My brother is currently visiting me. He has noted with some amused disdain my facility to jump musical genres within minutes. So, one minute I might be listening to a song by AC/DC, then a Motown track, followed by Wilco and Dean Martin. And it's true, I love music so much, and for so many different reasons, I take joy in hearing a song I love, or even just like. But the one genre I will always return to is the soul music of the 1970s. And so, proceeding from the '60s soul three-parter, here we inaugurate my series of '70s soul, revisiting the age of the afro.
Earth, Wind & Fire - I'll Write A Song For You.mp3
It's too easy to rate EWF on basis of those extravagant costumes. There can be no dispute that Maurice White was a great songwriter, Philip Bailey had a richly expressive falsetto, Verdine White was as great a bass player as he looked and danced silly, and the horn section was tight as fuck. EWF are best known for their funk and disco material, yet the ballads were mighty as well. "Reasons" is possibly one of the greatest songs ever written. Not far behind is "I'll Write A Song For You", from 1977's All 'n All LP, which featured two other great ballads ("Lover's Holiday" and "Be Ever Wonderful"). I have been blessed with the ability to do a pretty good falsetto, and this song puts that skill to the test. Singing "I'll Write A Song For You" is exhausting. Once one has hit the "Just you and me baby" (at 4:37), and then does the "oh-woo-oh-woo-woaow", one is as spent as after reaching an orgasm. And the song is structured like good sex: it starts tenderly with acoustic guitars. A minute in the strings kick in, then the drums, and the tune becomes just a little more intense -- it's in the moment. Things start to build as the second minute begins and Bailey's voice gets just a bit higher. As the third minute begins, the passion really sets in, with Bailey going falsetto, the drums hitting like crazy, the bass going hard, the backing singers voicing their support -- and then the "just you and me baby" signals the orgasm. Phew!
Isaac Hayes - The Look Of Love (live).mp3
Where Earth, Wind & Fire give us the sex-set-to-music experience, Ike provides the foreplay as "we deal with love on a more personal basis". This is the shorter, less psychedelic live version from 1973' Live at the Sahara Tahoe double album. Hayes takes the once pure Bacharach song, and caresses it, kisses it, licks it, touches it in places it has never been touched before. He builds the song up to the point of orgasm, and then stops, only to start again ("the start to so many groovy nights like this").
Teddy Pendergrass - Turn Off The Lights.mp3
The humorous stylings of English comedian Lenny Henry usually hold very little appeal for me. However, his parody of Teddy Pendergrass (as Theophilus P. Wildebeest) is spot on. Teddy's slightly hoarse voice was triple-dipped in sex, especially on 1979's "Turn Off The Lights". I can't say it turns me on specifically, but I can very well understand how Teddy's vocals have helped many a guy complete successfully a seduction. When Teddy growls: "Let's take a shower, a shower together", it sounds like a command. As he continues, "I wash your body", he makes on offer she can't refuse. When he sings, "...and you wash mine", he extends an invitation that will be accepted. And when he barks: 'Turn 'em off!" at 3:17, you damn well obey. Actually, the song straddles not so much the object of desire as the fine line between sexiness and parody. Just listen to the shouting in the long fadeout.
Millie Jackson - Hurts So Good.mp3
Millie completes the quadruple play of sex dripping out of our speakers. The sex is not really in the lyrics (unless you share the view proffered by some that the song is about anal sex), but in Jackson's delivery. In fact, the lyrics are rather sad, as a pathetically submissive Jackson tells her lover, who clearly is a bit of a shit, to continue to treat her abominably rather than leave her. It's pretty sad. I think I'll rather interpret the song as being anal sex too.
Rufus & Chaka Khan - Tell Me Something Good.mp3
Aficionados of '60s pop will recall American Breed's hit "Bend Me, Shape Me". Later, that band morphed into Rufus, who in the early '70s roped in Chaka Khan (born Yvette Stevens). Rufus, named after an advice column in a motoring magazine (of course), had an early fan in Stevie Wonder who wrote "Tell Me Something Good", a funky, grinding jam, especially for the group, with Chaka in mind. According to Khan, Wonder coached her in singing the song. The result is a sweaty, sexy interplay between Khan, an insane bassline and some crazy guitars (including a vocoder!) which became a hit in 1974.
