Saturday, September 6, 2008

Desert Island Discs

If you could bring only ten tunes to a desert island, what would they be? I just reorganized all my CDs and visited with some old musical friends. After brief thought, I compiled a list of ten favorite songs…and here they are:

1. LTD – Back In Love Again. If I had to embarrass myself by ‘getting down’ in my car, with the radio blasting, this would be the tune. It’s down-home danceable funk, complete with a hot horn section, perfect for polyester. You must check out the You Tube clip of this song ripped from an old recording of Soul Train! Lead Singer Jeffrey Osborne (pictured – before his solo career) leads a big band all dressed in red jumpsuits and serious Afro hair-dos. These guys are no amateurs! They used to back-up Sam and Dave! The bass line alone is plenty to get you up and going. I defy anyone to not dance to this! By the way, L T D stands for Love, Togetherness and Devotion ba-by!

2. Aretha Franklin – Freeway of Love. Mariah Carey? Celine Dion? Please! Aretha is the Queen of Soul and the Queen of All Singers. Ladies, take note: This is how it’s done. There is no other and there will never be. Her career is amazingly diverse in style. Her superior quality is constant. So, drop the top, baby and let’s cruise on into ‘It’s Better Than Ever’ street!

3. Michael Jackson - Don’t Stop (‘Till You Get Enough.) This is what happens when you simply have the best in the world: Michael Jackson, Hollywood’s finest session musicians, legendary Quincy Jones as producer and Bruce Swedien completing the final mix. Collaborative and complex, this recording is a delight to be enjoyed again and again. Listen on headphones. Listen on speakers. Listen in your car. You’ll hear more and more. Every instrument is crisp and present. The spatiality of the stereo image amazes me. So much is going on here and it all comes together with orchestral harmony. The song itself is killer enough to make any dance floor die and die again. Big band funk with Latin percussion. Who thought this up? Aren’t you glad they did!

4. Shawn Colvin – Tennessee. She may be from South Dakota, but her heart and soul heads towards Nashville and Memphis. Confident and filled with procacity, this is Shawn at her very best. Bela Fleck came by for this delight, the kind of record ready for flying along I-40 with the top down. Another beautifully clean recording with an amazing three-way guitar break creating a centerline for the progression of this tale. Who ever heard of a love song to a state? The lyrical imagery and the hot musicianship make this quite a valentine.

5. Mary Chapin Carpenter – I Feel Lucky. Chapin is a very smart lady. With Ivy League credentials, she has charmed us for years and years with her insightful storytelling and ingenious moving lyrics. Here she is - sassy and simply a lot of fun – a devil-may-care attitude to an improbable lottery win. Clever and crafty, this playful satire perfectly captures a sunny day of play. Great fun! (While you are at it, check out Wynonna Judd’s Girls With Guitars. It’s a stealth Mary Chapin song, with all the same feeling, that Wynonna was lucky to get and perform.)

6. Wilson Philips – You’re In Love. Sometimes formulaic pop music really does work. This song is a case in point. The singers are excellent. The tight musicianship compliments the unrequited regrets of the songwriter’s voice. I have always visioned the singer of this song peering sadly out the window of a small corporate jet heading skyward and not looking back. Michael Landau’s lead guitar delivers a solid statement of unquestioned fate for the former lover. I guess it was never meant to be but this song tells it so sweetly.

7. Chic – I Want Your Love. As far as I am concerned, Chic lead guitarist Nile Rodgers is the most prolific producer and musician of the late 20th century. I Want Your Love was one of his earliest gems recorded with his bass player buddy Bernard Edwards by his side. Nile’s distinctive guitar lead and Bernard’s extraordinary bass line produce a groove like no other. (Catch Sister Sledge’s He’s the Greatest Dancer for another delightful dose of classic Chic sound.) In later life, Nile’s golden touch created masterpieces for Diana Ross, Deborah Harry, Madonna, Duran Duran, David Bowie, The B-52s and even rai star Cheb Mami. Rodgers continues to produce and inspire to this day.

8. Don Henley – End Of The Innocence. Written in 1987 during the era of Ronald Reagan and Gary Hart, this song, co-written by pianist Bruce Hornsby, sounds as rich as it did twenty years ago. The lyrics intertwine a hateful disdain for the political establishment and a passion for the songwriter’s true love. Was it intended to be a song for hopelessly-in-love political activists? You could think about this one for a very long time. Bruce Hornsby’s biting piano style perfectly frames some of the most brilliant lyrics you may ever encounter.

9. Steely Dan – Time Out Of Mind. Many consider Steely Dan’s Aja to be one of the greatest recordings, technically and creatively, ever made. This song belongs to their follow-up disc Gaucho. So, what is it all about? An enticement from a drug dealer? A challenge to embrace adulthood? It’s all in the ears of the beholder. Besides Steely Dan’s Fagen and Becker, you’ll hear Rick Marotta, The Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn and Mark Knopfler. Harmonies provided by Leslie Miller, Patti Austin, Valerie Simpson and Michael McDonald. The crème de la crème. This is a sophisticated recording for adults with a mature funk. Think of it as a fine blended whisky. So soothing… nice and tasty worthy of several helpings. So sweet the sound!

10. Natasha Bedingfield – Unwritten. Unwritten is like Jack’s beanstalk. It just grows and grows and grows! First released in 2004, it’s been a part of five movie soundtracks, world champion ice skating competitions and American Idol. It’s serenaded the Degrassi kids and served as the theme song for The Hills on MTV. Others know it for promoting Pantene hair products. Many versions and dance mixes have been released adding more and more life to it. Simply put, it’s everywhere! The lyrics are forthright and inspiring. Listen to this song and you’ll be ready to conquer the world! Natasha’s bluesy carefree style carries this anthem far and wide. It could easily be the most successful (and catchy) song of this century.

Postscript: The song of this summer should have been Metro Station’s Shake It, the infectious dance tune, until it was discovered that one of their lead players, Trace Cyrus, is the brother of Miley Cyrus a/k/a Hanna Montana! (Horrors!) The award therefore goes to Natasha Bedingfield for Pocketful of Sunshine, another dance-up tune from her repertoire of songs filled with motivational lyrics. Honorary mention goes to Jordin Sparks for One Step at a Time, inspiring listeners with positive lyrics and a well-crafted harmonious sound to create a tasty tip-of-the-hat tribute to Quincy Jones’ signature style.

Now the interactive part: What are your top ten tunes and why? What songs did I mention that are so off-base I have to be kidding? Send your comments by clicking below. I’m looking forward to see what you think!

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