Music lecturer Caspar Melville gives us his playlist recommendations

Dizzy Gillespie, SOAS, music playlist

Caspar Melville started his career as a music journalist, writing for the independent black music press – Blues & Soul, Touch, Urb and Jazzid – and freelancing for other publications such as The Village Voice and The Sunday Telegraph. He spent eight years living in San Francisco in the 90s, during which time he worked a columnist, DJ, radio presenter and club promoter. On return to London, he worked as Media Editor and then Executive Editor at the online journal openDemocracy for five years.

He joined SOAS in 2013 and is convenor for MA Global Creative and Cultural Industries

Caspar Melville, SOAS, music department
‘Abba is perfect pop music’ *class looks back in stunned silence


What was the first song (or music) you remember hearing as a child?

My sister had a copy of Abba ‘Arrival’ when I was about 7. I remember loving every track and thinking it was the only music in the world. I then passed through my phase of teenage cool during which I was forced to despise Abba as commercial pap, a phase that lasted into my 30s when I could finally acknowledge that I was right the first time, Abba is perfect pop music.

Describe your ‘musical journey’ from then till now in five songs…

Adam Ant, Car Trouble

Post-punk. I was a bit late for punk (only 11 in 1977). My first, brief, encounter with the subculture was as a weekend punk with badly dyed hair and earrings. I loved Adam Ant, before he went all tribal. This is from his seminal first album ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ from 1979.

Janet Kay, Silly Games

Lovers Rock was soulful reggae produced in the UK by Black British producers like the great Dennis Bovell, who made this track with the singer Janet Kay. This was number two in the charts in 1979. I remember it playing at the very first party I went to when I was 13. I still love it and play it when I DJ, it still rocks the dance. Everyone tries to sing along to the very high note at the end (and fails).

James Brown, Funky Drummer

Funk: I could have chosen almost anything by James Brown 1967-78. The James Brown sound was the bedrock of the warehouse party and club scene in London in the 1980s – both his own records and those he produced for others like Maceo and the Macks, Bobby Byrd and Lyn Collins. Under the influence of hip-hop that was sampling and rediscovering his production genius and incredible drum sound he reasserted his claim to being the Soul Brother Number One. Irresistible dance music.

Young Disciples, All I have in Me

The rare groove scene in the 1980s in London mixed soul, hip hop and funk. After several years of listening to the rich output of American music, London bands like Push, Brand New Heavies and Soul II Soul started making music combining these influences in distinctive London ways. Young Disciples, a great band who only ever produced one album, combined the talents of musician Brother Marco (who had played with Paul Weller), DJ/Promoter Femi Fem and the brilliant American singer Carleen Anderson (daughter of Bobby Byrd and Vicki Anderson from James Brown’s JB’s band, who brought Carleen to London when they did a show in the mid-80s and she never left). This mix is by legendary DJ Norman Jay, who ran the Talkin’ Loud label with Gilles Petersen on which this was released.

Roni Size, Brown Paper Bag

Jungle, which emerged in London and Bristol in the early 1990s, roughed up digital dance music by reintroducing reggae basslines, jazzy samples and hip hop breakbeats into the post-rave dance scene. Roni Size came out of the Bristol scene that includes The Wild Bunch, Massive Attack, Smith and Mighty, Portishead and Tricky. I was in America when jungle was morphing into drum and bass so I heard it at one remove on imports – it made me miss London so much I came home. This is one of Roni Size’s typically jazzy monsters, with an unbelievably fat acoustic bassline and serious drop. I once got a chance to play it at a house party on a very big reggae sound system. Destroyed the dancefloor.

Playlist recommendations:  


  • Dizzy Gillespie – Portrait of Jenny
  • John Coltrane – Olé Coltrane
  • Bennie Maupin – The Jewel in the Lotus
  • Jazz Jamaica – Jazz Jamaica All Stars
  • Sonny Rollins – God Bless the Child
  • Les McCann – The Lovers
  • Bobbi Humphrey – Blacks and Blues


  • Stevie Wonder – I Wish
  • Earth Wind & Fire – Fantasy
  • The Blackbyrds – Do it, Fluid
  • Jackson 5 – I Want You Back
  • Lyn Collins – Think (About it)
  • Fela Kuti – Sorrow Tears and Blood
  • Dexter Wansel – Life on Mars
  • James Mason – Sweet Power Your Embrace
  • Blackstreet – No Diggity
  • Nuyorican Soul – I Am The Black Gold of the Sun
  • Patti LaBelle – Music is My Way of Life
  • Roy Ayers – Love Will Bring Us Back Together

Your ‘fave diva’

  • Chaka Khan – I’m Every Woman
  • Sylvester – You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)
  • Candi Staton – Young Hearts Run Free
  • Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive
  • Donna Summer – I Feel Love
  • Linda Clifford – Runaway Love
  • Gwen McRae – All This Love That I’m Giving
  • Jocelyn Brown – Somebody Else’s Guy
  • Jean Knight – Mr Big Stuff
  • Cheryl Lynn – Got To Be Real
  • Ella Fitzgerald – Sunsh


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