Friday, May 30, 2008

Shoot the Pump!

I was trying to think of some other quintessentially "New York" songs and this one came to mind. And like "Grand Central Shuffle" its an "activity-song" where the song exhorts the listener to learn how to do this activity and while it might not resemble a dance, in both cases you can shake your booty while shuffling through Grand Central or liberating a fire hydrant.

J. Walter Negro & the Loose Jointz - Shoot the Pump
I couldn't find the original 12" Picture sleeve image (it's packed in a box), I remembered that the song was recently comped by Soul Jazz, which is the image here to your left. I was thinking about writing about this song, but its been done better by others before, both here and here and if you can track down the issue of Wax Poetics, Alan Leeds, former manager of the Loose Jointz, not to mention the road manager for James Brown and Prince, wrote a nice piece about the song. It was after reading Alan's words that I tracked it down for myself at this fine retail vinyl establishment.

Grand Central Shuffle

Hey, Morgan you think you can keep the NYC tunes coming? Here's a couple more for ya'll to dig on.
Just the other day I was mailing out some eBay auctions to all corners of the world and I was too late to make it to my neighborhood post-office so I trucked into Manhattan to go to the post office next to Grand Central Station which is open later than normal. If you've never been, Grand Central is the definition of BUSTLING with thousands of people walking in every direction. You know how when you look at ants from our towering human heights and they look so efficient - 'how do they not run into each other?' - this is what I imagine Grand Central Station looks like from 1000 feet up.

It was rush hour and I was trying to weave my way through the crowd, adjusting the length of my stride and footwork to get around slower people while dodging others walking faster than me. It occurred to me, it's almost like a dance! And then it hit me, the Johnny Griffith Inc. song, "Grand Central Shuffle"! I had always thought this was just a cool name for a song, like "Central Park Shuffle" or something, but I think Griffith was actually referring to the peculiar dance that is navigating the station at rush hour. That being said, it's no wonder it never broke out as a national dance craze, but its a hell of a proto-disc funk tune. Dig it.

Grand Central Shuffle - Johnny Griffith Inc.
I first heard this song off of a Brazilian DJ comp assembled by Brazil's most famous Disc Jockey, Big Boy (you can read a bit about him in my article about the Black Rio Movement). His compilation on RCA pulled together a very random assortment of soul, funk and rock including this semi-rare nugget by occasional Motown Funk Brother Johnny Griffith.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New York's Movin'

Did anyone else have "Native New Yorker" stuck in their heads all day yesterday? I thought I might hit you with my own slice of New York city songs as a response:

Laura Greene - Manhattan Much like the aforementioned Odyssey track it takes a smidgeon of effort to get past the silly lyrics and disco production, but this song will get you.

Ahzz - New York's Movin'This was Ahzz's only release as far as I can tell and it sort of screams studio band. Not to brag or anything but I got this record for a dollar here in portland and I was pretty excited as I was just getting into the Peter Brown constellation of labels (Land of Hits, Queen Constance, Heavenly Star, Sound of New York, Golden Flamingo, P&P, etc.) Unfortunately I discovered a few days later it had been bootlegged in 2004. (The non bootlegged version has slightly different colors, and a ring indentation if you care...) This is the instrumental, the A side has repetitive squeaky vocals that would annoy you.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Spotlight on.... Joe Bataan

No one walks the line like Joe Bataan. His street cred could not be more impeccable - born in nyc, raised in spanish harlem, ex-gang member, and self taught on the piano, Joe was instrumental in forming the latin soul sound. After signing with Fania in 1966, he released eight albums including Gypsy Women, Subway Joe, Riot!, (which went gold) and Saint Latin's Day Massacre. After leaving Fania due to money disagreements he helped coin the phrase "Salsoul," lending that name to his first post Fania release and later co-founding the influential disco label with the Cayre brothers. Always a man with his ear to the street, Bataan sensed disco's impending arrival and this album represented a sonic shift towards groovier, more dance oriented sounds. This was evidenced even more so on his next album, Afro-Filipino, his first on Salsoul. Although not making much noise on the national charts, Bataan's instrumental cover of Gil Scott-Heron's "The Bottle" went on to be come a club hit and is considered an essential pre-disco track. Always searching for the new thing, Joe hit the charts a few years later with the minor disco-rap hit, "Rap-o-Clap-o" which is remembered as rap's debut in the european market. After gracefully bowing out of the game in the early eighties Bataan went on to become a youth counselor in one of the prisons he himself had been incarcerated in prior to his recording career. He began performing again in the nineties and released a new album "Call My Name" in 2005.

