"I've escaped it, a life wasted/And I'm never going back again." - Pearl Jam, "Life Wasted"

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Top 20 R&B songs

Can't think of much to write about, so back to doing lists. =p

R&B, or soul music. It draws from the joyous singing of gospel, and delivers some of the most passionate songs on record. Needless to say, it has produced some excellent vocalists and, through its offshoot genres like funk and reggae, some seriously groovy rhythms.

20 If You Don't Know Me By Now - Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes
Yeah, I heard the Simply Red version first but, listening to the original, it didn't need much improvement. A distressing tale of crumbling love, the song draws out the drama slowly, as if unwilling to let this relationship end. Spine-tingling moment: "What good is a love affair, when we can't see eye to eye?" An obvious heartbreaking question.

19 I Want To Take You Higher - Sly And The Family Stone
Party time! Bring out the horns, slap on the funky groove, and scream the chorus. Don't think. Here, some booze may help. Spine-tingling moment: I'm seldom as keen on joyous trumpets as this one.

18 No Ordinary Love - Sade
One of my pet peeves is divas who think that screaming at the top of their voices means soul. (Don't look away, Mariah, Whitney.) Want soul? Check this smouldering, seven-minute slow burn from my favourite chanteuse. Not a single vocal leap, yet you can hear every desperation. Spine-tingling moment: The subtlety is also in the groove - jazzy, yet insistent.

17 Right To Be Wrong - Joss Stone
God, 17 years old only?? It's a magical voice she's blessed with and, thankfully, she lends it to lift stately songs like this. Spine-tingling moment: When her voice enters amid tasteful guitar lines - all shivery and luminous.

16 Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing - Marvin Gaye
R&B duets are often tacky, but trust the top soul man IMHO to spill the passion with his regular partner, Tammi Terrell. At just over two minutes, the song's not drawn out like most other duets, but Gaye and Terrell makes it urgent enough to make us feel the love between. Spine-tingling moment: When Gaye "oooohs" to start the rush of love.

15 One Nation Under A Groove - Funkadelic
Groove is a peculiar thing. You either have it inbred, or you have to work hard at it. Funkadelic, for sure, have it inbred. This invitation to dance is so elastic, so rubbery, sitting down is a crime. Spine-tingling moment: "One nation under a groove/Gettin' down just for the funk of it/One nation and we're on the move/Nothin' can stop us now."

14 People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield And The Impressions
Gently, this hymn works its charms. So many artistes have covered this song, yet when I heard this original version it still tingles with its pure gospel soul. Spine-tingling moment: When everything drops away, leaving only the exquisite harmony: "You just thank the Lord."

13 Dancing In The Streets - Martha And The Vandellas
Driving Motown classic, with booming beats and infectious vibe. As soon as the horns blare out, you're caught in the Motown magic. Spine-tingling moment: Gorgeous horns after the opening drum roll.

12 Lately - Stevie Wonder
With a double bass and piano as his only accompaniment, Wonder wrenches a world of hurt with his emotive vocals. The sparse arrangement only adds to the loneliness. Spine-tingling moment: The exqusite piano riff draws the listener away from the pain.

11 Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine - James Brown
A-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum. Whereby the Godfather of Soul whoops, shouts, grunts his way to funk heaven. Spine-tingling moment: Get up! (Get on up!)

10 No Woman No Cry - Bob Marley
The only reggae artiste that matters. The classic reggae beat is married to an impossibly soulful love song that soars to moving heights in the live version. Contrary to the song title, just listening to Pete Tosh's liquid guitar is enough to make one weep in joy. Spine-tingling moment: Wait for Tosh's solo. It's worth it.

9 Under The Bridge - Red Hot Chili Peppers
The most un-categorisable band ever. Rock? Rap? Funk? Since I grouped funk with R&B, here's the salacious foursome with their biggest hit. And it's an ode to a tragic city so beautiful, you wonder if Anthony Kiedis drew his strength from all the R&B soul men. Spine-tingling moment: The song takes flight on the warm guitar intro, and lands on the chilling guitar outro, both courtesy of the underrated John Frusciante.

8 Let's Stay Together - Al Green
The Reverend exudes joy in every song, a rarity in most singers, who are usually tortured souls at best. =p So smooth and silky is his delivery, one would guess he entered reverend-hood to evade the hordes of women taken in. Spine-tingling moment: When he leaps into falsetto heaven: "Let's..........Let's stay together......"

7 Try A Little Tenderness - Otis Redding
A force of nature, Redding erupts like a volcanic soul on this momentous track. What a thrill listening him build from a stately ballad to near hysteria in the end. Spine-tingling moment: When he holds nothing back in the end: "You gotta hold her/don't squeeze her/never leave her/you gotta hold her/and never/so try a little tenderness" Insane lyrics, huh?

6 Little Red Corvette - Prince
The Purple One's eccentricities hide a singular talent that can flit through every genre with apparent ease. This is his best R&B song, modernised with synth and filled with double-entredres that only his dirty mind can come up with. Yet the pop sensibilities are evident, as soon as you hit the chorus. Spine-tingling moment: The wondrous three guitar notes after Prince sings the song title.

5 The Tracks Of My Tears - Smokey Robinson
The best R&B lyricist, even Bob Dylan praises him. Robinson's imagery is so stunning, it takes a while to marvel at the poetry. This song is catchy and soulful enough, and then you listen to the lyrics. Spine-tingling moment: "So take a good look at face/You'll see my smile looks out of place/If you look closer, it's easy to trace/The tracks of my tears."

4 You Are The Sunshine Of My Life - Stevie Wonder
Gorgeous singing + a deathless melody = undisputed classic. It is deceptively simple, but Wonder piles in the subtle minor-key flourishes and jazzy grooves, and then makes the song stick in your head forever. Wow. Spine-tingling moment: "You are the sunshine of my life/Forever you'll stay in my heart." So shatteringly simple.

3 Georgia On My Mind - Ray Charles
The ballad that defines stately, and not because it's the state song of Georgia. The weepy strings, the awesome soul of Ray Charles, and the timelessness of the lyrics, it all adds to a top-notch soul classic. Spine-tingling moment: The languid pace sets up Charles' exquisite phrasing: "Georgia......Georgia.....no peace I find.....just an old sweet song.....keeps Georgia on my mind."

2 A Change Is Gonna Come - Sam Cooke
Soul music as protest song. Cooke's visionary 1962 standard sets the agenda for every hip-hop and rap protest 30 years on. Every line is sang with gut-wrenching soul, so much so the overwrought orchestra arrangement pales in power. Speaks a lot about Cooke's majestic talent. Spine-tingling moment: The most important two lines in soul music history: "It's been a long, long time coming but I know/A change is gonna come, oh yes it will."

1 What's Going On - Marvin Gaye
In which Gaye emulates his hero Sam Cooke in writing a social-conscious song, but ends up with something far more transcendent than anything R&B has ever produced. Gaye's genius is his subtlety in sending his message across. Never strident, the song builds upon a smooth jazzy groove as Gaye's silky vocals tracks the turbulent age that was affecting his family. The "Mother mother" and "Brother brother" refrain works wonders, as he rages quietly at the destruction of his family. The tone remains calm as he urges all to see what's going on. A impeccable classic that crosses all boundaries. Spine-tingling moment: The chilling pre-chorus: "Picket lines and picket signs/Don't punish me with brutality/Come on talk to me, so you can see/What's going on."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came across you when going through the exercise on the Guardian site - Six Songs of Your Life.
Wow, what a great list, and you don't just go for the obvious ones! Very nice.

7:11 PM

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