Name some of Motown's biggest hits--"Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Your Precious Love," and "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand"--and one thinks of two singular talents: Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. The songwriting duo were behind these classic hits, along with other Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell standards such as "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "You're All I Need to Get By." While their numerous compositions earned them a well-deserved place in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, few focus on the couple as performers, with the sole exception of their 1984 romantic duet "Solid." The next few DeepSoul
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The legendary songwriting duo also performed their own material, such as this 1982 cautionary tale of the streets.
Artists such as Rihanna can thank this Houston-born singer for bringing Caribbean music to worldwide audiences.
Say the name "Johnny Nash," and one song comes to mind: "I Can See Clearly Now," the 1972 smash that found renewed success when Jimmy Cliff covered it for the 1994 Cool Runnings soundtrack. However, Nash should also be known for bringing reggae into the mainstream, combining it with American pop and soul to create crossover hits. In addition, he became one of the earliest American artists to record in Jamaica. While "I Can See Clearly Now" remains his chief legacy, the 1968 single "Hold Me Tight" became a crossover success four years before that classic song. Due to his
While best known for the electro-funk classic "Word Up," this slow jam reveals more dimensions of this unique band.
Unlike other '70s funk outfits, Cameo successfully updated their sound to match the 1980s synthesizer era. After experiencing a dip in sales, the band came roaring back with 1986's "Word Up," a futuristic groove featuring Larry Blackmon's robotic vocals. The song served as younger listeners' introduction to the group, but in fact Cameo had been recording quirky funk since the late 1970s. Dipping into their earlier work, one can find stripped-down arrangements without the electronic sound. "Feel Me," a 1980 slow jam, typifies their first wave of success. Cameo began as a group of 13 New York City musicians led
The passing of the Staple Singers' Yvonne Staples reminds listeners of her important role in the legendary family group.
In the 1970s, soul music took on a new conscience. Songs containing lyrics addressing social injustice such as Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)" and the Isley Brothers' "Fight the Power Pt. 1" filled the airwaves. While those artists tapped into energy fueled by the 60s Civil Rights movement, the Staple Singers focused on self-esteem and empowerment. The Stax legends scored a number of crossover hits in the 1970s fusing soul and gospel, with "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There" becoming modern classics. While lead singer Mavis Staples has enjoyed a lengthy solo career, even collaborating
The group's cover of a 1972 Bobby Womack track proves that passionate funk never goes out of style.
Funk never goes out of style, and no song proves that notion better than "I Can Understand It" by New Birth. Originally written by Bobby Womack, "I Can Understand It" transforms into a James Brown-esque soul workout, and while it performed well on the R&B and pop charts in 1973, it is inexplicably rarely played on the radio today. According to New Birth's website, the group was the brainchild of Vernon Bullock, a songwriter responsible for classics such as "If I Can Build My Whole World Around You" by Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell as well as "What Does It
The 1968 hit is a prime example of how jazz and R&B can merge, resulting in an irresistibly funky and timeless track.
Chicago has deep soul and R&B roots. From Chess and Brunswick Records to Curtis Mayfield and his Curtom label, the city has produced incredibly talented players. Young-Holt Unlimited, featuring core members Eldee Young and Isaac "Red" Holt, were no exception, as they worked with Ramsey Lewis before branching out on their own. While they never scored major hits, they are best known for "Soulful Strut," the instrumental version of the Barbara Acklin single "Am I the Same Girl." Featuring a funky bass line, light jazzy piano, and a catchy horn riff, "Soulful Strut" has endured, covered by artists such as
A deep dive into her catalog, beginning with this track off Mahogany Soul, reveals an immensely gifted R&B vocalist who spans other genres and deserves more attention.
Since the late 1970s, Angie Stone has recorded everything from soul to hip hop to dance. Despite her talents, she remains an underrated artist who has never quite managed to score a massive hit. Yet she remains a pioneer of the late 1990s "Neo-Soul" movement and a "singer's singer," well-respected in the R&B industry. One of her best releases, 2001's Mahogany Soul, is a prime example of her songwriting and earthy vocal talents, particularly on "Wish I Didn't Miss You." In addition to being a deeply soulful track, it also demonstrates how samples can be effectively used to create an
The Afro-jazz legend blended other genres such as R&B, funk, and pop to create a pan-African sound that appealed to worldwide audiences.
