Back in October, Michael Barnes invited me to the 7 Days of Soul Challenge but I didn’t have a chance to get to it until now and I figured this could double up as a short year-end wrap of some of my favorite songs of 2015. However, before we get there…

1) I began the year with the best of intentions: to post a song a day for the entire year. However, as my few daily readers know, I made a good run through June but the momentum couldn’t sustain itself.1 Still, 2015 saw more Soul Sides posts than probably the previous 2-3 years combined. I’ll try to finish the year strong with a week’s worth of posts.

2) In thinking about which 7 songs to focus, I inevitably thought of many songs I posted earlier in the year. Those include, in no ranked order:

Here’s the first of 7 new songs that I kept in heavy soul rotation in ’15:

Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers: Malinda (Gordy, 1968, 7″) (Available on The Complete Motown Singles: 1968

“The Vancouvers” could be the answer to a Jeopardy question: “What Motown-associated band did comedian Tommy Chong play guitar in?” I had no idea about Chong’s musical history until a friend put me up on it but indeed, he was originally a member of the San Francisco-based group The Bachelors and managed to convince his bandmates, albeit temporarily try out the name “Four N____rs and a Ch__k.” You couldn’t claim Chong didn’t have a twisted sense of humor, even back then. Regardless, by the time vocalist/producer Bobby Taylor joined them and Berry Gordy Jr. signed them to his Gordy imprint, they became Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers. “Malinda” reflected their entry into the Motown machine as Smokey Robinson both co-wrote and co-produced this b-side from “It’s Growing” (it also appears on the sole Taylor/Vancouvers’ LP.

I learned about “Malinda” via Vince Staples’s incredible rumination on his parents’ fraught marriage, “Nate.” Some samples immediately reach out and box you across the head and that’s how “Malinda” powers “Nate.” Is it all about the bells? That’s what my ears always hone into: their brightness, how they carry the main melody (I also like how the horns pop into the little pockets between the melody).

I don’t know if I would have guessed that Smokey had a hand in this had I not already known it but it also makes sense when you compare this composition to similar mid-tempo groovers by the Miracles in the same era. Perhaps had the Miracles actually recorded it, the song would merit a higher status within the behemoth that is the Motown catalog but I get the sense this is underrated despite it being, to me, one of the best tracks laid down out of Hitsville in the era: a crack rhythm section, a smart, subtle use of strings, the vocal harmonies, and of course, those 🔔🔔🔔. I don’t know if “Malinda” was my hands-down favorite soul song of 2015 but it’s the one that gave me the most pleasure to listen, each and every time.

  1. As always, the lack of feedback/comments plays a central role in why my posting frequency lags. I’m not saying this to blame my readers; I don’t comment on many people’s posts either! But for me, feedback is like oxygen to my writing fire.