TIMMY THOMAS: RHYTHM KING

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Timmy Thomas: In the Beginning (Glades, 1972, Why Can’t We Live Together?

The infectious success of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” (memes and all) is one of those semi-annual reminders that Timmy Thomas’s “Why Can’t We Live Together” exists.1 You can’t call Thomas’s 1972 single “obscure” by any means; it was a huge hit for him at the time and it’s been liberally sampled and covered over those years but still, we haven’t seen Thomas’s work get this kind of shine in years.

The Glades issue of “Why Can’t We” (picked up for redistribution after Thomas’s initial release on the smaller Konduko label) is one of those great cheapies that find their way into everyone’s collection but I was lax in messing with Thomas’s full-length album that came out after the single blew up. I finally just picked it up at Noz’s new store in Oakland, Park Blvd Records. Therefore, file this under “really late pass” but the Why Can’t We Live Together? album is fantastic.

For one – and I could be totally wrong about this – but I’d imagine it’s the first major release that uses a drum machine on every track. Thomas was almost certainly following Sly Stone’s lead with There’s a Riot Goin’ On – like Stone, Thomas used the Maestro Rhythm King – but Stone didn’t hook the machine on every song. Nor did Shuggie Otis, who also busted out a MRK on the Inspiration/Information album.

EDIT: So…as it turns out, I was very wrong. A reader alerted me to the fact that Thomas wasn’t using a Rhythm King but rather, a Lowrey organ with percussion presets. I confirmed that with Dave Tompkins, who’s spoken with Thomas.

Does Thomas need to plop MRK drum presets on every song? This is what makes the album so fascinating…in some cases, you can make a solid musical argument that the drum machine detracts from a few of the songs because its unmistakably mechanical sound and tempo contrasts against the otherwise “natural” feel of Thomas’s voice and style. However, this entire album is already incredibly lo-fi in sound. The mix is raw, the instrumentation is hella basic, there’s barely any arrangement. Throwing a primitive drum machine in there only accentuates the whole rather than undermining it.

You could pluck any song off the album to hear this but I like “In the Beginning,” partially because of those crashing sound effects only adds to how “basement lab” everything sounds. That said, at some point, I definitely have to open a mixtape with the hypnotic drone of “The Coldest Days of My Life.”

  1. My dude Dave Tompkins wrote a fantastic piece about Thomas and the song for NPR.org.

SSO: GETTING FADED

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SSO: Faded Lady (RKM, 197?, Disco Soul Roots)

I never want to reduce a song to just its sample use but “Faded Lady” is put to such major effect on Diamond’s “I Went For Mine,” that it’s hard not to always think of the latter when you pump the former.

I’ve heard the players with SSO were also behind Nico Gomez, the Chakachas and a slew of other Dutch groups of the ’70s. Don’t know if that’s true but it does make sense given how damn groovy all those groups got.

365 Days of Soul, #138

CHOPPING UP (ON) SAMPLES

The other week, Thes One and I teamed up to talk about the ethos of sampling at USC as part of a lecture series they had this past year on sampling.

I though it was a great, wide-ranging conversation with at least two highlights:

1) Thes using an ancient Gemini mixer with built-in sampler to recreate the “Funky Lemonade (Remix)” loop.

2) Thes showing that you can pretty much chop up anything into a decent beat by using how he Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”

The whole convo is worth listening to if you’re like me (a sample nerd).

BLIND ALLEY – ALTERED TAPES REMIX

Folks know that “Blind Alley” is one of my all-time favorite breaks.1 Just wanted to say that Altered Tapes does a killer little edit, apparently by remixing the original multi-track stems with a little BDK thrown in for good measure.

  1. In fact, it might be the very first example of how I learned what a “break” (as in sample) was.

YESTERDAY IS NOW

Brass Construction: Now Is Tomorrow (Anticipation) + The Message (Inspiration)
From II (UA, 1976)

So I was up at the Groove Merchant over Thanksgiving and Cool Chris was playing a record over the house system and I thought,”wow, that sounds really good.” I went over to look at what it was and it was the Brass Construction album and I had one of those mixed moments of…

“Man, I forgot how good this was.”
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“Maybe that’s because I probably haven’t listened to this album in 12-15 years.”

It’s a sobering realization.

I probably picked this album up originally for the two songs that were prominently sample. However, the best song on here – at least to me now– is that slinky disco number, “Now is Tomorrow.” Fantastic groove all around…and someone help me out here: Kenny Dope flipped this for one of his breaks records back around 1993/94, didn’t he? Maybe off of this EP?

Also: I still ride for “The Message” too, however..such awesome opening piano as NWA fans know.

What’s your rediscoveries of common-but-quality records?

OOPS UPSIDE MY HEAD

Here’s the deal: this song changed my life. It wasn’t the first hip-hop song I ever heard but it was the first one that really made me want to find everything I could that sounded like. It was my gateway drug into hip-hop which would irrevocably change everything else I’d come to pursue later on, whether journalism, scholarship, DJing and of course, records.

