Alzo & Udine were Alzo Fronte and Uddi "Udine" Alinoor, one of those "only in New York" combos of singer/songwriters who only released this one album together in the late '60s. I'm not even certain where I first heard this LP (probably at the Groove Merchant), but it's been one of the sleeper albums that I'll forget about and then rediscover how awesome it is. It's hard to classify this LP; if I mashed up all the various descriptions of it, it'd be something like "Latin soul hippy folk pop" though I find the Latin elements more subtle compared to the folksy pop touches, especially on the vocals. Basically, this is happy music; it sounds happy and should make you feel happy.
I actually flipped the order here - "C'mon and Join Us" is the LP's last song while "Something Going" is the first, but I liked how Alzo and Udine took time to introduce themselves before the beginning of the title track. The two songs are really indicative of the overall sound of the album: super-catchy rhythms with almost a flamenco sabor (at least to my ears), that shiny pop feel I just mentioned, and most of all, these killer vocal arrangements that find both singers stretching out their falsetto. Especially on the title track, there's considerable thought put into how the song unfolds and switches up along the way. My favorite part starts around the one minute mark and builds towards the chorus, as charming a hook as I can imagine. Everybody feel it? Yup, I do!
Likewise, "Something Going" starts one way but then shifts into another and really, almost all the songs on the album follow similar paths. This is a remarkably consistent album in terms of the style of the songs and given that I love that style, I'm good with it picking a lane and then driving the hell out of it.
I've had a few individual songs that I've been meaning to post up and usually, I wait for some kind of thematic opportunity but I realize this is an inefficient way to go about things and instead, I just took ten of these stragglers, whipped up a quick sequence for them and if you download them in order, you'll have yourself a half-hour mix.
This single (backed with "Chills & Fevers") originally came out on Lloyd but turned out to be enough of a hit that Dial picked it up for distribution and, strangely, Atlantic UK also issued it (but not until the late '70s). My man Brendan first played this for me and while "Chills and Fevers" was the big hit, it was always the flipside ballad that captured my attention. I could be crazy but this definitely sounds influenced by Sam Cooke's "Change Gonna Come" - the arrangements seem remarkably similar though not a copy. But like Cooke, you have this impassioned delivery and the kind of deep, deep soul track I simply can't get enough of.
Confession: much as I recognize the greatness that was Marvin, I actually own very few of his albums besides a few anthologies. I basically missed out on buying a lot of classic Motown-era LPs (I'm starting to make up for it though) and it wasn't until the other month that I finally picked up one of his biggest selling albums of the '60s, I Heard It Through the Grapevine. Besides the now-ubiquitous title track though, I really liked listening to what some might call the "filler", LP-only songs because you will always find little gems tucked away. Motown knew what the f--- they were doing in that era and even the non-hits sound like potential hits. This track in particular has a nice, funky twang to it, anchored by fatback drums. Reminds me a little of this, an absolute favorite of mine from Tammi Terrell's catalog.
I originally heard this back in 2003 when I got booted on a strange, one-off 12". Even then, I remember it being some really crazy stuff but I had forgotten about it for years until recently, when I grabbed an OG copy of the 7". It's such a fantastically quirky song that mashes up some funky white dude rock, lush orchestral production and crazy psychedelic vocals. Call me crazy but didn't the moment where the strings and beat come together at :15 remind you of this? Far as I can tell, this was the only release this 7-man band ever put out; pity - I would have loved to hear what an entire LP's worth of material sounded like from these guys.
Ironically, even though this album was mostly covering other people's hits, as one of the sole original compositions by this short-lived group, "98 Cents Plus Tax" was the group's biggest hit: a squawking monster of an instrumental cooker that's been a favorite of DJs for years.
This excellent, mid-70s proto-disco jam is a real enigma. If you've ever heard "Mud Wind" by the South Side Movement, you'll notice that "Love Dance" = "Mud Wind" - a minute + vocals. Does that mean Big City is actually South Side Movement? That's my assumption only because I've never seen another Big City single but apparently, this isn't the first time a tune on Wand ended up being re-released on 20th Century (see The Groove: "Love, It's Getting Better").
This comes from one of the many NY-based New World library music records. New World isn't anywhere near the level of KPM/DeWolfe library respectability but like most library series, there's good tracks to be found if you're willing to sift through. This is one of the better cuts I've found on a New World LP - a slick, disco-y instrumental that rides a nice little groove.
Finland's finest teamed up with legendary NOLA soul man for this single that sort of flew under people's radars from last year. Whether intentional or not, there's just something slightly "off" about this deep soul recording but whatever that element is, it works for me.
And staying on the Timmion tip is the latest single from Oakland's Myron and E who made a strong splash with "Cold Game." This is their follow-up 7" and hopefully paves the way for the duo's long-awaited debut LP with the Soul Investigators. This one's real catchy (but it's not a cover of the Spinners' song in case you were wondering).
Straight up, McClean's "Tell Me" and "Walk Away From Love" are two of my favorite reggae songs that I've discovered in years. I didn't even realize "Tell Me" got a remix 7" treatment but had to cop. This doesn't change the song dramatically; it basically keeps the original rocksteady arrangement but then remakes it over with some heavy dub elements, basically stripping it down and letting McClean's vocals echo out.
Here's a quintet of stuff I've been listening to lately...
Cumbias En Moog: Cumbia Del Sol From 7" (Peerless, 197/8?)
Cumbia, done in moog. Awesome idea, marvelously executed here by the outfit, appropriately named, Cumbias En Moog. I'm betting there's a lot more of this out there, probably collecting dust somewhere between Colombia and Mexico City. Holler at me with that! This came out of a batch of cumbia 7"s I picked up the other month; money well-spent! Really solid stuff all around (the A-side of this 7", for example, has a surprisingly good, bossa-flavored cumbia). I'll share another one:
Pedro Beltran y Orquesta: Cumbia De Lucy From 7" (Aries, 1970s)
Killer intro; sounds like a marching band bass drum being pounded there, intercut with chattering percussion and then what sounds like an Indian flute creeps in (I'm assuming it's some Peruvian woodwindaccording to commenter Alejandro, it's a Colombian instrument called a "gaita".). The whole package is an incredibly mesmerizing rhythm. Lyrically, I can only assume the song is a riff on Lucille Ball given that the vocalist (Beltran?) sings "Lucy! Luck!" Ricky Ricardo style.
One of my favorite songs to DJ with over the last year or so has been the Lefties Soul Connection's cover of "Have Love Will Travel." The song was originally recorded by Richard Berry in 1959 but like several of Berry's influential compositions ("Louie Louie" being the most obvious), it would actually be later artists who'd record the more definitive version. In the case of "Have Love Will Travel," the version the Lefties are riffing on isn't Berry's original but the 1965 cover by the garage rockers, The Sonics. With the fuzzed out guitar and screaming intro, their version rocks in a way that Berry's never really did and it's easy to see why it's been such a compelling cover to cover since then. Check out Thee Headcoat(ees) cover for the femme makeover.
Chikaramanga feat. Droop Capone: A Life Like This (snippet) From 12" (Tres, 2010)
Droop Capone aka Dr. Oop is one of my favorite West Coast rappers from the indie hip-hop heyday; he had such a distinctive flow and a knack for choosing good beats to rhyme over. In 2010, he hasn't slipped on that front, teaming with Japan's Chikaramanga for this upcoming single on Tres Records. Call it nostalgist in me but I like any song that a shout out to the Good Life on the chorus. Cop this.
