TOP TEN VINYL/YOUTUBE DISCOVERIES OF THE YEAR 2011
by Chris Cummings
1) Dionne Warwick - You're Gonna Need Me
As a longtime fan of older music, particularly R&B
—I used to confine myself to the years 1968-74,
but have since expanded this sweet spot backwards in time to about 1965 and,
as this list will attest, forward to about 1983—
I like it when I hear about something that is mind-alteringly top notch
but for whatever reason remains obscure or cultish.
Such was the case with this song, a later gem in Warwick's discography,
written by the great Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team for the album
that would be her first after severing ties with
Bacharach-David, Just Being Myself (1973).
And I was equally unaware of the J Dilla sample,
in the song “Stop” on the album Donuts,
which emphasizes the song's epically insane opening bars.
But that opening burst aside, the song as a whole is a devastating breakup ballad,
similar in theme to Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,”
in which the discarded lover tells their tormentor: you are going to miss me.
The song is also notable for its huge "sudden sonic switch"
that occurs at around 1:06 in this clip,
with the words, You better STOP: this moment never ceases to blow my mind.
Whenever a song successfully passes through
no less than FOUR different “sonic rooms” in its opening minute
—first the fluttery build of the intro, then as the song proper begins,
the introduction of the snaky, two-note,
slightly off-tempo keyboard riff which sets off the whole thing for me,
then at around 0:43, the introduction of ANOTHER incredible riff,
this time cast in a snarly, distinctive guitar sound
(one which I will forever associate with
H-D-H’s Invictus/Hot Wax labels of the early seventies)
before the sudden switch at 1:06 to a more stately,
piano and string-laden atmosphere (and 6/4 time)
—it deserves inclusion in the canon of great recorded songs.
2) Lucio Battisti - To Feel In Love
Sent to me in two different versions by two different European friends,
this song grabbed me by the lapels and didn’t let go.
The riff that comes in at around 0:44, following the somewhat flaccid synth intro,
has got to be one of the train-stoppingly greatest musical motifs ever.
The combination of Lucio Battisti’s endearing,
vulnerable singing voice and Italian-accented English,
with the sheer monumental force of the backing track
is what makes this track so special to me.
3) The Roches - Hammond Song
This made my heart stop the minute I heard it—from the gorgeous backing track
(produced by Robert Fripp in something called Audio Verite,
according to the album liner notes) to the ultra-complex vocal interlacings of
the three Roche sisters (Suzzie, Terry and Margaret),
to the jarringly honest lyrics
(is it a mother talking to an errant daughter, or something else?)
—this is a stunning masterpiece.
It perfectly balances the darker lyrical material with
a light-sounding and fresh, constantly shifting and surprising arrangement.
Also featuring a gorgeous Fripp guitar solo using his distinctive tone.
4) Risco Connections - Ain't No Stopping Us Now (Version)
As much as I love the original version of this song by
McFadden and Whitehead on Philadelphia International Records,
this goes one better in terms of sheer propulsion and positivity.
The opening echoed percussion and synth evokes
some long-lost childhood-empire NYC
I've only ever seen in the movies and Sesame Street.
The sparse backing vocals
(re-edited from a more straight-ahead cover of the original song)
seem to glide and skip over the bassline and percussion.
5) Central Line - Walking Into Sunshine
Another slab of sheer positivity, from the post-disco period of the early eighties,
which as it turns out, made many more contributions to good music
than I was previously aware of.
Since the band is British, I’m assuming they take their name from
the red line on the London Underground.
6) Lamont Dozier - Going Back To My Roots
From 1977, another Dozier monster,
and one of whose existence I was, again, painfully unaware.
How I would have loved to hear this song 20 years ago,
at the height of my youthful infatuation with all things R&B.
But I'm very happy to have heard it now.
The ferocity of Dozier’s vocal delivery
(not to mention the heartfelt sincerity of the lyrics),
set off against the gigantic elegance of the backing track, really puts it across.
The complete departure in the second half of the song
(which I am, admittedly, less crazy about than the first half)
makes it seem like a true epic.
7) Smokey Robinson - Baby Come Close
From Smokey Robinson's first solo album Smokey (1973),
this got to me because of the little instrumental section that starts at 1:04 or so.
I believe it's a fluegelhorn and a soprano sax—a keening, crying tone
—whatever it is, it's heavenly.
And the song itself is sheer structural, arrangemental and vocal perfection,
as Smokey Robinson so often is.
8) Fonda Rae - Over Like a Fat Rat
On the ever-surprising Vanguard label
(also the home of Joan Baez and Perrey-Kingsley,
and originator of the name Stereolab),
another slab of 1982 post-disco, a joyous romp.
9) Mtume - Juicy Fruit
A longish, slowish, sparsely-arranged early-80s electroid funk track,
with lyrics made up of candy-oriented,
deliberately obvious double entendres, and an irresistible groove.
10) Isley Brothers - Here We Go Again
A mountain of a song, covered with synth snow.