicking Against The Pricks. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” wasn’t my favorite song on that album, turns out it also isn’t one of my favorite VU tracks, but knowing that this was a record of covers of people who influenced an artist that I was completely smitten with was likely the thing that got me to formally listen to the Velvet Underground’s first two records. That wild sound was what I associated with the group until years later picking up a copy of Loaded at Amoeba in Berkeley and hearing “Pale Blue Eyes” shortly after that and finally fully and completely understanding the power and the glory that was Lou Reed.

5 for Jason Molina…R.I.P.

March 24th, 2013

Molina

{Molina’s Label, Secretly Canadian, has chosen to honor his memory by streaming all of his recorded works, take the time to dig in and get lost…}

Word came out and hit like a punch in the gut for a lot of people who care about good music, Jason Molina passed away this past Saturday at the far too young age of 39. For just about the past 20 years Molina has produced some of the most fascinating, frustrating, inscrutable, passionate and soulful music in virtual obscurity. I first came to hear of Molina in 1996 or 1997 when his debut release as Songs: Ohia was released. I wasn’t able to get the record added to our playlist at Album 88, but I sure played the hell out of it when I could and kept on playing Molina’s music wherever else I could on the radio. Songs from that first record were required listening on many a road trip over the years. More than anyone other recent singer/songwriter, besides perhaps Elliot Smith, the music of Jason Molina has a haunting quality that sticks with you. It’s not a sound for everyone, but if it is for you, well I’m sure you’re like me and deeply mourning the loss of a talented though troubled man. I’ll be playing an hour of Molina’s music this Sunday on Melting Pot, here are 5 songs that will definitely be in the playlist.

 

Songs: Ohia – Our Republic

More than any other song “Our Republic” is the one that keeps finding it’s way into my mind. Part of it is in the lyrics, which for the most part are as inscrutable as much of the other songs on the debut, but in what passes for a chorus there is this lovely line that’s always stuck with me, “you should know, trouble comes from a passionate word, you should know passion comes from a troublesome word.” Musically the song is marvel for a particular reason. After all these years of listening to it I still can’t tell if the instrument at the end is a saxophone or violin/viola. Charles Mingus talked about how if he had a group of bass players as talented as him they could mimic a horn section. To my ears it sounds like this might be one of those rare instances. I never heard anything quite like it, so it makes sense that it would pop up here in one of the first songs I’d hear from such a distinctive musician.

Songs: Ohia – How To Be The Perfect Man

Whereas the debut record seemed to be built out of esoteric lyrics put together in ways that didn’t even seem like they were from the 20th century, many later albums mined much more clearly personal territory while retaining Molina’s distinctive sense of phrasing. “Perfect Man” is less a tutorial than a plea from Molina. He knows he’s not the perfect man, he knows he’s never going to be a perfect man, but he’s still hopeful that the woman he loves will “Be mine, til you’re reminded of something better, be mine, til it comes along.”

Songs: Ohia – Baby Take A Look

It wasn’t until Molina’s death that I reaquainted myself with this stunner from the Lionness. In contrast to the pain of love lost that was often in a number of songs from this period of Molina’s writing, “Baby Take A Look” is awfully tender. It strikes me as the kind of thing that might have been written in reply to an argument and as a reminder of the love he had to share.

Songs: Ohia – Goodnight Lover

In a career of fine and distinctive songwriting, in my opinion, this is the best song Molina ever wrote. Such a personal appeal to a former lover that I always felt the performance was almost too intimate for anyone else’s ears than the person it was written for. A true heartbreaker for sure.

Songs: Ohia – Blue Factory Flame

It’s truly astounding looking at the full career output of Jason Molina. Prolific doesn’t even seem like it fits the body of work. I was amazed at how many recordings I’d never even heard and while I can’t say every single song speaks to me in the way his earliest recordings did, “Blue Factory Flame” was one of the tracks that stopped me in my tracks. It’s hard to listen to these lyrics, so focused on his own end of days, a little over a week after his death. While I feel “Goodnight Lover” is the best thing Molina ever wrote, I’m not sure there’s any thing he ever more deeply sung than this track.

5 for Shadow Morton…R.I.P.

February 24th, 2013
Foto © George Schowerer

Foto © George Schowerer

Heard the news that Shadow Morton passed away on Valentine’s Day, as I was driving home from my show on KPFK this past week.  Shadow Morton is perhaps best known as the driving force behind one of the greatest girl groups ever, The Shangri-Las.  As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, the Shangri-Las are one of my all-time favorite bands and “Remember” is one of the most amazing songs I’ve ever heard.  When I set up a “Pound For Pound” between the Shangri-Las and Ronettes, I acknowledged that the Shangri-Las had a more lasting influence and strangely enough it seems Shadow Morton himself took notice.

