Thursday, July 2, 2020

McQ's Best Of 2019 Vol 1 - Nancy's Favorites!

2019 was a weird music year. 

Crazily lopsided, it was an unbelievable year for high quality singer/songwriter-styled efforts, a very good year in contemporary R&B and dark-as-night art-rock, but then depressingly tepid everywhere else - subpar in hip hop, uninspired in both mainstream rock and contemporary pop, and simply abysmal in indie, the worst year for that broad genre since I began doing these collections in 2004. 

And because so many of the year's very best records came in that bleak, depressing art-rock category, we're going to flip the switch here for 2019, just as we did for 1969, and let Nancy's warmer, crowd-pleasing instincts ease us into 2019's brighter moments first before hitting those potent but difficult titles in later mixes over the weeks that follow

So here then, music fans, for your Fourth Of July weekend listening pleasure, is Nancy's most expansive Favorites effort yet, two and a half hours of exceptional songs from 2019's sunnier and/or more heartfelt side.

Here's the Spotify Link. Enjoy!

Now, about the Artists/Albums/Songs on Nancy's Mix:

1 & 2. Crazy In Love & Freedom - Beyonce: Nancy launches things off with the spectacular opening minutes of Beyonce's legendary 2018 Coachella show (the last Coachella Nancy & I attended), which has now been captured for all posterity in a Netflix documentary and 2019 soundtrack album of the same name, Homecoming (Solid Recommend). Whether or not the concert was the best live show of all time, as many in the press have posited, is debatable, but as a cultural statement steeped in black tradition and as a piece of deeply thematic, thoughtful musical theater, the show, built around the concept of hanging in the stands with students and fans for a Friday night football game at a southern HBCU, has had no equal on the Coachella main stage (at least over the 11 years I attended), and probably never will. Best of all, hanging in the bleachers with head-cheerleader Bey, was the band, a brass-and-drumline-powered monster that fueled the show's every uptempo number with an unbelievable adrenaline rush, and lent every one of her many hits a fresh new feel, all perfectly demonstrated by Nancy's selections here.

3. Morning In America - Durand Jones & The Indications: While the University Of Indiana - Bloomington campus is not the likeliest of birthing places for a retro-soul band devoted to recreating the sound and feel of Marvin Gaye's and Curtis Mayfield's/The Impression's classic late 60s/early 70s work, I'll take 'em from wherever I can get them when the results are as good as Morning In America here from the band's sophomore full-length effort, American Love Call

4. What About Us - Gary Clark Jr.: Nancy and I were lucky enough to catch this talented blues-rocker with friends at the Hollywood Bowl just a few months before the concert world shut down. In the show, he debuted much of the material from his latest, much more socially conscious-minded album This Land (Mild Recommend), and What About Us was a definite standout. 

5. Shine A Little Light - The Black Keys: After a half-decade of hit records, festival heading gigs, and unrelenting touring, by 2014, the Ohio blues-rock-duo of Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach were understandably wiped-out and had to take a break. But five years later, following a period of relative rest spent mostly with side-bands and producing albums for other artists, the Keys finally returned in 2019 with "Let's Rock," (Solid Recommend), an encouraging effort that, while not on par with career peak full-lengths like Rubber Factory, Brothers or personal fav El Camino, proves there's still plenty of life left in the duo's sturdy three-minute blues-single formula. Much to my chagrin, Nancy gobbled up not just one but two of the album's best songs, starting here with its take-no-prisoners lead single Shine A Little Light.

6. Sunny Love Song - Bob Mould: Nancy has never gravitated towards noisy, hard-hitting punk, which is why it's always been surprising what a soft spot she has for Bob Mould.  But maybe that's because Sugar's Cooper Blue was such a ubiquitous soundtrack presence at the bars and parties we hung out in while having the time of our lives in downtown Chicago in our early twenties, and taken in that context, I guess it's not that surprising that Nancy's grabbed the best song from Mould's latest release, 2019's fine, Cooper Blue-like Sunshine Rock (Solid Recommend).

7. This Life - Vampire Weekend: In what was easily the most dreadful year in indie-pop since I began doing these mixes in 2004, one indie-release stood head-and-shoulders above everything else: Vampire Weekend's Father Of The Bride (Solid Recommend). And while the sprawling Father Of The Bride isn't nearly as consistent as the Columbia University band's two best efforts (2008's eponymous debut and 2013's sophisticated stunner Modern Vampires Of The City), it's one of the few 2019 releases in any genre that's best songs are straight-up showstoppers. Nancy's grabbed two of those showstoppers here, starting with This Life, and we'll hit two more on our upcoming Vol 4 - All Things Indie.

