Illmatic, along with other albums such as Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and the Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers, helped to redefine hip hop in the 90s. It came out in 1994, and has been credited for its part in bringing East Coast hip hop back to prominence.
Illmatic has slick production throughout, but for me, “Memory Lane” really stands out. Produced by DJ Premier and built around a sample from “We’re In Love” by Reuben Wilson, a jazz track from 1977, it’s a wistful organ groove, perfect for a song so reflective. The track has an easygoing swing to it that contradicts the darker lyrics over the top.
Nas raps about the experience of growing up and living in Queensbridge NY in a measured and thoughtful way, talking about the trouble and deaths over the years. It’s the quintessential “hood life” song and is delivered with an effortless flow.
He seriously makes rapping look easy; his bars are like water flowing down a slope, relentless and forceful, yet smooth and hard to pin down.
A lot of Alice Coltrane’s music can probably best be described as being “cosmic”. She often viewed her music as a spiritual expression; she was deeply influenced by mysticism, to the point of setting up her own ashram (spiritual retreat) in the early 80s. This song, the title track of the album, was released in 1971, with the spiritual nature of her work already clear. The song’s rather difficult to spell name was the name of her guru, who she was very close to.
The transcendental feel of this particular song owes a lot to the inclusion of the tanbura, which, along with the contemplative, plodding bass, rises and falls gently with a calming melody.
Coltrane’s harp playing is masterful, and the flurry of notes so typical of experimental forms of jazz lends the song a very mystical vibe, complemented by a chorus of tambourines and bells. Pharoah Sanders excels himself with his saxophone playing, slotting his notes very nicely over the top of the dense texture of sound below.
The track is such a far out experience, and a worthy display of the formidable talents of both Coltrane and Sanders.
King Tubby tends to turn everything he touches into gold. This is no exception. To those who are unfamiliar with the dub tradition in reggae music, it essentially means instrumental reggae tracks mixed so that the bass and drums stand out, with other elements of the song dropping in and out of the mix, with lots of reverb applied to give the whole thing an airy, spaced out feel. King Tubby is widely regarded as the originator of this style, and his studio’s work remains some of the best dub even to this day.
Augustus Pablo is perhaps best known for his playing of the melodica, which he does incredibly well. The melodica is perhaps best described as a harmonica with a keyboard, and is quite popular in reggae more generally, in large part due to Pablo.
“King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown” is a dub version of “Baby I Love You So” by Jacob Miller, and was released first in 1974, and also on the 1976 album of the same name, which is probably one of the best albums ever made!
As with many great dub songs, the bassline is effortlessly catchy and drives the song forward, as the guitar parts dart in and out, the drums clatter and echo, the melodica stabbing and sliding intermittently. You can hear Jacob Miller’s voice at times as well, adding to the mix. The parts of the song mesh together wonderfully, creating a true dub masterpiece. Brilliant stuff!
I must have heard this song hundreds of times. Even more when you include the various remixes and bootlegs that crop up periodically! And the song never gets old. Every time I hear it the effect is the same; liquid sunlight dripping out the speakers and flowing slowly into my ears, every part of the song in perfect harmony.
Roy Ayers has a natural flair for soulful brilliance, and this song is probably the peak of his musical endeavours. Like a lazy summer’s day, the song is in no rush, basking in a warm glow throughout. The rich strings provide a tasteful backdrop to what has to be one of the greatest odes to the Sun since the days of Aztec sun god rituals.
Ayers himself doesn’t dominate proceedings, with the vocals having a strong female chorus component to them. The real star of the show, in my opinion is the unexpectedly sweet squeal of the synthesizer which provides much of the melody. The piano, as well, could not be improved as far as I’m concerned. The jazzy swing the song possesses really gives it special feel, and goes a long way to justify its position as the eponymous title track of his 1976 album.
It’s a great song for the summer months, sure, but this song exudes summery vibes whenever you play it, even when the sky is grey and threatening to rain!
Covers of songs can do many things. Sometimes they elevate the song to new heights, bringing out the best bits and adding a fresh new take. Sometimes they absolutely butcher the original song and make you wish that the artists involved had just left it alone. But in this case, the cover has the effect of making the song a whole lot funkier!
The original song had no obvious funk deficit itself: Lamont Dozier’s 1977 hit “Going To My Roots” is already a great song. What Teaspoon and the Waves do is raise the energy levels, emphasising the bass and the phenomenally catchy piano riff, with a slightly more assertive beat, and new, more triumphant lyrics.
