My Top 20 Disco Songs

There is a common misconception that Disco died in 1979 after the infamous Disco Demolition held here in Chicago. Nothing could be further from the truth. I will be examining in another upcoming posting why and how disco not only survived but thrived.

As I am still working on that posting, I want to lay out here my 20 top disco tracks. Now remember, I didn’t say the best, just that these are my favorites.

20. Sing Sing – Gaz

What do you get when you take a Benny Goodman classic, an accomplished Icelandic producer, and add a prominent electric bass-line along with a steady drumbeat? You get one of the most unexpected covers. Gaz was the brainchild of Thor Baldursson, who worked with Grace Jones, First Choice and other Salsoul label artists. He created an updated version of one of the most popular big band standards of all time, making it not only dance-able but funky.

19. Cherchez La Femme – Dr. Buzzards Original Savannah Band

The song starts with the line Tommy Mottola lived down the road.” It wouldn’t be until the popularity of Mariah Carey that I would realize this was not a fictional character. But it would turn out Mottola was responsible for getting Dr. Buzzards a record deal. The band infused big band and Latin rhythms with a disco influence. Add to that the coquettish vocals of Cory Daye. The song has been covered by numerous artists, including Gloria Estefan and was include on the soundtrack to the mediocre movie “54,” a biopic of the legendary New York club Studio 54. Truly one of the catchier disco songs that still gets disco and House heads nodding and bobbing whenever it comes on.

18. I Was Born This Way – Carl Bean

Imagine if you will: Chicago in 1984. Imagine you are in a nightclub that is mostly heterosexual and you see and gear a group of straight black men who loudly sing along to a chorus, “I’m happy, I’m carefree and I’m gay! I was born this way!” The late Bishop Carl Bean created a disco and house anthem where the homophobic tendencies of elements of both the Black and Latin communities took a back seat to an absolutely great song. Lady Gaga has cited this song in some interviews as a partial inspiration to her own hit record, named “Born This Way.” While it is a song that serves as an affirmation for the LGBTQ communities, with the strong bass, crisp horns and Beans vocals, it was (and still is) a song that showcases the diversity of the disco and House communities.

17. Welcome to the Club – Blue Magic

Blue Magic was one of the groups that helped to usher in the disco era. Backed by the legendary band MFSB infused with the Philadelphia sound, it was a sign of what was to come. One of the things that goes unappreciated about Disco is the quality of the musicianship contained on many records. Blue Magic offered a strong string section, piercing horns and keyboards that pull you into the melody. It has the trademark “4 on the floor” that came to classify disco along with laying the groundwork for what would come next, musically.

16. The Bottle – Joe Bataan

This is one of the songs that shows why disco was and is so musically interesting. Bataan used Afro-Latino rhythms and melodies to bring the song to life. While Bataan is primarily a pianist, he lets a very powerful horn section do the heavy lifting on this song. Released on the infamous Salsoul label, he took the classic Gil-Scott Heron track, made it an instrumental and made it funky. While Heron’s version is an examination of the culture of addiction in urban areas, because of the arrangement of horns, Bataan turned it into a celebration of life.

15. The Beat Goes On and On – Ripple

The brilliance of the song lies in its opening seconds. It both was a strong bass-line and solid drumbeat, but once the keyboards come in, there is a mellow aspect to the strong. While it is very much a standard upbeat disco track, at the same time it evokes a relaxing vibe, accentuated by the vocal chorus. And just when you get used to the mixed vibe, there comes a percussion break, and after that break, you remember, yeah, you need to be dancing.

14. I Want You For Myself – George Duke

George Duke is often not recognized enough for his contributions to not only R&B music, but also funk. Like the previous entry, there is a mixture of a mellow vibe and a definitive head bobbing aspect. As much as the music aspects of the song (bass, keyboards, drums), it’s really the vocals. Lynn Davis strikes the exact note that is perfect for this song. She makes a song full of funk into a declaration of love and desire, which only makes the song more enjoyable.

13. Forever Came Today – Jackson 5

From the Jackson’s last album with Motown, the Jackson’s took a song originally done by the Supremes and turned it on its ear. This was the album where the brothers were maturing from the bubble gum pop of the early 70’s and moving into the more mature sound that would define them in later years. Michael Jackson’s vocals on this song are near perfect and the vocal arrangement does what the Supremes version was unable to accomplish. And due to the musicianship, courtesy of the Funk Brothers, there is no wonder this is STILL a popular song in many House circles.

12. Was That All It Was – Jean Carne

It is amazing how many songs on this list are about heartbreak, yet they are not sad, rather life affirming. Jean Carne sings about a one-night stand, wondering if there will be an actual relationship. Her vocals articulate the wondering and longing aspect, underscored by a strong bass and string section. The truth strength comes at about the 4 minute mark when it becomes more of a jam session and Carne’s vocals take a back seat. Leading the charge from that point are not only the bass and strings, but also some great horn parts. While Carne’s does a soft sort of scat, the focus of the song is truly on the musicianship.

11. Billy Who – Billy Frazier and Friends

If someone claims to be a House head and you asked them, “Who is that guy?” and they don’t respond with “Billy,” they are an imposter. The lyrics are sparse, but the vibe is a nice mid-tempo moved forward by a steady drum beat and soaring horns. And by the time you get through asking “Billy Who?” you are in that place where you want to let the music answer the question for you.

10. Hit and Run – Loleatta Holloway

A lot of people proclaimed Donna Summer the Queen of Disco, for good reason. Next to the Bee Gees, she was probably the highest selling disco artist. However, if we are to be honest, the title of Queen should go to Loleatta Holloway. A staple with many Salsoul Recordings on other classics like “Love Sensation,” and “Catch Me On The Rebound,” she was also heavily sampled in the 80’s and 90’s, often without credit. Holloways gospel background are evident on this track, backed by the Salsoul Orchestra. And while Holloways vocals are top notch, it is the strong guitar licks by Norman Harris and Bobby Eli, but also the legendary Vincent Montana’s vibraphone that sends it over the top. But my favorite part of the song is at the end of the 11 minutes, the producer comes on and says “Now let’s do the album version,” suggesting there is still more to come.

9. The Real Thing – Sergio Mendes

It’s been said many times before, and I have no problem repeating it. Stevie Wonder is one of the best songwriters. Period. Almost everything about this song is perfection, except that I personally would like it to have been about 6-7 minutes longer. However, there is so much right with the song, from the vocals to the guitar, to the percussion, it just doesn’t get much better than this. Mendes infused Wonder’s R&B sensibilities and puts a subtle Latin vibe on it that creates musical nirvana.

8. Thousand Finger Man – Candido

This is another one that is technically not disco, but its disco. Originally released in 1969, its another song that would foretell disco. Mostly an instrumental, it showcases the outstanding talents of the legendary Cuban pianist Candido Cameron. To say this song was ahead of its time would be a massive understatement, however, it does highlight the influence Latin American had on American music, specifically R&B and disco. Listening to the song, it’s hard to believe it’s over 50 years old. Nevertheless, Candido’s skills as a pianist along with strong conga and bongos is why to this day, it’s a song that will get any dance or House club moving and dancing almost instantly.

7. Let’s Lovedance Tonight – Gary’s Gang

The main reason I love this song is because it is just fun. Period. It’s high energy with heavy synthesizers and bass. It’s probably the only song on this list that could be considered “electronic” music, due to the synth. A remake of their hit song “Keep on Dancing,” this one is more infectious with a very happy, positive vibe. There is nothing not to like about this one.

6. Vertigo/Relight My Fire – Dan Hartman

I remember in high school someone describing Dan Hartman to me as “one funky white boy.” Hartman had a track record of making amazing disco songs, but this one is not only one of his best, but also features one of the strongest vocal performances of Loleatta Holloway. This song is actually in 2 parts: Vertigo and Relight My Fire. Vertigo has an orchestration obviously influenced by Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra for the first 3 minutes. Then it segues into Relight My Fire for the balance of the song. Hartman, who is the first vocalist, not only has White’s influence, but also a heavy gospel influence, even before Holloway comes and knocks it out of the park. When the song gets to the 6:38 mark, it’s “time to go to church.” Holloway’s vocals come storming in and from there. While Hartman’s vocals are profoundly outclassed by Holloway, his brilliance as a producer makes it work.

5. Free Man – South Shore Commission

Strong horns, a wicked lead guitar and xylophone reminiscent of Lionel Hampton, and a conversation between a man and a woman about their relationship status and you have an absolute classic. When the song gets to the 3:30 minute mark, that is when it really takes off. There are several breaks, one introduced by a violin, another with a lead guitar then the xylophone. After the xylophone break, the energy in the song is intensified with a building guitar and drum and from there, you are left with one of the best disco songs out there.

4. I Know You, I Live You – Chaka Khan

This one is cheating just a bit. Originally released in 1981, a remix was done by Tony Humphries and included on Khan’s “Life is a Dance: The Remix Project” in 1989. Just enough of the original is included, but it’s like Humphries turned it up to 12. Khan’s vocals are in top condition on this, coming from her heyday, but also the backing musicians give her the proper boost needed. The remix version gives proper attention to the horn section and then let’s Chaka’s vocals do the rest of the work.

3. Let’s Start II Dance Again – Bohannon

“The message is in the muuuuuuuuuuusic,” starts off this one. This is another “remake” of sorts. The first version “Let’s Start The Dance” is a great song, but this one, which just additional lyrics added over the breaks. And it is those lyrics that send elevates the song from good to great. Bohannon influenced a number of artists, famously name dropped on the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.” Bohannon was another in a long list of influential musicians that routinely does not get the credit he deserves.

2. Over and Over – Sylvester

If Donna Summer and Loleatta Holloway are the Queens of Disco, Sylvester would no doubt be the Princess. Another painfully overlooked and underappreciated artist, Sylvester crafted a number of top selling disco tracks by infusing gospel with R&B along with his amazing falsetto. And this song is a perfect mash up of those styles, especially when you include the awesome horn section. It sounds and feel like a live recording and the energy radiates through the recording. There are moments of the song where Sylvester almost feels as if he is conducting the hand with his voice. His falsetto goes from strong to forceful with ease that just builds to a musical crescendo that simply explodes. I only wish I could have witnessed that performance in person.

1. Lovin’ Is Really My Game – Brainstorm

Words are somewhat inadequate to express how much I love this song. It is one of my go to songs when I need to lift my mood or when I need to get hyped. The first time I heard this song was in a mix by the legendary House DJ Ron Hardy. The song hits you from the beginning, establishing the pace and energy from the outset. Lead vocalist Belita Wood’s vocals are perfect in this recording and the musicianship that goes along with it, from the bass to the percussion and the lead guitar along with the strings. But it’s the percussion breaks, two of them, that build a sonic mountain and when the breaks explode, I always hearken back to being at a club in Chicago called C.O.D.’s where Hardy would make the entire dance floor go absolutely nuts with the kinetic energy. For me, this song is disco at its finest.

