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

Dee Dee Warwick: I’m Glad I’m a Woman
From 7″ (B-side of “Suspicious Minds”) (Atco, 1971)

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).

As for the Dee Dee Warwick – on any other day, Dionne’s younger sister wouldn’t be forced to play the second fiddle role: I like a lot of her songs and this one is no exception: a very well-down soul blaster by the undersung vocalist. However, like the Dee Edwards, the songwriting is a bit too fawning over the male species; it’s like a cheesier version of Aretha’s “Feel Like a Natural Woman”: I mean, you should never have a line about bringing someone coffee in bed and then rhyming that with “run my fingers through his head.” That said, it’s still a nice song. But Dee Dee ain’t no Dionne today!


The Electric Prunes: Holy Are You & General Confessional
From Release of an Oath (Reprise, 1968)

David Axelrod: Holy Thursday
From Songs of Innocence (Capitol, 1968)

I’ve more or less been avoiding writing this post for weeks even though I had the songs ready to go all along. It’s not that I have nothing to say about David Axelrod – it’s the inverse. He’s a musical figure who, once you start with simple platitudes, inspires you to ramble on incessantly about how underrated and truly remarkable a musical mind he is.

Luckily, I realized I had an out: I’ve already written something more in-depth and articulate about Axelrod back in 2002, when he released his eponymous LP on Mo Wax.

Therefore, rather than run down the esteemed producer/arranger’s entire career, here’s the shorthand of the songs included here: the late ’60s was both Axelrod’s breakout point as a solo artist as well as his most, in my opinion, distinctive and moving work. The songs on the Electric Prunes’ Release of an Oath as well as Axelrold’s own Songs of Innocence possess a quality that I can only describe as cinematic, however hackneyed or obvious that observation is. Especially with “General Confessional,” which begins by melting a hole in your head with those swelling organ vamps, I imagine a scene involving a solitary car racing across the Utah desert, a plume of dust rolling behind it. Seriously.

“Holy Are You” and the incomparable “Holy Thursday” (apparently, the funkiest day of the week) are drenched in that similar quality: possessed of a majestic yet solemn quality that manages to be both reverent and imposing, like stepping inside a stately cathedral or mosque. In short, these songs awe you and make you feel like you’re in the presence of greatness.

I’ve been listening to his songs for years. Still get goosebumps.

By the way, I just found out that there will be an impressively researched and executed anthology of Axelrod’s Capitol years (this would include Songs of Innocence but not the Electric Prunes), coming out in September from Blue Note Records. This will include alternative tracks and mixes based off the original master tapes. will bring ya’ll more information as it becomes public but definitely keep an eye out for that new compilation.


UPC All-Stars: Don’t Get Discouraged
From 12″ (Soul Cal, 1971/2005)

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

Shuggie Otis: Inspiration Information
From Inspiration Information (Epic, 1974)

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.

The three songs I picked out and not necessarily my all-time favorites but right now, they’ve managed to capture the anticipation of summer’s onset. The first is the UPC All-Stars’ “Don’t Get Discouraged,” a previously unreleased song from the same folks who brought you Omaha’s L.A. Carnival (the song even features Leslie Smith from the Carnival). This is an incredible song…I can’t believe no one put it out before. It opens with this beautiful, mellow keyboard riff and then the brass section blares in from nowhere and the song ramps up into a funkier jam that sounds perfect for a late-night outdoor party. The song is so positive, like something that should be the anthem for a scrappy Little League team.

As for 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.).

Last but least is a song out from the archives – Shuggie Otis’ “Inspiration Information.” The production on this is simply gorgeous – it’s full of life and joy and sparkles in a way that I never tire of. I hate to abuse an oft-used metaphor but the song really does sound like a ray of sunshine. Get lit by it.

I’ve invited some guests to contributed their own summer songs and I’ll put them up as they become available.

Hope everyone enjoys the long weekend.


Bill Withers: Can We Pretend & Stories
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, two of the ballads really shine. “Stories” reminds me of a Donny Hathaway song – simple and elegant with just a piano in the background. Even better is “Can We Pretend” – simply sublime, especially Withers’ vocal arrangement. Damn, how did I sleep on this for so long?