The Times’s Sathnam Sanghera is one of Britain’s most acclaimed columnists and the author of the wonderful volume of autobiography The Boy with the Topknot: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton – and we are thrilled to welcome him as the latest contributor to Spotify Sunday. You can follow Sathnam on Twitter here and visit his website here – Scott Jordan Harris
I can’t make my mind up about Spotify. On the one hand, for someone who grew up making mix tapes by recording music from the radio – lying in wait for certain tracks to be broadcast like a detective on a stakeout, and producing compilations that consisted of little more than fragments and snippets of songs, often interrupted with the moronic musings of Radio 1 DJs and voices telling me to come downstairs for chapattis – it is a miraculously simple way of discovering and sharing music.
But on the other, I cannot see how, as a business model, it will possibly work. I used to spend around £40 a month on new music, but since I started subscribing to Spotify’s £10-a-month premium service, this has probably fallen to £15. And by the sound of things, very little of this goes to artists: last year it was claimed that 1 million Spotify plays of Lady Gaga's hit ‘Poker Face’ earned her just $167. If things continue like this the only people who will be able to go into music will those who went to public school. But before everything begins sounding like Keane, here’s what music used to sound like... a selection of what I’ve what I’ve been listening to recently...
Jackson 5 – ‘Don't Know Why I Love You’ – Live at the Forum, 1970
How did I reach 34 years of age without hearing this? Someone sent me a link to the track on my birthday the other week and since then I’ve discovered versions by both Stevie Wonder and The Rolling Stones, but they are anaemic compared to 12-year-old Michael Jackson’s rendition. This live version is particularly electrifying.
Marvin Gaye – ‘I Wanna Be Where You Are (After The Dance)’ – Alternate Lyrics
In contrast, a Michael Jackson song done better by someone else. It has been covered by Willie Hutch, Jason Weaver, Dusty Springfield, Jose Feliciano and The Fugees, amongst others, but Marvin Gaye’s rendition, which is more of an improvised funk-styled instrumental than a faithful cover, is best.
Feist – ‘One Evening’
Feist was someone I discovered just before using Spotify: in the space of a few days I heard her track ‘1,2,3,4’ on an advert for Apple, laughed at her brilliant Sesame Street version of the same song, and heard her guest on a beautiful Kings of Convenience album, and promptly bought all her records. Spotify is a good way of discovering some of her more obscure collaborations, but this is her best track on her best solo album.
Kanye West – ‘Spaceship’
It’s frustrating that Kanye West has become synonymous for twittery when he is one of the most innovative, engaging, intelligent and talented voices in hip hop. His stuff is original and you can tell he works very hard at it. This song, as it happens, is a tribute to that workaholicism. Though I think nothing he does will ever, in the eyes of the media, eclipse his storming of the stage during Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for Best Female Video at the MTV Music Awards.
Rufus & Chaka Khan – ‘Sweet Thing’
The older I get, the more I listen to soul music, and the more I drift towards female singers. This track covers both bases. I heard it playing in the background of a pub recently and tried to find out what it was via the Shazam app on my iPhone, and then, when that failed, asked the barmaid to find out. I had to wait some time for an answer, but it was worth it. Gorgeous.
Leonard Cohen – ‘The Partisan’ – Live Oct 10, 2008; Hartwall Arena, Helsinki, Finland
Cohen is someone else I’ve been getting into as I get older. I used to find him depressing, and used to say he couldn’t sing, but I was wrong on both fronts. His voice, if anything, is getting better as it matures. I’m sad that I missed him on tour recently, but this live recording of ‘The Partisan’, a French Resistance song by Anna Marly and Emmanuel d'Astier, is the next best thing.
Mark Ronson & The Business Intl – ‘Somebody To Love Me’
I’m not sure about the new album as a whole – one of Ronson’s vocalists sounds like Sophie Ellis Bextor on autotune, and there are too many self-indulgent instrumentals – but this single is fantastic. I can’t dance to save my life, but if this came on, I’d give it some consideration.
Crosby, Stills & Nash – ‘Wooden Ships’
Another band I used to think were naff, but this song, also released by Jefferson Airplane and written at the height of the Vietnam War, is gorgeous. Best listened to on headphones, so you can appreciate the freaky stereo recording effects.
The Times recently asked if I wanted to interview Janelle, and after glancing at the cover of her album, I declined. What an idiot. I’ve since discovered her debut is the best R&B album since The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Her lyrics can sometimes go awry – on Faster she sings ‘Mmm, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah / I'm running / Shaking like a schizo’. But this song is faultless.
Nina Simone – ‘That's All I Ask’
Another classic that I somehow managed to miss until recently. Though I’m making up for lost time: I must have played it 300 times this month, hearing something different on each occasion. She can do everything Nina: soul, rock, pop, jazz.
Shrift – ‘Blue’
There’s another Nina singing on this track: Nina Miranda, a British Brazilian who has done lots of great work with likes of Nitin Sawnhey, Bebel Gilberto, Zeep, Jah Wobble and Smoke City. This lush track, however, comes from Lost In A Moment, an album she did with producer Dennis Wheatley.
Corinne Bailey Rae – ‘Closer’
Shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize but lost out to overrated band, The xx. A scandal.
Legend's new "Wake Up!" album mainly consists of versions of socially-conscious songs from the 1960s and 1970s, written or performed by stars as Marvin Gaye ("Wholy Holy," 1971) and Bill Withers ("I Can't Write Left Handed," 1971). It goes against the idea that musicians and politics shouldn't mix, and I would usually cringe at such a project, but I think it works. At least, the time seems to be right for such music...
Badly Drawn Boy – ‘This Electric’
Like Prince, and Ryan Adams, BDB suffers from being too prolific - there seems to be a new album every month. The world has grown indifferent, but show me any one of his albums and I'll show you at least four songs that are better than anything in the Top Ten.
I went to watch Keys at the O2 and couldn’t believe that a woman who needs only a piano and a microphone to amaze had gone all Mariah: reduced to singing while performing lumpen dancing in indiscreet clothing. I wish she would just sit or stand and sing with her stunning voice, and this is the song I would most like to receive the stripped-down treatment.
You can listen to the playlist here