Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas Music, FVS-Style

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat; here's Facel Vega Soul and the tunes are always phat -

We should warn you up front that if you’re looking for the usual holiday-flavoured confections by the likes of Michael Bolton, Susan Boyle and Sting:
You've come to the wrong place.
We spend a lot of time on this site dissecting songs about love, sex, cheating, and even knocking people out (ahem). Well, we like our Christmas songs too – as long as they’re a short walk from John Lee Hooker or Big Mama Thornton. Save Amy Grant for the in-laws (and don’t get us started on that holly-jolly hairball Burle Ives).

Eddie Floyd - Doo-Wop Christmas (2012)

f you ever wondered what Santa sounds like surrounded by Soul and Doo Wop then you better grab this Christmas Album by Eddie Floyd, oops I meant Santa! From the Harmonica to the Bass and the Baritone Sax, this album says "Merry Christmas" like no other.

Carla Thomas - Gee Whiz, It's Christmas (1963)

My favourite Stax Christmas record. A understated beauty from Rufus Thomas's daughter Carla.
And despite the title, nothing to do with her hit Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes).

Friday, 7 December 2012

Dave Brubeck 1920-2012

Arguably the last true jazz legend has left us.
Dave Brubeck passed away on 5th December aged 91. We here at Facel Vega Soul are great jazz fans, so although we are hard at work on other projects, we are absolutely honour-bound to down tools and salute an absolute great.
If Brubeck had only ever bought out three tracks and they were Take 5, Blue Rondo a la Turk, and Unsquare Dance, he and the Dave Brubeck Quartet would have been remembered forever, but his talent went far, far deeper than that. We'll leave the in-depth story of his career to others, as they will no doubt be more eloquent than us, but we'd like to take five, sit upon the ground and show you three examples of his genius, as well as his cohorts.

Unsquare Dance; this version is from the Burghausen jazz festival in 2001:


And of course, Take Five, probably his signature tune and one of those tracks that the general public have hummed the melody to without actually knowing who it's by, always the sign of a piece of music that has passed into popular culture. The track is actually written by his long-time composing partner Paul Desmond, who passed away in 1977 at the age of just 52.

Take five, Mr. Brubeck. You've earned it.


Friday, 9 November 2012

Gladys Knight - Licence To Kill (1989)

The soundtrack to Licence to Kill, the 16th James Bond film of the same name, was released by MCA Records in 1989.
Because the legendary composer John Barry (who had scored almost every film from From Russia With Love onwards) was unavailable due to ill-health, the soundtrack's more upbeat and suspenseful score was composed and conducted by Michael Kamen, who also composed the soundtracks for the first three Die Hard films and all four Lethal Weapon films. Initially Eric Clapton and Vic Flick were asked to write and perform the theme song to Licence To Kill; the tune was said to have been a new version based on Monty Norman's signature theme, with the guitar riff played by Flick. The prospect, however, fell apart and Gladys Knight's song was chosen, later becoming a Top 10 hit in the UK (reaching no.6) and in Germany.
The song, one of the longest to ever be used in a Bond film, was composed by Narada Michael Walden (best known for his work with Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Aretha Franklin), Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff (Houston, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Luther Vandross). It was based on the iconic horn line from Goldfinger, which required royalty payments to the original writers, Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. The music video of Licence to Kill was directed by Daniel Kleinman, who later took over the reins of title designer from Maurice Binder for the 1995 Bond film, GoldenEye.

All the instrumental tracks on the film's soundtrack are amalgams of various sequences and musical cues from the film rather than straight score excerpts. The end credits of the film feature the song If You Asked Me To sung by Patti LaBelle. Though the song was a top ten R&B charter and a minor pop hit for LaBelle, in 1992, the song was covered by and became a much bigger hit for singer Céline Dion. The track Wedding Party, used during the wedding of Felix Leiter to Della Churchill, makes reference the track Jump Up from the first Bond film, Dr. No.
In all honesty, I think Licence To Kill is possibly the most underrated of the Bond theme songs. Most of them usually sound all the same, but thanks to Gladys Knight's vocals and Michael Kamen's unconventional (for Bond) production, the tracks offers something different. Overall, he provides an exciting and hard hitting, yet beautiful score mixed with various songs from the film. Fans of the traditional bond-style soundtracks may find this a little different at first, but watch the film a few times, give the album a few listens and it'll grow on you. And as for the signature theme - I personally rate it so highly, it's up there with Bassey's Bond stuff.
If that seems a bit of a hard concept to take, remember one thing. This is Gladys Knight we're talking about, not some fly by night flavour of the month vocalist. Ms. Knight can go toe-to toe vocally with anyone.

