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Friday, May 15, 2009
GET UP I FEEL LIKE BEING A SEX MACHINE
Polydor : 1970
GET UP, GET INTO IT, AND GET INVOLVED
Available on : In the Jungle Groove
Polydor : 1986
GET ON THE GOOD FOOT
Get On the Good Foot
Polygram : 1972
PEOPLE GET UP AND DRIVE THAT FUNKY SOUL
Slaughter's Big Rip-Off
Polygram : 1973
GET UP OFFA THAT THING
Get Up Offa That Thing
Polydor : 1976
[Out of Print]
TAKE ME HIGHER AND GROOVE ME
[Out of Print]
GET UP OFFA THAT THING (LIVE)
Hot on the One
Polygram : 1980
LET ME GET UP ON IT
Island : 1992
As I have been touring behind my new book, I have been listening to lots of old funk music: Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Parliament, Mandrill, the Bar-Kays, War, more.
I have two things to say about that paragraph, and I will say them in two separate paragraphs.
First, this: touring behind a book is a strange process. When you read a biography of a rock star, fully half of the pages are devoted to on-stage performances. When you read a biography of a writer, readings are rarely mentioned. Writing is a solitary and isolated process, as is reading, and the public component is either overrated, superfluous, or both. Still, you get to meet people. You press flesh. And there is something genuine about that process, something that appears to be beneath analysis but is in fact above it.
Second, this: I am quickly filling up with funk. I have to listen, because the book is about funk music, about a funk musician. It's like a boxer listening to "Mama Said Knock You Out" before stepping in the ring. Did you know that it's built on a Sly and the Family Stone sample? There I go again.
The other day I tried to counterprogram all this funk with the least funky music I could think of: Lefty Frizzell, Diamanda Galas, Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant, Bread, Yes, Beyonce. It worked for a little while. Then I spoke to a friend of mine who is feeling down. There were many reasons, but they dissolved into one large reason: she was feeling underappreciated. "Down happens," she said. We talked on the telephone for a little while. I delivered heartfelt advice that may not have been helpful; it consisted mostly of aggressive reminders about her abilities and attributes. When I went back to the music, I found that it had changed back to funk music: specifically, to the fundament of up, James Brown.
Brown's dead, but he's very much alive, especially when you're feeling like your life is a little deadened. In 1969, Brown recorded "Lowdown Popcorn," but that was the last bit of lowdown anything he'd be serving up for a while; by the next year, outfitted with the Collins brothers and well on his way into the heavy funk, he had entered a period of intense vertical ambition and relentless optimism. In 1970, he urged others to get up (on account of the fact that he was feeling like a sex machine) and also, after the machine had been operated to everyone's satisfaction, to get up, get into it, and get involved. In 1972, he focused his advice more specifically on the good foot, and while he spent a brief stretch down and out in New York City in 1973, things soon went back up with "People Get Up and Drive That Funky Soul" later that year, not to mention "Get Up Offa That Thing" in 1976 and "Take Me Higher and Groove Me" in 1977 (where he repeatedly sings "take me on up").
The upness of James Brown is of special interest in the late seventies, because it was a period where all signs pointed to downness. He was not the volcanic force he had been in the early part of the decade. Disco had stolen some of his heat and most of his light. I have a friend who saw him at a tiny club that he said "held fewer people than a taxicab," and it wasn't even full. But he kept on, not because there were great rewards in front of him, but because there was so much momentum behind him. In the process, he produced several fine albums: "Jam/1980's," "Nonstop!" and "The Original Disco Man." One of the finest was the 1980 live record "Hot on the One," in which Brown takes a set of songs, mostly old, and submits them to sweaty, tireless investigation. He finds new things in the material because he is reaching up to it, not stooping down. Perhaps not accidentally, the strongest performance is explicitly about upness: "Get Up Offa That Thing," which is even fiercer and sharper than it was in the studio four years earlier.
"Get Up Offa That Thing" has philosophy on its mind, to some degree, but it also has its mind in its pants -- the lyrics seem to be about getting off your derriere and dancing, but they're really about releasing the pressure on the lower level. In this sense, it returns Brown explicitly to the first time he was up, with "Sex Machine" a decade earlier. Getting up offa that thing, at the lowest (and highest) level, is a form of creating, if not exactly procreating. Libido can be desire for sex, sure, but it is also that more general energy available for defining and advancing the self. Jung knew it and James Brown did, too. He sang about it almost ceaselessly and embodied it as he did: it's hard to be down when you're rising up. There is something genuine about this process, too, something that appears to be beneath analysis but is in fact above it. Getting up certain keeps the dogs at bay: disaffection, destrudo, various other downs. This may be why Tom Waits, near the end of the difficult but rewarding Bone Machine, weighs in with a minute-long instrumental that is both worlds away from and pressed right up against James Brown. The Waits song makes a request that may be more like a demand (Get up, stay on the scene, like a bone machine?), and there's an implication that lingers: when the world isn't giving you what you want, you should remember that you can always turn things around by getting up to something.
Labels: ben, funk, soul
posted by Ben
Thursday, May 07, 2009
PLEASE STEP BACK
Available in : Please Step Back
Melville House : 2009
I have been out of commission for a little while because I have been in commission elsewhere: on the West Coast, specifically, committing the unholy act of Book Touring. I don't know who invented the Book Tour, but it was probably someone with a sense of humor. Or absolutely no sense of humor. I've never quite understood why you would take a private act like reading and try to make it public in some artificial way. When you read biographies of rock stars, fully half of the narrative is concerned with touring. When you read biographies of authors, no one ever mentions readings in bookstores. Do you know why that is? Because readings in bookstores aren't even generally interesting enough to earn mention in books. With that said, it is also a great privilege and pleasure to tour a book around. I went to Los Angeles, to San Francisco, to Seattle, and to Portland. I met staff at several excellent bookstores, and signed stock, and talked to people who graciously agreed to come out and see me read. I don't have a quarrel with the process in concrete cases, only qualms about it in the abstract.
Oh yeah, the book. It's a new novel of mine called Please Step Back that is about Rock Foxx (born Robert Franklin), a funk-rock star of the late sixties and early seventies. To some degree, he's based on Sly Stone. To some degree, he's highly autobiographical. There are also elements of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Sam Cooke, and Ray Charles mixed in to the character. I don't have anything particularly wise to say about it, at least in this space, except that if you like writing or music or writing about music, you might like it. There is one interesting wrinkle: about a year before I finished the book, I befriended the cult funk legend Swamp Dogg. Well, befriended is an odd word. We became email correspondents as a result of a review of one of his records I had written for the New Yorker. He contacted me, I expressed disbelief that it was really him, and we went on from there. When I was wrapping up the book, I wrote him and asked him if he'd be interested in taking one of the fake songs I wrote for my fake funk star and turning into a real song by a real funk star: namely, him. To say that he responded enthusiastically is an understatement. We have released the song online and will continue to do so. In a special Moistworks moment, I am pleased to offer Swamp Dogg's "Please Step Back," which is based on original materials by Rock Foxx and the Foxxes. I will be discussing it in greater detail at next week's book launch event.
Oh yeah, the event. Next Tuesday (May 12) at Galapagos in DUMBO, I will be having a party for the book. Sasha Frere-Jones will be talking to me about funk music and literature. DJ Doc Delay will be DJ'ing. People are hereby officially invited to attend. Details are here. Bring friends. Bring enemies. Make more of both at the event. I will try to tell funny stories about the radio interview I did with Swamp Dogg last week.
Oh yeah, the interview. We were in a studio together in Los Angeles. He was great: very generous, very smart, very funny. He had good stories about his country music career, his daughter's time as a disco diva, and about the legendary cover of the early seventies album "Rat On," which is also at the top of the post, next to the cover of my new book. "People say it's one of the worst album covers of all time," he said, "but I kind of like it." I agree. Plus, I think he did a great job with the song.
Oh yeah, the song. My character, Rock Foxx, attains an incredible level of fame. His celebrity exceeds anything you could ever imagine, even if you are reading this and you are Prince. Then he falls on hard times, at least. He has one song he thinks will redeem him: maybe not morally, maybe not financially, but creatively. All his songs have been about highs and lows, both pharmaceutical and cultural and political, but this one is at once his most personal and most elusive statement. He obsesses about it. It is the key to the kingdom he hasn't yet built. That's the song Swamp Dogg recorded. The final verse, which I find very sad for reasons that I will be happy to explain but which may seem stupid to you, are below:
Please stepSee you at Galapagos, I hope.
