MY FAVORITE THINGS – 2019

2019 was a good balance between new music I discovered/enjoyed vs. old tunes I’m continually finding via records. I find that raising a teenager helps with the former and while I would never try to pass myself off – these days – as having a finger of the musical zeitgeist, I think it’s valuable to stay engaged with new music coming out. Anyways…I’m going to flip this from the round-ups of the last few years and start with the old tracks I gave heavy run to last year. (Not in ranked order)

1. The Rascals: My World (1968)

So…yeah, I slept. I think the only reason I even came across it last year was because of the 3 Ft. High and Rising anniversary mixtape. Anyways, this is an example of a perfect ’60s pop song in terms of all its core elements: the vocal interplay is key, the instrument and arrangement decisions are lush without being overbaked, and the hook is a legit ear worm.

2. Karen Dalton: Are You Leaving For the Country? (1971)

Credit for this goes to Jason Woodbury who brought in the Dalton LP for our Heat Rocks episode. I find the song haunting and melancholy and even this city boy isn’t immune to its sentiment.

3. Basabasa Experience: Homowo (1979)

Earlier this summer, I was crashing for a couple of nights with my friend Hua and in his office, he has a small stack of records and this was near the top. I was intrigued by the title and asked about it and he just put it on and I was instantly smitten. It’s easily the best African disco LP I’ve ever heard and “Homowo” is a standout thanks to those opening synths and the lyrics.

4. Italian Asphalt and Pavement Company: Check Yourself (1970)

No shade on The Intruders, who originally recorded this Gamble/Huff tune, but this cover by the IAP Co. is straight crossover fire.

5. Ohio Penitentiary 511 Jazz Ensemble: Psych City (1971)

The best prison spiritual jazz LP ever recorded. Ok, maybe the only but seriously, this whole album is a gem. Read more here.

6. Kalle & L’African Team De Paris : Africa Boogaloo (1971)

I’ve long been a fan of New York boogaloo influences returning to its African roots and this single, written/produced by Manu Dibango, is a stellar example of the genre.

7. Nina Simone: Cosi Ti Amo (1970)

https://youtu.be/csIJBNhbKMk

The High Priestess taking it higher for an Italian jukebox-only cover of her “To Love Somebody,” sung in Italian. I have Y La Bamba’s Luz Mendoza to thank for this since I came across it when she chose Simone’s LP for her Heat Rocks episode.

8. R.D. Burman: Dance Music (1976)

Listening to Freddie Gibbs/Madlib’s “Education” (see below) compelled me to track its sample source back to this R.D. Burman-produced Bollywood marvel that packs in four movements in so many minutes. I find the whole song to be magical but the portion that kicks off a little after two minutes in is the best.

9. Herman Davis: Gotta Be Loved (1971)

A white whale that took me a few years to hunt down, I think of this as a repentant playboy’s anthem. Love the whole groove of this one-off single from St. Louis MO’s Davis, especially the plinkling piano after “I hear the raindrops” opening line.

10. The Delfonics: He Don’t Really Love You (1968)

Talk about coming out the gate: this is the Delfonics’ first single and it’s a masterful deep/sweet soul tune. The hook is massive and shout out to whoever is working the kettle drum on this.

11. Sweet Daddy Reed: I Believe To My Soul (1969)

Came across this via my dude Pablo: Sweet Daddy Reed takes Ray Charles’s original and strips it down to its bluesy bones. So deep, so good.

12. Breakers Two: I’m Gonna Get Down (1965)

When I came upon this in Amsterdam’s awesome Wax Well Records, I assumed it was an early electro single given the artist name and song title but nope: it’s a gorgeous island soul single from Guyana.

13. Joby Valente: Tu N’es Pas Riche, Tu N’es Pas Beau (1970)

Same trip to Amsterdam also brought me to Paris and I scooped this (plus the “Africa Boogaloo” single from earlier) at the ace Superfly Records. Originally from Martinique, Valente recorded several sides for the French/Guadalupe label Aux Ondes and this B-side is a killer blend of her voice with some soul boulder goodness on the track.

14. Members of the Staff: Stop the Bells (1972)

https://youtu.be/UWG1F04zeVM

Bought this one off of the aforementioned Hua: a Leon Haywood-produced, Gene Page-arranged, local L.A. tear-jerker that’s definitely NOT what you want to play at a wedding.

15. Fully Guaranteed: We Can’t Make It Together (1972)

One of the last things I picked up in 2019, I love how this is an answer/rebuke track to the 1970 soft rock hit, “Make It Together.” Take that, Bread!

