because we haven't had an RPJ post in a bit:

Love's Yodelling....


I'm not sure what the proper protocol is (if there is any) for linking another blog that freely shares copywrited material, but this guy's got a healthy dose of zip files with obscure and popular quiet storm jams.

If I wasn't in such a bright summery mood I would be downloading these files like they were going out of style. The text and formatting of the site is a nightmare to navigate, but think of it like a challenge on an old Nintendo game: sometimes you have to find the magic whistle before you get to go to the warp zone.




The mad scientist took a dash of the DeFranco Family and mixed it with some Jackson DNA.


Previously Unreleased (!!!!) Autopsy results show a man was shot in the back when he was killed by New Orleans police in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The autopsy contradicts testimony by a police sergeant that the victim had turned toward officers and was reaching into his waistband when shot!!! Ronald Madison was shot when police responded to a report of gunfire from a bridge six days after Katrina hit New Orleans last year!!! Soul/Funk (CD)

500-pound bear escaped from an animal breeder Monday, entered a neighboring home and attacked a woman, a state wildlife officer said!!! The victim was expected to survive, and the bear was lured out of the house and shot to death by the breeder, said Reno Reda of the state Department of Natural Resources wildlife division!!!
Funky Compilations (CD, LP)

Brand new!!! The Senate signaled overwhelming support Monday for President Bush's plan to dispatch National Guard troops to states along the Mexican border.
No tour of duty could last longer than 21 days and troops would be excluded from "search, seizure, arrest or similar activity." They would support the Border Patrol, which has primary responsibility for intercepting illegal immigrants!!! Latin Compilations (CD, LP)

Michael Jackson - The Ultimate Collection


Lately - due to SELFPROMOTIONSELFPROMOTIONSELFPROMOTION taking a fresh look at "Bad" over at Rock Me Tonight - I've been listening, again, to MJ's Ultimate Collection. What an awful name for a boxed set of these proportions; even Jermaine's got one with that title. That's a minor quibble, however. More serious an issue is all the drecky balladry the set's littered with. That being said, for my money this is still the way to go to fulfill your Michael Jackson needs; Sony's Essential MJ 2-disc just isn't enough. Plus, the 4-disc+DVD box has more great Jacksons tracks like "Heartbreak Hotel" (not a cover!). (Complaint: both sets omit the glorious pop of his Macca collabo, "Say Say Say.") I considered writing up something new on The Ultimate Collection, but decided instead to post a review of it I wrote over a year ago and originally posted on Oh, Manchester, as my feelings about it haven't changed. Whoomp, here it is.


Oh, Michael. So often, you just can't leave well enough along. I'm reminded of that (but that's not all - patience, we'll get there) listening to your recent, recontextualizing boxed set (about time!), The Ultimate Collection. For instance, take "Unbreakable," from '02's D.O.A. album Invincible. Cowritten and coproduced with Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins (who most recently reminded us that he's still got it via Destiny's Child's "Lose My Breath"), this is a spectacularly lean and muscular R&B track. You give a great, gritty vocal on it, one of those through-gritted-teeth performances that come so naturally to you these days, and which fit your favorite lyrical tone of the past decade - paranoia, that'd be - so nicely. Yeah, it sounded a bit late-'90s when it was released just over two years ago, but with a tight edit, I think it could've still been a hit. But you had to mess with a good thing, mistakenly thinking you were buying yourself insurance, didn't you? I understand that having the Notorious B.I.G. lace HIStory's "This Time Around" was sensational, MJ, I do. But using a rap of his lifted from another record - let alone it being a friggin' Shaquille O'Neal record which was a single - should've smelled bad at the idea stage. Maybe there's no one left in your orbit to advise you against such moves anymore, Michael. Is there? Or are you truly now surrounded with only "yes" men? Come back to the five and dime, Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson.

