In December 2017, I took on the task of writing about a different song every day of the month, with at least one day a week being about an album.
I didn’t finish on time.
But I did actually complete the project so behold all 31 songs/albums I covered that month.
12/02: Stevie Wonder – I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It
I’ve always been a big Stevie Wonder fan as anyone within their right mind should be. I knew the hits as a child and as I entered college, I started discovering more of his music (i.e. “Sir Duke”, “Pasttime Paradise”, “Living For The City”, “As”, etc.). I took it upon myself to get all of Stevie’s studio albums once he was able to have total creative control of his material, beginning with 1972’s Music Of My Mind.
Not only does Stevie have one of the greatest discographies of any artist, he also has one of the most diverse. I took my time and digested each album and soon I was outside of his “classic period”, which came to a conclusion with 1976’s Songs In The Key Of Life. I had lowered expectations going into Hotter Than July despite the fact that “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” and “Lately” featured prominently.
If anything, Hotter Than July itself is Stevie’s victory lap for the music he made in the 70s and a defiant clap back at critics who didn’t like his soundtrack to The Secret Life Of Plants in 1979. But I disgress.
I discovered “Rocket Love” with this album. I played “Rocket Love” so much, that not only did I sample it for “This Ain’t About You”, I also would play it constantly without the assistance of the repeat button. Lo and behold, directly behind “Rocket Love” is the star of this show: “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It”. You know why “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It” is so dope?
Because it’s a country song.
You know who was singing background vocals on track 2 of Hotter Than July? Michael Jackson. Just found that out. But anyway, let me tell you that “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It” may be one of the greatest country songs I’ve ever heard. Eric Clapton covered this song 21 years later because this song is so bad ass. There are people out there that consider Clapton a music gawd and he chose the little known second single off Hotter Than July to cover two decades later… and he released it as his first single off his album! I wish Garth Brooks would cover this.
This is a country song for all eras. It went #4 on the Hot Soul (now Hot R&B/Hip-Hop) singles chart as a country song. Granted, Hot Soul singles was where Stevie lived so of course he did well there but this was genre breaking.
You honestly can’t tell it’s Stevie until the hook comes in. While some may say Stevie is poking fun at country music, I see it as Stevie Wonder embracing it. You’re not going to want to tear up the dance floor; you’re gonna want to crack another beer. Although, this is one of the funkiest country songs I can recall too.
By the song’s bridge, Stevie drops all the pretense and let’s his trademark vocals free, which is the icing on the cake before a nasty bass guitar solo blows your mind before the song’s conclusion.
It’s easy to point to any of the other great songs in Stevie Wonder’s catalog as reasons he’s an all-time great. It’s more difficult to find places where he was predicted to fail, only to still come out on top. Keep killing em Stevland.
12/03: Commodores – Easy
I’m going to say this publicly. I want “Easy” played at my funeral. Why? Because it’s my favorite song of all-time.
Wait? What? A Commodores song? Lionel Richie with the afro so big that gravity was pulling the sides down Commodores? How in the world is this the song you want played at your funeral? How in the hell does a song about breaking up with your girlfriend become the song that you feel encapsulates your entire life?
The second verse:
Why in the world would anybody put chains on me?
I’ve paid my dues to make it
Everybody wants me to be what they want me to be
I’m not happy when I try to fake it, no
That verse was written in the context of not being happy in a relationship. Taken out of that narration, however, that verse defines my life.
Sidebar – She killed this:
I own one piece of vinyl and that’s the Commodores’ self-titled album that features this song.
One of the best songs in Cam’ron’s catalog is sampled from “Easy”.
I have not met anyone that doesn’t like this song.
It’s one of the best songs Lionel Richie has ever written. The sound of it is big; Richie’s vocals are subtle, drenched in regret. When he sings the hook, the song transforms from love lost into a joyous cry of freedom.
The bridge is easily one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Richie sings of being high and he lifts this track to the heights of the birds. He lets the listener hang after he sings “just me” and at this point, you wait with bated breath to see where he takes you next. His triumphant ad-lib launches a brief electric guitar solo that seems to carry you from the heavens back down to the mountainside, where we rejoin the hook, already in progress.
As the radio edit fades, you can hear the key change and Richie continuing to sing as the track fades to nothingness. For years, I was sad that they chose to fade the song instead of letting it end at a more natural point. It wasn’t until recently that I found out the album version is 40+ glorious seconds longer! Lionel gets to end the song his way and with that knowledge in hand, that is when I knew “Easy” was my favorite song ever. Those little things matter. The key change even represents the changing of morning into afternoon… according to Wikipedia. Take that as you will.
Lastly, “Easy” reminds me of the homies strangely enough. For some reason way back in 2002, we anointed this one of the songs that made up the official soundtrack of the Potomac State Roc-A-Fella. Easy, Wes, Chiv, Stevie, and me. When it wasn’t Come Home With Me or being awoken from a dead sleep by Busta’s “As I Come Back”, it was “Easy”. Life was easy then. I miss my friends. So if this is played at my funeral and one of them remembers the significance of this song, then I can rest easy. I’ll rest easy anyway, but that would just be the icing.
