Sunday, January 31, 2010

posted by O.W.

I finally got around to catching up on my blog reading and noticed that Super Sonido recently wrote up Mon Rivera's "Lluvia Con Nieve." This salsa classic was introduced to me by Murphy's Law and I consider it one of my Top 3 go-to, never-fail salsa cuts to get an audience moving (Willie Colon holds down the other two with his "La Murga De Panama" and "Che Che Cole"). "Lluvia Con Nieve" fits right between those two - more aggressive and forceful than "Che Che Cole" though, for my money, nothing can ace the horn opening to "La Murga" but that "Lluvia" comes pretty damn close. Trust a trombonist to know how to use some brass to get feet to slide.

Super Sonido included Rivera's original plus a cover by Lucho Macedo on Virrey which I had never heard before (good stuff Frank!) and that made me think of this:

Carlos Pickling: Lluvia Con Nieve-El Molestoso
From Suplemento Dominical (MAG, 1970s)

Can't say I know much about this Peruvian organist except that he's, um, Peruvian and an organist. I picked this Mag LP up a while back, mostly on the strength of this medley/cover of "Lluvia Con Nieve" that segues nicely into "El Molestoso," a pachanga (Eddie Palmieri's?). The use of organ is what sells this cover for me, just adding enough of a touch of difference to stick in the ear.

Meanwhile, over at Philaflava's TROY blog, he's got the latest post in his "Who Flipped It Better" series up, focusing on samplings of Five Stairsteps' "Danger, She's a Stranger." It reminded me that I hadn't done an installment of my own, similar series in well over a year and as it was, in going back over some key Willie Mitchell productions, I forgot how many folks had flipped Al Green's "I Wish You Were Here."

Al Green: I Wish You Were Here
From Al Green Is Love (Hi, 1975)

Nas: Shootouts
From It Was Written (Columbia, 1996)

The Lootpack: Wanna Test
From Soundpieces: Da Antidote (Stones Throw, 1999)

Consequence feat. Kanye West: The Good, The Bad, the Ugly
From Don't Quit Your Day Job (Good, 2007)

Wu-Tang (Ghostface Killah + Tre Williams): I Wish You Were Here
From Chamber Music (E1, 2009)

I find it rather remarkable that this song has been such a popular sample over the years if only because it's just not what I associate with Green's core canon. Doesn't mean it isn't a great song and in particular, such a classic Willie Mitchell sound. On that note, it's rather amazing that no one in the Wu seemed to mess with this until last year given that it sounds pitch-perfect for the Wu's well-known affections for the Hi catalog.

However, it was Nas who seemed to have been the first to flip this (Poke and Tone of the Trackmasters to be more exact), back with "Shootouts" from It Was Written. Call me crazy but listening back to this, some 14 years later, doesn't one get the sense that Poke and Tone were listening to some of Rza's beats and thinking, "yo, we need to get on this steez?" In any case, I admire how they didn't opt for a straight loop but chop it up instead (Jesse "Fiyah!" West style!) Madlib's flip on the same sample for The Lootpack's "Wanna Test" doesn't cut things up as much, opting instead to filter parts of the main, opening loop to add some dissonance. Fast-forward to 2007 and it's an interesting contrast with how Kanye uses more of the original sample in its "pure" sonic form to open, but then chops it up a bit (w/ Green's vocals sped-up and attached) for the main parts of the song. Honestly, I think I gotta give it up to the Trackmasters for the best flip of this sample - it just has the most edge and appealing sound of the bunch.

Continuing my "songs I thought of while reading other people's posts" - Earfuzz has the new Kings Go Forth's single, "One Day" and that reminded me that I'm behind on posting this:

The One & Nines: Something On Your Mind
From The One & Nines EP (2009)

This soul band out of New Jersey (no Jersey Shore jokes, please) contacted me over winter break and I really dug this one song off their new EP. Reminds me of that Noisettes song I posted last year in general sound but sans the rock elements. The arrangement here is done with smart subtly - the song doesn't try to force an overly aggressive crescendo; it's content with maintaining a slow burn that sparks towards the end without ever departing too far from the core, Southern Soul aesthetics that make this such an appealing tune. (Excellent use of back-up singers too - this isn't nearly as acknowledged as it should be.)

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Friday, January 22, 2010

posted by O.W.

Apache: Gangsta Bitch
From Apache Ain't Shit (Tommy Boy, 1992)

This one bums me out.

Apache may not have been a major rapper - his career came and went within a few short years in the early/mid-90s - but if he's destined to be known as a one-hit wonder, I'd argue that "Gangsta Bitch" was one of the more influential of its era. Lyrically, the song roiled many, not the least of which was putting the word "bitch" out so prominently and, if I recall, it fed into concerns (read: paranoia) about girl violence in that era; Apache was accused of encouraging female delinquency and violence, blah blah blah. From what I can remember, while there were certainly female rappers boasting about their bad ass-ness (B.O.S.S. anyone?), Apache was one of the first male rappers I could remember, besides perhaps Ice Cube, to pen an anthem to hip-hop's gangstresses. Biggie hadn't come out with "Me and My Bitch" yet, let alone the Lox's Ride or Die Bitch" or any of the subsequent songs you can think of. So there's that.

But for me, Apache's verses weren't nearly as memorable as the beat - put together by Q-TIp in one of the first non-Tribe tracks I ever remember Tip's credit appearing on (this was before he gave tracks to Mobb Deep or Nas) and it was a beauty - total classic of its era. The drums come from Lonnie Smith's excellent soul-jazz-organ-puffer "Spinning Wheel" and four bars in, Tip hits you with a loop lifted from Monty Alexander's "Love and Happiness."


This track stays as one of my all time favorites and that's kept Apache alive in my memory for all these years. I suppose it's what will continue to even after his death.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

posted by O.W.

I was on WNYC's Soundcheck again last Friday, talking about hip hop in the '00s. Part of what I was asked to do, ahead of time, was submit my 3 top hip hop albums of 2009 and I'm not going to lie: I couldn't come up with three actual albums. In fact, none of the three I submitted were, technically, albums.

To be sure, I can't remotely claim to have heard much of what was released this year and the stuff I did hear just didn't move me to really admire them as albums. Sure, I liked some of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 but overall, I found the album overly long and kind of anemic for it. I admired Jay's Blueprint 3 but more for its calculated choices than anything inherently pleasurable about the CD as a listening experience. I jumped in and listened to about 50 Gucci Mane songs in a row (his Cold War mixtape series + the new album) just to see what the deal was and while I get his appeal, I'd rather re-listen to individual songs rather than trying to sit through any of the mix-CDs/albums as a whole. I'm not going to put this on hip-hop (well, not entirely). I could do a lot more to "stay current" but now that my writing has become more personally-driven (what I like) vs. professionally-driven (what I should be writing about), I just don't find much about today's hip-hop that speaks to me. People in my demographic aren't really who today's young rappers are aiming at. Either way, I've learned to catch my pleasures when I can, usually in single-servings, and I've learned to moderate my expectations as I recognize that the older I get, the distance between contemporary hip-hop and my tastes grow.

But for all that, I still leave myself open to crave those moments when a song will absolutely knock me on my f---ing ass, demand my attention and compel me to keep coming back to it. If you had told me that would be Jay Electronica, with a radio rip that skips, I would have laughed you out of the room but that's before I actually heard the song and once I did, all I could think was, "wait, this is that same dude who made this?" I was never checking for him before this song but after it? I'm thinking "Third Coming".

So yeah, this made my Top 3 even though it wasn't an album because frankly, I found the experience of listening to this more profound than most of the albums I actually did hear this year. And who knows - maybe his album (if it ever comes out) won't live up to this moment but I actually want to hear what he has to bring and that sense of anticipation is like water to the desert of my expectations.

So what's so good here?

Begin with the fact that it's the first unqualifiably incredible Just Blaze production I've heard in at least two years. There's the loop itself of course (more on this in a moment) but listen past just the actual sample. The added string arrangements don't just play off the main melody but they're also used to build tension as a second set of strings tick upward in a crescendo effect - all in key - so that by the peak moment, everything is aflame...only to start all over again for another 10 bar cycle (the 10 bar loop is also unusual since it plays against where you'd normally expect the progression to go). Pure intensity.

