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Raphael Saadiq Brings Back The Love Song
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Raphael Saadiq Brings Back The Love Song

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

(Soundbite of song, "100 Yard Dash")

NORRIS: From the sounds of his music, you might think that we've reached back into our archives, but this song, "100 Yard Dash," is from the latest album by Raphael Saadiq.

Saadiq may not be a household name, but he's been in the music industry for a long time, more than 20 years. He was with the R&B group, Tony! Toni! Tone! Later, he organized the group Lucy Pearl that scored a hit with the song, "Dance Tonight."

He's also won Grammys as a producer with his hands in hits from artists including Erykah Badu, D'Angelo and Joss Stone. Even with that success, he struggled to find his voice in the ever-changing music business.

His latest release is called "The Way I See It," and the way Saadiq sees it, there's something about that old-school, spin-the-45-on-the-turntable kind of sound.

Mr. RAPHAEL SAADIQ (Musician): In this climate of the industry now, to do the record I did was kind of like unheard of from - even from my label. They were like, you know, they never heard the record until it was done. You know, so they were like: What do we do with this? He's not, you know, he's not a blonde girl, or he's not Amy, he's not Duffy, but he's doing this music.

I'm like well, this is the music I do, and this is - the people I watch, this is what they did, so…

NORRIS: Why was it so revolutionary? What was it - why was it so unheard of, as you say?

Mr. SAADIQ: Just listen to the radio in this climate. It's very, you know, very trendy music and coming from an urban side of the world, too. It's like, it's very rare that somebody's - you know, play a '60s song, and people go, like oh, we can't play that. He's playing that retro music, or - and I don't even see it as at retro because I've been there so long in my life, and listening to this music is - I feel like something is retro if you're trying it out, and it's like the first time you've done it, but for me, I just - I've been doing it all my life. You know, I feel like I should've been back in day, really, like I was born a little too late.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) (Unintelligible). Your love gets stronger, and it feels like every day is getting longer.

NORRIS: So this was really like time travel for you?

Mr. SAADIQ: Yeah. I always tell people it's going back for me. It looks like it's old, actually throwback, but it's really going back to move forward.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) Oh, oh, I need your loving. I want your loving.

NORRIS: We should say all these songs are really short. They're all about two-and-a-half-, three-minutes long, which I guess is also that retro thing again.

And there's one song that you wrote about Katrina. It's an homage to New Orleans.

Mr. SAADIQ: "Big Easy."

NORRIS: Yeah.

(Soundbite of song, "Big Easy")

Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) Somebody tell me what's going on. I haven't seen my baby in far too long. Somebody please tell me what's going on. They say them levees broke, and my baby's gone.

It's been a couple of days, and a real dark night. I miss my only child. I ain't seen him since that night. She left home about eight and never to return. (Unintelligible) through that river.

NORRIS: This song is very upbeat.

Mr. SAADIQ: Yeah.

NORRIS: And a lot of people who are writing music about New Orleans are writing music that's - that doesn't have this kind of tempo.

Mr. SAADIQ: I mean, I wanted to do something in the spirit of New Orleans, you know, and I wanted to do it in that spirit - you know in New Orleans, when they mourn, they really celebrate and have a great time, and I wanted to give it that same spirit, so when I play in New Orleans, people feel it.

(Soundbite of song, "Big Easy")

Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) Please somebody tell me. (Unintelligible). Please somebody tell me (unintelligible).

NORRIS: So it has that second line, spirit.

Mr. SAADIQ: Right, yeah.

(Soundbite of song, "Big Easy")

Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) Please somebody, tell me, show me. Please somebody tell me, tell me.

NORRIS: It sounds like there were a lot of people in the studio, which is unusual these days.

Mr. SAADIQ: Yeah, I was there by myself most of the time. I would play drums first. Then I would play the bass over the top of that, and then I would play the guitar. Then I would play the piano. Then I would do all the singing, all the background.

(Soundbite of song, "Big Easy")

Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) Please somebody tell me. I know you know. Somebody tell me (unintelligible).

NORRIS: When I listen to your earlier work in your early years, when you were recording with Tony! Toni! Tone!, that music has such - it sounds so polished, like every note has been worked on. It just sounds highly produced, and it's such a different sound from this latest release, which has a much more raw sound, like you didn't feel like you needed to go back and overdub and then clean up the sound.

In fact, there are moments when the audio almost sounds like it's a bit distorted, and that seemed to be okay.

Mr. SAADIQ: Yeah, exactly. I recorded, like, all my own vocals, too, and the engineer's like your vocals are a little distorted, but I was like yeah, but I like it. And so we…

NORRIS: Was his inclination to go in and clean that up?

Mr. SAADIQ: No, no, never, no. We both were just, you know, wanted to sound as dirty as it, you know, as grimy as it possibly could.

NORRIS: Dirty?

Mr. SAADIQ: Yeah.

NORRIS: Interesting word, dirty.

(Soundbite of song, "Love That Girl")

Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) You can tell by the smile, she's such a love child. And every man in this place would love to be in her face.

NORRIS: This is an album that's principally love songs.

Mr. SAADIQ: Yeah. I mean, I felt like, you know, Motown and Stax and a lot of those writers talked a lot about love in a real cool type of way and where it wasn't really cheesy, you know.

NORRIS: When did they stop writing love songs? It seems like, you know, people don't do that old-fashioned love song, the kind of thing that you'd sing to someone on the street, under the bedroom window.

Mr. SAADIQ: Well, they never really truly stopped. They just stopped being really, like, really clever about it.

(Soundbite of song, "Love That Girl")

Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) She is so, so sweet, and I'm glad she is so, and I'm glad, oh I, know that girl.

NORRIS: So is that your mission, to make the love song cool again?

Mr. SAADIQ: Well, I guess my mission was just to make it clever but make the music and the words sort of mean the same thing. It has to be one. A lot of other music, back in the day, it wasn't two separate things. The instruments kind of said the same thing as the lyrics, and that's what I wanted to do with this record.

NORRIS: Well, I'm going to get in your business now. We're going to, I think, go out with "Love That Girl" since we're talking about that love songs. Who's that girl?

Mr. SAADIQ: Well, that was a make-believe girl at that time, you know. I can't say it was about any particular girl. I know that's really sad to say that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Had to ask.

Mr. SAADIQ: But you know, I was more or less, like you know, have to have someone like a Dorothy Dandridge in my mind to, like, write a song like that, somebody that I've never met that's like super sweet. You just want them to hear that song and go wow, like you know, bringing or delivering a dozen roses to a girl.

(Soundbite of song, "Love That Girl")

Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) Oh I love that girl.

Mr. SAADIQ: It's like delivering that song to ladies.

(Soundbite of song, "Love That Girl")

Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) Darling, I'm so glad we found each other, holding hands, kissing and making love. (Unintelligible). She is so…

NORRIS: Raphael Saadiq, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Mr. SAADIQ: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "Love That Girl")

Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

NORRIS: You can hear one of Raphael Saadiq's old-fashioned love songs and more at our Web site, nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Love That Girl")

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