We Have Bobby in Common
Bobby Caldwell is a longtime crooner and someone that can rightfully say he’s big in Japan. Bobby’s classic track, “What You Won’t Do for Love,” is his most recognizable hit, but in this episode Joe and Toby show how Common sampled another Caldwell track, “Open Your Eyes,” for his iconic song “The Light”.
What we geek out over in this episode: Bob Marley and real estate, TK Records, John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, Biz Markie and the the Grand Upright Music case, KC and the Sunshine Band, heart shaped records, deceptively white guys, Peter Cetera and Amy Grant, girlfriends that “go to another school”, Mr. Mister. Cool Uncle, Philip Bailey, Bid Daddy Kane, The Source, No ID, Ice Cube and diss tracks, Stevie Wonder, the movie “Selma”, Flamingosis.
Bonus Material: Other tracks that sample Bobby Caldwell, including from 2Pac, Biggie, and Lil Nas X.
Play The Light
Joe: Hello and Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the collision of original and sampled tracks and the artists who made them. I’m your host, Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell.
Toby: We are listening to one of my favorite MCs. Someone I actually got a chance to see live in concert a while back who has proven himself as musician and actor. None other than Chicago’s own Common.
Toby: Why don’t we hop in the Delorean and see what track was sampled to make this hit?
Play Open Your Eyes
Toby: Joe, can you tell the good people what we are listening to?
Joe: Certainly. This is Bobby Caldwell and his song Open Your Eyes. Can you tell us a little more about Bobby Caldwell?
Toby: Robert Hunter Caldwell was born on August 15th, 1951 in Manhattan. He grew up in Miami where his mother sold real estate, including to a client by the name of Bob Marley.
Joe: I heard that Bob was a big supporter of Mama Caldwell. He really got her through some tough times.
Toby: Really? How so?
Joe: Real estate is a tough gig – sometimes there’s a lot of ups and downs. During any of the downturns, he’d cheer her up and tell her, “No woman. No cry. “
Toby: Ok, that is terrible. We are not going to Wait in Vain for anything resembling a good joke from you, so let’s move on. Bobby Caldwell started playing piano and guitar at the age of 12, and even did a stint out in Vegas at the age of 17.
Joe: In 1978, he signed a deal with a record label in Miami called TK Records, which was an early pioneer in the rise of disco. Back in July of 1974, George McRae had a hit on the TK label with Rock Your Baby. This went right to #1 on the pop charts, let’s take a listen.
Play Rock Your Baby
Toby: Just three months later, John Lennon interpolated Rock Your Baby for his #1 hit, Whatever Gets You Thru the Night, off of his Walls and Bridges album. Lennon gave McRae a nod as being the inspiration for the song. Let’s give it a spin.
Play Whatever Gets You
Joe: So this was back in 1974? I’m going to start referring to anything before 1991 as pre BM.
Toby: Whoah. BM? Why are we talking about bowel movements on this show?
Joe: No my friend. I’m referring to landmark Biz Markie case that changed sampling forever. That’s the BM I am referring to. But in order to avoid confusion, maybe we should refer to it as the pre or post GUM era.
Toby: That’s a better idea. The GUM in this case refers to Grand Upright Music, the company that represented Gilbert O’Sullivan and successfully sued Warner Bros, Biz Markie, and others for copyright infringement.
Joe: Biz had sampled O’Sullivan’s Alone Again (Naturally) for his track I Need a Haircut. It went to New York District Court, and Biz, Warner Bros and crew lost the case. That pretty much opened the floodgates for artists to seek compensation for their songs being sampled or interpolated. The wild west days of sampling were over.
Toby: Getting back to TK Records, the label had cemented their status in the disco scene with a little group called KC and the Sunshine Band. They had a string of five #1s for TK, including this one off of their 4th album, “Part 3.” Let’s hear (Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty.
Play Shake Shake
Joe: This is also the only #1 song with a title that repeats the same word more than three times. We dig into the trivia vaults for you hear on Riffs!
Toby: Bobby Caldwell had finished his first album for the label and they were happy with the material, but like Tom Petty sang in the song Great Wide Open, “the A&R man said I don’t hear a single.”
Joe: Bobby went back and spent a couple of days working on the song that would become his signature hit, “What You Won’t Do for Love”. Let’s take listen.
Play What You Won’t
Toby: What You Won’t Do for Love reached *9 on the Hot 100, #6 on the Soul Singles, and #10 on the Easy Listening charts. TK also released a promo single that was pressed into a heart shape, which was the most expensive single ever produced to that point.
Joe: The public demand for that prompted TK to produce another 50K copies that sold for the same price as the full album. I’d love to get my hands on one of those! It’s also interesting that the song soared on multiple charts, given the lengths the label went to hide Bobby’s race.
Toby: TK Records was an R&B label with a primarily black audience, so they kept Bobby’s face off the album and tried to hide the fact that he is white. Which is crazy for a number of reasons, but also because Harry Wayne Casey, or KC from the Sunshine Band, is a white guy. I’m not sure what the issue was.
Joe: Me either, but this is what Bobby had to say about it in an interview with NPR.
“I felt possibly there was a degree of deception on behalf of the label. But that was quickly laid to rest when I had my first tour, which was opening for Natalie Cole, and she was on her debut album, "This Will Be." Well, she was playing large venues, 4,500-plus. And "What You Won't Do For Love" was, at that point, working its way up, so I was very surprised at seeing nothing but black in the audience. And certainly they were probably more surprised than I was. But... Most of the wonderful people I've gotten to know in the radio business, they all say the same thing. It's like a universal language, and should have no barriers.”
Toby: That’s something we’ve said so many times on this show. Music is a universal language Bobby’s next two albums charted in the top 50 on the R&B charts. “Cat in the Hat” was released in 1980, and contains our first featured track, Open Your Eyes. Let’s take another listen:
Play Open Your Eyes 2
Joe: On Bobby’s next album, Carry On, he played all of the instruments himself. Let’s take a listen to one of those tracks, Loving You, which has a bit of that Miami and reggae influence running through it.
Play Loving You
Toby: As disco started to die, so did TK Records, and they shut down. Bobby’s friend Boz Scaggs advised him to start writing songs for other artists.
Joe: That turned out to be a good call, as Bobby co-wrote with Paul Gordon another #1 hit. This one for Peter Cetera on his 1986 album Solitude/Solitaire. The song is a duet with Amy Grant called The Next Time I Fall. Let’s take a listen.
Play Next Time
Toby: That song debuted at #1 on the Hot 100 and spent 21 weeks on the charts. It also won the Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
Joe: By the mid-90s, Bobby had turned his vocal talents to covering American Standards and a lot of Sinatra. Let’s take a listen to his version of Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You” from Bobby Caldwell’s 1996 album Blue Condition.
Play I Get a Kick
Toby: You remember back in the day when you’d pretend to have a girlfriend and she “just went to a different school.”
Joe: She did go to a different school!
Toby: Joe, you gotta let that one go now. It’s over buddy, you’re too old to be holding on to that story.
Joe: Jeez. I don’t know why you have to call me out on the air. I will say this at least, I am BIG in Japan.
Toby: No you are not. As Biz would say, “don’t even gimme that!” But you know who is?
Toby: Well, yes, and Boby Caldwell. He is referred to over there as Mr. AOR, which stands for Mr. Adult Oriented Rock.
Joe: Well now they are going to call me Mr. Mister in Japan, because now thanks to you I have Broken Wings. Lord have mercy!
Toby: Kyrie Elieson! And just because Bobby Caldwell is big in Japan, don’t think that he’s not still relevant. He’s like everyone’s Cool Uncle.
Joe. Well done sir. That is the name of his 2015 collaboration album with producer Jack Splash. Though you may not recognize his name, you have certainly heard Jack Splash’s work. He’s been nominated for ten Grammy’s and won three, including for this song from CeeLo Green’s 2010 album The Lady Killer. It’s a different kind of F You than you might be expecting from CeeLo. This is the track Fool for You.
Play Fool for You
Toby: And that song also features Earth Wind and Fire frontman and the Easy Lover himself, Philip Bailey – another guy who is no stranger to Grammys. Jack Splash has worked with a slew of artists, from Alicia Keys to Kendrick Lamar, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson, Anthony Hamilton, SIa — too many to name.
Joe: But it took a Google alert for the collaboration with Bobby Caldwell to happen, and even then I’m a bit surprised it all worked out.
