A Selection from my Personal Playlist (Vevo wherever possible) – Enjoy!
Santana was 52 when the Supernatural album was released. He had been performing his unique fusion for more than 30 years. True as ever to his sound and his message Supernatural broke through to new audiences and huge chart success around the world, reminding us all what an arresting and inspiring artist he really is. Santana, you give us inspiration and courage. Thank you 🙂
Yemi Alade is one of those inspirational artists whose talent , energy and elevating vibe makes us all want to be African! I love the positivity, love, dignity and diverse beauty of the music and the message that she brings.
I love the sophistication of contemporary R&B. This subtle mix from 1999 just has an ease to it that makes the sound seamless and effortless. It just has the ooze!
For me this is one of those once heard never forgotten songs. Another one that just has the ooze.
The smooth, authoritative yet vulnerable sound of Saint Jhn is a truly a unique cocktail. PARENTAL ADVISORY and yet, there is a subtlety and lightness of touch that for make his musical contrubition special and inimitable. His sound is immersive and makes you feel the world he describes. Saint Jhn, please keep it coming!
Authentic, Authoritative, Soulful, Truthful, Essence-of-Jazz. This is supreme blues storytelling in the spirit and tradition of Bessie Smith and Billie Holliday. Watch this and you just have to stop, look and listen. Then take your hat off to Miss Erykah Badu!
Wow. Cee Lo delivers those jazzy opening lines in a chest voice! Then when he opens up his voice for “Now I, I’ll do anything that you want me to…” he does it so easily and just lets the light and space in. He brings such a nuanced blues-funk heritage. Just outstanding! The whole band is tight here, and I love the warmth and respect among the musicians. Sometimes performers can get a little bored of a hit they have had to play ad infinitum across the years, and they can either stray from or embellish the original out of a measure of boredom. There is no hint of that here, This performance is neither slavish and nor slack. Their having fun with it, and from Daryl and the whole band the delivery is one of total commitment. So although the original single was a staple and indellible part of the soundtrack of my youth, I have to take my hat off for this performance of it. Thank you gentlemen!
The roots of Rock n Roll are in Blues and Rhythm n Blues. Today people tend to remember the guys who pushed the genre forward Louis Jordan, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley. But let’s hear it for the women. Big Mama Thornton has it all in her voice, attitude, growl and delivery. She broke out with Hound Dog which she recorded in 1952, selling 2 million copies which kept her at #1 on the R&B chart for 7 weeks in 1953. And yes, Elvis, also recorded the song in 1956. Both are great. What I love about Big Mama Thornton’s version is the blues sensibility she brings to it. In her swinging delivery you can hear Rock n Roll evolving in real time!
Complex, compelling, authentic, animated, electrifying performance. I love this song. It was part of the ambience of my home in Camden Town back in the ’90’s. Joni Mitchell is a living legend.
Thank goodness for YouTube, raising the profile of phenomenal talents like Helen Ibe. This performance has the ooze, hits the sweet spot. Just wow! A talent to watch, for sure!
Great song! A message we all need from time to time. And hats off to Christina Aguilera for delivering this stellar, high-octane performance!
George Michael appears more than once in my list of favourites. In his songwriting, his vocal delivery, and even in the arrangements of his songs, George Michael gave himself to us. His songs are full of autobiography, love, lust and longing. Shy in private life, George Michael was incredibly giving in his live performances. He filled the stage with his presence in a way that was absent from a lot of popular musical culture of his generation. He was both an artiste and an entertainer. Cowboys and Angels is one of a number of George’s songs which arrest me every time I hear them. Jesus to a Child is one, and by contrast Star People is another.
From the opening instrumental bars of this song of triangulated love, Cowboys and Angels makes me stop everytime. I can’t multitask while it plays. I can’t stop it mid-flow. I just have to sit down, listen and feel the emotion of the song. George Michael was a greater person than was known and acknowledged in his lifetime. Watching him today with the poginancy of having lost him so young only magnifies his incredible talent as a writer and a performer. Thank you Michael. Vale.
As well as to Blues and Rhythm n Blues, Rock n Roll owes a debt of gratitude to Gospel. It is easy to hear that connection in the foundational contribution of Rosetta Tharpe. You can hear it in her voice and in the percussive and ringing tones of her electric guitar which she played loud. He rhythm and guitar licks were incredible influential on guitarists who followed her, including B.B.King and Chuck Berry. Her vocal style directly influenced many vocalists who followed her, including Elvis Presley. Her amazing swagger and showmanship made her a star in her lifetime, and her pioneering creativity secured her a legacy which today is growingly recognized for its importance to the evolution of popular music in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
A true legend of Blues / Rhythm & Blues, BB King always gave his all as a solo artist. He was a pioneering guitarist for the way he sange through his instrument, punctuating his delivery with a perfect bending of a single note, or a precise flurry of a phrase, which lifted the song to another dimension. I saw him live in 1990 at the Royal Albert Hall, where I was blown away by his humility, nerves and transparent desire to please and satisfy his audience.
B.B.King paved the way for so many great guitarists who saw in B.B. just how much soul you can project through a guitar. His influence on Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana and Bonnie Raitt is crystal clear. The precision, tone and intensityof B.B.’s vocal delivery in this performance at Sing Sing Prison in 1972 provides a case study in the art of inhabiting a song and committing 100%. B.B. always regarded this as one of his finest performances. His love for his audience is obvious and his rapport with the prisoners is a joy to watch. There’s no mistaking, this is a master at work.
Though I am not a particular follower of Harry Styles, for me this piece is a standout in his recent musical output. This song, put together by a powerhouse team of Tyler Johnson, Kid Harpoon, Mitch Rowland and Harry Styles, Music for a Sushi Restaurant, is a bubbling cocktail of 1920’s Swing, 1930’s Cabaret and Big Band Elements, shaken together and stirred for a fun, high energy hit. I include it here without the video, because though fun in its own right, I personally think the video detracts from all the moving pieces of the song itself, which is a great vehicle for the subtlety and musicality of Harry’s voice, which I think really shines in this. Whatever your day, here’s a song to lift your energy. Enjoy!
