Like the sassy friend who doles out advice, Betty Wright's blues-inflected voice warned women of straying men. Her messages may not exemplify today's feminism, but her vocals come from a woman who has experienced life's rollercoaster and wants to share her hard-won lessons with fans. Best known for her 1972 hit "Cleanup Woman," Wright scored other hits including "Tonight Is the Night" and the 1974 thumper "Secretary." Born in Miami in 1953, Wright started singing in her family's gospel group Echoes of Joy. By 13 she transitioned into secular music by singing background on other recordings and embarking on a
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Need some advice with a dash of sassiness? This 1974 deep cut may do the trick.
DeepSoul pays tribute to the Queen of Soul with one of her funkiest tracks.
Music fans remember August 16, 1977 as the day the King of Rock 'n Roll, Elvis Presley, died. This year, the day marks another profound loss: Aretha Franklin passed on August 16, 2018 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She may be best known as the "Queen of Soul," but Franklin contributed even more to music. By bringing in elements of gospel, pop, and blues, Franklin transformed soul and R&B, shaping it to her own unique talents. Today artists still try to emulate her vocal style--passionate, wide-ranging, and spine-tingling. The church was at the root of everything she recorded,
The late 1970s dance culture is exemplified in this funk/disco track.
DeepSoul's final entry in this three-column salute to songwriting duo Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson delves into one of their funkiest tunes. In 1977, Ashford and Simpson released their album Send It, a selection of mid-to-uptempo tracks showcasing their tight harmonies. Proving their readiness to step into the spotlight, they announced their arrival as artists in their own right with the raw "Don't Cost You Nothing" a track that works equally on the dance floor and as a classic funk workout. Upon Send It's release, the album became an instant club favorite thanks in large part to legendary DJ Larry
The pair proved their worth as skilled composers and charismatic performers with this 1978 track.
While the songwriting duo Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson experienced great success at Motown as the creators of some of the label's biggest hits ("Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand," and "You're All I Need to Get By"), by the late 1970s they were ready to reignite their performing careers. Although not their first album on their own, 1977's Send It proved to be their chart breakthrough. They grasped onto the flourishing disco trend, but the pair retained their unique chemistry and superb harmonies. The followup, Is It Still Good to Ya, produced their best-performing
The legendary songwriting duo also performed their own material, such as this 1982 cautionary tale of the streets.
Name some of Motown's biggest hits--"Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Your Precious Love," and "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand"--and one thinks of two singular talents: Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. The songwriting duo were behind these classic hits, along with other Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell standards such as "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "You're All I Need to Get By." While their numerous compositions earned them a well-deserved place in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, few focus on the couple as performers, with the sole exception of their 1984 romantic duet "Solid." The next few DeepSoul
Artists such as Rihanna can thank this Houston-born singer for bringing Caribbean music to worldwide audiences.
Say the name "Johnny Nash," and one song comes to mind: "I Can See Clearly Now," the 1972 smash that found renewed success when Jimmy Cliff covered it for the 1994 Cool Runnings soundtrack. However, Nash should also be known for bringing reggae into the mainstream, combining it with American pop and soul to create crossover hits. In addition, he became one of the earliest American artists to record in Jamaica. While "I Can See Clearly Now" remains his chief legacy, the 1968 single "Hold Me Tight" became a crossover success four years before that classic song. Due to his
While best known for the electro-funk classic "Word Up," this slow jam reveals more dimensions of this unique band.
Unlike other '70s funk outfits, Cameo successfully updated their sound to match the 1980s synthesizer era. After experiencing a dip in sales, the band came roaring back with 1986's "Word Up," a futuristic groove featuring Larry Blackmon's robotic vocals. The song served as younger listeners' introduction to the group, but in fact Cameo had been recording quirky funk since the late 1970s. Dipping into their earlier work, one can find stripped-down arrangements without the electronic sound. "Feel Me," a 1980 slow jam, typifies their first wave of success. Cameo began as a group of 13 New York City musicians led
The passing of the Staple Singers' Yvonne Staples reminds listeners of her important role in the legendary family group.
In the 1970s, soul music took on a new conscience. Songs containing lyrics addressing social injustice such as Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)" and the Isley Brothers' "Fight the Power Pt. 1" filled the airwaves. While those artists tapped into energy fueled by the 60s Civil Rights movement, the Staple Singers focused on self-esteem and empowerment. The Stax legends scored a number of crossover hits in the 1970s fusing soul and gospel, with "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There" becoming modern classics. While lead singer Mavis Staples has enjoyed a lengthy solo career, even collaborating
The group's cover of a 1972 Bobby Womack track proves that passionate funk never goes out of style.
Funk never goes out of style, and no song proves that notion better than "I Can Understand It" by New Birth. Originally written by Bobby Womack, "I Can Understand It" transforms into a James Brown-esque soul workout, and while it performed well on the R&B and pop charts in 1973, it is inexplicably rarely played on the radio today. According to New Birth's website, the group was the brainchild of Vernon Bullock, a songwriter responsible for classics such as "If I Can Build My Whole World Around You" by Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell as well as "What Does It
The 1968 hit is a prime example of how jazz and R&B can merge, resulting in an irresistibly funky and timeless track.
Chicago has deep soul and R&B roots. From Chess and Brunswick Records to Curtis Mayfield and his Curtom label, the city has produced incredibly talented players. Young-Holt Unlimited, featuring core members Eldee Young and Isaac "Red" Holt, were no exception, as they worked with Ramsey Lewis before branching out on their own. While they never scored major hits, they are best known for "Soulful Strut," the instrumental version of the Barbara Acklin single "Am I the Same Girl." Featuring a funky bass line, light jazzy piano, and a catchy horn riff, "Soulful Strut" has endured, covered by artists such as
A deep dive into her catalog, beginning with this track off Mahogany Soul, reveals an immensely gifted R&B vocalist who spans other genres and deserves more attention.
Since the late 1970s, Angie Stone has recorded everything from soul to hip hop to dance. Despite her talents, she remains an underrated artist who has never quite managed to score a massive hit. Yet she remains a pioneer of the late 1990s "Neo-Soul" movement and a "singer's singer," well-respected in the R&B industry. One of her best releases, 2001's Mahogany Soul, is a prime example of her songwriting and earthy vocal talents, particularly on "Wish I Didn't Miss You." In addition to being a deeply soulful track, it also demonstrates how samples can be effectively used to create an
The Afro-jazz legend blended other genres such as R&B, funk, and pop to create a pan-African sound that appealed to worldwide audiences.
Called the "father of South African jazz," Hugh Masekela actually spanned several genres to create his own melting pot music. Perhaps best known for his 1968 instrumental hit "Grazing in the Grass," Masekela also became a pioneer in world fusion. The trumpet and flugelhorn player even dabbled in dance music, mixing Afro-pop with disco. One such example is "Afro Beat Blues," a previously unreleased 1975 track that finally surfaced on a 2006 compilation. Its slinky beat suits the dance floor as well as the radio, also paying tribute to the father of Afro-pop: Fela Kuti. Growing up in South Africa,
With their 1984 hit, Pieces of a Dream demonstrated that jazz has more in common with soul, R&B, and funk than listeners may realize.
Take three gifted teenagers equally versed in jazz and R&B, and what results is the crossover jazz sound of Pieces of a Dream. Still recording today, the group helped pioneer contemporary jazz with their smooth sound, pop hooks, and street feel. Their third album, 1983's Imagine This, proved to be one of their most successful due to the silky single "Fo Fi Fo." Philadelphia has spawned an impressive array of talent, and its roster includes keyboards James Lloyd, drummer Curtis Harmon, and bassist Cedric Napoleon. The teen musicians formed the group in 1976 and played throughout the Tri-State area. Their
The final installment of our salute to the rock pioneer spotlights a fun Beatles cover.
During their heyday (and into the solo years), the Beatles often professed their love of Fats Domino. Songs such as "Lady Madonna" can be directly traced to the rock 'n' roll architect's influence. During a New Orleans stop on their 1964 tour, the Beatles had one request: they wanted to meet their idol. After the meeting, Domino later repaid the favor by covering three of their tunes: "Lady Madonna," "Lovely Rita," and his ebullient rendition of "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey." While covering the Beatles is often fraught with difficulty, Domino manages to incorporate his
Our salute to the R&B pioneer continues with a 1956 classic first introduced in a seminal rock film.
Rolling Stone calls it the "working man's blues," and "Blue Monday" does demonstrate rock's indebtedness to the genre. While Fats Domino did not write the track--he was not even the first to record it--he transformed the song into a memorable blend of rock, blues, country, and New Orleans jazz. What results is a track addressing a subject with which most listeners can relate, along with a dose of good-natured naughtiness. Domino's longtime collaborator Dave Bartholomew originally penned "Blue Monday" for New Orleans R&B singer/guitarist Smiley Lewis. Released as a single in 1954, this version prominently features rhythm guitars, horns, and
This week's DeepSoul is the first in a three-part salute to the rock and roll pioneer.
One of the early architects of rock and roll, Fats Domino combined R&B with New Orleans swagger to create a feel-good but raunchy form of music. Lyrics such as "I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill" leave little doubt as to the nature of that thrill, but Domino's radiant smile and rollicking piano never offended. A huge part of rock history was lost upon his October 24, 2017 death. but his timeless catalog will remain for new fans to discover. This week's DeepSoul is the first in a three-part salute to the music pioneer. Born in the Big Easy in
Tom Petty, soul artist? His first hit single melds elements of R&B with rock and blues, making the track a standout in his catalog.
The music world has been mourning the loss of Tom Petty, the iconic rock artist who died from cardiac arrest on October 2. What few critics and fans have discussed, however, is that Petty's sound encompassed genres besides rock, namely blues, country, and folk. Another major influence that has been little explored is R&B, and that element permeates his first hit, 1976's "Breakdown." Its dominant drums, bass, and keyboards along with Petty's snarling narrative of a deteriorating love affair makes "Breakdown" sound like no other song in Petty's catalog. Coming off the breakup of his band Mudcrutch, Petty formed a
A slice of late '70s funk/disco, "Which Way Is Up" remains an underrated track by an unjustly neglected group.
A slice of late 70s funk/disco, "Which Way Is Up" remains an underrated track by an unjustly neglected act: Stargard. A female trio who drew comparisons to Labelle (particularly through their flamboyant costumes) and the Pointer Sisters, they achieved only one hit with the theme song to the 1977 Richard Pryor vehicle Which Way Is Up? Their blend of R&B, funk, and gospel should have achieved more success, but their lack of smash followup led to their 1983 breakup. The original lineup consisted of Rochelle Runnells, Debra Anderson and Janice Williams, and their more gritty, aggressive vocal approach led to
The jazz pioneer impacted modern hip hop, r&b, and funk in this 1973 classic.
Herbie Hancock may be a renowned jazz master, but he also influenced early hip hop and contemporary R&B. Most listeners can point to 1984's "Rockit" as the soundtrack for breakdancers, but his 1970s experiments in fusion led to an important track in the development of funk: 1973's "Chameleon." The corresponding album, Head Hunters, became not only Hancock's most successful album, but one of the bestselling jazz albums of all time. Along with collaborator and reedits Bernie Maupin, bassist Paul Jackson, drummer Harvey Mason, and percussionist Bill Summers, Hancock wrote material expanding the very concept of jazz. "I always enjoy working
The 1963 single has experienced an unlikely resurgence of interest through covers, samples, and an appearance in a 2017 summer film.
With its prominent use in the Summer 2017 film Baby Driver, "Harlem Shuffle" by Bob and Earl has gained renewed attention. The Rolling Stones previously scored a hit with their hit 1986 cover (featuring Bobby Womack on backing vocals), accompanied by its humorous Ralph Bakshi and John Kricfalusi-directed video. The 1963 original features not only a more soulful vocal performance but also funky horns and drums. Over 50 years later the question remains: just who were Bob and Earl? The duo originally consisted of Bobby Day and Earl Nelson (aka Jackie Lee), two singers who had previously recorded classics still
A funk superstar and a legendary Motown act team up to produce a 1980s R&B classic.
The eighties may have brought changes in soul and R&B, but Motown music remained a favorite among baby boomers (the success of 1983's The Big Chill film and soundtrack proved this fact). In 1982, the Temptations returned to their original label, Motown, after a brief tenure with Atlantic; to celebrate, the then-current members reunited with three former lead singers: Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, and Dennis Edwards. Looking to make a comeback, the group teamed with a seemingly unlikely producer: Rick James, the "punk funk" artist who was then at the peak of his popularity. What emerged from this collaboration was
This 2014 single demonstrates how old school R&B and modern hip hop can be merged to create timeless music.
Long a valuable behind-the-scenes player, Tank has penned and produced hits for top R&B artists such as Dave Hollister, Charlie Wilson, Jamie Foxx, and Kelly Rowland. His underrated solo material, however, has received comparatively less attention. A fusion of classic R&B and hip hop, Tank's work further impresses with his malleable voice and catchy hooks. These elements are on full display on the 2014 single "You're My Star," a standout from the album Stronger. Born Durrell Babbs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin before later moving to Clinton, Maryland, Tank honed his singing skills in the church choir. He got his start as
The final entry in DeepSoul's salute to the legendary singer looks at one of the more obscure - and underrated - tracks in his catalog.
By 1980, Bill Withers began collaborating with other artists; he subsequently scored one of the biggest hits of his career with 1981's "Just the Two of Us," a smooth track also featuring Grover Washington, Jr. A year before that single, however, Withers worked with the famed group the Crusaders on the track "Soul Shadows." The band's brand of smooth jazz-funk perfectly suits Wither's unadorned voice, resulting in a sophisticated song that should have received more attention upon its release. Due to ongoing disputes with his label Columbia, Withers was unable to record his own albums from 1979-1985. To remain in
The 1975 ballad typifies the soul singer's deeply personal songwriting and vocal style.
By 1975, Bill Withers was at a professional crossroads. His previous record label, Sussex, had collapsed, forcing him to sign with Columbia. While he subsequently released albums containing hits such as "Lovely Day" and "I Want to Spend the Night," Withers was unhappy with the label. He felt he had lost control over his material, thus in the late 70s/early 80s he focused on collaborations with the Crusaders and Grover Washington, Jr. After the unhappy experience recording 1985's Watching You Watching Me, Withers would depart Columbia and struggle with career direction. Before that stage, however, Withers seemed to be off
Infidelity, jealousy, and pain never sounded so good in this 1972 classic.
Bill Withers may be known for feel-good hits such as "Lean on Me" and "Lovely Day," but he could also speak of the darker sides of love, namely jealousy and betrayal. His 1972 cut "Who Is He (and What Is He to You)?" stands as one of the finest in the soul genre, with an unforgettable bass line and guitar riff (along with quivering strings) creating a sense of paranoia along with sorrow. For his masterpiece album Still Bill, Withers wrote most of the material. One exception is "Who Is He," a collaboration with lyricist Stanley McKinney. McKinney may have
DeepSoul celebrates the organic soul of the "Lean on Me" singer, beginning with this sensual slow jam.
Few artists embody the very essence of soul as much as Bill Withers, a consummate singer, songwriter, and musician. His lyrics are highly personal yet universal in theme, addressing romantic, political, and familial topics. Never oversinging, his voice can soar, only to descend into a grittiness that expresses deep emotion. He implemented his gospel roots, into his blending of soul and R&B (with a touch of folk), making Withers a standout among his peers in the 1970s. While Withers has largely retired from performing, his music is everywhere, still played on the radio, used in commercials, and incorporated into films.
This 1973 hit features a one-man-band, and has inspired numerous covers and hip hop samples.
AllMusic's Andrew Hamilton labels it "the cheapest Top Ten hit ever made." Regardless of its minimalist production, the 1973 single "Why Can't We Live Together" by Timmy Thomas ranks as one of the most unlikely and influential hits of the 1970s. Its hypnotic beat, Latin percussion, and heartfelt lyrics retain timeless appeal, with artists such as MC Hammer, 3rd Bass, Leaders of the New School, and (more recently) Drake sampling its distinctive elements. Born in 1944 in Evansville, Indiana, Thomas gradually honed his keyboard skills and later performed with jazz legends Donald Byrd and Cannonball Adderley. After a brief stint
Although primarily known as a rock band, Chicago have also proved themselves as superb R&B players.
By the late 1970s, the successful rock/pop/contemporary jazz fusion band Chicago was at a crossroads. Original guitarist, lead vocalist, and leader Terry Kath died tragically in 1978, forcing the group to rethink their sound and image. They hired guitarist/vocalist Donnie Dacus and recruited hit making producer Phil Ramone to helm the 1978 album Hot Streets, which spawned two top 40 hits: "No Tell Lover" and "Alive Again." For their followup, Chicago 13, the band and Ramone reteamed to create an album fitting the then-dominant disco sound. Critics despised the material, and longtime Chicago fans expressed horror at the group straying
For the next three columns, DeepSoul is spotlighting songs that have been frequently sampled by artists from various genres. "Take that funk inside of you / And make your body move," funk group Breakwater commands listeners. With a room-shaking beat, funky synthesizers, and blasting electric guitar, they encourage us to "Release the Beast." Originally released in 1980, the song found renewed attention when Daft Punk sampled it for their 2005 track "Robot Rock." Clearly the French DJs/producers glommed on to this lesser-known groove, as they actually altered it little for their own remake. In any case, the EDM stars shined
Celebrate the singer's legacy through classic tracks such as this perfect blend of jazz, pop, and soul.
On the same day as the Grammy Awards, the music community suffered a great loss. Al Jarreau, a gifted artist that seamlessly blended jazz, pop, and R&B, passed away February 12 at the age of 76. The only vocalist to win Grammys in the jazz, pop, and R&B categories, Jarreau never stopped exploring different musical genres while maintaining his distinctive singing style: rapid-fire scat and using his voice as a percussive instrument. Even when he charted crossover hits such as "We're in This Love Together" or even the Moonlighting TV theme, he never lost sight of his jazz roots. Such
He may have been best known for pop, but the singer/songwriter/producer had deep roots in R&B and even hip hop.