Toby: So apparently Bobby Caldwell’s wife gets the Google alert saying that Jack mentioned him as an influence, and Bobby was surprised given the significant age difference between the two. His wife suggested she give Jack a call, he did, and they hit it off and decided to work together.
Joe: Here’s what Jack said in a Rolling Stone interview:
“An ex-girlfriend dumped me. Her next dude, probably the following week, took her on a date. The first date — I was like, what a chump, who does this on the first date? — took her to a Bobby Caldwell concert. At that time, I didn’t know his name; I only knew the music. I said who the F is Bobby Caldwell? For years and years, I was making — in my mind — Bobby Caldwell songs.”
Toby: Let’s take a listen to one of their songs off of the Cool Uncle collaboration. This is Lonely.
Joe: Bobby Caldwell was able to find shared musical interests with Jack Splash, so now what do you say we find out what he has in common with… Common. Toby, can you tell us a bit more about our second featured artist?
Toby: Absolutely. Onnie Corant Jamman Shuka Rashid Lynn was born on March 13, 1972. His mother was an educator and his father was an ex ABA ball player turned youth counselor. After his parents’ divorce his mother largely raised him. While a high school student, Lynn rapped in a group called CDR.
Joe: The group was composed of Lynn and his friends Corey Crawley and Ernest Dion Wilson. They group opened up for some pretty solid acts in hip hop like NWA, as well as for this guy.
Play Smooth Operator
Toby: That was Grammy award winning MC Big Daddy Kane and his hit song Smooth Operator from his 1989 album It’s a Big Daddy Thing. Some of you will also recognize that Mary jane Girls sample that we covered in a previous episode.
Joe: Wilson went off to college and the group disbanded in 1991. This didn’t stop him from pursuing a career in music, however. Common was featured in the Unsigned Hype section in the Source Magazine. Toby can you tell us why this is a big deal?
Toby: The Source is a hip hop magazine that a lot of people have paid attention to over the years. One of the reasons is the Unsigned Hype section where new and promising MCs that were looking for record deals were featured. Back in the day when the underground scene was alive and when lyricism was paramount, everyone was looking for the next great MC.
Joe: DMX, 50 Cent and Eminem were all featured in the Unsigned Hype section, and each time it led them to a record deal and fame. The article about Lynn, going by the name Common Sense, led to his first single as a solo artist in 1992. Let’s hear Take it EZ in 1992
Play Take it EZ
Toby: His album, Can I borrow a Dollar, was released in October 1992 on Relativity Records. The album, including that first single, was entirely produced by his former group member Wilson, who now was going by a different name — No ID
Joe: No idea? What do you mean, you don’t know his name?
Toby: No ID
Joe: Toby, it’s ok. If you don’t know his name, we can just move on. No judgement here.
Toby: No Joe-his producer name was No ID. He took his middle name of Dion and reversed it. As far as reasons to name oneself, I gotta admit that this is pretty clever.
Joe: Well besides having a great name, he’s also a pretty talented producer. He’s hailed as the Godfather of Chicago Rap due to his influence and the artists he has worked with. Like this guy:
Play Run this Town
Toby: That was jay z’s single Run this Town featuring Kanye and Rihanna from Jay Z’s 2009 album The Blueprint 3. No ID has also produced for this guy:
Play Find Your Love
Joe: That was Drake’s single Find Your Love off of his 2010 album Thank Me Later. There are plenty of others that we could list in No iD’s discography, but let’s get back to our featured artist, Common.
Toby: Common’s next album, Resurrection was released on Oct 4, 1994 and again featured the production of NO ID. The album highlighted Common’s growth and evolution since his first album. There are a lot of songs that show Common’s poetic style.
Joe: One of the most well-known songs on the album is a track called I used to Love HER. HER is an acronym that stands for Hip Hop in its Essence is Real. The song discusses the fall in popularity of afrocentric Hip Hop and the rise of gangsta rap. Let’s take a listen to one of the lines that stirred up a lot of controversy.
Play I Used to Love Her
Toby: Due to its artistry, this song is hailed as being one of the best hip hop songs of the decade, and obviously that means it received a lot of attention. That attention eventually grew into beef as a West Coast MC took offense to the following lines.
Play i used to Love Her 2:16-2:21
Joe: The west Coast MC that you’re speaking of is none other than this guy:
Joe: That was Ice Cube and the song Wicked. Cube demonstrated his displeasure by recording a song called Westside Slaughterhouse. Tobe, have you listened to this track?
