This is a list of songs that are easy on the ear. By this, I do not mean ‘Easy Listening’, as in James Last, or Mantovani. These are songs that are mellow, tuneful, and can be enjoyed in the background, or simply relished, depending on how you feel. As a compilation, it would be perfect on a summer evening, driving along the coast, or enjoying a drink in the garden. Some are good enough to stand alone, though others are better seen as part of the artist’s wider repertoire. They are mostly quite old, because I am.
Oh Lori. In the UK, this was a one hit wonder for the Alessi Brothers, a duo of identical twins from the USA. They are still working today, though they have shortened their name to ‘Alessi’. I well remember hearing this for the first time; I think it was 1977, and the incredibly mellow opening line stays with me to this day. ‘I ‘d like to stay in love with you, all summer’. Great line, and a great song. The falsetto in some parts is so high, you might be forgiven for thinking that it was a female singer, but the swooning mood, and feel good atmosphere is a real stayer. I cannot recall any of their other work, or indeed any great desire to check it out either. Just this one then. Thanks, Mr and Mr Alessi.
Mas Que Nada. Although well known as the signature song of the Sergio Mendes Band, this was originally performed by Jorge Ben, and has been covered over the years by all and sundry, in many styles, and on different instruments. This Brazilian classic has a Bossa Nova beat, which is highly infectious. The soaring vocals, and familiar chorus, are so well known, even if you think that you have never heard it before, you will have. Covered by the Black Eyed Peas (with Mendes) in 2006, I suggest you explore the earlier version, to get the full Brazilian effect. (No pun intended)
Solid Air. John Martyn is sadly no longer with us, as he died in 2009. In 1973, he released the album ‘Solid Air’, taking British Folk Music to a completely new level. His voice is literally haunting, with a marvellous range. His legendary guitar playing speaks for itself, and combined with an uncanny talent for writing songs of great importance, there is little more to be said. Almost any of the tracks will do, but for the mellow mood, and as an introduction to Mr Martyn, this track stands above all others.
Sara Smile. The duo of Daryl hall and John Oates first came to my attention in the early 1970’s, with the power ballad, ‘She’s Gone’. I managed to get this on a vinyl single, then heard little else from them until some years later, when they changed labels, and the first RCA album contained ‘Sara Smile’. They went on to record many big hits, including ‘Rich Girl’, and ‘Maneater’, but for me, the gentle strains of my chosen song epitomise the style that I mostly associate with them. As with the English duo Wham, the listener is sometimes left wondering what the ‘other one’ does, as it is all about Daryl Hall’s voice. Sorry John, but you know it’s true.
I Saw The Light. Still working today, in his mid-60’s, the American songwriter and producer Todd Rundgren has never really bettered this track from 1972, at least for me. It is certainly untypical of most of his other work, with an almost sing-a-long chorus. Yet this still has pace, and always feels like it is getting somewhere. This is an intentional tribute to pop songs from the 1960’s, and fans of Carole King will be suitably impressed. At the age of 20, I was, and I still like this track today.
Misty Roses. The American folk singer Tim Hardin included this song on his first album, as long ago as 1966. He also wrote and recorded ‘If I were a carpenter’, and ‘Reason to Believe’, both songs made famous by other artists’ cover versions. Misty Roses is a very short song, a love ballad, and very touching. Hardin has a distinctive tone to his voice, that suited his material perfectly. Given the popularity of his work, his own contribution deserves better recognition. He died in 1980, after a lifelong struggle with heroin addiction.
Promise Me. Beverley Craven is an English singer/songwriter, and this track was her first hit, taken from her self-titled album, released in 1990. The song was not a hit until a re-release a year later brought her to the attention of record buyers, with this album eventually selling well over a million copies. She then took a lot of time off, to have children and raise her family. Unfortunately, by the time she resumed her musical career many years later, her style was somewhat dated, and she had been all but forgotten by the public. This song is a simple affair, sung at the piano, with minimal orchestration. It is nonetheless a compelling tune, and very well sung.
Marrakesh Express. Written by Graham Nash, the English musician, and former member of The Hollies, this pacy track was released by the trio Crosby, Stills, and Nash, one of the first ‘supergroups’, in 1969. Stephen Stills had been in Buffalo Springfield, and David Crosby was a former member of The Byrds, both successful American groups of the 1960’s. Teaming up with Nash, they released an incredibly successful debut album, and this track comes from that. They later added Neil Young to the line up, going on to even more success as CSNY. This song recalls a train trip to the city in Morocco, and some veiled references to drug use can also be interpreted. It has easily stood the test of time, and still sounds good more than 40 years later.