Friday, 5 October 2012

CJ Bolland - Sugar Is Sweeter (Armands Drum & Bass Mix) (1996)

C. J. Bolland is a British born, Belgian-settled electronic music producer and remixer. As a teenager he was strongly influenced by the Belgian underground scene of new wave, electro and EBM embodied by artists such as Front 242, Neon Judgement and The Klinik. His first productions were aired in the early 1980s on Belgium's Liaisons Dangereuses radio show, and Bolland was one of the first record producers to be signed to the fledgling Belgian techno record label R&S. His first release, Do That Dance in 1989, was followed by several more under different aliases such as Space Opera, The Project, Cee-Jay and Pulse. Bolland's first major success with the track Horsepower on 1991's Ravesignal III EP earned him industry attention and respect with wide airplay amongst European techno DJs, and 1993's 4th Sign album, including the singles Camargue and Nightbreed saw him garner further acclaim and commercial success. Bolland's second album for R&S, Electronic Highway, was released in 1995.

By this point however,  Bolland left R&S (in late 1994) to sign a five album contract with Internal/Polygram Records. During this time he also became notable as the first artist to release an album in the DJ-KiCKS series for German-based independent label Studio !K7. His first studio album for Polygram though was 1996's The Analogue Theatre from which his greatest commercial success came with the single Sugar Is Sweeter hitting no.1 in the US Hot Dance Club Play chart, and reaching no.11 on the UK Singles Chart. Further UK hits followed with The Prophet (no.19) and It Ain't Gonna Be Me (no.35). Bolland is also a prolific remixer with a long list of credits to his name, including Orbital, Depeche Mode, Moby, The Prodigy and Tori Amos. His song The Prophet, sampling Willem Dafoe in Martin Scorsese's 1990 film The Last Temptation of Christ was an underground club hit. In 2000 Bolland released the song Enter The Robot, a collaboration with the Australian producer, Honeysmack, and in 2002 started his own record label, Mole Records.
February 2004 saw the release of The Body Gave You Everything, the début album by Magnus, a dance music/pop collaborative project with Tom Barman, founder and singer for the Belgian rock band, dEUS. In December 2006 Bolland released a solo album called The 5th Sign with the Belgian online record label The Wack Attack Barrack, followed in October 2009 by 500 Euro Cocktail.

Another anthemic remix by Armand Van Helden that only resembles the original by way of the title and the intro vocals; no great loss to these ears as the original is not to my taste at all. But in giving Van Helden an almost free rein in remixing, he helped showcase his own talents and helped his own cause (along with his mix of Sneaker Pimp's Spin Spin Sugar) in becoming a top-flight House music producer.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Sneaker Pimps - Spin Spin Sugar (Armand's Dark Garage Mix) (1996)

Sneaker Pimps were a British trip-hop band formed in Hartlepool in 1994, best known for their début 1996 album Becoming X and particularly the singles 6 Underground, Spin Spin Sugar, and Tesko Suicide, all from that same album. Their novel name originates from an article the Beastie Boys published in their Grand Royal magazine about a man they hired to track down classic sneakers. The band's founding members were Liam Howe and Chris Corner, who then recruited the fantastic Kelli Dayton (formerly of Lumieres, now recording under the name Kelli Ali) for vocal duties and long-time friend Ian Pickering to provide lyrics.
After that first album, the band felt that the Corner-voiced demos for the second album better suited his voice, especially in regard to the more raw, personal quality of the lyrics. Following the promotional tour for Becoming X, Kelli was dismissed from the group, and Corner became the lead singer. Incidentally, Corner began working on a side project in 2003 and released three solo albums in 2004, 2006, and 2009 under the moniker IAMX titled Kiss + Swallow, The Alternative, and Kingdom of Welcome Addiction. His latest album was released in March 2011 titled, Volatile Times. He has also sung guest vocals for TNT Jackson, Moonbootica and The Strike Boys, as well as produced material for Robots in Disguise.

Liam Howe has become a successful writer/producer and has written and produced for the likes of Marina and the Diamonds, and Ellie Goulding, he is signed to Columbia records for his solo project which includes collaborations from Alan Vega, Neneh Cherry and Princess Superstar.
Kelli Ali recorded her third solo album, the Max Richter-produced Rocking Horse at the beginning of 2008 and released it through One Little Indian records in late Autumn 2008. She is quoted as saying this is a very different affair from her two previous solo albums, Tigermouth and Psychic Cat. Ian Pickering is a lyricist/songwriter currently writing and recording with the band Polaroid Kiss with Brandun Reed whose debut album 'Weakness of the Beautiful Souls' was released in 2011. He wrote lyrics for a number of tracks on the IAMX albums Kiss + Swallow and The Alternative and released the album All These Lines Make Noises in 2005 as a singer/songwriter/lyricist with the band Transporter.