And yeah, Just was brilliant in playing with this Billy Stewart song:

Billy Stewart: Cross My Heart
From 7" (Chess, 1967). Also on The Best Of...

I confess that I had never heard this before but damn, what a great Stewart song, no? It opens like "Sitting In the Park" (I mean, exactly alike) but then when you get to hook - "lord, why don't you, send her to me?" is some magic, especially when followed by, "this fat boy is gonna love her!" Not a lyric you hear every day.

And speaking of lyrics - maybe it's just the acrobatics of it, but I can easily say that Jay's "call me Jay Electronica, f--- that, call me..." verse is probably the most jaw-dropping thing I've heard all year (except maybe for that Tiger Woods' voice mail message) and what leads up to there is pretty damn good too (loved the verse that immediately precedes it - it's not often you can hear Run DMC, Marcus Garvey and Nikola Tesla name-checked within three seconds of one another and it all makes sense.

Now where's the damn album?

As for my other favorite hip-hop moments of 2009, here's a sampling of Top 10 in reverse chronological order):

Jay Electronica: Exhibit C
Edan: Echo Party
Big Boi feat. Gucci Mane: Shine Blockas
Lupe Fiasco: Fire
Lil Wayne: Death of Autotune freestyle
MOP: Bang Time
Raekwon feat. Method Man and Ghostface: New Wu
The Cool Kids: Popcorn
Bambu: 2 Dope Boyz
Young Jeezy feat. Jay-Z: My President Is Black (remix)

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Monday, November 30, 2009

posted by O.W.

Bobby Reed: Time Is Right
From 7" (Bell, 196?)

Tek and Steele: We Came Up (Crystal Stair) (feat. Talib Kweli)
From Reloaded (Duck Down, 2005)

Tek and Steele: We Came Up (Bobby Reed Section)

My man Hua hepped me to this Smif N Wessun cut from 2005 that missed my radar and the first thing I noted was, "oh schnap, they're looping up Bobby Reed's "Time Is Right For Love," aka "one of the few records I'd current break the $300 mark to cop".

I can't believe I didn't already write about Reed for the site (I got brief mention before but never a dedicated thread.) Best. Thing. Ever. Seriously. This song is one of the best two minutes you'll ever enjoy. It's so good I'm not even going to try to explain why it's so good, lest I tarnish its greatness with my descriptive inadequacies.

Now - I'm not saying, at all, that this song needs a remix. But listening to "We Came Up" made me think, "ok, this is cool but honestly - I think someone could do a better job with it." I isolated the end of the song, where it's really just Reed's OG with a beat behind it so you can get a sense of how they play with it. (And yes, yes, I know, Saint Etienne already messed with this but I'm not really feeling their take either. And if you want to truly hear an abomination, check this.)

So heck, I know a few Soul Sides readers mess with production so I thought I'd put out a high-quality copy of the Reed to see what folks might come up with if anyone is so inclined. If anyone actually messes around with this, please send me a copy to peep.

Wait, did I already mention that the Reed original is one of the best things ever? And that I cannot believe I haven't written about it until now even though it's quite possibly my favorite record of the last two years?

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Friday, October 30, 2009

posted by O.W.

Bitty McLean: Walk Away From Love
From On Bond Street (Peckings, 2005)

Montclairs: Hey You!
From 7" single (Arch, 1969)

Captain Planet: Fumando
From Speakin Nuyorican EP (Bastard Jazz, 2009)

Big Boi w/ Gucci Mane: Shine Blockas
From Sir Lucious Leftfoot: Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam, forthcoming 2009/2010)

Jay Electronica: Exhibit C (radio rip)
From untitled(?) (Decon, forthcoming ?)

Lupe Fiasco: Fire
From Lasers (Atlantic, forthcoming 2009)

Clipse feat. Pharrell, Cam'ron: Popular Demand (Popeye's)
From Till the Casket Driops (Re-Up, forthcoming 2009)

I have a playlist I keep on my iPhone of all the songs that are at the top of my listening priorities but most of the time, I'll add just one or two songs to that list every week or two (if I'm lucky). In the last two weeks though, it's been like a deluge with quite a few things rolling through, including a few tracks that qualify as "today's best things ever" which mostly means I put them on single-song-repeat and just gorge on them.

Top of that list is Bitty McLean's cover of The Choice Four's "Walk Away From Love," a song most connected to David Ruffin's mid-70s recording of it. Let's first acknowledge that composer Charles Kipps penned an absolute gem here; it is such an incredibly well-written song about a someone who realizes that his relationship is fated to fail so he decides to "walk away from love/before love can break my heart." But here's what McLean does; first, he sets his song over the riddim from Alton Ellis' "Get Ready (Rocksteady)" (which is one of my favorite songs out of JA so this already looking good). Now...McLean sounds like he's 16 (he was really in his early 30s) with a very youthful tenor but Kipps' words to the work to make McLean sound more worldly and this all comes together at the chorus where McLean hits that falsetto during "breaks my heart..." Listen to the song and try NOT to sing along (even if you cause small animals sonic pain when hitting that top note) when he does this. It is magcial to me - despite being a song about heartbreak, when he gets there, I feel positively euphoric. Best thing ever. (By the way, the entire On Bond Street album is basically McLean singing over old rocksteady riddims).

The Montclairs song has also been in heavy rotation; it's a monster Northern Soul classic from the late '60s that's the best thing in this vein I've heard since first discovering Bobby Reed's "The Time Is Right For Love". I previously wrote about the Montclairs last summer but while the sweet soul on Dreaming Out of Season is lovely, "Hey You!" is on some whole other level. This has everything - great vocal performances, an irresistible uptempo track, and a general joyfulness that rings true with every snappy backbeat. Best thing ever.

Captain Planet's "Fumando" was, once upon a time, a track called "Boogaloo" which was (and still is) a favorite play-out track (and, as it were, appeared in an episode of Entourage). "Fumando" subtly upgrades the original "Boogaloo" track with some added melodic touches but at its core, it's still the same, bangin' track of guitars, horns, flutes, claps and that crisp breakbeat he's got popping off in the back. DJs - get familiar with this.

Ok, rap haters, feel free to leave now; the last four songs are all from upcoming hip-hop projects.

"Shine Blockas" comes from the long awaited Big Boi solo album that was first announced in 2007 but probably won't drop until late this year if not early 2010. Hua was the first to put me up on this, first by sending this to me on some, "this is pretty good." Then he followed up the next day with a succession of IMs: "I can't stop listening to this" and "have you listened to it yet?" and "Dude, what's your f---ng problem, this is fire, get with it already!" (ok, I'm making up the last one but I would have deserved it).

I don't know what it is but Southern flows over soul loops is a good combination - see here and here if you don't hear what I'm saying. This time around, it's not Willie Hutch (though that would have been a safe bet) but Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes with "I Miss You" (last heard(?) on Jay-Z's "This Can't Be Life" (ah, back when him and Beanie weren't beefing). I'm not clear on who produced this (google, you failed me!) but kudos on a nice flip of the Melvin that doesn't fuss around with it too much except for the drum programming. I can see why Hua put this on repeat - between the ultra-smoothness of the track and Big Boi's hopscotch flow this has "instant classic" slathered all over it. (I'm still forming an opinion of Mane's verse but I was impatient to hear Boi back so I guess that's not a ringing endorsement).

For Part 2 of "Southern dudes rapping over soul tracks," please to see NOLA's Jay Electronica (he of the "terrible name yet intriguing artist" sabor) rapping over a Just Blaze track that is just...uh, blaze. I've been wondering what the hell the Megatron Don's been up to and clearly, it's figuring out how to make a smooth ass Billy Stewart track sound like the world's end.

And here's the thing: that beat is like the least great thing about this song, which is to say, Blaze's track is aces but holy sh--, I had no idea Jay Electronica could bring it like this. Even though this is a radio rip, with drops making it hard to listen through, by the time the song hits the last verse, I can see why Tony Touch rewound it to play back again. I can't even transcribe it but *whew* cotdamn.

(By the way, this song encouraged me to go back and listen again to some of Jay E's other works, including Nas' "Queens Get the Money." I originally thought it was a track that screamed for a drum track but I now recognize the simple brilliance of keeping this to just the piano. Hypnotic power. This user-created video understands this by extending that piano passage into a long instrumental before Nasir comes in on it.

