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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

S.F DJ Bus Station John Lists His Top Five Favorite Divas

Posted By on Wed, Oct 10, 2012 at 8:57 AM

Bus Station John Celebrates One Year of Love Will Fix It this Saturday at Hot Spot.
  • Bus Station John Celebrates One Year of Love Will Fix It this Saturday at Hot Spot.

Get ready, this week's edition of Signal to Noise packs a bit of a punch. Not content with our usual format, Bus Station John decided to send over a list of his five favorite female divas (plus a little bonus pick you'll need to scroll through to the end to see). Why all the extras? Well, it boils down to the fact that this Saturday marks the first anniversary of Love Will Fix It, his monthly exploration of late-'70s and early-'80s R&B. And while he might be better known for the retro bathhouse disco of Tubesteak Connection, the following list ought to provide an idea of the breadth of his collection. Read what the man has to say, listen to these tracks, and head over to The Hot Spot this Saturday for a dose of the real thing.

Says Bus Station John:

"These artists take us back to a very different era in dance music, when actual talent was more important than being videogenic. And talent these women have in abundance --- they can SANG! Early in their careers (before the pressure to have crossover appeal diluted the magic of too many R&B performers), we can see them at their best, and witness why they became stars, warranting our attention both on and off the dance floor. These are uniquely gifted soul sisters, whose voices stand the test of time (and defy the insult to our intelligence that is AutoTune). I've selected from each a hit as well as a lesser-known track."

5. Stephanie Mills was my first love. As a young queen, I wore out the original cast album of The Wiz -- then fell further under the spell of her enchanting, bell-like tones as she moved from Broadway into a major R&B career.

Here, she unwittingly-yet-charmingly barges into the rambles in Central Park,

NYC's notorious gay cruising-grounds-of-yore, where I'm sure she ran into more than a few fans."Never Knew Love Like This Before," indeed!

"Don't Stop Dancin," is an effusive, uptempo gospel-tinged disco number seasoned with one of my favorite period sound effects: a crowd in the background "havin' a par-tay."

4. Chaka Khan. Nobody soars like miss Chaka (when she's not busy burning us down with her slower jams). I couldn't wait to get my hands on the next Rufus album back in "the day" -- I can still hear the crinkle of the shrink-wrap (ask Grandpa what I'm talking about, kids)!

"Do You Love What You Feel," always gets a party rolling. The band's typically tight musicianship really shines under the guidance of legendary producer Quincy Jones.

"We Can Work It Out," is an unexpected thrill ride from one of Ms. Khan's best solo albums, 1981's What Cha' Gonna Do For Me.

3. Evelyn "Champagne" King. Among the talents listed here, I peg "bubbles" as the most versatile; whether she's going hard, funky and deep, or purring like a kitten, this lady delivers consistently.

"I'm In Love" always takes me back to one of the haunts of my youth, Mildred's Palace, an all-ages gay club in Portland, Oregon (before my tumbling curls tumbled from my scalp to my chin!) Evelyn's happy, earnest vocal combined with producer Kashif's then ground-breaking fusion of synths with live instrumentation still fills dance floors three decades later. Plus: handclaps!

"I Can't Take It." A killer bassline and a deeper vocal register drive this lil' monster.

2. Cheryl Lynn can do things with her voice that no one else can; with her jazz-like phrasing & idiosyncratic inflections, she makes any song she wraps her tonsils around her own. Her "turkey-throttle" glissando during the break in her disco epic "Star Love" is immortal.

Happily, the "Got to be Real" lady moved forward in her career, bringing us the exuberant "Shake It Up Tonight."

Her 1981 album In the Night also brought us this sleeper cut, "If You'll Be True to Me."

When people ask me why I started "Love Will Fix It: An R&B Funk Party For the Soul,"

I joke that "I'm a little black girl trapped in a big white bear's body!" But, pray, how did this boy growing up in white '60's central Oregon get "the funk?" Perhaps we should ask the final shining star on our list:

1. Teena Marie. Alas, if only we could. I cried when she left the planet two years ago. She was only 54. But she left us with something special beyond a lot of great tracks. While paying the utmost respect to the cultural roots of R&B, she epitomized the power soulful music has to bring people together, regardless of race, age, or orientation. Seriously, who throws attitude when Teena & Chaka are on the sound system?

"Behind the Groove"'s multi-layered mixture of sparkle and funk is pretty irresistible. Note Teena's slo-mo move at 3:24 -- she's her own special effect!

Teena's cover of Rose Royce's "Wishing on a Star," while sounding very old-school, was actually recorded in the the late '90's -- evidence that real talent never dies.

*Bonus track! "Change feat. Luther Vandross"

Okay, we have to include at least one male vocalist this go 'round -- and who better than the sublime Mr. Vandross? This gorgeous track, "The Glow of Love," represents to me the true spirit of "Love Will Fix It."

"(Here in the glow of love) you're a shinin' star

(Here in the glow of love) no matter who you are...."

-- @DerekOpperman

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