Northern soul, deep funk, and fine living in Pittsburgh. You are what you dance to.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

I Pray Everyday

Back at the Eagle for your monthly prescription next Friday night, March 24, and by way of 7-day prep, I thought I'd drop a few titles on y'all. These are tracks that I've been somewhat annoyingly obsessed with lately - not rare or even 'northern', but hot-as-hell uplifting required-reading soul... Next Friday's gonna be the good stuff, with a capital 'Yinz'. I wouldn't O-buffet ya.

Things seem a little lowly around us at the moment, at least in my circle - a lot of bad things happening to good people. But I interviewed Roger Lewis, the 65-year-old sax player and founding member of New Orleans' Dirty Dozen Brass Band, yesterday, and he said this about the spirit of his hometown: "We don’t dwell on nothing – it’s like a jazz funeral, we’re gonna march you to the cemetery and play you into the ground, but after we put you in the ground, we gonna march on the second line and play some music! We might talk about you and say what’s good about you, but we’ll say what’s bad about you too, and we gon’ go to where the food is and where the drinks are, and hopefully we gon' meet some honies. 'Cause we from New Orleans, and that’s how we roll."

That's a sentiment I'd like to subscribe too, and in its honor, here's some team-spirit uplifters I've been gettin down to of late. Come out Friday, and you'll unquestionably hear 'em all.

David Ruffin - "I Pray Everyday (You Won't Regret Loving Me)"
Former Temps singer does a kind of gospel-slash-stomper crossover that brings to mind unshod feet sullying church pews and Sunday-hatted women feinting in the aisles. The faux-Eastern intro and bridge, 1969's requisite sitar-guitar sound, fused onto Motown's uncanny ability with a throat-choking drag-beat rhythm lapse - the melodramatic drag of the beat just before its massive horns-and-choir refrain - makes this about as rich as the summer of '69 could've possibly offered. Reminds me, conversely of course, of a line from a Tom Waits song: "You keep telling me that it's gospel / but I know that it's only church." Well, this isn't anything as feeble as church - this is religion.

The Spellbinders - "Help Me (Get Myself Back Together Again)"
Another in my Springtime uplifting-thankful-goodness-gracious-me-oh-my set of current obsessions: The Spellbinders get mad-Tamla on a Northern classic with the vocal hallmarks that make soul music resound so timlessly - the verses sung like a bedroom dreamer, like the stable center surrounded by a whirlwind of pounding snares and relentless tambourines, desperate backing vocals and melodramatic strings. I was thinking this morning, while listening to a radio-news piece about a certain incredibly-overrated indie-pop singer/songwrter, that people seem not to write universal songs anymore. As though connecting with an audience has become a signal of weakness, of pedestrianism. I put it down to playlist-ism - the uber-specialization and lifestyle-ization of popular culture that's made the music one listens to and books one reads into no more than another accessory, like the iPod you listen to it on: People make records aimed at other people like them, people who will see those records as identifiably their own and, more importantly, NOT that of others. The Spellbinders' "Help Me" - like all the greatest soul records - is definitively democratic-socialist in its universalism: Whether you're a broken-hearted bisexual punk phone-sex worker in Toronto, or a New Orleans shopkeeper with a broom and a lifetime of mud, this thang's for you. And like they do in N'Awlins, you might as well dance your troubles away.

The New Young Hearts - "Young Hearts Get Lonely Too"
A West Coast low-rider classic; sloooow and loooow, crooned and swooned by (some of) the men who brought us the northern anthem-of-all-anthems, "A Little Togetherness." Apparently, according to the lyrics, even if you're a member of a group as internationally famous as The New Young Hearts (minor sarcasm there...), it's possible to feel lonely and saddened by romantic despair. "The song I sing over the microphone / can soothe my aching heart, but I'm so all alone / yes, it's true / Young Hearts get lonely too." Besides just being brilliantly self-referential - kind of a post-modern romantic soul-harmony ballad - there's something beautiful in The New Young Hearts' sentiment: "Yeah, we get lonely too / we get lonely for you, you, you." Again, the great equalizer; the soulcialist ideal; we're all in this together, and we need you more tha you need us. I'm grateful as all hell to Ruben Molina for his thorough document, The Old Barrio Guide to Low Rider Music 1950-1975 - if you've got any interest in these bad-ass harmony soul things that the latino low-rider community's been preaching for half a century, check out Molina's site HERE and you'll find out a lot. (As long as you can ignore the book's typos ... ;) He's also got low-rider comp's and collections for sale, and some beautiful shots of labels from The Day, including "Young Hearts Get Lonely Too" on Zea.


At 4:42 PM, Anonymous Mike Seed said...

Nice post..."A Little Togetherness" is better than we deserve in this world. Straight from the angels.


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