Thursday, 19 January 2012

10 Great Motown Songs

Ah, is there any music more uplifting? More optimistic and pure than Motown? Back in the 60's and 70's Motown Records was responsible for producing some of the greatest soul, funk, r&b and jazz records this planet has ever known. So for the sake of this list it's not only confined to those signed to the Motown label, but any song that exemplifies the spirit of those great and pioneering genres of music. It's a style of music that combined all the great elements, instruments of all kinds, and the live performances were pure spectacle, but still honest. It's a spirit from an era we could all desperately learn something from. 10 Great Motown Songs.

10. Jackson 5 - "I Want You Back"

Nowhere better to start than with a classic song by a group of 5 brothers, led by a young Michael Jackson.  The Jackson 5 weren't around long before they caught the attention of one Gladys Knight who recommended the group to Motown Records and the rest is history. This song still has one of the most catchy beats and rhythms. Despite what people associate with the Jackson's name today, their talent and footprint on the music world is undeniable.

2. Marvin Gaye - "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"

Perhaps one of the greatest soul songs of all time is "I Heard It Through The Grapevine". Marvin was a gifted singer and his version of the song has become the quintessential one. Enough time has passed that this song should become known to current generations. Hopefully that will allow for a resurgence in the genre.

3. J.J. Jackson - "But It's Alright"

J.J. was from the Bronx and was never under the Motown label, but his jazzy styles and magnificent voice certainly made him an icon in the 60's and 70's. His vocal style was so commanding that he was typically referred to as a 'belter' rather than a singer. "But It's Alright" can lift me out of the deepest sorrows whenever I hear this day these words can still hold true for many people.

4. Elvin Bishop - "Fooled Around And Fell In Love"

Not that any genre should be defined by the race, or sex of those who perform it, but as a point of interest Elvin Bishop is one of two caucasian artists on this list. "Fooled Around And Fell In Love" deserves a spot here for it's simple melodies and marvelous message of pure love. The exact spirit motown songs typically embody. Many filmmakers agree with me as this song has been used countless times in movies over the decades since it's 1976 release.

5. The Four Seasons - "December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)"

This one is an old favourite of mine. The Four Seasons could be singing about anything and this song could still get the dance floors packed. Is there anything better than that piano hook or the doo-doo-doos at the end of the track?

6. The Drifters - "Up On The Roof"

Man I think I was born in the wrong decade. I can totally relate to a song like this, just finding peace within your own mind away from everything else. Even if it's just on top of your building in the middle of a city. The Drifters were one of the first 'doo-wop' groups. It's where Ben E. King got his start and he was one of the more famous members of the group. He'd later go on to record a classic sould song of his own "Stand By Me"

7. Otis Redding - "These Arms Of Mine"

Otis could honestly have a category all to his own. One of the purest musical talents of all time. His songs fit effortlessly under the soul umbrella...listen to his voice for god's sake....i've witnessed this song reduce grown men to a puddle of tears. Sadly Otis was never meant for this world...he died in a plane crash at the age of 26. 26 and a voice like that....if I get one question when i'm standing in front of the Grand Scheme Being it will be "Why did you take Otis Redding so soon? Why?"

8. The Emotions - "Best Of My Love"

Whoa I almost got lost and forgot about this list...thinking about Otis Redding, went on a little journey there. I need to bring it back. Here's The Emotions with a song to lift our spirits. Three sisters from Chicago with a flare for soul and r&b.

9. The Chi-Lites - "Oh Girl"

Though Motown is short for 'Motor Town" meaning Detroit, Chicago produced it's fair share of soul and funk acts as well. Take The Chi-Lites who were considered one of the top ten R&B acts of the 60's and 70's with 11 top ten hits. They demonstrate their abilities perfectly here, even just the way those 2 words are sung. "Oh Girl". Classic.

10. Al Green - "Let's Stay Together"

From the first moments of this song you know you're in for something special. Al Green has a distinct ability to  rope you in with his velvet voice and curious delivery. Always makes first time listeners take notice and old fans coming back for more. This song is a favourite at weddings and anniversary parties. One of the greatest love songs of all time.

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Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Top 15 Songs of 2011

Yes i'm back! And yes I enjoyed my vacation!! Like most bloggers and listers the new year is always a good time to look back on the past one and re-hash what songs really stood out. While i'm not yet in the world where every song released this year passed through my ears, I tried my damnedest to scour as many music sites and mediums I could to make a solid list. Here now. The best 15 songs of 2011.

15. Yuck - "Get Away"

We'll start this off with some dirty indie-punk from Britain. Yuck are a young group who's self-titled album was released in February. "Get Away" is a track reminiscent of early 90's grunge and it's shockingly catchy! The tune seems to grow more infectious with each listen. I like that it's not as polished and produced as the majority of new releases it stands next to. Looking forward to hear more from Yuck.