Professor Longhair: Big Chief Pt. 2 From 7" (Watch, 19640). Part 1 + 2 version here.
This is a classic of NOLA music though I didn't get around to grabbing the OG 7" until recently. If you want to understand the roots of funk polyrhythm, you'd do well to just pay attention to what's going on this song in terms of what Smokey Johnson (second line ya'll!) is doing with the drums and how it plays off against the rest of the layers of the song. Longhair's piano work here is sparkling and I went with the lesser played Pt. 2 of the 7" because I like it makes the Royal Dukes of Rhythm horn section more prominent plus you get actual vocals (from Earl King) instead of only whistling. (Home of the Groove has an excellent primer on this single). In other news...people may also be interested in:
But here's the crazy thing...the actual album sounds nothing like you'd expect it to. Had the album had two loner, folk rock types, you could better understand how the Emerson brothers put together such a heady mix of psych and soul on here but you'd be forgiven if you assumed it was some schlocky power pop instead.
"Good Time" opens the album and already you realize: "oh wait, this is going to be some crazy sh--, isn't it?" The mix of fuzzed out guitars with a unmistakably bright melody is already worth noting but then the vocals come in and everything hits some next level you would never have guessed possible.
I don't mean to overstate it; his is not an amazing voice. Donnie (I think it's Donnie?) has a tendency to swallow his lines rather than pushing them out but still, there's something simple and innocent about the performance and you can imagine the young Emersons, with their big hair, jamming this one out in the basement, visions of arena tours dancing in their heads.
Those into funky psych will no doubt gravitate to the dark, smoky "Give Me the Chance." In listening to this, I'm reminded of any number of '70s rock bands who had a similar vocal style but a little before the 1:30 mark, the song falls deep off into a crevice of crazy synthesizer effects (I imagine Edan going nuts over this kind of stuff).
But seriously: it is all about "Baby." This is easily one of the best things I've heard in a long time (I'd easily put it ahead of anything on that Sly, Slick and Wicked LP and that's a great album). I'm not even entirely sure what he's singing besides "Baby" but it doesn't matter; just the way he croons, "oooh ooooh baby/yes, oh, baby" melts me like hot butter on (what?) the popcorn. Someone on Soulstrut described this song, "as if Shuggie Otis and Roy Orbison had a baby together" and that exactly nails it. I want to get lost inside this shaggy beanbag of a song, slipping into its cushy folds and dream wild like Donnie and Joe.
(Editor's note: I'm still in the middle of new-house-hell but David Ma - who writes one of my favorite music blogs, Nerdtorious - graciously contributed a guest post. I gave him a simple concept to go with - "what's the last album that really grabbed your attention?" Here's what he had to say. --O.W.)
Paul Parrish: English Sparrows Tiny Alice I Can't Help Myself From The Forest of My Mind (MFS, 1968)
I’m honored to contribute to Soul-Sides, an audio blog that’s been influential on my own work and, through the years, still sucker-punches me with quality. I was asked to write about the last record that grabbed me and hopefully it’ll grab Soul-Siders too.
I’m not a psych expert by any means, but I know what I like. In this case, Paul Parrish’s The Forest of My Mind brings the goods through great arrangements and lush apexes—courtesy of Dennis Coffey no less. Coffey’s influence is obvious as drums and guitars sit high in the mix, second only to the vocals, with all kinds of kitschy touches thrown in. Like his impressive mustache, this record is thick and homegrown, all penned by Parrish besides two covers that round out each side. While Forest… is of the Electric Kool Aid era, it never comes off novelty or too indulgent. Think Donovan on shrooms, cutting an earnest record.
The first track, “English Sparrows”, best represents it as a whole. It grabs you from the get-go with swooping strings and its mellow groove. Like the entire record, more elements emerge on repeated listens. This track was the impetus for my obsession with this record.
The next song, “Tiny Alice”, opens side-b. No trippy imagery, just Parrish begging his lady to “come back home tiny Alice.” All the harmonies, drum fills, and tension-building strings precede a melodic, carnival-esque chorus.
The record’s final cut covers The Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself”. It’s fitting since the record, like Parrish (and Dennis Coffey) are both from Detroit. It’s tepid compared to the original (like Jay-Z once said: “Your voice too light!”) but it rounds the album out in a fun way. This is definitely on a pre-Mayer Hawthorne tip.
This was the last record to strike me and wouldn’t have been possible without heads hipping me to it (thanks Maurice!). A folky-psych project like this (with a Beatles and Motown cover) could’ve easily fell on its sword but doesn’t. The tight arrangements keep it fresh and Parrish, whose career remained lost in the woods so to speak, never oversteps his place.
Ten Wheel Drive with Genya Raven: How Long Before I'm Gone Stay With Me From Brief Replies (Polydor, 1970)
The Highlighters: You're Time Is Gonna Come From 7" (Chess, 1970)
I save a slew of songs with the intention of "eventually posting them up" and what inevitably happens is that they just end up "hanging around" and go nowhere fast. Right now, I have at least 1.5 years worth of stuff and decided to get off the proverbial pot by finally posting some up.
The Ten Wheel Drive's "How Long" came to my attention after hearing this Black Moon cut (arguably the last good one they ever put out), "Way of the Walk." This combines at least two pet loves: 1) funky rock bands fronted by 2) female singers (in this case, Genya Raven who has a huge voice - very post-Joplin. I don't think her version of Lorraine Ellison's "Stay With Me blows the OG out of the water but it was an interesting take.
Th Highlighters were an Indiana group probably best known for their uber-rare "Funky 16 Corners" funk 45. "You're Time Is Gonna Come" (not to be confused with the Led Zep song of similar title) is a taste of the group's penchant for crafting a great little, doo-wop influenced power ballad that showcases lead singer James Bell's pipes. I also really dig the organ here - unexpected but quite welcome.
Jan Jankeje: Elsa Marie From Sokol (Jazzpoint, 1974)
Roger Saunders: Darkness From The Roger Saunders Rush Album (Warner Bros, 1972)
I previously posted (anonymously) another song from Jan Jankeje's funky fusion LP, Sokol back in the "Breaks and Basslines" post. I'm not remotely as big on fusion stuff as I was about 10 years back but I still have a soft spot for this album by the Slovakian Jankeje which is one solid footing in funk-influenced rhythms but also healthy touches of avant garde jazz as this composition, in particular, seems to capture. File under "I can't believe I never posted this": Preston Love's Omaha BBQ was one of the earliest funky blues albums I ever became acquainted with and I still find it to be one of the most consistent efforts in the genre. "Kool Ade" especially is killer - as gritty a groove you can imagine. The drummer gets some special attention here on the two bridges where band members rap with each other over a chattering like series of breaks and fills.
Speaking of breaks, you'd be hard pressed to find too many songs with a better 8 bar opening break than this. The actual song itself is a decent, mid-tempo country-rock ballad which isn't quite what you'd expect with an intro like that but it's definitely a step up from "Put Your Hand in the Hand."
Prisoners of Watts (POW): Language of Funk From 12" (No Busters Allowed, 1990)
Da Lench Mob: Ain't Got No Class (T-Bone Remix) Ain't Got No Class (Beatnuts Remix) From 12" (Street Knowledge, 1992)
King Tee: The Great (Distorted Alcoholism Mix) From 12" ("Bust Dat Ass") (Capitol, 1992)
I picked up this 12" by L.A.'s P.O.W. (Prisoners of Watts) on a whim and while it's not exactly the unsung NWA or anything, I do digthe early '90s L.A. hip-hop production steez on here. Bonus points for having Battle Cat (back when he was mostly known as a DJ) on the cut.
