WARMER MIXTAPES #1303 | by Michael Goldwasser [Goldswagger] of Special Request, The Feds, No Shadow Kick, Michael G & The Mellowstones and Easy Star All-Stars
1. Thelonious Monk | Ruby, My Dear
There are many great recordings of this song, but my favorite is from the album Solo Monk - just Monk at the piano. This is my favorite work from my favorite composer - there's just nobody like Monk in the way that he used Melody, Harmony, and Rrhythm. Every time I hear this song I am moved. Interestingly, I've been listening to Monk since I was literally a baby because of the influence of my parents - as a kid I put Misterioso and Mary Had A Little Lamb in the same category since they were both children's songs to me - but I didn't truly appreciate Ruby, My Dear until I was a teenager and had been playing and composing Music myself.
2. Kaveret | Yo Ya
This is another song that I have loved since I was a kid. Kaveret was kind of like The Beatles of Israel, and pretty much every Israeli who was alive in the 70's knows and loves this song. I think that this was also one of the first guitar solos that I learned how to play, and I used to be pretty good at air-drumming the drum solo, too! I'd actually love to give a Reggae treatment to the album that this song is from (Sipurey Poogy), and I have the blessing of the songwriter/bandleader himself, but I just haven't been able to make it happen yet. I'd love to bring the album to a new generation of listeners since it has given me so much joy over the years.
3. Michael Jackson | Rock With You
This song is the epitome of a well-written and amazingly produced R&B song, and it's got my favorite drum intro as well. I know that Thriller is better-known and sold a lot more, but I think that Off The Wall is the superior album, and one of my favorite albums of all time. I still remember when it came out how, at the School talent show, almost every girl did her own dance performance to the song. It could have been annoying hearing the song so many times in a row (and I do wonder why the teachers didn't just try to get the girls to collaborate on one big performance), but the song is so great that I don't think that I minded. As an adult, I've come to appreciate the nuances of the song. One really incredible thing for me is that I've got the drummer for the original recording, John Robinson, playing on my new R&B project, Goldswagger. As a fan and as a musician, this was really a dream come true. And I couldn't help myself - when the last session was done, I did ask him to play the intro from Rock With You and I filmed it!
4. Third World | Try Jah Love
Third World was my very first Reggae concert, back in 1986, and though I was familiar with some of their material already, seeing them live really had me hooked. Their songs were so strong that I came away from the concert singing songs that I had just heard for the very first time. Try Jah Love is like no other song - it's Reggae, but it's Disco, and Gospel, with some great Rock guitar. And it was written and produced by Stevie Wonder, so how could you go wrong? One of my bandmates and I used to listen to this song before almost every gig back in High School to psych ourselves up to play - there's something so positive and uplifting about the song even if you are not into Jah. Another great fan moment for me is that I got to meet the entire band in the early 90's and then I eventually worked with the singer, Bunny Rugs, on Lovely Rita from Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band. Sadly, he passed away this year, and he has been greatly missed by the Reggae community.
5. Steel Pulse | Handsworth Revolution
Steel Pulse is another Reggae band that I got into as a teenager in the 80's. Handsworth Revolution leads off their debut album of the same name, and to this day, it's one of the most intricate and musically satisfying Reggae songs that I've heard. The guitar interplay is incredible, as are the lyrics and vocals. One of the things that attracted me to Reggae in the first place was lyrics about Social/Political themes, and I love how Steel Pulse really tells a story about what was going on in their part of Birmingham, England, in the mid-70's while also relating it to larger issues. Coincidentally, Steel Pulse is yet another group that I came to produce (Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band, Easy Star's Thrillah). I didn't realize it when I made this list, but it goes to show how fortunate I have been to have met and even worked with so many of my favorite artists in my career.
6. Heatwave | Ain't No Half Steppin'
This is a song that I first discovered via a sample in a Hip Hop song - a song by the same name by Big Daddy Kane, considered by many to be one of the top rappers of his day. His song was huge, at least in NY, so everyone knew the chorus to the Heatwave song without even knowing its origins. As I got older and deeper into the Funk, I learned about Heatwave and got their album Too Hot To Handle, which features the song. It starts with a great instrumental intro that I defy any musician to not want to play, and then there are so many layers and parts to the song, all special in their own way. Not coincidentally, this is the second song on my list written by Rod Temperton (the other being Rock With You) - I feel like he is one of the greatest songwriters in Pop Music history, though he is largely unsung. Meeting him would be an incredible highlight to my career... Rod, if you are reading this, please reach out!
7. The Isley Brothers | Voyage To Atlantis
These guys are one of my favorite bands, and this song has moved me since the very first time that I heard it (which is really the case with all of the songs on this list). Ernie Isley's searing lead guitar was one of their secret weapons, and it really propels this song to the next level. To me, he's one of the top guitarists in the World, though I never see him on any lists of great guitarists - I think that may be because R&B is not taken as seriously as it could be by non-R&B fans and critics. Another thing that I love about this song is that the lyrics epitomize what a Love song should be, but then there's this unexplained connection to the mythical city of Atlantis, which never really made sense to me, but I love that it doesn't make sense! I asked the band at my wedding to play this song and they couldn't believe that someone was requesting it since it's not one of the Isley's big hits, but they loved playing it as much as I loved hearing it.
8. Aswad | Your Recipe
Aswad is the second UK Reggae band to make this list (Steel Pulse is the other). There's something about UK Reggae from the 70's and 80's that I've always reacted to very strongly, and even great Jamaican acts like Sugar Minott and Dennis Brown made some of their most interesting Music in the UK. While I love the studio version of the song, my favorite rendition is from Aswad's live album Live & Direct, which documents their performance at London's Notting Hill Carnival in 1983. Besides loving the Music, I enjoy how they use the metaphor of making a cake to talk about Love. And I've always been fascinated by musicians who can sing really well while playing the shit out of the drums, which Aswad's Drummie Zeb does on this song and several other songs on the album.
9. Oum Kalthoum | Enta Omri
This is probably the most well-known song by the most famous and beloved Egyptian singer of all time. Her Music is loved all over the Arab World, and I was introduced to this song by an Israeli who grew up in Morocco. He was very serious as he sat me and my wife down to listen to the cassette in his living room, and he made us pay close attention to the Music, which was well worth it. The song starts with a very long instrumental intro that sets the mood, and I was already lost in a reverie by the time that Oum Kalthoum finally sang her magnificent first note. I love the use of strings in Classical Arabic Music, and this song is a great example. And this song is also a great example of how Music transcends boundaries - I can't understand the Arabic (past knowing what the title means - You Are My life) but I am completely moved by the passion of the song. I guess some people could see it as paradoxical that Oum Kalthoum is so loved by many Israelis since she was outspoken in her lifetime for her distaste for Israel, but I see this as a testament to Culture being able to remain separate from Politics, and above Politics in many ways.
10. Hadag Nahash | Ma Na'Aseh?
Now, in contrast what I just said in my last selection, the Israeli band Hadag Nahash is known for being quite political. But this song, simply put, is about smoking herb, not politics. Although the lyrics are clever, the real draw for me is the Music - they came up with one of those Reggae/Funk/Hip-Hop riffs that I wish that I had written. I first discovered the song when it came out in 2004, and it was the perfect soundtrack to long bus rides through the Israeli desert. The song has a really long outro that is almost another song entirely, and it's the perfect closer to an album (which it is, except for a bonus track tacked on to the end). I went on to meet and befriend some of the guys in the band, and their horn section has played on several Easy Star All-Stars recordings for me.