Joe Bataan - Subway Joe The title track from my favorite of his on Fania. I love his lyrics and loose delivery.

Joe Bataan - The Bottle (instrumental) An instrumental cover of Gil Scott-Heron. Really nice pre-disco.

Joe Bataan - Latin Strut The Brazilian-Bataan link! Excellent cover of Eumir Deodato's "Super Strut." Check the breakdown!

Joe Bataan - Rap-O-Clap-O (12" version) Speaking of breakdowns, Here's the 12" version of his super-catchy foray into hip hop.

Friday, May 23, 2008

You (Secular & Religious Versions)

This will be a short little post of one of my all-time favorite disco-funk jams courtesy of Maze and an interesting cover of the same song in a Gospel mode. Maze is one of those groups that doesn't get nearly as much love as they should. They put out an excellent string of albums beginning in the late seventies that completely ignored the disco over-saturation by coming up with their own sound that depends far more on soul and pop than disco. This song, however, moves the dancefloor . . .

Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly - You
I love the way this song builds and the intro is so hypnotic. This is one of the few albums I have doubles of because I love extending the intro and breakdowns.

Gloria Griffin - You
I remember smiling when I saw that this 1978(?) album on Savoy featured among some pretty straight-forward Gospel a cover of a Frankie Beverly song from the previous year. And not just any Maze song, but "You" my favorite jam of theirs. Gloria's version is raw, funky and flips the script to talk about "You" as God as opposed to the object of Frankie's affection.

Bobby Caldwell Gets an Upgrade

As I described in the first post in the "Free Pass" series, to receive a "free pass" you need to be White and play music in a traditionally "Black" or R&B/SOUL/FUNK/JAZZ style with such success that Black listeners might not even know that the musician/singer is White and even if they know, they don't care because it fits right in with other more "authentic" musicians or singers.

So, when I first posted Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do For Love" I suggested that Bobby might not qualify for a "Free Pass", but merely a "Day Pass" that one song. Thankfully, I was wrong. Bobby's second album "Cat in the Hat" is equally dope and features this song, which was sampled to great effect on Common's classic jam "The Light." Congratulations Bobby!

Bobby Caldwell - Open Your Eyes

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I heard it on the radio!

Hi, I'm Morgan, I live in Portland, Oregon and I'll be guest blogging for a bit while the Ambassador finishes off his epic roadtrip/move back to the left (right) coast. Thanks Allen! Now growing up in Portland has its advantages and its disadvantages but local (mainstream) radio is sadly not one of them. Even the most casual music fan would know pretty much every song on our classic rock stations. Our lone hip hop station was recently forced to change locations on the dial and nearly shut down, its spot taken up by an all sports format. The only bright spots are the university station KPSU and the community station KBOO. Have you ever had the experience of thinking you had discovered some amazing jam only to have your significant other tell you that they loved the song as a kid? In the vacuum of Portland radio this happened to me kind of a lot. First Choice is one of those bands that never gets any play in the pacific northwest and its a shame because they are one of the best outfits on disco - backed by the Norman Harris, Ron Baker and Earl Young trifecta that was the core of philly house band MFSB and featuring many of the finest arrangers and musician in the business. If you don't live in portland you probably hear "Doctor Love" and "Armed and Extremely Dangerous" often enough so here are a couple of slightly lesser known album cuts:

First Choice - I've Got a Feeling This and the next two cuts are off the album "So Let Us Entertain You"

First Choice - I'll Stay Right Here So good.