Lupe isn't Southern and Jimi Hendrix isn't soul but whatever - "Fire" is a great pairing between the Chicago rapper and a Jimi classic that burns baby burns here. I'll be amazed if they manage to actually clear this sample for use (see what happened to Fat Joe's "Hey Joe") but I hope they do. This sh-- is a Leatherface mallet to the head; feeling the distorted mic approach Lupe takes here. Seriously, between this and the last two songs, 4th Q 2009 sounds a lot like 2006 (and I mean that in the best way possible).

...and just to complete that cipher, we have a new track from the Clipse and Neptunes, with Cam'ron cameoing. Straight up - this isn't incredible or anything, just merely good but I'm willing to settle for that given how some of the Clipse's other recent material was jaw-droppingly weak plus the Neptunes and Cam have stayed MIA for a minute. Cam's turn here isn't much to write home about (surprisingly) but the one shining spot is that beat. "Sparkling" comes to mind even though it also sounds like something the Neptunes might have hooked up years ago. Good enough is good enough.

(Oh, by the way, I have three CDs - two soul mixes, one Aretha special - all about to come up for the offering. It's been a long time but I hope I've made up for the hiatus).

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

posted by O.W.

Lyn Christopher: Take Me With You
From S/T (Paramount, 1973)

Tyrone and Carr: Take Me With You
From 7" single (Jam, 1973). Also on Kings of Diggin'.

Here's a bit of a musical mystery...

Unless you're a hardcore KISS fan - or are just into LPs with foxy ladies on the cover - "Take Me With You" is probably the only Lyn Christopher song you've ever heard. And even then, had it not been for the Smut Peddlers, you probably wouldn't even say that much. Nonetheless, Christopher's self-titled debut - and the 7" version of "Take Me With You" - have been heavy collectibles by at least two different crowds. The first are KISS fans; Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley played on her album before they would blow up as KISS (technically, I think the band existed but their debut album wouldn't come out until 1974).

After Smut Peddlers looped this up lovely in 1998, it then got "outed" on Dusty Fingers Vol. 3 and that all helped blow things up for sample hounds who began to chase after the LP and 7" versions. It's easy to see why: it is so downright sultry and funky, possessed of a seductive sensuality that rings through when Christopher croons, "every morning/every evening." Yes, please, take us with you.

But here's the thing...I heard what I thought was a cover of this song by Tyrone and Carr on the Kings of Diggin' compilation by Kon, Amir and Muro (this being one of the songs on K&A's half). It's a very similar version, especially with that telltale bassline that's such a distinctive part of both. Tyrone and Carr's approach is more modern soul-y (if you had told me this was recorded in the early '80s, I would have totally believed that). Very smooth stuff and nice use of both acoustic guitar and electric keys. The interplay between male and female vocals is also an interesting approach, as is the shift in the back half of the song with the addition of horns and more percussion.

It took a minute but I was lucky enough to come two copies of their single - one of Jam from 1973, the other being the second issue on DJM from '75. And this is where things get interesting...

Which is the cover? I think most have assumed it was Christopher first but only because hers is, by virtue of its noteriety, the definitive version. But all that means is that she has the best known version, not necessarily the first.

Both releases are credited to 1973 though this site puts Tyrone and Carr's single as a March 1973 release, making it less likely that they're covering Christopher unless her album came out Jan 1 or something. However, on Christopher's own site, it says the album was recorded in 1972, which would put it ahead of the Tyrone and Carr 7".

However, "Take Me With You" was written by Kaplan Kaye, a producer and songwriter who worked for... Jam. It seems more likely to me that Kaye gave his song to an artist on the label he works for and that song goes on to get covered elsewhere than for him to give the song to Christopher and then return to find a Jam artist to record it.

Moreover, musically, I feel like it Christopher's version sounds like a cover insofar as it adds something that isn't there on Tyrone and Carr's - the very beginning of the song with that haunting back-and-forth between the (what the hell is it? A guitar? A horn?) and bassline. That sounds like something a smart arranger throws on to distinguish their cover from the original. In contrast, the Tyrone and Carr don't have anything like that - the bassline is there but that's it. It's possible they could have stripped off Christopher's intro but it's so distinctive, you'd think if theirs was the cover, they'd try to riff off it somehow.

There's nothing "at stake" here except simply establishing a correct timeline of who-covered-who. Personally, I love insider baseball stuff like this and besides, it gives me the opportunity to post up what I think are two excellent tunes, regardless of which came first.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

posted by O.W.

Melvin Bliss: Synthetic Substitution
From 7" single (Sunburst, 1973)

UBB: Synthetic Substitution
From 7" single (Street Beat, 2009)

It took a long, long, long time, but I finally got around to copping Melvin Bliss' breakbeat classic, "Synthetic Substitution." In a sense, it's a song I've heard many times, at least the first bar, given how popular a drum break it's been. But it's been a long time since I actually listened to the song itself and when it arrived in the mail, I threw it on and just let it ride and was reminded of this:

It is one of the more eclectic of the classic breakbeat songs I can think of. James Brown songs - "Funky Drummer" - are awesome but they're straight ahead funk tunes. They "make sense" the same way Skull Snaps' "It's a New Day" or the Honeydrippers' "Impeach the President" make sense; they're great tunes but nothing about them necessarily throw you.

"Synthetic Substitution" totally throws me. Just listen to how it unfolds: that signature breakbeat gives way to the darkness of the keys, then an unexpected vocal drop-in which is so solemn in tone. Listen to the lyrics - it's some heady stuff. But then the song swings in feel midway through (I want to say it goes from minor to major but I may be wrong) only to give back ground to the song's inherent somberness. This song may be many things but simple or straight forward it is not.

Earlier in the year, the Ultimate Beats and Breaks (band?) released an instrumental cover of the song that's been getting some good responses. I think it's pretty solid but to me, the song isn't the same sans lyrics. I'll let you decide.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

posted by O.W.

Jackson 5: Walk On By
From Goin' Back to Indiana (Motown, 1972)

Public Enemy: By the Time I Get To Arizona
From Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black (Def Jam, 1991)

Mandrill: Two Sisters of Mystery
From Just Outside of Town CD (LP version) (Polydor, 1973)

I had made passing reference to the Jackson 5 song during all the MJ coverage - it's from a medley of "Walk On By/Love You Save" recorded for the group's live Goin' Back to Indiana album. It's hard to imagine someone really improving one of the most epic, monster funk jams in soul music history but the Jackson 5 really understand the power of that vamp, especially at the breakdowns that come back every 30 seconds.

It's the incredible ferocity of this moment that Public Enemy so beautifully wields to their full advantage on "By the Time I Get to Arizona." What they do at 2:47 in their song is nothing short but a complete distillation of the badassessence of everything that came before it - The Jackson 5, Isaac Hayes, heck, we'll show Burt Bacharach and Hal Davis love here too. They then take this 200 proof spirit, douse the song in it and then light it all on fire.

To put it in a less convoluted-metaphoric way: the moment where the vamp slams in on "Arizona" is, to me, the "Greatest Moment of a Public Enemy Song That Doesn't Come At the Beginning."

Seriously, think about this a second: P.E. has probably the all-time best song openers in hip-hop history. To wit:

1) How Flavor Flav's "yeaaaah, boy!" slides into Chuck D's "bass!" at the beginning of "Bring the Noise."
2) Chuck and Flavor Flav combining to yell, "Nineteen Eighty Nine!" on "Fight the Power."
3) The horn punches sliding into the descending sax - plus Chuck's "Yes!" - on "Rebel Without a Pause."
4) The line, "I got a letter from the government, the other day..." on "Black Steel In the Hour of Chaos." get the idea.

In this case, the key moment isn't at the song's beginning but rather, when "Walk On By" drops in unexpectedly, as Chuck intones, "by the time I get to Arizona!"

The impact is simply devastating. The group flips the first chorus of the Jackson 5 song, which includes the screams of the audience. On the Jackson 5, those screams reflect the fans' excitement; on "Arizona," they sound more like cries of terror, as if P.E. has swept into AZ with an ungodly fury. This is Krishna's arrow, Fudo's sword, Thor's hammer. It takes a nation of a million Minutemen to hold them back.

