We recently covered The Roots drummer Questlove’s Top 10 list and I poked at him about Dolly Parton being on his list. He quipped;
We accepted his challenge. or maybe he was quipping that it was our turn to learn. Either way, here’s what we learned. If you’d like to listen to this playlist in its entirety, you can check it out on Grooveshark here.
The following is a list of 10 songs that forever altered my life or simply had an amazing impact on me as a person musically, spiritually and altered my career as a musician.
Super quick pre-empt: I was born a little white kid in 1968 in a small central New Jersey town called High Bridge. So ?uestlove and myself are not that far removed from each other in our journeys in the Northeast. My childhood was very tumultuous with my parents physically fighting quite a bit before a bitter violent divorce. We moved to a little town in the projects of Detroit where I essentially was the minority, but it never made any difference. The entire environment of the 70’s in Detroit was a haze of yellow like a neverending pollen dust storm just like the films seem to insinuate even though we know it’s just the age of the film paper that makes it look that way.
I was holed up in my bedroom many a night drowning out my parents screams and smashing plates, listening to my little cheap radio where I had access to a rock station and a black radio station that played Soul and funk. I quickly became attached to the black radio station because it offered me the best means of escapism and lyrically seemed to be more in touch with me internally. Here’s my journey and again, you can listen to this list in its entirety here.]
Steve Miller – Fly Like an Eagle (Listen to this track)
Everyone has that one song that you just played over and over again that drove your friends and family crazy. Fly Like an Eagle was mine. I was just a young kid in Detroit and my mother took me to a bar (don’t recall the reason). She gave me a handful of quarters to choose songs from the jukebox which at the time was 2 songs for a quarter (or something that seems silly now). I played that song back to back 8 times and I distinctly remember everyone in the bar being furious with me at the time. I may have singlehandedly destroyed Steve Miller in Michigan.
Stevie Wonder – Visions (Listen to this track)
I was forced to choose one song off of this album, but in reality, the entire Innervisions album by Stevie Wonder was a tipping point. I had never understood why I was white and all of my friends were black. Never cared or even thought about it. I never saw any injustices except my own being one of the lone white kids in the projects. But here was this man singing about injustices in a way I had never even seen or realized because I was inside the circle. It was evidence of things going on outside of our bubble that I never knew or understood, but the rage now all made sense to me. This album shocked me to the core and was the first time I had ever cried when listening to a song with Visions in particular. The album is a masterpiece to me and still arguably Stevie Wonder‘s best album ever written. From anyone.
Prince – D.M.S.R (Listen to this track)
I had heard Prince on the radio and even got a chance to see him live during the 1999 tour, but I had no idea what I was watching. I had heard and loved Controversy, and had even been hipped to earlier albums. But a friend named Tracy let me borrow his 1999 album and I was instantly hooked. DMSR in particular caused an insane reeling inside of me like I had to dance at that moment. I had to share this song with the world. It was like liquid cocaine and no one has recreated anything like it since. When I eventually purchased the album for myself, I then began to discover the nuances of the other songs like Lady Cab Driver and Let’s Pretend We’re Married. While many would argue that Purple Rain is his best album, they’re out o their mind. While that album is amazing, this was Prince‘s “do no wrong”. Anyone needing to be acclimated to Prince need to look no further.
The Fixx – One Thing Leads To Another (Listen to this track)
The Fixx was the first band that I was addicted to. I loved the funk, but something about The Fixx‘s sound that created a literal alternate world. As time went on, they became less effective at creating the vibe’s they once were able to conjure, but from their first album Shuttered Room through their Phantoms album, it was unmistakably them. One Thing Leads To Another came off of their Reach The Beach album and it was the first concert I had seen by myself in Atlanta where they were the opening act for The Police on their Synchronicity tour at the now gone Omni in Atlanta. I was there to see The Fixx, but walked out with another band added to my list.
