Tuesday, 18 November 2014

My Top Ten Ghetto Songs

I've been listening to loads of old soul music lately, from the 60s (the obvious culprits: Motown, Atlantic) to the 70s (Philly, Barry White!) and even the 80s (George Benson). Much of this I remember hearing on the radio in my youth and I find it's good to unwind to at the end of a hectic day / drop off to sleep to. However, even though I have lots of this music in my collection, it often doesn't feature in these lists, probably because the primary subject matter is love and loss... not a lot of soul records about vampires, record companies or... pigeons. 

But here's a Top Ten that ended up pretty soul heavy... which says a lot about the artists in question and the social conditions that shaped them. 

Special mention to Dreamers of the Ghetto... not a soul act, but still pretty soulful.

10. Gil Scott Heron - The Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues 
"I know you think you're cool
Just 'cos they bus your kids to school
But you ain't got a thing to lose
You just got the get out of the ghetto blues..."
9. Jimmy Webb - High Rent Ghetto

Jimmy Webb is God. 

8. Isaac Hayes - Out of the Ghetto

"I took you out of the ghetto - but I could not get that ghetto out of you."

Funkylicious. Gotta love Isaac Hayes.

Also covered by Donald Fagen on his "lost" 2012 album Sunken Condos (I didn't even know it existed till I stumbled across it in the library over the summer). 

7. The Clash featuring Allen Ginsberg - Ghetto Defendant

Possibly the strangest thing The Clash ever recorded, this collaboration with beat poet Allen Ginsberg is a fascinating oddity. Only the Manics would get away with releasing something as politically charged and offbeat as this these days.

6. Donny Hathaway - The Ghetto

Best known (by me, at least) for big soul duet ballads with Roberta Flack, I hadn't heard much else from Hathaway until I came across this 7 minute funky jazz slab from 1970. Laid back and lovely.

5. Al Wilson - Queen Of The Ghetto

A popular songwriting theme - a grown up child looking back on a single mother who turned to prostitution to make ends meet. See also the amazing Son Of Hickory Holler's Tramp by O.C. Smith and What Would You Do? by City High (also covered by Bastille... see, I am down wit da kidz).

4. The Detroit Spinners - Ghetto Child

Known only as The Spinners in the rest of the world, 'Detroit' was added to their UK releases to avoid confusion (and legal wrangles) with the English folk group. This is a song about being ashamed of where you grew up... as are the next two soul classics.

3. Diana Ross & The Supremes - Love Child / I'm Living In Shame

Two songs that are thematically linked - the second was actually written as a sequel to the first. Neither mention the g-word by name, but both fit this list perfectly.

In Love Child, a young woman rejects the advances of a lover for fear of bringing a child into the world she can't afford to bring up. All this because of a deep shame over her own childhood...
I started my life in an old, cold run down tenement slum
My father left, he never even married mom
I shared the guilt my mama knew
So afraid that others knew I had no name
In I'm Living In The Shame, the same woman, now a little older and a mother herself, expresses guilt over the fact that her own mother died without ever knowing her grandchild.
Came a telegram
Mama passed away while making home made jam
Before she died she cried to see me by her side
She always did her best
Ah cooked and cleaned and always in the same old dress
Working hard, down on her knees
Always trying to please
2. Elvis Presley - In The Ghetto

You probably expected this to be Number One, didn't you? It's certainly the most famous Ghetto Song and one of the King's most moving records (shut up, cynics). Elvis always performed In The Ghetto with such conviction... even though he was living about as far from the ghetto as it was possible to get by the time this song was released.

Nick Cave also released a memorable cover of the track as his debut solo single.

1. The Philadelphia International All-Stars - Let's Clean Up The Ghetto

An addictive 8 minutes featuring some of the biggest Philly stars, including Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Archie Bell, The O'Jays... and the mighty, mighty, mighty Lou Rawls. What a voice - nobody does that deep, talky soul like Lou. They don't make charidee singles like this anymore... hell, they don't make soul music this cool anymore either!
I tell you, the garbage in some places
Was stacked up two, three stories high
At night, ha ha, boy, at night it weren't even safe to walk the street
'Cause they caught the rats, the roaches and the water bugs
I mean they were hustlin', baby, tryin' to get somethin' to eat, see?

Which one can't you forghetto?

1 comment:

  1. A bit of a cheat but what about Bjork's There's More to Life Than This for the lyric "I could bring my little ghettoblaster..."


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