Summer Songs: Dave Tompkins

Dave swears this isn’t the Polyphonic Spree

(Editor’s Note: Barring some unforeseen circumstances before next week, this marks the last Summer Songs post for 2007 and we’re going to end with a spectacular flourish courtesy music writer Dave Tompkins, one of my most favoritest people in the world. Look for his upcoming book on the history of the Vocoder. For those too lazy to read, Dave says “Overlord Ice Dog is going to recite the whole book in Auto-Tune.” –O.W.)

Quick-Tail The Sky Down

by Dave Tompkins

Nora Dean: Angie-La-La
From 7” single, B-side of U-Roy’s “Tom Drunk” (Duke Reid, 1970s)

“And then I started making extinct bird calls.” (The Rubbles usually answer on the third ring.) Nora also executes one of the best weees on record, with respect to Digital Underground’s pool party “weeee!” I suspect a supernatural agency at work here, more than a fat guy jumping on an inner tube. That’s the way love is. Nora also did a song called “Scorpion In His Underpants,” which must have surprised the shit out of the ants. Not that a creature who wears its ears on its legs could be surprised.

Key & Cleary: Young People
From 7” single (Amherst, 1970s)

Jesse Key and Sylvester Cleary recorded an instrumental about the tragic Buffalo blizzard of 1977. Its violins sound even more forlorn in the Spring and by June they can’t even get out of bed. Mr. Cleary himself makes a fool out of summer inertia, designing tube socks, candy bars and bicycles while bottling wine from the pear trees in his back yard. (A friend recently described Key and Cleary as “people who can’t stop doing stuff.”) There’s also the Key and Cleary pet shop promotional record, with violins “designed specifically for the enjoyment of your dog.” This is good since the average dog is pretty much screwed in August.

“Young People” would’ve done Schoolhouse Rock some good–no wonder kids always wanted to hang out at Key & Cleary’s house, where the label motto is: “The best thing that ever happened to anybody.” (Serious.)

Not old enough to drive, flicking cards at each other, trying to avoid the snappy orange guy in the top hat that lives in the fridge, whose idea of a good time is celery sticks and frozen OJ squares. These kids, looking for a brand new game. (Look no further than “I Need Wheels” by Lil Mac the Lyrical Midget of Texas.)

Funkadelic: Music for My Mother (Instrumental)
From 7” single (Westbound, 1970). Also on Funkadelic.

The last time I saw George Clinton he was in a golf cart that ploughed through a game of 3-on-3 basketball in a parking lot in Atlanta, back when the Fu-Schnickens were still together. Adrock was on that day but Money Mark spent more time in the air, probably from doing all those Moog-ups on stage. (Mike D=Almost Rambis). George was headed to the tour bus to have a speck of glitter extracted from his cornea. I remember him nictitating like Herbert Lom at the end of Pink Panther Strikes Again (when Lom’s being rubbed out by his own doom ray). For a wonderful moment all that remains is Lom’s eyeball, an ocular tic floating in front of a church organ, which is still blaring and feeling pretty Lon Chaney about things when all turns to castle manure.

This is the instrumental of an early Funkadelic record, only on the 45. That opening bit of guitar is Van Cleef facing off with the humidity—hold heat, sweat bullets. And check that misplaced split end of a twang, which, if your turntable has its pants on backwards, has a tendency to loop by accident around 1:30. It all sounded pretty 80 in a 55 this past June when I was knocking back telephone poles across South Carolina and west Georgia, near Omslum? Osmium? (Map says National Cane Forest.) A big snake was crossing and I gave it a haircut. No harm done, though you can imagine all his boys ribbing him with “Plissken! I-heard-you-were-dead!” jokes for the rest of the night.

And a George-related bonus for your patience

Compton’s Most Wanted: Late Night Hype
From It’s a Compton Thang (Capitol, 1990)

There’s no way I could speed to this song and so the popsicles had transmattered before I got home. I like how MC Eiht (the g is understood) acts surprised because Unknown once made tracks like this.*

Now it’s Anita Baker and a bassline played by Iguanodon thumbs. Then a late night exchange at a gas station, something poking out the window—what this guy from Gastonia used to refer to as “the Wavy Wavy.” Then Eiht wakes up on his floor, thanks to the ding-dong timing of Rick James’ bag of weed.

*A minute or so into it you realize this thing is kicking Rain Forest’s ass. This is back when CMW’s DJ Slip did that E.V.I.A.N. 12, the only record credited to Parisian bottled water with cover art depicting a seahorse and a starfish playing strap-on keyboards.

Rodney O & Joe Cooley: Gimme The Mic (Instr)
From Days of Way Back (Psychotic, 1993)

Among the better Eric B rumors that might get us ventilated (eg, he once drove an ice cream truck in Red Hook) is the one about him hooking up the loop of Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness” and bringing it to Paul C/Large Pro and Rakim. For whatever reasons, they turned it down, maybe because Rakim was too busy making math with another Kool & the Gang song called “Chocolate Buttermilk.” Then Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince released “Summertime.” Then Eric B pawned his gold anchor for a yacht with 75 girls, made an R&B album and started managing a guy who said, “Look out Ma, I’m in my own world.”