ShadowMortonComment

I don’t know if that was really Shadow Morton or not, but I’d like to hold on to the idea that it was. Morton wrote songs, produced and recorded a number of bands in the 1960s and 1970s.  According to his NY Times obituary, Morton wrote over 300 songs, most of which were never recorded.  I sincerely hope his family finds a way to get those songs into the hands of gifted musicians so that we will be able to get an even fuller appreciation of Morton’s considerable talent.  With the fundraiser ongoing at KPFK (including an Oscar special this week, we’ll be back on the air next week), I won’t be able to pay proper tribute to Morton, but I wanted to definitely take a bit of time to mention a few of my favorite Shadow Morton songs/productions.

 

The Shangri-Las – “Remember (Walking In The Sand)”

While “Be My Baby” is still my favorite girl group song of all-time, “Remember” as a song is so much more stunning. Nothing else really sounds like this song. Yes, it has elements of the style of the time, but the way everything comes together is so distinctive and fascinating sonically that again there’s really no comparison to this song and any other from this period of time. The fact that Morton essentially put this together in a matter of hours, all of it, writing the song, finding the band and a space to record the demo, is absolutely astounding.

The Shangri-Las – “Give Him A Great Big Kiss”

I know “Leader Of The Pack” is the big song from the Shangri-Las, another track that Shadow Morton wrote for the group. But to me, there’s nothing better than Mary Weiss’ introduction to this song, “When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in Love…L.U.V.”! and later on when the girls ask Mary about her new man and she says “He’s a Good Bad, but he’s not Evil”…pure bad girl perfection.

Vanilla Fudge – “You Keep Me Hanging On”

For some time I was a really big fan of the Box Tops version of this track, until I realized that Vanilla Fudge were the first group to employ this over-the-top rocked out treatment of the Supreme’s hit. As much as I love Alex Chilton, there’s really no comparison, particularly in those drums from Carmine Appice, who later on would feature in one my favorite 1970s LPs, from Cactus. The fact that this was “directed” by Shadow Morton (as described on the 45), just makes it even more special.

Iron Butterfly – “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”

This one might be more legend than reality. But even though he is uncredited, it appears that Shadow Morton played a major part in this classic bit of psychedelic music. Apparently the band had a hard time recording this song, so Morton convinced them that there was some kind of malfunction but that they should keep playing to work out the kinks, while secretly recording the unsuspecting band. Morton himself at times confirmed the story and at other times mentioned how he was so drunk that he didn’t really remember too much, so it might have all been because of engineer Don Casale. No matter what, it’s such a great story and it is clear that Morton was in the studio, even if he never receivetd a formal credit.

New York Dolls – “Human Being”

It was pretty clear that the New York Dolls were fans of the Shangri-Las, after appropriating the opening lines of “Great Big Kiss” for their song “Looking For A Kiss” on their debut. It must have been a dream come true for the band to work with Morton on their second album Too Much Too Soon, one of the best examples of Rock’n’Roll America has ever produced. “Human Being” might just be my favorite song from the Dolls, and it’s something that wouldn’t sound quite the same without production from Shadow Morton.

5 for Donald Byrd…

February 8th, 2013

We learned this week that another giant has left us.  Donald Byrd has passsed away at the age of 80. As is the case with a lot of people from my generation, my love affair with Donald Byrd was largely connected to the use of several of his songs as samples in Hip-Hop. Having been into jazz even before I got deep into sample lore, I appreciated the depth and breadth of his playing from the late 1950s into the 1970s. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Byrd’s sound seemed to fit perfectly wherever it found itself. Whether he was playing blistering hard bop, the most soulful soul jazz, serene and pretty ballads or sweaty dancefloor jazz-funk, Byrd always sounded like he was just where he was supposed to be, comfortably at home. We’ll pay tribute to the many moods of Donald Byrd during the first hour of Sunday’s Melting Pot, for now here are 5 of my favorite songs from a legendary musician and great teacher, peace be with you Donald Byrd.

Donald Byrd – Blackjack

Likely the first track that I recognized as a being from Donald Byrd, even before I fully discovered Byrd’s playing with the Mizell Bros., was this deeply soulful number from a 1967 album of the same title. Pianist Cedar Walton lays it down hard and heavy, Smilin’ Billy keeps things soulful and breezy with the drums and Byrd, as usual soars through his solo. To this day, still on my all-time favorite soul-jazz numbers.