Take the vocal skills of Whitney, Dionne Warwick, Patti Labelle and Mariah Carey and roll them into a single package and you get Lisa Fischer! This beautiful song co-written by Lisa and Narada Michael Walden allows Lisa’s incredible light to shine. Even 30 years ago, the subtlety, power and maturity of Lisa’s delivery were already stunning. The tonal and dynamic range of Lisa’s voice in “How Can I Ease the Pain?” is jaw-dropping, seamlessly taking us from a deep breathy soul voice, onto full power and into the high echelons of whistle register. Small wonder that for this performance Lisa won the Grammy for best Female R&B Vocal Performance of 1991. Brava Lisa. You are an amazing artiste. Love and Peace XX
The Rolling Stones have performed this song with Lisa Fischer over many years. This performance at Glastonbury in 2013 was one of the most memorable. I love how Lisa inhabits this song and I love seeing Mick’s appreciation of what she’s doing. It’s just a treat. It’s still a powerful and poignant piece.
This is rich soup indeed – John Lee Hooker, at the top of his game in the studio with the peerless Santana. John Lee sounds a good 50 years older than he really was at this time, as if he embodied a century of Blues tradition. The syncopated blending with Santana’s Mexicana takes the sound to a whole new level. The message of the song could be John Lee Hooker’s anthem. This song was a pairing that not only conjoined the artist’s respective fanbases but brought Hooker and Santana to entirely fresh audiences in the 1990’s. That’s the power of an inspired collaboration.
When a vocal sounds this powerful and textured with the scant musical production given it in 1970, can you imagine what Pacific, Gas and Electric would have been live?! With his energy, emotion and conviction and Charlie could take an audience from cold to being with him, on his side and racing with his emotion in the blink of an eye. Gospel, Blues, R&B and Soul all roll together in his deft delivery.
The wonderful singer-song-writer Johnny Nash gave the world a song so clear and so needed that it has remained with us ever since it hit in 1972 – a moment I still remember! The sparse arrangement and the vocal delivered by such a powerful, sincere and subtle voice made “I can See Clearly” a significant crossover hit an era of radio segregation, and ensured the song’s incredible longevity.
Johnny’s voice is is so subtle and finesses the vocal line with touches that are unmistakeably African-American but Johnny’s genre was very much a part of the popularisation of reggae in the 1970’s. You can hear that too in his vocal style. Johnn’s breath control is astonishing. You scarcely see him take a breath before singing the words “blue-skies” for a full 25 seconds and 10 bars! Vale Johnny and thank you for this amazing song of transcendence. If it’s the song you need today then sit up and enjoy!
Timeless and yet so redolent of a special time in the 1960’s when world music had a place in popular culture. After this phenomenon of a song, by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto, so fine and so subtle in its tone and timing… well we all wanted to be Brazilian 🙂
How many layers can song have? The 24 year old Joni’s composition, the beautiful, sympathetic, swirling canvas painted by the orchestra, and the phenomenal spectrum of Joni Mitchell’s 57 year old voice create together such a rich emotional tapestry. I find it absolutely mesmerising. There is such poignancy knowing the passage of 33 years between the song’s writing and this performance, and Joni’s incredible performance invites us to join the dots and feel all the feelings of a lifetime.
The orchestral arrangement is so effecting, and with a wonderful humility Joni gave credit to the orchestra for the powerful moment they created together. Joni said she looked around at the members of the orchestra, and could say they nearly all, men and women, were in tears as they played. This, she said, pulled a different kind of performance from her. We might say performance, but here Joni doesn’t project so much as invite us into her presence to feel the story of the song with her. Such phenomenal artistry. I can never listen to it dry-eyed. Can you? Thank you Joni Mitchell. Brava!!
There are some bands and artists whose artistic growth through a long career causes us to look back on earlier performances and see and hear even more than we did first time around. I think of Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner and the peerless Rolling Stones. Here the guys are still in their thirties and yet the integrity of the sound, the performance and the assuredness with which it is all delivered give it an amazing authority. On top of all that it’s FUN!
Abba were a force of nature. In Britain they were never cool, but they were insanely popular. Their canon is deeper and broader than pop, as Eagle exemplifies. They were hitmakers for a full decade and the longevity of the boys careers as musical writers came as no suprise after the prolific range demonstarted by their career within Abba. With 25 Top 40 hits, 10 Number One albums in the UK, 40 milliion album sales, 16 million streams a week in 2022, it is hard to overstate the phenomenal success of Abba. I include this track in my list because it was the song in 1978 that got my attention and made me relaise that Abba was more then a here today, gone tomorrow pop group. Nealy 50 years after their breakout hit they have a place among the immortals.
Robert Palmer – smoothness, class, rock energy, tightness and commitment. This song is a little bit of genius, made simply unforgettable by the witty video created by British fashion photographer Terence Donovan. It is an absolutely iconic piece. Apologies if it offends, but the truth that men and women find each other attractive is simply undeniable! Vale, Robert! You left us too soon 😦
“Shotgun” by Junior WalkerThis is how people danced in the year I was born!
Twenty years after “Shotgun” Junior Walker was still a dynamic and powerful presence in popular music. The unique tones of Junior’s voice and his saxophone were unmistakeable and made him a sought out presence in the pope scene of the 80’s – most notably playing sessions for Foreigner. Junior Walker demonstrated that the Saxophone had an octave higher range than previous players had demonstrated. I love the fusion vibe in what he brings in this live performance with Jon Anderson of Yes. Enjoy!
Fela Kuti’s original given wonderful gravitas power by the unique jazz fusion of Hugh Masakela and his band. A special song for me and Ruth, it is the song to which we entered our wedding breakfast. I want to tell you about “Lady!”
This is Tom Jones…in 1969. If you’re not familiar just watch this and listen and you will get a sense of Tom’s warmth, humour, musicality and energy. In upbeat songs like this one Tom sings with a touch of irony yet coupled with 200% commitment. This recording only gives a tiny sense of the immense power of Tom Jones’ incredible voice, full of blues texture and sensitivity. I don’t think many British performers in 1969 had the feel for Rhythm & Blues that Tom shows here – and talk about entertaining, Tom always had the showmanship to respond to random input from his audience, as you’ll see here. He was only 29 when he turned in this performance but his confidence and authority on the stage is total. The man is an absolute legend whose stature has only grown through the decades. Am so glad he has never stopped. For another impression of his phenomenal vocal ability the following song is Tom’s signature hit, originally gifted by Sandie Shaw and performed here, inpromptu, on The Voice UK by Tom at 80 years of age! Scroll further down this list and you can hear Tom duel with the outstanding Jennifer Hudson. Just sit on the edge of your seat and enjoy!
