Monday, September 21, 2009

posted by O.W.

Summer Songs 2009 is officially over. I left y'all with one last tune to ride into the fall with.

To recap, for those who slept, our guests this summer were:

Pete L'Official
Michael Gonzales
Scott Saul
Eric Luecking
Gaye Theresa Johnson
Andrew Mason
Adam Dunbar
Jeff Weiss
Michael Barnes
...and yours truly on a few occasions.

See you back in 2010.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

posted by O.W.

Meaghan Smith: Here Comes Your Man
From 500 Days of Summer Soundtrack (Sire, 2009)

This is a quick addendum to the last post but I just heard this for the first time today (and I haven't even seen the movie yet). A little voice is telling me I probably should find it just a touch cloying and overly XM-Radio-The-Coffee-House-Channel-ish but I tell that voice to shut the f--- up and I'm happier for it.

Keep in mind too, I think the original is the best damn thing the Pixies ever recorded and 20+ years, I still love the original. And somehow, Smith manages to tweak the emotional vibe of the song into something altogether more bittersweet and quirky and the type of pop ditty (I mean that in a good day) that I would have put on a mixtape back when I was in love with, well, anyone in my 20s.

What I'm saying is that this song makes me feel young and old at the same time. And it also seems to fit - perfectly - with the end-of-summer theme.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

posted by O.W.

Please start by reading this first.

Part of why I solicit people for their summer songs posts is because I have a hard time reinventing the wheel for my own sense of what summer means via music. This year, the one song I knew I wanted to write about was "We're Almost There" by Michael Jackson and in many ways, that song brought me back full circle to my very first summer songs post.

I had a chance to revisit that theme for a post written for NPR's Summer Songs Series:

As much as I like classic summer anthems — bright, splashy, exuberant — they rarely capture what I think of as the essence of the season. Summer wants to be immortal and endless, and that beautiful delusion has birthed countless pop songs. But for me, summer is always a tangle of conflicted emotions: hope and disappointment, desire and frustration. It's the season of promises that, at their core, are impossible to realize.

Summer is more about what we want it to be than what it actually is — what I once described as "drops of reality dissolved into a vat of fantasy." Idealism may make a potent brew, but we know the season inevitably ends. That's why my favorite summer songs are almost always tinged with fragility and marked by melancholy. This is music that admits the painful truth about summer: Even the best times won't last, as long days fade with autumn's encroaching dusk.

And here were the four songs I picked to illuminate those ideas:

Michael Jackson: We're Almost There
From Forever Michael (Motown, 1975)

Like millions, I've spent the summer of 2009 revisiting the Michael Jackson catalog. The song that continues to haunt me is "We're Almost There," from 1975's overlooked Forever, Michael. I keep getting stuck on the idea of being "almost there." The song aches with the yearning to complete, as Jackson sings, "just one more step," but it's that "almost" that lingers. "Almost" teases and tantalizes, but it's as much a threat as it is a promise. Almost means maybe we won't make it. Almost means maybe "one more step" is, as Aretha Franklin once sang, "a step too far away." That's summer in a nutshell: an ambition within reach, but also one step from being lost.

William Devaughn: Be Thankful for What You Got
From Be Thankful For What You Got (Roxbury, 1974)

Has there ever been a smoother, more sublime summer jam than this? William Devaughn's ability to paint with such vivid lyrical imagery -- "Diamond in the back / Sunroof top / Diggin' in the seam with a gangster lean" -- is perfectly matched by the slick insouciance of the song's bass lines and conga slaps. This is no high-noon groove, though; it's a low-rider sunset, a time for quiet contemplation during the slow cruise home. Be thankful for what you got, Devaughn keeps instructing. Take nothing for granted. But even in the fading light, Devaughn's ultimate message is one of hope: "You may not have / a car at all / but remember / brothers and sisters / you can still stand tall."

Ice Cube: It Was a Good Day
From The Predator (Priority, 1993)

If Devaughn opens solemnly but closes on an up note, Ice Cube goes the other way on this 1993 hit. He ostensibly celebrates a halcyon day of basketball games, lucky dice and a late-night motel romp. But it's the turnaround at the end of each verse that tells the true story: "nobody I knew got killed in South Central L.A." & "I didn't even to have to use my AK." Those sobering afterthoughts carry an unease echoed in the somber mood of the music itself. The sample source is The Isley Brothers' "Foosteps in the Dark," which has all the feel of a classic seduction jam: the slow tempo, the syrupy strings. But there's a sadness that flows through; those "footsteps," after all, are of a sneaking lover. "It Was a Good Day" wisely taps into that implicit discomfort. (For a contrast, listen to the far sunnier remix, which uses a different sample.)

I should add: "It Was A Good Day" was inescapable in 1993, and even now, 16 years later, it still resonates with the summer.

The Heath Brothers: Smilin' Billy Suite Part 2
From Marchin' On (Strata East, 1975)

If I had to score summer's end, this early Heath Brothers song from 1975 would be an easy choice. It positively drips in melancholy, especially through Stanley Cowell's use of an African mbira (thumb piano) to play the memorable "Smilin' Billy" motif. I imagine the song patiently playing out as September days drift quietly towards the fall equinox. There's one last, rousing gasp of life that unexpectedly sparks at the end, but with one dramatic thump, it’s all over. Summer's gone

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

posted by O.W.

The latest Summer Songs post: Scott Saul on "Afternoon in Itapoã."


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

posted by O.W.

Hello everyone,

I meant to have this up and running last week but hey, the beauty of summer is that it can start whenever - the end of school, the Memorial Day weekend, if the mercury creeps over 70, etc. And so, with today, we start yet another year in our long-running Summer Songs series here at Soul Sides. I know it's cliche to say that each year will be "bigger and better" but I've been more ambitious in the last few years, inviting more folks to contribute their take on "what does summer sound like to you?"

The first two posts are already up on our dedicated site - one from writer Michael Gonzales, thinking back on his summers in Pittsburgh. The other comes from writer-turning-scholar Pete L'Official, taking us on a massive tour of summer musings. In the weeks to come, anticipate contributions from everyone from music historians Lauren Onkey and Scott Saul to incomparable mixmasters DJs Cosmo Baker and Monk One to political/cultural columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates to DJ-turned-soul singer Mayer Hawthorne (and many more!)

Also check out my man Jeff Weiss' "Summer Jamz" series, rescued from Stylus Magazine. Mo' summer songs, mo' better.

Meanwhile, I'm posting (through a national firewall no less!) from Shanghai, wanting to remind folks out here I'm DJing at The Shelter on Friday night w/ DJs V-Nutz and J-Rocc.


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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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

posted by O.W.

While you're waiting for the next post on Soul SIdes, don't miss:

  • Captain Planet waxing on more summer madness for his official Summer Songs post.

  • Two new Side Dishes posts, one on the new Calypsoul compilation and one on one of my favorite albums this year, the awesome Brotherman soundtrack (there will be a post on this album for Soul Sides proper soon, complete with giveaway!).
  • Last but not least, my June set for Dublab - "Under Covers" - is now available on their Dubstream and should soon be posted to their archives. More covers!

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  • Thursday, August 07, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    Been out of town for a bit (shout out to both Big City and Good Records in NYC!) but wanted to quickly catch folks up on some posts you might have missed:

    • Karen Tongson put together an excellent, eclectic Summer Songs post.
    • Adam Mansbach also dropped some summer cuts for us, with an appealing mix of hip-hop, jazz and soul.
    • I wrote about the new Jackson Conti album, plus a revisit of "California Soul" for my new weekly Vibe blog, Side Dishes.

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    Tuesday, July 01, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    I've started a new weekly column with called Side Dishes. It's basically a "Song of the Week"-style column meshed with Soul Sides-style content. Even though the first post crosses over with some of stuff I wrote about the other week, in general, I'll try to keep the two distinct. Sides Dishes will also be more focused on music that's still in print (either as reissues, anthologies, etc.). Cruise on over and add Side Dishes to your subscription list; I think Soul Sides fans will enjoy it. summer songs post from Roberto Gyemant. Four great selections by one of Latin music's sharpest new chroniclers and taste-makers.

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    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    The great Greg Tate takes it back to '89 for his summer song post.


    Friday, June 20, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    Two new posts just went up, one by James Carvicchia, one by Christine Balance.

    And oh yeah: summer officially starts today.

    Stay cool out here.


    Tuesday, June 10, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    The next installment in the summer songs series is by DJ Murphy's Law.

    Read it!


    Friday, June 06, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    Soul Sides' Summer Songs Series has moved to its own exclusive site. I've ported over all of the past posts but for all the new, upcoming posts, I'll make a quick post here and point folks over.

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    Sunday, May 25, 2008

    posted by O.W.'s Summer Songs series: 2008 style.

    On this year's invited guest list:

    (from l-r: Greg Tate, Murphy's Law, Christine Balance, Adam Mansbach, Karen Tongson, Captain Planet, Daphne Brooks, Jody Rosen, Ann Powers, Robert Fink...

    ...and more to follow!


    Thursday, August 30, 2007

    Summer Songs: Dave Tompkins
    posted by O.W.

    Dave swears this isn't the Polyphonic Spree

    (Editor's Note: Barring some unforeseen circumstances before next week, this marks the last Summer Songs post for 2007 and we're going to end with a spectacular flourish courtesy music writer Dave Tompkins, one of my most favoritest people in the world. Look for his upcoming book on the history of the Vocoder. For those too lazy to read, Dave says "Overlord Ice Dog is going to recite the whole book in Auto-Tune." --O.W.)

    Quick-Tail The Sky Down

    by Dave Tompkins

    Nora Dean: Angie-La-La
    From 7” single, B-side of U-Roy's "Tom Drunk" (Duke Reid, 1970s)

    “And then I started making extinct bird calls.” (The Rubbles usually answer on the third ring.) Nora also executes one of the best weees on record, with respect to Digital Underground’s pool party “weeee!” I suspect a supernatural agency at work here, more than a fat guy jumping on an inner tube. That’s the way love is. Nora also did a song called “Scorpion In His Underpants,” which must have surprised the shit out of the ants. Not that a creature who wears its ears on its legs could be surprised.

    Key & Cleary: Young People
    From 7” single (Amherst, 1970s)

    Jesse Key and Sylvester Cleary recorded an instrumental about the tragic Buffalo blizzard of 1977. Its violins sound even more forlorn in the Spring and by June they can’t even get out of bed. Mr. Cleary himself makes a fool out of summer inertia, designing tube socks, candy bars and bicycles while bottling wine from the pear trees in his back yard. (A friend recently described Key and Cleary as “people who can’t stop doing stuff.”) There’s also the Key and Cleary pet shop promotional record, with violins “designed specifically for the enjoyment of your dog.” This is good since the average dog is pretty much screwed in August.

    “Young People” would’ve done Schoolhouse Rock some good--no wonder kids always wanted to hang out at Key & Cleary’s house, where the label motto is: “The best thing that ever happened to anybody.” (Serious.)

    Not old enough to drive, flicking cards at each other, trying to avoid the snappy orange guy in the top hat that lives in the fridge, whose idea of a good time is celery sticks and frozen OJ squares. These kids, looking for a brand new game. (Look no further than “I Need Wheels” by Lil Mac the Lyrical Midget of Texas.)

    Funkadelic: Music for My Mother (Instrumental)
    From 7” single (Westbound, 1970). Also on Funkadelic.

    The last time I saw George Clinton he was in a golf cart that ploughed through a game of 3-on-3 basketball in a parking lot in Atlanta, back when the Fu-Schnickens were still together. Adrock was on that day but Money Mark spent more time in the air, probably from doing all those Moog-ups on stage. (Mike D=Almost Rambis). George was headed to the tour bus to have a speck of glitter extracted from his cornea. I remember him nictitating like Herbert Lom at the end of Pink Panther Strikes Again (when Lom’s being rubbed out by his own doom ray). For a wonderful moment all that remains is Lom’s eyeball, an ocular tic floating in front of a church organ, which is still blaring and feeling pretty Lon Chaney about things when all turns to castle manure.

    This is the instrumental of an early Funkadelic record, only on the 45. That opening bit of guitar is Van Cleef facing off with the humidity—hold heat, sweat bullets. And check that misplaced split end of a twang, which, if your turntable has its pants on backwards, has a tendency to loop by accident around 1:30. It all sounded pretty 80 in a 55 this past June when I was knocking back telephone poles across South Carolina and west Georgia, near Omslum? Osmium? (Map says National Cane Forest.) A big snake was crossing and I gave it a haircut. No harm done, though you can imagine all his boys ribbing him with “Plissken! I-heard-you-were-dead!” jokes for the rest of the night.

    And a George-related bonus for your patience

    Compton’s Most Wanted: Late Night Hype
    From It’s a Compton Thang (Capitol, 1990)

    There’s no way I could speed to this song and so the popsicles had transmattered before I got home. I like how MC Eiht (the g is understood) acts surprised because Unknown once made tracks like this.*

    Now it’s Anita Baker and a bassline played by Iguanodon thumbs. Then a late night exchange at a gas station, something poking out the window—what this guy from Gastonia used to refer to as “the Wavy Wavy.” Then Eiht wakes up on his floor, thanks to the ding-dong timing of Rick James’ bag of weed.

    *A minute or so into it you realize this thing is kicking Rain Forest’s ass. This is back when CMW’s DJ Slip did that E.V.I.A.N. 12, the only record credited to Parisian bottled water with cover art depicting a seahorse and a starfish playing strap-on keyboards.

    Rodney O & Joe Cooley: Gimme The Mic (Instr)
    From Days of Way Back (Psychotic, 1993)

    Among the better Eric B rumors that might get us ventilated (eg, he once drove an ice cream truck in Red Hook) is the one about him hooking up the loop of Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness” and bringing it to Paul C/Large Pro and Rakim. For whatever reasons, they turned it down, maybe because Rakim was too busy making math with another Kool & the Gang song called “Chocolate Buttermilk.” Then Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince released “Summertime.” Then Eric B pawned his gold anchor for a yacht with 75 girls, made an R&B album and started managing a guy who said, “Look out Ma, I’m in my own world.”

    This is Rodney & Joe Cooley’s version of “Summer Madness” with some Michael Jackson run-off from the previous track as mixed by either Joe Cooley or Egyptian Lover, who I swear yells “Fender Rhodes” at one point.

    Segment 2 : Cold Pump That Body (Dub)
    From 12” single (Tandem Records, 1980s). Also on Tandem Jams the Bass

    This is better at the wrong speed but I tip my gas can to whoever was programming those lawn sprinklers out in Burlingame, California.

    More likely, this is what that guy upstairs was listening to in HP Lovecraft's "Cool Air"--before he turned into muckspit. Apparently refrigerated pumps weren't all that back in 1928. This called for words like "unutterably." Or "slitherful." Which was coined by Mr. Buckshot of Brooklyn, not Mr. Lovecraft of Red Hook by way of Providence, waking up with drawbridge jaw somewhere between. Bog gob it all to hell.

    “The lounger, it seems, had fled screaming and mad-eyed after his second delivery of ice.”