Horace Silver feat. Donald Byrd – Senor Blues

While Byrd had an amazing career as a leader, he also had a part in the recording of a number of exceptional recordings as a sideman. Perhaps my favorite is the vocal version of “Senor Blues” which unfortunately is not online, but the instrumental version also showcases Byrd’s playing very nicely.

Donald Byrd – Lansana’s Priestess

“Lansana’s Priestess” was the song that started my love affair with the Mizell Bros. style of production. More so than any other artist they recorded with during the 1970s, the Mizell Bros. sound blossomed with Donald Byrd. Though I’ve never had the guts to throw this on while DJ-ing in a club, as soon as the song begins I immediately want to dance. One of the most uplifting grooves of all time.

Donald Byrd – (Fallin’ Like) Dominoes

Simply put, my single favorite song recorded in the 1970s. Nothing fills my heart with joy quite like this song. “Dominoes” truly is the sound of summer. Trips me out that I was exactly 4 days old when this song was recorded.

Donald Byrd – Quiet Temple

I’ll saying quite a bit more about this one in a moment, but for now, I’ll just say that this is also one of my all-time favorite songs. “Quiet Temple” is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard and more than any other song it’s the one that’s been in my mind since hearing of Donald Byrd’s passing. A fitting elegy for a true giant.

On yesterday’s Melting Pot, Guest host Oliver Wang of Soul-Sides.com broadcast this 48 minute tribute to MCA and the Beastie Boys, with a mix of classics and rarities from their entire career.

Tribute to Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys: Mixed by O-Dub of Soul-Sides.com

Shocking news in the music world today that Adam Yauch, better known as MCA of the Beastie Boys, passed away at the age of 47. Yauch had been battling cancer for the last several years, but the news still came as a shock to me. Growing up in the 1980s, the Beastie Boys were a favorite band of mine, both in their party-hard early days and their conscious prankster later years. Tracking down samples from Beastie Boys records broadened my tastes and my appreciation of Hip-Hop production as much as any other groups, save the Native Tounges. MCA’s conversion to Buddhism expanded my curiosity into a variety of philosophies and helped me to find greater calm and patience at times when I was dangerously close to losing both. Here are 5 of my favorite tracks that MCA cut with the Beastie Boys, and the 5 I’ll remember him most for.

Beastie Boys – Brass Monkey

My first experience with the Beastie Boys, I can still remember a crew of four of five black kids at my elementary school in the halls singing the lyrics to this song, at a time where Hip-Hop was still thought of as purely “Black Music.” I’m not sure if they even knew the Beastie Boys were white, or if the fact they made Hip-Hop was enough for them to claim them as their own, but that moment is forever etched in my brain, as well as  MCA’s classic line that was probably the first time I’d even ever heard of Brooklyn.

“I drink Brass Monkey and I rock well
I got a Castle in Brooklyn – that’s where I dwell”

Beastie Boy – Sabotage

Quite possibly the single most entertaining music video of all time, “Sabotage” marked the emergence of Spike Jonze and got me to appreciate 1970s genre cinema. Even though you don’t really hear MCA’s voice in this track, that fuzz bass is so important to the sound, especially when everything breaks down in the second half, that it’s impossible to imagine this song being a success without that rumbling sound.

Beastie Boys – Jimmy James

A tribute of sorts to Jimi Hendrix, featuring 5 or 6 separate Hendrix samples, I’d never known until today that this was originally just an instrumental track and that all the cuts were by Adam Yauch himself.

Beastie Boys – Sure Shot

Aside from the blistering Jeremy Steig sample and one of my favorite lines, “I Strap On My Ear Goggles And I’m Ready To Go,” which caused me to refer to headphones as “ear goggles” for about a year, “Sure Shot” was also the song where MCA publicly denounced the misogynistic lyrics and behavior of his past and called for other artists to follow suit.

“I Want To Say a Little Something That’s Long Overdue
The Disrespect To Women Has Got To Be Through
To All The Mothers And Sisters And the Wives And Friends
I Want To Offer My Love And Respect To The End”

That kind of mea culpa and statement of solidarity, affected my own thinking on issues of gender, and likely helped to put me on the path where today I educate other men and women on the influence of popular culture on our ideas of gender, race and class.

