26/10/2019: “T Plays It Cool” by Marvin Gaye

From 1972’s Trouble Man, this song is incredibly cool. Aptly named, you might say.

The album is a soundtrack to a film of the same name, where T is the main character – think suave detective operating close to the wrong side of the law and this song’s appropriateness is apparent.

The picture above is from late 90s bootleg EP according to Discogs – could’ve fooled me…

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.

29/08/2019: “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack

A lot of people will be familiar with The Fugees’ 1996 take on this. In fairness, Lauryn Hill does a great job with it.

This version isn’t even the original. That honour goes to Lori Lieberman, who recorded the song in 1971. The writers are Charles Fox & Norman Gimbel.

But there’s something undeniably lovely about this. The electric piano glides gently over the warm and serene bassline. A guitar whispers in the background, flickering around the piano like a candle on a beach.

And her voice – incredible. The choruses have soulful backing vocals which create a truly heavenly effect. It’s much more strident than the original, but not as hard as the hip hop version. Almost a perfect balance!

Roberta Flack’s cover of the song was released in 1973, and went to number 1 for 5 weeks, far outselling the earlier version.

23/07/2019: “One Step Ahead” by Aretha Franklin

Out of all of Aretha Franklin’s lovely songs, this is one of the most lovely. The serenity and grace of her singing really bursts through here.

Borne along by a whimsical guitar riff and a stately bass, the refinement of the strings complements her own composed and controlled manner.

When the song calls for a more forceful delivery at its zenith, her passionate and strong voice is more than up to the challenge.

The lyrics are about how she’s broken up with someone, and regrets it despite knowing that, deep down, it was for the best.

The song predates her Atlantic Records signing, and although Columbia were a big label, this song is actually something of a rarity in its original pressing. It was never released on any of her studio albums.

It was released in 1965 as a single, backed with “I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face”.

01/07/2019: “Keep It Up” by Milton Wright

Milton Wright was the brother of Betty Wright, the much more famous Soul singer. Although his career was nothing like as stratospheric as hers, he put out very good funk and disco in the 70s.

“Keep It Up” is a Soul tune, sizzling with synth magic. The basic groove is decent enough, simple and laidback. But here, it’s the decorative keyboards which really make the tune.

One synth takes the role of a fizzy, electrified flute or trumpet, providing many of the melodic flourishes of the song. The other is an ominous background texture, combining the lightness of strings with the sinister rumble of an organ.

It’s such a chilled out track, perfectly for a long summer’s day or a dusky Autumn evening.

Lyrically, it’s a nice love song, repeating the central message in an almost trance-like way.

The song was released in 1975 as a single, backed with “The Silence That You Keep”.

24/05/2019: “Daylight” by RAMP

RAMP is an acronym, standing for Roy Ayers Music Productions. It’s a group which he isn’t actually in, instead helping the members write and produce songs.

His musical creativity is brought to bear here alongside the funk legend Edwin Birdsong and William Allen.

The group is heavy on vocalists, especially these days, but they originally had two singers instead of four like they do now.

“Daylight” is a chilled out rare groove jam, with a definite smoothness characteristic of Roy Ayers and anything he touches.

There’s a lot of space in the song, with the cool as ice bass twanging slowly under some dreamy keys and a crystal clear rim shot. The guitar is soulful and

The vocals are about positivity, overcoming darkness with light.

The song is from the group’s only album, the highly acclaimed Come Into Knowledge, released in 1977 and now a highly sought after LP.

The track also featured on the GTA IV soundtrack.

18/04/2019: “Cool Out” by Leroy Hutson

“Cool Out” is a truly beautiful piece of instrumental soul. At its own unhurried pace, it deftly weaves together a brilliant ensemble of smooth brass shadowed by a flute, chilled out bass, light and splashy drums, and slightly startling piano into a sublime masterpiece!

The brass is particularly subtle, and in the quieter moments of the song play softly and sweetly.

The song doesn’t exactly get loud, but it does ebb and swell like a gentle tide, and at the height of the swell, a harmonious gospel chorus chimes in, singing notes rather than words.

This style, the softer and more melody driven soul, is a key trait of Chicago soul, as compared to the harder edged Motown from Detroit.

The song was released in 1975 on Hutson, Leroy Hutson’s 3rd album. He never really got the mainstream success he deserved considering the quality of the tunes he made, but they stand as a testament to his creativity.

Lovely!

07/03/2019: “Babarabatiri” by The Quantic Soul Orchestra

The original version of this is Cuban mambo, released in 1969 and performed by the bandleaders Beny More and Perez Prado. It was recorded in 1950. The song was originally written by Antar Daly, another Afro-Cuban.

The Quantic Soul Orchestra, in contrast, are an English band, centred around Dj Will Holland. They specialise in this sort of old-school soul and funk.

The main thing carried over from the original is the brass, which is easily the most Latin thing on the cover. It’s a great melody, with a slight variation that gets repeated over two bars.

The Quantic Soul Orchestra version is hard hitting, with a slightly gritty feeling, especially on the frantic drum break. There’s even a more dubby sound effect towards the end of the song, helping it fade away with a quiet dignity.

The cover version was released in 2003, although there was a more famous version in 2001 by the Gypsymen, a Todd Terry project.