Music is never just music. In Pansa Pansa play Fela Kuti’s “underground spiritual game!” as he performs with Africa 70, playing, celebrating, prophesying and calling forward love and courage in Berlin 1978
This song and its choreography from the musical movie, Oliver, are to my mind a creative masterpiece. Nearly 50 years after the movie was released my young children watched Oliver. They instantly remembered and loved the songs, which have become embedded within their musical imagination. Somehow the joy of this song just lodges in your soul.
Together the music , lyrics and dance convey so vividly an idea that all the daily business of human life, street trade, and urban life could be seen by an innocent and joyful eye as something harmonious, and tapestried together into something beautiful. For that, Lionel Bart, Thank You and Bravo! (The same vision is expressed in my second choice from this musical further down my list.) Lionel’s score, and the phenomenal production of the movie at every level generated, what for me is, the very zenith of the musical movie genre.
Unmiskakably Stevie. Iconically Chaka Khan! A classic from 1974.
Same song performed in 2016. The first two guests invited from the audience are a bit too wasted t bring anything to the party. But check out the second two guests from the audience!! (They come in shortly after the 7 minute mark.) Kiko is the name of the lady with the sassy and authoritative blues voice. Wow, Kiko, where did you come from? And does anyone recognise the guy? I would love to honour him for that performance. That’s a Gospel swagger he has, right there. I love how Chaka sits down and gives the floor to these two and treats us to their talent. She is the Queen!!
Erykah Badu is a true powerhouse of creativity and authenticity in the world of jazz-blues. What I love about this performance is that the artiste to whom the song “belongs” is sitting right there in the audience. Look at Chaka Khan’s face. There is no hint of “What are you going to do with my song? Don’t mess it up now!” It is a look of total confidence from the very start and utter delight all the way through, knowing that this swinging song is totally in safe hands. Erykah puts her soul and personality into every performance and turns a song into an experience. This rendition of “What you gonna do for me?” is no exception!! Take it away, Miss Badu! XXX
One of the wonderful things about the pop scene I grew up in in the 1960’s was that World Music was a part of Pop Music. Sergio Mendes was a significant player in the movement that brought jazz piano to adult contemporary music mixes all around the world. He was one of a number of musical luminaries who furnished the international scene with crossover hits. It was a time when Brazilian songs could make it big in the USA and in the UK – in their original form. For me, this classic from Sergio Mendes evokes the feeling of that time.
Few songs have been as arresting in my lifetime as this offering from Lenny Kravitz in 1993. Confidence + Intensity + Swagger!
Michael McDonald has one of those voices which has the power all on its own to make you feel something. It’s not a diva/divo voice. He has a tone that carries such warmth, soul and love – that the message of his songs is evoked by his voice as well as by the mix and the lyric. Michale has been keeping me company since the 1970’s so his voice is like family to me!
I also LOVE Michael’s syncopations. I have had the privilege of seeing him live and until you see him live you don’t quite get how exciting the syncopations are. Here, though, they are so much a part of the groove, it is hard not to get in the groove long before his voice lavishes its love on this great classic. Enjoy!
This is such a strong song and the Corrs have such an incredibly strong, instantly recognisable voice which pulls us into their contemporary, yet mythic world of romance. For me everything about this works, the driving rhythm, the pure voice, the pared back arrangement and instrument and, you can’t deny, the look. In every way The Corrs captivated our attention with songs that have that deep folk feeling of “I know this song!” And this is my favourite!
Many of us have “recovery songs” – music from times in our life when we have drawn aside to refresh, rest and recuperate after seasons of challenge high stress. Norah Jones wrote and performed many of mine. I remember the moment when I saw a poster in Emsworth, Hampshire UK, advertising Norah Jones’ debut album. I wondered who it was and bought the album on the strength of the poster. I remember the feeling this song evoked as I sat and listened to it over dinner that night. From the opening notes I knew I was in good hands! Thanks Norah for keeping me company and singing to me during that special time!
I remember walking into HMV and wondering how it was that in 2002 they were playing Dolly Parton – of all people! By my reckoning, Country was not cool. And HMV didn’t usually play country. But the rawness, power and integrity of her bluegrass delivery meant that before making my way to the album I had gone in for I had gone to the desk to ask what album was playing. I then bought it and took it home. That was my real introduction to the phenomenon that is Dolly Parton.
This song shows one aspect of her genius. In “Little Sparrow,” Dolly presents a piece that sounds so authentic, so ancient and so right that it is hard to believe it was freshly from her pen. Dolly embodies country and bluegrass music and sensibility with true genius. And, I have to mention the stellar musical skills of her band here. I don’t think you need to be a country or bluegrass fan to sit in open mouthed wonder at the energy, precision and atmosphere of this performance. Bravo tutti!
Thank you Neil for introducing me to Steely Dan back in the 70s and early 80s. Took me a while to understand what I was listening to. The with, the songwriting, the fusion of genres, Donald Fagen’s authentic voice, and the panoply of incredible musical talent gracing the Dan’s studios. Now there music is, for may, layered with so many associations that it has become part of me. Thank you Becker and Fagan and all your wonderful crew. Inimitable 🙂
1999 was a great year for R&B. This was TLC’s third number one single – a double-platinum hit. The simple, spare and smooth arrangement and the compelling rhythmic forward motion make this song an hypnotic, feel-good experience. The clean, sparse and sophisticated sound created by producer Kevin She’kspere Briggs, helped establish a new course for R&B, embracing a fusion of jazz and quiet music elements. You can here it in 702, Craig David, Usher and Whitney Houston. No Scrubs is a song about female empowerment in the dating game and is one of those pivotal records where a new direction is marked in the story of a musical genre.
