Wasted Time – Eagles (1976)
Another beautiful ballad from the soft rock era, Wasted Time is nothing short of song writing genius. It’s a classic piano led instrumental, with a scarce bass that chimes in when it needs to over some soft guitar riffs, but its gorgeous. What really steals the show for me is Henley & Frey’s writing. It’s a breakup song, which immediately brings an arsenal of connotations and clichés to mind, but it’s approached in such a way that it transcends stereotypes and enters a realm of writing that’s wholeheartedly human. The narrative follows the fall out of a long-term relationship collapsing, leaving this girl with nothing but a wrenching feeling of futility – a sickening realisation of the “wasted time” that has opened up beneath her. The first section of the song is so dedicated to the mentality of this broken girl that the listener is overwhelmed with a sense of isolation. She’s engulfed in a loneliness she never thought she would confront again, and although the “autumn leaves” are now falling, she lies suspended in a world with no motive or progression. It’s a gut wrenching and poignant song that touches on so much more than lost love, but also covers the fragility of time and the value of purpose through the eyes of a girl who simply “loved the boy too well”.
Sky’s The Limit – The Notorious B.I.G (1997)
There’s a reason everyone can’t shut up about Biggie and how great he was, because there really is no limit to the level someone can go to explain how amazing he was at his craft. There is not a single rapper on the face of this earth that had Biggies flow. He was a prolific lyricist, one of the best storytellers there is, but he is THE king of flows. It’s a pleasure sonically just to hear him effortlessly float over beats, finding pockets where no one else would have ever thought to look, and he does it without sounding like he’s put any thought into it. Its remarkable. Naturally, this made choosing hard. But “Sky’s The Limit” has always been my favourite Biggie track. First off, the production is exquisite. “Life After Death” gets some flack for being a lot more polished than its predecessor, but polish when it’s done right results songs like this which are up there with anything off “Ready To Die”. The production on this song is fantastic. A perfect blend of nocturnal ambiance, glossy jazz guitar slides and bass filled percussion is pulled off, setting the stage (literally) for Biggie to lay down three reflective verses about his rags to riches story, and to highlight the alarmingly infectious nature of drug dealing at a young age to survive.
Big K.R.I.T – Big K.R.I.T (2017)
I cannot stress how much I love this album. Best album of 2017. Sorry “DAMN”. Sorry “4:44”. But it’s just true. It truly baffles me how few people know about this album, it’s a near perfect project, and it’s a double album which in Hip Hop is like every artists Mount Everest: most people fail to crack it. I picked this song and almost surprised myself because its an incredibly short intro song, but it’s the one that I never ever tire of. When it comes on you have some submerged jazz / soul vocals weaving in and out of the mix, then it becomes clear she’s saying “forever”. It already feels dramatic, like the curtains opening on a magnus opus. Then KRIT comes in with a spoken word poem of sorts, which isn’t rare for a hip-hop intro, but this feel’s different. The production seems to be building towards something. There’s an anticipation to the track which is gripping, and then before you have time to comprehend what he’s just said the semi aquatic production crashes into the foreground in a storm of southern fried drums. KRIT absolutely demolishes his verse, addressing his underrated label by claiming his country roots hold him back from a certain level of accessibility. But as always with KRIT, its as lyrically impressive as it is interesting; he always maintains a level of substance to his writing which makes him a joy to listen to. He also produces the album…
In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins (1981)
Let’s face it there is nothing I can tell you about this track that you haven’t already experienced for yourself. If you have read the title and haven’t immediately cast your mind back to a time when your arm nearly detached itself from your body in an effort to nail the air drum solo, please immediately go and listen to this song. This song is the perfect depiction of anger. It’s the brewing of a storm in a cold, soulless wasteland of a relationship, as Collin’s uses the lyrics to confront his cheating wife. It’s a perfect juxtaposition, as the song has a snapping point that I always thought cleverly reflects that of a dying relationship. The slow, lifeless first half of the song is Collin’s walking his way through the pitfalls of their relationship, detailing and exposing her extramarital activities. Its bitter and cold. Yet the iconic drum breakdown brings an irate passion to the track that was previously void as he indulges himself in his own anger. The drum breakdowns almost act as machine gun fire as Collin’s vocals become more aggressive and stretched, spiralling into nearly uncontrollable pain and fury. The song has also proved massively influential, as he found a way to produce his drums so that they were as loud in the mix as possible, but they still maintained their dull lifeless quality. Kanye West would later use this song as a point of reference for his album “808’s & Heartbreak”.
93’ Til Infinity – Souls Of Mischief (1993)
It’s really hard to talk about why I adore this song, I just do. There’s no real reason, it’s just a great song. I love the spacey-ness of the backing instrumental. I love the drum line. I love the sense that the Souls Of Mischief are just passing the mic around the studio and rhyming for each other, plus it helps that the verses are iconic. I love the, what sounds like, chiming of a triangle or bell that runs over the instrumental as the hook plays. And finally, I love the hook. This song did for me something very difficult and captured its own unique vibe. No other song can give me the feeling this song does. It’s a chilled out hip-hop song, but the verses still have a sense of urgency and the drums still run like they have somewhere to go. Again, I struggle to put it into words, but they captured a moment with this song, and I can’t get enough of it. It’s a slice of early 90’s jazz rap. Iconic.
Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody (2017)
The most common thing you will hear about Rapsody is “wow she’s one of the best female rappers”, no, bollocks, she’s one of the best rappers at the moment, period. She can go, and has gone, bar for bar with Kendrick and come out with her pride intact and that’s a serious feat. A prodigy of the soul producer 9th Wonder, Rapsody is one of my favourite rappers in the running at the moment. She has such an endearing quality to her music that finds the perfect balance between vulnerability and confidence, aggression and introspection. She spits her heart out for this whole album and it’s just a treat to listen to her. I was worried that being a female rapper there would be a level of relatability missing from her music, but there isn’t, it so refreshing to her different approach and perspective on certain issues that she raises. This intro track however does owe a lot to 9th Wonder. His production on this track is nothing short of biblical. He takes Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam” approach and runs with it. The gospel sample that kicks in behind some exquisite pianos, is hair raising to say the least. Then the piano loop (that feels so alive) falls into place as Raspsody begins her motivational first verse, whilst the chills grow at an alarming rate. At this point you have already fallen for the song, and then the drums hit, and the track just bursts open and your head decides it’s about to exercise itself heavily in the nodding department. To add to the euphoria that’s been mainlined into your entire body, Rapsody lyrical performance is Oscar worthy, as she finally reaches a level of self-assurance and confidence that she can win in an industry that’s still so male dominated. She knows no one is rapping on her level, and you can hear the pure joy in her voice as she revels in her phenomenal talent.
Nights – Frank Ocean (2016)
The stigma around the word overrated is really irritating. I think people seem to forget it’s a relative term, and not a synonym for “bad” or “I don’t like”. I have nearly been eaten alive for saying Frank Ocean is overrated, and I still stand by that. He’s an amazing artist with talent by the bucket load, and we need more artists like him that take time with their music. But people act like he’s the second coming of Christ, and that he’s doing something no one has ever done before. I take slight issue with the Frank Ocean bug that swept around the world depicting him as some sort of musical messiah, but there we go, he made the list, and comfortably. This song is perfect. It’s not a controversial opinion, but there is no debate for me that this is easily the best song off Blonde. My Frank Ocean favourite switched so many times between this and “Pink Matter” it’s not even true, but I went with this one in the end as to me its replay value is slightly higher. It’s the perfect late night driving tune. The production is so weird and hard to pin down. The electric guitar layering and mastering gives the song an icy feeling, like a cold night, but then the bass kicks that come in add a cushion of warmth, a blanket to protect you from the elements. Frank’s vocal performance is of course flawless (no irritating and unnecessary voice distortions…”Nikes”..), and he adopts a really endearing flow. The song transitions for the first time into a heavier instrumental build around what sounds like static. Its nice but I do prefer the first instrumental. Then the song completely u-turns (at the exact halfway point of the album) into a stunningly pretty and quiet landscape of piano light piano chords, whispers, and hi hats. It’s a rollercoaster of a song, that’s seamless evolution is a pleasure to behold.
The Journey – Tom Misch (2015)
For a few years in the middle of my teens Tom Misch was an absolute hero of mine, and the Beat Tape 2 was basically all I listened to. His approach was the perfect blend for me. It was Dilla inspired hip hop beats that were simple and soulful, that then created a canvas for him to bless with his incredible jazz guitar performances. I turned a little bit away from him as he ventured into a slightly more accessible disco inspired sound with Geography, but “The Journey” is still the blueprint of what makes Tom Misch so amazing to me. It’s simple, but that’s the brilliance of the song. You almost hear him craft the song. First the solemn violin strings croon in, with the light tapping of a high-hat. Next the drums are allowed to break free into their hypnotic loops, and seconds later the violins cease to be and his beloved jazz guitar takes centre stage. They start almost cautiously with a simple call and response riff, and then the violins are invited back into the mix with an added sense of purpose. In come the keyboard / triangle bells kissing the top of the heaviness that lies below. But the section of the track that gets me every single time, is when the relatively tame and structured guitar riff quits its loop to begin building with anticipation with the drums following suit. It eventually culminates in guitar liberation, with the solo sounding as though it’s been caged up and suppressed it’s whole life, and we are witnessing it finally breaking free in a whirlwind of flourishment and character. Its unadulterated fulfilment.
Bad – U2 (1984)
Ok look can we please all forget that U2 forced us to have their album with apple music all those years ago. Can we also please forget that increasingly Bono has more in common with David Brent and his white linen shirt than he does a musician. Because, back in the day, U2 were really good. This album was their first collaboration with legendary producer Brian Eno, who was fresh off his Bowie album run that raised his reputation massively. “Bad” is a song Bono penned to a friend that was battling with drug addiction, and the lyrics at their best are truly moving. Say what you like about Bono, but when he wants to be he’s an excellent songwriter. The song approaches it’s protagonist as a character shrouded in darkness, a soul lost a sea without a lighthouse in sight. Although the narrator expresses his desire to help, there’s a sense of helplessness to his words. He’s out of control, watching his friend become consumed as he gazes on behind a glass window. The gentle instrumental builds it’s atmosphere in tandem with Bono’s vocal conviction, eventually hitting its electrifying peak as Bono’s vocals turn into shrieks, with the track closing out to the words “I’m wide awake, I’m not sleeping”. I grew up on U2 thanks to my mum, so I will always have a soft spot and a tolerance to their music that some don’t, but to deny the emotion and humanity of this song is to be petty beyond belief.
Make My – The Roots (2011)
The Roots are a collective whose creations are blessings to the music industry. Their unique claim to hip hop is they’re the only “Hip Hop Band”. Meaning they use live instrumentation, taking inspiration mainly from jazz, but their sound is firmly embedded in Hip Hop. The heart of the group are legendary drummer Questlove (whose reach extends beyond Hip Hop to Solange, D’Angelo and Al Green just to name a few) and prolific emcee Black Thought. Their 2011 album Undun explores the mindset of a young street hustler from the moment he dies, to the moment he is born, with this song being his reflection on his path in life as he lies on his death bed. Rather than being a preachy anthem on why “people should never fall into this world of crime”, they make a serious attempt to humanise the “criminals” that poverty creates. This song, with help from Big K.R.I.T, sees the protagonist in a state of reflection on his decisions, with the root cause being he wanted to chase the things in life that “weren’t for me”. He was born in a world where his environment refuses him the luxuries that others take for granted, and in order to chase that, he has to take the ultimate risk. The hook is devastating as he talks about how the ends don’t justify the means, but all he wanted was to fulfil his childhood dreams. Black Thought delivers a gut-wrenching verse depicting him “trying to control the fits of panic” as he feels “the pull of the blank canvas” begin to engulf him as he searches desperately for a stairway to heaven. To those of you who don’t listen to hip hop or refuse to regard it as anything more than surface level entertainment, listen to this song and tell me this isn’t poetic. Of course, the instrumental is heavenly, and takes the reins at the halfway point of the track as The Roots let their instrumentation talk on behalf of their departing character.