Billy Paul - Me And Mrs Jones.mp3
The ultimate cheating song, and a karaoke favourite of mine. To face down my fear about a medical procedure the next morning, I once sang this song stone cold sober at a karaoke, fully aware how ridiculous it might sound if I'd sing the "meee-eee-aaa-aand, Mrs, Mrs Jooo-ooones" part of of key. The trick worked: I nailed the song and lost my fear. At least until the next morning. Billy Paul's phrasing is exquisite (possibly better than mine), as is the orchestration.
Shirley Brown - Woman To Woman.mp3
And still on the subject of cheating, Shirley Brown in 1974 phoned "Barbara" to confront her about engaging in infidelity with her husband. Amid all the "hands off my man, skank" monologue, one wonders what Brown sees in that deadbeat hubby of hers. "The clothes on his back...I buy them. The car he drives, I pay the note every month." She owns his sorry ass, and she's not going to give her possession to Barbara or anyone else. Just because she own his sorry ass.
Barbara Mason - From His Woman to You.mp3
Mr Shirley has no say as Barbara Mason now hits back in an answer record (that sounds a bit like that terrible stunt with the "Fuck You" song by Eammon a couple of years ago, but it's actually very good indeed). The song starts with a ringing phone, and, hey, it's Shirley on the line. But this time Barbara cuts her short. Babs has no job, beeyatch, but she can give deadbeat Mr Shirley all the lovin' he needs. She is even happy to share him with Shirley, "if you don't bother me". Quality tunes both, but whom do you side with?
Eddie Kendricks - Keep On Trucking.mp3
The one Motown inclusion in this part has former Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks score a1973 hit with a slice of pre-disco soul-funk which employs his falsetto to fantastic effect. One is often tempted to credit a single artist or song with the invention of a musical genre (so, when Ike Turner died last year, the birth of rock 'n roll was credited to him). Of course, genres develop and grow out of existing genres, open to a multitude of influences, et cetera. But if one wanted to pick a proto-disco track -- or, more accurately, a proto-song for a specific form of disco -- then "Keep On Trucking" is not a bad choice at all. Now, why the hell should we keep on trucking? Or was Eddie doing rhyming slang? (previously uploaded)
The Five Stairsteps - Ooh Child.mp3
When I'm driving with my son, sometimes an old song will come on and I'll want to share my joy in it with him. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't. I mention this because "Ooh Child" reminds me of the scene in Boyz N The Hood when the ludicrously named Furious Styles (Lawrence Fishburne) hears "Ooh Child" coming on the radio, and tells his son (Cuba Gooding Jr) that he loves that song. Of course, Furious (if that's his real name) is quite right: it's an utterly lovable song, and hopeful, happiness-inducing number. (previously uploaded)
Friends of Distinction - Going In Circles.mp3
I'm cheating a little here: "Going In Circles" was a US hit in late 1969. But it wouldn't have hit other shores until 1970, so here it is. Friends of Distinction had scored a previous hit with Hugh Masekela's "Grazin' In The Grass", a joyous tune quite at odds with the downbeat and dramatic "Going In Circles". This song was widely forgotten until revived by Luther Vandross on his first LP of cover versions in the early '90s, about the only good thing that could be said about that effort.
Freda Payne - Bring The Boys Home.mp3
Americans might want to revive this 1971 anti-Vietnam hit. This isn't a political blog, so I will not state my view that the invasion of Iraq is one of the biggest political disasters committed by some of the most dangerous, arrogant and stupid people ever to run any country in history. All I'll say is this: the blood of a few thousand dead soldiers from the United States, Britain and other "willing partners" and several hundred thousand dead Iraqis will perpetually cling to the reputation of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and all their neo-con pals, and to the idiots who voted for the invasion in the Congress and Senate (yeah, you, Hillary!) as well as to those in other countries who supported it (yeah, you, Brown). "Fathers are pleading, lovers are all alone. Mothers are praying -- send our sons back home. You marched them away--yes, you did--on ships and planes to the senseless war, facing death in vain." Rarely has cliché communicated so potent a message.