8. Superbike - Jay Som: Just a lovely, chiming number here from LA-based, Walnut Creek born DIY-er Jay Som's (aka Melina Mae Duterte) fourth full-length for Polyvinyl Anak Ko (Solid Recommend). She's been slowly moving up the indie ranks the last few years, and getting better with each outing, so wouldn't surprise me to see her land an album near the top of the year end polls down the line. But for now, we have this fine song to enjoy.

9. Summer Girl - HAIM: One of the best singles of 2019, love the breezy nature of this so-cal charmer from the LA-born, masters-of-bass-face hipster sisters, not to mention the track's deep indebtedness to Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side

10. Hero - Michael Kiwanuka: For most of its seamless opening half, Michael Kiwanuka's Danger Mouse-produced third album KIWANUKA (Strong Recommend), which doubles down on that signature spaghetti-western-soul sound the duo formulated on their previous joint effort Love & Hate, plays like a serious album-of-the-year contender, until a decision to slow things way down on it's back half brings the excitement to a sudden halt. But even with that almost jarring shift in tone, KIWANUKA remains a top-10 release on the year, and contains many thrilling up-and-mid-tempo numbers like Hero here.

11. The Barrel - Aldous Harding: That singer-songwriter dominated-year alluded to above - it starts taking over this mix here, with odd-ball New Zealand indie-folker Aldous Harding's (aka Hannah Sian Top) delightfully non-sensical The Barrel representing the year's sixth best release Designer (Strong Recommend).  Much like The Barrel, the rest of Designer's so quirky gems (two more of which we'll hit upon in Vol 8 - All Things Thoughtful) suggest an emerging female equivalent to peak-form Andrew Bird (minus the heavy reliance on pizzicato strings).  

12. Hey, Ma - Bon Iver: A far cry from '08's breathtakingly straightforward, achingly earnest For Emma, Forever Again (Highest Recommend), Bon Iver's fourth release i,i (Mild Recommend) finds the Bard Of Eau Claire continuing in an increasingly electronic, obtuse, experimental direction, to significantly diminishing returns. That said, buried within all that noodling experimentation, there are still four or five numbers on i,i where Justin Vernon's elite talents with  emotion and song dynamics rise to the fore, especially on Hey, Ma, which Nancy quickly snatched up here. Now if Mr. Vernon could just find it within himself to reverse course, and get back to his linear, acoustic roots on his next outing...

13. Anybody - Burma Boy: Nancy gets worldly with Anybody, one of six singles released from rising afro-fusion/reggaeton superstar Burma Boy's (actually Nigerian Damani Ebunoluwa Ogula Rex) fourth release African Giant, a 2020 Grammy nominee and 2019 Album of the Year winner at the All Africa Music Awards 2019.

14. They Don't Shine - Tedeschi Trucks Band: This lively, gospel number comes to us courtesy of Jacksonville, Florida husband and wife blues tandem Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, the first of two rocking songs we'll be hearing over the course of this mix collection from their band's fourth studio release, Signs.

15. EARFQUAKE - Tyler, The Creator: A surprise selection, Nancy goes with this unusual, poppy number from former rap shock master turned Frank Ocean-styled flower boy Tyler, The Creator's IGOR (Solid Recommend), the most critically celebrated (it ended up #5 across all genres in the year-end aggregate polls) and original hip hop album of 2019.

16. Tell Me Lies - The Black Keys: Here's one more from the Key's '19 release "Let's Rock", the very groovy Tell Me Lies.

17. Juice - Lizzo: A huge hit from Time Magazine's 2019 Entertainer Of The Year, Juice was actually just one of many winning tracks to be found on contemporary R&B "Queen Of Positivity" Lizzo's third full-length Cuz I Love You (Solid Recommend), the most nominated (8) album of the 2020 Grammys. 

18. Married In A Gold Rush - Vampire Weekend: Much changed for Vampire Weekend in the six years since their last release Modern Vampires Of The City. Lead singer/principal songwriter Ezra Koenig relocated to Los Angeles and became a parent. Around that same time, Rostam Batmanglij, the VW's ace multi-instrumentalist and dominant production voice up to that point in time, left the band to pursue a solo opportunities and his exploding producing career (he's been a dominant mixboard player in recent releases from Carly Rae Jepsen and Charlie XCX, among others). So a new direction for the band was warranted, and inspired his new So-Cal environs, Cohen choose to shift the band's next album Father Of The Bride towards a classic Laurel Canyon sound, and to assist in capturing that 70s vibe, he brought in Danielle Haim, the daughter of 70s studio musicians, to share vocals on three songs. All three tracks featuring Haim are among the album's standouts, but arguably, Married In A Gold Rush here is the best. 