The song was released in 1977 (although I’ve seen it as 1980) originally, in a 5 track LP in South Africa, and was re-released as a 12″single in 2010. I came across the track in a 2013 compilation called The Rough Guide To African Disco, which is a nice little introduction to the sounds of old school African disco. South Africa in particular has a huge history of dance music, and this tune is a nice example of the variety of that scene.
The Rolling Stones are one of the enduring legacies of British rock and roll. They are still very much going, with the band members in no rush to stop even as they enter their 70s. Jagger in particular is still evidently full of life, having had his 8th child in 2016…
“Play With Fire” was released in 1965 and appears on the album Out Of Our Heads, which shows a band starting to break out of rhythm and blues into a more recognisable Stones rock style. The song admonishes a girl who is obsessed with material things not to mess the author about.
It’s a classy slow burning track that makes good use of a minimal backing over Jagger’s inimitable singing. The odd twanging that makes up much of the melody is from a harpsichord, and makes for a nice sound. An interesting quirk is that the track is credited to Nanker Phelge, which is the pseudonym used by the band when they all wrote a song together.
A lot of great songs tell a story. “Cat’s In The Cradle” (1974) features some of the most compelling story telling ever put down in song form. This is not least because the story it tells is such a universal part of the human experience. People have children, the children grow up and gradually gain independence, and then they go on to have their own children. If it seems poetic, that’s because it was started life as a poem written by his wife. Unfortunately Harry Chapin died of a heart attack after a car accident in 1981.
Chapin artfully weaves his tale of the father who doesn’t have time to spend with his son, and you do really empathise with the beleaguered dad as his son grows up and the situation reverses, as the son does his own thing more and more. The heavy use of metaphors lifted from nursery rhymes and children’s games (Cat’s cradle, little boy blue) and the gradual shift in the lyrics from the dad not having time for the son, to the son not having time for the dad, makes for a very cleverly done song.
Most poignant perhaps is the way the son’s declaration at the start:
“I’m gonna be like you, dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”
Is repeated by the dad at the end:
“He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me”
Doesn’t hurt that the song is a very catchy one too!
Musically, as well as many other ways, Africa is hugely underestimated and neglected. This means that there are many amazing songs and musicians that tend to go under the radar in the west.
Marijata, a Ghanaian band are an example of the wealth of musical talent in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique, South Africa, and many more. As it breezes languorously from open to close, “I Walk Alone” showcases a breathtaking array of sounds and textures, from the ever-so-slightly discordant guitar/bass combination picking resolutely throughout, to the triumphant brass choruses, to the organ and guitar solos. The percussion fits nicely into the densely layered soundscape to provide a track that is in every way greater than its already brilliant parts.
The song was released in 1976 as part of a 4 track EP called This is Marijata, and has been re-released in 2011 and 2017. Timeless stuff.
Calvin Harris has a truly supernatural knack for churning out instantly recognisable, ultra catchy grooves. This one from 2008 has vocals from Dizzee Rascal, a killer combination almost guaranteed to dominate the airwaves and keep clubbers dancing away until the lights come on!
Dizzee is widely regarded as one of the best rappers Britain has ever produced, but he keeps it lighthearted here, with a cheeky, infectious flow riding over the stupendously funky jam laid on by Harris. The song was number one in the UK for 4 weeks, Dizzee Rascal’s first number one, and was certified Platinum.
I challenge you not to listen to this tune without nodding your head or tapping your foot, it really is just one of those songs…
Prince was one of the most eclectic and colourful artists ever. There’s just no denying that his originality and creativity made him something of a music genius.
Although he has made many other fantastic songs that may or may not make an appearance further down the line (Follow Twitter or Facebook and you’ll be first to know!), Purple Rain gets the honour of being the first song to be featured on Music365.
Released in 1984, this 8 minute epic is a rock song that builds from a sultry organ verse to a thunderous rocking chorus, and is one of those songs that really can justify its greater than usual length. There is a shorter single version (the long version is from the album of the same name) but to be honest the song is at its most enduring as a grand piece than an easy pop song.
It reached number 2 in the U.S, where it remained for two weeks, and was certified gold the year of its release. In 2016, when Prince tragically died of an overdose, the song re-entered the charts and reached number four, such was Prince’s staying power and influence on our culture.