First Choice - Maybe Yes, Maybe No Another personal favorite.

First Choice - Let No Man Put Asunder (Danny Krivit medley of Walter Gibbons, Shep Pettibone, and Frankie Knuckles remixes) The Man, Mr K puts his touch on this chronically remixed song. This is the version I usually listen to.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Q: What Is Thicker Than Blood?

A: Oil!

With gas prices reaching all-time record highs and our approaching road-trip, it seemed only fitting to pay tribute to the single most problematic and irresponsible legacy of the past few generations . . . the oil industry.

It was a song from this interesting new album by a curious mix of individuals known as Saravah Soul that galvanized me into writing this post. The lead song, "Oil Is Thicker Than Blood", from their first self-titled album is a great mix of James Brown styled funk and traditional Brazilian percussion. The band is a mix of Brazilians and Brits based in London and this is one of my favorite tracks off of the album because more than others, this track is a compelling mixture of Brazilian and American Soul music much like the best examples of Brazilian soul music ala Dom Salvador, Tim Maia or Banda Black Rio.

Saravah Soul - Oil Is Thicker Than Blood
This album is a mixed bag for me. I've definitely been enjoying some of the tracks, but I think if anything its weakness is that its just too similar to James Brown in style that it doesn't bring enough new sounds to the table that makes the band stand out as unique and lasting. On a few cuts they really shine, going beyond a J.B.s with portuguese lyrics shtick, and this is one of those cuts and while I can't understand all of their political lyrics here I pretty sure I'm on board . . .

Tower of Power - Only So Much Oil In the Ground
In the subgenre of politico-funk, this track (and album) is in a class of its own. Just listen to the lyrics of this song and you'll hear just how relevant this song is more than thirty years later. I'll probably get around to highlighting ToP, but they are also distinguished recipients of the blue-eyed soul "Free Pass" as most of the horn section and band are of the Caucasian persuasion. It also seems fitting that ToP are from the East Bay/Oakland, our destination for our gas-guzzling road-trip that begins in a mere three weeks from today!

If you wanna know more about the relatively short history of the modern petroleum industry, check out this tomb of a book that I have started and stopped more than once and will continue to try to finish until one day I will get to the end of it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Brazilian Fire or Fizzle?

I'm gonna make this a quick post . . . In honor of my good friend Bradley who will be heading down to Brazil soon for a great journalistic expedition, I'm posting some tunes from a forthcoming mix that I'm working on. I personally love all four of these songs, but if you feel like chiming in let me know if you like, really like, kinda like or don't like these songs. Strong suggestions either way will influence my decision to include them on the upcoming mix.

Emilio Santiago - O Amigo de Nova York
I was considering bidding on this one when the bidding was in the $30 range, but then it got kinda crazy.

Abaete - Pisa no Tabuado
An all-time favorite of mine that I got off an early Greg Caz comp then managed to track down in Brazil on the vinyl.

Taxi - Melo da Garrafa
Smooth Brazilian funk produced by Lincoln Olivetti. Love the groove here.

Jorge Ben(jor) - Para Que Digladiar
One of the last great Jorge Ben albums and my favorite track off of this album.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Tatsuro Yamashita: 74th Most Influential Artist!

Tatsuro Yamashita is a household name in Japan, but I'm gonna take a leap here and guess that most of you readers out there have never heard of him . . . Shame on you, when one of the oldest record labels and retail music outlets has named him the 74th (out of 100) most influential artist and the 5th best singer (out of 50, after Aretha, but before Bjork).