19. Don't Know How To Keep Loving You - Julia Jacklin: Among the amazing crop of contemporary female singer-songwriters that have emerged around the globe over the last decade, I'm not sure any of them do drama as well, or with such a sense of life-or-death urgency, as Sydney, Australia's Julia Jacklin, and that sense of high drama permeates every note of her fabulous release Crushing (Strong Recommend, the year's fifth best release, and the best 2019 album represented here on Nancy's mix), perfectly embodied here by the anguished Don't Know How To Keep Loving You 

20. Seventeen - Sharon Van Etten: A slightly more veteran presence on the female singer/songwriter front, Sharon Van Etten mixed things up to impressive results on her excellent 2019 release Remind Me Tomorrow (Strong Recommend), embracing a number of unusual electronic, experimental, and in the case of Seventeen, harder rocking approaches to make the album, if not her best, then definitely the most interesting and varied effort of her career.  

21. The Greatest - Lana Del Rey: Runaway 2019 winner of the year end critic's album polls, Lana Del Rey's Norman Fucking Rockwell (Strong Recommend) is a definite career high point, and like Vampire Weekend's Father Of The Bride, her most Laurel Canyon-inspired effort yet. At times on this exceptional record, it feels like Joni Mitchell is right there in the studio with Del Rey, whispering inspirations as Lana records. And of the album's many top tier numbers, Nancy has chosen to run with the album's mid-tempo centerpiece and biggest hit, The Greatest.

22. One More Time - Bedouine: Continuing, but far from done, with 2019's seemingly endless singer-songerwriter parade, Nancy next taps the delicately chill One More Time from Syrian-American Azniv Korkejian's equally delicate and chill sophomore full-length under her Bedouine moniker, Bird Songs Of A Kill Joy (Mild Recommend). 

23. Get Well Soon - Boy Scouts: This gentle indie-rocker comes to us from Oakland DIY bedroom-artist Taylor Vick's major label debut as Boy Scouts, Free Company (Mild Recommend).

24. Not - Big Thief: Brooklyn's Big Thief was on fire in 2019, releasing two high caliber full-lengths, and while their second 2019 album, the looser, jammier Two Hands (Solid Recommend) was the lesser of the two efforts compared to the subtle, Radiohead-caliber precision and invention of the indie-whisperers first release U.F.O.F. (Strong Recommend), it definitely had the top track in the so urgent Not, which wasn't just one of Nancy and I's favorite tracks of 2019, but a top-ten mainstay on most year-end best songs lists, and one ex-President Obama's 2019 favorites as well.

25. Highwomen - The Highwomen: The brainchild of activist, fiddler extraordinaire, and Jason Isbell spouse Amanda Shires, The Highwomen was Shire's attempt to raise the profile of female artists (not to mention their perspectives) in country music by creating an all-female play on the 1980's all-male country supergroup dream team of Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, The Highwaymen. Little did Shires know (or maybe she knew all along) that she - along with her partners in feminist crime Maren Morris, Brandi Carlisle, and Natalie Hemby - were about to become one of the biggest acts in country music in 2019 with their self-titled debut (Solid Recommend). To celebrate this accomplishment, Nancy's tapped two songs from the record and placed them back to back.  First up, the album's title track, an impassioned ballad that pays tribute to the accomplishments, strength, and moral courage of great women of the past, and then...

26. Redesigning Women - The Highwomen: ...the album's spunky lead single, a song that pays tribute to the wondrous, tireless day-to-day accomplishments of modern woman in this multi-tasking present (though I think many would assert its been this way for women all along). 

27. Hold Me Anyway - Wilco: Though unassuming and quiet in nature compared to most of the other tracks featured on this mix, Hold Me Anyway comes off almost as a relative barnburner compared to the rest of subtly experimental soft rock protest songs that make up Wilco's thoughtful, reflective eleventh studio album Ode To Joy (Mild Recommend). 

28. What I Remember - Patty Griffin: It's really just not a Nancy's Favorite's mix until the Patty Griffin songs start to land towards the end, and her 2019 edition is no exception. This year sees Nancy teeing up two from 2019 full-length Patty Griffin, starting with the old-school flamenco torch song What I Remember.

29. Show Me Love - Alicia Keys, 21 Savage & Miguel: This remixed version of Show Me Love, featuring hip hop star 21 Savage and co-written with Miguel, was the lead single forAlicia Keys seventh studio album Alicia.