My Favorite Cover Songs

There are times I get in a music purist mode and I deride artists for being lazy and covering other people’s material. When I stop being a pretentious ass about it, I always find that there are some covers that are just outstanding, either paying much respect to the original or putting a different twist on a song that makes it awesome.

So here are some of my favorite cover songs. For your listening pleasure, I have included links to both the cover and the original.

Take Five – Al Jarreau (1977)

Original – Dave Brubeck (1959)

There are probably 1,000 awesome versions of this song. After all, it is a jazz classic and possibly, depending on who you talk to, one of the best jazz records ever made. What makes this one different are the vocals. Al Jarreau was a master vocalist as one of the premier scat singers of our time. And this version is nothing short of brilliant. Not only do the musicians give a top notch performance, but Jarreau’s vocals are near flawless. To put it simply, they don’t make songs like this anymore.

One Note Samba – Al Jarreau (1985)

Original – Joao Gilberto (1960)

Once again, Jarreau knocks it out of the park. As opposed to the previous track, Jarreau’s vocals here are very subtle, and at times, understated. He captures the feel and sound of the original, whose lyrics were in Portuguese, and puts an American jazz influenced spin on it. His timing and his delivery are all amazing and it shows why Jarreau was truly one of the more underrated vocalists in recent times.

Dindi – Art Porter feat. El Debarge (1997)

Original –Antonio Carlos Jobim (1960)

Antonio Carlos Jobim was an amazing songwriter and producer. He was responsible for some of the best Latin music ever produced. So it is difficult improve on his work. But Art Porter, with the help of El DeBarge, certainly did their best. DeBarge’s high pitched vocals is a perfectly compliment to the slow and steady rhythms of the song. And it prove that DeBarge is truly a talented singer, not limited to R&B and poppy melodies like he did with his family group. This is a performance that truly pays homage to the original while putting a unique spin on the composition.

Strawberry Letter 23 – The Brothers Johnson (1977)

Original – Shuggie Otis (1971)

For a period, The Brothers Johnson could do no wrong. With the help of producer extraordinaire Quincy Jones, they put out some of the most memorable R&B/funk music of the late 70’s and early 80’s. However, very few songs eclipsed their efforts on this recording. While very similar musically to the original, George Johnson’s vocals make it even a sweeter and more tender love song, and then Louis Johnson’s bass lines kick in and made it an example of a true funk record.

I’m a Man – Chicago Transit Authority (1969)

Original – The Spencer Davis Group (1967)

When having a discussion about the best horn sections in music, a friend exposed me to Chicago. And truly, their horn section ranks up with the greats, such as Tower of Power and Earth, Wind and Fire. However, on this track, it is the percussion that makes it great. Similar in style to the original, sometimes I get the image of Christopher Walken in the infamous Saturday Night Live sketch saying what it needed is more cowbell. To put it bluntly, the percussion break at about the 3:10 minute mark, is one of the best drum/percussion breaks ever recorded. Drummer Danny Seraphine is inspired and the maracas and cowbell all make this one of the best examples of a drum solo most will ever hear.

Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile) – Gato Barberi (1976)

Original – Santana (1976)

I heard Barberi’s version first (I know, shoot me). From the first time I heard it I was entranced. Barberi was a premier saxophonist, infusing his Latin rhythms with American production values. When I finally heard Santana’s version, I loved it (and still do), but there is something about Barberi’s contribution that pushed his version over the edge against Santana. But then, I heard/watched a YouTube video with both of them playing together, and is pretty music musical nirvana. These two giants, together showcasing their versions during the same performance, is one of those times you have to play it again because you want the music to keep going.

Breezin’ – George Benson (1976)

Original — Gábor Szabó (1970)

I had no idea Benson’s version was a cover until about 3-4 years ago. Written by Bobby Womack, the original version was released by Gábor Szabó, a Hungarian guitarist educated in America. Their work on the track is nice, but Benson brought an intensity to the recording that wasn’t present in the original recording. Benson’s abilities as a guitarist are on full display and creates one of the most memorable instrumentals to be recorded in the 70’s.

Hello, It’s Me – The Isley Brothers (1974)

Original – Todd Rundgren (1968)

The Isley’s took Rundgren’s sad please to a former lover and made it sexy. While Rundgren’s version is bittersweet, Ron Isley’s vocals flips that on its head and instead of a “goodbye” song, turns it into a “I know you’re gonna come back” song. The Isley Brothers rendition has become so well known and respected that many artists, when they cover it, use the Isley’s arrangement as opposed to Rundgren. That says a lot on its own.

So You Say (Esquinas) – Manhattan Transfer (1987)

Original – Djavan (1984)

It was not until last year that I heard the original of this song. Djavan is a Brazilian singer/songwriter that has had a number of his compositions covered by American artists. While Djavans vocals are almost simple and sweet, Manhattan Transfer’s Janis Segal makes this a passionate, emotional, powerful break up song. You can literally feel the heartbreak in Segal’s vocals that come from the lyrics. Add to that the production with the Transfers harmonies and David Sanborn’s saxophone, and this is a song where you should feel sad, but it just makes one feel warm and happy inside.

Birdland – Manhattan Transfer (1979)

Original – Weather Report (1977)

I will always remember the first time I played this for someone I was dating, she started screaming in the car, “Oh my God! Birdland has lyrics!” Let’s be clear: Weather Report’s original version is nothing short of sublime. However, the Transfer, by adding lyrics, Janis Segals awesome vocal performance (which won a Grammy) and the Transfer’s harmonies and melodies creates an wonderful tribute to the original.

Everything Must Change – Quincy Jones feat. BeBe Winans (2010)

Original – Quincy Jones feat Bernard Ighner (1974)

It might be cheating to include a song where the original and cover version are done by the same person, yet here we are. Another song that has been covered by numerous artists; the original version always remained the standard. However, this is another instance where the vocalists makes all the difference. Winans brings his gospel musical training and background and makes it even more optimistic. In fact, Winans almost turns it into a musical sermon. But at the 2:42 minute mark, that is where the song really takes off. It is at that point, Winans gospel roots turn this from a good cover to an amazing cover.

A Song for You – Ray Charles (1993)

Original – Leon Russell (1970)

This song has become closely with Donny Hathaway, so much that many think Hathaway wrote it. This is another song that has had a number of amazing covers. In fact, I almost added the version done by Herbie Hancock with Christina Aguilera in 2005, because she knocked it out of the park. However, this version resonates with me the most. Because of Charles’ life experience and age, his vocals create a more reflective mood than other versions. You truly get the sense of someone looking over their life and pledging what time they have left to the person that they love. 

I Scare Myself – Thomas Dolby (1984)

Original – Dan Hicks and His Lot Licks (1969)

This is another song I didn’t realize was a cover until recently, maybe within the last 2 years. I will admit, after listening to the original, I was not very impressed. Dolby brings so many other aspects to this version, including a great horn section, a very gentle and somber Spanish guitar, and Dolby’s lyrics, which are just on the edge of being whining, winds up being a stronger declaration of love than the original.

It’s My Life – No Doubt (2003)

Original – Talk Talk (1984)

I remember when I first heard that No Doubt was covering this classic Talk Talk song, I was slightly offended, thinking no way could they pull it off. I was dead wrong. While keeping most of the original arrangement, Gwen Stefani’s vocals are more pleading but also more defiant (as evidenced by the video). Stefani makes it more of a statement of independence, with more a more urgent tone. While I can’t say I haven’t made other snap judgments on covers before, this is one where I was happy to be wrong.

Mad World – Gary Jules (2001)

Original – Tears for Fears (1982)

Tears for Fears is one of my favorite bands from the 80’s. I have been into them since their first album and Mad World, is a song I am very partial to, owing to high school nostalgia. When a friend found out I was a TFF fan, he wanted to play this for me. I was immediately impressed drawn to it. However, this is an example of paying homage to the original while creating something different. Jules’s version, with Michael Andrews on vocals, is much darker, more depressing and with a twinge of desperation. The song is also sparser, with mainly a piano and an upright bass, which only leads to the haunting quality of the song.

Nights Over Egypt – Incognito (1999)

Original – The Jones Girls (1981)

Incognito is noted for doing a number of covers, both on their albums and in concert. Overall, they pay tribute to the songs, sometimes putting a different spin on it from the original. Such is the case with Nights Over Egypt. Incognito takes a mellow, retrospective song and turns it into a late 90’s disco influenced song. With Maysa Leak and Jocelyn Brown sharing vocals, they take this 70’s classic and bring it right into the modern era. Incognito is one of the key groups in the acid jazz movement, and when Leak and Brown trade vocals, along with their horn section and the way the keyboards are used, it makes it one of Incognito’s finest recordings.

Prince – One of Us (1996)

Original – Joan Osborne (1995)

Prince didn’t record a lot of covers. Which is probably the reason that if you listen to the song through headphones, in the very beginning Prince declares, “We didn’t write this song,” almost as a warning/disclaimer. The basic arrangements are the same between Prince and Osborne’s version, but Prince made it a Prince song. With stronger guitars and a more declarative attitude, he takes Osborne’s effort and turns it on its head. He even changed one of the lyrics from “just a slob like one of us” to “just a slave like one of us,” reflecting his battle with Warner Brothers at the time that caused him publicly have the word “slave” written on his cheek. Prince’s spiritual overtones are also more hopeful and declarative than Osborne.

All Along the Watchtower – The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968)

Original – Bob Dylan (1968)

Regarding Hendrix’s version, Bob Dylan was quoted as saying “Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to [Hendrix] in some way.” Hendrix truly took Dylan’s original and made it his own, bringing a different energy and understanding to the song. From Hendrix’s guitar to Mitch Mitchell’s drums, it’s almost like someone else wrote the song. According to many critics, this remains one of the best cover versions of all time.

Who Is He (and What Is He To You?) – Me’Shell NdegéOcello

Original – Bill Withers (1972)

Very often, when a woman covers a song from a man, they will change the mentions of gender in the lyrics. In this case, NdegéOcello not only kept the original lyrics, but also gives a different perspective. The Bill Withers version assumes it is a man talking to a woman, but in this version, due to NdegéOcello being openly bisexual from the start of her career, you’re really not sure who she is singing to. However, her version is more defiant with an edge of anger to it. And as an amazing bassist, she uses the bass to be more emphatic that the relationship is almost over. The basic arrangements on both songs are similar, but the similarities pretty much end there.

Hazy Shade of Winter – The Bangles (1987)

Original – Simon & Garfunkel (1966)

One of the things this version did for the Bangles is prove that they were more than just a “girl group,” as some labeled them to dismiss them as musicians. While using a similar arrangement from the original, The Bangles give this one a harder rock edge. Also, with all 4 Bangles members, the harmonies present give the song a more thoughtful twinge than the original version. The song received attention for being used in the movie “Less Than Zero” and on the movies soundtrack, and it showed that the Bangles were truly a successor to The Runaways.