Lastly, I'd be remiss in not at least giving due credit to the excellence that is Mandrill's "Two Sisters of Mystery" since it provides the main loop that runs through "Arizona." On any other song, this would be the highlight - those angry, buzzing guitars, the slurring bassline - but as good as it is, when the J5 come through, there's no contest.

(A note by a commentor reminded me that I should link to the video for "Arizona" which takes things to a whole 'nother level. I forgot they even made a video for the song and watching it now, you can see that even visually, the group knew how to time the use of the "Walk On By" vamp perfectly with the explosion of violence you see depicted on screen. Mississippi goddamn, this was one incredible video.)

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

posted by O.W.

Jay-Z: Never Change (Dilla Remix)
From Jimmy Green's What if J Dilla Produced The Blueprint? (2009)

It's a bit odd that in 2009, someone would mash-up Jay-Z's 2001 album, Blueprint with a series of J-Dilla beats. Furthermore, let's just answer the question:

If Dilla had produced The Blueprint, Jay-Z would have taken an L. That's no diss on Jay Dee but c'mon now - it's not like Kanye West and Just Blaze were exactly slacking on what's arguably one of the best produced albums this decade. What's next? "What if J Dilla Produced It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back?" (Note: maybe Def Jam should release the acapellas to that album).

All this said, I have to admit that I am loving this remix of "Never Change." I'm not saying it's better than the OG, I'm just saying it's good - so laid-back yet slightly sinister.

And it really brings to mind how Burt Bacharach compositions (in this case, "The Look of Love") make for potentially great sample fodder given that 1) they're familiar enough to catch our attention and 2) they're generally classics in basic, simple but rich songwriting and arrangements. When I was listening to this, I immediately thought of another mash-up from a couple years back:

Biggie and Lil Wayne: If You See Me Walking
From Mick Boogie and Terry Urban's Unbelievable: A Tribute to Biggie Smalls (2007)

This time, it's a flip on a pre-Isaac Hayes version of Burt's "Walk On By."

And heck, if we're going own the memory lane of "rap songs flipping Burt beats" then we can't forget this twist on Johnny Pate's version of "Look of Love":

Show and A.G.: You Know Now (Buckwild Remix)
From Goodfellas (Payday, 1995)

And just to really blow your mind, here's the Jackson 5 throwing down their take on Isaac Hayes' version of "Walk On By." The LP version of this appeared on their live Goin' Back to Indiana album.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

posted by O.W.


Jay-Z: The Death of Auto-Tune
From Blueprint 3 (Upcoming, 2009)

Now that it's been out there for a couple of weeks, what's the verdict on this new Jay Z song?

Personally, on first listen, the joint is rather fuego, especially as No I.D. hooks up a basher of a beat that has shades of "The Takeover" but instead of the Doors, the Chicago producer digs into his bag of library records:

Janko Nilovic: In the Space
From Psyc' Impressions (Montparnasse, 1970)

Lyrically...I wanted to like this more than what's actually there to like. For one thing, it's about a year late and the timing here is everything - I read how someone called this "a trend song about a trend" and that's exactly on-point. Provided, it's not as out-of-time as some of Eminem's leftover disses from 2004 showing up on Relapse, but in 2009, auto-tune has already become so parodied, even Wendy's is up on it.

It's not a bad song, all just feels like something that screams "mixtape cut" (which, who knows, maybe all it will end up as).

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Friday, May 29, 2009

posted by O.W.

Peter Ivers Group feat. Asha Puthli: Ain't That Peculiar
From 7" (Epic, 1971)

Asha Puthli: You've Been Loud Too Long
From She Loves to Hear the Music (CBS, 1974)

Asha Puthli: Space Talk + LP sampler
From The Devil Is Loose (CBS Germany, 1976). Also on vinyl LP.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, I had the immense pleasure to meet Asha Puthli and hopefully will be working with her on a future project. That encounter encouraged me to revisit her substantial catalog and that's been such a fun, revelatory experience.

It starts with a song by her I had never heard before but Asha was kind enough to burn a copy for me - her singing with the Peter Ivers Group back in the early 1970s, covering Marvin Gaye's big Motown classic, "Ain't That Peculiar." This wasn't her first recording but it was (I believe) her first US release, recorded for a full album that was meant to be Ivers' follow-up to his well-regarded 1969 LP, Knight of the Blue Communion (I'll have to post up about that LP at some point too). For reasons I'm not clear about, the album feat. Asha, entitled Take It Out On Me was never released by Epic but the single did make its way out. It's definitely not something that will remind people instantly of Gaye's iconic version - Ivers adds a strong funk element to the rhythm section and it's actually quite a sparse song in many ways (despite the surprise harmonica) and Asha's voice - light but distinct - works nicely here, especially as she plays with the arrangement most of know through Marvin. I like this one a lot - it reminds me of Smith's "Baby, It's You" in terms of how a rock band interprets an R&B tune.

Asha's second full-length solo album was She Loves to Hear the Music, released in 1974, with production principally from disco master Teo Macero and Paul Phillips (I'm assuming he of later Hi Tension fame?). I'm not 100% clear who produces "You've Been Loud Too Long," but I've loved this song for years - it's a spunky bit of Southern fried funk that seems to mesh Wardell Quezergue with Van McCoy (who works on this album so for all I know, he produced it!). I played this out at Boogaloo[la] the other week and one of the guys working security asked if it was Minnie Riperton; I hadn't thought of that before but there's definitely an affinity shared between singers like Puthli, Riperton and Linda Lewis.

The one album that was new to me was The Devil Is Loose and I'm not even certain why it took me so long to listen to it but it is good. Very very good. Rush-out-and-get-this-now good. For starters, I think it showcases the possibilities of what disco could bring to pop music that defies all the haters and naysayers - the gloss and glean in the production (all by Dieter Zimmerman) isn't window dressing but an integral part to sonic texture of the album. It's subtly lush, with Zimmerman and Puthli smartly keeping things a bit cool and controlled rather than give into sweeping excess. Moreover, the diversity of styles here are impressive, ranging from the quiet ballad "Let Me In Your Life" (the last song on the sampler) to the slinky funk of "Flying Fish" to the sheer pop charm of "Hello Everyone." The album's best known song (also released on 12") however is "Space Talk," another funky excursion, and arguably, a big influence of the evolution of European disco. If it sounds familiar to some, it may be because the song's been popular sample fodder, including for Biggie.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

posted by O.W.

Andy Loore (aka Janko Nilovic): Opium Du Diable + Mixed Drums
From Ambiance Rhythmes Vol. 5 (Neuilly, 1970)

Andy Loore is one of the nearly dozen pseudonyms used by French composer Janko Nilovic, arguably that country's finest purveyor of funky library-style recordings in the 1960s and '70s. These two songs come off of one of his more obscure recordings - a 1970 10" (yeah, weird, right?) for the library imprint Neuilly and the entire side B is basically a series of sick drum, bass and organ workouts. As befits a song that translates into "Opium of the Devil," "Opium Du Diable" has a slow, druggy feel to it in the beginning and then gradually switches up into more of a psychedelic, mod-soul tune once the organ winds its way in. (Drugs were apparently big on Nilovic's mind since this same EP also has a song called "Enfer Et Marijuana" on it).

For pure minimalist funk though, it's hard to find too many songs better than "Mixed Drums," a tune most have either heard through the Beatnuts' using it for "It's the Nuts" or else on one of the Dusty Fingers volumes that comped it. As one of my friends like to put it, "this tune is hip-hop before there was a hip-hop." I feel that.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

posted by O.W.

Ohio Players: Ecstasy
From Ecstasy (Westbound, 1973)

It's always a nice surprise to engage a song you've known for years but never really listened to until you happen upon it again and realize: holy sh--, this is awesome."

That happened when I was scrolling through the "Beat Deconstruction" of Reasonable Doubt written by Dan Love and posted to Jef Weiss' blog. I was flipping through the various songs and arrived at the Ohio Players' "Ecstasy," which I've owned for years but I realized, at best, I probably listened to the track at "the middle distance," (i.e. a song you hear in a room someplace, not quite in the background but not in the car or on headphones either).