The Police – Synchronicity 2 (Listen to this track)
After seeing them perform this Synchronicity concert live in Atlanta which is now heralded as one of the most amazing concerts of their career documented on video for all to see, I was amazed at their energy. In high school, everyone seemed to have a copy of the album that they carried in their book bags simply to prove that they had it. Synchronicity 2 was the first song that my mother yelled at me about as being “inappropriate” when she walked into the room as Sting was singing “And everyday with his so-called superiors was a humiliating kick in the crotch!“. I now had a favorite song to annoy my mother with.
Prince – Let’s Go Crazy (Listen to this track)
Prince was always there in the back of my mind as 1999 began to wane among the 80’s, but when an Atlanta radio station came on with his “brand new song” from Prince, I can remember exactly where I was standing. It was the funk I loved, but there was this screaming guitar layered over. And when the solo hit that was nothing but guitar, my knees buckled and I sat down on the floor. I immediately took MARTA to Turtle’s record store at Lenox Mall and bought it that day. My friends and I saw the movie 6 times in a row the same weekend. We saw the Purple Rain tour 3 times in Atlanta and it literally changed my musical tastes starting at that moment. I began an insatiable journey to learn more about funk history and the roads Prince traveled that brought me to that internal nirvana.
Jesse Johnson – Be Your Man (Listen to this track)
As Prince began to be more eclectic, another man shot off into his own orbit. Jesse Johnson from Prince’s protege band The Time had released a single called Be Your Man off of his Jesse Johnson‘s Revue album. He was a guitarist that sat in the background of The Time, but here he was out front and killing it. But it came about as close to DMSR and that minimalist funk sound that really made my head tingle. To my pleasure, the entire album was filled with the funkiest gems I had ever heard. He even changed the way I dress which was very unfortunate (see photo). But there was never before, nor was there ever afterwards an album released that had this distinct feel and continuity. It was Minneapolis funk full on and relentless from front to back and still remains a cult classic to this day.
Digable Planets – Black Ego (Listen to this track)
I was sitting in a car with a friend getting pretty much buzzed out of my mind when this song came over his speakers by a band calledDigable Planets. It was the quintessential perfect song and there wasn’t much like it that I had ever heard with exception to The Roots which I hadn’t even experienced yet. They were coming very shortly afterwards. I went and bought this album (Blowout Comb) and couldn’t believe that this band wasn’t famous. I didn’t understand it. That was the reason this made the list for me was that this amazing band couldn’t break out of mediocrity gave me little to no help as an aspiring musician. Although DP never released anything that was as masterful as this album was, I was forever a fan and forever will be.
Outkast – B.O.B. (Listen to this track)
Like other kids, I liked rap in the form of LL Cool J and Run DMC, but none of it grabbed me and kept my attention. Then at a Halloween party a decade ago, the video came on for Bombs Over Baghdad and I was captured. I sat in a state of awe because I had no idea that there was music out there like this and I was rapt. I had even had an Outkast album (Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik) in my car that my guitarist had given me that he said was thrown into his yard by “hooligans”. I kept it in my CD case, but it never got played. After hearing B.O.B. years later, I realized I was an idiot and had cheated myself of Outkast which was a travesty since I lived in Atlanta.
The Roots – Push Up ya Lighter (Listen to this track)
And lastly was The Roots. And they are not here as a result of Ahmir’s challenge or as a “shout out”. It literally changed something inside me. It made me realize that there was not a lack of funk out there, but that here in the states it had been injected into the world of hip hop. Push Up Ya Lighter was the groove perfect song and when I went to the store to find the album that housed this song, I was a fan for life. Illadelph Halflife was by far the best hip hop album I had ever heard in my life. Not since Digable Planets Blowout Comb had an album been so perfectly structured and balanced. There was not one single lyric out of place. It was syllabically perfect. And the pinnacle of the album for me was Push Up Ya Lighter which was about the most perfect hip hop song I had ever heard. It was near the beginning of the album about 5 or 6 songs in, but felt like it was centered like nothing else on the album and still remains as my all time favorite Roots song ever.
So there you have it, Ahmir. My top ten musical moments that changed my life. Now we need other Funkatopians to send us yours!