Monday, July 31, 2006

posted by O.W.

If folks will indulge me, I was wondering - for those who have the Soul Sides Vol. 1 CD or LP, do you have a favorite song off it? And if so, which one?

I'm just curious to know what songs spoke the most to people and why.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

posted by O.W.

The Luniz/Dawn Penn: No Got 5 On It
From the imagination of DJ B.Cause (2006)

Breeze: L.A. Posse
From The Young Son of No One (Atlantic, 1989)

(thanks for everyone who came out to the Elbo Room party. I'm gonna miss the Yay.)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

posted by O.W.

Special Ed: I'm the Magnificent
From Youngest In Charge (Profile, 1989)

Special Ed: C'mon Let's Move It
From Legal (Profile, 1990)

Real Live: Crime is Money
From The Turnaround (Big Beat, 1996)

Minnie Riperton: A Rainy Day In Centerville
From Come To My Garden (Janus, 1974)

One more day to go before the vans roll up, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have managed to box all my records (and potentially given myself terminal RSI in the process). No need to share the total amount but let's just say it's more than a couple and less than, oh, 1000 (note: there are a lot of folks who could probably fill 1000 boxes. For their sake though, I hope they never, ever have to move (I'm looking at you, ?uestlove and DJ Shadow).

I'll make today's post brief since I got way too much other stuff to catch up on. The Special Ed songs are just 'cause. I was boxing hip-hop all day today and I took a pause to remember that this dude used to be hella fresh back in the late '80s. Not only does "I'm the Magnificent" showcase his teenage mutant ninja MC skills but any song that samples "Shantytown" gets props. That said, I always preferred the beat on "C'mon Let's Move It" - I can't even explain what I enjoy about it but some newbie rapper needs to jack that track for some sick mixtape cut. Make it happen.

The Real Live caught my ear because I remembered how it was the first to flip the same loop that recent Nas song I had posted. The group didn't boast the finest in lyrical finesse but you can't front on how good the production was for that crew. The Minnie Riperton I included just for the hell of it...and besides, Come To My Garden is wicked nice. Get familiar.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

posted by O.W.

With anything you really care about, you're bound to have a bit of love/hate relationship going on and right now, I'm close to nadir with my records. I haven't even managed to pack up 1/4 of my shit and I'm already sick of looking at 'em (let alone packing these %&*()@@! things). With any luck, most of these will stay boxed in a garage until we move some place permanent and I can just keep 'em all neatly stacked, patiently awaiting the day when I might actually need to slice open the tape for some reason. In the meantime, here's four female soul songs that I thumbed past while organizing the packing and decided to put out for ya'll.

Marcia Griffiths: Here I Am Baby
From Sweet and Nice (Wild Flower, 197?)

She doesn't have the greatest voice if you ask me, but this reggae-fied version of Al Green's "Here I Am Baby" still gets props for just being so damn funky. Check how those back-ups singers jump on towards the end...they're more interesting to listen to than Griffiths by this point in the song. A nice cover regardless.

Jackie Moore: Time
From Sweet Charlie Baby (Atlantic, 1973)

Backed by a heavyweight rhythm section that includes guitarist Dennis Coffee [sic] and the Memphis Horns, this Jackie Moore song is a stand-out, mid-tempo groover especially compared to the rest of the album which leans more sedate and doesn't cook with the kind of snappy bump that "Time" rolls by with. That rhythm is infectious - don't fight the feeling.

Sharon Cash: You're My Life, My World
From S/T (Playboy, 1973)

Hey, I wouldn't blame you for being suspect about a soul artist headlining for Playboy but this album was surprisingly good. I went with "You're My Life" because I liked how melancholy it was but much of the album is more uptempo. That said, the way this song slowly and patiently builds to crescendo improves the song's musical nuances (reminds me a bit of the Roberta Flack song I posted up the other week).

Donna Washington: It's Something
From Going For the Glow (Capitol, 1981)

I threw this last one one here because...I felt like it. Wooohooo, modern soul up in here! (It's 1am and I'm slightly delirious or doesn't that show yet?) I used to think early '80s soul uniformly sucked but clearly I didn't know what the f--- I was talking about. This isn't a great Donna Washington album but it is a great song. Enjoy it know before some rapper decide to interpolate it to make a remix cut or some stuff like that .

Saturday, July 22, 2006

posted by O.W.

Eddie Kendricks:Intimate Friends
From Slick (Tamla, 1977). Also on The Ultimate Collection.

Common Sense: A Penny For Your Thoughts
From Can I Borrow a Dollar? (Relativity, 1992)

Sweet Sable: Old Times' Sake (After Hours Mix)
From 12" (Street Life, 1993)

213: Another Summer
From The Hard Way (TVT, 2004)

Rhymefest: Sister
From Blue Collar (J, 2006)

When I was listening to the new Rhymefest the other night[1], the song "Sister" came on and the first thought in my mind was, "Intimate Friends" again?

You have to understand, for three summers running, this Eddie Kendricks' song has been sampled by the likes of Rhymefest, Alicia Keys and 213. Plus, go back a decade and Common used it in 1992, then Sweet Sable the next summer. (I know I'm missing a few others too).