The version of Spin Spin Sugar here isn't the original one from the album; its a remix by Armand Van Helden, probably best known for his re-workings of Tori Amos's Professional Widow and CJ Bolland's Sugar Is Sweeter. Another track that was a huge club anthem on it's release and still requested by people to this day. That said, the original version still holds it's own, and is a perfect fit for the video that was created for it; The sight of Kelli cavorting in a skin-tight dress in a seedy-looking hotel room paints a picture in my head not easily (or willingly) removed.
I will personally never fathom why she isn't singing with them now; her vocal style was a perfect fit for them, despite their reasoning for their later work.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Masters At Work Present Nu Yorican Soul - The Nervous Track (1993)

Masters at Work are the house/garage production and remix team of "Little" Louie Vega and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez. They first worked together using the name, which had been given to them by mutual friend Todd Terry. In 1987, Gonzalez loaned out the Masters At Work name (a street party alias he was using with Mike Delgado) to Todd Terry for the 1987 singles Alright Alright and Dum Dum Cry. Terry returned the favour one year later by introducing Gonzalez to Little Louie Vega. In 1990, they then took up the Masters At Work moniker to record their own work under.
Vega is also the cousin of Eric Vega, a popular event creator and promoter in New York City. The duo has also produced music together under the names MAW, KenLou, Sole Fusion, and Nuyorican Soul. Their Nuyorican Soul project had the duo working extensively with real (as opposed to sampled or synthesized) musicians, in a variety of styles including Latin, Disco, Jazz, amongst others.

Musicians who took part in this project include Vincent Montana Jr., Roy Ayers, George Benson, Jocelyn Brown, Tito Puente, and members of the Salsoul Orchestra. The self-titled album released under the name Nuyorican Soul in 1996 included original tracks as well as cover versions of songs by the performers with which the duo was working, such as Sweet Tears with Roy Ayers (reworking a track of his from 1971), and Runaway, originally sung by Loleatta Holloway with the Salsoul Orchestra, here sung by India and featuring musicians from the original 1977 recording.
MAW has an extensive history as remixers, having mixed tracks for dance acts as well as more mainstream artists, including Michael Jackson, Madonna, Donna Summer, Jody Watley, Janet Jackson, Jamiroquai, Earth Wind & Fire, and Stephanie Mills.
Many a time in a club you'd hear a quick shove or drag as a DJ corrected the mix when bringing this tune in; those soft edged chords on the intro weren't the most DJ friendly. I say this from experience; it was even more difficult when using sub-standard headphones in a club with a booming sound system. So a lot of times people (myself included) would just drop it clean from the beginning, which only added to the sense of occasion when the crowd realised what track it was a few chords in; whoops and cheers always followed realisation.
A great track that crossed dancefloors and genres.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Boomerang Week: Toni Braxton - Love Shoulda Brought You Home (1992)

And now we come to arguably the centrepiece of the whole album. L.A. & Babyface wanted a Whitney Houston-style female vocalist to be the figurehead of their then recently-launched LaFace records label and boy, did they get one. Formerly of gospel supergroup The Braxtons, her début album is a stonker, with not only this track, but also classics like Another Sad Love Song and Breathe Again.
Love Shoulda Brought You Home was the first solo single by Braxton. Written by Babyface, Daryl Simmons, and Bo Watson, it served as the follow-up release to Give U My Heart, the duet with Babyface. The two songs were initially submitted to Anita Baker, but due to her impending pregnancy she had to decline. The single became a top forty hit on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and her second consecutive top five hit on the U.S. Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. One year later, the song was included on her eponymous debut album, Toni Braxton.
The title is an allusion from a line in Boomerang; in the film, Halle Berry's character, Angela Lewis, angrily tells her man, Marcus Graham (Eddie Murphy), after he spent the night with another woman, "Love should've brought your ass home last night." The music video, directed by Ralph Ziman, showed an angry Braxton, fed up with her boyfriend and testifying that if he really cared, then love should have brought him home last night.
As an aside, she found true worldwide success with tracks from her second album Secrets, with You're Makin' Me High and the Diane Warren-penned Un-Break My Heart, a version of which she did at her live concert at Wembley Arena, a concert which I had the distinct privilege of attending. She dedicated her rendition of the Un-Break My Heart to the recently deceased Princess Of Wales, and sang it to imagery of Diana on the giant video screen behind her.
Now I'm no Daily Express reader, but even I had a lump in my throat at that point.

