I am not a shop til you drop kinda gal. Instead of hitting the stores today, I—along with Mr. Scribe and the two Scribe daughters—did yard work. My back is aching, my allergies are kicking and six yard bags are filled with leaves, twigs, and various other organic matter. I am envious of my next door neighbor who has hired a professional lighting company to deck her house in the most spectacular yet tasteful holiday display. Maybe tomorrow I will dig out our measly three boxes of decorations out of storage and begin our own decorating. I am especially excited to look at all of my thank you letters given to me by the third graders last year following my Kwanzaa presentations at school.
Whatever the case, I guess The Holiday Season has begun. As a preview, I’d like to offer the following Old School holiday songs. Enjoy!
“What Christmas Means to Me” by Stevie Wonder
“Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery
“Christmas Time is Here” (from Charlie Brown Christmas) by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” by Ella Fitzgerald
“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” by Johnny Mathis
It was a hot summer day, Washington D.C., at some outdoor urban fair celebrating some thing or another and featuring overpriced bottled water and free concerts. It was a homecoming of sorts for Meshelle Ndegeocello, a relatively new artist on the scene. Though she was an Army brat born in Germany—she had spent some childhood and college years not far from where she was now jamming on stage. I was impressed with how tight her band was, how they changed chords at her merest nod of instruction and took it to the bridge one more time with the merest thump-signal of her bass. Somewhere in this enjoyment of the concert, the woman standing next to me said “Sweet Jesus, it’s like I wandered into a meeting of the dyke mafia.”
I experienced a moment of confusion. Perhaps she had assumed I was Family and was sharing a wry in-joke observation with me. In which case I would be flattered. But perhaps she had assumed I was a fellow homophobe and was sharing a hateful condemnation with me. In which case I would be outraged.
Probably for the sake of this blog post all these years later I should make up a story of a witty response on my part and a funny resolution. But as happens in most such ambiguous encounters, I said nothing. The moment hung there and then dissipated, leaving the sounds of Meshell and her kick-ass band going through another number for the crowd.
But I do recall then noticing for the first time that the audience was filled with almost all women. Some seamed just to be jamming and enjoying the music. Many, though, seemed to be silently dissecting Meshell and her lyrics: Here she is talking about “if that’s your boyfriend he wasn’t last night…wassup with that? Is that Black woman up front her partner? How well does she know Madonna? I thought her stuff would sound more like John Mellencamp. How the hell do you pronounce her name, anyway? So, is she a rapper or what?
OK. So I know I was probably imagining what these women were thinking. And I understand that most people—regardless of mafia membership—probably had to work a little at fitting Meshell into a neat box. She was funk and hip hop and spoken word and R&B and jazz and rock. She was an openly bisexual woman singing songs about loving men and loving women. She played an instrument that was a tall as she was. What the hell was she?
How fitting, then, that she was recording on Madonna’s then-new label, Maverick Records.
Since that first album, she has continued to evolve. Themes of the the often-time painful exploration of spirituality and sexual and racial identity have taken more space on her albums. Themes of sexual and romantic longing infuse her lyrics in ways that are honest and blunt and familiar to anyone who has ever loved and not-gotten or loved and lost. She has explored jazz instrumentals that—in an ideal world—would have critics talking of her ushering in a “neo-fusion” movement as they have talked of her jump starting “neo-soul.” She has collaborated with some of the most talented artists in the music world.
She is a staple on tribute albums and movie soundtracks, with her ability to so expertly study and reinterpret the music of her predecessors and to so beautifully paint music-mood pictures.
Despite being—still—highly unpackageable in a heavily packaged musical world, she has managed to produce a steady output of music that is greedily gobbled up by a strong, if somewhat small, fan base.
I hope that this means she will also be embarking on a tour—a major one that will pass through my small corner of the universe. The Meshell Ndegeocello experience is not complete without seeing her in concert. I saw her one more time after the free D.C. concert—this time indoors, in Montreux, Switzerland at the famous jazz festival. Again, she was absolutely amazing. Again, her band was tight. Again, she took us through all sorts of genres and moods and grooves. She, obviously, takes performing seriously, as she had been no less professional and serious about her performance at her early free D.C. concert than on this international stage.
I can only hope—and wait. And in the meantime offer up this Old School Friday Tribute to a True Musical Maverick, Meshell Ndegeocello. As always, have a great OSF and a wonderful weekend. Enjoy!
Saadiq’s new solo set, “The Way I See It,” is that rare “retro” album that gets the period details right but doesn’t just copy old records. Saadiq applies the shimmering strings and burbling keyboards of ’70s Detroit but might pair them with Jay-Z rhymes–classic made modern if we’ve ever heard it.
I was a sophomore in high school for the last year of the ’70s and first year of the ’80s. And music-wise, there is nothing for me to ponder or search my memory banks about. That year was all about Prince.
The rules of OSF say no X-rated lyrics. That makes things kind of difficult, as 1980 was the year of Prince’s aptly named Dirty Mind album–the one that first made me a superfan. So, I’ll go with something clean from the 1979 self-titled release instead.
“I Wanna Be Your Lover” by Prince
I ain’t got no money
I ain’t like those other guys you hang around
And it’s kinda funny
But they always seem to let you down
And I get discouraged
’cause I never see you anymore
And I need your love, babe yeah
That’s all I’m living for
I don’t wanna pressure you, baby
But all I ever wanted to do
I wanna be your lover…
And in the spirit of my own Re-make Theme, I’ll also throw in a remake of another cut from that album: “I Feel for You” as interpreted by my favorite female vocalist, Chaka Khan.
“Lean On Me” is one of those songs that I will frequently get in my head–and then it stays there on constant loop for three or four days. The version playing in my mind’s radio is a mash up of the original 1972 Bill Withers version, and the 1986 cover by Club Nouveau. I have decided not to do videos on this site–so I am breaking the rules of the OSF meme. Hopefully the streaming songs will be an acceptable stand-in. (I apologize in advance for the annoying ad accompanying the stream. If anyone knows of sites where you can link to individual streaming songs without ads I’d appreciate knowing about them.)
“Lean On Me” by Bill Withers
What to say about Bill Withers? If you had a thing for singer-musician–songwriters, you had a thing for Bill Withers. If you had a thing for a deep soulful stare with a voice to match, you had a thing for Bill Withers. If you had a thing for country men–long before the “Dirty South” was a popular musical category–you had a thing for Bill Withers.
I had a thing for Bill Withers.
His “Lean on Me,” a song that has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, is one of those songs that can and should be remade over and over again just because it is such a perfect and timeless tune. He had many others. As a child I was fascinated by “Ain’t No Sunshine.” I had never known romantic love at that point. But I was sure that I wanted someone one day to love me and miss me if I ever left as much as Bill missed his woman. And, I could feel the pissed-offness and mounting suspicion of this man singing “Who is he, and what is he to you” even though, again, I could hardly have experienced that kind of thing myself at such a young age.
Yup–Dadgummit, ah, I had a thing for Bill Withers.
“Lean on Me” by Club Nouveau
Club Nouveau’s cover of “Lean on Me” is fluffy and fun and funky. It doesn’t aim for more than that and that’s why it is still, IMO, a classic get-your-booty-on-the-dance-floor cut. I love how they open the song with just a piano track that sounds very similar to the original. Then they bust out with the go-go beat. My older relatives used to hate this about the song. They’d hear the opening notes and think that our local Black people’s radio station was about to flash back to the Good Old Days. But they’d be fooled. It’d be the new version.
Pump it up–what? Pump it up–who? Pump it up, home boy, just like that!
I could be mistaken, but I think I heard Club Nouveau sing this and their handful of other hits one time at a night club. I cannot be sure. It seems like I recall there being drinking involved and perhaps an episode of being sick in the toilet for an extended period of time. So I cannot attest to their live performance. Still like the song, however.
Yes, these versions sure do take me back. Disconcerting, though, how now the “new” version is also considered “old school”…