I have tried to imagine that I had to make up a CD, using the tracks that I listen to a lot. These are not necessarily my all-time favourite tracks, and I do not assert that they are the best songs ever written, far from it; neither are they always the best songs from a particular artist’s repertoire. They are just the tracks that I play a lot, select from compilations. or choose to play first, when listening to a CD. They do not really encompass my wide taste in music, represent a special time in my life, or have deep meaning. I just enjoy them. This will be a long post, 20 tracks to get through. So, bear with me…
When Doves Cry. Love him or hate him, Prince, the diminutive musician from Minneapolis, has talent, and that cannot be denied. This song has an opening riff that gets you from the first seconds, and goes on to be a complete pop song of the 1980’s, despite having no bass line, and adding orchestral ‘clashes’. It was at number one in America for five weeks, and became a massive hit all over the world. And for good reason.
This Is Your Life. Banderas are virtually unknown today, and to be fair, almost unknown in 1990, when the two female singers formed this short-lived duo. Previously backing Jimmy Sommerville in the Communards, they released an album in 1991, titled ‘Ripe’. It was to be their only collaboration, and made little impact on the music scene, with the chosen track reaching number 16, in the UK top twenty. Yet it is a highly infectious song, with a great chorus, sampled beats, and a crystal clear vocal from Caroline Buckley. The lyrics have good intentions, and a meaning that can be identified by any listener. One from the archives, as good as anything around today.
Ordinary People. This song, co-written with Will-i-am from the black eyed peas, was a massive hit in 2004, for John Legend, previously unknown to me until that year. It is the strongest song on his album release ‘Get Lifted’, and won a Grammy award. The simple construction, piano and voice format, alongside lyrics that mean something to everyone, is just a perfect ballad.
Digging Your Scene. From 1984, until they split in 199o, The Blow Monkeys brought a new style and sound to British pop. Fronted by the effete Dr Robert, the swooning vocals, seductive saxophone, and political lyrics, were as fresh as a mountain stream. Collaborations with Kim Mayzelle, Curtis Mayfield, and others, established the band’s credentials, yet they split in late 1990, after only 5 albums had been released. There was a reformation of the band in 2008, but I confess that I have heard none of their latest work. I only have to hear the rich sax intro to this track, and I am swept away, even after almost 30 years. It is really that good.
Groove Is In The Heart. In 1990, the American club scene produced this strangest of collaborations, Deee-Lite. Fronted by the weird and wonderful vocalist, Lady Miss Keir, and backed by Japanese keyboard player Towa Tei, and producer Super DJ Dimitri, originally from Ukraine. Although the group made several albums, and had many hits in the US, this song was their only UK hit, and still manages to get people up on the floor. I dare you not to get involved in it!
Let Me Be Your Fantasy. Still going, since their formation in 1987, Baby D is probably the most successful, and best known Dance music group to come from the UK. They have had many hits, but none have surpassed the worldwide success of this completely classic track from 1992, re-mixed and re-released twice, in 1994, and 2000. I was almost 40 when I heard it for the first time, so not the target audience, by a long way. Despite my age, I was overwhelmed by the scope of the production, the changes, the samples, the orchestration, and the incredible vocals. A legendary track, by anyone’s standards.
Breakout. This was the first hit for the UK band Swing Out Sister, and literally took the music scene by storm, in 1986. It even gave a rise to a new genre name, sophisti-pop, though that is best forgotten. Sounding unlike nothing else around at the time, this trio produced songs of complex construction, with great use of horns, and electronic synthesizers, and the amazing vocals of Corrinne Drewery. They went on to great worldwide success, though their blend of jazz and pop brought them limited attention in the UK. Still working today, and one of the biggest foreign attractions in Japan, their talent and sound remain undiminished by time. I saw them live some years ago, in the intimate surroundings of the Jazz Cafe, in London. It was without doubt, the best live gig I have ever attended, and I was only sorry that I did not book for all three performances, as they rarely perform live these days.
Like A Star. With what is possibly the most soulful voice ever heard from a British artist, Corrine Bailey Rae broke my heart, with this first track from her debut self-titled album. For me, she can do no wrong, whether it is this song about love, or the life affirming ‘Put your records on’ ; the whole thing is a work of huge importance in British pop and soul history, and one of the best CD discs that I own.
Try A Little Tenderness. I have associated Otis Redding with this song for so long, it is easy to forget that it was first performed as long ago as 1932. Covered many times since, notably by Ruth Etting, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby, it is the Otis Redding version that remains one of the anthems of my youth. Starting slowly, always mournful, then building into a rousing soul crescendo, backed by the organ music of Booker T, it has to be one of my all time favourites. This version has achieved great recognition, making the Rolling Stone top 500 of all time, and featuring on film soundtracks. When Otis was killed in a plane crash, in December 1967, I was only 15 years old; yet his music has endured throughout my entire life, and I enjoy it as much today, as I did as a teenager.
Jackie Wilson Said. In 1972, Van Morrison released the album’ Saint Dominic’s Preview’, which contained this track. This happy, uplifting song references the great Jackie Wilson, and his hit, ‘Reet Petite’, and is also believed to be a swipe at the falseness of the music business in general. You cannot help but sing along, carried with the pace, and easy lyrics. This was later covered, and unaltered, by Dexys Midnight Runners, the cultish British group fronted by Kevin Rowland, who ran the outfit like a military formation. Released in 1982, ten years after the Van Morrison original, it is equally as good, and brought a new audience to the song. I would probably include either version, to be honest, although I have every record that Morrison has ever released.
Uncle Remus. In 1973, Frank Zappa released the album ‘Over-nite Sensation’, and the following year, ‘Apostrophe’. Although he had been around since 1965, and I already had his 1969 release, Hot Rats, these two albums were his most accessible yet, and contained many songs that were to become classics, at least to his many fans. He was not that commercially successful in Europe, despite a prolific career, releasing a total of 94 albums; and in many respects, he is almost unknown in the UK. His clever songs, a mixture of salty lyrics, innuendo, political comment, and outright comedy, are brilliantly constructed, and musically perfect. This is one of my favourites, and a nice introduction to his style. As he died in 1993, we will not hear from him again, but happily, he left a great legacy behind, and lots to choose from.
Maid In Heaven. Bill Nelson is arguably one of the best guitarists of all time, and he formed the British group, Be Bop Deluxe, in 1972. Their second album, released in 1975,’ Futurama’, contains this track,which to my mind, is a complete and perfect single. With crashing guitars, an excellent vocal from Nelson, and a sublime solo on lead guitar from him also, it doesn’t get much better than this. The band had limited success, and broke up in 1978. This song remains rockingly good, and it will make you feel like jumping.
Heaven Must Have Sent You. Motown had to feature, and this song, released by The Elgins in 1966, and again in 1971, is one of the best examples of this distinctive style of song-writing and production. Like most of the early Motown output, it was written by the successful team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, and has the essence of Motown running through every note and word.
Deadline For My Memories. In 1995, the German singer Billy Ray Martin released her first solo album, with this as the title song. I had heard her before, as the singer fronting Electribe 101, and I was keen to get this album, as soon as it came out. I was not disappointed. With tracks covering every style, from Disco, Electro Pop, through to heart-wrenching torch song ballads, it is one of my favourite records of all time, and one that I play more than most. She is still working, mostly as a DJ in her native Germany, but has never achieved the same success as she enjoyed with tracks from this marvellous album.
Lately. It is hard to make a choice from the huge amount of work produced over the years, by Stevie Wonder. This ballad, from the album ‘Hotter Than July’, dates from 1981, and is not the first of his hits that might spring to mind. Listen again, and this very sad song, about the break up of a relationship, is as complex and rewarding as a song can ever be. With a slow start, the long runs of lyrics start to increase in complexity, and the notes get higher as the song goes on; it seems as if he will never be able to continue to hold the thread. But he does, and in doing so, shows us the genius behind this man, whose career has spanned five decades. Simply masterful.
Mister Blue Sky. I defy anyone not to be entertained by this 1977 song, from the Electric Light Orchestra. This British band have been around since 1970, and their use of strings, electronics, and obvious songwriting talents, have brought us many memorable hit records. This track, from the album ‘Out of the Blue’, is probably their best known, and none the worse for that. It is happiness personified, optimistic, and singalong, all wrapped up in one delightful listening experience.
Family Affair. Sly and the Family Stone was an American Soul and Funk group who were very successful, even appearing at the Woodstock Festival, in 1969. They had a large line up, and concentrated on presenting impressive stage shows. They were also involved in what came to be described as ‘Psychedelic Soul’, alongside other bands, The Isley Brothers, and The Temptations. In 1971, they released the album ‘There’s a Riot goin’ on’, and this single comes from that. This song was a diversion for the group, and featured a slower, deeper vocal, and electronic backing tracks. It relates the difficulties of family life, something relevant to them, as their group contained many members of Sly’s family, over the years. It is completely funky, and notably timeless.
The Time Is Now. I do not often buy CD singles, as if the track interests me enough, I generally risk buying the whole album. In 2000, aged 48, I made an exception, and had to go straight out to get this one, by the group Moloko, a half English, half Irish duo who had been prominent in the electro-pop/ trip-hop scene, of which I knew absolutely nothing. What I did know, and still do, it that this is a great pop record. The pulsing bass line drags you straight in, and the husky Irish-accented tones from singer Roisin Murphy, complete the entrapment. It is a bit of everything, with a catchy chorus, a short repetitive verse structure, and an overall wall of sound bounding out. It may not endure with time, yet will always remain definitive of its own time, and that says a great deal.
Someone To Watch Over Me. This Jazz standard goes all the way back to 1926, and has been covered by all the ‘greats’, in its time. The inclusion is something of a personal indulgence, as it is the record I intend to have played at my funeral. I am choosing the version by Jimmy Scott, for me the best by far, from the album ‘Falling In Love Is Wonderful’, originally released in 1962. Jimmy suffered medical problems as a child, and they affected his development and voice. This left him sounding like a young woman throughout his career, and with a vocal range in the high notes, including a falsetto. Far from being a drawback, this gave him a unique, and easily identifiable tone. I was lucky enough to see him on two occasions in London, at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, and despite his old age, they were memorable performances.
Watching The Detectives. The first UK hit from Elvis Costello and The Attractions, this single came from the 1977 album ‘My Aim is True’. It is simplicity itself, a song about a girl who would rather watch TV, than be with her boyfriend. Yet it is so much more though. Lyrically brilliant, with a beat somewhere near Reggae, and Costello’s vocals instantly recognisable. This is British pop at its peak. It also contains one of my favourite lines of all time; “She’s filing her nails, while they’re dragging the lake.” Fantastic.
So, that is my first list of suggested tracks. A fair mixture, I hope you will agree. It took forever, researching all the dates, getting the spellings right, and just trawling them all from my mind. There will be others, occasionally. I will be interested to see what you think.