Cool Jerk – The Go-Go’s (1982)

Original – The Capitols (1966)

Speaking of “girl groups,” The Go-Go’s were discounted often in their career for not being “true” musicians. Even with their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they are still not taken as seriously as they should be. While I was a fan early on of the band, it was actually this song that cemented me as a fan. At the time I had not heard the original version from the Capitols, but I was struck at the time by the light and fun vibe from the song. Musically, the songs are similar, with a little extra attention given to the lead guitar and bass, but it remains in keeping with the Go-Go’s image as a group that was having fun with their music (at least in the beginning).

Hard to Handle – The Black Crowes (1990)

Original – Otis Redding (1968)

Otis Redding will always be one of the best singers and songwriters to ever grace us. His vocal style remains something that remains unmatched. However, the Black Crowes did an excellent job here. With a faster tempo and laying a rock vibe off the bluesy background of the original, the Crowes give us something a little different. What I think it most impressive on this song is lead singer Chris Robinson’s more staccato vocals on the chorus. This is song is a great example of the fusion of R&B and rock, and the Crowes pay great homage to Redding.

Over and Over – Sylvester (1981)

Original – Ashford & Simpson (1977)

The late great Sylvester James is one of the unsung heroes of the disco era. With his poignant falsettos, his ability to gather top musicians, and his general style and flair, he was an artist that was truly before his time. This version perfectly sums up what made Sylvester great: infectious energy, a steady but enthralling bass line, crisp drums, amazing backup vocalists, courtesy of the great Martha Wash and Izora Armstead (aka “The Weather Girls”), and the feeling of a live performance. A staple in disco and House music circles, this is a song that makes you not want to dance but NEED to dance. Then, there are his vocals. Sylvester not only had one of the best falsettos but also knew how to relate to an audience. He lets the song build and build to a crescendo where it explodes in musical bliss. Ashford and Simpson were amazing song writers and great performers, but Sylvester’s cover is light years beyond theirs.

 

I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On – Robert Palmer (1985)

Original – Cherrelle (1984)

This is another example of different vocalist, different perspective. Cherrelle’s version, more R&B flavored, resonated with women in a message to men about expectations. Palmers’ version, using the exact same lyrics, flips it into a message to women about their expectations. Written by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who produced the original, Cherrelle’s version makes a definitive statement. Palmer’s version, produced by Chic’s Bernard Edwards and with more of a pop feel. While Cherrelle is demanding respect for her decision and options, Palmer is almost apologetic in his version while at the same time suggesting “men can feel this way too!”

Don’t Let It Go to Your Head – Brand Nubian (1998)

Original – Jean Carn (1978)

As the only hip hop entry, I included because the backing track is almost identical. Jean Carn’s version is a classic R&B 70’s hit, and I was tempted to include the cover done by the acid jazz band, Brand New Heavies. However, what Brand Nubian did was a little more interesting in keeping with the hip hop tradition. Grand Puba and Lord Jamar offer some of their best bars. They keep the mellow, laid back vibe and also use the original chorus as a hook. From there, BN take it and create one of the most underappreciated hip hop songs of the 90’s. While Carn’s original is about the fallacy of assuming too much in a relationship, Brand Nubian offers a cautionary tale against fame and popularity. Brand Nubian created a totally different song, but a worthy successor to Carn’s legacy.

The 10 Best Prince Albums You’ve (probably) Never Heard

Prior to his death in 2016, Prince released a staggering amount of material. There were 42 albums credited to him (including The Revolution and New Power Generation), 4 live albums, and 9 compilation albums. If you include the side project albums (The Time, Vanity/Apollonia 6, Sheila E., Madhouse, etc.), that adds another 13-14 albums.

Purple Rain, both the album and the movie, is what he is most identified with. While it may have been the height of his commercial success, the creative genius of Prince continued long after the flash of Purple Rain died out.

Here are listed, in my opinion, 10 of the best Prince albums that many have never heard. After the Purple Rain era, Prince experimented with several genres and song types, including straight funk, house music, jazz, ballet and classical, many that escaped the attention of those whose focus is the Purple Rain era.

10. The Family – The Family (1985)

It is my sincere belief that moreso than any of Prince’s other side projects, The Family had the most potential. While technically speaking, this is not a Prince album, nevertheless he wrote, performed and produced all of the tracks on the album (as he did with The Time, Vanity/Apollonia 6, Madhouse and Sheila E.’s first 2 albums). So for me, it is a Prince album.

Formed in the aftermath of the first breakup of The Time, Prince took parts from The Time, but also the Revolution to create a band that had amazing potential.

Their first single, “The Screams of Passion” (especially the extended version), shows exactly what Prince had in mind. Opening with a chorus of violins and a steady mid-tempo beat, leads St. Paul (Paul Peterson) and Susannah Melvoin offer a lyrical love song that is sweet and romantic, but with a back beat that makes one just want to bob their head.

The Family is notable for the original version of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” later covered and made popular by Sinead O’Connor. However, the strongest tracks on the album, “Desire” and “Mutiny” are two songs that perfectly mix what gave The Family so much potential. The former is another song extolling the attraction and wanting of a partner, while latter is reminiscent of the funk roots of The Time, while at the same time, putting their own twist with the vocals of St. Paul. It is notable that Prince performed “Mutiny” during his appearance on the final episode of the re-booted Arsenio Hall show, one of his last televised performances.

It is a shame The Family did not originally continue, although they have reformed in recent years under the moniker “FDeluxe,” with most of the original lineup (minus Jerome Benton). Sadly, the album is out of print, so it is difficult to track down and we can only hope the Prince estate will see fit to give this album a proper re-release.

9. One Nite Alone…Live! (2002)

If you never saw Prince in concert, especially one of the after shows, you truly missed out. Very few performers, past or present, could put on a show like Prince. Many do not know the album version of the song Purple Rain is actually taken from a live performance, which is perhaps one of the reasons the song became so popular. And there was the concert movie Sign O The Times, ranked by many critics as one of the top concert movies of all time. However, it was not until 2002 that saw the release of a concert album.

“One Nite Alone…Live!” was a companion piece to “One Nite Alone,” released in the same year as an Unplugged type release, similar to “The Truth,” released as part of the “Crystal Ball” box set released in 1998. Recorded as part of the tour of the same name, it showcases much of the brilliance of Prince in concert. Featuring Najee and Candy Dulfer on saxophone, along with the criminally underrated Rhonda Smith on bass, and of course, the legendary Maceo Parker, also on saxophone. The musicians Prince used are top notch and perfectly accent Prince’s energy, showmanship and musicianship.

The collection mainly features songs from “The Rainbow Children,” (2001) but also songs from the Purple Rain, Parade and Sign O The Times Era.

However, the true gem in the collection is Disc 3, “The Aftershow: It Ain’t Over.” It features superb versions of both “Joy in Repetition” and “Dorothy Parker,” with versions as good or better than what is featured on other live recordings. There is an outstanding jam session medley of “Just Friends (Sunny)” featuring Musiq Soulchild and “If You Want Me To Stay” a Sly Stone cover with Questlove on drums. What makes The Aftershow remarkable is that you can almost feel Prince’s energy and love for performing come through the speakers.

This is a must have for any Prince collection.

8. Crystal Ball (1998)

Next to The Beatles, in the 1990’s Prince was one of the most bootlegged artists around. So much that Prince launched a number of lawsuits against bootlggers and fans alike for not only selling the material, but sometimes for even publicly discussing it on the internet, which was still in somewhat of its infancy.

When Crystal Ball was announced, many Prince fans rejoiced, as the thought was that some of their favorite unreleased songs would finally get the proper release they deserved. Neo-Soul artist D’Angelo is rumored to have asked Prince to include “Movie Star,” a popular bootleg from the Purple Rain era, about Prince’s reaction to becoming famous after the movie Purple Rain was released.

The 3 disc set showcases songs from 1983 to 1996. Some fan favorites such as the title cut, along with “Dream Factory” (the original name of the album which would become Sign O The Times), “What’s My Name,” a dark and brooding spoken word offering as an obvious reference to part of the reason why Prince changed his name to the unpronounceable symbol in 1993. Prior to this release, rumors circulated that jazz legend Miles Davis was the guest saxophonist on the track “Crucial,” promoted by bootlegged liner notes. However, the saxophone part in question was actually performed by long time Prince associate Eric Leeds.

What Crystal Ball ultimately indicated, and what the posthumous re-releases of 1999, Purple Rain and Sign O The Times have affirmed, is that the songs Prince didn’t use where just as entertaining, inspiring and (at times) awesome as the songs he did release. And yet, we know (and hope) there is still more to come.

7. 8 – Madhouse (1987)

What a lot of people remember most about the Madhouse albums is the cover photos, featuring model Maneca Lightner. However, what they really showcased is that Prince was not just a R&B or pop musician, but that he was fully adept at forays into jazz or jazz fusion.

Madhouse was another one of Prince’s side projects, where except for horns, Prince played, wrote and produced everything, with the horn portions performed by Eric Leeds (who was also in The Family).

Formed out of sessions from The Family project, Prince decided that he wanted an instrumental jazz funk band/release. Madhouse, which achieved minor success with the song “Six,” showed Prince’s versatility with the genre, that would be seen later with releases such as “Xpectation,” “C-Note” and “N.E.W.S.”

What makes the first Madhouse album notable is the experimentation on the different songs, especially with “Two” and “Four.” The influences of both Miles Davis and John Coltrane are present, but also still the funk influences of Sly Stone and George Clinton are also present. “Four” would become one of the most often played track from this album, included in re-worked live versions of The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” from the Sign O The Times album.

Madhouse was another big sign of what was to come. Sadly, this album is out of print.

6. The Vault: Old Friends for Sale (1999)

1999 was an interesting year for Prince. It was the name sake of one of his early successful songs, which he recorded a re-mastered version, and he promoted a New Years Eve pay-per-view special entitled “Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic,” promoting an album of the same name.

Also in that year, on the back of the Crystal Ball release, another group of bootlegged songs found their way to official release. The title referring to the now infamous Prince vault and the title of another one of his infamous bootlegged songs, “Old Friends 4 Sale.”

The title song is something reminiscent of a big band performance from the 1940’s, opening with strong horns, violins and a very deliberate but basic drumbeat. What makes the published version notable (there are 3 versions circulating) is that it references the firing of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis from The Time. It’s a reflective song that every now and then gave the listener a glimpse into Prince, as he reminisces about other broken friendships and former business associates.

“She Spoke 2 Me” is another jazz influenced song, originally released on Spike Lee’s “Girl 6” soundtrack, for which Prince provided the music. The difference with the version on “The Vault” is that it is 4 minutes longer, with a heavier jazz flavor. Another interesting song is “5 Women,” originally released by Joe Cocker on his “Night Calls” album. It is a very bluesy offering, and one can see why it was offered to Cocker. While Cockers vocals are much stronger and more powerful, Prince’s version is more reflective than Cockers almost angry rendition.