Please step back
A peach out of reach
Never fails to attract
There goes a bird
Without a word
His song is so abstract
Oh, please step back
Labels: ben, funk, novel
posted by Ben
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I AM THE UPSETTER
Lee Scratch Perry
Available on : I Am the Upsetter
Sanctuary : 2005[Buy It]GOOD ADVICES
R.E.M.Life's Rich Pageant
Capitol : 1985[Buy It]ORIGINAL MIXED-UP KID
Mott The HoopleWildlife
Island : 1971[Buy It]WHAT WAS I THINKIN' IN MY HEAD?
Sly & The Family StoneHeard Ya Missed Me, Well I'm Back
Epic: 1976[Buy It]
The other day I said something to upset a friend of mine. She called to ask my advice on something and I gave it. It wasn't even advice so much as a suggestion about the way a major decision should be examimed. But when I made this suggestion, she answered with a kind of silence whose depth made me nervous and whose duration made me more so. Part of me thought that I was just helping another human being work through an issue. But part of me also thought that it was condescending to believe that I was helping another human being work through an issue. Who asked me? Except that she did. And yet another part of me knew that along with the desire to give sound counsel, there was a little bit of personal investment in my answer, because I felt that the situation we were discussing might, in theory, work to my disadvantage if it unfolded in a certain way.
This is all too vague. Here are some untrue specifics: My friend, who is a talented engineer, is thinking of taking a job in Ohio with a company that manufactures several electronic devices used in household chores and also by the defense industry. It's a major decision, not like selecting a shampoo or choosing between red and green apples. I am not sure that I want my friend to move to Ohio, because then she wouldn't live here anymore. A few years ago, one of my wife's closest friends moved away, to somewhere even further than Ohio, and my wife told me that she had a last-minute desire to stop her friend from going. But what I said then I'll say again now: one person is not the C.E.O. of another person's business. If my friend wants to go to Ohio, she should go to Ohio. Plus, there aren't so many good jobs, especially in this poor economy, and she has been offered a position. "Do you think I should give it a chance?" she said.
What could I say to this? Nothing, certainly. I could have said nothing. But I was asked, and so I answered. I made a suggestion that I thought would help her think about it more clearly. I wasn't negative, I don't think, but I wasn't completely positive either, in part because I have heard certain things about this company that give me pause. For example, there is a rumor that this company manufactures some kind of paralyzing sky ray that can, if turned up to the highest level, fry out the brains of innocent civilians. I am not sure this rumor is true. There was an item about it a few years ago in the Intelligencer column of Weapons and Concepts
magazine, and you know how they are. It's very possible that the reporter was walking around the office and saw a futuristic desk lamp and let his imagination run wild. But I read the article, and for a minute, at least, it filled me with dread, and that dread resurfaced slightly when my friend asked about Ohio. I went silent as a result, and then I worried that my dreadful silence would be misinterpreted. What if she took my silence as disapproval, or tacit endorsement? I wanted to be clear. I thought that it was fine for her if it was fine for her, and I said so. This sentence sounded idiotic coming out of my mouth. I rushed out several others to cover for it.
After I spoke, she was quiet, and it was clear she was upset, though not at all clear whether she was upset at me or at the very real issues involved in the prospect of a new city, a new job, an employer who could one day possibly maybe unleash a death ray upon humanity. We hung up. I was upset, too, mainly because I wasn't sure if I had exercised my right to give advice or violated my friend's right to talk through an issue without receiving advice. R.E.M. addressed this issue, on Fables of the Reconstruction
, in "Good Advices," which has an early Michael Stipe lyric and is consequently mysterious:
When you greet a stranger look at his shoes
Keep your money in your shoes, put your trouble behind
When you greet a stranger look at her hands
Keep your money in your hands, put your travel behind
Who are you going to call for, what do you have to say
Keep your hat on your head
Home is a long way away
At the end of the day, I'll forget your name
I'd like it here if I could leave and see you from a long way away
The song is full of advice but fully aware that advice can devolve quickly into cliche or paradox, not to mention that much of the urgency of the situation in question will, with time, vanish completely. And the plural of the title suggests an even larger problem. What does it mean if there are advices rather than advice? Does it mean that not-Ohio is as valid a choice as Ohio? "It's fine for you if it's fine for you," I had said. But what if the person receiving the advice, the person for whom the advice is intended, has no idea whether she'd prefer Ohio or not-Ohio? What if that's why she asked in the first place? Mott the Hoople has already handled this problem, in "Original Mixed-Up Kid," but handling the problem isn't the same as locating a solution:
And he can't make up his mind where he wants to go
Ain't there a heaven ain't there a hell well he just don't know
For in a crowded street he can see the sleet
When the other men just see the snow
"It's fine for you if it's fine for you," I had said, and thought I was being helpful.
Many of the things I say that I think are helpful have their roots in Sly Stone songs. As it turned out, this one did, too. To say that "What Was I Thinkin' In My Head?" is an odd song is an understatement. It has none of the mind-bending funk, sophistication, or darkness of There's a Riot Goin' On
. Instead, there's a childish melody, a harsh robotic vocal, and a lyric about a character who is behaving badly because he or she isn't intimately connected to his or her decisions. I wish I could make it less abstract than that:
Thought about it, talked it over
Mentioned it to a very close friend
Played the dozens with a cousin
That's not the way to treat your kin
Making waste by making haste
So many things were on your mind
Overdoing your pursuing
Not taking advantage of all your time
The chorus that follows this first verse, "What were you thinkin' in your head?" is unproblematic, I think. It's one person questioning another person, or giving advice, or at the very least making a suggestion about the way that a decision should be examined. The second verse extends the theme:
Called a brother something other
Than you should have if you had thought
You were only with the lonely
That's not the way that you were taught
Knew it all and you felt tall
Now you realize your own size
'Cause in this world boy and girl
Never a chance to join the wise
But then, after this verse, the chorus surfaces again, this time with a new subject. Now it's "What was I
thinkin' in my
head?" and this is mind-bending in a completely different way. It's a question that is both so self-absorbed that it nearly disappears from the world at large and so universal that it is vital for everyone. This is what I was asking my friend to ask herself, I think, when I said that Ohio worked for her if it worked for her. I didn't even need to hear the answer; I just needed to know that there was an answer. Then we could have gone on talking in New York, or she could have packed up and gone to Ohio. In time, I would have set aside my concern about the death ray, which was probably trumped up anyway.
Labels: ben, funk, reggae, rock
posted by Ben
Thursday, August 07, 2008
I WALK BY YOUR HOUSE
Plexus : 1982
Available on: Fields/Aqua Marine
DGC : 1994
FOR SHAME OF DOING WRONG
Richard and Linda Thompson
Pour Down Like Silver
Hannibal : 1975
SHAME, SHAME, SHAME
CES : 1975
Available on: Cult Cargo: Belize City Boil Up
Numero Group: 2006
Chess : 1967
Available on: The Folks From Mother’s Mixer
Funky Delicacies: 2005
IT'S A SHAME
Studio One : c. 1975
Available on: Studio One Funk
Soul Jazz : 2004
Hacktone Records: 2005
I was fifteen and in love with a girl who couldn't have cared less. She offered me a cough drop and I swooned. I folded the wrapper in quarters and kept it for years. We'd been thrown together at my high school for the performing arts: I'd written a one-act play and she'd been chosen to direct it. Which meant hours, weeks, months of stammering torture, of suppressing any evidence of feelings I didn't want to have insofar as they simply weren't cool. I wasn't cool either, though I think I feigned it successfully. If nothing else, I had the best record collection of anyone I knew. This grotesque bit of overcompensation--it was mix-tape heaven, the mother of all audio love letters--was itself embarrassing. Sure, I had some fabulous Bowie bootleg no one else knew existed, but it was always with a vague sense of shame I dropped the needle for my friends, since owning the record in the first place meant I'd spent sweaty-palmed afternoons prowling for vinyl all by myself. Time I might've spent otherwise, had I been socially able. Certain songs, however, mitigated this. I may have been a glam-rock obsessive, may have papered my walls with pictures of Eno and Bowie and the New York Dolls--anodyne androgynes who didn't need to own up to anything, least of all their true sexuality--but when I heard The Individuals' "I Walk By Your House," I recognized a kindred expression immediately. Those flatted harmonies, glottal monologue in the middle ("sneak out the backdoor...run down the block"), that morse-code guitar solo in the middle that says what the singer's too tongue-tied to. I dropped it on a tape, for that girl and later for others. If there's a less cool record in my collection, one that gives cleaner articulation of that particular hopelessness that makes one feel most alive, I'm not sure what it is.
