REWIND: DJ DANGER MOUSE’S “GREY ALBUM” (2004)

This tweet reminded me that I wrote about DJ Danger Mouse’s much-lauded mash-up album, Grey Album (combining Jay-Z’s Black Album with The Beatles’ White Album) back in 2004 for the SF Bay Guardian. As their archives are still slowly being brought back into function, here’s the original copy I filed with my editor back then (enhanced with links to some of the songs but of course, The Grey Album isn’t available through any legit channels because of copyright).

Shades of White 

By Oliver Wang

In late 1968, jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis released Mother Nature’s Son, 10 cover songs based on The Beatles’ White Album, itself barely a month old. Bringing together forward-thinking blues producer Marshall Chess (the Chess Records’ scion) and Cadet Records’ in-house arranger-extraordinaire Charles Stepney, Lewis and Co. mined the hodge-podge of The White Album and created a surprisingly affective mix of delicately textured ballads (“Mother Nature’s Son”) and funk-tinged groovers (“Cry, Baby, Cry”).

At its best, Mother Nature’s Son wonderfully re-imagines The White Album in ways that both pay homage to the original source but allow Lewis, Chess and Stepney their own room to maneuver. For example, the album’s finest moment comes on “Julia,” as Stepney re-arranges Lennon’s plain, quiet ballad into a exquisite wave of sweeping sentiment punctuated by Lewis’ elegant tinklings. A familiarity with the Beatles’ version certainly doesn’t detract from Lewis’ cover but it’s not a prerequisite either. The mark of a good cover/remake is that it nods back to its progenitor but still stands on its own.

In this respect, Mother Nature’s Son shares an unlikely resonance with a mix-CD 36 years its junior: DJ Danger Mouse’s Grey Album. Danger Mouse works with a simple, brilliant premise: he remixes Jay-Z’s recent Black Album by using samples solely from The White Album. It’s a gimmick to be sure, but high concept gimmick as DM brings together Brooklyn’s finest with Liverpool’s Fab 4 like you’ve never heard before.

Some quick background: When Jay-Z released The Black Album, Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam made sure that an entire acapella version was also widely available. Nas and Columbia Records were the first to put this idea into play and by last fall, four different mix-CDs appeared, including 9th Wonder’s God’s Stepson and Soul Supreme’s Soulmatic, remixing Nas’ God’s Son and Stillmatic respectively. With The Black Album, at least five mix-CDs have already appeared – note that Jay-Z’s LP is barely two months old – including DM’s Grey Album, Kev Brown’s Brown Album, Kardinal Offishall and Solitair’s Black Jays Album and Prince’s Purple Album (that last one was a joke, but you never know).

Danger Mouse’s Grey Album sets itself apart far from the pack. This is no trucker-hat hipster mash-up that lazily jams a Jay-Z acapella over “Revolution 9.” The only time DM uses a truly obvious sample is lifting the familiar melody of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for his remix of “What More Can I Say?” but most of The Grey Album disassembles The White Album into small sonic shreds and builds from there.

For example, for “Dirt Off My Shoulders,” Danger Mouse cuts up Lennon’s croons from “Julia” and stutters it into a beat that would make Timbaland proud. DM’s remix of “99 Problems” tears into “Helter Skelter” and lifts portions from at least three different points to craft a track that rivals Rick Rubin’s raucous original. One of the best remixes is “Justify My Thug,” a song that originally suffered from DJ Quik’s dull, plodding production. DM takes a guitar lick from “Rocky Raccoon” and then overlays a chopped-up stab from “Revolution 1” creating an incredible sounding remake that improves the appreciation for Jay-Z lyrics since you’re now more invested in actually listening to the song.

Danger Mouse also makes you hear the Beatles differently. My friend Hua Hsu and I agreed that when we listen to The White Album now, we subconsciously start checking for potential beats (i.e. why didn’t DM sample “Don’t Pass Me By”, that fool!) or get thrown off when the Beatles’ songs proceed differently from DM’s arrangements. In essence, The Grey Album doesn’t just transform the original songs from both artists into new forms but it also transforms how we listen to Jay-Z and the Beatles. Yet it bespeaks DM’s achievement that you could be wholly ignorant of both pop icons (unlikely as that might be) and still find his CD to be a revelation. Like Lewis’ Mother Nature’s Son, The Grey Album is original in its own right, a bastard son whose style needs no father. (Originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Jan or Feb 2004)

GLORIA JONES: TOO MUCH TAINT?

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Gloria Jones: Tainted Love (All-Nighter Mix) (Inferno, 1982, 12″)

Can one have too much of a good thing? I picked this 12″ back when I didn’t own Jones’s original 7″ yet and at the time I figured, “hey, everyone loves this song but the original is so short, why not extend it to nearly five minutes?”

Then I started to play it out aaaaaaand maybe it runs just a bit long. You can only lead a crowd through that chorus so many times before you start to feel the itch to mix in some Supremes. Maybe?

365 Days of Soul, #140

DR. JOHN: RIGHT PLACE REMIXED

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Dr. John: Right Place Wrong Time (Professor Shorthair Remix) (Superjock, 2014, 7″)

Oops, meant to mention these a few weeks back: New Orleans’s DJ Yamin has been remixing Crescent City classics and re-releasing them on 7″ as part of the “NOLA Breaks” series. Of the batch, I thought this one did the best in just adding enough little things to juice up the excellent original without overdoing it.

365 Days of Soul, #133

GREENWOOD RHYTHM COALITION: PURE GROOVE

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Greenwood Rhythm Coalition: Puro Rock (Names You Can Trust, 2014, 7″)

Dub cumbia remix.

An absolute killer remix of El Combo Chimbita’s “Puro Show.” GRC have never failed me and this one is amongst their very best. I think they add those sleepy, mournful ska guitar lines at the beginning of the song and it’s a genius touch.

365 Days of Soul, #64

KID GUSTO: LATIN REMIX HUNTER

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Kid Gusto: Safari Salvaje (BSTRD Boots, 2011, 12″)

Latin remixes.

Oops. Kid Gusto literally handed a copy of this 12″ to me three years ago and I meant – really I did! – to give it some love back then. Better late than, uh, never? And the thing is: the remixes on this 12: include some of my favorite Latin dance tracks, including a remix of Afrosound’s “Tiro Al Blanco” but “Safari Salvaje” is all-timer for me. Gusto doesn’t even need to do a ton here to juice it up – it’s already a great song to begin with – but instead, just needs to give it these subtle touch-ups to push it even further.

23/365

GRAB BAG: MARCH 2014

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Quick opening note: not to sound like a broken record (pun intended) but the vinyl game is always humbling. No matter how many records you have, there’s always more/better ones to still learn about and yearn for. I’m reminded of this all the time, especially when DJing with my betters such as the Southern Soulspinners who always come with crazy heat at every gig. I try not to trains-spot on their sets too much but it’s hard to resist knowing what the hell it is they’re blowing my mind with. Their willingness to gladly share that knowledge is equally humbling and it’s a reminder of the importance of spreading that knowledge in turn.

Pigmeat Markham: Here Comes the Judge
From 7″ (Chess, 1968)

J-Zone’s recent column on his favorite drum recordings reminded me of how novel (nyuk nyuk) this single is. Basically a comedy song but set to the rugged-est of drums…as well as a great example of “rapping before there was rap music.”

Viva Brasil: Turn To Yourself + Skindo-le-le
From S/T (Sugarloaf, 1980)

The best Bay Area modern-soul-meets-Brazilian LP I know (as well as the only one). No, but really, I dig the grooves on here even if “Turn To Yourself” sounds almost like a parody of bad lyric writing. To me, the standout on here is “Skindo-le-le” which feels like the platonic ideal of what “samba soul” should sound like.

Sole Inspiration: Life
From 7″ (Soulsville, U.S.A., 197?)

This single (both sides) is at the crossroads between psych and soul, especially the moody, heavy and super-stoned out “Life.” It’s out of San Antonio if the inter webs has it right. (Flipside has a serviceable, hella garage-y cover of “Hold On, I’m Comin’.”)

Betty Wright: Pure Love
From 7″ (Alston, 1970)

When I first heard this, I just assumed it came out after the live version of “Tonight’s the Night” but now I realize I had it backwards. It’s interesting hearing “Pure Love” for the first time since it’s slower than “Tonight’s the Night” and that creates this moment of cognitive dissonance where the lick is familiar yet feels “off.” (Flipside is a good, funky Northern track: “If You Ain’t Got It”).

