Let’s take a journey through some of the funky sounds of the 60s and 70s. The dynamism of African American politics, the consciousness shaped by the Black Freedom Struggle and a heightened awareness of the injustices the movement targeted, all fed an equally dynamic culture.
Let’s visit some expansive jams that captured the times, and served as the roots for so many more times to come.
5. “Darkest Light” by Lafayette Afro Rock Band (1975)
They were from Long Island but they came together as a band in France. This song is from their third album, 1975’s Malik, and features saxophonist Leon Gomez. It’s a famously and frequently sampled piece of music, ranging from Public Enemy to Jay-Z.
4. “Apache” by The Incredible Bongo Band (1974)
This is a cover, but it’s really so much more than the original. The band is a makeshift rhythm band put together to score a B-movie in the 70s. What they produce here has been called the national anthem of hip hop.
3. “Let A Woman Be A Woman – Let A Man Be A Man” by Dyke and the Blazers (1969)
A short-lived band that ended with the 1971 murder of founder and leader Arlester Christian.
2. “Rock Steady” by Aretha Franklin (1971)
From one of my favorite albums by the First Lady of Soul (Young, Gifted and Black), this is a funk masterpiece. While I’m only projecting (since I wasn’t born until the year after), I’ve always felt like it was one of those songs that captured the feeling of the times.
1. “Funky Drummer” by James Brown (1970)
It don’t get much more funky than this, James Brown directing the great Clyde Stubblefield on the drums as he produces a back beat that is the groove of so much later hip hop.
The kids and I were on our way to school this week when we heard “Land of a Thousand Dances” by Wilson Pickett. It’s a great song and an even better performance by the music legend. It reminds me of one of my favorite live performances, which is from the legendary film Soul to Soul, a documentary capturing Pickett and others playing in Accra, Ghana in 1971.
I immediately described it to the kiddos. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure. In it, Pickett preaches the power of soul and R&B to a receptive crowd of Ghanaian youth:
That simple two-letter utterance, sung again and again, is the inspiration for this week’s five songs. It’s a hard list to make. There are a lot of songs spanning the decades that have used a refrain of “na na na na.” So here it goes…
5. “I’ll Be Your Shelter” by Taylor Dayne (1989)
This is probably the least known song of my selected bunch, but it’s one that stands out for me in the “na na” category. Close to thirty years ago, I was driving back from the beach with my good friend Patrick when this song came on the radio. I remember him liking it so much because of the catchy use of the refrain; I also remember we talked about other songs that used it. It’s only right that it be on the list. While it’s a forgotten song by an artist that only had a few hits, and while it’s massively late-80s-pop sounding (which is not a good thing), it’s got a lot going for it, not the least of which is the talented Dayne at the helm.
4. “All the Small Things” by blink 182 (1999)
I remember blink 182’s ascendency in the late 90s. They felt and sounded like a watered down version of Green Day, almost like they were manufactured for the times. They were a solid MTV favorite that year, one I didn’t think much of until I saw the below video for this song (funny, especially since they’re mocking the boys band MT culture when they were courting the rock end of that same pop spectrum) and until the song started playing everywhere. It was catchy, I’ll give them that.
3. “Hey Jude” by the Beatles (1968)
This is the most famous “na na na na” song. I remember playing my parent’s copy of the album of singles by The Beatles, which is the only record we had with it. I was a sophomore or junior in high school at the time and I just played this song over and over, even counting the number of “na na na” refrains they used (I think it was 27). Here’s the version from the song’s premiere, on David Frost’s “Frost on Saturday.” The vocals are live but the band is playing to previously recorded music.
2. Gettin’ Jiggy wit it” by Will Smith (1997) Big Willie Style was Will Smith’s first solo album, and his first recordings after he became a major movie star. He hit it big with the album, mostly on the tails of this 1998 hit. It made the word “jiggy” part of the mainstream, too, although I’m not sure most people knew how to use the word.
1. “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam (1969)
This has to be on the top of the heap because it has the key words in its title! So synonymous with the “na na” refrain, it’s often called the “Na Na Song.” It’s also the tune crowds will sing when somebody we don’t like is being kicked off the stage, the field, or some other venue. It’s a pop culture classic, and a pretty good tune, too. It’s also a throw together song of previously recorded tracks and filler lyrics, a classic unintentional number 1 song.
I was listening to some Townes Van Zandt this week, which usually leads to listening to Steve Earle. As I did, I discovered Earle’s most recent album, So You Wannabe An Outlaw, released last summer. I fell in love with a couple of the songs and thought he deserved a little spotlight here.
5. “Copperhead Road” (1988)
His most well-known song, so to speak, this single was the title track off his third album, a critically-acclaimed fusion of rock and bluegrass.
4. “The Devil’s Right Hand” (1988)
My favorite song off Copperhead Road, and the first song I ever heard by Steve Earle. The version below is a touch different than the album version, but it really captures the Van Zandt influence in him.
3. “Sometime She Forgets” (1995)
Earle is a drug addict, and this song is from his first album after getting clean, Train A Commin’. It’s folk, bluegrass, country goodness, made all the better by the inclusion of Emmylou Harris and a few other folks who joined him for the album.
2. “This City” (2011)
Earle played a role in David Simon’s short-lived HBO series Tremé. This song closed out the first season. Earle tells the story a bit in the below performance.
1. “Goodbye Michaelangelo” (2017)
This is the song I couldn’t get enough of this week. It’s from the album So You Wannabe An Outlaw, which is billed to Steve Earle & the Dukes. The album harkens back to the Highwaymen and the kind of post-60s music made by Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and others. This song is beautifully recorded on a 1939 Martin D-28 guitar, something Earle explains in this other video.