Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election '08: Musical Shout-Outs, Part 3: To the Bleading Hearts

Smokey's first solo album is a truly underrated masterpiece that deserves its place next to the other great Motown albums of the early seventies by the likes of Marvin or Stevie. The whole thing is straight-up perfect with maybe one weak track among the batch. The original songs are all great Smokey compositions with a real intimate feel and contemporary lyrics and the production called on the help of new Motown producer and soon to be artist, Willie Hutch. I have a Soul Train video at home of him doing his very mellow thing to three of the songs from this album, but this baby-making tune was the only one I could find on the interwebs.

Smokey Robinson - Just My Soul Responding
Smokey's best attempt at a political song is this lesser-known tune with an unusual rhythm track and arrangement. Still one of the best social commentary song from the seventies if you ask me . . . To all those bleading hearts out there, Smokey feels your pain . . .

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Election '08: Musical Shout-Outs, Part 2: To the Current Administration

Too little, too late . . . I know. But it doesn't mean we can't send those bastards off with a nice kick in the pants. That's not to say that I have admitted democratic victory, but even if McRage does get elected he'll be better than W. was.

Today we have two tunes that really tell the President what we think of him. Like yesterday's tune, these songs emerged at a time when pop music could be politically relevant and its no secret that these songs are targeted at the "Big Dick," Richard Nixon. But bad, dishonest, power-hungry people are more alike than dissimilar, so I'm sure you will have no problem finding some relevancy lingering in these tunes.

Stevie Wonder - You Haven't Done Nuthin'
A great lesser-known jam from one of Stevie's best albums.

The Honey Drippers - Impeach the President
I'm ashamed to admit that I never knew this song until yesterday. I was reading the interview with Slick Rick in the new Wax Poetics and he referenced Doug E. Fresh beatboxing over this beat. Of course, I've heard the beat, but never bothered to track down the original tune. As an original track it sure does hold up.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Election '08: Musical Shout-Outs, Part 1: To the Voters

Today I'm kicking off a string of posts leading up to the 2008 election next Tuesday. I got inspired the other night and wrote down a list of songs that had vaguely or sometimes explicitly political readings and decided to make a series of posts that touched on various political issues relevant for this election. They will range in content, but most will be old-school soul jams of some sort. I'm gonna try and be pretty regular about them (at least every other day) and the commentary will be minimal as the songs should speak for themselves. That being said, here's the first one:

Election '08: Musical Shout-Outs, Part 1: To the Voters

Marvin Gaye - You're the Man (parts 1 & 2)
This was the lead-off single for a never-to-be recorded or released album. The single "You're the Man" reached #50 pop and #7 R&B during the Spring of 1972. The album was to be the follow-up to his hugely popular and now classic "What's Goin' On", but when this single didn't perform as well on the pop charts, he changed his strategy and started recording "Let's Get It On."

This is the single version, which surprisingly did not get released on the "Deluxe Edition" of "Let's Get It On" that Motown put out a few years back in place of some demo versions that frankly are not as good, in my humble opinion.

Try to imagine a song coming out today by a mainstream artist at the peak of his powers with even one verse as politically relevant as these lyrics must have been:

Talkin', talkin' to the people
Tryin' to get them to go your way
Tellin' lies, not to worry
That we won't be led astray
So blind, unsignified
Your opponents always lying
Think about the mistakes you make
I believe America's at stake
You know, busin', busin' is the issue
If you have a plan with you
Do you have a plan?
If you've got a master plan
Got to vote for you
Hey hey, got to vote for you
You're the man

We don't wanna hear no more lies
About how you plan to economize
We want our dollar value increased
Employment to rise
The nation's taxation
Is causin' all, all this inflation
Don't give us no peace sign
Turn around and rob the people blind
Economics is the issue
Do you have a plan with you?
'Cause if you've got a master plan
Got to vote for you
You're the man

[8 times, over scat singing:]
Don't you understand?
There's misery in the land

[Fade out . . . Fade in Part 2]

