18/10/2019: “As We Enter” by Mikey Dread

Why is this song so heavy? You can only assume that it is intentional; that the waves of bass which crash out of the speakers are the result of a conscious desire to make an earth shaking roots tune, rather than heavy-handedness at the mixing desk.

As you might expect, the low-end propels the song forward, but the hook is still a vocal one – and there’s able assistance from a guitar riff as well, providing a good deal of melodic staying power.

The lyrics, delivered in a gruff but positive manner, are a classic affirmation of Rastafari faith, of not being swayed by evil and being close to Jah.

The song was released in 2000, on the limited, self-released album World Tour. The release is a CDr, not a proper CD, and is on his own Dread At The Controls Imprint.

Mikey Dread was a true legend in the Reggae world, having been at the forefront of roots in the 70s. Tragically, he died in 2008 of a brain tumour.

17/10/2019: “All Good” by Illa J

This song is from an album which uses instrumentals which were produced by Illa J’s older brother. The album is 2008’s Yancey Boys, and Illa J’s older brother is J Dilla.

That’s probably why the main thing which jumps out on this song is the fantastic beat, even though Illa J is a gifted rapper in his own right. I actually saw him live once and was impressed.

The song feels profound, laying down a reflective vibe and some meditative lyrics.

The song samples “Look Of Love” by Ray Davies, a lovely 1967 tune. Listen to the original to get a sense of J Dilla’s genius. The trumpet becomes even more potent in its new iteration, backed up with a beautifully warm bassline and drums as crisp as a sunny autumn morning.

The song is about Illa J’s ethos and goals, which mainly surround staying positive and representing underground hip hop.

16/10/2019: “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits

This song was banned at one point from receiving airplay on Canadian radio stations, due to its homophobic language.

However, the song was written based on comments that Mark Knopfler overheard from delivery men who were complaining that rock stars had it too easy and it was just “money for nothing”. So the song reflects the less than enlightened attitude that was prevalent at that time.

At the same time, the protagonist of the song claims: “that’s the way to do it”, admitting that its a good lifestyle.

The song itself is incredibly groovy, with a killer guitar riff. The way the riff is used to kick the song off is one of those matchless musical moments which is instantly recognisable.

The bassline is simple, but adds a lot to the song through its driving force.

“Money For Nothing” features Sting, right at the start, who says “I want my MTV”. Sting’s record label naturally made sure that he was included as a songwriter for the track, even if he didn’t want that himself!

The song was released in 1985, a single from Brothers In Arms, and became the band’s most famous song, staying at number one in the U.S. for 3 weeks.

15/10/2019: “Jackie Blue” by The Ozark Mountain Daredevils

The intense folk vibes coming off of this provide a counterpoint to the Electric Light Orchestra-esque catchiness. As the name suggests, the band are from the South, and that Southern Rock heritage shines through here.

The almost falsetto vocals are provided by Larry Lee, the drummer – the first time he had sung lead vocals for the band.

The slightly psychedelic feeling of the song is down in large part to the wah-ing electric piano, and the reverb heavy guitar. Both of these add a nice emphasis to the song, which remains relaxed even as the pace picks up.

The song was originally about a drug dealer, but was changed to be about a shy girl who never leaves her room. It would’ve been a very different song otherwise…

The song was released in 1975, a single from the album It’ll Shine When It Shines. 

14/10/2019: “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Prince

This song has an interesting history. Although Prince did record the song himself in 1984, he didn’t release the song himself. Technically, the song was released in 1985 as part of Prince’s ‘The Family’ project, although this didn’t make much of an impact.

The song was initially popularised by Sinead O’Connor, who released a version in 1990 which became a hit.

Her cover is alright, but doesn’t have the same ‘Prince-ness’ as the original.

The Prince version is a slow jam, driven by guitar riffs and some particularly emphatic vocals.

As with all good slow jams, there’s a classy horns part – with the attendant guitar noodling excellence.

The backing vocals also add an extra layer of lushness, which is sorely missing in the 1990 cover.

After Prince’s death, his estate released his recording. This means that this gem was only officially released in 2018, 34 years after it was recorded.

13/10/2019: “Cold World” by GZA

GZA, known for being one of the most intelligent members of the Wu-Tang Clan, created one of hip hop’s greatest albums with Liquid Swords, released in 1995 to critical acclaim.

When he was making the album, GZA says he knew something special was being created.

Listening to songs like this from the album, it’s easy to see why. Over an ice cold and unsettling instrumental by RZA, GZA lays out a graphic and far ranging description of the social problems in African American neighbourhoods.

The song takes inspiration from Stevie Wonder’s “Rocket Love”, with a more gangster version of the chorus (sung by Life). The main riff is sampled from “Plastic People” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.

Lyrically, the song is as cold as the name and production. The wordplay and flow are impeccable, and although the song is mainly about shooting, the wider issues of crime and punishment are dealt with well.

12/10/2019: “Night Stroll” by Dam-Funk

Dam-Funk, usually stylised with an accent on the ‘a’, makes some exquisitely modern funk. It’s basically computer music, produced on a PC rather than played by a band.

That gives him an incredible versatility when it comes to sounds. The song glitters with whirling synthesizers, from the rich string synths to the reverb drenched hook.

The bassline is crunchy west coast goodness – and one of the key reasons that this song is instantly recognisable as a product of California

There’s a fair bit of grooving undertaken during the song, which keeps the song feeling fresh.

In many ways, “Night Stroll” feels like it could have been made by Flying Lotus. However, its a lot more accessible than a great deal of FlyLo stuff…

The track was released in 2010, on an E.P. called Los Angeles 7/10. The E.P. features two songs by Dam Funk and three by Computer Jay, making for pretty captivating listening.

11/10/2019: “Lihue” by Nohelani Cypriano

Having never been to Hawaii, I suspect I have a rather idealised version of what it is actually like.

Social problems aside, I do imagine Hawaii is an embodiment of this song, which is relaxed, tropical and full of soul.

Aside from the slightly squeezed “Hawaaian paradise of love” line, this song is just amazing.

Nohelani Cypriano has a great voice, which is well served by the concoction of synth instruments on this funky masterpiece. There’s even some exotic sounding birdsong!

The squealing keys are perfect for sun-drenched funk, and although this song is laid back, it’s still eminently dance-able.

The bassline is particularly brilliant as well, which stands the song in good stead as a boogie classic. It was pretty obscure, but has been dug out and given a new lease of life in recent years.

The song was originally released on Nohelani, in 1979, but has been re-released as a single in 2014.

10/10/2019: “I Wish That You Were Mine” by The Manhattans

The Manhattans are a R’n’B group who mainly operated from the early 60s to the late 80s – a good run, especially as their original lead singer died in 1970. Many of the original members have died in the last few years too, of mainly age related causes.

Their music though, is eternal. Some of the greatest R’n’B and soul classics of the 20th century are by them, with a few big hits recorded by the band.

“I Wish That You Were Mine” is about two people having an affair with each other, with their partners none the wise. The song is set in a bar, where the two are meeting secretly.

The song is classic, dusky vocal driven R’n’B, slow and powerful. The backing vocals have a gospel quality to them, adding a dreamy air. The instrumental has a sparse guitar lick, a tasteful glockenspiel and a ethereal trumpet.

The song came out in 1973, on There’s No Me Without You.