30. Burning - Maggie Rogers: A 2020 Grammy nominee for Best New Artist, excitement had been building for Maryland-based Maggie Roger's 2019 full length debut Heard It In A Past Life ever since her days as a college student at NYU's Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music, when a video of her playing an demo of her early composition Alaska for a visibly moved guest lecturer Pharell Williams went viral and started an industry bidding war for her talents. Here, that sense of promise is fulfilled with Nancy's favorite song from the new record, Burning

31. Stones - Bruce Springsteen: Boss fans would be loath to hear it, but Bruce should really think about calling it a day right here, with his beautiful, cinematic 2019 walk off into the sunset Western Stars (Strong Recommend), arguably his best album since 2006's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, if not 2002's The Rising, if not all the way back to 1987's Tunnel Of Love. Full of rich, expansive orchestral arrangements worthy of Roy Orbison or a John Ford western, Western Stars is a big-themed, elegiac record obsessed with legacy, meaning, and how one gracefully copes with one's emotions, past history, and regrets as one's life and relationships near their end. Here, on Stones, the accumulation of past moments of weakness and their lasting impact on a long-term romantic partnership takes center stage.

32. The Fact Of Love - Joe Henry: Moving, mystical acoustic number here from veteran producer and Grammy winning alt-country recording artist Joe Henry and his 2019 full-length The Gospel According To Water

33. Change - Mavis Staples: Now 80, the indomitable gospel inspiration Mavis Staples just keeps keeping on, as evidenced here with Change from her Ben Harper-produced 2019 release We Get By

34. Light Years - The National: Owners of the most reliable sound in present day music, a sound that has produced an elite stretch of albums over the last fifteen years, The National finally shook things up in 2019 by exploring their feminine side on their eight studio release I Am Easy To Find (Solid Recommend). Every aspect of the album was created in conjunction with female collaborators, from the Alicia Vickander cover photo, to the endless parade of duets featuring the likes of Sharon Van Etten, Gail Ann Dorsey, Kate Stables, Mina Tindle, Lisa Hannigan, even the the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. And while I'd label I Am Easy To Find, especially in light of how good the band has been before, more of a fascinating stab at artistic growth than a significant accomplishment in itself, it does boast a few tremendous songs, especially closing ballad Light Years which Nancy has selected here.  

35. Something To Hope For - Craig Finn: One of the very best songs of 2019, Craig Finn's Something To Hope For is the empathetic  centerpiece to the Hold Steady frontman's appealing fourth solo album I Need A New War (enthusiastic Solid Recommend). Tackling a theme rarely explored in rock, I Need A New War is the concluding chapter in Finn's trilogy of small-scale solo efforts examining the everyday minutiae of ordinary middle-aged, middle-management schlepps, decent people sticking it out, doing their modest best, and loving their friends and family, but whose lives and careers now hold out little hope of great advancement, accomplishment or adventure. 

36. River - Patty Griffin: Question: Name the Patty Griffin album that doesn't contain at least one song that moves you to your very core? Answer: You can't! That album doesn't exist! Here's that song, River, from Patty's 2019 eponymous release Patty Griffin (Mild Recommend).

37. Moonlight Motel - Bruce Springsteen: Western Stars gentle, understated closing track. Seriously, Bruce, let Jim Brown be your guide here.

38. The Sound Of Silence - The Chromatics: Nancy loves herself some Chromatics classic rock covers.  After tapping the Lynchian synth outfit in 2012 for their killer cover of Neil Young's Hey Hey My My (Into The Black), she hits them again for their mesmerizing rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's The Sound Of Silence from the Johnny Jewel-led Portland, Oregon outfits long-awaited Closer To Grey (Solid Recommend). 

39. Lift Every Voice And Sing - Beyonce: Nancy closes the 2019 mix with the definitive moment of Beyonce's Coachella show, when Bey, after having whipped the mostly white twenty-something crowd into an absolute frenzy with Crazy In Love and Freedom, brought everything to a dramatic halt with this stirring rendition of The Black National Anthem, something probably 80% of the crowd was hearing for the very first time.

Friday, June 26, 2020

McQ's Best Of 1969 Mix Collection

McQ's 1969 #1
1969.  What a year.  So many great works.  Maybe not an amazing year for fans of bright, melodic pop or psychedelic rock, both of which were quickly falling out of favor.  But an extraordinary, often groundbreaking year in country-rock, jazz, prog, soul, and nascent punk and metal.

It was also an unbelievable year in terms of off-the-charts prolificacy.

Truth be told, so many great acts came out with multiple great releases in 1969 that putting this retrospective collection together proved to be an unusually daunting task.