But see…for the longest time, I credited the magic of this song (besides to De La Soul and Prince Paul of course) to the Steely Dan “Peg” sample. And look – it’s a great song. So slick and fun and groovy. But the thing is, what made me fall in love with “Eye Know” wasn’t the “Peg” loop. I realized (or perhaps remembered, see below) – literally yesterday – that it was The Mad Lads.

Those intro guitar strums? That was the initial hook for me. And the fact that the “Peg” baseline so closely follows them lead me to confuse them as being from the sample source. But while I still have affection for “Peg,” the things I liked best about “Eye Know” were those strums and the horns, all of which comes back to The Mad Lads.

File under irony: the first box set I ever bought was the Complete Stax/Volt Vol. 1 (but this song wasn’t on there).

File under irony, the sequel: I own this Mad Lads LP and apparently, I totally forgot about this song.

Now I’ll have to rethink my life narrative of the last 24 years.

P.S.: New De La album coming 2014. Bet on it.

SHADES OF SOUL, EP 1.3: THE SOUL JAZZ EPISODE

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Our latest episode of our Radio Sombra show, Shades of Soul, is dedicated the soul-jazz sound of the late ’60s (and its rediscovery and celebration in the 1990s). We end with a monster set of all five parts of the greater “Smilin’ Billy Suite”.

Shades of Soul 1.3: The Soul-Jazz Episode by Oliver Wang on Mixcloud

Visit the Radio Sombra page for the playlist.

SUMMER SONGS 2013: CHOIMATIC

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(Editor’s note: It’s time to bring back the Summer Songs after two seasons off. Our first guest is Moe Choi aka DJ Choimatic. I’ve known Moe for years, back when he was a big presence in the NY hip-hop club scene but in more recent years, Moe has branched out into everything from swanked-out weddings to Fashion Week runway shows to, you know, DJing parities on the roof of The Met. He’s got Billy Danze’s number on speed dial and the inside lane on YSL couture; that’s how he rolls. For his summer song post, Moe takes it back to ’90 and the era of the Wu-Tang Super Models. –O.W.)

George Michael: Freedom 90
From Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 (Columbia/Epic, 1990)

I lived with cousins for a summer when I was a kid. I credit a lot of my musical taste and knowledge to my cousin Eugene, who is 4 years older then me. He was up on The Smiths, Prince, Lightning Seeds, New Order, George Michael etc. and as a kid, I gravitated to his tastes on some “cooler, older lord” tip and that included “Freedom 90.”

I watched this video over and over as a kid especially since it set off my Linda Evangelista obsession. This was the era of the super models clique…Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford, aka the “we don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day” crew. To have all these breezys at the top of their game, in the same video, was some next level ish: they were the Wu-Tang Clan of the Model Game (with Linda as GZA. To this day, she is still my favorite model). I discovered “sexy” in music for the first time through “Freedom 90.” Fast forward to 2013, it still holds the weight. It’s aged magnificently.

It’s also my all-time favorite flip of “Funky Drummer” (sorry hip-hop purists).1 Sonically, the way the piano glides atop the drum loop is some amazing shit.

Also, as a working DJ, this is one of those cuts that I can play at almost any gig. It’s safe enough to run at a corporate function and sexy enough for a fashion event. You can easily drop this in a club setting or a secret, after-hours loft party. The build-up and chorus is epic to run as the last song at a wedding yet it’s not overplayed like Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” Black people, white people, Asian people, straights, gays, bisexuals, asexuals…everyone seems to melt when I throw this on. The energy, vibe, nostalgia this song invokes is magic. In other words, it’s the perfect summer song.

Big shout to Lauren Stout, Jenny Mac, Ise White, Nuna Kim, Natalie Blacker, Courtney Warco, Madonna, The Statue of Liberty & all the other fly womens in my life. Y’all form my super model clique. [insert jukebox explosion scene here]

P.S. I got 3 of them t-shirts.

Written by Moe Choi

  1. I’m also not mad at “Mantronix’s “Fresh is the Word”.”

L-O-V-E’S INSPIRATION

I totally forgot to share this anecdote from the other month. I got an email from DJ Day – if you haven’t copped Land of 1000 Chances yet…what you waiting for? – and he wanted to share this:

I don’t think I ever told you, but the last song on the album (“W-E-L-O-V-E“) is directly related to you. The basis of the song was all from one you played at the Ace that Sunday by the pool many, many moons ago. I ended up tracking the record down because of it and here we are. Just wanted you to know I owe that one to you.

Best –
Day

Suffice to say, that’s a really cool email to receive from an artist you respect. But the funny kicker? I couldn’t remember what song he was talking about. I finally just asked him and he reminded me but also asked I keep it under my hat. So if you know it, congrats! If you don’t, don’t worry: even I forgot it and I own the damn record.