Chestnut Mare. In 1971, the American rock group The Byrds released this single, which was unlike most of their music before. Originally intended to be part of an uncompleted rock opera, this song features a spoken part, and an incredibly melodic chorus. It has anthem-like qualities, and harps back to a Western past, glamourised by so much American music. The song is a trip back to a certain time and place for me, yet will offer a unique listening experience, to those previously unfamiliar with it.
You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman. Again in 1971, Carole King released one of the greatest albums ever recorded, ‘Tapestry’. There is hardly a track not worth its own single mention, but I have chosen this one, as it is not normally associated with her, although she wrote it. Together with her former husband Gerry Goffin, and later collaborating with James Taylor, Carole King is responsible for so many of the hits we know and love, yet have little idea of their origins. This is the power ballad to top all others, and she sings it with such sincerity and power, you cannot fail to be moved by her vocal. Lyrically perfect, spare in production, it is everything a timeless song should be.
Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue. I make no secret of my general dislike of Country and Western music. However, there are a few exceptions, and this is one. The lovely Crystal Gale released this song in 1977, and swept me away with her deep tones, dreamy voice, and jazzy feel. I didn’t even realise that she was a Country singer at the time, such is the crossover effect of this hit song. Hearing it now, it is of course, very Country. Back then, against the background of mainstream C+W performers, it did not seem so. It still holds a place in my heart, and I would urge any doubters to give it another try.
Fool If You Think It’s Over. In 1981, I heard this as a single, released by the former soul singer, Elkie Brooks. I liked it immediately, but could not get over the feeling that I had heard it before. I soon discovered that I had indeed known the song previously. Three years earlier, the writer of the song, Chris Rea, had also released it as a single, but it had sunk without trace; despite getting into the top 40, it had little TV coverage, and scant airplay. This song is so good, that both versions are equally worth listening to, whether you prefer the gravelly voice of Mr Rea, or the husky tones of Ms brooks. Very much a ‘one off’.
Stop. The career of Sam Brown (daughter of Joe Brown, the 60’s pop singer) is notable by its absence. This is sad, as she is incredibly talented, and blessed with an unusually powerful voice. In 1986, the album of the same name was released, containing the track that I like so much. Despite sales around the world exceeding two million, she has hardly been heard of since. Although she still occasionally performs, she is never likely to achieve the fame she deserves. It took a remake of this song by Jamelia, featured in the second Bridget Jones film, to bring the song the audience that it always should have had.
Sweet Love. The American songstress and soul singer Anita Baker, enjoyed a short lived period of popularity in the UK, mostly due to this song, from the album ‘Rapture’, released in 1986. There are others that I probably prefer, but this definitive track shows off her vocal range, and sweetness of tone, to perfection. Unashamedly romantic and syrupy lyrics are easily forgotten,when you are drifting away to the sheer talent she exudes. A typical song for a first dance at a wedding, and that is not remotely a criticism.
Love Will Keep Us Together. Cheesy pop songs of the 1970’s don’t come any better than this. Although a Neil Sedaka song, and well-known as performed by him, I recommend the version by The Captain and Tennille, from 1975. This husband and wife team managed to out-cheese Sedaka, (impossible, surely?) and brought home a superior version of his punchy love song, that is as catchy today as it was then. If you are ashamed to like it, play it when you’re alone!
Dream A Little Dream Of Me. Mama Cass Elliot was well-known as the ‘big woman’ from the ‘Mamas and Papas’, who had a string of huge hits in the 1960’s. (California Dreamin’, for one) She later went solo, and her career never really matured, despite moderate success with some singles. She died in 1974, after suffering a heart attack in London. This track, from her album ‘Mama’s Big Ones’, is a song from 1931, written by Gus Kahn. With honky-tonk piano, and easy lyrics, it has everyone up and singing along, and is like no other pop song that you have ever heard.
Break Away. The Beach Boys had such an influence on modern pop music, in all its forms, it is amazing how little credit they get these days, and how they seem to have been forgotten by the mainstream. Easily as important as The Beatles, and any other band of note you care to mention, their long career saw them involved in all areas of music. Best known for their sublime harmonies, this 1969 track shows this off to perfection. It has a summery feel, and something of the Four Seasons about it too. Perfect vocals, flawless production, all adding up to a mini-marvel of a pop record. If you get the chance, try to revisit the Beach Boys back catalogue, and I believe that you will be glad that you did.
There you have it. A shorter list than before, at only 17 tracks. I feel certain that many of you, if not all, will shy away from what are mostly commercial pop songs, with zero street cred, and little serious musical pretentions. Not all of them of course, as many qualify for more consideration. Still, if you fancy a break from the earnestness of your Coldplay records, and would like to hum along, or join in with the chorus, then this is the list for you.