Music

Englishman in New York – Bottom 40 Cover

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I only came across the work of Bottom 40 very recently. I am so glad I did. They are a tight, creative, musical entity who have come out with some brilliant tracks especially their covers work.

I love what they did with this Sting classic. The arrangement is sumptuous and it was one of those efforts that I adore so much that I have it on repeat. Splendid stuff. Encouraging us to be ourselves, no matter what they say.

Enjoy

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

Tenderly – Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

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Recently I was reminded of this song. Over twenty years ago I had the privilege of playing a cover version of this for a school swing band. My music teacher at the time encouraged me to listen to some jazz  and I really enjoyed listening to Ella Fitzgerald. What a talented vocalist.

This is such a sweet piece that I am glad I was reminded of it. Hence me being delighted to share it with you. 

Enjoy. 

Shalom 

C. L. J. Dryden 

We Keep Rolling – Life Among Friends in 2017

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Year in and year out.

The year out that was 2016 was a good one for me personally. On this site, not necessarily as prolific as I would have liked or as expansive in some ways. I am glad that at the start of the Premier League season for 2016/17 I was able to get some content down regularly in terms of the fixture predictions.

When it came to movies last year, I could not help but have a sense of disappointment. That came about because of the level of expectation when you saw the movies released. Other than Civil War, the other big super hero films were not great. At best they were acceptable.

Thankfully the hype won’t get much bigger this year because the only super hero movie with something big going for it is Spider-Man: Homecoming. The DC Cinematic Universe is playing catch-up big time, so the degree of expectation for Wonder Woman and the Justice League movie are certainly tempered.

Music is still a major interest here on Among Friends even if it hasn’t been frequented in 2016. That should hopefully change as we keep rolling.

What I did enjoy in 2016 culturally was the Luke Cage series on Netflix. That was a good watch through. Daredevil season 2 was an enjoyable watch too. Marvel certainly have that covered in a good way where storytelling is concerned. Iron Fist coming out this year has a lot to live up to, but the degree of consistency that Marvel have developed gives a degree of trust that they can do the right thing by this character as they head towards The Defenders.

2017 on Among Friends is about the importance of just keeping rolling. The idea is to have at least one post a week on the different areas of interest that AF covers. Dr. Who returns for series 10 in the Spring. The year absence was an interesting move to make for the series, I have some thoughts about that and the upcoming series, but that should pop up nearer the time.

So we just be rolling and anything new pops up you will be the first to know.

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

An Alternative Top Ten Stevie Wonder Tracks

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Stevie Wonder. You know I love the guy. If you don’t know, then just have a look at the categories and select Stevie Wonder to see just how much I love the guy’s music.

WatchMojo.com is a YouTube channel I enjoy watching from time to time and they did the decent thing of putting together a top ten of Stevie tunes. Enjoy the video.

That top ten, then, is as follows:

  1. Superstition
  2. I Just Called To Say I Love You
  3. Sir Duke
  4. Higher Ground
  5. Living For The City
  6. Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours
  7. Isn’t She Lovely
  8. You Are The Sunshine of My Life
  9. Uptight
  10. Boogie on Reggae Woman

Other songs that can be detected in the video include – Big Brother, My Cherie Amour, I Wish, Master Blaster (Jammin’) and For Once In My Life.

That’s a very good top ten. It hasn’t been suckered into just going all mainstream. It’s a highly enjoyable video too.

It got me thinking, however, of putting together an alternative top ten. These are purely my own choices of ten top Stevie Wonder tunes. As an alternative, I am giving myself the rule of not being allowed to include ANY of the songs featured in the videos – yes, that’s the top ten videos and the other Stevie Wonder that appeared on the video. So here’s my top ten.

10. Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing

It’s a great example of the cultural dexterity Stevie applies to his music. It’s wrong to label him as just a soul star, because his reach had no problem touching on a variety of forms and styles. The feel he invests in this song is just sensational. It’s a light and fun feel to a song where the lyrics are not as light as the feel of the song. I like that. You feel like a moving and grooving and then you catch up with what the song is actually saying. Clever. Stevie masters the vocals and has the music arrangement on point everywhere.

9. That Girl

This song often flies under the radar of top Stevie Wonder tracks. In a way that highlights the great songs Stevie has written, but there’s also something in that where folks just plainly miss the brilliance in this song. There is a piece appreciating this song in more detail that’s worth checking.

