Monday, October 29, 2007

KMD vs. Eric. B and Rakim: Who Flipped It Better?
posted by O.W.

Bobbi Humphrey: Blacks and Blues
From Blacks and Blues (Blue Note, 1974)

KMD: Plumskinzz
From 12" (B-side of "Nitty Gritty") (Elektra, 1991)

Eric B. and Rakim: Keep the Beat
From Don't Sweat the Technique (MCA, 1992)

I wrote about the Humphrey song before, about two years back, and had this to say: "My favorite Mizell's related track though is Bobbi Humphrey's sublimely mellow "Blacks and Blues" - I love how it foregrounds Jerry Peters' beautiful piano work at the front end and Humphrey's flute floats in with a nice subtlety as does Fonce Mizell's clavinet. It's a great arrangement - memorable from jump and a song you can come back to a dozen times over and never tire of." (Note: I still feel the same way).

Of course, back in the early '90s, I didn't know much about the Mizell Bros or Bobbi Humphrey. I did know something about KMD and their sequel to "Peachfuzz." Right from jump, the beat for "Plumskinzz" caught my ear and that's no small reason why I continue to be charmed by Humphrey.

I wasn't alone - "Blacks and Blues" shows up a few other places but if you're going to go head to head with KMD, who better than Rakim Allah himself? I'm not sure how actually produced this cut (real heads know what I'm talking about) but I like how they included a vocal interpolation to go along with the original sample. The whole cut has a nice smoothness that complements Rakim's honeyed baritone well.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ease Back: Covering the Meters Pt. 2
posted by O.W.

Grant Green: Ease Back
From Carryin' On (Blue Note, 1969)

King Herbert and the Knights With Jack Harden: Chicken Strut
From S/T (Paragon, 1970). Also on Canada's Message To The Meters

The Invaders: Look A Py Py
From Spacing Out (Duane, 196/7?)

Bacao Rhythm and Steel Band: Ease Back (snippet)
From 7" (Melting Pot Music, 2007)

In the second part in this series, I look at other covers of Meters' tunes. As noted: their sound got around, especially in the late '60s and early '70s.

This era of Grant Green's career produced many of his most celebrated soul-jazz (the genre formerly known as *hack hack* acid jazz) tunes, especially with albums like Alive! and Carryin' On. His cover of "Ease Back," backed by the indomitable Idris Muhammed on drums, is a slick interpretation of The Meters' original - it's not as raw (or brief) but it takes the core riff and puts it to good use with Green's more fluid and breezy sound.

The King Herbert flip on "Chicken Strut" is one of several Meters and funk-related covers done by a series of Canadian artists in the 1970s, all signed to the Paragon label. The original LPs by all these folks - Frank Motley being the other big name in this circle - are $200+ pieces and that high demand is no doubt influenced by the presence of covers like this (Herbert also pulls out a wicked "Hook and Sling" cover. What's the NOLA --> Canada connection about?). If you feel like parting for it, check out that anthology I linked to - good stuff all around.

The Invaders have an even Grail-ier Grail amongst funk collectors. Like the famed Xingu album from Peru, this particular LP (by a Caribbean band) draws from a range of funk influences of the era, including covers of "It's Your Thing" and "Can't Get Next To You." Their flip on "Look A Py Py" is rather outstanding, especially for that unexpected drum breakdown at the end.

Lastly, my timing for this series happened to coincide with the release of a new 7" by the folks at Melting Pot Music. The Bacao Rhythm and Steel Band's new 45 has Look A Py Py" on the A-side and a cover of "Ease Back" on the other. Just shows you: The Meters never go out of style.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ski vs. Dr. Dre: Who Flipped It Better?
posted by O.W.

Labi Siffre: I Got The (Blues)
From Remember My Song (EMI, 1975)

Jay-Z: Streets Is Watching
From In My Lifetime (Roc-a-Fella, 1997)

Eminem: My Name Is...
From The Slim Shady LP (Interscope, 1999)

About time we got these two producers in the mix...and with an intriguing contrast of a shared sample. The Labi Siffre track has been used multiple times but most tend to flip the front part of the song - that dramatic portion that Ski uses for Jay-Z's beat. It's easy to see what the attraction to that would be. But it was Dr. Dre, coming up with Eminem's first break-out single, who really put the highlight onto the bridge instead.

Personally, the real winner here has always been Siffre's song. Apart from the fact that I love how an openly gay Black British singer would supply a track that'd be the backbone for rap artists not exactly known for their queer-friendly attitudes, "I Got The" is an incredible song in terms of how it builds, shifts and unwinds. Right around 3:25 is my favorite portion, right in the middle of that bridge that Dre uses. Simple sublime.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cissies Unite!: Covering The Meters Pt. 1
posted by O.W.

Trinidad Steel Band: Sissy Strut
From Super Album (Cherry Hill, 197?)

Pete Eye Trio: Sissy Strut
From S/T (Cavern, 197?)

Big Band Katowice: Madrox
From Music For My Friends (Muza, 1977)

One of the recurring songs that I'm always finding covers of is "Cissy Strut," by the Meters. Arguably the first big hit, coming on their debut Josie album, the song has found incredible resonance with artists - not just across America but across the globe. Dare I say, outside of James Brown's catalog, "Cissy Strut" might be up there with "It's Your Thing" as a funk tune from the late '60s that seemingly ends up on albums from Toronto to Tokyo; it's really quite remarkable. Just input "Cissy Strut" in iTunes and see how many covers pop up.

I've thought that part of the appeal is that The Meters really stripped funk down to its bare essence: their sound is gritty as hell, but also stark and clean - there's nothing wasted, nothing frilly about how the four group members executed their songs.

With "Cissy Strut" in particular, you have a series of great, simple riffs, beginning with George Porter's signature bass riff and then answered back by Leo Nocentelli's guitar. Underneath it all, Zigaboo Modeliste dredges those heavy drums. It's not a hard song to cover (though it's very hard to do anything that approaches the intensity of the original).

As I said - there are literally dozens upon dozens of "Cissy Strut" covers. I'm merely pulling out a few samples but this only scratches the surface. To begin with, the Trinidad Steel Band cover was probably one of the first "int'l" covers I ever heard. What's remarkable here is that steel drum bands often lack a conventional drum kit but it's clear that this group had someone on the sticks to accompany and that makes a huge difference in giving the song a more solid percussive ground to stand on. The fidelity is lo-fo but I'm patient with that, especially given how much fun this cover is to listen to as an island-funk take on the Meters.

The Pete Eye Trio version comes from a private press album out of Kansas City (there's also a fairly good cover of "Dem Changes" on there too). This time, the Trio replaces the bassline with the same riff played on on electric piano which is a slick little touch. I also like the liberties they take with the arrangement, especially in playing with that core riff. The song does get a bit noodly at times (hey, it's a private press jazz album) but I like the bass solo in the middle. But what? No drum solo? Booo.

Lastly, we have "Madrox," a late '70s jazz-funk tune out of Poland (purveyors of many a good jazz-funk tune). Even though its not credited as such, it's very clear that the first part of the song (which returns at the end) is bitten straight from "Cissy Strut." But first, sit through those wicked Latin drums, playing at double-speed. In contrast to the previous song, this song isn't lacking for drums at all - they're bleeding out the ears in percussion.

By the way, one of my favorite, favorite "Cissy Strut" covers is on a Hoctor 45 (see my previous "Jazz Instruction Records" posts). Sizzlin'!

In the second installment, we'll look at some other Meters covers (besides "Cissy Strut!)"

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Pete Rock vs. Kanye West: Who Flipped It Better
posted by O.W.

Don Covay and the Jefferson Lemon Blues Band: If There's a Will, There's a Way
From Different Strokes for Different Folks (Janus, 1970). Also on Funky Yo Yo.

Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth: Lots of Lovin' (remix)
From 12" (Elektra, 1993)

Common: Southside
From Finding Forever (Geffen, 2007)

When I first heard the "Southside" during a listening session, my automatic thought was, "ah, 'Ye is flipping that old Pete Rock beat." Well...not exactly - there are some similarities, especially in how both songs use the same guitar/piano loop but while Pete Rock sticks with that sample, West uses more of Covay's guitar to give "Southside" a harder edge. Gives the song a nice touch of difference and should make debating these two tracks more interesting.

Speaking of Covay, this Different Strokes album follows his Country Funk album and that's an apt way to describe a lot of his tunes. It's not "funk" in the conventional James Brown sense of it but Covay's songs in this era managed to blend together country, blues and hard Southern soul together in a raucous little package.

"If There's a Will" gets love given its sampling but frankly, I've always been a bigger fan of a different song off the same album: "Standing on the Grits Line." Covay's not from NOLA but this song has a distinctive Mardi Gras piano touch to it if you ask me. Recommended!

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Presenting the Soul Sides Boxsets...
posted by O.W. is very proud to introduce the first volume of the Soul Sides Boxset, a partnership with

The story behind the Soul Sides Boxsets (SSBS) is that I've been looking for an opportunity to write longer, more in-depth, pseudo-encyclopedic entries that highlight specific artists or genres or labels, etc. and do so with sound, text, videos and more.

I should add though: these are, by no means, meant to be definitive entries. For example, with this Aretha post, there's a lot I don't discuss (her entire Arista career, for example). The Boxsets, like Soul Sides itself, are written with an editorial vision/direction and some may find that too narrow, too broad, too stupid, whatever. You get my point.

Regardless, it was a project that was hard to pull off just for Soul Sides without some outside support. That's where came in - as an arts-oriented social networking site, it made good sense to partner with them to help host the Boxsets and they have the kind of design and multimedia-friendly capabilities to assist us.

The focus of the first Boxset is Aretha Franklin (I alluded to this in the previous post). The reasons are numerous, not the least of which is that it made sense to kick off Soul Sides Boxsets with the Queen herself. That plus I had been stacking some good videos and book recommendations for the occasion.

Hopefully, this will become a monthly feature on Uber and that's where I could use your help. The future success on this is dependent on people checking it out, telling others to peep and building a following. So please, take some time to visit, check it out, drop a comment on the Uber page, and pass the good word along.

Thanks for all your support, as always,

Oct. 2007

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Aretha Franklin: From The Vaults
posted by O.W.

Aretha Franklin: I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) (Demo) (snippet) + Mr. Big
Both from Rare And Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul (Rhino/Atlantic, 2007)

Bonus: Aretha Franklin: I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)
From I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You (Atlantic, 1967)

Aretha never seems to be far from my mind. I'm in the middle of a big web-project about her music that I'll post a link to once I get the chance but in the meantime, the kind folks at Rhino offered to sponsor a giveaway of new copies of this anthology of rare and previously unreleased songs by her.

It's a rather extraordinary CD given that - at this point in time - who knew there was still unreleased material to hear from Aretha? She's only one of the biggest acts in pop music of the last 50 years so you wouldn't think there'd be a ton of stuff left unmined but some of the songs on here are truly mind-blowing as acts of recovery.

Big among those are three demo songs that were sent to Atlantic's Jerry Wexler that eventually lead her to the label and among these, it's an amazing artifact of history to hear the original version of "I Never Loved a Man," given that it was this song that effectively launched Aretha's massive career (despite her copious recordings for Columbia in the early 1960s). I included the actual, eventual studio version of the same song to offer a compare/contrast moment (ha - which version flipped it better?) Seriously though, to be able to hear the demo is a revelation in many ways, especially in hearing what the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and Jerry Wexler add to the song but also what Aretha had to bring to it all along.

"Mr. Big" is an outtake track that never made the Aretha Now album - a slow, slightly funky cut that I can only assume was meant to be a follow-up song on Jean Knight's classic "Mr. Big Stuff." Would have loved to see this song actually make it out but hey, better late than...

Listen to other tracks off the album.

For the giveaway: send an email to: Subject = "aretha giveway".
Please include your mailing address in the email.

No trivia questions this time - I'll just select five winners from the total number of entries.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Primo vs... Primo?: Which Flip Is Better?
posted by O.W.

Caesar Frazier: Funk It Up
From 75 (Eastbound, 1975)

Gang Starr: Ex Girl to the Next Girl
From Daily Operation (Chrysalis, 1992)

Gang Starr: Speak Ya Clout
From Hard to Earn (Chrysalis, 1994)

I thought it'd be fun, for a change of pace, to pit a producer against himself. In this case, DJ Premier sampled two different portions from the same original source: "Funk It Up" from Caesar Frazier's other Eastbound album, 75. (I put this up a little over 2 years ago. Fans of this series will get a kick out of the first line of that old post. Looks like I've backed off my own policy, at least for the time being).

Personally, I like that a producer would go back to a once-used source and find a new way to flip it (better than Marley putting out both "Ain't No Half Steppin" then "Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag" of the stranger re-uses I've heard). There's a rather obvious Dilla example of this too which I might throw up at some point.

What's so striking in this case though is how utterly different the two uses sound which reflects the differences in the portions of Frazier's original. It's unexpected that a single source would yield such contrasting sonic styles.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

People Under the Stairs vs. Marco Polo: Who Flipped It Better?
posted by O.W.

Duralcha: Ghet-to Funk
From 7" (Microtronics, 1974). Also on Funk Spectrum 2.

People Under the Stairs: The Dig
From O.S.T. (Om, 2002)

Marco Polo feat. Large Professor: The Radar Remix
From 12" (Fat Beats, 2007)

I've avoided using drum breaks as a point of comparison but I thought, given the distinctiveness of the Duralcha break and its prominence in both these songs (one being brand spankin' new), it'd be worth throwing them up for public chatter. I'm fairly certain Thes One was the first dude to put the "Ghet-to Funk" drums on a record and this was in the last 5 years so it's cool to see that the art of break diggin' (which, of course, is what "The Dig" is all about) isn't a lost one, especially with Marco Polo coming with that same distinctive breakdown in 2007. All I know is that b/t the two songs, I'm fiending for that Duralcha 45 (North Carolina funk at its finest).

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Buckwild vs. Beatnuts: Who Flipped It Better?
posted by O.W.

Cal Tjader: Morning
From Agua Dulce (Fantasy, 1971). Also on Descarga!.

O.C. and Buckwild: What I Represent
From America Is Dying Slowly (Elektra, 1996)

The Beatnuts: Fluid
From white label 12" (?, 1997?)

For this latest installment, I'm rolling with 1) one of my favorite Cal Tjader songs, 2) one of my favorite O.C. songs, 3) one of my favorite Buckwild productions and 4) one of my favorite Beatnuts' productions/songs. And as fate would have it: it's all based around the same song...

Cal Tjader first recorded (I believe) "Morning" for his Soul Burst album but he re-recorded a different version, this one with a vocal chorus accompaniment, for Agua Dulce, a surprisingly difficult title of his to find despite being on Fantasy. Both versions are nice...just sublimely mellow, but I've always been more partial to the Agua Dulce version just for the vocal touch.

Apparently, Buckwild liked it a lot too since he looped this up for "What I Represent," a stand-out, yet slept-on, song from the American Is Dying Slowly soundtrack. This was back when O.C. was still like the Promised One for a lot of cats and between his lyrical content, the beat and that chorus built off Ike White and Q-Tip, the whole song was something lovely, lovely, lovely.

About a year after that, this white label of supposedly unreleased Street Level-era songs surfaced. I've heard, from some corners, that there was an official Relativity test-pressing that had three of these songs, including "Fluid" on it that came out around 1995 but I've yet to see anyone confirm its actual existence. That said, "Fluid" definitely sounds like it could have been on Street Level and it takes the "Morning" loop and juices it up more uptempo (note: I'm pretty sure the version of "Morning" here is from Soul Burst). A different style and sound from Buckwild's approach.


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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Eugene Blacknell: Bay Area Boogie
posted by O.W.

Eugene Blacknell: The Trip + Gettin' Down
From We Can't Take It For Granted (Luv N' Haight, 2007)

Of all the talents bubbling inside the Bay Area's extensivefunkcommunity, few have commanded as much attention or respect as the late Eugene Blacknell. This new anthology, from Luv N' Haight, is one of the first to pull together his various singles on such famed indie labels such as Boola Boola, Seaside and Celeste. There's literally at least $500+ worth of R&B/funk on here, much of it raw, gritty and psychedelic (just the way Blacknell liked it). "The Trip" and "Gettin' Down" are two of my favorite Blacknell sides..."The Trip" for its slick, funk ensemble sound and "Gettin' Down" has one of the greatest drum breaks out of the Bay Area, ever. Simply monster.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: Long Time Coming
posted by O.W.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: Answer Me
From 100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone, 2007)

I know - I'm a little late compared to all the other sites who've written about the album but hey, I was too busy writing about the group for the L.A. Times.

I don't have much to add to that, especially since I've written a lot about Sharon and the Dap-Kings over the last year. I'll add this:

1) I hope they have a fantastic night tonight at the Apollo. Sold out, if I'm not mistaken!

2) The new album is really, really, really great. Not copping one is not an option.

3) I love "Answer Me" not just because it's a great song but because it really reflects something about Sharon, her personality and her gospel roots.

4) It's about time this crew is getting the shine they deserve.

BTW, I'm working on a few copies to giveaway. I'll let you know about that when I can.

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Marley Marl/Craig G vs. Puff Daddy/Biggie: Who Flipped It Better?
posted by O.W.

Lou Donaldson: Who's Making Love
From Hot Dog (Blue Note, 1969). Also on Blue Note Breaks V. 1.

Marley Marl feat. Craig G: Droppin' Science
From In Control Vol. 1 (Cold Chillin, 1988). Also on Droppin' Science - The Best of Cold Chillin'.

Notorious B.I.G.: One More Chances (Hip Hop Remix)
From "One More Chance" 12" (Bad Boy, 1995)

I still remember the first time I heard the "Hip Hop Remix" of "One More Chance" and my thought process went something like this, "goddamn, this is hot...but kind of familiar...why is that?" Back in '95, Puffy hadn't quite become the beat-jackin' villain that people accused him of by the late '90s but there were more than a few heads being scratched given that BOTH remixes of "One More Chance" were using beats that had already been put out.

The more obvious comparison was the "One More Chance/Stay With Me" remix since it used the exact same DeBarge loop that Big L had just put out a few months earlier on "MVP" (production by Lord Finesse) though Biggie had a far, far bigger hit with the track than Big L ever saw. In the case of the "Hip Hop Remix," it had been a good seven years since Craig G had lit up the same track on "Droppin' Science" (arguably one of his greatest moments in a career that never caught fire like it possibly could have).

I should also add that this whole era was like one long Donaldson-love fest for producers. In general, the Blue Note late '60s/early '70s era was being torn through but Donaldson was practically the undisputed go-to artist for loops and breaks. Good times, good times.

And before I get comments full of "and [insert artist/producer here] used this same loop too!"...yeah dudes, we know. I was tempted to include both "Hot Sex" and the "Kaught in the Ak" remix but opted out mostly because 1) I've already featured Primo and ATCQ (though I'll inevitably end up bringing them back and 2) I always liked the idea of a Craig G vs. Biggie head-to-head.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Grand Puba/MC Lyte vs. Diamond D: Who Flipped It Better?
posted by O.W.

Three Dog Night: I Can Hear You Calling
From Naturally (MCA, 1970)

MC Lyte: I Am the Lyte
From Eyes On This (First Priority, 1989)

Diamond D and the Psychotic Neurotics: Best Kept Secret
From Stunts, Blunts, and Hip-Hop (Chemistry, 1992)

First of all, I'm glad folks are feeling this new series. It's funny - I'm assuming most folks have heard most of these songs already, thus making downloads irrelevant. Meanwhile, posts featuring actually songs folks are less likely to have are getting nary a comment. I'm not complaining mind you - I just think it's funny.

Anyways, I remember Diamond telling me how he decided to tackle this same sample on his album even though Lyte had just dropped it a few years prior...keep in mind, this was at a time where someone like Diamond probably was going to be very careful about what samples he was using and trying not to look like he's biting (diggin' in the crates and all that, y'know) so he must really have thought he could do something different with his flip. Does it really improve on what Puba did for Lyte?

I'll leave up to the peanut gallery to argue. I will say this - and no disrespect to Diamond at all - but Lyte just rips this track. Lyrically, advantage: Ms. Moorer. Also, in general, I think it's worth noting that if you don't own a copy of Eyes On This, you don't like hip-hop. Yeah, I went there. Deal.

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Feel the Rhythmix: Dance Instruction Records Pt. 2
posted by O.W.

Sharron and Harrell Lucky: Pease Porridge Hot
From Rhythm and Rhyme (Melody House, 197?). Also on Pease Porridge Hot EP.

Shraron and Harrell Lucky: Hands Clasp
From Swing to Fitness (Melody House, 197?)

Francois Rauber: Exercice De Quadrupedie
From Rhythmix (Unidisc, 197?)

Janet Pidoux: Isolations: Épaules
From La Classe De Jazz (Arion, 1970)

To kick off part 2 of my look at dance instruction records, I start with a look at Melody House, which brought together two sub-genres - dance instruction and children's records. Melody House - run by the wife/husband team of Sharron and Harrell Lucky - were hardly the only children's record label to have fitness and dance lessons but they've become the best known in digger circles, partially on the strength of "Pease Porridge Hot" (hello, De La!), partially because Stonesthrow comped four of the best songs off the various Melody House albums (and they had dozens) onto an EP.

These songs really work best as novelty's not like someone really is going to spin "Hands Clasp" (which is off of one of the better Melody House titles) at the club but it is pretty fun to hear a kid's dance record with all the funky breakbeats that the Melody House albums boast. Unfortunately, none of the albums I own by them credit who the drummer is - could be Harrell since he tends to get credit for the musical score - but whoever it was definitely had a taste for polyrhythm.

I swing over to France for the last pair. The Rhythmix album is another children's dance album, this one directed (musically) by Francois Rauber. In the process of translating the French for me, my wife noticed that the album was supposed to come with an instructional booklet and indeed, looking inside, there was one which describes and diagrams the various dances. The way "Exercice De Quadrupedie" is supposed to work is that you squat on your hands and tippy toes, then gradually walk your hands forward, stretching out your back until you run out of room. Then, in a single leap, you bring your toes back up front. Repeat. I'm not sure if the rhythm of the song really makes such a great match with the movement but personally, I just like listening to this groove, whether I'm exercising my quadrupedie properly or not.

Lastly, we arrive at Janet Pidoux, from what my wife was able to translate for me, was an American jazz dance instruction (who trained with Luigi) and then moved over to Paris to teach. Surprisingly, you can still find this album on CD which likely speaks highly for Pidoux's mastery (or else this album has some huge fans). If you like the organ/soul/jazz sound of this one song, you'd like the album as a whole since it's all just a single keyboard and drummer joining forces. I would never have guessed it was a dance album by the sound of the various tracks. It's more in line with something I'd expect from, say, Daniel Janin. Super-slick and funky (and "Épaules" isn't even my favorite track off the LP).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Q-Tip vs. The Beatnuts: Who Flipped It Better?
posted by O.W.

Monty Alexander: Love and Happiness
From Rass (MPS, 1974). Also on Strange Funky Games and Things

Apache: Gangsta B----
From Gangsta B---- (Tommy Boy, 1992)

The Beatnuts: Let Off a Couple
From Street Level (Relativity, 1994)

The Heath Brothers: Smilin' Billy Suite Pt. 2
From Marchin' On! (Strata East, 1976)

The Beatnuts: Ya Don't Stop
From Street Level (Relativity, 1994)

Nas: One Love
From Illmatic (Columbia, 1994)

I'm sure this is just sheer coincidence ( it?!) but in both these cases, The Beatnuts and Q-Tip both sampled the same songs...but used different parts of them to craft their beats. With the use of "Love and Happiness" (a lovely cover by the way), one could propose that the Beatnuts, not wanting to use the same part of the song that Q-TIp did for Apache's song from two years earlier, settled on a different portion of it.

With "One Love" vs. "Ya Don't Stop" though, they came out so close to one another, it could just be blind chance that they picked the same song but different sections. Whichever the case though, it does make measuring them against one another more intriguing.

Gilles Peterson giveaway update:
The correct answers were 1) Darondo's "Didn't I" on Music City and 2) Lonnie Hewitt on Wee. East Bay, represent!
Winners: Allen T., Adam D, and Talbot Y.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Learning To Boogie: Dance Instruction Records Pt. 1
posted by O.W.

Johnny Frigo: Do Whatever Sets You Free
From Collected Works (Ubiquity, 2002)

Luigi: Kick & Luigi Strut
From Jazz Class With Luigi (Hoctor, 196/7?)

Artist Unknown: Scorpio
From 7" (Hoctor, 197?)

Artist Unknown: Swahili Boogie
From Dance Bandstand (Statler, 197?)

Dance instruction records are like the poor man's library records (except that some of them are not that cheap) but they share some important similarities. For one, they were targeted at a specialized audience and though some dance records might have been sold to the general public, most of them were marketed directly to dance schools and teachers.

Also, many were recorded by anonymous (or minimally credited) studio players and though it probably wasn't a huge prestige gig, as with library records, there was a good deal of latitude given to the bands to whip out whatever they wanted. Since these weren't for pop music play (and few featured lyrics), you'd imagine the recording dates had a jam session vibe to them and especially since they were made for dance, it was all about the rhythm section letting loose. That's not to say all dance instruction records were informal or thrown together. Indeed, many had very specific themes, though less driven by musical conceits and more by the kind of dance exercises or activities they were meant to score.

The result is that dance instruction records, especially from the 1970s, are a good source for funky instrumental tracks from off-the-beaten-path. I'm, by no means, an ardent collector of them though I'm always happy to add another title to the library given their quirky nature.

The best known artist has been Chicago's Johnny Frigo who worked on a modest handful of albums with dance teacher Gus Giordano for the Orion label. The Frigo/Giordano albums are notoriously expensive (especially compared to other dance labels) but you're paying for the quality and not just scarce quantity. Luckily, Ubiquity compiled most of the best Frigo/Giordano songs on a single anthology a few years back (our friends Egon and Cool Chris worked on that project). Frigo's work is also, in my opinion, the least obviously "instructional," and stand, quite well, on their own as soul-jazz compositions regardless of what their ostensible purpose was.

The best known label - amongst record nerds - is Hoctor which has, and continues to, released hundreds of dance instruction albums over the decades. Hoctor LPs are, in my experience, the most likely to turn up of all the major dance labels but that doesn't mean all their titles are equally easy to find. There's a few titles that can easily run $100+ on the private market and in my opinion, the cost is justified. However, that doesn't mean all Hoctor titles are worth the trouble; though for many of their 1970s titles, you could often tell from the album cover or tracklisting if you held genuine gold or vinyl coal.

Jazz Class With Luigi is the most common funky Hoctor title I've seen in the field and I'm assuming it's because it was pressed up in higher numbers than other titles. Luigi is a dance instructor of considerable note (Janet Pidoux whose song appears later in the playlist trained with him, for example) and for this album at least, his conception of jazz dance centered on any number of surprisingly funk backbeats to drive the rhythm section. That band, by the way, is the Stan Rubin Orchestra and bow down to a female drummer - Julie Epstein - who anchors those beats.

As suggested, the Hoctor catalog runs deep; the songs I chose barely skim the surface and I'm holding back on some of the heaviest titles but definitely look for Byron Peterson's Jazz Rock USA and any of the Robin Hoctor LPs from the era (I know of at least two). You could do very well by just their 7" releases alone. They have one of my favorite covers of "Cissy Strut" ever and this included version of Dennis Coffey's "Scorpio" does a solid job on covering the b-boy classic (Frigo does a killer version of the song as well). I'm not sure if this appears on a Hoctor LP or is a 7" only single. If anyone knows what LP this or "Cissy Strut" appears on, let me know? Not sure which band is playing on here either - it's not credited.

Statler, like Hoctor, produced dozens (if not hundreds) of dance instruction albums as well though, in my experience, their distribution was notably smaller and it's much harder to find their titles in an ordinary record store. I've also found that Statler is much less reliable for funky tunes but it could just be that the albums I've heard have been the weaker out of the catalog. Frank Hatchett has a series of Afro-Cuban-driven Statler titles which I think could be promising but his Soul Jazz album - despite appearing like it'd be killer - is marred by bad rock guitar that ruins the otherwise excellent percussion work. "Swahili Boogie" comes off a more recent addition, out of stack of Statler titles my friend came upon. My copy of the LP didn't have the actual cover so I don't know who the players on this album are which is a shame because the percussionist is killing it on here.

Part 2 in this series nods to some kids' dance music plus a few examples of dance instruction tunes from outside the U.S.

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