The Playlist of My Life

While hanging out on YouTube yesterday (jeez, can you imagine that’s even a thing?), I came across a series of short videos produced by Teen Vogue where they ask various famous folk to create a playlist of their lives. It was very interesting. I found myself doing thinking, “Hmmm….what songs would go on my playlist?”

Well I’ve had some time to sleep on it…and here’s my list:

Truth Hurts by Lizzo

Prior to yesterday….I had never even heard of Lizzo, much less this song. But she kept coming up as a favorite artist on the Skimmbassador FB group. So I did a search…and struck gold! To be fair, I was in love when I read in her profile that she majored in flute performance. But besides that, I can instantly relate to her attitude of, “You know what? This is me. I’m overweight, I ‘talk proper’, I love being Black but I don’t need anyone else to define what that means.”

Lizzo has several really catchy songs out right now as singles from her first mainstream release Cuz I Love You; but for right now, Truth Hurts is the one that is really speaking to me. The scenario that she presents in the song is different then the situation that ended my last relationship. However the overall premise is the same…which is: ‘Hey, you had me; and you didn’t appreciate me. I know my worth, so I’m keeping it moving. Have a nice life!’

Three Little Birds by Bob Marley & The Wailers

Growing up in a small Pennsylvania town with a Jamaican father was an experience that had a ton to do with my overall worldview. Many of my neighbors felt like it was a big deal to even leave the state…so to try to get them to grasp the culture and lifestyle differences of immigrants was an almost impossible task. In my day to day life in the 1980s, I fielded quite a few ignorant questions regarding my family (i.e., “Did you family leave Jamaica because they were starving?”).

And since it was the 1980s, Jamaica really did not have a lot of exposure globally….except for one, very big exception: and that was Bob Marley. Bob Marley’s very last live performance was in Pittsburgh in fact (and yes, my Dad was there). And in a strange demonstration in how sociology works, being fans of Bob Marley connected us more to White Pittsburgh urbanites (‘hipsters’ wasn’t a term then) more so then the Black folks in the steel mill town that I grew up in.

It’s tough to pick just one Bob Marley song for this list, so I picked Three Little Birds…simply because its simple lyric and melody was probably the first one that stuck with me as a child πŸ™‚ .

Bob Marley = love

Unity by Operation Ivy

One of my friends that I met back during the 3rd wave ska craze had a tattoo of Operation Ivy’s (absolutely amazing) Energy album. Back then, I did not know that they were awesome though. I was just amazed that someone would like a defunct, non-successful group so much, as to get their tattoo (again, I was younger and dumber…).

So I picked up their CD. At the time I had one of those 6-CD carousel changer things in the trunk of my car. And let me tell you, Operation Ivy was one of the CDs that was always in there. For me, Operation Ivy’s music is ska-punk perfected. It’s not corny….their songs are straight and to the point…they can incorporate in and ride a reggae/ska beat without it sounding corny. Just pure perfection.

I love the entire album….but Unity is one of my favorite songs. One of them…. πŸ˜‰

I’m Sorry by Gloria Lynne

In my home, probably like most homes in the 70s and 80s, there was a record player in the living room (that was just referred to as ‘the stereo’). And then under that in a cabinet, there was a smattering of records. For the life of me, I never remember anyone from my family whipping out one of those records and playing it in the living room. Now I always had my own record player (for years, it was the Fischer Price one) and eventually the living room record player went away, and the record player in my room was upgraded. The records from the living room were relocated to my room.

My great-uncle sold records, so I some point I dusted off these old ones and started to play them…with the plan that I would sell any that I didn’t care for. In that pile was Gloria Lynne’s Funny Valentine album. In all honesty, I knew I would be stuck with it because in was in a generic paper sleeve. But with no album art and no clue even as to who ‘Gloria Lynne’ even was, it really made the music stand on its own.

I’ll be the first to admit that in general, jazz is not my thing. But the simple, plaintive, no-frills singing of Ms. Lynne is just simply lovely. I’m Sorry is just one of those songs that you feel that you could sing…after a lonely night with a few drinks in you….and an accommodating pianist that would like to indulge you after they made the last call.

Pay to Cum by Bad Brains

Here’s another one a friend of mine was all gung ho in his support of a band (this time with a bright yellow t-shirt) that I had never heard of. I foolishly admitted this and had a series of collective balking done at me at the bar. Fine. So I went out and brought Bad Brain’s Banned in D.C. album from Virgin Megastore (hahaha…wow, do I miss that place!).

Now that I know who they are…I understand the balking. Black rastafarian’s in DC. who were pretty much to hardcore what Operation Ivy was to punk. Just like with jazz, I’m not big into hardcore…but I love Bad Brains….no hesitation about that!

Oh Maker by Janelle Monae

I knew from that jump that I would have a Janelle Monae song on this list. But it was hard (oh so hard) to pick just one! I really think that she is one of the most talented artists in music today. I purchased the Archandroid in either late 2010 or early 2011. This was during a time where I was really funneling most of my music purchasing dollars into vintage vinyl and Northern Soul. So for a new release to make it to my radar…was pretty remarkable.

The Archandroid album reminded me of those theme albums from the 70s…when recording artists would create an album to stand in its entirety. There was a story/theme behind it; with fantastical artwork in the album sleeve that made it all come together in some sort of sonic short story. This was obviously what Ms. Monae was going for. I also loved how eclectic the music was; and if there would be one track that captured this the best, hands down, for me, it is Oh Maker. This song sounds like a duet….with Janelle going back and forth between two distinct singing styles, mimicking a conversation. The result is something that would not sound out of place in a Broadway production. Exhibit ‘A’ that shows that Ms. Monae’s ultimate aspirations are to be much, much more then just a pop music star.

Karma Chameleon by Culture Club

They older I get, and especially with the lost of my Grandfather two years ago, I realize that I had a really fantastic childhood. I say this in spite of being born to a teenage mother into a low-income household where my Grandparents stepped in and raised me. In the end, my Grandparents dedicated themselves 100% to raising me. Only now that I have children of my own can I even begin to comprehend how awesome this was and how blessed I was to have been on the receiving end of it.

Even so, my Grandparents were still late to the game in many things…including cable TV. My mother had cable in her room for a year or so (that I remember) until she moved out. So even though MTV was a thing….I did not see much of it. But there were two music videos that I remember…and I have no idea how I would have seen them. They were Billie Jean by Michael Jackson and Karma Chameleon by Culture Club.

Now it may seem sacreligious to pick out Culture Club over MJ….but let me explain. Without a doubt, everyone loved Michael Jackson during the Thriller years…..including my mother. The cult of Michael was everywhere. It was just a given. Don’t get me wrong…I was not immune to that. But there was something that I really liked about Boy George. In complete honesty….as a child, I thought that Boy George was a gorgeous female. His makeup and hair and dancing just led me to think that! His colorful clothes…his multicultural band…and the familiar reggae inspired beat. It just made me happy. So when I think of the good days…of being a kid and being surrounded by love and good times, Culture Club just fits the bill more so then MJ does.

Wild Goose Chase by Steel Pulse

When I was growing up, my Dad had this thing for making reggae mix tapes. He passed so many of these on to me and through the years I’ve lost just about all of them bit by bit. Makes me sick at the thought really. But anyway…one group that almost always made it onto these mixes was Steel Pulse. And they were a good choice. Many of these mix tapes were going to Americans who had a narrow tolerance for music outside of what you heard on the radio (due to this…there were also quite a few Maxi Priest songs on these tapes as well…but for me, Maxi Priest is just a little too watered down poppy for my tastes πŸ˜‰ ).

It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered that Steel Pulse were not even Jamaican….they were British. They are also one of the few roots reggae bands that I saw live. I was working as a waitress at Chi-Chi’s mexican restaurant (yes…the place that made people sick with e-coli) and there was a cook there who used to belt out Steel Pulse songs from back in the kitchen. And yes, you could hear him the dining room! At the time, my great-aunt worked security at I.C. Light Amphitheatre, and got me the hook up on several free tickets to see Aaron Neville — with Steel Pulse as the opening band! So me and several other Chi-Chi friends (including the cook…of course, shame I don’t have pictures of this!) go to this concert.

Steel Pulse was amazing….but 99% of the Aaron Neville crowd wasn’t feeling them. So there were about 20 of us going nuts in the front….with a sea of 50-60 year olds camped out on lawn chairs behind us….just barely tolerating the dreadlocked band jumping around on the stage in front of them.

Ah…good times!

Lost in Emotion by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam

For many years freestyle was my guilty pleasure. While I first heard Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam’s Head to Toe while living in Western Pennsylvania, it wasn’t until I moved to the other side of the state, in Allentown, PA, that all of my Puerto Rican friends really got me into the genre. In the summer of ’87, I was back visiting my Dad in Pittsburgh…and he gave me some cash to spend in a record store. I purchased two albums that day…the first records that I ever selected and purchased myself. They were the Dirty Dancing soundtrack and Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s Spanish Fly album. Needless to say I played the heck out of these records…for longer then I feel comfortable admitting on here πŸ˜‰

There’s quite a few good tracks on Spanish Fly, but I picked Lost in Emotion because that was the video that I remember having heavy rotation on know…back when MTV actually played music videos?

Spiderwebs by No Doubt

Oh boy I struggled with this….but I had to include this song! When I was a junior in HS (so what, ’95-’96) there was a group of kids that were really into the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. So I heard around the light pole that they were a ‘ska’ band and I knew that ska was Jamaican so I tried to get into them too. Nope. I just wasn’t impressed. Now I was impressed by 311…with their reggae-rock infusion; and then later on Sublime — who I really liked; but the subject matter of their songs was just a bit to heavy and dark for me at that time (I would dig them more in my college years…when I had some more substance abuse experience under my belt)! So another HS friend of mine suggested No Doubt…prefacing it with “oh they are a ska band”. I was like, Oh no….been there, done that! She said, “No, give them a try, I think you’ll like them”. So I did…went out and brought their Tragic Kingdom CD…in spite of only being slightly impressed by their “I’m Just a Girl” single…which was being played on the radio at the time.

Turns out I really dug the album….more so then any other ‘pop’ album I had on rotation at the time. When they went on tour and they came to Pittsburgh, I signed up to go with some friends from my old school (Clairton) in spite of the fact that I would be missing the symphonic band concert date that I was playing in at my new school (McKeesport). Not only was it my first, big name concert…but it was also my first time playing hookie from a school event.

I felt guilty….but I also had the time of my life!

Not my pic – but from that same timeframe

After the concert, the experience sort of elevated No Doubt to a new level in my record collection. I went on to buy almost every subsequent album as well….except for that Return of Saturn shite.

Spiderwebs gets my pick because in my opinion, it personifies No Doubt/Gwen Stefani from this era perfectly.

So that’s my list! You can listen to all of these songs on Spotify if you wish. Thanks for reading! πŸ™‚