Protest Songs: Let’s Not Make Another List

The world is hurting. From the earthquake in Mexico, the hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, and those being savagely ripped apart at the hands of war, lives are being stolen all around us.

The heart and soul of our nation, world, and human race are hurting, bleeding more and more with every catastrophe. What adds even more wounds to the mix is the attitudes of people. There are some amazing people with great means stepping up to help victims of these tragedies, yet the same political, cultural, and meanness of society is in full force.

Just go on any social media medium and scroll through the feeds. Hate is all around us, even in these most trying times. I will never understand how to look at others through the lenses of race, religion, sex, or orientation. None of that denies the basic rights of being a member of the human race.

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with “protest” songs. I like to call them songs with a purpose. There are great compositions from yesterday that both remind us of how far we’ve come, but even more so, how far we need to go. Here’s a list of a few songs speaking to me today.

1. “Strange Fruit”

“Strange Fruit” is one of the most haunting, socially aware songs ever produced. It laid the groundwork for songs with a purpose. It was truly the pioneer. What does it mean for us today? I never want to loosen this songs ties to the brutality the African American community faced in the past and current day, but for me, at this moment, the bodies in the trees are those that you choose not to associate with just because you are different. This can range from race all the way to political party. This disassociation only causes deeper divides amongst humans and provides nothing for solutions.

2.”Blowin’ In The Wind” 

This song was originally written by Bob Dylan and has been covered by countless artists. My favorite version, and I would argue the most popular version, is Peter, Paul, and Mary’s. As Paul points out in this video, this song is composed of 9 questions. Although for me, each question can only be answered by another question. The two questions that strike me the most are “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?” and “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?” These questions were relevant in the 1960’s and they are especially relevant to this day, yet these question are so simple and can be easily answered.

3. “What’s Going On”

Again, I do not want to cheapen this song’s meaning to the people of African American decent and it’s purpose in the Civil Rights movement. I agree with every sentiment and hardship this song portrays against African Americans, but today so many more prejudices have come into light. The questions this song asks should be archaic. They should not even be applicable to today, yet here we are years later still wondering what’s going on.

4.”Mississippi Goddam”

Nina Simone’s voice on any track speaks straight to my soul, but this one catches me on a different level because she wrote it. The word “Mississippi” can be replaced with so many different locations like Ferguson, Charlottesville, or Flint, just to name a few. This song evokes anger, but more importantly it brings about frustration. It’s not about hiding our flaws as a society of humans, it’s about fixing them. Let’s never say “goddam” again.

5.”I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”

Although this song was originally made popular in the 1960’s by Nina Simone, I wanted to provide a more updated version for two reasons. First, I didn’t want to list two Nina Simone videos in this list, although you can never have enough of Ms. Simone. Second, I wanted to show how relevant this song is today. As I sit at my piano and look over this song, the line that always strikes me is “I wish I could share all the love that’s in my heart.” If we all showed love, with no strings attached, then there would be no reason for this list or a single “protest” song.

In the end, giving love and expecting nothing in return is all our world needs. It’s so simple that we just don’t get it. Even the best of us that try, will fail, but if we all work together, we can create a movement. There is a solution. Let’s start showing kindness through love today to prevent a list like this being created tomorrow.

That Infectious Smile You Get

Today I was driving with my head phones on. I decided to listen to a live version of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” from her 2009 tour. This has always been one of my favorite Turner songs like the majority of the world, but this time I felt something different.

I just oddly began smiling. After around a minute into the smile I realized how odd I must look to those passing me.

So tonight I have decided to compile a list of songs that give me that infectious smile or at least those songs that make me look like I’m smiling at nothing while driving.

1. “Proud Mary” -Tina Turner

If you are a music fan and don’t love the energy, spunk, and high-octane vocals this song possesses then I do not know who you are. “Proud Mary” immediately hooks me from the beginning guitar rift to Turner telling me how she likes to sing it “nice and rough.” Every time I hear this song I find myself (to the best of my ability) doing Turner’s iconic dance moves as the song progresses, but I will warn you, my legs ain’t that pretty. Least we forget the original though by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

2. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” -Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

There has never been another blend of vocals like Marvin Gaye’s and Tammi Terrell’s. They are simply superb. Tammi’s voice echoed that of Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin combined. She had a star-studded career ahead of her until brain cancer stole her away from the world too soon. AIthough she now dwells in the valley of peace, her artistry lives on. I could go on and on about this song, but there’s only two other words that truly describe its greatness….Marvin Gaye.

3. “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” -Kiss

This is pretty much my anthem for every Tinder swipe…ummm…date I go on. I try to walk out of the house with the spirit of the star child intertwined in my swagger, but it doesn’t ever quite work out. I’m not sure if it is because the 1970’s are over or if I just can’t quite find my mojo. I never did think those leotards looked good on me anyway.

4. “If I Could Turn Back Time” -Cher

What’s a list without Cher!?! I have been in a long-term relationship with Cher since I was about 11. She has always liked younger men that are on the shorter side so I fit the bill. This riveting song was penned by the great Diane Warren and is one of her best pop masterpieces. From Navy ships to bootys and hips, Cher never disappoints.

5. “All Night Long (All Night)” -Lionel Richie

This song and I go way back. I grew up listening to Richie and his smooth vocals. My mother had many of his cassettes in the car and we would listen to them…. a lot. I’ll admit, as a young kid I wasn’t a fan, but then I grew up and I was like “Hello!” I have been addicted to his music and writing genius ever since. Moms generally know what’s best, yet she never let me dance all night long. First it was the 9:00 bedtime then the curfew.

There are many, many more songs that make me extremely happy. I could literally go on and on. It would be impossible for me to make a complete list. It’s like asking me who my favorite singer is. In closing I would like to leave you with a brief poem I wrote especially for this post.

If you need me call me

No matter if you are rolling on the river

No matter if sailing on a riverboat queen

I was always made for loving you

No matter how far back you turn back time

We’ll have a party, fiesta, whatever

All night long

Peak-A-Bryson

The soundtrack of my childhood is that of the great R&B legends. My mom’s car was consistently filled with cassette tapes of Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, Peabo Bryson, and Diana Ross. I became in tune with my soul early in life.

Peabo_Bryson_-_CrosswindsAwhile back, I bought Peabo Bryson’s, Crosswinds. This album is his Capitol records debut from 1978. I don’t even remember where I picked it up or how long I have had it. I remembered that was one of my mom’s favorites and I grabbed it. Since I am now going through my entire collection to see what I haven’t listened to, I decided to give this album the time it deserves.

Yet, that time is still being determined considering that it has been on the turntable for part of the week, through the weekend, and is still playing at the time of this writing.

The album starts out with the title track “Crosswinds,” which I easily get caught up in. This tune set up the album pefectly on what is to become. It contains the smooth stylings and rhythmic patterns of any great R&B song, with a dash of funk, and a pinch of disco.

6c7aeff8db9766f79f22bf6d45872002Next comes “I’m so Into You.” A pure ballad that could easily fit into the Copa in 1956 as well as Studio 54 in 1978. Then comes a pure disco track that had me strapping on my roller skates, “Smile.” Needless to say, my leisure suit was at the cleaners.

The B side of the album keeps the same consistent feel throughout. I especially enjoyed “Spread Your Wings.” This is an up beat song about achieving your dreams, but sang as if whispered into your little darling’s ear. Bryson follows that with “Don’t Touch Me.” This song reminds me of Janet Jackson’s “Let’s Wait a While,” waiting for that right time where it will mean the most.

He concludes this album with “Love is Watching You.” The only “break-up” song of the album if you will, yet it still doesn’t totally encompass the end. It is an R&B power ballad stating how love can walk in and out of her life, but that heaven is watching her, eluding to future blessings.

What I find extraordinary about this album is that Bryson, at a mere age of 27, wrote and composed all the songs on this album. Each song is very different, yet they distinctly stay in sync. The lyrics barely repeat themselves and you find a new favorite with each listen. Bryson has smooth tenor vocals relative to Marvin Gaye’s, the writings of Lionel Richie, and the spunk of Smokey Robinson.

Tumblr_m55vo1WrRK1qmxcx7No wonder all the articles I read over Bryson have named him the “Kind of Balladers,” with countless praises to his writing ability. This album is his major debut. He was entrusted with a lot for a young man, yet delivered ten fold.

I don’t understand how this album has been hiding so well in my collection. I sure am glad I finally took a peek.

Marvin Gaye’s Stages

We all live our lives in stages. Although we often don’t realize we are going through these different seasons of life until they end. It’s beautiful to live an act of life and it’s even a greater blessing to be given another.Marvin Gaye

That is how I think of Marvin Gaye. He has musical stages that directly coincide with what he was going through with his life. His musical success starts with songs such as “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” and “Pride and Joy,” but before these there was “”Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide.”

Never heard of it? Most people haven’t.

Gaye’s early career did not yield success. At this time he had moved out of an abusive home, dropped out of school and had served a stint in the army. A lackluster life at best. Then came the hits. Then came the duet albums with the likes of Tammi Terrell and Kim Weston. Now life was good.

Next, came What’s Goin On and Let’s Get it On after the death of Terrell. This took a huge toll on Gaye emotionally, but it didn’t stop success from becoming Gaye’s middle name. Listen closely though, the mourning and emotion is all in the lyrics and vocals.

51Dq+Y3g+4LBy the time 1977 rolled around Gaye had become a household name. He released the live album Live at The London Palladium adding his name to endless superstars who had and would perform there. I feel it perfectly sums up his musical career and life perfectly at this stage.