On Christmas Day, Generation X mourned the loss of George Michael, the pop wunderkind who first achieved fame as one half of the duo Wham! then launched an extraordinarily successful solo career with his 1987 album Faith. While predominantly known as a pop artist, few may recall that Michael stayed true to his blue-eyed-soul roots throughout his 1980s and 1990s heyday. Gifted with an incredibly supple voice, Michael could hold his own with Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige while occasionally covering songs by one of his idols: Stevie Wonder. On Faith, Michael displayed his deep love of soul through
Only Prince could have composed a Christmas song encompassing sexuality and sorrow, accompanied by a breathtaking guitar solo.
It seems only fitting that Prince should grace the final DeepSoul of 2016. Fans around the world mourned his untimely loss earlier this year, and continue to celebrate his vast legacy. Few may recall that Prince released a Christmas song in 1984: "Another Lonely Christmas," the B-side to the "I Would Die 4 U" single. This being Prince, however, the song hardly conjures images of smiling carolers or chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Instead, the lyrics chronicle a man mourning his lover's Christmas Day death. In an interview with NPR, Prince biographer Touré called "Another Lonely Christmas" an example
Dance music fans are mourning the loss of a house pioneer.
House fans are mourning the passing of Colonel Abrams, a 1980s club favorite whose best known hit remains 1985's "Trapped." In 2015, Abrams was found living on the streets suffering from diabetes; DJs (most notably Chicago house architect Marshall Jefferson) set up crowdfunding sites to raise money for his medical treatment as well as a possible comeback album, but he sadly passed from diabetes complications on November 24. It is indeed an unfortunate ending to a once promising career, as Abrams burned up dance floors with his deep, powerful voice and pounding beats. While "Trapped" may be his most famous
No longer "Beyoncé's younger sister," Solange finally finds her voice in this instant classic.
One of 2016's most outstanding -- and surprising -- releases is Solange's A Seat at the Table. Previously best known as Beyoncé's avant-garde younger sister, Solange had recorded two albums and an EP; all received mixed to positive reviews, but failed to equal the impact of her older sibling's work. A Seat at the Table changes this dynamic, as Solange establishes her unique voice not only vocally, but lyrically. Like Beyoncé's recent album Lemonade, Solange's work addresses African-American identity and specific issues concerning women's self esteem. Through her Minnie Ripperton-esque voice, Solange sounds both fragile and strong, laying herself bare
The funky, pre-acid jazz track also marks the debut of one of the 1980s' most successful R&B vocalists.
Mystic Merlin may be a soul-funk group, but they may be better known for launching the career of a 1980s hitmaker. Originally a band that incorporated magic tricks into their live shows, Mystic Merlin eventually focused strictly on their brand of sophisticated funk. On their final album, they recruited an unknown singer to provide the lead vocal on the track "Mr. Magician." The struggling vocalist, Freddie Jackson, had departed the group before the album Full Moon was even released. But Jackson would soon enjoy a run of hit singles such as "You Ae My Lady," "Nice N Slow," "Jam Tonight,"
This 1950s doo-wop group pioneered combining soul and pop to reach mass audiences.
Soul music has produced so many subgenres including doo-wop, its close harmonies still impacting acts such as Manhattan Transfer and Pentatonix. The 1950s act The Cadillacs were pioneers of the tradition, introducing soul to wider audiences with their smooth harmonies and heartfelt delivery. While best known for their 1955 hit "Speedo," the gorgeous ballad "Gloria" perfectly represents the doo-wop genre's unique blend of lush vocal arrangements, soul, and just a touch of jazz. The Cadillacs began in New York's Harlem in the early 1950s under a different name: The Carnations. Teenagers Earl "Speedy" Carroll, LaVerne Drake, Robert Phillips, and "Cub"
The vocal quintet may have released only one album, but the 1965 single remains an underrated soul gem.
What do the 1960s R&B group the Spellbinders and disco have in common? "For You," the Spellbinders' biggest hit, boasts a producer/songwriter who is today best known for the 1975 dance classic "The Hustle": Van McCoy. "For You" was a modest hit, and the Spellbinders released only one LP before splitting in the late 1960s. This 1965 soul confection, however, is an unfairly negelcted track that merits more attention. Founded circa the early 1960s in New Jersey, the Spellbinders consisted of Robert Shivers, James Wright, Ben Grant, McArthur Munford, and Elouise Pennington. Little is known about the Spellbinders except that
He may have a low-key presence, but the songwriter is responsible for some of the most iconic songs of the late 1970s and 1980s.
You may know hits such as Heatwave's "Always and Forever," Michael Jackson's "Rock with You" and "Thriller," Patti Austin and James Ingram's "Baby Come to Me," and Michael McDonald's "Sweet Freedom." What you may not know is one person is responsible for penning all of these 1970s and 1980s classics: English-born Rod Temperton, the Heatwave member who became one of Quincy Jones' chief collaborators. Temperton's ear for disco, funk, pop, and jazz attracted numerous artists in all categories, making him one of the most important--and underrated--tunesmiths in modern music. Born in Cleethorpes, England in 1947, Temperton loved music from an
A pioneer of modern R&B, Kashif's multi-genre sound paved the way for New Jack Swing and dance/hip hop fusion.
Kashif may not be a household name, but he virtually defined early 1980s R&B. His blend of layered vocals, smooth keyboards, and modern beats appealed to both pop and soul audiences, and set the stage for musical potpourri genres such as New Jack Swing. Born in Brooklyn, NY in 1959, Kashif endured a rough childhood. Both parents died when he was quite young, and he subsequently endured abuse in a variety of foster homes. Music was his salvation, however, and keyboards became his chosen instrument. His first break occurred at 15 years old, when he joined B.T. Express (best known
Remember the 1983 hit "Juicy Fruit"? Writer/producer James Mtume was the man behind that song, but he also worked with R&B's most sophisticated singers.
One of the classic early 80s R&B hits, "Juicy Fruit" has been sampled by numerous hip hop artists, most notably the Notorious B.I.G. (1994's "Juicy"). The group, Mtume, scored several soul hits until their 1986 breakup, but founder James Mtume boasted an impressive resume both before and after the group as a musician, songwriter, and producer. He co-penned and produced hits for major artists such as Phyllis Hyman, Donny Hathaway, Stephanie Mills, Teddy Pendergrass, R. Kelly, and Mary J. Blige. While he made his name as an R&B dynamo, Mtume brought a jazz background to the genre. Born to legendary
The creative force behind the 1970s group The Sylvers went on to produce classic R&B hits of the 1970s and 1980s.
This week's DeepSoul kicks off a four-part series called "Behind the Scenes," a look at songwriters/producers you may not know by name, but you do know their work. These talented composers helped shape modern R&B and pop, penning and overseeing tracks by artists ranging from the Whispers to Whitney Houston, Phyllis Hyman to Michael Jackson. First in line is an artist who experienced his own success before achieving even greater success "behind the scenes": Leon Sylvers III. Leon Sylvers honed his skills as the creative force behind the Sylvers, a group consisting of nine siblings who boasted impressive harmonies. The
An underrated singer, Gerald Levert demonstrated his impressive vocal range in this 1986 LeVert single.
LeVert had a head start on their successful run of singles in the 1980s and 1990s. After all, two of its members--Gerald and Sean LeVert--boasted an impressive pedigree, notably their father Eddie Levert. The founder and lead singer of the O'Jays, Eddie was initially not on board with his sons following in his musical footsteps. Yet Gerald's powerful voice could not be denied, and his charisma led the trio to chart a number of hits, including the 1986 crossover smash "Casanova." To fully appreciate Gerald's impressive range and emotional quality, however, one need only hear their first R&B hit, "(Pop,
Pioneers in early rock and roll, the Platters successfully bridged pop standards with modern R&B and soul.
The Platters may seem like unlikely early rock and R&B heroes. Their polished appearance and string-laden covers of standards may not sound rebellious today. Yet their soulful harmonies added a new edge, signaling a transition in pop music. The group proved that the great American songbook could peacefully coexist with modern soul, forging a new sound that paved the way for rock and roll. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," the Platters' 1958 reimagining of the Jerome Kern composition, perfectly exemplifies the group's elegance, originality, and the exquisitely dramatic voice of lead singer Tony Williams. The story of the Platters begins
Ohio produced some of the best 1970s funk bands, with Slave being one of its best examples of fusing dance, funk, and R&B.
Ohio enjoyed a renaissance in the 1970s in that it produced some of the finest funk bands of the era: Ohio Players, Lakeside, Zapp featuring Roger Troutman, and Heatwave, to name just a few. Another outstanding example is Slave, the outfit that produced hits such as "Slide" and "Watching You." Their 1979 single "Just A Touch of Love" has endured, as its hypnotic bass line and thumping beat have been sampled in over 30 songs. Even more important, "Just A Touch of Love" represents a golden era of funk that crossed over onto dance floors. The band formed in 1975,
Best known for "Me and Mrs. Jones," the Philly Soul singer's recent death reminds listeners of his distinctive voice and artistic courage.
In a difficult year filled with the passing of many great artists, another talent can be sadly added to the roster: Billy Paul, best known for his 1972 Philly Soul classic "Me and Mrs. Jones." His passionate reading of the lyrics, conveying the torment of an extramarital love affair, became his signature tune. Few may know that Paul's career dated back to the 1950s, and that he was steeply rooted in jazz. It wasn't until the 1970s that Paul reached a wider audience with his silky smooth voice and soulful delivery. Along with "Me and Mrs. Jones," one of his
Prince may be gone, but he left a vast legacy, including this underrated 1984 B-side.
Prince's untimely death deals yet another blow to music. His creativity and ability to blend various genres is unsurpassed. As several friends and colleagues have reported, Prince was constantly writing and recording, amassing a treasure trove of unreleased tracks that will hopefully see the light of day. Until then, we must savor his albums and numerous singles. Amazingly, Prince would often reward fans with stellar B-sides that should have been hits, including "17 Days," the flip side to the 1984 "When Doves Cry" single. Featuring a hypnotic groove with looping electronic drums, the track exudes pure, simple funk. The origins
The versatile and sophisticated singer shines on this deep Stevie Wonder-penned cut.
Songs can travel through complicated paths, with the intended artist ultimately not recording the song. Such is the case of "Buttercup," the Stevie Wonder-penned gem originally created for the Jackson 5, but finally released in 1986 by vocalist Carl Anderson. Both versions contain unique elements, although Anderson's version contains Latin, jazz, and R&B elements that lend sophistication to "Buttercup." Best known for the 1986 hit "Friends and Lovers," a duet with Gloria Loring, Anderson passed away in 2004 after a battle with leukemia. His remarkable vocal versatility is his legacy, and should not be overlooked. Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, Anderson
Before they took a "Fantastic Voyage," Lakeside scored an R&B hit with this funk workout.
Funk with a dash of old school soul, a hint of Latin percussion, and a pinch of jazz: that recipe results in "All the Way Live," Lakeside's breakthrough 1978 hit. Members of the Ohio funk wave of the late 1970s, Lakeside is forever connected to hip hop through their classic "Fantastic Voyage." Yet their second album yielded this irresistible single featuring popping bass, an unusual drum beat, impeccable harmonies, and lead vocalist Mark Woods' gritty vocals. Lakeside's roots trace back to 1969, when guitarist Stephen Shockley formed the group the Young Underground in Ohio. Woods, who had previously been with
An unsung pioneer of Philly Soul, Mason wrote a feminist-tinged song about first love.
In 1980, disco star KC and vocalist Teri De Sario scored a pop and soft rock hit with "Yes, I'm Ready." What some may not realize is that that it is a cover of a 1965 single by Barbara Mason, which AllMusic now calls "an interesting minor soul performer." While she may not have achieved crossover success after that hit, Mason deserves to be acknowledged as a talented songwriter and a Philly Soul pioneer. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Mason sang in talent shows as a child and later teenager. Renowned producer and talent scout Weldon Arthur McDougal III recruited
Honor the Earth, Wind & Fire founder by listening to his 1985 solo debut and a powerful ballad.
On February 3, the music world suffered yet another unimaginable loss: Maurice White, the founder and chief force behind the pioneering group Earth, Wind & Fire. DeepSoul pays tribute to this tremendous talent by revisiting a column from 2013 profiing his underrated (and too brief) solo career. Maurice White may be best known as the founder of Earth, Wind, and Fire. What some fans may not remember, however, is that he launched a solo career in the mid-eighties that produced three moderately successful singles. One such song, "I Need You," showcases his powerful voice and stands as an underrated soul
The singer was more than Nat King Cole's daughter; she was a versatile vocalist who successfully established her own identity.
The music world suffered yet another loss when singer Natalie Cole passed away on December 31, 2015. Since her 1975 debut Inseparable, she transformed from an R&B vocalist to pop diva and finally jazz artist. She may have been Nat King Cole's daughter--and clearly drew inspiration from him--but she successfully established a separate identity during her almost 40-year career. Many tributes have focused on Natalie's 1991 album Unforgettable: With Love, her affectionate salute to her legendary father. What few have explored is how her singing style transformed after that LP. Rather than returning to the pop of her 1980s hits
A mid-1970s excursion into R&B proved Bowie could master an impressive array of genres.
As the David Bowie tributes continue to pour in, one fact is often neglected: his affection for R&B. After retiring his Ziggy Stardust persona, he embarked on an ambitious 1974 tour to support the album Diamond Dogs. During this time, he experimented with incorporating other genres into his material, a relatively risky move. "I sunk myself back into the music that I considered the bedrock of all popular music: R&B and soul," he said in a later interview. "I guess from the outside it seemed to be a pretty drastic move. I think I probably lost as many fans as
In 1973, Michael Jackson released his one and only Christmas song, a tale of holidays and heartbreak.
In October 1970, Motown released the Jackson 5 Christmas Album, ostensibly an attempt to cash in on the group's enormous popularity. What few knew then was that the album would become a modern classic, with their covers of "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" receiving frequent radio airplay every year. While the LP may be a staple of many music collections, few may be aware that Michael Jackson later recorded another holiday song: "Little Christmas Tree," a track co-written by P-Funk's George Clinton. Three years after the Jackson 5 Christmas disc, Michael was
The New Orleans songwriter, producer, pianist, and singer leaves a vast legacy through his timeless compositions.
The music world recently lost a giant in the industry: Allen Toussaint, the gifted songwriter, producer, pianist, and singer who became a New Orleans legend. Compositions such as "Working in a Coalmine" and "Mother-in-Law" remain soul classics, while his productions of Dr. John's "Right Place, Wrong Time" and La Belle's "Lady Marmalade" became huge hits. Until his death he continued recording albums and collaborating with artists such as Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello. While Toussaint wrote and performed too many tracks to list here, one deserves particular mention: "Yes We Can Can," a 1970 composition most famously covered by the
Best known for the ballads "Always" and "Secret Lovers," Atlantic Starr's earlier roots lay in funk and soul.
Say the name "Atlantic Starr," and most people think of their two best known hits: "Always" and "Secret Lovers," both from 1986. The tracks defined the band as a "quiet storm," ballad-driven act. However, their roots lay solidly in R&B, their earlier material balancing ballads with dance and funk. Anchored by original lead singer Sharon Bryant, the 1978-1983 Atlantic Starr lineup still wins over fans such as Erykah Badu, who covered their 1983 single "Touch A Four Leaf Clover" on her debut album. Their breakthrough track "When Love Calls" combines funk, the lingering effects of disco, and smooth R&B, proving
This buried treasure demonstrates why Gaye remains one of the most gifted singers in music.
In retrospect, 1984 should have been Marvin Gaye's year. After struggling with drug abuse, financial difficulties, and a failing marriage, Gaye began mounting a comeback in 1981. Late that year he began recording Midnight Love, an album that deftly mixed reggae, synth pop, and quiet storm elements with Gaye's astoundingly agile vocals. When its first single, "Sexual Healing," was released in 1982, Gaye quickly regained his commercial power. The song topped the R&B charts and peaked at number three on the pop singles charts. Consequently Midnight Love proved to be Gaye's most successful album, selling over 3.9 copies in
Best known for the disco classic "Car Wash," Rose Royce recorded some of the best--and most overlooked--R&B singles of the late 1970s.
The name "Rose Royce" conjures images of mirror balls and flashing lights, thanks to their massive 1976 hit "Car Wash." They recorded numerous R&B hits that rivaled the song in quality, although those singles never impacted the charts as much as their disco classic. Other Rose Royce tracks such as "I'm Going Down" and "Wishing on a Star" have been covered by Mary J. Blige and Beyonce, while "Ooh Boy" was sampled in the Shaggy and Janet Jackson single "Luv Me, Luv Me." In addition to those under-appreciated classics, the 1978 slow jam "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" demonstrates that
A supremely gifted vocalist, Minnie Riperton's 1979 track provides a lesson in interpretive singing.
Best remembered for her multi-octave range, Minnie Riperton enjoyed an all-too-brief career in the 1970s. Her influence lingers in several R&B and pop singers ranging from Mariah Carey to Corinne Bailey Rae to Ariana Grande, but no one can match her phrasing and interpretative ability. While "Loving You" remains her most famous track, Riperton recorded several notable songs before breast cancer claimed her life in 1979. One of her final singles, "Memory Lane," encapsulates her ethereal voice and ability to wring emotion out of every word in the lyrics. Born in Chicago in 1947, Riperton showed early talent in music,
Best known for her 1983 dance hit "Too Tough," Angela Bofill's early work showcases her jazz background.
Fans of 1980s soul will recall Angela Bofill, the chanteuse who sang such hits as the 1983 dance floor burner "Too Tough" as well as heart wrenching ballads such as "I Try." However, Bofill is also an unappreciated jazz singer who could scat and boasted an impressive vocal range. Her 1978 debut album Angie showcases her songwriting and vocal abilities, demonstrating that Bofill's talent encompasses dance, R&B, jazz, pop, and Latin influences. Nowhere are these skills more evident that the almost six-minute track "Under the Moon and Over the Sky," a jazz fusion workout that deserves greater attention. Born in
A "lost" Babyface production, the track features a supergroup consisting of members of 1990s groups After 7 and Jodeci.
The final entry in DeepSoul's salute to singer/songwriter/producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds looks at one of the most unfairly underrated tracks in his extensive catalog: "I Care 'Bout You," the smooth ballad by the one-off supergroup Milestone. A producer of the 1997 film Soul Food, Babyface assembled the group for a scene in the film; the song performed during the film then appeared on the successful soundtrack. While Milestone never recorded another single together, the song represents Babyface at the height of his 1990s powers. His brand of old school soul featuring modern touches played a huge part not only in
Babyface solidified his status as hitmaker with this 1988 R&B ballad.
DeepSoul's look at Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds continues with "Superwoman," the Karyn White ballad that typifies Babyface's brand of glossy R&B. In addition, it serves as a feminist anthem, with the singer demanding affection and respect from her husband. White's ability to croon soulful ballads as well as slamming dance tracks gave her crossover appeal, and her 1988 self-titled debut demonstrated L.A. Reid and Babyface's skills as hitmakers. Born and raised in Los Angeles, White came from a musical family: her father played trumpet, and her mother directed the church choir. After singing in church and performing in local talent shows,
DeepSoul's salute to Babyface continues with one of his earliest compositions.
One of Babyface's earliest compositions, "Slow Jam" became a quiet storm classic for 1980s soul fans. A cut off Midnight Star's 1983 album No Parking on the Dance Floor, it was never officially released as a single. Yet the song gained R&B radio airplay, becoming a concert favorite and a must-have for any school dance. Listening to the track today, it may not be immediately evident that Babyface had any involvement. However, the smooth quality, melody, unabashedly romantic lyrics, and 70s soul vibe all became the producer/singer/songwriter's trademarks. Midnight Star was formed at Kentucky State University in 1976 by brothers
DeepSoul begins its series on '90s singer/songwriter/producer Babyface with one of his earliest solo hits.
Few artists and producers dominated the 1990s R&B scene as Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds. His brand of smooth, glossy soul music topped the pop and urban charts, and he penned and produced hits for Boyz II Men, Whitney Houston, Madonna, and Toni Braxton. A versatile talent, he even wrote and produced a classic track for rocker Eric Clapton. This week's DeepSoul kicks off a four-week salute to Babyface, highlighting his lesser-known work for other artists. The first entry, however, focuses on Babyface's successful solo career, focusing on one of his earliest singles: 1987's "It's No Crime." Born in 1959 in Indianapolis,
A pioneer in jazz/funk, Roy Ayers burned up the dance floor with this 1977 classic.
Roy Ayers began as a gifted jazz vibraphonist, but he has ultimately become a pioneer in the acid jazz movement. Deftly combining jazz, funk, and R&B, Ayers created songs that have been covered by neo soul artists such as Mary J. Blige and Erykah Badu, and sampled by too many hip hop artists to mention. DeepSoul has previously focused on Ayers as a heavily sampled artist ("Everybody Loves the Sunshine" was sampled in Blige's "My Life"), but his impressive work as a solo artist and with his group Roy Ayers Ubiquity also is worth a listen. One example of his
While known best for "Stand by Me," Ben E. King's voice graced many more classics including this early Phil Spector composition.
In April the soul world lost an important figure: Ben E. King, the smooth yet powerful vocalist best known for the 1961 hit "Stand by Me." Yet his voice graced many more classic cuts, both as a member of the Drifters and as a solo artist. Never over-singing, King's crisp delivery allowed listeners to linger over every syllable, and his raw emotion suggested that he had lived through each word he crooned. While "Stand by Me" is a standard, his performance on the Phil Spector and Jerry Leiber-written "Spanish Harlem" reveals his considerable interpretive skills. Born in North Carolina in
Our final entry in DeepSoul's salute to pioneering female R&B artists spotlights a renaissance woman who spanned the R&B and glam rock genres.
Generation X members fondly remember the 1981 Soft Cell New Wave hit "Tainted Love"; what few realized, however, was that it was a cover of a 1965 soul single. The still distinctive R&B stomper transcends its decade, sounding years ahead of the then-predominant Motown sound. Its singer, Gloria Jones, would later become a member of the burgeoning glam rock movement in the 1970s, joining T. Rex and embarking on a romance with lead singer Marc Bolan. Songwriter, singer, musician, and music supervisor for films--Jones has enjoyed a long career in the music business, but has seen her share of highs
DeepSoul continues its salute to pioneering female R&B artists with a 1962 single by the First Lady of Motown.
Who was the biggest female singer on the Motown label? Today, most fans would cite Diana Ross; however, the original diva was Mary Wells, a gifted singer who was sadly overshadowed by Ross and other artists. Sadly, she never equalled the success she experienced during her brief time on the label, fading into undeserved obscurity in the 1970s and 1980s. By her 1992 death, younger generations remained unaware of her earlier status as the "First Lady of Motown." She may best known for the 1964 hit "My Guy," but the catchy 1962 single "You Beat Me to the Punch"
The singer and lead guitarist kicks off DeepSoul's salute to pioneering female artists in R&B.
This week's DeepSoul begins a three-column series on pioneering women in R&B, figures who deserve more attention for their roles in early soul and rock. Kicking off this salute to influential female artists is Barbara Lynn, whose 1962 hit "You'll Lose A Good Thing" introduced the public to a new kind of female artist: one who writes her own material and plays lead guitar. Born in Texas in 1942, Lynn first learned piano before falling under the spell of Elvis Presley, according to AllMusic. Switching to guitar, she formed her first band in junior high, Bobbie Lynn and the Idols.
The Southern soul legend's recent death invites reflection on his achievements and vast influence, all encapsulated in one famous song.
The soul world lost another luminary on April 14 when Percy Sledge, the singer behind the classic ballad "When A Man Loves A Woman," passed away in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His no-holds-barred singing style graced 1960s singles such as "Take Time to Know Her," "Warm and Tender Love," and "It Tears Me Up." Yet his legacy was sealed in 1966 when he released "When A Man Loves A Woman," a massive hit that topped the R&B and pop charts for several weeks. Born in Leighton, Alabama in 1940, Sledge grew up honing his singing skills. During his early twenties he
This late 1950s R&B singer wrote some of rock's earliest--and still stellar--singles.
Larry Williams may not be a household name, but he is responsible for some of rock and roll's earliest--and still relevant--hits. "Dizzy Miss Lizzy," "Bonie Maronie," and "Short Fat Fannie" all came from the pen of the raucous singer and pianist. Released between 1957-1959, his singles attracted the attention of British Invasion artists the Who, the Shadows, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and most famously the Beatles. John Lennon, an avowed Williams fan, imitated his shouting on covers of "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" and "Slow Down," effectively reintroducing the artist to American audiences in the mid-1960s. "Slow Down," a Little Richard-meets-Fats
The Alabama-born vocalist may the best soul singer and songwriter you've never heard of.
An unjustly overlooked R&B and rock pioneer, Arthur Alexander played a major part in shaping groups such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Compositions such as "Anna (Go to Him)," "Solider of Love," and "You Better Move On" exemplify his unique songwriting skills and expressive voice. Yet he received little recognition in America, his career ending all too abruptly with little money and a baffling lack of critical acclaim. Thankfully members of the 1960s British Invasion loved Alexander's material, covering his songs and reintroducing them to the American public. "You Better Move On," his 1962 single, is one of
Let DeepSoul take you on a guided tour of "Uptown Funk's!" odes to 1970s and 1980s funk.
The year's biggest hit so far, Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk!" may be more accurately titled "Ode to 1970s and 1980s Funk." From the instrumentation to the lyrics to Bruno Mars' vocals, the track pays tribute to groundbreaking artists and songs from the height of the funk era. This week's DeepSoul takes you on a guided tour of "Uptown Funk!" pointing out areas of interest and their origins. 00:00-00:16 (Introduction): The scratchy guitar riff, robotic-sounding bass line, and hard-hitting beat recall Zapp & Roger's 1980 hit "More Bounce to the Ounce." An offshoot of George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic empire, Zapp was headed
DeepSoul closes out 2014 with the Jackson 5's funky remake of a traditional Christmas carol.
Few collections have successfully melded soul and Christmas music as well as the Jackson 5 Christmas Album, a disc that has sold over three million copies worldwide and remains a mainstay on holiday playlists. While their enthusiastic versions of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" receive annual radio airplay, the album track "Up on the House Top" encapsulates the Jackson 5's charisma and the incredible artistry of Motown's production team. By October 15, 1970, the Jackson 5 were at the peak of their popularity. They had already released three smash albums featuring the
DeepSoul remembers Big Bank Hank, founding member of rap's first successful group.
1970s and 1980s kids, finish the lyric: Well so far you've heard my voice But I brought two friends along And next on the mike... Anyone who grew up in the early days of hip hop will have no trouble recalling the next lines: "And next on the mike is my man Hank / C'mon, Hank, sing that song." These lyrics represent just a portion of the landmark single "Rapper's Delight," largely credited with being the first mainstream rap hit. The song propelled the Sugarhill Gang to instant fame, and its trio subsequently became hip hop pioneers. Sadly, a beloved
Our salute to the production team concludes with a track recalling the Time's earliest funk sound.
DeepSoul's salute to the production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis concludes with a song featuring two figures: a legendary diva and another well on her way to achieving that status. "Disrespectful," a fast and furious duet between Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige, proves that the duo could adapt to different styles. Indeed, the track recalls Khan's 1970s funk while modernizing it through Blige's presence and judiciously used breakbeats. In 2007, Khan had not released a studio album in a decade (her last being the Prince-produced Come 2 My House), thus Funk This was a welcome return to
Our salute continues with this early 90s New Jack Swing track.
Anyone who doubted that production dynamos Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis could write a dance hit was quickly silenced with "Rub You the Right Way," the Johnny Gill single that rocked clubs in 1990. An effective showcase for Gill's robust vocals, the floor burner became a massive hit, topping the R&B charts and peaking at number three on the Billboard Hot 100. It signaled Jam and Lewis' mastery of New Jack Swing as well as their ability to combine R&B, soul, hip hop, and pop for mass appeal. By the time Jam and Lewis encountered Gill, the singer was already
Our look at the production duo continues with this deep album track by a multifaceted vocalist.
My DeepSoul salute to the production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis moves into the 1990s this week with an unjustly overlooked cut. By 1992, Soul II Soul vocalist Caron Wheeler had departed the band and was launching a solo career; that same year, Jam and Lewis were producing the soundtrack to the Damon Wayans vehicle Mo' Money. The comedic film may not have been a box office hit, but the top ten-ranking soundtrack featured a full roster of R&B's biggest stars to date. Wheeler's mid tempo track "I Adore You" serves as the movie's main love song, but
The Jam and Lewis-penned duet lives on as an unforgettable 1980s R&B classic.
Continuing our DeepSoul tribute to the production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis is "Saturday Love," a classic 1985 duet featuring Cherrelle and Alexander O'Neal. While not a huge US pop hit, "Saturday Love" peaked at number two on the R&B charts and fared even better in the UK. Just a year before their legendary collaboration with Janet Jackson, Jam and Lewis proved how they could effectively showcase voices through solid songwriting and thoroughly modern arrangements. Indeed, just before Jackson, Cherrelle and O'Neal served as their two biggest muses. The story begins with the Los Angeles-born Cherrelle, an R&B
One of the 1980s' best ballads is also one of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis' most underrated productions.
After the success of the S.O.S. Band's "Just Be Good to Me," songwriters/producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were suddenly in demand. The song may have cost them their gig with Prince protege band The Time, but a new phase of their careers had just begun. Their next opportunity to heighten their profile came in 1985, when they wrote and produced the ballad "Tender Love" for the Force MD's. Appearing in the landmark hip hop film Krush Groove, the track earned the group as well as Jam and Lewis a crossover hit, with "Tender Love" peaking at number two on
Our salute to the classic production team begins with a still funky 80s track.
For the next four columns, DeepSoul will spotlight the production work of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, one of the top R&B hit making teams of the 1980s and 1990s. From their tenure with Prince-protege group The Time to their work with Janet Jackson, the duo has proven a knack for incorporating current sounds while never overwhelming the artist's unique voice. While they may be best known for their phenomenally successful collaboration with Janet Jackson, this series will focus on their lesser known but essential work. The Minneapolis-based Jam and Lewis were still with the Time (originally named "Flyte Time")
Over thirty years ago, the great soul vocalist recorded a lovely ballad written by two songwriting legends.
A uniquely gifted vocalist, Roberta Flack is familiar to multi-generation audiences for several reasons. Those who have followed her career since the early 1970s enjoy classics such as "Killing Me Softly with His Song" and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"; others know her for her legendary duets with the late, great singer Donny Hathaway ("The Closer I Get to You" and "Where Is the Love"). Her hit making days continued well into the 1980s with singles such as "Tonight I Celebrate My Love" with Peabo Bryson, and even the 1990s with her successful duet with Maxi Priest,
The Temptations lead singer is responsible for one of the most irresistible and memorable R&B singles from the 1980s.
One of the best R&B tracks of the 1980s, Dennis Edwards' "Don't Look Any Further" has been sampled in over 54 songs. Beloved by hip hop artists, the track is also notable for introducing listeners to Siedah Garrett, a Quincy Jones protégé who would later play a major role in Michael Jackson's career. Featuring a smooth groove and African-tinged chorus, "Don't Look Any Further" proved to be Edwards' only major solo hit outside of his usual gig as lead singer for the Temptations. Born in Birmingham in 1943, Edwards moved with his family to Detroit at age seven. As a
Their 1973 classic highlights a more complex side to the band, offering a rare glimpse into the inner workings of an extraordinary 1970s R&B group.
"What Is Hip?" Tower of Power asked 41 years ago. Their song may not have definitively answered the question, as they simply sang "What's hip today / Might become passé" and even "Sometimes hipness is / What it ain't." One fact that remains unchanged is that the funk outfit Tower of Power is anything but passé. Their brand of horn-driven soul made regular appearances on the 1970s charts (including the aforementioned "What Is Hip?") and they backed such artists as Elton John, Santana, Bonnie Raitt, and Aaron Neville. While their 1973 track asking that eternal question may be their best-known
Remembering the late soul singer's honesty, passion, and spare arrangements cement his legacy as one of the best--and most influential--R&B artists in history.
Bobby Womack never experienced massive crossover success like contemporaries Sam Cooke or Wilson Pickett; his gritty vocals and authentic rhythm and blues sound, however, gained him favor with soul fans as well as rock bands such as the Rolling Stones. A true survivor, Womack weathered drug addiction and other personal problems throughout his life; he succumbed to a complications from Alzheimer's and cancer last week at age 70. His legacy will be his passionate vocal style and a minimalist sound that stripped soul music to its basics. Born in Cleveland on March 4, 1944, Womack was reared on his father's
Tho Who performs their complicated rock opera with renewed energy and a desire to update it for modern audiences.
After the critical and commercial success of Tommy, the Who returned to the rock opera fold with their 1973 effort Quadrophenia. Filled with complex themes of identity and alienation, Quadrophenia was not as immediately accessible as Tommy; its nonlinear story line did not lend itself to a coherent stage production. Even the subsequent 1979 film version did not follow the story to the letter, relegating the music to the background. However, Quadrophenia remains some of Pete Townshend's most personal work, and he has continued to tinker with mixes and reissues. The Who has performed the entire rock opera on several
This 1980 cut shows how R&B greatly influenced the Police's early work.
When one thinks of the Police, the word "soul" does not immediately leap to mind. Yet a single off their 1980 album Zenyatta Mondatta transformed into a staple of "Chicago-Style Steppin'," a dance made popular in Chicago's African-American clubs. "Voices Inside My Head" features heavy rhythmic elements, scratchy guitar, and Sting's eerie voice, adding up to a surprisingly soulful track that represents the Police's take on rhythm and blues. Recorded over four weeks in the Netherlands, Zenyatta Mondatta may be most famous for the classic songs "Don't Stand So Close to Me" and "De Do Do Do, De Da Da
Our celebration of the legend's work concludes with a blusier tune that many, including the Beatles, have covered.
DeepSoul's final column exploring the work of Smokey Robinson looks at a track that retains true crossover appeal: "You've Really Got A Hold on Me," the 1962 single so beloved by the Beatles that they covered it on their second LP, With the Beatles, a year later. Robinson injects some true rhythm and blues here, the sound a bit grittier than later, smoother cuts such as "Ooh Baby Baby." However, Robinson's words and music root in firmly in pop, ensuring equivalent success on the R&B and Billboard Hot 100 charts. Robinson penned the tune in 1962 after hearing Sam Cooke's
What do Smokey Robinson and Shakespeare have in common? Both communicate universal experiences and emotion, as this ballad shows.
Few songs are as romantic and melancholy as "Ooh Baby Baby," the classic ballad off Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' 1965 album Going to a Go-Go. While the title track emits energy and youth, "Ooh Baby Baby" conjures images of 1950s doo wop yet updates the sound for 1960s audiences. The single reached the top 20 on Billboard's Hot 100 and R&B charts upon its 1965 release. Co-written by Robinson and Miracles bandmate Pete Moore (also credited as Warren Moore), the song's anguish and sensuality has resonated for generations, inspiring an excellent 1978 cover by Linda Ronstadt. Robinson's words and
Who knew that a song referencing an Italian opera could become a number one hit?
How many top ten records reference the Italian opera Pagliacci? Smokey Robinson's talent for combining literary lyrics with accessible pop and soul continued in 1970, when the uptempo "The Tears of A Clown" was released. The single topped the UK and US pop and R&B charts, becoming Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' only number one hit. Interestingly, Robinson had planned to retire from the Miracles, but the undeniable success of "The Tears of A Clown" persuaded him to stay with the group for two more years. The melody originated from Motown labelmate Stevie Wonder, who had recorded the instrumental track
Our salute to the great singer/songwriter begins with one of the greatest tracks in rock and soul.
Bob Dylan once proclaimed him "America's greatest living poet," and the Beatles and Rolling Stones revered his compositions. Along with Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson is responsible for building Motown and changing soul music forever. His peerless songwriting skills stand the test of time; today his words sound as fresh and intelligent as they did in the 1960s. For the next four columns, DeepSoul will salute Robinson's silky voice and classic tunes, kicking off with the heartbreaking "Tracks of My Tears." The track began life in 1965 when Marv Tarplin, guitarist for Robinson's group the Miracles, played the basic melody. In
The "Godfather of House' pioneered the genre with this 1987 dance classic.
EDM may have taken over America, but its origins date back to 1970s disco. Emerging from New York gay clubs, disco gradually crossed over thanks to Saturday Night Fever and acts like the Bee Gees, Donna Summer, and Chic. Massive overexposure led to the inevitable backlash, its most visible example being Chicago DJ Steve Dahl's "Disco Demolition" rally in Comiskey Park. In between a 1979 White Sox/Detroit Tigers double-header, Dahl blew up disco records brought by attendees, leading chants of "disco sucks!" This event signaled the beginning of the end, with radio stations abandoning all-disco playlists, discotheques closing, and records
At a time when crossover records were rare, John demonstrated that great music knows no boundaries.
This week saw the release of the 40th Anniversary Edition of Elton John's 1973 landmark album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. While it boasts several now-classics such as "Candle in the Wind," "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," and the title track, another hit signaled John's broad appeal. "Bennie and the Jets," a salute to a fictional glam rock band, gained airplay on R&B radio and led to John's groundbreaking performance on Soul Train. Its driving beat, pounding piano, and soaring falsetto reveal John's deep affection for R&B music. Lyricist Bernie Taupin penned the lyrics as an homage to a fantastical glam
The 1970s R&B band may be best known for their Lionel Richie-penned ballads, but their early funk period should not be ignored.
Today, 1970s R&B band the Commodores are better known for launching Lionel Richie's enormously successful career. Richie ballads such as "Three Times A Lady" and "Still" receive consistent radio airplay, but their funkier tracks ("Brick House" being the exception) are frequently overlooked. One such example, 1975's "Slippery When Wet," showcases their raunchier side and proves they were much more than a slow dance band. The Commodores's origins trace back to 1968 at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where original members William King (trumpet), Thomas McClary (guitar), Ronald LaPread (bass), Walter "Clyde" Orange (drums), Richie (saxophone), and Milan Williams (keyboards) formed a
Various differences may have prematurely silenced The Time, but their contributions to 1980s soul should not be underestimated.
One of the most underrated bands in funk, The Time harkens back to James Brown and Parliament while remaining firmly in the 1980s, thanks to producer/mentor Prince. Best known for their hit "Jungle Love" from Prince's 1984 classic film Purple Rain, the Time also made their mark as exciting live performers thanks to lead singer Morris Day's antics. Legend has it that the Minneapolis-based group played little part in their first two albums, with Prince writing and performing on most of the tracks except for Day's vocals and a few keyboard solos. No matter who played what, the Time truly
The 1978 track charted modestly, but its impact lingers in acid jazz and contemporary R&B.
Any regular reader of this column knows my particular affinity for Philadelphia soul, with its lush orchestration, smooth singers, and smart songwriting. Jean Carn's 1978 hit "Don't Let It Go to Your Head" embodies these characteristics, and Carn's jazz background adds a touch of sophistication to an already stellar Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff production. Born in Columbus, Georgia but primarily raised in Atlanta, Carn (also spelled "Carne" on some releases) sang in the church choir at four years old. With her parents' encouragement, she soon learned piano, bassoon, and clarinet. Carn officially began her singing career with a bang:
Discover an emerging singer-songwriter through this beautiful ballad.
One of the pleasures of music podcasts is discovering artists that receive little to no radio airplay. Gwen Bunn, a Decatur, Georgia native who has released music independently since 2009, serves as one example. A cross between Erika Badu and Jill Scott, Bunn writes and performs hip hop, jazz, and neo-soul, alternating her voice between whispers and bold rapping. The ballad "Let Me," a cut off her debut EP The Verdict, showcases her promising talent; even more impressive, she wrote that song and many others at 17 years old. After producing and releasing 2009's The Verdict, Bunn attended the prestigious
Longtime fans and newcomers will enjoy learning more about the singer's unique art in this often fascinating documentary.
It's hard to believe that 26 years have passed since Roy Orbison unexpectedly died of a heart attack. He had been enjoying a creative and commercial renaissance: he released the acclaimed TV special Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night; he recorded the first (and highly successful) Traveling Wilburys album; and he had completed his first original album in several years, Mystery Girl. His shocking death forever halted his plans to tour, and he never experienced the rave reviews and solid sales for his posthumous album. Nevertheless, his legacy endures through timeless classics such as "Oh! Pretty Woman,"
Happy blues music? Only legend B. B. King could convincingly record an optimistic blues track.
Think of a typical blues song, and words such as these normally do not leap to mind: "I'm so excited / I'm at peace with the world." Yet the legendary B. B. King kicked off his 1969 album Completely Well with such lyrics, and the song "So Excited" represents a career high point for the bluesman. This album and its single "The Thrill Is Gone" introduced King to a wider audience, sparking a wave of popularity he still enjoys. Boasting blaring horns, tasteful strings, and slicker production, Completely Well showcases King's emotive voice and deft guitar work while incorporating sounds
Celebrate the holiday season with some classic 1970s soul.
Last week's column featured Skyy, a part of the Salsoul label's roster. Like many music companies, the dance-oriented label capitalized on the holiday season; in 1976, Salsoul released Christmas Jollies, a collection of carols and original songs remade in disco fashion. The album featured the Salsoul Orchestra, the house band for many of the label's hits, along with guest singers. Yes, the album is a bit dated and at times amusing--"The Little Drummer Boy" never sounded so funky--but there are some buried gems as well. The original tune "Merry Christmas All," cowritten by Salsoul Orchestra members Andy Kozak and Vince
The track brings back memories not only of the last days of disco, but of a label that played a large part during that era.
Here's an equation: take a funky bass line, add a scratchy guitar riff, and multiply some silky vocals, and it equals the late disco hit "Call Me" by Skyy. A product of the famed Salsoul label, the group became a sensation due to this thoroughly danceable and somewhat naughty track. Hearing the song brings back memories not only of the disco era, but of a label that played a large part during that time. Based in Brooklyn, New York Skyy began with three sisters: Denise, Dolores and Bonne Dunning. In 1973 the singing trio met vocalist/rhythm guitarist Solomon Roberts, Jr.;
Unfairly underrated, Floetry redefined neo-soul by combining poetry with old-school R&B.
During the height of the 90s neo-soul movement, the duo Floetry became songwriters in demand. Their sensual mix of poetic lyrics, hip hop, and classic soul appealed to emerging and established artists- Michael Jackson covered their lovely composition "Butterflies," while Jill Scott recorded "Love Again" with Jazz from Dru Hill. Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart's own work, however, should not be overlooked. While they released only two studio albums before disbanding in 2007, Floetry's unique sound evokes the heyday of neo-soul and its lasting effect on artists such as Scott and Maxwell. Their 2002 single "Say Yes" perfectly represents Floetry's
While best known for his ballads, the R&B singer could belt out uptempo tracks like this deep cut.
One of R&Bs most underrated vocalists, Jeffrey Osborne produced some of the late '70s and '80s most catchy and memorable tracks. Sultry one moment and full-volume the next, Osborne's voice displays impressive range and surprising emotion. He may be best known for hit ballads such as "On the Wings of Love" and "You Should be Mine (the Woo Woo Song)," but he showed his funky side on the classic "Stay with Me Tonight" and "(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again," the latter with his previous band L.T.D. But the song that kicked off his solo career, 1982's
While an excellent example of 1950s soul, this record proved crucial in the development of early rock and roll.
Everyone knows that R&B lies at the roots of rock and roll, and the Flamingos' 1959 reimagining of "I Only Have Eyes for You" stands as an important record from this early period. The Chicago-based group dazzled with their peerless harmonies, scoring a then-rare crossover success on the pop and R&B charts. In the next decade, Motown would continue this movement, bringing soul to a larger audience. Without the Flamingos and their quintessential song, however, Motown, Stax, and Philadelphia Sound may never have happened. The Flamingos story begins in in 1950, when cousins Jake and Zeke Carey relocated from Baltimore
This deep track demonstrates how gospel forms the basis of modern R&B.
As any student of soul knows, gospel lies at the foundation of R&B. Countless artists got their start in church choirs, and the gospel style of singing dominates modern soul. While they never crossed over into secular music, the Clark Sisters managed to incorporate reggae, dance, and funk into their spiritual songs. In tracks such as "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," the Clark Sisters demonstrate that they can assimilate different sounds to create a modern gospel now emulated by artists such as Sounds of Blackness, Mary Mary, and Kirk Franklin.Originally hailing from Detroit, the original Clark Sisters group featured Jacky, Twinkie,
A funky track from the disco era kickstarted a new kind of soul: Go-Go.
When I first heard Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers' "Bustin' Loose," I assumed it dated from the early 1970s. It sounded very much in the vein of a James Brown track, and its grittiness seemed to predate the slicker production which dominated the late '70s and beyond. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that "Bustin' Loose" hails from the disco era, specifically 1978. Not only did this funky track bring people to the dance floor, it kicked off a brief musical movement: Go-Go. First, some background on Brown: hailing from Washington, D.C., he struggled to find his own sound
DeepSoul uncovers a hidden treasure from the heyday of Ohio funk.
Ohio produced some quality funk bands in the 1970s, most notably groups such as the Ohio Players, the Dazz Band, Lakeside, and innumerable others. One lesser known--but still talented--band, Switch, produced some late 1970s R&B classics including "I Call Your Name" (not the Beatles song) and "Love Over and Over Again." Their 1978 hit, "There'll Never Be," best exemplifies the Switch sound: horns, jazz-tinged chord changes, and tight harmonies. While the act broke up in 1984, their biggest hit continues to earn radio airplay and stands as a hidden '70s gem. While an Ohio band, Switch's best years occurred on
Nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the rapper has always pushed the boundaries of hip-hop.
Ever since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations were announced on October 16, debate has raged over the worthiest candidates. One question that many fans have been asking: why is LL Cool J listed among rockers like Nirvana, Yes, and the Replacements? While younger generations now know him primarily as an actor, LL Cool J is also a pioneer in hip hop for a variety of reasons. He was the genre's first bonfide superstar and sex symbol. More importantly, he stands as a pioneer in combining rap with other styles: who else could have recorded rap's first song,
Equally versatile in jazz and R&B, Maysa remains an underrated vocalist with a rich vocal style.
Contempoary jazz fans may know singer Maysa best from her guest turns with Incognito. However, she has also recorded stellar solo albums that showcase her honey-dipped vocals. Mixing jazz with contemporary R&B, Maysa's unique voice demonstrates her versatility and warmth. Her 2008 album Metamorphosis exemplifies her sophisticated style, most notably with the track "Higher Love." Originally from Baltimore, Maysa (nee Leak) earned her first big break after auditioning for Steve Wonder's backing group Wonderlove. She appeared on Wonder's soundtrack to Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, and toured with the group to promote the film. In 1991 friend Steve Harvey, a producer,
This slice of sultry soul remains as hypnotic today as it did in 1973.
One of the most original R&B tracks released during the 1970s, "I Can't Stand the Rain" has been covered and sampled by innumerable artists. It solidified singer and songwriter Ann Peebles' starring role on Hi Records, on a par with labelmate Al Green. Indeed, the slow-burner "I Can't Stand the Rain" can be seen as a female version of Green's soulful and spiritual songs. Born in St. Louis, Peebles grew up singing in her father's church choir. As a teenager, she pursued secular music, performing in nightclubs under the careful supervision of her minister dad. Her big break came in
The Earth, Wind & Fire founder may be best known for hits like "Shining Star," but his brief solo career contains hidden gems like this ballad.
Maurice White may be best known as the founder of Earth, Wind, and Fire. What some fans may not remember, however, is that he launched a solo career in the mid-eighties that produced three moderately successful singles. One such song, "I Need You," showcases his powerful voice and stands as an underrated soul ballad. After Earth, Wind and Fire released their 1983 album Electric Universe, the group found themselves at a crossroads. They had experimented with the emerging synth-funk sound, and met with mixed critical and commercial results. While the single "Magnetic" received airplay, the album fell short of EWF's
Sometimes a disco track can mean more than just dancing all night long, as proven in this 1979 Philly Soul classic.
During the 1970s, much of disco was just about dancing all night long. One song, however, signified more than just getting down; instead, it became an unofficial anthem for civil rights. McFadden and Whitehead's hit "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" certainly had a great beat, but its lyrics uplifted and empowered listeners as well. While the duo may go down in history as "one hit wonders," they composed some of the biggest hits of the Philly Soul era. Although Gene McFadden and John Whitehead began as performers--they were members of the Epsilons, an Otis Redding-managed group, and later changed their
A seventies disco star transitions into funky soul with this underrated classic.
It's hard to believe that Evelyn "Champagne" King was just 17 years old when her smash "Shame" was released in 1977. Possessing a voice far beyond her years, King and her powerful pipes graced that disco classic as well as several 80s R&B jams. Today, she is known not only for "Shame" but for her 1982 comeback "Love Come Down." But the followup single, "Betcha She Don't Love You," proved just as strong. Her brand of smoothed-over funk hit just at the right time in the early 1980s, as the song peaked at number two on the R&B charts. Born
The underrated R&B singer delivers a feminist message in a funky, tuneful way.
Last week's DeepSoul spotlighted the 80s R&B vocalist Alexander O'Neal, so this time the focus turns to frequent duet partner Cherrelle. The two have been permanently linked ever since their 1986 classic jam "Saturday Love," although both experienced success apart as well as together. Cherrelle's light, breathy vocals graced early Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis productions, most notably the funky "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On." Born in Los Angeles in 1958, Cheryl Norton and her family spent summers in Detroit. In the 1970s she met bassist/singer Michael Henderson (also known for his collaborations with Phyllis Hyman); he later
"New" shows the ex-Beatle in an upbeat mood as he previews his upcoming album.
Social media has been abuzz with news of Paul McCartney's latest single, aptly titled "New." The song previews McCartney's first album of original material since 2007's Memory Almost Full, and signals the approach the ex-Beatle is taking for his latest release. For the upcoming New disc, McCartney enlisted a number of producers including Mark Ronson (producer of Amy Winehouse and Adele, among numerous other notables). Ronson helmed this sunny track, which recalls "Got to Get You into My Life" in tempo and McCartney's last two albums (not counting the covers disc Kisses on the Bottom) Memory Almost Full and Chaos
An underrated soul singer croons one of the best ballads of 1980s-era soul.
One of the more underrated R&B vocalists of the 1980s, Alexander O'Neal enjoyed more success in Europe than in his native United States. Yet his voice graces some of the decade's most memorable soul singles--"Fake," "Saturday Love" (with frequent duet partner Cherrelle), and the sweeping ballad "If You Were Here Tonight." The very definition of "quiet storm," the song peaked at number 17 on the R&B charts in 1985. What may surprise listeners is that the singer has his roots in the Minneapolis funk group The Time. Originally from Mississippi, O'Neal relocated to Minneapolis in the late 70s, earning a
Be instantly transported back to 1970s summers with this soul classic.
Some soul tracks are timeless, while others remain firmly connected with their particular era. The Floaters' 1977 crossover hit "Float On" fits that bill, as the members rap about their astrological signs and cheesy pickup lines ("to me all women are wild flowers," one whispers). But the song still conjures memories of lazy summer days and the sounds of sweet soul on the radio. The Floaters may not have lasted long, but their song has become a classic 1970s groove. The Floaters evolved from another R&B group, the Detroit Emeralds. Formed in 1968, the former Little Rock, Arkansas singers scored
The late keyboardist pioneered the fusion movement of the 1970s and created some timeless grooves.
The R&B world lost another great with the passing of fusion artist George Duke, who died on August 5 from leukemia. The keyboardist played rock, jazz, and funk (even playing with Frank Zappa), expanding on the groundwork laid by Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. By the 1980s he focused on funk and contemporary R&B, transitioning into an in-demand producer whose credits include Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It for the Boy" and Jeffrey Osbourne's "Stay with Me Tonight." Scan the liner notes of any late 1970s and 1980s soul albums, and chances are Duke's name will appear. An example of his many
The keyboardist serves up a charming slice of old school R&B with an unforgettable chorus.
Our final installment of frequently sampled songs looks at a deep cut from the 1980s: "Who Do You Love" by Bernard Wright. Wright, a fusion keyboardist, merged jazz and R&B to create funky hits. Hip hop artists rediscovered his music in the 1990s, and several tracks featured key riffs from tracks such as "Spinnin'" and "Haboglabotribin'," but "Who Do You Love" has proven to be his best-known tune, sampled by such artists as LL Cool J and Shinehead. The Queens-born Wright started out as a musical prodigy, earning a gig touring with drummer Lenny White at just 13 years old.
An artist ahead of his time, the vibrophonist helped spark the acid jazz movement and inspired countless samples.
"My life, my life, my life, my life, in the sunshine." These days, most listeners would immediately think of Mary J. Blige's early '90s hit "My Life" when reading those words. In reality that hook dates back to 1976, when a fusion artist named Roy Ayers released that unique track. Today, "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" sounds as distinct as it did 37 years ago; one can almost smell the ocean and feel the summer breeze while experiencing this light-as-air tune. Not surprisingly, hip hop artists have repeatedly sampled the chorus and unique keyboard melody. Ayers began his career as an
This smooth track boasts a funky bass line few modern hip hop artists have been able to resist.
Like "Soul Makossa," "Risin' to the Top" is a song you know, yet you may not be aware of it. Keni Burke's jazzy 1982 track has been sampled by a dazzling number of artists, and has become a "steppin" classic in Chicago and elsewhere. While his name may not be instantly recognizable, his previous group may be: The Five Stairsteps. Born in Chicago, Burke experienced his first taste of fame with the family group the Five Stairsteps, best known for their 1970 classic "O-o-h Child." Shortly after that hit, two family members departed the act, forcing the remaining members to
Highly danceable yet unapologetically feminist, this 1972 classic earned the respect of numerous R&B, hip hop, and dance artists.
