Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Blue-Eyed Soul: A Consideration

While riding Amtrak down to San Diego on the way to this year's ComicCon, I was listening to random tunes on my iPod. Up came a live version of Boz Scaggs’ wicked “Miss Sun”, originally on his ‘Hits’ album from 1980, but this particular version was from a live greatest hits collection released a few years ago.

Relaxing on the train, with a nice pair of headphones, I was struck by how timeless the groove, melody and Scaggs’ inimitable foghorn baritone voice continues to resonate. That got me on a train (no pun intended) of thought about my continuing fascination with pop oriented artists from the seventies and eighties who combined their love and appreciation of R&B music with their own unique Top 40 sensibilities.

It should be noted that while there are countless stories about how white artists have ripped off black music, in most cases (to be clear, most, not all) when I research pop artists who show a heavy R&B influence, those artists are quick to acknowledge the skill, ability and inspiration that the original artists provide. For example, it was quite nice to see The Spinners open for Hall & Oates at the Hollywood Bowl for two sold out shows last summer. All Philly boys, it was pleasing to see H&O give props to the source. Granted, everyone doesn’t do it, but more do than you’d probably think. Music is the great equalizer.

Back in the day, music wasn’t nearly as segregated on Black radio as it is today. In the seventies and eighties, it wasn’t uncommon to hear The Doobie Brothers, Hall & Oates, Kenny Loggins, Steely Dan, George Michael, Boz Scaggs and occasionally even David Bowie on R&B radio stations. The music delivered by those artists was connected by a specific alchemy that blended pop strains with R&B sensibilities, appealing to an urban audience as well as a larger pop concern.

In today’s market, when you hear a white artist on R&B (or hip-hop) radio, it’s generally an artist who is specifically striving for an R&B sound, pop be damned. Robin Thicke, Jon B. and until recently Justin Timberlake all come to mind. Amy Winehouse and Duffy are among the new breed of artists that seem to be working from a more traditionally based R&B foundation that is sprinkled with a pop awareness not generally found in today’s young multi-format artists.

Anyway, considering all of this inspired me to come up with yet another list, one that I reserve the right to change on further consideration. I’ve always appreciated the slinky, cool grooves that these guys were able to put down. Recognizing that one of my favorite singers, Daryl Hall, resents the term ‘Blue Eyed Soul’, calling it reverse racism, in the interest of clear identification, I present my first pass at my favorite Blue Eyed Soul Grooves, circa mid seventies to the present. Please feel free to forward any additional suggestions to this list.

1. Miss Sun: Boz Scaggs
2. Walk On By: Michael McDonald
3. No Hope In Here: Lewis Taylor
4. FM: Steely Dan
5. Heart to Heart: Kenny Loggins
6. I Can’t Go For That: H&O
7. Green Light: Jamie Lidell
8. Waiting for Your Love: Toto
9. I’ll Be Alright Without You: Journey
10. School Boy Crush: AWB

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