I have only one The Voice Australia artist in my personal playlist. Johnny Manuel brings a beautiful, powerful and emotional voice to everything his sings. Ruth and I watched Johnny perform this song live and took a long time to come down after this performance. Johnny’s delivery of Guy Sebastian’s “Before I Go” made me stop and hear its meaning in a way I had not done before. (I also love the moment of Gospel harmonisation late in this arrangement.) Listen and remember that this is the audio from a live performance. So I doff my hat to this talented young man 🙂
For me Give me Some Lovin is a perfect song! One of my all time favourites. Steve Winwood’s voice is so mature for such a young age – both raw and precise – and his timing is so subtle. I love how authoritative in the genre this English band is in 1967. A very understated audience response to an absolutely electric performance.
A sweet reminder from Nikos Vertis that music takes us to a place that is timeless. This song could have been enjoyed by my parents or grandparents as much as by myself. Music enables you to feel a thought. And Nikos demonstrates the truth of that in this performance. His tone, and conviction carry the meaning of the song and, I would suggest, even without subtitles, you know exactly what the song is saying! And just in case it isn’t crystal clear to you, “He misses his girl and hopes it isn’t over!!”
The female talent in Heart was just outstanding. Ann Wilson’s voice is so high rock here. I love it. And that is one challenging opening lick made famous back in the day by Nancy Wilson. The dangerous energy of the rock scene of that era is so palpable in this number. If you weren’t there in the 70’s, this is a taste of what you missed, performed by Ann in 2021. This performance is a full 46 years after the release of the song she co-wrote and made famous. But how about Ann’s voice?! This is the voice of a 71 year old singing to you. Enjoy!
Tina Arena is an Australian icon. Hers is a voice that has to be heard live for the power of it to be really understood. I love this performance for the respect and affection of her fellow-performers. Together The Veronicas, Jessica Mauboy and Tina create a fun and compelling performance of Tina’s signature number. Memorable and iconic. Sit up and enjoy!
Fred Hammond is one of the most talented, singer-songwriters at the crossover of Jazz, Gospel and Urban Praise. A pioneer in composition and a charismatic performer, his voice carries the full spectrum of energy from smooth and soulful to powerful and arresting. It’s hard to choose from Fred’s incredible menu, but this one is a warm favourite of mine. Enjoy!
Opening with the first four notes of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it on” sets up the whole vibe and purpose of this landmark song. Popular song has always been full of epithets for sexual attraction and everyone winks at their own generation’s language for it. Marvin Gaye brought that layer of meaning into the open in a way that excited audiences into the 1980’s. In the 1990’s Shaggy celebrated that same layer in his song and performance of Mr Boombastic. Delivered with the wit and confident swagger of Shaggy, this song is a perfect pop cocktail, offering us a song that says what every bloke would like to day! Shaggy hit with this record, charting around the world. With its blend of a great groove, some subtle sampling, and some soulful rap all fused with his textured masculine Jamaican voice, Shaggy gave us a sound that was different to everything else that pop had to offer at the time.
The close falsetto harmonies of the Brothers Gibb are so perfect and utterly inimitable. To my generation they were not cool. My generation of blokes perhaps saw them as a middle of the road, housewife’s choice, but even for that lack of cool factor we couldn’t deny them respect – simply because their sound was absolutely phenomenal. Saturday Night Fever relaunched their career and anchored them in their transatlantic falsetto style, having taken a couple of decades to find it. As song writers and record producers, the Bee Gees were sought after by A-list performers and were widely respected within the music industry.
The Bee Gees have sold between 120 and 220 million records setting them among the best-selling artists of all time. The Bee Gees’ Hall of Fame citation says, “Only Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Garth Brooks and Paul McCartney have outsold the Bee Gees.” So many of the Bee Gees’ songs are classics, perfect and ageless, that it is hard to make a pick. I choose Stayin’ Alive because I find every element of it electrifying – even after 43 years of listening to it.
Hats off to Craig David. He really pushed the envelope in Soul / RnB and changed the rules. For a UK artist to change the direction of an American genre is an incredible achievement. Beautiful mood in Rendezvous. And a great soul – from just down the road from me in Southampton! So I feel like a stakeholder in his outstanding success. Bravo Craig!
This is a real feel-good pop song, penned by Robert Civilles, David Cole, and Mariah Carey and lifted to stellar heights by the incredible voice of Mariah Carey. She has great texture and tone and an absolutely unmatched whistle-register. Nearly thirty years on and it is still a song and a performance that you can’t see and hear without smiling widely and feeling a little higher 🙂
Witty lyrics, catchy melody, authentic voice, a touch of style and it’s good to dance to – all adds up to a Fun Track from the Jonas Brothers. Classic Rock video of youthful hedonism in a formal setting. Works for me 😉
A casual glance at my playlists reveals that I love the longevity of the long lived artist who just keeps maturing, developing and showing us more and more facets of their musicality. Marcos Valle is one of those. The cool, energised, sophistication of Marcos’ Bossa Nova Fusion takes me back to my months spent in Brazil in the late ’80s. Here’s a song of joy and one love that says “Blessings” and “Good on you” to all the people in our lives. Put this on and you and you just can’t stand still. Enjoy!
A favourite song from one of my favourite singers. There is such confidence and authority in Bebe Winans’ delivery, enriched by generations of Gospel talent in his family. Even when powering through the climactic moments of this song, for instance, he handles the lines with a fluidity and ease. The way Bebe’s voice follows the arc of the song is so unique and authentic, I never tire nore cease to be surprised by what Bebe brings to the party. And thank you Stevie Wonder for adorning this cover of Love and Freedom for the album of the same name.
A double whammy (pardon the pun) of George Michael – just to remind us what it was that made him sooo goood!! Soul, physical swagger, sheer musicality and a love for his audience – George exuded it all so easily. An amazing talent. A musical great. Vale George XX.
In the early 1990’s this powerhouse of a song renewed my hope in the creativity and power of poets and and artists to take us onto new territory. Many of my friends at that time were musicians. Seal’s self-authenticity, his pioneering writing and layered sound textures, and the success he enjoyed, gave a dose of hope and energy to many performers and artists at that time who looked on. To me this song still as sounds powerful and fresh as it did back then.
