Musings from the basement...

28 Songs that Changed My Life: Aretha Franklin, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (10 of 28)

Penned by the incredible Carole King and her husband, Gerry Goffin, this is one of those old classics that I’d have scoffed at in my youth. Too much shmaltz, too much romance, too much like the music my mother liked. I wanted something edgy and challenging, right? But a funny thing happened on the way to adulthood: One day I found a cassette of Aretha Franklin’s greatest hits. I have no recollection of where it came from or where I got it, but in a fit of boredom and curiosity, I gave it a spin and decided to pretend I was into it. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: That voice. That voice. WOW. How had I not sat up and paid…
Read more

28 Songs that Changed My Life: Miles Davis, “So What” (9 of 28)

It would be hard to overstate the impact Miles Davis has had on me, my taste in music, and how I approach music in general. His relentless experimentation, his drive to forge his own path, and the plain ol’ fact that his work is FANTASTIC have ingrained themselves into my life in a deep way. It all started with “So What,” the opening track from his legendary Kind of Blue record, arguably the greatest jazz record of all time. When someone wants to get into instrumental jazz, I always recommend they start here. Listen for the aspects you like — the tinkling piano, the roaring sax solos, the meandering pace — then go check out the artists responsible for those elements (Bill Evans, John Coltrane,…
Read more

28 Songs that Changed My Life: U.T.F.O., “Roxanne, Roxanne” (8 of 28)

Is this one of the great songs in hip hop history? Absolutely not. I can’t lie: it hasn’t aged well. It’s pretty dated. But it legit changed my life. U.T.F.O.’s “Roxanne Roxanne” is probably my earliest rap memory, a song that took over the playground of my small New Jersey town, passed around on mix tapes recorded from the radio and memorized by half the school. There are still lyrics I quote to this day (including for some damn reason, “dermatology is treatment of the skin”). It also sparked the so-called “Roxanne Wars,” a series of songs hitting back and forth at one another that played out as an ongoing story between rival rappers. As a kid, I was mesmerized. This was right out of…
Read more

28 Songs that Changed My Life: Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit” (7 of 28)

When I first started exploring jazz in the late 1990s, vocal jazz wasn’t tops on my list. I preferred (and still prefer) the instrumental stuff from the late 1940s through the late 1960s. However, I still made it a point to listen to the major names of the genre when it came to vocal jazz, too, because if I was self-educating, I wanted to take it all in. Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and many others helped me zero in on the aspects of vocal jazz I liked. Then there was Billie Holiday. Her haunting voice was already familiar to me, in no small part because it’s been imitated so many times. It was … different. Otherworldly. There was little joy…
Read more

28 Songs that Changed My Life: De La Soul, “The Magic Number” (6 of 28)

Hip hop entered my life at a fairly early age, making its way to the New Jersey sticks by way of transplants from New York City. Early cuts like “Roxanne Roxanne,” “Rock Box” and others were elementary school playground jams that stick with me to this day. But let’s be honest: The early years of rap were pretty samey. Awesome, yes, but not particularly varied in sound, approach, or lyrics. There was a formula and most acts stuck with it. Then in 1989, De La Soul dropped Three Feet High and Rising, and everything changed for me. Hip Hop could be light-hearted, joyful, romantic and fun? Who knew!? They sampled ’60s hippy jams and music for the Woodstock generation. They rapped about awkwardly talking up…
Read more