Quincy Jones - "Somethin' Special" (A&M 1981)
Bobby Lyle - "Inner Space" (Capitol 1978)

Should've been a single, possibly acknowledged as such by its placement on a couple Q anthologies, "Somethin' Special" had the misfortune of being on an album with four major singles. "Just Once," the biggest hit, should still come in handy if you have to make a slow-motion highlight reel for a second-place sports team. "Ai No Corrida" stole some of the thunder from Chas Jankel's superior and proto-Basement Jaxx original, released the year before on the same label. "Razzamatazz" fared surprisingly well for resembling a merely decent extended/alternate breakdown of the Brothers Johnson's "Stomp!" (which involved some of the same personnel, like songwriting demon Rod Temperton... but we'll get to him later and often). And the appeal of "One Hundred Ways" is something your dentist might be able to explain, as I am not equipped. All of these songs went to the top 20 of the Black Singles chart.

"Somethin' Special," by some distance The Dude's greatest highlight, would have to be included in a list of the top ten songs involving the combination of Rod Temperton, Patti Austin and Quincy Jones, though George Benson's "Give Me the Night" and Austin's "Love Me to Death" would probably place above it. The song's effect is reflected by the line "Got me dreamin', feelin' lighter than the air," with kneequakes provided by Austin, spare electric-piano fillips from Herbie Hancock and bass gallops from Louis Johnson. Temperton's lyrics, as usual, aren't that much more than functional, but they sound like genius when they come wrapped in his untouchable hooks. (Hear also: "Boogie Nights," "Star of a Story," "Off the Wall," "Rock With You," "Love X Love" and -- fuck it -- "Sweet Freedom," for starters, along with about 100 others.)

(Before I die, I will write 10K words about Rod Temperton.)

"Inner Space" is a tangent, like nothing else on Bobby Lyle's New Warrior. Going by the other two Lyle albums I have from the same period, there's nothing like it in the remainder of his catalog. A still-active pianist/keyboardist who has been involved with Young-Holt Unlimited, Sly & the Family Stone, Pharoah Sanders, and Phyllis Hyman, Lyle took an opportunity here to layer ARPs and Moogs and other synthesizers with some hand gongs. The result seriously messes with my head. I mean seriously. Nine years ago, Lyle was the musical director for Bette Midler's HBO special Diva Las Vegas (and received an Emmy nomination for it).

The files will be taken out of circulation in a week, or possibly sooner if someone related to them objects. Doubt Beat's audioblog form has been dormant for months now [actually, it's active now -- ed.], so the remaining energy might as well be redirected here whenever the mood strikes.


I recently realised that I'm warmly disposed to the vocal style of almost every female contemporary R&B singer I can think of. This may make me appear dangerously uncritical, but in my defence, I do like them for different reasons. With Teedra Moses, it's the unmannered, youthful clarity combined with a slight Southern accent, Teedra expressing timeless wisdom ("Mama said be young while you can be young") played out in a new modern setting. With Mya, it's the feathery slightness of her breathy, high-pitched voice, which can convey girlish adventurousness and aching pain with equal precision. With Nivea, it's that deliberate lack of style, the sweet and slightly raspy, lusty yet tender unrehearsedness. Nivea is the girl next door who was only too happy to play doctors and nurses, who looks astonishing when she dresses up but rarely does, who's punched you once or twice when you've said fucked up shit, who's listened to you complain about your boy/girlfriend and dispensed practical, no-nonsense advice you wish you'd followed. Who's always followed that advice herself with some difficulty.

How gloriously sweet and considered she sounds on "Laundrymat", which she begins by announcing "You's a lying, cheating, son of a...." The soap-bubble soaked groove is irresistible enough, but it's Nivea's calm skewering of an unfaithful, useless lover (R Kelly fooling no-one with his protestations of innocence) that keeps me coming back. In retrospect it's this kind of R&B (as opposed to the rigorous groove workouts of "Don't Mess With The Radio", "Run Away" or "Okay") that Nivea excels at: simple and intimate, right up close to your ears but never claustrophobically exotic - maybe that's why her often quite filthy sex rhymes tend to remain endearingly domestic, the love throes of the suburban bedroom (see the sticky molasses crawl of "Touchin" with R Kelly, a loose sequel of sorts to "Laundrymat").

On a debut album that in retrospect looks like an unacknowledged hit factory, my favourite track may be the gorgeous "25 Reasons". Like "Don't Mess With The Radio", "25 Reasons" is a list, in this case of all the things that make Nivea love her man, over casual, cozy drifts of comforting guitar and soothing backing vocals. It's an odd list that intersperses the usual subjects (roses, beauty inside and out) with random personal details that sound as if they had only just been remembered in time for inclusion as the tape rolls ("the way you don't trip on me when I'm in the studio real late, like right now"). Half way through the list, during a chorus, Nivea interrupts her backing vocalists with a sudden "Wait a minute!" (all goes quiet) "I don't need no backgrounds to tell you the rest, baby!" Doubtless it was the plan all along, but I'm charmed and convinced nonetheless - won over by her manipulative pretense at spontaneity.

Although sometimes I don't quite know what she's saying, such as the grand/impatient final gesture, which appears to be "And to close it out: 16 through 25 is for all the chicks you could have eat...but you didn't because of your love for me." Is Nivea really thanking her boyfriend for not going down on 10 girls? After the next chorus, we hear what sounds like a stifled sigh, and then an explanation: "I had to catch my breath for a minute, because so many emotions are coming out in this song." This delivered so perfectly: a rushed exhalation that runs entirely against the rhythm of the music, a framing gesture for all that has gone before it, an awesome rejection of "classic song" formality. It's a delicious authenticity trap, which is all the more effective because so many would call it out as being cheesy or obvious or unbelievable.

Nivea's second album Complicated has yet to be released in Australia, but I adore last year's second single "Parking Lot", the most oddly compelling and perhaps the best thing Nivea has done to date. Falling into that post-"Ignition (Remix)" category of simultaneously languid and bouncy guitar-driven songs that Jermaine Dupri in particular has made his own (see Usher's "Confessions Part II", Mariah's "Shake It Off"), "Parking Lot" allows her to sound sweetly unstudied while secretly pulling off a career-best performance, switching from near-spoken sections to sudden, rhythmically awkward melodic runs that R Kelly himself would applaud (her measured invocation "Get crunk! Get crunk!" a deliberate homage to Kelly's "bounce bounce bounce"). It's an infidelity tale of unusual urgency: "My man's in the bed out cold/calling you on the phone/three, four times in a row....My man is at the house so/meet me at the McDonald's parking lot."

Has there ever been a booty call in R&B so desperate and so desperately unglamorous? No poolside splendor, no VIP area, not even the familiarity of the surbuban bedroom - no, Nivea is arranging a hook-up with her bit on the side at that most undistinguished of bottlenecks of proletariat socialization. And this is not merely a rendezvous point: "I'm at the drivethrough/right beside you/ready to take your order/take you right here in the parking lot." Leapfrogging the concerns and quandaries of other R&B singers (to give in or not to give in? how can something so wrong feel so right?), Nivea arranges her infidelities without ever pausing to consider what they mean - but this is not, one feels, the result of some general thoughtlessness or superficiality on her part; rather, this is the brave new world on the other side of all that moralising self-castigation, a world of clinical encounters and fold-back car seats, and a woman's right to satisfaction where and how she sees fit.

But if Nivea appears to be the merciless orchestrator of these clandestine meetings, there remains the disquieting feeling that there is one thing she can't govern: herself. In the song's most touching moment, her voice almost breaks as she admits "I can't help it, I'm gon' meet you here tomorrow night." How can this pained confession be made in the same breath as her tantalizing offers of total sexual gratification? Perhaps Nivea is telling us that sexual addiction is, like most addictions, not something you can ever fully reconcile yourself to: it remains always a complicated patchwork of compulsion, denial, repression and desire, sedimented under the weight of a process of repetition which both dulls guilt and weakens resistance.

Repetition is the key, and it is this which "Parking Lot" captures so beautifully: the chorus's constant reiteration of the best route to the rendezvous point is like a code, a charm which Nivea must first weave around herself so as to silence the recriminations in her head, until finally her car seems to follow it's own path even as in her mind's eye she imagines returning home and playing the faithful girlfriend. The quiet urgency of the song is, ultimately, less to do with a desire for sex than it is with this ritualized process of submission to oneself: don't think, just do it, again again again again again again again again...

Goapele - "Good Love"


There are a few Sa-Ra productions on the new Goapele album (which Columbia dumped between Christmas Day '05 and New Year's Day '06, otherwise known as the one-year anniversary of the Columbia-released Get Lifted). None of them are knockouts, but one could qualify as a half nelson and another is sort of like a rabbit punch. (At the top of the barometer is "Glorious," a donkey punch.) Signifying Sa-Ra's potential for crossover, each one of the three tracks in question was slapped into the latter half of the disc's sequence. "Battle of the Heart" is an off-the-cuff wisp. The winsome "Fly Away" is the most sober and sunny Sa-Ra thing I've heard (granted, I've not given a lot of attention to the unreleased CDRs). "Good Love," the best of the three and the rabbit punch, is also the most Sa-Ra-like: the spaced-out stutter-bass, the tipsy keyboard played by one finger, the searing synthesizer played by one or two hands, and -- surprise! -- the laggard handclaps. Goapele's vocals, typically finding a way to be demonstrative and barely there at the same time, sometimes sound as if they could've been recorded while she was hanging upside-down from a tree. (Actually, as I was just listening to this song for the third straight time, the vocal refrains from "Fly Away" kept sneaking into my head in a pleasurable way, so maybe I like that one more.)

Minnie Riperton on Soul Train

Look for the light if you're lost in the night...


As opposed to the good Mr. Matos, I've not (yet) quit my R&B #1s blog (well, not the '80s edition, at least), and in fact posted at Rock Me Tonight today, for the first time in 5 months. While I work on some content for this blog, that'll have to do for now.


Superbowl XL is coming to Detroit. This is something that has been drilled into the grey matter of every Detroiter for the past three years. What other fitting way to celebrate the Motown legacy and rich history of Detroit music than have the Rolling Stones perform at halftime? Easy! You tear down the former headquarters of Motown! Granted, it’s not Hitsville USA by any stretch..but to tear down the structure to make way for Super Bowl parking speaks volumes to the lack of preservation efforts and the agenda of a mayor hell bent on burning Detroit to the ground. More so.

The Donovan Building was constructed in 1922 by Albert Kahn, the man responsible for many of the buildings that grace the minute Detroit skyline. In 1968, Berry Gordy purchased the building to serve as the administrative anchor to Motown. Here all of the non-recording/artist development stuff took place. This was short lived though, as Gordy already has his sights set on conquering Hollywood and the motion picture industry. His efforts gave us the totally awesome The Last Dragon, Mahogany, and The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. In 1972, he decided to move the entire operation west (contrary to popular belief, he was never as loyal to Detroit as some people perceived), and the building was all but abandoned by the mid seventies.

The always excellent Detroit blog has photos of their excursion into the vacated building, along with a gorgeous eulogy.

Toybreaker also scanned in several artifacts from a recent pillage past security trucks just hours prior to demolotion and some photos of the old beauty shining in the floodlights.

Meanwhile, while some things are being destroyed, other things at Motown HQ are being resurrected. 2005 saw a furious onslaught of anthologies and reissues from the label, thanks in no small part to Harry Weinger’s passion for the gold that’s in the mines and the surrender of the Motown catalog from Gordy’s paws.

A brief survey from 2005: An expanded edition of Teena Marie’s Wild And Peaceful, two Lost and Found archive collections from the Four Tops and Martha Reeves, a never before issued version of Marvin Gaye Live at The Copa, no less than three box sets featuring the complete singles from 1959-1963, a two disc collection of Motown artists taking a stab at the Motown songbook, and the first three solo albums from both Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin. UK fans got spoiled beyond belief with anthologies of Brenda Holloway, Chris Clark, Chuck Jackson and Kim Weston, as well as a second installment of A Cellarful of Motown, without takes from the later sixties sessions.

It's a genius move by Motown, as the people who can truly want all of these reissues are now in an age and income bracket where they can afford to pay the sometimes steep prices. And they're eating it up, too. 2006 shows no signs of the reissue streak slowing down any time soon. With Studio A running almost 24-7 for a decade, there's no shortage of quality material that will keep Northern Soul fans pacified.

I’m personally waiting for the sixth installment of Motown’s Cellarful series. Hopefully there’s some quality moments from Switch, DeBarge, Jermaine and Rockwell waiting to be plucked and dipped in digital sauce. And hopefully by that time I'll be able to swim upstream like the rest of the seniors and purchase gleefully without trading in discs or having a measured debates between a heating bill and another two disc import.

Thanks for reading.

Boogie Fever no. 2-4


Freddie Slack and His Orchestra: "Mr. Five by Five" [October 31, 1942]

Already, a novelty song. Found this one on a Rhino compilation called Songs That Got Us Through WWII Vol. 2, and in a more innocent time a song like this--"He's five feet tall and he's five feet wide," sings Ella Mae Morse, still a teenager and all poise; "There's no way of knowing whether he's coming or going," because as we all well know fat people are enormously funny just for existing, cough cough--probably did satisfy some need for public relief in the face of war. Either that or there wasn't all that else going on, which makes sense too. Actually, the lyric is probably less potentially offensive than I'm making it out to be--being five feet wide seems implausible if not completely impossible (at least if you're only five feet tall--one for Geeta's science blog! or maybe someone else's physiology blog, who knows), and while this swings neatly, its arrangement is boisterous, and Morse is buttery and a little tart, it's too slight overall to matter that much either way. 6

Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra: "Trav'lin' Light" [November 7, 1942]

Thought I'd have the damnedest time finding this one until Douglas Wolk pointed out that the vocalist was Billie Holiday. Duh--not only did I have it already, I'd written about it for piece called "69 (Years of) Love Songs" that appeared around Valentine's Day earlier this year. (I'd link the piece but you need to be a member to access it. So $35/year and it's yours. Note to self: become a member so I can read my old stuff w/o digging through still-unpacked boxes for it.) What was doubly surprising about it is that I'd figured Paul Whiteman was finished long before 1942--he's pretty definitively a 20s figure, the era when he was the (caucasian) "King of Jazz," a violin-wielding bandleader who wished to "make jazz a lady" by interfacing it with classical music, a man whose music was frequently accused of lacking swing. But his stuff (that which I've heard, meaning this song and mostly 20s stuff) has a sweetness that mostly avoids outright sappiness, and that's certainly what's going on here. Unsurprisingly, it's not Whiteman or his band that puts the record over, though they're fine--it's Holiday, who's a bit more ethereal than usual, and maybe therefore more pop? Since this was the biggest R&B hit of its year (not a lot of competition since the chart debuted in late October, but still), you might think so. That, and the fact that her melancholy doesn't quite border on the suicidal--you might even choose to believe that her limbo status reflects a kind of relief, which given that the song sounds like a three-minute sigh would fit. 8

Earl Hines and His Orchestra: "Stormy Monday Blues" [November 14, 1942]

Haha--I'm writing this on Tuesday. (Rimshot!) Actually, considering that Seattle did undergo a storm yesterday, on Monday, I really should've written this then. But no, now it's sunny out, and whatever resonance my surroundings could have imbued the song with has been shattered.

Though one of the objects of this activity, at least as Tom Ewing and Michael Daddino have laid it out, is to capture impressions that are at least partly of-the-moment, and I was already pretty familiar with Hines and vocalist Billy Eckstine's "Stormy Monday" due to its inclusion on Indigo's 1942-45: The R&B Hits. (Indigo's series of R&B Hits compilations, the most recent of which is the 1952 volume, has been invaluable for this project, though the early volume misses a lot of number ones.) It's basically a rewrite of/sequel to T-Bone Walker's "Call It Stormy Monday," one of 1941's biggies (undoubtedly would've been a no. 1 itself had the Harlem Hit Parade, Billboard's first name for the chart, existed), and as such I think it's safe to call Hines/Eckstine's "Stormy Monday" the first straight-up blues (in structure, anyway) to top the chart. But A-B'ing the two, as I have been for the past hour or so, is instructive and perhaps a little unfair. T-Bone Walker's record jumps out of the box; it's one of the sexiest things I've heard. Hines and Eckstine, meantime, open with a moody piano, situating it in more of a jazz context. I don't know Hines' work that well, though I became a fan of Earl Hines Plays Duke Ellington, a 1971 solo session, after picking it up this spring after reading Ben Ratliff's recommendation in his top-100 jazz albums book. But even with that little bit of knowledge I find Hines' "Stormy Monday" intro appealingly familiar. Eckstine was famed for his smoothness; he is here, but like Billie Holiday on "Trav'lin' Light" there's an ethereal undercurrent that feels more swooning-from-heartbreak than above-it-all. Note how he strains against the top of his range on the second verse--or probably more accurately, how he feigns straining, creates the illusion of it, to get the lyric's emotion over, a trick Sinatra did a lot too if not learned from Eckstine. (That's a guess. If he didn't, I'm happy to be corrected.) The reason A-B'ing them is unfair is that T-Bone's "Monday" is a masterpiece while Hines' is simply pretty excellent. It's slower, draggier, and less overtly pop--at least till the horns start answering Eckstine in the verse, climaxing with a trumpet solo that both romps and exposes the scratchmarks on its heart. 7.5

Half-a-Man (Won't Do)


Sad that my first post here has to be an RIP, but that's the way it goes sometimes. By now, with the speed of news on the internet, everyone knows that Wilson Pickett died yesterday of a heart attack at 64.

I have, shall we say, a conflicted relationship with the music of the '60s at best; the running joke is that my interest in pop music starts on December 31st, 1969. Growing up I don't remember much '60s music around the house except for a little sprinking of Motown and a few Christmas records. (Plus all the stuff you absorb through your skin just by being American--growing up in the 80s it was nigh on impossible to not be soaked a Palmolive solution of 60s nostalgia.) My mother came of age in the '70s and that's when her own nostalgia begins; being a young woman when she got pregnant, up through the late 80s she was still buying records semi-regularly. So I got more War than Four Tops, more "Caught Up in the Rapture" than Supremes.

At some point towards the end of high school, following a long dark nights of rap agnostism and then alt-rock jingoism, I realized I liked a lot more music than I was giving myself credit for and knew a lot less about music than I liked to pretend. (You develop a decidedly odd canon growing up on late 80s/early 90s Spin.) So I became briefly obsessed with rock history books, and, since there seemed to be a spate of them at the time, rock history docs on TV. These were all uniformly terrible; there was one on PBS that I seem to recall intimated that all that happened in the '70s was David Bowie doing a lot of coke, going in and out of various limos, and dressing like a nazi. (I only realized this when I found an old box of VHS tapes cleaning out my parent's attic a few years back; at the time, with a dismissive attitude towards classic rock in general, the idea of a '70s with no Zeppelin seemed totally tenable.)

The one thing they were good for, however, was the archival footage. Trying to tie pop music into a straight line history, when there are always 20 strands threading through at any one time, is a fool's errand which never seems to stop the makers of these docs. (Does '70s soul merely get sidelined as the Thin White Duke's backup singers?) The footage, though...if they had just strung the clips together, with no narration, it would have been the perfect example of music "speaking for itself." Any number stick out: Bambaataa live in the mix in the early 80s; the Ronettes doing "Be My Baby" on TV, a clip that utterly transfixed me, made me totally rethink my assumptions about music in less than three minutes, which up until then had been totally, almost camply, masculine, from Public Enemy to Youth of Today.

And then there was the Wicked Pickett, doing "Land of a Thousand Dances" live on stage, looking like he was about to herniate himself. It was another one of those transformative, connective, utterly obvious in retrospect moments that seem to happen every other day when you're a kid: ohhhh, this is like this. Hey, R&B/soul can be every bit as high energy as all that flailing about on stage rock stuff I had been listening to. (Prince, for whatever reason, was always filed in my mind as a "rock" aritst, probably because my initial exposure to him came around Purple Rain.) Given the unrelentingly smooooooth nature of '90s soul/R&B--my sister's diet of Janet, Mary J., SWV, Mariah etc.--this kind of eyeball popping, vein engorging, sweat spraying spectacle was not part of my every day experience, no matter how many times Mary stomped her boots on stage or Mariah cracked glass or a young Robert Kelly threatened to rupture his spinchter.

From that Pickett moment: JB (strange to think that I actually had to explore Brown's work after accepting him as part of the background noise of pop history, that his work wasn't always an integral part of my life), Sly, Clinton, right onto people like Howlin Wolf. Now, of course, my taste in soulmen runs more towards the smooth than the rough, more Green than "Grunt." I prefer the pleaders, the crybabies, and the slicksters to the shouters and the buck studs. So might I make an unorthodox recommendation in the form of Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia out of a mix of both hometown pride and love for those strings. It's not a perfect album; sometimes the mix is a bit like nursing two glasses, one straight whisky and one a girl drink. But at its best, Pickett adds a layer of sizzling grease to the sometimes prissy Philly International sound.

Pickett's music will live forever, of course. (For good or ill: just this past New Year's Eve I was treated to a godawful rendition of "Mustang Sally" by a band of off-duty cops called The Lawmen. This is why I don't usually go to bars on NYE.) Yes, he's part of the background noise of '60s pop--do you really need to ever hear "Mustang Sally" again?--but you'd be foolish to take him as such.

Stephanie Mills - "Never Knew Love Like This Before"


A special thanks to Andy for inviting me to participate.

About the genius of Stephanie Mills' "Never Knew Love Like This Before" you know: one of the last disco crossover hits; as unassumingly touching as Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You" or as slinky as those Chic-produced Diana Ross hits. Although "...Love..." was her only pop crossover smash, Mills' career turned out to be rather long-limbed. She got a second wind in the mid '80s, scoring a series of R&B chart hits whose vocal anonymity -- thanks to one of those paradoxes of which so much great art is composed -- projected an Everywoman girlishness that reminded us of what makes falling in love so thrilling in the first place (unlike, say, Whitney Houston she never presumed to think that love made her A Better Person). These qualities are arrayed in their most regal finery in "I Have Learned To Respect The Power of Love." As the Patti LaBelle-ish grit of her lower end mitigates the creamy yearning of her high end the backup vocalists affirm L-O-V-E with an unfussy gospel fervor. Eros never met agape with such little bloodshed.

Boogie Fever re-up


A couple years ago, I started Boogie Fever, a blog in which I intended to review and number-grade (from 1-10) every number-one R&B single from 1942 (when Billboard began keeping the Harlem Hit Parade chart) to the present. This project has mostly fallen by the wayside thanks to a lethal combination of overwork and laziness, not to mention a sense of creeping guilt brought on by not updating the thing in forever. But instead of keeping Boogie Fever around to grow moss, I'm going to import what I've written so far onto this site, and hopefully get more reviews in motion, surrounding activity being an excellent way to jumpstart your own. Here, then, is what I wrote about the very first R&B number-one:

Andy Kirk & His Clouds of Joy: "Take It and Git" [October 24, 1942]
An excellent kickoff for both the charts and this project. According to AMG, Andy Kirk was a successful journeyman--not notably proficient on any single instrument, but a pretty terrific bandleader. This is the only song I know by him (if you want to call listening to it as part of a compilation without noticing it too much and then repeating it in isolation a few times for this blog "knowing"), but it fits that description as well as I can imagine it doing. Kirk leads it off by calling out the title; then over a fairly typical swing horn fanfare he shouts it a couple more. The chorus is a neat, musicianly device: each iteration introduces a solo by another instrumentalist (guitar, piano, sax, clarinet, then full-band fanfare again), each of whom follows the "Take it and git!"s with "OK, I've got it." Actually, the chants generally come in the middle of their solo time, but usually they're just marking time till the chorus is finished. The solos aren't particularly memorable, but they serve the whole, a concept that, looking over the 1035 songs I have so far (up till 1999, still need to get my hands on the no. 1s for 2000-present), remains a constant. 7

10 of '05


01. Amerie - "1 Thing"
The bumper car to "Why Don't We Fall in Love"'s Ferris wheel. Moments in Love: 0:00-3:58.

02. Steve Spacek - "Dollar"
As much as I dig the two group-Spacek albums, you can't really cite anything off either one as a proper single. They're more like extended mood pieces, drifting and floating and hovering with pauses every four or five minutes. That might be part of why Spacek hooked up here with Dilla. "Dollar" is most definitely a single, with the Billy Paul specter as important as the beat. My hope is that the third group-Spacek album will fall somewhere between this and Curvatia.

03. Teairra Marí - "Make Her Feel Good"
"Make Her Feel Good" had me baffled at first. My first thought, without knowing the singer's name, was that she had her Teena Marie pout down (and for some time there wasn't much available info about her). Come to find out that her name is like an anagram for Teena Marie. More baffling is that her Roc-a-Fella album has no guest MCs (and is 40 minutes long). The whole disc's tight, but if there's one other track that needs to be singled out, it's "Get Up on Ya Gangsta," written by Teedra Moses and Poli Paul.

04. Anthony Hamilton - "Georgie Parker"
Yes, this is off Soulife (the disc of previously-in-limbo recordings), not Ain't Nobody Worryin' (which deserves more attention). Just a few seconds ago, as I was preparing an attempt at demonstrating the devastating weight of this song, I looked over to my son to see him smiling and clapping along. So to hell with it. Maybe it's not as sobering as I thought.

05. Yummy Bingham - "Come Get It"
Like Ian, I was surprised -- amazed, really -- this rallying Just Blaze production for a former Rayne member went nowhere. I saw it on BET and heard it in a car commercial within a week and figured it would take over. And then -- poof! -- it vanished. Either it wasn't properly pushed or the shrillish vocals (some SWV echoes) were too off-putting. Bingham's godparents: Chaka Khan and Aaron Hall.

06. Tweet - "Iceberg"
This is one of the slowest songs on a slow album, and it radiates the effect of a toe-tickling and a deep-tissue massage taking place simultaneously.

07. Mary J. Blige - "MJB da MVP"
Twenty-point co-sign in excelcis, though there are at least three other Breakthrough tracks I'd place above it.

08. Usher - "Caught Up"
And one of the best tracks on Confessions still hasn't been released as a single. After "Yeah!" appeared to be on the brink of peaking, I figured the Holland-Dozier-Holland-sampling "Throwback" would be next – it would've made a perfect summer single. Nope: "Yeah!" kept going, then came the funny "Burn," then the even funnier "Confessions" (all the while, "Yeah!" kept going), then the less serious and less funny (but much more swinging) "Caught Up." The "Caught Up" on the '05 Dwele album, which isn't nearly as good as the "Caught Up" on the '04 Teedra Moses album, is almost as good.

09. Silhouette Brown - "Spread That"
A low-key single from an album produced by Kaidi Tatham and Dego McFarlane, the closest the two will get to making a Patrice Rushen record (mostly in the way the feathery upbeat vocals never override the sparkling electric keys). It's a wisp compared to "1 Thing," but if "Remind Me" and "1999" can go together on a year-end list, there's no reason why these later opposites can't coexist in a similar space.

10. Marques Houston - "All Because of You"
"Since you're obviously not going to release 'Throwback' as a single, I will release a slower version with a similarly nostalgic sample."

Other bright spots: Tori "Maybe I'm" Alamaze's "Don't Cha," Ashanti's "Still on It," Ciara's "Oh," Keyshia Cole's "I Should Have Cheated," Raheem DeVaughn's "Guess Who Loves You More?," Dwele's "I Think I Love U," Hamilton's "Can’t Let Go," Ne-Yo's "So Sick," One Twelve's "U Already Know," Platinum Pied Pipers' "I Got You," Sa-Ra's "The Second Time Around," Tweet's "Turn da Lights Off," Brooke Valentine's "Long as You Come Home," Bobby Valentino's "Tell Me."

Detroit 1976-1984

Boogie Oogie Oogie Fever

Boogie Fever