Beastie Boys – Bodhisattva Vow

There are so many songs the MCA had great lines and rhymes, but this track from Ill Communication remains what I think is his signature song. A deeply personal and sincere take on his Buddhist faith and who his beliefs have affected his character.

“If Others Disrespect Me Or Give Me Flack
I’ll Stop And Think Before I React
Knowing That They’re Going Through Insecure Stages
I’ll Take The Opportunity To Exercise Patience
I’ll See It As A Chance To Help The Other Person
Nip It In The Bud Before It Can Worsen
A Change For Me To Be Strong And Sure”

The backing track was also stunning, with its use of Buddhist chant, drums from “Kissing My Love” and what sounds like the doors of a monastery crashing and closing. Hearing it the first time was like a revelation, one only made possible because of Adam Yauch, Rest In Peace.

David Jones of the Monkees passed away earlier in the week at the age of 65. Growing up as a suburban latch key kid in the 1980s, I was lucky enough to have gotten into the Monkees TV show when it started to re-air during that time in the afternoon. This was far before I knew anything about music history, or cared about issues of authenticity, or made judgements about the value or relative worth of music. The Monkees introduced me to a world of 1960s pop music, and most of my current pop sensibilities come from being a fan of their extraordinary music. I have to admit that Davy was never my favorite in the group. I always gravitated towards Michael & Mickey’s tunes more than any other. I even liked Peter’s quirkiness over the smoother charms of Mr. Jones. But as I reflect back on things, I really appreciate Davy’s vocals, how perfectly phrased ever thing is, and I recognize that Davy was likely the most talented of the bunch. I also have to admit that that Davy Jones’ shuffle is a move that I still occasionally break out into when listening to 60s music. Here are a few of my favorite Monkees’ moments featuring Davy Jones, may he rest in peace.

This doesn’t come from the show, but instead from the film Head, which is exhibit A for me in why the Monkees should be more highly regarded than they were. The film is a 60s psychedelic trip and not at all the kind of thing you’d expect from a “pre-fab” pop group. I could never imagine any of today’s stars producing something so incredibly bizarre and self-deprecating as this film. It does contain a moment of pure entertainment courtesy of Davy Jones and Mickey Basil (Yes, THAT Mickey!) with this dance sequence for “Daddy’s Song,” which also proves that Davy could do a lot more than his signature shuffle.

“Valleri” is one of my faves from the tail end of the TV show. I’ve always thought this must have been one of the final videos that the group cut together because there just seems to be a lot of tension between them, but Davy shines, as usual, with a very cool bit of TV magic that allows him to float away from the group as he starts to go into the second verse.

Bar-none this was my favorite Monkees song and moment from the original TV show, until I found out what the song actually was about in my adult years…Despite being “potentially” inspired by a Hell’s Angels train, the song is a pure pop gem, with a little bit of bite courtesy of Harry Nilsson’s lyrics. Every thing just melts away though when you watch Davy dance and goof around with a dancer whose name I’ve never been able to track down.

In some ways this is the quintessential Davy song from the series, since EVERY episode found him falling in love with some new girl, generally being the problem that the other boys in the band had to solve. It’s also a really fantastic vocal performance, I’ve always loved his phrasing in the chorus and the whispery “Darling…I Love You” at the end.

For most people THIS is the quintessential song from Davy, and perhaps from the group too (though “I’m A Believer” might be as big), It’s not a song that I’ll be playing in my mini tribute to Davy Jones this weekend as Melting Pot returns, but it’s certainly the song that he’ll be remembered by most of all. Plus it gives us some of the best examples of that signature little finger popping shuffle that Davy Jones. That pure joy in performance is how I’ll always remember him.

Five for Don Cornelius…RIP

February 5th, 2012

"...in parting we wish you love, peace and soul!"

Legendary broadcaster Don Cornelius passed away earlier this week. I’m not sure there’s a way to adequately measure the impact of Don Cornelius and his creation Soul Train on post-1960s culture. Soul Train currently reigns as the longest running “first-run” show, broadcast continuously from 1971 to 2006, 35 full years, documenting so much American cultural history during that time that it boggles the mind. Personally, I spent most of my youth watching Soul Train on Saturday mornings and afternoons, I’m pretty sure most of my sensibilities as a dancer came to me from watching the show, as was the case for millions of people watching the “Soul Train Gang” and later “The Soul Train Dancers” do their thing.

Growing up in the 1980s, I only really knew the 1980s version of Soul Train. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered the absolute treasure trove of material from the show in the early 1970s. My wife and I were visiting some of my family in Atlanta, up late at night (which wasn’t late at night for us, since we were still on west coast time) when flipping through the channels we happened upon a live performance from Al Green. The experience was shocking for me, both because the performance was so amazing and because I hadn’t had any idea just how good the early Soul Train was. When you look at the list of all the artists who made their way down to the show, many of them playing live, it’s just extraordinary, just so much dynamite soul.

What also was fascinating about the show was just the simple fact of representation, by which I mean, Soul train didn’t try to do too much, it just showed the artists and the people getting down as they were. The dancers were mostly just local kids with serious style. They weren’t professionals, though many of them became professionals. When artists came on, these regular black folks got to ask the kind of questions regular people would have loved to have asked their heroes. When you think about the kinds of images that American culture often used to represent Black culture, what Soul Train did to humanize and normalize blackness is nothing short of revolutionary. That’s why I’m thankful to have grown up when I did, to see the show when it ran, and that now so many of those classic episodes are much more readily available. Below are some of my favorite moments from what’s available online. Thank you Don Cornelius and all the Soul Train gang…may you rest in love, peace and soul!

Honorable Mention: Afro-Sheen Commercials

As Questlove makes note, the Soul Train gang produced these spots and as corny as they may seem, it’s pretty special considering how rare it would have been in 1972 to have had ANY representations of black people in advertising, and to have these commercials highlight blackness from our own perspective is again, nothing short of revolutionary.

5.  Sly & the Family Stone – Dance To The Music / I Want To Take You Higher

Everybody knows how much I love Sly, and seeing him in this space, with what looks like his band from the Small Talk era (mentioned already as my favorite Sly Stone LP), cooking with some serious gas is like a dream come true. Amazing…

4.  Stevie Wonder Serenades Soul Train:

Just about the most heart warming thing you’ll ever see from one of the most heart warming musicians of all-time.

3.  Al Green with his arm in sling performing in 1974:

This is that performance I mentioned, that my wife and I saw late at night in Atlanta a number of years back. Transcendent to say the least…

2.  James Brown on Soul Train:

This clip is a collection of the many times that James Brown performed on Soul Train. I especially love when during “Super Bad” a dancer jumps up on stage to get funky, surprising James so much that you can literally see it in his face.

1.  Don Cornelius on the Soul Train Line:

Perhaps the only time that Don Cornelius got down on the Soul Train line, to James Brown no less and with Mary Wilson as a dance partner…absolutely priceless

foto © Jacob Blikenstaff

An under-rated though very appreciated (for those who know) legend passed away recently, Wardell Quezergue, one of several architects of the New Orleans soul sound, passed at 81. I’m in the process of planning a big tribute set for the Sept. 18th show when Melting Pot returns to the KPFK airwaves, but for the time being here’s 5 of my favorite Quezergue related songs, a couple of which I only had the faintest hint he was involved in until recently.

Smokey Johnson – I Can’t Help It

This isn’t just one of my favorite Quezergue related productions, it’s one of my single favorite soul instrumentals of ALL-TIME!!! There’s probably not a single song that I love to finger snap and soul clap on the beat to than this one with those the drum patterns and that rhythm…lord that rhythm! Just pure magic to dance to.

Robert Parker – Barefootin’

One of the breeziest NOLA soul songs, the first big hit on Quezergue’s NOLA label. I’m more partial to the flipside “Where The Action Is” but y’all already know that and it’s real hard to deny what a joy it is dance to this gem.

Dorothy Moore – Misty Blue

I’ve heard this song literally hundreds of times, it’s one of my faves and one of my wife’s all-time favorites, but I only just realized that the gorgeous arrangement that, along with Moore’s great vocals, lifts this one into legendary status was arrainged by none of other than Mr. Q.

King Floyd – Groove Me

It’s UNBELIEVABLE to me that ANYONE would hear this song and think, “Yeah, we’re gonna pass…” but that’s exactly what Atlantic Records did on this single, so Quezergue and gang put it out on their record label Chimneyville and it promptly became a big-time hit and later on Atlantic came crawling back. This one is from a pretty legendary session at Malaco studios in Alabama that also yielded Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff” maybe the biggest song Quezergue ever had a hand in. “Groove Me” is another all-time favorite of my, just a total smile inducing soul song with some of the best sentiments around love you’ll find in an upbeat mover of a song.

Smokey Johnson – It Ain’t My Fault

Another Smokey Johnson instrumental, with it’s opening drum lines, it just screams second line, the piano melody is a New Orleans staple, and one that’s been sampled a few times which Quezergue only recently got a settlement around. So much soul…Thank you Teacher!