Less obscure (but still staying in the Southland), we have two mixes from Da Lench Mob's "Ain't Got No Class" 12". Again, I don't really ride that hard for the song itself (there are better Lench Mob cuts out there) but I do like the contrast in production style you can here between the Beatnuts and T-Ray. Especially because T-Ray was doing stuff for Cypress Hill and his style and Muggs' seemed so compatible, I always associate it with a Left Coast thing even though neither Muggs nor T-Ray were originally from California. T-Bone's remix (which I, embarrassingly, confused for a T-Ray remix for, uh, years now) is some classic West Coast, post-Sir Jinx/Muggs ruggedness while The Beatnuts mix is classically 'Nuts with the filtered bassline and use of horns.
One more from the West (actually, now that I think about it, these three songs were probably from a long-forgotten "early 90s West Coast hip-hop post") - a remix of King Tee's "The Great" found on the "Bust Dat Ass" 12". King Tee = unsung and then some. I always like going back and listening again to his catalog (especially anything connected to The Triflin' Album - such a good voice and such a damn shame his Aftermath album never got official release.
Los Pakines: Hojas Verdes Oh! Cherie From S/T (Sono Radio, 197?)
I don't know much about Peruvian chicha but this fusion of Colombian cumbia with American surf rock makes for style that's hard to forget once you hear it. I got turned onto this Los Pakines album when I was looking for stuff by Los Diablos Rojo, another group in a similar vein. The Pakines, in particular, seemed to love that reverb and just drench every song on this album with it. "Hojas Verdes" is a slinky cumbia piece with some funk undertones while "Oh! Cherie" sounds like a cover of a '60s tune I should recognize (but don't).
The Impossibles: Easy to Be Hard b/w California From Hot Pepper (Phillips, 1975)
The Impossibles: Satin Soul From Stage Show (SSP, 197?)
It's been over two years since I last posted about the Impossibles but that's partially because it's taken over two years for me to finally add another album of theirs to the collection. The Impossibles are pretty much the only Thai funk band that anyone outside of Thailand is familiar with and that's in large part due to the fact that they toured Europe and the U.S. and released an album on Phillips, recorded in Sweden.
However, more than just being a curiosity of 1970s cross-cultural/musical fusion, the Impossibles also cut some damn good sides. The Hot Pepper album can regularly fetch in the ballpark of $200 and up and I have to say, I think it's totally worth it in terms of the overall caliber of the album and its inclusions.
The standout is their cover of Kool and the Gang's "Give It Up"; it'd be the obvious one to post...which is precisely why I'm not posting it (you can find it on Chairman Mao and DJ Muro's excellent Run For Cover II mix-CD). I'd rather put up two other songs that I find even more intriguing. The first really blew my mind when I started listening; a cover of "Easy to Be Hard," a song from the Hair but one I associate more with Three Dog Night's version. It's clear The Impossibles do too; their cover is riffing off TDN's but they really funk it up in ways the rock band didn't - check the reverb on the guitar and the way the horns creep in. When the vocals come in, it just takes you there - so soulful, so melancholy. The ramp up to Tony Bennett-land halfway through is a bit jarring but overall, I find the song exceptionally well-executed in terms of how it builds tension and release and the interplay between the dreaminess of the vocals and the music.
As for "California" it's a more conventional funk song, opening with a basic breakbeat stomp and then sliding into a groove that wouldn't be out of place from an Average White Band album. Personally, I'm feeling how this is an ode to California and San Diego, in particular. I can't figure out if this is a cover or not - it's not exactly easy to google "California". My guess is that this is one of the few original songs on the album and based off the group's experience touring the U.S. California, represent...'sent.
I also pulled another song off the group's recorded-in-Thailand Stage Show LP. This is a cover of the Barry White production, "Satin Soul" (originally a Love Unlimited Orchestra tune). Once again, a strong breakbeat opener that then slides into some screechy guitar and a heavily vamped up organ that deliver the song's signature riff. Because this was apparently recorded live, the audio quality could stand to be better but overall, I think this bumps quite nicely.
Lyn Christopher: Take Me With You From S/T (Paramount, 1973)
Tyrone and Carr: Take Me With You From 7" single (Jam, 1973). Also on Kings of Diggin'.
Here's a bit of a musical mystery...
Unless you're a hardcore KISS fan - or are just into LPs with foxy ladies on the cover - "Take Me With You" is probably the only Lyn Christopher song you've ever heard. And even then, had it not been for the Smut Peddlers, you probably wouldn't even say that much. Nonetheless, Christopher's self-titled debut - and the 7" version of "Take Me With You" - have been heavy collectibles by at least two different crowds. The first are KISS fans; Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley played on her album before they would blow up as KISS (technically, I think the band existed but their debut album wouldn't come out until 1974).
After Smut Peddlers looped this up lovely in 1998, it then got "outed" on Dusty Fingers Vol. 3 and that all helped blow things up for sample hounds who began to chase after the LP and 7" versions. It's easy to see why: it is so downright sultry and funky, possessed of a seductive sensuality that rings through when Christopher croons, "every morning/every evening." Yes, please, take us with you.
But here's the thing...I heard what I thought was a cover of this song by Tyrone and Carr on the Kings of Diggin' compilation by Kon, Amir and Muro (this being one of the songs on K&A's half). It's a very similar version, especially with that telltale bassline that's such a distinctive part of both. Tyrone and Carr's approach is more modern soul-y (if you had told me this was recorded in the early '80s, I would have totally believed that). Very smooth stuff and nice use of both acoustic guitar and electric keys. The interplay between male and female vocals is also an interesting approach, as is the shift in the back half of the song with the addition of horns and more percussion.
It took a minute but I was lucky enough to come two copies of their single - one of Jam from 1973, the other being the second issue on DJM from '75. And this is where things get interesting...
Which is the cover? I think most have assumed it was Christopher first but only because hers is, by virtue of its noteriety, the definitive version. But all that means is that she has the best known version, not necessarily the first.
Both releases are credited to 1973 though this site puts Tyrone and Carr's single as a March 1973 release, making it less likely that they're covering Christopher unless her album came out Jan 1 or something. However, on Christopher's own site, it says the album was recorded in 1972, which would put it ahead of the Tyrone and Carr 7".
However, "Take Me With You" was written by Kaplan Kaye, a producer and songwriter who worked for... Jam. It seems more likely to me that Kaye gave his song to an artist on the label he works for and that song goes on to get covered elsewhere than for him to give the song to Christopher and then return to find a Jam artist to record it.
Moreover, musically, I feel like it Christopher's version sounds like a cover insofar as it adds something that isn't there on Tyrone and Carr's - the very beginning of the song with that haunting back-and-forth between the (what the hell is it? A guitar? A horn?) and bassline. That sounds like something a smart arranger throws on to distinguish their cover from the original. In contrast, the Tyrone and Carr don't have anything like that - the bassline is there but that's it. It's possible they could have stripped off Christopher's intro but it's so distinctive, you'd think if theirs was the cover, they'd try to riff off it somehow.
There's nothing "at stake" here except simply establishing a correct timeline of who-covered-who. Personally, I love insider baseball stuff like this and besides, it gives me the opportunity to post up what I think are two excellent tunes, regardless of which came first.
Once upon a time, there were these four lads from Liverpool... and, well, you know the rest. Pretty much, they conquered the world, and music hasn't been the same since. It's quite a testament that 40+ years later, people are still going nuts over them. (Could the same be said for one of today's contemporary artists in 2050?) This past week, Beatlemania swept the USA (and possibly the rest of the world) again.
