Cal Tjader - Aquarius [1968]

If you're a fan of A Tribe Called Quest, you know this piece so well it hurts. Used as the backing for the introduction to their 1993 album, Midnight Marauders, it's hard to know if I'd feel the same warm way about if I hadn't heard it hundreds of times before. I want to say yes, but it's always a struggle to know for sure when it comes to music you know originally from it's sampled usage. I can say I come across plenty of records that don't hold up to the songs that late reused them.

I really don't listen to much hip-hop anymore, but until the day I die or at least stop being coherent (... assuming I'm still on the right side of that one) I'll never stop being thankful to the crate-diggers of yore that exposed me to a whole worlds of music that I wouldn't get around to truly exploring until decades later.

Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois & Roger Eno - Deep Blue Day [1983]

This song and I both came into the world in 1983, and while I think a lot of people of my generation know this one from it's usage in the film, Trainspotting, I'm still not sure I've seen that movie. Do they steal dogs in Trainspotting? I definitely saw a movie about heroin addicts who stole dogs. Instead, I had to fumble around the world for an extra decade or so until I came across the soul-cleansing gem on Brian Eno's Apollo album of music for the score to a NASA documentary.

If you ever get a chance to see the band Slowdive, an added bonus to the already great deal of getting to see Slowdive is that they open their shows by playing this track over the speakers as they walk out. Or at least they did when I saw them. Sometimes it pays to listen to quiet songs very very loud.

Galt MacDermot - Tender Meeting [1966]

Last year, a month or so after I finally found a copy of the Galt MacDermot album this song derives from, he passed away. I'd been looking for that record in every record store I'd been in for several years, as it's one of those albums that hooked me in the very first time I heard it. He plays the piano with such a soulful sensitivity that my heart just follows his melodies and rhythms wherever they go.

I didn't even realize he had still been alive, but, thinking back, it makes me glad to know that the love I felt for his music was going out into a world in which he still lived. I don't know if any of it made it to him, but I hope it did.

Batsumi - Emampondweni [1974]

From the stunning, self-titled debut of Batsumi, a South African spiritual jazz group, "Empampondweni" begins by pulling the listener in with it's circling rhythm and call & response vocals, before taking their well-earned attention on a joyous journey once the focus shifts to the jaunty interplay between the saxophone, flute, and guitar.

Recorded in 1974 Johannesburg against the backdrop of apartheid, Batsumi were actually one of the few South African jazz groups of their time to leave a recorded history. That it was recorded in such stunning fidelity, thanks to their use of a high quality studio usually used for radio jingles, just makes it all the more special.

Theola Kilgore - This Is My Prayer [1963]

A former gospel singer from Shreveport, Louisiana, Theola Kilgore made the move into secular recording in the early 1960's, and quickly landed at the tops of the charts with her hit "The Love of My Man", itself based off a gospel song, "The Love of God". Following it up with this track, it's clear that she never strayed far from her spiritual roots as she belts out an immediately arresting vocal that could fill a church, but manages to maintain the deep intimacy of the finest soul music.

The only thing I really remember from the biopic, Ray, is a scene in which Ray Charles is reprimanded for taking the music of the church and debasing it. For some reason, that criticism stuck with me, and I've never been able to outright reject it. At the same time, I think there's something to be said for treating all our secular concerns with the holy reverence that some would reserve for religious concerns.

The history of recorded secular music is a lovingly detailed catalog of the very depths of human emotion, and maybe that's something some would rather run to a higher power to save them from, but I'll never stop appreciating those that showed the world how to look in the mirror with eyes as wide as possible and love ourselves in each and every state to the same degree others would love god.

Four Tops - Still Water (Love) [1970]

It's hard to think of higher praise for song than this: this song was a chief inspiration for the sound of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On album. That sort of hypnotic soul that seems like it could go on forever, it's all here ... I mean ... what else is there to say?

Oh, I know, that this is one of the very few writing/producing collaborations between two of Motown's finest, Smokey Robinson and Frank Wilson, and while I'm sure this version is as good as it gets, I'd still love to hear some long lost demo with a Smokey vocal on it. Loop it up and let it play.

Ry Cooder - I Like Your Eyes [1989]

I'm getting the feeling that there maybe a whole world of great movie score "love themes" that I'm only beginning to discover. Have I seen this movie? No. Will I? Probably not. But I did see Paris, Texas  and that certainly opened me up to the electric guitar ambience of Ry Cooder, and that was enough to go exploring.

"I Like Your Eyes" was recorded for Johnny Handsome, a Mickey Rourke vehicle about a criminal born with a severe facial deformity who ends up in a jail where I guess they give plastic surgery to people. This piece, though, does just fine without all the context I'm sure the film adds to its splendor.