With all the music venues and live-performance spaces being temporarily closed due to COVID-19, this week’s Turn It Down! features a few Michigan-made songs for you to take in while you’re locked down inside your crib.
Aside from a pick from me, I also asked a few local musicians to offer up a Michigan song that’s been speaking to them over the past couple of weeks. Seek them out; give them a spin — what else is there to do?
Rich Tupica, Turn it Down! writer
Pick: The Ones “You Haven’t Seen My Love” (1967)
The Ones were perhaps Lansing’s first breakout band, signing to Motown Records in 1967 thanks to their entrancingly dynamic single, “You Haven’t Seen My Love.” This moody ballad, sonically driven by the haunting keys of bandmember Kerry Nicholoff, was the first Motown single to not be recorded in-house at the now-legendary Detroit studio. Instead, it was cut by producer Bob Baldori (of The Woolies) at Fenton Records—a movie theater-turned recording studio in Sparta, Michigan. While initially released on Baldori’s Spirit Records, after Berry Gordy heard the stunningly soulful lead vocals of Danny Hernandez, he picked it up and re-issued it on his massive imprint. Soon, it was a regional hit. While “You Haven’t Seen My Love” never broke out nationally, it remains a Lansing masterpiece.
Matthew Milia, Singer/songwriter, Frontier Ruckus, solo
Pick: Falcorps “Oak Grove” (2008)
Falcorps was a great East Lansing band from the late aughts. Despite my bias of it being led by my Frontier Ruckus bandmate, Zachary Nichols, it was a truly fun and talented ensemble. It’s full of melodica, cello, oboe, trumpet and a lovely blend of lush-harmony vocals. My favorite track is the sweetly lugubrious “Oak Grove”—named after Zachary’s hometown cemetery in Milford, Michigan. It’s also referential to Milford’s local undertaker and poet laureate, Thomas Lynch. It’s a heartbreaking ode to mortality and familial love.
Wally Pleasant, Singer/songwriter
Pick: Joel Mabus “Hopelessly Midwestern” (1992)
It was 1993, I had just finished listening to the Jim Abbott and Earl Robinson local sports radio talk show on WKAR. I left the radio on while working on some post cards that I’d send out to people on my mailing list to advertise upcoming shows. Yes, this was the pre-internet marketing days when artisan advertisers didn't push a send button to let folks know about upcoming gigs. Actual postcards were handmade. Kinko's was visited and stamps were bought. While working on the cards, a really good song came on WKAR called “Hopelessly Midwestern.” Though the style of the song was a little more laid back than mine at the time, I really wanted to cover it. I found out that Joel Mabus not only wrote and recorded the song, but he also lived nearby and he gave guitar lessons at Elderly Instruments. The next day, I stopped into Elderly and signed up for a guitar lesson with Joel. What a thrill it was to learn a song I admired from the actual songwriter.
DeShaun Sparkle Snead, Vocalist, Mighty Medicine
Pick: Jen Sygit “Pay For What You Get” (2006)
Lansing’s music scene is tightly knit. It’s full of storytellers who sing and write songs that can define a moment in time. Jen Sygit is definitely one of those musicians whose songs have a lasting impact on me. “Pay For What You Get,” on Jen’s 2006 album “Leaving Marshall St.” has a haunting melody and artful lyrics in tradition of old-time blues, gospel and jazz. The song is a cautionary tale. The unsettling, mysterious chords and guitar solos are the perfect outlet for this time of uncertainty.
I first heard Jen perform this song at Dagwood’s when she ran her open-mic there on Tuesdays. I have so many fond memories of the Lansing music scene and Jen who facilitates a platform for local musicians. The message, the music and the images of this song stayed with me and I’d often request that she perform it. “Pay For What You Get” reminds listeners of their personal responsibility to make wise choices. And we need the wisdom and the beauty of music now so desperately.
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