30 March 2017, No. 246, People’s Choice, ‘Do It Any Way You Wanna (Keep Schtum Re-Edit)’

There are two songs in the record show that share No. 246’s title, “Do It Any Way You Wanna,” and each of those songs has an edit in the record show too. This one, No. 246, is from People’s Choice and is the edited version: “Do It Any Way You Wanna (Keep Schtum Re-Edit).” There is a slight variation in the title of the song by Cashmere, anyway in place of any way, though unfortunately I didn’t do all my double checking before I published the last book, whose report on No. 184 incorrectly labels the non-edited version of the People’s Choice tune at No. 333 with anyway not any way. Sincerest apologies.

The groove here is remarkably consistent, the bassline rarely changing. At No. 333 we’ll find out if that was the original intention or something the editor decided to do. Something of an outlier on this list, this is a disco song without any remarkable synthesizers—maybe no synths at all, come to think of it. Just organ. The Cashmere song by basically the same name is bursting with synths. Being from 1982 helps Cashmere’s tune in that regard. It’s slicker and less funky, but I like it better.

As mentioned in No. 184, the group Escort stole the People’s Choice groove for a song about cocaine, but we’ll hear more about that (and hear the song itself) shortly at No. 260. For now, do it any way you wanna. Do it.

22 March 2017, No. 245, The Walter Murphy Band, ‘A Fifth of Beethoven’

For as much as I complain about disco tunes being ruined by too many strings, the inclusion of The Walter Murphy Band’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” in the list may seem odd. But it’s Beethoven with big drums, and I find little to complain about here. I also have nothing but good things to say about Mr. Murphy, who appears again later on this list and whose name I’m always happy to see in the credits of Family Guy, for which series he does the music. Anytime Family Guy sends up something from the 1970s, Murphy is back in his wheelhouse and the music is even better than usual. In fact, “A Fifth of Beethoven” itself is used in a roller boogie scene in one episode, a direct nod to Murphy’s disco past.

“A Fifth of Beethoven” achieved hit status when it was included on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. In every way it’s also more successful than another classically derived inclusion therefrom: David Shire’s take on Mussorgsky, “Night on Disco Mountain,” is too fast for its mood and tries to be far too big—like, epic, bro—both of which traits are hallmarks of the disco demise basically guaranteed by the appropriative popularity of Saturday Night Fever. Even the synths in the Shire tune are lame. Pity.

For the most part the instruments in “A Fifth of Beethoven” are doing what’s expected: The strings are playing Symphony No. 5, albeit a weird arrangement that’s locked to a click track and wanders away from Beethoven in the middle. The guitar, keys, and drums are playing a pretty standard funk groove, and the horns stab here and there and join the strings later. Nothing shocking. In the first section the bass doesn’t get to establish a groove, instead following the strings a little more closely until the strings reduce the Symphony No. 5 components down to just buh-buh-buh-bum as a vamp and then, as I said, wander off to play some non-canonical licks. All that happens around the 1:00 mark, and it’s where the bass finds a funkier pattern to fall into, and then maintains the groove for another 45 seconds or so until the bridge.

The only thing left to say is that I wish the organ solo were a synth solo. It might not fit the feel of the song as well as the organ does, but a synth is what I want to hear. Maybe by the time the LP A Fifth of Beethoven came out in 1976, Wendy Carlos’s 1968 Switched-On Bach LP and her Beethoven-laden work on A Clockwork Orange were considered played out or too campy for Murphy to revisit similar turf. At any rate, “A Fifth of Beethoven” is my favorite disco piece adapted from classical music. Buh-buh-buh-bum!

19 March 2017, Chuck Berry Is Duck-Walking in Space

In high school I played stand-up drums à la Slim Jim Phantom in a rockabilly band called Trailer Hog, and we covered Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” which also happens to be one of the few songs I can strum somewhat recognizably on the guitar. Just the rhythm parts. Not that flashy intro stuff that was Berry’s signature, at least in the minds of a generation who saw ’80s Michael J. Fox shred it in 1955, thereby inspiring Berry cover his own song before he’d actually written it and creating a causal loop that the film then totally ignores, which is fine; the fading photograph covers time travel paradoxes well enough.

These days when a Chuck Berry song come to my mind, it’s “Maybellene,” maybe because its hook is the most fun to sing. Berry’s discography contains the seeds of so much pop music to come, this essay should be longer, but it’s all been covered elsewhere as well. “Sweet Little Sixteen” is the explicit basis for “Surfin’ USA” by The Beach Boys, and Brian Wilson’s dad handed over all the rights to Berry’s publisher, Arc Music Group—even the rights to Wilson’s lyrics listing iconic surf spots. Berry’s publisher also sued John Lennon over the line “Here come old Flattop” and the melody generally in “Come Together,” as they are gaffled from Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me.” I won’t even mention the countless covers, except to say go look at the number and quality of artists who have done versions of “Rock and Roll Music.”

Chuck Berry died yesterday at age 90, but as journalist Chuck Klosterman has pointed out, “Johnny B. Goode” will still be out there duck-walking the grooves of Carl Sagan’s Golden Voyager Record long after—well, Klosterman envisions an Earth-swallowing Sun, but clearly we’ll boil our own oceans with a cold frame of carbonic acid gas before that other solar cataclysm comes. But never mind that. I’ve got a copy of The Great Twenty-Eight, and today I intend to play it loud.

12 March 2017, No. 244, M, ‘Pop Muzik’

I’ve always thought of this as a silly one-off studio project, and in some ways it was, but the guy behind the M, Robin Scott, had been writing songs since the sixties and owned a record label before he hit it big with No. 244, M’s “Pop Muzik.” Given Scott’s history, his sardonic delivery of the song’s hook makes sense; he’d earned his jadedness by 1979.

The album Scott wrote to carry “Pop Muzik” was recorded in Montreux in a studio owned by the band Queen. David Bowie lived in Montreux at the time and stopped by the studio to contribute some hand claps here and there. The album also featured the drumming of Phil Gould, a member of Level 42, which band we featured last time at No. 243.

Listeners astute and non-, provided they’re of a certain age, may recognize the bassline from Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters,” over which Huey Lewis and the News sued for copyright infringement given the similarity to “I Want a New Drug.” Both owe a debt to “Pop Muzik,” and if I felt like belaboring the point, I’d make a little mashup to demonstrate. But I don’t, so I won’t.

The inclusion of Munich in the lyrics is strange. New York, London, and Paris being bastions of music and fashion, one expects Berlin if a German city at all, but that screws up the rhyme scheme, making Munich an inevitability, I suppose. I once fell asleep in a train car en route to Berlin from Rome, but the car I chose was near the back of the train, and it got left behind in Munich while the cars in the front carried on to Berlin. Waking up to the calls of frustrated German train clearers—“München,” seemed to be all they could or would say—was confusing and disheartening. Waiting for the next train would have been totally miserable too except there were veggie burgers at German Burger King, a real novelty to a Midwestern teenager in 1999.

Before I go back to living in my disco, there are some timbres we should cover here, starting with Brigit Novik’s voice in the backup vocals. I’m sure the folks responsible for VH1’s Pop Up Video theme music had her in mind when recording their little jingle. Then there’s that guitar with what sounds like phaser, maybe, and a touch of tremolo. Maybe just the tremolo. It reminds me of cowboy sounds, The Reverend Horton Heat, riding horses on a mesa, and the cover of Invisible Man’s Band Really Wanna See You LP. The organ-like synth sound in the intro is enormous and lush, but it’s not in time with the rest of the song, so it doesn’t mix on the beat, which is a disappointment but can’t detract from the sonority of the synth.

Anyway, radio video, boogie with a suitcase. Mix me a Molotov, forget about the rat race.

10 March 2017, Ten Years of Heart Stuff

It was a dark and smoky night ten years ago when she walked into the bar looking for a ride home from a friend. She got a taxi and a Jesse instead. In the time since then she’s sometimes asked why I never write anything for her, not realizing it’s all for her, all the time, and that’s why we’re both still here, doing the work ten years later. Here’s to the last ten and to as many more as we can get.

9 March 2017, No. 243, Level 42, ‘The Chant Has Begun (OOFT! Edit)’

OOFT! is Ali Herron out of Glasgow, and I have a few of his edits here in the record show. We covered his long edit of Keni Burke’s “Risin’ to the Top” at No. 74, though OOFT! and the editing are barely discussed. This coverage of No. 243, “The Chant Has Begun (OOFT! Edit)” by Level 42, will be another like that, since I don’t know the original tune or the group. I’m classing them alongside Gang of Four and Shriekback, post-punk stuff that later got a little too saturated with slap-bass to be tolerable for more than a song or two in a row. I think of that happening starting in the late ’80s, like 1987, but this song’s from 1984, and “I Love a Man in Uniform” is from 1982, so maybe Gang of Four and Shriekback are bad examples. APB, “What Kind of Girl Are You,” sort of also comes to mind, but no slap bass there. I think saxophones also figure into this sound I’m trying to define; it verges on INXS sometimes.

The only other thing is that I wish the titular line was chanted like “the spirit of the people / the rhythm has begun.” I like those chants (and any chants, pretty much), but I want to hear them chant “the chant has begun,” not just sing it as the trailing-off final line of a few vocal sections. I suppose I should write my own music, and then I could make it exactly how I want it.

7 March 2017, No. 242, Kool and the Gang, ‘Ladies’ Night’

Mmmm, whoa yeah, oh what a night.

Such a cliché, but the “crowd pleasers” subcrate craves content. And the spirit of the Kool and the Gang’s “Ladies’ Night” is empowering enough. I think. Lemme go read the lyrics…yeah, they’re not too bad on a surface-level skim. The term of endearment “single baby” is a little weird, and what does it mean to see one’s name on disco lights? In disco lights would make more sense. Plenty of results for “name in lights” via Google Books’ n-gram viewer, but no results found for “name on lights.” I wonder if they botched the lyric in the studio or if it was awkward to start. “You’ll be a star, kid. We’ll put your name up on lights.” Huh?

Way at the end of the record show we’ll have DJ Apt One’s “Double Dutch Ladies Anthem,” which makes good use of the “Ladies’ Night” groove and horns at 133bpm while adding updated drums, chopped up vocal samples, and modern effects combos. More on that one in 700 songs or so. For now let’s all celebrate. This is your night, tonight, and everything’s going to be all right.

2 March 2017, No. 241, KC and the Sunshine Band, ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’

It’s difficult to guess from the title, but KC and the Sunshine Band’s Part 3 was their third full-length LP, and the second cut is the 241st disco jam in the record show. “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” also appears as the B side of a lot of the “I’m Your Boogie Man” 45s and on an outrageously overvalued twelve-inch promo containing not a remix but the album version. Which doesn’t mean I don’t want it; I do.

A relentless groove like krautrock but funkier, horn riffs like a phone booth full of college kids, and Harry Wayne Casey’s nasal vocal delivery are an unmistakable combo, and if you doubt the importance of the Sunshine Band’s role, take KC’s 1981 solo effort, the Space Cadet Solo Flight LP, for a spin. It has its moments, but the magic’s absence is palpable.

We can bring it back, though. Just wrap your arms around me. Come on, come on.