Ok, onto the new joints….

1. Jamila Woods: Betty

I mean…Jamila made a song about Betty Davis. That’s already frickin’ awesome but it’s also my favorite tune off her Legacy! Legacy!” Those opening piano chords lure you in and I was hooked all the way through the stinger. I just wish it was longer but hey, I don’t want to be greedy.

2. Valerie June: Cosmic Dancer

Would I have guessed that Valerie would absolutely smash a T-Rex cover? Actually, yes, yes I would. The melancholic beauty of her rendition is just sublime.

3. Bazzi: I.F.L.Y.

This might be the most “Spotify sound” track on my list but if I’m a victim of the algorithm, I’m ok with that. Give me all the mellifluous guitar R&B beats.

4. Normani: Motivation

This feels like retro-Destiny’s Child and I mean that in all the best ways.

5. Los Retros: Someone to Spend Time With

I’m fine with Tapia’s general sound but it’s the pairing of his voice with Firelordmelisa’s that makes this work as well as it does.

My only knock: why is there no 45 for this yet?!?!?!

6. UMI: Sukidakara

UMI is one of my favorite new artist discoveries and I love that she gets to bust out her Japanese skills on this one. My 14 y.o. was already into her sound but discovering that UMI is half-Japanese (like her) endeared her even more.

7. Samm Henshaw: Church

London’s Henshaw is also one of my favorite new artist discoveries. I thought his 2018 single, “Broke” was stellar and this new gospel-infused single is similarly awesome. Glory glory hallelujah.

8. Kota the Friend: Chicago Diner

The lyrics here are…just ok but the vibe? Cookies in the oven on a Sunday, indeed.

9. Lady Wray: Come On In

As the late Matthew Africa would have called this: it’s a soul boulder.

So. Damn. Heavy.

10. Brainstory: Beautyful Beauti

Straight outta the Inland Empire, Brainstory’s Buck was one of my favorite albums of 2019 and this single, in particular, embodies everything great about their sound/style.

11. G Yamazawa: Good Writtens Vol. 5

I’m digging G’s entire “Good Written” series so this really was a toss up between equals. Regardless, I’m hyped for whenever he puts out some new studio material in 2020.

12. Amber Mark: Love is Stronger Than Pride

Technically from 2018 but no song got more early 2019 play than Mark’s luscious riff on Sade’s classic.

13. Solange: Stay Flo

I’m not sure how a song can sound sparse and lush at the same time but here we are.

14. Freddie Gibbs, Madlib, Yasiin Bey, Black Thought: Education

I suppose this is lab-engineered to appeal to ’90s heads like myself but I don’t care. Having these three cats flow over that R.D. Burman loop (see above) is lo-fi gold.

15. Lizzo: Truth Hurts

Artist of the year and it’s not particularly close. We’re all in Lizzo’s world now.

RECORD WHEEL #7: DISCO FEVER

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Been promising this one for a minute. I am, by no means, a deep disco head (that particular well runs incredibly deep) but I do respect/appreciate it. These aren’t my absolute favorite cuts but randomly selected ones that I think do a good job of showcasing the diversity of the genre.


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Playlist:

  • Charanga 76: Good Times (TR, 1979)
  • Ernie Story: The E Groove (Legend, 1976)
  • Manzel: Space Funk (Fraternity, 1977)
  • Gospel Soul Revivals: If Jesus Came Today (Sonic, 1982)
  • Frankie Gee: Date With the Rain (Claridge, 1975)
  • The Bee-Gee’s: Too Much Heaven (RSO, 1979)
  • Wild Sugar: Bring It Here (TSOB, 1981)
  • Belle Epoque: Miss Broadway (Shadybrook, 1977)
  • T.C. James and the Funk-O-Fist Orchestra: Dance All Over the World (Funk-O-Fist, 1977)
  • B&G Rhythm: Hibaros (Polydor, 1978)

PATTI JO: YOU GOT TO BELIEVE

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Patti Jo was a teenager from Nashville when Curtis Mayfield first discovered her circa 1972.1 At this point, Mayfield had already left The Impressions to embark on his solo career and manage his label, Curtom. It’s unknown why Mayfield didn’t sign Jo directly to Curtom but instead, she ended up recording with New York’s Scepter and its subsidiary, Wand.

