J Dilla: Signs
From 7″ (Stonesthrow, 2006)
Brenton Wood: Gimme Little Sign
From 7″ (Doubleshot, 1967)
It’s just my luck that my favorite song off of Donuts didn’t even make the album. Yeah, I know that sounds contradictory but I’ve listened to the song so many times that I naturally assume it was on the album until I actually go back to Donuts and realize, “hey, where’d it go?” Stonesthrow did put it out on its own 7″, with “Pandemonium” on the flip, but I still can’t shake that feeling of anticipation for it to enter the Donuts tracklisting every time I revisit that project.
The thing is…”Signs” is hardly that sophisticated a production; Dilla just loops up part of the bridge to Brenton Wood’s 1967 hit and then pumps Syl Johnson’s “Different Strokes” beneath that. But that’s part of the charm – Dilla lasered in on what’s a total ear worm part of the original and simply looping up that whiny bit of keys is all you need to make the beat work.
I should also add that I really love the source material but it does strike me as a very unusual song in terms of its arrangement. It begins simply enough, sounding more pop than R&B, but as it builds steam to the chorus, it changes things unexpectedly and hits you with one of the all-time great, feel-good, rousing hooks, especially where Wood goes, “oh…my baby.” This reminds me: it’s been way too long since I’ve played out. I’m overdue!