This is a song that really tugs at the heart-strings. I reckon that the more life you have shared with the One You Love the more strings this song has to pull on! It is simply one of those songs that says the things we all need to say from time to time. James Arthur’s voice and its ability to carry emotion absolutely sell this song. Can’t listen to it without a tear in my eye. You try!
Three words: Ac. Com. Plished! Prince, absolutely comfortable with his craft and with his audience, reminding us why we love him. Wonderfull!
James Brown wasn’t the only African-American artist to turn the vamp into the song. That’s moreorless what Junior Walker does here at 4:30 with Do that Shing-a-Ling! I love his tone. And watch him pull his band together at 18:45
When a performer projects a song through their own being, and imbues it with their spirit, and their sensuality something beautiful happens. Combine that with talent and swagger. You’ve got the ooze. Especially if…you’re Marvin Gaye.
In this moment in Marvin’s career after he had creatively resurrected himself and taken real ownership of his own music and his message. His style in this performance is that of an adult man – in a way that adulthood and maturity are not often embraced and projected in popular music today. Yet in 1976, when he gave this performance, Marvin Gaye was only 37 years old. The confidence and assuredness we see in this performance is that of a “born again” artist – in the sense that by 1976 Marvin had lived one life, come to the end of it, and reawakened to a new one. He was now determined to seize the day, make his contribution – and have his fun. For Marvin this second burst of momentum in his life took him to great places in his creativity but also set him in a darker direction in his private life. Knowing all this as you listen makes this song about living life while he have it, and his soulful performance if it, all the more poignant. Enjoy!
I grew up on Steely Dan so Michael McDonald’s voice was in my living room long before I knew who he was. Discovering him was a wonderful moment of recognition. Watching him live in Hammersmith in the 90s was an absolute revelation. What a pro! Just a beautiful matchless voice with intelligence and soul. And rhythmically, hmmmmm! Michael, never stop!
How could I not include this standout, iconic oeuvre by Peter Gabriel. The layers in its sound are many and various. Combining the swinging, fretless bass, the soulful horns, funky drums, and the ancient-sounding tones of the vocoder and the digital pan-flutes created a sound that was electrifying, arresting, timeless and international. Somehow there is a quietness around Peter’s vocals which allows us to hear the soul texture and intensity of his voice – for which he was awarded a Grammy as best male vocal for that year. Even without the stunning video which accompanied this song. Sledgehammer could only be a massive international hit – Peter’s one Number One! (The song reached #1 in USA and Canada, and #4 in the UK.) It was one of those musical moments that was stunningly bold and yet I don’t know anyone from that time who didn’t like it. 35 years after its release in 1986 I still have to stop when Sledgehammer plays to give it my fullest attention!
Thirty Five years later Harry Styles shows the power and funk of the song in a small studio live performance. Without the video you get a better sense of how strong the song is on its own. And hats of to Harry. Cool band.Nice tone! A worthy perfromance.
From the opening caw of the brass, John Barry’s Goldfinger screams sex and danger – the whole message of the song that follows. Shirley Bassey’s performance of this song for the 1964 Bond movie of the same title, was to become the gold standard (if you’ll pardon the pun) for Bond themes. Shirley first recorded the song at the age of 27 with a sound and a message that went way beyond the ambit of the movie. It was a song which could elicit cheers from crowds passively listening to the radio in shops, and pubs and clubs whenever its opening phrases sounded.
31 years later, when U2’s Bono and The Edge wrote Goldeneye for Tina Turner’s contribution to the Bond canon, it was unashamedly an homage to Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger – only with the gender dynamic flipped for a new generation. Tina recorded her Bond song when she was 56 years old – more than twice Shirley Bassey’s age when she produced her iconic sound. In her reflection, Tina said quite openly, “You can’t top Shirley Bassey. I have to say that. But I was happy we came close to her sound.” That is a worthy and true homage from the World’s best-selling female artist to Britain’s best-selling female artist.
Here Shirley performs two of her iconic Bond songs at the age of 65, showing the phenomenal longevity of both her vocal talent and her look. Diamonds are Forever and Goldfinger. Shirley is the absolute doyenne of cool power, a master of entertainment in song, endowed with an incredible voice of power, style and subtlety. In the words of Tina Turner, “You can’t top Shirley Bassey!”
It’s one of those songs that many of us need from time to time, turning a momentary heartbreak into a song of… attitude! This is, of course, the clean version. Let’s be honest. Life is messy and we all have a shadow. I like how the raw rage of the song is cleaned up… just enough for public consumption 😉
I can so hear MJ singing this. But when Robin Thicke offered the song to Michael he didn’t take it. This is because Michael recognised his own style in the Thicke song but had already moved on. He was breaking ground on new sounds for his next album. All was not lost though because, not missing Robin Thicke’s talent, MJ chose another Robin Thicke song for a future album, and even contributed some lyrics. MJ’s rejection of “When I get you alone” eventuated well for Robin Thicke’s own profile because IMHO he totally aces this one himself!
I have to tell you I hestitated to incude this song in my playlist – not out of any disrespect to the song and artists but because, for me, Coldplay embody a uniquely English kind of melancholy. There is a forlorn feeling of sadness and nostalgia which pervades all their songs. And Viva La Vida crystallizes that energyto perfection. The whole composition, the lyric, the orchestration, the vocalization and the delivery of the lyric emody all together that special Coldplay emotion. So, although, for me personally, this makes it a song only for certain moments, it is for all those reasons, a masterpiece.
A band absolutely without peer, Queen’s panoply of sounds is perpetually powerful and arresting. I choose this song because I think it was when this song was in the UK charts that I first realised that Queen could do no wrong! Elsewhere in my playlist I have included the moment in 1985 when the whole world suddenly realised the same thing! All these years after Freddie Mercury’s death it is still hard to believe he is no longer here with us. An object lesson to all of us in how to each fully inhabit our unique place on planet Earth!
Can you hear Michael Jackson singing this? This is another example of a wong written for Michael because it so fits what he is doing, yet when presented to MJ the writer – in this case by the Rodney Jerkins team – MJ was already moving on to fresh sounds. Nevertheless it got MJ’s attention and Rodney’s production skills did not go unnoticed. It turned out to be Rodney’s audition for the task of producing Michael’s trail-blazing album Invincible. As for the song, though it was written for MJ am so glad these two icons took the song and did this with it.
