In 2016, Netflix released a documentary titled The Art of Organized Noize about Atlanta’s legendary Organized Noize Productions. The trio, consisting of Patrick “Sleepy” Brown, Rico Wade and Ray Murray, is responsible for creating the sound that put Atlanta on the national hip-hop map through iconic groups Outkast and Goodie Mob. While discussing how older music formats used to be of varying length and structure—versus the new modern wash, rinse, repeat, three-minute format—Rico Wade said, “After the first three minutes, you start to elaborate, and then the shit gets beautiful …”
And then the shit gets beautiful. Rico was right. There are a ton of songs that are good to great in the first few minutes and then, BOOOM! A switch gets flipped and the waters part and what was once good to great becomes absolutely beautiful and different and awesome. Sometimes it’s a sudden brush of genius, and sometimes it’s an entirely new song, but whatever happens, it makes all the difference.
It’s the holiday season: a time for giving and sharing. Being the generous and giving soul that I am, here are 10 songs (there are legions more, I assure you) that you have to listen to until the end ... because then the shit gets beautiful.
1. “Ballad of the Dying Man,” by Father John Misty
I heard this song while watching This Is Us. As soon as it started playing, I immediately Shazamed it and went right to my phone to listen to the full song. And it’s a great, heartfelt folksy ballad until 3:46 hits. Father John Misty starts doing some folk runs and then, holy shit—is that a choir? Yes it is. The song keeps leveling up to this awesomely unexpected crescendo and then TOTAL deflation at the 4:30 mark. I get my whole life to that minute of the grace. Thank you, This Is Us.
2. “The Answer Is You,” by Phyllis Hyman
My love for Phyllis Hyman is well-documented. She is one of my top two favorite singers of all time. I heard “The Answer Is You” on the Quiet Storm program on Howard University’s WHUR one night many, many years ago. I knew it was Phyllis because I know her voice. And the song is classic Phyllis. So I was just sitting there riding along somewhere, enjoying God’s gift of music, minding my own business—then THE SHIT GOT BEAUTIFUL! At about the 3:45 mark, we get a whole new version of the song—same tempo but different vibe—and she gets to work. At 4:30, though? She tried to kill me and I was not ready. You’re welcome.
3. “Chains and Things,” by B.B. King
The switch-up in this song is brief (from 3:38 to 3:51), but holy shit does it come in and change everything. Then it goes as quickly as it came. My hip-hop heads will recognize it almost immediately from songs by Ice Cube and 50 Cent, among others. I believe we call this a “sample.”
4. “Gone Away,” by Roberta Flack
Another from the sample pool, supplied by one of the great voices and Donny Hathaway’s favorite collaborator, Roberta Flack. This song, written by Donny, Leroy Hutson and Curtis Mayfield, will be recognizable because the part where it gets beautiful (from 2:51 to 3:18, then REALLY beautiful from the 4:00 mark through the end of the song) was the inspiration behind THE song of 2006, T.I.’s “What You Know.”
5. “Walking in the Rain (With the One I Love),” by Love Unlimited
This song is familiar to most, as it should be. As one of Barry White’s outfits, Love Unlimited is a perfect example of everything that made Barry’s instrumentations and flourishes great. This man loved a huge, orchestral song. But this song REALLY has me in my feels from the 3:09 mark through the end. That repetitive piano loop with the bass line, coupled with the sound of the rain? If you ask me what love sounds like, I’ll tell you it’s this.
6. “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue,” by Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield is one of soul music’s greatest gifts. I mean, good lord. This song from his debut album, Curtis, is why he was and is so beloved. But this song right here, fam? This song right here? Classic because it opens up so, so beautifully. AND THEN THE SHIT GETS BEAUTIFUL! At the 1:52 mark we get a whole new song that does not give a fuck who your daddy or your mama is. We got horns and drums and energy and action. And because my God is awesome, Curtis doesn’t want to give you TOO much and brings it back to the original feel around the four-minute mark and rides that out for another two minutes. This song is why music exists.
7. “Great and Mighty,” by Byron Cage
I love this song and have from the first time I heard it. It’s 10 minutes of Jesus that has me feeling like I’m in the church house. But there’s a guitar solo at the VERY end that gets me every time. The guitar really starts to amp up around the 7:30 mark and then goes for the gold from the eight-minute mark. And yes, I listen to this song in its entirety EVERY time for a 15-second guitar riff eight minutes into a song. That’s dedication.
8. “Self Control,” by Frank Ocean
This song made me listen to the entire Blonde album differently, turning it from a snoozefest into the album I’ve listened to more than others since 2016. The brief musical magic happens from 2:07 through 2:19, but GOOD LORD, IS IT BEAUTIFUL MUSIC. Just listen to the music playing in the background—the guitars, the ethereal feel, the vocals from Yung Lean that work for some odd reason. It’s just beautiful. The rest of the song is also awesome, but that 10-second stretch changed this entire album for me.
9. “Fall Into My Arms,” by Ngaiire
Queen Sugar has given me so much. Oprah. Good television. Great music. This song closes out the second-to-last episode of the second season. Listen, it’s PERFECTLY placed in the context of the scene. But listening to it on its own? Just trust me on this one. If you’ve never heard it, this will not be your last time listening to it. It’s perfect. But it gets perfecter at the 3:30 mark with the layering of vocals and the vocal arrangement and the choral backing and the runs she goes on. Just ... shit. If you get in a car with me, know you will probably hear this song and I will force you to love it.
10. “Crimson and Clover,” by Tommy James & the Shondells
Back when I fancied myself a budding hip-hop producer, I’d scour random sites for gems. This was one. And it’s a cool little ditty. Until it goes ballistic with the ear magic at the 4:20 mark, when a whole new vision of the song takes shape with new drums and sound effects and it’s like butter, baby; it’s like sugar, y’all.