Pearl Cleage

Pearl Makes A List: 5 Songs From Where We Were Then That Help Me Make Sense of Where We are Now

“So,” as Jimi Hendrix said during his crack of dawn second set at Woodstock where he recreated our National Anthem, “we meet again.” Still struggling to make sense of an increasingly complex American moment and leaning on the music – any music!! – to help us make it through. Which brings us to this week’s list:

5 Songs From Where We Were Then That Help Me Make Sense of Where We are Now

1. “Gimme Shelter,” Various artists around the world. Most of us have heard Mick and the Boys tear through this one, but this collaboration between artists scattered across the world is a different thing altogether. One of the artists you’ll see here once offered me a joint as we drove down Peachtree Street headed for WXIA where my boss was waiting for me to deliver him for a live interview. Terrified we would be arrested, I declined, but I wonder now what adventures might have ensued if I had said yes.

2. “Give a Little,” Nicolette Larsen. We were coming home from walking our dog, Elvis, when this song came on the radio. Knowing I was going to sing along, I reached to turn it up, but Zeke was already on it. The invitation to “give a little/share a lot,” seems meant for this moment. And even if it wasn’t, how can you say no to Nicolette Larsen?

3. “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” Pharoah Sanders. If you ever went into an independent black bookstore circa 1968, including Atlanta’s Timbuktu, Market of New Africa, where the owner, Ebon Dooley, was also a talented poet, you would have heard this song playing. It made you feel mindful before we had a word for it. “The Creator has a master plan/peace and happiness for every man.” Every woman, too. Whenever I hear this one, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and can almost smell the incense.

4. “We’re A Winner,” The Impressions. When we radical students occupied the Administration Building at Howard University in 1968, demanding black studies and protesting the Vietnam War, this song was our anthem. It is still one of the coolest freedom songs ever. “Just keep on pushin’… And we did.

5. “I Wanna Take You Higher,” Sly and the Family Stone. One of the most amazing moments of the wonder that was Woodstock was when Sly and the Family Stone took the stage and proceeded to burn it down. In a good way! Since I started with a Woodstock reference, let’s let Sly take us home…


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