Word hit today that Amy Winehouse passed away at the age of 27. It should come as a shock when someone this young and talented passes away, but with a young woman as troubled and self-destructive as Winehouse, it seems like we’ve been waiting for this news for several years. Even with the self-parody she had become post “Rehab,” it’s very hard to deny that on her two proper LPs Winehouse had considerable talent, as a singer and even more so as a songwriter. It is a shame that such talent has gone to waste, but we do still have her music. Here are five of my faves…may you finally find some peace Amy Winehouse.

Amy Winehouse – Valerie

In truth I still prefer the Zutons original version, but like many great singers, Amy took this one over brought out new elements and made it all her own.

Amy Winehouse – You Know I’m No Good

“Rehab” was the hit, but this was the one that sealed the deal for me, a tale of a bad girl gone badder, pitch perfect phrasing and out of sight writing. She told us she was trouble, we should have known from the start how this whole affair would end…

Amy Winehouse – Me and Mr. Jones

Along with “Fuck Me Pumps” I think this is one of my favorite “raw” Amy songs, pure brilliance on the “What kind of fuckery is this,” line, just pure brilliance.

Amy Winehouse – Stronger Than Me

Right now at her passing, I wish that someone close to her could have been stronger for her…such a shame. We only had a hint of the talent when her debut Frank was released, now we’ll never know what should could have achieved.

Amy Winehouse – Love Is A Losing Game

When my wife told me the news, this was the first song that came into my mind. More than any other it seems to fit both the reality and the myth of Amy Winehouse. It’s also one of her best vocal performances and the song that will remain most in my mind when I think of Amy Winehouse.

Forever Sky High...Rest In Peace Fonce Mizell

Word spread out earlier this week that Alphonso “Fonce” Mizell had passed away at the far too young age of 68. Fonce Mizell had a hand in some of the most indelible music of the 1960s and 1970s. First as a member of “The Corporation” at Motown, he helped put together several J5 hits, including “I Want You Back,” “The Love You Save” and “ABC.” There are few songs that I know of that have the universal appeal and just raw beautiful joie-de-vivre of those tracks. There are few perfect smile producing pop songs out there, but Mizell had a hand in more than a few.

Later on Fonce got together with his brother Larry and helped to produce some of the most smile inducing music of the 1970s through partnerships with Donald Byrd, Bobbi Humphrey, Johnny Hammond, Gary Bartz and others. The song is so distinct and yet so consistent regardless of the artist’s name attached to the record that, like David Axelrod from 1968-1971, really ALL of these albums should be listed under the Mizell Bros. It’s music that’s brought great joy to my life and countless others, through the originals or the MANY samples that have come out of Mizell Bros. productions. Definitely expect an hour long tribute on Melting Pot come July 24th, but for now I wanted to run down my Top 5 favorite Mizell Bros. productions.

Music Is My Sanctuary

Though it’s out of step with most of Bartz’s discography, I’m not sure there’s a better anthem than this track. Music is a major part of my life and every line in this song fits my experience with music and why, after almost 18 years and rarely getting paid for it, I continue to spend so much time playing, obsessing, listening, thinking about and loving music. “Music Is My Sanctuary” is indeed optimistical and so much more.

Harlem River Drive

Probably the first Mizell Bros. production that really grabbed onto me, mainly because of the way the lyrics, “Harlem River Drive, Going For A Ride,” are sung. Whether it’s the softness in the sound of the voices, the breeziness of the melody or the way “drive” and “ride” are extended and seem to melt away at each turn, it’s sounds like Heaven to me. Even if you can’t ride down Harlem River Drive, this is a perfect song to drive around on afternoons when the living is easy.

Think Twice

Probably the most sampled track, breaks for days for sure, but all together it’s such a fantastic song, from the female/male vocals to the rhythm and all those fantastic changes. Pure brilliance.

Dominoes

As I mentioned in my Side Bar conversation with Oliver Wang of Soul-Sides, I don’t think there’s a better summer song than this classic…if Doctor’s prescribed this song instead of anti-depressants, the world we be a significantly better place.