McQ's 1969 #2
Think about it, in this single twelve month period, just among those artists we're profiling here we've got Tim Buckley (2 1969 releases), Joe Cocker (2), The Beatles (2), Johnny Winter (2), The Temptations (2), Love (2), Led Zeppelin (2), The Moody Blues (2), Frank Zappa (2), The Grateful Dead (2), The Jefferson Airplane (2), Steppenwolf (2), Ten Years After (2), The Byrds (2), Miles Davis (2), The Guess Who (2), Fleetwood Mac (2.5), Creedence Clearwater Revival (3), Fairport Convention (3), James Brown (4).

So with that insane volume essential listening, I had no choice really but to throw out our typical 80 minutes per mix discipline, and the guard rails completely came off.

McQ's 1969 #3
Other than volumes 1 & 2, only one other mix in this set comes in under two hours, and several creep into three, even four hour territory. Way too much for one sitting.

So to help out, on the write-up pages (which you can access by clicking on the mix titles below,) I've broken mixes 3-15 into multiple set and encore chunks, just like at a long live concert.

Tackling them in this manner may prove easier , but hey, get after them any way you wish.  I just hope you'll take some time to dive in, because 1969 really was one of rock/pop/soul's greatest and deepest years and there is so much here worth hearing.

We'll be updating this central hub throughout the summer as more of the mixes and write-ups become available. But we've got a few up already...

So, without any further ado, here our the mixes in our 1969 retrospective collection. Enjoy!

Nancy's collection of her top favs from 1969 was just too much fun not to open with this year.  This 1969 installment nabs some of the best blues, soul, and psychedelic pop of that elite music year.

McQ's top-tier compendium to Nancy's Favorites, with the exception of a very significant early song from one David Bowie, this mix focuses exclusively on representative tracks of 1969's best albums (minus a few of 1969's great albums Nancy already touched upon).

1969 was an extraordinary for the blues and blues-based rock, and the first of our genre-specific mixes capture's much of the year's best here. 

The best of 1969's non-US/UK efforts get due here.  If you're a fan of late 60s reggae, tropicalia, or  euro-pop, you're going to find a ton of great stuff to revisit here. 

Three highly influential experimental rock genres that came of age in 1969 are presented here in this epic length mix. 

As with melodic Pop, Psychedelic rock was experience a rapid fade in popularity following its zenith just two years prior, but as most of their peers ventured into country rock and early metal, a few artists stuck with what the did best, and were supported by a bunch of lesser but game second-wavers eager to jump into the fray. 

1969 was a great year for adventurous, exploratory jazz, and we've got a small (but still quite long) sample of some of the best here. Includes revered classics from the likes of Miles Davis, George Russell, Don Cherry, Les McCann, and Pharoah Sanders, among several others

This year's guilty pleasure installment focuses mostly on those Soul, Pop, and Country singles that won our hearts but felt behind the times even back when they were released in 1969. 

1969 was nothing if not loose, exploratory and jammy.  This mix, designed something like a never ending Grateful Dead show of the era, captures that spirit and then some - celebrating much of the year's best extended, solo-heavy psychedelic, rock and experimental efforts in an epic four hour mix.

The sugar sweet harmonic pop that dominated the charts just a few years ago was, like psychedelic music, quickly fading from mainstream favor, but in it's wake, a new angle on album-oriented pop, the Rock Opera, emerged.  Features several selections from the year's two ground breaking rock operas, The Who's Tommy and The Kinks Arthur (Or The Decline Of The British Empire), as well as beloved tracks from the likes of The Beatles, Beach Boys, and Velvet Underground.

What a groundbreaking year for Soul Music in 1969.  Some of the year's edgiest and most forward-looking soul can be found here, including many efforts by the likes of Sly & The Family Stone, Isaac Hayes, The Temptations, and James Brown!

Anchored by three remarkable albums from the Richard Thompson/Sandy Denny-fronted Fairport Convention, British Folk Rock had one of its best years of the modern era in 1969. This mix captures much of the best of that, as well as a number of notable singer/songwriter efforts out of North America.

Country Rock had suddenly become almost the end all and be all in 1969, led by a remarkable three album surge from Creedence Clearwater Revival, but augmented by The Band, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt and a seemingly endless supply of Byrd's offshoots including Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dillard & Clark, and The Flying Burrito Brothers.

Proto, proto, proto, Baby!  Early punk and heavy metal really rounded into form in 1969, and we've got much of what was exciting about the early days of those movements here, including boatloads of Led Zeppelin, Stooges, Deep Purple, and Mc5. 

Volume 15 - Croony, Croon, Croon

Blue-eyed soul was a huge player in 1969 and we focus on two groups of practitioners, the old-style crooners - especially Elvis Presley, Scott Walker, and Dusty Springfield - and a new crop of usually brass-drenched rockers - including Joe Cocker, The Guess Who, and Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Volume 16 - The Next 100

In no particular order, here are the next 100 tunes I was considering for these 1969 mixes.

