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!

05/03/2019: “She Can’t Love You” by Chemise

This groove is seriously infectious. It could easily cause a dancing pandemic!

The song blends the soulful vocals and the delicate bell sound with a slapping bassline, an lively electronic drum beat, and a sweet multi-part synth hook.

The hook screams 80s good times, but instead of feeling dated, the song feels timeless.

The vocals draw a lot of influence from R’n’B, which at that time often overlapped with disco and soul. Really, this song is better classed as “Boogie” than disco.

As with many of these kinds of song, it’s the basic jam which forms the backbone of the song. However, the rest of the elements of the song help to elevate it to new heights.

Chemise were a husband-wife team, who pretty much only made this song together.

The song was released in 1982, on the Emergency record label.

Boogie down!

26/02/2019: “I Wanna Be Down” by Brandy

Ideally, this blog would have a complete range of genres, with no preference given to any.

However, that is not how it works in practise. I have recently noticed that there is pretty much no 90s or 00s R’n’B, which is a shame because it was a hugely significant thing, and there were a lot of talented singers involved.

Brandy was one of the biggest stars of that movement, becoming one of the best selling female artists ever!

“I Wanna Be Down” was her debut single, and shot her to success.

It’s a great example of a 90s Contemporary R’n’B track, although the beat is pretty heavy, with a deep bassline. The rest is sultry enough, with a light and funky synth, perfectly complementing her wonderful singing voice.

The song is about love, and her attempts to win over a guy. This doesn’t make it stand out from the crowd in terms of 90s R’n’B, as you might expect!

The song was released in 1994, ahead of her self-titled debut album.

A great tune.

14/01/2019: “Weave” by Ashni

Ashni is a New Yorker with Indian roots. She draws inspiration from Indian styles and Jazz, as well as R’n’B, and I think that’s apparent in her music.

“Weave” is apparently about the connections we have to our communities, written in the aftermath of the U.S. election.

If I’m honest I don’t particularly see that in the song, but there’s definitely a theme of healing.

The song is wistful, with a slow start. The piano chords hang in the air like slowly falling leaves, giving Ashni’s voice plenty of room. The guitar licks stay at a respectful distance from the rest of the song, interjecting softly every now and then.

Midway through the song, the “aaaahhh ahh ah” vocals start, and then build up to a resolute second section. The jazzy drums enter at a stately pace, and some backing vocals meld with Ashni’s to produce a majestic, proud march forward.

The song was released as a single in 2017.

Lovely!

03/11/2018: “This Bitter Earth” by Dinah Washington

There’s something about these old songs which is sorely missing in today’s world.

Written by Clyde Otis, and performed by Dinah Washington, the song has a haunting quality to it, amplified by the truly poetic nature of the lyrics.

The song is about a yearning for love and how the world can seem cold and lonely without it. It’s quite short, but into that time it squeezes a lot of contemplative thoughts.

The original backing track is a sultry, strings laden R’n’B number, with a host of backing vocals, and some tasteful piano to embellish the song. The rhythm sections plods along, seemingly lost in thought. There’s a note of melancholy, but to me it doesn’t seem like a sad song.

There’s a version used in Scorsese’s Shutter Island which uses Max Richter’s “On The Nature Of Daylight” as a backing track. It’s very majestic, possibly being more emotional than the original!

The track was released as a single in 1960, and on the LP Unforgettable in 1961.

Beautiful!