Jo’s first single came out in ’72: “Ain’t No Love Lost/Stay Away From Me.” However, it would be her next single, “Make Me Believe In You,” in 1973 that would help immortalize her (with some help from Tom Moulton). Mayfield both wrote and produced the song (and his frequently collaborated, Rich Tufo, arranged it) and it’s worth noting how the string arrangements and steady backbeat are such mainstays of disco’s conventions but this was cut half a decade before disco’s mainstream dominance.2

Here’s that original 7″ version:

Patti Jo: Make Me Believe In You (Scepter, 1973)

The single was a minor hit but its true ascension into the disco canon came two years later when pioneering remix guru, Tom Moulton, was given access to a slew of Scepter songs to help produce the Disco Gold compilation of 1975.

Patti Jo: Make Me Believe In You (Tom Moulton Remix)
Disco Gold (Scepter, 1975)

Mouton’s remix is a masterpiece of extending a song’s best elements without radically altering it. The biggest change he makes, right off the bat, is taking the original’s 12 bar intro and extending it six-fold. That instrumental build, which takes up the first 2/5ths of the entire song, folds in different elements from other parts of the song and it’s a masterful slow-burn build where the listener – and really, dancer – already has undergone a journey of sorts before Patti Jo’s vocals even enter the picture.

Moulton also stripped down the tracks behind the first vocal verse. If you go back to the original, Mayfield brings in strings almost immediately but Moulton muted those stems in favor of just the drums, bass line and light flute track. He waits instead to bring in the full string arrangement on the hook, which feels like a reward for the listener/dancer’s patience. From here on out, he adds more layers back into the mix as well as extends the song’s bridge in what we now would think of as a conventional disco edit fashion. All in the all, an unqualified classic remix of the era.

Notably, Mayfield himself recorded a version of the song for his 1974 album, Sweet Exorcist. Melba Moore also covered the song in 1976 on This Is it, with a take that songs like it was definitely influenced by the Moulton remix rather than strictly the original. Both versions sound less…urgent than Jo’s original, partially because neither has as strong of a back beat. In 2007, Amerie covered the song – rather loyally – on her 2007 album Because I Love It and I don’t think it’s harsh to say that it’s not exactly essential.

As I mentioned in that first footnote…it’s surprising how difficult it is to find much information on Patti Jo herself. After those first two singles, she disappeared from the scene and then came back, years, later, to record a couple of new songs but I’ve yet to find a single interview with her available anywhere on the interwebs. If someone knows something I don’t, holler.

  1. It’s shockingly difficult to find anything about Jo’s history and what I managed to patch together was taken from a number of internet forums so take all this with a grain of salt.
  2. My point being: disco was never, ever a flash in the pan. It built and bubbled up over the course of the entirety of the 1970s.

KARRIEM: HOW LOW CAN YOU PASHLO?

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Karriem: I Love You (Pashlo, 1979, 12″)

It’s cliche to suggest that all you need with disco is a good, repetitive groove but that doesn’t mean it’s untrue. This obscure-ish disco single out of Oakland is barely more than Karriem singing “I love you” over and over and that’s all you need. Actually, if you tried to put more on it, maybe it wouldn’t be nearly as endearing.

By the way, far as I can tell, this single was the only 12″ that Oakland’s Pashlo imprint ever released. They only had about half a dozen records to their name which isn’t surprising given that they were so local, their original address was a literally a house in deep East Oakland. I couldn’t find much on Karriem himself; he’s not even in the credits! The most notable talent on the song might be producer (and elsewhere, writer/arranger) Gerald Robinson who, among many other works, produced another Bay Area boogie classic, the Numonics’ “You Lied.”

Update: Len Romano on Facebook pointed out that Karriem, aka Dr. Karriem Muhammad , is still recording and actually re-recorded “I Love You” in 2008.

SALSOUL ORCHESTRA: STRIKE A POSE

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Salsoul Orchestra: Ooh, I Love It (Love Break) (Salsoul, 1975, 12″)

It wasn’t until I read this Shep Pettibone interview that I realized that “Vogue” was basically built around an interpolation of this Salsoul Orchestra 12″. I love that Shep was able to revisit his own production history to help mint one of his (and Madonna’s) biggest hits.

365 Days of Soul, #161

WAR: THE WORLD IS A DISCO

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War: The World Is a Ghetto (Disco Instrumental Mix) (MCA, 1980, 12″)

Until recently, I had no idea this existed: an instrumental disco remake of War’s “The World Is a Ghetto.” It was included on the groups’s The Music Band 2 album (which clearly, I never copped) and then the 12″ version I have is a shorter, 9 minute version of what was 13+ minutes on the LP. Not sure what the hell MCA was cooking up here with that but *shrug*.