8. With Each Beat Of My Heart

Stevie Wonder knows what it is to be in love. Not just a soppy emotion, but a deep connection with his love that goes beyond how they make you feel a flutter inside. The wealth of authentic love songs produced by Stevie is testament to that. It baffles me how this song is never mentioned when people thinkof great love songs. Just listen to the lyrics and see that this man knows how to celebrate love at its finest. That he’s done this in such a simple fashion – you could even imagine him doing this purely acapella – but there’s a richness in there that should make you sit back and take notice that here is the master at work.

7. Overjoyed

There are some tunes where Stevie grabs me from the start. This is one of the best examples of that. That chord structure at the beginning, I almost want to cry with joy right there. Beautiful stuff. Then I hear the lyrics and I hear the man uttersthese glorious love truths so simply and I am hooked. It’s one of those songs I would not have a problem having played at a wedding anniversary and voluntarily dance with my wife to the tune. Now that is saying something of monumental proportions right there. Excellent Stevie foing his thing. another masterpiece.

6. I Go Sailing

There are some true gems in Stevie’s 80’s and 90’s material. It is not his richest era for tunes at all and some of his albums are largely forgettable, but this does not negate the fact that Stevie put out some brilliant pieces of music in this stage of his career. This song is largely underrated by many listeners. To a degree I can understand. It’s a piece on a soundtrack album, no big fuss was made about it. What hooks me into it though is the lyrical content and the desire to use the mind for something beneficial without needing any stimulants of a negative variety. I love the vibe of this piece as well. This is chilling music that allows you to do what the song is encouraging you to do in your mind – just go sailing.

5. You And I (We Can Conquer The World)

This has got to be the greatest love song of all time. There. I said it. I reserve the right to change my mind at some juncture, but at the moment I proclaim this one tune to be the greatest love song anyone has ever written, recorded and produced in the history of humanity. A little bit of a big statement there, but I know what I’m saying. I know how I felt the first time I heard this song back in 1996. I was already impressed with what Stevie had produced, but this sent into another stratosphere altogether. It’s not a love song of success and eternal bliss. It’s not a love song ofall being well, you hear in the chords that sense of knowing that it may not work out, it may not be permanent – and yet despite that, there’s something to just enjoying the present. Celebrating what is the case in the now because of the love so rich and so true. It is an outstanding piece of creativity and truly deserves its place on any top ten songs ever written let alone Stevie Wonder tracks. That should make you think, if it’s that good and comes in at number five then …

4. Tuesday Heartbreak

Talking Book is probably my favourite Stevie Wonder album. It’s the first one I’ll go listen to because most of the tracks on there are strong from start to finish. So having been blown away by You and I (We Can Conquer The World), I was content to have enjoyed one masterpiece. No sooner had I heard the last parts of that song then this song came on the speakers and I had the look of a man with great incredulity. How could he do that? How could he top that in the space of the next track. Tuesday Heartbreak is criminally underrated. I gotta say the music arrangement is what grabs me. The use of the keys is something already and then around the one minute 30 second region he does something on the wah-wah keys that still makes me go back to listen to it again and again and again. how could he do that??? How could he top a great song with a track like this? But that’s what he went out and did. Hit a home run one time, then just for kicks goes out and hits a home run again. Nope, I imagine a number of Stevie fans won’t rate this highly in their favourite Stevie tracks – but I absolutely adore it. Such a sumptuous feast for the ears and a major reason why my admiration for Stevie Wonder turned into unremitting love for the guy.

3. Smile Please

Welcome to my album, take a seat, make yourself comfortable, relax it is my pleasure to help you feel right at home in anyway that I can. Imagine a song that made you feel like that. It wasn’t just a song, it was a warm hug from a friend that said you’re all good, you belong here, you can just be and enjoy yourself in that. You don’t have to imagine any longer, because Stevie Wonder wrote such a song. It is something I have hailed before, but it’s still worth raving about again. He wrote it, then he recorded it, then he released it on one of those significant albums of the 70’s. He did the smart thing of letting it be the first track on the album and set things up so beautifully that he has never beaten the standard since.

This should not be that much of a concern, however, because no one else has ever topped that as a standard to introduce a thoroughly enriching listening experience with such a warm and cosy opening track. Beyond being an opening track, though, you can listen to this and appreciate what Stevie is saying. Sure you had a bad day, sure things look rough and there’s no guarantee that things will be better in the morning. Yet while there is still life, while we are still here together, while we have things to be grateful for and while we’re still capable, it makes perfect sense to just for a moment from the heart share a smile. It does wonders to the face and it does wonders to the environment around you. So it’s no wonder that Stevie had the genius to pur this beautiful track together. As far as I know he has never done this track live. I have also yet to come across a cover version that comes anywhere close to replicating this standard of warmth, love, fellowship and care. That is why it among the best tracks that Stevie has ever produced.

2. Feeding Off The Love Of The Land

This song is serious. It is one thing to celebrate love and enjoy the love that we can share among each other in intimate settings. It is good to reflect that in song. What makes Stevie Wonder a heavyweight in the world of music, though, is that he is not limited to just talking about those issues. He has a great insight in the nature of the world that he lives in. He has his finger on the pulse and can express the dismay at how we mess up the world both in our human relationships and in our treatment of this earth. Stevie knows it, Stevie feels it, Stevie sings it, Stevie emotes through music construction on the matter.

This is the pinnacle of his work where those matters are concerned. He has written much about having a consciousness for how fit in the world around us, but he has never topped this masterful work. You can listen to it today and still be moved to tears at the plea in his words and the rebuke in it as well about our selfishness. It’s a song that transcends cultural barriers. It’s a song that hits the heart of our human experience. It is not just a song that makes you think or feel, it’s a song that provokes you to question why we live in a world like this and what we can do to be about the business of changing it. Not many songs can accomplish without either sounding harsh and preachy or somehow failing to connect lyrically and through the music. Stevie tenderly hits the top marks in this piece.

There are two versions I’ve heard. One with the string arrangement and one with just the piano. Either one you go for you’re in for a treat. The laid back acoustic feel of just Stevie and the piano gives it an even greater haunting effect in considering the issues he touches on in the song. I first heard this song with the string arrangement and whoever put that together deserves an award for such beautiful composing and arrangement. It really emphasises some of the disconnect in our busy world and the underlying tragedy in it. Stevie’s vocals have never been more mature and when he provides his own backing vocals at the end, it is simply superb to take on and reinforce dire the plight we are in. It’s a prophetic song. It cries out for justice everywhere and it cries out that this justice starts within us individually and works itself out among us. It’s a powerful song and deserves to be recognised as such.

Before the Number One selection here are some of the tracks that just missed out on a top ten placing: Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer, Golden Lady, Visions, Passionate Raindrops, Blame It On The Sun, Looking For Another Pure Love, As If You Read My Mind, I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It, Send One Your Love, Knocks Me Off My Feet, Rocket Love, Dancing To The Rhythm and Something Out Of The Blue.

1. Summer Soft

The number one greatest Stevie Wonder track is not something that is selected easily. As you have seen in the other nine tracks, I regard his work as superb. Saying one is the greatest is a tough choice. But it’s a choice I have made nonetheless – and this song is that choice.

Musician, vocalist, creator/writer, producer, man – Stevie Wonder in my humble estimation is the greatest of them all and there have been plenty. This one tune is a good reason for that humble estimation. Check that piano at the start, then kicks in the bass and other musical accompaniment. So, yeah, just appreciate it for its lush musical combination. Take it in as a musical piece without any singing and get the sense of musicians having some fun with this track. It’s not a selfish track, either. Room for the instruments to shine and play their part in the piece. That it is so sensitively on point where the feel of the song is concerned too and the modulating being right in line with the theme of time moving on is just Stevie showing off without being flamboyant or arrogant.

Then listen to the man singing. Unlike other pieces, he goes it alone. No backing vocals of any kind at all. So he carries the piece. It’s not falsetto he sings at any point in the song. The start of the song is him being playful and gentle even as underneath there are serious currents of time pressing on. Then his vocal gets more prominent as the chorus goes on and he belts it out without ever seeming to lose control. It’s a great vocal display with no need to show off, just express the sentiment in a way that we the listener can appreciate.

Then check what the man is singing. You’re hanging about waiting to see what will come with the time and you’re uncertain about what it will be as you wait in anticipation and before you know it that season has gone and it’s the next season. If you’re not careful you can just go from one season to the next waiting, hoping, hearing suggestions about something, but never being brave enough to actually seize the day and do something with the season in your life rather than reacting to it. So you will wait to see what they will do and you’ll find that season has gone. Can you afford to be doing that for your whole life, because soon it won’t just be the seasons that are gone. That’s a heavy message right there, but you’re not too bothered about it on casual listening, because it’s not choked down your throat. It’s serenaded, it’s plaintively brought across to you by the masteful vocals of the writer of the song who evidently knew a thing or two about not wasting time.

All that in under five minutes. That’s more than a feast – that’s at least a dozen feasts to enjoy in the one song. And that’s just the studio version of that song. The different cover versions you come across and the live renditions you also might hear only enrich that fesitval of sound. It is why just referring to the man as a Wonder remains an understatement in itself.