While I only got heavily into them about 3 years ago albums-wise, I was immediately taken in by their depth and songwriting from songs I hadn't heard on the radio growing up. So my listening experience has been limited to the 1987 discs. Until the remastered albums came out this week, I had no idea how muddy the '87 discs were.
Tuesday night, I received a sampler in the mail featuring 32 of the songs (2 songs from each of the stereo discs) from the remastering project . Now I'm no hardcore audiophile, but it doesn't take one to hear how crisp the snares and hi-hats sound. Additionally, the bass and low-end is greatly enhanced. Did you know they had a bass player in the band?
Wednesday I was able to score a Stereo box set (even after a mix-up from the store I had pre-ordered from) and even more fortunately was able to get a hold of the Mono box set from a Best Buy on another side of town (a HUGE thank you to Stacey for holding it for me!). Aside from the Past Masters releases, I've made it through the rest of the stereo releases. So far I've only spot-checked a few of the mono mixes, but what I've heard so far - “Helter Skelter,” “She's Leaving Home,” “I Am The Walrus,” and “I've Just Seen A Face” to name a few – have sounded fantastic. While longtime collectors and listeners are still arguing the merits of the original vinyl releases versus the remasters, according to Allan Rouse, the leader of the project, these are the most true-to-form representation of the master tapes.
Aside from the music, the packaging is fantastic. The Mono set faithfully recreates the album covers and packaging even to the most minute detail such as a replica of the paper sleeve in each release (you even get the Sgt. Pepper cut-outs!). The Stereo set has never-before-seen photos as well as excellent liner notes on high-gloss paper in each release. Hands down it's the best packaging I've ever seen for a CD release, beating out Bear Family's “Blowin' The Fuse” series – my previous vote for best packaging of a set.
Barring an all-out remix to these tracks, these are the definitive versions of The Beatles. Unless you're a collector of all things Beatles, you can trade the '87 discs in for store credit toward the purchase of the new releases (or put them on your Christmas list) and not feel one bit bad about it. For those of you like me who have never gotten to hear the mono versions, we can hear The Beatles in a “new” way. Now is the most affordable time to hear them, but act fast as the Mono set is limited (although another small run is being manufactured due to the high demand) and was already on backorder from most retailers even before release day.
This is a quick addendum to the last post but I just heard this for the first time today (and I haven't even seen the movie yet). A little voice is telling me I probably should find it just a touch cloying and overly XM-Radio-The-Coffee-House-Channel-ish but I tell that voice to shut the f--- up and I'm happier for it.
Keep in mind too, I think the original is the best damn thing the Pixies ever recorded and 20+ years, I still love the original. And somehow, Smith manages to tweak the emotional vibe of the song into something altogether more bittersweet and quirky and the type of pop ditty (I mean that in a good day) that I would have put on a mixtape back when I was in love with, well, anyone in my 20s.
What I'm saying is that this song makes me feel young and old at the same time. And it also seems to fit - perfectly - with the end-of-summer theme.
Social Climbers: Chris and Debbie From (Hoboken, 1981)
In principle, I really like the whole idea of No Wave; I just don't happen to be that knowledgeable about the movement besides a cursory awareness of 99 Records, Liquid Liquid and ESG (given their influence on hip-hop). When Cool Chris started playing the Social Climbers LP at the Groove Merchant (as you may have noticed, most of my recent posts have all been inspired by my recent trip to the Bay), I was really drawn into the blend of sounds here. Most obviously - at first - it's that funky drum programming which wouldn't have been out of place on Arthur Baker-produced New Order project. Then comes in those hypnotic, druggy guitars and ska-influenced bassline. It's like the great loves of my '80s - New Wave + hip-hop, swirled together.
According to Waxidermy, even though Social Climbers were signed to the NJ-based Hoboken Records, the group is actually from Indiana. (Waxidermy also has another song by them for your listening pleasure).
Speaking of Liquid, Liquid...
Liquid Liquid: Lock Groove (In) From Successive Reflexes EP (99, 1981). Also on Liquid Liquid
I picked this up ages ago (also from the Groove Merchant) and have been meaning to write about it and now seemed as good a time as any. Liquid Liquid is arguably the best-known of the artists who released on 99 and their post-punk-meets-hip-hop sound has been one of the most influential of all the No Wave artists. In contrast to "Chris and Debbie" which had a more distinct swing to it, "Lock Groove (In)" feels more mechanical (though still funky) and cold, though, compared to, say, Kraftwerk, this is positively cozy.
As I mentioned a few weeks back, I had the immense pleasure to meet Asha Puthli and hopefully will be working with her on a future project. That encounter encouraged me to revisit her substantial catalog and that's been such a fun, revelatory experience.
It starts with a song by her I had never heard before but Asha was kind enough to burn a copy for me - her singing with the Peter Ivers Group back in the early 1970s, covering Marvin Gaye's big Motown classic, "Ain't That Peculiar." This wasn't her first recording but it was (I believe) her first US release, recorded for a full album that was meant to be Ivers' follow-up to his well-regarded 1969 LP, Knight of the Blue Communion (I'll have to post up about that LP at some point too). For reasons I'm not clear about, the album feat. Asha, entitled Take It Out On Me was never released by Epic but the single did make its way out. It's definitely not something that will remind people instantly of Gaye's iconic version - Ivers adds a strong funk element to the rhythm section and it's actually quite a sparse song in many ways (despite the surprise harmonica) and Asha's voice - light but distinct - works nicely here, especially as she plays with the arrangement most of know through Marvin. I like this one a lot - it reminds me of Smith's "Baby, It's You" in terms of how a rock band interprets an R&B tune.
Asha's second full-length solo album was She Loves to Hear the Music, released in 1974, with production principally from disco master Teo Macero and Paul Phillips (I'm assuming he of later Hi Tension fame?). I'm not 100% clear who produces "You've Been Loud Too Long," but I've loved this song for years - it's a spunky bit of Southern fried funk that seems to mesh Wardell Quezergue with Van McCoy (who works on this album so for all I know, he produced it!). I played this out at Boogaloo[la] the other week and one of the guys working security asked if it was Minnie Riperton; I hadn't thought of that before but there's definitely an affinity shared between singers like Puthli, Riperton and Linda Lewis.
The one album that was new to me was The Devil Is Loose and I'm not even certain why it took me so long to listen to it but it is good. Very very good. Rush-out-and-get-this-now good. For starters, I think it showcases the possibilities of what disco could bring to pop music that defies all the haters and naysayers - the gloss and glean in the production (all by Dieter Zimmerman) isn't window dressing but an integral part to sonic texture of the album. It's subtly lush, with Zimmerman and Puthli smartly keeping things a bit cool and controlled rather than give into sweeping excess. Moreover, the diversity of styles here are impressive, ranging from the quiet ballad "Let Me In Your Life" (the last song on the sampler) to the slinky funk of "Flying Fish" to the sheer pop charm of "Hello Everyone." The album's best known song (also released on 12") however is "Space Talk," another funky excursion, and arguably, a big influence of the evolution of European disco. If it sounds familiar to some, it may be because the song's been popular sample fodder, including for Biggie.
No disrespect to Dave Mason and Traffic but to me, "Feelin' Alright" has become one of those rock-era standards where the covers > the original (see also: "Spinning Wheel"). I suppose that's a testament to Mason's songwriting that it drew so many fans amongst fellow artists and I've enjoyed how broad its base of popularity has been.
I'm only skimming the surface of the total number of possible versions of this song but pulled out a quartet of personal favorites.
6680 Lexington: Feelin' All Right From S/T (MGM, 1971)
I always assumed, from the sound of the band, that 6680 Lexington were originally from Louisiana or Arkansas but as it turns out, they were Southern...Southern Californian that is (though I've also seen the band referred to as a Bay Area group). Wherever they're from, they bring a distinctly blues-rock approach to their cover. I dig the opening piano especially (courtesy Dave Garland) and I believe Canned Heat's Chris Morgan is on guitar here.
Rustix: Feelin' Alright From Bedlam (Rare Earth, 1969)
One of the things that's always struck me about covers of the song is that groups bring in a real funk-flavaored element that I don't really hear in the original. That's very obvious with the aggressive brass and drum beginning to Rustix's version. The group apparently was one of the first white bands signed to Motown's Rare Earth subsidiary. (Ok, what's a bit weird to me is that the label was named after the group Rare Earth yet the Rustix were signed to the label first...not sure how that chronology quite works out but ok...) As you can hear, the group is going for a big sound - blaring banks of horns and it sounds like they're recording in a cavern (in a good way). I like the LP cover for this too - it's die-cut on the top.
West Coast Revival: Feelin' Alright From S/T (LA International, 1977)
Thus far, this is my favorite version (as evidenced by the fact that I put it out on Soul Sides Vol. 2 - it's so funky and slinky. Not surprisingly, the album was produced by Jerry Goldstein of WAR fame but I don't actually know much about the group itself - they only ever put out this LP and maybe one or two 45s.
Kenny Smith Trio: Feelin' Alright From For Bassists Only! (Music Minus One Bass) (Music Minus One, 1970)
We end with a lively, instrumental version of the song by the Kenny Smith Trio, featured on a "Music Minus One Bass" instructional album. The A-side (what you hear here) has the bass part included; the flipside is the same identical song with - you guessed it - the bass "minused" so you, the aspiring plucker, can practice over it.
Ernie Story: Chain Gang/Disco City From Meditation Blue (Legend, 1977)
This strange, private press album out of Minnesota came via the Groove Merchant earlier in the year. It was one of those cases where I had credit to burn so I took a chance on an eclectic LP and once I really sat with it, I'm glad I did.
From the title and look of the album, you'd think Ernie Story was some kind of Christian/New Age folk singer but on the LP, it boasts that Story was a songwriter for mostly R&B groups such as The Impressions and Chi-Lites and this seems true - he wrote "Simple Message" for the Impressions' Preacher Man album though I can't seem to find which Chi-Lites song he did.
For his own album however, Story's styles are varied, to say the least, a contrast best captured on these two songs which close out Side A. "Chain Gang" reminds me of Rodriguez's soulful, folksy rock in one moment, but then it drops into a funkier, fuzzed out sound just a few beats later and then there's that unexpected transition into "Disco City" as Story puts together what you might call a "garage disco" joint.
It must be said - Story might have skills as a songwriter but he's not really a very good singer but given that this is a private press album, I suppose that fact is more endearing than annoying (that said, if you don't like his singing on "Disco City," you'll much prefer the B-side's "The E Groove" which is a fantastic little disco instrumental.
I'm curious what Story is doing these days - he doesn't seem to have had an extensive musical career after '77...
Mothers don't get their due when it comes to passing along the gift of music. So many times I've read articles where an interviewer asks an artist or producer about their influences only to get a response like, “Pops played in a local funk band,” or “My dad gave me a bunch of his LPs that we used to listen to at the house when I was growing up.” This isn't THAT story. I'm no artist or producer, although I can play a little bit of piano and a carry a beat on drums. What I am is a guy who LOVES music of all kinds, and it all started with my mother.
I couldn't tell you a lot about my dad's musical tastes other than he liked Neil Diamond according to my mom. He died when I was only a few months old. My stepdad wasn't much into music either. But my mom? She loves her some music, especially something that makes her want to dance or just flat out makes her feel good.
As a kid, I didn't care for “her” music much. There were a few songs that were okay, but given the chance I would have much rather listened to 96 WSTO, the local pop station. My older brother and I went nuts when Janet Jackson's “Nasty” or Prince's “Kiss” came on. We liked our MJ, too. When I was in my teens and we'd visit the big city, I couldn't wait to turn on the hip hop station, and did my mom ever hate it! She was a good sport, though, as she put up with as much as she could before saying she couldn't take it anymore. It was just “cool” to hear the latest jams – and to like something my mom didn't, in part to have my own identity. My mom's old fuddy-duddy music? Not so cool, or at least I didn't think so at the time.
My mom never has been much of an albums kind of lady. The songs she likes aren't all that obscure. Most of the cassettes/CDs/LPs she has are greatest hits or compilations. It was only a couple months ago she wanted to upgrade to CD versions of the 70s Preservation Society's “Disco Fever” 2-CD comp she had on cassette, which she can no longer play in her car since it only has a CD player. The only problem was that the comp was out of print. So after a few minutes of scouring eBay, I scored a good price and she was happy as could be. I mean seriously elated. You should have seen the smile on her face. Priceless.
In our house, it was always a party when we heard some Brothers Johnson “Stomp” (a song that was not uncommon to rewind and do it all again) or do some rock-soul growling with Mitch Ryder's version of the Purify's “Shake A Tail Feather.” We used to promenade through the living room to “Double Dutch Bus” and do “The Hustle” right along with Van McCoy. We played air guitar to Ray Parker, Jr.'s, “The Other Woman.” We even got a little righteous with it to Gil Scott-Heron's “Johannesburg” - pretty hip stuff for a white family in Small Town, USA.
One of my favorite pictures of our family is a picture that was taken from the balcony above the living room of my mom, with her lovely early '80s coif, and brother each with an air-mic (it may even have been a salt and pepper shaker set) singing – no, make that SANGin' – while the stereo was bumping. And did it ever bump in that house. My friend used to tell me how she could hear the music at her house... 2 houses up the road!
Today, it's hard to turn my mom on to new-to-her old school music. When I hear something today that I think she'd like, it's a hard sell. “I just like the ones I used to play and know,” she tells me. It can be a hard concept to wrap my head around since, to me, the songs may have the same vibe. A good friend of mine, Apollo, who is a club and mobile DJ, told me several years ago it all has to do with nostalgia. For her, it may not have anything to do with the sound of the actual music; it may only be where that music takes her – back to the Victory, a local dance club she went to as a young adult that had a lighted dancefloor that I can only imagine was similar to Saturday Night Fever, or back to an unforgettable New Year's Dance, or a song that got her in the mood. The music was just the soundtrack to her life. With each listen, she can time travel back.
That musical tradition carried forth when my brother, who has run his own mobile DJ business for nearly 20 years, and I threw a surprise 60th birthday party for her a few years ago. With a few drinks and a few friends in attendance at the local Elks Lodge, we had a blast. Those friends didn't just include those couples with whom my mom always hung out. Also in attendance were friends such as Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin, Bob Seger, and Vicki Sue Robinson, who made their way via CDs and speakers. Had we ever met those folks? Absolutely not, but we certainly spent a lot of time with them at our house, and they meant a lot to us, even if it was in a more indirect, but no less important, relationship than with our actual family friends.
As I got older, I started to appreciate how much work goes into music and started to piece together of how the “science” of music (how it is constructed), how it makes me feel, and how those interrelate. Nostalgia is a funny creature. Much of the music I love now I wasn't alive to hear when it was made, but it takes me back to a fun time growing up in a household where music, dancing, and expression were almost as important as eating dinner together. But this story isn't about me. It's about a mother – my mother – who wasn't trying to teach us anything about music; she was just trying to have a good time, and in the process she passed along something that I'll certainly always cherish. Just like my mom.
