29 April 2017, No. 249, Bar-Kays, ‘Let’s Have Some Fun’

Yow. The Wiccans are all like, “An’ it harm none” do what you want to, but I think “Let’s Have Some Fun” is a far better guiding principle, and it’s No. 249 in the record show. The free vocals at the end are just dying to be sampled, and every bar starts with that characteristic Bar-Kays farting synth sound. Minimoog, I assume, though the Yamaha CS-15 I once had could make bubbly, zipper-coming-down sounds like that. Winston Stewart keeps it on the one for the entire tune, even when he’s using his right hand (I assume) to solo on the organ. Stewart is credited on Rick Dees’ Disco Duck LP as “Moog-Winston Stewart,” so the Moog guess is strong, even though Stewart’s credit on that quacking novelty record is for ARP programming. In “Let’s Have Some Fun” the Bar-Kays could have used a tape loop or a sequencer to make each bar go byow, but having a human depress a key to make the noise every time is part of what gives this song something people call soul. Or, at least, the substitution of computers for human button depressors is part of why people say much contemporary music is soulless. That, and the lack of horn sections.

Two years after this cut came out, the band put out “Holy Ghost,” which we’ve already covered (if lightly) and which employs the same bass synth strategy with a very similar sound. No wonder both tunes made the list. The thing I should have mentioned about “Holy Ghost” but didn’t is the distinctive double taps on the cowbell, and while “Let’s Have Some Fun” doesn’t have any cool cowbell happening, it does have a really long break like “Holy Ghost,” from 3:30ish to 5:30ish, replete with chants and horn licks. Get funky with it.

20 April 2017, WGRS Book 7, Mind the Psyche

Warm Glow Record Show 7: Mind the Psyche invites listeners to greet the mind while the mixtape itself is thinking of you (and perhaps of Paris). If you need somebody to love tonight, you can go out looking, but you might just find out heaven and hell is on Earth. As Earth has plenty of theme songs already, I hope the future will bring us themes from the exoplanets. Maybe we meet some aliens. That’s the kind of change that should make you want to hustle toward the UFO, you sexy thing. Don’t believe in miracles, but do get down with the Philly jump, woo-ooh, while “T” plays it cool. If you’re wondering how to get on down with the aqua boogie, just know that it’s a psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop, and a flash light can illuminate it further, as can giving up the funk and tearing the roof off the sucker so everyone gets a little light under the sun.

Señoras y señores, hombres y mujeres, damas y caballeros, I’m an all-day sucker hurtling through hyperspace, doing different strokes and dropping the bomb seemingly indiscriminately, but there’s a method to the madness, please believe. Please believe also that Prisencolinensinainciusol wants to back it on up, dance dance dance a tangoterje, and do it in a Kalimba tree. If nothing else, that should inspire listeners to get up and dance until their psyches rock fatboys from here to Malpaso Creek. Mind the psyche when entering or exiting the groove.


16 April 2017, No. 248, Skyy, ‘First Time Around’

Your first time around you would have stopped to finish your cigarette on the sidewalk before ascending five steps and parting the crowds to get through the front door. The bass drums that started as a dull thud around Locust Street reached the peak of their streetside crescendo there outside the basement window. Like the one you’re visiting, the row home next door has couches on its porch draped with revelers drinking. Up five steps and through the front door you’d have found a DJ in the front room playing through a sound system just loud enough to overcome the noise seeping up through the floorboards, which floorboards vibrated in time to the basement bass drums alone.

Through an adjoining and couch-lined living room you’d find a butler’s pantry with two doors to your left and the kitchen at the other end, and then a door to a mud room before the true back door; in case you were passing through only to look for your friends, you could slip out the back and down a narrow path that after two turns emptied onto the same street from which you’d entered. (Turn the other way down the path and you’d hit nothing but unkempt thicket, though I’ve heard in the last few years it’s been trimmed back and both directions are navigable). If you’d have taken the door in the butler’s pantry immediately before the kitchen, you’d have been in a well-used half bath. The other door led to the source of the loudest music, and the unlit stairway turned ninety degrees before emptying into the loudest laundry room on the block, and another 180-degree turn brought you into the big room with ten-foot ceilings, Christmas lights, and a drunken, sweating crowd. Ooh, what a groove. And such a big room underground.

Those who bothered to push, stumble, or dance fluidly through the crowd and past the furnace found a long, sturdy workbench with a desk lamp suspended over Technics 1200s, more like a wash than a spotlight, and on this night there was me hunched over the “ First Time Around” twelve (No. 248 on our list) from which pew pew toms emanated along with the bass heard down the street. One of the first lessons I learned in digging was to buy every LP whose cover featured people dressed in weird costumes, especially space-themed weird costumes, and this tune is from one of the LPs that taught me the lesson. I think I pulled it out of a thrift shop called The Second Mile. But while the self-titled Skyy LP taught me to watch for space costumes, by the time I started playing basement parties at Haus 409, I’d learned the value of wide grooves and extended remixes and so I played more twelves. Which didn’t mean I stopped playing LPs altogether. I started avoiding them, but sometimes the album has the only version available, and if you’ve gotta hear that song, you’ve gotta play the LP.