People marching on Washington
Better hear what they have to say
'Cause the tables just might turn against you, brother
Set around Election Day
Politics and hypocrites
Is turning us all into lunatics
Can you take the guns from our sons?
Right all the wrongs this administration has done?
Peace and freedom is the issue
Do you have a plan with you?
'Cause if you've got a plan
If you've got a master plan
Got to vote for you
Hey hey, got to vote for you
'Cause you're the man

[Repeat and fade:]
Got to vote for you

Thank you, Marvin. Remember to vote next week!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Check Your Magazine

The latest issue of Wax Poetics has not one, but TWO contributions from yours truly. The subject of today's post is my first attempt at writing a "Re:Discovered" column where a lesser known or misunderstood song or album gets highlighted in (hopefully) an amusing or interesting manner by the column's author. I won't copy the text here as I'd like to support the magazine and encourage you to pick up a copy here. But what I can is showcase the inspiration for the column with the MP3 that inspired my prose as well as the even rarer original version of the song from the bootleg album "The Lost Paul McCartney Album."

I first heard of this track on a bootleg dance music compilation in Brazil that masked the original artists in an attempt to avoid lawsuits. Its a cool comp with a Tim Maia jam, some 80s funk and then this Paul McCartney track. I would have had no idea it was the "cute beatle" but the notation next to the track read "PMC" and this sherlock pieced it together!

Paul McCartney - Check My Machine (single version)
This one is not too tricky to find out in the field. The A-side, "Waterfalls", was a pretty popular track so it can be found here and there. I even noticed that there is a Brazilian 12" with this track on the flip, presumably in it 5+ minute "single" version.

Paul McCartney - Check My Machine (original version)
This came from a double-LP bootleg of the sessions that resulted in the "McCartney II" album. I apologize for the crappy quality of the MP3, but I'm pretty sure its a result of the crappy bootleg, not my recording technique or equipment. (UPDATE: thanks to Brion, we have a CD quality version now uploaded - thanks, Brion!)

I think most of you will agree that the single version is superior to this one, but for completists like myself, this is illuminating. Listening to this one after the released version you get to see the benefits of judicious editing. Also, note that the computer voice that opens the track "Hi George . . . Morning Terry" is omitted as it goes right into the Flintstones' dialog "Sticks & stones . . ."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

R.I.P. Dee Dee Warwick

I first heard of Dee Dee Warwick from an excellent Atlantic Records compilation from the early seventies (Heavy Soul, 1972) that I picked up near the beginning of my record digging days. It was back in Washington, DC and likely I recognized some of the bigger names on the comp, but the depth of this comp still surprises me: Little Sister, King Floyd, Beginning of the End, Donny Hathaway and Dee Dee Warwick among better known stars of the Atlantic roster like Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and Aretha Franklin. Since my first of two two trips to Graceland I've been a huge fan of the song "Suspicious Minds" and Dee Dee's version does not disappoint with its loping groove and laid-back reading.

Fast-forward to NYC and I stumble across an eBay lot of 45s including the 45 from whence the Suspicious Minds track came from and sure enough the flip is just as good! Most recently, when having a sidewalk sale of records in preparation for my westward move I ran into a guy from Guyana who asked if I had any Dee Dee Warwick records, particularly the one with "Suspicious Minds" on it. I don't know that an album exists, but he remembers growing up in Guyana and how that song was a huge hit there. Crazy.

The reason I'm posting this double-sided piece of gold is because sadly Dee Dee Warwick, Dionne's younger sister, niece of Cissy Houston (cousin of Whitney), passed away at the age of 63 on October 20th.

Dee Dee Warwick - Suspicious Minds

Dee Dee Warwick (with the Dixie Flyers) - I'm Glad I'm a Woman

Monday, October 20, 2008

Detroit Soul Supreme

The Superlatives- The Superlatives- I Don't Know How.mp3
from 7" (Westbound, 1969)

I'm no expert on Detroit soul. I've only been to the city once and it was far too short of a trip to even begin to get into the real stuff. Still, I find that most of my favorite 45s were pressed in the Motor City, proving that the city's second biggest export are dope musical gems.

