2. doing it to death

“Because there had to be at least one James Brown track on this list — Godfather of Soul, Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Soul Brother No. 1 and a bunch more, I’m sure. Including I hope some reference to funk. He did invent funk, didn’t he? What do I know? I’m just some white guy from the suburbs. I’ll tell you what I know. I know that whatever it is we’re all doing here, this being alive, this ever expanding sustained chain reaction of possibilities that comes with breathing, moving, growing, learning, dreaming, DANCING — we’re doing it to death. And even death is no end, because trust that whatever happens (or doesn’t) after we die — the groove goes on, the song doesn’t end, we’re fated to life eternal. Not any of our mortal stuff obviously. That all plays itself out in time even if you go vegan, pump iron, take your vitamins – you are gonna die, your flesh is gonna rot. No it’s the immortal stuff I’m thinking about, the noise we make, the light we shine and reflect, the seeds we plant, and how they grow. By which I mean ideas, passions, commitments, sacrifices, songs – the grooves in particular. None of that stuff ever dies.

Which is all just an approximation of a pile of thoughts I had this past New Years (into 2001), while DJing on some unnamed island, monster sound system, high on some of the local shrooms — not hallucinating or anything, just elevated enough to see (and feel) that the crowd were finally at the point where they’d dance to anything. But what the DJ wants at such a moment, is to give them exactly the right thing. And there it was: The JBs’ Doing It To Death. Not even a James Brown album per say. He gave this one to his band, because who was he really without his JBs? The album itself kind of a rarity, my copy pressed in Germany, 1973, one of those records you spend a long time looking for. And yeah, the title track‘s the treasure that makes it all worth the trouble. Like the intro says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, there are seven acknowledged wonders of the world. You are about to witness the eighth’. No clever DJ tricks required, just drop the needle, slay everyone in the room, give them eternal life. Call it a paradox. I won’t argue. We need more paradoxes.” (Philip Random)

(photo: Universal Music archives)

18. as

As (found deep within Stevie Wonder’s 1976 monster Songs In The Key Of Life) is the best god damned love song I know (by which I guess I mean God graced … but who talks like that anymore?). Starts out as a nice and soulful ‘me and you together forever babe’ thing, but then about halfway through, something amazing happens. The Wonder genius pulls some sleight of hand, punches up the groove which somehow sets the melody soaring, and meanwhile the lyric (and the voice that’s carrying it) have also mutated. Now it’s tearing up the atmosphere, singing of that greater love, the one beyond just me and you, babe, the one that truly comes from on high.

Notice I didn’t say God. What do I know about God? Or gods. What I do know is I’m right here, right now, not anywhere else. Some of it’s on me, I guess, and some of it’s in me, but most of it – well who f***ing knows how I got here, or why, or what I’m supposed to do about it? And sometimes, this is all too f***ing much, for anyone. We need something to lift us, allow us to see past the barriers of our suffering and frustration and grasp that the only real wisdom starts with an acceptance of these barriers, the stuff of them, because maybe just maybe these trials and travails and humiliations and tribulations are precisely what our souls require. Because as somebody else’s grandpa used to say, if life was supposed to be all roses and perfume and puppy dogs, they would have called it something else. And anyway, roses have thorns, puppy dogs sh** all over the place and perfume can be toxic. Play this one at my funeral. No question. I’ll be there if I can.” (Philip Random

93. to love somebody

“In which Nina Simone proves the experts wrong. The Bee Gees peaked long before all that disco foo-furrah of the later mid-70s, probably in 1967 with To Love Somebody which may just be the greatest song of unrequited love ever written, the proof being in the covers, everybody from the Flying Burrito Brothers to Michael Bolton to the Chambers Brothers to Billy Corgan, Roberta Flack, Michael Buble, Janis Joplin, Eric Burdon taking a swing at it … but nobody ever owned it like Ms. Simone, whose pumped up 1969 take removes all adornments, just tells it like it is-was-will-always-be. I lost somebody. I’m broken. I don’t think I’ll ever be fixed. At least I still believe in my soul.” (Philip Random)

132. inner city blues (make me wanna holler)

“For all the suburban whiteness of my so-called tweens, at least the DJs at the local FM rock station were still allowed to be halfway cool. So you can bet they were digging deep into Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, which truly is one of the great †albums, every note, every texture all flowing† together like one vastly complex song. So I’m sure I heard Inner City Blues†† when it was still pretty new, even if I wasn’t aware of it. Just part of the ongoing flow that was filling me in and filling me up with what was really going on† out there in that part of the world that wasn’t organized into easy suburban shapes.” (Philip Random)

235. soul love

Soul Love is the second of two in a row from 1972’s Ziggy Stardust + The Spiders From Mars, making the list if only because Five Years doesn’t sound quite right without it following immediately afterward. And it’s proof in advertising, a groovy nugget of soul and love, and a solid hint of where the alien Bowie might be headed once he shed his Ziggy skin.

DavidBowie-1973-Ziggy+band

262. keep on truckin’

“Growing up in suburban wherever back in the latter part of the early 1970s, you didn’t get much so-called black music on the radio, or the record stores for that matter. But every now and then, something epic like Keep On Truckin’ managed to blaze on through. I had no idea who Eddie Kendricks was (though I had heard of the Temptations), but man if my head didn’t turn whenever it came on, particularly the long album version which, to my then fourteen year old ears, just seemed to go on forever in the best possible way, expanding my soul and my consciousness as to what music could and should be. And honestly, it still does.” (Philip Random)

EddieKendricks-1973-truckin.jpg

430. love ritual

“The secret for me with the Reverend Al Green is generally to catch him when he’s in a less reverend phase. Which is definitely the case with Love Ritual, a track I originally discovered via a mid-90s remix. Which got me looking for the original vinyl, which was easy enough to find. And it was better. More emphasis on the vocals, and thus the soul, set in motion by the groove, but not bound by it.” (Philip Random)

ALgreen-1976

636. go up Moses

Roberta Flack had a huge hit in 1972 with First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, a soft, slow mover that was so good even twelve year old white bread suburban me couldn’t help but pay attention. Which is how I eventually ended up with Quiet Fire. Spotted maybe fifteen years later at a yard sale (hard to miss that hair on the cover). How could it not be worth a buck (or whatever)? But it wasn’t a slow mover that hooked me, it was lead-off track Go Up Moses, biblical, revolutionary and groovy, and co-written by the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Pharaoh Must Go!” (Philip Random)