Man, I love this song.
12/04: Freeway – What We Do
I didn’t get it. Once “1-900-Hustler” dropped, everybody was talking about this guy Freeway. I listened to “1-900-Hustler” just like the rest of ya’ll. I didn’t get it. I’m someone who if I don’t like the sound of a rapper’s voice, it takes a great deal for me to get past it. I didn’t like Freeway’s voice. So I didn’t see what all the hype was about.
That was in 2000. By the time Free’s debut album Philadelphia Freeway came around three years later, I had enough of an opinion of him that I was willing to give it a listen. And truth be told, it’s one of my favorite hip-hop albums ever. I got to tell Free that in person a few years ago.
How did I get to the point where I was willing to give Free a chance? Look no further than “Roc The Mic”. Released in January of 2002, Freeway was featured along with the always reliable Beanie Sigel on the surprise club banger of the year. Call it growth on my part or on Free’s but I started checking for the Philly born MC more after that. What caught my ear even before then was that he and Sigel went after Nas and Jadakiss during the Jay/Nas/State Property/Lox feud. Any rapper who goes after an all-time great without a debut album in those days had my respect for sure.
Which bring us to “What We Do”. Released on September 4, 2002, this song epitomizes what Roc-A-Fella was all about from 2000-2005. Just Blaze made a hell of an instrumental, creating a sound bed that is worthy of being listened to without vocals. Then Freeway gives you everything you need to know about him as an artist as he unleashes 30+ bars of volcano level heat. I’m hard pressed to think of a rapper who spit the way Free did on their debut single. That was the moment I knew I couldn’t miss Phildaelphia Freeway when it came out the following February.
So, Freeway had already laid waste to the track. If you were near a major hip-hop/R&B radio station, you had heard this track shortly after it hit the streets. If you’re like me and only got exposure to new music via music videos first (the internet was just getting to the point where new music was attainable the moment it dropped), the first time you heard this song was when the visuals hit BET and MTV. Not only did the video feature damn near every major character from The Wire but it looked like the track sounded: grimy and real.
Back to the topic, Free spits his verse, then here comes Jay, a little over two months away from releasing The Blueprint²: The Gift & The Curse. Not to be outdone by the rook, but not wanting to outshine him, Hov throws 12 bars of flames over top the damage Free already did. You could also say he was a tad burned out from recording a double album but this is prime Jay-Z; you were gonna get something dope.
As the song continues sans hook, Sigel comes in batting cleanup and makes sure there’s nothing living by the time the track ends. Beans’ verse is so memorable that you have to rewind the track to remember what Freeway and Hov said on it. This is mistake free hip-hop, ladies and gentlemen.
The greatest thing about the Roc is that they had so many pieces when it came to collaborations. Jay, Bleek, Sigel, Freeway, Cam, Juelz, Chris, Neef, Peedi, Oschino, Sparks, young Kanye, a rapidly improving Jimmy, etc. If these guys could have gotten along, we could have had at least another 5 to 6 years of the music like they made in a 4 year period. Sigh
If this was a post on social media, it would just be fire emojis followed by a dead emoji.
Bonus – An interview I was apart of with Freeway in 2012:
12/05: Joe Budden – 10 Mins.
There was a time when Joe Budden was my favorite rapper. Even ahead of Jay. With Hov “retired” from 2003 to 2006, someone had to fill the void. Joe Budden was that guy. His Mood Muzik mixtapes (namely 2004’s The Worst Of Joe Budden and 2005’s sequel, Can It Get Any Worse?) opened up the rap game for what would become the norm a few years later: the vulnerable MC.
But let’s take it back to 2003. Fueled by the bombastic Just Blaze produced “Pump It Up” as well as the street single “Focus”, I was ready by the time Joe’s self-titled debut arrived. We all know the story: it bricked and it took Joe 4 or so years to get off of Def Jam in order to release his second album Padded Room (although, I still would REALLY like to hear what The Growth would’ve sounded like). By that time Slaughterhouse was formed, Budden became known more for talking than his rapping, Love & Hip-Hop, and here we are today. But I’m here to tell you his debut album was solid. Obvious club songs aside, the true Joe Budden is all over the place.
The very last song on the album (before the unnecessary bonus tracks) is called “10 Mins.”. When I first came across it, I had never heard a 10 minute rap song. I’ll even say as much that Budden was the inventor of long form rap; no one (other than The Game) can rap at such a high level and maintain your attention throughout. The premise is simple: Joe is stressed and wants to smoke one cigarette, a 100, in peace. As Joe smokes his cigarette, he relays three different tales. The first one about the pressure he has as a fledgling rapper, the second about his family and addiction struggles, and the third about a girl he has feelings for who is in another relationship.
For as much credit as Kanye and Drake got for baring their souls on wax, Budden was doing it 5 full years before 808s & Heartbreak. “10 Mins.” was only the tip of the iceberg as the Mood Muzik series gave Joey the true space he needed to vent about any and everything. The song is also an almost perfect 10 minutes and 4 seconds, which we’ll allow as Joe probably took one more puff after getting all of that off his chest. “10 Mins.” is the perfect theme for when you’re in a foul mood. It wasn’t even that long ago that I turned to the track when my old job had me stressed on my lunch break. It’s a groundbreaking moment in hip-hop for me.
