Sam Cooke "Bring It On Home to Me"
This song is my number one scream in the shower/ alone in the car jam of all time. I feel so good belting it out that it brings tears to my eyes. There is a live version from St. Paul, MN (no idea when/ where) that is so poignant, spiteful, and loving that I can't even begin to put it into words. When Cooke says "I'll always be your slave" he laughs/ seethes so hard at whitey that I want to bury my head in shame forever. This is exactly why I love soul music.
Otis Redding "I've Been Loving You Too Long"
Soul music has never been more tender. The song starts out so understated and elegant that you want to slow dance, but by the end you just want to scream in your lady's face about how much you love her. The dynamics cover the feeling you span in an entire relationship within two and a half minutes. Otis is a mythical beast to me. This song sets the bar of love so high that I don't think I'll ever achieve it.
Jackson 5 "Who's Lovin' You"
The Miracles recorded the original version of this song in 1964, but 5 years later 11 year old Michael Jackson and his brothers ripped the head off of it and slayed it so skillfully that it set all other children back 100 years. I can't even fathom how a child that age could have this much soul. I guess having your childhood stolen from you gives you a really early dose of real pain. This song is perfect. It makes me feel like life on other planets is possible.
R. Kelly "Suicide"
This is a deep cut from R. Disc 1. The opening Wurlitzer riff is pure sex. It catches you from second one. R. Kelly is one of my idols. His storytelling is equally brilliant and retarded. He's a savant raconteur of love. "The easiest thing in the world is to love you/ The hardest thing in the world is to lose you" may sound simple on the surface, but it sends me into an existential tizzy of eternal confusion. Respect. The song is so honest and specific lyrically that it is a truly brave gem totally hidden within the 25 songs of an epic double album.
Nina Simone "Feeling Good"
Nina Simone could make me cry by singing the ingredients off of a jar of peanut butter. The song starts out a cappella and lonely. Then the slinky horns come in and make you feel an essential vulgar seediness. By the end she verges on anger when she screams about "Feeling Good". It's a true journey. Seriously where did her voice come from? I need to go on a deep Nina Simone bender because I feel like there is so much more I don't know yet.
Bill Withers "Ain't No Sunshine"
I love hearing a grown man so broken up about a woman. The concept is so common, so universal, that it cuts straight to the heart muscle. Bill Withers is a man. A big, thick James Evans of a hulking man. This song holds the same power as seeing your dad cry for the first time. Just knowing that someone who could throw you across the street isn't afraid to get a little sweaty and misty for his old lady makes world peace seem possible. Also, the man possesses a cool breeziness that makes The Fonz seem uptight. PLUS he rules at guitar.
The Strokes "Under Control"
This song is an exercise in the power of simplicity and nuance. It's beautiful. The opening drum fill makes way for the breezy yet thick guitar chords that takes you straight to the dock of the bay. Julian's voice is pure butter with a measured crackle. I want to bring this song back to 60s Hitsville USA and watch the Funk Brothers go to town. This song deserves to be covered a million times though I don't think anyone could beat the innocence of the original.
Stevie Wonder "A Place in the Sun"
I love the longingly sad lyrics in this song. It's about growing, moving on, and becoming the person you must become even if you're not ready. It's about running towards your destiny while fighting off soul depleting tiredness. When I listen to it I feel like I'm plunging into cleansing water that is washing away a thousand years of desert sand. This song is musical hydration to me. So necessary. Hope mired in sadness is beautiful.
Amy Winehouse "Back to Black"
I have no idea how Amy's voice was possible. It was an otherworldly presence. We were acquaintances/ buds/ fans of each other, but she always mystified me. She caused herself so much joy and pain that the songs just flowed out of her with an ease that only comes along once in a thousand years. When the universe brought Amy, Mark Ronson, and the Dap Kings together to make this track/ album we're lucky we all didn't explode. When songs make me feel this good and bad at the same time I play them on repeat a million times.
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles "Tears of a Clown"
Smokey is a genius writer. Not to harp on it, but soul music to me is all about a mixture of pleasure and pain, whispering and screaming, rubbing and slapping, and laughing and crying. Tears of a Clown is such a sad idea, but the frankness of the song turns it into an every day inevitability of life. It's OK to cry, and to talk about it, and then turn that feeling into positivity. You are not alone. We're all the Clown.