As a music scholar/writer, I attend a fair amount of conferences, many of which include interesting and provocative talks and papers on all things musical/cultural but hands-down, my favorite annual event is the Pop Conference at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. I just got back this weekend from it and even after eight years, it's still a constant inspiration and source of much intellectual fodder.
Nona Hendryx was the opening night keynote, interviewed by two dear friends of mine, Daphne Brooks and Sonnet Retman. Hendryx has had an incredible career in pop music, spanning back to the 1960s when she was a member of Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles, to their 1970s incarnation as Labelle and then onto a solo career since the late '70s that has included collaborations with the Talking Heads, Dusty Springfield and Peter Gabriel. It was tough trying to pick one song from her massive discography to highlight but I really loved her story about working Laura Nyro on the Gonna Take a Miracle album for two reasons. First of all, I have been playing the hell out of this song lately (more specifically, Alton Ellis' version) and second, Nona made a poignant comment about how, back then, a collaboration between Labelle and Nyro - unlikely as it may have seemed to folks -could be as easy as saying to one another, "hey, I like your music, you want to do something with me?" No managers, agents or attorneys to fuss about - artists could simply agree to work together (at least, this is the halcyon world that Hendryx painted).
Rutgers' Christopher Doll gave a fascinating paper that uses musicology to argue that there's such a thing as a "sexual chord progression." If I'm not mistaken (and I didn't take very good notes here), I think he's talking about the E-A-D progression that you can hear in everything from Neil Diamond's "Cherry Cherry" to "I Can't Get No (Satisfaction)" by the Rolling Stones to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. Given that I'm not musicologically trained I could be totally misrepresenting all of this so just take it with a grain of salt. In any case, his argument is not that the progression itself has some inherent sexual quality; rather it's that it's come to be associated with the idea of sexual frustration as evinced by its use in many different songs that have similar topical themes, perhaps most famously the Stones.
Doll (if I recall correctly) traces the crossover moment of this chord progression from blues to pop/rock in the form of "Louie Louie," that ubiquitous party song most often associated with the Kingsmen but originating with songwriter Richard Berry and recorded by him with the Pharaohs. I had never heard Berry's original and I totally dig it, especially in how one of the Pharaohs uses his baritone voice to mimic the bassline.
Van Truong gave an intriguing paper about the role of "migrant sad songs" in linking diasporic subjects with concepts of home, history and memory. She was primarily speaking about her own father and how his love for Vietnamese folk songs of the 1960s is one of the few ways through which he'll speak of the past. As an end example, Truong offered up a few songs from Onra, a Vietnamese French producer (with a notably Dilla-esque sound) who traveled to Vietnam and returned home with both Vietnamese and Chinese records and use that as raw material for last year's Chinoiseries CD. It's not as aggressively stylized as, say, Flying Lotus, but Onra has a nice sense for mood and texture, especially on the soulful "I Wanna Go Back" (plus, peep that industrial vinyl grime creating static!)
Greil Marcus plumbed the depths of Nan Goldin's "Ballad of Sexual Dependency" by focusing on the imagined songs left out of that exhibit and his #1 choice was Lonnie Mack's "Why," a surprisingly underrated deep soul ballad from the veteran Memphis blues man. The conventional wisdom around why Mack's vocal contributions have gone less appreciated is that his Whiteness made him a difficult person to market to the R&B audience of the 1960s and "Why" actually languished for over five years after being initially recorded until the Fraternity label finally decided to put it out.
Not having seen Goldin's exhibit, I can't say if this song does or does not belong within it but I can certainly understand the appeal of a song whose desperation resonates in crack in Mack's voice when he screams "whhhyyyyyyy" on the three choruses, especially the final one where, if I recall properly, Marcus suggests Mack "lets the flood gates open" and you can hear the raw emotion pour fourth with terrifying power.
5) Rhythm Controll/Chuck Roberts: My House From 12" (Catch-a-Beat, 1987)
Some of you might remember Seattle's Michaelangelo Matos from the "Apache" post he graciously reposted for Soul Sides in 2005. That was originally an EMP paper and this year, Matos tackled the returning use of the "dance music's national anthem", i.e. the "My House" acapella (by Chuck Roberts and Rhythm Controll) from a then, small house 12" released in 1987. Apart from his history of the acapella and its continued use throughout dance music, Matos also argues that it is damn near impossible to "train wreck" this in a mix, in other words - you can throw this acapella over practically ANY instrumental and it will still sound good. He even played a few examples to prove his point.
This perked my curiosity enough to try it at home and you know what? He is completely correct. This acapella can "work" with many beats you might try to throw under it. Seriously, try it (play the acapella in a web browser and then load up another song on your computer's mp3 program (iTunes for example) and see how they synch up). Quite impressive!
I have to confess, being a relatively rock-ignorant kind of guy, I've never gotten very deep into Joplin's catalog except to know that she certainly had a thing for covering R&B songs. Maybe it's for facile political reasons, but I suppose I've always leaned more towards listening to her source material than Joplin herself but Lauren Onkey's paper on Joplin made me reconsider my prejudices and I was especially struck at her example of Joplin performing "Maybe," a song originally recorded by R&B girl group, The Chantels. Onkey (whose paper on Black British musicians in Liverpool preceding the British invasion was one of my favorites of 2008's conference) isn't trying to rescue/recuperate Joplin; rather, she's coming from the other direction, arguing that most analyses of Joplin have tended to elide how heavily her performance and musical tastes were taken from Black R&B artists, such as Otis Redding, and especially female artists such as the Chantels, Erma Franklin, and many in Jerry Ragavoy's R&B stable. Joplin's performance of "Maybe" is good vocally - she definitely reforms the song in her style and image - but you should also see how she did it live:
There's just something a little forced and awkward about her movements here, with her violent jerks when she wants to emphasize the rhythm peaks in the song.
7) Asha Puthli: I Dig Love From Asha Puthli (CBS UK, 1973)
To me, the hands-down highlight of the conference was watching Asha Puthli bring down the house (repeatedly) during a lunchtime talk she gave to Jason King. I wrote about Puthli before, way back when, and I've been derelict in not following up sooner given how interesting and eclectic a career she's had. (I'm working on catching back up, very soon).
I decided to pull one of her cuts out of the archives, "I Dig Love," a cover of the George Harrison song but probably flipped in ways that Harrison likely wouldn't have imagined. During the lunch talk, Puthli explained that the bubbling noise was her gurgling champagne. Awesomely flossy.
Surprisingly, Asha's LPs have never had a US release before (they're now available digitally however, which is good). Hopefully, that will be a situation that rectifies itself soon.
8) Before Carl Wilson was introduced for his paper this year, a joke was made about how he's so big, even James Franco is showing him love. The truth is though, Wilson's book on taste and criticism (ostensibly based around writing about Celine Dion) is quite extraordinary. I just started it recently and it's exceptional, heady thinking about how we form our opinions, especially via music. Perhaps it's apropos from an author on a book about Celine Dion to do a paper on Auto-Tune and in the course of describing the history of Auto-tune as a form of technology-assisted voice manipulation, Wilson played this incredible (though also quite creepy) 1939 performance by Alvino Rey performing "St. Louis Blues."
For a less disturbing variation using a similar talk box technology as Rey, there's also Pete Drake's "Forever" from the early '60s which is a haunting composition all its own (even without a steel guitar puppet).
 Without trying to confuse the hell out of people here - the intro to "Louie Louie" uses a very common and familiar chord progression of its own, especially within Latin music: a I, IV, V. However, this is NOT the progression that Doll is associating in his argument; he's referring to the more subtle chord progression on the bassline AFTER the intro that you hear on the Kingsmen version of the song. At least, I think that's what he was referring to.
 Marcus was specifically talking about the slideshow + soundtrack version of "The Ballad," and not the photo book, which he considered less powerful in the absence of the music that accompanied the slideshow.
And I'm also sad to report on the death of Detroit's Lyman Woodard, who apart from a long career as a consummate organist, also put together one of the best hip-hop-album-covers-before-there-was-hip-hop ever:
It's not like I have stacks of records, littering the floor or anything but I don't always organize my records that well and inevitably, that means rediscovering things from my stacks that I had forgotten about. I stumbled back across these three LPs last night while I was getting stuff ready to sell and it reminded me of how nicely random some records can be.
Take the Jim Friedman LP for example - a really obscure (perhaps for good reason) private press jazz album that I last wrote about four years ago (damn, I've been doing this site for a minute - peep the old design!) when I was writing about his song "Aubrey." This is what I had to say about Friedman:
"one of those anomalous albums by an anomalous artist that is partly why I love records. Friedman's not much of a warbler and elsewhere on this private press release, his singing is rather terrible but on "Aubrey," it all comes together. It's not like his voice magically turns from schlock to Sinatra but I just kind of feel him on this one, you know?"
And indeed, coming back to the album after, well, four years, I dropped the needle on another song, the funky "Love Makes It Beautiful." It's still kind of clunky, he still can't sing but this song has tons of charm and nice musical touches.
The Paul Mitchell Trio LP is another private press jazz LP - Mitchell was the long, long, long-time resident player at Dantes Down the Hatch in Atlanta (alas, he passed in 2000). He recorded in 1966 for Verve and it's rather remarkable that we was able to do so again (this time for Dantes' own label) seven years later, with the same players: Layman Jackson on bass and Allen Murphy on drums.
The A-side starts off well with an instrumental cover of James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" (I am not too proud to admit: I dig this tune - go Taylor!) but for whatever reason, I had never bothered to really listen to the flipside where I discovered that Murphy wasn't just the drummer - he was also the band's vocalist and sings on several of the songs including this great Mitchell-original ballad, "Now That I Know What Loneliness Is." (The arrangement reminds of George Jackson's "Aretha, Sing One For Me" for some reason).
Last but not least, I had this Spirit LP in my "sell" pile only to realize that it wasn't a spare so I put it back in my stacks. "The Other Song" is what you'd want all druggy, psych-influenced rock to sound like - dreamy yet with that hard drum beat anchoring things down. I'm surprised no rappers have flipped this (or have they?) You get a contact high just from listening to it.
Anjulie: Day Will Come Soon From Boom EP (Hear, 2008)
I can't really explain my soft spot for folk-poppy singer/songwriter stuff. My wife's theory is that I listened to too much Sarah McLachlan in my 20s but I don't really hear that connection in either Conlin or Anjulie's songs. Both do, however, remind me a little of Feist (who I like) as well as Sarah Shannon (Velocity Girl) whose 2002 album I was entirely taken with.
Three years ago when you thought of Now Again, progressive wasn't the first word that came to mind. Sure, they have a different approach than the majors - sell what you would want to buy yourself, not what you think the consumer wants. That's the luxury of having a core audience who, at the very least, samples most of your releases because they respect your label. But when you thought of Now Again, you thought of soul reissues and lost treasures unearthed. It was like finding that $5 in a pair of jeans in your laundry basket and thinking, "Oh yeah, glad I found that again!"
With labels like Numero doing their own brand of stellar reissues, as well as the boys across the pond at Jazzman releasing some wonderful compilations, and Daptone forging their own way down Soul Street with retrosoul, you began to wonder where Now Again fit into the market. Although it's doubtful that they will abandon the reissue field altogether, they're looking to expand their sound.
Last year, we were introduced to the self-described "Out There" sounds of The Heliocentrics. This year - enter, Coz Littler, aka Mr. Chop. Featuring some of the same personnel from The Heliocentrics along with other UK session musicians, you're taken on a journey to the center of nowhere... and everywhere. And maybe even beyond that. It's too encapsulating to call it electronica because it blends the sounds of electronica with psychedelia and so much more
Malcolm Catto comes with some of the hardest hitting drums this side of the Milky Way and Jake Ferguson's bass is just as aggressive. On the opener "The Infinity Machine," it feels like a space chase. The sound is coming at you from all directions. With synthy strings and steady bass, you are taken on an epic sonic journey. "Zoid" has a slow build while "Conversations" is less song and more musical thought and tinkering, which is not to say "Conversations" is bad; it fits right in place with the rest of the EP.
Are you in a spy thriller? Have you been hit by a bus - or about to be? Have you been abducted by aliens? The answer to all three feels like a resounding yes. It's not that you feel like you're scared for your life; it's just that your heart is racing like it.
Talking Heads: Crosseyed And Painless and Born Under Punches Taken from the album Remain In Light on Sire (1980)
And: I'm Not In Love Taken from the album More Songs About Buildings And Food on Sire (1978)
And... Girlfriend Is Better Taken from the album Speaking In Tongues on Sire (1983)
As a man who was born into the ignominious era of Reaganomics and Alf (among other things), it is easy sometimes to forget that I was also birthed into a exciting transitional period in American music. That as punk and disco were crashing and by most accounts burning; that while much of radio-played pop music bordered on the unlistenable (don't tell the revivalists--they might get upset); and even as many of the tried and true bastions of musical purity (see soul, see jazz) seemed to be pushing through uncomfortable growing pains... a unique climate was beginning to blossom. One that would allow the ushering in of some genuinely outsider music. The kind of explosive, subversive, bizarre and utterly enjoyable pop that probably would not have flown at all if the pervasive landscape had not been so barren.
I'm not going to embark on a whole hoo-rah New Wave rant here. Partly because, truth be told, I'm not a particularly ardent fan of the New Wave writ large... (Certain exceptions exist obviously; Blondie comes to mind.) I did however grow up listening to the Talking Heads (my dad was a fan and had a "Best Of" or two laying around) and though I largely took them for granted in my youth, I've been recently re-inspired by the how-shall-we-say "unique" vision that David Byrne & Co. realized with their music. Let's put it this way: I just saw Stop Making Sense for my first time and, um, it was incredible.
(If you haven't seen it, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Witness real creativity. The film is less a concert movie than a profoundly exciting piece of performance art. Byrne and director Jonathan Demme did it so proper they even got Pablo Ferro [Dr. Strangelove, anyone? Look him up.] to do the opening/closing credit font; I swear that's only damn font I've ever seen that makes me want to weep for its beauty...)
But I digress... So I went online and downloaded every Talking Heads album from '77 right on through and have since been slowly wading through this very impressive body of work, unearthing plenty of gems that were completely new to me and re-embracing a few of the ones that I had forgotten about...
The songs here are ones that stuck out as particularly innovative or amazing or, as in all of their cases, struck me as highly danceable. But again, these are just a small taste of a prolific and incredibly diverse body of work.
"Girlfriend" is the only one of them that I really remembered from childhood and still occasionally drop in DJ sets. The others were all pretty new to me. And boy oh boy. What treats. Listen to Brian Eno getting CRAZY afro-beaty on "Crosseyed"... And how 'bout the BLISTERING dance-punk of "I'm Not In Love"? LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture? Recycled goods.