This is Rodney & Joe Cooley’s version of “Summer Madness” with some Michael Jackson run-off from the previous track as mixed by either Joe Cooley or Egyptian Lover, who I swear yells “Fender Rhodes” at one point.

Segment 2 : Cold Pump That Body (Dub)
From 12” single (Tandem Records, 1980s). Also on Tandem Jams the Bass

This is better at the wrong speed but I tip my gas can to whoever was programming those lawn sprinklers out in Burlingame, California.

More likely, this is what that guy upstairs was listening to in HP Lovecraft’s “Cool Air”–before he turned into muckspit. Apparently refrigerated pumps weren’t all that back in 1928. This called for words like “unutterably.” Or “slitherful.” Which was coined by Mr. Buckshot of Brooklyn, not Mr. Lovecraft of Red Hook by way of Providence, waking up with drawbridge jaw somewhere between. Bog gob it all to hell.

“The lounger, it seems, had fled screaming and mad-eyed after his second delivery of ice.”

Latin Rascals: Lisa’s Coming
From ssshhhh (Tommy Boy, 1980s). Also on The Tommy Boy Story Vol. 1

Summer of 1986. While the Fat Boys were in their dressing room, Latin Rascals opened up Fresh Festival III in powder wigs. They were dancing to the same JS Bach organ that opened the non-LL version of Rollerball. Rollerball is worth seeing for John Houseman’s boiled owl brows and a porned-out instrumental called “Executive Lounge Party.” The scene with people in evening gowns shooting down trees at dawn always saddened me. But who wouldn’t wear rollerskates for Maud Adams? Rollerball was adapted from Rollerball Murder, a collection of William Harrison stories that includes one about a kid who spends his summer with an aunt who teaches him how to eat furniture.

“What’d you do this summer?”
“Left my teeth in my aunt’s Noguchi sun porch.”

Summer is also about talking into electric fans. An IEEE guy I spoke with calls this effect Vortical Shedding. Or Shredding, depends on which fabric of the universe is stuck to your ass that day. One girl told me she spoke into fans because she wanted to sound like an ice cream cake from outer space. Another said she could get to Mars by speaking through a used Kraft cheese wrapper. At least that’s what her mother said—and she lives in Chillicothe.

Sine: Mosquito Walk (Reedit)
From 12” single (Moonstew, 2004)

Didn’t get disco in North Carolina. Then moved up here and saw folks in summer dresses dancing to an endless version of “Atmospheric Strutt” on the Coney Island boardwalk. The mosquitoes were pretty into it too. And if these creatures must go around smuggling CDC ketchup packets through the air then we may as well get a nice blood-siphoning keyboard out of the deal, no? Produced by Patrick Adams, “Mosquito Walk” is credited to a Canadian group called Sine but this edit subtracts the cloying dweedleness of the original. Nor is there anything more summery than a late night proboscis in your ear. Slap yourself to sleep.

Extra slitherful is Lalo Schifrin’s birth of a mosquito theme from The Hellstrom Chronicle.

Creative Source: Good Lovin’ Is Good Livin’
From Consider the Source (Polydor, 1980s). Also on Bugz In the Attic.

Two summers ago at my oldest brother’s memorial throwdown on a pig farm/art gallery in West Georgia. A circle of 280 people holding hands and screaming blind metal at the sun, most of them strangers to me until that day, including a guy who’d built a mosquito the size of a Go Kart, using an old propane tank, a Dirt Devil thorax and some Bridge Out reflectors. Then someone told me a story about my brother tripping over an alligator in the dark. Then a guy from Olivia Tremor Control offered one about him playing drums inside an empty water tower (the bats must’ve loved that one) choked in kudzu’s chest wig, out near Danielsville where I’d met the Skinny Boys’ DJ’s cousin. (No fibrillator.) I tried to repay them with the retread about my brother offering the late Tammy Faye Bakker some nachos when she was ducking reporters at a Chi Chi’s in Charlotte. Then the sun got tired of getting yelled at. Sheesh! And slunk off without telling anybody. So it was up to Creative Source, in an orange poof of dirt at dusk. Sounded even better because we knew tomorrow would be out for blood.

(You think the crawdads are wondering how the fuck twilight ended up with “crepuscular?”)

Milton Wright: I Have You
From Spaced (Alston, 1970s)

This one is to reclaim July since it was less a month than tragic ordeal for most of my friends. (Can’t we just swap out for an extra October?) Milton brushes real dirt off his shoulders–a wrinkled suit with an epaulet auto-swiffer.

One more for the roadcoder.

(My license has been expired for three years–dohcoder)

No wait, I first heard this 14 summers ago when I had to take one of my students to a hospital in Orange, Virginia at 2 a.m. (meningitis scare) and I passed out over three detention chairs in the waiting room with a box of Fruity Pebbles. Luckily it was a false alarm and this song took our faces out the window during the ride back.

Fall is the best time for the beach anyway.

As my puppet-making grandmother used to say, “It’s been real and I certainly have seen you.”