Of course, the older I got, the more I craved records that would out me in just this way. I lost (or at least tempered) my interest in glam and turned to punk rock instead, what was too heated to be cool, and then to soul music, wherein cool was largely beside the point. Sure, there was Wicked Pickett and the thick mantling of titles that lay upon Soul Brother Number One's Atlas-sized shoulders--pop music was never any cooler than that, really--but even these men ended up, sometimes all too literally, on their knees. So maybe rock-n-roll's true function was to encode embarrassment, that feeling I've seen described (in Anatole Broyard's excellent Kafka Was The Rage) as "a radiance that does not know what to do with itself." I don't know much from radiance, but I've spent all too much of my life feeling ashamed of one thing and the next, from the expected stuff--social and sexual ineptitudes--to the very things that have attempted to remedy those conditions: literacy, record collecting, film snobbery (really, why any of these things appeared even for an instant as possible social promotions is beyond me)...it's been one hideous embarrassment after another. Far worse than knowing too little, the pain of knowing too much. Once, the telephone rang and on the other end was a producer from Comedy Central, wanting to know if I'd be willing to audition as a regular for a show they were putting together, which he described in the wooly summer of 2001 as "Iron Chef for trivia enthusiasts...We understand you know quite a bit about music." I winced as he served up the evidence: my high score on the recently-administered Rhino Musical Aptitude Test, that Woodstock for record snobs that used to happen in the parking lot of Tower Records on Sunset. "What's the show called?" I asked him. "Beat the Geek," he said. I hung up the phone on the spot.
Hence a cluster of songs about--or somehow enclosing--shame, that most rock-n-roll emotion, the one I spent my early life avoiding but which I have come (somehow, almost) to seek out actively, since it suggests I am near something worthwhile. Even those old Bowie records (and how I loved the most lunar, the chilliest of them best: Low, and so on) are dear for evoking so thoroughly an adolescent terror. A heterogenous grouping of songs to be sure--gawky Nova Scotian power pop, tropical disco and various stops in between--but I like to think these are all clued in along the same lines: naked we're born and naked we feel, with only a wrapper-sized fig leaf to hide behind. We mightn't need it anyway.
Labels: funk, Matthew, power-pop, reggae
posted by Matthew
Friday, March 07, 2008
JUST LIKE A TEETER-TOTTER
Polygram : 1988
One day this week I was talking to a friend. She was thwarted by this, confused by that, suddenly too clear on the other thing. She said that she needed to make a decision but didn't know what to do. I had no insight into the matter. A few days later, we had switched places. A cloud of uncertainty hung over my head and she, on to other matters, had no counsel. The situation displeased me--not the fact that neither of us could make up our mind, exactly, but the fact that nothing matched. She was up, I was down. I was up, she was down. I spun the dial and landed back in 1988, with the Bar-Kays.
The Bar-Kays, of course, were a Memphis soul band that recorded the immortal "Soul Finger" in 1967, weathered a major tragedy when three members died in the plane crash that also claimed the life of Otis Redding, released a number of solid singles in the early seventies, and survived to become industry veterans despite steadily diminishing artistic returns. In 1988, they put out an album called Animal. If you haven't heard of it, then you belong to the vast majority of humanity. The best song on the album is the only good song on the album, and it hardly sounds like the Bar-Kays at all. That song, "Just Like a Teeter-Totter," was created in collaboration with Sly Stone, and from the first, it sets out to destabilize:
It's just as easy to see as it is to sayAnd then, later:
It looks like it's free but you will have to pay
You remember the prayer but you forgot how to prayThe writing is typical of Sly's work during that period, deceptively simple and ultimately maddening. As the title suggests, the song is broadly concerned with not being able to make up your mind, and the music falls in line behind the lyrics. "Just Like a Teeter-Totter" shudders and judders. It lurches through time, both thwarting and enabling perspective (the "see" and "saw" that keep surfacing are not just two halves of the same word, but also the same verb in different tenses). The arrangement is bare-bones in the most frightening sense; it feels like a ribcage that has yet to be covered by flesh, or has recently been uncovered. The chorus is where the Bar-Kays meet Bartleby, and the song not only dramatizes the problem of equivocation but locates the solution in annihilating all choice:
When you learn how to swear you got less to say
It can't be wrong when it's right
When you lie in the day you lie awake at night
Just like a teeter-totterA few days after my friend and I were out of sync, I called her. I had resolved my problem and she had dealt with hers, too. "Not sure exactly why it gave me so much trouble," she said. I had no insight into the matter. I asked her if she knew the Bar-Kays song. "Nope," she said. "Send it to me." I said I would. I didn't.
Don't know if you oughta
Labels: ben, funk
posted by Ben
Thursday, January 31, 2008
THE SUPER BOWL SHUFFLE
Chicago Bears Shufflin' Crew
Red Label Records : 1985
No Time To Burn
Atlantic : 1974
Universal : 1976
The Black Album
Warner Bros. : 1987
THAT'S REALLY SUPER, SUPERGIRL
Geffen : 1986
Godspeed The Shazam
Rainbow Quartz : 1999
The Super Bowl is Sunday. Super Tuesday is close behind. I am supercharged for both events. Between them comes a day of both rest (from football) and preparation (for politics); some people are calling it "Super Monday." I find this designation both superacute and superabsurd, but I will superexert myself to honor it nonetheless. I will watch old Superman cartoons. I will check to see if the Seattle Supersonics are still superawful. I will scour the Internet looking for a full-song version of R.E.M.'s latest single, "Superserious Superstitious," which has thus far been guarded supersecurely and is as a result available only as a supershort snippet taken from a ringtone. I may even reread Superbad, a book I wrote that is not related to the movie of the same name, but which I once pretended might be. (I'm supersorry to even bring it up. Ego made me do it. Superego is making me apologize.)
It's supereasy to find songs for these superdays, from Donovan's "Sunshine Superman" to the Carpenters' "Superstar" to Lee "Scratch" Perry's "Supersonic Man," but I think it's superimportant to be superselective, and that's why I have supervised this playlist. It starts with the "Super Bowl Shuffle" itself which is immortal in the sense that it will never die, no matter how many times you try to kill it:
We are the Bears Shufflin' CrewFrom there, we tour the seventies and eighties with three stellar funk songs as guides: one from 1974 (the Dolphins beat the Vikings in that year's Super Bowl, 24-7), one from 1976 (Steelers over Cowboys, 21-17), and one from 1987.
Shufflin' on down, doin' it for you.
We're so bad we know we're good.
Blowin' your mind like we knew we would.
You know we're just struttin' for fun
Struttin' our stuff for everyone.
We're not here to start no trouble.
We're just here to do the Super Bowl Shuffle.
The 1987 Super Bowl marked the end of Mike Ditka's not-quite-dynastic Bears. They had won Super Bowl XX, of course, blowin' your mind like they knew they would and burying the New England Patriots by a score of 46-10. With the Shufflin' Crew largely intact, the '86 Bears were picked by many to repeat as Super Bowl champions, and, despite aging superstars and a few key injuries, ended the regular season 14-2, only a game behind their 1986 pace. But in the team's first playoff game, at home against the Washington Redskins, the Bears' defense faltered, and the Redskins escaped with a 27-13 upset. The next week, the Redskins were shut out by the Giants, 17-0, who went on to pound the Denver Broncos 39-20 in Super Bowl XXI.
