First, I just wanna say if you’re as far from religious or spiritual as can be imagined, there is still something here for you if you enjoy '70s soul music. Musically, in that genre, this is as good as it gets and if you don’t listen to the words, there are still eons of things to make your time spent rewarding, especially the playing and singing. But, there’s always a chance you’ll feel something you never felt before. If you don’t, you can still get something from this column this week.
When I was in seventh grade, they started busing us to another middle school in Queens, NY. This was a shadier 'hood than I was used to living in, and I found the whole thing fascinating. My 'hood was Italian and Jewish. Now I was meeting Latinos and African-Americans and exchanging musical favorites with them. This is how I first heard Black Baptist gospel music. It changed my life. In another column I will cover the original music I heard. It was a combo of doo-wop and blues with non-secular lyrics. It was amazing. This was 1957.
That music lasted until about the early 1970s when an incredible musician decided to join lyrical praises to God with contemporary soul music. He changed gospel music forever. His name is Andrae Crouch and he became a major influence on me musically AND lyrically. I am not a religious person but I am a spiritual one. I believe in God and that is enough for me to keep going. The amazing thing about this music and the gospel music before it is this: the singers are not singing songs to make money. They are singing their praises from their hearts and souls, and that makes their vocals far superior to pop and soul records.
The human voice is my favorite instrument to listen to — and this is some of the finest singing on Earth. Andrae Crouch is the gospel equivalent of Burt Bacharach, Thom Bell, Berry Gordy, and Booker T. all wrapped up into one complex, joyous person. This column and its accompanying music will show you why.
Below is a jukebox containing all the songs I picked this week. After you read about them below, go back and listen to whatever you like by just clicking on that title in the jukebox, or stream the whole playlist by clicking on the "play" icon at the top. It's free and it's the entire song. We're not selling anything. We're just in the business of hopefully making your days better by listening to great music.
1. "Perfect Peace" — Andrae Crouch (3:27)
This was the first track I ever heard by Andrae. It was at the height of Earth Wind & Fire’s popularity and it borrowed judiciously from their groove and instrumentation, but took another step forward musically and spiritually. In one listen I became a rabid fan and began to assemble an Andrae Crouch record collection. Andrae writes and arranges the songs, sings the male lead vocals, and plays brilliant piano.
2. "Nobody Else Like You" — Andrae Crouch (3:38)
This is a slower tempo and a few years ahead of the previous track. By now he had perfected his way of recording background vocals that was as trend-setting as what Brian Wilson was doing in the '60s. Dumb me still hasn’t figured out how to do it Andrae’s way, but Lord knows I keep trying. Then he calls on jazz pianist Joe Sample from the Crusaders to play the closing solo. He could’ve done it himself, easily, but he’s a generous man and Joe is a shifty player and does a great job. This is a great composition and extremely well-recorded.
3. "Waiting for the Sun" — Andrae Crouch (2:43)
From Freddie Washington’s amazing bass playing right at the top, this is another ear-catcher. I also like the duplicity of the lyric, i.e. waiting for the SON. Very clever. To put a gospel choir in an R&B track that praises God at times goes to the limit of what you can do to get your point across. That’s why I love these recordings — Andrae will do things never done before to get your attention and get his point across.
4. "Love Somebody Like You" — Andrae Crouch (2:47)
On an R&B funk track, I never heard anyone play a major third as the solo note on a rhythm guitar track—it’s just...very white—until NOW. This is very Sly Stone but Sly would never have played a major third and for some strange reason it totally works because it’s never been done before. In the chorus he suspends the melody between two different keys just to mess you up a little more after the major third. I'm sorry. I’m just talking to musicians here. For everyone else out there, this a track everyone can enjoy for various reasons. It’s in my top three of Andrae’s work.
5. "Lookin' Out for Me" (Live) — Kirk Franklin (3:17)
By the '90s the second generation Andraes were in place and trying to push the boundaries as hard as Andrae did. Kirk Franklin is the foremost exponent of Andrae’s work, and has taken his place in person and on the charts. Hopefully by now you can hear where Kirk got it all from.
6. "I Heard the Voice of Jesus" — Turley Richards (3:35)
I have used this in a previous column but it fits perfectly in this one except for one surprising conundrum. Turley Richards is a white person. This track was originally recorded with him playing just acoustic guitar and singing live. Then the producer got an entire orchestra and overdubbed it on top of this amazing performance and destroyed the intimacy of it. However, the vocal performance remains and there are sections where Mr. Richards sings four notes at one time and other sections where he sings higher pitches than most women do. This is somethin’ but you need some patience in the beginning. Your patience will surely be rewarded as you sit there dumbfounded by his last sung note. By the way, Turley is also blind, but that doesn’t stop him from sending me emails every now and then.
7. "Get Your Lives Together" — Rance Allen (2:46)
Rance first appeared on a subsidiary label of Stax/Volt called Gospel Truth Records. He made about four albums for them in the '70s and anthologies followed in the '80s. He’s still recording and appears on Andrae’s latest album. He’s another terrifying singer and sings here with his two brothers to a track with Motown sidemen and arranger as Rance was from Detroit. This was an ear-opener for me on first listen and I think you’ll be amazed at his appearance and performance in the bonus Andrae documentary enclosed (you can view it at the end of the column). Below is a photo of Rance flanked by his brothers, who often perform with him live and on record.
8. "Living in My Own Religion" — Al Kooper (4:48)
My biggest fear in various nightmares is having to follow anybody in this playlist live so this is the next worst thing. I included this because it’s heavily influenced by Andrae. I recorded this at home in the '90s and lyrically this was one of the most difficult lyrics I ever had to write. I was trying to explain my spirituality in song and that was no mean feat. I hope this gets across to you. I played all the instruments and had Bill Lloyd, John Cowan, and The Britt Sisters of Gnashville sing the background vocals for me. Because of the lyric I think I sang a wee bit better than I normally can. Had a little help, y’all...
9. "I Can't Hold It" (live excerpt) — Byron Cage (3:18)
I have also used this in a previous column but the same blah-blah that I said for Turley’s track. This backing band is FEARLESS. They tear this beat up in all directions and sideways and upside down. The piano solos are my favorites, of course. By the way, I would rather see this stuff live than rap, hip hop, classic rock, etc. As I said before, these people really mean what they’re doing night after night. I defy you to keep all parts of your body still while listening to this!
10. "Start All Over Again" — Andrae Crouch (3:52)
Leave it to Andrae to have the perfect closer for this collection. A lugubrious lyrical listening lesson. What sayest thou? I say ... AMEN!