Friday, June 19, 2020

THE NEON SKYLINE - Andy Shauf (2020)

Canadian indie-singer/songwriter Andy Shauf possesses the very definition of the light touch, and that light touch - from his classically plaintive, twee vocals, to his preference for woodwinds over brass when he wants to amp the instrumental palette, to his tiny, intimate, conversationally told album-long tale of a guy who joins friends at a bar only to learns his old flame is back in town and about to join them - is on full display on his charming 2020 release The Neon Skyline.

But that light touch and the small scale of the narrative should in no way imply The Neon Skyline is a shallow, surfacy listen. 

To the contrary, with repeat listens, numerous humorous and emotionally impactful moments emerge, and Shauf's lyrical skill depicting conversation between friends - or their inability to effectively converse even while intuitively grasping each other's every predilection and foible - pays great dividends the more one digs in to the conversational nuances, and is as critical here to the album's effectiveness as in celebrated late-night conversation-dominated films like My Dinner With Andre or The Big Chill

A one man show (Shauf produced, engineered, and played every instrument), and consistent in its gentle tone, The Neon Skyline won't be of much interest to those who gravitate towards harder hitting rock, metal, or hip-hop, but those who like indie with a heavy dose of melancholic, self-deprecating intimacy should definitely check it out.

STATUS: Solid Recommend

CHERRY PICKER'S BEST BETS: Neon Skyline, Things I Do, Living Room, Dust Kids, Try Again.

Here's the official video for my favorite track from the album, Try Again, which occurs right when the narrator's ex joins the party.

McQ's Best Of 1969 Vol 11 - Stone-Buttered Psychedelic Soul

So far, in our look back at 1969, we've explored what a fantastic music year it was in the blues, progressive rock, conceptual pop, tropicalia, jazz, and jam rock.

But we're just getting started.

With our final themed mixes, we dive into the five sub-genres that pulsed with the most creative excitement in 1969, beginning here with our celebration of that year's incredible run of psychedelic soul.

James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, The Temptations and Isaac Hayes were all on fire at this time: on the musical front, they could almost do no wrong.

And yet, even with these artists' sustained brilliance, their '69 works barely stand out here against our other inclusions from less well-remembered artists in songs like Edwin Starr's Twenty-Five Miles, Dyke & The Blazers We Got More Soul, and Donny Hathaway's The Ghetto

Which is a big part of the reason why 1969 is my favorite year in funk and soul ever. 

Doesn't hurt, either, that at this difficult moment in early June 2020, so many of these songs, sadly, still feel so vibrantly on point today.

So let's get started.  Here's the Spotify link.

Set 1 (Funky Chickens)

1. Walk On By - Isaac Hayes (12:00)
2. Stand! - Sly & The Family Stone (3:08)
3. Cloud Nine - The Temptations (3:32)
4. The Popcorn - James Brown (3:02)
5. Do the Funky Chicken - Rufus Thomas (3:18)
6. Sing A Simple Song - Sly & The Family Stone (3:56)
7. Time Is Tight - Booker T. & The M.G.'s (3:15)
8. Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud - Pts. 1&2 - James Brown (4:46)
9. Friendship Train - Glady's Knight & The Pips (3:50)
10. Hot Fun In The Summertime - Sly & The Family Stone (2:37)
11. Twenty Five Miles - Edwin Starr (3:18)
12. Message From A Black Man - The Temptations (6:02)

Set 2 (Little Groove Makers)

13. Today I Started Loving You Again - Bettye Swann (2:40)
14. Licking Stick - James Brown (2:52)
15. We Got More Soul - Dyke & The Blazers (3:20)
16. You Can Make It If You Try - Sly & The Family Stone (3:38)
17. The Chokin' Kind - Joe Simon (2:40)
18. Runaway Child, Running Wild - The Temptations (9:37)
19. The Nitty Gritty - Gladys Knight & The Pips (3:02)
20 & 21. The Little Groove Maker Me (Parts 1 & 2) - James Brown (5:18)
22. Is It Something That You've Got - Tyrone Davis (2:39)
23. Somebody's Watching You - Sly & The Family Stone (3:20)
24. Love Man - Otis Redding (2:19)
25. Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down - The Temptations (4:45)


26. The Ghetto - Donny Hathaway (6:54)
27. Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic - Isaac Hayes (9:37)
28. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) - Sly & The Family Stone (4:51)

About these Stone-Buttered Psychedelic Soulsters:

Isaac Hayes: Disappointed in the dismal performance of his 1968 debut Presenting Isaac Hayes, the future soul icon/Shaft superstar was ready to ditch any pretense of making it as a performing artist, and get back to his already established career as a house songwriter and producer for Stax.  But then Stax lost its entire back catalog in a split with Atlantic, and label executive Al Bell ordered all Stax artists to immediately get to work on new material. Hayes agreed, but only on the condition that he was granted full creative control.  He got it, and the result was a game changer. Enlisting the help of the Otis Redding's crack backing outfit the Bar-Kays, Hayes's sophomore outing Hot Buttered Soul contained only four lengthy songs, but the music had such an epic, aching, mature, emotionally grounded sweep, it threw the rest of the R&B world into a tailspin and set soul music's course for the next decade.  As the All-Music guide so succinctly puts it, after the release of Hot Buttered Soul, "Motown suddenly seemed manufactured, and James Brown a bit too theatrical." We're including two of the album's incredible recordings here, the amazing opening cover of Burt Bacharach's Walk On By, and in our encore, funk fest Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic, with that one-of-a-kind mid-song piano-break that has to be one of the most frequently sampled funk moments in the history of hip hop. 

Sly & The Family Stone: There are few albums I've worn the grooves down on deeper than Sly And The Family Stone's most popular release and National Library Of Congress Registry member Stand!, easily one of my all-time favorite soul recordings.  We've already hit two of Stand's best known numbers with I Want To Take You Higher on Vol 2 - Best Of The Best and Everyday People on Volume 1 - Nancy's Favorites.  Here, we go real deep, tapping four more of the album's eight tracks - the title track, badass hit Sing A Simple Song, charming deep cut Somebody's Watching You, and one of my favorite upbeat graduation mix numbers You Can Make It If You Try.  Additionally, we're including the two of the Family Stone's three huge post-Woodstock '69 singles on this mix - Hot Fun In The Summertime, and the immortal Thank You (Fallettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), which closes this mix and was originally released as a double A-side single in December '69 with Everybody Is A Star.

The Temptations: We're featuring multiple cuts from each of the Temptation's direction-changing '69 studio releases on this mix. First out of the gate, and the first Motown release to shift the label towards the funkier sound established by Sly & The Family Stone, was Cloud Nine (Solid Recommend).  Very much a Bringing It All Back Home-designed record, side two of Cloud Nine was Temptation's business as usual, full of the high quality smooth soul fans had come to expect from the band, albeit without the brilliant-but-problematic David Ruffin, whom the band had fired a few months earlier and replaced with the huge-voiced but less unique-sounding Dennis Edwards. But Cloud Nine's stunning side one, containing only three songs - the nuclear-powered, controversial "pot-as-an-inner-city-coping-mechanism" title track ('69's Grammy winner for best R&B Song by a duo or group), a cool reworking of the Gladys Knight approach to I Heard It Through The Grapevine, and the nine-minute Runaway Child Running Wild - was something else entirely, and set the tone for every Temptation album to follow over the next half-decade. 

With studio follow-up Puzzle People (Solid Recommend), the band's principal songwriting/producing partner at the time, Norman Whitfield, moved things even further into the psychedelic/social messaging department. The end result was less consistent than Cloud Nine, but often more interesting, with classic hits I Cant Get Next To You and Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down and politically-pointed supporting tracks like the Say It Loud I'm Black And I Proud -riffing Message From A Black Man and epic closing track Slave sandwiched around covers of It's Your Thing, The Beatles Hey Jude, and old-school ballads like Since I've Lost You and Running Away (Ain't Gonna Help You).

James Brown: So yeah, James Brown was a busy, busy man in 1969. They don't call him the hardest working man in show business for nothing. We've already discussed his second release of 1969, his Dee Felice-aided side-step into jazz and orchestral pop standards, Gettin' Down To It, on our Vol 7 - D. Smalls Jazz Odyssey. Now we take a look at his three significant proto-funk releases of 1969.

First up was his iconic Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud (Solid Recommend), which in addition to the title track (that was first released as a single in 1968), also included fan-favorite Licking Stick, but surprisingly, given the assertive implications of the album's title, most of the remainder of the album skews more in the vein of Brown's earlier 60's pop stylings.

The real funk exploration would come with the near simultaneous late summer releases of Brown's It's A Mother (Strong Recommend) and its instrumental counterpart The Popcorn (Solid Recommend).  

It's A Mother is Brown's standout release of the year. His most aggressive foray into funk at that point in his career, it really isn't even a collection of songs, but rather, a fantastic collection of improvised-in-the-studio grooves. And yet, despite the unplanned nature, It's A Mother has a highly cohesive feel, with Brown's ace backing band confidently following the fearless funk-master wherever he chooses to explore. We're going with two-part mid-album standout The Little Groove Maker Me to represent the album here.