Dubbed the "Female Preacher," Lyn Collins lived up to that name through her fiery vocals. Part funk, part revival, "Think (About It)" remains one of the most sampled songs in hip hop, and her famous lines "It takes two to make a thing go right / It takes two to make it out of sight" have graced innumerable modern tracks. Appropriately, Collins counted another frequently sampled artists as her mentor: James Brown. Born in Abilene, Texas, Collins began singing as a teenager. After marrying the man who served as the local promoter for the James Brown Revue, she sent a
The Godfather of Soul is also one of the most sampled artists in music, and this 1973 funk workout shows why.
What would a column featuring heavily sampled artists be without the Godfather of Soul, James Brown? The singer's unique vocal tics along with his band's scratchy guitar riffs, thumping bass, and distinctive drum patterns have all graced countless soul, rap, and hip hop tracks. Since some music historians credit Brown for practically inventing modern dance music, his continuing presence in innumerable tracks is no surprise. His over seven-minute opus "The Payback" remains a sampling staple, its tough sound lending a funky edge to various artists. The Payback album started life as a would-be soundtrack to a blaxploitation film. Brown had
Think you've never heard this pioneering dance track? You have--and probably never knew it.
For the next few weeks, DeepSoul salutes what is widely considered the backbone of rap, hip hop, and modern R&B: sampling. Initially controversial, sampling has transformed into a largely accepted practice--so long as the new artist awards credit to the original performer and track. What better way to kick off this series than with one of the most heavily sampled tracks in music history: Manu Dibango's infectious "Soul Makossa"? The 1972 single's exotic beat, saxophone solo, and "Mama koo mama sa maka makoosa" chant have appeared in a staggering number of tracks, most famously in Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin'
The singer's mixture of classic soul with hip hop is a hidden gem in contemporary R&B.
Musiq Soulchild is one of those artists who should be bigger than he is. A talented singer/songwriter, he entered the neo-soul scene with his 2000 debut Aijuswanaseing. Its lead single "Just Friends (Sunny)" gained urban radio airplay and exposure via BET and VH1, but Musiq never quite crossed over to achieve mainstream success. Audiences are all the worse for it, as his clear voice graces some first-class retro soul that features modern touches such as hip hop beats. A perfect example is "Betterman," a stellar track from his underrated 2007 album Luvanmusiq. This should-have-been-hit combines heavy beats with mature lyricism
The rock vocalist was also an overlooked yet first class blue-eyed soul singer.
People may not immediately consider Robert Palmer an R&B artist--after all, he made a larger mark as a rock singer who is also remembered for an iconic video. As he performed "Addicted to Love" in front of blank-faced models, Palmer's buttoned-up style seemed at odds with his growling voice. What few may not realize is that he was a blue-eyed soul singer as well; his covers of early 1980s soul tracks often surpassed the originals. One such song, "You Are in My System," took the System's 1982 track and made it just a bit rougher. Palmer's roots remained firmly in
The multitalented vocalist easily navigates jazz and R&B with this danceable track.
He's the only vocalist in history to win Grammys in three categories: jazz, pop, and R&B. Indeed, Al Jarreau has successfully blended these three genres since the 1970s, never forgoing his sophisticated scatting skills for commercial gain. He can perform straight-ahead jazz like a vocal version of "Take Five," yet score mainstream hits such as "We're in This Love Together" or the Moonlighting TV theme. This multitalented artist first came to my attention in the early 80s with 1983's Jarreau, a superbly crafted soul album that allowed his talents to shine through accessible tracks. One such song, "Boogie Down," became
Lead singer Marvin Junior proved crucial to the doo wop group's influential sound.
Soul fans revere Teddy Pendergrass as owning of the best raspy baritones in R&B music. However, he did not pioneer that gritty "lover man" style--that honor belongs to Marvin Junior, lead singer of the 1960s group The Dells. A founding member of the Chicago-based doo wop group, Junior recently passed away at age 77 in his Harvey, Illinois home. His death closes the book on one of the most influential and long-lasting singing groups of the 1960s. For over 50 years, the group not only charted numerous soul hits, but remained remarkably intact with few personnel changes. While difficult to
To celebrate the classic R&B singer's birthday, DeepSoul looks at a lesser-known 1980s hit.
The great R&B vocalist Gladys Knight celebrates her 69th birthday this week, and is still performing after over 50 years in the music business. Her impeccable voice, supported by her famous backup singing group the Pips, graced a string of classic 1970s hits. While Knight may be best known for tracks such as "Midnight Train to Georgia" or "Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye)," her 1980s-era work should not be overlooked. One of her last successful singles with the Pips, "Save the Overtime (for Me)," perfectly blends Knight's soulful style with 1983's modern beats.
Music greats Jones, Patti Austin, and Stevie Wonder combine talents to create an unforgettable track.
Few would dispute Quincy Jones' towering influence on the music world--he stands as a producer and arranger par excellence, his pristine and multilayered recordings sounding as fresh today as they did when first released. In addition to producing blockbusters for others--most notably Michael Jackson's Thriller and Off the Wall albums--he sporadically released discs under his own moniker. Thanks to his reputation, Jones could recruit the best musicians, songwriters, and singers for his projects. One of his best, 1981's The Dude, made a star of James Ingram and spawned numerous hits ("Just Once" and "One Hundred Ways," for example). An underrated
While a minor hit, this 1986 track shows Prince as a skilled vocalist and songwriter.
"This isn't music...this is a trip!" chants a voice throughout a remix of Prince's "Alphabet Street." That phrase may best describe Prince's mid-80s output, when he explored psychedelia through albums such as Around the World in a Day and Parade. Taking cues from George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Prince sought to fuse the Summer of Love with funk and just a touch of rock. He may have largely moved on from that era, but these experiments have withstood the test of time. One such example is 1986's "Mountains," a track off the Under the Cherry Moon soundtrack (released as Parade)
DeepSoul's last look at Acid Jazz examines a group who took the genre to new levels of sophistication.
Some Acid Jazz groups formed many years ago, frequently changing lineups but still containing at least one founding member. D'Influence differs from this model in that they are a collective, a production team as well as a band. While they have helmed projects by Mark Morrison and Ultra Naté, their own albums take Acid Jazz to a sophisticated level. Debuting in 1992, D'Influence consists of vocalist Sarah Anne Webb, guitarist and keyboardist Ed Baden-Powell, keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Kwame Kwaten and drummer Steve Marston. Thanks to jazz-heavy chords and Webb's silky smooth voice, they gained a following for a small but
Get seriously funky with this longtime Acid Jazz band.
DeepSoul's look at Acid Jazz continues with Jamiroquai, a longtime UK band that found, unfortunately, fleeting success in America. Say the name, and two images will immediately leap to mind: lead singer Jay Kay sliding all over a room in the "Virtual Insanity" video, or the insane dancing scene in Napoleon Dynamite which uses their song "Canned Heat." In the UK, Jamiroquai became Acid Jazz pioneers as early as 1992, and they have evolved as fierce live performers. Kay formed the group in the early nineties, combining jazz with rap and 1970s soul. After hearing his demo, the Acid Jazz
DeepSoul continues its month-long spotlight on Acid Jazz with a veteran band.
Incognito may have been early pioneers of Acid Jazz, but the Brand New Heavies brought it to the masses. In the early 1990s, they incorporated the hip hop beats of the time with 1970s organic soul, adding touches of jazz to create an extremely catchy brand of music. Like Incognito, they began as an instrumental outfit, but found success incorporating vocals (most notably those of N'dea Davenport). While they racked up numerous hits in the UK, the song that brought them to America was 1992's "Never Stop." The Brand New Heavies date back to 1985, when drummer/keyboardist Jan Kincaid, guitarist
DeepSoul takes a month-look at Acid Jazz, kicking off with pioneers Incognito.
For the next four weeks, DeepSoul will explore the world of Acid Jazz. A combination of jazz and R&B, it evolves from 1970s fusion (think Miles Davis' landmark Bitches Brew) and incorporates elements of hip hop, dance, and international rhythms. The result is a genre which became popular in Britain, although it experienced only minor success in the United States. Incognito introduced listeners to this form through their 1981 release Jazz Funk, a mostly instrumental collection that sounded exactly as the title implies. By 1988 the term Acid Jazz emerged, partially because of a compilation series that featured jazz and
Funk doesn't get any simpler, down home, and soulful than this 1969 instrumental.
Instrumentals do not get much funkier than "Cissy Strut," the Meters' 1969 R&B hit that epitomizes the term "funky drummer." In fact, the Meters may be the biggest band you've never heard of, as they have played with everyone from Allen Toussaint to Paul McCartney. While they never experienced massive mainstream success, their down-home recordings have transformed into soul classics. The Meters' story begins in the mid-sixties, when keyboardist Art Neville (part of the revered Neville family, a New Orleans institution) formed the group. While still in high school, Neville first formed the Hawkettes, who recorded a handful of singles
Through poetry and a silky tenor, the R&B legend pulls back the curtain on the realities of inner cities.
Few artists forged their own creative path like Marvin Gaye, who successfully fought for his musical freedom and thereby changed the direction of R&B. His 1971 album What's Going On perfectly encapsulated 1960s and 1970s social turmoil, and the track "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)" remains particularly relevant today.Chafing under Motown's strict -- and decidedly nonpolitica l-- regulations, Gaye longed to record an album addressing the Vietnam War, poverty, environmental issues, and other vital topics of the day. Motown CEO Berry Gordy, however, believed that such material would simply not sell as many units as their traditional pop/soul-based
Think Michael Jackson did not record a solo album until 1979? Think again.
This week marks the 30th anniversary of Michael Jackson's historic "Billie Jean" performance on the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, and Forever TV special. Since DeepSoul looks at lesser-known tracks, we will mark the occasion in a different way by going back further than three decades. Many believe Off the Wall was Jackson's first solo album; in actuality, his 1972 album Got to be There marked his debut as a solo artist. While he continued recording with the Jackson 5, this early album hinted at his ability to carry a song solely on his shoulders. Few tunes exemplify this gift better
Singer Bobbie Smith's unique vocal style served as an essential ingredient to the Spinners' success.
Over the weekend the R&B world lost yet another vital voice--Bobbie Smith, the lead singer of the 1970s group the Spinners. The band scored an impressive number of hits, often anchored by Smith's distinctive vocals: "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love," "One of a Kind (Love Affair)," "Then Came You" (a duet with Dionne Warwick), and "Games People Play," just to name a few. Few songs encapsulate the Spinners' knack for recording R&B songs with widespread appeal like "I'll Be Around," a hit that succeeds in large part due to Smith's lead vocal. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, original members
The great funk and soul innovator turns 70, and his influence still permeates modern music.
Soul visionary Sly Stone turns 70 today; while he and his band the Family Stone no longer perform together, their groundbreaking contributions to R&B can be heard in today's music. I remember hearing Stone while growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. My parents were fans, and I still recall hearing "Everyday People" around the house. Thus Sly and the Family Stone served as one of my earliest introductions to soul music, and that initial exposure helped shaped my taste (and deep love) for R&B. Their brand of joyful music encompassed everyone's experiences, such as Stone's celebration of "Everyday People."
"War" may be the soul singer's biggest hit, but this 1969 classic ranks among the best Motown singles.
Say the name "Edwin Starr," and most music fans will respond with one of his most famous lyrics: "War! Huh! Good Gawd, y'all!" In addition to its initial success in 1970, "War" was revived in 1986, when Bruce Springsteen's live rendition cracked the top ten. While "War" stands as one of the best protest songs ever written, Starr recorded a number of other outstanding tracks, most notably the funky "25 Miles." The 1969 hit showcases Starr's blues and gospel-tinged delivery and a relentless beat, a surprisingly gritty track issued by the usually pop-oriented Motown. While Starr claimed Southern roots--he was
Jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd left his mark in the jazz and funk worlds, as evident in this 1975 track.
Few jazz musicians have crossed over to other musical genres and experienced commercial success. Yet trumpet player Donald Byrd, who passed away recently at age 80, managed to straddle several worlds: academic and commercial, jazz and funk. From his beginnings as a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers to a creator of splinter fusion groups, Byrd retained his hard bop roots while incorporating contemporary R&B music. While difficult to choose only one track, "Rock Creek Park" may best represent his spanning of jazz and soul, just one of many songs he produced with the Blackbyrds. As previously mentioned, Byrd initially
This genre-spanning artist is transforming the sound of modern R&B.
In honor of the impending Grammy Awards, DeepSoul takes a closer look at one of the nominees: Frank Ocean, a talent heralded as the future of R&B. His 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra and his breakthrough major label effort Channel Orange have both challenged the limits of soul music, creating a swirling pastiche of rock, funk, psychedelia, and hip hop. The easiest comparison is to the genre-bending Prince, and Ocean certainly resembles his originality. However, Ocean’s sound is his own, and he has succeeded in expanding the concept of rhythm and blues music. Channel Orange’s “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You” embodies Ocean’s eclectic
The seminal '70s funk band transformed modern R&B with lead singer Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner's scratchy guitar and howling vocals.
Think Cameo's Larry Blackmon was the first to cry "oww" in songs like "Word Up"? Think again. The mighty Ohio Players, led by vocalist/guitarist Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner,mixed Bonner's nasal sound with funky beats and blaring horns to create an impressive string of 1970s hits. "Skin Tight," "Heaven Must be Like This," and "Fire" represent just a few tracks from their extensive catalog. However, few songs best encapsulate their sound like 1975's "Love Rollercoaster." Bonner's death at age 69 on January 26 reminds us how they developed from their 1959 roots to record such an iconic song. The Ohio Players began
Remember Tina Turner's comeback single? Chances are it's not the track you think.
The story has gone down in rock legend: Tina Turner overcame years of domestic abuse, slowly rebuilt her career, and returned to the top of the charts in 1984. Her comeback album Private Dancer spawned an astonishing number of singles, most notably the iconic "What's Love Got to Do with It." That song has become so ubiquitous that few remember the actual first single off the album: a cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." In addition to being one of the best versions of the soul classic, the song represents a crucial turning point in her career: the transition
A new compilation celebrates the piano man's famous and lesser-known ballads.
During the 12.12.12 concert benefitting the victims of Hurricane Sandy, Billy Joel played a fiery set, showing his vocals and piano chops have diminished little since his debut 40 years ago. Until Joel decides to emerge from his retirement and return to the studio, fans must make do with his vast back catalog. A new compilation, She's Got A Way: Love Songs, celebrates ballads both familiar and rare. Listening to the album lends new appreciation for his songwriting gifts and ability to simply communicate emotion. Some of the tracks are like old friends for those who grew up with Joel.
Fontella Bass's gospel-drenched voice lends her 1965 hit passion and powerful emotion.
Recently the R&B lost the distinctive voice who graced one of the 1960s' best singles. AllMusic describes her 1965 hit "Rescue Me" as "the greatest record Aretha Franklin never made," and Fontella Bass's rich voice certainly invites such comparisons. Yet Bass's higher range lends the song energy that Franklin's deeper vocals may not have achieved. Her death at age 72 on December 26, 2012 reminds us of a song that, while somewhat overexposed through commercials and movie soundtracks, still soars with its timeless plea for her lover to rescue her from loneliness. Not surprisingly, Bass's roots remained firmly in gospel
DeepSoul: Stevie Wonder's "Love's in Need of Love Today" Timeless and Timely Message Post-Newtown, Pre-Holidays
In difficult times, Wonder's timeless message of love and peace still deeply resonates.
Originally I planned to spotlight another holiday track with a soul twist. The mass shootings in Connecticut, however, have cast a shadow over what should be a joyous season. As the world tries to comprehend the loss of so many innocent children and dedicated educators, music can be a source of comfort. Comfort, joy, sorrow, and mystery comprise just some of the subjects Stevie Wonder covers on his landmark 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life, a philosophical work clothed in soul, rock, and international sounds. One track that perfectly captures the grief we feel--and perhaps hope as well--is
Take 6 lends their unique brand of jazz-inflected harmonies to a contemporary gospel tune.
Acapella group Take 6 has performed with everyone imaginable, from Don Henley to Stevie Wonder. Their complex harmonies, jazz, do wop, and R&B influences, and contemporary take on gospel music has distinguished the sextet from other acapella artists. After releasing their 1988 major label debut Take 6, the group earned a Best New Artist nomination and Grammys for best jazz and gospel performances; since then, they have never looked back. Early in their career, Take 6 recorded He Is Christmas, mixing in traditional carols with original compositions. The 1991 album put their spiritual roots at the forefront of their music
The music legend broke through jazz's conventions and created a sound uniquely his own.
A jazz giant who combined classical music with jazz passed away December 5, 2012, a day short of his 92nd birthday. Dave Brubeck, the pianist/composer who helped jazz retain its “cool” status in 1960, will forever be remembered for a song he did not write: “Take Five,” its 5/4 time a first for the music genre. Penned by his alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond, the single propelled Brubeck to legendary status and became one of the most recognized jazz tunes of all time. If he had followed his original career plans, however, we would have never heard his music--instead, he would
Soulful takes on Christmas standards and original songs add another dimension to the holidays. The second annual Deep Soul: Holiday Edition will spotlight some wonderful treasures that perfectly accompany any family gathering, and celebrate all the elements of the season: childlike wonder, spirituality, and the warmth that comes from gatherings with friends and family. I'll kick off this series by examining a track from 1992: "Soul Holidays" by the While their recordings often incorporate hip hop beats, the Sounds of Blackness actually dates back to 1969. Formed at St. Paul, Minnesota's Macalester College, they hired director Gary Hines in 1971
This all-acoustic live album serves as a master class in performing and songwriting.
"I'm not a young man, but I'm a child in my soul," Lindsey Buckingham sings in "Not Too Late." Indeed, this lyric perfectly summarizes his multifaceted career, one that has experienced fascinating twists and turns. His guitar playing skills, highly personal songwriting, sometimes eccentric arrangements, and his emotional voice have added up to a sound that is uniquely Lindsey Buckingham, both with and without Fleetwood Mac. Time has found him downscaling production, letting his words and voice convey his complex themes. At the same time, his playing and singing have never sounded stronger, evoking the same rage and passion as
Experiecing heartbreak never sounded so good as in this 1965 hit.