    Latin Rascals: Lisa’s Coming
    From ssshhhh (Tommy Boy, 1980s). Also on The Tommy Boy Story Vol. 1

    Summer of 1986. While the Fat Boys were in their dressing room, Latin Rascals opened up Fresh Festival III in powder wigs. They were dancing to the same JS Bach organ that opened the non-LL version of Rollerball. Rollerball is worth seeing for John Houseman’s boiled owl brows and a porned-out instrumental called “Executive Lounge Party.” The scene with people in evening gowns shooting down trees at dawn always saddened me. But who wouldn’t wear rollerskates for Maud Adams? Rollerball was adapted from Rollerball Murder, a collection of William Harrison stories that includes one about a kid who spends his summer with an aunt who teaches him how to eat furniture.

    “What’d you do this summer?”
    “Left my teeth in my aunt’s Noguchi sun porch.”

    Summer is also about talking into electric fans. An IEEE guy I spoke with calls this effect Vortical Shedding. Or Shredding, depends on which fabric of the universe is stuck to your ass that day. One girl told me she spoke into fans because she wanted to sound like an ice cream cake from outer space. Another said she could get to Mars by speaking through a used Kraft cheese wrapper. At least that’s what her mother said—and she lives in Chillicothe.

    Sine: Mosquito Walk (Reedit)
    From 12” single (Moonstew, 2004)

    Didn’t get disco in North Carolina. Then moved up here and saw folks in summer dresses dancing to an endless version of “Atmospheric Strutt” on the Coney Island boardwalk. The mosquitoes were pretty into it too. And if these creatures must go around smuggling CDC ketchup packets through the air then we may as well get a nice blood-siphoning keyboard out of the deal, no? Produced by Patrick Adams, “Mosquito Walk” is credited to a Canadian group called Sine but this edit subtracts the cloying dweedleness of the original. Nor is there anything more summery than a late night proboscis in your ear. Slap yourself to sleep.

    Extra slitherful is Lalo Schifrin’s birth of a mosquito theme from The Hellstrom Chronicle.

    Creative Source: Good Lovin’ Is Good Livin’
    From Consider the Source (Polydor, 1980s). Also on Bugz In the Attic.

    Two summers ago at my oldest brother’s memorial throwdown on a pig farm/art gallery in West Georgia. A circle of 280 people holding hands and screaming blind metal at the sun, most of them strangers to me until that day, including a guy who’d built a mosquito the size of a Go Kart, using an old propane tank, a Dirt Devil thorax and some Bridge Out reflectors. Then someone told me a story about my brother tripping over an alligator in the dark. Then a guy from Olivia Tremor Control offered one about him playing drums inside an empty water tower (the bats must’ve loved that one) choked in kudzu’s chest wig, out near Danielsville where I’d met the Skinny Boys’ DJ’s cousin. (No fibrillator.) I tried to repay them with the retread about my brother offering the late Tammy Faye Bakker some nachos when she was ducking reporters at a Chi Chi’s in Charlotte. Then the sun got tired of getting yelled at. Sheesh! And slunk off without telling anybody. So it was up to Creative Source, in an orange poof of dirt at dusk. Sounded even better because we knew tomorrow would be out for blood.

    (You think the crawdads are wondering how the fuck twilight ended up with “crepuscular?”)

    Milton Wright: I Have You
    From Spaced (Alston, 1970s)

    This one is to reclaim July since it was less a month than tragic ordeal for most of my friends. (Can't we just swap out for an extra October?) Milton brushes real dirt off his shoulders--a wrinkled suit with an epaulet auto-swiffer.

    One more for the roadcoder.

    (My license has been expired for three years--dohcoder)

    No wait, I first heard this 14 summers ago when I had to take one of my students to a hospital in Orange, Virginia at 2 a.m. (meningitis scare) and I passed out over three detention chairs in the waiting room with a box of Fruity Pebbles. Luckily it was a false alarm and this song took our faces out the window during the ride back.

    Fall is the best time for the beach anyway.

    As my puppet-making grandmother used to say, "It's been real and I certainly have seen you."


    Thursday, June 21, 2007

    Summer Songs: Daniel Chamberlin of Uber
    posted by O.W.

    Editor's note: Today is the first official day of summer. That always makes me sad because it means that from here on out, everything begins to wind down and shorten. But hey, let's not dwell on it. Summer is here and it seemed only right to include a summer songs post to celebrate.

    The latest comes from Los Angeles writer Daniel Chamberlin. I've known Dan ever since the days when both of us were at URB Magazine and he was definitely some of the editors I've enjoyed working with the most. In the time since, Dan's written for Arthur Magazine, edits for Flavorpill, and is now the Arts Editor for the new social networking site, Uber.

    For his summer songs post, Dan picked out an eclectic selection that covers everything from "juicy psychedelic country vibe" to "heat-induced hallucinations" to music for deaf women. Or something like that. Most of all, he reminds you not to sleep on the Marshall Tucker Band.


      The Grateful Dead: Morning Dew
      From bootleg (Fillmore East, NY, 4/29/71)

      In the late '50s Canadian folk singer Bonnie Dobson was living in Los Angeles playing local clubs. One evening she and some friends watched the grim Stanley Kramer film, On the Beach — it's sort of a Mad Max prequel, a movie about nuclear war wherein the entire planet is wiped out except for Australia, whose population sits and waits for the coming storm of nuclear fallout that will kill them all. She stayed up all night after watching the movie writing "Morning Dew," a spooky-sad song where the one person keeps asking where all the people are, and another responds, "You never see those people anyway." It's been covered by everyone from Fred Neil to Devo, but my favorite version is the Grateful Dead one. The juicy psychedelic country vibe of early '70s Dead obscures the apocalyptic subject matter and leaves me focused on the refrain: instead of thinking about irradiated corpses scattered across the planet, I think about sunrise and the dew that slicks up the grass every morning back home in Indiana, unlike the crispy brown chaparral of my yard here in Los Angeles. This version of "Morning Dew" is one of my favorites, the opening song from set two of their April 29, 1971 show at the Fillmore East in NYC. It's a good year for the Dead; the gooey rootsiness that would take over in the coming years is juxtaposed nicely with the frazzled guitar-crash meltdowns that characterized their late '60s output. Yes I'm kind of a Deadhead, and so are some of my friends.

      Marshall Tucker Band: Fly Eagle Fly
      From A New Life (Capricorn, 1974)

      People sleep on the Marshall Tucker Band. Forget the redneck boogie of Skynyrd or the guitar jams of the Allmans: You want eccentric southern music? You go to Marshall Tucker 'cause they used a flute, prominently, to cook up weird country-jazz fusion (that sounds a whole lot better than "country-jazz fusion" suggests). This is a pretty traditional song, the closing track from their second album, A New Life. It's a sort of pre-apocalyptic lament as Toy Caldwell counts the images that he'd miss if environmental devastation were to take hold, while acknowledging his own futility to stop such devastation by singing "before the world ever got that band I'd be on my knees a-cryin'." Among his prized images are squirrels, cottontail rabbits and -- my favorite -- doves rising up in front of him as he takes a stroll through a cornfield. The house I grew up in rural Indiana was surrounded by fields of corn, peas and soybeans, so any song that uses a cornfield pastoral gets big points in my book. Oh yeah: In case you didn't grow up in the midst of agriculture, corn is a summer thing, so this song feels summery to me. "Knee high by the fourth of July" is a good way to remember that.

      Meat Puppets: Swimming Ground
      From Up on The Sun (SST, 1985)

      One of the best things about summer is swimming outside. Pools and oceans are great, but there's nothing like floating around in the cold fresh water of a lake, river or -- best of all -- swimming hole. Swimming holes are rare and often remote here in the Southwest, even when we're not in the midst of an epic drought. I spent last weekend out in the Angeles National Forest dodging rattlesnakes, wading through stagnant pools thick with algae and climbing rock walls looking for one just this last weekend -- I'm writing about that on my new blog, "On The Natural," later this week.

      My favorite swimming hole is on the edge of the Sespe Condor Preserve, about an hour north of Los Angeles. It's a helluva trek to get there: On foot for several miles of fire road -- flanked by thick vegetation buzzing with bees from the apiary at the trailhead -- to a dry stream bed that offers no suggestion of the Shangri La of terraced sandstone bowls brimming with cool, clear water that exists a mile or two north. Whenever I'm bushwhacking down canyons in search of a dip, "Swimming Ground" is looped in my head. The Meat Puppets hail from Phoenix, Arizona and they write the best songs about heat-induced hallucinations and the real-gone vibes that come about when wandering around under the hot sun.

      OM: Rays of the Sun/To The Shrinebuilder
      From Inerrant Rays of Infallible Sun (Durtro/Jnana, 2006)

      Stars of the Lid: Sun Drugs
      From The Ballasted Orchestra (Kranky, 1997)

      Summer happens for four months here in the Northern Hemisphere because the orbit of the earth has tilted us just a bit, changing the angle at which the rays of the nearest star hit the planet. Stars are hot because of all the nuclear fusion happening inside and radiating out through space, powerful enough to burn my skin if I don't slather on the SPF 40. So here are two songs about the sun that offer more of that kind of perspective on the warm and sunny aspect of summer, as compared to, say "The Warmth of the Sun."

      OM is everybody from stoner rock avatar Sleep that didn't join High on Fire, so that means it's just Al Cisneros on bass and Chris Hakius on drums making mantra-like music that we at Arthur Magazine were calling "life metal" for awhile. I saw them at the Echo here in Los Angeles a couple months back and there were deaf people -- deaf women, actually -- in the audience. They're that loud and heavy with their beautifully rhythmic music. This is a song from a split single with whacked-out Coptic Christian elf David Tibet. It's not entirely clear what it's about, but I really like the part where Cisneros sings about climbing "upon beautified rays." Hot!

      Stars of the Lid's most recent album was great and serious and all Belgian about the orchestral drones, but I like the hazy guitar songs from 1997's Ballasted Orchestra a bit more. The duo is originally from Austin, TX and so they have a pretty good idea about stretching and flexing that high-pitched whiny sound that happens in Spaghetti Westerns when the dude looks up at the sun as he's lost in the desert and it's all "beeeeeeeam" on his sweaty brow. They don't say what their fave sun drugs are though: Beer? PABA? Whatever it is, I'll be looking for some around about August as we Angelenos enter into the height of the fire season. I hope you don't have to light them to use them, these sun drugs!


    Tuesday, June 19, 2007

    Summer Songs: Robbie Ettelson from
    posted by O.W.

    Editor's Note: For a writer who's not even in this hemisphere, Australia's Robbie Ettelson puts a lot of rap journalists in America to shame with his interviews. Maybe it's just that he actually transcribes and publishes what he raps with these rappers about but even that provides some much-needed candor and illumination.

    He ran his interview with KRS-One last week and it actually addresses several of the conversations that came up in my recent KRS post. In particular, Robbie asks him if KRS was going at Jeff Chang with "I Was There" and KRS talks a bit about Can't Stop Won't Stop and what he sees as a failing in "doing your homework" (though notably, KRS says Jeff worked at Def Jam which is completely untrue so it looks like lack of homework isn't just limited to hip-hop scholar/writers). By the way, Jeff addresses some of this on his site.

    That said though, I was very much impressed by KRS's self-reflexive comments on any number of different topics and think Robbie, in particular, is really distinguishing himself as one of the best interviewers I've seen in the game.

    But since it's actually winter in Australia right now, I thought it'd be fun to have him muse on his summer songs while he's freezing his arse off. For Robbie, his post finds himself waiting on that glorious sun:


      It's tough to write about Summer Songs while my fingers are left froze like that "heron[sic] in your nose", and after spending an hour or so flipping through my shelves - all the while trying to punch through the fog of drunken afternoons at the beach with a mini "jam box" - I was still without a definitive collection of wax. Given that I'm less inclined to sentimentality these days anyhow, I decided to flip it into a dissection of four winning selections involving the sun (note to Ghostface fanboys: "The Sun" has already been given ample *cough* shine here at Soul Sides, having appeared at least twice to my knowledge).

      Special K: Sun Is Up
      From the Treacherous Three's
      Old School Flava (Wrap!, 1994)

      As one of the of the very few moments of T3's painful comeback album that didn't induce bile in the back of the throat (the other being LA Sunshine's Last Poet-channeled solo shot), K strolls through brother T La Rock's fractured, hazy backdrop that recalls the way your head might feel after a lazy afternoon spent consuming cheap cask wine while absorbing some blistering rays.

      Pete Rock & CL Smooth: Sun Won't Come Out
      The Main Ingredient (Elektra, 1994)

      Despite being weighed-down by sappy "smoove" jams, the songs from the Vernon duo's second full-length that actually hit the mark proved to be effin' jaw-dropping. To hear the way that Pete combines a Deep Funk vocal hook with ethereal chimes, razor-sharp snares and a cock-sure bassline is to witness a genius at the height of his powers, while Corey Love feeds of the chemistry and delivers one of his better "wise intelligent" performances. To cap things off, the beat skit on the outro is guaranteed to conjure warm-weather flashbacks, as Bob James meets the Fender Rhodes in fine fashion.

      Large Professor feat. Q-Tip: In The Sun
      1st Class (Matador, 2002)

      OK's mans Xtreme laces The Live Guy With Glasses with some Gregorian chant material for this bright spot on his otherwise frustrating solo debut. The Abstract delivers a rambling assessment of societies woes ("little kids are gettin' warped from computer thwarps"?!?), but we appreciate the fact that he actually turned-up to the session if the stories about "The LP" are to be believed. Large offers a little more clarity - bringing a sombre feel to his musings but still managing to keep his chin up - but this is best appreciated on some vibe-out shit. Don't waste too much time trying to analyse this one.

      Organized Konfusion: Walk Into The Sun
      Organized Konfusion (Hollywood BASIC, 1991)

      If you can forgive the borderline corny intro of this joint, there's plenty of "light-hearted" era Pharoahe and Prince Po antics to be enjoyed. While I generally avoided "zany" rap like the plague when this album came out, there was enough mind-boggling lyrics and hardcore breaks to keep me along for the ride, and this song has enough enthusiasm to win over even the most mean-spirited among us, while there's no shortage of vivid imagery covering the humid months. It just goes to shows that in the right hands, a potentially cheesy track can still be a heater.

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    Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    Summer Songs: DJ Little Danny from Office Naps
    posted by O.W.

    From the editor: No way could we do a new summer songs series and not have DJ Little Danny down for a post. As the creator of Office Naps, Daniel Shiman has put together one of the best audioblogs we know out there - a fantastic mix of obscure music and Shiman's considerable knowledge.

    For his summer songs entry, Shiman dips away from his 45-only format on Office Naps and pulls out a few LP cuts that tap into his summer idealism. --O.W.

      Summer is just as much a vessel for our romantic imagination as it is baseball, cars, and youthful indiscretion. Humming within every summer song is always that ideal of our warmest months, some hazy ratio of what our imagination tells us summer should be - the breeze, the swimming hole, the sex, food, booze, and blaring music - and what our memory tells us summer was - usually with greatly exaggerated measures of the same.

      TnT Boys:
      Musical Del Alma
      From Sex Symbols / Simbolos Sexuales (Cotique, 1969).

