John McLaughlin: my top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time

25th Mar 2013 | 20:01

John McLaughlin: my top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time
John McLaughlin: my top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time
The fusion guitar master on the music he loves without fear

Throughout his career, as a guitarist in Tony Williams' Lifetime and in Miles Davis' band, along with his stunning work with his own Mahavishnu Orchestra and then as a solo artist, John McLaughlin has established himself as one of the most important voices in fusion.

But if you think that the only kind of music McLaughlin listens to in his private life is ruled by odd-time signatures, exotic scales and displays of virtuosic genius, think again. Turns out, the guitarist loves nothing more than a good old pop tune.

“I love pop music," McLaughlin says. "A melodic pop song, especially if it has good vocal – I'm always going to be a fan. I've got such a broad range of favorites. I'm into Asian underground, Indian music, classical, blues, jazz and rock – and pop. Why shouldn't I like what's on the radio if it's good?"

McLaughlin acknowledges that many of his peers in the fusion world take a dim view of the Billboard Top 200, but in his eyes they're missing out. "To be honest, a lot of jazz bores me to tears," he says. "If jazz doesn’t make your body move, then there’s something wrong with it. Yes, it’s got to have the harmonic side and the intellectual side, but it’s also got to have a sexuality and a sensuality. If you don’t want to groove, then the music isn’t working. Change it!"

On the following pages, McLaughlin scrolls through his iPad and his iPod Nano and names his not-so-guilty pleasures, five decidedly un-fusion-y songs that make him want to sing, dance and groove.

On 11 June, John McLaughlin begins a US tour, which includes a highly anticipated performance at the Bonnaroo Festival, along with a three-night stand at New York City's Blue Note Club. Click here for details.

John McLaughlin: my top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time
Steve Winwood – Higher Love (1986)

“Stevie Winwood singing Higher Love with Chaka Kahn doing the background vocals – how can it get better than that? It’s soul and pop, and that beat is just gorgeous. It makes you want to move!

“Stevie sings his buns off, man. He’s so instinctive. I think he might have had an impact on Peter Gabriel – their voices are similar, but Stevie came first. The production and arrangement on this song is solid. I’ve probably listened to it 250 times already, and I’ll keep right on listening. Every time I hear it, I love it more.”

John McLaughlin: my top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time
Stevie Wonder – Redemption Song (1996)

“I love Stevie’s version of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. The original is fantastic – it’s Bob Marley, so you know how great he was – but Stevie’s killin’ on it. My God, it’s unbelievable!

“Not only that, but the arrangement is so musical. It’s almost like Giant Steps in the beginning, the chords Stevie uses. It’s a radical departure from what Bob Marley did. Stevie is soaring on this. What can I say? It’s righteous!”

“I got a chance to meet Stevie at a concert in Paris a number of years ago. He’s a marvelous human being. I appreciate all of his work – Superstition, my word, I could listen to that till it comes out of my ears. But what he does with Redemption Song is out of this world.”

John McLaughlin: my top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time
Amy Grant – Baby Baby (1991)

“The way Amy Grant sings Baby Baby makes me feel so good inside. It just warms my heart. She’s great, man. I have Baby Baby on my iPad and my Nano – that’s how much I love it.

“The song’s been around for a while, but I heard it recently and Shazamed it. How’s that for technology? I couldn’t remember who did it, so I needed to find out. If I hear a good song, I need to know what it is, who’s doing it.

“The song is very light, but the arrangement is right on the money. Whoever is playing the drums and the synth bass, forget about it – they’re rocking! And Amy is rocking right with them. The modulations when she moves up are so cool. People don’t do that in pop music very much. She does it a couple of times and really nails it.”

John McLaughlin: my top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time
Sly & The Family Stone – Sing A Simple Song (1968)

[Sings] “’Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!’ What a wonderful song! They had so many great tracks, but this one could be my favorite. It’s so upbeat and joyous.

“I got a chance to see Sly & The Family Stone back in 1969, at the high point of their career. I was at the Monterey Festival, playing with Tony [Williams], and Sly and the band closed the show. Let me tell you, it was one of the greatest concerts ever. I was out in the audience with Larry Young, and we were dancing. It was far out!

“Sly had enormous players, people of tremendous ability. Larry Graham and Greg Errico formed one of the best rhythm sections I’ve ever heard. Sly was able to bring people of different races together, too. He did the black and white thing before anybody else. Sing A Simple Song is one of his coolest songs. The playing is fantastic, the sentiment is beautiful – it’s just perfect.”

John McLaughlin: my top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time
Michael Jackson – Black Or White (1991)

“I’m a Michael Jackson fan. I love Michael. He replaced Elvis for me, and I was massive Elvis fan – I still am, actually. Michael has more great songs than I can even thing of, but I especially love the way he sings Black Or White. The conviction, the message – he’s really letting you in on something important.

“Picking the best Michael Jackson songs is difficult – there's so many. Smooth Criminal is a funky number. Oh, they’re all great. But Black Or White is a really hot tune. The guitar, the beat – it makes me want to move. I feel like dancing when I hear it. I want to dance like Michael!

“I’m a hippie; I go back to the ‘60s. I remember Miles Davis telling me, ‘The best bands are mixed.’ That meant a lot to me, so when I hear people spreading that same message, and Michael Jackson is doing it on this song, it hits me right in the heart.”

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