Randy Muller, probably better known for his project Brass Construction, is also behind Skyy, with production, arrangement, flute, keyboard, and percussion credits, as well as writing credits for a number of the cuts on the self-titled album, including “First Time Around.” Muller also did most of the arrangements for the B.T. Express LP Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied), from which we’ll hear a cut in the late 400s with “Give Up the Funk.” I recommend the long-form Wax Poetics piece on Muller from Andrew Mason, so much so that I won’t bore you with extracts here. Muller is still around, too, as of this writing, in case you want to check him out on Facebook.

Before I checked, I would have predicted there to be at least one tune from Chicago-based Captain Sky on this list, but there isn’t. This is something I’ll have to rectify in the compilation of the second list. Regardless, Captain Sky is unrelated to the New York-based Skyy of No. 248, so who cares? I like the way you do it when you do it. I like the way you do it; wanna do it one more time? That free bass intro will make you feel like your whole world’s on fire.

5 April 2017, No. 247, Sharon Redd, ‘Can You Handle It’

Sharon Redd’s first appearance here in the record show is directly attributable to some hot, muted agogo bells that aren’t even in No. 247, “Can You Handle It.” We covered the most iconic agogo bells in No. 227 from Bob James , and the Sharon Redd bells will come in right at the end of the 300s. In this report we’re concerned with a song that has no similarly defining feature. The hook has a nice feel, and the horn stabs are sharp and well timed, but I could do without the smooth sax solo, and there are no distinctive synths to be found here. The break, which puts the bassline out front, is the funky element that lands this tune on the list. And the effected guitar plinking in the break almost makes up for the dearth of synthesizers. Almost.

A couple entries after Bob James’ Mardi Gras bells, we covered an Eddie Bo tune (No. 231) with the same title as today’s. Bo’s “Can You Handle It” lyrics focus on the lead-up to the acquisition of a thing, whereas Redd’s are concerned with the reasons one might not be able to handle a thing. “’Cause you ain’t had nothin’ like it,” Redd begins to answer her own question. Or, well, songwriters Willie Lester and Rodney Brown’s question. Aside from the hook, there are no other lyrics in common with the Eddie Bo tune. Mr. Bocage wrote his lyrics ten or eleven years before this Sharon Redd joint hit the clubs, but the Redd joint is not a cover.

Redd—who got her start in the late 1960s, appeared in the Sydney production of Hair, and served as one of Bette Midler’s “Harlettes” backup singers—was by the early 1980s the Prelude label’s most successful artist. “Can You Handle It” enjoyed a brief resurgence of popularity in 1992 when the group DNA remixed it (yes, that DNA, who reworked Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” into a downtempo dawn-of-the-’90s jam), but the same year they resurrected “Can You Handle It,” Redd died of AIDS-related pneumonia, stopping short her efforts to revitalize her career. Redd is survived by her half sister Penny(e) Ford. I have Ford’s “Change Your Wicked Ways” single, but it’s not on this list. It’s kinda cheesy, and I think I purged it in the last move. Ford is more recognizable (and easier to appreciate) as the voice of Snap!, singing the indelible hook in “The Power.”

If you’ve been a reader of these record show reports (and, more importantly, if you’ve listened to the songs), No. 247’s claim that “you ain’t had nothin’ like it” is pretty far off the mark. We’ve had songs similar to this one, and we’ll have many more before we reach the end of the show. Some of the songs, as I mentioned, even come from elsewhere in the Sharon Redd catalog. Can you handle it?

1 April 2017, No. 247, Lawrence Welk, ‘Pennsylvania Polka’

Coming in at No. 247 we have a cover of the Frankie Yankovic tune “Pennsylvania Polka” from the eminently funky Lawrence Welk. You may already know it was Philadelphia where I discovered the joy of being a disco DJ, and I’m always on the lookout for tunes that bring that origin story to mind. Plus the horn riffs here are huge and provide a lovely contrast to the chorale sections, which are as good as or better than any Ray Conniff or Esquivel record by virtue of being steeped in Welk’s Bohemian oompah groove. The bassline is bouncy too, the bells of the tubas surely bobbing in the studio when this was recorded.

Welk’s accent (and penchant for polka) always made think he was European (Swedish, specifically, for whatever reason), but I guess the maestro of champagne music is U.S. American through and through, as Welk is from a German-speaking community in North Dakota. I don’t think he ever lived in Pennsylvania, but the term champagne music is derived from something someone said to him at a concert he gave once in Pittsburgh. Stick with the tune until Welk starts soloing, and you’ll see he rocks that squeezebox as hard as any West Philly block party, and then there are those tubas again with that bump-bump-bumping bassline. It started in Scranton; it’s now No. 1. Go and get you some.