Boomerang Week: Johnny Gill- There You Go (1992)

I saw Johnny Gill live at Wembley Arena in 1991 as a 'warm-up' act to Janet Jackson on her Rhythm Nation world tour. So much for a warm-up act; he threatened to steal the show, so good was his vocal performance. Amongst other songs at the concert, he did a near 17 minute version (you read that right) of' My My My , paying homage to Teddy Pendergrass' Love TKO and Marvin's Lets Get It On along the way - WOW. It was recorded and released as the B-side to Wrap My Body Tight, so I'm one of the many thousands of fans screaming in the background!
He also took over from Bobby Brown as the main vocalist in New Edition at about the same time; NE didn't miss Bobby for one moment with JG on board. If anything, with Johnny's distinctive vocals, New Editions' sound matured; tracks like Can You Stand The Rain and Boys To Men (note spelling) attest to that.
There You Go is a typically slick LA & Babyface produced ballad, good enough to have been included onto any of his albums; it was initially exclusive to the soundtrack - he did a similar trick on two other soundtracks -  I'm Still Waiting on New Jack City and Let's Just Run Away on Mo' Money. Both the latter track and There You Go were included on a later re-release of his 1993 album, Provocative.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Boomerang Week: Kenny Vaughan and the Art of Love - Feels Like Heaven (1992)

Yet another gem from the Boomerang OST; well, not quite. This is the full four minute version of Feels Like Heaven (the version used was only two minutes); shades of Take 6 with the accapella vocals. Again, we think that this could have made waves in the charts had it been released and had the right airplay.
I defy a modern act, reliant on Autotune to sound good to do vocals like this.

Boomerang Week: Shanice Wilson - Don't Wanna Love You (1992)

Remember the track I Love Your Smile? Well, Shanice had a pretty decent R&B career back then, and tracks like this show you why. Produced by L.A. & Babyface, Don't Wanna Love You was never released but is strong enough to have held it's own in the charts.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Boomerang Week: A Tribe Called Quest - Hot Sex (1992)

ATCQ don't get the props they deserve in 2012; a shame, as they are one of the great lyrical hip-hop acts.
Formed in 1985, members are Q-Tip (Kamaal Fareed), Phife Dawg aka Phife Diggy (Malik Taylor), and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. A fourth member, Jarobi White, left the group after their first album but rejoined in 1991. Along with De La Soul, the group was a central part of the Native Tongues Posse (that also included the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul), and enjoyed the most commercial success out of all the groups to emerge from that collective. Many of their songs, such as Bonita Applebum, Can I Kick It?, I Left My Wallet in El Segundo, Scenario, Check the Rhime, Jazz (We've Got), Award Tour and Electric Relaxation are classics.
They released five albums between 1990 and 1998 and then disbanded that year, as they wanted to persue solo careers. In 2006, they reunited and toured the US, and released The Lost Tribes, a compilation of unreleased and rare material. The group are pioneers of alternative hip-hop music and have undoubtedly helped to pave the way for innovative hip-hop artists.
Now you've seen the video, you're no doubt thinking why is Q-tip wearing a burn mask? I've found two different explanations.
The first one is (incredibly) that he was beaten up by Teddy Riley and crew over the line:
"strictly hardcore tracks, not a new jack swing" in the song We Got the Jazz. The injuries he incurred couldn't be covered by make-up, hence the mask. More of an urban myth, to be honest, and anyway,  It wasn't even 'Tip's line, but Phife's.
Another much more plausible (and accepted) explanation is Q-Tip didn't want to do a video for the song and that Paramount Pictures (the film's studio) and Jive Records (ATCQ's label) consented the group's availability against their wishes, so he wore the mask as a protest.

Boomerang Week: The LaFace Cartel - Reversal Of A Dog (1992)

The LaFace Cartel, made up of recently-unleashed LaFace records labelmates Damian Dame and Highland Place Mobsters, a yet-to-hit-the-mainstream TLC and the star-in-waiting and still criminally underrated Toni Braxton.
It was never released as a single; it serves more as a showcase for the label's prodigious talent roster. As a fan of the label I would suggest the albums of the talents included as must-haves if you are a 90's R&B fan.
And while you would expect this many people on one song to be either a horrible mess of  mismatches or a sickly We Are The World lighters-in-the-air anthem, it more than holds it's own against the rest of the Boomerang track listing.
Bow-wow-wow-yippee-yo-yipeee-yay, mofos.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Boomerang Week: Keith Washington - Tonight Is Right (1992)

Keith Washington. If you've never heard of this man and you like soul ballads, get on Amazon and buy all of his stuff shaprish; nearly everything he's ever done is gold.
Chanelling a fair bit of Luther Vandross in his vocal delivery, he first scored a hit single in the US in 1991 with Kissing You, which was also used (oddly) as background music for the TV series General Hospital. Kissing You was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance Male and won a 1992 Soul Train Music Award for Best R&B/Soul Single Male. The song also topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for one week. He also recorded a duet with Kylie Minogue, their co-composition If You Were With Me Now in 1991 (on PWL Records) which reached number 4 in the UK Singles Chart. The début album that contained this gem - Make Time For Love, on Quincy Jones' Qwest label - contained such instant classics as the title track above and also When You Love Somebody, Are You Still In Love With Me and the gorgeous Kissing You. That last song, together with Candlelight & You, his duet with Chanté Moore are probably shoo-ins for my wedding first dance whenever that happens.
Speaking of wedding, in June 2009, Washington married his long time girlfriend, Stephanie Grimes, and also revealed his plans to release a new album. He has since branched out into radio himself, as he now hosts the night-time slow jams show Kisses After Dark on Detroit radio station WDMK-FM 105.9.

