Aretha Franklin remembered by Clive Davis

25 March 1942 – 16 August 2018
The music industry supremo who worked with the singer over four decades recalls the Queen of Soul’s vocal genius, humour – and love of fine dining

John McCain remembered by Sidney McCain
Read the Observer’s obituaries of 2018 in full

I’ve never been more grateful for the opportunity to work than with Aretha Franklin. When we first met in the late 1970s, I felt I’d already known her for years. Her Atlantic Records career in the late 1960s, with Jerry Wexler, was just fantastic – so many hits, but more importantly, so many classic songs [including I Say a Little Prayer, Think, Respect]. They had something different about them, and they defined the genre of R&B. By the late 70s, the things Aretha was doing were somewhat trendy, and they failed. She got restless. So she called me up and said: “How about we get together? Come to mine. I’ll cook you dinner.” That’s how she was. Continue reading

John Legend: A Legendary Christmas review – tasteful covers need a tot of sherry

Its classy backings, star guests and deep cuts avoid tackiness, but Legend should have got out the tinsel and loosened up

The world needs more new Christmas music: it sounds like something only a raving maniac would say, but there’s a grain of truth in it. The pantheon of celebrated Christmas pop songs is a surprisingly small. There have been attempts to expand the canon over the years by including songs that were relative flops on release – Elton John’s Step Into Christmas, left in the dust by Slade and Wizzard back in 1973, or the Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping, in at 45 with a bullet in 1982 – but you could still fit the lot on one CD. And it’s the absolute apotheosis of music you’re going to hear whether you want to or not. In Britain at least, the only way to avoid repeated exposure to Wonderful Christmastime and Fairytale of New York over December is to adopt a lifestyle of hermetic seclusion with no access to broadcast media and no contact with your fellow man, or to spend the entire month wearing earplugs, drastic approaches both. Continue reading

Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson obituary

Talented pirate station DJ who was a champion of house, garage and hip-hop music

Every night throughout the mid-1980s, rooftops across London’s highest points came alive with nefarious activity. With as many as 100 black music pirate stations on air, losing a transmitter to night-time sabotage by rivals or government raids was considered an irritating but unavoidable cost of business.

But the then pirate station Kiss FM had a secret weapon to deploy: Paul “Trouble” Anderson, who has died from cancer aged 59, one of the station’s most talented DJs and the possessor of a baseball bat. “Most of the time there wasn’t any violence – it was like a deterrent,” Paul told me when I spoke to him last year for a BBC documentary. “[But] when it was the DTI [Department of Trade and Industry] you had to be very humble and just … not show the bat.” Continue reading

‘I love a good spanking’: Paloma Faith, Nao, Sleaford Mods and others on 2018’s music controversies

Artists including Kojey Radical, Let’s Eat Grandma and Róisín Murphy discuss the year’s biggest stories, from Childish Gambino’s This Is America to the rise of K-pop and Jessie J’s success in China

April: Kanye West reaffirmed his support for Donald Trump on Twitter, part of a turbulent year in which he claimed slavery was “a choice”, released several albums, visited Trump in the White House, handed out Yeezy shoes in Uganda and announced he was thinking of building a flying-car factory. Continue reading

Harlem 69: The Future of Soul by Stuart Cosgrove – review

Fascinating musical byways abound in the last part of a doggedly researched trilogy charting the history of late 60s soul

On the evening of 25 February 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated on the stage of the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, New York. Amid the chaos, his personal bodyguard, Eugene Roberts, risked his life by leaping on stage while shots were still being fired to assist his fatally wounded boss. The two men had grown close in the preceding months, bonding over a shared love of jazz and soul music.

As Stuart Cosgrove notes in an early chapter of Harlem 69, Roberts had become “a familiar face among the first generation of recruits to the Harlem Black Panther party. His closeness to Malcolm X had virtually given him a free pass into the newly emergent movement.” Unbeknown to his radical compatriots, though, Roberts was an undercover agent for the New York police department’s bureau of specialist services, tasked with trailing the movements of local black radicals and taping their conversations. He later helped gather information about a possible bombing campaign against white-owned businesses, leading police to conduct a number of dawn raids in Harlem and the Bronx. In April 1969, 21 Black Panther members were charged with conspiracy to murder police officers and blow up several prominent New York buildings, including police stations and midtown department stores. Continue reading

Lauryn Hill review – a difficult re-education

Birmingham Arena
Once the soul voice of a generation, Lauryn Hill has long had a reputation for being a difficult star. But could she do justice to her landmark album?

It could all be so simple, you might argue; but Lauryn Hill would rather make it hard. The 20th anniversary tour of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the five-Grammy-winning, game-changing cri de coeur from a reluctant pop star, has gone down in the annals as one of pop’s most notorious waiting games.

Never mind the legend of the album itself – written in exasperation and hope after the dissolution of the Fugees, and the relationship between Hill and her bandmate Wyclef Jean; a towering achievement, after which Hill effectively disappeared, keeping far away from the Babylon of the music industry and raising her children in the bosom of the Marley family. When she arrives on stage in Birmingham on Tuesday just a little after 10pm, this tour’s already sizable Stateside myth (cancellations, lateness, challenging reworkings of the songs) comes bolstered by the ire of French fans unimpressed by the singer’s incurable tardiness last week. Complainants took to Hill’s Facebook page to vent; “miseducated”, you note, literally means ‘ill-mannered’ in France. Continue reading