SUMMER SONGS 06: JOE TWIST



Rare Earth: I Couldn’t Believe What Happened Last Night
From Willie Remembers (Rare Earth, 1972). Also on Earth Tones: Essential.

Burning Spear: I&I Survive
From Garvey’s Ghost (Island, 1976)

Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter
From Let It Bleed (London, 1969)

(Editor’s Note: Today’s summer songs post comes to us from Joe Twist aka Joe Schloss aka one of the finest scholars on popular culture I know today (his students at Tufts and NYU know the deal). I’ve known Joe for almost ten years now and have found him to be one of the most thoughtful and insightful people I know when it comes to music, culture and academia. Here’s his take on the sounds of summer).

From Joe Twist:

    I’m one of those people who thinks that there is a perfect song – one and only one – for every possible moment in life. So, to me, there are as many “Summer Songs” as there are summer moments. Which is a lot. But some kinds of moments represent the idea of summer better than others: hanging out with friends, feeling physically healthy, experiencing movement and personal freedom, falling in love. [Not love itself – falling in love. Celebrations of enduring love, relationships, etc. are not summer songs, unless you’re celebrating the fact that you fell in love *last* summer].

    So, my picks:

    1) Most people who know Rare Earth know them through their breakbeat classic “I Just Want To Celebrate” (from One World, Rare Earth/Motown, 1971), which played over the opening credits of Three Kings. They are also known for being “the first white group signed to Motown”, which I think is true, although I have no idea how you’d actually confirm something like that. Though this song is ostensibly about unexpected hookups, the mixture of intense Latin percussion and one of the rawest guitar riffs ever combine to make you want to dance and kick somebody’s ass at the same time. Which is what makes it a perfect uprock jam.

    As you probably know, uprocking was a street dance that developed in Bushwick, Brooklyn in the late sixties and early seventies. In uprock, two dancers compete by miming violent and/or humiliating attacks against each other, a practice that made the dance popular among gang members, who were its most prominent practitioners at the time. Today uprock is mainly seen as a precursor to b-boying (which it was), but it is also its own dance, with its own distinct styles and rules and power and flavor.

    To me, this song sounds like Brooklyn block parties and park jams, hanging out with friends on the stoop as the streetlights come on, seventies gang culture giving birth to hip-hop, being young and intense.

    2) Garvey’s Ghost is the dub version of Marcus Garvey, one of the all-time great roots reggae albums. Which means it has great musicians, great rhythms, a great vibe, great vocals and great lyrics. It makes you relax, feel healthy, and think about revolution at the same time. And that’s just where it starts.

    This song (which is the dub version of “Slavery Days” from the original album), uses what Pierre Macherey would call “structuring absences” – things that are emphasized by being left out – to create its texture. So for example, in the original version, the phrase, “Do you remember the days of slavery?” is sung over and over and over again. Of the ten notes in that phrase (one per syllable), eight of them are “C”. In other words, eighty percent of the phrase is sung on the same note. It is more a rhythm than a melody, and as it repeats, it becomes more a groove than a rhythm, part of the deep structure of the song. So when you listen to “I&I Survive”, you can’t help but anticipate hearing it. And when it never comes, your brain can’t help but fill it in. The song literally puts questions in your mind.

    3) The first time I heard this song, I was about eleven, walking around Soundview – a seedy boardwalk/biker/headshop/pinball/boarded-up-movie-theater/beach neighborhood on the Connecticut shore – at the end of the summer sometime in the late seventies. Ever since then, for me, “Gimme Shelter” has been the sound of the summer winding down in honky-tonk beach communities…Later, I learned that this actually is pretty much what the song is about, except substitute “the sixties” for “the summer” and “America” for “honky-tonk beach communities”. This song reminds me that it’s often the act of preparing to leave the summer behind that really makes you appreciate it. Keith Richards’ guitar intro actually sounds like what shadows getting longer in the late afternoon would sound like if they made a sound.

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