George McCrae – Rock Your Baby, 1974

This post is a little out of character, as George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby didn’t exactly fly under the radar at the time of its release. The title track single was a massive chart-topper that sold 11 million copies worldwide, and is considered one of the early hits of disco. But I’ve been in a months-long habit of listening to “You Can Have It All” on repeat on my commutes home from work when I’m feeling deflated or overly cynical: it’s a song about deliberate and joyful vulnerability, delivered with infectious open-handed sincerity, and it always makes me feel better. As a record, Rock Your Baby is a relatively rare instance of a disco full-length that’s consistently solid all the way through, so I wanted to share it in the hopes that it might be new to some people.

The title track single came to McCrae somewhat by accident: though he had been a longtime musician, at the time he was largely acting as manager to his then-wife Gwen McCrae, who had been asked to contribute vocals to a track for Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine band because they were unable to reach the high notes that they had written in. The story goes that Gwen was late for the session so George recorded the vocals in her place, and his falsetto was so impressive that he went on to make an entire record with Finch and Casey, who produced and co-wrote Rock Your Baby.

I love the rough, almost winkingly dirty quality of the production, the effortless and smiling quality of McCrae’s vocals, and the irresistible percussion, especially on “I Get Lifted,” which has famously been sampled by everyone and their dog. Oh, and that famous title track is as gorgeous as its sales would suggest–sunny, relaxed, and tropical, more of a groove stretched into six and a half minutes than a verse-chorus disco banger. It’s enough to sell the full-length on its own, but fortunately there’s plenty more to love here. Enjoy!


[RIP] Leonard Cohen – New Skin For The Old Ceremony, 1974

I was deeply saddened to learn last night of the death of poet, novelist, and musician Leonard Cohen. For the countless fans that have connected with his music over the course of his 50 year long musical career, Cohen has served as equal parts companion and court jester, writing lyrics that were usually equal parts beautiful and cynical, mixing barbed love songs with enigmatic social commentary and plenty of self-deprecation. This was all packaged in his distinctively conversational lilt, a voice that I used to love to fall asleep to until I spent some time with his post-Songs From A Room work and realized just how biting and angry he was. Around the same time I started to suspect that his feelings towards women might be more complicated than I had thought–after all, he came of age in the 50s. All of this is to say that he wasn’t just the love-worn troubadour that the “general listening” CD collection staple The Best Of Leonard Cohen would have us believe. He was messy, cryptic, and seemed to contradict himself readily.

I wanted to share New Skin for the Old Ceremony today for a couple of reasons. It houses some of his more potent political songs, specifically “There Is A War” and “A Singer Must Die”—songs that are lyrically vague enough to be timeless, and as such feel apropos on a day as bilious as today. It also marks a turn in instrumentation for Cohen, incorporating new percussive textures, violas, mandolins, and jazz inflections—still minimal, but more orchestrated than the bare bones guitar-and-vocals of his previous records. From there, it’s easy to see a mostly straight line building up to the unabashedly synth-pop critic’s darling I’m Your Man. Finally, New Skin is the Cohen record to which I feel most attached: in particular, the brutally worded “Why Don’t You Try” has been a reproving reminder to ask uncomfortable questions about loneliness and codependency after every break-up I’ve gone through since I was a teenager. As with much of his music, New Skin offers new insights with every listen, so we’re all the more grateful for his large and generous body of work. Thank you for everything, Leonard.