A long-lived career in pop is a rare achievement. Kylie is an absolute doyenne. She began her pop career at the age of 19 with “I Should Be So Lucky” penned by pop-writing powerhouse, Stock, Aitken and Waterman. When the single hit Kylie was ready for the opportunity and leveraged her success by honing her craft as a performer. I include the 2010 unplugged recording of her 2001 hit “Can’t get you outta my head” because I think it shows something of her amazing artistic journey as a singer.
Kylie’s management has also served her well, with creative partnerships which have continually pushed the envelope in image, staging, video, and dance. The studio version of the same song , plus video, shows just a hint of that.
Kylie shows that you do not have to start out as the most accomplished singer or dancer in order to build a career as an artist and become the Best Performer. There is something else about Kylie that has made her an international superstar. To captivate an audience, to thrill and entertain your audience for more than thirty years – that is the talent of a stage performer. And Kylie Minogue has that talent in spades. Her audience is so loyal because whenever she performs, Kylie projects her love for her audience in such a genuine way that it makes all of us who have followed her career from the beginning, even as casual onlookers, feel like stake-holders in her wonderful success. Brava!! Go Kylie!!
This beautiful song was arresting on the first hearing and it still moves me every time I hear it.Can you tap your inner innocence, youthful hope and hunger? If you can then this song cannot fail to uplift and inspire you. Watch and enjoy a powerful and flawless performance by two artists absolutely at the top of their game – the late Paebo Bryson and Regina Belle. Thank you! Thank you!
Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, this is a song for a mature singer. It was inspired by the Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong classic, Papa was a Rolling Stone – and you can hear it in brooding set up of the song. Here with the boys, Mick Jagger performs at 73 years old, still the best front-man in the world, to an audience of 700,000. And they don’t coast it. They give it their all. Awe inspiring!
Get on up on up off the floor and enjoy…Janice Marie Johnson @64 delivering on a song that she co-wrote with band-mate Perry Kibble. Janice wrote the song to tease motionless audiences into dancing. The song hit for her band A Taste of Honey in 1978 winning them Grammies for the Best New Artist and Best Rhythm & Blues Song. It was Capitol Records’ first ever Platinum Single. In this performance Linda Taylor on lead guitar is an absolute treat. 40 years on from its release, watch as Janice plays bass, sings, and MC’s – all in heels. This lady is funky! Love the groove 🙂
Kate Bush sang me through my life from the age of 13 onwards! Discovered by Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour, Kate Bush is an artistic force of nature. Her debut album The Kick Inside rocketed to #1 around the world with a mood and talent and uniqueness that left the global pop industry open-mouthed. Her phenomenal authenticity and confidence evinced respect from the most skeptical listener and viewer. None of us had seen or heard anything like Kate Bush before and couldn’t believe what we were hearing, tack after track, album after album. The lady is simply a genius. Kate’s unique style has shaped and inspired generations of vocal performers ever since.
Within seconds of first hearing this song on the Quincy Jones movie, I was searching for Alfredo Rodriguez and Richard Bona’ s performance of Raices (Roots.) The sweetness in the song, the soul in the playing, and the beautiful voices – all instantly and totally arresting. Beautiful and moving. Thank you dear brothers. XXX
This is the album that introduced me to the phenomenon of Steely Dan back when I was 14 years old. (Thank you Neil!) I was into jazz, classical and Kate Bush at the time. Steely Dan was a revelation to me. I was captivated and have been ever since.
Steely Dan is unimaginable without Donald Fagan – and yet this song, recorded with the band’s original lead singer, David Palmer, has an undeniable vibe about it. This is the Dan before its energy became expressed by layers and layers of world-class jazz, blues and fusion musicians. Yet to my ear it is the same energy. That intrigues me as I listen to it in 2022. It was a part of the soundtrack of my youth and evokes wonderful feelings when I listen to it – to this day.
A nod to the big band genre of jazz-soul greats like Ray Charles here is Steely Dan in 1974 with Pretzel Logic I just love the groove, the brass, the scale of the song and those awesome Dan harmonies. And if you think it’s not an homage to Ray Charles, just listen to this…
And here is Uncle Ray in 1954. I spent many a day in his company in my teens. We owe him so much. Such a canon of work and genre shifting. As important to the evolution of Rock and Roll as Chuck Berry and Louis Jordan. And I have to say no Ray Charles, no Stevie Wonder.
Two greats doing their thing in 1991 and taking the big band to the city!! =)
A song remembering a time when the world was our oyster. From his first solo album Nightfly, it’s Donald Fagan.
I was so thrilled when Kamakiriad was released in 1993. It was Donald Fagan’s first collaborative album with Walter Becker since the stellar Babylon Sisters album of 1986. Like many of Steely Dan’s songs it has that “I have always known this song” quality to it. It is a fresher take on the mid-life crisis of Hey Nineteen – the song that introduced me to the Queen of Soul!
My second choice from the 1968 musical movie, Oliver
Prince and Sheila E – This number has everything! I love all the musical and dance references in this number – too numerous to mention – and I cannot help beaming at the feeling and precision of Prince’s guitar solo. Nor would it be complete without the swagger of Sheila E’s contribution on percussion. Just this one song would give you reason enough to travel through the whole of Prince’s incredible catalogue. Vale Prince. R.I.P.
Bonnie Raitt is a unique talent. This track reveals the simple, raw, soulful quality that Bonnie brings to every performance. The grit of heartbreak and survival gives her voice such a powerful and poignant quality. When John Mayer was hitting the big time for the first time he was asked if he would ever consider a collaboration and if so, with whom? Without a moment’s hesitation he answered Bonnie Raitt. This is why!
