Made some long drives over the weekend with my buddy Mike, and as the driver, he also had full control of what we listened to. He showed me a live reggae show that he enjoys: Rockpalast Live 2019 by Richie Spice and the Element Band. While I loved how tight the band and the arrangement was, my biggest question was: did Richie Spice know about “the lick” too?
In my undergraduate years, the famous (or infamous) video of the lick came out. That’s where I learn about the very cool song Baby Come Back by the Players. In music, “a lick” is a short melodic idea. There is much discussion on the differences between a lick and a riff on the interweb. I don’t have a conclusive answer but it seems to be a consensus that a lick is usually used in passing in a solo (such as Chick Cirea’s solo in Spain (right at 6:11-12), whereas a riff tends to be a recognizable part of a song (like the melodic hook you think of when I say Smoke on the Water)
“The lick” is a particular melodic idea that is so commonly used by (mainly jazz) musicians, to the point that someone could make a (fun) video out of it. And ever since I have watched the video, I can’t help but notice it whenever “the lick” is being used. I have even joined The Lick Facebook page and contributed a few times of my own discovery from listening.
Santana’s Oye Como Va is a famous song that used “the lick” prominently as the main part of the composition. So is that the lick being used as a riff?
Back to the first question: I doubt Richie Spice knows about the lick. It’s probably his good musical sense that helped him hear and develop this little melody that “expands the same tone” with a nice contour: ascends by steps, descends by two skips, but over shoot, so that it ascends back up by step, which happens to bring the melody back to the open note. You can here Richie Spice used “the lick” as an ad-lib vocal filler in between lyrics to full effect.
My favorite “discovery” of the lick usage is of course from the classical guitar literature: measure 54-55 of Cancion, the third movement of Suite Venezolana by Venezuelan composer Antonio Lauro:
I know it’s a stretch, and Lauro probably didn’t know “the lick”, but I can’t help it!