Thursday, February 05, 2009

Love Lockdown: The Breath Of Life Edition

So I got an email from Scholar. It read (in part): “Send me approx. five (give or take) of your favorite love joints of all time.” I read that and figured while I was at it I could probably send my annotated proposal for world peace and a brief discourse on the meaning of life too. Know what I’m saying?

I know Scholar knows what I’m saying. We’re music junkies. We love good songs like we love – oh I don’t know – good women, good food, good cities or anything else it’s possible to have love for. The thing is, I do mix tapes for friends all the time and, the way I see it, every song on there should be one of my “favorite love joints of all time.” So how am I supposed to narrow it down to five?

At first, I was gonna go through my whole iTunes to come up with five winners, but then, when I’d already come up with seven stone cold locks and I was still not even through the B’s, I realized going through the whole thing would take way too long and besides, what would be the point really? So I said, “Fuck it. B’s it is.”

With no further stalling from me, here’s my list of five favorite love joints by artists whose name starts with ‘B’ and whose music happens to already be in my iTunes account (as opposed to on CD or vinyl somewhere at my apartment here in San Diego or back home in New Orleans).

Barry White“Your Love – So Good I Can Taste It” (LimeLinx)
Barry White“Your Love – So Good I Can Taste It” (savefile)

– From Is This Whatcha Wont? (20th Century, 1976)

I’ve been a Barry White fan for a while but I’d never heard this epic number until I came across it at a music blog named Floodwatch Music. I’d try to describe what makes this record so damn good, but the dude at Floodwatch has already done that, so allow me to quote him:

If there’s one thing that White didn’t lack, it was patience – the track has the feeling that the music could continue on forever, a concept that formed the backbone of his whole “we’ve got all night, baby” steez. The actual song itself enters around the halfway mark after a slow buildup, at which point White begins pushing the limits of taste with another one of his signature love raps: “You know, ever since I was a young boy, I used to get in devilment and I used to do all kind of things with little girls, but when I become a man I put away childish things.” … It’s corny and crass, overblown and overlong, and that’s what makes it so marvelously effective.

So true. One of the things that makes love love is its capability to render the most ridiculous of things sublime. On HBO’s The Wire, a big, tough policeman named Colvin allows a street kid to spend a night in his home as a favor to one of his former employees. At home, the cop, the kid and the cop’s wife are sitting at the dinner table when the wife refers to the cop as ‘Bunny.’ There’s a long pause. The wife leaves the table to get dessert. The kid looks over at the cop and says, “Bunny?”

In a similar vein, I’m man enough to admit that my wife calls me “Pookie.” Yeah, I know. It is what it is. But for the same reasons women find it appropriate and even necessary to call their big, tough grown-ass men stuff like ‘Bunny’ and ‘Pookie,’ Barry White finds it appropriate to write string-laden, syrupy-sounding records that take damn-near five minutes to even start getting to the point; and even then, every word is pure, unadulterated cliché. But Barry’s different from the rest of the pretenders out there in that he positively revels in the cliché. He luxuriates in saying the same shit every man has been saying to every woman since romance itself was born. He intones lyrics as crass and commonplace as, “Oh, baby, your love is so damn good,” as if he’s just stumbled upon, and is now reciting back for the good of all mankind, nothing less than the secret to salvation itself.

You ever hear a three-hundred-pound black man with sweat dripping out of his process get so overcome by the goodness of his woman’s “love” that he stops forming actual syllables and instead just goes to rolling his tongue around and making ‘brrrrrr’ sounds like a baby? Welcome to Barryland.

Björk“Cocoon” (LimeLinx)
Björk“Cocoon” (savefile)

– From Vespertine (Elektra, 2001)

I recently read someone describe a piece of music as “cool and detached in such a peculiar way that it actually suggests warmth.” Or something like that – I’m paraphrasing. Whoever it was, I think they were talking about a Portishead record, or maybe Mazzy Star or somebody like that, but when I think of said description, I think of something like Björk’s “Cocoon.”

Our narrator here (and I say ‘narrator’ because unlike the aforementioned Barry White, I’m not sure that Bjork-the-actual-person and Bjork-the-person-on-Bjork’s-records is intended to be one and the same) seems to be meditating on a theme, that theme being her shock and delight at the glory of physical intimacy. I think it’s fair to say that “Cocoon” is about sex, but it’s about the best kind of sex – the kind that feels just as good at 8 AM as it did at midnight the night before. It’s also (and here’s where the title comes in) about the power love has to break people out of their self-imposed shells, to give them the strength and desire to open themselves up to whatever’s out there waiting for them.

“Who would have known?” Björk whispers in that fragile close-miked manner of hers. You can hear the wonder and amazement she must be feeling as she repeats it over and over: “Who would have known?!”

Bob Marley & The Wailers“Stir It Up” (LimeLinx)
Bob Marley & The Wailers“Stir It Up” (savefile)

– From Catch A Fire (Island, 1973)

Bob’s the shit, everybody knows that. If you don’t already own the album this song comes from you don’t need to be reading this or any other blog right now. What you need to be doing is dialing up Amazon or iTunes or heading over to Borders or your local record store or where ever it is you cop your tunes in order to pick up a copy of Catch A Fire.

The only other thing I’ll say here is that Bob is (rightly) lionized for all of his socio-political material, but he’s one hell of a love song singer too.

Bugge Wesseltoft feat. Sidsel Endresen“You Might Say” (LimeLinx)
Bugge Wesseltoft feat. Sidsel Endresen“You Might Say” (savefile)

– From Sharing (Jazzland, 1998)

This record is reminiscent of Bjork’s – it’s ethereal and evocative in a similar way – but where Bjork’s “Cocoon” is about discovering new love, Bugge and Sidsel’s “You Might Say” is about the opposite side of things. Sidsel’s man is giving her a list of reasons why their thing is over and done (“The well has run dry”; “We’re living a lie”; “I don’t want to try”; etc.). Sidsel’s only response is a pleading and entirely unsarcastic, “Please.” As in, “Please don’t go. Please stay. Please.” Damn.

Yusa“Breathe” (LimeLinx)
Yusa“Breathe” (savefile)

– From Breathe (Tumi, 2005)

I know I said I was only going to pick from the B-section of my iTunes, but rules are made to be broken and I’m going to do just that in order to include my favorite love song of the last five years or so – “Breathe,” by a young Cuban singer-songwriter named Yusa. Gentle and warm like summer breeze, this tune is a love-lullaby for adults.

Breathe / Smile / Close your eyes
Easy, easy / Don’t cry
Everything is nothing but a dream….

That’s five. I’m out.

- Mtume ya Salaam from Breath of Life

Word From Your Moms:

"[P]lease remember this: excessive pride is a familiar sin, but a man may just as easily frustrate the will of God through excessive humility." -Ken Follett from The Pillars Of The Earth

"No matter how comfortable the cocoon, breaking out is better because ultimately comfort is a coffin unless we crack it open and fly." -Kalamu ya Salaam, from the Breath of Life musicblog


Matt said...

My favorite soul love song is B.A.B.Y. by Carla Thomas.

Classic soul, sweet at times, and then when the horns come in it's downright raunchy!

It also happens to be my wedding song!

Anonymous said...

Good lookin' out, Scholar. Thanks for giving us the forum - in the immortal words of K.C. & The Sunshine Band, "Ain't nothin' wrong with a little bit of love, baby!"

BTW, my wedding song was "Sweet Thing" by Van Morrison. Maybe I'll do the 'V's next Valentine's Day. ;-)

Styler said...

Nice one Mtume, any list with Barry, Bjork and Bob gets my blessing, for what it's worth.

I enjoyed your other two selections and as they are new to me I'll be sure to dig deeper, good quote from a fine author also.


"Sweet Thing" is a beautiful song, well played you old romantic, you.

Anonymous said...

I've been to Barryland, lol. Brrrr.

Great writeup.

Mr. Mojo Risin' said...

"Breathe"....thank you for this pearl!!!

Darcy said...

That Gloria Barnes album is great.

I'm a hoarder and I still have all the record sales lists I used to send for in the 70s. Recently I have been looking through them again - like you do :) On one of them is the Gloria Barnes album for £2 - not a lot of money in 1976 really. I didn't buy it because I had at that time never heard of Gloria Barnes, had no way of sample hearing it, and didn't have enough spare cash then to entertain the idea of buying blind.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

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