Each month we handpick a collection of reissues, limited editions or just straight classic long-players that deserve a place in any record collection.
Words | Paul Jones, Amy Flower and Zoë Radas
Many of the songs on this – Aretha Franklin’s 18th record – begin slowly and contemplatively, before we’re slugged with a vocal whoop or upward-sweep of strings which indicate Aretha is about to send us straight into a sunburst. She does it with effortless spunk on this mixture of self-written and covered songs, produced by industry juggernaut Jerry Wexler.
Side One gives us the phantasmic Day Dreaming (featuring Donny Hathaway’s dreamy keys), and monster hit Rock Steady with Bernard Purdie’s irresistible breakbeat (and if you aren’t chanting “what it is, what it is” along with Aretha’s sister Erma and the Sweethearts of Soul, you better check your vitals). The gospel-force piano and soaring delivery of the album’s title phrase remind us that Franklin and this song’s author – Nina Simone – not only embodied the track’s three descriptors, but sat in another of the era’s irrevocably topical categories: that of being women. To occupy the junction of the Feminism and Civil Rights movements at once is core to their music’s potency.
Side Two opens with April Fools, a Burt Bacharach-penned track originally performed with wistful yearning by Dionne Warwick in 1969. Franklin turns it into a funkified joyride, daring the universe to show her that this love is wrong. (It’s a trick she had perfected five years earlier with Respect, converting Otis Redding’s male-point-of-view plea into a decisive feminist anthem of demand.) Ballad First Snow in Kokomo is a rare opportunity to hear every detail in Franklin’s timbre, with minimal accompaniment – most notably, no drums; Franklin herself described its beat as following “the irregular rhythm of life.”
TOP TRACK: Day Dreaming
FAST FACT: On The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1999, Franklin confirmed the rumour that Day Dreaming was written about The Temptations singer Dennis Edwards.
ORANGE COLOURED VINYL
In his second record away from the stagefront with The Impressions – the gospel-soul band which unofficially soundtracked the Freedom Rides – Curtis Mayfield delivers the groove-goods, unentanglable from his socio-politically conscious vision. Roots begins with the pant and holler of Get Down, replete with dirty bassline and “Master” Henry Gibson’s exquisitely deft congas (a distinctive feature across the record). Witness the captivating spoken-word intro of Underground, the joyful double-time romp of We Got to Have Peace with Curtis’s falsetto soaring alongside triumphant strings and flashy brass, and the unabashed Black Pride anthem Beautiful Brother of Mine,which showcases Mayfield’s distinctive vocal texture: sometimes near tears, always supremely cool.
TOP TRACK: Beautiful Brother of Mine
FAST FACT: Roots was originally released on Mayfield’s own label, Curtom. Throughout the ’70s Curtom released records by The Impressions, The Staples Singers, Leroy Hutson and more – often produced by Mayfield himself.
2xLP RED & GREEN COLOURED VINYL
Two icons came together on October 24, 1973 when Bob Marley, with Wailers in tow, performed a smoking hot private set at Hollywood landmark the Capitol Records Tower. They were at a loose end, for Bob and band were so hot that they were reportedly fired from supporting Sly and the Family Stone on tour, for being too hard an act to follow each night. Sly’s loss then is our gain now, for we get the chance to chill to 12 Marley and his Wailers classics, kicking off with the Peter Tosh-penned lament for educational standards You Can’t Blame the Youth right through to side D closer, the ever-powerful anthem Get Up, Stand Up.
TOP TRACK: Stir It Up
FAST FACT: This performance features a Wailers line-up of Peter Tosh, Aston Barrett, Carlton Barrett, Earl ‘Wya’ Lindo and touring member Joe Higgs.
20TH ANNIVERSARY WHITE VINYL EDITION
It may be regarded as a classic now, yet upon original release in late 1998, English folk singer-songwriter Gray’s fourth long-player didn’t even scrape the British charts (although it was massive in Ireland). Upon re-release in 2000, Babylon was plucked as a second single, it took off and the rest is history, with the album spawning several radio hits and selling over three million copies. It’s a collection of down-to-earth love songs that really struck a chord with the masses. The singles are highlights dotted throughout the ten tracks here, from This Year’s Love right through to album closer Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, an acoustic take on Soft Cell’s finest ever moment.
TOP TRACK: Babylon
FAST FACT: David Gray has something in common with AC/DC, Metallica and Britney Spears, in that his Babylon was one of the top 10 tracks used to torture detainees at the US facility at Guantanamo Bay.