Boomerang Week: Aaron Hall feat Charlie Wilson - Everything's Gonna Be All Right (1992)

Aaron Hall KILLED it, then Charlie Wilson BURIED it. New Jack Swing tuneage of the highest order.
It was also the first collaboration between teacher (Wilson, former frontman of The Gap Band) and pupil (Hall); a result of Wilson's 1991 release Sprung on Me. On that song, Charlie mimicked the Guy sound with his own distinct vocals, which was his pointed response to Hall not giving any credit to Wilson being his vocal mentor and being largely responsible for his distinctive vocal style.
This lead to the track Everything's Gonna Be All Right produced by Buster & Shiavone. While the title directly ties to a narrative  they are trying to reconcile with a woman, it no doubt also alludes to their own reconciliation.
A vocal powerhouse of a song; 'father' and 'son' in perfect harmony.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Boomerang Week: Babyface Feat. Toni Braxton - Give U My Heart (1992)

Give U My Heart is a duet recorded by Babyface and Toni Braxton for the Boomerang soundtrack. Essentially made to give Braxton a platform to showcase her talents, the collaboration was released as a single the same year, reaching no.29 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no.2 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (queued behind another song from Boomerang, Boyz II Men's End of the Road).
Other than the soundtrack, it can be found on two of Braxton's greatest hits albums, 2003's Ultimate Toni Braxton and 2007's The Essential Toni Braxton, and as a B-side on some versions of her 1993 single Another Sad Love Song.

Boomerang Week: Boyz II Men - End Of The Road (1992)

Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way: End of the Road first surfaced on the Boomerang soundtrack and of course took Boyz II Men to a whole different stratosphere. It still hasn't lost its power, even now.
Recorded in May 1992, it was the winner of the Grammy for best Song that year. Written and produced by LA & Babyface and Daryl Simmons, it is Boyz II Men's most successful single and replaced Endless Love by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie as Motown's most successful single. It was also the last Motown single to reach no.1 on the UK singles chart. The song is listed at no.43 on Billboard's All Time Top 100. It topped the U.S. charts from August 15 to November 7, 1992, setting a record for most weeks at number one with 13 weeks, beating Elvis Presley's 11-week hold with the AA-side Hound Dog / Don't Be Cruel. Presley's record had stood for 36 years.
However, two weeks after End of the Road left the top spot, Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You reached number one, and remained there 14 weeks, one week longer than End of the Road; Boyz II Men's new record stood for only 17 weeks.
The group's next single I'll Make Love to You, however, would tie Houston's record, and their 1995 collaboration with Mariah Carey Boyz - One Sweet Day - would break it, logging 16 consecutive weeks.

20 not out: Boomerang Soundtrack 1992 - 2012

Its 20 years to the day since the film Boomerang was released. A film from an era when an Eddie Murphy feature was a must see, and the film that bought a certain Halle Berry to prominence.
All that and an absolutely BANGIN' soundtrack. Fans of LA & Babyface's work form an orderly queue here.

The idea of having a soundtrack album that not only is a commercial success in it's own right but exists almost as a separate entity to the film itself is nothing new. It's been going on for many years, from Beverly Hills Cop, to Michael Keaton's Batman (which actually had two, one each by Danny Elfman and Prince), but the 1990's produced a new wrinkle - the R&B soundtrack.
Between Mo'MoneyBoyz In Da HoodNew Jack CityNew York Undercover and a plethora of others, record companies discovered that they could not only showcase new talent and preview new tracks from established artists, but make a very nice little profit doing it. So much so, that the soundtracks to some of the films are remembered long after the film itself has faded from memory.
Boomerang isn't one of those films; it is a good film and hails from a time when Eddie Murphy made films that needed no excuse to watch.