Called the "father of South African jazz," Hugh Masekela actually spanned several genres to create his own melting pot music. Perhaps best known for his 1968 instrumental hit "Grazing in the Grass," Masekela also became a pioneer in world fusion. The trumpet and flugelhorn player even dabbled in dance music, mixing Afro-pop with disco. One such example is "Afro Beat Blues," a previously unreleased 1975 track that finally surfaced on a 2006 compilation. Its slinky beat suits the dance floor as well as the radio, also paying tribute to the father of Afro-pop: Fela Kuti. Growing up in South Africa,
With their 1984 hit, Pieces of a Dream demonstrated that jazz has more in common with soul, R&B, and funk than listeners may realize.
Take three gifted teenagers equally versed in jazz and R&B, and what results is the crossover jazz sound of Pieces of a Dream. Still recording today, the group helped pioneer contemporary jazz with their smooth sound, pop hooks, and street feel. Their third album, 1983's Imagine This, proved to be one of their most successful due to the silky single "Fo Fi Fo." Philadelphia has spawned an impressive array of talent, and its roster includes keyboards James Lloyd, drummer Curtis Harmon, and bassist Cedric Napoleon. The teen musicians formed the group in 1976 and played throughout the Tri-State area. Their
The final installment of our salute to the rock pioneer spotlights a fun Beatles cover.
During their heyday (and into the solo years), the Beatles often professed their love of Fats Domino. Songs such as "Lady Madonna" can be directly traced to the rock 'n' roll architect's influence. During a New Orleans stop on their 1964 tour, the Beatles had one request: they wanted to meet their idol. After the meeting, Domino later repaid the favor by covering three of their tunes: "Lady Madonna," "Lovely Rita," and his ebullient rendition of "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey." While covering the Beatles is often fraught with difficulty, Domino manages to incorporate his
Our salute to the R&B pioneer continues with a 1956 classic first introduced in a seminal rock film.
Rolling Stone calls it the "working man's blues," and "Blue Monday" does demonstrate rock's indebtedness to the genre. While Fats Domino did not write the track--he was not even the first to record it--he transformed the song into a memorable blend of rock, blues, country, and New Orleans jazz. What results is a track addressing a subject with which most listeners can relate, along with a dose of good-natured naughtiness. Domino's longtime collaborator Dave Bartholomew originally penned "Blue Monday" for New Orleans R&B singer/guitarist Smiley Lewis. Released as a single in 1954, this version prominently features rhythm guitars, horns, and
This week's DeepSoul is the first in a three-part salute to the rock and roll pioneer.
One of the early architects of rock and roll, Fats Domino combined R&B with New Orleans swagger to create a feel-good but raunchy form of music. Lyrics such as "I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill" leave little doubt as to the nature of that thrill, but Domino's radiant smile and rollicking piano never offended. A huge part of rock history was lost upon his October 24, 2017 death. but his timeless catalog will remain for new fans to discover. This week's DeepSoul is the first in a three-part salute to the music pioneer. Born in the Big Easy in
Tom Petty, soul artist? His first hit single melds elements of R&B with rock and blues, making the track a standout in his catalog.
The music world has been mourning the loss of Tom Petty, the iconic rock artist who died from cardiac arrest on October 2. What few critics and fans have discussed, however, is that Petty's sound encompassed genres besides rock, namely blues, country, and folk. Another major influence that has been little explored is R&B, and that element permeates his first hit, 1976's "Breakdown." Its dominant drums, bass, and keyboards along with Petty's snarling narrative of a deteriorating love affair makes "Breakdown" sound like no other song in Petty's catalog. Coming off the breakup of his band Mudcrutch, Petty formed a
A slice of late '70s funk/disco, "Which Way Is Up" remains an underrated track by an unjustly neglected group.
A slice of late 70s funk/disco, "Which Way Is Up" remains an underrated track by an unjustly neglected act: Stargard. A female trio who drew comparisons to Labelle (particularly through their flamboyant costumes) and the Pointer Sisters, they achieved only one hit with the theme song to the 1977 Richard Pryor vehicle Which Way Is Up? Their blend of R&B, funk, and gospel should have achieved more success, but their lack of smash followup led to their 1983 breakup. The original lineup consisted of Rochelle Runnells, Debra Anderson and Janice Williams, and their more gritty, aggressive vocal approach led to
The jazz pioneer impacted modern hip hop, r&b, and funk in this 1973 classic.
Herbie Hancock may be a renowned jazz master, but he also influenced early hip hop and contemporary R&B. Most listeners can point to 1984's "Rockit" as the soundtrack for breakdancers, but his 1970s experiments in fusion led to an important track in the development of funk: 1973's "Chameleon." The corresponding album, Head Hunters, became not only Hancock's most successful album, but one of the bestselling jazz albums of all time. Along with collaborator and reedits Bernie Maupin, bassist Paul Jackson, drummer Harvey Mason, and percussionist Bill Summers, Hancock wrote material expanding the very concept of jazz. "I always enjoy working
The 1963 single has experienced an unlikely resurgence of interest through covers, samples, and an appearance in a 2017 summer film.
With its prominent use in the Summer 2017 film Baby Driver, "Harlem Shuffle" by Bob and Earl has gained renewed attention. The Rolling Stones previously scored a hit with their hit 1986 cover (featuring Bobby Womack on backing vocals), accompanied by its humorous Ralph Bakshi and John Kricfalusi-directed video. The 1963 original features not only a more soulful vocal performance but also funky horns and drums. Over 50 years later the question remains: just who were Bob and Earl? The duo originally consisted of Bobby Day and Earl Nelson (aka Jackie Lee), two singers who had previously recorded classics still
A funk superstar and a legendary Motown act team up to produce a 1980s R&B classic.
The eighties may have brought changes in soul and R&B, but Motown music remained a favorite among baby boomers (the success of 1983's The Big Chill film and soundtrack proved this fact). In 1982, the Temptations returned to their original label, Motown, after a brief tenure with Atlantic; to celebrate, the then-current members reunited with three former lead singers: Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, and Dennis Edwards. Looking to make a comeback, the group teamed with a seemingly unlikely producer: Rick James, the "punk funk" artist who was then at the peak of his popularity. What emerged from this collaboration was
This 2014 single demonstrates how old school R&B and modern hip hop can be merged to create timeless music.
Long a valuable behind-the-scenes player, Tank has penned and produced hits for top R&B artists such as Dave Hollister, Charlie Wilson, Jamie Foxx, and Kelly Rowland. His underrated solo material, however, has received comparatively less attention. A fusion of classic R&B and hip hop, Tank's work further impresses with his malleable voice and catchy hooks. These elements are on full display on the 2014 single "You're My Star," a standout from the album Stronger. Born Durrell Babbs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin before later moving to Clinton, Maryland, Tank honed his singing skills in the church choir. He got his start as
The final entry in DeepSoul's salute to the legendary singer looks at one of the more obscure - and underrated - tracks in his catalog.
By 1980, Bill Withers began collaborating with other artists; he subsequently scored one of the biggest hits of his career with 1981's "Just the Two of Us," a smooth track also featuring Grover Washington, Jr. A year before that single, however, Withers worked with the famed group the Crusaders on the track "Soul Shadows." The band's brand of smooth jazz-funk perfectly suits Wither's unadorned voice, resulting in a sophisticated song that should have received more attention upon its release. Due to ongoing disputes with his label Columbia, Withers was unable to record his own albums from 1979-1985. To remain in
The 1975 ballad typifies the soul singer's deeply personal songwriting and vocal style.
By 1975, Bill Withers was at a professional crossroads. His previous record label, Sussex, had collapsed, forcing him to sign with Columbia. While he subsequently released albums containing hits such as "Lovely Day" and "I Want to Spend the Night," Withers was unhappy with the label. He felt he had lost control over his material, thus in the late 70s/early 80s he focused on collaborations with the Crusaders and Grover Washington, Jr. After the unhappy experience recording 1985's Watching You Watching Me, Withers would depart Columbia and struggle with career direction. Before that stage, however, Withers seemed to be off