The Giants' victory came at the beginning of the year; at the end of the year, Prince recorded and then shelved the Black Album, which quickly became one of the most famous and common bootlegs of its era. I clearly remember taking the train from college in New Haven to New York City in December to try to buy it. An older kid had told me that a certain store was carrying it, but made me promise not to say where I had heard. I brought along music for the trip, including XTC's Skylarking, which had been released the year before. I liked "Grass" and loved "Earn Enough For Us" and didn't miss "Dear God," which wasn't on my cassette version. I was starting to date a woman who was starting to seem like she might want to have sex, and in that context, "That's Really Super, Supergirl" struck me as filthy, in a good way:
That's really super, SupergirlI failed to find the Black Album on that trip, though I did see a movie (Wall Street, maybe?), and so I had to return the following semester. It was March 1988 by then. The Reagan presidency was waning. Candidates on both sides of the aisle were lining up to succeed him. Among Democrats, Gary Hart was a clear favorite until his marital infidelities took him down in the summer of 1987, and in his wake a handful of others then popped up: Dukakis, Gore, Jackson. There were many front-runners in the early going, which is to say that there was no front-runner. Then, a few days after I went to New York to look for the Black Album for the second time, Southern Democrats scheduled a coordinated mega-primary (nine states in all) to try to influence the selection process. That was the birth of Super Tuesday, at least in the modern sense. The 1988 Super Tuesday was not as conclusive as Democrats wanted: Dukakis took six primaries, Gore won five, and Jackson five. By then I had the Black Album, and I was listening to it every chance I could get. I'm sure I played it while I watched returns. Gore tried vainly to position himself as a moderate to Dukakis's liberal, but Dukakis surged, and Gore dropped out after the New York primary in April.
How you're changing all the world's weather
But you couldn't put us back together
Now I feel like I'm tethered deep
Inside your fortress of solitude
Don't mean to be rude
But I don't feel super, Supergirl
Gore was from Tennessee, of course, as was the power-pop group The Shazam, led by Hans Rotenberry, which kicked off its 1999 album "Godspeed the Shazam" with the superb "Super Tuesday," which starts soft and then explodes, much like the election season. When it came out, I was dating the woman I would soon marry, though we were going through a rare bad patch at that time, and the song struck me as true, in a sad way:
Somebody needs to set you downFor bonus points, try to guess which election is represented by the electoral map above.
And tell you how things is
Living on the dark side of what is
You're always talking talking ready for a fall
You've got your reasons but you don't believe them at all
You act like you're waiting for the sympathy vote
Tomorrow's Super Tuesday
And the people in the news say
You're sagging in the polls
That's how it goes
Labels: ben, funk, rock and roll
posted by Ben
Friday, November 02, 2007
IF YOU PICK HER TOO HARD (SHE COMES OUT OF TUNE)
Available on : King of Rock and Roll: The Complete Reprise Sessions
Rhino Handmade : 2005
WE'RE GONNA HAVE A REAL GOOD TIME TOGETHER
The Velvet Underground
1969: Velvet Underground Live, Vol. 1
Mercury : 1974
TOO MARVELOUS FOR WORDS
Songs for Swingin' Lovers!
Capitol : 1955
TOO MARVELOUS FOR WORDS
The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces, Vol. 1
Pablo : 1953
YOU CAN HAVE WATERGATE (JUST GIMME SOME BUCKS AND I'LL BE STRAIGHT)
Available on : Funky Good Time: The Anthology
Polydor : 1995
A friend of mine returned from a trip recently. We spoke a few days later. I'm sure that the thing I was supposed to do was to say, "Welcome back" and leave it at that. But you know how it is with friends -- they're not acquaintances. So we got into a discussion about life and what it means. At some point, philosophy slid into soap opera. She wanted to talk about a relationship she's in and I was reluctant at first because I didn't think it was a wise idea. The relationship, I mean, not the talking about it, although it turned out that the talking about it wasn't such a great idea, either, because what I said caused additional tension. What I said was that this relationship of hers seemed to have an element of opportunism, and a section of my mind felt that was unfair. The man she was seeing seemed to me to be spending intimate time with her under somewhat false pretenses, not in a malicious way but not in an especially provident way either, although I recognized that it was condescending to suggest that she wasn't capable of seeing that on her own and making her own judgment about how much the false pretenses were offset by the genuine pleasure and comfort. I was worried about someone I cared about standing in harm's way, even voluntarily, but opening up my mouth to begin to express that worry was not necessarily my right. I didn't say that. How could I? It was a conversation, not a symposium. But what I did say failed me, and her, and our friendship. I was bossy. In working things through in my mind, I came uncomfortably close to telling another adult how to live her life. I grew angry at myself -- I should have laid out and said nothing -- and then I grew angry at language.
Why was I mad at language? Well, let me explain, using more language. Language has limits, particularly when it is charged with expressing complex emotions. Or rather: there may not be any theoretical limits, but there are operational limits. The operators of the language (in this case, me) are hobbled by conflicts of interest, by positionality and personality, by temerity and timidity. There were no words, or there weren't enough words, or there were too many words that got in the way. Stupid language.
Songs seemed like a better way to go. They have one foot in language, but that foot is tapping. They have meaning but also the spell of melody and the force of rhythm, which improves their ability to address situations that touch on emotional and physical issues along with intellectual ones. This is a contentious stance -- again, stupid language -- until it's demonstrated. Exhibit A: Little Richard. In the early seventies, Little Richard, like many iconic artists from the fifties, was in limbo, uncertain how to respond to the quickly changing times. The electric blues giants who were still alive released heavy blues-rock records with psychedelic flourishes (Muddy Waters had Electric Mud, Howlin' Wolf had Howlin' Wolf's New Album), but the rockers faced equally severe identity crises. Each of them dealt with it idiosyncratically, sometimes desperately, and not always to their critical or commercial advantage. Elvis had been to Memphis and was already slouching toward Vegas. Jerry Lee Lewis had shifted over into country. Chuck Berry experienced a pyrrhic victory when "My Ding-a-Ling," the worst song he ever recorded, hit number one. Bo Diddley soldiered on at Chess, covering many of the artists who had imitated him. The remaining giant of fifties rock, Little Richard, signed to Reprise and recorded a quartet of records: The King of Rock and Roll (1970), Second Coming (1971), The Rill Thing (1972), and Southern Child. They were roots records, reaching back into country and jazz as well as taking a stab at the rock-and-roll of the time. The vocals weren't as volcanic as the Specialty sides, but they were more than just respectable, and the songwriting was sometimes fascinatingly personal.
Respectable and fascinating sold poorly. Sales were so sluggish that the fourth album of the series, Southern Child, wasn't even released at the time, and only saw the light of day thanks to bootleggers and, eventually, a Rhino anthology of the Reprise years. Southern Child is of a piece with the others, with some key differences: more original songs, subtler vocals, and a more mellow feel. It also contains Little Richard's mid-career masterpiece, a country-folk composition called "If You Pick Her Too Hard (She Comes Out of Tune)." The song has many assets (arresting title, peaceful acoustic guitars, unorthodox structure) but its real strength is in its wordless opening, which consists of some two dozen sweet exhales and then a rousing cry that communicates some kind (and maybe all kinds) of freedom:
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha haThe song has other lyrics, and they're not bad.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Whoa whoa whoa yeah yeah yeah
If you pick her too hard she'll come out of tuneIf you subtract the sexual implications (which make up about 50 percent of the song) and the strangeness of Little Richard addressing a love song to what seems to be a woman (40 percent), there's not much left over, but what there is conveys a simple message: don't pressure your intimates lest you throw your relationships with them into crisis. It seemed like a good lesson regarding the benefits of laying out rather than charging ahead. And while the song isn't expressly about using language injudiciously, the argument is elevated, and maybe even made true, by the nonsense syllables in the lyrics.
If you pick her too hard she'll come out of tune
The sound of your breath mixing with my breath
It's the only sound that's true
The touch of your back pressing on my back
Gives us both a place to play out back
Connected to this apology was my own need for reassurance that I hadn't caused any permanent damage to the friendship. I couldn't ask directly. That would mean more language. Instead, I turned to another song that turns on wordlessness, the Velvet Underground's "We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together." The lyrics aren't artful or even anthemic, but they're not exactly placeholders either:
We're gonna have a real good time togetherListening to it restored my hope. So now I had two song-messages, one about my understanding that I should have backed off and the other about my hope that good faith would return intact, and they said what they needed to say without any words at all. Whoa whoa whoa yeah yeah yeah, na na na na na na na na na na na hey hey hey baby.
We're gonna have a real good time together
We're gonna have a real good time together
We're gonna laugh and dance and shout together
Na na na na na na na na na na na hey hey hey baby
Little Richard and Lou Reed weren't the first songwriters to recognize that the language that they depended upon for their livelihood was iffy at best. The great Johnny Mercer, who once dismissed a musical he didn't care for by saying "I could eat alphabet soup and shit better lyrics," copped to the problem in 1937, when he fit words to a song by Richard Whiting for the film "Ready, Willing, and Able":
You're just too marvelous The song became a standard. Everyone recorded it: Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole, Johnnie Ray, Frankie Laine. In 1947, a version by Jo Stafford was used in the film, "Dark Passage," which starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and the film also incorporated an instrumental version. The irony of stripping "Too Marvelous For Words" of its marvelous words was not confined to the film. Art Tatum recorded a coruscating solo piano version of the song (as wordless pieces go, it's pretty wordy--all those notes!) and the song even supplied the title of James Lester's biography of Tatum. "Too Marvelous for Words" is about love, of course, but love is just one of many possible sites of failure for language; pretty much any emotion that requires explanation also thwarts explanation.
Too marvelous for words
Like glorious, glamorous
And that old standby amorous
It's all too wonderful
I'll never find the words
That say enough, tell enough
I mean they just aren't swell enough
You're much too much, and just too very very
To ever be in Webster's dictionary
And so I'm borrowing a love song from the birds
To tell you that you're marvelous
Too marvelous for words
When I spoke to my friend a few days later, I didn't plan on raising the issue of her relationship. She raised it. She said that she had thought more about the situation and why she was in it. She then explained herself, badly. "Things will either get better or they will get worse and when it's better or worse than I'll know which way it's going," she said. She was trying to tell me something, and probably trying to tell herself something, but she ran afoul of language. Then, that night, I was listening to the JBs perform "You Can Have Watergate (Just Gimme Some Bucks and I'll Be Straight)." The lyrics are largely the title, repeated over and over again, along with a few other short chants and some James Brown punctuation. The song is officially listed as an instrumental, but in this case the small amount of language does everything it needs to do:
You can have Watergate You can spend all your time discussing the large issues of corruption in society or the complexities of an imperfect relationship, but when it comes down to it, people have needs that have nothing to do with fine-grained discussion, precise rendering of interior states, or persuasive argument. Those things are luxuries. My friend just wanted her bucks and she'd be straight. I was going to call her and recommend the song. But then I'd have to explain the connection, and maybe who the JBs were, and that would mean more words, and maybe picking too hard. I remembered that Little Richard had said "whoa whoa whoa yeah yeah yeah," and also something else that he said. He said "Shut up!" That was good enough for me.
But give me some bucks and I'll be straight
I need some money
Labels: ben, funk, jazz, soul
posted by Ben
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Sex is Law
Mca : 1993
KNOCKIN' BOOTS (12")
Ain't No Shame In My Game
Epic : 1990
Out of Print
GETTING IT ON
Big City Funk -- Original Old School Breaks & Heavy Guitar Soul
Vampi Soul : 2006
GET IT ON
The Delta Rhythm Section
Old School Classics
Vinylizor Productions LTD
Atmosphere : 2002
A foreplay fourplay
Remember the New Jack Swing movement? It was a fumbling, forgettable time when rap got into bed with the flyweight sound of R&B, and it was possibly the last time rappers danced in public. Maybe you even remember Father MC, who modestly changed his name to just "Father" for 1993's Sex is Law. He was popular with the white boys and the girls with daddy issues. "69" is New Jack at its punchy best: vigorous, cheesy, unsubtle, with more energy than finesse. Slick music for un-slick people, seduction music for personal trainers.
Perhaps the worst rap song to ever crack top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. This song was a crossover hit in the sense of crossing over from white boys to their younger, whiter brothers. It features some of hip hop's most embarrassing boasts: swilling Asti Spumante, taking a groupie called "Norma" back to a Holiday Inn, making her pay for the room.
Getting It On:
Deep, scorching funk from a 70s funk guitar hero who had the last name of 'Coffey', played with Parliament, Edwin Starr, Freda Payne, and Wilson Pickett, released an album with this cover, and who was still, somehow, a white boy.
Get It On:
A nice example of a little genre we at moistworks like to call "Elephunk" - inappropriate music for elevators, from the mysterious acid jazz collective Vinylizor Productions.
Labels: funk, hip-hop, James, rap
posted by James
Thursday, September 27, 2007
BE ALL YOU CAN BE
Elektra : 1981
Out of Print
SEX SHOOTER (DEMO)
SEX SHOOTER (EXTENDED DANCE MIX)
French TV Performance
Warner Bros : 1984
Out of Print
The girl group Godmoma was a sexed-up side project from that funk muppet Bootsy Collins. The girls: former P-Funk vocalists Cynthia "Sugar Baby" Girty, Arnenita "T Baby" Walker, and Carolyn "Baby Kay" Myles. Bootsy beamed them up to the Mothership, along with Sly Stone, and Horny Horns Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley, and cut an album of dirty disco that sweats like a FEMA trailer.
The experiment only lasted the one record, but Bootsy may have ushered in one of the decades great pop trends. Didn't it seem like back in the 80s, every dude and his cousin had a girl group? Not the in a Berry Gordy supergroup kind of way. And not yet the calculated marketing creations of the video generation. No these were strictly vanity projects. The girl group as the ultimate accessory: stage candy, funk whores, the girl group as soft porn harem.
Prince had a vanity project. There were 6 girls in it. Prince called it Vanity 6. But Vanity left the band, so Prince reformed it as Apollonia 6. I would have killed to have been on the Staten Island Ferry the day of that casting call. There's a Herzog documentary in there somewhere. All that hairspray and the anxious savagery of chased dreams and the lingerie from the Red Door Store in Paramus with the tags still on it.
'Sex Shooter' is one of Prince's premier pieces of brilliantly ludicrous porn funk. (When you consider that no music critic worth his vintage Tretorns would dare discuss Prince without those four words: porn. funk. brilliant. ludicrous. - then you know I speak high praise.)
There are certain similarities between Bootsy and Prince's side projects. They both were at their peaks, both brought in all-star support, both embrace their signature sounds, and both parade some serious, vaingloriously confused sexuality.
Take a lick, gimme a hit, get on the stick
and suck upon this
I need you to pull my trigger babe
I need you to get me off
I'm your bomb getting ready to explode
I need you to get me off
Be your slave do anything I'm told
Im a sex shooter....
Blow me away,
C'mon kiss the gun
It's a real Pandora's Box. Normally, when it comes to early '80s girl groups and party funk, I try so very hard not to pull the trigger on concerns of sexual identity politics. Those debates of stripper pole feminism: empowerment v objectification, emancipation v subjugation, the balances of power on the fetish exchange. This music just is what it is. It's post-narrative, it's post-innuendo, it's some serious species level action. When it comes to Pandora, Bootsy and Prince really aren't worried about what's coming out of her box so much as what they're gonna' put in it. I like to leave all that figurative groping to the gender studies undergrads at Sarah Lawrence. They can hash it out in their tutorial. Maybe in that new class they have:
The Nasty Dialectic: Transgression, Aggression, Sexuality and the mOthership.
But listening to Apollonia now 20 years on, please forgive me if I clear my throat. Prince really is a freak. Sure Bootsy and the ladies get into some gender role play, but it's all in fun. You know he's just trying to bring some dialogue to the dance floor. But in the Thealogy of pop funk, Prince is flying solo. He's sorting out some serious hyper-gender-erotica business, and he's using Apollonia 6 as psycho-sexual proxies in his little vagina monologue.
Maybe Prince just loves sex so much, that he wants access to all possible POVs available. Maybe he's a raving sexual narcissist, not just satisfied to sex-up women, he wants to enter the female form to embody it so he can experience what it's like to be a woman sexing him up. Or maybe these are just the shadow puppets of his erotic theater, and Prince in the role of of sex puppeteer, Gepetto as pimp. The Apollonia 6 certainly seem like puppets. Really, you can tell their hearts are not in it. When they command "Soon as I get undressed y'all clap your hands OK?" they just sound tired and blue collar. The orgasms are obviously faked, the gyrations the tired hulas of a Tijuana burlesque. They are nice girls; all they really wanted was to work at the Macy's cosmetics counter but Prince went and turned 'em out. And look at poor Sheena Easton: a sweet Scottish kid, with a stable career in Adult Contemporary music ahead of her. She studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. She sang duets with Kenny Rogers. She hooks up with Prince, and now she's inviting American inside her 'Sugar Walls' and has Tipper Gore and the Parents' Music Resource Council naming her one of music's "Filthy Fifteen." Prince takes these young ones, coaches them up, gives them a new language, a genital lingua franca.
It must be exhausting to be Prince. Me, if I lived in the Purple Rain universe, I'd skip the whole girl band thing altogether. It's just so deviant and sexually confusing. I'd go for something normal, something conservative. Maybe settle down with a fashionable manservant named Jerome who would be full of self-esteem and would dance around in front of me with a giant mirror.
Labels: funk, James, pop, sex
posted by James
Thursday, July 26, 2007
LOW YO YO STUFF
Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band
Available on : The Spotlight Kid/Clear Spot
Reprise : 1999
The Rolling Stones
Black and Blue
Virgin : 1976
YOU THINK YOU'RE HOT STUFF
Mr. Big Stuff
Stax : 1971
SISTER BIG STUFF
1000 Volts of Holt
Santuary Trojan : 1973
COME AND GET THIS STUFF
Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta
Motown : 1974
STUFFS AND THINGS
Let's Take It To The Stage
Westbound : 1975
I was having a debate with a friend about the differences between childhood and adulthood pleasures. She was wondering why, when, and how the things that excited her as a child (cartoons, games, new streets, new jokes) gave way to adult opiates: money, alcohol, and especially sex. The stuff she did as a kid wasn't the same stuff she's doing as an adult; the adult stuff was more limited, more narrow, although arguably more powerful. It's an e pluribus unum situation: out of many childhood pleasures come a few adult pleasures, and possibly only one. The word, "stuff" seemed okay as a placeholder at first, but as time went on it started to settle in, partly because of its connotations of filling and being filled, and partly because it's the centerpiece of many songs.
Take Captain Beefheart's "Lo Yo Yo Stuff":
Alright baby, do your Low Yo Yo with all your stuff What's that stuff? Is it possible that he's activating the pleasures of childhood? Maybe he's playing cards on the road. Maybe he's spinning around until he gets dizzy. Maybe not. Later on, he clarifies further:
Now, baby, do your Low Yo Yo Stuff
Now, baby, it's in your being
Whether you're long, tall, short or skinny
Sometimes it's rough
You mean to tell me it's that Low Yo Yo Stuff?
What if my girlfriend back home This is fairly straightforward music for the Magic Band, both thematically and musically. It's closer to "Shake Your Booty" or "Rump Shaker" or "Dancing in the Sheets" than it is to "Sweet Sweet Bulbs." It could be a Rolling Stones song. In fact, the opening riff of "Low Yo Yo Stuff" sounds similar to the Stones' "Hey Negrita," from the 1976 album Black and Blue. Mick Taylor had recently departed, and the Stones were trying out a set of new guitarists. Ron Wood -- who would eventually be selected to replace Taylor -- played lead on "Hey Negrita," but the most surprising song on the record was "Hot Stuff," a disco song with lead by Harvey Mandel, the blues-rock guitarist who had previously played with Charlie Musselwhite and Canned Heat. Here, there's a bit more equivocation with the "stuff": for most of the lyric, it seems to be music itself, or a general expression of exhilaration that comes from the music. Only in the last two verses does it begin to dovetail with Beefheart's stuff. And, of course, because this is the Stones -- and especially because this is Black and Blue -- the last verse reminds us which people have the hottest stuff. Here's a hint: not white people.
Finds out what my fingers have been doing
On my guitar since I been gone?
Don`t anybody tell her,
I been doing the Low Yo Yo Yo Yo
Like any other fella
Away from home, all alone
Been doing that Low Yo Yo Yo Yo
Ya, I been really carrying on!
To everybody in JamaicaThe phrase had been around for a while. Vess Ossman recorded the ragtime hit "Hot Stuff Patrol" in 1897. But the implication became explicit, and by the time of Donna Summer's megahit three years after Black and Blue, there was no doubt what it meant. That song's not posted. Neither is "Mr. Big Stuff," the megahit five years before Black and Blue, on which Jean Knight, a New Orleans soul singer recording for Stax, stood her ground against a ladies' man. Usually, stuff is gendered female -- it's more common to hear of someone "showing her stuff" than "showing his stuff." In this case, it's male, and it's sizeable, related to his money and his "fancy clothes" and his "big fine car." Many girls have fallen for it, but Knight's defiant. Later in 1971, Knight released a sequel to the song, "You Think You're Hot Stuff," that plowed the same furrow with less yield. (There are probably a dozen other Big Stuff offshoots, and since other blogs like SoulSides and Stepfather of Soul have done a fine job working through them, here's only one, by John Holt, who stuffed the Stones' Jamaican stuff and Knight's big stuff into the same casing.) Knight, aware of adult pleasure but also the risk of accompanying risk of emotional pain, tells Mr. Big Stuff he'll never get her stuff (though she calls it her "love"). People aren't always so withholding. Syreeta Wright, singing a lyric that's as lubricious as any Stevie Wonder ever wrote, swoops and chirps while the backup singers repeat, "I'm coming, I'm coming, I'm coming, come and get it." You don't have to ask twice.
That's working in the sun
Your hot, your hot stuff
Shake it up, hot stuff
When I had collected all the songs, I sent a list to the friend who, I thought, had come up with this stuff in the first place. I thought it would help answer the question of why the entire kaleidoscope of childhood pleasures get funneled into a single (admittedly great) adult activity. "No," she said. "I had it the other way around. I said that the pleasures were about getting unstuffed."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course," she said. "It was my idea, so you'd think I'd know. My theory was that when you're a kid it's so easy to see the world as boundless, and when you're an adult, it gets harder, more cluttered, more pressured. The goal was to get unstuffed, which is about being unburdened and liberated. I'm annoyed that you would even use something I thought of, let alone get it backwards."
I remembered that it was her idea, and I agreed that she would know. She was right. Then I listened to Funkadelic's graffilthy "Stuffs and Things," which says plenty about being liberated:
I'm going to ease in on your beatShe was wrong.
I'm going to shuffle when I move my feet
I'm gonna stuff your stuff with thang
Until I make your whole thang twang
I'm going to do things to your stuff
Labels: ben, funk, soul
posted by Ben
Thursday, June 14, 2007
THE LAST LETTER
Available on : The Thesaurus Transcriptions
Bear Family : 1991
LETTERS DON'T COUNT
Screen Gems Columbia : 1969
YOUR PICTURE SAYS REMEMBER, THO' YOUR LETTER SAYS FORGET
Edison Gold Moulded Record
I used to send lots of letters. In college, I had a girlfriend who was at another college, and sometimes each of us would send three or four of them a day. We had no Internet then and we scooped food from stone bowls with our hands.
As soon as email came along, though, things really took off. The problem wasn't sending messages. It was finding someone who was willing to get those messages and give the same back at a clip. The problem was finding someone who corresponded to you.
It might seem that I'm writing about love letters. I'm not, although that's also a worthy topic for a post. It would include Hank Snow, and his eloquent, bitter, all-too-forthright communiqué that doesn't--as the last line tells us--hit its mark. It would include the Nazz, who turn a typically dopey Rundgren pun into a typically beautiful piece of Rundgren pop that goes nuts at the end with its aggressive backing vocals. It would include Frederic Rose, in 1908, warbling out a B-list song with a Grade-A title. It would not include Richard Thompson's "Tear Stained Letter," which, though fine, contains the lyric "The scars ain't never gonna mend in a hurry." (How can something "never mend in a hurry"? Isn't it either/or? He's better than that.)
I'm writing, I think, about songs about messages. Not message songs, like "For What It's Worth" or "Fortunate Son" or "(We Gotta) Bust Outta The Ghetto" or "1 Million Bottlebags," but songs about the equivocal process of trying to reach out and communicate with another person. And though there are probably a million places to start, there's really only one place to start.
I'VE GOTTA GET A MESSAGE TO YOU
The Bee Gees
Polydor : 1968
GOT TO GET A MESSAGE TO YOU
Available on : Total Destruction to Your Mind/Rat On
Charly : 1991
I GOTTA GET A MESSAGE TO YOU
Available on : Tim Rose/Love: A Kind of Hate Story
RPM : 2000
I should start by saying that this song has a story. The main character is condemned to die, and he's desperate to tell his wife that he's sorry and that he loves her. We know this because Robin Gibb has said that's what the song is about, and he co-wrote it. This Death-Row-What-A-Brother-Gibb-Know plotline, though, is among the worst things about the song. For starters, it results in some laughably bad lyrics, which sometimes happens with the Gibbs.
It's only her love that keeps me wearing this dirt.I like to think of it as something more epistolary and epistemological, a song about the urgency and imprecision of communication. Partly because this is because I have already seen "The Green Mile." Partly it's because there is something interesting about the syntax. The man in the song is not saying "I've got to get a message to her." He's saying "to you." This seems to be an internal monologue; he's talking to that part of her that is alive inside of him. The alternative is paradoxical. If his wife hears the song, or any part of it, then she has in fact received a message from him. In that case, he might as well say what he wants to say instead of just saying that he has a message. It's like sending a telegram that says, "I am trying to send you a telegram." And given his precarious state, even if she hears the song, she is certainly hearing it after his execution. There's an issue here not only of the man's death, but of his death as an author. I'm not saying that my logic is flawless, only that the song's logic is flawed.
So why is it so hard to get a message to, or through? Why is it so difficult to be heard, let alone understood? One of the problems is that most forms of expression are insufficient. There's the famous Flaubert passage in which he derides the impotence of language ("Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity"). I'm not sure that it's the bears that are dancing. I'd argue that just as often, it's the messenger -- people are afraid to say the things they mean to say, and so they hem, and they haw, and that's how more language gets born. This isn't to suggest that all writing is evasion, but most works would be shorter if the speeches, and the speech, were more direct. That kind of directness might result from an upjut of bravery, from painful impatience, or from another kind of urgency -- like, say, imminent execution, though we've already seen how circuitous a condemned man can be. If I always had to say just what I meant, things would be...well, different. There would be a little more lust, a little more anger, and fewer jokes. Much of what I'd say would involve my asking people to say things back to me: any things, really, just a conversation (with words, gestures, touch, whatever) so that I know I'm not dead. If I rewrote the Bee Gees' lyrics, they'd go like this:
I've just gotta get a message to youNo worse than Robin.
Which is that you've gotta get a message to me.
Of the three versions here, my tastes lean toward the Swamp Dogg cover, which is sung with a kind of abject ecstacy, and away from the original - chamber pop, no matter how tremulous, doesn't strike me as a particularly lonely genre. (Tim Rose, on the other hand, does. Rose, of course, was one of those semi-obscure Greenwich Village folk-rockers--the third Tim, behind Buckley and Hardin - and a King of Almosts. He almost had a hit with his slow arrangement of "Hey Joe," which inspired the monster hit by Jimi Hendrix. He almost recorded the headlong version of "With a Little Help From My Friends" that went to Joe Cocker instead. He almost replaced Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones. His life of ups and downs, marked by bouts of alcoholism, ended during a late-career comeback in 2002.)
It's fitting to end with a message song about the importance of messages.
United Artists : 1972
Labels: ben, country, funk, oldies, power-pop, soul
posted by Ben
Monday, June 11, 2007
Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Boogie Woogie String Along For Real
Warner Bros : 1977
[Out of Print]
Thanks, perhaps, to the immense popularity of Moistworks dot com, people come up to Ben, Brian, James, Joanna and me all the time: Rank strangers, but they ask us, have we been ignoring you? Or, how do hydroelectric dams work? Or, what have you been listening to? Strangers: I can't speak for Ben, Brian, James, or Joanna (actually, I can speak for Joanna - she's been listening to the Zombies non-stop for the past 18 months or so) - but I've been listening to this spider web of a song: Rahsaan Roland Kirk, in New York, post-stroke, in 1977. From his last recording session.
A SAD SAD SONG
Hy-Sign : 1973
Available on: Shreveport Southern Soul: The Murco Story
Kent : 2000
Stranger, here's something else you'll like: Sir Shambling's Deep Soul Heaven. Countless 45s, annotated, indexed, transferred to MP3, and free to each and every one of you. I downloaded everything - then the iPod and I had a lovely candlelit evening all to ourselves. It's where I found Charles Crawford's "Sad, Sad Song," which also happens to be the only song Charles Crawford recorded. Too bad, no?
. . . . . . . . . .
Unknown Cuban Orchestra
[Test Pressing for a certain Mr. Madriguera]
Available on: Music of Cuba: 1909 - 1951
Sony : 2000
Dr. Victor Olaiya
Available on : Lagos All Routes
Honest Jon's : 2005
I've been collecting old Cuban recordings, and - this isn't entirely unrelated - obsessing over Congolese music from the 50s and 60s, and Nigerian and Angolan music from the 60s and 70s. Hoarding it, really, in hopes of dedicating Moistworks to Cuban music, or African music - or bleed-through between the two - for a few weeks, exclusively. But who has the time? So, in lieu of theme weeks, here are two of the loveliest things you'll hear this summer.
. . . . . . . . . .
TOP TEN ROCK
King : 1958
Available on: King Rockabilly
Ace : 2001
Next up, a kick-ass rockabilly track (which I know next to nothing about - it seems fairly google-proof), one of the best things Willie Colon ever (what's the appropriate cliche here - committed to wax?), and some old, equally google-proof funk from Ohio. Let me know if it gets you through the day.
Willie Colon & Hector Lavoe
Fania : 1970
Black Forest : 1970 (?)
[Out of Print]
Labels: african, alex, cuban, funk, jazz, rockabilly, salsa, soul
posted by Alex
Monday, May 07, 2007
Chuck Brown ft. KK
LOVE THEME FROM "THE GODFATHER"
We're About the Business
Raw Venture : 2007
Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers
Valley Vue Records : 1979
WE NEED SOME MONEY
Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers
T.T.E.D. : 1984
available on The Best of Chuck Brown
Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers
Any Other Way To Go?
Verve : 1988
DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?
Chuck Brown ft. Little Benny, Rare Essence, DC Scorpio
Live at The Capital Center
CAT IN THE HAT
Little Benny & The Rockers
Live on "It's About Time"
Chuck Brown may be the "Godfather of GoGo", but the title comes somewhat by default. Not to say he doesn't deserve it. He invented the word, and popularized its syncopated backbeat when he first experimented with latin jazz rhythms in the late '60s. But the GoGo sky is as starless as a humid PG County night in August. Chuck Brown isn't just the face of GoGo, he's GoGo's only face.
There are a couple clear reasons for this. First, GoGo is party music, street music. It isn't a music of songwriters, or frontmen, or even MCs. It has never translated well to the studio. GoGo's best studio recording may still be one of its first: when a very young Rick Rubin signed the even younger Junkyard Band to Def Jam and released the stunning Sardines/The Word 12". GoGo has remained a stubbornly local sound*. Its greatest shot at a Jeffersonian advance, and by 'Jeffersonian' I refer of course to the Norman Lear sitcom, came in the late '80s, when the band Experience Unlimited (EU) was featured prominently in Spike Lee's 'School Daze' and collaborated with Salt N' Pepa on Shake Your Thang (It's Your Thing) and the brilliant My Mike Sounds Nice.
Second: GoGo, at its heart, is just a beat, a beat knocked out on congas or paint buckets. Despite many efforts, this sound just isn't proprietary, it's more of an open-spource code.
Where Chuck Brown has been most successful, is in respecting the GoGo animal. (Did I really just write that?) He hasn't tried to own it or tame it. Instead he presides over it in the James Brown mold; as a showman, a bandleader, as, they might say in Vegas,"a professional's professional." He has hemmed a medley of styles to it's beats; funk, jazz, blues, and given it a diversity that is the trademark of his 40 year career.
