A Twitter conversation that began when I posted Raphael Saadiq’s new “Radio” single a week and a half ago led me to promising Popdose Grand Poobah Jeff Giles that I would complete a guide to Saadiq’s music. These guides are a lot of fun to do, but they’re a lot of work. I can’t say that I remember every single song in anyone’s discography, so over the next few days I listened to all of my old Tony Toni Tone albums (and actually purchased their debut “Who?” from Amazon), scoured old reviews I’d written, and spent the better part of one frenzied evening and the following morning putting together the Popdose Guide to Raphael Saadiq.
While I love pimping my work on other sites out over here, I don’t want to bring you over here just so you can click on a link. I would be a bad host if I did that! (I would like you to click on that link at some point, though). One thing I’d like to do with future artist guides I write, whether here (in the form of “Blerd’s Notes”) or on Popdose is provide sort of an introductory playlist to the artist’s music-a short list of their best work. So I loaded all of my Tony Toni Tone, Lucy Pearl and Saadiq solo work into a playlist, added in every song I had that he wrote, produced or guest-starred on (a list that runs from D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” to “Because of You”, a track on Joey McIntyre’s first solo LP), and came up with these 20 tracks that represent the best Mr. Saadiq has to offer.
(in chronological order)
1) “Born Not to Know” Tony! Toni! Tone! (from Who?, 1988)
Although the second single from the Tonyies’ debut album contains the memorable line “things are gettin’ crazy/I ain’t wearin’ paisley”, this hilarious yet wise tune could’ve easily been a track from one of the King (or Prince) of Paisley’s most renowned side projects-The Time.
2) “Feels Good” Tony! Toni! Tone! (from The Revival, 1990)
The Tonyies’ most easily recognized hit has aged more gracefully than similar tracks from the New Jack era (although the day-glo graphics of the video are horribly dated). Was this the song that brought porno moaning to the mainstream?
3) “Whatever You Want” Tony! Toni! Tone! (from The Revival, 1990)
Raphael’s brother Dwayne takes the lead on this #1 R&B hit, one of four chart-toppers from The Revival. Raphael’s harmony vocals add a touch of boyish sweetness to the song. Might be the most recent song in history to mention a phone number not beginning with “555” in the lyrics.
4) “I Care” Tony! Toni! Tone! (from The Revival, 1990)
Another boyish Raphael vocal on this album track from The Revival. With his high-pitched singing and his look (resembling a New Jack Jimmie Walker), Raphael was one of the last R&B innocents.
5) “It Never Rains (in Southern California)” Tony! Toni! Tone! (from The Revival, 1990)
This midtempo ballad shares a name with (but is a completely different song from) an AM-radio hit from the Seventies. A Quiet Storm favorite, the stylish video was directed by Lisa Bonet of “Cosby Show” and “A Different World” fame.
6) “Me & You” Tony! Toni! Tone! (from Boyz N Tha Hood-original soundtrack, 1991)
This laid back track feels like a late-summer breeze. Never released as a single, urban radio played the hell out of it anyway. It’s probably more readily recognized by Tonyies fans than some of their actual hits.
7) “My Ex-Girlfriend” Tony! Toni! Tone! (from Sons of Soul, 1993)
This rumbling fun track captures the Tonyies at their lighthearted best, although the band caught some flack for bringing the word “ho” into the chorus of a mainstream R&B song. Love the Sly Stone-style doo-wop breakdown in the song’s bridge.
8) “Tell Me Mama” Tony! Toni! Tone! (from Sons of Soul, 1993)
One of the greatest things about the Tonyies is that they were able to make songs that paid tribute to sounds and artists of the past without it feeling like a shameless rip off. “Tell Me Mama” was the band’s homage to the Jackson Five.
9) “Fun” Tony! Toni! Tone! (from Sons of Soul, 1993)
The “your call can not be completed as dialed” tone figures prominently on this song, one of the most upbeat of the Tonyies’ career. Raphael’s vocals seem almost artificially sped up on this track-he comes dangerously close to being out of key pretty much through the entire song.
10) “(Lay Your Head On My) Pillow” Tony! Toni! Tone! (from Sons of Soul, 1993)
If Raphael sounded boyish on The Revival’s love songs, this track from Sons of Soul proved that he was all man. Excellent, relaxed R&B with a bit of an Isley Brothers vibe and a hint of country. How many R&B songs made in the last 20 years can you think of with slide guitar? The controversial video for this track featured the entire cast (including the band members) nude.
11) “Leavin'” Tony! Toni! Tone! (from Sons of Soul, 1993)
A lighthearted track, this was Sons’ fourth single. Featuring a sample of A Tribe Called Quest in the chorus, this started the mutual appreciation society between Saadiq and the hip-hop legends. Cute lyrics on this one, too.
12) “Midnight” A Tribe Called Quest (feat. Raphael Wiggins) (from Midnight Marauders, 1993)
I can’t figure out what Raphael actually does on this track, but he is widely known to have contributed to what-in my humble opinion-is the best track Tribe ever made. My guess is that he either plays bass or produced the song.
13) “Let’s Get Down” Tony Toni Tone feat. DJ Quik (from House of Music, 1996)
DJ Quik gets the “featured artist” credit here, but “Let’s Get Down” is way more of a true collaboration than most R&B/hip-hop hookups. Raphael’s strong point has always been party tracks, and this song (which cribs a bit of the vocal melody from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is certain to get asses wiggling whenever and wherever it’s played.
14) “Annie May” Tony Toni Tone (from House of Music, 1996)
Dwayne again takes the lead on this swinging funk track (whose bassline reminds me quite a bit of “All Night Thing” by The Invisible Man’s Band). The lyrics are a bit of a head-scratcher, but who cares what the song’s about when the groove is this strong?
15) “Party Don’t Cry” Tony Toni Tone (from House of Music, 1996)
The last track on the Tonyies’ last studio album (to date) is one of the more upbeat acknowledgments of death in contemporary pop music. Raphael barely appears on this song, but it’s one of the band’s most affecting songs.
16) “Good Love” Lucy Pearl (from Lucy Pearl, 2000)
This slow groove from the lone Lucy Pearl album is perfect for those slow grind blue-light dances. Raphael and Dawn Robinson play well off of one another here. Too bad they couldn’t keep it together for more than one album.
17) “Fine” Whitney Houston (from Whitney-The Greatest Hits, 2000)
Raphael and Q-Tip were unlikely collaborators for the Queen of Pop’s career-encapsulating greatest hits project, but the duo put together this deeply funky groove that sadly only reached the middle range of the R&B chart. Whitney explores her deeper, more soulful range and sounds absolutely joyful on this song (even though it’s kind of a kiss-off).
18) “Different Times” Raphael Saadiq feat. T-Boz (from Instant Vintage, 2002)
Raphael’s first solo effort had a more personal vibe than any of his work with Lucy Pearl or Tony Toni Tone, and the flavor of Instant Vintage is best exemplified by this insistent song. “Different Times” feels almost like a prayer set to music, with rapid fire stream-of-consciousness vocals from Saadiq and TLC’s scratchy-voiced member.
19) “Faithful” Raphael Saadiq (from Instant Vintage, 2002)
Disco-funk party! Love it!
20) “I Found My Everything” Mary J. Blige feat. Raphael Saadiq (from The Breakthrough, 2005)
What the Queen of Hip-Hop soul might have sounded like if she’d existed four decades ago. A testimonial to her husband Kendu, this is Mary J. at her most soulful. With songs like these, she might have given Aretha a run for her money back in the day
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