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.

20/09/2019: “If You Love Me” by Brownstone

I had wondered whether to write about this – the original, the most famous, and probably the best – or the Big Ang Bassline House remix, which I think is an absolute banger.

Then again, so is this. I can’t really think of many R’n’B songs which are quite as impactful. The song is beautiful in a way, of course. Their singing, the piano and strings… it’s a dreamy odyssey through love and live.

But there’s a groove running throughout the song which can’t be denied. The bass is classy and restrained. The drums are too.

Lyrically, there’s not a lot to say. The lyrics are very nice, but are of the classic 90s R’n’B “demonstrate your love” type. Great, if that’s your thing!

The song is the second single from the group’s debut album, From The Bottom Up, released in 1994.

17/09/2019: “LMK” by Kelela

Talk about critically acclaimed. “LMK” was given accolades by The Quietus, Noisey and Highsnobiety, among others. 

It makes sense. Kelela is a great singer, and this space-age R’n’B style is ridiculously stylish.

It’s catchy due to the simplicity of the melody, but still goes hard. The low-end presence and generally edginess sit in stark contrast to Kelela’s sultry singing.

The lyrics are about how Kelela doesn’t care if she gets rejected by guys. “Let me know, it ain’t that deep, by the way”.

The production was handled by Jam City, making it a bit different from Kelela’s usual stuff.

The song was released in 2017, the first single from Take Me Apart. 

09/09/2019: “I’m Still Waiting” by The Wailers

This song is from 1965. That’s long enough ago for the credits to be to The Wailers or The Wailing Wailers without making any mention of their lead singer, one Bob Marley!

Bob Marley also didn’t have dreadlocks then. This song could have been made in America, as an R’n’B track.

The smooth vocal harmonies, plodding bass, soft brass and light drums are pretty far away from a more ska focused song from this era, such as “Simmer Down”.

It’s still beautiful music though, and it is evident that Bob is a singer of rare quality. As with much music of this style and period, the subject is love, or rather the difficulties of love.

The track was produced by Coxsone Dodd, and released in Jamaica. Luckily, the song appears on the Songs Of Freedom compilation, because it would otherwise be quite a rarity. In fairness, it also appears on the Studio One compilation The Wailing Wailers in 1966, which was re-issued in 2016.

14/07/2019: “Love Really Hurts Without You” by Billy Ocean

Billy Ocean is one of the most successful British R’n’B acts, with a decades long career.

This song is the one which enabled him to quit his job at the Ford factory, and focus on music.

It’s very much a pop song, with a bright and cheerful vibe offset by a slight tinge of regretfulness. The lyrics tell a story of unrequited love, spurned by some girl who gives her affection to myriad other guys…

The instrumental sounds more like a 60s track to me, with jingly drums, bouncy piano, sultry backing singers, lowkey brass and lush strings. The strings in particular are very tastefully done in the verses.

The song is damningly similar to “I Can’t Help Myself” by The Four Tops, released a year earlier, but in fairness that song lacks something in comparison to this.

“Love Really Hurts Without You” was released in 1976, and reached number 2 in the U.K. singles chart.

Very sweet stuff!

15/06/2019: “Saviour” by Beverley Knight

Beverley Knight is English, and the album this song is from, Music City Soul, was released in 2007. The album was well received by critics, and even the middling review from the Guardian praises this particular track.

You wouldn’t know it. She could very well be a Nashville native, her soulfulness is so strong. In fairness, the album was recorded there and features some strong performances from Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood.

None of that is to say that her sound is a throwback, derivative of the past without daring to try anything new or push the sound forward. The song sounds contemporary, with a rock ‘n’ roll guitar riff brushing shoulders with a big bass drum, Knight’s 00s R’n’B vocals, and a sharp drum rhythm.

The gospel vocals are a nice touch too, adding an extra layer of richness to the track.

The album art looks like it could be a 60s classic as well!

03/06/2019: “Easin’ In” by Edwin Starr

This one is smooth as glass. The way the instruments jam off the back of each other to create the melody is very cool!

From the delightfully fuzzy bass, to the organ, to the guitar, to the backing vocalists, the song doesn’t put a foot wrong.

The drums are funky yet restrained, in tune with the rest of the track. Edwin Starr’s vocals are pretty laid back to.

The lyrics are about a shifty hit man who is keeping a low profile to infiltrate a new area. Hence “easing in”. A couple of the verses do see Starr raise his voice a bit, which works pretty well.

The song was released in 1974, on the OST album for “Hell Up In Harlem”. It was written by Freddie Perren, but for some reason Motown didn’t release it as a single, so it never lived up to its chart potential.

Couldn’t be any cooler!

04/05/2019: “Tell It Like It Is” by Aaron Neville

Aaron Neville is part of the Neville Brothers, so is consequently no stranger to the soulful sounds of New Orleans.

However, he is the most successful of the brothers, with 4 Platinum albums to his name.

This song is a sweet crooning R’n’B number, with oodles of popular appeal and a seriously smooth instrumental…

The bassline slowly paces under the lush arrangements of the other instruments, such as the bashful guitar and watchful horns, but of course, however great the instrumental is, Neville’s vocals would have always been greater.

The chorus is where the song really catches hold of you, but the measured and melancholy verses are an excellent counterpoint.

The song is a warning not to mess about with his heart, essentially imploring his love interest to commit or quit!

The song was written by George Davis and Lee Diamond, and was released in 1966. It climbed to number 2 in the Billboard Hot 100.

Brimming with soul!

26/04/2019: “Empire State Of Mind (Part II)” by Alicia Keys

Part I of this song is much harder edged, with Jay-Z rapping over the top, and a hip hop beat.

This version places Alicia Keys (and her fantastic voice) in the spotlight, and the production is much more gentle to reflect that. The piano is emphasised too, so that for most of the song it’s just mainly just her vocals and the piano. A drum beat kicks in at the end, and at certain points some light backup vocals enter the scene.

But it’s a song which thrives off Alicia Keys, and although Jay Z’s version was more popular, she proves her worth here.

The lyrics are an upbeat homage to New York City, which presents a more optimistic view of the poverty and violence which blight many of its areas.

The first part of this song was released in 2009; this one was also released in 2009 on Keys’ album The Element Of Freedom, but was only released as a single in 2010 after the huge success it had on the U.K. Singles Chart based on downloads.

Lovely!

17/04/2019: “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” by Ray Charles

Before Stevie Wonder, there was Ray Charles. By that, I mean that they both became very successful musicians despite being blind. Ray Charles is one of the pioneers of soul, and has had huge influence on the development of pop music.

He was placed by Rolling Stone as the 10th greatest artist of all time!

Stevie Wonder actually has his own take on this track; a distinctive electronic jam in his own incomparable style.

Nothing beats the original piece of feel good 50s magic though. Everything is bang on, from the dusky vocals, soaring horn arrangement, swing band rhythm section, and emphatic piano.

It’s a most lovely love song, which can’t help but put smiles on faces wherever it is heard…

There’s also a wicked sax solo by Don Wilkerson, which adorns the middle of the song like a polished brass love heart!

The song was released in 1955, and reached number 5 on the U.S. Billboard R&B Chart. It was also released on the 1957 album Ray Charles.

Classic in every way!