Bustin' Loose, Woody Woodpecker and We Need Some Money are the classic cuts. I just saw this astonishing video for Bustin' Loose last week: Chuck appears to have borrowed Rick James' BeDazzler and set it to full-auto.
A couple months ago Brown released a new CD, and at age 72, hasn't lost that swing. Especially on the contemporary single Chuck Baby, which features his daughter 'KK' doing her best Missy Elliott impression.
*Not always local. When I was in college in Australia my neighbor, a friendly, hard-drinking single woman of around 40, had, to my amazement, a Best of Chuck Brown CD in her collection.
. . . . .
It's been quite a year for our friends the Wizznutzz. They were the only Washington Wizards sports blog this year to:
-Coin the nickname-of-record for an NBA superstar
-Appear on TV, radio, and in a number of national papers, including the NYT, WSJ, The Washington Post and Newsday.
-Accidentally turn up on Finland's National High School exam
-Equate double-consciousness in the NBA with the cover of ABBA Arrival
-Claim August Strindberg (1849 - 1912) as an intern
-Open a popular online fashion boutique named after a torture chamber from a Sam Lipsyte novel
It is in that fashion boutique that they are offering a dope new t-shirt that threatens to one day become as ubiquitous among local hipsters as the CBGB tee. Get it while it's hot.
Labels: funk, GoGo, James
posted by James
Monday, April 16, 2007
Eric Burdon & War
MGM 7" : 1970
Available on: The Best of Eric Burdon & War
Avenue : 1996
Available on: Rare Funk vol. 4 (Soundtrack Edition)
[Out of Print]
Isaac "Redd" Holt Unlimited
Isaac, Isaac, Isaac
Paula : 1974
MAN FROM CAROLINA
The G.G. All Stars
Trojan : 1970
Available on: Tighten Up: Trojan Reggae Classics 1968-74
Trojan US : 2002
Labels: funk, James, reggae, soul
posted by James
Thursday, April 05, 2007
I'M GETTING 'LONG ALRIGHT
Available on: The Best of Esther Philips 1962-1970
Rhino : 1997
Available on: Rare & Well Done
MCA : 1991
NIGHTIME/ANYTIME (IT'S ALRIGHT)
Comes w/: The Believer Music Issue 2005
The Believer : June/July 2005
Atco : 1969
Available on: What It Is: Funky Soul & Rare Grooves 1967-1977
Rhino : 2006
ALRIGHT OK, YOU WIN
Sun 7" : 1961
Available on: Memphis Belles: The Women of Sun Records
Bear Family : 2002
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Atlantic : 1987
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
MAKE EVERYTHING ALRIGHT
Ghost of The Stax
DIE, ALL RIGHT!
Veni, Vidi, Vicious
Reprise : 2000
West Coast Revival
West Coast Revival
LA Records : 1977
Available on: California Soul: Rare Funk, Soul, Jazz, & Latin Grooves From The West Coast
Ubiquity/Luv N' Haight : 2002
IT'S ALRIGHT TO CRY
Free To Be You And Me
Ladies and gentlemen, from now on, MW's Astoria Bureau will use the art that goes along with this post to signal: (a) No words, just songs, which have more or less to do with one another. (Today, songs which have more than less to do with the state of feelin' more or less alright.) & (b) Feelings are such real things and/They change and change and change.
Labels: alex, funk, rock, soul
posted by Alex
Friday, February 02, 2007
CHAMPION OF THE ARENA
Champion in the Arena 1976-1977
Blood and Fire : 2003
My friend BJ came over the other night; we sat around listening to Jackie Mittoo. BJ and I both love Jamaican music, but while I'm heavily into the sixties stuff - Toots, Prince Buster, the Skatellites - and think that, say, the stuff Bob Marley's best-known for pales in comparison to the tracks he recorded at Studio One - and am more or less an idiot when it comes to the seventies stuff, BJ's the other way around.
So anyway, we played some Toots, but kept coming back to Jackie Mittoo.
"It's like when he sets the rhythm with his left hand, eveyone else is so deeply in that groove," BJ said.
"To me, it sounds more like Mittoo's just dancing, swirling around it," I said.
"So, I'm saying that Mittoo's the canal, or the lock, and everything else you hear is the ships passing through it," BJ said. "And you're saying the band is the ship and Mittoo is dolphins circling it."
"It's swirl," I said.
"But it's got to do with shipping," BJ said. "And dolphins."
Then we listened to another album - a compilation of songs Jamaican expats recorded in Toronto in the sixties and seventies:
THE FUGITIVE SONG
Jo-Jo and the Fugitive
Cobra : 1968
Summus : 1971
I WISH IT WOULD RAIN
All available on: Jamaica to Toronto 1967-1974
Light in The Attic : 2006
"It's not even reggae," BJ said.
"It's like they came to Toronto and were like, oh this is what they're playing up here? Let's play the fuck out of that! And so they did and blew everyone else away."
"In Toronto, anyway."
I'm not sure why, but I punched BJ just then, and when BJ punched me back he broke my nose. There was a lot of blood. But we weren't really getting to the bottom of things, anyway.
Labels: alex, funk, reggae
posted by Alex
Monday, January 08, 2007
GOD WILL DRY MY WEEPING EYES
Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal
Numero : 2006
Matrix: The Perception Sessions
Castle : 2000
The Ogyatanaa Show Band
Ghana Soundz vol 2
Soundway : 2004
Ethiopiques v. 9
Buda : 2001
FIGHT THE POWER (PART 1)
The Isley Brothers
Available on: Black Power
Shout Factory : 2004
You know what? I spent a chunk of the morning finishing a learned treatise for the edification of the moistworks masses (thank you, corporate subsidy), only to realize that it was not where my head was at. Learned treatise next week. Today, it's just funky shit, some of which was featured at Megan's belated birthday bash last weekend.
Welcome to '07, people!
Labels: funk, megan
posted by Megan
Friday, November 03, 2006
Everything I Play Is Funky
Blue Note : 1969
Bernard "Pretty" Purdie
Date : 1968
Available on: Master Drummers, v.1
Luv N Haight : 1995
Ike Turner & the Kings of Rhythm
A Black Man's Soul
Pompeii : 1969
The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock
Arena Rock : 2004
RIDE DAT DONKEY
Bomb Hip Hop : 1999
MY DONKEY WANT WATER
Macbeth the Great
Calypso After Midnight
recorded New York, 1946
Rounder : 1999
SO LONG DONKEY
Desco : 2000
I'm mulatto, so I have a special relationship with the donkey. The mule and her dad are working overtime in the West, where they carry a lot of cultural weight: think Balaam and Jesus and Muhammad. Jerusalem. Peasants. Slaves. Deep South cotton fields. Andalusia. Nazarin and Don Quixote, Platero and Balthazar.
You'd think the donkey would be kind of a dud, with the long hours he works: a good guy, good values, but a little square. Instead, the donkey is the funkiest of all creatures. He can kick it downlow-funky-style, which seems to be his native habitat. If he gets drunk enough, he can catch a groove and shake his ass very credibly. He can tango horizontal and his stamina is pleasantly surprising. But he's got a sense of humor and he's good with your kids too. He rides a bike and flies kites and does goofy shit with hula hoops. He's fucking perfect.
The donkey gets the job done. Respect is due.
And respect is due: thanks to Funky16Corners for the inspiration.
For some background on the concert recorded on Calypso After Midnight, see this. Tell me, people, am I the only one who hears lewd subtext on "My Donkey Want Water" (aka "Hold Em Joe")?
My donkey want water"Hold Em Joe" is a calypso standard that has been covered by many greats, including the famous calypso singer Louis Farrakhan. Moistworks was outbid by David Geffen in our effort to acquire Calypso Too Hot to Handle, which includes some of Minister Louis's 1950s releases (in those days he was known as "The Charmer.") I shit you not, people. And since calypso is a topical medium, The Charmer wasn't afraid to take on the issues of the day. Here's Louis chronicling the sex-change of Christine Jorgenson in "Is She Is, or Is She Ain't" [mp3].
Better hold your daughter
Oh when me donkey want water
My donkey is bad
It's a Farrakhan original. Pretty forward-looking for 1955, eh? Sort of? I couldn't play them on my antique mac, but there are more of Farrakhan's calypso tunes available online. Check em out here.
Labels: funk, megan
posted by Megan