See, here's the sad truth, Jacko (I know you hate that nickname, but it's got worldwide currency): people don't realize, anymore, how brilliant you're capable of (still) being. They realize instead how irrational you're capable of being. Exhibit A: "You Rock My World," also from Invincible. The easy, breezy, beautiful counterpart to "Unbreakable," also made with Jerkins' assistance, is a masterful single. Or would've been, at least, had you released it the year you made it: 1999. Instead, it sat on a shelf for three years, by which point it was sadly outdated, and the public knew it. So "World" and its attendant album flopped; they deserved much better.

Of course, it doesn't help that you've tried so desperately to regain pop relevance in the past decade-plus that you've hopped into bed with almost any hot producer you found willing. [Be honest, Mike: you've called Dr. Dre, haven't you? How about Pharrell?] It doesn't have to be that way, though. I was shocked to discover, while reading The Ultimate Collection's fine liner notes (written by no less than Nelson George), that '87's "Michael's back, bitches!" ballsy first salvo from Bad (to the haters: who else could announce his return, following up the biggest-selling album of all time, with a midtempo ballad?!), "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," was actually recorded in 1982. Yet it still sounded fresh, still sounds timeless, and certainly sounds nothing (much) like the contents of Thriller. That's what you're capable of, Michael. Think about that.

And that's just a beginning, one of a myriad of potential jumping-off points offered by this boxed set. There are, of course, the strings of stunning singles from Off the Wall and Thriller - "Billie Jean," for one, sounds just as sparkling and shiny today as it did some 22 years ago. There's the first flushes of you feeling out your identity as a writer and producer, such as on "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)," the smash you wrote with your little bro Randy for the family gang: that sinuous, sexy piano riff hitting it straight outta the park from the first note. The awesomely machinistic tracks you were making circa Dangerous are (nearly) all here, too. And there's the previously unreleased material you've gifted us with here, some of which is extremely eye-opening.

Foremost among these is "In the Back." You produced this one all by yourself, even with layering the work of some 20-odd musicians on it, and it's stunning. It provides an eye into your creative process - with presumably unfinished lyrics, you spend some of the song just "dut-dut-dut"ing. The muted trumpet here is gorgeous, too. But ultimately, this one comes down to its swirling, ominously luscious music on the chorus, a virtual orchestra of faux-woodwinds (I assume it's all keyboards), strings, and keyboards themselves, laid against a stark percussion track. This isn't remotely house, but I wonder how much Masters at Work would love to get their hands on it, just to play. I'm sure they'd love the demo version of "P.Y.T.," a take which bears almost no resemblance (save its chorus lyrics) to the version which ended up as one of Thriller's seven top 10 singles. This version's cowritten by James Ingram and has completely different lyrics and music - and is scads better. You get to spend your time cooing and singing in that rich high register you've got, Michael, taking your time and luxuriating in it, from the sound of it (the tempo here isn't near the frantic pace of the released version, either, much more midtempo). And you make it sound so effortless.

That's not to say that this 4 CD/1 DVD (of a great late-period [i.e., '90s] concert you gave in Bucharest, of all places) set is nothing but an embarassment of riches. Let's be honest: most of the unreleased ballads, from "Scared of the Moon" (pretty [and] vacant) to "Beautiful Girl" (nothing new to see here, people, move along), should've stayed that way. And in case three words attached to "We Are Here to Change the World" - "from Captain EO" - aren't embarassing enough, the song's surprisingly awful music certainly should be, Mike. But to hear all of your classics - and there's a good two discs' worth here - alongside, at long last, the cream of your work with your brothers (from "The Love You Save" to "Lovely One" to the delightfully silly Jagger-assisted "State of Shock"), augmented with rarities which, while not always successful, are nearly always at least interesting (and speaking of creative process, as I was earlier, the spare, voice-and-piano [is that Lionel?] demo of "We Are the World" is fascinating), makes this a boxed set to cherish. But can you beat every single odd and come back as a force, either artistically or commercially, let alone both? I hope so, though the odds aren't so great, Michael. [Let's be honest, okay?] In which case, if nothing else, thanks for the memories.

More good rockin'


Alf, will you quit harassing me now that Rock Me Tonight is back in business? (Warning: includes more completely obsessive Stephanie Mills worship.)


I recently wrote this review for Stylus, only to discover that the album's tracklisting as released is not the same as the promos which BBE sent out. I still like what I wrote, however, and I presume the album as released is still pretty good - so here's my original review.


Acid jazz didn’t die.

That’s the first revelation taken from The Kings of Jazz, BBE’s latest entry in their Kings of series (which has already encompassed Disco, Funk, Hip-Hop and House). For this volume, UK DJ Gilles Peterson was asked to curate the “History” disc while Berlin-based Jazzanova take on the “Present.” Jazzanova, no strangers to acid jazzishness themselves (check some of their recent The Remixes 2002-2005 for proof), show and prove with selections such as the Chateau Flight Remix of Pavel Kostiuk’s “Brand New Day.” Nope, I don’t know who that is, either, but I know that (especially thanks to vocals from Vanessa Freeman) this could damned near be 10-year-old Brand New Heavies. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. And while Rima’s “Modern Times” (featuring Ian O’Brien) isn’t smooth jazz, it certainly flirts with its early, fusion-etched years (think mid-‘80s Pat Metheny, or even Paul Hardcastle’s “Rainforest,” with which “Modern Times” shares some DNA).

The biggest thing that Jazzanova’s disc has going for it is diversity-cum-eclecticism. Carlo Fashion’s “Muster Für Kammerorchester” is just barely on this side of the jazz-classical divide, as wildly opposed to a track such as Nikki O’s “Butterflies,” which is equal parts Erykah Badu and Roy Ayers (specifically “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”). You won’t find any names from the current jazz best-seller charts here, but trainspotters may appreciate the appearances from the likes of 4 Hero (their classic jazzy drum’n’bass cut “Spirits in Transit”), Carl Craig’s Innerzone Orchestra (“At Les,” the second cousin to Rythim Is Rythim’s “Strings of Life”), and the Matthew Herbert Big Band (“Everything’s Changed,” with no less than Jamie Lidell on vocals). This disc, in fact, is most likely to appeal to fans of downtempo electronica; it works particularly well as a chillout record. Again, not a bad thing.

For his disc, tastemaker extraordinaire Gilles Peterson – he founded Talkin’ Loud Records, for pete’s sake – keeps things fairly classic, taking in Rashann Roland Kirk (choral number “Spirits Up Above”), Bill Evans (the quietly lovely “Peace Piece”), Art Blakey, and artists who only need last names to be recognized: Coltrane, Mingus, Dolphy. ‘Trane’s 1960 “Equinox” shows the saxophone God in bluesy, reigned-in mode, and makes a fine companion piece with Eric Dolphy’s “Fire Waltz,” 13:21 of finely swinging bop.

Peterson’s disc, in fact, while spanning from the ‘50s to the ‘80s, seems firmly grounded in the ‘60s, which many still claim was the genre’s peak decade. Listening to it, I’m taken back to my teenage trips to the local college library, where I’d thumb through old issues of Downbeat and listen (with those massive, heavy rubber headphones) to scratchy old records deemed “classics” – which, fortunately, started my education in the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and others. Yes, both discs of The Kings of Jazz are eminently tasteful (and in some ways, classic, too), but in this case, that’s a very good thing.

Prince - "Power Fantastic" (Dream Factory outtake)


Or, John Cassevetes of Rosemary's Baby Crawling Into Your Bed: saturnine, insensate, reeking of love-technique, with promises of warmth and eternal comfort. You finish the chocolate mousse and lie back to enjoy him, too drunk with pleasure to register that it's Satan fucking the shit out of you, his courtiers tinkling a piano and coaxing an ethereal, vaguely disturbing melody from a willing flute. His eyes scare you, but you dare not tell him to stop. When it's over you're not exactly sure what happened, even when he admonishes himself for scarring your back with the fingernails he dug into your flesh. No one gives you a second look.

