- 1. Divine Brown – Lay It On The Line
(The Love Chronicles)
I’m so glad real soul music is still being carried on by younger musicians. Well, Divine Brown may be older than I am, but Aretha’s still got 30+ years on her. Besides being good at it, she’s Canadian. This is always worth extra points, in my books. The icing, though is that she’s not just good – she’s fantastic! I first heard this tune along with its video on her website, when someone sent me a link to it. At first, I was getting ready for it to be a dud; another failed attempt at good music by some nobody. Wow! Was I ever proved wrong in a hurry! This song tells a story, it’s catchy as hell, gets better with every listen and I highly recommend her work to any lover of good music!
- 2. Joni Mitchell – River
This is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. From the album that has been widely regarded as her finest work (although she’d been successful before Blue, and has had an amazing career since), River is as honest as any of the songs on Blue. It’s as lonely as it is beautiful. She sings, “I wish I had a river I could skate away on.” Originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Mitchell likely wrote this while living in California, probably around Christmas time, as the opening theme of the tune plays on a Christmas carol. The lyrics tell us she wants to get away. Things aren’t going well and she just wants to skate away. Whenever I listen to this simple, but moving tune, it just strikes me right through the heart, (so to speak). Nothing but Joni and her piano can be heard and I always let myslef imagine, rather than a maticulously-recorded studio track, this wasn’t recorded, at all. Instead, we are allowed through inexplicable means to watch, silently from a distance, while she plays and sings her soul into every note, unaware that we’re admiring her and feeling just a touch of the pain that she’s completely exposing. When I bought this album, just a year or two ago, it was actually my first Joni Mitchell purchase. The entire album brought me to my knees. To think that music this beautiful has existed all this time, and I’m only learning of it now…
- 3. Herbie Hancock – Watermelon Man
When Herbie Hancock release his album, Head Hunters in 1973, he received a lot of flack for not being “jazz”. When you listen to the opening of this track, you just might agree with that, too. However, once you’ve been weirded out with strange squawking noises, tweets and shrieks for the first 45 seconds of this track, you hear that bad BAD BAAAAAD ASS bass come in, coupled shortly after with some very funky drum drum work, eventually completed by some spare synth work and topped off with the sound of some seriously laid back sax. It doesn’t take long to realize you’re dealing with a ferocious jazz ensemble playing some of the funkiest stuff you’ve ever heard! It didn’t take long for the music to speak for itself, becoming very popular very quickly, and today is regarded as some of his best work and an important album for jazz, funk, the use of synthesizer in those styles. Hancock has always been unconventional, ignoring annoying things like genres and just doing what every true artist does: create. For jazz and funk lovers, it doesn’t get much better than Watermelon Man.
- 4. Frank Zappa – Wild Love
Those who don’t get it would likely sooner listen to their local pop radio station spew its line of aural excrement all day than sit through a Frank Zappa tune. To fans, though, Zappa has been called nothing short of a “genius”. Silliness and craziness aside, the music is unequalled. I’ve yet to hear anyone do what Zappa did, as well or to the same degree with popular music. Wild Love is a fine example of Zappa’s unconventional approach towards rock music. It’s like listening to a rock-band-symphony-and-choir. Very tricky rhythms and technical bits with four and five-part vocal harmonies, standard rock setup (guitar, drums, bass, keys) plus multiple percussion parts, miscellaneous noises, cheezy rock clichés – this may not be one of Zappa’s “hit”, signature tunes, but it’s one of my all-time favourites and something that deserves to be on this list!
- 5. Nina Simone – Sinnerman
No one would mistake me for a religious person, but I might be tempted to describe Nina Simone as a religious experience, herself. I don’t think I’d be alone, either. People in attendance at her concerts often related it to more of an experience than a concert. She didn’t just perform, she moved people with music – not just literally, through dance, but mentally, spiritually, you name it. Sinnerman is a traditional tune, but her’s might be the most recognized version, if not the most powerful. Besides having a strange yet mighty voice, her ability to really get into the music is ever-present throughout her work. With these and all of her powers combined for this song, you can almost imagine yourself being in this small church in the middle of the country, surrounded by people overcome with the chorus of this tune, “Power! The Power of the Lord!” I’ve always believed that music is best when those playing it believe in what they’re playing. Doesn’t necessarily have to do with the subject matter, it just has to be performed with conviction. If the players believe in what they’re doing (and, of course, if they’re this good), the listeners or participants in the experience have no choice but to be moved and Nina Simone’s Sinnerman is by no means an exception!