Jun 042013

I can’t stand Journey. I never liked them, not a thing about them. (Well, there was that brief moment in time when I had some interest in them.)

For a variety of reasons, I assume, we tend to go easy on African-American musicians. It’s understandable. Rock ‘n roll fans have been raised to praise the “authenticity” of the genre’s predecessors and colleagues from the extended soul world. Most, if not all, regulars in the Hall seem to be white. (I’m not asking for anyone to step forward and prove that assumption wrong, mind you.) Most of us did not grow up with the music of African-American artists as our initial source of music, so we lack the visceral reactions that come from growing up with a particular strain of music that is in the crosshairs of our culture. That’s cool. Hell, some of you don’t know a soul artist exists unless some white dude has gotten behind the production of the artist’s “comeback” album.

However, we’re adults. We’re mature. We’ve developed our hard-earned tastes. We know what we like and what we don’t like. We can spot a white rock turd from a mile away. Some may point to Journey or Styx or REO Speedwagon (or all 3) or Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show or Billy Joel, for instance, or a more contemporary artist of that “minitude.” I bet there’s an established African-American musician who makes your stomach turn—and I don’t mean a 1-hit wonder, like that nephew of Berry Gordy who wanted to be Michael Jackson.

Don’t hold back for fear of ignorance or cultural insensitivity: Who’s your African-American Journey?

After considering Donna Summer, I thought about it and landed squarely on the following:

Al Jarreau

I get the same nauseous feeling when I hear the music of Al Jarreau that I get when I hear any of my least-favorite late-’70s white rock artists: Journey, Styx, Foreigner… I know Jarreau is musically accomplished/skilled as a jazz singer, or whatever he is, but I can’t shake the sickening feeling his music instills in me.

I first saw Jarreau on an early episode of Saturday Night Live, from around the same time as the above clip. His “jazz faces” and overall Look were a turnoff. I didn’t like “jazz singing” at all back then, and I still have little appreciation for that style of singing, although it is better than the worst genre of singing on the planet: opera singing. It’s petty, but I’m severely turned off by his choice in shirts, specifically the way he wears them.

I’m not saying I’m “right,” but I’m not going to beat around the bush: Al Jarreau is my “African-American Journey.”


  56 Responses to “RTH Confessional: Who’s Your African-American Journey?”

  1. ladymisskirroyale

    Whitney Houston. I could never stand her over-the-top performances, her personal trials and tribulations, her “acting” career, etc. etc. Her “power ballads” never did anything for me.

    I was working in a record store when her first or second album came out at the same time as Sade’s “Diamond Life,” and the employees all had discussion about who was better and/or sexier. I’ve always been a Sade fan, despite her vocal range that didn’t even begin to approximate Whitney’s. I like Sade’s style and her less ostentatious approach to publicity, despite her own personal trials.

  2. H. Munster

    At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, Marvin Gaye. I loved his early stuff and still do. I don’t care much for his duets with Tami Terrell, Kim Weston, et al, but songs like Hitchhike, Ain’t That Peculiar, and I’ll Be Doggone, are what soul is all about for me. With I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Too Busy Thinking About My Baby, and That’s the Way Love Is, he hit three home runs in a row. But then he started taking himself seriously and it all fell apart. What’s Goin’ On and Let’s Get It On were a complete break with his past and the Motown sound that I loved. It all kept going downhill from there, culminating with the wretched Sexual Healing. Nevertheless, I don’t think his father should have shot him.

  3. BigSteve

    Earth Wind & Fire may not exactly ‘make my stomach turn,’ but they always seemed really slick and cheesy to me.

  4. BigSteve

    Also Johnny Mathis, especially when he went disco.

  5. misterioso

    Sooooo……..What’s Goin’ On was where he took a wrong turn? Seriously?

  6. misterioso

    God, yes. Technically, I am sorry she’s dead and all that, of course. But there’s no end to how annoying she was, from day one.

  7. misterioso

    Who was the woman who did “Let’s Hear it for the Boy”? Denice Williams? Cripes, I hated that song. She did other really annoying songs, I am sure, that I can’t remember. Didn’t she have some awful duet with Johnny Mathis, BigSteve? “Too Much Too Little Too Late”? That’s her, no? Awful.

  8. You know what, a few oldtimers around here may recall that although I LOVE the singles from that album, I think the album itself kind of sucks. Outside of the title track, “Mercy Mercy Me,” and at least the main core of “Inner City Blues,” it’s a Muzak album with Marvin spouting off a lot of touchy-feely platitudes.

  9. YES! Or as I call them, Black Chicago.

  10. Bingo, misterioso! Didn’t they also do the theme song to that show with Alan Thicke?

  11. BigSteve

    I actually kind of liked Let’s Hear It For the Boy. That synthy bassline is groovy.

  12. Wow.
    Really guys? This is a new low.

  13. I have to admit, that song wasn’t too bad. It was even a characteristically ’80s song, no?

  14. Please explain, Slim. We’re here to have fun. Are we not aloud, as music fans, to express the fact that there are some established African-American musicians whose music we really don’t like and have a little fun cutting up on them as we cut up on so many rock musicians?

  15. cliff sovinsanity

    The 5th Dimension are terrible. Ok, there an easy target. Kool & The Gang are lousy. Shit, that’s too easy also. Peaches & Herb, perhaps. Damn, again.

  16. 2000 Man

    Lionel Ritchie for me. I hate him for the exact same reasons I hate Journey. I don’t care if he’s white or black or yellow. I hate Lionel Ritchie. I hate The Commodores, too. When Ritchie left The Commodores, I expected to never have to hear any of them anymore, but it just focused my hate on Lionel Ritchie. I think I even hate Paris Hilton just because she was friends with Lionel Ritchie’s kid.

  17. I bet Slim sees the light now.

  18. BigSteve

    I like the 5th Dimension, but I like capital P Pop music.

  19. Oh well, for fuck’s sake, when you put it that way. Uncle!

  20. ladymisskirroyale

    Lionel Ritchie! Shazaam!

    At least you weren’t given her daughter’s book/memoir as a birthday present, and out of respect for the giver, you read it.

    And have y’all seen the Lionel Ritchie “Hello” poster? Just google Ritchie Hello Poster and you’re in for a laugh.

  21. jeangray

    I can see where Slim Jade is coming from. The poll seemed a bit distasteful at first glance. And Mr. Mod’s writing here reeks of white privilege & way too broad assumptions. A person must really live in a small world if’n there only exposure to black Musik is due to it’s connection to an established white artist. And what’s up with the quotation marks around authenticity? Bad form.

    There is just an air of desperation about this whole thread. Are we really that desperate for topics to talk about here? A better topic might have been, why don’t we talk more about black Music? Isn’t one Journey bad enough, do we really need to differentiate a black option? I really canna appreciate the distinctions being drawn here. Thread fail.

    Can’t wait to see somebody write off Rap as a whole genre again. Good times…

  22. I appreciate your sincere comments, jeangray.

  23. misterioso

    Mod, your deeply rooted urge to smash icons (Exile, White Album, Blood on the Tracks [?], What’s Goin’ On) is duly noted. Mostly wrongheaded, but duly noted.

  24. misterioso

    Characteristically 80s in the sense of being unsurpassedly annoying? Yes. Just beyond hateful.

  25. 2000 Man

    I thought Mod was more looking at it from the point of view that there are a lot of white, middle aged Rock snobs for whom black artists are always more authentic, and it’s funny that said white middle aged Rock snobs also only seem to be able to discover that music from their own white icons. Would these kinds of fans actually step up and admit to hating any of those black artists? I don’t think he was shooting for anything other than taking a look at ourselves.

    Race is a tough subject. It’s hard to do it right, but it needs to be done.

  26. THANK YOU, too, 2K, for getting EXACTLY what I was going for.

    I’m not officially part of any religious group, but I consider myself a Quaker. I was bumming out for a few minutes on the drive into work. “Will Quakers continue to diminish in numbers?” I thought, “Will they never gain in popularity and influence?”

    I determined that they would continue to diminish, that they would never hit even a mild surge in popularity. “Do Quakers quit?” I asked myself.

    They carry on.

  27. misterioso

    Yeah, Mod, hundreds of years of slavery, Jim Crow, institutionalized racism and inequality were bad, but an African-American Journey was the last straw.

  28. hrrundivbakshi

    My beef with this thread is that it assumes all middle-aged white folk have this weird socio-musical guilt thing going on — like I’m going to read the thread and feel connected with all my fellow RTHers through the strength of our Black Music Issues.

    That, and the fact that as the responses pile up, it seems to have become a “which Black musicians do you think suck?” thread.

    I get the intention, but — like far too many threads I’ve tossed into the hopper — it doesn’t work in execution. That’s not a slam on you, Mod; like 2K says, talking about race is hard. And not just because you run the risk of offending; you also run the risk of overcompensating for fear and guilt and sounding banal instead.

    Much love and respect,


  29. hrrundivbakshi

    Hey, what I just wrote sounds assholish. Didn’t mean for it to. Sorry if it offended.

  30. 2000 Man

    I’m not sure the person that gave you that book is really your friend!

  31. 2000 Man

    It seems to me HVB, that eventually if we keep talking about racism (or whatever other kind of ism you want), then so long as our intentions are good and we don’t repeatedly make the same mistakes and assumptions, then eventually people might start to get things right.

    But I think there’s a goldmine of material with the stereotypical Rock snob, which is really just a conglomeration of people like us, with the entire middle removed from the spectrum. What’s really funny is that the middle of the Rock snob spectrum is so small! I mean, think of the times you’ve had to stand next to a stinky guy at a record show because you were hoping to score a Flamin’ Groovies album and he was hogging the F’s and you could see the Replacements and Stones albums already under his arm. Then think of the time when you went to a show and figured you’d just take a shower when you got home, because you wouldn’t know the people there anyway!

  32. HVB, I’m not offended by your self-perceived asshole-ish tone. I am, however, slightly amused by the tsk-tsk nature of some comments you and others have taken. If I’d thrown out some cheap shot on a band like Styx or even all the bad solo albums by members of the Beatles it would be open season for our cheapest thrills, with the occasional pure-hearted Townsperson chiming in with favorable comments on a pre-fame overlooked gem of an album. Step up to the RTH Confessional and take a shot at an African-American artist who you dislike as much as whatever band you dislike as much as I dislike Journey. Or don’t, but I hope you don’t do so because it’s not the most interesting topic ever put forth, not because you’re afraid to insult your Al Jarreau-loving friends.

  33. ladymisskirroyale

    You are correct. She turned out not to be.

    BTW, the book turned out to be somewhat amusing. It certainly was easy reading (similar to her dad’s easy listening).

  34. BigSteve

    It’s the RTH Confessional, which I thought was where we tried to deal with uncomfortable topics. It’s not where we get all self-righteous.

  35. hrrundivbakshi

    You all are not picking up what I’m layin’ down. My question is: why frame this as a “RTH Confessional”? What’s to confess? Why not just ask, “which Black artists do you think suck”? Or don’t, because the question you’re asking is kind of one-dimensional.

    No, wait, it’s two-dimensional: dimension one — what artists suck? Dimension two: but wait! They have to be Black.

  36. jeangray

    HVB nailed my misgivings about this thread, in far more succinct manner than I ever could. Strong work!

  37. Are any of you willing to explain what’s at the root of your misgivings? Isn’t it the fact that I’ve thrown down the opportunity to cut on black artists? Haven’t there been a thousand silly threads like this where we specifically cut on all sorts of subgroups of musicians for no other reason than we enjoy breaking things down by more ridiculous criteria than most people do on their own time? Be honest. Confess.

    Do I really care what black artist you think sucks? Not really, not unless humorous or otherwise interesting insights ensue. That’s usually my hope for any thread we discuss, excluding Last Man Standings, which allow us to simply list things we know to be true. There’s no reason, if we were playing along with a similar thread on, say, Who’s Your English Journey or even Who’s Your Female-Fronted Journey, that hijinx would not ensue. Yes, as sensitive toward women as we are, if one of us set the thing up properly with references to women artists no one feels the need to defend, such as Pat Benetar, there’s a chance some spirited, self-aware, stupid discussion would take place. Maybe our old friend dr john would resurface to raise an objection, but do you think HVB would resist cutting up on some smelly hippie woman who bugs him, like Janis Joplin?

  38. I’m reminded of Elvis Costello’s Ray Charles incident.

  39. Really? Did anyone around here call anyone else a “blind, ignorant nigger,” or whatever it was that a drunken Costello said that got his ass kicked by Bonnie Bramlett? Come on, Slim. You’re the first person here to tsk-tsk this thread. What’s really at issue for you? Give me something more than a passive-aggressive Facebook-style “jes sayin’…”

  40. Wait, no one has any love in their heart for Easy Like Sunday Morning? I don’t understand that…

    I also don’t understand why a rock snob would need to buy the Replacements, the Stones and the Flamin Groovies all in one shopping spree. That implies some fairly sizable gaps in their music collection and calls into question their very status as a rock snob.

  41. hrrundivbakshi

    No, but look: “who’s your hippie Journey” is *funny*, because it sets up all kinds of opportunities to make fun of artists that we think suck because of lifestyles they’ve chosen. I can make fun of hippies all day long because I think they choose to be smelly and wear John Phillips fur hats while singing about the eve of destruction, or, conversely, wearing flowers in your hair.

    Blackness doesn’t add a make-fun-able dimension to an artist. And not because it’s taboo — there’s just no depth of field there. “The Black Chicago” means… what? EW&F is just a bunch of Black guys trying to sound like Chicago? Or Chicago, if it was a Black band? It just doesn’t go anywhere.

    I want to be perfectly clear: I do not think anybody who’s been offering up their least favorite Black artists is a racist, knowing or unknowing — or that Mod doesn’t know how to run a successful, highly entertaining, very sensitive and frequently hilarious rock and roll blog. I just think this particular thread has issues, and I wanted to point out what I think they are.

  42. misterioso

    Mmm, no, but my weak spot is for “Sail On.”

  43. hrrundivbakshi

    Easy Like Sunday Morning rules! Greatest AM radio guitar solo ever!

  44. I’m limited to giving you one high five, but know that there would be more if technology would allow it.

  45. Thank you, HVB, for giving way more than a few jes sayin’… responses. I COMPLETELY agree: blackness itself doesn’t add a fun-able dimension for discussion, but opening a discussion on established black artists who may bug us the same way various sorts of rock (ie, mostly white) artists bug us DOES open the possibility of fun discussion. For instance, I find Al Jarreau’s entire schtick and choice in shirts laughable. We wouldn’t typically have an opportunity to chuckle over Al Stinkin’ Jarreau. I threw open this silly thread topic in large part to see what might be bubbling under the politically correct surface. H. Munster, for instance, surprised me with his thoughts on Marvin Gaye. I generally disagree with him on Marvin’s late-period work, but I’m happy to have heard what was on his mind. The potshots that set up this post were intended only to annoy those who needed to be annoyed. I guess I’ve succeeded on that count, but my amusement in that regard is not what I’d call “joyous amusement.” Does that make sense?

    I truly don’t understand the “issues” other than the issues people might have with my characterizing African-American artists as African American. Again, if I had set this thread up around the English or artists from California or artists with mustaches or probably even women (if done just right) you would have jumped right in.

  46. 2000 Man

    Easy Like Sunday Morning, Lovin’ Touchin’ Sqeezin’, what’s the difference? Makes me puke either way.

    Now, my fellow Rock snob has those records visible, so I know he’ll take that Flamin’ Groovies album if he sees it first. Just so you know, they’re all rare UK mono versions and bootlegs. So my smelly snob and me are still too cool for school.

  47. No, the reason I’m reminded of it, is that Costello’s remarks were purportedly made in order to be deliberately obnoxious in order to incite a reaction. He was trying to pull up the most ridiculous statement possible in order to end a conversation. He “intended only to annoy those who needed to be annoyed”. Do you see my comparison?

    I come to RTH to praise music, not to bury it. The whole thing that got me started and signed up here was the dis on Robert Johnson a ways back. It’s disparaging, and I have little interest in being part of conversations that trip over themselves to be sarcastically clever, or to list “things that bug me”. I rarely have any sense of what particular Townspeople do in fact “like”. It’s all about “I hate this, in fact, I hate this so much, let’s compare it to a maligned minority”. It just closes the book.

    My feeling, then, is that this thread is the kind of thing that just stops momentum. It is in fact one-dimensional, and I have no time or interest for this crap.

    As fuel for my misgivings, I might add that I, for one, did indeed grow up with Motown, Stax, and Philly Soul as my initial source of music.

  48. I hear you, Slim. Thanks for the explanation. Sorry I brought the party to a halt. I’ll get over being a little pissed at the vague “You’ve sunk to a new low!” comments from you and a few others. We do a lot to keep the party going, even if we do swing and miss now and then. More goes on here than detailing things we hate. You know that. The Kelly Hogan post from a day or two later had nothing to do with hating stuff. That said, I’ll never be all about the pom-poms. Peace, brothers and sisters.

  49. BigSteve

    No, the question is, what black artists do you think suck, but you feel like people, maybe even you, give them a pass because of the general concept that white people invented cheesy blandness and black artists ought not to be susceptible to that. Don’t some people think that EW&F are ‘funky’?

  50. hrrundivbakshi

    EW&F aren’t funky enough for you?

  51. misterioso

    It’s nice that you hear him, Mod. Not sure I do. “It’s all about ‘I hate this, in fact, I hate this so much, let’s compare it to a maligned minority'”? What?

  52. 2000 Man

    Guess who got his for hatin’ on Lionel Ritchie? Me, that’s who. How? Apparently he was on some morning show, and he sang a bunch of his hit songs and I could hear it, but not see it, and my wife was actually in the garage and didn’t hear my pleas to turn it off. So, there ya go.

  53. in the vein of unintentionally offensive comments, two days ago at the americans for the arts annual convention in pittsburgh, pennsylvania first lady susan corbett stunned everyone by remarking that taking the stage after a performance by a duo of african-american musicians was like following an animal act.

    but she meant it in a good way…

  54. Thank you, Susan Corbett, for relieving me of the heat I’d been under!

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