This album finds a confident Gaye that wasn’t typical of his character. One can read countless accounts of how he was really a shy individual, but it is hardly an argument with this album. He talked very humbly, but he wasn’t overly confident. He didn’t act shy what so ever.

The pre-“Sexual Healing” Marvin is in full force on this album. He jokingly sings “Let’s Get it On” with a rather bashful lady in the audience. He covers all his old 1960’s hits from “You’re a Wonderful One” to “How Sweet it Is (To Be Loved By You).”

Live is basically built upon three song melodies. The highlights of this album come in Melody Two and Melody Three. In Melody Two  he mixes his hits with songs that mirror  a “We Are the World” sentiment. He sings his beliefs in songs like “God is Love” and “Save the Children” while offering his hit “What’s Going On.”

Melody Three is my favorite. This is where Marvin really starts to have fun. He performs many of his duet hits with Florence Lyle. Although these were not the originals you can tell that Marvin is living in yesterday with every note. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is always a favorite, but to be honest, the complete melody is sensational.

In the end, I can’t say enough about Gaye. I have listened to his music for a few years marvin-gayenow, yet I still can’t get my mind completely wrapped around his music. Reading articles about him show me the stages that he lived in. He is a completely different man from “Stubborin’ Kind of Fellow” to “Let’s Get it On” to “Sexual Healing.” He’s barely even recognizable from cover to cover!

Marvin had just begun act 4 when he was shot by his father in 1984. What would act 5 and 6 looked like? Think about how stupefying he would be today! One can only imagine the genius he would have produced. His death is one of the biggest tragedies to soul music and music as a whole.

It seems the curtain closed on Marvin before he was even close to his encore.

Resting on the Peak

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell were a match made in heaven, not romantically, but vocally. Although, their lives were far from harmonious, this record is prior to their eventful downfalls. If it was not for Terrell’s unfortunate death, she would have become one of Motown’s, and the late 1960’s, biggest stars.

Gaye and Terrell released United in 1967. This was their first duet album together to be photo (2)followed by two more, one of which Terrell was suffering from her ailing brain tumor. Gaye had previously released two duet albums with Kim Weston.

This album covers the terrain of 1960’s Motown. In my opinion it is the best example of what Berry Gordy was trying to accomplish. This album perfectly mixes pop and soul, even throwing in some salsa to spice it up. I find the invention and workings of Motown to not only be musically legendary, but historically. I’m not having any new revelation, but it truly brought African American artist’s to the forefront of the pop charts. The behind the scene stories may not always be pretty, but there is a lot for Motown to be thanked for.

The album opens with the classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” This version shows the chemistry between both singers. One would think they were in love, and in a since they could have been, but to my knowledge, it was always a friendship. Their vocals were distinctly different, yet seemed as one. They were like two ribbons wrapped around each other. You could see each’s color, but there was only one structure.

last.fm

Last.fm

Terrell’s vocals really sore on this album. At times I felt Marvin’s were a little more distant, not in feeling, but just the mixing of the album. I found her vocals especially special on “You Got What it Takes.” They are so sassy, so soulful, yet so universal.

“If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” is one of the nicest love songs. This was one of the album’s major hits as well. The salsa spice is given during “Somthin’ Stupid.” It is also the perfect example of how their voices were ribbons. Every word of the song is sung in unison with each other.

I personally enjoy “Two Can Have a Party.” The song simply explains how just a couple can be a party. There’s no need to go and meet up with others, as long as you are with the other. I love the jive of “Little Ole Girl and Little Ole Boy.” Terrell’s vocals sound sultry in this tune, yet they still capture innocence. This song was co-written by Etta James.

Tammi_duet_with_Marvin_Gaye

Wikipedia.

The only sad song on this whole album is entitled “Sad Wedding.” The songs composition puts great use to the wedding march, and of course Gaye and Terrell’s voices sore in this gospel element. A true gem on this otherwise happy record.

In the end, this record gives me hope. Once you read the stories of the artists and their deaths, you will get the same sense. Terrell died just three short years after this album was released. She went through many surgeries for her brain tumor, until she eventually slipped into a coma and passed away. I was once watching a documentary on her, and it said she stayed positive all the way through. She was ready to take back that mic. Marvin was tragically shot by his father after a family disagreement, but his story is one of resilience. One that overcame many obstacles to make the legendary music that he did.

Throughout the whole album there is imagery in the weather, the sun, stars, and heavy terrain (high mountains, low valleys, etc.). That explains their appeal and vocals. They were so large, yet so versatile that they are for everybody. There ain’t no river wide enough, yet there is a river long enough for everyone to jump on a boat and enjoy this diamond of Motown glory.

Soulful Spinning,

Gabe

If only music shows were still like this….