James Blake is the subject of a new episode of Spotify podcast 10 Songs That Made Me, where musicians review the songs that defined their lives. James talks about his love of Britney Spears' "Toxic" (which was the "song you love that would surprise people"), Mariah Carey's "Anytime You Need a Friend," Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," Paul McCartney's "Waterfalls," Bill Withers' "Hope She'll be Happier," as well as songs by Eminem, Joni Mitchell, D'Angelo, Carla Thomas, and Ward 21.
Stream the episode in full, and read a few clips, below.
James also recently shared a new holiday single (a take on Christina Rossetti poem "In the Bleak Midwinter") for Apple Music and released a covers EP. Stream those below as well.
Song you love that would surprise people - "Toxic" by Britney Spears
A song that I absolutely love the most surprise people is “Toxic” by Britney Spears. I'd say that is one of my favorite songs of all time. I think it's perfect. I think it is glorious and perfect. I wouldn't change a single iota. I wouldn't change a single note, or it would be thrown off. Balance is golden ratio, perfect harmony. People are going to be surprised by how mainstream a lot of this music is. Well, I think most people probably think I'm pretty fucking pretentious by default. And, you know, a lot of my music picks are fairly well-known pop, because that's what I've been into my whole life. I think the elements that make “Toxic” a perfect pop song are the very unusual choices of instruments. And it's that note it's the [sound effect]. It's like that tritone. I've seen people analyze that song and it really comes down to that note. It comes down to that little string part. And I don't know, it's you know, I mean, the rest of it is just a great song. But that moment is the bit that I think carries the whole thing in a way. I mean, it's all strong. So, it's hard to say that one thing carries it. But that particular moment is gold.
Song that equals joy - "Anytime You Need a Friend" by Mariah Carey
I'm going to say Mariah Carey with “Anytime You Need a Friend” is a song that sparks joy in me. The choir that comes in, it's just a declaration of friendship. Like no other song really may be matched only by “You've Got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman. I think that to me that they're kind of equal in that. But the Mariah song is just - I could listen to it forever. I think it's one I could have a loop. And indeed, I pretty much did listen to music Music Box on a loop for about ten years.
First song that made you want to be a musician - "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder
I think the first song that made me want to be a musician was “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder. And I would say it was probably the whole album talking book. I heard that he'd played almost every instrument, every instrument, or maybe maybe every instrument on that song, on the album. And to me, that was such an impressive feat. I couldn't really understand how that was possible. I didn't understand how someone could be an amazing keyboard player and an amazing drama and an amazing and amazing singer and songwriter and everything. I for some reason, I assumed that there was no one else involved in the record at all, which is not true. But knowing that someone had that amount of gifts that amount of talent that they'd practiced at all that time was fascinating to me. And I also just loved I just loved that album and I love that song. So it gave me a huge shot of inspiration and something to aim for in my own life.
Song you listened to the most after your first breakup - "Hope She'll Be Happier" by Bill Withers
I think the song that I listen to the most after my first breakup was “Hope She'll Be Happier” by Bill Withers. And when I covered that song, I reversed the lyrics because it had been me that left, and it made more sense to me. But there's a tenderness and a kind of supporting, you know, ‘if you love someone, you have to let them go’ kind of feeling of that song that was just brutal to me. And as well as being incredibly beautiful and sensitive and soft, you know, that became, I guess, one of my favorite songs of all time because of that. In my case, I didn't actually leave for someone else. I just left. And, you know, I think yes, I think I was happier, but I think potentially we both were. So that's maybe an even better ending to that story.
Song you wish you had written - "Waterfalls" by Paul McCartney
I think a song I wish I'd written would be “Waterfalls” by Paul McCartney. It has the most extraordinary melody and chords, and somehow it shouldn't really work. Maybe musically or maybe it's just unconventional, but it just feels so good every time. Every section just feels unbelievably good lyrics that the metaphors, the, you know, like a second needs an hour, like every aspect of it is, is beautiful. And it's an unusual, an unusual song, especially from Paul McCartney. You know, after the success of The Beatles to come out and write a song like that was brave and incredible. I wish I'd written the lyric ‘Don't Go Chasing Polar Bears in the Great Unknown. Some big friendly polar bear might want to take me home after.’ How romantic and kind of beautiful that song is to just start talking about polar bears...just seems like something only Paul McCartney might do. But I covet that bravery.