Snuggled by a fireplace with a warm blanket, cup of coffee in hand, and the soothing sounds of rainfall hitting the window. That’s exactly what “If I Ain’t Got You” feels like to me. This song is warm, comforting, and arousing in its style. It invites us to be alive to the moment, to feel deeply, and to remember that nothing else matters more than those we love.
Released fifteen years ago, “If I Ain’t Got You” put Alicia Keys on the map. It was nominated for countless awards and launched Alicia into an R&B sensation. One listen to this song, and it’s easy to understand why this is a love song that so many have fallen for.
The song starts with a piano arrangement that carries both a tranquil and enticing tone. As soon as the keys roll in, the soul of a person is immediately awakened to a desire buried in the deep. Then Alicia’s voice runs through the intro creating a spark of something that will later be discovered as the song continues.
The soft, soulful melody on the verses feels like breathing in the air after a fresh rainfall. It’s pleasant and other worldly. It carefully begins to stir the emotions, bringing them to the surface and causing an anticipation for more. Then with a quick turn, the passion and roar in Alicia’s voice on the chorus causes a flame of desire to erupt. Suddenly, what was a flicker of emotion has turned into a wildfire of longing as Alicia sings, “some people want it all but I don’t want nothing at all if it ain’t you baby”.
Throughout this song, Alicia’s lyrics chip away at the shell of superficial desires and dig right to the core of what we truly want most in this world: love. As Alicia sings, the message is clear that roses, diamonds, power, fame, fortune, youthfulness, and all other desires fail in comparison to her desire for the one this song is written for. “Everything means nothing if I ain’t got you” is the clear anthem of this song that millions have sung along with.
A few other observations about this song:
I never tire of this song and the emotions it stirs up in me. I hope that you enjoy listening to this song and can hear it with a new appreciation. I hope as you listen you feel inspired to be alive to the moment and let the music move you.
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As soon as you read the song title, I’m guessing you had that bass riff run right up and down your spine. Superstition is a classic tune that’s easily recognizable, and it has been adored by listeners for decades. With an opening beat that sets the pace for the funk to follow, certainly the listener is drawn into a musical event like no other.
If by chance you have not heard this song, “Superstition” is about various fables that center around superstitious beliefs. However, I’ll be the first to admit that the lyrics take a back seat to the instrumentation of this tune. In fact, “Superstition” is in no way on this list of my “favorites” because of its lyrics. While the lyrics do take some poetic risks to tell a story; it’s the musical groove that makes this song a classic.
When Stevie’s vocal run on the last verse collides with the trumpets, even the groove-less humans of the world can’t help but bob their head and tap their feet. This proves that the lyrics may give this song the skeleton, but it’s the music makes that skeleton come to life. And it makes us come alive as we listen to that bass line run. It makes us feel confident and hip. It puts some swag in our step as we strut down the street with an “I can take on anything” attitude. That’s when you know, this song is just too good.
As a musician there are a few things that I notice and appreciate about “Superstition”.
First, the bass line on this song is so unique and draws the listener in from the get go. It is both very loose and very tight in how it’s played which causes this song to stand apart from any other song I’ve heard. The bass also steers the course of this song. That famous bass line disappears only a few times in “Superstition”, each time telling us where we are in the story. It’s a brilliantly executed bass line, and it highlights how important the bass is an instrument.
Second, the trumpets on “Superstition” play a very sneaky role on the first chorus as they make their entrance tucked under the rest of the music. This is an important momentum builder for the song and they are position perfectly. They then emerge with their big parts on second half of the verses and for a few instrumental portions during the remainder of the song. In these moments, it feels as though you are being pulled into the center of a hopping dance floor, and it’s the trumpets that are signaling that there’s dance party breaking out. What is so unique about this is that most artists make the chorus the main event and the biggest part of the song. However, in “Superstition”, the instrumentals and second half of the verses are the main event. That structural difference is a very creative way to go about music, and it’s also a rare structure we get to hear.
Third, I love that Stevie has the perfect combination of raspy and smooth in his voice. I would liken it to chunky peanut butter. He gives the grit as he pushes out the line “supersition ain’t the way” at the end of the first chorus, But Stevie also brings the silk when he sings the first line of the song: “very superstitious, writings on the wall”. He also takes a lot of vocal liberties by constantly breaking the vocal pattern. It causes Stevie’s personality to shine rather than the built-in melody.
Lastly, I appreciate that every instrument has its perfect place. Each instrument gets highlighted without being in competition with each other. The drums have the opening of the song all to themselves. The bass is loud and proud throughout the song, yet it bends to the trumpets during the instrumental. The blend of these instruments, which could cause friction, actually creates a lively and dynamic feel as they work together.
Overall, "Superstition" is a well-crafted song that I’m sure will
at the top of my “favorites” list for years to come.
Give it another listen and tell me what YOU notice
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Jen is a pastor, worship leader, writer, and songwriter living in Napa, California.