#1: Donny Hathaway ‘A Song for You’

There are so many songs that could've been chosen to be #1 on our countdown. So many songs that would've satisfied both the masses and the staff. So many songs that would've made you dance, or cry, or just sing out loud. We've been through 99 of them -- our favorites -- and today we present as our #1, this song: Donny Hathaway's cover of "A Song for You."

It feels strange to even label this song as a cover, although it is, originally recorded in 1970 by singer-songwriter and session musician Leon Russell. His original composition that served as a slow, pained plea of forgiveness from an estranged lover turned into a soul classic once Hathaway put his voice to it. It's no coincidence that he was able to best represent the song's pain. In fact, this song was Donny's life story put to music. From the opening piano scale, which started on a heavenly high and
descended straight to Earth and below, you knew this song was all about hurt. He'd spent most of his adulthood battling depression, battling those demons that eventually made him decide to take his own life at the tender age of 33. You feel that pain from an incredible artist that died far too soon. Through this song, even though it was recorded eight years prior, it's as if he's asking us collectively for our forgiveness.

The fact that this song is still so revered has everything to do with Donny. Everything to do with that rich voice and the way he gave us each word
as if it were going to be his last. It's the purity of it all, note for note, even while singing it live. It's the sincerity you feel each time he says "I love you." He gave it the
respect it deserved, realizing that the song wasn't about him. It was
our song, and his voice was simply the instrument through which we received it. Hearing it, or even singing it aloud, is therapeutic, easing the pain that comes with loss. It is the very definition of what a soul song should be.

So, as we wrap up this very special countdown with this very special song, we thank you for indulging us, for facing off with us, for celebrating soul every day with us. We leave you in Donny's capable hands one last time with the live version of "A Song for You." And for those who thought we showed less than the proper respect for the Queen of Soul during our five month journey, a sublime hat tip awaits after the bounce.

Donny Hathaway: "A Song for You" (Live)

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24 Responses

  1. couldn't have picked a better one myself.
    amazing list you guys. truly.

  2. Respect. A great end to an amazing countdown!

  3. Thanks for including Aretha in the mix. ('Ain't No Way' or 'Call Me' should have made the list) Unfortunately, her version pales in comparison to Donny's. 'A Song For You' is without a doubt his song.
    There is something about Donny, that makes his music difficult 4 me to listen to at times, it's filled with that much raw emotion.
    Do yourself a favor and listen to his version of the Beatle's 'Yesterday.' Superb.

  4. I couldn't agree with you more...thank you for a wonderful countdown!

  5. What a strong ending. This song embodies the pain, creativity and musical genius encoded in the DNA of true soul music.

  6. This list is sterling, and you ended it beautifully.

  7. I've enjoyed this list since day one and love the pick for #1...Donny Hathaway, in my opinion has the greatest male soul singing voice EVER...When you hear him sing a song like, "A Song for You" it like you can feel the sencerity in his voice when he says...'I love you in place where there's no space of time. I love you my life you're a friend of mine'. Vocally its damn near impossible to compete with Donny...I love "A Song for You" and it is his signature song...but personally his best is "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know". Big up to Soulbounce for this list and keeping real R&B/soul music, not crap like T-Pain, relevant on the net.

  8. i'd been thinking about what you guys would pick . . . and this choice makes so much sense. what a true classic. just thinking about his rendition of this song can almost bring me to tears. Donny Hathaway clearly deserves this honor. i think you guys have really defined yourselves collectively with this countdown. i am proud to be involved (in a very small way) in what you guys do here. i will always support anything that strives to shine a light on authentic soul and r&b music. great work as always.
    additionally: i saw Lalah Hathaway (for the first time) twice over the weekend at the Detroit International Jazz Festival, and she was all i expected and more. she has truly carried on her father's legacy, all while shaping and building her career on her own terms.

  9. Beautiful End to an excellent countdown. Great Choice for #1. Thank you SoulBounce!

  10. Beautiful ending to a great music choices, well done

  11. Did you know that Stevie went back to "re-evaluate" "Music Of My Mind" before its intended release?
    COME ON!!! This guy made STEVIE WONDER hesitate ..... and improve. Thats art.
    I think this list is worthy of being sent into outer space to understand the spirit of Soul Music. Kudos to All.

  12. I agree with the #1 choice. I cant express how much this song has touched me... its been one of those songs that will have a life long impact.... wow... I'm getting choked up just talking about it.... thanks soulbounce.

  13. Love this choice.Agree with what has been said.RIP Donny!

  14. I've been avidly reading and waiting for your number one... and when I saw this I just said YES out loud here in my sad little work cube. Yes, yes, yes -- this is a brilliant and beautiful #1 pick. You guys worked hard on this and it shows so much consideration went into your picks. Hats off to Soulbounce for getting it right. LOVE this song.

  15. Great conclusion!

  16. can i get this joint in mp3 form please? i need it in my life. and if anybody has it, the regular studio version too! please. thank you.

  17. Amazing end to the countdown. I thought Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" would be on there though- love that song!!

  18. Avatar

    One of the best singers and songwritters of all time.

  19. I have to give a round of applause!! I became addicted to your website checking in to see who was on the countdown. I was highly surpised to see The Gap Band, & Guy, Barry White, Minnie Riperton and other artists that are over looked. Well done!!! The countdown was well thought out and I found few songs that I didn't agree with. The countdown was truly made for the true music connoisseurs like myself. Thanks!! Since the countdown is over does this mean we'll see more updates to diggin' in the crates??

  20. Definitely round of applause for the list! i have these songs for you live and hearing Donny's rendition of Superwoman brings me to tears its so beautiful. Ugh, I love this site!

  21. Great #1 choice (I know nova may have a bitch fit) but many artists were overlooked--Parliament, James Brown, of course Aretha, Ray Charles, etc. I'm sorry, but how can Faith Evans top anything from these artists?!

  22. A Song For You - Greatest song ever made. You can feel it with each note Donny sings. Why or why did he have to go so soon, but with "A Song for You" and other great songs he made lives on....not to mention the classic "This Christmas"

  23. Recently TV One's new program named "Unsung," featured Donny Hathaway. I am part of a generation whose parents listened to 70s soul music and had always known some of Donny's songs like "This Christmas" and "The Ghetto." I recall the first time I heard "A Song For You" on the radio was during 2000 when I was 21 years old. Initially, I did not recognize that it was Donny singing but remembered my reaction to this song that is rich & raw in emotions, pure & dramatic in its rise and fall, and had a triumphant spiritual release for us all. I recalled crying by the time the song ended and felt a profound sadness as though the singer was saying goodbye. It was not until I heard the radio announcer reveal the artist that I then understood Donny had exposed his complete vulnerability to the world as one of the most poignant artists of all times. From that point forth, I have loved this song and to date the tears still flow whenever I hear it. This is a great choice for the number one R&B song and is truly classic from an unsung legend who is a standard bearer for all artist to aspire.

  24. i love this song so mch it reminds me how mch god lves me and if yu didnt kno hathaway was talking to god telling him how mch he loves him