Lansana’s Priestess

As much as I love the other songs, the number one track from the Mizell Bros. that finds it’s way into my mind the most remains this lead track from the Street Lady. Like so many of the Mizell Bros. productions, it’s that easy and breezy nature in the groove, with the guitar, drums and synth/horn lines as the song opens and then keeps building and building and building. I can still vividly remember the first time I played this song on the radio, at Album 88 in Atlanta, early on in the monthly midnight show I used to do there “Soul Kitchen.” Several of the guys from the Hip-Hop shows were hanging around getting records and practicing routines for the weekend mix show “The Bomb.” One of them was JayCee who popped his head in and thanked me for playing this track saying how much it reminded him of growing up and having his folks playing this record at his home. To me that’s what this music evokes everytime I hear it, this beautiful and serene memory and I’m so thankful for the Mizell Bros. for producing it…Rest in peace Fonce Mizell.

I’ve been wanting to write more on Gil’s music this whole week, but haven’t found the right ways to do it. I could have probably come up with 20 “Top 5’s” connected to Gil, “Deepest Cuts,” “Best Sampled,” “Top Lyrics,” etc. I choose this list, because it was a trend that I noticed when I was putting together the tribute, even though I wasn’t able to include all of these tracks. Though Gil wrote about a lot of subjects, it seemed to have a particular affinity for songs that dealt with cities. The songs weren’t simple odes to a particular place, they instead served as vehicles for Gil to comment on current affairs as well as his own life. With that in mind here are 5 of these “City Songs” from Gil Scott-Heron.

“New York is Killing Me”

In some ways this song is more than a song. Now that Gil has passed, it seems prophetic, especially understanding the pitfalls that plagued the man’s life. Lyrically it’s also a double reference to earlier songs, “Back Home” and “New York City.” In “Back Home,” Gil is reminiscing about his time spent in Jackson, Tennessee, where his people come from (and incidentially very close to the West Tennessee area my people come from, with both of my parents getting their degrees from Lane College in Jackson) but in that song’s second verse it seems that he’s found a level of comfort away from Jackson. “New York City,” seems to back up that idea where Gil embraces his “second” home. Here though, Gil, a year before his death, seems to understand that “big city livin’” has been his undoing and longs to return to Jackson. So we have one song, about two cities and the contrast of life presented by these two moments in the history of the man.

“Angola, Louisiana”

As is the case with the other tracks on this list, most of Gil’s “City Songs,” were ways of focusing our attention on a particular political issue located in a specific corner of the world. “Angola, Louisiana”’s focus is on the Gary Tyler case. Tyler was accused and convicted of shooting a white teenager in 1975 during what I think can be best described as racial riot created by the desegregation of a local high school. At the time Tyler was 16, and one of the black students integrating the school. On the day of the shooting a crowd of upwards of 200 whites, including David Duke, still in the KKK at the time, descended on the school bus that included the black students, in the chaos that ensued a 13-year old white student was shot and killed and Tyler was arrested and beaten into a confession. Despite an US Appeals Court ruling that the trial was “fundamentally unfair,” Tyler remains in prison 35 years later. Gil attempted to shine the light on Tyler’s ordeal, hopefully people will find renewed interested in this case and continue to push for Tyler to get the trial he deserved back in 1975.

“Washington D.C.”

Here Gil takes on the explicit irony of Washington D.C., the capital of our fair land, where the most powerful people do their work, often secretly, and also home to some of the poorest living conditions in the U.S. Gil’s song reminds me how exceedingly rare it is to hear ANY news related to Washington, D.C. that isn’t connected to the politicians, as if no people actually live there at all. It’s only on rare occasions, like last year during Glenn Beck’s rally where people were warned about specific non-tourist areas of D.C., that also happened to be where all the black people live, that we ever hear anything about the incredible polarization there. Thank goodness for Gil and lines like, “Citizens of poverty are barely out of sight, Overlords escape in the evening with the people of the night…” This video reminds me that I need to track down a copy of “Black Wax,” cause seeing Gil walking around D.C. with a Boombox is just about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

“We Almost Lost Detroit”

I think this track ranks up there with Gil’s most misunderstood or misused lyrics (Along with “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” which people take too literally, instead of considering Gil’s critique of consumer culture and “Peace Go With You Brother” which after you get through the spoken intro is a very critical look at blackness, success and responsibility). When I initially heard this back in the day, I focused on the chorus more than the lyrics and took the song as being related to the riots or just the problems that seemed to always befall Detroit. The title is very specific as is the song. It relates to the partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor in 1966, the subject of a book of the same name from John Fuller. It stands as one of the best “No Nukes” songs and something that we are painfully reminded of its relevance after the Japanese tsunami and the Fukushima reactor meltdown.