That’s the top ten. Subject to change, obviously. To be so challenged to pick an alternative top ten, highlights just what a gifted musician Stevie is – and to think he has unreleased songs too!

Enjoy

Shalom

C. L.. J. Dryden

AF @ 10 – Ten Favourite Music Personalities

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There are different categories on Among Friends reflecting the diversity of interests that the blog covers. One of the most important areas is music. At present according to what has been effectively tagged, 1 in 3 of the entries on here will be about music. That’s a whole lot of music going on. So as we celebrate ten years of the blog it’s worth sharing ten of my favourite musical influences. These are not the greatest musical personalities of all time – Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and the like will not feature on this list (although there are a few significant music types who will crop up.) More than anything music has appealed to me from my earliest memories of life and the list reflects the degree of influence a range of artists and creators have had on me over the year.

So here are my ten favourite music personalities. This list is not in any order and is always subject to change.

The Beatles

OK, so I said this list wouldn’t include big popular acts, but let’s face it there is still not a band in the history of popular music that is bigger in influence than The Beatles. Its over fifty years since their first major hit record and their music still has its effect. To be fair to this list I am including the individual careers of particular Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison. Two of these could well feature in their own right in this list for the huge influence they have had on my listening over the year.

As a group, though, I particularly found their material from Rubber Soul of great interest. Albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band and Abbey Road used to be staple listening for much of my late teenage years – and this was decades after they had split. The songwriting, the arrangements, the vocals, the way their albums were organised all of that captured my interest in a way that little else had done before in the music world. To know that these were the creations of the minds of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison made me in awe of them. They more than anyone else got me intrigued at the making of music from how to make a song to how to play instruments, to how to arrange vocals and all of the other stuff that makes the creative process so fascinating.

Then there was the story of the dynamics of the group – I say story, if there is ever a singular approach to telling their story. All the intrigue into why they wanted to get into the industry, why they stopped playing live concerts, what influences others had on them individually and as a group. The demise of the group and the squabbles and efforts for a reunion before Lennon was killed.

I remember hearing some Paul McCartney music at first and it was a friend who made the connection for me between him and the Beatles. Then I got into some of the solo stuff from the two other listed Beatles too. Nothing against Ringo, I just found the other guys had a more interesting set of songs. A lot of my appreciation for music comes from these four men from Liverpool and not to recognise that would be a crying shame.

Chaka Khan

When putting this list together I found it interesting to note the lack of many female personalities. I am not too fussed about that really, it’s just my tastes at the end of the day. Those that were the popular types of the day like your Madonna, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Celine Dion and so forth just left me nonplussed. I acknowledged their capacity to gain a large following and their talent in whatever area to make the most of whatever it was they had, but for me, I just never found them of interest.

There is something about Chaka Khan, though. First thing the vocals. She can blast it out with the best of them – really yell and holler like she’s a siren and failure to acknowledge that could lead to your death. Her range, however, could also go soft and vulnerable in a very alluring manner. Not that she was singing you to bed, there was so much life in her songs that all that kind of stuff could wait.

Her versatility around different music styles is something underrated with her that I appreciated. I loved her in regular pop, I loved her in RnB, I loved her singing the blues, I loved her in jazz, even if she had to do some heavier rock material, it was water off a duck’s back to her. That liberating woman theme ‘I’m Every Woman’ is a song that typifies there are tunes that only she can sing and do the utmost justice whatever the efforts of the likes of the Mariah Carey-types, Mary J Blige-kinds and such. They don’t have to say they owe anything to Chaka, but whenever I hear her and them, she blows them away every time.

As a conveyor of music through her being, I find Chaka Khan to be one of the most charismatic, engaging, soulful and mesmerising vocalists ever. The power in her singing meant she could convey enough of her story through song, without really needing to go all biopic on her. I am glad that she has stood the test of time in terms of the various challenges that have attempted to ravage her. She more than most female music personalities gets my rating as a great influence.

Al Jarreau

This one was a bit weird for me too. Weird in the sense that there was nothing obvious that would lead me to pay attention to him. I had heard some of his stuff before I took more of an interest in him. The thing about some musical influences is their timing. When I heard him before, I did not pay him that much attention and never pursued the matter.

There was a time in my life, though, where his music took on a greater significance. There were the nature of the songs themselves. I regard them as fun, life-affirming or catchy songs. There are tracks like Roof Garden and Mornin’ that are as good as a family song as you’re going to come across. There are some tunes that I love like Easy which are so cool to me that years later I still love hearing them.