Emerging out of the doo-wop 50s, Little Anthony and the Imperials transformed into first-class performers, with lead singer Anthony crooning some of the most beautiful and heartbreaking tunes that emerged from the 1960s. One particular track, "Hurt So Bad," still elicits tears due to Anthony's heartfelt and emotional performance. Born in Brooklyn in 1940, Jerome Anthony Gourdine grew up singing in various doo-wop groups, but his tenure with the Chesters proved fateful. Formed with friends Clarence Collins (baritone), Ernest Wright, Jr. (tenor), Tracy Lord (tenor), and Nat Rogers (bass), the group recorded one single before singing with small label End
It's Thanksgiving in America, but anyone can be thankful for this celebratory tune.
It's Thanksgiving in America, that yearly holiday where we sit down with family and friends, enjoy a bountiful meal, and give thanks. What better way to celebrate than to play "Gratitude," a hidden Earth, Wind, & Fire track from their 1975 live album of the same name. Featuring Verdine White's funky bassline, a healthy dose of horns, and vocal interplay between singers Maurice White and Philip Bailey, "Gratitude" stands as a classic EWF jam. 1975 marked a banner year in EWF's history; their breakthrough album, That's the Way of the World, spawned the hits "Shining Star," "Reasons," and the title
The soul crooner's recent death inspires a reappreciation of one of the great love ballads.
Soul music suffered a loss this week with the death of Major Harris, a Philadelphia Sound alum who scored a hit with the 1975 quiet storm jam "Love Won't Let Me Wait." Thanks to his smooth vocals and backup singer Barbara Ingram's sensual moans, the song ranks as one of of the sexiest ballads ever recorded. Numerous R&B artists covered the track--most notably Luther Vandross--but younger fans may not know about Harris' long journey to that hit. Born in Richmond Virginia in 1947, Harris came from a musical family. According to AllMusic, his grandparents were vaudeville veterans, his father played
This thorough collection gives listeners a box set experience without the high price.
Ask anyone to name his or her favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival song, and chances are the ensuing conversation could last a long time. From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, CCR amassed an impressive number of hits without compromising their sound or message. Led by John Fogerty, arguably one of the best blues vocalists in rock, the band indulged in their love of folk, country, and blues, while adding touches of pop to make the tracks even more accessible. At the same time, they often delivered powerful messages about the common man's struggles, most notably the still-arresting song “Fortunate
It's almost Election Day in America, and there's no better time to celebrate the season than listening to this classic 1970 tune.
Tomorrow is a big day in the US: Election Day. In honor of the season, listen to a deep funk cut that perfectly expresses the current spirit: 1970's "Express Yourself" by Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Its message remains timeless, and the garage-band quality of the recording adds to its charm and catchiness. The band's roots trace back to Clarksdale, Mississippi, the birthplace of group founder Wright. The multifaceted singer and musician--he played guitar and piano--recruited the eight-piece band from Watts, Los Angeles, although they originally dubbed themselves the Soul Runners. Remarkably, their big break came
Their time on the charts was short, but DeBarge still managed to record one of the most memorable R&B ballads of the 1980s.
In the early 1980s, Motown Records found itself at a crossroads. The heyday of their success--the '60s and '70s--had passed, and artists such as the Jackson Five and Marvin Gaye had departed the label. Clearly Motown founder Berry Gordy thought he had found the 80s' answer to the Jackson Five in DeBarge, a Grand Rapids, Michigan group consisting of four brothers and one sister. After their debut album, 1981's The DeBarges, experienced only moderate success, the group wrote most of their sophomore effort, All This Love. The 1982 album proved to be their breakthrough, with lead singer El DeBarge proving
One of funk's most original artists foresaw hip hop's reign with this 1982 single.
Who else but master funkster George Clinton could write the memorable lyrics "Why must I be like that/ Why must I chase the cat/ Nothin' but the dog in me"? 1982 marked a big year for Clinton, who returned to the charts in a big way with the single "Atomic Dog." It topped the R&B charts, received club play, and its album Computer Games cracked the Billboard Top 200. Interestingly, "Atomic Dog" also signaled the beginning of a new phase in Clinton's long career. Mixing funk with psychedelia, Clinton formed the two bands Parliament and Funkadelic in 1969, with both
The late '70s band released a classic track which takes unexpected twists and turns, resulting in an enjoyable listen.
One of R&B's most underrated groups, Heatwave amassed an impressive number of late 1970s singles: “Always and Forever,” “Boogie Nights,” “Mind Blowing Decisions,” and their final hit “Gangsters of the Groove,” just to name a few. Led by the charismatic Johnnie Wilder, the group proved themselves to be excellent showmen and world-class songwriters, particularly Rod Temperton. Various tragedies put an abrupt end to Heatwave's success, but brother Keith Wilder reformed the band in the 1990s. While difficult to choose just one of their memorable songs, “The Groove Line” particularly exemplifies Heatwave's gift for creating sophisticated funk that soared above the
The groundbreaking track transformed hip hop and spawned a nationally recognized catchphrase.
Don't push me, 'cause I'm close to the edge/ I'm tryin' not to lose my head... These words should sound very familiar to old school hip hop fans, as they comprise part of "The Message," a groundbreaking 1982 track by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Not only did this song prove that hip hop could address serious topics, it also ranks among music's best protest tracks. Before "The Message," many early rap songs served as party starters, with MCs bragging about their skills. DJ Grandmaster Flash, aka Joseph Saddler, developed his talent in this atmosphere, performing at block parties
Is the trio's latest album a step forward or backward in their still evolving career?
Few bands have progressed at such an impressively creative rate as Green Day. When their first major label album, Dookie, dropped in 1994, they became a “love them or hate them” band. Some fans enjoyed their brand of post punk; others wrote them off as bratty wannabes. But with each subsequent album, the trio—Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool—showed their gift for writing pop hooks fused with a healthy dose of middle-finger attitude, each single displaying growing sophistication. Then came their most ambitious move: recording a rock opera. American Idiot has become a modern rock classic featuring anthems
Blue-eyed soul doesn't get any better than Hall and Oates' 1981 classic.
They may have appeared in some cringe-worthy, cheesy '80s videos. They may be deemed "uncool" by critics for their so-called commercial sound. But Hall and Oates will ultimately go down as one of the best blue-eyed soul groups in the modern era, as innumerable artists have covered or sampled their work. Daryl Hall and John Oates succeeded in taking Philly Soul and modernizing it, creating such classics as "She's Gone," "Sara Smile," "Kiss on My List," and "Private Eyes," to name just a few of their numerous hits. The one song that has endured, due to its infectious rhythm and
Funk, jazz, and soul collide to create one memorable 1979 track.
Who says that funk and jazz cannot co-exist? Certainly not The Crusaders, who scored a 1979 hit with "Street Life." The fact that it made the R&B, Dance, and Billboard Hot 100 charts demonstrates how one track could become a crossover success. Even more importantly, the song proved to be the launching pad for jazz/R&B vocalist Randy Crawford, who has continued collaborating with original Crusaders member Joe Sample. Despite the tune's contemporary sound that appealed to disco dancers as well as soul and jazz aficionados, the Crusaders actually date back to the 1950s. In 1954, pianist Sample approached Houston high
The book takes readers inside the recording of The Beatles' debut album through a blend of fact and fiction.
February 11, 1963 stands as an important date in rock history. On this day, the Beatles entered Abbey Road Studios to begin recording songs for their debut album Please Please Me. Due to their tight touring schedule (as well as EMI's desire to capitalize on The Beatles' growing popularity), the group recorded an astonishing ten songs in one day. Their debut now ranks as one of the best rock albums ever released, and firmly established the group's reputation as formidable players and songwriters. What would it have been like to sit in the booth with producer George Martin that day?
Ann and Nancy Wilson reflect on heartbreak and renewal -- while rocking as hard as ever -- on their 14th studio album.
Heart has come full circle since their 1970s beginnings. Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson have transitioned from hard rock beginnings to glam pop back to grungy rock again. Along the way, they paved the way for women in music, demonstrating that they can be feminine and rock as hard as the guys. Their 14th studio album, Fanatic, shows the Wilsons in fine form, with Ann's raspy vocals changing little since their “Barracuda” days and Nancy's crunching guitar anchoring each track. Fanatic may not break any new musical ground, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable album for those who like their rock
The Jacksons took the first step toward artistic maturity during this brief brush with Philadelphia Soul.
By 1976, The Jacksons found themselves at a crossroads. Having outgrown their Jackson 5 days, they struggled to transition to more mature tunes. Thus they took the first major step: departing Motown, the only label they ever knew. This move came at a cost, as Motown CEO Berry Gordy successfully fought to retain ownership of the Jackson 5 moniker. Now dubbed The Jacksons, they signed with CBS Records but were minus one member: Jermaine, who elected to stay with Motown. The Jacksons were in need of a hit since their final album for Motown, Moving Violation, failed to make a
Beatles fans as well as pop music enthusiasts will enjoy this fond look back at Martin's impressive career and personal life.
Who was the “Fifth Beatle”? One of the strongest arguments favors George Martin, the producer who tirelessly experimented with various sound techniques and helped the group realize their creative visions. Now in his mid-eighties, Martin is celebrated in the documentary Produced by George Martin, a film first aired by the BBC in 2011 and is now available in the U.S. Beatles fans as well as pop music enthusiasts will enjoy this fond look back at Martin's impressive career and personal life. Wisely avoiding a narrator, the documentary relies on Martin's own words as well as interviews with Paul McCartney, Ringo
The R&B vocalist took a Burt Bacharach and Hal David classic and truly made it his own.
Lyricist Hal David's recent death has brought his work with composer Burt Bacharach back into the spotlight. Indeed, the team produced an impressive number of modern classics, including "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," "Walk on By," and "The Look of Love," to name just a few. Singer Dionne Warwick recorded definitive versions of many of their tracks, but other R&B artists have made these songs their own. Even Bacharach admits that Aretha Franklin's cover of "I Say A Little Prayer" has superseded Warwick's original. Another phenomenal vocalist, Luther Vandross, took a Bacharach and David composition and transformed
This 1974 hit captured a particular period in R&B and helped define today's hip hop culture.
Diamond in the back, sunroof top/ Diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean. These words come from a '90s or 2000s rap track, right? Wrong--they actually derive from a 1974 hit entitled "Be Thankful for What You Got." While it ultimately ranks as a one-hit-wonder, William DeVaughn's words linger in today's pop culture landscape. From the moment DeVaughn wrote the song, it seemed an unlikely hit. According to AllMusic, he was a government employee and part-time entertainer in Washington, D.C. in the early '70s. On a whim, he booked a $900 recording session at Philadelphia's Omega Sound, Inc. At the
"Lady T's" talent and love for soul transformed her into a modern R&B pioneer.
Call her "Vanilla Child" or "Lady T," but most can agree that Teena Marie was a pioneer through her unique brand of funk. Her powerful voice and obvious love of R&B enabled her to transcend cultural and racial boundaries to become one of soul's most admired vocalists. While Marie recorded numerous memorable tracks, "Square Biz" stands out for its bass-popping beat and Marie's surprisingly convincing rap break. Marie first arrived at Motown in 1977, and was eventually paired with labelmate Rick James. James, who became her lover as well as mentor, wrote and produced her debut album Wild and Peaceful.
The King's latest hits collection has a twist: this time, Presley fans picked the tracks.
The latest Elvis Presley hits compilation can be summarized simply by the album title: I Am an Elvis Fan. As the liner notes state, this collection is “FOR Elvis fans, BY Elvis fans.” Indeed, fans determined the track listing through voting on the I Am an Elvis Fan website; Sony Music and Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. also invited visitors to upload photos of themselves. These photos became part of a mosaic forming Presley's face; the image adorns the album cover. As with any “greatest hits” compilation, it invites much debate as to songs which were excluded. Casual fans may enjoy
This lesser-known track exemplifies the group's patented blend of rock and R&B with a Southern twist.
The legendary Stax label featured the stellar roster of Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Wilson Pickett. But without the backing of its house band, Booker T. and the MGs, Stax would never have reached the heights of success. The label's backbone also scored some instrumental hits, their most famous being 1962's "Green Onions." To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Stax (now a Concord subsidiary) has reissued their seminal album Green Onions; along with the number one R&B hit, the CD also features "Can't Sit Down," a funk workout which later became a 1963 dance hit for the group The
More than a punchline, Rick James was a master at fusing R&B and funk.
Blinded by Sound writer Chris Morgan writes an often hilarious feature entitled "Songs We Wish We Could Forget," a humorous examination of past hits and their dubious quality. Last week spotlighted MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This," which the rapper based on a sample from Rick James' classic jam "Super Freak." In the article, Morgan dismisses the funk star as a "repulsive scumbag" and "massive asshole" whose was elevated to cult figure status through the Chappelle Show's "I'm Rick James, bitch!" skit. James lived a hedonistic lifestyle, to be sure, and paid for it via jail time and numerous health problems;
Psychedelia meets soul in this Motown classic.
What happens when soul meets psychedelia? The Supremes' 1967 single "Reflections" perfectly represents how Motown tried to incorporate the increasingly dominant "Summer of Love" vibe into their soul/pop music. In addition, it marked a new phase for the label's top-selling female trio. "Reflections" became the first single released under the "Diana Ross and the Supremes" moniker, illustrating Ross' rising star power. But it brought some "lasts" as well: "Reflections" and its same-titled album served as one of their last collaborations with Motown writers/producers Holland-Dozier-Holland. Feeling overshadowed by Ross, original Supremes member Florence Ballard began her descent into alcohol abuse;
Credit a unique dance step for reviving a forgotten 1991 Temptations track.
What group released a commercially and critically disappointing album, only to have one of its songs become a dance anthem? If you guessed The Temptations, you have just identified yourself as a fan of "Chicago Stepping" (also known as "Steppin'"). The 1991 song "The Joneses" may not have ranked very high on the charts, but its distinctive rhythm and laid-back vibe provides the perfect soundtrack for Stepping's intricate footwork. A brief overview of Chicago Stepping provides the appropriate context for this lesser-known Temptations track. Legendary Chicago DJ Herb Kent "the Cool Gent," one of Stepping's biggest proponents, told The History
One of the 80s' and 90s' best R&B vocalists shows off her jazz-tinged singing on this 1990 track.
When Anita Baker debuted with 1983's The Songstress, few could have predicted the impact she would have on modern R&B music. Toni Braxton owes much of her career to Baker's sultry sound, although she lacks Baker's jazz instincts. Like few artists, Baker has successfully combined jazz and R&B into a commercially successful format. Since her first major label album, 1986's Rapture, critics have praised her for her Sarah Vaughan-tinged vocals, and singles such as "Sweet Love" and "Caught Up in the Rapture" have become modern classics. While she enjoyed melding '80s production styles with classic R&B, she departed from this
Grab something cool to drink, sit on the porch, and immerse yourself in this 1975 classic groove.
Summer 2012 has brought with it some record-breaking heat in various parts of the country. That kind of weather calls for mellow, laid-back grooves that require just listening, not sweat-inducing dancing. Few songs fit this bill better than Kool & the Gang's "Summer Madness," a fusion instrumental that sounds as fresh today as it did in 1974. In fact, its prominent use of the synthesizer would mark it a track ahead of its time, predicting a sound that would dominate much of the 1980s. Younger fans know Kool & the Gang primarily from their slick, pop-inflected period with lead singer
Don't miss the perfect soundtrack for a summer barbecue.
When listening to an album, sometimes sensations hit you as each song plays. Scents like freshly cut lawns and barbecues; sounds like waves hitting the beach, kids laughing while playing in the surf, and the sizzle of food cooking on the grill; sights like bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies; and tastes like a cool beer or lemonade overwhelm the senses. Summer demands music such as this, and Little Feat's latest album, Rooster Rag, serves this purpose perfectly. Travel to New Orleans and the deep South without leaving your house, or slap this CD on the stereo during your next
Celebrate an American original by revisiting his extraordinary version of America's unofficial anthem.
As America celebrates its founding this week, numerous patriotic-themed songs will ring through the air, accompanying fireworks shows and being played by marching bands in local parades. Many anthems fail to reflect the country's diversity and "melting pot" reputation, but modern reinterpretations of these songs have breathed new life into them. Marvin Gaye's famous 1983 performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" serves as a classic example of a re-imagined anthem, but another standout remains Ray Charles' deeply moving reading of "America the Beautiful." While it seems like Charles' rendition has always been a Fourth of July staple, his version actually dates
This '80s band took the "talk box" or vocoder to new, funky heights.
While the talk box may have been nothing new, the 80s act Zapp and Roger took the technology to new, funky heights. Initially underappreciated, the act gained renewed respect from '90s hip hop artists who frequently sampled their work. In fact, lead singer/keyboardist Roger Troutman lent his computerized vocals to Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur's hit "California Love," even appearing in their Mad Max-themed video. The group met a tragic end in 1999, when brother Larry Troutman shot his brother Roger, then turned the gun on himself. Despite their all-too-brief career, Zapp and Roger's electronic-themed tracks still sound fresh today.
This 2008 track provides a lesson in writing joyful, catchy pop with a healthy dose of old school soul.
Who knew that one-third of the late 80s/90s R&B group Tony! Toni! Toné! would become the torch bearer for Motown soul? Indeed, Raphael Saadiq has reinvented himself as an R&B crooner in the old school style, emulating 1960s-era soul while adding a contemporary spin to such tracks. His 2008 album The Way I See It reignited his career while turning a new generation on to Detroit's 60s musical renaissance. While choosing one track from a stellar disc presents a challenge, the second single, "100 Yard Dash," truly exemplifies The Way I See It's tone and represents a well-crafted soul/pop song.
The "book with soundtrack" attempts to place the reader firmly in 1975 by incorporating song links throughout the story.