I won't pretend to know anything about this group because there really isn't much to know. Most groups on small Detroit labels had short local success and then faded into obscurity as Motown rose to national prominence. Singed to the tiny Dynamics label, The Superlatives were no exception

What is exceptional about The Superlatives (aside from their fantastic name) is this track which was their most popular. Crisp drums, a deep base line, blinging vibes and bright horns are the perfect backdrop for the groups smooth doo-wop vocals. The track was later picked up and distributed by Westbound which might explain why The Superlatives didn't completely disappear into Detroit soul history.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Top 4 favorite things about moving to SF:

1. Mexican Food
2. Availability & Affordability of Produce*
3. Aguas Frescas

I can't get enough of the delicious juices that you can get at virtually every Mexican joint in town, be they cantelope, watermelon, strawberry or whatever. So refreshing! I try to kid myself that they're not loaded with sugar, because the presence of actual fruit chunks makes me wanna believe that they're 100% natural and 100% good for you. For the reason that will soon become obvious to you, Agua de Fresca made me think of my #4 favorite thing about SF . . .

4. Cal Tjader (he called the Bay Area home for most of his life)

And with that I give you two songs from his fantastic early seventies album on Fantasy, called "Agua Dulce"

Cal Tjader - Agua Dulce (Cool-Aid)
Cal Tjader - Gimme Shelter

* edible, medicinal, etc

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Celebrating the Absurd!

Q: What's the difference between Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus?
A: They both have beards, except Mickey!

That's my dad's favorite joke and one of the few jokes I can ever remember, so by default it's one of my favorite jokes and also the cornerstone of my appreciation for the absurd. I remember hearing this joke several times as a kid and not "getting it" and then one day I "got it", meaning I finally understood that it's not supposed to make sense and that's why it's funny, though in the case of this joke it's humor is still debatable.

Having moved form New York City to San Francisco, one of the first things I noticed about the cultural difference between the cities had to do with San Francisco's sense of humor. For instance, as democratic, liberal and anti-bush as NYC is, New Yorkers would NEVER bother to "waste" their energy on something like this. Absurdism is an investment. You have to really stand by your joke and see it through to completion and maybe even have to explain it to people who may take it too literally. Sometimes the joke actually develops into something more serious like with San Francisco's proposed renaming of the Sewage Treatment Plant after our Lame Duck du Jour President or with Telex's farcical 1980 entry to the Euro-vision song contest.

The electro-pop band entered the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest with a cheerfully mocking song titled "Euro-Vision." Telex's stated goal for Eurovision -- to finish last -- was thwarted by Portugal, who for reasons not entirely clear, awarded them 10 points. You can watch their underwhelming performance here.

The Eurovision audience seemed unsure how to react to the performance, and after the band stopped playing there was mostly stunned silence, with scattered polite applause; Marc Moulin took a photograph of the bewildered audience. The band walked off amidst sounds of muttering. A mark of the confusion caused by the performance was when vote-counting began, and Greece awarded Belgium three points, the announcer thought she had misheard and tried to award the points to The Netherlands. (Wikipedia for Telex)

Band leader and the reason for today's blog post, Marc Moulin, famously said, "We had hoped to finish last, but Portugal decided otherwise." Marc Moulin passed away on September 26th after a long battle with throat cancer, leaving a long legacy of music as a solo jazz artist, as a member of the Belgian Jazz-Funk group Placebo, as well as one of the founders of Telex. I came to hear about him not much more than a year ago having been tipped off by some crate-digger somewhere about the band Placebo. Sure enough, Placebo's albums are rare as hen's teeth, but worth the hunt for their stark production, emphasis on weird keyboard effects and heavy drums. In a nut-shell: Herbie Hancock meets Can. Listening to these tracks you can hear similarities to the arrangements and production of David Axelrod and even get a sense for why hip-hop legends DJ Shadow or Madlib might be attracted to Marc's musical legacy. I've picked out two favorites of mine from a CD (I have yet to see a Placebo LP in person) called "Marc Moulin: The Placebo Sessions 1971-1974"

Placebo - Humpty Dumpty
Placebo - Balek