Murphy played the character of Marcus Graham, a successful advertising executive and infamous womaniser. After his company merges with another, Marcus meets his professional and romantic match in Jacqueline, played by Robin Givens. As his work and love life begins to suffer, Marcus sets his sights on Jacqueline’s assistant, Angela, played by a then relatively unknown Halle Berry.
Directed by Reginald Hudlin, Boomerang featured an array of other noteworthy talent, including Martin Lawrence, David Allen Grier, Grace Jones, Eartha Kitt and Tisha Campbell.
In a previous interview about the film’s success, Hudlin noted, "Typically when it comes to Black characters, either you have to be a successful, smart business person, or you're hip, but you're never both.... And one of the reasons why the movie has had such enduring popularity is because the character is both. He's much more in the Cary Grant mode of business person."

Not only was the film a success (it grossed more than $131 million globally at the box office), but so was it's soundtrack. The album reached the top five of the Billboard 200 chart, and included the number-one hit End of the Road by Boyz II Men. The soundtrack also debuted singer Toni Braxton, with her trademark single Love Shoulda Brought You Home.
Boomerang is great ear candy and a perfect fit for one's musical time capsule. And this week we'll share with you tracks from this memorable album. In our opinion, the album can be played through in it's entirety (although I'd Die Without You by P.M. Dawn and 7 Day Weekend by Grace Jones aren't to our taste, so are not covered here) and still stand the test of time, 20 years on.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Cover To Cover: Stevie Wonder vs. Incognito - Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing


Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing was a hit single from Stevie's 1973 album Innervisions, which reached no.16 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and no.2 on the R&B chart in the US.
It begins with an unusual spoken bit of dialogue, in which Wonder portrays a slick character trying to impress a woman with his worldliness. "Cause like I been to, y'know, Paris, Beirut, y'know, I mean, uh, Iraq, Iran, Eurasia... y'know I speak very, very, um fluent Spanish - 'Todo 'stá bien chévere' - you got that?"
The tune is in E♭ minor, starting with a Latin piano intro. The song's second chorus begins with Stevie taking the vocals up an octave with two vocal overdubs singing the same line. He also sings two other background overdub vocals, mimicking a horn line with the Spanish phrase 'Todo 'stá bien chévere' which, loosely translated, means "Everything's really cool."
While it isn't regarded as the standout song on Innervisions (no surprise that Living For The City takes that title), Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing is still an act of genius from a genius; a playful song that reflects the lighter side of the album.


Anyone that covers a Stevie Wonder song is usually on a hiding to nothing; over the years, I've come to experience a phenomena I call 'The Wonder Effect'. In other words, an artist covers a Stevie track and makes a good job of it, but in most cases their version pales in comparison to the Stevie version. There are however a couple of exceptions to this constant (another of which we will come back to at a later date), the track below being one of them.
Incognito's version of Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing was on their 1992 album Tribes, Vibes and Scribes; the track got to no.19 in the UK, no.46 in Germany and no.6 in The Netherlands. Jean-Paul 'Bluey' Maunick did the wise thing and produced the song in the trademark Incognito style, replete with a subtle bass underpinning, his horns doing their thing when necessary and the gorgeous vocals of Maysa Leak bring Mr Wonder's lyrics to life. Despite that, the only parts of the song that pay homage to the original are the Latin-influenced piano chords at the start and Maysa singing harmonies in an unmistakably Stevie style.


The fact that a Stevie cover can run the original so close is compliment itself; the fact that there have been times I thought Incognito's version was superior is no fluke nor trick of the ear. Some may argue that their version is too polished and takes away from the innate 'stevieness' that nearly every song he does has. Bluey and Maysa have stamped their personalty all over their version, and a bloody fine song it is; it is a song I still listen to on a very regular basis and still do not tire of it. On a different day, I may have given it to the Incognito version purely on the strength of Maysa' vocals; were this a contest based purely on vocal performance that's exactly what would have happened.
But - just - I would say the original is still the better version. Stevie's version is so underrated due to the phalanx of classic songs on Innervisions, but it has it's own unique signature, one that hints at a concept that I for one would love to have seen explored more fully - Stevie doing a Latin album. If you've never paid full attention to his version, then I suggest you play it often; it deserves your attention and will find a place in your heart before you know it.
That said, both versions will always have a place on my playlist.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Whitney Houston - Your Love Is My Love (1998)

Released as the fourth single from the album of the same name, it peaked at no.4 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart, no.2 on the US R&B chart, and no.2 in the UK. It was later certified platinum by the RIAA.
As well as the UK, the single was extremely successful worldwide, hitting the Top Ten in nearly two dozen international markets. At over three million copies sold globally, it stands as Houston's third most successful single, after I Will Always Love You and I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me).

Written by Wyclef Jean and Jerry ‘Wonda’ Duplessis of the Fugees. Many think that I Will Always Love You is her signature, but this song now has an eerie, epitaphic feel to me, with lyrics like:

If tomorrow is judgment day
And I'm standing on the front line
And the Lord asks me what I did with my life
I will say I spent it with you


If I should die this very day
Don't cry, 'cause on Earth we weren't meant to stay

The track has a feel reminiscent of Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry; it doesn’t make me feel sad, more a reflective mood. It also proved that Whitney could do more soulful material and ironically could have been a better direction to go to help disguise the fact that her voice at that point in time was not what it once was.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Whitney Houston & Jermaine Jackson - If you say My Eyes Are Beautiful (1986)

A song not featured on a Whitney album; this track was on the 1986 Jermaine Jackson album Precious Moments. Jermaine produced all of the duets they did together, another example of Clive Davis making sure she worked with experienced talent. If you listen to all of their duets, there’s a ‘Marvin & Tammy’ dynamic going on, and it isn’t contrived; Jermaine opened up about their affair in his 2001 book You Are Not Alone: Micahel, Through A Brother's Eyes. He said he was crazy about her that she had a profound effect on his life and that she had feelings for him; Michael would tease him about it. They broke off the affair as he would not leave his wife, Hazel Gordy, the daughter of Berry Gordy.

The video to Saving All My Love For You is apparantly an angry riposte to the affair ending, features Houston singing and recording with her married music producer, and falling in love with him along the way; that was a very deliberate metaphor. The release of the track was delayed because of this when it finally came out, her publicist warned Jeramine in advance of its release because of the potential damage it might do to his marriage.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Whitney Houston feat Roy Ayers . Love Will Save The Day (1988)

The fifth single from her second multi-platinum studio album Whitney; the single was released in July 1988. Produced by John "Jellybean" Benitez, who produced and remixed for the likes of Madonna, Michael Jackson, and the Pointer Sisters, the song is one of the uptempo numbers on the album that also includes I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) and So Emotional.
At this time, Houston had achieved a record-breaking string of seven no.1 hits, with four of those coming from Whitney. Love Will Save the Day did not become Houston's eighth consecutive number one, but continued her trend of hit singles by peaking in the US Top 10. The no.9 peak on the Hot 100 was Houston's lowest solo peak up to this time. The song also made the Top 10 without an accompanying music video. Houston had stronger performances on the charts prior to this song but it did remain in the top 40 for 11 weeks, and reached no.5 on the R&B Chart.
Internationally, the song mostly saw less success except in the United Kingdom, where it went Top 10 and Switzerland, where it went Top 20. It was a moderate hit in Germany, making 37; and was a minor hit in Australia, peaking at 77.

After her sudden death, Entertainment Weekly would rank the song no20 on its list Whitney Houston: Her 25 Best Songs and stated: "Though the single broke her streak of consecutive No. 1's, the Miami bass and spicy horns on this high-BPM dance-pop workout pointed to Houston's willingness to experiment and evolve."
If the vibes on this sound familiar, they should – none other than the mighty Roy Ayers performs them. I’ve no idea if Whitney and Ayers actually ever met, but could you imagine the two collaborating on an album?
Alas, we’ll never know.

There were lots of remixes back in the day (most notably by Jellybean himself), but I've chosen a more recent mix by Greek DJ John O. Valavanis, AKA Discobody on Soundcloud; sounds vewry 'period' and has some nice sample from other Whitney songs of the era.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Whitney Houston - A Celebration

As a fan of Whitney Houston's work from the very first time I heard her debut album Whitney, I'm still in a sense of disbelief, nearly two months on, that she is no longer with us. It is one of the reasons it has taken me so long to compose this. Its not a definitive history of her life by any means (there are plenty of websites and plenty of books that cover that subject) and I've concentrated on the positive, but hopefully you'll enjoy reading it. Some personal favourite tracks to come in the week.

Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born Aug. 9, 1963, in Newark, N.J., and powerful female voices and the sound of choirs were in her ears before she could walk or talk. Cissy Houston, her mother, was a gospel singer and back-up singer who worked with the likes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Dusty Springfield. Aretha Franklin and was the youngster's godmother, and Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick were her cousins. There was little doubt that young Whitney would follow their career paths.

1973: Whitney grew up as the youngest of three in Newark, New Jersey. Here, at the age of 10, Whitney was already performing in the junior gospel choir

In her family's basement - which was Madison Square Garden in her imagination -  she would belt out Respect and bask in the applause that she might have considered her birthright. By high school she was singing back-up for Chaka Khan and Lou Rawls and had also embarked on a modeling career that put her in the glossy spreads of Seventeen and Glamour magazines.

