Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Stevie, Happy Birthday to you!

It's impossible for me to try to pick the best five songs he's done, for as any Stevie fan knows, he's got a back catalogue to put most artists to shame. So instead, I picked probably my favourite five.

I tell you, I'm dreading the day I turn the radio on and they say Stevie's passed on.
Enjoy his music and acknowledge him for one of the greatest musical genius' of the 20th century, for one day he will not be here, just like Marvin and Michael.

Stevie Wonder - Do I Do (1982)

From the semi-compilation album Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium I, this was one of the four new tracks the album contained  (the others being Ribbon In The SkyFront Line and That Girl). Always liked this track, especially for the Dizzy Gillespie solo.

Stevie Wonder - I Wish (1976)

From arguably his best album Songs In The key Of Life, it got to No.1 in the US pop and soul charts and has been sampled and covered by many. But none can match the mastery of the original, let alone beat what I like to call The 'Stevie Wonder Effect'; i.e. an artist covers a Stevie song and it sounds pretty good until you hear the original and suddenly the cover sounds like dogmeat. In my opinion, only Incognito's cover of  Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing beats The 'Effect'.

Stevie Wonder - Overjoyed (1986)

The song was written first for the 1979 album Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, but was left off the album, and re-recorded for In Square Circle. In the liner notes for the song, "crickets, nightingale & additional bird sounds, ocean, pebbles in pond, stone dropped, crushing leaves" are listed under "environmental percussion". Indeed.

And just for added variety, the original first take:

Stevie Wonder Living For The City (1973)

What more can be said about this song that hasn't been said? possibly the song that hallmarked Stevie as a true musical genius and arguably the most complete artist ever to grace the Motown label.
Rolling Stone ranked the song No.104 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Not high enough for my liking.

From the Album Innervisions.

Stevie Wonder ~ Superstition (1972)

Written, produced, arranged, and performed by Stevie  in 1972 while still only 22. it reached No.1 in the USA and No. 11 in the UK. It continued an evolution in Stevie's music from his earlier fit with the Motown Sound to a more personal style. This shift had been evident on his two prior albums, Where I'm Coming From and Music of My Mind, but it was Talking Book and Superstition that really underlined the change in his style
Jeff Beck created the original drum beat while in the studio with Wonder. After writing the song, Stevie offered it to Beck to record, but at the insistence of Berry Gordy Wonder himself recorded it first. Beck was instead offered Cause We've Ended As Lovers, which he recorded on Blow by Blow in 1975. Jeff Beck played guitar on Talking Book and later recorded his own version of Superstition as a part of the group Beck, Bogert & Appice.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Love Unlimited - Walkin' In The Rain With The One I Love (1972)

The backing vocalist for American R&B/soul singer Barry White on his albums and on tour. They also found success in their own right. Formed in 1969, the group included Barry White’s future wife, Glodean James, her sister, Linda James, and their cousin Diane Taylor. Their first hit was Walkin' in the Rain with the One I Love in 1972, a song that so paints an accurate picture of it's title I'd swear it was raining outside every time I listen to it. They never quite hit the heights of success as they did with this song (although I Belong To You did top the U.S. R&B chart in 1974), but did put out some memorable material. 
The group disbanded in 1985, with the death of Diane Taylor.

The Crusaders - Street Life (1979)

A version of the  iconic tune you might not be aware of: the full album version with the Wilton Felder sax solo at the start.
Its ironic that I didn't really like the album version of the title cut when I first heard, as I thought it was over-long, but now it is one of my two favorite tracks on the album. Its not just the tremendous voice of Randy Crawford, its the awful plain truth of the lyrics. The instrumentals are great too, but the real stand-out is the sax-powered Rodeo Drive (High Steppin'). I can listen to that over and over again.
I've owned the Street Life album for more than 15 years and I never get tired of hearing it as it is positively mesmerising.

