Most people know Michael Crain from his work in frenetic hardcore bands like Dead Cross (also featuring Mike Patton, Dave Lombardo and Justin Pearson) and Retox, but the man has a soft side, too. The guitarist is a lifelong R&B fan who has a profound respect and appreciation for all types of music in the world of soul, funk, disco, jazz and more.
In honor of Dead Cross' new album, II, we let Crain take the reigns and guide us metalheads on a tour of five essential R&B records.
"I always get excited when I'm able to talk about music that I love to an otherwise unsuspecting or captive audience," Crain says. "In this case, it's sharing my deep love for R&B with my fellow metalheads. For the sake of this list, I'm using the term 'R&B' as an all-encompassing genre to cover several subgenres like funk, disco, jazz, soul, etc.
"This style of music was my first love. My mother has always been a huge fan, so my earliest memories have artists like Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Hall & Oats and Sade providing the soundtrack. Being that it was implanted deep into my subconscious, as I grew as a musician, so did my deep love and admiration for the genre. Thank you, mom. Heavy metal was my dad's fault."
Anybody who knows me personally knows that there is nothing I love more than heavy fucking metal, my dogs, and Sade. In my opinion Helen Folasade Adu is a genre in and of herself. I have her portrait tattooed on my neck and whenever somebody immediately recognizes her, I know that we're going to be friends. First of all, she's never put out a bad record, so adding her to the list was easy. This record in particular is when, in my opinion, she really hit her stride. If you want to become a true believer, look up her live performance of "Is It a Crime." I love her and she's all mine.
I was hesitant to put a "best of" on this list, but for artists as prolific as the Isley Brothers, it's unavoidable. For anybody who's never heard the Isley Brothers, you've only never knowingly heard the Isleys. They are probably one of the most sampled artists ever. Songs like "Between the sheets" and ""For the Love" are absolutely some of the most heartfelt songs I've ever heard. "That Lady" and "Fight the Power" are so fucking good it's not even fair. Whatever they're doing, I wish I could do it, too.
This is another artist who could have several releases on this list. I've always loved Sly Stone. The hook on "I Want to Take You Higher" is second to none. The same goes for "Sing a Simple Song." I love the stripped-down, hard-grooving rhythm section, catchy guitar lines, horn accents, and vocal hooks. It's a play right out of James Brown's playbook. Perfectly executed.
It's not like Diana Ross needs an introduction. The Supremes were one of the most groundbreaking female acts of their time with an endless list of hits. However, I feel like this record is when Diana became herself. "I'm Coming Out" is her anthem. All of the songs off of this record are so infectious. They all have killer hooks and perfect form. We need to give credit where credit is due, though. if you don't know the name Nile Rodgers then you might want to look him up. He definitely supplied the magic on this record and it wouldn't be the masterpiece that it is without him.
Stevie Wonder could easily fill most of this list on his own. The albums Talking Book [1972) and Songs in the Key of Life (1976) are my other faves, but Innervisions is a fucking masterpiece front to back. I still get goosebumps every time I hear "Golden Lady." The first song that ever caught my attention from this record was "Living for the City." I remember seeing a video from the 1970's of him and his band performing this song and it blew my fucking mind. I'd never seen anyone deliver a song so passionately before. Pure love.