When it comes to funky soul music, there are few artists who do it better than Maze. Frankie Beverly’s voice sounds so smooth over everything the band lays down. There’s always this undeniable groove at the base of their tunes and “We Are One” is no exception. The tune peaked at #47 on the R&B charts.
That groove is created by every instrument doing something simple, yet perfectly intricate in just the right place. No nonsense. The bassline isn’t incredibly complex but it sounds so fat against the kick drum. The guitar plays that repeated riff and has some of the simple muted stuff going on but it compliments the bass perfectly. The drums are light but driving due to some nice hi-hat work. The synth/organ pad fills out the harmonic structure during the verses (Gm7 - Bb13 - Am7(b5) - D7) which is so smooth. The chorus finally has us arriving on a new chord, Ebmaj7, which sounds aurally fresh. The last chord in the chorus freshens things up further, hitting a D7(#9#5) to really send us back to that Gm7 in the verse with some flavor.
I honestly spent way too long trying to figure out that progression for the purposes of analysis. It seems so simple when you casually listen to it, but it’s actually far from that. And really, that’s part of what makes Maze such a quality group. The best kinds of musicians are the ones who work so hard at making it sound simple.
Over the last month or so, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to and playing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” It’s a song that I’ve loved ever since I was a child; I was about seventeen months old when it was released. My Mom was a big fan of Tears for Fears and this tune is a part of me because of that. Really, it’s hard to think of many songs that hit me in the same way or make me feel the way this song does.
There’s something childlike and nostalgic about the opening guitar/synth lick. Not just because the song is very nostalgic for me, but I feel like that’s the sound Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith were going for. The lyrics are dark but the rest of the tune is pretty upbeat. People like to say this is a sad song set to a happy tune but I don’t think the music sounds happy, necessarily. This is accomplished by using very few straightforward major triads. The two chords played during the verse are Dmaj7 and G/D. The chorus goes between Em, F#m, and Gmaj7 for the most part and then there’s an A at the end. That A chord is really the first time during the whole song that a clear major triad is heard and it only lasts for a second.
The verse and chorus repeat again before we’re led into the bridge where we finally hear three basic major triads repeated several times, G, D, and A which really solidifies the key of D as the home key after being somewhat ambiguous about it up until that point. The harmonic progression never quite goes where you might expect it to, until finally, it does. That tension that it creates, that build, pull back, build again, and release is everything that good music is made of.
There’s so much right about this song that I could go on and on about: The guitar solos both in the middle and at the end, the wonderful harmonies, the way the bass consistently lands on the off-beat during the breakdown going from D to A to G until it changes up for four bars switching between B and C (and C isn’t even in the key). There are too many great things going on in the song that I would bore you to tears (for fears) if I continued on.
What really got me on the kick of listening to this song over and over again was that I heard that Lorde cover of this song. I would hate to come off like an old fart, but holy hell, does it suck. It’s like she actively tried to take everything great about the original song and then remove it in favor of a bunch of boring, mopey, sadness. It’s what happens when someone tries to take a literal translation of the lyrics and put them to music. It’s awful. I’m all for different interpretations of well-known tunes to keep things fresh, but those interpretations are subject to the same kind of criticism as an original song and Lorde’s version would be terrible even if it were not connected in any way to the Tears for Fears classic.
All throughout Jackson Brown’s self-titled debut album, there is this lingering sense of melancholy. It’s inescapable, even in the upbeat tunes like his very first single, “Doctor My Eyes.” One of my best friends recently discovered this song and mentioned it to me over the course of the weekend. I was reminded about how much I adore the tune and was happy to find that joy I feel when I hear it also reflected in another person.
"Doctor My Eyes" is built around a really great piano part which opens the song. The idea that returns several times throughout the tune is the pedal bass F which is pounded out while the upper register is filled out with an Eb and a Bb chord. I’ve always been a big fan of having a non-chord tone in the bass. It’s ambiguous, but still functional. By the time the verse rolls around, the song is based strongly in F.
The vocal harmonies during the chorus really make this tune shine. Those background vocals were recorded by David Crosby and Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young fame. While the chorus progression mostly just switches between Dm and F, it does lead nicely back into the opening piano part. It’s a sign of well-constructed songwriting when you can throw in a chord that’s out of the key like Eb and have it never once sound aurally grating simply by pounding out that pedal F in the bass to constantly hint towards the actual key.
This tune was Browne’s biggest hit for an entire decade until he released “Somebody’s Baby" which was included on the Fast Times at Ridgemont High Soundtrack.
I’ve recently noticed that a number of my own songs end in guitar solos. Could this be a subconscious nod to “Doctor My Eyes”? I wouldn’t doubt it.
For reasons unknown to me, I decided to watch a video of Hoobastank doing an acoustic version of “The Reason.”
God, the 2000s were such a shitty decade for popular music.
Coucheron - Deep End ft. Eastside & Mayer Hawthorne
I’m in love with this song. I may have to do a write up about it in the future.
Judy Garland - The Trolley Song
From Meet Me in St. Louis
Johnny “Guitar” Watson - I Want to Ta-Ta You Baby
Aaliyah’s “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” is about as classic ’90s R&B as it gets. The song was written and produced by her mentor, R. Kelly, who just happens to be one of my favorite artists of all time. The two were introduced by Barry Hankerson, an entertainment lawyer, Aaliyah’s uncle, R. Kelly’s manager, and husband to Gladys Knight in the ’70s. I’ve talked before about how, sometimes, listening to R. Kelly-produced Aaliyah tracks from this era can get a little uncomfortable knowing what we know about their relationship, but that can’t stop the music from being some of the best in class.
The album sounds extraordinarily mature for someone who was just 14-15 years old at the time of recording. Obviously, this has much to do with the entire album being written and produced by Mr. Bump n’ Grind himself. The title track, “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number,” is absolutely one of the best songs the man ever wrote.
Slow jams hold a special place in everyone’s heart, including my own. Aaliyah’s vocals are silky smooth over Kelly’s early signature slow jam style. The thing that I always liked about Aaliyah’s vocal stylings is that she never tried to be something she wasn’t. The songs were not full of complex melismas and various vocal runs; she kept it simple and to the point. If you think about it, shouldn’t that always be the goal of a sexy song?
There is a reoccurring interpolation of Bobby Caldwell’s oft-sampled 1978 classic “What You Won’t Do For Love.” It’s very fitting for the song’s subject matter. Also, it’s such a good song on its own that I welcome pretty much any track that chooses to sample it.
Would you rather get slapped in the face once, pretty hard, or listen to an entire Tool album without being allowed to do anything else while you’re listening?