Kirk Franklin - "Looking for You"


Say Hallelujah! Kirk Franklin's finally recaptured the popgasmic magic he bottled and sold (like deep-fried candy bars at a midwestern state fair) on 1997's "Stomp" (credited to God's Property, but really a Franklin track). He accents the disco-kissed "Looking for You" (taken from 2005's Hero) with his "Preach, Preacha!" brand of exhortation (a la Diddy), but the single's really not about him; it's about his expert use of the backbone of Patrice Rushen's 1979 hit "Haven't You Heard" (her first R&B top-tenner, it peaked at #7 in early '80). For that matter, apart from his interjections, Franklin's hardly even on this track, which relies heavily on a coterie of gorgeous, creamy black voices. Of course the subject matter here is all about giving praise to Jesus, but that doesn't mean non-believers should stay away. Ain't no party like a Holy Ghost party, as Franklin himself likes to say, and "Looking for You" - which, incredibly, just cracked the Billboard R&B top ten in this, its 33rd week on the chart - shows that Kirk Franklin has learned George Clinton's dictum very well: Free your ass and your mind will follow. And maybe even your soul.

A Double History of the Supremes' "Love Child"


[Note: This is the script to a talk I recently gave at the Experience Music Project's 2006 Pop Music Studies Conference, for which I served on the programming committee. It was a great deal of fun and my paper came off well, which was especially nice given how personal it gets at the end. I ad libbed here and there but mostly stuck to what you see below.--Michaelangelo Matos]

Let’s start with a few facts. According to a study by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), in 1960, for every 1,000 women aged 15-19 in the United States, 89.1 had a child--nearly 594,000 total. By 1970, the U.S. population had increased, and so had the raw number of women under 20 with children, to 656,460. But the numbers were actually down 2.1 percent, to 68.3 women per 1,000. In Michigan state during 1970, the number of births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 was 66--slightly lower than the national average.

I cite these numbers because when I decided to do my presentation on the Supremes’ “Love Child,” I figured the song was rooted in an increase in teen pregnancy, both nationally and more specifically in Detroit, the Supremes’, and Motown’s, hometown. Motown are not known as documentarians; their greatest records, however visceral, are as constructed as any in pop. But they’re still plenty real, and no ’60s Motown record sounds more real, more based on fact or lived circumstance--than “Love Child.” In this case, though, it might seem that what Motown’s hit machine decided to address was less a new problem than an old perennial.

Or at least a perennial with a new twist, becuase what did change over the ’60s was the number of teenage mothers who weren’t married. In 1960, 15 percent of teenage women who gave birth did so out of wedlock. In 1970 that number had doubled, to 30 percent. Teenagers began marrying less, too: in 1960, 60 percent of 19-year-old women remained unmarried, and in 1970 that number increased to 69 percent. A 1985 version of the NCHS study noted the following: “Teen parents . . . tend to have larger numbers of children, to face a higher probability of being a single parent, to experience poverty more frequently, and to be disproportionately represented on welfare.”

These are the facts that underscore the song’s urgency. The song isn’t about the rejection of childbirth--it’s about the avoidance of having kids out of wedlock. It’s about not wanting to raise your children single, to avoid poverty and welfare, about not getting locked into a cycle of having even more kids you can’t take care of as well as possible.

It’s a pop-critical truism that Motown underwent a revolution when Marvin Gaye won the freedom to make What’s Going On his way. The album is understood to have opened the door for the label’s artists to write about what they wanted, how they wanted--as long as, you know, there were hits involved. It’s striking to me how often “Love Child” is left out of this argument altogether, something that seems down more to intentional fallacy than anything. The lone genius questing for capital-T Truth against the wishes of the money men, after all, is a lot more romantic an image than that of four seasoned pros who’ve been sequestered in a hotel suite by their extravagant boss for the specific purpose of turning a fading act’s fortunes. That was where “Love Child” was conceived, sired by Motown staff writers Henry Cosby, Frank Wilson, Pam Sawyer, Deke Richards, and R. Dean Taylor, and paid for by Berry Gordy, Motown’s president.