Thanks to today's technology, a “book with a soundtrack” has become a reality. Streaming media services like Spotify, the ability to purchase music via iTunes, and wifi-enabled e-readers such as Kindle Fire and the iPad allow for an interactive reading experience using multimedia. Author Laura Huntt Foti attempts to exploit this technology in her novel The Cusp of Everything, a 1970s coming of age tale that integrates a complete 70s soundtrack. Foti claims that The Cusp of Everything is “perhaps the first” book with a soundtrack; however, the concept actually has existed for some time. In fact, ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith
The 1979 track represents the late singer's gift for using her wide-ranging voice to evoke emotion.
One of the wonderful aspects of soul music is the diverse styles within the genre. One category is what I call organic soul, a sound that evades easy definition. For me, organic soul strips the music to its bare essence, evoking a warm, homespun feeling. Seventies R&B transformed this into an art form, and the best practitioner of organic soul remains Minnie Riperton, the five-octave songstress who you could imagine experiencing every emotion she sang about, that she felt just as comfortable being a mother as she did onstage. Tragically, she died from cancer at only 31, but she left
Book Review: Robert Greenberg - How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History Culture, and Heart
Greenberg provides us the tools for identifying the basic elements of music and learning to appreciate genres we feel can be too intimidating.
As Robert Greenberg writes in his book How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart, “we can't go outside the box unless we first perceive the existence of the box.” Thus I decided to accept the challenge when sent this paperback, part of of the Great Courses class How to Listen to and Understand Great Music. While I feel well grounded in rock and jazz, I admittedly know far less about classical music and opera. With slight ambivalence, I tackled the book, and found that Greenberg's clear yet witty writing style kept me interested
Robin Gibb's recent death may have officially ended the Bee Gees, but their legacy lives on.
Normally I avoid injecting my personal experience into my DeepSoul columns. However, Robin Gibb's recent death hit close to home, as the Bee Gees comprised some of my earliest music listening experiences. Like many kids in the late 1970s, I would play the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and dance in my bedroom. Years later I even bought the soundtrack for the execrable film sequel Staying Alive, strictly because I was still a fan of their music. Even when disco supposedly "died," the Bee Gees' presence remained in hit singles they penned for other artists: "Heartbreaker" by Dionne Warwick; "Islands in
Martin Scorsese takes on a huge challenge: condensing a complicated life into only three and a half hours.
After the Beatles dissolved their partnership in 1970, “Quiet Beatle” George Harrison could finally stand on his own artistically and personally. Throughout his life, he was sometimes a study in contradictions: while he immersed himself in spirituality, he occasionally used drugs, and struggled with marital fidelity. He celebrated simple pleasures such as gardening, yet remained fascinated with motor racing and lived at a lavish estate. While George came across as extremely serious and shy in interviews, he reveled in absurd humor and funded Monty Python's controversial film Life of Brian. Any endeavor to capture this complex, ingenious artist is daunting,
The dance classic represents disco's peak and decline, but also soars due to the singer's impressive vocal talents.
Thank God It's Friday was a forgettable movie cashing in on the disco craze. The awful 1978 Saturday Night Fever ripoff is a footnote in film history, otherwise known for starring future stars Jeff Goldblum, Debra Winger, and eventual Berlin lead singer Terry Nunn. But when Donna Summer, playing an aspiring singer, steps onto the fictional disco's stage to belt out a new song, she officially steals the entire movie. And what a song it was: "Last Dance," a track that became a disco anthem and won the 1979 Oscar for best original song. Summer's recent death reminds us that
Only the reggae legend could sneak in a serious message over some incredibly danceable grooves.
Reggae pioneer, activist, icon--these words and more perfectly describe Bob Marley, who to this day remains unparalleled in his genre. He took the basic elements of reggae--syncopated rhythms, slower tempo, and that trademark guitar skank (that "chuck chuck" sound)--and added sophisticated lyrics and melody as well as incorporated other musical genres. In short, he transformed reggae and expanded its reach to broader audiences. One example of such a crossover, 1980's "Could You Be Loved," combined R&B and dance to illustrate how reggae can move people on the dance floor. According to Marley's official website, the singer "had openly courted an
The acid jazz pioneers are on a mission...
In his own words, Incognito co-founder Bluey Maunick describes his group's 15th album as “a real band effort with most of the material performed by the current touring band.” Indeed, Surreal sounds intimate and much more cohesive than their previous effort, 2010's Transatlantic R.P.M. For longtime fans, Surreal represents a welcome return to form for the acid jazz group. Boasting a live feel, the album takes listeners on a journey from jazz to funk to Latin rhythms. Familiar faces make appearances, most notably Maysa, a gifted R&B/jazz vocalist whose husky tones have graced many Incognito discs. The deep guitar and bass-driven groove
This still-catchy track ensures the trio's place in R&B and dance history.
The legendary label Philadelphia International introduced Philly Soul and an impressive roster of artists--Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, The O'Jays, and The Stylistics, just to name a few. But one group deserves more recognition for singing one of the best R&B/singles of the late 70s: The Jones Girls. Their club-friendly tune "You're Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else" is a classic Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff composition with a thumping beat, sung by an accomplished trio. The Detroit-born Jones sisters--Brenda, Valorie and Shirley--grew up in a music-filled household, their mother being Detroit-based gospel singer Mary Francis Jones. After recording
For one 1980s kid, the American Bandstand host introduced her to a world of new music.
"I played records, the kids danced, and America watched." Dick Clark once uttered these words to explain American Bandstand's longtime success. This deceptively simple assessment of the legendary show, which he hosted from 1952 to 1989, barely scratches the surface of Clark's impact on popular music. He introduced generations of teenagers to emerging artists, helped turn records into hits, and showcased camera-ready teens showing off the latest dance moves. Growing up in the 1980s, I counted American Bandstand among the “can't miss” Saturday morning TV shows. Chicago did not receive basic cable until about 1986, so there were few
The underrated group The Whispers showed off their tight harmonies and energetic presence on their 1983 R&B hit.
They look sharp. They sound funky. And they're probably the only R&B group featuring twin lead singers. The Los Angeles-based group The Whispers are arguably one of the most underrated soul acts of all time; while they cranked out hit after hit in the late 1970s and 1980s, the members remain relatively unknown to today's audiences. Younger listeners may know them best from their biggest hit, 1987's "Rock Steady" (produced by then up-and-comers L.A. Reid and Babyface), which inspired The Whispers' signature move: rocking side to side while swaying their arms in rhythm. But the quintet's patented harmonies, energetic stage
'Hidden Gems' compiles lost album tracks and rare soundtrack cuts that showcase Vandross' transcendent voice.
There's a moment toward the end of the dance track “You Really Started Something” where R&B legend Luther Vandross performs his trademark vocal runs. As he begins, he demonstrate the full range of his voice, transitioning from a low rumble to a transcendent high note. In between he softly laughs, clearly enjoying showing off his talent. Indeed, Vandross established himself as a consummate singer and interpreter during his all-too-short life, and his sheer joy of music and vocalization always shined through in his recordings. Some of these lesser-known tracks, culled from movie soundtracks and studio albums, have been compiled into
The soul legend's 2002 song delivers a still-powerful message of equality and empathy.
Sometimes songs can hold such universal meaning that they remain timeless--in other words, the lyrics address issues we grapple with, no matter the year. One example, Solomon Burke's 2002 single "None of Us Are Free," is a blues and gospel-soaked sermon on equality and overcoming oppression of various kinds. The late Burke, a superb if underrated soul singer who scored minor hits in the early '60s with "Cry to Me" and "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," made a comeback when he released the 2002 album Don't Give Up on Me. Singer/songwriter Joe Henry produced the disc and recruited friends
Travel, love, homesickness, starting over...the singer/songwriter covers these topics and more on one of his greatest works and it sounds better than ever!
After recording his debut album for the Beatles' Apple Records in 1968, James Taylor returned to the States with more experience under his belt, but no measurable success. However, this time he had an important ally—Peter Asher, Apple's former A&R head who left his job to become Taylor's manager and producer. Their next effort, Sweet Baby James, propelled Taylor to the pop charts with the hit “Fire and Rain” and the title track, as well as concert favorites “Country Road” and “Steamroller.” The album also landed him the cover of Time magazine, the issue proclaiming him as the leader of
This 1973 classic undergoes remastering, revealing the album's complexity and pure musical genius.
Listening to Stevie Wonder's pioneering 1973 album Innervisions resembles riding an emotional rollercoaster. At one moment Wonder plays the starry-eyed romantic; at another he rails against drugs and racial injustice; and then he renews his spirit through religion and, ultimately, optimism. Audio Fidelity's 24K+ limited edition remastering allows for renewed appreciation of one of Wonder's best albums. Before discussing the sound quality, it's important to consider the social climate surrounding Innervisions. Richard Nixon was in power, drugs were rampant, poverty ravaged the inner cities, and, as AllMusic's John Bush aptly puts it, “what looked to be the failure of the
The Queen of Soul lets listeners in on her most intimate, romantic dreams on this gorgeous single.
You simply cannot write a column entitled "DeepSoul" without mentioning the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Her gospel-soaked voice and ability to sing virtually everything from rock to soul to jazz (she even substituted for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti by performing "Nessun Dorma" during the 1998 Grammy Awards telecast) continue to astound. Is there anything this woman cannot do? Her 1972 hit "Day Dreaming" certainly begs the question, as it merges jazz and R&B to create one of the airiest, most romantic soul tracks ever recorded. While recording her classic album Young, Gifted and Black, Franklin composed this delicate love
It should take only a minute to fall for this 1975 R&B hit.
It should take you only a minute--or four at the most--to fall in love with The Tavares' 1975 hit "It Only Takes A Minute." My bad puns aside, the danceable track represents one of the group's first crossover hits as well as a perfect slice of mid-70s soul. While The Tavares' music resembles the Philadelphia International sound, the group hails from New Bedford, Massachusetts. The five Tavares brothers--Ralph, Pooch, Chubby, Butch, and Tiny--began performing as "Chubby and the Turnpikes," playing R&B covers in local clubs. As they honed their sound during the late 60s and early 70s, they finally caught
This 1997 track from 'Baduizm' helped establish Badu as the queen of neo-soul.
In the mid-90s, a new genre of R&B emerged that combined hip hop with old school soul that harkened back to artists such as Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway. No one personifies this neo-soul movement more than Erykah Badu, a singular talent who blends her Billie Holiday-tinged voice with hip hop beats, poetic lyrics calling for black pride, and an artsy, bohemian image to create an organically soulful mix. Her debut album, 1997's Baduizm, signaled the arrival of an artist who respects the past but lives very much in the present. While "On and On" became the album's best-known hit,
The Trammps' lead singer Jimmy Ellis' recent death inspires renewed appreciation of this classic dance track.
Burn that mother down. To this day, those four words conjure images of white polyester suits, flashing lights, mirror balls, and Saturday Night Fever. The Trammps' 1977 smash "Disco Inferno" became an instant dance classic through its appearance in the iconic film, but the group ultimately fell victim to the "Disco Sucks" backlash of the late 70s. Original lead singer Jimmy Ellis' March 8 death from Alzheimer's disease, however, has brought the funky group back into the public's consciousness. Their sharp threads, slick dance moves, and Ellis' soulful voice brought to life an irresistibly danceable song that is still played
No, this isn't about the disco version, but the original, Southern-soul-drenched track featuring Floyds' flawless vocals.
Before discussing this week's DeepSoul track, I must clarify what this column is not about. When I write "Knock on Wood," I am not referring to Amii Stewart's 1979 disco tune. Because it became a monster hit, topping the pop, soul, and dance charts, it stands as the most well-known version of the track. Nevertheless, Eddie Floyd's 1966 original exemplifies gritty Southern soul, otherwise known as the Stax sound. Born in Alabama in 1935, Floyd's family relocated to Detroit early in his childhood. While in the Motor City, he eventually founded the Falcons, a harmonic group that had a major
Jones may not have been the first teen idol, but his role in the first made-for-TV band proved crucial to their success.
Davy Jones may not have been an innovator musically, nor was he the first teen idol. However, he played a key role in The Monkees, the 1960s made-for-TV band that once rivaled The Beatles in popularity and helped create the modern music video. Jones' February 29 death at age 66 has provoked numerous tributes, particularly from Baby Boomers who plastered Jones' grinning image on their bedroom walls, watched every Monkees episode, and swooned at the British heartthrob during his infamous 1971 Brady Bunch guest appearance. But did his teen idol status overshadow the music? It's not surprising that Jones handled
The jazz/soul vocalist's interpretation of the classic tune illustrates how she could make a familiar song her own.
Once in a while an artist appears who seems as if she truly belongs in another era. She transcends easy-to-define genres, instead carving out her own sound. While some audiences may appreciate such originality, other listeners may not have access to a more unusual artist. After all, she may not receive radio airplay due to her inability to fit a specific format. This was the case for Phyllis Hyman, a gifted R&B/jazz vocalist who never found her niche. Her tragic suicide in 1995 cut short a fascinating career that spanned from Broadway to the concert stage, where she lent her
Unfairly branded as a "disco group," The Sylvers produced some of the most underrated and funky tracks of the early 1970s.
Until recently, I thought of the 1970s group The Sylvers as a disco group; after all, their biggest hit was the 1975 dance track "Boogie Fever." Yet before that danceable song, the group recorded some funky, sophisticated tunes that receive little to no airplay today. Their 1972 single "Fool's Paradise" announced the arrival of another talented family group--at various points, nine out of the ten Sylvers children performed in the band--but also introduced listeners to the talents of songwriter Leon Sylvers. Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, the Sylvers came from a musical background. Their mother was a former opera singer, and
While Whitney Houston's death cast a pall over the ceremony, some memorable performances cut through the grief.
Earning some of its best ratings since 1984, Sunday's Grammy Awards telecast fluctuated between somber and joyful moments, between the “old guard” and the relative newcomers, and between the powerful and head-scratching performances. What follows is an overview of some of the best and worst, and the so-so moments of the telecast: The Best: The Beach Boys reunion: Sure, the aging band might not legitimately be called “boys” anymore. Yet the newly reformed group showed they could still deliver tight harmonies, and listening to the fragile Brian Wilson croon his solo parts tugged at the heartstrings. The enthusiastic crowd reaction proved that “Good Vibrations” still resonates
The 1985 track illustrates why the late singer was considered one of the best vocalists of her generation.
Since Saturday, much has been written about the late Whitney Houston. Her addiction to drugs and alcohol ultimately robbed her of her voice, image, career, and life. While her spectacular fall overshadowed her talent for the past ten years or so, her powerful instrument will serve as her legacy. Her untimely death obviously overwhelms her fans and family with grief, but it has also prompted listeners to pull out their Houston albums and reminisce about her onetime reign over pop music. Many would cite “I Will Always Love You” as her greatest performance; while that certainly ranks among her best,
The onetime Soul Train theme song reminds us how the show and Philly soul dramatically impacted culture.
This week's DeepSoul not only spotlights a funky track, but also salutes an R&B pioneer: Don Cornelius, the Soul Train creator/host who passed away on February 1. From 1971 until 1993 (when he stepped down as host), Cornelius presided over the showcase for soul music, dance, and African-American culture. His deep voice, sharp suits, and unique lingo (“You can bet your last money, it's gonna be a stone gas, honey!” he would say during every episode) made him one of the coolest figures of the era. Quite frankly, Cornelius launched many R&B artists' careers, granting them national exposure at a time when other
The 1982 classic still drives listeners to the dance floor.
Combine jazz and dance music, and what do you get? Dazz--no, not Brick's 1976 single "Dazz," which stands for "disco jazz," but "danceable jazz." Formed in Cleveland in the late 70s, the Dazz Band resulted from merging two local funk groups, Bell Telefunk and Mother Braintree. Led by Bobby Harris, Dazz underwent several personnel changes before settling on a permanent lineup in 1978. Originally called Kinsman Dazz (the word fusing the phrase "danceable jazz"), they charted two minor hits in 1978 and 1979 before moving to Motown in 1980. It took only two years before they scored their biggest hit
There are songs that move you, and others that simply make you move.
There are songs that deeply move you, and others that simply make you move. Skipworth and Turner's 1985 R&B hit "Thinking About Your Love" is one of those feel-good tunes that features a danceable groove, unforgettable piano riff, and a funky lead vocal. New York-based keyboardist Rodney Skipworth and Memphis native Phil Turner first met in New York City while working with other bands. While they knew each other through the music scene, they did not join forces until Turner one day walked into the fast food restaurant where Skipworth worked during the day. Signing to the 4th & Broadway
While covered by many artists, "Hey Girl's" original 1962 version reaches emotional heights due to its underrated lead singer.
It's one of those songs you've heard numerous times, covered by everyone from Billy Joel to Michael McDonald, Ray Charles, The Temptations, the Righteous Brothers, and even Donny Osmond. But the original 1963 version of "Hey Girl" receives little airplay today, which is unfortunate. Soul crooner Freddie Scott used his impassioned vocals to create an underrated R&B classic ballad, written by two very well-known and gifted songwriters: Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Before "Hey Girl's" success, the Providence, R.I.-born Scott had already earned a reputation as a behind-the-scenes singer, songwriter, and producer. After stints at tiny labels such as Bow
Enjoy a slice of 80s funk from an underrated and powerful soul diva.
Of all the 80s soul divas, no one personified the triple threat--singer/producer/songwriter--like Angela Winbush. Her vocal range still astounds, and her gospel-tinged inflections elevate even average songs into intense performances. Documentaries such as Unsung posit that Winbush was simply "too soulful" to cross over into the pop mainstream, which is a puzzling claim. Powerful singers should transcend genres, and Winbush is one of those artists who deserves more success. Nonetheless, she remains an R&B favorite and an example of a strong woman who maintained complete control over her sound and image. Born in St. Louis, MO, Winbush grew up singing
By showing Christmas' dual sides--joy and reflection--Wonder's R&B-tinged songs have taken their place in the holiday music canon.
