Earlier this week Stevie Wonder turned 64. I meant to blog about it on the day but have been feeling a bit under the weather. Anyway, better late than never, here’s a post to celebrate the birthday of, arguably, the single most important musician of the 1970s. Bowie would possibly be a close 2nd*.
Like so many of the greats his work has fallen a long way since he was at his peak, but honestly, he’s still responsible for more great music, directly and indirectly, than pretty much any musicians of the 20th Century, apart from Lennon, McCartney and a few other people.
And, with that in mind, above we have a very apt McCartney track to which, where Stevie is concerned, the answer is yes, whilst below Mr Wonder shows that he could even improve on The Beatles.
De La Soul were the band that helped me truly fall in love with hip hop. 3 Feet High & Rising is a stone-cold classic. But then so are quite a few of their other work, including Stakes Is High, produced by the beat genius who was J Dilla.
It must be terrible to be thought of by millions of people as a one-hit wonder if you’re actually an artist who has had a long and varied career with artistic highlights and influential fans in high places, yet been unable to turn any of those things into mainstream success. If, in other words, you’re Omar.
His breakout hit, and most famous tune, There’s Nothing Like This, was released on Gilles Peterson’s era defining Talkin’ Loud label and was, and is, an acid jazz standard. Since then he’s released numerous great pieces of music, including one of my favourite albums of the last decade, the brilliant Sing.
Many musicians have become bitter about situations like this, even ones who have gone on to great success. We all know the bands who will wilfully refuse to play the song that most people want to see them perform (Radiohead and Creep is an old example that springs to mind). But Omar, in what strikes me as a signal of the sort of man he is has, instead, taken an opportunity to revisit his defining moment 20 years later and, if anything, perfected it.
It still sounds exactly like a lazy summer’s afternoon, but this time has more of a Spanish air, has a slightly more pensive air about it, a beautiful touch of brass and is, simply, beautiful. It is an inspiring and heart-warming slice of modern soul.
Thom Yorke was bashing Spotify again this week, and maybe he has a point. But maybe it’s also the case that in the modern world where uniformity is prized over all, and the ability of mediums like radio to break new music is being crushed, we need the Spotify’s of this world to ensure we don’t run out of people like Omar.
If you do want a great cover version of Sound And Vision, I would recommend that you take a listen to the version put together by the boys of Franz Ferdinand, along with Girls Aloud, for a Radio 1 tribute album a few years ago.
Because it was a totally left-field cover for Faith No More, probably the biggest alternative rock band around when they released it (the Red Hot Chili Peppers of their day, even though the Chilis were around at the time.)
Because the original version of Easy, by Lionel Richie’s Commodores, was used in an ad for a bank in the 80s (below) which made me want to live in a loft, with a cat. Quite possibly the only cool bank ad ever made.
So, last Saturday saw Gilles Peterson’s first show on the wonderful 6Music, and it was great. Rambling, sprawling, diverse and, most importantly, oozing with a self-evident love of music, it covered everything from David Bowie to Paul Weller, Dr. John to Jamie xx, Quantic to Dinosaur L, and even a weird little cover of The Simpsons’ theme tune by someone called Dexter*.
It’s hypnotic, it blends genres, it’s modern but with a firm nod to the past and BADBADNOTGOOD are a band that Gilles has supported tirelessly over the last year or so, as he does with so many great acts. And it also ticks my own personal box of being a cover version, albeit an instrumental one. It’s kind of like a Cinematic Orchestra for the noughties.
Here’s hoping next week’s show will be as good. And the one after that. And the one after that, and the one after that, until, well, forever really.
*Gilles said he didn’t know anything more about this track but that “that’s what Google’s for” – unfortunately Google isn’t for this one.
It appears that the song is actually an ad, (in the style of the Nike track Classic by Kanye, KRS-One and a host of rap luminaries), for the sneaker-pimp heaven that is the trainer shop Sole Heaven
So, I Know You Got Sole (Heaven) ticks any number of my meme tickboxes.
And, on top of that, DJ DSK’s beats and scratching are great, Mystro’s lyrics are pretty amusing, referencing any number of classic trainers, and the video reminds me of a slightly strange version of the cult British movie Human Traffic.
That ought to be enough reasons for anyone to like it, so why not download it now.