I’ll have a much longer Al Green post coming up in the near future, in anticipation of the 4-CD, Immortal Soul of Al Green anthology that’s coming out in September. For just a taste now, this is one of my favorite songs off of one of my favorite albums of all time – Willie Mitchell’s production has never been better: the searing strings, the lushness of it all.
Clearly, I’m not the only one who thought so since Brand Nubian take a loop off this for “Momma,” off their new album. For Brand Nubian fans of old – the new album won’t come close in consistency or quality, but it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been (yeah, this is kind of damning with faint praise, but compared to say, Puba’s last solo LP, Fire in the Hole is a marked improvement).
The Emotion’s “Blind Alley” was the first break I ever heard: I remember that DJ Joe Quixxx and Beni B played it once on KALX (this was back in 1993 or so) and I recognized it as the sample behind AMG’s “Jiggable Pie,” (yeah, I was Kane ignorant at that point) and I thought: “wow, this is what an original sample sounds like.” As such, the song and album it comes from was the first I ever bought strictly to find a sample and I was lucky to have come upon it way back then – it is, by far, the hardest Emotions’ LP to locate and I don’t know if that’s because everybody wants it for the song or that the LP was never a big hit to begin with but either way, if you chance upon this, consider yourself fortunate.
What makes the song (and thus sample) so memorable is the intro melody with its distinctive electric piano(?) and bass accompaniment – soulful, funky and indelible. It’s no wonder the song has been used by so many producers. I’m assuming Marley Marl was the first, flipping the song for Big Daddy Kane’s “Ain’t No Half Steppin'” which remains as one of Kane’s best songs ever. So arrogant yet so smooth – the perfect braggadocio blend.
There’s no shortage of options for another example of “Blind Alley” in action but I went with Pharcyde’s “4 Better or 4 Worse” one of the stranger songs on an album soaked in strangeness. It’s not like no rappers before the Pharcyde had ever thought of comparing the mic to a woman but their invention of “Rhymalinda” is one for the ages as the various quartet members bemoan their complex, co-dependent relationship. If “Passin’ Me By,” was the angsty teenage love song that everybody could identify with, “4 Better,” was at the other end of the spectrum: it’s so outlandish the song is either inspired or insane or possibly, both. I’m still trying to figure out that bridge in the middle with the crazed phone stalker, talking about nibbling on homegirl’s fingers and other unmentionables
“Harlem Hendoo” is one of those songs that appears out of nowhere – no one would really expect Mr. Honey in the Horn Al Hirt to generate such a magical, mystical soul tune but there it is, on his Soul of the Horn (by the way, this album is extraordinarily hard to find for a Hirt LP). It is such a curious composition – playing Hirt’s trumpet off a harpsichord of all things and there’s that tinkling bell that sounds off at key moments. I find this tune absolutely sublime but it might have languished in complete obscurity had it not been for Prince Paul and De La Soul who lifted its beguiling melody for their “Ego Trippin’ Pt. 2”. They speed it up a bit, make the song feel faster but there’s no mistaking the horns and the jangling ‘chord in the background. Most recently, The Roots’ resurrect “Harlem Hendoo” for “Stay Cool” off their upcoming Tipping Point album. Clearly a nod to their De La mentors but also just a sign of good taste as they give a great song some further mileage