5 Songs to Kickstart the Creative Process
If you’re a “Creative Type” then this post is right up your alley. If you’re a “music elitist” then please feel free to include your five favorite songs that inspire you in the comments section below before you deride me for my programming skills. I am a video editor, that means that for most of my day I sit in a chair staring at an array of light emitting diodes incessantly clicking or waiting on file transfers. My office decor walks the line between “Spartan” and “Brechtian” decorating styles thus, at times inspiration can be a bit hard to come by. In order to shake the monotony of grey walls and gently strobing fluorescent bulbs I turn to music to provide me with the visceral escape I need to clear my head and help me organize my thoughts and concepts for upcoming videos. Here are 5 of my favorite tracks that help me get the creative juices flowing.
“Going Back To My Roots” – Odyssey
When inspiration is nowhere to be found, the first thing I turn to is the disco/funk classic “Going Back to my Roots” by Odyssey. Originally written by Lamont Dozier of the Motown era, this track features enough funky bass lines to keep anyone grooving throughout the track. When it debuted in 1981 it peaked at 55 on the US Dance charts and 4 on the UK singles chart. What’s even more amazing is that “Going Back to my Roots” peaked at 68 on the US R&B charts. A feat I find truly amazing considering how much R&B has departed from the silky bassy goodness of 1981.
The song starts with soft vocals in a foreign language (bonus points if you can tell me what language) then heard is what I describe as the disco guitar engine. The poppy lick sends out a funky light vibe that is quickly supplemented with heavy bass line impacts and light rim shot sticking on the drum heads. After an eight count the song opens up with a strum of the guitar and the punchy smooth descending piano line before blowing minds with a sexy soulful group vocal. There is so much soul in this track that you can’t help but be taken in by the power behind the vocals.
“I feel my spirits getting low
Its time to recharge my soul”
I mean, are you even reading those lyrics? They pretty much parallel everything this blog is about. “Strap up your boots and GO BACK TO YOUR ROOTS!”
“So What” – Miles Davis
If you made it through the soulful epic that is “Going Back to My Roots” and are still uninspired then its time to go a little further back to the true master of creativity, Miles Davis. On August 17, 1959 Miles Davis released “Kind of Blue” on Columbia Records and subsequently changed the world forever with what is arguably the greatest jazz album of all time. The first track on the record offers nothing less then the master at his finest. As far as jazz goes, Miles can get pretty out there but “So What” features repeating motifs that come and go throughout the track making it an easy listen for both avid jazz fans and avant garde newbies alike.
Every single time I listen to this track the first thing that strikes me is the recording quality. When you close your eyes you can practically see the room they’re standing in, the “breathiness” of the sax is captured with agonizing detail giving it a light, yet serious tone. The keys are tasteful throughout, providing soft contrast to the other more stabbing noises coming from the business end of Miles’ horn, and the drums are everything tasty jazz drums should be, soft yet incredibly pocket. When the upright bass takes off, the listener suddenly knows what (good) jazz is all about, freedom to express yourself in as tasty a manner as possible.
Fifty-two seconds in we finally hear Miles on the track and his tone is so contrasting and bright that its a bit shocking when heard for the first time. After a bit of adjusting your ear to the bright “tinny” sound of Miles’ horn then the magic really starts to happen. The song feels like it is constantly on the verge of falling apart and that is where it’s greatness lies. All of those independent sounds begin to create a soundscape and before you know it, you just might be feeling kind of blue.
This track presents what I feel is the “classic jazz sound” at its best. All music went downhill after this album.
“FM” – Steely Dan
The year was 1978 and the world was about to bear witness to one of the single greatest cinematic masterpieces of all time: FM (Alonzo, 1978). Okay so if you were there in 1978 then you’re already smirking at that previous line but just in case you weren’t, FM was the stinker of a film that launched the Emmy award winning television series WKRP in Cincinnati. Critically the film was received with a cold reception but the title track of “FM” was a Steely Dan classic in the making.
“FM”, the track not the film, barely missed out of the Billboard Top 20 and went on to become a staple of the airwaves, which is funny because it was in itself a song about radio (or sex). In the UK it went on to become a minor hit and Steely Dan still plays the track to this day.
“FM” was panned by censors everywhere because of one amazingly ambiguous word, “funk.” At 1:02 and again at 2:28 the lyrics “Give us some funked up Muzak” have been misinterpreted to saying “Give us some f***** up music” thus creating an amazing in-joke among Steely Dan fans where abouts we shout out the expletive instead of the actual lyric. Steely Dan is all about the music so its not too much of a departure to think that they would scorn such a tasteless style of music (Muzak is name brand elevator music) but if there are children in the room, keep them there, the song is safe.
Starting out, the repeating keys create a cool adjunct atmosphere to the funky guitar riffs tearing out across your stereo system (If only I could get this on my new quadraphonic Hi-Fi!). Accentuated with a dramatic hit followed with a few key stabs to drop into a bass thumping jazz fusion track. The track has a cool “lounge-y” feel to it without being corny, and the amount of pocket on this track will have you so far back in the beat you’ll be falling off your chair.
“Sir Duke” – Stevie Wonder
Released in 1976 on Motown Records, Songs in the Key of Life went on to become what will inevitably be remembered as Stevie Wonder’s magnum opus. A culmination of Stevie Wonder’s “classic period” of albums it features over 130 people listed as having worked on the album and had artist features from the likes of George Benson, Herbie Hancock, Minnie Riperton and many more. It became the second best selling album of 1977 behind Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide since its release.
Released in 1977 as a single “Sir Duke” topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Black Singles Chart and went to number two in the UK. Written in tribute to Duke Ellington the song also features shout outs to Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. It’s just great. The syncopated horn lines on top of a funky popping bass line make this track a pleasure to listen to.
When the track starts out the listener is blasted in the face with bright syncopated horn lines with a funky yet light and rather playful accompaniment from the drummer. When Stevie starts singing the track takes on a different feel, the message instantly transplants the listener to a “happy place” and before you know it you too will be laughing along with Stevie (1:12). As far as lyrics go, my personal favorite would have to be, “Just because a record has a groove don’t make it in the groove.” If you get it, you get it. He then goes on to pay to tribute to the jazz greats that influenced him throughout his life. I get a little sad when I hear this track because I just think about how all of these artists slowly get forgotten. Luckily Mr. Wonder, throughout his use of song writing, can keep our rich musical past in our social conscious for just a little longer.
Feeling inspired yet? Lets take it up a notch.
“The Bomb!” (These Sounds Fall into My Mind) – The Bucketheads
Before anyone complains that Pitbull ruined this song, I honestly had no idea that he had even sampled it until I was researching the history of the track. For those of you that actually knew that he sampled this track then you should be asking yourself “Why am I listening to so much Pitbull?” Released in good old 1995 “The Bomb!” has gone on to be remembered as “one of the best dance songs of all time.” If you were in the UK around 95′-96′ then you undoubtedly heard this track over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.
The lyrics “These sounds fall into my mind” aren’t actually the lyrics at all, but a mondegreen of the actual lyrics that were taken from the Chicago song “Street Player.” They are, as sampled in the original, “Street sounds swirling through my mind.” In case you haven’t figured out what a “mondegreen” is, it’s the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning. If you still don’t believe me and would like to try this experiment at home then try substituting the lyrics with, “Pizza falls into my mouth,” and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.
The song starts out with it’s insanely repetitive lyrics and it takes on a funky “house-y” beat that builds subtly before releasing like a pressure valve into the bass and horn lines. The track features hand drums and a beat that is increadibly pocket, this song can only be properly described as “groovy.”
All of these tracks are the ones I turn to when my house beats start to make my ears go numb. If any of the tracks mean anything to you then please leave a comment below and share others. If you think that all five of these tracks aren’t up to par and a black hole to the creative juices of the room, then I want to know what your favorite tracks for getting creative are.
Peace and Love,