“Johannesburg”

Closing out this list is “Johannesburg,” which as I mentioned on the tribute was probably the first time I heard Gil’s voice, even if it was in a sample for Stetsasonic’s “A.F.R.I.C.A.” “Johannesburg,” is for me one of Gil’s greatest songs. Lyrically it’s very focused an simple, and sounds like it could have been born out of a conversation. Recorded a full year before the Soweto uprising and massacre, Gil is interested in a part of the world that most people in the US wouldn’t have been concerned with. The points he raises about “unreliable” media information remain true to this day, especially around the various uprisings occurring throughout the world currently. Like Gil, “I hate it when the blood starts flowing, but I’m glad to see resistance growing…” This song also contains a couple of my favorite lines from Gil, lines that I think shaped my own curiousity of the world and my persistence on solidarity with people fighting for their freedom, “I know that their strugglin’ over there, it ain’t gonna free me,” “But we all got to be strugglin’ if we want to be free, don’t you want to be free?” Yes I do, and I thank you Gil for inspiring us all to work towards freedom for all.

I’ve watched with amusement the recent “non-troversy” over the invite of Common to a poetry event First Lady Michelle Obama is throwing at the White House. If there was one rapper that you would think would be a safe bet to invite it would be Common, who has spent the better part of 20 years as one of the most socially conscious rappers in Hip-Hop. His lyrics haven’t always been perfect, but it’s comical to hear conservatives attempt to paint the man as a “vile thug” who advocates violence.

The little row does provide me an opportunity to reflect on the best tracks from a storied career, so here are the Top 5 conscious tracks from Common, one of my favorite rappers, both for the consistency of his rhymes (Universal Mind Control notwithstanding) his pitch perfect flow and his distinctive cadence that could only come out of the Windy City.

5 ½. Black Star feat. Common – Respiration

It’s not technically one of Common’s songs, but his guest verse on this legendary track by Black Star still sends chills down my spine every time I hear it.

5. Common – Retrospect For Life

You’d think Common would get some bonus points from Conservatives for this pro-life song, one of the few where a rapper has ever thoughfully considered the consequences of promiscuity and an unplanned fatherhood.

4. Common – The People

Classic even though it’s the most recent track on this list, great production from “The New Primo” Kanye West and great lines of uplift from Common.

3. Common – The Sixth Sense

Common paired with “The Real” Primo, featuring the debut of Bilal and great autobiographical and anthemic socially conscious lyrics.

2. Common – The Light

Without a doubt the best Hip-Hop song ever written from a man’s perspective on Love…

1. Common – I Used To Love H.E.R.

Without a doubt the greatest song ever written about Hip-Hop…

Big Chief Bo Dollis on Mardi Gras Day foto © wildmagnolias.net

As I write these words people in New Orleans and other parts of the world are celebrating Fat Tuesday or as we generally call it Mardi Gras. Being a soul and funk fan, especially one raised in the south, the music of New Orleans has had an indelible effect on how I listen to and what I enjoy about music and dancing. (That love for the music of New Orleans is just one of the many reasons I am so happy that a new season of Treme is fast approaching!)

And so, on a Mardi Gras day like today, in my opinion, there are truly no finer songs to sing or hear than these five tracks, several of which are on a fantastic collection (that I always seem to see for $4 or less) very appropriately called Mardi Gras in New Orleans…Laissez les bon temps roulet!

New Birth Brass – Going To Mardi Gras

Dr. John Creaux the Night Tripper – Mardi Gras Day

Bo Dollis & the Wild Magnolias – Handa Wanda

The Dixie Cups – Iko Iko

Professor Longhair – Big Chief

…I’ll add one more, maybe more of a song specifically for the later hours, just when you think the partying is done and you have to find your way back home and finally to bed, but then you discover that the good times have only really started…

Clifton Chenier – Bon Ton Roulet (Let The Good Times Roll)

This is what Freedom looks like

Like a number of people around the world here on Feb. 11th 2011, I’ve been absolutely amazed at the events in Egypt, where the people have risen up and caused a 30 year dictator to resign making an extraordinary move towards a truly free and democratic society in the Arab world. The future is as always unwritten, but today at least there is an astonishing celebration in Egypt and in many other places in the world. The following tracks are just a few that have been in my mind over the past 18 days and especially on this one, what I truly hope is Egypt’s “Freedom Day”…

Arabian Knightz – Rebel

Arrested Development – Revolution

Phil Ochs – The Ringing of Revolution

Richie Havens – Freedom

Max Roach – Freedom Day

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