Though the Beach Boys recorded and released eight studio albums in the ‘70s, the endless sessions produced few classics. The quality of the music was dragged down by drug use, infighting and Brian Wilson’s crushing mental illness. These days, the albums play more like historical time-pieces than essential listening.
Revisiting TLC’s 1995 smash hit “Waterfalls” is like stepping into a time machine. Once inside you come face to face with many of the societal fears that defined the ‘90s. The song and video address both the drug war and AIDS crisis head on. The lyrics delve into a whirlwind of topics from faith, love, sex and death, all packaged together with a pastoral refrain and a hypnotic R&B slow jam.
For all the talk of how the Internet perpetuates falsehoods, rumors could take on a life of their own long before the advent of the World Wide Web. They could even help define an artist’s career, as was the case of the singer/songwriter known as Rodriguez. He recorded two albums in the early ‘70s that went nowhere commercially in the U.S. However, according to the Oscar-winning 2012 documentary Searching For Sugarman, in the waning years of apartheid South Africa, Rodriguez’s music found new life among young people protesting the government. His popularity was propelled by rumors of his suicide, which in the days before the Internet, were impossible to correct. After he was tracked down by journalists in the ‘90s, Rodriguez toured South Africa and revived his music career.
Curtis Mayfield has adorned the walls of many college dorm rooms, record shops and hipster apartments thanks to his work on the soundtrack to the 1972 blaxploitation film Super Fly. Mayfield’s name and photo appear on the iconic poster just underneath the image of the Youngblood Priest – the dope dealer looking to go straight.
On Christmas Day, Mayfield’s music was heard in a different sort of film. A new cover of the 1963 hit “It’s All Right,” which Mayfield recorded with his group The Impressions, played during the closing credits of the Disney/Pixar film Soul. The film tells the story of Joe Gardner, a middle school band teacher who embarks on a journey through the afterlife after scoring his dream job as a jazz musician. The song was covered by Jon Batiste who is best known as the band leader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
These days George Benson is primarily remembered for his soft-soul hits from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Two of these songs — “Give Me the Night” and “Turn Your Love Around” — have ended up on Yacht Rock playlists in recent years. But there are multiple chapters to Benson’s career. The singer/songwriter and virtuoso guitarist’s debut album came out in early 1964, just a few months after the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. In addition to his many solo records, he has played with the likes of Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.