1979: Whitney's mother Cissy was a notable gospel singer and close friends with Aretha Franklin, who taught Whitney how to perform
1979: Whitney spent her teen years accompanying mum Cissy on nightclub tours, occasionally joining her on stage 
At a showcase in Sweetwaters supper club in Manhattan -  she could sing at 19 but wasn't old enough to buy a drink - she was spotted by Clive Davis, the music mogul who has become legendary for his ear and his success in guiding the early careers of Rod Stewart, Carlos Santana, Barry Manilow, Alicia Keys and Kelly Clarkson. Davis saw in Houston a rare bundle of raw talent, beauty and pedigree. He spent two years and $250,000 to prepare and package her before releasing her 1985 debut album, Whitney Houston, which would became a mega-seller.

1985: Whitney was spotted by a photographer in the early 80s and went on to model for Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Young Miss. She also appeared on many TV adverts.
1985: Whitney signed with mentor Clive Davis's label in 1983, but didn't release debut album 'Whitney Houston' until 1985 
It became the first album by a new female artist to yield three No. 1 singles: Saving All My Love For You, How Will I Know and The Greatest Love of All. Critics moaned that the material was too flimsy for such a prodigious instrument, but Houston reveled in the success. She became a major crossover star and, with her gospel background and relatively wholesome aura, she was the rare female recording star who was young and attractive but not overtly sexualized on stage and on screen.

1986: Whitney's album was nominated for a Grammy and the her first singles All At Once and Saving All My Love For You dominated the charts
Houston's follow-up album, Whitney, in the summer of 1987, delivered hit after hit with I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), Didn't We Almost Have It All, So Emotional, and Where Do Broken Hearts Go. For her career, her sales totals would become dizzying: By some accounting, she sold more than 170 million albums, singles and videos in the pre-digital marketplace.

1988: Whitney performs at the Nelson Mandela Concert 
1988: During the Summer Olympics, her song One Moment In Time, which was originally recorded for NBC’s coverage of the Summer Games in Seoul, went on to reach number five on the Billboard charts, earn a Grammy nom for Best Song, Film & TV and win an Emmy.

Houston's stirring rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner at the 1991 Super Bowl became a signature as well and a massive fundraiser for the American Red Cross. 

1992: Whitney crosses over into acting, starring in Hollywood blockbuster The Bodyguard:

1992: Whitney and Kevin Costner on the set of The Bodyguard. She releases iconic hit I Will Always Love You. Houston's version was a massive worldwide success, spending 14 weeks at the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, which at the time was a record. The single became her longest run at number one, smashing her previous record, which was three weeks with 1986's, Greatest Love of All. It is also the longest running number one single from a soundtrack album. It also appeared at number 68 on Billboard's Greatest Songs of All Time.

1995: Whitney's acting career continues with a leading role in Waiting To Exhale:

She also had roles in 1996's The Preachers's Wife...

...and 1997's Cinderalla, although the latter two don't experience similar success to her earlier films. As an aside, she also was a producer on the Disney film The Princess Diaries:

1998: Whitney has the honour of giving Muhammad Ali the Courage Award at the GQ Award

1998: Whitney releases My Love In Your Love, her first studio album in eight years. It marked a change of direction towards R&B and dance and was highly praised across the world.

1999: Whitney performs at VH1's Diva's Live with Mary J Blige...

...and with Mariah Carey performing their hit duet When You Believe at the Annual Academy Awards.

In August 2001, Houston signed the biggest record deal in music history with Arista/BMG. She renewed her contract for $100 million to deliver six new albums, on which she would also earn royalties. She later made an appearance on Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special.

In December 2002, Houston released her fifth studio album, Just Whitney.The album included productions from then-husband Bobby Brown, as well as Missy Elliott and Babyface, and marked the first time that Houston did not produce with Clive Davis as Davis had been released by top management at BMG.

In late 2003, Houston released her first Christmas album One Wish: The Holiday Album, with a collection of traditional holiday songs. Houston produced the album with Mervyn Warren and Gordon Chambers. A single titled One Wish (for Christmas) reached the Top 20 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and the album was certified gold in the US. Having always been a touring artist, Houston spent most of 2004 touring and performing in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Russia. In September 2004, she gave a surprise performance at the World Music Awards in a tribute to long time friend Clive Davis. After the show, Davis and Houston announced plans to go into studio to work on her new album.

2005: Husband Bobby Brown starred in his own reality TV program, Being Bobby Brown (on the Bravo network in the US), which provided a view into the domestic goings-on in the Brown household. Though it was Brown's vehicle, Houston was a prominent figure throughout the show, receiving as much screen time as Brown.

2007: Whitney appears at a party in Hollywood:

2009: She releases the album I Look To You:

Performing My Love Is Your Love with her daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown on Good Morning America:

Whitney performs number one single Million Dollar Bill on The X Factor:

2012: Whitney's last ever performance as she shared the stage at Kelly Price & Friends Unplugged in LA:

More than sales units, Houston had stepped to the centre of pop culture in a way that would make her a powerful influence on several generations of singers, especially Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson.