Monday, 30 September 2013

Isaac Hayes - Fragile (1995)

Isaac Hayes music is timeless; now that might sound like an obvious statement, but this song is proof. If you weren't aware that this song was produced by Hayes in 1995, would you be able to tell it wasn't a product of a Stax session in the 70's? His sound even works with someone else's lyrics, in this case a cover of a Sting song. His version is a very stark, poignant rendition, but Hayes' version knocks his lyrics into the stratosphere. Isaac's version first saw the light of day on Branded, his last studio album, released on Point Blank Records, a pet project of John Wooler, former deputy head of A&R at Virgin records. As well as signing Isaac Hayes, Wooler had the likes of John Lee Hooker, Solomon Burke, Pops Staples and Van Morrison on the label roster; quite a stable of talent.
This version is The Complete Moses Experience version, from the US-market CD promo; thirteen minutes and forty six seconds of pure heaven, a blissfully long intro and the payoff is HUGE.


Friday, 27 September 2013

SOS Band - The Finest (1986)

The Finest was a 1986 hit single for the R&B act The SOS Band. It's the 5th track on their 6th studio album Sands of Time and it is one of the group's last songs to feature the vocals of original lead singer Mary Davis.
Singing alongside Mary Davis in the song is Tabu labelmatea Alexander O'Neal & Cherelle. The Finest was a major success on the US R&B charts, reaching no.2 and was their last entry on the Hot 100, where it peaked at no 4. On the dance charts, it peaked at no.8 and was also a hit in the UK Singles chart, reaching no. 17.
From the backwards xylophone intro which is repeated later on in it's intended direction) to that loping Jam & Lewis backing track and Mary Davis' memorable vocals, The Finest is well named.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Geroge Benson - 20/20 (1985)

20/20 was the title track of the Gold-certified studio album of the same name by George Benson in 1985. Released on the Warner Bros record label, the lead single by the same name reached no.48 on the Billboard Hot 100 & no.29 over here in the UK.
The song features the vocals Patti Austin and James 'JT' Taylor of Kool and The Gang. You can especially hear Austin's voice when when they sing the word "Visionnnnnn" and the tight scat duet with George at the outro.
20/20 as an album might be a little bubblegum for some soul fan's tastes, but to my mind there isn't one bad song; it just goes to show that an artist who is at heart a Jazz guitarist can cross over while not selling out.

The John 'Jellybean' Benitez remix:

Monday, 23 September 2013

Howard Johnson - So Fine (1982)

Howard Johnson charted on the USA Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart during the 80's; one of his hits being So Fine, (from the album Keepin' Love New) which spent one week at no.1 in 1982, reaching no.45 in the UK Pop chart that year. Johnson started his career as lead singer of the group Niteflyte on Arista Records with several pop hits, then became a solo artist on A&M Records.
Still thriving in the 90s, Johnson was featured on vocals and co-produced music for such artists as Madonna, Boys II Men, Tupac and Tom Jones, as well as being an independent singer, songwriter producer and Manager for other artists. He also found himself as Vice President, A&R Director, and Studio Production Coordinator for Lifestyle Records. Currently, he is performing double duty, touring both as the new lead singer of the iconic R&B group LTD and wowing fans around the world as a solo artist.
Jonson also has a new album called The Orange Album, in 2012.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Vesta Williams - Once Bitten twice Shy (1986)

The late, great Vesta Williams; a brilliant voice that deserved far more exposure than it got.
She was known for her four-octave vocal range and once sang The Star Spangled Banner for the Los Angeles Lakers game opener using all four of those octaves. Although Williams never had any albums certified gold nor any Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, she scored six Top 10 hits on the United States Billboard R&B chart from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. She was known for the hits, Sweet Sweet Love, Special, and her 1989 hit and signature song, Congratulations. But to me, Once Bitten, Twice Shy is the song that defines her career. Produced by David Crawford, an acclaimed producer at Atlantic records who worked with artists such as the Mighty Clouds Of Joy, Candi Staton and B.B. King. The 12" extended version was remixed by Flytetyme wingman Steve Hodge, a man who mixed almost everything that came out of Jam & Lewis's Flyte Tyme Studios for 16 years, there's very little Steve Hodge doesn't know about making R&B records work.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Tammi Terrell - All I Do Is Think About You (1966)

Stevie Wonder wrote this track for Tammi Terrell who then recorded it in 1966; for some unfathomable reason, it was never released. After Tammi's untimely death in 1970 at just 24, Stevie recorded it for himself and it was included on his Hotter Than July album in 1980. The Terrell version finally saw the light of day on 2005's A Cellarful Of Motown! Volume 1; a series of compilation albums of Motown rarities, containing versions of known songs by alternative artists, as well as demos of songs that were not released at the time, but had been shelved for various reasons. Much to the surprise of Motown connoisseurs these recordings from the sixties and seventies emerged in the 21st century.
Personally I feel that All I Do would have been a major hit and would have further cemented her status as a solo artist. As an aside, I feel the manner of Tammi's death probably took Marvin Gaye's music in a different connection; if she'd lived, we may have never seen the Whats Going On album and maybe her supplanting Diana Ross as the first lady of Motown.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Lionel Richie - Dancing On The Ceiling (1986)

The 80's was not a good time for Motown; their records sales were in decline, several of their 'marquee' acts had left for over labels, such as Michael Jackson to CBS (1976) with Marvin Gaye following to the same label in '82; Diana Ross defected to RCA in 1981. Motown's star was on the wane and would eventually lead to Berry Gordy selling the company to MCA in 1988.
But while Motown was a shadow of it's glory days of the 60's and mid 70's, they did still have the occasional hit; Rockwell had a top 10 song with Somebody's Watching Me in 1984 while Stevie Wonder hit the top of the charts with I Just Called to Say I Love You in the same year with Part-Time Lover repeating the feat in 1985.
But it was mostly Lionel Ritchie, now solo after leaving The Commodores, that carried Motown on his shoulders in the 1980's with no.1 hits like Hello and All Night Long (All Night). And it was his third solo album, the 1986 release Dancing on the Ceiling that holds the honour of being the last release from an independent Motown records to reach no.1 in a chart, peaking in the top position on the Billboard Hot 200. The single release of the title track failed to match the album's success however; it reached no.7 on the UK Singles Chart and no.2 on the Billboard Hot 100, behind Take My Breath Away by Berlin and Stuck With You by Huey Lewis and the News.
And no post about Dancing on the Ceiling would be complete without a mention about the video; directed by Stanley Donen, whose most celebrated works are the Gene Kelly films Singin' in the Rain and On the Town. Donen took a page out of his own playbook too, with the party and famous ceiling dance reminiscent of Fred Astaire's routine in Donen's 1951 film Royal Wedding .

Friday, 13 September 2013

SWV - Right Here/Human Nature (1992)

There I was, making a mixtape for a friend on a Wednesday night in 1991, listening to Steve Jervier on Kiss FM when I hear the sample in this song kick in. I DIVED across the room and pressed 'record' on the tape; no way was my friend getting that copy. Jervier had recently interviewed Teddy Riley, who had given him a copy of this remix; the Michael Jackson connection being that Teddy had produced most of his Dangerous album in '91. Jervier uttered the fabled line "they're having some clearance problems with this one, as you can imagine".
How true Mr Jervier was; it wasn't released on US import 12" for another 6 months. I dined on that taped copy for absolutely ages. My US copy, obtained from my then-girlfriend who happened to work for Sony records in Soho, was a little odd: SWV were on RCA records, but the copy was stickered 'property of Sony records'. The UK version wasn't released for about another 6 months; in the US, it became a number-one single on the Billboard R&B chart and spent a total of 54 weeks in total, which is one of the longest chart runs of all time; it got to no.5 on the UK top 40 chart. Incidentally, The remix also features a young Pharrell Williams chanting "S, double,U, S-V, S-S double, U, double V!"


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

OutKast - Hey Ya! (2003)

Released 10 years ago this week. They'd come a long way since 1994's Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, a purely hip-hip affair. You don't need me to tell that Hey Ya! blew up everywhere and won a Grammy award that year. They managed to keep their roots while hitting the heights of success too; the song effectively made their legend complete and to me sounds timeless.
The video is as memorable as the song; directed by Bryan Barber, is based on The Beatles' landmark appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, but sets the action in London. The beginning and end of the video blend with those of The Way You Move so that the two can be watched in either order.

Monday, 9 September 2013

James Brown - Mother Popcorn (You Got to Have a Mother for Me) (1969)

Mother Popcorn (You Got to Have a Mother for Me) is a song recorded by James Brown and released as a two-part single in 1969. It was featured on the album It's A Mother and was recorded at the legendary King studios in Cincinnati. If you think it sounds familiar, it owes a lot to Cold Sweat and I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing; the man Brown loved to recycle his grooves. A no.1 R&B and no.11 Pop hit in the U.S., it was the highest-charting of a series of recordings inspired by the popular dance the Popcorn which Brown made that year, including The Popcorn, Lowdown Popcorn, and Let a Man Come In and Do the Popcorn.
Vicki Anderson recorded an answer song, catchily titled Answer to Mother Popcorn (I Got a Mother for You), also in 1969.
Incidentally The "Mother" part of the song's title was, in the words of The One: The Life and Music of James Brown author RJ Smith:
"[Brown's] honorific for a big butt".