5 YEAR REWIND: BROTHERS OF SOUL


(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we’re revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on February 7, 2007).

Brothers of Soul: A Lifetime
From 7″ (Boo, 1968). Also on I Guess That Don’t Make Me a Loser.

(Original post): “I don’t use the word “perfect” very often (well, actually, ok, I probably do) but if ever there were a song that should inspire such an honorific – here it is.

I discovered this 45 a few weeks ago, along with my friend Hua – it was some crappy lo-digi-fi copy of the tune but it was still promising enough that we both went out and hunted out the original that evening. Hua got his earlier, digitized that sucker and sent it over. Suffice to say, within minutes, the song quickly became an instant classic in my personal catalog.

Every single part of this song just works: that anchoring piano melody, the background vocals, the rich voice of Fred Bridges singing, “…but I have no regrets” to begin his verses and the changes in the arrangement. The first minute of the song alone makes me want to crawl inside it and live there forever but make sure you get to the end where the sweet soul harmonies of Ben Knight and Robert Eaton come flying in unexpectedly. I tend to throw around terms like “sublime” a bit loosely at times but this song resets the bar and then some. I can’t say enough about it.

Soul Sides’ readers have heard the group before – in a manner of speaking – on my Ruby Andrews post from October. The BKE collaboration of Bridges, Knight and Eaton were discovered by Zodiac Records’ Ric Williams and they ended up one of Andrews’ main producers/composers/arrangers for her first album (Everybody Saw You) while Eaton and Williams produced most of her Black Ruby LP. Unfortunately, though the BoS had a few decent hits on 45, they never became major stars on their own and instead, were more successful working with other artists (a pity). That I Guess That Don’t Make Me a Loser is the definitive (by virtue of being the only) anthology of their 7″s and is well worth checking out just to hear their slim but grand catalog of music. (It includes their $200+ Northern Soul track, “I’d Be Grateful” which is also amazing). Also, please see Soulful Detroit’s long profile of Fred Bridges and the Brothers of Soul, a fantastic resource of information on BKE and their work.”

5 YEAR REWIND: ARETHA FRANKLIN



(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we’re revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on February 22, 2007).

Aretha Franklin: I Can’t Wait (Until I See My Baby’s Face)
From Runnin Out of Fools (Columbia, 1964)

I was originally introduced to this tune by my friend Hua, who put me up on the Sonji Clay version of it. I didn’t realize until this year however that the songwriter was actually Jerry Ragavoy (and yeah, I know I just reposted this very same song not that long ago but damnit, it’s so nice, I’m gonna post it thrice!).

Not only is the musical arrangement here a thing of beauty but just listen to the songwriting and how Ragavoy flipped the title phrase to go from defiance, to uncertainty, to desperation. Brilliant.

Best of all? There’s a music video for the song. Yeah, for real.

5 YEAR REWIND: NAS + AZ + DJ DELAY



(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we’re revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on Jan 7th, 2006).

Nas + AZ: Life’s a Bitch (DJ Delay Remix)
From Medium: Rare II Mix-CD (Funk Weapons Int’l, 2005)

My original comments on this were kind of thin so I’ll just write up some new ones…

Personally, “Life’s A Bitch” was always my least favorite song off of Illmatic, music-wise. I just thought it was too soft and syrupy and even though I’ve tried to give it new listens in hindsight, it still doesn’t really do it for me.

So when I heard DJ Delay flip a new beat under it, to me, it improved my personal experience of really listening to everything about it – not just the new beats, but the old verses as well. You’d be surprised how much you can pick up when your ear is more fully engaged with a song rather than trying to listen past a track you’re not that into.

For many, I suppose anything but the OG is blasphemous but f— it. I ride for the diggy-diggy Doc Delay on this one.

Pity the mix-CD this came out on (as a bonus track) is out of stock though!

5 YEAR REWIND: DONNY HATHAWAY



(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we’re revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on July 8, 2006).

Donny Hathaway: What a Woman Really Means
From Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers (Atlantic, 2006)

“I’m wholly enamored with the Donny Hathaway song. I’m always discovering and appreciating new songs by him and marveling at how me manages to announce his presence with just a two-note hum. You just KNOW a Donny Hathaway song by its sound and feel – it really speaks to the amazing personality he infused into his songs. This track is no exception and that chorus is killing me something wonderful with its chord changes and background vocals. So good. This is one of few songs on the comp that’s never been heard before and god bless ’em for that. (It was originally recorded during the Extension of a Man sessions but wasn’t released for whatever reason.”

5 YEAR REWIND: FELA KUTI



(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we’re revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on August 9, 2006).

Fela Ransome Kuti and Afrika 70: Water No Get Enemy
From Expensive Shit (Editions Makossa, 1975)

“I’ve listened to a decent amount of Fela’s stuff over the years but I either just let this slide past my radar or missed it completely but now I’m completely obsessed with it. I was instantly infatuated with it and here’s why: like most of Fela’s biggest Afro-funk songs, this track unfolds with a steady and sublime patience that reveals depths to the rhythm that might go otherwise missed unless you have the advantage of a longer view. But like “La Murga” what also makes the song such a pleasurable listen is how Fela brings in an electric keyboard…a softer, gentler sound for a song writhing in such thick rhythms and (once again) a monster brass section. The main riff are the horns (just like in “La Murga”) but it’s the piano that deepens the song’s personality and elevates it towards the sublime. Even though the song is nearly 11 minutes, I’ve put it on repeat over and over and simply lounge into its folds. Heavenly.”

5 YEAR REWIND: THE DELLS



(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we’re revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on May 20, 2006).

The Dells: I Can Sing a Rainbow/Love Is Blue
From Love Is Blue (Cadet, 1969).

“What’s so great about this song? Three things. 1) The shift from the mellow, almost folksy “I Can Sing a Rainbow” and then the out-of-nowhere dip into the funky soul blast of “Love Is Blue”. 2) The call and response between the lead vocalist and the rhythm/brass sections, i.e. “Blue!” BLARE! Blue! BLARE! BLARE!” There’s that moment where you know the hammer is about to drop between voice and instruments and you just know it’s going to be incredible. 3) Check out the string arrangement that’s subtly slipped underneath following that call-and-response. It adds this extra musical layer which turns a really good song into a wholly awesome one.”

5 YEAR REWIND: DIONNE WARWICK



(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we’re revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on October 26, 2005).

Dionne Warwick: You’re Gonna Need Me
From Just Being Myself (Warner Bros, 1973)

“This Dionne Warwick is one of the most amazing songs I’ve heard in a long, long, long time. I put it on repeat and literally was listening to it over and over for hours. I was trying to figure out how to articulate just what makes it so perfect – Holland-Dozier’s amazing arrangement, Dionne’s piercing vocals – but really, you just know it’s that good when you listen to it. It’s catapulted to the very top of my “favorite soul songs of all time.” I just can’t believe I never heard it until recently (thanks HHH for putting me up on it).”

(2009 update + preemptive comment – yes, I know Dilla and Just Blaze and others have sampled it.)

5 YEAR REWIND: AMERIE + SIIK



(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we’re revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on July 1, 2005).

Amerie: One Thing (Siik Remix)
From Siik.org (Siik, 2005)

“Given that the 4th of July is already upon us, I’m trying to kick off a mini-meme by asking folks the simple(?) question: What does a summer song sound like to you?

I don’t mean songs that happen to become popular during summer, though I respect the institution of the summer hit. I’m talking about songs that invoke summer – the type of song where you could be neck-deep in snow, in the middle of February, with the heat broken but once you hear it, you can almost see the sunset or smell the scent of backyard BBQs or feel the hot, humid air of nights where it’s 2am and no one’s ready to go home yet.

My favorite memories of summer are droplets of reality dissolved into a vat of fantasy. After all, what else is summer if not a delicious swirl of nostalgia and idealism, a lemonade cup filled with what we want summer to be rather than what it is. The perfect summer songs are the ones that invoke a sensation of innocence, optimism, and beauty yet also tinged with the slightest daub of melancholy. For what else is summer if not the feeling of sadness from knowing that summer will eventually pass, consigned into the darkening days of autumn? I guess that’s why my favorite summer songs are rarely brash, loud anthems. I prefer tunes with a hint of fragility in their melody, a vulnerability in their sensibility.

With Siik’s remix of Amerie’s “One Thing” – I know ya’ll are probably sick of the original already but I swear to God/Jah/Allah that hearing this made me think it was a completely new song. Especially compared to the forceful funkiness of Rich Harrison’s original, Siik takes it in the other direction with that sublime guitar melody. I can’t stop listening to this remix – it is so perfect to me and most definitely on a summer vibe. Makes me want to go trade my Prius in for a drop top just so I can play it out (but alas, foggy as hell right now in S.F.).”

5 YEAR REWIND: PATRICE RUSHEN



(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we’re revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on June 28, 2005).

Patrice Rushen: This Is All I Really Know
From Posh (Elektra, 1980)

“I’m definitely no modern soul expert but I’ve been turning up more songs of late (cleaning out my record stacks helps) that are part of that late ’70s, early ’80s vibe and I’ve been loving some of the tunes in that vein.

When I was combing through my jazz stacks, looking for LPs to cut, I gave my Patrice Rushen section a quick review and rediscovered her 1980 album Posh which features this great ballad, “This Is All I Really Know.”

(2009 update: jeez, I didn’t really have much to say here, did I? Well, let me amend that error – this is an incredible song, especially how it opens with that piano melody and Rushen and her back-up singers give the song and an appealing set of vocal layers and the icing on the cake is the bridge chorus around 2:47 which adds an even richer drizzle of soulfulness. Considering that you can find Posh for super-cheap, it’s well worth copping for this alone).

5 YEAR REWIND: BILL WITHERS



(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we’re revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on June 13, 2005).

Bill Withers: Can We Pretend
From +’Justments (Sussex, 1974)

For some reason, Bill Withers has the reputation as someone whose songwriting was better than his singing. I always found this a strange accusation – Withers was certainly a genius writer (“Ain’t No Sunshine” anyone?) but it’s hardly as if he had a terrible voice. It’s true – he didn’t have the range or purity of tone like Marvin Gaye or Sam Cooke but Withers was comforting and familiar – like a good friend to share an afternoon with. For some reason, he reminds me of what a happier Chet Baker might have sounded like singing soul.

Anyways, most soul/funk heads I know own two Withers’ albums – maybe three, but that’s about it: Still Bill, Just As I Am and Menagerie (for “Lovely Day”). But I admit, I’ve always passed by +’Justments and never thought twice about it. Until I listened to it.

The more uptempo, funkier stuff is ok – definitely not as good as what’s on Still Bill but it’s ok. However, it’s the ballads that really shine. “Can We Pretend” is simply sublime, especially Withers’ vocal arrangement. Damn, how did I sleep on this for so long?