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Bottom & Beat: Top 10 Rhythm Sections

Good morn’ or evening, friends. It’s time for another Well-Dressed Headphone Addict Top 1o list! Today, we focus on the backbone of some of the best music ever recorded.  Saxophonist once said that one of the  most important musical inception of the 20th century is the rhythm section.  For the purposes of this piece, the rhythm section is defined as the bass and drum combination in a band, both on stage and in the studio.  Without these instruments, there would be no modern jazz, and therefore, popular music as we know wouldn’t exist.  Duos like The Who’s Keith Moon and John Edwhistle ruled rock and roll, while Return to Forever’s Lenny White and Stanley Clarke pushed jazz, rock and funk into a boiling pot of euphoria. Over the past 20 plus years, electronic music has taken hold, and the physical rhythm section is all but obsolete.  However, in the 21st century, the rhythm section has found its way back, thanks to Bosco Mann and Homer Steinweiss of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, or The Robert Glasper Experiment’s Derrick Hodge and Chris “Daddy” Dave.  And so, here is our ALL TIME top 10 list of the greatest rhythm sections in music history:

10. Bernard “Pretty” Purdie & Chuck Rainey – Aretha Franklin’s studio & road band
Both men were each heavily requested session players in their own rights; Purdie played on records with Nina Simone, Steely Dan and B.B. King.  Rainey lent his bass talents to the likes of Donny Hathaway, Lonnie Smith and Quincy Jones.  However, each met their match when they played behind the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.  They were the backbone to many of Franklin’s biggest hits on Atlantic records, like “Rock Steady,” “Day Dreaming” and “Until You Come Back to Me.”

9. Geezer Butler & Bill Ward – Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath has the distinction of inventing Heavy Metal music.  The brooding foursome from Birhmingham England set out to frighten the masses with their anthems of doom, revenge and alienation.  Sabbath’s best known for the voice of Ozzy Osborne and the riffs of Tommi Iommi, but what made it all work was the dense rhythm section of Geezy Butler on bass and Bill Ward on drums.  Butler’s lines were a rapid and fierce compliment to Ward heavy stomps.  Underneath it all, the duo were incredibly musical and memorable, as event in songs like “Iron Man,” “War Pigs” and “Paranoid.”

8. Larry Graham & Greg Errico – Sly & the Family Stone
Perhaps no group in pop and soul history is more cited as inspiring other artists as is Sly and the Family Stone.  Miles Davis, Average White Band, The Jackson 5 and Herbie Hancock are among the many legendary that have listed the Oakland band is muses for them in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  While Sly Stone was the front man and main songwriter, bassist Larry Graham and drummer Greg Errico allowed those songs to penetrate the spirit of millions of fans for nearly 50 years.  Larry’s plucking technique was revolutionary at the time , meanwhile Errico’s versatile beats caused a stir on dance floors and radios with “(I Want to Take You) Higher,” “Sing a Simple Song” and “Thank You.”

7. Paul Jackson & Mike Clark – The Head Hunters
In 1973, keyboardist Herbie Hancock dropped a bomb on jazz with his funk opus Head Hunters.  The first platinum selling jazz album featured a quintet of jazz masters, including bassist Paul Jackson and drummer Harvey Mason.  However, when Mason declined to go on the road with Hancock and Co., Jackson recruited his roommate and drummer extraordinaire Mike Clark.  His chemistry with Jackson was so strong that he played on Hancock’s follow-ups, Thrust and Man-Child.  In 1975, Jackson and Clark led the Head Hunters as a separate band sans Hancock, and they continued to blaze a funky trail through jazz thanks to “Chameleon,” “Actual Proof,” and “God Made Me Funky.”

6. Elvin Jones & Jimmy Garrison – John Coltrane Quartet
Legendary saxophonist John Coltrane played alongside fellow legends like Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and Duke Ellington.  His albums with Blue Note and Atlantic Records featured A-list sidemen like Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers.  But it was until his days at Impulse Records when finally had a band of his own, anchored by drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison.  With Coltrane – and pianist McCoy Tyner – Jones and Garrison played on some of jazz’s greatest LPs, like Johh Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, Ascension, and their crowning achievement, A Love Supreme.

5. Jack Bruce & Ginger Baker – Cream
Listed as one of Rock and Roll’s first “super groups,” English trio Cream set the industry on fire with their amped up vision of American blues.  Jack Bruce was the principle vocalist, with guitarist Eric Clapton singing here and there, but his best contribution was on electric bass, in which he was able to combine jazz idioms to his bruising lines.  Drummer Ginger Baker, one of the few using a kit with two kicks, became one of the most unique skinsmen of his time.  Together they made songs like “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room” and “I Feel Free” into classics.

4. TIE: William “Bootsy” Collins & Clyde Stubblefield – The J.B.’s/Robert “Kool” Bell & George Brown – Kool and the Gang
Well-Dressed Headphone Addict HATES ties, but we had to make an exception just this once.  Pre-Earth, Wind and Fire, James Brown’s backing band, The J.B.’s, were heralded as the premier black band in the whole world.  The Godfather of Soul had a revolving door of musicians, but it was the 1969-1970 line-up, including William “Bootsy” Collins on bass and Clyde Stubblefield on drums, that is the most revered, and most sampled in Hip Hop history.  From “Super Bad” to “Sex Machine,” Bootsy and Clyde are copied to this day.  However, WDHA has always held the unpopular opinion that, as great as the J.B.’s were, Kool and the Gang were as tight, funky and more melodic.  Robert “Kool” Bell’s bass melded miraculously with George Bell’s drumming, fueling masterpieces like “Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swinging,” and “Summer Madness.”

3. Ron Carter & Tony Williams – Miles Davis Second Great Quintet
Trumpeter Miles Davis led two formidable groups in the 1950s with incredible rhythm sections: one a quintet with drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Paul Chambers, the other a sextet with Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb.  Many thought it would be hard to surpass the talents of those bands, but in 1965, Davis defied the odds with a second quintet of young lions like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.  The rhythm section was equally prodigious with drummer Tony Williams and bassist Ron Carter.  Not only did they play on Miles’ soon-to-be standards like “Orbits,” and “Footprints,” but they also contributed to Hancock’s Blue Note classics like “Cantaloupe Island” and “Maiden Voyage.”

2. John Paul Jones & John Bonham – Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin was one of the most successful bands of the 1970s, and remains a severely copied quartet.  While most bands whole were greater than the sum of their parts, each member of Zeppelin were virtuosos at their respective instruments.  As much as Jimmy Page is worshiped for his guitar prowess, John Bohman was equally proficient as a drummer, maybe the best drummer of his time.  On the flipside of the coin was bassist John Paul Jones, who’s often the forgotten piece of Zeppelin, but his bottom grooves and arrangement abilities held the band together like glue.  Without the contributions of Bonham and Jones, songs like “Dazed and Confused,” “Kashmir,” and “Black Dog” would’ve never made it off the ground.

1. James Jamerson & Benny Benjamin – The Funk Brothers
At last, we’ve reached our number one spot; the greatest rhythm section in music history, bassist James Jamerson and drummer Benny Benjamin.  Aside from the being the best rhythm section, they are also both the most prolific and overlooked rhythm section in history.  These are the backbone to Motown Records in house band, responsible for playing on smashes like “Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “My Girl,” “Bernadette” and hundreds more.  With Jamerson’s one finger pluck and Benjamin’s signature into fills, these late great musicians are forever carved into the collective memories of five generations of people on this Earth.

Categories: Top Tens

Top 10 Michael Jackson Covers

August 29, 2011 2 comments

Michael Jackson had a most unique sound, not easily recaptured by other artists, but this list has the few that could.

Good morn’ or evening, friends. In conjunction with the birthday of the late Michael Jackson (August 29th), today’s top ten is dedicated to the King of Pop.  Now, there’s no doubt many blogs, magazines and such are honoring MJ in their own fashion, and Well-Dressed Headphone Addict is no different. Choosing an alternative avenue, as always, this is the 10 most interesting Michael Jackson covers.  Early in his career, MJ created a pristine reputation for sublimely interpreting the songs and words of singers and songwriters so much older than he.  However, unlike his friend and mentor Stevie Wonder, Jackson’s own songs, especially his own compositions, are incredibly difficult to cover.  Due to MJ’s deeply personal emotions, peerless vocal range and unparalleled production techniques, most who dare try, wind up making a novelty record (see Fallout Boy’s cover of  “Beat It”).  So, here are the 10 most genuine covers we could find.

10) “Smooth Criminal” – Alien Ant Farm, 2001; 2Cellos, 2010
Now, I just mentioned that more often than not, MJ covers sound like karaoke.  This remake by Alien Ant Farm was such a novelty, it stands as the only hit song by the rock trio.  However, it’s performed with such aggressive conviction, it had to be included on this top 10.  Having said that, WDHA has included a bonus cover of the Bad top ten single from Croatian duo 2Cellos.

9) “Human Nature” – Vijay Iyer, 2010
Jazz artists have had the most success with remaking Michael Jackson songs over the years.  When Thriller was released, many jazz artists, even Miles Davis, took stabs at MJ’s monster hits.  “Human Nature,” one of seven top 10 hits from the 1982 LP has been recorded and sampled by many, but this solo piano performance by Indian-American musician Vijay Iyer is the most unique; serene, off-kilter, somber and heartfelt.

8 ) “Gone Too Soon” – Babyface & Stevie Wonder, 1997
Kenny “Babybace” Edmonds and Stevie Wonder were frequent collaborators with Michael, therefore a remake by two insanely gifted artists who have working knowledge of MJ would have no trouble interpreting one of his songs.  Well, the proof is here, during Babyface’s MTV Unplugged performance/recording.  The two duet on Dangerous ballad, “Gone Too Soon,” which Babyface recently added to his setlist as postumous tribute.

7) “I Wanna Be Where You Are” – SWV,  1998
Girl group SWV (Sister With Voices) had a string of hit singles in the 1990s, and appeared on a number of hot soundtracks as well, including the multi-platinum Waiting To Exhale.  For the soundtrack of “Hav Plenty,” SWV covered MJ’s classic Motown hit, “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” giving it that new jack twist, but staying true to the original by keeping in the trademark harpsichord.

6) “I Can’t Help It” – Gretchen Parlato, 2009
Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album was the first in history to have four top 10 hits, but the album was such a landmark, many of the non-singles have become classics in their own right, and none more than the Stevie Wonder penned “I Can’t Help It.”  Revered by fans and artists like, it’s often covered on stage, but has seldom been recorded.  Jazz vocalist Gretchen Parlato and pianist Robert Glasper took a stab at it, re-imagining it into a hip, bossa nova-style song.

5) “Lady In My Life” – Stanley Jordan, 1985
As stated before, jazz artists have made some of the creative covers of Michael Jackson tunes, especially in the 1980s when Thrillermania was sweeping the planet.  Guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan, famous for his signature neck-play and covers of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Over the Rainbow,” took on the King of Pop’s most sensuous song, “Lady in My Life,” breathing a new, smooth and erotic life into it.

4) “Billie Jean” – BLACKstreet, 1996
The collaboration between Michael Jackson and producer Teddy Riley conceived massively successful and innovative music, most famously for Jackson’s 1991 album Dangerous.  They would continue to work together throughout the 1990s and 2000’s, writing “Joy,” a hit single for Riley’s singing group BLACKstreet.  For the release of the number 1 single “No Diggity,” Riley and the group did a special B-Side cover of  “Billie Jean,” MJ’s most famous hit, and perhaps most difficult to re-d0.

3) “Never Can Say Goodbye” – Isaac Hayes, 1972
Recorded less than a year after the Jackson 5’s original smash, Stax superstar Isaac Hayes drop his double LP opus Black Moses, which had a simmer, gospel inflected redo of “Never Can Say Goodbye,” full of lush strings and Hayes’ beautiful baritone vocals, getting right to the true heartache of the lyrics.  The song would also go on to be a hit for disco diva Gloria Gayner two years later.

2) “I’ll Be There” – Mariah Carey, 1992
The biggest selling single in Motown History is The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” with six million copies sold.  It was the last of their four consecutive number one singles, and it would see the pinnacle of the charts again 22 years later when Mariah Carey, only two albums into a legendary career, covered her favorite J5 tune for MTV Unplugged.  Carey sang “I’ll Be There” at MJ’s memorial service in 2009, proving to be one of the most emotional performances of the service.

1) “All I Do Is Think Of You” – Troop, 1989
From The Jackson 5’s last album at Motown, 1975’s Moving Violations, “All I Do Is Think Of You” was the gem of that record, a doo-wop influenced ballad of love and longing.  Vocal group Troop remade the track for their debut album, Attitude, helping it become a million seller.  The band’s five part harmony bring out the truest essence of what made the original so special, but still managed to keep it current and fresh, so much so that many younger generations believe Troop did it first.

For better or worse, that’s the list.  Don’t agree? Please leave your comments! Agree? Please leave your comments!  Did I forget something?  If so, please leave your comments! All comments will be read and respected.

Thank you for listening, and remember: Black Americans may only be 1/10th of the country, but that tenth is talented.

Categories: Top Tens

Jinx This! Top 10 Sophomore Hip Hop Albums

June 16, 2011 1 comment

Good morn’ or evening, friends.  The Well-Dressed Headphone Addict is proud to present a new blog category: Top Tens! The world loves to put the best (or worst) of things on a list.  In fact, if there was a top ten list of things to make a top ten list out of, Music would be at the peak: Top Ten Albums; Top Ten MCs; Top Ten Concerts; etc.  Although it’s nothing new, WDHA, as always, will do things with a twist, making lists of things not quite so obvious.

Today, we start things off with Hip Hop.  Think about all the classic Hip Hop and Rap albums released in history: Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, LL Cool J’s Radio, NWA’s Straight Outta Compton, Wu Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers, Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Nas’ Illmatic, and so on.  These albums all have varied styles and sounds but have one thing in common: They’re all debuts.  Many artists of any genre contend with what’s been notoriously known as the “Sophomore Jinx,” as their second efforts fail to perform to the level of each predecessor, either commercially or creatively.  Conversely, there are rappers who make strong debuts, but they’re not necessarily special, only to came back the next time with a timeless statement.  It also seems that when artists are hungry, fresh off the streets into the studio, they’re at their most potent, honest and authentic.  After achieving success, the only thing to rap about is how rich you are, or your new car.  The Well-Dressed Headphone Addict would like to celebrate those elusive second albums that became classics in their own rights – finding ways to stay fresh, breakthrough and exceed expectations.

10) Paul’s Boutique – The Beastie Boys, 1989
The three white boys from Brooklyn invaded the rap game with their 1986 debut License To Ill.  Their follow-up, Paul’s Boutique, flopped out of the gate without a rock-edged single like “Fight For Your Right To Party,” or “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn.”  However, overtime, Paul’s Boutique has gained a following and respect for its pioneering use of sampling, courtesy of album producers The Dust Brothers, on songs like “Hey Ladies.”

9) Niggaz4life (Efil4zaggin) – N.W.A., 1991
Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Easy E and DJ Yellow Boy dropped an atomic bomb on music, as their 1988 debut Straight Outta Compton rendered the rap game forever altered.  By 1991, front-man Ice Cube split after money disputes with NWA management and Easy, but the group rolled on as a foursome, releasing Niggaz4life in 1991.  While as shocking in content as it’s predecessor, Niggaz4life steered away from potent exposure of South Central’s trials and hard living and instead, songs like “Alwayz Into Something” and the title track glorified the gangsta mentality that ran rampant around them.  It featured more melodic production style from Dr. Dre that became the foundation for The Chronic.

8 ) De La Soul is Dead – De La Soul, 1991
Long Island trio De La Soul were the faces and voices of New York’s Native Tongue crew, including the Jungle Brother and A Tribe Called Quest.  Their first LP, 3 Feet High & Rising, infused a less aggressive, more tongue-in-cheek sound with hits like “Me Myself & I.”  Their follow-up, De La Soul is Dead, was a cynical denouncement of their popularity and so-called “flower power” message.  They still managed to keep fans smiling with “A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturdays.”

7) Follow The Leader – Eric B. & Rakim, 1988
Paid in Full, the debut album of DJ Eric B. and his partner MC Rakim, ushered in what’s now regarded as the “Golden Age of Rap.”  A record full of Hip Hop standards, like “Eric B. For President,” “I Know You Got Soul” and “I Ain’t No Joke,” was a tough act to follow, but the duo triumphed, delivering the darker, equally classic Follow The Leader.  The title track, “Lyrics of Fury” and “Microphone Fiend” left little doubt that Eric B. & Rakim were more than a music group, but ambassadors of Hip Hop culture.

6) Late Registration – Kanye West, 2004
Chicago born producer Kanye West  struggled early on, making beats here and there before landing his big break with Jay-Z and Rockafella Records.  His own debut, The College Dropout, came amidst a flurry of  “Kanye can’t rap” notions from critics and peers, but it proved everyone wrong, as his sped-up soul samples and thoughtful wordplay led to triple platinum sales two Grammys.  With high expectations for the next record, West took a risk, hiring Portishead producer Jon Brion to c0-produce it with him.  The result was Late Registration, a lush, sonically symphonic canvas of political statements, personal confessions and boastful exclamations. Highlights include “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” “Gold Digger,” and “Crack Music.”

5) The Score – The Fugees, 1996
Wyclef Jean, Pras Michael and Lauryn Hill only released two albums, but are considered rap royalty because of them.  Their first outing, 1994’s Blunted On Reality, was raw and lyrically captivating, but the group was still finding its footing musically and commercially.  On The Score, they would establish their identity, incorporating their Caribbean lineage with their Tri-State upbringings with tracks like “Fu-Gee-La” and “No Woman No Cry.”  But it was a straight forward cover of Robert Flack’s “Killing Me Softly,” showcasing the charismatic singing of Lauryn, that put them into the mainstream.  Each member would have solo success, but The Score is the reason, 15 years later, fans are still hopeful for a reunion.

4) The Marshall Mathers LP – Eminem, 2000
The likes of Eminem had never been seen or heard of  in Hip Hop before him, and as a white rapper from Detroit, the odds were against him.  Thanks to Dr. Dre’s mentoring, Em’s Slim Shady LP shocked many; shocked Hip Hop heads with his skills, and shocked White America with his homophobic and violent references.  His next album, The Marshall Mathers LP, took Slim up 10 notches, taking lyrical jabs at all his critics.  However, songs like “The Real Slim Shady,” “The Way I Am,” and “Stan” had a introspective tone that transcended profanity.  While more platinum selling albums were to come, The Marshall Mathers LP was the platform that made Eminem into the world’s most popular recording artist, even to this day.

3) Life After Death – The Notorious B.I.G., 1997
Brooklyn’s own Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G., was a reformed drug dealer who used his experiences to write 1994’s Ready to Die.  One of Hip Hop’s first true concept albums, Ready to Die told the story of the rise and fall of a hustle/drug dealer, and tracks like “Big Poppa,” “Juicy” and “One More Chance” became classics.  By the time he was recording Life After Death, Biggie was ready to show a different side of himself, a man paranoid by the negatively that came with with success, and songs like “Mo Money Mo Problems,” and “Notorious Thugs” showed that the parallels between being a dealer and a recording artist was all too similar.

2) The Low End Theory – A Tribe Called Quest, 1991
There’s a difference between a popular artist and a game changer.  A Tribe Called Quest, a Queens Trio, changed the game with their debut People’s Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm.  The incorporation of jazz melodies into a Hip Hop context made Q-Tip, Phife and Ali Shaheed Muhammad into innovative artists.  With The Low End Theory, the achieved popularity as well, but without sacrificing the integrity of their sound.  Songs like “Excursions,” “Check The Rhyme” and “Verses From the Abstract” fused live instrumentation with progressive sampling from Q-Tip.  Then hard hitting tracks like “Scenario” proved their versatility and cemented their legacy.

1) It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back – Public Enemy, 1988
And the top spot goes to PE: Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, Terminator X and The Bomb Squad.  Following the footsteps of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Public Enemy took their Black Panther Breakfast backgrounds in an effort to “destroy music.”  After their first album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show got them some attention, it was their second release, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, that effectively crushed any conventional methods of making rap music.  “Bring The Noise,” “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Rebel Without a Pause,” had an organized chaos that challenged, condemmed and captivated all who could be affected by them.  Nation takes it place with Marvin Gaye’s What Going On among the most prodigiously prophetic albums ever in music history.

For better or worse, that’s the list.  Don’t agree? Please leave your comments! Agree? Please leave your comments!  Did I forget something?  If so, please leave your comments! All comments will be read and respected.

Thank you for listening, and remember: Black Americans may only be 1/10th of the country, but that tenth is talented.

Categories: Top Tens