And the thing is, it always sounds really good because you really can't f--- up the original source. "Intimate Friends" simply sounds like summer. Breezy, laid-back and oh-so-soulful. It's definitely my favorite Kendricks song that doesn't appear on People...Hold On.

Of the lot above, 213 still did it best if only because they turned this into an official summer anthem in name even if the rest aspired to be that without announcing their intentions. The way Common flipped it way back when was interesting but the engineering on that album (in that era, of course) didn't really bring out the full beauty of the song. The Sweet Sable was closer to achieving that but it also loses points for just having inane lyrics. And as for the Rhymefast - I'm not mad at it even though it doesn't do much different from 213. I do wonder if Rhymefest was also trying to nod back at his fellow Chicago-ian, Common but it may just be a coincidence.

[1] Somewhat to my surprise, Blue Collar is actually a real good album. Not perfect but all things considered, I was very satisfied with it both aesthetically and conceptually.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

posted by O.W.

Chuck Jackson: I Like Everything About You
From Arrives! (Motown, 1968)

The Byrds: Fido
From Ballad of Easy Rider (Columbia, 1969)

Lincoln Mayorga: Peace Train
From Missing Linc (Sheffield, 1972)

Jackie Jackson: Is It Him Or Me
From S/T (Motown, 1973)

Sassafras: Boxcar Hobo
From Wheelin' 'n' Dealin' (Chrysalis, 1975)

Ah, the liberating power of the combing through your record collection while moving is the figuring out, "hey, why the hell have I collected drum breaks over the years? I don't even make beats..." With that bit o' revelation, I pretty much sifted out 2/3rds of my "breaks" section and put 'em out for sale. If you want to rock Tommy Roe's "Dizzy" drums, you're quite welcome to it.

That said, sometimes, a good drum break can open up into a far better song or other times, the break is just so damn good, you're willing to forgive that it might be surrounded by 48 other bars of wacktivity. The two Jackson cuts - by Chuck and Jackie respectively - are cases of the former. They come from very different soul eras but I like how each song is executed (Jackie's song is especially great) and the little breaks at the beginning of both is just an added bonus.

With "Fido" and "Boxcar Hobo" - the rock songs themselves aren't bad at all - "Fido" has a nice, uptempo groove to it but it's all dress rehearsal for the main attraction here: that ridiculous 12 bar drumbreak in the middle that comes flying in from nowhere. More cowbell! (I cannot listen to this song and not have Schooly D pop into my head). Likewise, "Boxcar Hobo" kicks off with a nice steady four bar break that slips into an unexpectedly funky Afro-Latin groove. The whole song holds up nicely (more so than a lot of other rock songs with ace breaks).

Lastly, we have Lincoln Mayorga's cover of Cat Stevens' "Peace Train": one of those songs where the drum break seems totally incongruous with the rest of the song given its flamenco feel but all things considered, it's rather listenable (I'm biased though: I kind of like harpsichord).

Back to packin'.


Monday, July 17, 2006

posted by O.W.

Lupe Fiasco: I Gotcha
Forthcoming on Food & Liquor?[1] (Atlantic, 2006)

Fam-Lay: Skrunt Owt
From Dat Missile[2] (Interscope/Star Trak, 2006)

Pharrell Williams: Raspy Sh--
Forthcoming on In My Mind (Interscope/Star Trak, 2006)

The Neptunes are hardly infallible - they make weak sh-- on occasion (second N.E.R.D. album anyone?) - but cotdamn, when they're good, they are very good. Lose your mind good. After what felt like a relatively quiet year in 2005, things are shaping up well in '06 (it'd be even better if the Clipse can get their album locked down but eh, we'll see what Jive/Zomba does).

I'm still trying to wrap my head around what the hype for Lupe Fiasco is about besides the fact that he's like a younger Kanye - with better rhymes and less internal conflict - mixed with Pharrell's skateboard and hipster appeal - with more LES boutique toys but less Black Card spending power. (Somewhere, Rhymefest is wondering if he should have traded in the blue collar for a Nigo t-shirt). Then again, what the hell do I know? I thought "Kick Push" was a drug song. Anyways, "I Gotcha"...

There's (at least) two types of Neptunes songs: super-minimalist, deliberately plodding tracks that sound like they should score drive-bys show in slo-mo (see "Gridin'" or "Mr. Me Too"). Then there's the super-bright, glistening pop songs like "Frontin" and "Beautiful." "I Gotcha" clearly falls into the latter but it's also, by far, one of the most infectiously happyy Neptunes beats I've ever heard. I love the interplay of different elements here: the dancing piano of course, the hammer hard kick and snare, and what sounds like an accordion being retasked into a drum line anchor. It's the kind of beat that inspires one (such as moi) into hyperbole - seriously, I think Kanye should be at home, furiously figuring out how to out do this and Beyonce can only sit and shake her head at how anemic "Deja Vu" was in contrast. It' s a pity this song is more of an internet leak than an actual single since it's already catapulted high onto my list (albeit a very short one) of great summer songs for '06. I've heard some try to compare this with "Allure" and "Mamacita" but while all three might share some similarities, it's a far brighter song than the melancholy "Allure" and unlike the reggaeton-flavored "Mamacita" this doesn't seem as calculated to crossover. Dare I say, it simply sounds joyful.

Fam-Lay is another Star Trak artist in a holding pattern (that's one cursed label) but "Skrunt Owt" has been making its way online since May. I can't cosign on the whole "I got your bi--- skrunt owt" hook but jesus, this beat. Remember that whole "slo-mo drive by" analogy? Here it is exemplified. Mobb Deep should have traded in all their G-Unit gear to try to buy this beat for just sounds like something they would have killed in their prime. The synths have a Vincent Price-like quality - it's so obviously meant to sound sinister that it's almost like camp yet it's still genuinely creepy. As slow as this is, I can imagine it bumping in a club and encouraging everybody to simultaneously get their grind on.

Last, we have a track off the new Pharrell album which is...well...not that impressive. Maybe I need to sit with it more but it's just Charmin soft and not in that sexy/soft Prince kind of way. That's why "Raspy Sh--" jumps off the screen at you: there's nothing on the album that sounds remotely similar and this is the most "hip-hop" of the different songs on In My Mind. The track reminds me of Foxy Brown's "Stylin," another fast tempo dance cut that's hard enough to get the heads nodding along but slick enough to polish the parquet with.

[1] I assume this song will be on Lupe's album but I haven't seen a final tracklisting yet. Seems a pity to waste such a good (and no doubt $$$) Neptunes beat.

[2] Who knows if/when this will actually come out. Star Trak got issues even without Jive interference.

Friday, July 14, 2006

posted by O.W.

This is the realest shit I ever wrote: I've started packing my records up. After 16 years in the Bay Area, I (and the fam) are moving down to Los Angeles so I can take a job at CSU-Long Beach (yessir, Professor Wang if you please. Oliver if you don't. Mr. Wang if you nast...oh, never mind). This is the first time I've ever had to hire movers for something more than just a cross-town slide and as befits my personality, I'm just a little paranoid at the thought of my two tons of records[1] rolling down I5 and then suddenly jack-knifing around Coalinga and having my vinyl distributed amongst ill-fated cattle.

So I decided to pull out a select number of records to take down with me when I drive from SF --> LA and this has been a most illuminating process. Some of the picks are no-brainers - records worth a few hundred dollars for example are worth putting in the "fire crate"[2]. There's also a few not-so-rare records that just hold a lot of sentimental value for my doubles of De La Soul's "Buddy". But when I started combing through even my crates of more rare, vaguely valuable stuff, I just skipped over most of it, thinking, "if these ended up lost or destroyed and I got the insurance money back for them...I'd actually be pretty ok with that."

It's rather sobering realizing that 80-90% of your collection is, in theory, disposable insofar as, it'd be a pain to replace certain items but you wouldn't necessarily get that stabbing feeling in the pit of your stomach if something unfortunate happened to them. Certainly, this reflects some major changes in our times...physical music becomes less important (especially as a DJ) in a post-Serato world.

I also think I'm less attached to certain records just because they have a "cool" song or two and more focused on albums and singles that really move me (see my previous post about ballads). That's a rather finicky category to pin down and on any given day, my sense of what I want to hear and sit with may change radically. But my musical listening of late has turned towards songs I'm completely obsessed over rather than more casual listening. In other words, the songs that move me the most are the ones that I want to put on repeat and just listen to over and over and over, insatiably. Notably - and thankfully - I've been managing to find these songs at least every few weeks or so. That doesn't mean the rest of what I have in my collection is suddenly dull as beige or anything but if I can invoke the concept of "comfort music" the same way we think of comfort food, then I guess in these unsteady times, I want to drown myself in certain songs and tune everything else out.

At the same time, I don't want to take all these records for granted. I bought them presumably out of some desire to own them and I've been making a point to go through and pull out different songs/albums I had forgotten about and bring 'em here. My messy move is your gain (I hope). So, for the next few weeks, I'll be cleaning out the digital (and literal) closet in preparation for this move and hopefully, have a slew of posts forthcoming. Not everything I'll be posting will be tunes I'm crazily obsessed over...but that doesn't mean you won't be.

Here goes...

Los Mitos: Eleanor + Mony Mony
From S/T (Hispa Vox, 196?)

True story: Back around 2004, I was doing a monthly soul/funk night at Milk with Matthew Africa and the Groove Merchant's Cool Chris called Popcorn. We had just switched from Thursday nights to Saturdays and the crowd was less into the kind of music we were throwing down and instead wanted hip-hop (it's one of those gigs where dumb white dudes[3] repeatedly come up demanding, "you got any 50 Cent? Play 'The It's Your Birthday' song!"[4]

So, I'm up on the turntables, trying to keep the groove going and I decide, at this moment, what the perfect song would be is a Spanish language version of "Mony Mony". I thought the song would kill. And it did. The vibe that is.

It was so bad that not only did it spur some people to complain about the music to the bouncer when they were leaving the club but someone went onto and posted a review of Milk where they named that song[5] as a reason they weren't really feeling the night.

Of course, in seeking agreement that this song should have been brilliant, I sent it to a friend who promptly replied: "dude, I can't believe you dropped this at a public setting. I'm sorry, the only way that works is if it's a mash-up with Yung Joc bellowing over it...and I hate Yung Joc."

Just for kicks, I threw on Los Mitos' cover of The Turtles' "Eleanor" on here as well. The group is from, I believe, El Salvador Spain. I've debated throwing this LP out but somehow, the debacle it inspired makes me a little sentimental about it.

[1]Take that Peanut Butter Wolf! But yeah, we did the rough math and that's what it comes out to. I'm vaguely horrified at this reality.

[2]So named by DJs who have a crate of records they plan to cart out in case a fire threatens their domicile.

[3]Seriously, it's only white dudes (and women) who do this.

[4]By the way, DJs hate your guts when you do this. If we could have bouncers toss you out of the club for stupid requests, we'd do it. Even being cute may not help.

[5]That reviewer got it wrong though, claiming I played "the original version," when in fact, it was a Spanish cover. Idiot!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

posted by O.W.

Audio Two: Top Billin (Nomadic Remix)
From Back to the Beat (2006)

I'll be honest, when I first checked out Nomadic's Back to the Beat, my first thought was: why is this remotely necessary? After all, it's not like songs such as "The Message" or "My Adidas" needed to get remixed. The point of something being classic is that it was just right the first time. Especially in the post-mash- up age we live in, sometimes I wish folks would stop twiddling with the past and start making some s--- for the future.

Yet, what I came to appreciate with the better of Nomadic tracks is when they stay true to the aesthetic era that the original song appeared in. While this remix of "Top Billin" probably doesn't like someone would have whipped it out in 1988, it has that right kind of sound which makes it plausible, certainly more so than trying to lace a crunk beat behind it or something. More to the point, it sounds great - I really love the vocal touch on here and more importantly, the remix beat sounds believable with Milk D's verses. I liked it well enough to ask Nomadic for a higher bitrate version of it in case I ever felt like Serato-ing that sucker. The point isn't that it's better than the original. It's not. But I don't think Nomadic aspires to out-do the very song and beat that inspired him to begin with. I think he just wants to play around and see what he can come up with. In this case, it seems to work well.

Also good off this tape: JVC's "Strong Island" and MC Lyte's "Paperthin" remixes.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

posted by O.W.

John Legend: Save Room
Forthcoming on Once Again (2006)

This is making its tour online and I like it well enough to post. The underlying interpolated melody was incredibly familiar to me and for a moment, I guessed it was Brenton Wood but Paul Nice reminded me it was actually The Classics IV's "Stormy." Will.I.Am co-produced this and while I've been skeptical about some of his other work, I like what he does here; the track has that ring of familiarity (at least to those who know their oldies) but it doesn't sound like an obvious throwback for younger folk.

My friend once described Legend as "the homeless man's Hathaway" (this being a tongue-in-cheek homage apparently to a Bill Simmons-ism) but here, he doesn't sound Donny-esque at all...honestly, he sounds more like a pop crooner ("he sounds white" says my wife). That's not a criticism, just an observation.

Ok, so the creepy part...the hook is nice and most of the song is a run-of-the-mill love ballad but listen to the 2nd verses:
    this just may hurt, a little
    love hurts sometimes when you do it right
    don't be afraid of a little bit of pain, pleasure is on the other side
Maybe I'm just reading a bit much here but this really sounds like he's coaxing a woman into losing her virginity to him. I don't really need to hear that. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

posted by O.W.

A good ballad is worth more than a dozen great dance tunes. Not that I don't like music that moves my ass, but at the end of the day, when you're coming home, escaping whatever craziness transpired in your life or the world at large, it's so much more satisfying sitting down with something that eases the mind even as it pulls at the heart.

And I realized something important in this: when I first got into writing about music, over a dozen years ago, I was writing almost exclusively on hip-hop and I think it's because I found the music intellectually stimulating enough to want to commit thoughts about it on paper. I actually liked hip-hop more for the sonic element but when it came to writing about it, it was always the ideas and context that made hip-hop compelling.

But as I've gotten older, my interests as a writer/critic have shifted away from an intellectual engagement and become far more about tackling songs and music on an emotional level, fighting myself to express the ineffable in terms of what a song makes me feel like and why. It's still an intellectual exercise of course but fundamentally, the kind of music that interests me more and more is soul, precisely because 1) it has that poignancy often built in and 2) the back stories behind the artists form an important dimension to how a song is understood or received. Hip-hop is still intellectually interesting - at times - but for the most part, there's so little hip-hop I hear that I engage with emotionally.

I don't know if this is some kind of personal paradigm shift or just a momentary realignment but seriously - I'm appreciating slower, soulful songs so much more right now and am so thankful to have new things to listen and discover as a result. Here's a trio of songs that have been haunting me lately.

Roberta Flack: Gone Away
From Chapter Two (Atlantic, 1970)

It's hard to go wrong, covering a song written by/for the Impressions but in revisiting "Gone Away," Flack has the benefit of more sophisticated production and her own, incomparable voice and presence. I admit, the first time I heard this, I was a little thrown off by how the song builds and evolves but with every subsequent listen, I realize how beautifully it unfolds and balances a variety of musical moments that powerfully build towards that bridge with the heavy horns and Flack's soaring vocals. I must say though: for a song about loss, it doesn't feel that sounds instead like something celebrating the glory of love (not that the two are mutually exclusive) and by song's end you don't feel sadness but something closer to awe.

Nancy Sinatra: As Tears Go By
From Boots (Reprise, 1966)

My friend Hua sent this to me and at first, I was a little skeptical since I wasn't sure how good Nancy Sinatra covering the Rolling Stones could really be but by the 1st minute, I put aside all my preconceptions and let the song gently drift over me. It has a light and airy quality but it's not slight in the least. The echo chamber Sinatra sings into lends itself to a certain dreaminess but Sinatra's voice is also so deadpan, that even the bossa nova accompaniment isn't as frolicking as it might be otherwise. This conjures wet streets lit by streetlamps, as shot by Chris Doyle for a Wong Kar Wai film (or the outro credits for the unwritten Kill Bill 3 if you want to get all Tarantino about it).

Marvin Gaye: Just To Keep You Satisfied (Alt. Vocal)
From Let's Get It On (Deluxe Edition) (Motown, 1973/2001)

Let me start by saying, I had no idea this was a cover until I was listening through the reissued Deluxe version of Let's Get It On from 2001 (the whole CD is essential for any Gaye fan. Seriously)
which includes two earlier versions of the song by The Originals and The Monitors. However, if you listen to its antecedents, Gaye's version shares only the barest of things in similarity. He completely takes the song over and remakes with his own sensibility.
(It pays to read liner notes more closely and avoid embarrassing errors).

For an album all about seduction and sex, this song is like a bucket of ice water to your groin. It's also one of the most devastating songs about the end of love, not the least of which is because it's autobiographical. Gaye is clearly singing about the disintegration of his marriage to Anna Gordy (Berry Gordy's daughterdaughter). Provided, Gaye ended up writing a whole album about their divorce (one of the most brilliant, bizarre and bruising musical projects ever) but for those who can't take that much despair, "Just To Keep You Satisfied" at least only pummels you in the gut for 4.5 minutes.

It's remarkable how such an undeniably beautiful song could have been composed for such a terrible event as the death of love and dissolution of a relationship. But this song is absolutely, undeniably beautiful in every element, from Gaye's unmistakable falsetto, to the soft and sweeping accompaniment. The version I've included here is actually an alternative vocal mix which strips the song down to minimal orchestration and lets Gaye's voice do more of the work. I especially like the overdubbing Gaye does himself, adding layers of his croons in key moments. This doesn't exist on the album version and I think it loses something for it.

By the way, if you want to know where the song turns, where everything simultaneously stops with a pained breath but also moves forward with a fatalistic certainty, it's around 2:23 where Gaye, a little out of nowhere, paces out his words carefully and sings in crescendo, "' farewell my darling...maybe we'll meet down the line... it's too late for you and me... it's too late for you and me... much too late for you and I..."

Destroys me every time.


posted by O.W.

Just to note, has a summer songs post, written by none other than Hua Hsu, who blessed Soul Sides with an excellent entry a few weeks back on the same topic.


posted by O.W.

I'm curious about something: how do folks here browse the site on the average day? For example, how many folks pop in, look for whatever new posts there are, download everything and then listen later?

How many listen live then decide what they might want to "keep"?

One reason I ask is that I foresee a slew of posts over the next few weeks (I'll explain why in a future post) but I guess I'm always a little paranoid that if I have too many new posts up at once, the stuff that gets pushed towards the bottom - even if "new" - gets ignored vs. what's at the very top. Therefore, I tend to artificially dole out posts, leaving most entries up for at least two days before tossing up the next but I realize this might not be necessary.

Would love to get an informal poll from visitors in the comments below as to their Soul-Sides "habits." Thanks. --O.W.

By the way, I created a Myspace page for Soul Sides as a way to help generate awareness for the site and our CD. If you are a Myspace junkie, please be our friend and help us get the word out. (After all, all the cool kids are doing it. Or is it facebook now? I can't keep up).

By the way, part 2: Just because I am paranoid about this sort of thing (see above): people need to understand just how completely f***ing awesome Donny Hathaway's "What a Woman Really Means" is. I've been listening to this song on non-stop repeat for the last hour, after midnight, and it is the Greatest. Thing. Ever. (At least for tonight).

Monday, July 10, 2006

posted by O.W.

(Editor's Note: I love all the summer songs posts but I must say that I'm especially pleased to have convinced Ernest Hardy - one of my favorite contemporary writers - to contribute, especially given how much he was willing to write and share. I first began reading Hardy's work when I started at the LA Weekly in the late '90s and since then, I've come to appreciate how insightful and articulate his writing is about music, film, race, masculinity, sexuality, etc. I was especially happy to see that he's compiled many of his best essays and reviews into Blood Beats Vol. 1 which just came out the other month - buy it directly from him and support one of my fellow broke writers. --O.W.)

Negroes reflexively do a waltz between past, present and future, between holding on to what has been while hurling ourselves toward what might be. Sometimes we hold too tight to the past and get stuck, to our detriment. Sometimes we hurdle too quickly forward and lose any sort of anchor, again to our detriment. And that particular dance is reflected in our art and our politiHave Fun (Again)
From Diana (Motown, 1980)

I was always a huge Diana Ross fan, but Detroit itself was kinda ambivalent toward the hometown girl made good. Their pride was tempered by the charges of “oreo” and “sellout” that reflexively trailed her name. But the year that she hooked up with Chic and produced her funkiest, blackest album, Detroit claimed her fiercely. The singles “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out” (especially the latter) were huge, of course, seeping out of apartment windows, blasting from car windows and replayed at every party. But the album tracks “Tenderness” and the sing-along, custom-made-for-summer “Have Fun Again” were just as popular, with everyone loving the fake-out fade-out of “Have Fun.” Fun-fun-fun-fun-fun-fun FUN… Have fun… One of the things I most loved about the album was bonding over it with my much older cousin Randy. Back before stretches in prison and jail became media-hyped and industry-glorified rites of passage, most black folk still lowered their voices when speaking of a family member who was in or had been in jail/prison. There was shame around it. Randy had been in and out of juvie and then jail for as long as I could remember. But he was out that summer: cheekbones high, smile wide, ‘fro flawless and his tight, cut-off-at-the-knees jeans driving all the girls wild for flashing his almost comically bowed but still sexy legs. Randy was – and is – the biggest sweetheart on the planet, just cursed with shitty luck and incredibly bad timing. Always caught up for petty or stupid shit. But still, prison had stamped him dangerous, mysterious, in my young eyes. I was intrigued by him but a little afraid of him. One day, dusk falling, just the two of us sitting on the front porch, “Have Fun Again” playing loudly on someone’s radio, Randy turned to me with a grin and said, “Your girl is bad. That’s good shit right there.” And he sang along. And it was.

Soul II Soul: Back To Life
From Vol. 1 - Keep On Movin (Virgin, 1990)

Some call-a-number then call-another-number then call-somewhere else to get the address warehouse party in Los Angeles. Too many people, too little air. Bottled water too expensive. Caron Wheeler’s voice shimmers a cappella through the speakers and hands shoot up in the air, spines liquefy and asses figure-eight. Bodies jook to that beat and the crowd becomes a choir: However do ya want me / however do you need me. And I could swear that a cool breeze floated in from somewhere. Sensuality, a cosmopolitan vibe rooted in Motherland consciousness and a future-sound molded from stripped down beats and the loveliest of sweet, sweet voices all aswirl.

The Isley Brothers: That Lady
From 3+3 (T-Neck, 1973)

The Isley Brothers: Fight the Power
From The Heat Is On (T-Neck, 1975)

A one-two punch that bottles the brilliance and the range of the Isley clan. Long before Ron became the creepy ass uncle that no relative in possession of a vagina wants to be left alone with (Mr. Bigg… yawn), he really was that smoove luvva man… Cooing respectful yet suggestive compliments, given seductive backing vocals and a fierce guitar solo by his siblings, “Lady” was the cut that inevitably had the ladies strut their stuff on the patio, across the park, down the block… “Fight the Power” was simply the get-the-party started jam… Everybody and their mama loved/loves it but it seemed to really connect with the black men I knew. I think even two year-olds channeled some pent up frustration to spit the line “…all this bullshit going down.”

Luther Vandross: Never Too Much
From Never Too Much (Epic, 1981)

It took a minute for me to make the connection. That nerdy muthafucka on all the billboards around town was the same guy who sang the sublime, ecstatic, when-does-he-take-a-breath “Never Too Much.” For real? A thousand kisses from you… Teenage summer crushes, grown folks business and a soul-pop catchiness that snared everyone who heard it. Sitting in the backseat of one of my aunt’s or uncle’s cars with my sister and cousins, trying to match Luther note for note, seamless breath for seamless breath, and collapsing into laughter after mangling a passage.

Earth, Wind and Fire: Reasons
From That's The Way of the World (CBS, 1975)

Clustered on the stairs of the back porch, me my sister and our cousins. Young versions of ourselves. Shorts, tee-shirts, summer dresses. Cornrows to let the scalp breathe and cut down on our mothers’ summertime hair management. Popsicles in hand. I forget who kicks off our a cappella concert, but there we are, singing our hearts out: And in the morning when I rise, no longer feeling hipmatized… A performance that would repeat throughout the summer.

Honorable Mentions:
    1) “Strawberry Letter 23” / Brothers Johnson
    2) “For the Love of You” / Isley Brothers
    3) “Natural High” / Bloodstone
    4) “Don’t Stop the Music” / Yarbrough & Peoples
    5) “Soul Makossa” / Manu Dibango
    6) “Numbers;” “Pocket Calculator” / Kraftwerk
    7) “One More Shot” / C-Bank
    8) “You Shook Me All Night Long;” “All Shook Up” / Orbit
    9) “Where Love Lives” / Alison Limerick
    10) “Illusion”/ Imagination

--Ernest Hardy


Saturday, July 08, 2006

posted by O.W.

Donny Hathaway: What a Woman Really Means
From Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers (Atlantic, 2006)

Laura Lee: What a Man
From Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Sisters (Atlantic, 2006)

These two volumes collect rare and unreleased songs from the Atlantic vaults - a plum job if there was one. There's such a wealth of material in searching through the catalog of arguably the biggest soul label in history . However, I'll be candid: I wasn't a huge fan of either volume...I think there's definitely stuff on here that hardcore soul collectors will appreciate and it will open the eyes of newer fans to songs off the beaten path but in terms of the kind of soul I especially like (aesthetically speaking), a lot of this just didn't move me.

That said, I'm wholly enamored with the Donny Hathaway song. I'm always discovering and appreciating new songs by him and marveling at how me manages to announce his presence with just a two-note hum. You just KNOW a Donny Hathaway song by its sound and feel - it really speaks to the amazing personality he infused into his songs. This track is no exception and that chorus is killing me something wonderful with its chord changes and background vocals. So good. This is one of few songs on the comp that's never been heard before and god bless 'em for that. (It was originally recorded during the Extension of a Man sessions but wasn't released for whatever reason.

As for the Laura Lee...well, ya'll know Linda Lyndell's "What A Man" is one of my fave songs, especially since I put it up on the Soul Sides Vol. 1 comp so I couldn't pass up a cover of it. I'm disappointed that the liner notes for the Soul Sisters CD fail to note that Lee's song is a cover of Lyndell's original. That aside, I'm tickled at how you have a Black woman covering a White woman, singing in an ostensibly "Black" style. It's like Usher covering Justin Timberlake or something. (For the record: this is a cool cover but no way is it touching Lyndell's original).


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

posted by O.W.

Godchildren of Soul (with General Johnson & Joey Ramone): Rockaway Beach
From Anyone Can Join (Rhino, 1994)

Dub Narcotic Sound System: Shake-A-Puddin'
From 7" (K, 1996). Also on Boot Party.

(Editor's Note: These summer song picks come from Doug Wolk, last seen here plugging some James Brown-related rarities. Wolk has been killing it on the music tip lately...makes you wonder why dude doesn't have an audioblog of his own...can it be too far away? --O.W.)

There's the ideal of summer, and then there's the reality of summer. When you think about the pleasures of summertime, you think of stretching out, sand in your shoes, a cold drink in your hand, cool-looking Ramones shades over your eyes, seagulls circling in the distance, a favorite Carolina beach music mix playing on your headphones. Real summer is rarely that exquisite: there's sweat and chafing, bug bites, stifling humidity, polyester clothes that don't let the breeze through. But all you need is one moment of that perfect, unreal, flawlessly relaxing summer to have it fixed in your head forever.

It's the same with this version of "Rockaway Beach," recorded by the Godchildren of Soul for their 1994 album Anyone Can Join. In my mind, it's the perfect summer single--the Ramones' 1977 punk-pop not-exactly-a-hit-but-a-standard "Rockaway Beach," re-cast as a beach-music groove (brilliant idea!), and sung by the Chairmen of the Board's General Johnson (even better!), with Joey Ramone himself chiming in (awesome!) on a bridge that's not actually in the Ramones' version but, it seems for a moment, should have been. When I call it up in my mind, it should be blasting out of somebody's radio about 40 feet away from my beach towel. When I actually listen to it, it's got some real flaws--the prefab swing of the rhythm section, the slightly plastic horns (I'm not sure they're actually all real horns), the hints of inappropriate synthesizer, Joey's hoarse rasp, the way the arrangement ditches the Ramones' cockeyed riff altogether instead of figuring out how to adapt it somehow. It has the sticky plastic feeling of a beach ball. But having listened to it is great: the idealized version is the one that I can call to mind whenever I want.

There's nothing wrong with a little beach-ball plastic in the right place, anyway. As Dub Narcotic Sound System's Calvin Johnson knows (and Kraftwerk, in a totally different way, knew too), if you go far enough into unfunk, you emerge on the other side in the middle of funk. (This is the original 7-inch version of "Shake-A-Puddin'": the album version on Boot Party is a bit longer, but I love this one better.) Johnson's only got two carb-crazed notes to sing and sings them both flat, and he's not exactly convincing when he sings about "that Southern style," and Larry Butler's drums couldn't possibly be more parched, and somehow the whole thing is just freaking amazing, the song I want to hear at rattling volume in the summer as the last bit of sun slips below the horizon and a hint of blessed chill comes into the air and the dance party starts up. Best moment: a minute before the end, when the little ascending half-step scale (on the world's third-cheapest yard-sale Casio) that Johnson's been flicking in and out of the mix swims into a fragment of backwards psychedelic guitar that's like a school of minnows, and then Brian Weber's feather-fingered organ riff swoops in and swallows everything. --Douglas Wolk

File Under: Summer


Monday, July 03, 2006

posted by O.W.

(Editor's Note: This post is from Dave Tompkins one of the most bugged, brilliant guys I know, plus the nicest dude you'll ever meet in the music biz. He didn't have a conventional post (as if the words "conventional" and "Dave Tompkins" ever really went together) but it's nice to stir stuff up now and then. --O.W.)  

Plug Wonder Why
    Everybody and their grandmother’s three-legged robot hamster (1) have been sending me these links—thanks, I’m trying to get unapprehended by the Vocoder commissar. In words of dude who wrote Sennheiser Coder manual in ’78 (included in Herbie Hancock press kit), “get your creatures together.”

    Though they are often confused for one another, the same way the burping bog bank in Dark Crystal could be mistaken for a legitimate Florida real estate prospect, the same way Katherine Hepburn’s Golden Toadcoder could be Larry Graham…


    Is not the same as That.

    The idea to use THIS was inspired by a mail-order book club flub and if I tell you any more I’ll have to give you a “vocal resection” –like they did Rock Hudson in Seconds (there’s a Graham Central Station joke in there, just past the fat-faced credits. Does that mean your voice will have to be reseated—in the sinusoidal bleeds? “Those bleeds?”—Cannonball Run—long ogle Jack Elam’s eyeballs! Heil (2), hail the size of Peter Lorre’s eyeballs! What if Peter Lorre played piano like Stevie in “Hands Of Orlac?”  What if Stevie rocked Orlac’s robot gloves? What if Orlac’s robot gloves could do something, like, stop them goobers from casting Will Smith in I Am Legend? )

    THAT was from the same episode where Cookie Monster steals a train and drives it through the set of Beat The Clock. (Not the episode where Cookie Monster eats a time machine). 

    To quote my main Toad, Toad: “We can open the box, Frog.”  

    To bite Simone Signoret in Army of Shadows: “We need new crystals. The wavelengths have changed.”

    To the bridge: “Urrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrghghhrrrmrmrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!” (Vocoder inventor Homer Dudley, freaking the monk, Harvard, 1936)

    To my mom:  “You couldn’t fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electrified fooling machine.” (Homer Simpson)

    To what end: “Dave, that program is on, the one with the universe about the planets crashing into each other and plants living underground and methane gas and fossil bass and all that stuff you wanted for your book right?” (Mom)   

    To properly toast Hua Hsu’s birthday, play your copy of Grandmixer Delancey St’s “Megamix 2 (Why is it Fresh?)” and check out how he brings Sulu to the stage. (nice squeaky spit shield wipedown)

    That shit is so why.

    (1) My mom had a 3 legged hamster. His foot got caught in the mesh, rotted and fell off.  At night it’d get out the cage and she could hear it clumping around. As if hamsters clump!

    (2) Heil is a company that makes Talk Boxes

    --Dave Tompkins

Saturday, July 01, 2006

posted by O.W.

(Editor's Note: R.J. Smith is author of the just out The Great Black Way: LA in the 1940s and the Lost African American Renaissance, a really amazing book about Los Angeles' famed Central Ave. and the cultural scene that grew up around it. He's also a senior editor at Los Angeles Magazine. For his summer songs post, he wanted to go with a trio of instrumentals since, as he put it, "people talk so much in the summer, and listen so little. you know?")

Hank Levine and the Orchestra: Image, Part One
From 7" (ABC, 1961). Also on Teen Beat, Vol. 4.

I don’t know a thing about Mr. Levine or his band, but this piece of exotica instrumentalia solidly fits into a tradition of California music that reaches back to Ferde Grofe right on up to Brian Wilson. It’s a swoony seaside train chugging into the night. It’s a shimmery piano that gets all bitchycute at the outro. It’s a saxophone gliding above the sparkle. Just like sex on the beach, without the peach schnapps.

Johnny Guitar Watson (billed as Young John Watson): Space Guitar
From 7" (Federal, 1974). Also on Out There.

Some kids get a pen when they graduate from high school – a few get a car. Young John Watson obviously got a messed up guitar. Up to about 1954, this Texas-transplant to LA was considered a rising r&b piano player with an attitude problem. But a piece of space junk clearly hit him on the head and turned him into one of the boldest, baddest guitarists of the decade. This tricked-out effects showcase doesn’t just foreground the guitar, it pushes it into your face like Hendrix would a decade plus later.

Luther Thomas and the Human Arts Ensemble: Funky Donkey
From Funky Donkey Vol. I & II (BAG, 1973).

This isn’t eat-your-peas free jazz that sounds like a blackboard equation, this is free jazz coming from an organ south of your stomach, coming from a place where old feelings and fresh ambitions are stored up waiting to bleed. Tripe stew for the soul. Radical big band funk with politics on its mind that captures the smash-this-place-up spirit of a band of bikers dismantiling a road house.

--R.J. Smith

Monkeyfunk has a tribute to the late Johnny Jenkins.