      We shook, we did the shingaling: the history books tell us that we had fun before 1968’s “Tighten Up” riff, but I’m not so sure. The unstoppable, hypnotic beat of late ‘60s Spanish Harlem is there on “Musica Del Alma,” and, I’ll be damned, so is that riff. The TnT Boys were enthusiastic and impossibly young when they handed us “Musical Del Alma,” all buoyant with piano and pride and hot-fun-in-the-summertime grit.

      Or so I imagine. This is pure Nuyorican soul fantasia to me. “Musica Del Alma” is three minutes of cultural transcendence for someone who grew up in a small tourist town in Pennsylvania, someone now living in the West Texas desert. It’s music and peals of laughter and seared food smells rising from the late ‘60s New York City streets, and the added luxury of complete obliviousness to the inner city's meanness. “Musica Del Alma” is the perhaps the summer song's greatest potential realized: escapism.

      The Jesus and Mary Chain:
      Everything’s Alright When You’re Down
      From Barbed Wire Kisses (B-Sides and More) (Blanco Y Negro/Warner Brothers, 1988).

      For all its droning fuzz and feedback, the song’s got the right AM radio moves. ‘60s pop hooks, surf-ish guitar solos and anthemic choruses: “Everything’s Alright When You’re Down” is a great summer song. Unlike the TnT Boys, however, I hear the song today and I hear the banal, awkward reality of adolescence.

      The Jesus and Mary Chain were both a combination of everything I was between my sophomore and junior years in high school - sullen, greasy-haired, and sixties-fixated - and everything I wasn’t, but desperately wanted to be. I was gawky, with nerd glasses and bushy, uncontrollable red hair. The Jesus and Mary Chain were Scottish and unspeakably cool. Everything I could find by them, I bought and recorded dutifully to TDK 60 minute cassette. I hear “Everything’s Alright When You’re Down” today and, in other words, I’m slumped in the backseat of the family Toyota with some crappy, off-brand Walkman, willfully ignoring my parents and glaring out the window. It’s August. I think we were going to Canada. Somewhere with lakes.

      Years later I still cringe at the pubescent version of myself, and slap my forehead accordingly. Setting aside our embarrassment, though, we must include the awkward, fifteen-year-old reality of the summer song, too. This is only appropriate. This is the flipside to the fantasy of “Musica Del Alma.”

      The Cake:
      Baby That’s Me
      From The Cake (Decca, 1967)

      Other contributors to O-Dub’s summer songs series have noted this gap, this fantasy of summer on one hand and the actual experience of it on the other. Frequently our summer favorites float somewhere in that gulf between imagination and memory, escapism ("Musica Del Alma") and reality ("Everything’s Alright When You’re Down"). Yeah, summer is swell but, dammit, my ass is stuck to the seat again. Summer is constantly belying its own idealism.

      I found the Cake’s debut album several Junes ago. With its Wall of Sound grandeur and psychedelic tinge, "Baby That's Me" was the right song at the right time for someone cultivating a taste for dreamy '60s pop. This song, too, was dutifully recorded. It went everywhere my mp3 player did: job, car, apartment, running. It was infatuation.

      The poignancy and the sweet anticipation have long passed for many of us. We may now strain to remember the month. There are families now, and homes, careers and lives evolving independently of seasonal reverie. Our awareness of summer constantly dims - even as our obsession with music persists. But the shape of summer, though diffuse, still hangs in the air around us, and as long as it does, so does the possibility of the summer song. I hear the Cake’s "Baby That’s Me" today and I remember waking one golden morning in California two summers ago, perfectly content with myself for once and perfectly aware, too, that it was summer.


    Friday, June 08, 2007

    Summer Songs: Travis Glave From Wake Your Daughter Up
    posted by O.W.

    From the editor: Travis Glave is the founder of one of my favorite hip-hop blogs, Wake Your Daughter Up, where he writes long, impassioned posts about what he's been buying/listening to/thinking about. Maybe I'm partial also to the fact that we're close to age and thus are nostalgic for the same eras and artists but I like the depth and dedication he brings to site.

    For his summer songs entry, Glave plumbs into the memory lanes hitched to his younger days and just what tunes form the soundtrack to those flashbacks. --O.W.*


      From Travis Glave:

      Summers have been the intermissions in the movie of life or at least, they were the celebration scenes. Growing up in a place that consisted of cold winters and wet springs and autumns, summer was the one time of the year you could run around and bask. They conjure memories of simpler times. All we had to worry about was if we were going to have enough kids for that baseball game in the vacant lot or if our parents would let us stay over at a friend's house. As I grew older and became more mischievous, different worries faced us: getting caught sneaking out to meet girls down the street (we eventually got caught) or getting someone to buy us beer for the weekend.

      Sometimes I can't help to wonder if my generation was the last of its kind, the last of the innocent. I came from a fairly white, middle class background. As a young kid, summer for us meant staying out until it was dark and our parents called us inside. It meant riding our bikes a mile or two down to the closest convenience store to buy candy. We didn't have worry about a perverted old man in a van coaxing us with candy. We didn't stay inside unless it was raining. Summer was a time when we could be kids.

      Koolade feat. Masta Ace: Survival
      From 12" (ABB, 2004)

      The first song that I've included is "Survival" by Masta Ace. If you are a regular visitor of my blog, Wake Your Daughter Up, you undoubtedly know that I'm a huge Ace fan. In all honestly, I included this song almost exclusively for the first verse, which I wouldn't do unless it was so relevant to my childhood. It includes references to the ice cream man, dirt "bombs" (we called them dirtclods) and tracking your win-loss record in neighborhood fights. We organized baseball games, had squirt gun fights (a precursor to paint gun wars) or just shot hoops in someone's driveway. We were kids, we had no worries, growing up was fun.

      As I grew older, music began to have more of an importance in my daily life and it was almost always present in some form or another. Although I've always considered hip-hop more of a "winter" type of music, it would be the summer time that I discovered hip-hop. The summer of '86 during a rare time inside, my next door neighbor and at the time best friend and I were watching MTV. It was then they would show a Run DMC video, "Walk This Way", and from there on, I was hooked. As I grew up, hip-hop would be my music of choice. I would have friends that were into as well, but for them, it would be more of a passing fade, for me, I started gobbling up any knowledge I could. In August of '88, "Yo! MTV Raps" debuted, and the rest of that summer I would spend buying everything I saw on that debut episode.

      Beastie Boys: Hey Ladies
      From Paul's Boutique (Def Jam, 1989)

      The summer of '89 would be the summer of the "Paul's Boutique" for me, the Beastie Boys' second album. By this time I was already in high school and although I didn't have a "real" job at the time. I was mowing yards, digging ditches, and cleaning horse stalls. I would always have my Walkman tape player with me and "Paul's Boutique" was in it the majority of the time. "Hey Ladies" was the first single and the song just screams "summer", with its cowbells, funky guitar licks and party vibe. Even the video makes me think of summer with its '70's clothes, skimpily clothed women and swimming pools. In future summers, I've always made sure this gets played at any summer BBQ I have with friends or out on the lake, enjoying the sun.

      Steve Miller: The Joker
      From The Joker (Capitol, 1973)

      While summertime is a great time to be a kid, it's even better as a college student. You might have a summer job, but those usually don't mean much. It's a time when you know you are in the final stages when you can get away without much responsibility. In a few short years, if things go right, you will have get a real job and then the magic that is summer is greatly diminished. I graduated high school in May of '91. I planned on going to college in the fall, but I wanted to get the most out the upcoming summer. I ended up in the mountains at a friend's parent's cabin and while his parents were not rich, there was a pool table, air hockey, and a great sound system, all of which was placed in a converted garage. I spent much of my free time up at this cabin, playing volleyball, water skiing, shooting pool and of course drinking beer. We always had the stereo playing music, non stop. I could make a soundtrack of music just from that summer, but while many of my friends were not into hip hop as much as I was, most of the music we listened to was older classic rock and one such song was "The Joker" by the Steve Miller Band. We played Steve Miller's Greatest Hits from ‘74-'78 a lot and while I could go with many songs from this era, this song was the one that would always get us singing along and doing some air guitar solo routines. To this day, when ever I hear this song and the album, I think of that summer up in the mountains.

      Masta Ace Inc.: The INC Ride
      From Sittin' On Chrome (Delicious Vinyl, 1995)

      As I made my way through college and took what would become the "long-term" plan, I always made sure I had fun during the summer season and at times maybe too much fun. My love for hip-hop would also expand during the early '90 as well. One thing I enjoyed as a young man in those summers was jumping in my GMC Jimmy with two 12-inch speakers in the back being pushed by a large amp and cruising around feeling the summer heat rush through the vehicle. There was something great about rolling down the windows and just cruising around with a classic summer song and just letting the system bump. One song that was great for this was "The INC Ride" by Masta Ace Incorporated. Maybe it's the Isley Brothers sample that gives off that mellow and smooth vibe. I imagine being in a convertible blasting this song and having the wind rush through your face and the heat of the sun beating down on you on the way to the park for a BBQ.

      De La Soul: Sunshine
      From Stakes Is High (Tommy Boy, 1996)

      Everyone always has one summer that sticks out more than others and that for me is the summer of 1996. After spending a couple years in college trying to figure out what I wanted to do then switching my major after a couple more years, I had decided that I needed to move from my hometown in order to continue my education. I would move the fall of '96, so I knew that summer was probably "it" in terms of how I knew things. Combine this with a break-up after dating for two years and a falling out with a few life-long friends and this summer was posed to be different in many ways. For one, I was "searching for myself" after having my heart broken and I was branching out and hanging out with different people after being part of the same group of friends since high school.

      I worked a few jobs, one of them as a doorman for a popular downtown bar where I took advantage of the nightlife to its fullest. Music was a HUGE part of that summer, with so many different kinds of styles playing a role; everything from Smashing Pumpkins to Nas. One track that pretty much sums up the great time and the confusion was De La's "Sunshine." The track covered the good times I was experiencing, with its sing-a-long chorus and laid back, warmth yet it had some darker undertones in the lyric. Plus, I found it funny they were rapping about being "high...on sunshine" considering the amount of drinking I did that summer.

      Parliament: Flashlight
      From Gloryhallastoopid (Casablanca, 1979)

      While no other summer has been close in memories and incidents as that summer of '96 (thank god) I've had plenty great memories since then. There are concerts, softball tourneys, baseball games, parties and camping trips. One such camping trip in the summer of '98 led to my best friend and I playing Parliament's Greatest Hits a nauseating amount of times throughout the day and the drunken night. We must have played it 10-15 nights while playing horseshoes or riding jet skis out on the lake.

      Exile: Summertime In LA
      From Dirty Science (Sound In Color, 2006)

      Summers recently have been less and less about fun and more and more about real life things. As the turn of the century came and went and I've become older and have more responsibilities, it's a fact of life. Summer is a season for the youth, but with that being said, us older folks have to enjoy those memorable moments when we can. I ran across a track last year that reminded me of just how wonderful summer can be. It comes from DJ Exile's album, Dirty Science: "Summertime In LA" featuring Miguel Jontel. Even if you haven't experienced a LA summer, you could insert your favorite locale in for LA and still have yourself a great summer jam to throw on. I'm not usually one for the R&B and singing, but this lovely summer jam has a bouncy beat that just embodies a summer, Sunday afternoon. wherever you may be from.

      Summer will always be the season memories are made. It's a season for spending time outside at a picnic or a family reunion with family and friends and like so many activities, music will always provide the soundtrack to the season and to life in general. Enjoy this summer and listen to some good music.

    *Glave was kind enough to supply all the files himself but he did them in the zshare format and I just didn't feel like converting them to either direct MP3s or divshare.


    Saturday, June 02, 2007

    Summer Songs: Editor's Choice
    posted by O.W.

    Being that this is the third time I've brought in this series, it's been a challenge for me to find something new to say about summer songs each time out. Personally, I still like what I had down the first year, this idea of summer songs as encapsulating the fragility and idealism and nostalgia of the season. It's not like I'm about to reinvent that.

    However, I want to go back to my original question: what does a summer song mean? And for me, I've been realizing that there are at least two kinds:


    What songs remind me of summer?

    These aren't necessarily songs about summer or that even came out during summer but rather, they're songs that, for me, wiggle out the cork of a memory of summertime - a musical trigger for some time forgotten, then recovered through a song. For example, I'm almost certain that Fela Kuti's "Water No Get Enemy" will always be associated with the summer of 2006, when I moved back to Los Angeles from the Bay Area and this song was on constant repeat through the early days of August.

    There are other songs I've probably forgotten, summer songs from my childhood in Massachusetts or San Diego that have long faded into amnesia but might yet resurface in the right moment. However, the one song that always invokes a sensation of summer for me has been...

    R.E.M.: Stand
    From Green (Warner Bros, 1988)

    My birthday is in mid-August (Leos, holla) and I spent the first part of the summer of 1988, practicing driving, trying to earn my learner's permit so that when I turned 16, I could get my license ASAP and join that long parade of teenagers in Los Angeles who conflated their license with a passport to freedom. I had signed up with some random driving school out of the phonebook (no doubt "AAA Driving School" or "ABC School") and on my second lesson, my instructor - who I thought was minorly mad for doing this - told me to get on the freeway and head West. It was my first time driving on the freeway and in L.A. no less and as you can imagine, I was a little shook.

    I figured it'd be a quick jaunt down the 10 for a few miles than getting off and driving back home. Nope. He told me to keep driving: past downtown, past La Brea, past the Westside area where I live now, past Santa Monica, all the way from the 10, onto PCH and north towards Malibu. It was, to be sure, an incredible drive - scenic (and harrowing) and patient and what I remember from that drive was what was playing on the radio. Well, I remember "Stand" and that, at this point, might be the only song I can remember (pity too - I'd love to be able to say, "Yeah, I made that drive playing "Route 66" by Depeche! But honestly, I just don't recall) but any time I've heard the song since, I'm taken back nearly 20 years (damn...20 years already?) to that car, to that drive, to that summer where I went from being a mere boy to...a mere boy with a driver's license. Good times, good times.

    What songs sound like summer?

    This is a more amorphous - though no less valid - kind of summer song. It speaks to this idea that summer itself is all about your ideal of it vs. any actual reality. So these songs are the ones that capture what you think summer should sound like whether it's a lazy Sunday afternoon lounger, a sweaty club night anthem or whatever tempos and attitudes come in between. For me, these songs are always changing, depending on the moment.

    As I've written recently, I've really been into sweet soul songs and to me, there's a summer-y quality to a lot of these classic, post-Chi-Lites/Impressions soul tunes. It's not just the fragility of the voices and melodies - though that's part of it - it's also that so many of these songs are less about love and more about loss, about how fleeting infatuations and obsessions and romances are. And as I've said before, the feeling of summer is most powerful when you realize how quickly it passes; that you don't really appreciate the magic of the season until it's on the cusp of fading away.

    For me then, the songs that sound like summer are the ones that either/both musically or/and lyrically capture that moment where loss is imminent and the desire to hold on never shines brighter. Lately, one of the songs that's embodied this idea has been this one:

    Soul Majestics: I Done Told You Baby
    From 7" (Al-Tog, 1971)

    I owe a huge thanks to Joshua Alston, who is a reporter for Newsweek as well as the creator of the Joshua's Jukebox blog. At the EMP conference this year, he presented a paper that centered on this song by Chicago's Soul Majestics as an example of an older, now lost, form of Black masculinity - one that was open to embracing and expressing a vulnerability that few artists today are willing to cop to. As an example, he played this song by the Soul Majestics, which I had never heard before, but it quickly became an obsession, especially alongside the equally sublime "Together" by the Intruders. Even though Chicago is a long way from East L.A., there's something about this song that screams lowrider soul to me, a tune made to float out of cars cruising under hot July suns or warm August nights, a soundtrack for falling in (or out of) love with a crush destined to fade by winter but whose memory will haunt ever summer after. So bitter. So sweet.

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    Saturday, May 26, 2007

    Return of the Summer Songs: Eric Weisbard
    posted by O.W.

    It's Memorial Day Weekend which means that as we celebrate the informal return of summer, it also means we're relaunching our annual Summer Songs posts.

    It all began here. Now, in our third year, we've gotten even more ambitious, with over 10 guests invited to muse on what their perfect summer songs are.

    First up: Eric Weisbard. Enjoy.

    Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention: Plastic People
    From Absolutely Free (Rykodisc, 1967)

    Sid Vicious: My Way
    From Sid Sings (Virgin, 1979)

    Public Enemy: Rebel Without A Pause
    From It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (Def Jam, 1988)

    Neil Young: I'm the Ocean
    From Mirror Ball (Reprise, 1995)

    The Loser's Lounge: Islands in the Stream (no recording available)

    Los Abandoned: Van Nuys Es Very Nice
    From Mix Tape (Vapor Us, 2006)

    Jonathan Richman: That Summer Feeling
    From Jonathan, Sings (Rough Trade, 1983)

    Garth Brooks: That Summer
    From Chase (Liberty, 1992)

    DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince: Summertime
    From Home Base (Jive, 1991)

    Bryan Adams: Summer of '69
    From Restless (A&M, 1984)

    The first guest for 2007's Summer Songs season is Eric Weisbard. I first met Eric back in the late '90s when he was the music editor at the Village Voice and not long thereafter, he joined the staff at the Experience Music Project and seeing him would become a yearly event thanks to all the work he put in assembling the annual Pop Music Conference. Since he and his wife Ann Powers ended up in Los Angeles not long before me and my family came down, I've had the pleasure of spending even more time with them and have constantly reminded myself that Eric has a scary, encyclopedic memory for all things music-related. He knows every anecdote and story you can imagine, cross-genre.

    These days, apart from EMP, Eric stays busy with book writing, having already helped put the Spin Alternative Record Guide together as well as writing an entire book on Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion. He's currently finishing up his long-delayed PhD dissertation from UC Berkeley (Bears, holla!). With that, here's Eric Weisbard's ruminations on summer songs*:
      Summer for me is sleepaway camp, that great invention of Jewish parents looking for a way to make their kids full-on Americans rather than pasty Yids. Michael Rogin and many others have written about how Jews "became white." Summer camp is how we became tanned. My parents, both former counselors, are among the least rocking people I know. But they loved the beach, lobster in Maine, tennis, and Catskills holidays, and they sent me first to a summer camp in the Poconos sponsored by the once-socialist Workmen's Circle and then to a place around an unspellably Indian-named lake in New Hampshire. Like most things my parents pushed, I eventually hated summer camp, but my own variants – bicycle trips via American Youth Hostels, a consistent habit of uprooting myself in the sweaty season – owe a lot to it. Summer is all about the getaway. 

      Which makes summer songs the music I found when I got there. It was "Plastic People" by Frank Zappa in NH, heard via a bunkmate with an older brother and some hippie ken who introduced me to the concept of underground sounds, or maybe of using music to sneer. It was "My Way" performed by Sid Vicious, which three punk girls on one of my bicycle trips listened to obsessively, decoding the words as if Sid's were the only version available. And it was "Rebel Without a Pause," whistling like a new Yankee Doodle out of the cars that went boom the summer I moved from Princeton to Berkeley and took with me a (duh) black Public Enemy t-shirt that bizarrely accorded me a smidgen of rap cred.

      Did the genres stop changing with the seasons, or did I just get older? Preparing to move back from Cali to New York City, my summer song was Neil Young's post-grunge "I'm the Ocean," a manifesto of realized rockhead that attached to my own triumphant feelings driving around his immense ranch as my first cover story for Spin coincided with their offering me my first job. The summer of 2001 was the opposite: exchanging media for museum work in Seattle, my wife Ann and I slamdanced, on September 8, with the college radio crowd, at Josh's wedding at the summer camp in Maine that his rich stepfather had bought to recapture childhood, to the unapologetically retro Loser's Lounge live rendition of "Islands in the Stream" -- thirtywhatevers settling in for the long haul and saying goodbye to more than we realized. Most recently, when I got to Los Angeles last year for a summer that began May 1 and rarely blinked, my companion in air conditioned traffic snarls was Los Abandoned's Spanglish power-pop; I was a parent myself now, benign about a younger generation's (and different immigrant group's) need to dance along the line between assimilation and conquest.

      Jonathan Richman's "That Summer Feeling" was the song I thought of first when you asked me about the subject. It's programmatic, comprehensive, and refuses to let you say no. But ask yourself, is he really nostalgic for his childhood or rather haunted by feeling like a (Jewish) outsider to the whole Beach Boys endless summer thing? Or think about Will Smith's "Summertime," "That Summer" by Garth Brooks, or Bryan Adams's "Summer of '69." Three varieties of mainstream reverie, each is about finding a new way to fly into the sun. The fantasy was set in myth long before we all got there. The challenge of the summer song is to see what place for you there is anyway.

    *Given the number of songs in this post, I divshare-d them as a way to reduce bandwidth. Sorry for the inconvenience.


    Friday, August 04, 2006

    posted by O.W.

    The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations
    From Smiley Smile (Capitol, 1967)

    (Editor's Note: This latest summer songs post comes from Jim Harrington, music editor for the Alameda Newspaper Group. For him, summer songs are like popsicles. Mmmmm...popsicles.)

    I'm all about the lead graph. Credit that to my background as a concert critic. I've found that if I've got a good lead in mind, the rest of the review tends to flow rather smoothly. If I'm not confident in my lead, it usually translates to a very, VERY long evening. (And, really, what can one write at 3 a.m. about a Blink 182 concert that hasn't already been written?) So, when the topic of great summer songs recently came up in a staff meeting, I immediately turned to our theater critic and said, "a great summer song should be like a popsicle." I had no idea what I meant by that - just that I had a good lead.

    Later, I would flesh that idea out and back up my lead by saying that a great summer song should be cool, sticky and sweet, leaving you with a sugary high. Bingo. And the first summer song I thought of was Good Vibrations. I didn't know what else would be on my list, but I knew that would be at the top. Taking this discussion out of season, I would go so far as to submit that Beach Boys song as a candidate for best song ever. (Mojo mag would back me on that one _ it listed Good Vib as the best single of all time. Rolling Stone had it at No. 6.) This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Good Vibes and, having just listened to it, I would say that song still has it _ whatever that elusive "it" is. It still sounds important and fun and, very, genius. I can only imagine what
    it must have sounded like at the time. So I'm putting that song as no. 1 on my list - the very tastiest of all Popsicles. Here's some other of my top sweets:

    - "Vacation," Go-Go's
    - "Land of 1,000 Dances," Wilson Pickett
    - "Night Moves," Bob Seger
    - "Miserlou," Dick Dale
    - "Blister in the Sun," Violent Femmes
    - "That Summer Feeling," Jonathan Richman
    - "Bouncing Around the Room," Phish
    - "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay," Otis Redding
    - "Raspberry Beret," Prince

    --Jim Harrington


    Saturday, July 22, 2006

    posted by O.W.

    Eddie Kendricks:Intimate Friends
    From Slick (Tamla, 1977). Also on The Ultimate Collection.

    Common Sense: A Penny For Your Thoughts
    From Can I Borrow a Dollar? (Relativity, 1992)

    Sweet Sable: Old Times' Sake (After Hours Mix)
    From 12" (Street Life, 1993)

    213: Another Summer
    From The Hard Way (TVT, 2004)

    Rhymefest: Sister
    From Blue Collar (J, 2006)

    When I was listening to the new Rhymefest the other night[1], the song "Sister" came on and the first thought in my mind was, "Intimate Friends" again?

    You have to understand, for three summers running, this Eddie Kendricks' song has been sampled by the likes of Rhymefest, Alicia Keys and 213. Plus, go back a decade and Common used it in 1992, then Sweet Sable the next summer. (I know I'm missing a few others too).

    And the thing is, it always sounds really good because you really can't f--- up the original source. "Intimate Friends" simply sounds like summer. Breezy, laid-back and oh-so-soulful. It's definitely my favorite Kendricks song that doesn't appear on People...Hold On.

    Of the lot above, 213 still did it best if only because they turned this into an official summer anthem in name even if the rest aspired to be that without announcing their intentions. The way Common flipped it way back when was interesting but the engineering on that album (in that era, of course) didn't really bring out the full beauty of the song. The Sweet Sable was closer to achieving that but it also loses points for just having inane lyrics. And as for the Rhymefast - I'm not mad at it even though it doesn't do much different from 213. I do wonder if Rhymefest was also trying to nod back at his fellow Chicago-ian, Common but it may just be a coincidence.

    [1] Somewhat to my surprise, Blue Collar is actually a real good album. Not perfect but all things considered, I was very satisfied with it both aesthetically and conceptually.

    Labels: ,

    Tuesday, July 11, 2006

    posted by O.W.

    Just to note, has a summer songs post, written by none other than Hua Hsu, who blessed Soul Sides with an excellent entry a few weeks back on the same topic.


    Monday, July 10, 2006

    posted by O.W.

    (Editor's Note: I love all the summer songs posts but I must say that I'm especially pleased to have convinced Ernest Hardy - one of my favorite contemporary writers - to contribute, especially given how much he was willing to write and share. I first began reading Hardy's work when I started at the LA Weekly in the late '90s and since then, I've come to appreciate how insightful and articulate his writing is about music, film, race, masculinity, sexuality, etc. I was especially happy to see that he's compiled many of his best essays and reviews into Blood Beats Vol. 1 which just came out the other month - buy it directly from him and support one of my fellow broke writers. --O.W.)

    Negroes reflexively do a waltz between past, present and future, between holding on to what has been while hurling ourselves toward what might be. Sometimes we hold too tight to the past and get stuck, to our detriment. Sometimes we hurdle too quickly forward and lose any sort of anchor, again to our detriment. And that particular dance is reflected in our art and our politiHave Fun (Again)
    From Diana (Motown, 1980)

    I was always a huge Diana Ross fan, but Detroit itself was kinda ambivalent toward the hometown girl made good. Their pride was tempered by the charges of “oreo” and “sellout” that reflexively trailed her name. But the year that she hooked up with Chic and produced her funkiest, blackest album, Detroit claimed her fiercely. The singles “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out” (especially the latter) were huge, of course, seeping out of apartment windows, blasting from car windows and replayed at every party. But the album tracks “Tenderness” and the sing-along, custom-made-for-summer “Have Fun Again” were just as popular, with everyone loving the fake-out fade-out of “Have Fun.” Fun-fun-fun-fun-fun-fun FUN… Have fun… One of the things I most loved about the album was bonding over it with my much older cousin Randy. Back before stretches in prison and jail became media-hyped and industry-glorified rites of passage, most black folk still lowered their voices when speaking of a family member who was in or had been in jail/prison. There was shame around it. Randy had been in and out of juvie and then jail for as long as I could remember. But he was out that summer: cheekbones high, smile wide, ‘fro flawless and his tight, cut-off-at-the-knees jeans driving all the girls wild for flashing his almost comically bowed but still sexy legs. Randy was – and is – the biggest sweetheart on the planet, just cursed with shitty luck and incredibly bad timing. Always caught up for petty or stupid shit. But still, prison had stamped him dangerous, mysterious, in my young eyes. I was intrigued by him but a little afraid of him. One day, dusk falling, just the two of us sitting on the front porch, “Have Fun Again” playing loudly on someone’s radio, Randy turned to me with a grin and said, “Your girl is bad. That’s good shit right there.” And he sang along. And it was.

    Soul II Soul: Back To Life
    From Vol. 1 - Keep On Movin (Virgin, 1990)

    Some call-a-number then call-another-number then call-somewhere else to get the address warehouse party in Los Angeles. Too many people, too little air. Bottled water too expensive. Caron Wheeler’s voice shimmers a cappella through the speakers and hands shoot up in the air, spines liquefy and asses figure-eight. Bodies jook to that beat and the crowd becomes a choir: However do ya want me / however do you need me. And I could swear that a cool breeze floated in from somewhere. Sensuality, a cosmopolitan vibe rooted in Motherland consciousness and a future-sound molded from stripped down beats and the loveliest of sweet, sweet voices all aswirl.

    The Isley Brothers: That Lady
    From 3+3 (T-Neck, 1973)

    The Isley Brothers: Fight the Power
    From The Heat Is On (T-Neck, 1975)

    A one-two punch that bottles the brilliance and the range of the Isley clan. Long before Ron became the creepy ass uncle that no relative in possession of a vagina wants to be left alone with (Mr. Bigg… yawn), he really was that smoove luvva man… Cooing respectful yet suggestive compliments, given seductive backing vocals and a fierce guitar solo by his siblings, “Lady” was the cut that inevitably had the ladies strut their stuff on the patio, across the park, down the block… “Fight the Power” was simply the get-the-party started jam… Everybody and their mama loved/loves it but it seemed to really connect with the black men I knew. I think even two year-olds channeled some pent up frustration to spit the line “…all this bullshit going down.”

    Luther Vandross: Never Too Much
    From Never Too Much (Epic, 1981)

    It took a minute for me to make the connection. That nerdy muthafucka on all the billboards around town was the same guy who sang the sublime, ecstatic, when-does-he-take-a-breath “Never Too Much.” For real? A thousand kisses from you… Teenage summer crushes, grown folks business and a soul-pop catchiness that snared everyone who heard it. Sitting in the backseat of one of my aunt’s or uncle’s cars with my sister and cousins, trying to match Luther note for note, seamless breath for seamless breath, and collapsing into laughter after mangling a passage.

    Earth, Wind and Fire: Reasons
    From That's The Way of the World (CBS, 1975)

    Clustered on the stairs of the back porch, me my sister and our cousins. Young versions of ourselves. Shorts, tee-shirts, summer dresses. Cornrows to let the scalp breathe and cut down on our mothers’ summertime hair management. Popsicles in hand. I forget who kicks off our a cappella concert, but there we are, singing our hearts out: And in the morning when I rise, no longer feeling hipmatized… A performance that would repeat throughout the summer.

    Honorable Mentions:
      1) “Strawberry Letter 23” / Brothers Johnson
      2) “For the Love of You” / Isley Brothers
      3) “Natural High” / Bloodstone
      4) “Don’t Stop the Music” / Yarbrough & Peoples
      5) “Soul Makossa” / Manu Dibango
      6) “Numbers;” “Pocket Calculator” / Kraftwerk
      7) “One More Shot” / C-Bank
      8) “You Shook Me All Night Long;” “All Shook Up” / Orbit
      9) “Where Love Lives” / Alison Limerick
      10) “Illusion”/ Imagination

    --Ernest Hardy