30/11/2020: “Flava In Ya Ear” by Craig Mack

As with many hip hop classics, this song is underpinned by a smooth beat. Terrible rapping ruins great instrumentals, and great rapping is wasted on terrible beats. But, you do have to be a fairly awful rapper to spoil a beat like this.

Not that I’m trying to imply Craig Mack didn’t smash this one. The rapping is truly worthy of the 90s Golden Age. And although the remix version with Biggie Smalls is superb, the solo cut here is still on on hip hop’s seminal songs.

The beat wasn’t intended for Craig Mack, but his label boss bought it – setting Mack up for a stunning debut single!

The song was released in 1994 as the lead single from Project Funk Da World, and is certified platinum.

29/11/2020: “I’ve Got A Woman” by Ray Charles

The chorus of this song is better known from Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” (2005). The sample is flipped on its head there – in the original, there’s no implication of gold digger, quite the opposite…

Ray Charles’ classic version is itself based on “It Must Be Jesus” by Gospel outfit The Southern Tones.

The fifties atmosphere leaks uncontrollably from the song like a burst water mains. The adorable bass and drums won’t wake the neighbours, but they’re nonetheless fairly energetic.

The brass part add the other element of colour to the song, aside from the vocals. But, let’s face it – the vocals are the main event!

Ray Charles has a vibrant, distinctive voice – no wonder he laid the foundations for soul with songs like this and “Hallalujah, I Love Her So”.

“I’ve Got A Woman” was released in 1954, and has since been covered by a dizzying selection of 20th century notables!

28/11/2020: “Jah Is Mighty” by Bob Marley

Dig into Bob Marley’s back catalogue, past “Buffalo Soldier” and “Three Little Birds”, and you’ll be surprised.

Many of Marley’s most profound and beautiful songs never made the compilations, although in fairness, Legend is a brilliant album from start to finish.

“Jah Is Mighty” shares many of its lyrics with the 1970 Wailers track, “Cornerstone”. It manages to add further spiritual impetus to what is already a song based on a Bible quote!

The touching backing vocals and upbeat instrumentation give an added edge of hope and happiness. It’s truly lovely.

“Jah Is Mighty” was released on later remastered versions of Soul Rebels, such as in 2002 and 2004. It’s essentially a different take of “Cornerstone”, but I’m very glad it saw the light of day!

27/11/2020: “King Of My Castle (Roy Malone’s King Mix” by Wamdue Project

At one stage in my life, I worked as a lifeguard at my local pool. In the evenings, when it was quiet, we’d sometimes have some music playing – and I remember this came on quite a lot!

And of course, you’d remember this one. The hooks of the song, from the vocals to the synth, are very simple, and very catchy.

The beat is thumping and relentless, shored up by a cracking bassline – again, nothing too complex, just pure vibes!

I particularly love that little flute which crops up ever now and again, adding that extra depth of flavour…

The original mix of this is… fine. It’s twice as long and half as interesting, but makes a nice chilled out background song.

Roy Malone’s mix came out in 1998 on the legendary Strictly Rhythm label, and shot to number one on the US and UK dance charts.

26/11/2020: “Snow Creatures” by Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones is on the more ‘experimental’ end of Jazz. Frankly, a lot of his music dives into glittering pools of weirdness and splashes iridescent noise all over the place.

He is, undoubtedly, one of those rare musical geniuses, playing multiple instruments with panache and laying out a strange vision of sound according to some inner master plan.

“Snow Creatures” is from the 1972 soundtrack album, Dollars,

The song has been sampled by a sprawling list of hip hop artists, such as Gang Starr, J Dilla, Madlib and Quasimoto.

Listen below to feast your ears on the ominous brass, warped drums, eerie guitars and otherworldly vocals which populate this song!

25/11/2020: “Stink Face” by Kerwin Du Bois

When I think of Caribbean music, I normally think of reggae, or ragga dancehall – both associated with Jamaica.

They’re laidback and bass heavy. But there are other ways to do island sunshine vibes, and Trinidad and Tobago is the centre of the other big Carnival soundtrack – Soca!

Soca features a pulsing beat, breathless latin drums, and nowadays, some nice deep basslines. Although, it must be said, not usually as weighty as dancehall.

Still, on a riddim like this, “Yuh Bad”, the natural Carnival energy comes through. As you’ll probably be able to tell, the song isn’t particularly philosophical, but it’s got infectious energy.

It’s worth checking out Preedy’s version too, “Yuh Bad (No Stressing)”. Both tracks came out right at the end of 2019 on Yuh Bad Riddim (Soca 2020 Trinidad and Tobago Carnival).

24/11/2020: “Here Comes Your Man” by The Pixies

Released in 1989, on Doolittle, this track was actually written quite a few years later, when frontman Black Francis was 14.

It’s a very sweet, pop-py song by Pixies standards. So much so, that the band didn’t want to record it. But due to a producer who liked it, the song did see the light of day.

It’s a fairly simple song in terms of the chords and structure. The lyrics are about earthquakes – particularly the negative effects which they have on homeless people travelling on trains.

The video is a clear attempt by The Pixies to nod to the more upbeat nature of the song, with a mockery of Top of The Pops style miming.

It’s a great, happy song thought!

23/11/2020: “Youth Of Eglington” by Black Uhuru

For context, Eglington is an area of Toronto with a large Jamaican community. Brixton is an area of London with a large Jamaican community. And Kingston, of course, is the capital of Jamaica.

So this song name checks the Jamaican diaspora at the time. It’s essentially an exhortation not to fight, to stay away from the gun crime which affected places like Brixton at the time, and to this day.

For a reggae song of the time, it’s oddly fast, particularly the drum – but that makes it even more of an anthem. The vocals are strident and righteous, the bass slow and purposeful. The guitar work is brilliant too!

The song was released in 1981 on Red, with Sly & Robbie on production.

22/11/2020: “Surfin’ Dead” by The Cramps

The Cramps are one of the craziest bands ever. Their pioneering status in punk marks them out as legends regardless of their other attibutes.

But, from Lux Interior’s freakish performances, his wife Poison Ivy’s deadpan playing, and their horror show mish-mash of punk and rockabilly which laid the foundation for Psychobilly.

This track adds a third genre to the mix – one which filters through in some of the sounds that the band uses more widely. Can you guess what it is?

The clue’s in the name – it’s Surf Rock!

The eerie twangs and echoes set the stage for a typically Cramps horror themed track, brain soup and all…

The song came out in 1983 on The Cramps’ live album, Smell of Female, as a bonus track.

21/11/2020: “Fashion” by David Bowie

This is typical trailblazing David Bowie. It’s simultaneously entrenched in its time, and beyond it.

There’s just enough weirdness to mark it indelibly as a Bowie track. Particular love goes to the savage guitar riff, which slices through the mix like torn metal.

Then there’s that lowkey ‘beep beep’ breakdown section. It’s not a song which ever gets out of breath. It never gets flustered.

The lyrics are ostensibly about the relentlessness of fashion, although with Bowie you can never be sure…

The track came out on the 1980 classic album, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).