Then there are songs like I Will Be Here For You which have great value to me because of the time of life I was in when those songs came to me. They had profound meaning to me at a time when I could have done with those profound meanings! Then there’s Jarreau himself as a performer and vocalist. More than most he understands his voice as an instrument and so can play with it whether in vocalising or in scatting or otherwise having fun with it to bring across whatever he wants to bring across. To say he’s a master vocalist is an understatement. I hear him and I am unsure whether that level of talent could ever be passed on to anyone else, so unique is the gift.

There are no singers like him and that on top of everything else makes him my guy when it comes to acknowledging great singing talent.

Earth, Wind and Fire

The group dynamic in creating music is a fascinating one. It’s something to appreciate the talents of others and blend them together effectively over a number of years. Among the number of reasons why I grew to really love the music of Earth, Wind and Fire was because of that ability to produce music as a collective to such a high standard over a decent number of years.

Their approach of making music that made you think and dance at the same time was great. Their commitment to knowing what they do well and then continuing to do better for the best part of a decade in that golden era of the 70’s was nothing short of remarkable. Watching some of their concerts on video and listening to their music it strongly comes across as a team effort – the collective strength being greater than the sum of their individual parts. I loved the variety of sound environments they could evoke with their music, warm and intimate or large and expansive, they were just able to make the groove flow through different means and at their peak were simply the best music collective on the planet.

Their list of great tunes is not a short one: I defy anyone not to at least tap their feet to September. A track like After The Love Has Gone is a tune that couples smooch and dance to even though the content isn’t exactly that promising for a relationship. Another romantic track they excelled in was Can’t Hide Love – there’s a tune you can play this track and it will set the mood. Therein lies the great quality of EWF – their music could set the mood – you have a desire to get active and doing something, you slap on a tune like Serpentine Fire or Boogie Wonderland. You want to take things slow and easy and please your lover, then you get a piece like Reasons and defy that lover not to be putty in your hands! They didn’t need to be salacious in their suggestions. It wasn’t about celebrating the erotic to celebrate love. They may be heavily associated with the disco era, but they weren’t the cheesy aspects of that and they lead the way as well as beings true masters of the funk genre

Marvin Gaye

Gaye was a massive influence in my appreciation of music. Massive. There was a time in my life where for a few brief years I was taken up with him as a personality and as a creative musical force. His story and the music he produced had me on tenterhooks and this was years after his death.

As with another Motown favourite that we’ll get to later, I particularly liked Marvin when he got to do his own stuff. When he began to stretch his own abilities and produced that landmark album What’s Going On, that is what really got my interest. He was no longer a part of a pop machine that produced on tap to a particular standard. Here was his own stuff, done his own way, expressing his inner anguishes of what he experienced and these he had written himself. That was gripping stuff to get my head around. His songwriting ability was outstanding, his appreciation for musicianship was on par. Of course, however, what makes Marvin Gaye stand out from his peers was his voice. What a voice. Undoubtedly one of the greatest singers of all time.

The conflicts that affected his life became more pronounced in the works he produced and that whole sensual/spiritual thing he worked out was truly fascinating to hear played out in his music. That he was infused with a gospel vibe and then got to bring in the best of rhythm and blues with that soul thing and came up with tracks that burned themselves in the memory. The way he put those backing vocals to be such a terrific audio accompaniment to his lead vocal got me scrambling to hear the tracks again and again. Even those backing vocals were never wasted, they were not just decoration, they enriched and heightened the listening experience whether in simplicity or interweaved complexity. The man was a master of his craft.

It is a tragedy that those challenges with drugs and the troubled soul that underpinned never lead him to stay on top of things. Yet Marvin Gaye has left a rich legacy for those who love music to consider.

Quincy Jones

Jamiroquai

Omar

Sting

Stevie Wonder

Honourable mentions: George Martin, Paul Simon, Bill Champlin, Roberta Flack, James Taylor, Lalah Hathaway, Michael McDonald, David Bowie, Prince, Toto, Billy Joel, Minnie Riperton, Steely Dan, Lionel Richie, D’Angelo, Ella Fitzgerald, Jacob Collier and Elvis Costello.

Enjoy.

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

Outside – Big City

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Certain songs are treasures in my collection. This is one of them. The whole acid jazz vibe in this tune is so awesome. Enjoy.

Shalom
C. L. J. Dryden

Feel Like Making Love – D’Angelo

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As I understand it, this track was first rendered by the soft voice of Roberta Flack.

When someone sent me to this cover, though, I was duly blown away with what the man, D’Angelo has done with it. This is his track as far as I’m concerned. What we get with the horn section and the vocal arrangements is simply superb. Enjoy.

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden