What I’ve Been Listening to: Joss Stone/Mind, Body & Soul

Joss Stone is only 33 years old, yet already has been active for two decades. In 2001 at the age of 13, the British singer, songwriter and actress auditioned for the BBC Television talent show Star for a Night. Not only did she pass the audition but she went on to win the entire contest.

From there, things moved very quickly. The following year, Stone was signed by S-Curve Records. Her studio debut The Soul Sessions, a covers album of ’60s and ’70s soul songs, was released in September 2003. Mind, Body & Soul is Stone’s sophomore record. She regards it as her actual debut – understandably so, given this was her first record, for which in addition to performing lead vocals she also co-wrote most of the tracks.

Until yesterday when I came across her 2005 Grammy Awards Janis Joplin tribute performance with Melissa Etheridge, I had only been casually aware of Stone. But, as frequent readers of the blog know, one thing that typically gets my attention are great vocals. And Jess Stone undoubtedly has compelling pipes, which her online bio nicely characterize as “gravely-but-lustrous.”

Released in September 2004, Mind, Body & Soul is blend of mainly soul, R&B and pop. It combines elements of “old” soul with more contemporary R&B and hip-hop influences. While the album is a bit more commercial than what I usually listen to, I still find it pretty enjoyable. The sound is great and that woman can sing!

Here’s the opener Right to Be Wrong. The tune was co-written by Stone, Desmond Child and Betty Wright. It also became the album’s second single in November 2004 and reached no. 29 in the U.K. on the Official Singles Chart.

Next up is the groovy You Had Me, which became Stone’s first major hit. Apart from climbing to no. 9 in the U.K., the song charted in numerous other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Canada. Co-written by Stone, Wright, Francis White and Wendy Stoker, the tune became the lead single released on September 13, 2004, two days prior to the album.

Spoiled, yet another single, is one of the record’s highlights. The song was co-written by Stone, Lamont Dozier and his son and Stone’s then-boyfriend Beau Dozier. And, yes, that’s the Lamont Dozier of Motown fame who wrote many hits for Martha and the Vandellas, The Supremes, The Four Tops and The Isley Brothers. He was part of the songwriting and production team with brothers Brian Holland and Eddie Holland, better known as Holland-Dozier-Holland. Now, that’s my kind of music!

How about throwing in some Jamaican groove? Ask and you shall receive. Okay, Less Is More doesn’t exactly sound like Bob Marley, since it’s really a blend of reggae and R&B. Still, it’s a pretty groovy affair! The tune was co-written by Stone, Jonathan Shorten and Conner Reeves.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Killing Time. It was co-written by Stone, Wright and Beth Gibbons. Well, listening to this tune certainly doesn’t feel like killing time to me!

Mind, Body & Soul is an impressive production, especially for a sophomore album. It features ten different producers, with head of S-Curve Records Steve Greenberg serving as executive producer. The making of the record involved five different studios in New York City, New Jersey and Miami. The army of musicians backing Stone includes drummer Cindy Blackman, who is also the wife of Carlos Santana, and Nile Rodgers (guitar), among others.

The album was generally well received by music critics. It won Stone two 2005 Brit Awards for British Female Solo Artist and British Urban Act. The same year, Stone also received three Grammy nominations in the categories Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for You Had Me and Best Pop Vocal Album.

Mind, Body & Soul became Stone’s best chart success and second best selling album to date. It entered the UK charts at no. 1, making 17-year-old Stone the youngest female artist accomplishing the feat at the time. In April 2019, that record was broken by Billie Eilish for her album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Eilish is two months younger than Stone. The album also charted in numerous other countries, gaining top 10 positions in Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland. In the U.S., it just missed the top 10, climbing to no. 11 on the Billboard 200.

Sources: Wikipedia; Joss Stone website; YouTube

A Change Is Gonna Come, Ooo, Yes It Is

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

This great song by Sam Cooke popped up in my mind yesterday. While he wrote it in a very different context, I still felt it fits the current situation where so many of us are hunkered down at home, hoping this bloody COVID-19 pandemic is going to turn a corner and that eventually, the country can get back to more normal circumstances.

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

The tune was inspired by unfortunate events Cooke experienced in Louisiana in October 1963. On October 8, Cooke called a local motel in Shreveport to reserve rooms for his wife and himself, as well as his entourage. But it turned out to be a “whites-only” motel, so when they arrived, a nervous front desk clerk told them there were no vacancies. Cooke got angry and demanded to speak with the manager, but his wife convinced him to leave. After he eventually agreed, they drove away voicing insults and blowing their horns. When they got to another local motel, the police were waiting and arrested them for “disturbing the peace.”

I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep tellin’ me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Sam Cooke New York Times 1963

The news agency UPI reported on the incident with the headline Negro Band Leader Held in Shreveport. The piece was picked up by The New York Times on October 9 (see picture above). The story lead reads as follows: SHREVEPORT, La., Oct. 8 (UPI) – Sam Cooke of Los Angeles, a Negro band leader; his wife and two associates were arrested for disturbing the peace today after they tried to register at a white motel. George D’Artois, Public Safety Commissioner, said the four were not arrested for trying to register at the motel, but for creating a disturbance after they failed to get accommodations

Last year – that’s 56 years after the despicable incident – Shreveport mayor Adrian Perkins apologized to Cooke’s family for the event – well, I suppose better late than never! He also posthumously awarded Cooke the key to the city. Sadly, something tells me his actions were not embraced by everybody. Ignorance and racism are a bit like the coronavirus – they persist, at least in certain circles. Let’s leave at that!

Another factor that prompted Cooke to write the song was Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. According to Songfacts, he couldn’t believe that tune had been penned by a white man. After hearing it, he became determined to write something similar. And he did. Following Christmas in 1963, Cooke presented the tune to J.W. Alexander, a close music associate. Apparently, Alexander cautioned Cooke the song may not be as successful as his previous lighter, poppier songs, but Cooke decided to proceed anyway, saying he wanted to make his father proud.

A Change Is Gonna Come was recorded at RCA Studios in Los Angeles on January 30, 1964. The session was conducted by Cooke’s musical arranger and guitarist René Hall. Production is credited to songwriting and producer duo and cousins Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti. They worked out of New York City’s storied Brill Building and are also known for having produced other Cooke songs like Twistin’ the Night Away and Another Saturday Night, The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens, and Shout by The Isley Brothers.

A Change Is Gonna Come first appeared on Cooke’s final studio album Ain’t That Good News released on March 1, 1964. It wasn’t issued as a single until December 11, 1964, two weeks after Cooke had been shot to death under mysterious circumstances by the manager of a motel in Los Angeles. The manager claimed she had acted in self-defense after Cooke had forced himself into her office, half-naked, looking for a woman who had spent the evening with him. The single version omitted the verse and chorus preceding the bridge (“I go to the movies…”) for radio airplay.

The tune became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. Interesting, Cooke only performed it once in public, on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on February 7, 1964 – and only after his manager Allen Klein had pushed him to do so. Cooke told him there was no time to pull together the necessary musical arrangement, but Klein managed for RCA to pay for a full string section. According to Wikipedia, after that performance, Cooke had second thoughts about the tune, apparently in part triggered by Bobby Womack who felt it sounded “like death.” Cooke reportedly answered, “Man, that’s kind of how it sounds like to me. That’s why I’m never going to play it in public.”

As you’d expect, a gem like A Change Is Gonna Come has been covered by many other artists. One of my favorite takes is by Solomon Burke, who made it the title track of a studio album he released in 1986. He truly made it his own with a riveting version that takes the song to the then-present time of the mid-’80s. If you haven’t heard it, give this a listen!

I’d like to close with another intriguing cover by rock band Greta Van Fleet. Yep, you read this right – they included it on their second EP From the Fires that came out in November 2017. And, holy smoke, their gifted lead vocalist Josh Kiszka is absolutely killing it!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube