SONGS OF OBSESSION: THE DELLS’ "LOVE IS BLUE"


The Dells: I Can Sing a Rainbow/Love Is Blue
From Love Is Blue (Cadet, 1969). Also available on the Ultimate Collection.

V/A: I Can Rhyme In Colors Medley. Features snippets from:

  • Prince Paul: Open Your Mouth
    From Psychoanalysis (Tommy Boy, 1997)
  • Edan: I See Colours
    From Beauty & The Beat (Lewis, 2005)
  • Smut Peddlers: Red Light
    From “Talk Like Sex Pt. 2″ 12” (Eastern Conference, 1999). Also available on Porn Again (Revisted)
  • Ghostface: Shakey Dog
    From Fishscale (Def Jam, 2006)
  • Blu: My World Is…
    From Below the Heavens (Sound In Color, 2006 forthcoming)

There’s no rush quite like a song obsession, where you just need to keep hearing the same song over and over again, with no diminishing returns. Despite the volume of music I sift through, it’s not often that I become that infatuated with a track. The last one was Smith’s “Baby, It’s You” and today, it’s been all about the Dells’ “I Can Sing A Rainbow/Love Is Blue.”

Let me rewind a moment. In my interview with the LA Weekly, I make a point to note: “I appreciate how [hip-hop era] sampling opens a door into the past, but often what you find is that the original material is far and away better than however the song gets sampled.” This Dells song is as perfect an example as I can think of. I was listening to the Blu song and the first thought was, “oh, this is the same loop at Ghostface’s “Shakey Dog.” I went and tracked down the original source (i.e. the Dells) and played it for a friend who then remarked: “yeah, Edan used this too.” I was surprised since I know Edan’s catalog pretty well and I definitely didn’t remember him having a song that sounded like the Ghostface or Blu…but then I realized: he sampled a totally different part of the song. Ok, that’s three. But Edan, at the beginning of the song says, “Prince Paul already looped this” – it’s in the actual song that he acknowledges this – so I went back and indeed, Paul did use the same loop that Edan uses for the short “Open Your Mouth.” Finally, just to make sure my bases were covered, I checked the-breaks.com to see if I had everything covered and realized I had forgotten about the Smut Peddlers who used the Ghost/Blu portion back in 1999.

So here’s the thing: five songs, a few by artists I really genuinely like and respect, using the same sample source…and none of them come close, in their own songs, to touching how goddamn amazing this Dells is. I’m not disrespecting the rappers; I’m merely noting that the original song is just on some insanely sublime level and that there’s no fuggin’ way you can sample it and hope to do justice to the source.

What’s so great about this song? Three things. 1) The shift from the mellow, almost folksy “I Can Sing a Rainbow” and then the out-of-nowhere dip into the funky soul blast of “Love Is Blue”. 2) The call and response between the lead vocalist and the rhythm/brass sections, i.e. “Blue!” BLARE! Blue! BLARE! BLARE!” There’s that moment where you know the hammer is about to drop between voice and instruments and you just know it’s going to be incredible. 3) Check out the string arrangement that’s subtly slipped underneath following that call-and-response. It adds this extra musical layer which turns a really good song into a wholly awesome one.

Of the various hip-hop songs that have flipped the track, “Shakey Dog” makes the best use of it, especially in bringing in Marvin Jr.’s loooooooong note from the end of the song and pitching it up to a scream. On the other hand, the Smut Peddlers were wise to use “my world is blue!” line (as does Blu, albeit seven years later).

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