The Popcorn, represented by the the album's hit title track, hits many of the same funk sweet spots as It's A Mother, but here Brown slips into the background and lets his band take the lead in a slightly tighter, almost exclusively instrumental attack. Brown's vocal absence does drop the album down a notch from It's A Mother, but remains a fine listen in its own right.

Rufus Thomas: The second of many Stax-based artists to make this mix, multi-talented, singer-dancer-DJ-MC-comedian Rufus Thomas is best remembered today as the man who started a thousand dance crazes, and of them, the Funky Chicken, may be his silliest (and greatest) creation. So obviously, we're going with the single that started it all, Do The Funky Chicken, which would later anchor his 1970 album of the same name.

Booker T. & The M.G.'s: Probably best recognized today as the opening instrumental in the concert portion of the 1980 hit film The Blues Brothers, Booker T & The M.G's Time Is Tight was originally recorded by the Stax house band for another film soundtrack - Jules Dassin's 1968 film Up Tight - twice. Of the soundtrack's two versions, it is the down tempo, shorter version included here that became one of the biggest hits of The M.G.'s career, peaking at #6 in the '69 pop charts.

Gladys Knight & The Pips: After the Temptations, the Motown act quickest to up the funk factor had to be the irrepressible Glady's Knight & The Pips, who brought the new wave grooves big time with the title track and Friendship Train from their 1969 album Nitty Gritty.

Edwin Starr: Edwin Starr had already experience regional and US chart success as one of the top talents at Detroit's Ric-Tic records throughout the later half of the 60s, but 25 Miles, the title track to his second album and first effort for Motown after Gordy Berry purchased Ric-Tic and its entire stable of artists, was the song that launched Starr internationally, going top 10 in the US and doing almost as well in other parts of the world.

Bettye Swann: Louisiana-born, LA-based soulstress Bettye Swann is best remembered today for her '67 single Make Me Yours, but I've always loved her soul-reworking of Merle Haggard's Today I Started Loving You Again from her '69 release Don't You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me, so I'm including it here. 

Dyke & The Blazers: Though he would be murdered just two years later, and his touring band had already formed and dissolved twice, Arizona funk-master Arlester "Dyke" Christian continued to record (and had several of his biggest hits, like '69 charter We Got More Soul included here) under the Dyke & The Blazers moniker by enlisting a rotating group of Los Angeles studio musician (which at times included Bill Withers and future Earth, Wind & Fire guitarists Al McKay and Roland Bautista) to join in extended jam sessions, which would then be whittled down CAN-style into '45 singles.

Joe Simon: Truth be told, as the most old-school R&B number on this mix, I originally had Joe Simon's The Chokin' Kind (from the album of the same name) earmarked for our Vol 8 - Grade A Schmaltz mix, but the song is so structurally similar to country artist Joe South's even better Walk A Mile In My Shoes that I moved The Chokin' Kind here to allow both songs the chance to better individually shine.  Interestingly, even though Simon landed a remarkable fifty-one different songs on the Billboard pop and/or R&B charts from 1964 to 1981, The Chokin' Kind here was his first song to ever reach #1 in either weekly poll. 

Tyrone Davis: Another artist who, like Joe Simon, doesn't seem to be as well remembered today but was a monster on the R&B charts for almost two decades from the late 60s until the late 80s, we're representing the Mississippi soul man with this early single Is It Something That You've Got from his 1970 full-length release Turn Back The Hands Of Time

Otis Redding: Determined to keep Otis Redding's spirit alive (especially with the white counter-culture movement that had just begun to discover Redding around the time of his tragic late '67 death), Steve Cropper produced Redding's third posthumous album Love Man by mining the Stax archives for previously unreleased '67 material and bringing in his fellow MGs to flesh out the sound. The result, while not on par with Redding's phenomenal original recordings, is definitely one of the best of that seemingly never ending catalog of Redding posthumous releases. We're going Love Man's hit title track to represent the album here.

Donny Hathaway: Leading off our encore and closing out this write-up is the awesome, free form '69 lead single The Ghetto from Chicagoan Donny Hathaway's 1970 debut album Everything Is Everything. Similar to Isaac Hayes at Stax, Hathaway had already established himself as house songwriter and producer at Curtis Mayfield's Curtom Records before pursuing a career as an on-stage talent. Ironically, Hathaway co-wrote the single with his Howard college buddy, Leroy Hutson, who Curtis Mayfield would soon tap to take over as the new lead singer for The Impressions when Mayfield decided to leave the legendary vocal act in 1970 to pursue his own solo career.