The Manhattans: I Call It Love
From 7″ (Carnival, 1967)

I’m slowly discovering the beauty of early Manhattans’s songs. This isn’t quite as sublime as “Follow Your Heart” but it’s still pretty damn good. They had a great ear for pairing their doo-wop harmonizing over strong, soulful arrangements. (Flipside is a solid, snappy Northern cut: “Manhattan Stomp“).

Amral’s Trinidad Cavaliers Steel Orchestra: The World Is a Ghetto + 90% of Me Is You
From Heat (Calypan, 1975)

On paper, the entire track listing makes you think this could be the greatest steel drum album ever. Cover galore, most of them R&B and funk. I mean, holy crap, they’re covering Gwen McCrae’s “90% of Me Is You,” which wasn’t exactly obscure but it’s not “Yellow Bird” either. I’ve been trying to figure out why this falls short of, say, the Dutch Rhythm Steel and Show Band (both groups cover Kool and the Gang’s “Funky Stuff’) and obviously, the Cavaliers have the sparser band…sounds like steel drums plus a drum kit and that’s it. I also feel like the conventional drummer is mixed rather low, thus blunting his/her presence. That said, their cover of “The World Is a Ghetto” works better, partially because so much of what carries the mood of the composition is in the melody rather than requiring a stronger rhythm section.

Muscle Shoals Horns: Addicted To Your Love
From Doin’ It To the Bone (Ariola, 1977)

A Soul Boulders classic. ‘Nuff said.

Tutti Hill: He’s a Lover
From 7″ (Arock, 1964)

Cool Chris talked me into this one, telling me it was one of his favorites. I was initially skeptical only because the notable absence of any real low end made this sound like a demo but the more times I listened to it at the store, the more that quality of the recording appealed to me. (That said, I feel like someone could remix this and throw in a stronger baseline and some drums).

Billy Woods: No One To Blame
From 7″ (Verve, 1966)

I often forget that Verve recorded other genres besides jazz; this great little sweet soul side came sandwiched in their catalog between everyone from Irene Reid to Willie Bobo to the Righteous Brothers.

Souls of Mischief: Never No More (76 Seville Mix)
From 12″ (Jive, 1994)

It’s funny but this remix has been in the back of my head for months but I was too lazy to digitize it from vinyl and lo and behold: that new 93 Til Infinity box set has all the remixes connected to that album and that included this. Great remix and paired (on the original 12″) with the equally good 12″-only “Good Feeling.”

Overhott, Tate and Phillips: Peg
From Direct-to-Disc (Kiras, 1977)

Another one from Cool Chris (since he knows my weakness for covers). Most of this direct-to-disc are fairly loyal disco-era covers but somehow, hearing “Peg” sung with a female trio gives this particular track a spark. (They also perform a decent version of Player’s “Baby Come Back.”)

GRAB BAG (DEC 2013)

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Earwaves: Young Girls In Mini-Skirts
From S/T (Surrend, 1984)

Earwaves was a short-lived S.F. group that grew out of another short-lived S.F. band: C.P. Salt; I got interested in both because half their personnel was Chinese American including “Hugh Dong” (yeah, I know what you’re thinking). C.P. Salt had more of a boogie feel but as you can hear here, Earwaves had more of a funky new wave style, especially in those crazy synths.

Chano Scotty and His Combo Society: Bossa-a-Go-Go + Consolacion
From The New Sound of Chano Scotty (Musicor, 1967)

Mod organ + Brazilian jazz = a winning combination. I don’t know a ton about this Argentinian bandleader but of the two LPs I know, this one is more Brazilian flavored and the other is more Afro-Latin (including a pair of decent boogaloo songs). I especially love the opening bars of “Bossa-a-Go-Go” – so ’60s, so slick.

Milton Floyd: I’m a Shadow
From 7″ (Rim, 1973)

I first heard this on Product Placement; perfect intro song for DJ Shadow. It does open beautifully and while Floyd sounds decent enough, don’t you wish there was a backup singer-only version? (I do).

Debbie Taylor: Just Don’t Pay
From 7″ (Arista, 1975)

This is one of those perfect crossover/proto-disco cuts and surprisingly, it’s one of the last singles Taylor ever put out, capping a modest (but largely slept-on) career that had begun a decade earlier.

The Baby Dolls: Please Don’t Rush Me
From 7 (Gamble, 1967)

Lesser-known Gamble release featuring the Baby Dolls, a girl group that I couldn’t find much on at all. I’m assuming they’re not the same duo that sang doo wop and if that’s the case, these Baby Dolls were one-and-done with this single.

The Off-Beats: Doodlum
From 7″ (Guyden, 1964)

I came across this 7″ because it has one of the early versions of Richard Berry’s “Have Love, Will Travel” (this is before it got the garage makeover) but it’s the flip side that struck me even more, especially with those electric keys (Wurlitzer?) and groovin’ jump blues rhythm. Barely 90 seconds long but if it’s short, it’s also damn sweet.

King Floyd: Walkin’ and Thinkin’
From 7″ (Original Sound, 1965)

I was surprised to come across this in a Minneapolis record store; I had never seen a King Floyd release this early and as Original Sound was a label I associated with L.A. (rather than anywhere near Floyd’s home state of Louisiana), that was also surprising. My guess is that the Original Sound release was a second issue for greater distribution but either way, this single would have been a few years before he struck it big with “Groove Me.” Great Southern soul sound on here with those horns; reminded me of a Hi Records production .

Johnny Scott: I’m Not Tired Yet
From 7″ (Twain, 196?)

Would this song sound better with better fidelity? Maybe. Is it pretty damn good in its current, some-dude’s-basement-studio version? Oh my, my yes.

Camp Lo: Coolie High (Paradise Remix)
From 7″ (Profile, 1996)

Promo-only 12″ release, deaded from going full commercial by the inability to clear the MJ sample. Pity – love how languid the remix is, honoring the feel of the original track but giving it an actual remix and not just a variation-on.

H-TOWN BOOGIE

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Supergrass: Alright
From I Should Coco (Parlophone, 1995)

Fat Pat: Tops Drop
From Ghetto Dreams (Wreckshop, 1998)

Systema Solar: Mi Kolombia
From S/T (Intermundos, 2010)

Ocote Soul Sounds and Adrian Quesada: Tu Fin, Mi Comienzo
From 7″ (Aire Sol, 2013). Also on Coconut Rock

Penny & The Quarters: You and Me (Prince of Ballard remix)
Originally from 7″ (Numero Group, 2011)

Bonus: Icona Pop: I Love It
From This Is… (Atlantic, 2013)

I was recently in Houston and Galveston to DJ a wedding (what up Alex and D’Arcy!) and as I’ve probably said before, one of the things that I like about these kinds of gigs is that I’m inevitably turned onto new songs in the process of prepping. Some of it comes directly as requests from the couple, some come more a bit more serendipitously, but the playlist is ever-evolving and I get to expand my musical horizons as a result.

Case in point: the bride requested the Supergrass song, which sounded vaguely familiar (hello Clueless cameo) but I certainly wasn’t that familiar with. Loved it from jump – those stabbing keys! the bright, defiant optimism! – and it’s the type of tune you can drop next to some early Rolling Stones or Beatles jams and it’ll fit right in.

Case also in point: the groom definitely wanted some H-Town rap in there and asked specifically for the Fat Pat song. Definitely never on my radar back in the late ’90s (too busy writing about Fondle ‘Em 12″s) but any gangsta funk tune reworking Yarbrough and Peoples gets my nod.1

Because the groom’s family is from Colombia, I was introduced to the greatness that is the hora loca and while I was hired partially because I already have love for cumbia (I blame B+), the groom put me up on all kinds of newer cumbia jams, including that Systema Solar cut with its slurring rhythms, cheer-a-long hooks, and rhymes en espanõl that sound like they were written circa 1991. Hype.

Speaking of Latin jams, I’d be remiss to not give a huge shout-out to Martin Perna of Antibalas/Ocote Soul Sounds who’s currently living in Houston and reached out to invite me to hang out while I was in town.2 An incredibly gracious host who not only fed me breakfast but hit me with his personal Google map of Houston record stores (no, you can’t see it), including Cactus Music (where the photo above was shot).3 He also laced me with a brand new 7″ featuring two cuts off Coconut Rock, one of which is a cumbia but “Tu Fin, Mi Comienzo” is a slice of frantic funk that’s not to be denied.

The Penny & the Quarters remix was a request by the groom; “You and Me” was the “first dance” song but he wanted a remixed version for use as the last song of the night. He asked if I had anyone who might be up for it and I automatically thought of the Prince of Ballard and I’m happy to say, it all worked out. Slick remix too – POB does it again!

Last but not least, in prepping for the wedding, DJ Choimatic told me to try out the Icona Pop. This may surprise some of my readers but I – like my 8 year old daughter – am feeling this. I do indeed, love it. The thing is: I never did get around to playing it at this particular wedding – it’s not the sort of tune you just randomly drop in anywhere – but maybe the next one…


Ok, so all that said, one more thing and this is not a goodbye letter. I promise you.

But the fact that the site’s been plagued with tech problems for the last month actually seems quite apropos given how harried and scattered I’ve felt. It goes beyond just a month of server-side woes though; it’s been this whole semester. I’ve always said I’m more productive when I’m busy but I’ve learned – the hard way – that there’s a point that goes beyond “busy” where you start to hate all your commitments and (slightly) hate yourself for having volunteered into those commitments. I can’t say I “hit a wall” this semester but maybe I lightly fender-bendered into one. I have – no lie – at least three different ways of reminding me of shit I have to do.4 And with all that, I still feel like I’m only operating at partial effectiveness; stuff gets dropped off my radar daily and as you’ve likely noticed, Soul Sides has been one of the more frequent casualties of all this.

On the one hand, writing this site has given me more than I could have ever imagined, let alone asked for. I got flown out to Houston to do a freakin’ wedding because I write this site. I’ve gotten both writing and DJ gigs off it. I’ve made comps off it. I’ve done all kinds of good shit. I’m so thankful for all this. For all y’all who read this, whether religiously (in which case, you’ve actually bothered to get to this point of the post) or off-and-on (it’s cool, I still have love for you even if you’re not reading me giving you that love right now).

On the other hand, when everything feels like “work,” a labor of love like this feels like work too and in the midst of feeling resentful at all the things beckoning at me, foregoing something as personal as this (translation: shit I’m not getting paid for) becomes all-too-easy. That’s not an excuse, just merely an explanation.

This is not a goodbye letter. I just need to get some shit off my chest because I feel like I owe it you all (and perhaps the fact I even feel that way might be part of the problem but let’s not go there right now) and because I need to force myself to write this just to prove that I can still write a post here. (Yes, welcome to my self-therapy.)

Normally, this is where I say I have some plan to post more frequently and predictably but I’d rather not jinx things. I’d also rather not prove myself to be a liar in four months when I write this same basic post again then. But hopefully it won’t come to that.

Until then, yours, truly, as always.

–O.W.

  1. Thanks to Sugarland TX’s native son, DJ Phatrick, I put together a short Houston rap set which was fun as hell. I may not have been intimately familiar with most of what I played but the crowd certainly was.
  2. Speaking of gracious-ness, I’d be remiss in not shouting out to Kat at Live Oak Legacies for letting me crash with her and her crew in Galveston. Next time, we need to take the boat out.
  3. I wish there had been more time to run through that store and the rest but I was happy to leave with this for $2.
  4. Just in case you were curious, I’d recommend all of them. First, Workflowy. So simple, so genius. Second, Follow Up Then. Your inbox will hate you for it but it has its utility. Third, using Siri to create Reminders. I probably look like a fucking tool when I do it…and Siri blows the transcription more often than I’d like…but it’s a still killer feature.

SHADES OF SOUL EP 1.4: THE KITCHEN SINK

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The latest episode of Shades of Soul (broadcast live on Radio Sombra) is dedicated to records that I file under “the kitchen sink,” i.e. the weird and wonderful records whether we’re talking unexpected remixes/mash-ups, quirky covers, or just plain WTF tunes.

Shades of Soul EP 1.4 by Oliver Wang on Mixcloud

To see the playlist, visit our Radio Sombra page.

LIFE’S A BEACH (WITH THE PRINCE OF BALLARD)

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The Prince of Ballard used to run Armed Snobbery (though he shuttered the doors in December). If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he put together one of the sickest remixes to grace our pages, flipping Bobby Reed’s “Time Is Right For Love.”

Mr. POB recently hollered to let us know about Beach Life, an “album” of sorts featuring summer-inspired remixes and edits, just in time for the last month of the season. We’ve been sampling through it this morning and…it is awesome. I’ve never met him in person but our musical tastes are in such absolute lock. Just peep this remix of Willie West’s “I Sleep With the Blues.”

Good gawd that’s good. And he’s got 16 other songs on here.

Sleep not.


By the way, I’ve been digging through POB’s remix catalog and how did I miss this?

Lil Wayne meets blue-eyed gospel funk. So sacrilegious, so good.

And Rick Ross doing it up boogaloo style? YUP.

And you know I’m gonna ride for this: