Questlove Made You an Energy Playlist


These 17 tracks will get you moving.

Ahmir K. Thompson, also known as Questlove, seems to have boundless energy. Just look at his résumé: He’s a producer, podcast host, Academy Award-winning director, author, D.J. and drummer for the hip-hop band the Roots.

He’s also known for his inventive playlists. “I started making playlists for a certain world leader,” he told us in an email. “Somehow the client list has expanded to 400 people.”

He didn’t specify which world leader, but he has made playlists for the Obamas, including an epic three-volume soundtrack for the former first lady, called “Michelle Obama’s Musiaqualogy.” It played during her 2018 book tour.

We wanted to be on the client list, too, so as part of our 6-Day Energy Challenge, we asked him to make a playlist with some of his favorite tracks. Lucky for us, he obliged.

“I take my title as ‘the people’s curator’ seriously,” said Mr. Thompson, who owns over 200,000 records. And this playlist, which bounces around many genres, illustrates the meticulous care and extensive knowledge behind his choices. It’s got an “irresistible stomper,” “the original god of Afrobeat” and a “bright, sunny, chaotic” song, among others, to get you moving.

Press play and read his commentary below.

1. “Peace Planet: Badinerie From Suite No. 2 in B Minor” by Ekseption: Second to the rapper Busdriver’s song “Imaginary Places,” this is my favorite rendering of J.S. Bach’s club classic. It gets you motivated.

2. “Aint Got No Home” by Clarence “Frogman” Henry: There’s nothing like a Scorsesean singalong — this track is from “Casino” — to get you moving.

3. “Tainted Love” by Gloria Jones: Go ahead and admit that you thought Soft Cell were the originators. Gloria Jones recorded her version in 1964.

4. “Devil With the Blue Dress On” by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels: The first 15 seconds are the most urgent warning of a groove avalanche. I knew this band was from Detroit even before I learned their name.

5. “I Want to Take You Higher” by the Jackson 5: The Jackson 5 found a perfect way to take two Sly Stone songs about … elevation (ahem) — this title and the more popular “Higher” — and combine them into an original.

6. “Everything’s Just Wonderful” by Lily Allen: I’m a sucker for department store music. (I once spent $10,000 on the mother lode of nondescript music collections.) The fact that Lily Allen manages to give us energy over this background music is miraculous.

7. “Caribou Chaser” by Earth, Wind & Fire: Having spent a weekend in high-altitude Caribou, Colo., some time back, I’m shocked Earth, Wind & Fire came up with something this energetic. I got a migraine within the first two hours!

8. “Barefootin’” by Robert Parker: My grandma and I really didn’t bond over music, but when Spic and Span cleaner licensed this song for their product, we couldn’t help but dance along.

9. “March of the Swivel Heads” by the Beat: Someone once said ska music sounds like the glee a child expresses when given extra chicken fingers. Add in that this song was included in John Hughes’s best film and this is a can’t-lose hit.

10. “Land of 1000 Dances (Live)” by Wilson Pickett: I applaud any American singer who can adjust to jet lag and go this hard in Japan. I’ve been playing there for three decades and have never reached this fever-pitch level.

11. “Gone Daddy Gone” by Violent Femmes: I was under the impression that this was a Gnarls Barkley track, but that was a cover of this. I love the sound of Gordon Gano’s original delivery. It’s an irresistible stomper.

12. “Just Wanna Rock” by Lil Uzi Vert: Not since Earth, Wind & Fire’s immortal “Beijo” (1977) has an interlude transformed Black dance culture like Lil Uzi’s “Rock.” I’d never repeated a song during a D.J. set until this came out.

13. “Agitation” by Erykah Badu: There isn’t a consistent danceable pulse to follow; it sounds like a ’70s jazz song. It’s a lot like my life: beautiful, bright, sunny, chaotic and frantic.

14. “Shakara” by Fela Kuti: If I made a list of energizing songs and didn’t include the original god of Afrobeat, it would cost me cred points.

15. “Whip It” by Devo: I’ve gotta include a song we all know and love. Still strong 40-plus years later.

16. “Release Yourself” by Graham Central Station: Larry Graham was the legendary bassist for Sly Stone (though he’s known by some as Drake’s uncle). On this song, he takes his former employer’s high energy and adds Southern-fried gospel for an unbeatable formula.

17. “Got a Thing on My Mind” by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: This is the album version and is already energized. If you could only see them cook this LIVE!

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