I'm not sure why, this time, I stuck with the song but by about a minute in, I was convinced this was possibly one of the greatest things ever. I know I avoided going all formalist deconstruction on "Maybe So, Maybe No," but I feel compelled to go all hyper-dissection on "Ecstasy," mostly because I marvel over how this song manages to work so well with its subtle touches.

For one, the main rhythmic/melodic cycle is in five bars, not the conventional four (if I recall, that's why "Brooklyn's Finest" has Jay-Z and Biggie switching off every five bars, which is pretty unusual in a rap song). And I like the call-and-response in the rhythm section between the first three beats in each measure and that heavy emphasis on the "one". That's most obvious during the part of the song where the back-up singers cry out "oh!" but even before that, the squeal of the guitar on the first beat of each bar already sets up that relationship. And do you catch how a tambourine comes in for the first time, midway through the song? It's not that prominent but texturally, it adds another layer of sonic dynamics.

And hell, what can you say about Sugarfoot on the vocals? He's halfway incomprehensible (I suppose, overcome with ecstasy), not to mention inexplicably going from talking to the audience, "let me tell you about my baby," to talking to his lover, "loving you is ecstasy to me", and while it'd be a serious mistake to try to copy his vocals, you find yourself trying to hit those falsetto notes as he screams and hollers his way through the his half of the song. And heck, I haven't even gotten to talk about how great the back-up singers are here or the beauty of the piano melody.

In short, I just love how with every five bars, this song evolves and shifts, with a new set of surprises awaiting. The only part that doesn't work is the sax that comes in at the end - a bit too "cheesy sax" for my taste but then again, the song pretty much ends before it gets too grating so hey, even that one weak point is quickly swept away.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

posted by O.W.

Mophono: The Shuffle
From 7" ("Tighten Up") (CB, 2007)

Mophono: The Edge Remix
From 7" (CB, 2008)

Mophono, aka DJ Centipede, is a Bay Area DJ and producer whose put out three very cool 7" projects on CB Records so far. His first was more of a downtempo experiment from 2005, the I Cry EP but his last two have both been remix projects. My favorite has been his reworking of Bob and Earl's 1963 hit, "Harlem Shuffle" which strips down the song's basic parts and reassembles them with a funk (and psych) edge that gives the song a completely new feel - far more raucous and dark than its original inspiration. I liked it even more than the A-side, a remix of Archie Bell's classic "Tighten Up."

On his latest 7", Mophono tackles two hip-hop classic sample sources - including "Groovin" by Allen ToussaintWillie Mitchell which should be familiar to Wu Tang fans the world over. On the A-side, he plays with "The Edge," by David McCallum (but produced by David Axelrod) but first begins with an impressive chop job of Sly Stone's pre-Family Stone single "Rock Dirge" and its glorious drums.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

posted by O.W.

Alicia Keys: Teenage Love Affair
From As I Am (J Records, 2007)

The Temprees: (Baby) I Love You
From The Lovemen (We Produce, 1972)

If people thought my recent discovery of Lorraine Ellison was surprising, get this: I basically slept on the entire last Alicia Keys' album until, um, now. Provided, being 15 months late (Keys) may not seem much compared 40 years (Ellison) but considering that Keys' album is multiple times platinum and she's not exactly an obscure pop figure, it's understandably strange that I would have missed the boat on this one...especially since I genuinely like Keys. But somehow, I totally missed the release of As I Am back in Sep. of 2007 and with the exception of "No One" (which was inescapable), I hadn't heard anything else off it.

So it's pretty funny that suddenly, "Teenage Love Affair" has been on constant rotation. It's rarely that I dig a new pop song that fact, the last tune to have earned the "repeat 1" button was...Keys' "You Don't Know My Name." You would have thought I would have learned the last time!

So yeah, yeah, I get the late pass. I don't really care though - better late than never to discover one of your favorite songs of the year...a year late. Few thoughts:

1) 'Nuff respect to Jack Splash for hooking up this Temprees song. Ironically, I posted on the very album this song appears on earlier this year but I never really gave "Baby, I Love You" much spin and it took Splash's track to make me better appreciate the O.G. tune (viva sampling!). Dare I say though: he gives the original loop a boost that makes this a rare case where the progeny >>> progenitor. Specifically, the way he makes the guitar even more prominent and milks the keys are what help give Alicia's song such a memorable musical hook. Nice work and it also made me look up Splash's overall credits which, I was pleased to note, included some of my favorite songs off Estelle and Solange Knowle's albums. (Jack - if you ever want to do a summer songs post, holler).

2) Some have accused Keys of going too far towards the "big diva" vocal over-singing and while I can see that applied to "No One," I found her performance here more nuanced. The high point comes with the bridge towards the end where she slips into her "First base, second base" countdown. And while it may be in keeping with the song's "high school love" theme for her to "pump the brakes" on third base, it was refreshing to hear a pop song that wasn't drowning in sexuality. Not that I mind the latter but maybe as a parent now, I find a touch of chasteness to be charmingly chaste.

3) The video for the song is enjoyable on a whole 'nother level. Swoon.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

posted by O.W.

Q-Tip: Won't Trade + Believe (feat. D'Angelo)
From The Renaissance (Motown, 2008)

Ruby Andrews: You Made a Believer Out Of Me
From 7" (Zodiac, 1969). Also on Casanova.

Large Professor: For My People
From The LP (Geffen, unreleased, 1995)

Having sat with Q-Tip's new album for a few...I have to say, this is phenomenal. I know I may be biased - like many rap fans who grew up in the 1990s, Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest might very have been to us what the Beatles were to my parents' generation. Especially given that Q-Tip has been incognito now for the last 9 years, since Amplifeid dropped (and Kamaal The Abstract did not), Q-Tip's coming back into the game at a risky time. Young bucks don't necessarily know him and old heads might have too-high expectations after such a long hiatus.

I can't speak to whether The Renaissance is going to intuitively appeal to the same cats bumping T.I. and Young Jeezy (though, in T.I.'s case, maybe they are) but as an old head, The Renaissance not only reminds us why Q-Tip was one of our favorite MCs a decade but he's also - remarkably - improved in that time off. I can't think of too many other rappers who could claim that but Tip's upgraded his flow. It's more rhythmically complex, more in-the-pocket yet can play off the beat when it wants to. Listen to how he just darts effortlessly on "Won't Trade" - this is not the same laconic, breezy flow from the days of "Bonita Applebaum."

Personally, I was also tickled by the fact that Tip uses one of my favorite femme funk singles of all time: Ruby Andrews' "You Made a Believer" out of me. Andrews' original is ferocious - I think that's the Brothers of Soul backing her and they cook up a monster of a funk mover here.

Q-Tip's sample choice actually has some Native Tongues resonance since De La Soul used the same loop all the way back in 1989 for a bonus skit called "Brain Washed Follower."

However, as I just suggested, Q-Tip is still down with the Abstract Poet vibe, recreating some of the magic of the Tribe era with songs that have a rich, emotional resonance thanks to the soul and jazz stylings and accented by Tip's own philosophical meditations. A track like "Believe" (the album's penultimate song) embodies the same qualities that Tip's embodied throughout his career - putting the MIA D'Angelo in the mix only enhances the sweetness.

I was enjoying the track so much, I didn't notice this right away but it dawned on me that it sounded familiar and then it hit me - this version of "Believe" interpolates a very similar beat to what Large Professor cooked up all the way back in 1996 for his doomed solo debut, The LP. In some ways, the two men share more than just musical tastes - both had bitter label experiences resulting from unreleased projects. Though Large Professor's new Main Source hasn't garnered the same attention (or strong reviews), there's a nice serendipity to having the unreleased song from one man's album being remade for the comeback album of the other.

If you want to check out my radio review of this album, voila.
(This post originally written for Side Dishes).

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

posted by O.W.

Soul II Soul: Back To Life (acapella mix)
From 12" (Virgin, 1989)

Bonnie and Shelia: You Keep Me Hanging On
From 7" (King, 1971). Also on New Orleans Funk Vol. 2.

Patti Drew: Stop and Listen
From Tell Him (Capitol, 1967). Also on Workin' On a Groovy Thing.