More than almost any other release, “The Vault” feels like one of Prince’s most personal offerings, where we are given a glimpse into what made His Royal Badness tick.

5. The Rainbow Children (2001)

If I am to be honest, I did not like this album when it first came out. It was the first album of original material after Prince’s conversion to the Jehovah’s Witness and it shows. The religious imagery, some of which I personally find offensive, was hard for me to overlook at first. After his death, I began listening with a different ear and my opinion changed.

Now I realize, again if I am to be honest, that “The Rainbow Children” is almost a master class in what makes good R&B music. From beginning to end, it is a celebration of his skills as an R&B/Funk artist, with amazing groves, thumping bass lines and infection rhythms.

The title track opens the album with a mellow, jazzy feel that evokes a speak-easy. It sets the tone for the rest of the album. “Digital Garden” is a half brilliant song, evoking African drumbeats and rhythms, with his trademark falsetto. It is sweet and offering until it loses its momentum moving into a hard rock conclusion that distracts from what came previously. There is also “Mellow,” a gentle midtempo song, telling the story of hanging out at Paisley Park, where he not only name drops Common and Macy Gray (who were dating at the time), but he even teases about how long it takes him to do his hair. “She Loves Me 4 Me” is a great ballad, referencing his then burgeoning relationship with second wife Manuela Testoloni.

However, paramount of the tracks on the album is “1+1+1=3,” probably his funkiest song in several years. From the opening drum licks to the infectious bass line to just nasty (in a good way) lead line, it has to rank as one of Prince’s best songs. It is just obvious Prince was having a REALLY good time recording this song. He knew how good it was and it shows! And some of the live versions that can be found on YouTube are nothing short of amazing.

4. The Slaughterhouse: Trax from the NPG Club, Volume Two (2004)

In 2004, Prince released 2 albums through his then website, NPG Music Club on the same day. This one and The Chocolate Invasion. While Chocolate was decent, Slaughterhouse is another one that reminds us of Prince’s funk roots.

The album opens with the statement “Welcome 2 the Slaughterhouse,” on the first track “Silicon,” and then launches an infectious drum beat and lyrics that are lowered and reverberated, adding to the funk of the track. When the next track “S&M Groove,” starts, Prince proclaims “Freaks gonna bob to this.” His vocals are electronically altered as if he is singing through a computer, but with a similar high energy bass and drum line from the previous song.

On top of the bass line of “Props N Pounds” is former MTV news personality Kurt Loder talking about Prince’s versatility as an artist. Then Prince gets political on “2045: The Radical Man,” where he is once again railing against the music industry, but uses a lead line reminiscent of something from the mid 1970’s. The song also goes into not only a brief part about unknown viruses (maybe a prediction??) but also a deconstruction of the word “nigger.” It is obvious that this song and “S&M Groove” were recorded prior to when he became a Jehovah’s Witness as that was when he stopped cursing and the curse words are blanked out, yet he leaves in the word nigger.

“The Daisy Chain” is another hard funking song, with strong bass and lead lines and a decent and somewhat fun rap by DVS (David Schwatrz) a Minneapolis rapper and member of Fonky Bald Heads. The video for the song is notable for showing Prince playing basketball was released, ironically, just a couple of months after the infamous Chappelle Show sketch.

The zenith of album is “Hypnoparadise.” It is a sprawling, funk laden appreciation for a woman, that has one of Prince’s infectious grooves that you wish would go longer. Prince again uses a falsetto, with the softness of his lyrics betraying the seriousness of the intent of what he is trying to get across. There are obvious House music influences with the song and it creates a song that would have fared well in most dance clubs.

3. N.E.W.S. (2003)

When N.E.W.S. was released, it was lambasted by critics and is routinely listed in the bottom of rankings of his albums. Yet, it was nominated for a Grammy in 2004 for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album and recent years has gained a certain amount notaritiety.

With 4 songs, each with a title of a global direction clocking in at 14 minutes exactly, the album is a slow funk jazz outing, with Prince being experimental with rhythms, drumbeats and melodies. While more jazz fusion than outright jazz (one could even consider this “smooth jazz”) this album is actually a fulfillment of the promise started with Madhouse. Eric Leeds is back on saxophone, along with Rhonda Smith on bass and the late great John Blackwell on drums.

The album showcase how cohesive Prince was with his bands, as each musician, including Renato Netto, showcases their particular skill set.

“North” and “East,” the first 2 songs on the album, serve as the albums highlights. Prince was fond of long playing grooves and on this album, he allows the band to just let the band control the direction. Eric Leeds, as usual is superb and as previously mentioned, Rhonda Smith is a very underrated bassist (in my opinion). The presence of both of them with Prince’s eye for allowing music to just be music is what makes this album worth a listen.

2. Kamasutra – N.P.G. Orchestra (1997)

Several offerings on this list have been instrumental or jazz flavored albums. Kamasutra differs slightly as it was originally intended to be ballet, as referenced in one of the skits on “The Love Symbol” album.

Legend states that this album was originally written for Prince’s marriage to first wife Mayte Garcia or a dance vehicle for her. The album contains East Indian influences complete with orchestral arrangements, as the band name describes. Inspired by the Indian love guide of the same name, it is, even without lyrics, Prince’s most romantic album. It can also be considered a concept album, exploring themes of love, sex, devotion, and eroticism.

The opening track, “The Plan,” was included on the “Emancipation” album in 1996, so some listeners may be familiar with that. There are musical themes running throughout the album, which is both good and bad. At times, several of the songs blend into each other, preventing individuality. However, that is overshadowed by the musicianship presented and Prince using the orchestra (along with Clare Fisher’s arrangements) to truly convey the love he was feeling at the time.

The title track, “Kamasutra,” is arguably Prince’s most beautiful song. It is a slow, building, testament to love and discovery, with the horns used to accentuate the moments of passion and emotion. The strings are used almost as a response to suggest that there is a common thread flowing between the two lovers suggested by the title.

Originally released as part of the “Crystal Ball” box set, this album is out of print. One can only hope the Prince estate will see fit to release it again.

1. Exodus – The New Power Generation (1995)

Whenever I listen to this album lately, I think of the scene with Orlando Jones in American Gods, when as Anastasi he says the line, “Anger gets shit done.” Prince was pissed off when he made this album and it shows. It is also what makes it great, one of his greatest albums ever.

Exodus was the second album credited solely to The New Power Generation. The first NPG album, Goldnigga, released in 1993, was Prince’s first real foray into gangsta rap. The less said about that the better.

Credited on the album as Tora Tora, during press tours, Prince’s face was obscured in videos and interviews and he spoke through Mayte, never speaking directly to interviewers. This album was part of his fight with Warner Brothers and was another example of what would lead him to changing his name to the symbol.

Theatrics aside, this is one of Prince’s best albums, period. Sonny T., bassist of the NPG, handles most of the lead vocals on the album, but even without Prince’s lead vocals, it is no doubt a Prince album. And his funkiest album at that.

It is a concept album that highlights Prince’s dissatisfaction with the record industry. The album was never officially released in the US, only in the UK, where it charted in the top 20. While there are two absolutely horrible songs on this album (“Cherry, Cherry” and “Hallucination Rain”), everything else is practically sheer brilliance.

“New Power Soul,” “The Good Life” and “Get Wild,” are all standout tracks. Prince leaves the ridiculousness of the previous attempt at gangsta rap behind from the previous NPG album, and therefore, it retains the intensity and the grit and waves it through this album.

Even with the ballad, “Count The Days,” there is a deceptive quality where one might think it is going to lead into a love song given the melody, instead it’s a rather angry and defiant statement against being constrained, again, the record companies.

“The Return of the Bump Squad,” is another funk offering that is notable its driving bass and drumline, but also for name dropping Nona Gaye (daughter of Marvin Gaye) regarding her attempting to get a record deal, but also for the interesting line where he seems to take another swipe at hip hop like he did on the infamous “The Black Album.” In the song there is a line “Add a ‘e’ to rap, and it spells rape.’” One could assume he was talking about the music industries treatment of hip hop, but given the misogynistic lyrics in hip hop, Prince could have been making another commentary.

The segues on this album are some of Prince’s most amusing, especially in the form of the “Mashed Potato Girl.” There are two things happening at the same time. On one channel, is Sonny T. being upset because he was just dumped by his girlfriend, being called a “no balling NBA ass mofo.” On the other channel is Prince and organist Tommy Barbarella. They play two people who meet in a restaurant and Prince’s character, using a hilariously fake Italian accent, tells Tommy about a date with a woman who is called the “Mashed Potato Girl.” It shows Prince’s sense of humor at its finest.

The album ends with the epic “The Exodus Has Begun.” It is the perfect song to end an almost perfect album. It is pure funk in the true tradition of Sly Stallone and George Clinton. It is a song that builds, the horns, drums, base and vocals all lead to a profound statement about the record statement, but also a statement of what made Prince, Prince.

The song was a warning to record company executives and consumers alike. The song predicts that because of the unequal earnings of artists, that said artists would begin to leave behind the record companies that kept them tied to unfair contracts. In a lot of ways, the song is something of a sermon. Prince is preaching to the music industry, admonishing them, warning them, threatening them and in the end, predicting their fate.

This is the only song on the album that has Prince on lead vocals, though Prince uses a voice box, obscuring is true voice, which you can hear in the background vocals. Even through the electronic augmentation, you can feel his intensity.

In one of the prophetic aspects of the song, one chorus says, “Long live, the New Power Generation. Generation after generation, the soul will never die.” In the almost 6 years since his death, truly, the New Power Generation still lives, with generation after generation still responding to his music.

Then there is the outtro, which again in retrospect, is prophetic:

“This shit is dedicated 2 the memory of His Royal Badness
I know his name’s not muthafuckin’ Prince
Rest in peace nigga!”

This album is also out of print and it would be a travesty if it is not released. More people need to understand how truly brilliant this album was.

2018 in Music: The New Discoveries

So, I didn’t realize that I didn’t purchase a lot of new music in 2018. Most of the stuff I got were repurchases of old stuff I had forgotten about or things that were previously released.  Therefore, my new discoveries will include both items released this year and in previous years.

New Discoveries

Citrus Sun – Ride Like the Wind (2018)

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This was a new discovery on two levels. Citrus Sun is a side project of Incognito. Or rather, it IS Incognito, just under a different name and with an emphasis on instrumentals. In fact, this is the first album of theirs to include vocalists, on the title track and 2 others.

Ride Like the Wind is their 3rd release, and it is truly in the Incognito style. The musicianship is top notch, there is the ever-present passion to the music, and of course, Bluey likes to bring the funk to even the most mellow endeavors.

The highlight of the album is the title track, a cover of the Christopher Cross classic. However, having a woman vocalist brings a different flavor to the song. Singer Imaani (my favorite Incognito vocalist) brings a slightly different urgency to Cross’ original vocals.

