Friday, July 25, 2008

Music Is The Vernacular Of The Human Soul...

...and I've been dyin' to speak to my people through some sounds.

Hope that all's well with the soul kids in the place to be. Time's been straight kickin' my ass lately, but instead of cussin', cryin', and carryin' on, here's some love from the crates as my penance and peace offering.

Until next time---be easy, fam...

"Cicero Park"---Hot Chocolate (zShare)

"Cicero Park"---Hot Chocolate (savefile)

One of my ultimate jams when I was a kid was Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing", which inspired me to believe in miracles and make up some unforgivably crazy-ass impromptu dance moves. Some of that silliness wasn't necessarily a good look for me, but what can I say? I was high as fuck on heavy doses of Soul Train, cherry kool-aid and boundless youthful exuberance...

At any rate, it took me a ridiculously lengthy period of time to discover that Hot Chocolate was worth diggin' for beyond that one scratchy 45 record I had in my collection. This oversight was due in part to the fact that I spent many of my formative years living in the musical abyss of a city that, for inexplicable reasons, didn't boast a single R&B radio station. As a result, the version of "Brother Louie" I'd heard on repeat was the one by Stories, and I was well into my teen years before I happened to stumble upon "Every 1's A Winner".

One of the things I eventually came to realize was that this interracial UK funk/soul outfit had often put forth material that was far more serious-minded and somber than the lighthearted, unpretentious vibe of "You Sexy Thing" may have immediately suggested. Tackling issues such as racism, suicide, the nuclear arms race, the Jonestown Massacre and other socio-political subject matter, much of Hot Chocolate's output defied categorization as "mindless boogie" or trite disco trash. Despite their apparent efforts to produce a relatively significant and meaningful body of work, the group was (and still is) widely ignored or harshly criticized by the record-buying public outside of their devoted following in the UK.

"Cicero Park" is the title and opening track on their 1974 debut album, and it provides an excellent example of what makes Hot Chocolate an intriguing and essential listen for music enthusiasts. With the repetition of foreboding lyrics such as "don't let it happen in your world" and "life is dying out", the song paints a vividly descriptive portrait of a decaying world, utterly bereft of love and hope. After hearing all of their records, I've drawn the conclusion that Hot Chocolate's lead singer and chief songwriter Errol Brown was equal parts Superfly, disco king, and unhappy bastard. "Cicero Park" is undoubtedly reflective of the latter. It's "mood music" to be sure, but the heaviness will surely resonate with those who are dysphoric, pissed off and/or completely out of Prozac.

There is much more to the group's history and legacy (such as how their career jumped off with a reggae version of "Give Peace A Chance"), so educate thyselves, children.

Dig deeper...

"Coming From Behind/Wish Someone Would Care"---Irma Thomas (zShare)

"Coming From Behind/Wish Someone Would Care"---Irma Thomas (savefile)

Hopefully it's not necessary for me to introduce you to the undisputed Soul Queen of New Orleans, especially since her music's been featured here several times over the past few years. My enthusiasm for her tremendous artistry was revitalized recently when one of my readers sent me a vinyl rip of In Between Tears, an album that I'd never been fortunate enough to come across in any of my digging expeditions. It's available online, but my Visa's already on the verge of a serious meltdown (thank you, George W. Bush).

Anyway, my interest in the LP has been twofold: I want to collect every Irma joint on wax at some point before I depart from Earth and this particular record was produced by Swamp Dogg (aka Jerry Williams, Jr.). Swamp and Irma (that should be a comic strip) worked together briefly early in 1970 while she was on Canyon Records, cutting the single "I'd Do It All Over You" (b/w "We Won't Be In Your Way Anymore"). What happened after that, like so much of soul music history, gets a bit murky.

According to most accounts I've read, Thomas resumed her work with Mr. Dogg in 1973, releasing a few sides and the In Between Tears LP on the newly-formed and terribly-named Fungus Records. However, in double-checking my facts, I came across some conflicting information at Deep Soul Column, which quotes Thomas as saying that she and the Dogg were only in the studio together on one occasion, and that the material for the album was actually recorded during their sessions for Canyon.

