One of the most versatile artists of the past four decades, Boz Scaggs has enjoyed a fruitful, sometimes brilliant career as a solo artist, session man, and member of the Steve Miller Band. His post-Miller catalogue is filled with excellent material from both ends of his career. His debut album, “Boz Scaggs,” was released in ’65 and featured a Top 20 hit with “You’re So Fine.”
And although his familiar, syrupy voice was frequently derided in the early ’80s as a relic of the decade before and compared unfavorably to Stevie Wonder’s, Scaggs emerged from that difficult period with triumph. The late ‘70s found him recording solid rock & roll albums for Columbia Records. By the ’80s, he was again at the top of his form with a series of adult-oriented pop and rock records that culminated in 1988’s “Other Roads.”
10. I’ll Be Long Gone (from the album “Boz Scaggs” — 1969)
Scaggs was more of a chameleon than ever on his second solo album, applying his silky voice to country-rock, Americana, blue-eyed soul, and rhythm and blues. His self-accompaniment had also grown considerably, with a mix of acoustic, electric guitars and piano, bass, and drums. The song pulses with the feel of a Memphis soul number and eases forward on bluesy guitar licks from its opening chords. A white boy belting out a blues vocal was not exactly a common sight in those days, but Scaggs pulls off the trick effortlessly as producer Jann Wenner chops away at the song’s rhythm with some judicious studio trickery.
9. Monkey Time (from the album “Boz Scaggs & Band”) (1969)
Perhaps the most bizarre song on “Boz Scaggs & Band,” the opening track, “Monkey Time,” was an unabashed attempt to jump on some of Sly Stone’s funkier coattails. But where Sly emphasized insistent thump over jazzy improvisation (arguably a mistake), Scaggs supplies an infectious melody and layers his vocals in a manner that gives the song an almost psychedelic edge. The funky ambiance is not unlike what was emanating from Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong studios at the time, but you can tell Scaggs really wanted to get down with the black man. And he did it without seemingly any trepidation or fear of being labeled a sellout.
8. We’re Always Sweethearts (from the album “Moments” — 1971)
Scaggs is not a singer who delights in exposing his pain, but “We’re Always Sweethearts” offers an opportunity to hear him bare his soul. The song features Scaggs on piano and keyboardist David Foster on the mellotron, adding some haunting background vocals that lend further poignancy to Scaggs’ delivery. As with nearly all of his best songs, it’s a melody that makes this track: an insistent and airy melody that asks the question: why can’t we always be sweethearts?
7. Jojo (from the album “Middleman”) (1980)
Scaggs and David Lasley wrote the song. But what makes it interesting is that it was one of Scaggs’s first attempts at experimenting with soul music. His voice was not as effective as it had been during his ’70s heyday, but Scaggs’ success wasn’t necessarily dependent on his vocal skills. The lyrics and music were paramount; he proved himself a songwriter capable of crafting melodies that worked well with the public consciousness and his innate sense of electric rhythm and blues. The song is not the most innovative or original on the album, but this sleek funk number is far cooler than anything the Prince or Michael Jackson released that year.
6. Full Lock Power Slide (from the album “My Time”) (1972)
A “Boz Scaggs” album was something of a showcase for guitarist Steve Miller, but perhaps no track on this record showcased his skills better than “Full Lock Power Slide.” Joined by keyboardist Barry Finnerty, Miller plays driving riffs that bolster the song’s sunny disposition. The track begins with a three-note intro on the guitar, which adds some shimmer to its infectious melody. This is one of “My Time’s” more soulful tracks, but Scaggs never quite lets his vocals become ragged or frayed. The song retains an airiness throughout, retaining the charm of a summer evening while crafting an atmosphere that is just a little bit edgy.
5. What’s New (from the album “But Beautiful” — 2003)
Scaggs may have been a little late to the mainstream jazz party, but his efforts in that genre ought not to be overlooked. Though many dismissed him as a lightweight when he released “But Beautiful,” the album showcased Scaggs’ excellent command of an under-appreciated form of music. He does not oversell the rhyming lyrics in the opening track, “What’s New,” but instead allows them to blend into the musical backdrop that he has created. It’s an effortless performance that is best appreciated when it sinks in.
4. Flames Of Love (from the album “Boz Scaggs & Band” — 1971)
This is one of Scaggs’ most underrated songs. “Flames Of Love” never became a big hit, but perhaps it should have. The song is anchored by an irresistible hook that burrows deep into your memory, featuring lush vocal harmonies and dense guitar riffs. The chorus begins with the lines: “I’ve tried to run, I’ve tried to hide, It just don’t do no good” before the song’s groove takes over. The music is in sync with Scaggs’ delivery, one of his great strengths as a songwriter. He never lets the groove overpower him. Instead, he eases into it and savors every moment, creating a sensual experience that never feels cheap or crass.
3. Loan Me A Dime (from the album “Boaz Scaggs” — 1969)
No Scaggs song is more emblematic of his overall sound than this track. The singer was known for his relaxed, calm demeanor, but he didn’t always seem like an iceman. Forget that “Fenton Robinson” wrote the song. As with his greatest compositions, “Loan Me A Dime” is a tour-de-force for Scaggs. The groove has an almost Eastern tinge, as the singer delivers an evocative performance that never fails to create the exact feelings he intends to convey.
2. We’re All Alone (from the album “Silk Degrees”) (1976)
This is what pop music should sound like. Perhaps it’s because Scaggs was an artist who went against the grain. On this celebratory, horn-infused track, he crafts a melody that feels both timeless and modern at the same time. It was one of his biggest hits, but Scaggs doesn’t let that become a crutch. Instead, he kicks into high gear and delivers one of his most spirited performances ever. The song is as anthemic as it gets around these parts, and it never feels forced or false. No matter how much time has passed since its release, “We’re All Alone” remains a piece of music that is unique yet familiar.
1. Lowdown (from the album “Silk Degrees”) (1976)
“Lowdown” may be the most quintessential Scaggs track ever recorded. The song is a perfect melding of pop and jazz, with the singer providing a stirring vocal performance that never falters or becomes overwrought. The lyrics are unforgettable as well, especially since their implications still resonate 40 years later. “The myth of innocence fades,” Scaggs sings at one point, never seeming like he is overreaching. The singer has always delivered reliable, sturdy performances, but this track made us long for more. We got it, too.
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