I try to be a student of music history. It was D’Angelo who inspired me to start learning from the Yodas. When it became evident after Voodoo that it would be a long wait until the next album I started looking else where for my D’Angelo fix. I found an interview he did – I don’t recall where anymore because it’s been 20 years, so maybe I just dreamt it – and he listed his inspirations as Prince, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone among others. I was familiar to some degree with each of them and liked what I heard, so I decided if they were good enough for D’Angelo they were good enough for me. I started taking deep dives into their music to find something that I wasn’t getting from current music.
I started with Prince because I was already a fan of his hits and, in case you hadn’t noticed, he’s become a bit of an obsession for me in the past 20 years. When it comes to music D’Angelo and Prince are 1A and 1B and everyone else takes a distant backseat. I’ve become a fan of the others as well, just not quite to the degree of D and Prince. Stevie Wonder is the best songwriter I’ve ever heard and I’ve enjoyed his albums more than the others on D’Angelo’s list. Songs In the Key Of Life is phenomenal and that’s no surprise to anyone. I was not familiar with Talking Book, Music of My Mind, and Innvervisions. While those albums may not be loaded with hits like Key of Life, they contain music arguably better than the hits that he’s so well known for. I liked Stevie, but I had no idea his discography was that deep. I consider myself a fan of JB, Jimi, and Sly, but I have not strayed too far from the hits with them.
Further down that list of artists who influence the music I like is silky voiced Roberta Flack. She’s won five Grammy awards including a lifetime achievement award in 2020, and she was certainly a household name in the 1970s. You just don’t hear her shouted out as an inspiration by artists the way you do people like Prince and Stevie. People from my generation were introduced to Roberta Flack in 1997 by Ms. Lauryn Hill of The Fugees singing an unforgettable cover of “Killing Me Softly With His Song” over a hip hop beat. Hearing The Fugees version sparked curiosity and I went back to find the original Roberta Flack song. In the 1990s I was all about hip hop, so I dismissed it immediately as wack and preferred the new version. I dig the original now. I like the arrangement and I love the vibe that the guitar adds to the track. Flack has a beautiful voice, but her approach to this track is a bit too square for me. I’ll still take The Fugees version based on Lauryn Hill’s vocal approach.
A few years later I was introduced to another Roberta Flack classic by an unlikely artist. This time it was D’Angelo remaking Flack’s 1974 hit “Feel Like Makin’ Love” for his 2000 album Voodoo. I don’t know what the textbook definition of funk is, but whatever it is, the Roberta Flack version is the opposite. When I hear this I picture a bunch of stoned hippies cruising in the VW Bus with this in the 8-track. It’s a lovely, warm summer breeze. Fun fact about this song: It fades out for 25 seconds! I’ve never heard anything like it. Click the link above and check it out. Even the audio engineer was stoned as he faded out the track with all the speed of a sloth on NyQuil.
D’Angelo’s version hits different. He produced and arranged it. Brought in Pino Palladino on bass and Questlove on drums. The late great Roy Hargrove on trumpet. D sang and played all other instruments. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for the jam session that turned the Roberta Flack version into the D’Angelo version. It’s a radical transformation. The soul and the vibe of the original is still present on D’s remake, but he took all of the 1970s easy listening and replaced it with soulquarian funk. It’s so much sexier and funkier than the original. I’m going to beat this into the ground over the course of the D’aily if I haven’t already, but please put on a pair of headphones and get a completely different perspective on this song. There are portions of the song that sound like D’Angelo is carrying on a conversation with someone in the background. At the 4:35 during Hargrove’s trumpet solo D is just mumbling lyrics. It’s trippy as hell.
If the studio version wasn’t funky enough, click the link above and check out the version D and The Soultronics performed on the Voodoo tour in 2000. It sounds more like a James Brown cover than Roberta Flack. As always, the secret to the funk is Pino Palladino on bass. He should have his own wing in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“Feel Like Makin’ Love” is yet another mellow, organic, warm, funky jam that we’ve covered from Voodoo. If you’re thinking, “This has to end at some point soon,” think again. That’s Voodoo. We’ve barely gotten started. However, tomorrow we’re going in a different direction. We’re gonna check out D’Angelo’s most commercially successful track. The only Top 10 hit of his career. If you’re thinking it’s “Brown Sugar” or “Untitled” you’re wrong. We already covered those. Find out tomorrow. Have a great Wednesday.