25 January 2017, Fresh Beats

A work meeting made me travel last week, and ever since I got back, I just haven’t had it in me to cover a tune for the record show. The meeting concluded on Inauguration Day 2017, and I walked out of it with a bunch more demands on my time.

Around the house we framed and hung a selection of stuff, including some ancient DJJJC flyers. As of this writing Queen of Sheba is still kickin’ and seems to have dropped the “II” designation.

Sure, I stole this from a record cover, but it makes me happy to look at it every day.

Fresh beats. Bass your streets and party.

17 January 2017, No. 231, Eddie Bo, ‘Can You Handle It’

If you see a thing, want it, after you get it, can you handle it?

I saw the title of No. 231 and my mind sprang to No. 247. Both tunes are called “Can You Handle It,” and Sharon’s Redd’s No. 247 is way more disco than Eddie Bo’s funky No. 231. The disco-fied and mislabeled Sharon Redd song in my mind made me think I might be further confusing my titles/songs with No. 181 from Bo, “When You’re Fingers on the Funk” [sic], which is the most disco of the Eddie Bo tunes I have on file.

No. 231 has one of those big organic bwahs from the bass guitar and low horns (trombones, I think) playing a sustained note in unison. The main riff’s last two and a half beats are the full stop at the end of a two-bar sentence skeptical of your ability to handle it after all. Musically there’s not much else that pops out. From the background the guitarist noodles around at times and the piano player’s highest pitched embellishments peek through.

Don’t let your eyes bring on a load that they can’t carry. The lyrical content seems a simple enough cautionary tale: Be sure you’re equipped to deal with the implications of getting what you want. I’m trying to figure out how the hard head and consequent soft backside form a corollary. I guess if one repeatedly goes after something one can’t handle, therein lies true folly. If you can’t handle it, leave it alone.

15 January 2017, No. 230, The Supremes and The Four Tops, ‘Love The One You’re With (Todd Terje Edit)’

The self-titled debut LP from Stephen Stills I had went out in the great Illinois-to-Georgia purge, so if I want to punch up the original version of No. 230, I’m resigned to my digital transcription of 1970’s Stephen Stills. I haven’t yet refiled all the records I rescued at the last minute from the “get rid of” pile; the spreadsheets indicate that I have 1975’s Stills LP in a box waiting to be reshelved while the Manassas 2xLP was never in danger of being culled. Those two titles are, however, the only Stephen Stills solo efforts left in the stacks.

No matter. No. 230 is an edit of a cover anyway, “Love the One You’re With (Todd Terje Edit).” It’s apparent from the title the edit is Todd Terje’s, but I’m having a little trouble discerning the recording artist. (It occurs to me too that putting out apocryphal edits would be pretty easy.) I have this “Love the One You’re With” edit labeled as Diana Ross, but it’s never sounded quite like Diana Ross to me. Elsewhere it’s credited to Jean Terrell, who replaced Ross as lead singer of The Supremes in 1970, and in fact it looks like the original is The Supremes and The Four Tops from 1971’s Dynamite LP with Terrell on lead vocals. Dynamite is the third such collaborative LP from those two groups, and since it didn’t sell as well as its predecessors, it was also the last. The Four Tops left Motown the next year.

I like the flutes in “Love the One You’re With (Todd Terje Edit),” and I love the “ba-na-na-na” cello riff that follows each iteration of the lyric “love the one you’re with” in the third chorus. Speaking of “ba-na-na-na” parts, there are some grand and celebratory passages of nonlexical vocables here that illustrate also a technical thing I appreciate about this edit. The nonlexical vocables, unlike the cello’s “ba-na-na-na,” go more like “ya-duh da-duh da-da dah-dah,” and on subsequent listening I think perhaps that’s a piccolo rather than a flute playing along with the singers.

The technical thing that draws me further into the “ya-duh da-duh” sections (and this selection generally) is that Terje used a recording of the tune from vinyl for this edit. “Love the One You’re With” is the penultimate track on the Dynamite LP’s A side, and the edit exhibits as a consequence characteristic inner groove distortion and maybe even a little wear. I like these audio artifacts for nostalgic reasons and for a poke in the eye of the audiophiles. (Poke in the ear of the audiophiles?)

Most or all of the “analog warmth of vinyl” is an amalgam of a longing for artifacts/imperfections and the cool factor of owning a substantial, interesting-looking, and durable physical object. Plus there are lots of literal moving parts involved in playing records, and that gives audiophiles endless tweakable permeations to test, purchase, and sell along to their friends to fund the ever more expensive next purchase. CDs, in contrast, are small, simple to play, ephemeral, and the only part that dances around is a laser reading one zero one zero one zero one.

I share and encourage both the nostalgic motives to listen to vinyl and the audiophiles’ need to horse-trade their mechanical thoroughbreds. Plus records really are durable when well cared for. Let me show you some examples of disc rot from my CD collection.

Terje may or may not feel similarly. In this case the preservation of that old school sound was a matter of necessity not aesthetic choice; it seems there is no digital version of the Dynamite LP available. I forget sometimes that not everything made it onto CD and that those titles that didn’t make it can, as a consequence, be hard to find as paid/remastered digital downloads. I didn’t search very hard, but it appears the original Supremes/Four Tops “Love the One You’re With” cover hasn’t even shown up on a compilation, so there’s still no $0.99 download available anywhere, not even for ready money.

Don’t be angry, don’t be sad. Just give a listen and see if it matches the good times you’ve had.

11 January 2017, No. 229, Commodores, ‘Brick House (A Special Length Disco Version)’

The dollar bins at The Marvelous in West Philadelphia were the source of my copy of “Brick House (A Special Length Disco Version)” by Commodores, which is No. 229 on this list. Mine is one of those double-A-sided 12s, but I made a digital copy of each side anyway. Each digital copy bears a note in the title: “better,” “worse.” The worse version has more record noise—more pops and clicks—than the better version, and though I like record noise well enough to play just about any beat-up piece of polyvinyl chloride if it’s the only copy I have, I don’t seek out the noisiest copies; in fact, if I have a version from a CD and a version from vinyl, which one I’ll play is a toss-up. Probably the one with cue points already set up. This record, I play the better side, which is still not without the audio indicators of dust, wear, and tear. Physical artifacts beget audio artifacts, after all.

I never understood the appeal of serving as tenor in a metaphor whose vehicle is the brick shithouse of the “built like a…” cliché. “Hey girl, you’re like an outhouse” seems about as smooth as “you remind me of my Jeep.” And in the case of Mr. Kelly, the Commodores lyrics are maybe a little too close to his actual sentiments about women, never mind metaphor.

Seriously, though, whatever happened to, like, light through yonder window, y’know? Arise, fair sun, and pee on the envious moon like a president-elect in a Russian presidential suite. Shithouse as vehicle is inescapable, it seems. Just keep your eye on the truly deserving tenors and disregard the misdirection.

I get it that one might seek a certain metaphorical sturdiness in a mate, and solid is a synonym for good, but really I suspect that at the root of my confusion are cultural differences in beauty standards. Cf. the Monday Upstairs at Elena’s Soul on which a group including a big black girl was hanging out. Fich had me put on a song I’d never heard, Jimmy Jones’ “Watch Out for Da Big Girl,” much to my skinny white boy mortification. But the big girl recognized her song immediately and dragged her friends out onto the floor to tear it up.

Commodores shout out some measurements in “Brick House”—“36-24-36”—but they leave off a crucial qualifier that sheds light on the ideal body image thing and the racial differences implied. I should have learned the lesson long ago when Mix-a-Lot reinserted the caveat after the measurements, disclaiming: “36-24-36? Only if she’s 5’3”.”

So if you’re built like a brick shithouse, know that you’re mighty mighty, and let it all hang out.

Also: Shake it down. Shake it down now.

9 January 2017, No. 228, Brooklyn Express, ‘Back in Time’

Ah ah baby, it’s all right. What you say to that? The first minute and a half of Brooklyn Express’s “Back in Time” at No. 228 is okay, but skip ahead to the break at 1:35 or so. Despite the break’s understated feel, the soft falsetto vocals set against big stabs and cavernous claps make it start to feel memorable. That memorable impression is probably due to the stabs and claps occurring more frequently, which increase in frequency also signals the close of the break and our entry into a section defined by a wobbly piano line.

The piano after the break has a rolling feel to it, and what I guess must have been a little wow in the tape makes it feel clumsy, like stumbling down a spiral staircase. I have the LP version of the tune from the Best of Disco Demands compilation, and it’s possible (though barely) that the compilers introduced the error.

If I see the original LP, I’ll grab it, and that’ll be a lucky feat because unless Discogs is simply incomplete (sometimes the case), the self-titled Brooklyn Express LP wasn’t pressed in the US. This seems unlikely to me, but if it’s true, it adds a nice level of irony to the band name and album title, like if the UK Subs had been from New Jersey. Makes sense that the LP was pressed in Yugoslavia, Spain, and Italy, as the band was the project of a Yugoslav producer named Began Cekic. US copies of a “Back in Time” 12 inch are available, and those are more appealing to me; they stretch the song out to 13:45 and list a “mixed by” credit from Tee Scott of No. 216 fame.

Clap your hands. Stomp your feet. In the jungle, bruh.

Apparently in the jungle the other stuff you do is you burn it up, you don’t stop, you keep it going, and you lift the bassline from Cymande’s “Bra,” bruh. This bass appropriation in the last two minutes makes me wonder if the horn line I disregard in the intro also has a source somewhere outside the Cekic canon, especially likely since Brooklyn Express’s output includes a lot of covers.

All original or not, the breaks in “Back in Time” make it well worth checking out.

7 January 2017, No. 227, Bob James,‘Take Me to the Mardi Gras’

Agogo bells were always around when I played percussion in the school band, but the bells riff from No. 227, Bob James’ “Take Me to the Mardi Gras,” isn’t very cool (or recognizable) without the trap kit accompaniment, and somehow we never got that groove together in our little jams before and after class. To be fair, Run-DMC’s “Peter Piper,” which uses the bells and drums intro from No. 227 to iconic effect, was pretty played out by the time I hit the band room in the early 1990s, and besides, we were busy figuring out Nirvana riffs on the marimba.

The longest portions of No. 227 are chock-full of syrupy electric piano happiness and crap strings. I never knew this was a Paul Simon song, and I don’t think I’ve ever even seen the There Goes Rhymin’ Simon LP on which it appears, but Simon’s authorship goes some way toward explaining why most of the song is cloying and upbeat. There are only two good parts in the Bob James version, and for the mixtape I edited them together and cut out all the spun sugar. It’s maybe the shortest edit in any of these mixes so far, in and out in less than a minute, but there’s nothing left sneer at, and that’s what I wanted.

Some “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” drums also show up in “Hold It Now, Hit It” from the Beastie Boys, but not the bells. That song uses only the first three drum hits, ba-dap boom. Another case of Rick Rubin deploying the same samples all over the place. And I’m glad he did. “Goddamn that DJ made my day,” as they say (or producer, rather, though surely it was Jam Master Jay who turned Rubin on to the Bob James record). Hold it now (hold it now, hold it now), hit it!

6 January 2017, Remembering George Michael

Remembering George Michael, I played this Lake Street Dive cover of "Faith" at Blue Sky Bar tonight, and followed it up with a 12-minute version of "I Want Your Sex."

2 January 2017, No. 226, Blondie, ‘Rapture (Special Disco Mix)’

No. 226, Blondie’s “Rapture (Special Disco Mix),” falls just before the middle of the eighth mixtape, and it’s one of the mixtape edits I enjoy the most. For the first twelve bars there’s barely an indication it’s a crowd pleaser, all drums and sparse synthesizers. But when the bassline starts up, it’s hard not to feel the groove whether or not it’s a groove you’ve felt before.

Debbie Harry has no business rapping, and I made sure to leave in the line about the man from Mars eating cars as a testament to the faddish way rap was exploited on early records like “Rapper’s Delight.” Grandmaster Caz, from whom Big Bank Hank gaffled all those rhymes, is also the source of that sing-songy, markedly old school cadence that inflects disco rap, but Caz’s rhymes and prosody are more variegated and therefore more sophisticated than Hank’s. Good on Harry for giving it a try, and she does have some memorable rhymes, but maybe she ought to have stopped with the hip-hop sure shot. Then again, who am I to talk? I made a silly rap song once, so, you know, come visit me in my house of glass. Heart of glass. That one’s coming up later.

Before the man from Mars raps come in, I feature a horn thing that nicely bridges the gap between big-budget disco productions and sparser no wave stuff. Then after the man from Mars goes away I make sure to include one of the pretty and haunting parts. I never before thought to compare Julee Cruise and Debbie Harry, but there you have it, “Rapture’s” chorus connects my dots. I can’t tell what the lyrics are in this section, and the Internet transcriptions are unsatisfyingly incomplete, so here goes my version: “Back to bend / body muscular / Seismic decibel, like a javelin / One to one / teach on technology / And a DJ to add up / no sign of danger / in rapture.” Close, but not quite, and you can see how vain is the disc jockey. I bet you think this song is about you. But never mind that. Here’s a more accurate version of the lyrics I found: “Man to man / body muscular / Seismic decibel / by the jugular / Wall to wall / tea time technology / and a digital ladder / No sign of bad luck / in rapture.” No idea what tea time technology is.

And at any rate all I can hear is “Step into a World” from KRS-One, which song’s subtitle is “Rapture’s Delight.” I played the I Got Next CD in my car a lot and never looked at the liner notes, never saw the song’s title or subtitle, so it was years before I began to appreciate Blondie and made the conscious connection to the KRS-One melody’s origin. Step into a world indeed; just make sure no one chows down on your ride.

1 January 2017, WGRS Book 5

I didn’t set out to be a music critic, and I’m not sure exactly why I started writing about the tracks in my favorite virtual crate of records. I’ll speculate it was because I was writing nonfiction for a class with Joe Bonomo and didn’t have a steady DJ gig, so I figured if I wrote about the records, maybe people would listen to them without me being in the room to push the buttons and start them going. Never really thought about it before, but I’ve been copping Bonomo’s platform’s style in a different genre ever since I started writing about these tunes on Facebook. I think he’s the only person I know in real life who consistently writes a blog, so I must have had No Such Thing as Was in mind when I decided I needed a blog for the WGRS referents in How to Observe the Sun Safely. The entry for No. 154 is certainly an allusion to No Such Thing as Was. I’m not consciously trying to emulate Bonomo’s voice, although I do think often about things I learned from him, in particular a trick about blocking up lined verse as prose. I’ve not yet tried it out, but I mean to.

Another impetus to write about these tunes was my desire to subvert the DJ’s tendency toward secrecy. I wanted to tell everyone every record I had in the good stuff crate. I realized back then that it would take years and started anyway. One day I’ll sit down and cover all the rest of these records in a day, a week, a month, converting a periodic practice into a nonstop typing marathon, clack clack clack through a long roll of paper, and then we’ll be done. One day. Probably years from now when there are only a handful of tunes left to write about anyway.

In the Introduction to the last mixtape I went into detail about the transitions between songs, some more successful than others and still more getting descriptions more florid than perhaps they deserved. Not this time, except to note that I like the high-pass filter sweep bringing “Party Freaks” in over “Monkey See, Monkey Do” around 18:50. It’s simple, and it adds a cascading, grainy texture like playing sandpaper blocks down a Slip’N Slide.

Mostly as I listened back to this tape I thought to myself, “A lot of these mixes are lazy.” Some are extra good because of this laziness, but others of the mixes leave finesse and elegance to be desired. Cf. the mix out of “I Don’t Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops!)” into “Rock Your Baby,” which is discordant and fades The Gap Band out too rapidly just before 42:00. And four bars too many of Shadrach et al. over Stevie at 57:50. Sorry about that.

The more of these end-to-end overlays I make (and to this point I’ve made about 270, having just started mix 10), the more I think about excerpting smaller snippets of these songs and making something more compositional, like Ken Raw’s Left Handed Scissors or something even more complicated like I gather The Avalanches record my sister gave me for Christmas is. Gotta throw that one on the platter yet. Got a new platter for Christmas too. Our house is now home to a lovely piano black Pro-Ject turntable and a skein of yarn made from the coats of qiviut by a woman who oversees every inch of production. The people who deal in vicuña are jerks, apparently.

Anyway, a new year’s excitement abounds, and records flutter in the wings waiting to be transcribed. For now we’ve got to get back to the record show. Baby, let me do it, let me do it to you, baby. This is Warm Glow Record Show 5: We Can Workflow