Reading the account at Deep Soul Column, it sounds as if Thomas was slightly bitter with Swamp about the fact that he took credit for the "Coming From Behind" monologue, which was paired with a remake of her timeless classic "Wish Someone Would Care". Quoting from the information at DSC, Irma allegedly stated the following: "Jerry wanted to fill in the album, and I suggested that we do `Wish Someone Would Care' with the monologue, and he said `fine'. Jerry took credit for the monologue, but that's my monologue, and I was doing it long before I recorded it for him, since 1964." If this is true, I'm as troubled by this as I was when Nas and Jay had beef. I mean...damn y'all...can't we all just get along?

However it came to be, this medley is nothing short of phenomenal. Thomas manages to be feisty, cynical, wise, sarcastic, intense, and gut-wrenching all at the same time. It's a fantastic journey that she ushers the listener through, climaxing in what one might describe as complete and utter vocal frenzy. Some might call it screaming, others will call it soul...

Last year, Swamp Dogg released Two Phases Of Irma Thomas, which contains the original recordings from In Between Tears, as well as his 1993 reissue of the LP, released as Turn My World Around . I haven't bothered to check this out yet, but from what I've heard, the revised version was somewhat lacking as far as many soul fans were concerned. Dogg removed a couple of songs, switched up the order, synthesized sounds, and generally modernized the recordings in a way that was evidently offensive to some purists. Can't review something I haven't heard, but I will tell you that it should be worth buying for the originals if nothing else.

Irma Thomas: Dig deeper...

Swamp Dogg: Dig deeper...

"Soul"---S.O.U.L. (zShare)

"Soul"---S.O.U.L. (savefile)

The origins of S.O.U.L. (aka Sounds of Unity and Love) can be traced back to a battle of the bands contest that was held in Cleveland, OH in 1970. The funky combo triumphed over the competition, winning $1000 and a recording contract with Musicor Records. They headed to NYC the following year, recording a single called "Down In The Ghetto Parts I and II". The song made some noise on a regional level, so Musicor invited them back to New York to record a second side. Shortly thereafter, the group headed into the studio and unleashed their raw funk energy on a wonderful little record called What Is It.

What's memorable about these guys isn't their songwriting, or even their's the unbridled passion and contagious energy of the grooves that they created and performed. Despite the fact that much of the album consists of covered material, S.O.U.L. managed to pay homage to their musical predecessors without sounding like a counterfeit version of (insert the name of a legendary figure such as James Brown or Charles Wright here). The LP didn't produce any hit singles for the group, but it certainly aided them in amassing a loyal and enthusiastic cult following.

S.O.U.L. released a few more albums after What Is It (including Can You Feel It, which remained on the soul charts for five months), but for whatever reason, I've always preferred the somewhat unpolished, choppy and occasionally improvisational sound of their debut. Over time, they undoubtedly became more seasoned and refined, but by that time they were quite obviously taking notes from more mainstream groups such as The Temptations and The Spinners. What Is It possesses a certain charm for me...a true soul gem in the rough.

The whole album is worth listening to if you've never had the pleasure, but "Soul" has always been one of my favorite joints on the record. Lee Lovett's monologue may seem on the surface to be some fairly basic "let me rap to you" type shit, but it's kinda smooth the way he articulates the essence of soul in words that just about anyone can understand. With all your money, you can't buy it. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't give or lend you any...

S.O.U.L. was more of a phenomenon in Europe than in the United States, a truly unfortunate oversight on the part of American listening audiences. Whether you're seeking good music, phenomenal breakbeats, or just a groove to help you make it through the day, the Sounds of Unity and Love may be just what the funk doctor ordered...

Dig deeper...

"Cleveland Is The Reason"---KiD CuDi (zShare)

"Cleveland Is The Reason"---KiD CuDi (savefile)

While we're on the subject of artists outta Cleveland, I have to take a moment to acknowledge one of the latest upstarts from The Land, KiD CuDi.

First off, I have to say this in case you didn't hear me the first time---I have a potentially unfair bias against anyone who uses "lil", "young" (especially if it's spelled without the "o", for shit's sake), "kid", "boy", "or "girl" as part of their moniker. I know that there are exceptions to this somewhat arbitrary rule, so please save your stories about how Lil' Bow Wow helped you negotiate the difficulties of life in the fifth grade. However, I'm exposed to so much music that I need to have some guidelines for discernment, and so far, this one has worked pretty well for me. That said, I'm willing to eat my words as it pertains to (cough, sputter) CuDi.

CuDi's humble beginnings saw him recording his first track on a karaoke machine in his friend's basement at the age of 15 (it was a freestyle over the beat to Wu-Tang's "It's Yourz", by the way). Since then, he's relocated to Brooklyn, signed with A-Trak's Fools Gold label, toured the U.S. and Canada, and been the subject of much hype on the internets and in hipster magazines. What's particularly amazing about the buzz surrounding CuDi is that until last week, he hadn't even dropped an official mixtape, let alone a CD.

When A Kid Named KuDi dropped on July 17th, there was quite a bit of fanfare to say the least. The release party was sponsored by the likes of 10.DEEP, Heineken, Red Bull, and Belvedere Vodka. Plain Pat, Nick Catchdubs, and 88 Keys provided the music, and Kanye West stopped by to show his support. Damn, ya' I the only one who remembers when mixtapes made their debut by appearing in the back of a hustler's broke-ass station wagon?

Anyway, despite the fact that A Kid... is being shamelessly pimped in the real world and all over cyberspace, I still had to give it a listen because I've been diggin' KuDi since I first heard “Day N Night” quite some time ago. There are a lot of recycled beats in the mix that threaten to make the tracks come across as a bit stale, but KuDi's gifted enough on the mic to resuscitate these sounds by blessing them with a fresh perspective. KuDi boasts a wide range of influences that includes artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Roots, Queen, Run DMC, Biggie, Coldplay, 2Pac, My Chemical Romance, Al Green, and Ratatat. This varied combination of styles and sounds has given the MC a diverse palette to draw inspiration from, and his eclecticism and artistic flexibility are already quite evident despite his lack of a proper release. One of the lines from "Cleveland Is The Reason" that resonates with me for obvious reasons is "I play The O'Jays while I'm turnin' lanes". So do I, do I.

If you haven't copped the mixtape yet and you wanna, you can download the whole damn thing via Fools Gold.

Dig deeper...

"Flashlight"---Reanimator (zShare)

"Flashlight"---Reanimator (savefile)

*From The Ugly Truth Instrumentals

"I Feel Good Today"---Reanimator (zShare)

"I Feel Good Today"---Reanimator (savefile)

*From Music To Slit Wrists By

At a place and time in hip hop when the lion's share of producers lack creativity, originality and/or complexity, it seems more vital than ever to be knowledgeable about those who continue to push the boundaries of the art form in innovative and exciting ways. Consequently, I felt it was imperative to do something to spread the word about Reanimator's music in the likely event that major media outlets such as MTV and XXL continue neglecting to acknowledge his existence.

I became familiar with Reanimator via his solo offering, Music To Slit Wrists By, as well as the production he's done on Sage Francis' LPs. Of the many qualities I've come to appreciate about him, two seem especially worthy of mention: his consummate crate digging skills and the virtually unparalleled time and effort he puts into crafting his beats. Not only does he have a knack for discovering a variety of unique and frequently untraceable records to sample on his productions, he also spends ridiculously lengthy periods of time perfecting his output before it sees the light of day. Word to all the producers who brag about crafting beats in under an hour: usually that shit sounds simplistic and underdeveloped. Not so with Reanimator, who often lives with his creations for two or three years before reaching the point of satisfaction.

In May of this year, Reanimator dropped his first effort with MC Prolyphic, an album called The Ugly Truth. Prolyphic is an immensely talented rhymesayer, but I was immediately drawn to the brooding, yet terribly lovely beats I heard on the LP.

I had a difficult time deciding which one to share with all of you, but I eventually decided on "Flashlight". It's not necessarily my favorite beat on the album, but it was the only one I listened to and immediately recognized the main sample. I won't reveal the source to be on the safe side, but suffice it to say that RZA flipped the same song in one of his escapades as Bobby Digital. I'm a longtime fan of RZA's production style, so don't get this twisted...but using his flip as a comparison point gave me all that much more respect for Reanimator's production abilities. The way he meticulously layers elements of sound to create incredibly lush sonic landscapes is nothing short of amazing.

You'll find Reanimator's releases by way of Strange Famous Records and you can also dig deeper by checking out his MySpace page.

"Beside You"---Jerry Butler (zShare)

"Beside You"---Jerry Butler (savefile)

The Iceman cometh...last, but never least...

I sort of take it for granted that most soul aficionados are already aware of Jerry Butler's extraordinary legacy and unquestionable impact on soul, gospel, doo-wop, and R&B, so there's no pressing reason to reinvent the wheel in that regard. This particular song has just taken on a new significance in my life as of late, so I decided to include it in this post as somewhat of a last minute decision.

"Beside You" is from Butler's 1969 Mercury release, Ice On Ice. This album and its predecessor, (The Iceman Cometh) are two of my favorites from his canon of works, due in part to the smooth soul style that he cultivated with the invaluable production and co-writing assistance of Gamble and Huff.

Last year, these two seminal LPs were combined on a single Collector's Choice CD, so if you have no other means of acquiring this material, be sure to keep an eye out for the re-issue.

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Word From Your Moms:

"The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."---Eden Phillpotts

Friday, July 11, 2008

On Second Thought...The Seventh

You know what it is, soul children---so let's do the damn thing...

"Soul Man"---Rico Rodriguez (zShare)

"Soul Man"---Rico Rodriguez (savefile)

*Written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter; originally performed by Sam & Dave

*Hayes was inspired to write the song while watching television news coverage of the 12th Street Riot in Detroit, which began on July 23, 1967. He was particularly moved by the fact that many black business owners put 'Soul Brother' signs in their windows in the hopes that their buildings would be spared during the rampant burning and looting that scourged the city during the historical uprising.

Hayes would later recall that these events moved him to "tell a story about one's struggle to rise above his present conditions. It's almost a tune where it's kind of like boasting I'm a soul man---a pride thing. 'Soul Man' came out of that whole black identification. We got funkier." Accordingly, the song would become one of the most essential anthems of a newly emerging black consciousness.

*During the recording sessions with Sam & Dave, Hayes apparently asked legendary guitarist Steve Cropper to give him "some more Elmore James, man", referencing one of the greatest blues slide guitarists of all time. Cropper evidently didn't have a proper slide with him to honor the request, so he used a cigarette lighter to produce the effect.

*"Soul Man" became the most popular Stax single to date, climbing to the top of the R&B charts and peaking at #2 on the pop charts. Additionally, Sam & Dave won a Grammy for Best Rhythm and Blues Group Performance on the strength of the single.

*Sam Moore "souled out" "Soul Man" when he rewrote the lyrics and changed the title to "Dole Man" for Bob Dole to use as his campaign song during his 1996 bid for the presidency. Rondor Music International, Inc., who held the rights to the tune, were unamused by the parody and requested that the soon-to-be-poster-child-for-erectile-dysfunction cease and desist with his unauthorized usage of the song. You can read their letter of complaint in its entirety here.

Interestingly, Moore recently told Obama "no he couldn't" after the Democratic nominee used another Sam & Dave song ("Hold On, I'm Coming") at some of his campaign rallies.

*"Soul Man" has been covered by artists such as the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Bobby Taylor, Rotary Connection, The Mar-Keys, Herbie Mann, The Fatback Band, and more. Sam Moore also re-recorded the tune in 1996 with Lou Reed for "Soul Man" the film.

*Rico Rodriguez issued his blistering instrumental cover of "Soul Man" on Pama Records not long after the release of the Sam & Dave original. Pama was a UK label that flourished in the '60s and early '70s. Their initial focus was on soul releases, but the label and its subsidiaries eventually gravitated towards rocksteady, ska, and roots reggae artists. Besides Rodriguez, Pama's roster included artists such as Derrick Morgan and Max Romeo, while Jamaican legends such as Lee "Scratch" Perry, Alton Ellis, and Bunny Lee produced much of their output.

Rico Rodriguez (aka Reco or El Reco)is a ska and reggae trombonist who was born in Kingston, Jamaica. In 1961, he relocated to the UK and began cutting singles and working with various acts and producers. He is perhaps best remembered for his involvement with The Specials, with whom he recorded one of the most quintessential tracks of the ska revivalist movement, "A Message to You, Rudy".

"Super Bad"---Jabba (zShare)

"Super Bad"---Jabba (savefile)

*Written and originally released by James Brown; distributed by Starday-King Records as a three-part single in 1970 (King 6329). He later re-recorded the song for a 1971 LP of the same title.

*The famous lyric "I got soul, and I'm super bad" was a prime example of lynguistic reappropriation, in which Brown flipped the definition of "bad" to mean something good. Words such as "dope", "sick", and "ill" have often had their connotations altered in a similar fashion. Now you can drop some knowledge on your homies...make 'em think you're all brilliant and shit, son.

*If you're interested in dissecting the broader thematic constructs and cultural context/relevancy of the tune, there's a scholarly breakdown available via Wall Of Sound. Otherwise, just shut up and groove, children.

*This cover version by Jabba was unreleased until it appeared on the UK funk anthology Brothers On The Slide (Discotheque, 2005). Compiled by British bandleader/guitarist/producer/composer Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick from Incognito, Brothers is a fairly consistent collection of recordings. Although the selections themselves are somewhat of a mixed bag in terms of quality, it's a worthwhile venture for the handful of rarities and Bluey's informative liner notes, if nothing else. It's definitely worth diggin' for, particularly if you can cop it in vinyl format.

Jabba is still somewhat of a mystery to me outside of a few random facts, but this JB remake is killer. If any of my readers in the UK (or anywhere for that matter) happen to know more about them, some knowledge would be greatly appreciated.

"Compared To What"---Gow Dow Experience (zShare)

"Compared To What"---Gow Dow Experience (savefile)

"Compared To What"---Sweetwater (zShare)

"Compared To What"---Sweetwater (savefile)

*Written by Gene McDaniels, who reportedly penned the tune in 1968 as an impassioned and frustrated response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, as well as a motherlode of other pervasive societal ills. McDaniels had fled the United States and was actually residing in Scandanavia when he wrote this biting, sharp-tongued critique of American government and culture.

*In 1971, McDaniels released his Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse LP, a cult classic in the crate-digging underworld. Although "Compared To What" wasn't included on the album, the venture features its fair share of scathing socio-political indictments. It has long been rumored that Nixon's weed carrier, Spiro Agnew, put in a call to Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun to complain about McDaniels' unfavorable commentary on the current administration.

*Between 1969 and 1970, Les McCann/Eddie Harris, Roberta Flack, Sweetwater, and Della Reese all released uniquely stellar renditions of the tune. McCann's version (from his Swiss Movement LP) would meet with the greatest success on the Billboard charts.

In addition to "Compared To What", McDaniels penned numerous other tunes recorded by Roberta Flack, including one of her most celebrated hits, "Feel Like Makin' Love".

*The song's intensely powerful lyrics accurately and emotively reflect the atmosphere of racial and political unrest characteristic of that time period, not to mention the ever-growing unpopularity of the Vietnam War:

The President, he's got his war,
Folks don't know just what it's for.
No one gives us rhyme or reason,
Have one doubt, they call it treason.

Although these words clearly reference a specific point in American history, the tendency for humanity to perpetuate its mistakes into infinity makes these sentiments every bit as poignant and relevant today as they were 40 years ago. Sadly, the entire premise still hits a little too close to home.

*The boom bap soul cover offered by Gow Dow Experience can most readily be acquired on Super Cool California Soul 2 (Ubiquity/Luv N' Haight, 2007). Two different takes of the group's reworking of the song open and close the compilation. Be sure to check out Josie James' ass-kicking vocal performance on the cut, kids...

*Sweetwater's rendition of the song takes a stylistically different approach, but it's still kinda funky in its own right. Their version, released on their Just For You LP in 1970 (Reprise #6417), has a hippie-funk vibe that conjures up rolling green fields, mild LSD trips, love beads, and sandalwood incense. For best results, blaze somethin' up before you tune in and turn on...

"We Can Work It Out"---Stevie Wonder (zShare)

"We Can Work It Out"---Stevie Wonder (savefile)

*Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney; recorded during The Beatles' Rubber Soul sessions and released as a double A-sided single with "Day Tripper" in December of 1965. This came about as a result of Lennon's reported insistence on "Day Tripper" being released as a single, despite the consensus that "We Can Work It Out" was far more comercially viable. In fact, the latter would prove to be more popular, skyrocketing to #1 on both sides of the Atlantic and becoming the band's fastest-selling single since "Can't Buy Me Love".

*"We Can Work It Out" exemplifies a creative synthesis of the philosophical mindsets of two very unique songwriters. Lennon touched on their opposing perspectives in an interview with Playboy: "You've got Paul writing, 'We can work it out / We can work it out'—real optimistic, y'know, and me, impatient: 'Life is very short, and there's no time / For fussing and fighting, my friend.'"

*The song has been covered by artists such as Maxine Brown, Petula Clark, Dionne Warwick, Rick Wakeman, The Brothers Four, Melanie, Chaka Khan, Humble Pie, The Allen Touissant Orchestra, Fever Tree, and more. Oh yeah, and I vaguely remember throwing a couple of beer bottles at the TV when David Archuleta redid the song on "American Idol". That...was...just...inexcusably...fucked.

*Stevie's rendition continues to be one of the most highly revered, so much so that music critic types will get to arguing over whether or not his version proceeded to top the original. His phenomenal remake appeared on his 1970 Signed, Sealed, And Delivered LP, peaking on the Billboard charts at an impressive #13.

"Ohio/Machine Gun"---The Isley Brothers (zShare)

"Ohio/Machine Gun"---The Isley Brothers (savefile)

* "Ohio" written by Neil Young; Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young initially released the track as a single (b/w "Find the Cost Of Freedom") in June of 1970, but it later appeared on the group's first live album, their 4 Way Street LP. "Machine Gun" was written by Jimi Hendrix (who had formerly been The Isleys' guitarist) and appeared on his Band Of Gypsys LP in 1970.

*Young penned the lyrics to "Ohio" after the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970. Despite the fact that many AM stations refused to air the song due to its political slant and implied criticism of Richard Nixon, the tune gained exposure and popularity via underground and college radio. The track climbed to #14 on the Billboard charts, and was named the 385th Greatest Song of All Time by Rolling Stone in December 2004.

*Hendrix first debuted "Machine Gun" during a live performance in 1969. The lyrics to the track often varied between performances, although the opening riff and basslines remained consistent. A Uni-Vibe effect pedal was used to emulate the sounds of a machine gun being fired.

*Several different live versions of "Machine Gun" have been issued over the years. Hendrix had begun recording a studio version, but he passed away before it was completed. In a somewhat questionable attempt to create "new" Hendrix offerings, producer Alan Douglas combed through tapes in the vaults of Reprise Records and overdubbed unfinished material with the work of studio musicians. He subsequently released two LPs, Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning.

After getting blasted by critics and fans for claiming co-writing credits on Crash Landing, Douglas didn't repeat the same mistake on Midnight Lightning (the album that featured "Machine Gun"), but the record didn't fare nearly as well in either the UK or the United States as its predecessor. Plans for Douglas to produce a third LP were shelved as a consequence of the lukewarm reception, but both of the aforementioned albums are highly sought after today by record collectors.

*The Isley Brothers issued "Ohio/Machine Gun" on one of their most underrated and overlooked LPs, Givin' It Back ( T-Neck/Buddah, 1971). Many soul fans don't have much love for this album, considering it to be one of the least impressive and worthwhile LPs in the group's discography. This is due, at least in part, to the fact that the album was the first release by the Isleys which didn't contain any original material. It was seemingly unclear to many of their devoted fans what was so clever about their endeavor to remake songs by the likes of James Taylor, Steven Stills, Neil Young, Eric Burdon, and Bob Dylan. The immense creativity underlying their reconstructions was perhaps lost on many, but in their own way, these recordings were arguably quite brave and revolutionary.

During the time when the album was recorded, Jimi Hendrix was one of the few black artists to have truly made a sizable impression on white listening audiences. The Isleys' own "Twist and Shout" had been covered and made more popular by The Beatles, just one mere example of white artists selling shitloads of records that were written and originally performed by black musicians on the blues and soul circuit. The Isleys sort of flipped that concept on its head in an effort to transform songs that were exceptionally popular with white folk into R&B classics. It was clearly somewhat of a risky move, but (at least in my humble opinion) it paid off in terms of artistic integrity. The renegade spirit of these recordings, coupled with the complex social and culture milieu of the early '70s in America, culminated in an amalgamation of sounds that is more accurately described as a time capsule than a mere collection of song covers.

Givin' It Back was finally reissued in the late '90s by Sony, and I'm sure it's obvious by now that I would enthusiastically advocate for its purchase. "Ohio/Machine Gun" is worth the price of admission alone, soul kids.

"I Got Life"---Merry Clayton (zShare)

"I Got Life"---Merry Clayton (savefile)

*Written by Galt MacDermot, James Rado, and Gerome Ragni for the musical Hair

*Hair essentially brought about the genesis of the rock musical. When it debuted as an off-Broadway production in October of 1967, it proved to be both groundbreaking and controversial. Many people were uncomfortable with its full embrace of the sexual revolution, profanity, nudity, illegal drug use, etc. At its core, the play was an ode to counterculturalism, racial integration, free love, environmentalism, and the anti-war movement.

*After undergoing some major revisions, Hair debuted on Broadway in 1968. The musical has been performed not only at regional theaters across the entire United States, it's also enjoyed a great deal of international success and been adapted to film.

*Here are a few people of interest who've been a member of the cast for at least one production of the musical: Donna Summer, Dr. Ruth Westheimer (she didn't get naked, thank God), Melba Moore, Ronnie Dyson, Diane Keaton, Kenny Seymour (of Little Anthony & The Imperials), Ted Lange (Isaac from "Love Boat"), Ben Vereen, Meatloaf, Philip Michael Thomas (think "Miami Vice"), Bea Arthur, Frank Stallone, and Jennifer Hudson.

*MacDermot composed the original music, while Rado and Ragni penned the lyrics. MacDermot attended Cape Town University in South Africa, and while he was there, he studied the music of the Bantu tribe. He later remarked that African music heavily influenced the score he wrote for Hair. MacDermot explained that he listened to "what they called quaylas... very characteristic beats, very similar to rock. Much deeper though...Hair is very African—a lot of the rhythms, not the tunes so much."

*Many of the songs from Hair became hits on the Billboard and/or UK charts when covered by popular artists. The Fifth Dimension, Barbra Streisand, Three Dog Night, The Cowsills, Nina Simone, and Oliver are just a handful of those who released offerings from the production's songbook, each enjoying varying degrees of success with the tunes.

Not everyone was in love with the music from Hair, however. Theater historian John Kewnrick made the following observation: "Most people in the theatre business were unwilling to look on Hair as anything more than a noisy accident." Leonard Bernstein is reported to have walked out when he went to see the production, and John Lennon was quoted as saying it was "dull", adding that "I do not know any musician who thinks it's good."

*While my personal feelings about many of the songs from Hair are ambivalent, I've always liked the positive energy behind "I Got Life". When I'm having a shitty-ass day, it's sometimes uplifting to recall that...what the hell...I've still got my toes, right?

I'm admittedly biased, as no one will ever touch Nina Simone's version in my opinion...she is the high priestess of soul, after all. However, Merry Clayton is an absolutely stunning vocalist whose power and range are simply undeniable. Clayton will forever be remembered for her jaw-dropping vocal on "Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones. Her performance on the track was so incredibly intense that there's been a longstanding rumor that she suffered a miscarriage after the session ended. I've never heard of anyone singing so hard they miscarried (although I can't disprove the theory either), but the mere fact that this story has prospered for so long is surely a testament to the degree of effort and emotion that Clayton put into her recordings.

Her impressive take on "I Got Life" can be found on her Gimme Shelter LP (Ode, 1970).

"For Your Precious Love"---Linda Jones (zShare)

"For Your Precious Love"---Linda Jones (savefile)

*Written by Jerry "The Iceman" Butler & Arthur and Richard Brooks
*Butler was only 16 years old when he wrote the lyrics to "For Your Precious Love". He finally recorded the oft-covered classic with The Impressions in 1958 on Vee-Jay Records. The song became a hit record, and its intense-yet-soft sound can be heard on a number of subsequently released soul tracks that would follow closely in its footsteps.

*Various renditions of the song have been offered by artists such as Garnet Mimms & The Enchanters, Oscar Toney, Jr., Jackie Wilson & Count Bassie, Otis Redding, Gene Vincent, and Aaron Neville.

*Linda Jones' cover of "For Your Precious Love" has always been my unequivocal favorite...I actually prefer it to the original. Her vocal performance on the cut is just...achingly beautiful...and although she's sadly forgotten by most, Linda Jones was one of the most awe-inspiring soul singers of all time.
Her career began at age six, when she started singing with her family's gospel group, The Jones Singers. She released her first solo recording ("Lonely Teardrops") as Linda Lane in 1963 on Cub Records. The following year saw her put forth some unsuccessful singles on Blue Cat and Atco Records. It wasn't until writer/producer George Kerr convinced Jerry Ragovoy to release "Hypnotize" on the Loma label in 1967 that she would enjoy her biggest hit single.