Toby: I have, and it’s nothing that we can play for you now due to the language, but allow me to say this, the message is clear. Ice Cube was upset and I believe that he really took Common’s lyrics out of context.
Joe: Regardless, it didn’t stop Common from coming out with a diss song of his own, a track called the BLANK in you. You can use your context clues to figure it out.
Toby: True that- I’ve listened to this song numerous times, and let me tell you that it’s clear that Common won the battle. It was also clear to both sides that this feud needed to end, especially considering the deaths of Tupac and Notorious BIG.
Joe: After the feud was settled, Common was sued by a Reggae band with the same name from Orange County. As a result, he shortened his from Common Sense to Common.
Toby: Common’s 3rd album, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, was released on Sept 30th, 1997. This album stands out for me because it was released on my birthday and because there were a ton of features on it like Lauryn Hill, De la Soul, Q Tip, Canibus, Black Thought and Questlove. Another reason why this album stood out is due to the subject matter that Common tackled on this album.
Joe: During the recording of the album, Common’s girlfriend discovered that she was expecting and the song that was written deals with whether to have an abortion or not from a male perspective.
Toby: The song was called Retrospect for life and features the vocal talents of Lauryn Hill who happened to be pregnant and shared the same due date as Common’s girlfriend. Let’s take a listen.
Play Retrospect for Life
Toby: This song samples one of my favorites of all time, Stevie Wonder and his classic song “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” from his 1971 album Where I’m Coming From. Any day I get to talk about Stevie is a good day. Let’s take a listen to it.
Play Never Dreamed
Joe: The success of his album led to Common landing a major record deal with MCA records for his 4th release, Like Water For Chocolate, released on March 28, 2000. This album earned Common his first Gold Album and contains our 2nd featured song. Let’s give that another listen:
Play The Light 2
Joe: The Light was produced by Detroit producer James Dewitt Yancey, aka J Dilla. J Dilla produced a large share of the music on Like Water for Chocolate and is probably one of the most well-known hip hop musicians out of Detroit. Before his death in 2006, he worked with the likes of Tribe Called Quest , De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, The Roots, Pharcyde, Erykah Badu and many more.
Toby: Common has expanded his repertoire to include acting, and in 2014 he starred in the movie Selma as civil rights leader James Bevel.
Joe: He also co-wrote and performed the song Glory for the movie with John Legend and Rhymefest. That track would go on to win both a Grammy and an Oscar. Let’s take a listen.
Toby: In August of 2019, Common dropped his twelfth studio album, Let Love. Let’s take a listen to the song God is Love featuring Leon Bridges and Jonathan McReynolds.
Play God is Love
Joe: Alright Toby, great stuff as always. I think it’s time to move on to our bonus material — what are we getting into today?
Toby: Let’s go back and look at some other songs that have sampled Bobby Caldwell’s work. Let’s start with 2Pac and his hit song Do For Love
Play Do For Love
Joe: We could literally could do an entire show on the artists that have sampled Bobby Caldwell’s What You Won’t Do for Love, but let’s focus on other Caldwell songs that have been sampled. Let’s check out Lil Nas X and his song Carry On, which samples the Bobby Caldwell song of the same name.
Play Nas X Carry On
Toby: What about some Notorious BIG? Here’s his track called Sky’s the Limit, which samples Caldwell’s My Flame.
Play Sky’s the Limit
Joe: One more for you. This is New Jersey beatboxer and producer Flamingosis and his track Down for the Fifth Time, which samples Bobby Caldwell’s Down for the Third Time.
Play Down Fifth
Toby: I think that’s about all the time we have left in this episode. What all did we cover?
Joe: Our first featured artist was Bobby Caldwell and his track Open Your Eyes, and our second featured artist was Common and his song The Light. For our bonus material, we listened to other tracks that sampled Bobby Caldwell. Can you tell us what we have lined up for our next episode?
Toby: We are going to find out how whiskey can make you go blind. Especially in Tennessee.
Joe: Oh my! Good thing we are in Cleveland, Ohio instead of Cleveland, Tennessee. Speaking of which, remind me to tell you a story… Until next time, thanks for listening, and we’ll catch you next time for Riffs on Riffs.