Bobby Matos: Nadie Baila Como Yo
From My Latin Soul (Phillips, 1968)

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: If You Can Want
From Special Occasion (Motown, 1968)

Menahan Street Band: Home Again
From Make the Road By Walking (Dunham/Daptone, forthcoming 10/14/08)

Final Solution: I Don't Care
From Brotherman soundtrack (Numero Group, 2008)

Freeway: Let the Beat Build freestyle
From ? (?, 2008)

Q-Tip: Gettin' Up
From The Renaissance (Motown, forthcoming 2008)

Black Ivory: You and I
From Don't Turn Around (Today, 1972)

It's the end of another summer, alas.

Looking back over the summer songs season, I wanted to do the last post on the songs that ended up forming my personal soundtrack the last few months. To be honest, I thought this list would be a lot longer than it ended up being but I wanted to keep it to songs that I kept returning to over and over rather than something I found merely "good."

Soul II Soul's acapella mix of "Back to Life" came at me three different ways: Murphy's Law dropped it at Boogaloo[la] and reminded me how cotdamn fresh it was, Greg Tate's Summer Songs post made me revisit the Soul II Soul catalog and I finally saw Belly which makes incredible use of the song to open the movie. Personally, I grew impatient to actually get to where the beat drops so I edited my version down to about a 30 second teaser before the "Impeach the President" drums kick in. As ML showed me, it's always a fun cut to play out.

The Bonnie and Sheila, I have to admit, I learned about first through a quirky youtube video[1] and I wondered how the hell I didn't know about this earlier. Great little slice of New Orleans funk produced by the great Wardell Quezergue and released on King (the Cincinnati label most associated with James Brown). Words are insufficient to explain to you how much I love this song.

The Patti Drew I owe to Chairman Mao. When I interviewed him for Asia Pacific Arts, he mentioned "Stop and Listen" as an example of a great soul tune that doesn't cost and arm and a leg yet sounds like a million bucks (not his exact words but you catch the meaning). I couldn't agree more. Don't sleep on the equally excellent ballad, "Tell Him" on the same album.

I had totally forgotten about the Bobby Matos and Combo Conquistadores song, "Nadie Baila Como Yo" (nobody dances like me) off the incredible My Latin Soul album until I heard the Boogaloo Assassins play it at their shows. This may very well elevate itself to my top 10 Latin soul songs given how it changes up chord progressions and tepos not once but twice - it's like getting three songs in one; one of the marks of a superior son montuno. I can't believe I slept on this track all these years.

I found the Smokey Robinson and Miracles song during my search through Motown's catalog to find tracks to play out that wasn't part of their Big Chill/Greatest Hits collection and I never failed to be amazed at the generosity of greatness that Motown provided over the years. For those who think Smokey is all droopy ballads, "If You Can Want" is a loud, proud wake-up call of funky power. How has no one ever done a 12" edit of this?

I already wrote about the Menahan Street Band and Brotherman songs already but they're so nice, I had to list 'em twice.

Freeway's freestyle over "Let the Beat Build" goes well with my official, beginning of the summer post where I nodded at Lil Wayne's original. Free, who had one of the best albums of last year that few seemed to notice, murders over Kanye's beat here. After, uh, a million subpar "A Milli" freestyles, I was happy to hear someone pick a different track to rip.

The last song is one I should have started the summer with. Late pass. Q-Tip's had a rough, um, decade so far in terms of being able to get this music to the masses but I'm hoping "Gettin' Up" does it right for him in preparation for his Renaissance album. This is, by far, the best thing I've heard from 'Tip since this and without getting all misty-eyed for my halcyon teens and 20s, listening to Tribe, this song just f---ing sounds good in the way the best Tribe songs just sounded f---ing good. (No doubt, it helps that the sample source is also f---ng good: "You and I" by Black Ivory. Read more here.).

By the way, if I had to pick my absolute favorite song of the summer...surprisingly, it'd end up being Solange Knowles' "I Decided." Don't ask me why but this has stuck with me the entire time through without ever ceasing to be pleasurable.

And with that...I bid all you adieu until next May but hope you keep the memory of summer in your mind alive until then.[2]

[1] Don't laugh - he dances better than you.

[2] Unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

posted by O.W.

DeBarge: Love Me In a Special Way
From In a Special Way (Gordy, 1983)

AZ: Love Me In a Special Way
From S.O.S.A. (N/A, 2000)

Face it, early '80s R&B was far better then you think you remember it.

AZ knew what's up. (So does MAN).

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Monday, September 08, 2008

posted by O.W.

Common feat. Bilal: Play Your Cards Right
From Smokin' Aces soundtrack (Lakeshore, 2007)

Joe Bataan: Under the Street Lamp
Available on Under the Streetlamps: The Joe Bataan Anthology 1967 - 1972 (Fania/Emusica, 2008)

Joe Bataan was just here in Los Angeles the last week or so (and I feel stupid for not posting up links to his performances) and we caught up twice during that time, including one meeting where he broke down the entire history behind "Rap-O, Clap-O". Fascinating stuff and I'll have to try to write that up sometime.

Anyways, the other time we met, he was asking me if I knew anything about this Common song that sampled one of his songs. Joe had gotten a check for the clearance but hadn't heard the actual use of the song yet. Not having really followed the sampling game that closely of late, I couldn't think of anything off the top so we sat down and googled it and sure enough, it was Common's "Play Your Cards Right" from last year's Smokin' Aces soundtrack. And once you hear it, it's plain as day that producer Kareem Riggins had looped up Joe's great "Under the Street Lamp" (from his Singin' Some Soul album originally). (Joe got a kick out of hearing his song sampled).

He was also gracious enough to sign a copy of his anthology that I did the liner notes for and I'm going to give this away to one lucky (and informed) reader.

To be eligible, send an email to soulsides AT with the subject line "Joe Bataan giveaway." You need to answer the following:
    1) What Latin producer of Alegre fame did Joe Bataan record with prior to signing with Fania?

    2) How many original albums (not including compilations or reissued content) did Joe record for Fania (this is a trick question of sorts so think it through carefully)?

    3) Some of Joe's most successful songs have been covers: "Gypsy Woman, "Shaft," "The Bottle." Name the original artists behind these other Joe Bataan songs:
    a. "It's a Good Feeling (Riot)"
    b. "I'm No Stranger"
    c. "Make Me Smile"

    4) What Ismael Miranda boogaloo mash-up/cover of "Tighten Up" does Joe Bataan make a cameo on? Name the song and album.

    5) What pseudonym did Joe take on when he recorded for Bobby Marin's Dynamite label?

    6) Two different songs that Joe recorded earlier in his career ended up re-released on later albums in their intact (i.e. non-rerecorded) form. One was "Ordinary Guy" - the same version appears on both Riot and Singin' Some Soul. What is the other song and which two albums did it appear on?

    7) What classic from Joe's repertoire appears on his Salsoul album, but with a different name?

    8) What's different about the 7" version of "Woman Don't Want to Love Me" compared to the LP version from Afrofilipino (be specific)?

    9) What old school rap duo was supposed to appear on "Rap-O, Clap-O" instead of Joe rapping himself?

    10) What martial art are Joe's children all masters of?
I'll select a winner at random from those with the most correct answers. Deadline: next Monday.

I also have a second (unsigned) copy of the anthology to give away, randomly, to those who buy Deep Covers 2 in the next week. (Physical CD orders only, digital downloads don't apply, sorry).

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Monday, August 11, 2008

posted by O.W.

Mighty Voices of Wonder: I Thank the Lord
From Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal (Numero Group, 2006)

JoAnn Garrett: Walk On By
From Just a Taste (Chess, 1969)

Joe Bataan: Shaft
From Saint Latin's Day Massacre (Fania, 1972)

Lyn Collins: Do Your Thing
From James Brown's Funky People Pt. 2 (Polydor, 1988)

El Michels Affair: Hung Up On My Baby
From Sounding Out the City (Truth and Soul, 2006)

As promised, a few cover songs of Isaac Hayes tunes and compositions in honor of the late master's catalog. To be honest, it's not quite as easy as you'd think. True, there's a gazillion "Shaft" covers but remember that in Hayes' post-Hot Buttered Soul career, most of his groundbreaking songs were reinterpretations of other people's songs rather than original compositions. That said, in the case of JoAnn Garrett's "Walk On By," it's clear that she's working off of Hayes' epic version rather than playing with the Bacharach/Warwick versions.

We start though with a Hayes/Porter composition, a very striking gospel funk cover of Sam and Dave's "I Thank You" renamed into "I Thank the Lord" by the Mighty Voices of Wonder. The gospel group takes a more lo-fi approach which only makes the opening drums that much rougher. Good god, indeed.

I generally am not a huge fan of the "Shaft" theme regardless of who is performing it but hey, if my man Joe Bataan is going to cover it, I might as well let it shine. This was a surprising hit for him, so much so that Fania came out with a second run of his Sweet Soul LP and put it on there and then released it, again, on Joe's last album for Fania, Saint Latin's Day Massacre. Caliente!

Lyn Collins' incredible cover of "Do Your Thing" (probably the best thing to come off the Shaft soundtrack) actually never was released back in the '70s when it was first recorded. Instead, it found exposure finally in 1988 as part of Polydor's hugely successful James Brown's Funky People series. How successful? Enough so that Collins' long-delayed version found instant fans amongst rap producers, including Dr. Dre who hooked it up lovely for Above the Law's "Another Execution" circa 1990.

"Hung Up On My Baby," from the Tough Guys soundtrack was another hip-hop favorite back in the '90s which no doubt influenced Brooklyn's El Michels Affair to cover the song on their excellent, slept-on 2006 debut (they also did a nice job with "Walk On By" as fans of Soul Sides Vol. 2 already know). I like their take on "Hung Up," - it's cooler, a bit chiller in the cut but still has that classic melody that's so haunting.

Feel free to add your own favorite Hayes covers in the comments.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

posted by O.W.

Gladys Knight: Try to Remember/The Way We Were
From I Feel a Song (Buddah, 1974). Also on The Essential Collection.

Wu-Tang Clan: Can It Be It Was All So Simple?
From Enter the Wu-Tang (Loud, 1993)

Freeway: When We Remember
From Free At Last (Roc-A-Fella, 2007)

Yeah, I know it's been a minute since the last "Who Flipped It" segment. This one came to mind the other week when I was chatting about this Gladys Knight song with my wife and I thought about both the Wu and Freeway songs that use Knight's vocals so effectively. But before we get there, let me just note that it wasn't until that conversation that I realized: duh, this was the same song as Barbra Streisand's hit. Not only that but Knight manages to combine the song with lyrics from The Fantasticks, making this song an impressive proto-mash-up conceit.

Musically, RZA doesn't really much of Knight's song for "Can It Be So Simple" (look to Labi Siffre for that) but the song also wouldn't be the same without the forlorn sounding snippet of Knight ghosting into the chorus. In contrast to that kind of subtlety, Bink decides to set off a bomb in your face when he takes a different part of the song and uses it power Freeway's explosive "When They Remember" (one of my favorite songs of all 2007...the energy here is so palatable). On hypeness, I'd have to give the nod to Bink's flip.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

posted by O.W.

Unraveling musical mysteries is part of what motivates me as a music journalist. I don't claim to be very good or thorough at it, but the process alone is a way to appreciate the beauty and complexity of music-making that isn't necessarily transparent through listening alone (or, er, the sonic equivalent of "transparency").

This post is one such example and it begins, for me at least, with a song called "Happy Soul" that appears on an album by The Moon People that I picked up at the Groove Merchant a few years back. (Note: ironically, "Happy Soul" is the one song I did NOT include in the Suite but for reasons that will become clear shortly). "Happy Soul" is very striking, especially for a Latin soul song because 1) it's fast and 2) it's funky. Really funky. Funkier than most Latin soul songs one can think of. I would play it out when I could, especially because it's a great "transition" track between Latin and funk sets. It's not surprisingly then that, in 2006, when the DJ Premier-produced Xtina Aguilera single, "Ain't No Other Man" came out, I recognized the sample immediately.

At least I thought I did.


A little while later, I heard "Happy Soul (With a Hook)" by Dave Cortez with the Moon People and it was basically the same instrumental track as "Happy Soul" but with Cortez' trademark organ vamping all over it. Then, last year, I discovered the Latin Blues Band and their album, Take a Trip Pussycat. On there, they have a song called, "I'll Be a Happy Man" and it is basically, the same exact song as "Happy Soul" only with vocals (and without the Cortez organ).

The plot thickened.

The LBB, the Cortez single and the Moon People album are all on Speed, a smaller Latin label of the late '60s that specialized in Latin soul and boogaloo bands, including Frankie Nieves, and one of the rare female Latin groups, Dianne and Carole and the Latin Whatchamacallits. It's one of the great, great Latin boutique labels of that era and the Big Ol' Bag O Boogaloo series comps heavily from their catalog (with some odd omissions but that's for another time). It was on that album that I heard The Moon People's "Hippy Skippy Moon Strut" which sounded like the Cortez' song but minus the organ and with a new piano arrangement.


Around the same time I acquired a copy of the LBB album (thanks Rodney!), I also stumbled across this feature on the great Spectropop website (Latin fans should check out their thorough Tico feature). They finally helped me put many of the details together and I'm trying not to duplicate their already great work but, there was one element yet to add here: the testimony of Bobby Marin.

Marin is a composer and producer and he and his brother Richard were major players in the NY Latin scene in the 1960s and '70s. I spoke to Marin while putting together the liner notes for an upcoming Fania anthology on Joe Bataan and wanting to take advantage of being able to speak to such a storied veteran in the scene, I asked him what some of his favorite compositions were and he named "I'll Be a Happy Man." At that point, I didn't own the album yet so I had no idea he, along with Louie Ramirez and other players, were in the Latin Blues Band and I asked him to trace for me the history of the song. Between the Spectropop site and Marin's own information, here's what I was able to pull together (and to be sure, I really should talk to Marin again to fill in blanks):

Morty Craft - who ran Speed and was the main producer for the label - reassembled the Latin Blues Band into The Moon People. I'm not clear why he did this nor why he would have the group essentially record over their own LBB backing tracks with slight changes (but sans vocals) and then release it as its own album. I guess Craft felt like he could sell consumers the same songs twice. "Happy Soul," from what I can tell, is simply "I'll Be a Happy Man" without vocals. Well, almost without vocals...Marin told me that when he was in the studio, editing the Land of Love album, he insisted that they keep something of his original vocals, which ended up being a "whoooo!" somewhere in there. (In any case, I didn't include "Happy Soul" in the suite since it's a subtraction with no additions, unlike the other songs).

Soon thereafter, Craft sold the mechanical rights to that instrumental to Morris Levy at Roulette. At that point, the song transforms into "Happy Soul With a Hook." The original piano is stripped off and replaced with Cortez' organ playing plus some spacey wah-wah guitar. Speed ends up releasing this "new" song as a single. According to Spectropop, "Hippy Skippy Moon Strut" appears just a few months later and it is basically "Happy Soul With a Hook" minus organs, keeping the wah-wah, and throwing on that new piano arrangement I mentioned plus some vocals yelling, "hippy skippy!" and similar phrases. That single appears on Roulette rather than Speed (possibly because the latter had been purchased by Roulette by this point). Then fast forward nearly 40 years and DJ Premier flips "Hippy Dippy" for Xtina and the story ends.

Well, not quite.

My convo with Marin yielded two more tidbits of information. First of all, RCA apparently didn't clear the sample correctly. My guess is that they cleared the mechanical rights but not the songwriter rights and when Fania (who, by now, owned the Speed catalog) figured this out, they got ready to sue. The problem is: they didn't know who the original composer was either and one day, when Marin was visiting, they asked him, "hey, would you happen to know who the composer is?" upon which Marin replied, "" So as it turns out, Marin is waiting to see if a settlement happens, and if so, he likely stands to make a nice piece of change off this.

The second piece of info I gleaned from him was around who the hell was the drummer on the song. After all, one reason why the song stands out so much, why it probably got remade three times and then sampled, is because of those drum breaks. They're unusual for a Latin soul song - I can't think of many other songs in that era that featured open breakbeats - so I had to ask Marin about it. His reply, "well, that was Bernard Purdie."

Jaw drop.