Joey went on to revisit this concept for Mood Muzik 2’s “Three Sides To A Story, another must listen for anyone who’s interested in hearing more of this Joe Budden versus his commercial material (but way more graphic). I still wish we were in those ‘Joey stuck in Def Jam” days. His material started to slip with me once he got to Amalgam and it’s been hit or miss ever since. But if there was ever a moment where I would’ve taken another rapper over Jay-Z, this era of Budden’s career would’ve been it.
12/06: Jamie Foxx – Blame It
I think the crazy thing about this song is that y’all forgot about it. Peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (#1 on R&B/Hip-Hop), the third single from “Intuition” was everywhere by early 2009. Featuring T-Pain, he and Jamie combined to make one of the most party ready songs in recent memory.
Blaming one’s problems on the alcohol is a phrase that’s been around as long as I can remember but this is the first time I recall it being put into song form. And this joint still goes. Maybe the auto-tune makes people want to stay away a little now, but I think this is up there with the likes “This Is How We Do It” or Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid”. Yeah, I said it.
While Foxx is known for his acting and his comedy before his music, he doesn’t just show up to knock out vocals, make music videos, and do tours when he can fit it in. He’s involved in the creative process throughout, even though his later releases doesn’t reflect a ton of writing credits (his process is similar to how a book will come out from celebrity X with author X; the celeb comes with some ideas and the author makes coherent sense of it for the book. This is also known as the Diddy process when it came to production in the 1990s). His solo debut Peep This came out in 1994 and he wrote and produced almost the entire album. If he focused his energy entirely into music, I wouldn’t doubt he’d be one of the best R&B artists out today.
I like to call this era of music “peak auto-tune”. 808s & Heartbreak came out the year before and the aforementioned T-Pain had already proven that auto-tune could help an artist rather than it being a crutch. When Lil’ Wayne experimented with the effect, it gained more mainstream acceptance so the fact that Jamie and T-Pain flourished on this record at this time is no real surprise. In recent years with changing trends, auto-tune has become more commonplace as it dominates the rap and R&B soundscape today.
The fact that this song came out as the music industry was transitioning from physical sales to downloads and streams is a big reason y’all forgot about it. With so much new music coming out every single day via blogs and social media in the months following its peak, the shelf life of music was and is just different. Once the song faded from the radio airwaves, it also faded from everyone’s collective memory.
Go ahead, watch this video. Remember what you forgot. Try to tell me that all those Hollywood cameos aren’t impressive. Tell me you’re not all in by the time Jamie finishes the first verse and hook. Tell me that T-Pain didn’t murder Jamie on his own shit. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
“Just Got Paid”. “This Is How We Do It”. “Blame It”. Give it the respect it so rightfully deserves. Or at least have a drink before you do so. Because I forgot about this track too.
12/07: Beyonce – Love On Top
Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Beyonce?!
My problems with B are really along the lines of the Bey Hive and the pedestal that they and most people have placed Mrs. Carter on. Just let her be Beyonce. Y’all act like she’s the second coming sometimes. But when it comes to Beyonce Knowles Carter from Houston, TX making music? I’m here for it. I just didn’t want to believe anything she said about Hov. I apologized. I still don’t love her photoshoot she did when she announced the twins but to each his own. It’s hard to top performing this very song I’m writing about and then displaying your pregnant belly for the world and your proud father-to-be husband as your birth announcement.
You might not believe this but I wasn’t the but I wasn’t the biggest fan of Beyonce following I Am… Sasha Fierce. It was an okay album but I thought Dangerously In Love and B’Day were just better. Plus “Halo” was everywhere and I feel like that is one of the most overrated songs in her catalog. If anyone else sang that song, I might be okay with it. I don’t know. So when 4 came around in 2011, I was leery. And after “Run The World (Girls)”, I didn’t have high hopes.
Sidebar: I love “Run The World (Girls)”. Don’t come at me with that noise. But it definitely wasn’t “Single Ladies” and the “Pon De Floor” sample was barely two years old at the time and wasn’t an imaginative flip. But I do love “Run The World (Girls)”.
Long story short, I was completely wrong about 4. With songs like “Party”, “Countdown”, and “Best Thing I Never Had”, 4 may be my second favorite Bey album (with 2013’s self-titled release being my number one). But “Love On Top” is the best Beyonce song period.
Every recording artist who is in a conversation as the greatest ever has a great song, if not more than one. Prince, Stevie, Michael, Marvin, Madonna, Phil Collins, Aretha, Whitney, Mariah, etc. Hell, I think “Bad Romance” might be Gaga’s. “Love On Top” on Beyonce’s. From the moment the track begins, she takes the listener on a ride. It’s danceable, yet chill. The lyrics are meaningful, but still light. It changes keys 4 times and Bey still murders it! Yonce said she drew inspiration from Etta James and you can tell! This is her signature song and she does it even more justice live! It’s one of those moments when everything falls into place for 4 minutes and 27 seconds. It’s awesome.
With a video that immediately calls to mind New Edition’s “If It Isn’t Love” video from 1988, “Love On Top” was born to win and Beyonce knew it. How she managed to wait to release this monster as her third single is beyond me. It’s even in the latter half of 4 and it still blazes like it’s track 1. If there is anything I need to be thankful for from Beyonce, it has to be this wonderful song. Not leaving Hov would be a close second. Nobody needs “Girls, Girls, Girls 2017”.
12/08: Garth Brooks – No Fences
In 1992, I didn’t know anything about country music. In 2017, I still don’t. I know one thing though: there’s country music, and then there’s Garth Brooks.
I moved from Virginia to West Virginia with my dad in 1992 to live with my mom, Bonnie, in Capon Bridge. I’ll be the first one to say that mom wasn’t behind on the times; she listened to all my demo tapes I did in high school and gave me an honest opinion, all while she supported my music fully. In the evenings, dad would go referee high school basketball games and it would just be me and mom at the house. Mom knew I loved music, so she would put some on the stereo; a stereo that featured a brand spanking new CD player. Mom had a ton of cassettes too but she wanted to use the CD player for one reason: Garth Brooks.
My first exposure to Garth was No Fences. Ropin’ The Wind came out in 1991 and I think she had it too but it didn’t hold a candle to No Fences. It’s hard to top an opening salvo like “The Thunder Rolls”. It’s dark, gloomy, and if you listened to Garth’s Double Live album, it ends in murder in the live version! While clearly a country song, it wasn’t like any country song I ever experienced. I still feel this way to this day.
The beautiful thing about No Fences is it has two first ballot hall of fame tracks on its original 10 song edition (“This Ain’t Tennessee” was added in 1998) with “The Thunder Rolls” and “Friends In Low Places”, but the album cuts are just as amazing as the singles. I had “New Way To Fly” in my head out of nowhere last week and I welcomed it each time the hook would cue itself up again. “Wild Horses” is a jam. “Two Of A Kind, Workin’ On A Full House” can get the party started at any local bar. “Same Old Story” is a beautiful ballad. And “Mr. Blue” is a country song that fits the genre’s “oh woe is me” roots.
And there will never be another “Friends In Low Places”. I’ve had conversations with the scariest of dudes and they know this tune. But who couldn’t relate to being drunk at your ex’s wedding and ruining it? Who hasn’t for either a few minutes or a period in their life made friends with the unlikeliest people over drinks? Would you talk to them in public? Hell no! But if you see them at your bar, you’re damn sure gonna buy them a round if you have the cash, knowing that they’ll return the favor at a later date.
“Friends In Low Places” is an unabashed country song and Brooks never hides it. It’s that honesty that easily makes this track the greatest in his catalog next to his monster ballad “The Dance” from his self-titled debut in 1990. “Friends In Low Places” speaks to everyone of all ages. I was 9 the first time I heard it and I was in love.
I could go on gushing about “Friends…”, “Thunder…” and No Fences as a whole but my time is short. But I’ll put this LP up against any country album you want to bring me and Garth wins. My name is Kelen Conley and I endorse that statement.
12/09: Seals And Crofts – Summer Breeze
I can’t tell you a thing about Seals And Crofts. I don’t think I’ve ever heard another one of their songs. Well, I’m sure I have, but I didn’t know it. I didn’t even know who Seals and Crofts were until I googled “Summer Breeze” that one time. I can remember when Matt and Lisa came in for my wedding and we were riding around Morgantown in their rented Kia Soul. I don’t remember if it was the radio or me but I started singing “Summer Breeze” and Lisa chimed in. Matt was immediately befuddled.
The Isley Brothers also covered this and some would say that they even did it better. I can take either version. Considering it was 21 degrees when I was in my car on lunch break, a summer breeze would be a wonderful situation right now. High temperatures included of course.
12/10: Maroon 5 – Sunday Morning
Maroon 5 sucks now. I said it. They’ve turned into a pop music factory that uses cursing to make their songs sound more hip. I’m not afraid to say it. But when they first turned up with Songs About Jane in 2002, they were good. Most are familiar with “Harder To Breathe”, “This Love”, and “She Will Be Loved”, all good songs in their own right. But “Sunday Morning” is my jam. There’s nothing better than when a song truly captures the feeling it was going for when it was created.
I was only familiar with the single version of the tune and was infatuated with it. Lo and behold, a car ride home with dad from Potomac State College introduced me to the acoustic version, which I ended up liking even more.
I still love their 2010 album Hands All Over but “Sunday Morning” is Maroon 5 at its best. Now they just make crappy music in between tours and Adam Levine being on The Voice. It was fun while it lasted.
12/11: Blood, Sweat & Tears – I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know
On New Year’s Eve 1994 (don’t quote me on the year anymore), I was alone on my side of the house while the grownups had their New Year’s Eve party. They came in and out to check on me but I was mostly left to my own devices.
Earlier in the year, my dad had purchased Blood, Sweat & Tears’ Greatest Hits, originally released in 1972. He played it often in the car and I immediately became a fan. With songs like “Lucretia Mac Evil”, “And When I Die”, and “Go Down Gamblin’”, what 10 year old kid wouldn’t be? One of my favorite songs from the collection was called “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”. A sparse slow jam, I always found myself hypnotized by the music and Al Kooper’s vocals.
That New Year’s Eve, I wrote my first song, a love ballad called “I’ll Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”. It was terrible. It wasn’t a complete rip of the BS&T version though and from there I continued to write songs. For some reason, this song inspired me to write lyrics. I would later find an instrumental that sampled “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” and used it for “Intoxicated” from The Mind’s Mixtape volume 4.
12/12: Cassidy – Blood Pressure
I miss Cassidy. If I had to choose a rapper to pick out of all the battlers and punchline wizards I’ve seen over the years, it would have to be him. He just couldn’t get a break. He had a huge single when “Hotel” hit the airwaves in 2003 but the momentum was lost by the time Split Personality arrived in 2004. Because I was really impressed with his skills, I devoured the album, just as I would his second album I’m A Hustla (again, great single, bad album promotion).
Split Personality pretty much suffered from too much Swizz Beatz and poor hooks. But track 9, “Blood Pressure”, spoke to me. Much like Pac’s “When We Ride On Our Enemies”, “Blood Pressure” was song I could be angry with. I also have that soft spot in my heart for all that tough, gun talk that I could never pull off on record or in real life.
It didn’t change the way we listen to music but man this was a go-to for a while.
12/13: Alicia Keys – Girlfriend
I first heard “Girlfriend” on a DJ Wise mixtape prior to hearing Songs In A Minor in its entirety. I’m pretty sure this was my first exposure to anything outside of “Fallin’”.
Part of a killer trio of songs that headline the beginning of the album (“Fallin’” and “How Come You Don’t Call Me” are tracks 3 and 4), it immediately sets a tone and hits a note that anyone can understand. Yeah, you’re in a relationship and things are great… but your significant other has this friend that they’ve known for years. And they just so happen to be of the opposite sex. And they never stay in relationships of their own. And they always seem to be popping up when you’re around and when you’re not. Hell yeah you’re jealous!
You can’t really be mad at a song that artfully samples Ol’ Diry Bastard’s “Brooklyn Zoo” either.
12/14: Prince – If I Was Your Girlfriend
My first exposure to “If I Was Your Girlfriend” was the TLC version from CrazySexyCool. Just like anything from that album, I loved it. Imagine my surprise when I opened the album notes and found it credited to Prince. So me being 12, I thought it was pretty cool of Prince to write a song for TLC. Yeah, I’m an idiot.
The OG version of this song is everything. While the TLC version is a pretty faithful remake, the nuances that are in Prince’s version sets it apart. His songwriting ability truly shines as he easily takes on the role of the girlfriend and uses his legendary vocals to convey his viewpoint as well. It’s definitely one of my favorite Prince songs but I’m not crazy enough to try to rank Prince by his songs, so forget it before you start to ask.
And it’s on Sign O’ The Times, one of Prince’s best albums. Gawd, I love this record.
12/15: TLC – CrazySexyCool
A few years ago on a Black Friday, I repurchased CrazySexyCool for 5 bucks from Target. Since it was one of the few CDs that played in my late Dodge Stratus, it got a lot of run in 2013/14 when I was sick of my iPod.
This album continues to be a masterpiece. It had all the sensibilities of their debut album all while putting a more mature stamp on the proceedings. Lead single “Creep” sets the tone for the LP and there’s no let up until “Sumthin’ Wicked This Way Comes” fades out (which features an in-between Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik and ATLiens Andre 3000). There’s a perfect blend of skits, interludes, and music, a feat that a lot of albums would try to mimic for years to come (I’m looking at you College Dropout).
While TLC’s output would fade in the years after due to financial and personal squabbles (plus Left Eye’s death in 2002), CrazySexyCool wasn’t just one of the best albums by a female group in the 90s, it was one of the best releases of the decade period. I could listen to it every single day and be content.
12/16: D12 – Fight Music
Elton John once said Saturday night’s alright for fighting and somehow I got “Fight Music” out of that. The last single released from D12’s debut studio album, it was a departure from the goofy singles that had come before (and did really well thanks to Eminem’s worldwide popularity). Produced by Dr. Dre, this song was my wake up music for my spring semester of college in 2002.
The Dirty Dozen trade in their shock raps for more aggressive content and more focus on their flows (other than Bizarre because… Bizarre). The video was the first I heard the song as it channels The Warriors and was a major factor with why I became a fan of this song.
D12 has never been a must listen for me but Devil’s Night is chock full of dope tracks aside from “Fight Music” if you want to take the time for it. I still think they peaked with “My Band” though.
12/17: The Isley Brothers – For The Love Of You
Another Ear Food special, dad introduced me to this Isley Brothers classic during the time when he began making mixtapes before he got his sweet 6 CD changer installed in his GMC Jimmy in 1995. No, I don’t know why I remember that.
1975’s “For The Love Of You” was my earliest introduction to the quiet storm genre of R&B as Ronald and the Isley Brothers waxed poetic about the special lady in their lives. I also always remember my dad singing this tune pretty well.
I rediscovered the song in my second year of college and introduced Angel to it shortly after we started dating. A staple in any R&B playlist I make, this ballad is guaranteed to go over big no matter where it’s played at. Gawd, I miss R&B music like this. Trap & B can go that way.
12/18: DMX – Here We Go Again
There was a time when DMX was in the conversation as one of so-called kings of NY when it came to rap. He struck almost out of nowhere with his classic debut album It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot in 1998 and then followed up with Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood before the year ended (I never liked it, feeling it was a rushed money grab by DMX and Ruff Ryders but I’d say it has a cult following).
As 1999 drew to close, Dark Man X completed and released his 3rd album in 2 years, …And Then There Was X. I felt like the album was an improvement over Flesh Of My Flesh…, but songs like the monster “Party Up (Up In Here)” and “Good Girls, Bad Guys” left me worried about his future direction.
Despite my reservations, I absolutely loved “Here We Go Again”. In the same vein as Bleek and Jay’s “Coming Of Age I & II”, DMX tries to show a kid the ways of the streets only to have him turn against him. Unlike Bleek and Jay, DMX has to resolve the dispute in a permanent way.
Showcasing the storytelling abilities he displayed on his first two albums, “Here We Go Again” is a constant reminder of the greatness of X and what his problems ultimately robbed us of for the rest of his career. I’d love if we could get one more truly dope DMX album.
12/19: 112 – Now That We’re Done
Stop me if I’ve said this before, but I miss old R&B so much. I enjoyed Usher’s 2016 album Hard II Love but it didn’t recapture the magic of 8701, Confessions, or even My Way. Justin Timberlake is about to release a southern rock/country/pop/R&B hybrid on February 2, a drastic change from his 20/20 1 of 2 days that I played for hours on end. I even tried to give Chris Brown a chance with his Royalty album but I haven’t listened to it other than my first play through.
“Now That We’re Done” is the R&B I miss. I admit that I had dad buy me this CD from one of the CD clubs of the 90s (BMG or Columbia House) for “Only You” and “Cupid”. But the opening track sets the tone for the album, immediately letting the ladies and the listeners know what their self-titled debut was all about. I’m not ashamed to admit I spent hours walking around Keyser in college listening to this album with my portable CD player (I don’t think it was a Discman).
While their following material didn’t reach the heights of 112, anyone wanting to learn what it takes to make a real R&B album needs to start with “Now That We’re Done” and then enjoy the rest of the album. And then restart the album.
12/20: Elton John – Bennie And The Jets
“Bennie And The Jets” is my favorite Elton John song. It’s not even a contest. One of the things 27 Dresses got right was the awesomeness that is “Bennie And The Jets”. From the opening notes until the first time Sir Elton utters the title, it’s a magical moment, every single time.
I was first exposed to “Bennie…” because of Mary J. Blige’s 1999 single “Deep Inside”. While it’s a solid Mary track, I was infatuated with that instrumental. Come to find out that instead of letting Mary sample “Bennie…” for the record, Elton took the time to replay it. This lead to me tracking down this beat, which then became “Play It Back” for The Mind’s Mixtape volume 4.
Music is supposed to inspire a feeling and that’s something that Elton has always done well. “Bennie And The Jets” might as well have been the spiritual predecessor of Pharrell’s “Happy” for me. I may need to make a good mood mix at some point…
12/21: New Edition – Home Again
New Edition is one of my favorite musical acts ever. I didn’t discover them until 1988’s Heart Break (Bobby’s Don’t Be Cruel and Bell Biv Devoe’s stellar 1990 album Poison helped) but considering the way all six members were dominating the radio waves until 1992, I hoped the best was yet to come. Obviously, I was wrong.
1996 marked the only time a New Edition album featured every member of the group and they combined their powers to create Home Again, the first NE album in 8 years. While the tour was a mess and left the group in shambles (see The New Edition Story or just Google it), I always really liked this project. The album’s finale, “Home Again” has always been underappreciated.
The track covers the idea that you can go home again all while mentioning highlights of New Edition’s career up to that point, barely disguised as a gorgeous Harris/Lewis/Bivins power ballad. Having never listened to NE’s 2004 Bad Boy album One Love (sans Bobby), this is the last word on New Edition for me.
Somehow, this 31 Days Of Music idea is just turning into a list of things I need to add to my iPod.
12/22: Bruno Mars – 24K Magic
From the first time I heard the title track, I knew Bruno’s third album 24K Magic would be something special. But I had no idea what he had in store for us. Bruno pretty much made the album I imagined myself making if I had the time, resources, talent, looks, etc.
24K Magic’s sound is rooted in soul. From the swag of the first single, to the James Brown influence of “Perm”, on down to the current single “Finesse” that seems ripped from the Ralph Tresvant solo playbook. Bruno managed to make the forgotten sounds of yesterday as fresh as 2016 (yes, this album is over a year old) all while retaining everything that made him into the artist giant he is today.
His live performances only help enhance the album’s greatness. Every time I’ve seen him live during this album cycle, I’ve gone back and rewatched him multiple times. Bruno Mars is king right now. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
12/23: Kanye West – Family Business
I was an early adopter of The College Dropout. Impressed with Kanye’s I’m Good mixtape, I snatched up the album as soon as it became available. As we all know, it became an instant classic in the legend and infamy that is Kanye West and there are several tracks that I hold dear to my heart.
I loved “Family Business” from the first time I encountered it. The vocal sample and the piano immediately invites you to see the world through young Kanye’s eyes as he describes his family and different situations he’s been in. It’s also a beautiful setup for the album closer “Last Call”, as it slows down the album so that the listener is prepared to handle the almost 13 minute last track. A 13 minute song on your debut album… only Kanye.
When my grandmother passed away, I played this and “Roses” back to back and cried for days. I never saw “Family Business” as mournful but it just reminded me of my own memories and what I had lost. Kanye had already released 808s & Heartbreak by the time I lost my grandmother; there’s nothing that says timeless more than old music having an impact on you in the present.
And yes, I still miss the old Kanye.
12/24: Jay-Z – 4:44
One of my favorite Jay-Z songs is “Soon You’ll Understand” from his 2000 album The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (I even named my debut album after it). The reason I was drawn to it was the three stories Jay told throughout the song about his denying a relationship with his best friend’s sister, how a different relationship isn’t working with his “baby mother”, and finishes with a jailhouse letter to Gloria Carter.
Any time Jay lowers his defenses and lets the listener in, whether it’s a true story or a fabricated one, I’m here for it. So when I arrived at the title track of his 13th solo studio album 4:44, I was floored. Ever since Lemonade, rumors ran rampant about whether Hov would acknowledge Beyonce’s accusations.
Serving as an open letter to his wife, Jay-Z bears his soul like never before as he apologizes for all his wrongdoing. Backed up a soulful No ID soundscape that doesn’t allow him to hide, Hov goes so in-depth that he mentions his stillborns and his three young children.
Watching him perform this hurts me. I could only watch his Saturday Night Live rendition once. The fact that he performs “4:44” every night on his tour just shows that he’s a man who has embraced his mistakes and not ready to repeat them. Wow.
12/25: Bing Crosby – The Christmas Song
Even though Errick trashed this song on ILaPoW, I still love this song. And yeah, the Bing Crosby take is the best version of “The Christmas Song”.
I’ve encountered all the Christmas songs. I joined my elementary school chorus in 5th grade and I never looked back, continuing to sing with different choruses, jazz singers, and community choirs until I moved to Morgantown in 2003. There were always Christmas songs, some of them repeated often throughout the years.
The one that matters to me the most comes from one of my most treasured Christmas memories. In 1992, my parents decided I would be spending Christmas with my mom in Winchester. Mom had moved into a one bedroom apartment by then that was often visited by cockroaches and water bugs. But it was her home and she made it my home. That was the year she got me a Gameboy and a Raphael action figure that could be mutated into a turtle. But even that didn’t matter.
I just remember sitting in her living at some point and ol’ Bing coming across the TV. She sang along with it. I don’t recall hearing it up until that time. Hell, I don’t even know if she really liked Bing or that song. But that was our Christmas song that year. And that’s why I’ll always love “The Christmas Song”.
12/26: Brandy – Sittin’ Up In My Room
Waiting To Exhale is the last great movie soundtrack (that’s not Disney related). Considering it was meticulously created and curated by Babyface and then given to some of the greatest and hottest R&B acts at the time, it’s truly no surprise. The soundtrack is a perfect companion to a film about four friends going through their trials and tribulations with the men in their lives. Nominated for 11 Grammys (with Whitney winning one and then losing another to Toni Braxton, who also contributed to the soundtrack), it’s a landmark in music that may never be replicated.
Despite the Mary J., Faith, Whitney, Aretha, and TLC of it all, my favorite song on the album is “Sittin’ Up In My Room”. Easily the most upbeat track on the album, then 16 year old Brandy was hot off the heels of her self-titled debut album. Lamenting about a crush that has no idea about her, Brandy captures a feeling that many adolescents (and adults!) dealt with growing up.
Even now, the funky Babyface production is enough to keep me entertained but Brandy’s vocals never leave the listener looking for the next song. It’s a shame they didn’t team up for more music in later years; the chemistry they have on “Sittin’ Up In My Room” is apparent even twenty plus years later.
12/27: Whitney Houston – I’m Every Woman
Some things just can’t be done by a man. How well do you think this song would come off if some dude was yelling about “I’m Every Man”? It wouldn’t. Enter Whitney Houston.
“I’m Every Woman” was originally recorded by Chaka Khan in 1978 but Whitney owns this song now (some would say that about her “I Will Always Love You” rendition as well). Released on The Bodyguard soundtrack, Whitney takes a song that should just be an anthem for women and makes it a plain old anthem. You can’t listen to “I’m Every Woman” and not feel incredible afterwards. The Walden/Cole/Biancaniello/Clivillés production demands your attention and makes you want to move. Whitney’s perfect vocal performance brings the whole track together.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 6 years since Whitney passed. It just speaks to the volume of her talent that a song that was released in 1992 sounds like it should be on the radio today.
12/28: Lazlo Bane – Superman
Scrubs is my favorite sitcom of all-time. I started watching it over 10 years ago and I devoured the early seasons on DVD prior to it returning for its 7th season. I have a folder full of music I’ve curated from the show during its run.
“Superman” is the theme song to Scrubs. I didn’t know who Lazlo Bane was before I started watching Scrubs and I still don’t. But every time it started up with the show’s intro, I felt at peace. The actual song itself is a little slower than the theme song but those banjos just take you away.
I hate to put Lazlo Bane into such a box but maybe… sometimes… you only have one amazing record. To this day, I have no desire to hear any of their other music (I think I listened to a few seconds of their “Overkill” cover, another Scrubs standout). But “Superman” is perfect. I had this sampled for “World Without The Hyphen”.
12/29: Childish Gambino – Because The Internet
“Freaks And Geeks” was my first exposure to Childish Gambino. Considering all the music that I was listening to in 2011, I didn’t think too much of it. Otherwise, I knew Gambino (Donald Glover) from Community.
After hearing the single “Bonfire”, I was swayed enough to listen to Camp. And I loved Camp. I loved his follow up mixtape Royalty. But nothing can prepare you for 2013’s Because The Internet.
First off, there’s a screenplay. Don’t bother trying to wrap your head around the idea. It actually lessened my enjoyment. If you follow along with the screenplay, it’ll all make sense. Then, there are the phenomenal videos, each intriguing in their own way. Seriously, this is maximum Gambino.
Aside from all of that, Because The Internet is just so good. The rapping and the singing blends as well as anything you hear Drake put out. Hell, this is better than Drake. Drake just makes dope songs. Gambino was so into this project that he was playing the lead character from the screenplay during all the promo for the album. And even though it’s a cohesive album, there are so many songs that are great on their own. So much so that I just have to write about the awesomeness that is “Sweatpants” by itself.
Just go listen to the damn album already. Love live Gambino.
12/30: Childish Gambino – Sweatpants
As much as I can go on about how amazing Because The Internet is… let me do it some more. “Sweatpants” is straight heat. Still channeling his character “The Boy”, when he says “rich kid asshole, paint me as a villain”, you believe that “Sweatpants” could only come from the mind of a spoiled rich kid you hate.
Featuring the most braggadocio raps on the whole album, this track just gets you ready to go. I was headed to work on a Saturday morning, dragging, because Aaliyah had woken up early and surprise! I didn’t sleep much. I can’t remember if it was shuffle or intentional, but “Sweatpants” came on and I was ready to fight the world.
The music video is another fire visual that Gambino made for the album and it features him in a diner with… a bunch of other Childish Gambinos? Maybe it’s supposed to signify how alone he is despite the money and the arrogance… or maybe he’s alone because of the money and the arrogance? Anyway, any song that is titled because “rich people wear whatever they want” deserves all the attention.
And what other rapper can you name that will stop in the middle of a verse to correct himself all while breaking character?
12/31: Prince – White Mansion
You know how when you’re a kid and you’re able to identify a song and that it belongs to a certain artist but you really don’t get it? That was my relationship with Prince for the longest time. “Purple Rain”, “When Doves Cry”, “Kiss”, “1999”, etc. all existed as I grew up but they were just Prince songs. By 1991, I kind of understood what I was listening to with Diamonds And Pearls but I wasn’t quite there yet. Even though dad had it, I never listened to the Love Symbol Album.
In 1996, I knew that Prince wasn’t Prince anymore, instead going by The Artist Formerly Known As or just The Artist. After 3 years of fighting with Warner Bros., they released him from his recording contract. The 3 disc Emancipation album was Prince’s first effort following the freedom he had been craving.
Emancipation is a lot of music so I can hardly call it a classic. But it was the first Prince album I digested and processed. “White Mansion” wasn’t a single; it was an album cut that was lodged on the first disc. I wouldn’t even say “White Mansion” is in the top 75 of Prince’s catalogue. But I would say it gives you a better idea of what Prince tried to do musically than most of the singles you could name.
“White Mansion” is a R&B song, with shades of funk and pop mixed in. At its heart, Prince is talking about Minneapolis, Minnesota, his home. As much credit as Michael and The Jackson 5 got for being from Gary, Indiana, they also left and never looked back. Prince never left Minnesota. He had some of the greatest names in the business coming to see him in the Land of Lakes… at Paisley Park, his big white mansion at the top of the road.
Never forget your roots. Prince never did. And it didn’t hurt that dad and I bonded over this song as well.
And let’s pretend I’m not finishing this 31 Days of Music idea that came to me on November 30th on January 30th and finally publishing all of it… on April 3rd.
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