Duets: The G.O.A.T

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Let’s not waste space describing why Mr. Gaye is the greatest duet-ist of all time. Let the music speak for itself.

Teach Me Tonight (Kim Weston)/Memory Chest (Tammi Terrell)/After the Lights Go Down Low (Mary Wells)/When Love Comes Knocking at My Heart (Tammi Terrell)/I’m Your Puppet (Tammi Terrell)/It’s Got to Be a Miracle (Kim Weston)/Stop, Look, Listen (Diana Ross)/If I Could Build My Whole World Around You( Tammi Terrell)/Just Squeeze (Don’t Tease)(Mary Wells)/Two Can Have a Party (Tammi Terrell)/My Mistake (Kim Weston)/You Are Everything (Diana Ross)/Once Upon a Time (Mary Wells)/When We’re Together (Kim Weston)/Your Precious Love (Tammi Terrell)

Sunday Slowdown Ep. 7

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Things got a bit out of order in the music bins. Nonetheless, I’ve got new soul from the “old” school artists. These are classic gems crooned by a surprise roster of artists, many of whom generally haven’t crossed over from their funk/pop/blues settlements. Yet, each artists selected songs for which their interpretations bring new magic to the work. George Clinton as a balladeer? His cranky rasp does more than justice to Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman” and Solomon Burke can sing  “Candy” to feel the poetry in hearing the big man beg for it. Lou Rawls, Tina Turner and Cassandra Wilson bring their whisky-and-smoke-in-the-throat husky depths to  pop and jazz classics, and Marlena Shaw keeps striking the notes that keep everyone confused between Nancy Wilson and herself. Al Green silks through another ballad that should make the original singer stop performing it altogether.

It’s a testament to talent to take ownership of a song, and most of us are more than satisfied with the efforts and results from the original artists. Unlike jazz, R&B doesn’t often produce multiple takes on a song, and certainly not many that turn out to be as beloved as the original cut. Remakes of R&B classics generally lead us back to the beginning. There are exceptions- Whitney Houston managed to equitably match Chaka Khan on her rendition of “I’m Every Woman” and she didn’t spoil the Manhattans “Just the Lonely Talking Again.”  The Whispers’ version of the Donny Hathaway Christmas classic “This Christmas” turned from a raucous and joyous fest into a sensuous ballad for the Quiet Storm crowd. It’s incredibly different and equally beautiful. I’ll take Lakeside’s “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” over the Beatles any day of the week, and as much as I admire Kris Kristofferson and the Bee Gees, Al Green covers their respective works with a solemnity and heart-breaking ache unmatched by the owners versions. Of course, Luther Vandross made Burt Bacharach an even richer man with his interpretations of Bacharach ballads. If there ever was an artists whose genius shined best reinterpreting others’ classics, it was Luther Vandross. While not everything he “retouched” turned to platinum or gold, he had the gift that might make you worry if he selected one of your hits to touch-up.

Like sports and politics, music will never yield to a singular interpretation. We debate ownership in an attempt to keep our audio territory pure, clean and sharp. Music bins are full of dusty has-beens that never deserved top-billing. However, as these singers prove, great songwriting is the most seductive of sweets, and its hard to keep your hat out of the ring if temptation taunts. Hats off to this group of singers that took the words and made the words their own.

George Clinton-Gypsy Woman f/ Carlos Santana & El DeBarge

Solomon Burke-Candy

Willie Hutch-Stormy Weather

Esther Phillips- Use Me

Nancy Wilson-Can’t Take My Eyes Off You

Marlena Shaw-So Far Away

Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye-Stop, Look, Listen

Low Rawls-You’ve Made Me So Very Happy

Tina Turner-Sometimes When We Touch

Nina Simone-To Love Somebody

Al Green-God Bless Our Love

Etta James-It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World

Cassandra Wilson-If Loving You is Wrong


The Sunday Slowdown Episode 1: Back to the Old School

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Soft and warm, a quiet storm. Quiet as when flowers talk at break of dawn, break of dawn. A power source of tender force generatin’, radiatin’. Turn me on, turn them on.” Smokey Robinson, “Quiet Storm”

If you lived in Washington, DC, WHUR’s Melvin Lindsey was playing “Quiet Storm”,  as intro music devoted to three hours of slow tunes and love music. What Melvin Lindsey began at Howard University’s WHUR station would become a universal clock.  In Chicago, WJPC exchanged Smokey for Teddy, and every night at 7pm, WJPC would go down-tempo and slow-drag with the “Love for Two” program.  The program opened with a full play of Teddy Pendergrass’s  1985 hit single “Love 4/2”.   It signaled we could leave behind the fescennine promise that we’d be “moving on up” through devotion to the slaughterhouse 9:5 hustle. We exchanged the encumberances of our proletariat uniforms for freedom expressed through the honey soaked mercies of Minnie Riperton or  wood-aged agony of Bobby Womack.

Whether it was sensual Smokey, or Ready Teddy, the close of the evening bought the best in slow jams, relaxed soul and love songs. If you weren’t in love, you wanted to be in love. Brilliant interpretations were delivered by falsetto-singing men, alto-swearing women, and the harmonies of EWF, LTD, Enchantment, ConFunkShun, The Emotions, The Manhattans, The Dramatics.  Ear pressed to speakers, we sank into epiphoric melodies delivered on lips swollen and bruised from bursting air into horns and fingers scathed from a bare run across strings.

It was tortured love, everlasting love, forbidden love, first love, and lust. In as much as we looked for a mellow end to a hectic day, the DJ could pick a selection that drove us into the insane, darker corners of our heart. One night everything could be cured with Luther Vandross, a hot bath and a completely inoffensive glass of White Zinfandel. Other nights, rotating Enchantment’s “It’s You that I Need”, Al Green’s “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart”,  Sade’s “You’re Not the Man” and  ConFunkShun’s “Love Train” led to uncut Hennessy X.O.measured by the cup rather than the ounce, burning letters, ripping mementos, knocking phones off the hook, and waking up on a cold wooden floor in a puddle of tears and drained by a night screaming at the walls and cursing out shadows.

Forbidden and ridiculed in daylight, we seek loves’ favor with moonrise, and admit our desire for tenderness and the vulnerability of need.  Marvin or Anita, Roberta or Will, Peabo or Jill..gives us professional recitations of poetry that amplify our lamentations, exalt our desperation and scold our lust. Sounds extract mirrors from our heart, a matelasse reflection of soldered heartbreaks and triumphs.

The Pleasure Palace is incapable of matching the selections from the crates of the grates. In this inaugural episode of the Sunday Slowdown, we’ve gerrymandered a sample of the best by the best. It probably helps to be on the evening shade of 35 to enjoy this love affair with the classics. Whether these sounds make you walk backwards in your mind or it’s your freshman course in Love Songs,  experience love as it is meant to sound…..

Sunday Slowdown Ep. 1: Back to the Old School.

(Click Highlighted Words)