Art of real character and depth should be discovered and re-discovered. Music this good might just require your own personal journey into the known and the unknown.
David Axelrod: One David Axelrod: Go For It From Seriously Deep (Polydor 1975)
1975 was a funky year for music, and not in a good way. It was after the last true r&b records were released, before disco, and in the midst of jazz being lost in fusion. Digging through records from that year, I wonder what happened to the soul. But in this darkness there are some lights, the occasional find that shows there were grooves to be played that could bring someone deep. David Axelrod's Seriously Deep was released on Polydor that year, the only of his albums to come out on that label. It kicks off with open drums in "Miles Away" that let you know there will be some true funk goings on here. Recorded with a full array of Los Angeles studio musicians, it veers away from his early work for Reprise and Capitol, being less orchestral in nature and more straight jazz-funk. There are the tangents that stray a little too far into fusion (I wish that Joe Sample had been asked to lay off the spacy "Odyessy Keyboard" a bit more), but there is a lovely, warm feeling throughout with horns, congas, and guitars keeping a solid groove that would've made for standout blaxploitation-style funk just a couple of years earlier. "One" is lovely and makes me want to go for a drive in L.A. with "Go For It" could've been playing in a particularly sweet dream I had the other night.
1972 on the other hand seemed to be a year where soul and funk filled the air in a way that artist after artist could grab at it and come up with something good, deep, soulful, and meaningful. That was the year that the vocal quintet The Dells, with the help of Charles Stepney, recorded and released The Dells Sing Dionne Warwicke's Greatest Hits for Chess Records. Featuring a thick roster of great Chicago soul men, including Phil Upchurch and Derf Reklaw, the Dells dived head-first into records -- all written by Burt Bacharach -- that had already been hits in softer and sweeter versions by the to-be host of Solid Gold. However, Stepney and the Dells are able to keep them sweet while also making them gritty. Unfortunately, since we are looking back at this record from today, we have to deal with the fact that a bunch of these Bacharach tunes have gotten stuck in our heads through popular versions by the likes of BJ Thomas and The Carpenters. It's hard to hear even this team try their hands at "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" and "Close to You." But the burners are here, too. The opener "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" and "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself "are so worth the price of admission, that the failures can be overlooked and the other sweet tunes feel like icing on the cake. "I'll Never..." opens the album with a bass/piano/singing moment that will stop you from being able to do whatever you may be doing and drop you right into some deeper part of your being. "I Just Don't..." starts off with a bassline that lets you know something explosive is about to pop and picks up from there, going full-tilt congo wah-wah funk. Stepney throws in strings and all sorts of sweet sounds throughout creating an album that would be suitable for both a late Saturday evening/mid-morning Sunday groove.
Benge is the urban music director at WRUV-FM in Burlington, Vt. where he's spun every funky thing under the sun on his show, Sex Fly, since 1991. He also happens to be an Archetypal Dream Worker for North of Eden. Somehow the two are connected.
I recorded this mix for Dublab.com back in June and is now available on their website archive. I originally created it as a promo mix for Deep Covers 2 (though the timing was off since Dublab was back-logged over the summer). Still, I put in a nice selection of different cover songs here - some you've heard, some you haven't. Here's the tracklisting:
Simply Red - I Know You Got Soul - You’ve Got It - WEA
James Brown: Your Cheatin’ Heart - Soul On Top - King
Jimmy McGriff - Ain’t It Funky Now - SOul Sugar - Groove Merchant
Bo Diddley - Bad Side of the Moon - Another Dimension - Chess
The Gimmicks - California Soul - Em Las Brisas - Swedisc
Klaus Wunderlich - Summertime - Hammond Fur Millionen - Telefunken
The Professionals - Theme From Godfather - On Tour - CES
Dutch Rhythm Steel and Show Band - Down By the River - Soul, Steel and Show - Negram
Byron Lee and the Dragonaires - Express Yourself - Reggay Splashdown! - Dynamic
Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band - Movin’ On Up - Live at the Haunted House - Rhino Handmade
The Bee Gees: Holiday Taken from the LP Bee Gee's 1st on Atco (1968)
Count Five: She's Fine Taken from the LP Psychotic Reaction on Double Shot (1968)
The Zombies: Leave Me Be Taken from the 7" on Decca (1964)
Arthur Brown: I Put a Spell On You Taken from the LP Crazy World Of Arthur Brown on Atlantic (1968)
The Id: Short Circuit and Butterfly Kiss Taken from the LP The Inner Sound Of The Id on World In Sound (1967)
I was shocked when I realized recently--somewhere in between my not writing entries for this blog and wishing that I was writing entries for this blog--that for several weeks now, I have possessed exactly zero desire to listen to music. Sure, I would muster the goods for my weekly DJ throwdown, and occasionally I'd put something on, albeit noncommitally, while I made my breakfast or cleaned my house... but the sad, simple truth is that I just wasn't feeling it.
Hip Hop, for a little beat-y satisfaction? No thanks. Brazilian, for some tropical transportation? Maybe another time. Reggae, to reach higher heights? Feel too low. Jazz? Nope. Salsa? Nah. And horror of horrors: even the trusted sanctity of Soul music offered me no reprieve.
The doldrums, friends. Angsty music-less doldrums.
So this morning, I got desperate. And searching through my ill-organized quasi-by-genre clusters of LP's I fell into that heady mess of late 60's rock and roll nestled somewhere at the base of my IKEA Expedit shelving unit. And surprise, surprise: I GOT SAVED!
There it is: the twang of angst! There it is: the bassy rumble of discontent! There it is: the strained melody that I CAN SING ALONG TO!
And just in case I felt I needed a reminder of to the baffling nature of redemption, who should provide that first enticing morsel to refuel my malnurished soul... THE BEE GEES!
Being that this particular era of rock and roll was what ushered me from mush-brained childhood into music loving adolescence, it's only appropriate that it took a return to my roots to find solace again. That said, things being what they are, I thought I'd keep the selections in minor-key melancholy because, well, I still feel like Soul music should have saved me from this funk, so in it's place I found some soulfully infused white dudes who get the job D.O.N.E.
I'll update with a little more band information later on, but for now I have to take my new puppy to the vet and you have some music to listen to.
Though hard to imagine now, those sequined goofs who once crooned "Night Fever" for ol' Johnny Travolta's dancing pleasure were once a prolific and widely respected ROCK GROUP. Yep. Initially heralded as the second-coming of the Beatles, they produced an impressive ten plus albums worth of material, before hitting a creative and commercial rut. At which point, at the advice of the late great Ahmet Ertegun, they repositioned themselves as an R&B-cum-disco outfit and changed the world of wedding parties forever. (Regardless of the sequins, I stand by the assertion that "Staying Alive" is actually one of the great disco tracks ever recored. Check the video to be reminded.)
Count Five: San Jose-based high school-aged shredders who, with their single "Psychotic Reaction", would lay the double time percussive foundation of punk many years in advance. And they had ILL music videos.
Pete Townshend from a band called The Who (maybe you've heard of them), produced this record of amazingness. Arthur Brown, who was a notoriously extravagant performer (Jimi Hendrix kicked him off his tour when his pyrotechnics on stage became a liability), would later be cited as a major influence on Kiss and Alice Cooper. This cover of one of my absolute favorite tunes EV-AR pretty much rules.
And do yourself a favor: If you're not very familiar with The Zombies or their music, remedy that. This is one of the absolute cornerstone bands of 60's psych. As good or better than Nutella. And that's saying a lot.