Archive for the ‘R & B’ Category

To begin, there’s no way I’m ranking these songs. They’re all just too good. I’ve been a huge fan of Motown and the Philly Sound since I was a little kid and nothing has changed since then. I’ve seen bands like The Temptations, Stylistics and Chi-Lites live and I once sang “Love Train” with The O’ Jays on a Columbus to Detroit flight. Not even kidding. I even wrote about it in this blog:

The O’ Jays and I

Good times with two great friends I miss very much. That said, what follows are twenty of my very favorite Motown/Philly Sound songs. Every single one touches me in one way or the other.

My Girl – The Temptations (1965)

Ah. The soaring vocals, the beautiful melody, this Smokey Robinson penned song one has it all. And David Ruffin’s vocals? Heaven, man. HEAVEN.

The Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (1970)

How could a song written by  Hank Cosby, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder fail, you ask? Answer: It could not. Love the upbeat melody combined with the terribly sad lyrics.

I’ll Be There – Jackson 5 (1970)

How Michael Jackson pulled this off at such a young age is beyond my comprehension. I’ll let Melody Maker give their take: “Rarely, if ever, had one so young sung with so much authority and grace, investing this achingly tender ballad with wisdom and understanding far beyond his years.” Listen to this song and understand that Michael Jackson turned 12 one day after it was released.

Here’s a bonus link from 1983. Stellar stuff.

Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) – Marvin Gaye (1971)

Marvin Gaye not only sang an amazing political song called “What’s Going On”, he also released this tune about our environment. Beautifully sang, great lyrics.

Let’s Stay Together – Al Green (1972)

Quite simply one of my very favorite songs of all-time, regardless of genre. One of my Bucket List goals is to go to the Reverend Al’s church in Memphis. It will happen. For now I have to be content watching this cool cat sing via video. Check him out:

Love Train – O’ Jays (1972)

This one is extra special to me, partly because I actually sang it with them. Well, sort of (check the link I posted above). Just an upbeat, happy song that you can’t help singing along to.

Midnight Train To Georgia – Gladys Knight & the Pips (1973)

Love this song, and Gladys Knight’s voice is at the peak of its glory. Still, it wouldn’t be what it is without the background vocals of the legendary Pips. Absolutely gorgeous.

Oh Girl – Chi-Lites (1972)

Without a doubt one of the saddest, most gut-wrenching songs ever recorded. Beautifully sung by Eugene Record, who also wrote and produced it. Again, a favorite regardless of genre.

Sideshow – Blue Magic (1974)

The song is noted for its gorgeous melodies and introduction, in which one of the band’s members acts like a master of ceremonies, declaring: “Hurry!! Hurry!!! Step right up! See the saddest show in town for only 50 cents!” Then the song kicks in . . .

Easy – Commodores (1977)

Love Lionel Richie’s vocals, the raw guitar sound in the middle, and of course the lyrics . . . “I’m easy like Sunday morning . . .”

I’m Stone in Love With You – The Stylistics (1972)

Believe it or not I saw The Stylistics at the Ross County Fairgrounds, sometime around 1973 or ’74. And yes, Russell Thompkins, Jr. had the voice of an angel.

So Very Hard To Go – Tower of Power (1973)

The Tower of Power Horns Section absolutely kills in this song, and when you combine that with Lenny Williams’ soaring vocals and a beautifully sad melody you have one of the best R&B songs ever recorded. Again, never ever gets old.

Too Late To Turn Back Now – Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose (1972)

Eddie Cornelius had a helluva run back in the early 70s with songs like this one and “Treat Her Like a Lady”, and he, brother Carter and sisters Rose and Billie Jo are flawless on vocals. Random thought: I have no idea why Billie Jo isn’t mentioned in the group’s name. Fun fact: The Cornelius clan hailed from Dania Beach, Florida and had a member named Cleveland E. Barrett who was killed in a car accident just before the band hit it big.

Note: The band isn’t seen in this video but some of the best damn Soul Train dancing surely is.

Keeper of the Castle – Four Tops (1972)

This is a lesser known Four Tops song that is a social commentary on men’s roles in relationships, and I always liked it. It might be a little dated as far as content was concerned but it still carries a great message. Love it.

Hot Fun in the Summertime – Sly & the Family Stone (1969)

Quite simply the best song about summertime ever recorded. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. On a related note, Sly was about the coolest cat in music for years.

Everybody Plays the Fool – Main Ingredient (1972)

There was a period when many R&B songs began with somebody talking, and this is an example of that trend:

Okay, so you’re heartbroken
You sit around mopin’
Cryin’ and cryin’
You say you’re even thinkin’ about dyin’?
Well, before you do anything rash, dig this . . .
Oh, and that lead singer is Cuba Gooding Sr.

Ghetto Child – The Spinners (1973)

This is one of The Spinner’s less famous songs, but one of my favorites, Great message too. Love the dueling vocals.

Nothing from Nothing – Billy Preston (1974)

From none other than the man who played piano for The Beatles on “Get Back” and just happened to be on the rooftop with them during their last performance together. Also, greatest afro ever.

I Just Can’t Get You Out of My Mind – Four Tops (1973)

I’m not sure what it is about this song I love so much. The melody, the vocals, there’s just something about it all that appeals to me. Maybe it’s because the voice of Levi Stubbs never sounded better.

The Love I Lost – Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes (1973)

Ah, Harold Melvin. Amazing voice and an incredible song with poignant, aching lyrics. Doesn’t get a whole lot better than this one. I also love the slow buildup with the guitar and keyboards, as the vocals don’t even begin until the 45-second mark.

I just realized I have a very narrow window where R&B is concerned. My Top 20 songs were from the following years: 1965 (1), 1969 (1), 1970 (2), 1971 (1), 1972 (7), 1973 (5), 1974 (2), 1977 (1). Interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

Good stuff.

My dad, circa 1972.

My dad, circa 1972.

As many of you know, I have a pretty extensive music collection. I recently did a rough count and when you include albums, 45s, cassette tapes, CDs, and downloads I have over half a million songs in my collection. Yeah, I know. Hard to believe but it’s true. That’s a lot.

I have the complete works of several artists, including The Beatles, R.E.M., Eels, Todd Rundgren, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Chi-Lites, Bob Dylan and many others. My collection is very eclectic, from The Osmonds to Frank Sinatra to Tchaikovsky to Hank Williams to . . . you get the idea.

(more…)

For some reason I’ve had more than my share of random encounters with ojaysfamous people over the years, both from the rock world and elsewhere. Hell, I was once standing at an airport urinal, looked to my right, and there stood Mr. Soupy Sales himself. For you kids under 50 out there Mr. Sales was Peewee Herman before Peewee Herman was Peewee Herman. Sort of. Anyway, my friends seem to enjoy hearing about these random encounters of mine so I thought I’d share them from time-to-time.

It happened when my friends Jigger, Jerry (sadly, both gone now) and I were heading to Vegas back in the early ’90s. You’ve got to remember that I’ve always been quite the Motown/Philly Sound fan and am pretty knowledgeable about a lot of the groups of that genre.

We’d been in the air for a few minutes when I thought I recognized a guy a couple of rows in front of me. Was that Eddie Levert of The O’Jays? I loved The O’Jays!

What the hell, I thought. I went up and sat by him (keep in mind there were only about 30-people on the plane). Sure enough, it was Levert and the rest of the group along with about eight roadies sitting here and there. Turns out Levert was a great guy who appreciated the fact a Southern Ohio white boy loved his music so much, so an idea was hatched in my brain.

Throwing caution and common sense to the wind, I started singing one of their big hits, “Love Train” and begging the guys to join in. What can I say? I was overcome with joy at meeting the O’Jays and I was pretty sure I’d never have this chance again.

Long story short, in a couple minutes all three O’Jays were singing backup to yours truly on lead vocal. One of the guys (Walter Williams possibly) actually got up in the aisle and was doing the dance moves as I stood and sang beside him. Surreal. About halfway through I forgot the words and Levert took over. I then attempted to join the dancing but failed miserably, to the delight of the crowd. Jigger and Jerry? They just sat there with mouths agape, stunned at the surreal scene in front of them.

I then took a theatrical bow with the group as the crowd went wild (at least in my mind, don’t tell me they didn’t), the stewardesses applauded and Jigger and Jerry sat there shaking their heads. I believe I even followed up by trying to start a rousing rendition of “Backstabbers” but my moment had passed. The group got off at our stopover in Detroit, bro hugs were shared all around, and the O’Jays went on their way.

And you know what? To this day I can’t hear “Love Train” without getting a big grin on my face. If only camera phones were in existence back then. Damn it, man.

By the way, my buddies The O’Jays were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. I wonder if they remember me . . .

This is the second installment of my Mt. Rushmore’s of Stuff. My first was My Mt. Rushmore of Alternative Music, but my Mt. Rushmores won’t be limited to music, kids. I plan to have Mt. Rushmores of everything from sports to TV to movies to historical figures to people I hate. Just kidding about that last one. Maybe.

Anyway, as you see from the title up there today’s blog includes my Mt. Rushmore of R & B Music. Remember, this is my personal list, including the guys who have been the most influential and impactful to me. So, there’s no James Brown, Otis Redding or some of the other greats. Don’t judge me, people.

Let us proceed:

AL GREEN

When I listen to The Reverend Al sing “Let’s Stay Together” I swear it almost always brings tears to my eyes. Such a soulful, emotional voice. One of the items on my Bucket List is to attend his Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis and hopefully hear him sing some gospel. Al Green, man.

MARVIN GAYE

Marvin Gaye was the epitome of smooth. Don’t believe me? Watch this video and listen him sing “What’s Going On”. He had such a style that nobody has ever been able to come close to replicating it. Like I said, s-m-o-o-o-o-t-h. He was killed by his own father in 1984. So sad.

SMOKEY ROBINSON

Smokey had that high tenor that could sing a love song like no other. He’s also the man behind one of my all-time favorite songs, “Tears of a Clown“. As former lead singer of the Miracles, Smokey was a major voice in the soundtrack of my youth.

RUSSELL THOMPKINS, JR.

This choice just might be a bit of a surprise, but if you’ve never heard this man sing you’ve missed out. As a matter of fact, I’d rank him at #1, above all others. As lead singer of The Stylistics, his voice is unmistakable. Give a listen to “Betcha By Golly Wow” and tell me if I’m lyin’.

Again, I realize that leaving out James Brown, Ron Isley, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding and others. Oh, and I’m not being sexist. The R & B ladies Mt. Rushmore will be coming soon.

Enjoy your weekend.

Amazing.

S-m-o-o-o-o-o-o-t-h.

As many of you know I’m a huge fan of “Live From Daryl’s House.” If you’re a music lover and missed the Smokey Robinson episode you really need to see it, especially if you’re a Motown or R&B lover like myself. This video is of the boys covering a Hall & Oates tune, but the kicker is at the end when they kick into an unplanned, impromptu version of “Ooh Baby Baby.” Just stellar stuff that actually gives me chills. So damn good. Enjoy.

That’s the great Lenny Williams on vocals.

Smooth as silk.

When “My Girl” kicked in I got chills.

Legendary horn section.

The Philly Sound. Gotta love it.