That explains quite a bit...and it makes total sense (Purdie did a grip of studio work in NY in that era, plus the drumming sounds like something he'd put together) but it's a detail that, as far as I can tell, no one has ever noted before. And that, my friends, is the kind of discovery that motivates me to get up every morning. With all that, thanks for's the "Happy Soul Suite" for your edification: presents...The "Happy Soul Suite"

Created from...

The Latin Blues Band feat. Luis Aviles: (I'll Be A) Happy Man
From Take a Trip Pussycat (Speed, 1968)

Dave Cortez with The Moon People: Happy Soul (With A Hook)
From 7" (Speed, 1968). Also on El Barrio: The Bad Boogaloo.

The Moon People: Hippy, Skippy Moon Strut
From 7" (Roulette, 1969). Also on Big Ol' Bag O' Boogaloo Vol. 1.

Christina Aguilera: Ain't No Other Man
From Back to Basics (RCA, 2006)

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Friday, February 01, 2008

posted by O.W.

Lou Donaldson: It's Your Thing
From Hot Dog (Blue Note, 1969)

Ronnie Foster: Mystic Brew
From Two-Headed Freap (Blue Note, 1972)

Both on Droppin' Science (Blue Note, 2008)

Back in the mid-1990s, Blue Note Records, astutely noting how popular their catalog was becoming amongst hip-hop producers, began to release a series of anthologies in 1993 called Blue Break Breaks. Each featured about a dozen or so songs that had gotten the sample treatment - the first two or three sets included songs directly from Blue Note but by Vol. 4, they had moved to subsidiary catalogs purchased by Blue Note's parent company.

Almost nine years after the release of the last in the series, Blue Note has resurrected the concept in the form of Droppin' Science: Greatest Samples from the Blue Note Label, and more than ever, they shine the light on how these particular songs have been sampled. (I'm almost certain thanks would have to go out to for some of that info). 

Here's the tracklisting:
1. Lou Donaldson - "It's Your Thing"
2. Ronnie Foster - "Mystic Brew"
3. Donald Byrd - "Think Twice"
4. David Axelrod/David McCullum - "The Edge"
5. Jack McDuff - "Oblighetto"
6. Joe Williams - "Get Out Of My Life Woman"
7. Grant Green - "Down Here On The Ground"
8. Lonnie Smith - "Spinnin Wheel"
9. Jeremy Steig - "Howling For Judy"
10. Lou Donaldson - "Who's Makin Love (To Your Old Lady)" 
BONUS TRACKS (Digital album and LP version)
11. Ronnie Laws - "Tidal Wave" 
12. Monk Higgins - "Little Green Apples"
13. Donald Byrd - "Wind Parade"

A few thoughts about this...

1) I'm curious as to who the main audience for this ends up being. Most of the songs it features were sampled as early as 20 years ago and the most recent is "The Edge," flipped by Dr. Dre ten years ago. I would think that many people who'd have a relationship to the songs that sampled these originals have been around long enough to have already copped most of these songs on an earlier release. Then again, maybe there's a new wave of nostalgia that's sweeping through, especially by all those, "I can't believe 'Crank Dat' is a hit" curmudgeons.Also, while about half of these songs appeared on one of the (out of print) Blue Break Beats series, the other half have not, including "The Edge," and surprisingly, both Donald Byrd songs. 

2) For a "best of" collection, this is solid but there are a few inclusions I found surprising: "Oblighetto"? I love me some Jack McDuff but if Tribe had never touched this for "Scenario," I'm not sure we'd be seeing it here. Same goes for "Howling For Judy." I like flute funk as much as the next guy but it's nowhere as big as a sample as some of the other songs here, especially the Donaldson cuts.

3) And if we're tackling Blue Note artists: no love for Bobbi Humphrey? Blue Mitchell? Reuben Wilson? Really? I would have gladly swapped out songs by artists whose work appears twice (Byrd and Donaldson) to broaden the artist representation. 

4) Of the songs off there, "Mystic Brew" still holds up the best (though "It's Your Thing" is still a fun listen). That bassline was a work of beauty...

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Monday, December 10, 2007

posted by O.W.

Pleasure Web: Music Man Pts. 1 and 2
From 7" (Eastbound, 1973). Also on Super Breaks 3

Jurassic 5: Jayou
From Jurassic 5 EP (Interscope, 1997)

Jurassic 5: Concrete and Clay
From Quality Control (Interscope, 2000)

Similar to the last "Which flip is better?" post, this one features a single producer who has used the same sample source twice for two different songs.

The source here is one of the more obscure 45s on Eastbound: "Music Man Pt. 1 and 2" by Pleasure Web. Personally, I couldn't find much on the artist at all; if anyone knows some details, illuminate the rest of us.

Cut first used "Part 2" of the song for "Jayou," arguably the most distinctive cut off the first Jurassic 5 EP from '97. Then, he revisited the same 7" and flipped "Part 1" for "Concrete and Clay" which first appeared on the "Improvise" EP of 1999 (and was later released on the full-length Quality Control album). Personally, I was always more partial to "Concrete and Clay" myself though "Jayou" had more buzz going. It's hard to choose b/t the different parts of "Music Man" though given that they're practically two different songs. My inclination is to go with Part 1 simply b/c I like it with lyrics better but it's hard to front on the flute flavor of its sibling.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Taking On Nautilus: Who Flipped It Best?
posted by O.W.

Bob James: Nautilus
From One (CTI, 1974)

Lord Shafiyq: My Mic Is On Fire
From 12" (NUWR, 1987)

Main Source: Live At the BBQ
From Breaking Atoms (Wild Pitch, 1991)

Ghostface Killah: Daytona 500
From Ironman (Epic, 1996)

I had the idea for this post for quite a bit, ever since I remembered reading an interview with Bob James where he was asked what he thought about different samplings of his music. RZA's flip on "Nautlius" for "Daytona 500" drew high praise, especially because RZA transposed the sample into a different key, giving it a more sinister edge. However, RZA was the latest in line of hip-hop producers to play off "Nautilus," arguably the most popular of James' CTI-era compositions, though not the most recognizable.

I realize the three songs I picked were merely a handful out of dozens of possibilities but "Live at the BBQ" seemed like a good contrast, especially because the way Large Professor worked with "Nautilus" isn't as obvious as other uses. On the other hand, I went with Lord Shafiyq's random rap classic, "My Mic Is On Fire," because it was one of the early rap tunes to use "Nautilus" so prominently, and using one of the more striking passages at that.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Jay-Z: Gray Hova Rides Again
posted by O.W.

Jay-Z: Roc Boys + Success
From American Gangster (Def Jam, 2007)

Menahan Street Band: Make the Road by Walking (snippet)
From 7" (Dunham, 2007)

Larry Ellis and the Black Hammer: Funky Thing Pt. 1
From 7" (Al King, 1968). Also on Quantic Presents: World's Rarest Funk 45s

I can't say I love the new Jay-Z album but whatever my reservations of American Gangster, I still think Jay's one of the greatest rappers out there (yeah, he'd make my "fave 5"). At the very least, AG is an improvement over Kingdom Come but that's not really saying much. I suspect that many of the songs on AG will age well but foresight's never been my strong point (my hindsight is exceptional however).

A few songs did strike me right off the bat however, namely the two above. "Roc Boys" is the closest thing on this album to a bonafide anthem - great hook, great horns - and it's one the least self-serious songs on the album, which I think is a plus. I admit - I'm surprised Diddy has his name on this as the producer (though it might very well be that Sean C or LV had more to do with it). Regardless, props on finding and using the Menahan Street Band's excellent new 7", "Make the Road By Walking" on this one (read: I hope the MSB folks get paid off this), which is one of my favorite Daptones-related songs, well, ever. I know people without turntables are rather s.o.l. but the 7" is otherwise worth copping (the b-side is equally nice). (And really, if readers don't have a turntable yet, get thee one.

Back to Jay: "Success" is a touch more ponderous but I still love the verses I quoted for my LA Times review - super-swaggery but still clever - which is how I like Jay best. I didn't think this was Nas' finest moment but I still get a kick out of hearing those two on the same track. I'm old school like that.

No ID comes back from the milkbox to absolutely kill this track, flipping the opening organ screams from Larry Ellis' ridiculously scarce "Funky Thing." Personally, I don't necessarily like the rest of the song but Ellis' opening is a monster, especially with the reverbed drums.

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