This final DeepSoul Holiday Edition features not one, but two classic Christmas songs with a twist of R&B. Both feature a young Stevie Wonder an artist who had outgrown the "Little Stevie Wonder" phase and was transforming into the astoundingly multi-talented, mature musician we know today. While the 1967 album Someday at Christmas may not appeal to everyone--AllMusic dismisses it by deeming it "the obligatory Stevie Wonder Christmas album" which is "par for the course, with standards like 'The Little Drummer Boy' coming off better than the new songs written for the project." I respectfully disagree, as "Someday at Christmas"
Gary Wright - 'The Dream Weaver' 24KT Gold Limited Edition: Audio Fidelity Remasters '70s Soft Rock Synth Classic
Gary Wright's The Dream Weaver stands as a slice of 1970s soft rock.
Singer/guitarist Gary Wright initially made his mark as a member of 60s band Spooky Tooth, then became the go-to studio guy for such artists as George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Finally signing a solo deal with Warner Bros. Records in 1974, he next released what would be his most successful album: 1975's The Dream Weaver, which spawned the massive hit single "Dream Weaver." That song has become synonymous with 1970s rock and remains a staple of classic rock radio. Audio Fidelity, which issues remastered CDs covered with 24 karat gold, recently released a enhanced edition of The Dream Weaver, which
Audio Fidelity's 24 karat gold remastering treatment enables listeners to fully appreciate the trio's still unique sound.
Listening to Crosby, Stills and Nash's self-titled 1969 debut album is like stepping inside a time capsule. Graham Nash, who had just left his previous group The Hollies, joined forces with singer/songwriters David Crosby (ex-member of The Byrds) and Stephen Stills (formerly of Buffalo Springfield) to produce an innovative fusion of folk and rock. Its songs, filled with the trio's exquisite harmonies, reflect the late 1960s vibe yet seem timeless and still unique. Audio Fidelity's 24 karat gold remaster, overseen by engineer Steve Hoffman, refines the tracks, enhances the bass, and boosts the intricate harmonies to let the music shine
Leave it to the Godfather of Soul to transform a holiday song into something much bigger.
No one's Christmas collection should be without James Brown's The Complete James Brown Christmas. Where else can you find carols accented with the occasional "good gawd" and grunts, and wishes for all "soul brothers"? "Go Power at Christmas Time" brings the horn-filled funk, and a truly passionate "Please Come Home for Christmas" allows Brown to display his penchant for drama and heart-wrenching emotion. But one of the most famous tracks from the album remains "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto." Unlike other artists who record traditional Christmas songs, Brown infuses each song with his signature grooves and some topical
The documentary follows McCartney around New York as he prepares for his performance at 2001's Concert for New York City.
The tenth anniversary of 9/11 brought numerous reflections in the form of books and documentaries. One particularly curious entry is The Love We Make, a film billed as "a chronicle of Paul McCartney's cathartic journey through New York City in the aftermath of 9/11." Instead of providing any deep analysis or shedding any light on McCartney's true emotions, the movie follows McCartney as he prepares to headline the Concert for New York City. While he seems to genuinely care about New York, one cannot help but wonder about the exact purpose of the movie. First, the back story: McCartney's plane
One of rap's first successful artists kicked off his career with this hip hip holiday classic.
'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the... Hold it, now wait, hold it, that's played out! With those two lines, rapper Kurtis Blow launches his own take on the holidays, "Christmas Rappin'." Over a funky beat, Blow offers his version of "a red suited dude, with a friendly attitude and a sleigh full of goodies for for the people on the block." One of the first Christmas rap songs, it stands as another great example of the old school style, namely describing a party and boasting of one's MC prowess. In addition, "Christmas Rappin'" kicked off Blow's
Kick off the holiday season with The Drifters' doo-wop remake of the most popular Christmas tune of all time.
The holiday season brings the usual suspects: Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, and even Crosby's bizarre duet with David Bowie on "The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth." While these artists and their classic Christmas carols certainly evoke warm emotions, sometimes you just have to have a little soul with your holiday tunes. For the next few weeks, DeepSoul will focus on some of the best R&B-flavored carols, twists on traditional songs, and original tunes that perfectly compliment this festive season. There are few better songs to kick off the series than The Drifters' doo-wop take on "White Christmas." The
You can't hide from one of the soul singer's best performances on this Philly soul classic.
When talking about Philadelphia soul, one name immediately leaps to mind: Teddy Pendergrass. His gospel-meets-disco-meets-raw soul sound played a crucial role in numerous Philadelphia International hits, many penned by the legendary Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, songwriting/producing team and co-founders of the Philadelphia International label. As a member of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and as a solo artist, Pendergrass scored an impressive number of hits and established himself as a bona fide 1970s sex symbol. It presents quite a challenge to choose just one Pendergrass classic, but an underrated dance and R&B classic fully demonstrates his powerful, sensual
Take a spirited vocalist and a truly funky band, and you get a slice of pure Southern soul.
Few soul artists could jump start a party better than Stax Records' Rufus Thomas. Even at 51, the "World's Oldest Teenager," as he was known to audiences, was teaching people dance steps like "Do the Funky Chicken." Today, Thomas may be most famous for the 1963 R&B classic "Walking the Dog," which the Rolling Stones later covered. Even more significantly, he and his daughter Carla first brought the Stax label to prominence with their 1959 duet "Cause I Love You," which became the Memphis soul label's first big hit. While he had been recording since the 1940s, he reached his peak
The singer, also known as "Mr. Excitement," remains one of the most influential yet underrated artists in soul music.
Before Michael Jackson, there was Jackie Wilson. The dynamic performer, nicknamed "Mr. Excitement," dazzled predominantly African-American audiences with his incredible showmanship and booming voice. Unfortunately, he failed to achieve due recognition for his contributions to soul music until after his untimely death in 1984. But Wilson's impressive songs have withstood the test of time, and have attracted new generations of fans. One of his best tunes, "Baby Workout," exemplifies his energy, smooth voice, and ability to fuse pop and R&B. Wilson first emerged on the R&B music scene in 1953, when he replaced Clyde McPhatter ("Lover Please") in the then-popular
Audio Fidelity's remastering clarifies and enhances the sound of one of Phil Collins' darkest albums.
Normally people think of Phil Collins as humorous and cheerful, singing either uptempo, bouncy tracks ("Sussudio") or heartfelt ballads ("Against All Odds [Take A Look at Me Now]"). However, many forget that his first two solo albums, Face Value and Hello, I Must Be Going! revealed other sides of the musician, namely the R&B lover and the paranoid, jaded figure. Audio Fidelity's 24 carat gold, remastered edition of 1982's Hello, I Must Be Going! allows listeners to experience these hidden aspects of Collins' work in crystal-clear sound. Opening with the pounding "I Don't Care Anymore," Collins continues where he left
Primarily known for classic rock like "Hold the Line," Toto could also play blue-eyed soul.
No need to reread the headline—yes, I'm featuring 1980s supergroup Toto, of "Rosanna" and "Africa" fame, in a column entitled "DeepSoul." Although they may be primarily known for their rock/pop hits, they also display a penchant for blue eyed soul on deep album tracks. The best example of this tendency, "Georgy Porgy," continues to resound in the R&B and hip-hop communities since its 1978 debut. Toto's self-titled first album contains the classic rock tracks "Hold the Line" and "I'll Supply the Love," but "Georgy Porgy" represents a departure for the group. While it peaked at number 48 on Billboard's Hot
The soul diva's best-known track remains a Chicago house music classic.
Despite being a lifelong Chicagoan, I did not listen to house music until about ten years ago. Back in the day, house music was not played on radio or MTV—if you wanted to hear it, you had to go to the clubs. But several years ago I heard a soulful, heartfelt tune with a killer beat, and later learned it was one of house's first hits. Alicia Myers' "I Want to Thank You," an irresistible blend of R&B and gospel, entices people onto the dance floor even today. Although her breakthrough solo single occurred in 1982, she was by then
Aretha Franklin's original 1971 recording set the standard, but Shirley Brown almost equals Franklin's power and conviction in this previously unreleased version.
Normally one would be foolish to take on a tune made famous by the Queen of Soul. But Shirley Brown fearlessly tackled three Aretha Franklin standards--"Ain't No Way," "Respect," and "Rock Steady" for her audition for the legendary Stax label. While Franklin's original 1971 recording set the bar for any subsequent covers, Brown comes close to the singer's power and conviction in this previously unreleased take on the classic. Brown's story begins similar to many soul singers—in the church. Growing up in East St. Louis in the 50s and 60s, she started singing in the choir at nine years old.
For the first time in over 10 years, the entire Monkees TV series is available on DVD.
Monkees fans, rejoice: at last, all original episodes are now available on DVD, in two separate boxed sets (Seasons One and Two). This Eagle Rock release marks the first time in over ten years that both seasons have been issued on DVD. To this day, The Monkees are often called the "Pre-Fab Four," a fake band that at first did not play their own instruments. However, as the series continued, the four actors/musicians evolved into a full-fledged group, writing their own material and producing some underrated rock classics such as Headquarters, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., and Head. All
A heartfelt singer, a rocking choir, uplifting lyrics, and a throbbing beat: soul doesn't get much better than this.
Gospel has rarely seen massive crossover success, although many soul artists began their careers singing in the church. Starting in the 1970s with the Staple Singers, gospel has slowly crept into the R&B and pop charts. Years later, BeBe and CeCe Winans scored hits with their breakthrough album, 1988's Heaven; tracks such as the title song, "Lost without You," and "Celebrate New Life" (with guest vocalist Whitney Houston) earned frequent urban radio airplay. Almost ten years later, Kirk Franklin released "Stomp," a jubilant collaboration with the choir God's Property and Salt-N-Pepa's Cheryl "Salt" James. More contemporary artists such as Yolanda
The legendary R&B group may be best known for their 1970s output, but they also produced some quality '80s singles.
This is one of many times you'll see Earth, Wind, and Fire mentioned in this space. The legendary band fuses jazz, rock, soul, and Latin grooves to create a genre that no one else has ever duplicated. Like artists such as The Beatles or Stevie Wonder, if you don't like at least one track by this group, well, you may need some fine-tuning of your musical tastes. Founded by drummer, bandleader, songwriter, kalimba player, and vocalist Maurice White, the group explored the aforementioned sounds while incorporating elements of African and Egyptian culture. Lead singer Phillip Bailey's soaring falsetto and Verdine
Take some '70s soul, add a touch of rock, and mix in just a dash of Latin rhythms, and you get one classic track.
Stax act The Dramatics scored numerous hits in their 1970s prime, including "In the Rain" and "Get Up and Get Down," but they are also responsible for a still-unique single—1971's "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get." It can be considered a predecessor of the O'Jays' 1972 hit "Backstabbers" and a companion to The Undisputed Truth's 1971 single "Smiling Faces Sometimes" in that they all address issues of phoniness, suspicion, and the importance of honesty. "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get" remains a unique track in that it combines soul and Latin rhythms, using a "cha cha" tempo right before the refrain. Right
The great soul diva shines in this underrated 1981 gem.
The great vocalist Chaka Khan has cut so many incredible tracks, it's difficult to choose just one to feature. From her days with Rufus to her successful solo career, Khan has established herself as a one-of-a-kind soul diva with still-impressive pipes. While generally best known for her massive 1984 hit "I Feel for You," she has recorded several high-charting R&B singles and albums. One of her best songs comes from the 1981 album What 'Cha Gonna Do for Me; while the title track is a funk classic, "I Know You, I Live You" remains an underrated Khan performance. Born Yvette
The singer/songwriter's first hit album receives the gold-standard remastering treatment.
After recording an underrated album for the Beatles' record label, Apple, in 1968, James Taylor returned to the States to kick his drug habit and restart his career. A year later he moved to California, signed with Warner Brothers, and imported his producer from London, Peter Asher. Consequently Taylor reintroduced himself to listeners with Sweet Baby James, a landmark album that established the singer/songwriter as a major artist. The country-tinged record has received the remastering treatment from Audio Fidelity, an outfit that reissues classic albums on 24KT gold compact discs. According to their website, "Our 24K+ compact discs reproduce the
After overcoming tragedy, the Bar-Kays reinvented themselves as a first-rate funk band. "Holy Ghost" and its hard grooves perfectly demonstrate this transformation.
Sometimes you want to hear smooth, silky soul, and other times you're just in the mood for something funky, down, and dirty. Few tracks fit the bill better than the Bar-Kays' 1978 single "Holy Ghost." This incredible jam shows how the group could just play for the sheer love of it, which was true for most of their catalog. This joy still amazes, particularly since the Bar-Kays suffered a major tragedy which almost ended the band. The Bar-Kays, formed in Memphis in 1966, became one of Stax's house bands in 1967. That year the band scored their first major hit
This 1973 track's message of perseverance resounds as we mark the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001.
During the tragic days after September 11, 2001, many people turned to music for comfort. These songs, both old and new, helped us work through our grief, fear, and anger; some even gave us hope for the future. One such track that resurfaced during this time was Donny Hathaway's classic "Someday We'll All be Free." While artists such as George Benson and Dianne Reeves have covered the song, it was Alicia Keys' live performance during the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon that propelled the song back into public consciousness. Keys' emotional, bare-bones approach expressed feelings of despair, but offered
The Average White Band took listeners to school in their 1975 funk classic.
Proving that true soul crosses all borders, nationalities, and races, the Average White Band stunned listeners with their relentlessly funky beats and improbably Scottish roots. While "Pick Up the Pieces" and "Cut the Cake" rank as their biggest 70s hits, "School Boy Crush" gained favor with DJs who appreciated its tight drum and bass-driven rhythm. That sound, along with its winking lyrics, make the track a standout to this day. Despite the song's upbeat tone, "School Boy Crush" was recorded during a tumultuous time for the band. Formed in the late 1960s, the original lineup (singer/bassist Alan Gorrie, guitarists Hamish
Take a look back at one of Ashford and Simpson's biggest hits--and best examples of their writing partnership.
The R&B world lost a true legend on August 22, 2011 when singer/songwriter Nick Ashford passed away. One-half of the powerhouse duo Ashford and Simpson, he and wife Valerie cowrote some of the best-known hits of the 1960s and 1970s for artists such as Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye, and many more. After meeting in 1964, the pair scored their first hit as composers when Ray Charles covered their tune "Let's Go Get Stoned." Moving to Motown, they began their run of classics with the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell duets "You're All I Need to Get By," and "Ain't Nothing
Almost 30 years later, "If Only You Knew" still stands as one of the soul songstress' finest vocal performances.
Call her what you will—Miss Patti, LaBelle, Lady Marmalade—Patti LaBelle is chiefly known as a legendary R&B vocalist with a career spanning over 50 years. At times controversial (audiences have accused her of showboating and trying to outsing other artists), LaBelle still possesses a powerful voice that encompasses gospel, blues, soul, and just a touch of rock. Her flamboyant stage persona, which she used to great effect during her years with LaBelle and her run of 1980s hits, at times overshadows her ability to wring emotion out of lyrics. The track that best illustrates her considerable ability is "If Only
For a pounding beat, clever lyrics, and distinctive vocals, few songs match the power of this Motown hit.
For a pounding beat, clever lyrics, and distinctive vocals, few songs match the power of The Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman." Remade by countless artists, including The Beatles and The Carpenters, the song represents Motown's unique and yet universal sound. It also became Motown's first huge hit, topping the charts at number one in 1961. The story reaches back to early 1961, when five young women calling themselves The Casinyets auditioned at Motown studios for Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson. Invited back for a second audition, the group had to scramble to find an original song to perform. Original Marvelette member
If you're looking for soul with a conscience, "For the Love of Money" will dare you to dance—and think.
With all the talk of the US debt crisis, what better time is there to listen to the O'Jays' "For the Love of Money"? The track remains one of the funkiest warnings about greed ever recorded on vinyl. The epic-length track (over seven minutes) epitomizes the Philadelphia Sound with its horns and lush production as well as its socially conscious lyrics. Composed by the legendary songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the song proved a perfect showcase for the O'Jays' close harmonies and raspy vocals. Singers Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, and William Powell attacked the lyrics with vigor, snarling lines
"Free," a jazz-kissed ballad that perfectly showcases her wispy vocals, represents some of the elegant vocalist's best work.
Just call her Niecy. Deniece Williams' debut solo album, This Is Niecy, heralded the arrival of a sultry R&B vocalist. Reminiscent of Minnie Riperton's astounding range and soft vocal style, Williams' elegant singing had graced numerous albums. After putting in time as background vocalist for such stellar artists as Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and, yes, Riperton, she joined forces with Earth, Wind, and Fire's Maurice White, who taught her the music business. Gathering a group of songs originally intended for EWF, White brought much of the group into the studio (including Verdine White on bass, Freddie White on drums, and
The legendary funk band's 1969 single proclaims the joy of music.
They've taken us higher, taught us to dance to the music, and were so funky that they could make up their own spelling ("Thank You [Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin]"). Sly and the Family Stone set the standard for a gritty soul sound with a thumping rhythm, and the then-unusual interracial band lineup broadened their appeal to previously segregated audiences. Their magnetic performance during Woodstock solidified their reputation as a seriously funky group spreading a 60s message of unity. Few songs exemplify Sly Stone's vision more than "Sing A Simple Song." The "B" side to the number one 1969 single
The singer/guitarist convincingly describes why he loves playing music in this upbeat yet catchy track.
Once in a while, a song grabs me by the ears when I'm driving the car, listening to the radio. Recently this happened to me; as soon as I heard this tune, I grabbed my cell phone and quickly typed in what I guessed was the title. Later, I logged onto iTunes and succeeded in my music hunt: I had heard "Pick Somebody Up" by Raul Midón. If you're a fan of "organic soul," or R&B crossed with a folksy sound (think India.Arie), Midón's smooth voice and acoustic guitar skills are worth seeking out. Born in Embudo, New Mexico in
The 1967 classic perfectly summarizes what soul music is all about: emotion.
Do you like good music?That sweet soul music! Arthur Conley posed that question back in 1967 in "Sweet Soul Music," co-written with Otis Redding. A shoutout to R&B as well as artists Lou Rawls, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Redding, and of course the great James Brown, it encapsulates what soul is all about. Ranging from joy, sorrow, lust, and anger, soul music is about the gamut of human emotion. It can call someone to dance: "Out here on the floor now/We're going to a go go/Ah dancin' to the music," Conley growls. It is about looks, as Conley describes