This month, we celebrate black music and we do so today with the first of our Top Tens. For this one, we’ve selected the 10 hottest songs you’re most likely to hear at any backyard barbeque you go to this summer, went to last summer or will go to in any summer to come. These songs are the certified barbeque songs that every black person has in their Ipod or, for those of you who are still analog folks in a digital world, on their stereo or 8-track player. In fact, if one of these songs isn’t played at your barbeque, it’s a crime akin to running out of chicken wings or drinks.
Here are our choices for those songs that when you hear them, automatically make you think about grills, hot dogs and cold beers.
1. Celebration- Kool and the Gang (1980)
What is a backyard barbeque without this #1 hit from Kool and the Gang? The Jersey City, N.J. based group used their multi-genre sound to good effect in this instant classic destined to be the theme for any celebration anywhere including sports championships, weddings, graduation parties and yup, the barbeque. If you don’t play this song during your barbeque, well, you didn’t really have one.
2. Before I Let Go- Frankie Beverly and Maze (1980)
Even Frankie Beverly himself couldn’t have known that this one song would become one of the most commonly played records in Black America ever. If you haven’t been to a party where this song was played, well, you don’t know any Black people. Maybe it’s the universal theme of wanting to hold onto love. Maybe it’s the impassioned vocals by Beverly or the musicianship of his longtime band, Maze.Maybe it’s the long extended break…we don’t know. What we do know is that this 1980 hit is still as vibrant a song as it was when it was released and that Maze is still touring behind it to this day.
3. I Love Music – O’Jays (1975)
Who doesn’t love a song that starts with a conga drum? That’s the intro of the O’Jays classic “I Love Music.” Written by the legendary Gamble and Huff and released in 1975, the song is an almost seven-minute ode to the greatness of music itself. Of course, the O’Jays make the case for it by providing yet another reason to love music with this great homage. Yes, the O’Jays also made “Family Reunion,” another great barbeque song, but this is the one you’re most likely to hear at one.
4. We Are Family – Sister Sledge (1979)
What better song to play at a family event than the 1979 hit by Sister Sledge? These ladies practically created the theme song for family once this was released. In fact, this was the theme song for the Pittsburgh Pirates when they won the World Series that year, a testament to the closeness of that championship team. This is THE song that encompasses all those good feelings you have about family, which is hopefully why you’re at the barbeque in the first place. It’s a must for any backyard playlist.
5. Let’s Groove – Earth, Wind and Fire (1981)
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The band Earth, Wind and Fire made many fabulous songs over their history, but “Let’s Groove” is one of their hottest. The uptempo song is one that always gets a party started if only because the band sounded like they had such a great time creating the record. “Let’s Groove,” has all the rich instrumentation and stellar musicianship that made the band famous in the first place. Add this to your musical selections and your barbeque guests will surely leave happy.
6. Step in the Name of Love – R. Kelly (2003)
If you’re from Chicago, you know what a stepper’s set is and you’ve probably been to more than a few. Chicagoan R. Kelly was inspired to create this swinging jam from his 2003 album “Chocolate Factory” by those Chicago steppers from his hometown. Thanks to their inspiration, we have one of Kelly’s most popular songs. This is a song suitable for any celebration, but we think it has a special place in the barbeque where the entire family can get involved with dancing and singing along.
7. Electric Boogie – Marcia Griffiths (1976)
Most of you who do the Electric Slide along to this record have no idea who recorded it. You might be surprised to know that Marcia Griffiths is the person who made “Electric Boogie” and started the dance craze that’s a staple at just about every black wedding, celebration, barbeque and family event. Reggae queen Griffiths was one of the legendary I-Three’s, the trio of background singers who recorded and toured with Bob Marley and “Electric Boogie” is still the highest charting record by a female reggae artist ever. But it was choreographer Ric Silver who created the Electric Slide to go with the song and the rest is Black celebration history.
8. Summertime – DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince (1991)
You know that good feeling you get when the weather finally breaks and you can start thinking about playing basketball outside, riding motorcycles, and hanging out at friends’ barbeques? Well, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince captured that feeling in a song titled, appropriately enough, “Summertime.” Sure, there had been great songs about summer before, but this ode to the joys of summer became the contemporary classic. Once you hear this song on the radio, you KNOW its summertime. And if you don’t play this at your barbeque, well, you won’t have anybody coming back next year.
9. Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough – Michael Jackson (1979)
There are, of course a number of Michael Jackson songs you might hear at a summer barbeque. But this is the one most likely to get aunties and cousins and even grandmothers up out of their seats dancing and going “That’s my song!!!” This single from Jackson’s 1979 “Off the Wall” album was his first #1 single as a solo artist. Its spoken intro wasn’t common for a dance record, but it worked. If you want to be sure your party’s rockin,’ program this song into your iPod and watch your backyard get crunk.
10. Do I Do – Stevie Wonder (1982)
Quick. Think of a song that makes you feel happy. OK, did you think of a Stevie Wonder song? If you did, you probably thought of this song from “Musiquarium.” “Do I Do” is one of those songs that no matter when it comes on, where you are when you hear it or what you’re doing, you’re going to start snapping your fingers, moving your feet and singing along. That’s what makes it a perfect choice for a barbeque song. Close your eyes and imagine the moment when this comes on – do you see people smiling?