Jones would then issue recordings on several other labels, but none matched the success of "Hypnotize", which had only narrowly missed the Top 20 on the U.S. pop charts. Just weeks before her untimely demise in 1972, she had scored her biggest hit in five years with "For Your Precious Love". At the tail end of a week-long stint at the Apollo Theater, her ongoing struggle with diabetes overtook her and she slipped into a coma, dying shortly thereafter. George Kerr was still working closely with her at the time, and he recalls that during her very last performance "she stood at the corner of the stage, with one hand on the curtain and she went down on her knees as she sang "For Your Precious Love." She wiped the audience out..."

Despite the fact that Jones drifted off to soul heaven at the tender age of 28, her highly emotive and melismatic singing style will live forever in the hearts of those who've been touched by her enormous talent and unique artistry.

(Edit: Please check the comments section for some enlightening information from Linda's daughter, Terry Jones. Despite doing lots of homework as always, there's some misinformation about Linda that's been circulating for quite some time. Thanks for the knowledge, Terry...)

"Ooo Baby Baby"---San Francisco TKOs (zShare)

"Ooo Baby Baby"---San Francisco TKOs (savefile)

*Written by Smokey Robinson and Pete Moore; originally released on Tamla/Motown as a 7" single in March 1965 (b/w "All That's Good"). The track was issued later that year on the group's Going to a Go-Go LP.

*The smoldering sensual tone, lovely background harmonies and lush musical arrangement on this track not only made the tune a commercial success (#16 on the Hot 100, #4 R&B) would also become The Miracles' undisputed signature song.

*Rolling Stone ranked The Miracles ' original version at #262 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. They made the following observation: "One of his saddest melodies, "Baby" also has what may be his most delicate and wounded vocal. When Robinson sighs the line "I'm crying," it's a reminder that no matter how many vocalists keep covering his songs, nobody sings Smokey like Smokey."

That hasn't prevented a host of artists from attempting to remake the tune, including Sylvester, Ella Fitzgerald, Shalamar, The Honey Cone, Linda Ronstadt, The Escorts, Ruby Turner, The Temptations, Laura Nyro, Todd Rundgren, and more.

Although nothing tops The Miracles' version in my opinion either, The San Francisco TKOs released one of the most worthy contenders I've ever heard as the B-side to their "Herm" single (Golden Soul 7112, 1971). In the words of the group's leader, Herm Henry, "the TKOs were the kind of band that mixed white and black and good came out of it. There were lots of racial problems going on in the world, but the Bay Area was progressive. The hippies really helped because they brought everyone together."

Looking for the original 7" is truly a fool's errand, but you'll definitely want to check for the Latin Soul Recordings comp Big Bad Bay Area: Soul Harmony Classics From The 60's and 70's from the San Francisco / Oakland Bay Area.

Fundamental Supplementalz:

Some fly-ass remixes for my peoples...

"I Thought I Could"---Nas remixed by Abstrakt Soundz (zShare)

"I Thought I Could"---Nas remixed by Abstrakt Soundz (savefile)

*An incredibly soulful remake that's been etched in my brain for days...

"State Of The Union"---Roberta Flack vs. Evolve One (zShare)
"State Of The Union"---Roberta Flack vs. Evolve One (savefile)

I copped this a while back from my man Dukes at The Full Clip. If you still haven't gotten familiar, please stop by and show him some love.

"Real Thang (Soulflip Remix)"---Erykah Badu (zShare)

"Real Thang (Soulflip Remix)"---Erykah Badu (savefile)

*I wasn't really feelin' this mix at much the first few times I heard it (sounded like some Beyonce bullshit to me), but I dropped it at a party a few weeks ago, and heads got mighty funky with it on the dancefloor. Hell...who am I to judge?

Footage of Hendrix performing "Machine Gun" live:

Word From Your Moms:

"My practicality consists in this, in the knowledge that if you beat your head against the wall it is your head which breaks and not the wall... that is my strength, my only strength."---Antonio Gramsci