Bobby Caldwell, "Take Me Back to Then" (Syndrome; 1978).
Les McCann, "Will We Ever Find Our Fathers" (Atlantic; 1975).
The Eagles, "Heartache Tonight" (Rhino; 1979).
The Doobie Brothers, "What a Fool Believes" (Warner Bros; 1978). iTunes
James Taylor, "Slow Burning Love" (Columbia; 1976). iTunes
Erykah Badu, "Next Lifetime" (Kedar; 1997). iTunes
Carole King, "Way Over Yonder" (Ode; 1971). iTunes
Geto Boys, "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" (Rap-a-Lot; 1991). iTunes
DJ Quik, "Born and Raised in Compton" (Profile; 1991). iTunes
Steve Miller Band, "Rock 'N Me" (Capitol; 1976).
Special Ed, "I'm the Magnificent (The Magnificent Remix)" (Profile; 1989).
Beyoncé ft. Jay-Z, "Crazy in Love" (Columbia; 2003). iTunes
Digital Underground, "Doowutchyalike (Remix)" (Tommy Boy; 1990).
I like mine burnt on a curve: from melancholy to hopeful, and then straight to joy and self- celebration. Start me out with Caldwell's album cut, an ode to the idea of nothing being effortlessly fun anymore: "There's a tear/For all the dreams/That I've left behind/They'll always be on my mind." McCann wants us to (truly or metaphorically) find those who should have taken better care, and when his doleful voice gives way to, "Somebody's gonna hurt someone/ Before the night is through," I'm glad for it—whether I'm about to be hurt or quietly planning a misstep for someone that will look entirely like a mess of their own making, I need a hit from the Eagles' downward spiral.
All this "Heartache" (given or rec'd) leads to tragedy, so I need the Doobies' fool to wear some of mine. Some rare creepiness from Taylor takes me to a cave from which I need Badu to coax me with her dainty, "There ain't nothing wrong with dreamin'," and after that I'm so grateful for the white girl gospel of "Yonder," I'm to the point of putting Tapestry in a sealed envelope with a note saying I want it played at my funeral.
But. My mind's playing tricks on me. Who's ready to die? Not me. I just need to hear, "This year, Halloween fell on a weekend/Me and Geto Boys was trick-or-treatin'," to confirm the fact that my paranoid-sinister moods are Lilliputian compared to Bushwick's and Scarface's. This (unattractive, less than generous) relief makes me want to believe in myself again and do stuff that makes one an upstanding individual—so I take inspiration from Quik spittin', "I ain't goin out like no sucka-ass clown."
I jam to "Rock 'N Me" for its straight-up (popped-out) San Francisco blues guitar, and for the line "Northern California/Where the girls are warm," because I'm from Oakland and I take it as the shout-out that it is. By the time Ed hits me off with, "I'm the magnificent/Dynamite/ Supa-dope/Outta sight," I'm amped enough to hear Beyoncé and Jay warm me toasty with their togetherness. B's cool in her sneakers because Jay's not even at the club, and Jay's thrilled to say, "Young B/ And the R-O-C," and the energy gets hotter. By the end of it, I need a lil' "Doowutchyalike" to take me back to then, to when life was mellow. Caldwell asks it better than me: "Why can't I go there again?"
Danyel Smith's second novel, Bliss (Crown, $23.95), is out now.