Category Archives: Soul

“You put the hurt on me”

Isaac Hayes – “Walk On By” from Hot Buttered Soul (1969)

I don’t love Isaac Hayes — at least not his gold-chain shaved-head solo career. His singing doesn’t usually do it for me — he often lacks poise and urgency. Few of his molasses-thick string arrangements hit the sweet spot. While his keyboard work tends to be quite good, I wish he let the funk grooves carry the songs. There’s a cheesiness to his music that tends toward the embarrassing.

All that said, his version of Bacharach/David’s “Walk On By” that opens the recently remastered Hot Buttered Soul is damn awesome. It’s a great song, with a great organ sound, a cool string melody, a funky bassline, spooky back-up singing, a simple in-the-pocket drumbeat, weird ringing noises, fuzzy guitar, triumphant brass, flutes, a helluva crescendo. And bad mixing toward the end that cuts and raises the volume of the song willy-nilly. Everything you want in a psych-soul masterpiece.

If you like your buttered soul appetizer sized, try the single edit:

Issac Hayes – “Walk On By (Single Edit)” (1969)

Dionne Warwick made the song famous — I believe that Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote it for her. Check out her very different, very good version:

Dionne Warwick – “Walk On By” (single, 1964)

The Stranglers, too, apparently had a UK hit with a punk rock version:

The Stranglers – “Walk On By” (single, 1978)

Buy “Walk On By”

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1960s, 1970s, Funk, Pop, Punk, Rock, Soul

“I don’t know karate, but I know ka-razy”


I’ve been listening to a shit-ton of James Brown lately and have been captivated by Brown’s on-record bandleading.  While the grooves are lean and funky, Brown improvises widely and effortlessly above it all, calling out horn breaks and bridges to his band.  “The Payback” is a great example of how the Godfather worked his craft in the studio (“I need those hits!”).

James Brown – “The Payback” from The Payback (1973)

Buy the Payback

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 1970s, Funk, Soul

a little more Curtis

A while back, I mentioned that I thought Curtis Mayfield an unsung musical genius. Turns out the man is plenty sung, not least by Kayne West, who sampled Mayfield’s excellent “Move On Up” in his less-excellent-though-still-good “Touch The Sky”:

Curtis Mayfield – “Move On Up” from Curtis (1970)
Kayne West – “Touch The Sky (feat. Lupe Fiasco)” from Late Registration (2005)

Not sick of that horn riff yet? Check out the Jam covering it here, and Curtis himself bongo-jammin’ it here, sans horns.

Earlier I had posted one of Mayfield’s classics from his famous Superfly soundtrack, “Little Child Runnin’ Wild.” Here is a demo version, a little less ominous, featuring fewer chord changes and a brighter groove:

Curtis Mayfield – “Ghetto Child (Demo Version)” from Curtis reissue (org. 1970ish)

Finally, here’s a classic from the group that gave Curtis Mayfield his start, and for which he did some of his most beautiful writing:

The Impressions – “You Must Believe Me” from People Get Ready (1965)

Have a funkdafied weekend, y’all.

Buy Curtis Mayfield here

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1960s, 1970s, 2000s, Funk, Hip-Hop, Pop, Soul

“I can and well just might turn you on”

photo from last years SWR employee picnic

photo from last year's SWR employee picnic

Funkadelic – “Funky Dollar Bill” from Free Your Mind…And Your Ass Will Follow (1970)
Funkadelic – “Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On” from Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On (1974)

Funkadelic was batshit crazy. And it wasn’t just George Clinton: his top-notch sidemen and singers were as into the weird as the Supreme Maggot Minister himself. These two jams attest to that. On “Funky Dollar Bill,” check Eddie Hazel’s brain-melt guitar tone and acid casulty Lucius “Tawl” Ross’s unhinged singing. Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins sings on “Standing On The Verge,” a mutha-funkin’ masterpiece.

What gets me about Funkadelic is that behind their UFO-psych jamming are tight, inventive vocal arrangments. Mixed differently, a lot of this stuff could be pop. But the Parliafunkadelicment Thang would never let you off the hook so easily, now would they?

Told ya my next post would be cooler.

Mommy, what’s a Funkadelic? (buy it here)

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1970s, Funk, Psychedelic, Rock, Soul, Space rock

“Country fair in the country sun”

Sly and the Family Stone – “Hot Fun In The Summertime” from Greatest Hits (1970) [originally released 1969]

Ya know what’s sad? (No, not the death of Michael Jackson.) Sly Stone (nee Stewart)’s slow descent into addiction in the 1970s, and his sad attempts at reemergence in recent years. Before that he was one of the smartest and most creative singers and arrangers in rock and roll or soul or whatever genre he worked in. “You can’t figure out what bag I’m in,” indeed.

What’s so tragic, or ironic, is that Sly’s early vision was almost beatific in its idealism — a band of blacks and whites, men and women, family and otherwise, performing a peace-bringing mash-up of psychedelia, rock, R&B, pop, and funk. Listening to Greatest Hits back in the day, you might have thought that partying down really might bring about a better world. (Cf. “Maybe Partying Will Help,” The Minutemen, one of the few bands near Sly/Family on the inventiveness-vs.-funkiness coordinate plane.)

Parties end in hangovers, and Sly suffered from a major one.

But shit! Before all that, Sly put out a load of stone-cold (sorry) good-time classics, including “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” possibly his best, and certainly appropriate for hot midsummer. Please play it loud and often.

By the way, I agree with Christgau here: Sly & The Family Stone’s Greatest Hits is one of the greatest rock LPs of all time. Certainly better than any of The Gloved One’s creepy opi. (Sorry to dwell, but the day demands it. Dude’s overrated. MJ’s ballads, for one, are more treacly than Stevie Wonder’s, and that’s saying something. Seriously, “You Are Not Alone”? “Man In The Mirror”? Those songs creeps the fuck out of me, and not just ’cause dude liked to paw little boys.)

(Huh, apparently Sly produced the Beau Brummels back in the early ’60s, for Autumn Records. Whaddya know?)

Here’s a fascinating interview with Sly on KCRW last month.

Buy Sly

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1960s, 1970s, Funk, Pop, Soul

“All he asks of us is we give each other love–oh yeah!”

Marvin Gaye – “God Is Love” from What’s Going On (1971) & “God Is Love (B-Side Version)” from “What’s Going On” single (1971)

What’s Going On is a well-worn classic. Though the hit singles (“Mercy Mercy Me,” “Inner City Blues,” and the title track) are awesome, “God Is Love” shows the album at its most triumphant. (It’s also my fave song on the record.)

The earlier, slower version of “God Is Love,” was recorded slightly earlier, after Gaye’s unsuccessful tryout for the Detroit Lions (no shit!). It served as the B-side to the the “What’s Going On” single.

What’s Going On? You’re Buying The Dang Album!

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1970s, Gospel, Soul

“Finance is all that he understands”

On top of every good singer is a cool hat.

On top of every good singer is a cool hat.

Curtis Mayfield – “Little Child Runnin’ Wild” from Superfly (1972)

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Curtis Mayfield was one of the best and most inventive songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s. Certainly he had one of the best voices — that soft, sneaky insistence — and best ensemble sounds, both with the Impressions and on his own. In “Little Child,” the opening track from Mayfield’s famous soundtrack to the blaxplotation flick Superfly, the band sounds alternately like a leaf floating on wind, an interstellar-overdriven rocketship, a funky shake of the hip. And Curtis’s vocal performance here, with subtle variations of timbre and volume, injects the Little Child’s plight directly into the crook of your arm. It’s emotionally complex and geniunely affecting.

Today, there’s something awkward about Mayfield’s simple rhymes and earnest exhortations, but they seem a throwback to a less-cynical era. Then again, one might argue that by shoehorning stark “important” social commentary into a cheap ghetto-fabulous cash-cow thriller like Superfly, Mayfield (or the film’s producers) brought about some of today’s cynicism — our preference for guarded ironic cool, our distrust of straightforward statements of positivity, conscience, and passion. As Lester Bangs said (over and over, obsessively), we seem to be using music and art to kill our emotions. Or using music and art to stand in for our emotions.

But to counteract the soul-killing, we’ve got Curtis. And the Clash, see below. And the other music we try to present to y’all here at SWR.

Expect more posts from me in the coming weeks featuring those ’69-’75 auteurs of soul: Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone, Issac Hayes, George Clinton, Stevie Wonder. I haven’t yet moved beyond the big names, but it’s hard to seek the obscure when the famous stuff is so damn good.

Baby Huey covers Curtis Mayfield

Buy Curtis

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1970s, Funk, Rock, Soul