Personally, I dig this …it’s not better than the original but it does have this melancholy, Sunday afternoon vibe to it. Interestingly, most of the reviews I’ve seen of the version have savaged it…I think one review called it “elevator instrumental-lite.” Ouch!

365 Days of Soul, #142

SSO: GETTING FADED

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SSO: Faded Lady (RKM, 197?, Disco Soul Roots)

I never want to reduce a song to just its sample use but “Faded Lady” is put to such major effect on Diamond’s “I Went For Mine,” that it’s hard not to always think of the latter when you pump the former.

I’ve heard the players with SSO were also behind Nico Gomez, the Chakachas and a slew of other Dutch groups of the ’70s. Don’t know if that’s true but it does make sense given how damn groovy all those groups got.

365 Days of Soul, #138

LAMONT DOZIER + RICHIE HAVENS: BACK TO THEIR ROOTS

In honor of Richie Havens, who passed away earlier this week, I’m bringing back this 2010 post. -O.W.



Lamont Dozier: Going Back To My Roots
From Peddlin’ Music On The Side (WB, 1977)

Richie Havens: Going Back To My Roots
From Connections (Elektra, 1980)

One of my best moments in a club came back in the ’00s when I was at APT during a night that Chairman Mao was spinning. I had never heard Lamont Dozier’s “Going Back To My Roots” before and I was just marveling at now just how good the song was, but that incredible change in the arrangement that drops around the 6:30 mark. It was so unexpected and sublime, one of those songs that really only could work as well as it does when you give it time to unfold on a dancefloor. Simply incredible.

Not surprisingly, it drew the attention of other artists. The best known cover is by Odyssey but…I don’t know…I think I found the vocals to be too disco-cliché. Richie Havens’ version however won me over with that intro piano (I’m a sucker for good piano intros) and though Havens has a rougher voice than Dozier’s it works well here. The “reprise” section is missing but otherwise, I find this almost as pleasing to play out.

93 TIL + MORE

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(93 ‘Til line from Hiero + Adapt)

Question from Morgan: What would you rank as the top three albums you enjoyed in the last ten years that would have surprised the guy you were back in 2003? Follow up: Same question, but for the guy you were in 1993.

Answer: The 2003-2013 question is hard to answer in the way you’re asking if only because 2003 marked an important shift in my thinking about/relationship to music. It was the year I re-embraced pop music in a profound way, leaving behind the “strictly underground/keep the crossover” attitude that defined my 20s. I could get into all the reasons why but the short story is that I, as a music writer, no longer felt like I needed to be an advocate/cheerleader. I was more interested in simply trying to find something interesting/insightful to say about music but whether that was the biggest pop act or an artist no one had ever heard of wasn’t a distinction that held much meaning for me anymore.

As a result, I became far more open-minded by the end of 2003 and therefore, I’m not sure if there’s much that would have surprised 2013 Me vs. 2003 Me given that 2013 Me is still living out the shift that 2003 Me began. Does that make sense?

That all said, in the spirit of actually addressing your query vs. over qualifying a non-answer, here’s three artists/albums/songs that reflect the shifts I’m talking about:

Rufus Wainwright: O What a Wonderful World
From Want One (Dreamworks, 2003)

I can’t say I’ve loved Rufus’s entire catalog…in fact, there was about ten years (after this album and before last year’s album) where I stopped listening to him for reasons I’m still not completely sure why. But I’ve gotten more pleasure out of his first three albums than most other artists I can think of (for example, for sheer listenability, I’d take his first 3 over Gang Starr’s first 3).1 The only thing is that I started listening to Rufus around 2001, not 2003, but Want One was the first of his albums that I reviewed and at the time, was really one of the few examples of a “non-hip-hop or soul” album I had ever tried to tackle.2

Alton Ellis: I’m Still In Love With You
Available on I’m Still In Love With You

Alton Ellis. I can’t peg this to a specific album if only because I love his singles more than any single album but the general point is that, ten years ago, I simply wasn’t that into any kind of Jamaican music. I never got that far aboard with reggae or dancehall; I doubt I ever will in a substantial way. These are genres that I admire and respect but I can’t see myself jumping deep into them. That said, I definitely have listened to way more rocksteady over the last ten years and I think that would have been a surprise to 2003 Me. Ellis had much to do with it, especially when I discovered songs like “I’m Still In Love With You” and “Rock Steady.”

