Everybody has what I would call a "mojo song." You know -- that song that, when it comes on the radio, you greet it with a heartfelt "Hey!" like you're reuniting with an old friend. You start bobbin' your head and doing a little booty shaking (not to be confused with booty poppin', which is best left to professionals -- strippers and Beyonce). Your mojo song is what gets your mojo (or your inner spirit, your chi, or whatever you'd like to call it) going. It's the song you sing at the top of your lungs, no matter how bad you sound. I have a lot of mojo songs, and today is as good a day as any to reflect on them. Today is International No Music Day (nomusicday.com), during which we are supposed to abandon music and contemplate our relation to it. Well, I can definitely contemplate my relationship to music, but asking me to abandon it for even a day is like asking me to hold my breath for a day. Can't do it, wouldn't want to.
For me, I have different categories of mojo songs. I even have guilty pleasure mojo songs, songs I'm a bit ashamed to admit get my mojo going. One thing most of my mojo songs have in common is a funky bass line. I have this thing for bass -- I like it loud and lots of it. Throw in some horns -- and I mean funky Tower of Power/Earth Wind and Fire/Average White Band/Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns kind of horns, and you really get my mojo going.
Some of my mojo songs are kinda cultish. For example, I think Tina Weymouth, the bassist for the Talking Heads, is one of the best bassists ever. If ever I were allowed to play in any band of any kind, I'd want to be the bass player. I even have a weakness for male bass players. But don't tell BMNB.
So, in the spirit of contemplating my relationship with music, here's my list of mojo songs, by category:
Women Empowerment Mojo Songs
These are the songs that just make me proud to be a woman, not necessarily because of the lyrics, but because of the powerful women singing the songs:
"I'm Every Woman," Chaka Khan. No, not Whitney Houston's version. I said Chaka Khan and I meant it.
"Respect," Aretha Franklin. For obvious reasons. And let me digress: If I had my way, there'd be a law that no one -- and I mean no one -- could remake or publicly perform an Aretha Franklin song, especially this one, without getting a license, and they'd have to sing before a panel of soul music experts in order to get that license . What many of our young black female singers don't get when it comes to Aretha's songs is this: Aretha did it right the first time. And you can't make it any better. So just back away from the microphone and leave it along. That means you, Mary J. Blige. I love you, girl, but you can't improve perfection.
"Since You've Been Gone, "Aretha Franklin. If the bass and the horns added to Aretha's powerhouse vocals don't get you, you're just deaf. Get a hearing aid.
"To Be Real," Cheryl Lynn. And not the short version, either. "Swoo hoo, Swoo hoo, Swoo hoo, I gotta have ya, baby . . . " Ever since the movie "Paris is Burning," I tend to associate this song with drag queens. That makes it all the more fun. You don't have to be a woman to be empowered to want to dress like them. Throw in "Star Love," and it's the 70's all over again for me. Where are my Famolare's?
"My Love Don't Cost A Thing," Jennifer Lopez. The only J-Lo song I really like.
"Independent Woman, Part whatever," Destiny's Child. The shoes on my feet, I bought them. Don't you forget it, either, BMNB.
"Finally," CeCe Peniston. One of the best voices out there. She doesn't seem to get her due.
"Golden, " Jill Scott. BMNB says Jill Scott can do no wrong. I think he's right. I'm living my life like it's golden . . .
"I Am Not My Hair" and "There's Hope," India.Arie. India truly is Stevie Wonder's musical daughter. "I Am Not My Hair" is my cellphone ringtone. I think India's going to be around long after the Keyshia's and Rihanna's and all them are gone.
Songs So Funky That Your Computer Screen Will Stink After Reading This
Again, the bass line rules on these songs:
"One Nation Under a Groove, " "Freak of the Week," and "Flashlight," Parliament/Funkadelics
"Fire," Ohio Players
"The Big Payback," James Brown. I don't know karate, but I know ka-razor! This song brings back happy childhood memories of riding in the back of my cousin's red Buick Electra 225 (lovingly referred to as a "Deuce and a Quarter"), where I first heard this song on his eight-track player on the way to get ice cream with the 20 or so other cousins piled in the back seat. Yeah, it was that big, that Deuce and a Quarter. The folks at GM need to forget about the Lucerne; they need to bring back the Deuce and a Quarter. But I digress. This bass line, along with the wah-wah guitar strokes, is one of the most sampled pieces of music in hip-hop.
"Candy," by Cameo, although this song reminds me of strippers because of the movie "The Best Man." Still like it though, even if it makes me want to put a stipper pole in my bedroom. Again, don't telll BMNB.
"Funkin' for Jamaica" and "Thighs High," Tom Browne. Quite frankly, I don't know whether Tom Browne ever did anything else noteworthy, but it doesn't matter. If your wedding reception is starting to die down and go stale, run -- not walk -- to your DJ and have him put on "Funkin' for Jamaica." Only the arthritic will remain in their seats. Trust me.
"Bon Bon Vie," T.S. Monk. So what he's the son of THE Monk. Can't he funk, too?
"Jungle Boogie" and "Hollywood Swingin'," Kool and the Gang. I like how the trumpets in "Jungle Boogie" sound like elephants.
"Fantastic Voyage," Lakeside. Now this groove's so funky, hey, what do you think? What is it called, let's call it Lakeside stank!
My Rock Side
Good bassists come in all colors, to wit, Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads.
"Once in a Lifetime," Talking Heads. Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down . . . . If Tina's bass on this one doesn't get you, well, you just need to have a lifetime of No Music days.
"Start Me Up," The Rolling Stones. Long before Microsoft ruined it for everyone. Plus, the Stones, unlike many American artists, are unabashed in their admission of admiration for, and thievery from, black soul artists. Rock on.
No Category -- I Just Like Them
"Freeway of Love," Aretha Franklin. Don't ask. My mom used to like it, and it makes me happy thinking of her doing her mojo dance to it.
"Shout" and "Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance)," The Isley Brothers. Before the whole Mr. Big persona. When they were fresh out of church and acted like it, too.
"Genius of Love," Tom Tom Club. What you gonna do when you get out of jail? I'm gonna have some fun. . . ." I guess Scooter Libby will never have to answer that question. Again, Tina Weymouth at her best, plus she does the vocals this time. Anyone who can fit Bohannon and James Brown into the same song is a genius.
"Square Biz," Teena Marie. A funky bass beat and vocals that introduced legions of young folks to Sassy Sarah Vaughn's vocal style via synthesizer. Add to that "Behind The Groove" and "I Need Your Lovin'." One of my friends, Sheila, said the best concert she'd ever seen was Teena Marie and Rick James at the Orange Bowl. Lightening in a bottle, y'all. Won't ever happen again.
"Crazy in Love," Beyonce. What I didn't get when I first heard this song was that there was little to it that was original. The horns I fell in love with? Sampled from a Chi-Lites song. See, this is what happens when you haven't lived long enough. My older sister had to tell me that those horns were sampled. Similarly, I've had to point out all the funk samples in hip-hop for my nephew, who is too young to know his favorite hip-hop artists sample heavily. However, the way this song was produced -- with the layers upon layers of Beyonce's own vocals that blend seemlessly into the sampled horns, along with the fact that the verse parts have very little instumentals with them -- is just magic, pure magic. This is why Jay-Z makes the big bucks.
"Working Day and Night" "Starting Something," and "Remember the Time," Michael Jackson. I like Michael best when he sings dance songs. I especially like "Remember the Time" because of the video. You will never see Iman, Eddie Murphy, Magic Johnson and Michael Jackson together in a video ever again. And I know Michael gets mad props for the choreography in "Thriller," but for me, the Egyptian dancers in this video worked it out! Plus, when Michael wails, "What about us? What about us?," you feel it like you did back in the seventies when he hit that high note in "Who's Lovin' You." I miss the old Michael. America's loss, the U.A.E.'s gain.
"Control," Janet Jackson. I used to run Lake Merritt in Oakland listening to this song. That was forty pounds ago . . . .
"One Love" and "Three Little Birds," Bob Marley. I'm from the Central Valley, which means I'm real late to the whole reggae thing.
"This Is How We Do It, " Montel Jordan. Hey, I'm from California. Which leads to my next choice:
Guilty Pleasures -- I Know I Shouldn't Love These Songs, But Tell That To My Butt
"California Love," Dr. Dre and Tupac. Singing about hoochies alone should have been enough to turn me off. But who can resist Roger?
"I Get Around," Tupac. The Underground just don't stop for . . . you know the rest. And you should be ashamed, too.
"Miss You," The Rolling Stones. To Puerto Rican girls everywhere, I apologize. Lo siento mucho.
Just Plain Nasty
"Nasty Girl," Vanity Six. What real woman needs seven inches or more, or has the cojones to sing about it?
"Give It To Me Baby," Rick James. Now, as the old folks say, he needed to have his mouth washed out for singing about "that sweet, funky stuff." That's just nasty, which leads me to my last song:
"Head," Prince. This song's so nasty, Prince won't even sing it in concert anymore. Definitely not for the under-35 crowd. But perhaps I'm being naive in the post-Monica Lewinsky era. If you get past the lyrics, the fact that he plays all the instruments and that the synthesizer, not any real bass, carries the bass line, is worthy of reluctant admiration.
Happy No Music Day, everyone. Now, where's my IPod? (Just kidding)
And Happy Thanksgiving. This Black Woman is taking the rest of the week off. :-)
PS And how could I forget? "It Takes Two," Rob Base and D.J. E-Z Rock. When this song comes on, I get like Randy from the sitcom, "My Name is Earl": Oh no they didn't!!!!