What is really interesting in this release is they do a 5 part suite – Krabi. Included in this suit are Long-Tail Boat to Railay, My One and Only Tuk, Don’t Tell Me What To Do, Reno and the Queen Pin and Back to the Moon. The reason this is interesting is because there is a fluidity between the songs as the blend together that Incognito hasn’t really done before.

The other thing that is different from most Incognito releases is the horn arrangements are more pronounced and at times, some of the songs feel more like feel good jam sessions rather than planned compositions, somewhat reminiscent of the first 2-3 Incognito releases.

Even though there was no official Incognito release in 2018, Citrus Sun still allowed me to get my Incognito fix. And according to what Bluey said in concert this year, there will be a new Incognito album in 2019, so I can’t wait!

 

Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio (2012)Robert Glasper - Black_Radio

It is fairly regular for me to say on Facebook that I arrive late to certain parties. And this one is no exception. I do not know why I had not gotten into Glasper before a few months ago, but even though I was late to the party, at least I got here.

I’ve been aware of Glasper for quite some time and several friends of mine have given them glowing recommendations. Prior to the social media war with Lauryn Hill, I was exposed to his cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and I was floored by it. That caused me to explore the other tracks on the first album, and then I just took it from there.

That said, I have to say, Glasper is a true talent. In some ways, he reminds me of Prince. Not in his musicianship, but in his attitude towards music. He is something of a purist, and his arrangements on his songs not only remind me of Prince, but also an early Quincy Jones.

His mix of jazz, R&B, hip-hop and rock all create an excellent pallet where even with his covers create a reminder of the glory days of the jazz and R&B genres.

The other thing that strikes me is that there is a spoken word vibe through most of his albums. From the “conversations” that are included between songs to just the tempo and flavor of the song, it really reminds me of the vibe that was showcased in the movie Love Jones (one of my all-time favorite movies).

My favorite tracks on this album include the previously mentioned Nirvana cover, along with Cherish, the Sade cover featuring Lalah Hathaway, Move Love (feat KING), Ah Yeah…That’s Just Great (feat Musiq Soulchild and Chrisette Michele) and of course, the title track, Black Radio featuring Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), one of my top 5 favorite MC’s, who is in top form on this song.

 

The Foreign Exchange – Love in Flying Colors (2013)

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There are some similarities between The Foreign Exchange and the previous entry. Another party that I came late to, although it is a party not a lot of people are familiar with.

I was first exposed to FE through a friend who suggested a couple of tracks. I listened to them, liked it, but didn’t pay much attention. Then another friend of mine, DJ Sean Haley, recommended them through an extensive music conversation on FB. When Sean passed away this past summer, in tribute to him, I went and listened again, and I could see exactly why he recommended them to me.

While neo-soul as a genre has fallen off slightly, Foreign Exchange is still carrying the banner with their mix of R&B melodies, hip-hop beats and jazz sensibilities. Honestly, they are a group that would have been perfect during the heyday of neo-soul along Maxwell, MeShell and others. They also have a slight house vibe going through a couple of tracks as well, which adds to my appreciation of them.

That being said, FE offers consistently great, positive, upbeat music with a certain joy permeating through all of the tracks. The standout on this release is “The Moment.” The combination of the music in the track, the vocals and the lyrics makes it a must play for me. Other notable tracks are On A Day Like Today, Better and Call It Home.

All of their albums to me are quality, but this one which was their first, remains in my regular rotation. And of course, whenever I listen to them, I say a silent thank you to Sean for introducing me to them. May he rest in peace.

 

Jaco Pastorious – Jaco Pastorious (1976)

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I was drawn to this release via going down a rabbit hole on Wikipedia one night. I believe I was looking at the backstory for the classic song “Birdland” by Weather Report, went a couple of other places, then wound up again looking at Weather Report, which led me to Jaco Pastorious.

Pastorious was the bassist for Weather Report and also played with Pat Metheny, both of whom are favorites of mine. I guess I was curious when I read about how he died in 1987, as the result of a bar fight.

I decided to take a listen to his solo efforts and when I did, I was immediately drawn in. With this album, his second solo release, you can hear both why he is such a great part of Weather Report and also why he fit in so well with Metheny.

All instrumental, there is a bit of an experimental vibe here as Pastorius explores everything from jazz inspired rifts to almost world beat/African inspired music. What is even more impressive is that while he was primarily known for being a jazz bassist, the bass is not the primary instrument used on this album. He allows pianos, horns, guitars and percussion to take prominent over his own superb bass skills.

Standouts on this album for me are Come On, Come Over, Continuum and Opus Pocus, but all of the songs mesh into each other as if there is an connected tissue running through all of the songs. I meant to explore some of his other solo work, but I haven’t as of yet. I guess I know what to do in 2019.

 

Tears For Fears — Saturnine Martial & Lunatic (1996)

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I almost made Tears for Fears reunification album “Everyone Loves a Happy Ending” a re-discovery, because when it first came out I despised it, but in recent times it has grown on me. But only so much.

However, in the late summer, I ran across this collection which I was unaware which is a collection of  their b-sides and selections left out of previous releases. And this collection shows why Tears for Fears is one of the most underrated groups in pop music history.

TFF always had a penchant for intellectual and pretentious titles (Schrodinger’s Cat, Deja-Vu and the Sins of Science), to their songs and this is so different. But what lies behind the titles is a progression from primarily electronic based music and typically basic lyrics to songs that really began to explore the complexities that can be had in modern music, along with lyrics that have some real meat to them.

This collection is not without it’s faults, however. Lyrics from “Sowing the Seeds of Love” are used as a rap verse in “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” and well, it doesn’t work. However, the vast majority of the rest of it does work, especially with the 3 instrumental tracks. Truth be told, the portion of “Broken” on Songs from the Big Chair that is an instrumental is one of my favorite TFF tracks primarily for that reasons. So with the instrumental tracks Tears Roll Down, The Marauders and The Body Wah, it showcases their musical acumen.

You can also see how they worked on certain songs as the music behind “When In Love With a Blind Man” is the same backing track that can be found on The Working Hour from Songs from the Big Chair. While When in Love is a good track, The Working Hour is the far superior.

There is also an interesting cover of David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” which is pretty faithful, musically, to the original. Orzabal’s vocals try to invoke the same spirit of wonder and discord, but at the same time, is slight less despondent than Bowie’s version. Also remarkable at the beginning of the song are Orzabal’s voice to Bowie’s, where it seems he is deliberately trying to mimic Bowie’s vocals, then uses the chorus to return to his own style of singing. I’m routinely very harsh with cover versions of classic songs , but this pays great respect to the original.

Overall, it is a nice glimpse into other aspects of the band that we didn’t always get to see/hear and to see how some of the songs we became familiar with were worked on and experimented with.

 

Calling You – Various Artists

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This one is a departure from the other entries. Because this is not about an album, but a song by several different artists.

Many, many years ago, a version of this song by Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra was shared with me. I always thought it was nice but didn’t think much more of it. It was not until a few months ago while at a girlfriend’s house that the original version by Jevetta Steele came on her playlist.

I recognized the music immediately but was thrown by the different vocals. I then investigated the song and saw how many times this song had been covered and noticed the wide range of artists who covered it.  The song has been covered by Natalie Cole, Barbara Streisand, George Benson, Celine Dion and many others.

Now, I think Steele’s original version from the Baghdad Café soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. But other versions I really enjoy are George Michael from his 1993 Five Live release and Jeff Buckley’s version from is Live at Sin-E release, also from 1993. As a side note, one of these days I am going to explore Buckley. Another on the 2019 to do list.

This seems to be a song which just calls to a certain type of artist. One that knows how to convey the pleading tone of the lyrics without sounding desperate, but also to show the gentle side of the song come through. This is a song where I will keep by eye out for covers by other artists to see how their versions compare.

And there is a part of me that wishes Prince had done a cover. Then again, knowing Prince, anything is possible.

One Year Later: I Remember Prince

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Yesterday marked a year. One whole stinking year. I never thought myself one to grieve over a celebrity, but yet, here I am, a year later, still grieving. To some, it doesn’t make sense. To others, they’re right here with me. But how do you explain the loss and pain over someone you didn’t really know, never really shared anything directly personal, but yet their loss feels like someone ripped out your side.

Since last April, from the day I heard the news that Prince died, I’ve had this weird haze over me at times. The news of his death shook me hard. Almost as hard as the death of family members and friends. Because as irrational and illogical and unrealistic as it was and is, Prince was somewhat like family to me. That distant cousin that you never met but somehow, felt a close bond.

The music now is bittersweet. The things I previously thought were brilliant seem moreso, and the songs that I disliked are a little less annoying. The songs that moved me before resonate even more. I get wistful when I hear certain songs, or watch certain videos.

This has been a year of remembering.

I remember how I got into “that skinny motherfucker with the high voice.” I remember how I used to study the lyrics, writing them down over and over, then later becoming a part of an online group who dissected the lyrics even further.

I remember the first of his movies I saw. I remember trying to find a way to say that the bad movies weren’t that bad.

I remember rushing to the record store, being eager to be the first one to buy one of the albums. I remember my first argument with someone who would become a brother to me over buying an album instead of spending the money elsewhere.

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I remember how I felt the first time I saw him in concert and I was in awe. I remember meeting him in person and being thrilled and scared at the same time. I remember the looks I got the 3 times I used his songs as the basis for sermons.

I remember laughing when my son was born and having the time he was born correspond to one of the songs. I remember playing his music to my son when he was a month old and how he smiled.

I remember the joy I felt when I first discovered an online community of people who loved the music as much, and sometimes more, than I did.  I remember the friends I made because of him, and in many cases, the friends I still have, because of him.

I remember rushing out of church right after preaching to attend a concert, still in my ministerial garb.

I remember creating my personal website and how important it was to have a page dedicated to his music.

I remember becoming engaged to someone who I met purely because of our connection to him and how I quoted his lyrics when I proposed.

I remember how I felt when I got the title of one of his songs tattooed on my arm.

I remember using the music as comfort and inspiration. I remember finding solace in the melodies and the lyrics. I remember how sometimes I felt he was singing to me.

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I also remember almost being sued by him. I remember being disgusted when he went around with “slave” written on his face. I remember being turned off when he became a Jehovah’s Witness and I stopped buying his music. I remember when he turned on the fans.  I remember the hypocrisy. I remember the condescension. I remember the disrespect. I remember being angry with him. I also remember still loving the music.

And I remember, last year, getting that first text. Then tagged in comments on Facebook. Watching CNN. Then the phone calls. The e-mails. And I felt devastated, empty, numb. I remember not being able to stop the tears. He was gone. I remember being in denial. Then I remember finally accepting it.

I remember. I remember the man who thrilled and infuriated me. I remember the man who gave a lot and in reality, demanded a lot in return.

Most of all, I remember the genius. I remember the passion. I remember wanting to be a part of that. To be like that. To share in that.

I remember. Not only will I not forget, but I won’t allow others to forget.

I will remember that in my lifetime, I got to witness what genius looked like. I got to be in the presence of that genius, both in person and at a distance. I will remember that music can break your heart and mend it. Because my heart is still broken.

Most of all, I am thankful. I am thankful for the music. For being inspired to love music and be a person that can embrace music, in all its forms. I am thankful that I still have the music and I am hopeful of the music that is to come.

I remember Prince. I will remember Prince. For those who love music, I hope you will remember who and what caused you to love music. For me, it’s Prince. I was given a gift.

I think what I regret is that I never really got to say thank you.

So, Prince, thank you.

I hope you finally got to see The Dawn.

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Peace and Be Wild

Marvin said, “Music won’t have no race”

According to the late, great Marvin Gaye in the song “Funky Space Reincarnation”, in June of 2093, “music won’t have no race.” So if Marvin was correct, we have 77 years until his declaration bears fruit.

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Recently, I was in my car with a friend and I had my iPod playing, as it always does. If I am not listening to a particular album or playlist, it is almost always on shuffle/random. As we were riding, sandwiched between songs from the Brand New Heavies and Eric B. and Rakim came “Looks Like We Made It” by Barry Manilow.

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My immediate instinct was to hit next and try to pretend that me, a 48 year black man from the south side of Chicago, didn’t have a Barry Manilow song playing. My passenger, a lovely 42 year old white woman, didn’t say anything. But I saw the smirk on her face.

“If you tell anyone I had Barry Manilow playing in my car, I will hurt you,” I smiled.

“I wouldn’t tell a soul,” she laughed.

I made a self-deprecating post on Facebook, asserting my blackness, where I posted:

“Apropos of nothing, just because someone has a Barry Manilow song come up on his iPod does not mean said black man is in danger of getting his black card pulled. Not that this would have happened to me today, but I am just making a general statement. #thatsmystoryandIamstickingtoit.”

Of course I was being a smartass, then a friend I have known since college posted a response: “I’m only asking for a friend if Carole King falls into the card pulling category?…again, only asking for a friend.”

My response was, “Tell your friend I hope not. LOL”

Truth is, I have several Carole King and Barry Manilow songs in my iTunes. When I was younger, I owned several Barry Manilow albums and have been a great admirer of Carole King. Also, in my pre-teen days, I once begged my step-mother to buy me tickets to a KISS concert.

Like I said, I’m a black man from Chicago. I’m a House Head. I love R&B and funk and soul music. Prince is one of my favorite artists. I still love disco. I am a fan hip-hop, especially rap from the 90’s that was a part of the Native Tongue posse. I grew up on Parliament/Funkadelic and The O’Jay’s. The very first concert I ever went to was the Jackson 5. I love James Brown, Stevie Wonder Public Enemy, The Isley Brothers, Slick Rick, Sade, Anita Baker, Chaka Khan and so many others. I can talk to you for hours about 60’s, 70’s and 80’s soul and R&B music, can tell you when hip-hop went wrong and explain to you the ways in which House is not just music, but a way of life.

Yet, I must admit, I like Barry Manilow. And Christopher Cross. The B-52’s. The Beatles. I listen to the Alan Parson’s Project, Adam and the Ants, Roxy Music, Depeche Mode, INXS, Pink Floyd, Billy Joel, Porcupine Tree, Talk Talk, Robert Palmer, The Jam, Joy Division, Pearl Jam, Van Halen and a host of other so-called “white folks’ music.” I even have the original Broadway recording of “A Chorus Line.”

And there lies the rub. For some people, there is “black folk’s music” and “white folks’ music.” As if the two monikers are separate and distinct from each other. These discussions particularly arise when the nominations for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame come out and hip-hop or disco act get nominated or even admitted (i.e., N.W.A., Public Enemies, Donna Summer).

Not enough people realize truly that music is music. The music itself is not particular to a race, creed or culture. No, that belongs to the listeners. Music, in and of itself, transcends definitions of race. Jimi Hendrix is one of, if not the greatest rock guitarist of this or any era. And he was a black man. Teena Marie had just as much soul as anyone, despite her (at times) blonde hair and blue (I believe) eyes. Johnny Mathis and Charley Pride were accused by many black people of trying to “be white.” Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke are both accused today of trying to “be black.” No, the music itself, doesn’t have a race. Only the people who listen.

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Then we try to pigeon hole individuals by their appearance into assuming what kind of music they would or should like. I can remember when I was younger my friends looking at me strange for listening to Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, because “black people don’t listen to that type of music.” It didn’t bother me when I would see footage of a Public Enemy concert and see a majority white audience.

When music speaks to you, it speaks to you. It’s that simple.

Lots of different types of music speak to me. Surely, I primarily listen to R&B, House, and Disco, but my actual musical taste are really all over the map. While I will jokingly claim embarrassment over liking Manilow and Christopher Cross, the reality is they made some REALLY good music.

One should NEVER be ashamed of appreciating GOOD MUSIC. No matter who makes it.

So I am hoping Marvin is right, that music, one day, “won’t have no race.” Just wish that was today.

 

My Year In Music 2016 – The Re-Discoveries and One Major Disappointment

My Year In Music 2016 – The Re-Discoveries and One Major Disappointment

This installment I was to dedicate to those albums that I have heard previously, and either gained a new appreciation for them or just really forgot how much I liked them in the first place. And rounding this out, there is one entry that I wished I could like, but I just didn’t, especially since it was the final official release from that artist.

The Re-Discoveries

 

Prince – The Rainbow Children (2001)

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Like many others, when Prince passed away in April of this year, I went the better part of that following week listening to nothing but his music. This included stuff from all the side projects such as The Family, Vanity and Apollonia 6, The Time, Madhouse, New Power Generation, NPG Orchestra, Sheila E and anything else. The death of Prince hit me quite hard to the point that a part of me, 8 months later, is still in mourning.

While I was going through my personal collection, I listened to portions of The Rainbow Children and something struck me. Previously, I had written the album off as overly preachy, too much Jehovah’s Witness ideology and just a little too self-indulgent. While I still hold to the opinion of the first two things I named, I discovered that this was actually a good album.

I had always been a fan of a couple of the tracks on the album (Mellow, Digital Garden, She Loves Me 4 Me), but listening to it beginning to end for the first time in almost 15 years, I discovered a cohesiveness that I overlooked before. While I still (and will always) take issue with his embrace of the propaganda of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, even with that, this is a very well rounded album. There is a lot of Prince’s trademark funk, the stirring slow songs and Prince’s usually infectious melodies and rhythms.

Therefore, I have revisited my previous negative thoughts on this album. After all, once you get done with tracks like 1+1+1=3 and Family Name, you kinda don’t care about the inaccurate theology and the overly preachy overtones.

At least for a while.

 Quincy Jones – Big Band Bossa Nova (1962)

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As I mentioned in the previous entry, I have had a recent love affair with Latin music. Specifically: Brazilian jazz, samba, and bossa nova. It should come as no surprise that Jones would produce an album that pays homage to those traditions.

I had a couple of tracks off this album but never the complete recording but never heard the entire recording until a few years ago. This was definitely one of those times I asked myself, “Why did I wait so long?”

I’ve always loved Jones’s version of Desafinado, also outstanding on this album are: One Note Sambda, Manha De Carnaval and Lalo Bossa Nova. But of course, most people are familiar with the title track, which was used as the theme music for the Austin Powers movies.

This album just reminds me that Quincy Jones truly had very few peers when it came to conducting and arranging and his genius (yes, I said it) spanned many, many musical genres.

MeShell NdegeOcello – Bitter (1999)

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After the release of 1996’s Peace Beyond Passion, I began referring to MeShell as “the funkiest woman on the planet.”  Many reviewers over the years had proclaimed her a female Prince. And while I don’t think I would go that far, I will say that she has remained one of my favorite artists through the years.

When Bitter originally came out, I was profoundly disappointed. I even remember having a disagreement with someone in a chat room over this album, expressing how much I disliked it and I think I may have even said at one point that it sucked. I’m man enough to admit I was wrong. I even told the person I had the original conversation with a few weeks ago about my previous mistake in judging this album.

They say that with age comes wisdom. And now, 17 years later, I can safely say this is an excellent album. In many ways, I kinda compare it to Marvin Gaye’s Here My Dear, which was largely misunderstood by fans and critics alike, but later gained a reputation as a brilliant piece of music. And this is how I now think of Bitter.

The reason I made the comparison to Gaye is that MeShell has stated that this album was inspired by a breakup she went through with a long-time girlfriend. Except, Bitter suggests it was a breakup she didn’t want to happen.

For me, the top moments of the album come with the tracks Sincerity, Wasted Time, Fool of Me, Adam and Grace. The latter, a somewhat wistful and hopeful pleading, I know view as nothing short of brilliant. Maybe because I too have experienced a breakup with someone I didn’t want to break up with allows me to resonate with the album more. In fact, I can’t listen to Grace and not be reminded of an ex-girlfriend, whom I still harbor positive feelings for. Whatever the reason, I think this easily can be placed in MeShell’s top 5 releases.

Evanescence – Fallen (2003)

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Speaking of ex’s, I was introduced to this album by an ex and I always associated it with her. After our breakup, I didn’t listen to this album for some time because, unlike the situation I had with Bitter, I don’t have that many fond memories of this particular ex.

My hard drive crashed a few months ago and I had to reinstall all of my music. During the installation, My Immortal come on, and I remembered that I actually really liked this album.

There has always been something about lead singer Amy Lee’s vocals I have appreciated. And in going back over this album, with songs like Going Under, Imaginary and, of course, Tourniquet, it is her vocals and her intonations in conveying the emotions of what she is singing about that first interested me and which interests me again.

I’m still on the fence about the religious imagery contained in the album. Many have said that Evanescence is a Christian Rock band in disguise. And while I can see where such labels would come from, I also think in part it was used to diminish them as a band, since Christian rock seems to get a pretty bad rap from a lot of rock/pop fans.

Chicago Transit Authority (1969)

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I’ve never had mixed feeling about this album. In fact, from the moment I was introduced to it back in the late 90’s, I had considered this a wonderful album. However, I hadn’t listened to many tracks from this album in quite some time.

Over the summer, I randomly decided to play this album and I was reminded how wonderful it was. A lot of people will talk about the horn sections of Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power, both amazing horn sections in their own rights. But Chicago’s horn section I think is quite underrated.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? is one of their signature songs, but I think their cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s I’m A Man, with that absolutely AMAZING drum/percussion solo is what sends this over the top for me. And of course, Beginnings, Questions 67 & 68 and Liberation just round out what is just a top notch effort. This album, to me, shows why they were worthy of inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.

 Maxwell – Maxwell’s MTV Unplugged (1997)

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When Maxwell first came out, I dismissed him as another pretty boy with an interesting hairstyle and a decent falsetto. I even remember someone years ago, responding to something I had on my personal website, claiming he was equal or better than Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.

However, it was his appearance on the Chris Rock show where he performed the Mellowsmoothe version of Sumthin Sumthin that I became a fan. I accidentally ran across his performance of Al Green’s Simply Beautiful (which was pretty decent), I decided to revisit the Unplugged performance.

Let me get the not great stuff out of the way first. His covers of Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work and Nine Inch Nail‘s Closer, to me are horrendous. To the point, I really can’t stand listening to them. This time around was no different. I literally cringed when those two tracks played.

But the rest of the performance was great. The obvious influences of Prince, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye are ever present through the performance. He amassed an impressive band and between the Urban Hang Suite album and this performance, it is easy to see why neo-soul gained such popularity.

The energy and the urgency of the vocals comes across nicely in this recording. The first 3 tracks, The Suite Urban Theme, Mello Sumthin (The Hush), and The Lady Suite all draw you in. And while he lost me with the two aforementioned tracks I don’t like, I was quickly sucked back in with the remaining tracks.

Herbie Hancock – Fat Albert Rotunda (1970)

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In addition to Latin music, I have been catching up on Herbie Hancock’s back catalog. One thing that has struck me is the number of artists that have covered or sampled his music across the years. I did not count on recognizing so many songs and or parts of songs that I have been familiar with for years.

Such was the case with Fat Albert Rotunda. Originally written for Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert special, this marked Hancock’s transition from straight jazz into jazz fusion and jazz funk.

Just about every track on this album is a gem, but Tell Me A Bedtime Story (later expertly covered by Quincy Jones) is paramount among them. I mean, it’s just great! Fat Mama, Jessica and Lil Mama are also excellent and listening to these tracks not only reminded me of what I liked about Fat Albert when I was younger, but also how excellent of a musician that Hancock was and is.

David Bowie – Tonight (1984)

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David Bowie was another one of my favorites whom we lost in 2016. After his passing, I spent about 2 days listening to nothing but his music. It is interesting how when someone dies all of the sudden you want to absorb their music when while they were alive, you just took it as it came.

But when I listened to Tonight again, I had a mix of emotions. I know Bowie was not fond of this album, nor were a lot of fans/critics. Me, I always liked it. I even wrote a review on this album when it came out my senior year in high school for a newspaper called New Expression, which was an all-city newspaper in Chicago.

Coming off the success of Let’s Dance, Bowie continue the sound that Nile Rodgers created for him. Many die-hard Bowie fans didn’t like the direction of this album and Bowie himself distanced himself from several tracks on it.

For me, I have nothing but fond memories of this release. Not only was I reminded of being in high school and all the promise that held, but I also remembered the first time I heard Loving the Alien, a song I didn’t fully understand when I first heard it. This track remains in my top 5 Bowie songs. Once I understood the lyrics (a questioning of one’s belief in God), the arrangement of the song with the 4 minute instrumental part just seared it in my brain.

I am also fond of his cover of the Beach Boys God Only Knows, along with the tracks Tonight (a duet with Tina Turner) and the other hit from the album, Blue Jean.

Don’t get me wrong, this album does have it’s problems. And a couple of the tracks sound as if Bowie was kinda phoning it in. But this is one of those albums that will always be special to me, maybe more for the memories it evokes rather than it’s true quality.

The Major Disappointment

 Prince – Hit-N-Run Phase Two (2015)

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I stopped buying Prince’s music for a number of years and got copies from friends or stuff I could record off the internet. When he died, I decided to buy a couple of albums I didn’t have and a couple of the newer releases. So I bought Art Official Age, Hit N Run Phase One and the release with 3rd Eye Girl and all of them were (to me) unimpressive. I was hoping this one would be different. It wasn’t.

To be honest, I haven’t really enjoyed a Prince album since 2004 when Musiciology and The Slaughterhouse were released. In some ways, it felt like subsequent releases, he was trying to prove that he was still musically relevant by appealing to the masses and trying to get hits instead of just doing what he really wanted to and was truly capable. I had long said that I thought Prince should have stopped playing pop/R&B and started doing jazz albums, where he shined. But what did I know.

I do know this. His last official release was lackluster. Actually, it was less than lackluster. There is nothing on this album that reached out to me and grabbed me. My biggest disappointment was his re-working of the popular bootleg song Extraloveable, renamed “Xtralovable. I mean, it’s horrible. Absolutely horrible. I remember back in the days when I was active in the internet fan groups for Prince, someone said in regards to the reworked version of Endorphinmachine (from The Gold Experience) that had also been circulating as a bootleg for a few years that he “had no right to do that to that song.” I feel similar about the official version of Xtralovable. But it was his music and he could do what he wanted. Too bad it sucked.

The only song that had any sort of promise is Groovy Potential, which perhaps might grow on me over time. And I suppose Screwdriver is okay, but there is something missing from that song that I cannot put my finger on. But overall, for me, this was one of Prince’s most disappointing releases and for this to be his final release, it is a smear on an otherwise outstanding legacy.

My Year in Music 2016 — The New Discoveries

I used to do this when I kept a blog on Live Journal. I would recap the music I had discovered, re-discovered and was disappointed in for the year. So I figured I would revisit this trend for 2016.

Most of us know that 2016 has been a rough year for our musical icons. Within the first 6 months of the year, we lost David Bowie, Maurice White, Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest and of course, Prince.  Then later on in the year, we would lose Colonel Abrams, a fixture in many dance and house music circles. There is also the influential Leonard Cohen and others. In 2016, we just lost a lot of people who had a definite impact on music and the music community.

So let’s start with music I discovered in 2016. Keep in mind, this is not a list of music that was released in 2016, because quite honestly, I don’t always keep up with new releases. More, this first list contains albums I had not heard before and really enjoyed. There is a new release or two in this list, but overall, new releases will not factor very heavy in these listings.

New Discoveries

 

Ingrid Chavez – A Flutter and Some Words (2010)

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Of everything I have discovered this year, it is ironic that my favorite discovery would come from someone originally introduced by Prince in 1990.

Ingrid Chavez is a poet/spoken word artist, author, singer/songwriter. She has an ethereal quality that I have previously enjoyed on her one and only Paisley Park release, “May 19, 1992.” Some may remember her as Aura or the Spirit Child from Prince’s ill fated (and almost unwatchable) movie, Graffiti Bridge.

“A Flutter and Some Words” showcases Chavez’s singing abilities more than I had previously experienced. There is also a real laid back vibe over the whole album, which one would expect from spoken word artists. The arrangements are excellent and her voice matches perfectly with the instrumentation contained. The songs run the gamut from love to introspection to regret to self-affirmation.

Probably my favorite track is “By The Water.” This song showcases her ability to use her voice to accentuate her lyrics, which are grateful and thankful to a long-time partner as she reminisces about the beginning of their relationship.

Other standout tracks Terrible Woman and Exhale. This is a release that I have been coming back to time and time again and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

 

 

Genesis – Selling England By The Pound (1973)

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I cannot for the life of me figure out why I never delved into Genesis during their Peter Gabriel period. It honestly makes no sense. But I’m not done, so I am guessing I might be highlighting Genesis again, but as for now, I must say, this 1973 release is one where I am kicking myself for not getting into sooner.

 

My appreciation for Genesis really started during the time Phil Collins’s was the lead singer. So I was more familiar with the pop style of Genesis as opposed to the progressive rock band that they were during Gabriel’s reign. Gabriel was always an interesting songwriter to me, showcased in his many solo releases, but I never really appreciated the work he did for Genesis.

“Selling England By The Pound” showcases a lot of what made Genesis a force in the early and mid 70’s. While the lyrics are always interesting, I think the musicianship on the album is top notch. And I have a personal preference (thanks to Prince) for songs that tend to go longer than the average 3 to 5 minutes. With 5 out of 8 songs clocking in at over 7 minutes each, there is a lot of music here.

 

Another one where I wonder what took me so long.

 

Gato Barberi – Que Pasa (1997)

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Over the last couple of years I have developed a great fondness and appreciation for Latin music, especially Brazilian jazz. While Barberi was actually an Argentinian artist, his music definitely has a strong Latin vibe and influence.

 

I should say one of Barberi’s earlier works, Caliente! (1976), is among my top 20 favorite albums, this more recently release has all the hallmarks of why I began to appreciate him in the first place. His saxophone playing is in top form, and his trademark vocal input just adds emphasis to the overall feeling of each of the songs.

While I am sure I probably heard some of these tracks before on the (sadly) former Smooth Jazz radio formats, this album exemplifies what made smooth jazz so popular. Each track delivers.

 

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)

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I remember when it was mentioned back in late 2015/early 2016 that the Tribe was going to release a new album, many were skeptical, including myself. Then Phife Dawg passed away and we were informed that there was indeed a new release coming.

 

This was an emotional release, for those of us who have been long time fans of the Tribe and for the members of the group themselves. And that emotion oozes on several tracks.

 

One of the criticisms of this album was that this was basically a Q-Tip solo album, with sparse input from Phife and Jarobi. However, one could say the exact same thing if they listed to their first album, People’s Instinctive Travels, so I have to reject that description. I think this was a fitting tribute to the loss of Phife and honoring Tribe’s long legacy as one of the greatest groups in all of hip-hop.

 

While I truly enjoyed this album , especially the tracks Black Spasmodic, Dis Generation and Mobius, I did find myself missing input from some of the other members of the Native Tongue posse, such a De La Soul, Jungle Brothers and even Queen Latifah. I think their inclusion would have rounded out what was already a fitting last album and tribute to Phife. Nevertheless, some Tribe is better than no Tribe, and overall, I did enjoy this release.

 

Incognito – In Search of Better Days (2016)

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Hands down, Incognito is one of my favorite bands. I have followed them faithfully since the release of Postitivity in 1993. Very rarely have they disappointed. And they didn’t this time either. Recurring lead singer Maysa Leak is back, along with several other vocalists and band leader/founder Bluey Myrick once again leads them in the outstanding musical tradition I have come to know and love.

 

And I would be remiss that this past October, I finally got to see them in concert and I was in hog heaven. Not only seeing them perform but also getting to meet and talk to Bluey in person. I even bought a second copy of the CD (my first copy was digital) just to get Bluey’s autograph, and I am not a fan of autographs. Musically, that was the highlight of my year.

 

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After the concert, I went and re-listened to this album from start to finish and that just increased my appreciation for this album. Now, I will not say it is my favorite of their releases (that honor goes to No Time Like the Future and Eleven), this album definite has some outstanding tracks. Namely with Better Days (which I wish they had performed in concert), Everyday Grind and Crystal Walls.

Maysa’s vocals are in fine form on this album and while I had previously been impressed with their percussionist from the album, seeing him live was truly something else.

 

 

Shelia E. & The E Train – Writes of Passage (2000)

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While many people are not that familiar with Ingrid Chavez, most people know who Shelia E. is. As Prince’s long time drummer, and as we found out shortly before he past, his former fiancée, Shelia has established herself as a top notch musician and percussionist.

 

The mostly instrumental album is replete with her trademark percussion skills, slight Prince influence on the horn arrangements, and her typical joy when performing. This is another album among these that I mentioned that would have found (or maybe it did) a place in Smooth Jazz formats.

 

There is no doubt that this release and her other instrumental release right after this, called Heaven, were among her best of her post-Prince releases. Although to be honest, a couple of those weren’t that great. So this came as a welcome surprise.

 

Astrud Gilberto – Astrud’s Finest Hour (2001)

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As I mentioned earlier, I have been delving into Latin music a lot over the last couple of years and have always appreciated Astrud Gilberto. I first became familiar with her due to the tribute song Basia did to her on her first album titled simply, Astrud.

 

But here is one thing about Gilberto. I am not sure if I like her voice. I mean, it’s very plain, she doesn’t use a lot of inflection or articulation when she sings and she doesn’t have a particularly powerful or melodic voice. I don’t know why, but I like it.

 

Part of what bolsters Gilberto is the musicianship behind her songs. Supported often by Antonio Carlos Jobim, a legend in Latin jazz circles, the music behind her lyrics often elevates her vocals. Sometimes it feels she is just a placeholder for certain songs and other times, he voice fits in perfectly, as imperfect as it is.

 

This release is a collection of her songs largely released in the 60’s and 70’s. While her trademark “Girl from Ipanema” is included, there also are other gems. Such as her versions of “Fly Me To The Moon,” “How Insensitive,” and my favorite of her songs, “Summer Samba (So Nice).” So on the basis of that alone, makes it a great addition to my library.

 

Various Artists – Immortal Beloved Soundtrack (1994)

 

In addition to Latin music, I have also been exploring classical music over the last couple of years. It’s something I have long had an interest in and only recently began listening to and purchasing classical releases.

 

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This is the soundtrack to the movie which was a biopic on Beethoven. I don’t really know enough about classical music yet to really lay out what I really like and what I don’t like, although I do like piano and clavicle driven classical music. So this offering goes along great with that, although I could do without the opera tracks, because, well, you can’t like everything.

 

But this has been a good entryway to the larger world of classical music for me, and I can see myself collecting a lot more classical offerings. I can’t say I have a stand out track on this release, but I do find myself enjoying the entire album a great deal. We will just have to see what I am exposed to next.

 

And for this one, if you have recommendations you’d like to make about classical albums you really enjoy, please send them to me. I’d love to hear them.

A Couple of Words from a House Head on the Unsung Fallout

I am not a DJ. I am not a musician. I wish I was. I did learn to play drums and took piano and guitar lessons, but sadly, I didn’t stick with the last two. But I love music. No, I LOVE MUSIC. Really. I do. Music is like air and food to me. I need it, I crave it. It comforts me, it relaxes me and it excites me.

However, I have often said if I had to go back and select a career field now, I would be a music historian. I love reading and studying about the history of music and what certain people did out front and behind the scenes to create this thing I love called music.

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I owe part of my appreciation of music, in all of it’s forms (except for opera and country — sorry, can’t hang with those) to House Music. Growing up in Chicago in the 80’s I was exposed to the powerful force that music is and can be and will continue to be.

So I watched the Unsung episode on Frankie Knuckles and the Roots of House with great interest, knowing I was going to be disappointed at times.

Well, I was and I wasn’t. No matter what, I wasn’t surprised.

Yes, there were many discrepancies in the Unsung piece. We knew there were going to be. It is galling to me that legendary Chicago DJ Ron Hardy wasn’t even mentioned. Nor was House Music artist and Chicago fixture Chip E. Certain other places weren’t mentioned that were instrumental, like Imports, Etc, the Muzic Box. Groups like Ten City were ignored. There was NO mention of the influence of the Salsoul Orchestra and Loleatta Holloway. Larry Levan only got a brief mention. I could go on.

But the reality is, you can’t tell a 40 year story completely in 44 minutes. It’s just not going to happen, nor should we expect it to.

What is perhaps the most disappointing is the way the House Music community is divided over these issues. Friends of mine, people I respect are drawing battle lines over which story needs and deserves to be told and over who was left out and why. Individuals who have crafted onto themselves certain titles that they may or may not deserved are being mercilessly (and sometimes rightfully) mocked. A lot of hurt feelings and egos are abounding right now. And it’s sad.

I will always the first time I took someone who grew up in the north suburbs of Chicago, in a predominantly white area to the Chosen Few Picnic a few years ago. After the picnic she said to me, “You all are your own tribe. A beautiful tribe.” She got it.

The House Music community has always been, at least for me, a place of warmth and acceptance and a place where I could be whatever I wanted, act however I wanted, and just revel in not only the music, but the spirit of the people assembled. Whether it was 5 or 5,000 people, we all shared in the love we have for House Music.

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That love is taking an ugly turn right now. It’s happened before, and most likely it will happen again. Two years ago when Frankie Knuckles passed away, we were united in sadness and grief over the passing of one of our icons. Twenty-two years earlier, we were all saddened over the passing of Ron Hardy. We’ve lost other legends of the House scene in that time, some noted and others ignored. But at the end of that grief was the music, the community and the spirit of House.

Many are angry over the way the history of house is being presented. As an amateur historian, I can tell you, this will ALWAYS happen. However, the House community has an opportunity right now that those in Black Greek Organizations are now struggling with. We can talk to the people who were involved, get their stories, and put them all together.

Some people are going to exaggerate and outright lie to make themselves look better. That’s just a fact of human nature. But the important thing is to get the stories told and then we can sort everything out. If we are not actively seeking those involved, from the days of the Paradise Garage in New York to the most recent Chosen Few Picnic, then we will be able to get more reliable information.

The bottom line is we are collectively upset because someone else didn’t tell our story right. Think about that statement and read it again. We’re mad because someone else didn’t tell our story right. It’s OUR story. We need to tell it. The right way and the real way and stop expecting someone else to do it for us.

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Let’s remember. TV One did the episode not just to tell the story, but to sell advertising, gain ratings and tell a story. They have no loyalty to the House Community, even if a producer or two claims such. The story of House is OUR story and we need to be the ones to tell it. Sure, we may still argue and fight and disagree, but at least it will be us telling the story.

There are many of us with the ability, the access, the means and the motivation to tell the story our way and get it out to a broad audience. Maybe now is the time to stop bitching at each other and figure out a way to let the REAL story of House be told to those who don’t know or think they know.

They say history is written by the victors. Well, we’ve already won. We’ve won because we are fortunate enough to have been a part of that wonderful thing called House Music. The question is now, what are we doing to do with it?

My Love Hate Relationship with Prince, Part 2

It was the summer of 1990. After buying a Prince bootleg called “The Royal Jewels,” I walked a couple of blocks down a Baskin-Robbins to get a milkshake. Something, as I said previous, I never do. But it was hot that day and I wanted something cool to drink.

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There were a fair amount of people in the Baskin-Robbins that day, all no doubt feeling the same way I was feeling. Hot and tired. But I was excited. I had new Prince music in my hot little hands. Prince music most people had no idea even existed.

As I waited in line, I noticed the workers in the store peering over those of us in line to something that was going on outside. I turned and noticed a big black limo. I didn’t think much of it, as limos in Hyde Park in Chicago weren’t that much of an uncommon occurrence. So I waited, wishing everyone would hurry up.

I turned to see two rather large black men (in height and girth) walk in the store, look around and then walk right back out. I admit, I thought that was strange. Then maybe a minute later, a large white man walked in with a big white beard. I thought to myself, “this guy looks familiar.”

Then I heard someone say, “I think that’s Prince!” from behind the counter.  I turned and looked but didn’t see anyone but the big white guy, when I realized who the guy was. It was Big Chick, Prince’s longtime bodyguard. I was almost at the counter at this point, but I tried to play it cool. I turned around again and I saw him. Prince was standing behind Big Chick, wearing some sort of jumpsuit and big sunglasses.

My heart wanted to bust out of my chest. I was standing in the same room with Prince!, I was thinking. And right after I bought…………..then the next thing that came to my mind was “OH SHIT!”

The bags at the record store were brown paper bags but they were kinda sheer. So you could actually see what was in the bag. I turned the bag around so that the image of Prince’s face was facing inward, instead of outward like it was. But it was too late.

I ordered my milkshake and waited. The people behind the counter, realizing it was Prince in the store were obviously excited. The people behind me let Big Chick and Prince come to the front, but Chick waived them off saying, “We can wait.” I noticed Big Chick glancing at my bag.

I finally got my milkshake and was getting ready to walk out. But I stopped and looked at him. Damn that man was short! He was wearing heels but even then he couldn’t have been higher than 5’5. I’m 5’10 or so.

I grabbed some courage and said to him, “Are you Prince?”

He just nodded his head. Big Chick then looked at me and said, “I saw your bag. He wants to have a look,” pointing at Prince.

“Does have to?” I replied, started to get nervous.

Prince just smiled and held out his hand. By this time I had heard that Prince was none too pleased with his bootlegs getting out and I had read an article in Rolling Stone, I think, about how he was trying to clamp down on it. I knew if I showed him my bag, he would keep it and I would lose the $50 I had just spent. But Big Chick stared me down and I handed it over to Prince.

Prince pulled the album out the bag, smirked, showed it to Big Chick, who also smirked, and then put it back in the bag. To my surprise, he handed it back to me and shook his head.

“You’re going to be disappointed. You just wasted your money,” Prince said to me, still smirking.

I think I shrugged or said “Okay” or “thank you” or something stupid. I started to reach out of my hand to shake his, but I chickened out.

I left the store and walked the block or so back to my car. I just sat in the car, amazed that I had just met Prince. I thought of all the things I wanted to say but didn’t. I wondered if I should have wished him a happy belated birthday since it was June and our birthday’s were just a day apart. I was also somewhat embarrassed that he caught me doing something illegal, since technically that’s what bootlegs are.

And I wondered what he meant by saying I would be disappointed. Maybe he was just trying to dissuade me from buying future bootlegs or maybe he was  trying to mess with my head. No matter the case, I thought about it long and hard.

I got home and listened to it and enjoyed MOST of it. There were a couple of songs that were complete clunkers. But overall, I really liked it and didn’t regret my purchase one bit.

Flash forward a couple of months to August of the same year. I get word that a new Prince album, Graffiti Bridge, was coming out. Naturally, I was excited. I went to the record store and purchased it without looking at what songs were on it. Once I got it, I flipped the album over and then I saw it…

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Eighty percent of the songs on Graffiti Bridge were also on the Royal Jewels album. And I remember standing in the record store thinking, “So that’s what he meant.”

I kept the Royal Jewels album for a few months before I sold it back. But that didn’t stop my pursuit of every studio bootleg I could get my hand on. I didn’t really get into the live bootleg recordings for a number of reason, although I have collected a few here and there, especially if it was a concert that I attended.

The next couple of years in my Prince fandom were relatively mild. Releases like Diamonds and Pearls and the Symbol Album kept me going. But it wasn’t until I joined the online internet Prince fan groups that some of my opinions about Prince would change and I would come to understand that I was indeed, NOT the worlds biggest Prince fan. Not by a long shot.

To be continued…