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Baker's Dozen

Too Good To Be True: Tom Robinson's Favourite Albums
Lisa Jenkins , August 7th, 2013 07:52

The erstwhile punk frontman and now radio presenter and all-round man of music distils his sprawling record collection down to his 13 finest albums


Stevie Wonder - Fulfillingness' First Finale
Stevie Wonder was a protest singer. Then again, Bob Dylan was a protest singer. But Stevie Wonder was a soul singer, and that’s his great achievement. The greatest protest singers were music first and protest second. Nina Simone had ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’ as well as ‘Mississippi Goddam’. Bob Dylan had ‘Lay Lady Lay’ as well as ‘The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll’. Billy Bragg had ‘The Milkman of Human Kindness’ as well as ‘Between The Wars’. And Bob Marley had ‘Jammin’ as well as ‘Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)’.

The music works on a song like ‘Living For The City’ because it was done in a pop context and made it into discos and radio stations the world over. Yet it had the hardcore civil rights message: “To find a job is like a haystack needle/ Cause where he lives they don’t use coloured people”. Talking Book and ‘Superstition’ are the ones people normally mention. This album tends to get overlooked. What I love is the musicianship, where it’s just Stevie playing pretty much everything apart from the brass sections that come in. ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman’ is phenomenal writing and playing. Nobody else has ever used that groove. There aren’t many artists who can say that they’ve come up with a groove that nobody else has ever used, yet there’s no other song that I can think of that I’ve ever heard that has that. You hear him jamming with himself and playing the bass line on his Moog synth. It’s possibly the greatest bassline I’ve ever heard played by anybody, anywhere, ever. Him jamming with himself playing the harmonica, occasionally shouting out “can I play?” [laughs] - it’s full of joy.

I saw him quite a few years ago at the Ivor Novello Awards where he was the international guest. Once on stage, he began with the most natural charm, telling the audience stories like how he was glad to be in England but he’d never thought he’d be giving an award like this. Because when he was growing up and blind, there was this girl next door, and sometimes being blind was an advantage because you could say “You know I can’t see so can I just touch your face?” - and, you know, touch parts of her. And her father said, “Boy, blind or not, I’m gonna run your ass!” [laughs]. He was telling all these anecdotes and then someone drunk at the back of the hall shouts “sing” and Stevie ignores them and carries on telling stories. And then somebody else shouts “sing” and without missing a beat he opens his mouth and sings. He makes up a song on the spot - words, melody, everything about being in London, being there for the Ivors and how great it is to be there. He just sang, straight from the heart. I was in tears, because he has a gift where his singing bypasses the brain and the cerebral cortex, and it goes straight from his heart straight into your heart. Very few musicians have that gift of being able to do that, to move you with their voice. People rose to their feet, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was fucking amazing!