I can’t leave the Bee Gees with only one witness in this list. Their place in popular music is truly without parallel. Their prolific songwriting and the longevity of their career secured them more awards and accolades than any other band. In 2020 the Bee Gees remain among the very the best-selling musical artists of all time. They wrote hits for Dionne Warwick, Dianna Ross, Olivia Newton John, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers, Jimmy Ruffin, Yvonne Elliman, Nina Simone, Kim Wilde, Destiny’s Child, Frankie Valli, Conway Twitty, Celine Dion – the list goes on and on. The Bee Gees’ fusion of fraternal voices in close harmony, layering falsetto over soul made them instantly recognizable and impossible to imitate or surpass in their very particular musical niche. The Bee Gees were too “pop” for my generation but even for a generation where to be cool was only to be a metal-head, it was impossible not to stop and listen and admire what the Bee gees were doing whether ecountered on the radio or on the stage. Thee song above illustrates how relevant to pop music their fresh tracks and their voices were in 1997, forty years after they set out to become famous. God Bless Them 🙂
Two awesome talents with legendary voices – Jennifer Hudson and Tom Jones. BTW in this spontaneous moment Tom Jones is 79 years old! I love the love and respect among the artists as these two greats sing together. Watch and let your jaw drop!
As for a lot of people Windows 10 connected me with the amazing Habib Koite. Wonderful sound. Arresting presence – and in translation – great songs!
This masterpiece of an album was the absolute musical centre of my 1980’s. The authority of Hugh Masakela’s trumpet playing, the conviction of the songs and the weight of the musical mix were a revelation to me. Somehow it all made sense to me. Years later, Hugh’s performance of Fela Kuti’s song “Lady” was the entrance for Ruth and me at the reception on our wedding day, so it now carries those wonderful associations too! I was honoured to meet the man who gave Hugh is first trumpet as a teenage boy. I am so deeply thankful to the late Bishop Trevor Huddleston for having done that. He understood the power of music to shift political climates and change the world. Thank you Fr Trevor! And Thank You Hugh! RIP Both!! Onwards and upwards!!
Prince @47 with Tamar and Sheila E, putting on a show in 2006
If you missed the opportunity to witness one of Fela Kuti’s prophetic performances then don’t miss Seun Kuti. The apple has not fallen far from the tree. Great skill. Great spirit! Seun and his father’s band knock his dad’s song out of the park!
I remember the first time I heard this song at the age of 14. Was completely arrested by it. I didn’t know much about love at that age. But I knew this was a love song. Billy Preston and Syreeta’s beautiful vocals imbue this song with such sweetness and sincerity it still touches me deeply when I hear it.
Albert Collins’ final album “Iceman” was an outstanding musical swansong to a 43 year career in Rhythm N Blues. What made it fresh and accessible to a wider pop audience had nothing to do with alloying the musical tradition in any way. It was pure force of talent and integrity in performance. The energy he injected into his telecaster sound, tuned to an open F minor, gave Albert Collins’ performances an immediately recognizable sound and grabbing the attention of even the most passive audience.
Albert was not a cool performer but had a way of showing his audiences that he was enjoying working hard to entertain them with each song. Co-produced by Albert and James Gaines the album “Iceman” captured that spirit and delivered a sound that was at the same time crisp, raw and LOUD!! Watch this performance and you’ll understand why the great Jimi Hendrix pointed to a young Albert Collins and said, “That’s a guy to watch!” Today, more than 25 years since his premature passing, Hendrix is still right! Watch and enjoy!
For me, the the ’80s, somehow every Sade song of the 1980’s was like a homecoming. The quiet mix of the band and the openness and unaffected style of Sade Adu’s voice offered something unmatched by other popular artists at that time. The phenomenon of Sade was certainly a part of a jazz infusion into 80’s pop. I think of Alison Moyet, Paul Young, Curiosity Killed the Cat. But Sade was like a still centre in the pop-scene of the day. Her voice carries emotion so naturally Sade pulls you with empathy into every song. Just amazing. Thank you Sade XX.
Something about James Ingram’s voice made him feel like family to me. He may have lacked the swagger that a singer in the age of TV really needed and this may have kept his international profile lower than he deserved. But his talent is undeniable. Any artist who can stand up and sing next to Michael McDonald or be backed by Luther Vandross has to have something pretty special. And James had it. In spades. Missing him xx
A great Aussie performer, just having fun! My kids’ favourite!
There is something very haunting and touching about this song. The sound was an is arresting. I find I have to stop and let Youssou and Neneh sing to me. The older I grow and the more of a parent I become the more I feel the anxiety, sadness and uncertainty epxressed in this song. An unusual theme for a pop hit but it struck a chord. I still love it.
Yes they’re white – which caught me by surprise first time I saw them. But they’re certainly not average.
This was one of those pull over and stop the car songs. Great talent. Simultaneously raw, abandoned and precise.
We were all scared of Grace – here’s why!
Timeless and sweet!
Simply a classic performance from Tina Turner – Steamy Windows, live in Barcelona in 1990
A wonderful, timeless and feel-good celebration of boogie. Maurice White had a voice of so many beautiful textures that both reflected and defined the incredible melting pot of 1970’s soul. He was one of a generation of singers who emerged from American Gospel roots and brought something new that was for the people and for the promotion of humanity and one-love – what Stevie Wonder called For all these reasons I just love the spirit of Maurice White, a fount of many uplifting hits – this one included! Click on it and party!!
Great artist. Great song. Timeless.
In an age where image is the apotheosis talent, charisma, pure voice and musicality still win through. There will never be another Joe Cocker. Authentic to his core.
I remember Aregntinian evanglist Luis Palau berating his British audiences for not being prouder of an incredible talent and philanthropist as Cliff Richard. This is because press and media in the UK have not been kind to this unique talent. “Can’t Keep this Feeling In” is a soul/RnB song that Cliff released in 1998, anonymously, under a pseudonym – Black Knight. It charted and reached #10 in the UK before radio stations worked out who it was.
Other than BBC Radio 2, mainstream radio stations with contemporary pop music mixes had a policy of not playing Cliff Richard. When Black Knight charted and lifted to #10, Cliff identified himself as the “unknown artist.” As soon as he did the record was removed from radio plylists up and down the county – “because nobody wants to listen to him” DJ Chris Evans famously said. Yet Cliff had just proved them wrong.
His accolades are many 124 Top 40 Hits, 60 Top 10 Hits, Number 1 Singles in 5 consecutive decades from the 1950’s to the 1990’s, almost repeating the feat (without radio play) in 2006.
You might think that after the succes of Can’t Keep This Feeling In there would have been – some eating of humble pie. But there was not and the ban continued. In 2006 Tony Blackburn a major radio DJ since the 1960’s was suspended from his show Classic Gold for playing Cliff Richard songs! The whole saga revealed what Cliff denounced as shameless ageism in popular radio. You’ll see from my list, I’m not an ageist. In fact I love longevity and am inspired by it – hence Cliff’s well-deserved inclusion on my list!
Tony Joe White wrote several songs carried by Tina. This song, close to her blues roots was one of Tina’s favourites.
Written by Jimmy Webb, and produced by Bones Howe, this song created an iconic, never-forgotten hit for The 5th Dimension. Bones Howe’s musical arrangement was vital to the sound and success of this song. His prowess as a sound engineer made other indelible imprints on the sounds of 60’s pop with his arrangements of California Dreaming and Monday, Monday for The Mamas and the Papas. Today it is easy to forget the cultural importance of MOR crossover hits in the 1960’s – a time when popular music on American radio and TV was still very segregated along racial lines. And this was a Smash Hit, winning multiple Grammies.
Following on from the sucesss of Up, Up and Away, The 5th Dimension went on to enjoy other significant chart successes, most notably in 1969 with another Zeitgeist number, which has remained on the airwaves ever since – Aquarius / Let the Sun Shine. Bones Howe’s inspiration was to fuse the two songs and then allow the band an opportunity to air some real African-American Gospel in the song’s final vamp. For me, knowing the cultural context of this performance evinces a whole layer of poignancy and respect for its courage and intent when viewed today. The 5th Dimension’s boundary-breaking, and spirituality, paved the way for 70s bands like the Commodores and Earth, Wind and Fire. Besides all of which, the energy, optimism and uplift of these numbers is simply undeniable.
Many a true word spoken in song
The Godfather of Soul at the top of his game in 1974 in Kinshasa
Keep slaying it long enough and a whole new generation will realise how good you are. And you can’t help but feel the message of one love that underlies all of this great man’s work. Bravo Santana!
This may seem a left-fielder but I want to give a nod must to the vocal styles that preceded Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll and the 60s revolution. Crooners had their own attitude and edge. Think the South African / British Al Bowly and, here the American singer and voice-actor, Cliff Edwards. This song has a unique emotional power to it. And the reason is context.
When Disney’s “Pinocchio” was released the year was 1940. The world was entering the second year of a terrifying and history-defining war. Wives were separated from husbands never knowing if they would return from the theatre of war. In Britain children were separated from their parents and billeted in rural areas with strangers. These were the wives and children who sat and watched Pinocchio – all in desperate need of escape, consolation and hope. In the theatre auditoriums of 1940 I cannot imagine that many would have listened dry-eyed as Cliff Edwards took this beautiful song to its ultra falsetto conclusion. So sweet and so sincere. If you didn’t know the story before, listen again and rediscover the song in a new light.
The first voices that sing over us, parents and grandparents, all carry their own musical heritage in their voices. So when I pulled the car over to listen to this arresting piece by John Coltrane and sung so artfully by Johnny Hartman, there was for me a feeling of recognition as I soaked in a song I had never (knowingly) heard before. The inflections of Johnny’s voice, his tone and smoothness really take me back to my very early years, to very intimate experiences of song – the lullaby of home life, and the quiet intimate delivery of the jazz lounge. Experiences that are deeply woven into my own sense of music. Thanks John and Johnny for an artful and profound gift in this song.
I can honestly say that this songs by Pink Floyd – and indeed the entire Dark Side of the Moon album – changed my life! And it is astounding how closely the band recreated the sound and ambience of this iconic album two decades later and live at Earls Court. Vale!
Words fail me when it comes to doing justice to Steely Dan. They were the soundtrack of my growing up. Sophisticated and layered with so many musical influences to which I relate, the music of Steely Dan was powerful for me as a teenager and today re-evokes such rich resonance and memory. Steely Dan was famously a studio phenomenon, drawing on America’s finest musical talents to take their songs to perfection and beyond. So a live appearance was a rare treat. This one from 1993 – during their long studio hyaetus. Pour yourself a drink, kick back and enjoy this live delivery of a selection of the creativity of Steely Dan!
If I allow two spots in my personal list for the greatest Rock Bands of all time they would have to be taken by Pink Floyd and Queen. The layers of Queen’s brilliance are too many to fully name. Without question the incomparable charisma, writing talent and vocal skill of Freddie Mercury; the incredible fusion of the band’s voices in multi-tracked harmony, the prodigious lead guitar skill of Brian May and his musical relationship with Roger envelope-Taylor, the stretching of the rock genre produced by their creativity; these would certainly be key elements. Their inspirations included Noel Coward, Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley. Their sound was enormous and the relationship with the audience and the audience participation they inspired were really without comparison.
Their support was entirely grassroots and organic. Neither the continual nasty and negative press in the UK nor the banning by MTV of one of their most popular videos, did anything to detract from the band’s incredible career momentum. 1985 was a time when the band’s members were unsure what mileage they had left. Three of the band’s members had already made their forays into solo albums and other collaborations. Then came Live Aid. Queen were invited to perform among the panoply of artists who made up the enormous event. In fact Bob Geldof insisted that the group reform for the occasion. Freddie was reluctant. His doctor advised him not to perform because of a throat infection. But the cause was compelling.
There were no headliners on that day. Officially. Every act had precisely 18 minutes to do their thing. Yet at the Live Aid Concert the whole world got to see what Queen could do – as did the band. To see tens of thousands of people – not Queen’s audience, the people were there for dozens of acts – sing the words of the songs back to the stage, clap on cue, and respond to every cue from Freddie; this was an experience that nobody who was there, whether live or watching on TV, could ever forget. The world now remembers Queen’s set as the zenith of that incredible event. It is one of the most memorable live performances ever televised, and I don’t think anyone would deny that. For the band itself Live Aid was a defining moment. New energy and confidence were injected into the band. The Magic Tour followed, taking them around the biggest stadiums around Europe, and set them on a career path to the present day 36 years after Live Aid and 25 years after the death of Freddie Mercury. Unimaginable in their slough of 1984, and unimaginable in 1991 after the tragic loss of Freddie. And yet…
Queen’s songs are simply too many and too great for me to include only one or two, so instead I have included this documentary, charting their incredible journey into legend. Thank you, gentlemen and Bravo!!