The situation was simple: The Supremes had been Motown’s flagship act since 1964, becoming the label’s--and black America’s--glamour queens, particularly their lead singer, Diana Ross, who would have been probably been thrust out front even if she hadn’t been dallying with the boss. Ten number-ones later, they were in a rut. Their singles were only going Top 20, if that. Soul had taken on new contours thanks to Sly & the Family Stone, had subdivided into funk thanks to James Brown, had grown grit thanks to Stax and Aretha Franklin. As a whole, Motown was keeping up, but not the Supremes, who hadn’t had a Number One in--heaven forfend--an entire year, since “Reflections,” whose phased guitar intro was the label’s nod to the Summer of Love.

“Reflections” was also the last Supremes Number One written and produced by Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland. Late in 1967, the trio left Motown over royalty disputes, and began working on setting up their own shop, or shops--the Hot Wax and Invictus labels would straddle the ’60s and ’70s with Supremes-modeled groups like Honey Comb and the Temptations-esque Chairmen of the Board. (Ironically, HDH would benefit from the blunter lyrical territory that “Love Child” helped open up: See Freda Payne’s 1970 hit “Band of Gold,” the greatest R&B song ever written about wedding-night erectile dysfunction.)

Dozier and the Hollands’ departure threw the Supremes into a tailspin, at a time when they didn’t need the help. At the beginning of 1967, the group had been renamed Diana Ross and the Supremes, and founding member Florence Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. Gordy, putting his coach hat on, decided to take action.

As anyone who prefers “It’s the Same Old Song” to “I Can’t Help Myself” is aware, Motown was never averse to working a formula until it felll down exhausted. (Indeed, they'd do it with "Love Child"'s follow-up, 1969's "I'm Living in Shame.") The title of “Love Child” seemed to reach back to the second Supremes Number One, “Baby Love”--just reverse the titles: “Baby Love,” “Love Baby,” “Love Child,” simple. But in this case the topic came first, and anyway “Love Child” was fairly new territory for Motown: a song about a socially relevant topic that wasn’t a cover. It doesn’t seem like an accident that “Love Child” preceded, by only a couple of weeks, the Temptations’ “Cloud Nine,” another Number One, written and produced by Norman Whitfield. Clearly, Motown was ready to answer charges that they weren’t socially relevant enough.

“Love Child” is a protest song in the same way “Blue Suede Shoes” was--a warning, or a plea, for someone to back off, in this case Diana Ross’s boyfriend. He’s pressuring her to have sex, and she wants to wait. 1968 was the year that the birth control pill, then on the market for eight years, was compared to the discovery of fire in terms of importance, but the sexual revolution wasn’t yet in full swing, and anyway the Supremes were essentially singing for kids (not a pejorative). More to the point, Diana Ross was singing as a kid--the narrative voice is clearly that of a teenager even if no ages are mentioned--a teenager telling her boyfriend why she won’t have sex with him--she will not get pregnant and continue the cycle of unwed, teenage motherhood.

Diana is also singing about something that Motown had previously used to less cutting ends: class. It came up sometimes, usually as a hurdle to be joyously overcome, as with Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight,” about “a poor man’s son” who wins the girl. The poverty in “Love Child” isn’t cute, though: It’s something you deal with because you have no choice, and something that, however successful you become, you never completely escape. “Te-e-e-e-nement slum!” chant the background singers (none of them actual members of the Supremes) all through the song--stagy, a little comic, difficult to know how to take the first time through, even with the string slash and uptown-blues guitar-drum breakdown that leads the record off. “In those eyes I see reflected/A hurt, scorned, rejected love child”: Those lines are equally stagy, but they’re also terse, brutal, unforgiving. Diana Ross didn’t write those lines, but she inhabits them, each word rising--“hurt! scorned! REJECTED!”--as she lifts the lid off her own vanity and exposes what’s beneath. For someone who’d recently taken star billing in a group she hadn’t even sung lead in to begin with, it’s a rather brave thing to do, and the closest she ever came to matching it weren't pieces of music but a movie, 1972's Lady Sings the Blues, in which she played Billie Holiday on junk, and an album cover, for 1980’s Diana, in which she posed wearing almost no makeup. Both the cover and “Love Child” were statements--“I am real”--that served to ground her diva moves, i.e. the rest of her career.

In a way, Diana’s divadom and Berry Gordy’s tight grip on his charges’ output make “Love Child” even more remarkable in its daring, even if social consciousness was selling. It helped open the doors for black pop to embrace lyrical realism on a widespread scale as much as any record ever made, even if, unlike “Love Child,” a lot of what came through that door was pretty macho--the strong-male-leader-of-the-family bromides of early-'70s Gamble and Huff, for example.

It also opened the subject up for other songwriters to tackle, often men. First Choice’s 1973 proto-disco cut “Smarty Pants” was written by Edward White and Mack Wolfson and was the straightforward cautionary tale that Gordy’s crew and Diana’s steely delivery never quite let “Love Child” become: A party girl goes after the best-looking guy around and ends up with his child and no him, thanks to her loose ways. (As in “Love Child,” the narrator of “Smarty Pants” is never ID’ed as a teenager, but her name gives us a clue. Her name is also “Smarty Pants.”) Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach,” from 1986, is a plea for reconciliation between daughter and father after the daughter gets herself into, and I quote, “an awful mess”--not quite a cautionary tale, but one where, unlike either “Love Child” or “Smarty Pants,” adults are actively involved, which by default gives it a cautionary cast.

Two other songs take “Love Child” even further--one as a parlor tragedy, the other as a modern horror story. The title character of 2Pac’s “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” from his 1991 debut 2Pacalypse Now, is 12 years old. Her boyfriend is a cousin; her family cares less about her pregnancy than about the welfare check that accompanies it. Her boyfriend-slash-cousin leaves her and Brenda “ha[s] the baby solo . . . on the bathroom floor.” She tries throwing the baby in the Dumpster, but thinks better of it. Then her mother throws her out: “You makin’ me lose pay/The social worker’s here everyday.” 2Pac grinds the details home, blunter and more horrific by the line: “She tried to sell crack, but end up getting robbed/So now what’s next, there ain’t nothing left to sell/So she sees sex as a way of leaving hell.” Only she doesn’t get to leave; 2Pac twists the knife the final time by having her murdered by a john.

Nothing that drastic occurs in Joni Mitchell’s “Little Green,” from 1971’s Blue, thank god. But the performance is nearly as harrowing. “Little Green” is “Love Child” after Diana loses the argument, has the baby, and tries to cared it until she realizes she’s in over her head and gives it up for adoption. This never feels (and it shouldn’t) like a neat little narrative arc; on an album famous for its emotional rawness, “Little Green” is the song carrying the least amount of protective cover. 2Pac crafted a worst-of-all-posssible-cases scenario; Mitchell’s single, teenaged mother is simply left completely on her own.


Let me tell you now about a Supremes fan. The third-oldest of seven kids born to a snappish Irish Catholic mother and a Puerto Rican dad who was never around, Lorie Matos grew up on welfare in south Minneapolis, where she hung around with drug addicts, thieves, and hoodlums--her siblings, in other words. The Supremes were Lorie’s favorite group; as with a lot of girls her age, they represented an apotheosis, a potentially reachable mixture of hood and glam.

Not long after puberty, Lorie began dating an older teenager named Nick Rahoutis; shortly thereafter, she became pregnant, and went to stay at a Catholic school for girls. When she went to the Hennepin County courthouse to sign the papers putting her unborn child up for adoption, she changed her mind at the last minute, got on the welfare rolls, and moved into a Section 8 apartment. Nick Rahoutis joined the Marines. On February 18, 1975, Lorie took a city bus to Deaconess Hospital near downtown Minneapolis and after 11 hours of contractions gave birth to her first son. A week later, she turned 15. Mom’s most cherished memory of my early years, she later told me, occurred during a snowstorm, during which she fished through couch cushions and various pants pockets in the hamper, cobbled together about two-and-a-half dollars, took me to a nearby drugstore, and spent three hours in the aisles, figuring out how to spend what at that point seemed like all the money in the world.

In Christmas 1979, Santa Claus got me a Fisher-Price record player and a copy of the Grease soundtrack. Not long thereafter, Mom picked up a double-LP Supremes best-of that had been compiled two years before “Love Child.” She played it on my Fisher-Price, but the record, unlike the others she picked up for me at Target on the first of every month, belonged primarily to her.

In 1988, I was 13. Mom was 28, my sister Alex three, and my sister Brittany two. Mom bought a CD player and a copy of George Michael’s Faith. Soon after came an early Supremes CD. She was especially excited about “Love Child,” a song that I had never heard of. “Oh,” she told me, “That’s such a great song. I used to sing it to you when you were a baby.” Mom put it on and began singing along in her fragile, tone-deaf voice. There was a line in the third verse that Mom pointed out right after it had passed to the chorus. “See?” she said. “‘She changes her mind: She was going to put her baby up for adoption but decides she loves it too much.”

In 2000, when I was 25, I was working at an office and prone to going in on weekends to use the computer, since I didn’t have one at home. One Saturday before heading over, I picked up a used copy of the Supremes’ Ultimate Collection; I especially wanted to hear “Love Child,” which I hadn’t listened to in years. I played it loud on headphones; it sounded as tough and frightening and vulerable as I remembered it. Everything was in place--until the third verse, when Diana Ross sang these lines:

Don’t think that I don’t need ya
Don’t think I don’t wanna please ya
But no child of mine’ll be bearing
The name of shame I’ve been wearing
Love child

The first two lines, if you missed them, are: “Don’t think that I don’t need ya/Don’t think I don’t wanna please ya.” What Mom had told me when I was 13--and what I had been hearing as a result for a dozen years--was “Don’t think I don’t wanna FEED ya.” What my mother heard--and, through her, what I heard for a dozen years--was a shift: Diana moving from addressing her guy to addressing a baby, the one Mom thought the song was about. But there is no baby. The song is about the fact that there won’t be one. Mom had heard one word wrong and changed the song’s entire meaning to fit the mishearing.

Or maybe she changed it to fit something else. I know exactly how stubborn, willful, and frankly delusional my mother can be, and she is notorious for mishearing pop-song lyrics. I once got into an argument with her about whether Prince, at the end of “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” was saying “I’m in love with God” or, as she heard it, “I’m in love with guys.” (It’s “God,” by the way.)

But I wonder whether she really did hear it wrong, because I wonder how possible it is to hear any song wrong, or interpret any work of art wrong short of it leading to murder. All art takes on a life of its own outside of its creators’ intentions, especially pop songs. Undoubtedly, Mom heard “Love Child” as a justification, a Yes from figures she admired. Oftentimes pop tells us what we want to hear. I think “Love Child” told Mom what she needed to hear, at a time when it seemed that no one else would. And that’s difficult to accept, because by all rights no one else should have told her that. I don’t think 14-year-olds should be having children; I don’t think 17-year-olds should, either. But they do, and I am both alive and an uncle as a result. My niece Veronica will turn a year old in a couple of months. My sister Brittany recently turned 19. And I wouldn’t give up my life or trade my niece for anything. So my only real conclusion is that for all my ambivalence, I have little choice but to feel indebted to “Love Child.” If a pop song can change your life or save it, this one feels like it helped to enable mine.