It sometimes comes as a great shock to some people who know me—the über Kiss, Who, Motorhead, Paul Revere & The Raiders fanatic, and all—that yours truly also has a very deep appreciation for classic Soul and R&B music. My interest in Soul is mostly confined to the late '60s and early-to-mid '70s—the "Golden Age" if you will (before Disco took over)—and it's too bad there's no one out there who can create this same kind of melodic and soulful music today like Isaac Hayes or the late Barry White. Now Black "music" is little more than all this "homey-this" and "homey-that" Rap garbage, and I find that sad. Anyway, without further ado, I present to you B.R. Holland's Top 20 Soul/R&B songs of all-time:
20) "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine"—LOU RAWLS (1977) Was brother Lou about the smoothest singer on earth, or what? I might've given my left and right nut to sound just like him, but that would've rendered me a soprano, thus totally defeating the purpose...
19) "Float On"—THE FLOATERS (1977) Astrology meets "Soul Train"! Great song, but the 1980 Cheech & Chong send-up "Bloat On" is even more brilliant: "Hamburger--and my name is Big Boy...Come with me, baby, to Burger Land..."
18) "Back Stabbers"—THE O'JAYS (1972) The prolific songwriting/production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff made The O'Jays stars, as well as many other Philadelphia International Records acts. No one produces records like this anymore...
17) "Strawberry Letter 23"—THE BROTHERS JOHNSON (1977) Wonderfully trippy soul tune that just floats along not unlike "Float On", only a little faster.
16) "Natural High"—BLOODSTONE (1973) Unbeknowst to me until just a few years ago, these guys were/are from Kansas City. Another wonderfully trippy soul tune, indeed.
15) "That Lady (Part I & II)"—THE ISLEY BROTHERS (1973) You know those water vapor mirages you see coming off the streets on hot summer days? That's what this song's blistering lead guitar work reminds me of. Funk at its very finest...
14) "Higher Ground"—STEVIE WONDER (1973) So many classics from Stevie to choose from, but this one is my favorite. Funky bass made even funkier by brother Flea on the Red Hot Chili Peppers' remake in 1989.
13) "I'll Be Around"—THE SPINNERS (1972) Love the horn solo during the middle-eight here. The Spinners were just hitting their stride with this song, and they reeled off a string of hits over the next five years or so afterwards.
12) "Up The Ladder To The Roof"—THE SUPREMES (1971) At least for a year or two, Mary Wilson, Cindy Birdsong, and new lead singer Jean Terrell were able to make everyone say, "Diana who?" This one—along with 1970's "Stoned Love"—was every bit as good as anything the Supremes did with "Miss Ross".
11) "Hey Love"—THE DELFONICS (1970) Why this wasn't a bigger hit than it was is beyond me. Too bad these guys never put out an album called Hooked on Delfonics, huh?
10) "If You Don't Know Me By Now"—HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES (1972) Mind-blowing performance by Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals on this classic tear-jerker.
9) "You Are Everything"—THE STYLISTICS (1971) One of the great dance floor "belly-rubbers" of all-time featuring Russell Tompkins, Jr.'s unmistakable falsetto lead vocal from that magical year 1971, when everything on the radio (even The Osmonds) sounded phenomenal to me.
8) "Show And Tell"—AL WILSON (1973) Even as a 3rd-grader at the time, I really grooved with this song on AM radio.
7) "In The Rain"—THE DRAMATICS (1972) Extremely underrated Stax Records classic that features some heavily-echoplexed guitar work that makes it sound like the guitar is being played underwater. Outstanding vocals too.
6) "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)"—MFSB (1974) Better known as the "Soul Train" theme song, this was probably the high point for the Philadelphia International record label. That's the Three Degrees doing the "Doot-doot-doodle-e-doo's", too.
5) "What's Goin' On"—MARVIN GAYE (1971) What an atmospheric tune! Hard to believe that Marvin was on a cocaine bender when he recorded this absolutely brilliant landmark album. Even crazier, Motown chief Berry Gordy, Jr. didn't want to release it because it was too political. Silly Berry...
4) "Smiling Faces Sometimes"—THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH (1971) The bass line on this one is absolutely sinister—it sounds just like a thief prowling the streets in the middle of the night. Great vocals here, too. This song always reminds me of a hot summer night, since that was the time of year it was high on the charts in '71.
3) "Love's Theme"—LOVE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA (1974) Some people (including my ex-girlfriend) sadly associate this song with ABC's golf tournament coverage during the '70s, but this splendid instrumental just glides along like a stretch limousine, and it's an all-time favorite of mine. It blows my mind that the late Barry White was a self-taught musician (and couldn't even read sheet music), yet he was able to produce such incredibly rich sounds as this. R.I.P., B.W.
2) [Tie] "Theme From Shaft"—Isaac Hayes (1971)/Papa Was A Rolling Stone—THE TEMPTATIONS (1972) They say this "Shaft" song is a bad mutha? (Shut yo mouth!). The former is Stax Records' (and Chef's) finest hour, in my opinion, even though the movie it's from is vastly overrated. And who could forget Bart & Lisa's lovely rendition of it on "The Simpsons"? (Damn right!) The latter—originally recorded by Undisputed Truth—is Motown's (and The Tempts') finest hour, and a brilliantly-told story of freeloading desperation to boot. Both songs were the ultimate use of wah-wah pedals in music history too. They just don't make records like this anymore...
1) "Me And Mrs. Jones"—BILLY PAUL (1972) Man, I struggled with these top three or four as to which one would top this list, and this classic won by a nose (hair). The subject matter of a clandestine love affair meant absolutely nothing to me at age eight, but every time I hear "Mrs. Jones", I think back to those nights in the winter of '72-'73 falling asleep to the radio with this lush and sultry song playing. Why on earth this was Billy Paul's only Top 10 hit is totally unfathomable...
[Amazingly enough, folks like Earth Wind & Fire, The Chi-Lites, James Brown, Al Green and Otis Redding didn't even make the cut here. That's certainly no slam on any of them—methinks I might have to make this a Top 40 list at some point...]