Lykke Li: I Follow Rivers (The Magician Remix)
From 12″ (LL, 2012)

I was asked to play this at a wedding I DJed last fall and I hadn’t heard it before. I knew, vaguely, about Lykke Li dating back to her first album circa ’08 or so but I never followed her. And if someone had told 2003 Me that “one of your favorite songs of 2012 would be a disco-laced house remix to a moody, electronic-y Swedish singer/songwriter” I might very well have said “f— outta here.” If I had to unpack what I like here, it starts with the piano…just two chords from what I can tell, but totally catchy. And the difference between this and the original song are night/day. Li sounds so much brighter and dreamy than the darker album mix, which reminds me of something I might have heard on KROQ in 1986, back when I listened to a lot of new wave.

As with what I was just saying about reggae a moment ago, I very much doubt I’ll ever get deep into EDM but the important thing is that I’m open to getting into any given song. That, more than anything, is the biggest shift that’s happened over the last ten years.


As for the second half of your question, that’s much easier to answer since, back in 1993, I was totally locked into “hip-hop, fuck everything else” mode (I mean, I was 21 then). My listening tastes were uber-narrow. How narrow? So narrow that here’s the first album I thought of when I read your question:

Dr. Dre: Lyrical Gangbang
From The Chronic (Death Row, 1992)

When The Chronic originally dropped, I simply wasn’t feeling Dr. Dre. The reasons are numerous (and all kind of silly in hindsight but they mattered to me at the time): Ice Cube > NWA, I didn’t like all that “synth shit,” I was far more of a NY-rap fan than LA-rap fan even though I grew up in LA and was still living on the West Coast then. Basically, I judged The Chronic mostly on merits that had nothing to do with it as an album and everything to do with what I thought it symbolized.

Of course, back then, that shit was real. Silly as it may seem in hindsight, at that moment, The Chronic and its success felt felt threatening to a particular world view of hip-hop that I had adopted. The fact that I now admire its achievement – and more importantly – think it’s a pretty damn good album of music actually took me those ten years, from 1993-2003, to come around to.3

Pete Rodriguez: Pete’s Boogaloo
From Latin Boogaloo (Alegre, 1966)

The biggest shift from 1993 to 2003 was my discovery, via my old DJ partner Vinnie Esparza, of Latin music and boogaloo in particular. Unlike The Chronic, it wasn’t like I was purposefully, stubbornly “opposed” to Latin music, but it simply wasn’t a genre/tradition I was remotely checking for in 1993. I was too busy trying to cop A Tribe Called Quest promo 12″s. But since then, Latin has become one of my favorite bodies of music, as any reader can tell.

Bobby Reed: The Time Is Right For Love
From 7″ (Bell, 1970)

In 1993, I bought what I think was probably my first box set, volume one of The Complete Stax/Volt. Much as I had very narrow opinions about what “real hip-hop” was, I also held a fairly myopic view on what “real soul” was. At the time, real soul = Southern vs. Northern/Motown-style R&B which I associated with such bad words as “popular” and “crossover,” both of which were codewords for “sellout.” This was, of course, asinine thinking and represented blind allegiances to rigid ideologies. But again: back then, that’s the kind of music fan I was. The idea that, 15 or so years later, one of my all-time soul songs would be a very Northern-esque 7″ on Bell would have mightily surprised 1993 Me.

What’s funny is that this very morning, as I was sitting down to right this, a friend was talking about discovering Grimes and said, “I love it when there’s new/new to me stuff that excites me.” I couldn’t possibly agree more.


Question from Karl: “A while back, I picked up Jean-Marc Cerrone’s “Supernature” on a whim, which is a dope record. How familiar with him are you, and what can you say about his other records?”

Answer: Easy…I know next to nothing about Cerrone except that he recorded this Ultimate Beats and Breaks classic:

Disco is one of those genres that I enjoy but that I know woefully little about besides a few, obvious acts and whatever random assortment of disco records I have.


Have a question? Ask us.

  1. Keep in mind though that 1) Gang Starr’s first album was rather inconsistent and more of a hastily thrown together Wild Pitch effort than the kind of focused efforts Guru and Primo would put together later. And 2) I never really liked Daily Operation much. I was always more of a Hard To Earn guy for that era. Gang Starr’s second album, however, is perfection.
  2. fun’s Some Nights album, one of my favorite of 2012, could have fit into this space as well though that album has more of a hip-hop pedigree than Rufus ever did.
  3. What explains that is I ended up writing the entry for The Chronic in my album guide, Classic Material. I wasn’t supposed to write it but the original writer had dropped out and with a looming deadline, I decided to just take it on myself but that meant really listening to the album in a way I never had previously (which is to say: actually listen to the album from beginning to end).