The Brothers Johnson - Strawberry Letter 23 (1977)

One of my personal favourite songs, I can never get tired of hearing it. And have - ahem - played air guitar to the guitar solo...
Written by Shuggie Otis, although known to most by The Brothers Johnson's version. Otis wrote the song for a girlfriend who used strawberry-scented paper when she wrote letters to him. George Johnson of The Brothers Johnson was dating one of Otis' cousins when he came across Freedom Flight, Otis' 1972 album that featured the song. The group later recorded it for their 1977 album Right On Time, under producer Quincy Jones, and the album went platinum. Strawberry Letter 23, as recorded by The Brothers Johnson in a funkier, more dance-oriented vein than the original Otis version, hit the Hot 100, peaked at number five and reached number one on the U,S. Soul Singles chart in 1977. The famous guitar solo in this song was originally recorded by Shuggie Otis; Lee Ritenour later recreated the solo for Right On Time.
An instrumental version was done by Phil Upchurch around the same time as the Brothers Johnson version, which is a more upbeat funky version. The song has been sampled and covered by numerous acts, such as Kiara in 1988, Tevin Campbell on his debut release, T.E.V.I.N. in 1992; Digital Underground also did a hiphop version in the early 90s. It was as you're no doubt aware also used in Quentin Tarantino's film Jackie Brown.
We won't mention the Akon version. Shame on you, Quincy...


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I'm Back!

Apologies for the enforced hiatus; My PC threw it's computer-shaped toys out of it's pram and it's taken me this long to rebuild it. Trying to blog on a Blackberry just ain't the same...
Let's make up for lost time, shall we?

Lalah Hathaway - Heaven Knows (1990)

The daughter of soul singer Donny Hathaway and classically trained vocalist Eulaulah. In 1990, Lalah Hathaway released her self-titled album;. the first release was Heaven Knows produced by Derek Bramble. The follow-up single was the beautiful Baby Don't Cry, produced by Angela Winbush. In 1991, Hathaway released the EP, Night & Day in Japan. A Moment was released in 1994, debuting at no. 34 on the US Top R&B albums chart. The lead single Let Me Love You charted on the Hot R&B charts (incidentally, how many different R&B charts do they have in America?) at no.37. In 1999, Lalah Hathaway collaborated with the legendary Joe Sample (he of The Crusaders)and released her third album, The Song Lives On.
After a five year hiatus, Hathaway returned with her fourth album Outrun the Sky. The single Forever, For Always, For Love peaked at no.1 on the US Adult R&B Airplay chart.
In 2007, Hathaway signed to the revived Stax Records and in 2008 released her fifth album Self Portrait. Self Portrait released on June 3, 2008 in the US debuted at no. 63 on the Billboard's Hot 200 and reached the top ten on the Top R&B albums chart, making this album, Hathaway's most successful album to date. She received a Best Female R&B Vocal Performance Grammy Award nomination for That Was Then.

Angela Winbush - Treat U Rite (1994)

Written by Angela Winbush and released as the first single from her third solo album, Angela Winbush. It was her first single in over four years, from her first album of new music in over five years. The song entered the U.S. Billboard R&B chart on February 26, 1994, where is spent twenty two weeks on the chart, peaking at number six. produced by the great Chukii Booker, his style is immediately evident to his fans and was a great accompaniment to her sultry vocals.
She may be better known to some of you of course for her time duetting with René Moore, but were you aware that she got her big break via Gary Byrd introducing her to Stevie Wonder, resulting in her becoming part of Wonder's backing vocal group, Wonderlove.

Cheryl "Pepsii" Riley -Guess I'm In Love (1993)

Cheryl Riley, who worked as a nurse for handicapped children for ten years before beginning her singing career, topped the US R&B chart and hit the Top 40 on the US pop chart at no. 32 with the 1988 ballad, Thanks for My Child, a song written by Full Force. It also peaked at no. 75 in the UK Singles Chart in January 1989. Riley still had her nurse's job when the song went to number one on the R&B chart.
 The genesis of that song began with Full Force member Bowlegged Lou's experience with the complications of his wife's first pregnancy.
As pivotal as Thanks for My Child was for Riley's career, it was not the first song Lou offered to her. She refused his offer to record  I Wonder If I Take You Home because she did not want to spread herself too thin, but after it became a million-selling hit for Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam in 1985, she thought she had missed her big break.
The title track single to her debut LP Me Myself and I made it to no.18 on the R&B charts in early 1989. Another single, Every Little Thing About You, peaked at no. 55 on the R&B charts later that year. Her second LP, Chapters, was issued and yielded the singles How Can You Hurt the One You Love and a cover of Aretha Franklin's 1968 hit Ain't No Way. Her third album All That! was released by Reprise records, and featured the singles Gimme and  the track below, Guess I'm in Love.
After a hiatus from the entertainment industry, Riley re-emerged in the early 2000s as a star in a number of gospel plays for best-selling playwright Tyler Perry. In 2006, she released her first album in 14 years, called Let Me Be Me.