Friday, November 16, 2007

The Tracks Of My Tears

I welcome today's guest writer with all due respect and admiration. Darcy runs one of my very favorite music blogs--a haven for diggers, collectors, and enthusiasts known as Feel It. Darcy truly embodies the spirit of soul music (as well as the title of his blog) by writing straight from the heart about the music that he loves. His appreciation for the records that he shares readily becomes infectious, as he is particularly gifted at writing about music through the lens of his own unique perspective and experiences. Anyone is capable of regurgitating facts, but Darcy takes his readers to a place where they don't just comprehend what he's saying---they can actually feel it. Welcome, Darcy...thanks for blessing us with some phenomenal music, as well as your invaluable thoughts and insight...Scholar

Turn back the hands of time a couple of months or so and there I was having a bit of a crisis of confidence, or possibly indifference, surrounding my labour of love - Feel It. I had changed the look of its page in an attempt to snap out of this state of mind, but nagging doubts remained concerning my ability to hang in for the long haul on my excursion into the land of audio blogging. Then Scholar dropped into my inbox and asked me if I would like to guest on his baby – the wonderful Souled On.

I found Souled On after I had started Feel It so can’t claim it was an inspiration to me in starting on the audio blogging road - Funky16Corners and #1 Songs In Heaven (RIP) probably take that prize. But of all the blogs I have found over the last couple of years Souled On is now one of my most treasured “constant clicks”. Thank you Scholar for the constant stream of high quality tracks you spotlight, so many of which I missed on original release - your knowledge, and appetite for digging and research which must constantly expand that knowledge, is prodigious. Thanks too for your timely offer of a guest appearance here. That was instrumental in giving me fresh impetus to continue with Feel It.

So, this post ought to have a theme, and a title.

The theme is simply – songs that make me cry. The title I can’t resist:

The Tracks Of My Tears.

You may think the theme a bit of a hoary old chestnut. Furthermore I am aware it is one that has made an appearance in this month’s issue of the UK’s Word magazine. But all I can say is I had been harbouring this idea of a theme for an occasional set of posts on Feel It for some time, honest.

I often find the tears welling up. It can be embarrassing, I can be simply talking fondly about something – anything really - with someone – anyone - and I can feel my eyes getting moist. I think I take after my father because I have noticed the same thing in him. My wife is pretty adept at it too. Our children have learnt to don sou’westers and wellies if, as a family, we are all watching a film that is anything approaching moving! There we both are brushing away the tears.

I am sure all of us will find that certain songs make us fill up. Some songs by simple dint of their sentiment will have an almost universal effect – for example I’m betting Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” increases tissue sales whenever it’s played. But equally, songs can be very personal, evoking very special and private memories.

Listening to music is one of my favourite pastimes so it’s not surprising that I find many songs exercising the tear ducts. What is it about a piece of music that gets the tears flowing? As touched on above: the sentiment of the song; triggered memories – fond or painful; simple nostalgia. There again it could be the fact that the track is just so damn good. Or it could be simply inexplicable. Forgetting lyrics for the moment, the way that the music is structured or nuanced can also be crucial I think. I’m no expert on musical structure but elements such as chord patterns, cadence, particular tones, the profoundly sad sound that most stringed instruments make, can all play a part in moving someone to tears, and I am sure there will be some science behind this that can prove it.

But let’s not overanalyse. The danger then is the evocative power of a song will evaporate, and with it the tears. And I don’t know about you, but I enjoy a good cry.

Here, for your delectation, are some tracks that have the desired effect with me. As Millie Jackson once put it: “I Feel Like Walking In The Rain”!

Kicking things off are two tracks that are segued by seagulls! I think Kool & The Gang were at the peak of their powers in 1974 when they released “Light Of Worlds”. “Whiting H. & G.”, an instrumental, was track 1 on side 1 of this album. Who says you need lyrics to bring on the tears, these guys could funk it up with the best of them but they also really knew how to drag emotion out of their synthesisers, and the long fade is irresistible. Cue long shot of a couple, or a lone person if you prefer, in the distance, at dusk, walking along an otherwise deserted beach (er, except for the seagulls). And they walk around the point and right into Jean Carn’s “You Are All I Need”. The scene’s gone all misty now – that will be the tears! Dexter Wansel consistently came up with sublime arrangements and this is one of them. Put that together with Jean’s beautiful jazz tinged vocals and the sentiment of the lyrics and you have a marriage made in heaven.

Kool & The Gang – Whiting H & G ~~~ Jean Carn – You Are All I Need (1974/1976)(zShare)

Kool & The Gang – Whiting H & G ~~~ Jean Carn – You Are All I Need (1974/1976)(savefile)

The next track appeared on Lucinda Williams’ 2001 album “Essence”. A dead slow Country waltz is not something you will likely find very often at Souled On, or Feel It for that matter. But I defy you not to be moved by Lucinda’s memories of her Grandmother’s house brought into sharp focus by a final visit. Lucinda may have her roots firmly planted in Country music but she is as soulful as they come.

Lucinda Williams – Bus To Baton Rouge (2001)(zShare)

Lucinda Williams – Bus To Baton Rouge (2001)(savefile)

Disco may seem like an odd genre of music to make you cry, but I find no shortage of Disco numbers that do it for me. Some examples – Candi Staton “When You Wake Up Tomorrow” (The uniquely ‘hurt’ quality of Candi’s voice seems to be highlighted even more by the backdrop of a disco track); Tata Vega “Get It Up For Love” (just a fantastic arrangement); Chantal Curtis “Get Another Love” (so melancholic and wistful); Patrice Rushen “Haven’t You Heard” (can’t explain). All those are pretty long tracks on 12” so I’ve chosen a 7” from Marlena Shaw. I love Marlena’s delivery as she sings her tale of loneliness and lost love. Dance your troubles away. Perhaps there was a situation or event in my life associated with this record that causes me to shed a tear still, but if there was then it is now buried deep in my sub-conscious. I don’t know why, but I have always kept this single in it’s original cardboard mailer, maybe that is part of its enduring charm.

Marlena Shaw – Love Has Gone Away (1976)(zShare)

Marlena Shaw – Love Has Gone Away (1976)(savefile)

As 1976 was coming to an end Parliament released “The Clones Of Dr. Funkenstein”. It was the follow up to “Mothership Connection” and has somehow always remained under that album’s shadow. For my money though “Clones” is at least its equal. The funk is looser, the feel is more laid back, horn arrangements to die for abound, and there are some great vocal performances (for example just check Gary Shider on the track featured here). To my mind the more stripped down feel reveals a melancholic undercurrent to many of the tracks. Cut through the invented on-the-one-cosmic-science-thang world of Clinton and his cohorts and what you have is a really soulful album. The soulfulness struck me on first hearing, just after it’s release. Back then I wasn’t aware of the group’s history and previous incarnation as The Parliaments. Now of course it all makes sense.

Parliament - Getten’ To Know You (1976)(zShare)

Parliament - Getten’ To Know You (1976)(savefile)

I was struggling to pick just one Rufus track here. Their albums are littered with tracks that readily induce my tears, but especially those from the album “Ask Rufus”. What an album this is. I’m sorry, but they just don’t make them like this anymore. Chaka was in a more restrained mood on this album, and the better for it in my opinion. But though her voice is of course a sweet and wondrous instrument, it wasn’t all about Chaka. All the members of Rufus deserve the plaudits, their musicianship was superb, and their arrangements were lush and complex, and by this album they appeared to be operating on a higher plane, music as art. Sweetly complemented by Chaka Khan they made a unique contribution to the world of soul music. “Better Days” from “Ask Rufus” contains the line ”I don’t know why, but I want to cry…” so in the end it picks itself really. (NOTE: the sound dynamics on this may not be too good, I really must get another copy of the album – or were all the pressings like this?)

Rufus featuring Chaka Khan – Better Days (1977)(zShare)

Rufus featuring Chaka Khan – Better Days (1977)(savefile)

The term “marriage made in heaven” was used earlier in these outpourings. Here’s another one – Country and Soul music. So many Country songs tell stories, simple but powerful tales about human relationships and feelings – hearts swollen, torn, broken, mended. What makes someone a Soul singer is the extra level of emotive power they seem able to impart in their delivery, a feeling that they are singing from the heart. Put these together and you have a potent brew.

In the mid 70s Dorothy Moore had a string of ballad hits on the Malaco label at a time when the whole world was turning disco. Love songs - new love – “Misty Blue”, “I Believe You” – old flames - “Funny How Times Slips Away”, “For Old Times Sake”, written by, or for, Country artists. Actually “For Old Times Sake” was written by Frederick Knight so my premise falls down somewhat – but it sure has a Country feel to it. I have never been in the situation that “For Old Times Sake” recounts, but the way Dot sings it she makes me feel like I want to be the partner, even with the pain that would obviously come with the territory.

Dorothy Moore – For Old Times Sake (1976) (zShare)

Dorothy Moore – For Old Times Sake (1976)(savefile)

I have just noticed that many of these tracks come from the same period of the 70s, a period that coincided with my late teens. We seem uniquely impressionable at that stage of life and perhaps this explains why I have such a special relationship with these songs. Looking back I appeared particularly shy at that time of my life, especially where girls were concerned. Maybe in immersing myself in these songs I was acting out an otherwise fairly non existent love life! Then again, maybe these songs move me so much simply because they are so damn good.

Now, if you will excuse me, after digitizing this lot I must go to the supermarket and find a ‘buy one get one free’ offer on boxes of tissues!

reat yourself:

Kool & The Gang – Light Of Worlds
Jean Carn – Jean Carn
Lucinda Williams - Essence
Marlena Shaw – The Blue Note Years
Parliament – The Clones Of Dr. Funkenstein
Rufus – Ask Rufus
Dorothy Moore – Greatest Hits
Mavis Staples - Only For The Lonely (teardrop picture)

Word From Darcy's Moms:

"It is such a secret place, the land of tears." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery: The Little Prince


Anonymous said...

"Better Days" is fantastic. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I tremendously enjoyed your candid essay about a subject that has almost become stigmatized as unhealthy in our society: crying. I couldn't agree with you more on the necessity to let the tears have their way at certain occasions -- and touching, beautiful music is such an occasion.


soulbrotha said...

"Ask Rufus" and "Rufusized" are two of my favorite albums by Rufus/Chaka. I think that the strange dissonance (is that the right word?) is in the original recording. I made you a copy of the Better Days track from the U.S. cd reissue and tweaked the sound a little:

But I still notice a strange "warped" sound, that I never noticed before. I'm wondering if this was fixed on the Japanese remaster?

Do you hear what I hear?

Darcy said...

Seems the search is on for a clean "Better Days". Your copy sounds the same as my vinyl rip to me. I also have the track as a Bside to the "At Midnight" single. I've just dug it out and played it and yes it has that same muddy/dull (for want of a better description) sound. Like you say seems like it was maybe in the original master, the whole album sounds that way to me. Just goes to
show the power of the music
that it can overcome a dodgy master.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and track. btw Soulbrotha how can I gain entry to your blog? Seems it's invitation only - email me (see my blog for the address).

Ralven said...

really nice blog with a lot of gems. Found it yesterday and cant stop hearing. Great work!

Regards, Ralven