14. Handsome Furs - "Repatriated"

The Handsome Furs are husband and wife duo Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry. Boeckner has previously found success with his Canadian group Wolf Parade throughout the 2000's. 2011's Sound Kapital is Handsome Fur's third album to date and includes this ditty that pops along with synth-hooks from hell and vocal stylings that scream from a dark corner in some retro 80's pub.  Good stuff.

13. The Goodluck Assembly - "Tastebuds"

Local Ottawa boys The Goodluck Assembly unleashed the album glowscape October and have since been on tour in support of it. Here's a link to their websites for more info on a great local band! and

12. Atmosphere - "She's Enough"

Minneapolis rap group Atmosphere released The Family Sign  in April. They've always had a knack for weaving superb word play over head-bobbing grooves. "She's Enough" is Slug's tribute to the woman in his life and even if that doesn't relate to you, it's still a perfect musical accessory as you roll around town with your windows down.

11. Awolnation - "Not Your Fault"

Though their first single in 2011 "Sail" might have charted higher, I found "Not Your Fault" a better track. It's a departure from their usual style of electronic, or rap-rock, but it works for them. I love the syncopated vocals of the chorus, it just gets lobbed over the plate and the na-na-na's at the end whack it out of the park! Cool video too.

10. Destroyer - "Kaputt"

At first glance you might think this will be a heavy metal track with a name like Destroyer, it is, however Dan Bejar a singer-songwriter from Vancouver. He got his start in 1995 and has been making music ever since. Kaputt was his 2011 effort and it has been getting wildly positive reviews. The title track is a dreamy synth ballad that harkens back to those years of the mid to late eighties where everything seemed to have a soft tint around it's edges. The video, again, is too cool.

9. Drew Holcomb & The Neighbours - "Live Forever"

I admit I first heard this song on a commercial for the new NBA season, and it definitely caught my attention. It's a refreshing reminder that there are still strong songwriters out there who have the talent to go with their remarkable songs.


8. The Trews - "Hope & Ruin"

The Trews seem to just keep getting better and better as they go along. "Hope & Ruin" is a song filled with personal nostalgia and optimism. Not to mention the great rock and roll mentality that The Trews embody so well. In my opinion one of their best.

7. The Joy Formidable - "Whirring"

When I first started thinking about this list I had "Whirring" much lower, but the more I listened to it the more it grew on me. It starts out looking like a typical pop/rock track but just as the chorus kicks in it becomes something more. Gaining momentum and growing into an unstoppable monster that I imagine would have a disastrous effect on an unsuspecting audience in a crowded dance hall.

6. M83 - "Midnight City"

Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is the latest release from French group M83 and "Midnight City" is the driving force behind it's critical acclaim. It's difficult to ignore that hook that seems to bore itself into your skull and make a nice little nest in there. Gotta love that sax solo in there too...just a solid all around effort from M83.

5. The Decemberists - "Down By The Water"

This one made me do a double take. It wasn't the type of song i'd expect from The Decemberists, but it's such a catchy, straight ahead track, I guess somebody had to record it. Might as well be one of my favourite groups. The King Is Dead saw the Decemberists venturing into folk and even country, which was a bit of surprise for most fans, but if songs like "Down By The Water" are the result, they can play whichever genre they damn well please.

4. Foo Fighters - "Arlandria"

Dave Grohl's tribute (or slight however you look at it) to his home neighborhood of Arlandria, Alexandria, Virginia was, to me, the stand out track on Wasting Light.  I heard it while I was in Iceland and it made me so happy that Foo Fighters are still given'er the old way. I love how even the most over-used or cliched lines are made to sound so bad ass in song form, like "You and what army?"

3. Foster The People - "Pumped Up Kicks"

OK, before everyone rolls their eyes about how overplayed this song was this year, why not ask yourselves why it was so overplayed? Because the song is that good. There's no denying it. It absolutely catapulted Foster The People's musical journey, it will be fun to see where it goes from here. I love how it's a happy, dance song on the surface, but the lyrics are about gunning down a bunch of kids. Ha ha?

2. Mayer Hawthorne - "A Long Time"

Motown is alive and well! I love it! There is no other kind of music filled with positive energy and harmony than Motown! In fact im going to start working on a Motown list! This song just scuttles around and touches everyone within earshot with a taste of funk. From the throwback piano to the guitar solo and Mayer's carefully sung vocals it's going to take quite the track to beat this song to the #1 spot. Oh and he's white.

1. Gotye - "Somebody I Used To Know" feat. Kimbra

From the first listen of this song I knew I had stumbled on to something special. Gotye is of Belgian decent but he currently hails from Australia. The initial stillness of the song coaxes you in and you can feel his pain not only through the words but the way the instruments are calling to you as well. Then he takes it up a notch and immediately have to sympathize with the guy. I think everyone can relate to this song in some way. I like songs that feature a well execute back and forth with man and woman too. Kimbra, from New Zealand, provides the lady's touch on "Somebody I Used To Know".

Thanks for those who saw me through 2011!!  I have some big lists planned for 2012, but am always glad to hear suggestions!! Enjoy!