I first heard 'Tats' as he's fondly referred to in the Land of the Rising Sun, on the first Chairman Mao & Citizen Kane comp, "Select 001". The song "Dancer" was featured in almost its full version (rare for comps like these) and of all the dope tracks on the comp, "Dancer" was something that I needed to have in my collection. A trip to The Sound Library (before it moved) provided me with a small disincentive in that I found out that it was easily a $60 record if I happened to find it in a knowledgeable NYC shop, but the chances of finding it hanging on the wall somewhere was not gonna be easy either. I lucked out and found this one and his 1979 LP, "Moonglow" on eBay without too much trouble and for a reasonable price, even considering the cost of shipping from Japan. A quick search just revealed that "Spacy" is currently on auction for a reasonable start price and shipping is only from Canada! (By the way, I have some auctions of my own that are currently live and will be adding dozens of LPs in the next few weeks in an effort to raise some money for the cross-country move and also to lighten my load)

Tatsuro Yamashita - Dancer
Just such a great song and shows Tats' superb voice and that drummer . . . he just kills it the whole way through. I think of Tats as a Japanese Boz Scaggs as this jam has a bit of a "Lowdown" vibe.

Tatsuro Yamashita - Rainy Walk
This is one is a bit lighter than "Dancer" but when I was going through records yesterday in an effort to separate the keepers from the sellers, I threw this record on to see if it had anything redeeming on it. I ended up playing "Rainy Walk" at least six times yesterday as a result. The whole album is pretty great too, but this is the standout for me. Great Japanese pop-funk . . . if only I had more of this kinda stuff I could make a wicked Japanese pop-funk mix . . .

Friday, May 02, 2008

Leroy Hutson, "The Man"

I've been reading this book lately, "Curtis Mayfield: People, Never Give Up", and while its reminded me of some great Curtis songs and albums as well as some lesser known colleagues of Curtis' the book is a real snoozer. If you check out the few reviews on amazon I'm relieved to find that I'm not alone in my sentiments. On Wednesday I went by "Israel's record dungeon" for what might be my last time as a New Yorker and lucked out in finding Leroy Hutson's first album "Love, Oh, Love" in great condition. I've been so impressed with Leroy and wanted to share some of my favorite tracks.

Leroy took over for Curtis when the little man went solo, but before long it was clear that Leroy had the potential to go solo as well. I've not heard Leroy's work with The Impressions, but I'm gonna keep my eyes peeled for the one record that he sings on: "Time Have Changed".

Ground Hog - Bumpin'
Around the time of his work with the Impressions and working on his first solo record he put this little song together with Curtom arranger, Rich Tufo. I noticed Leroy's name on the writing credit, but until I was reading the Burns biography of Mayfield I didn't realize that this was a Hutson project and not just a song of his.

Leroy Hutson - Lucky Fellow
Great song from his album "Hutson" which I need to track down.

Leroy Hutson - Love the Feeling
Leroy Hutson - Don't It Make You Feel Good?
Here are two of my favorite Hutson joints from my favorite album of his (so far). There are at least two other great songs on this album that you should track down on reissue LP or CD here.

As Promised . . . The Crown - Instrumental Version

Gary Byrd & The G.B. Experience - The Crown (Instrumental)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Disco Monster #4: 'Risco' Bidness

With this fourth "Disco Monster" I want to highlight a blog that I've been digging lately: "TJ Gorton's American Athlete". TJ's been keeping the Emerald City (Seattle, for all of you who don't know) in boogie shoes for a minute now. As a fellow Pacific Northwesterner I can appreciate his efforts and I hope to get a chance to check out one of his nights in the near future. His original post from where I snagged these songs is here.

Risco Connection - Ain't No Stopping Us Now
I first heard this song on "David Mancuso Presents the Loft" compilation, which used the "version" instead of this version featured here, and its been on my radar ever since. Somehow Joe Issacs managed to take an already HUGE hit and reinject it with new life with some island percussion and a slightly different arrangement.

Risco Connection - I'm Caught Up (In a One Night Love Affair)
I didn't realize that I had already heard this song as well from a different compilation, Chairman Mao's "Run for Cover". When I heard it again recently I recognized that dubby "Risco" sound and realized that this was who covered the original Inner Life song.

Anyways, enjoy these disco monsters and check out TJ's blog for more sexy, funky dance tunes.

Another 'Stevie Thing' . . .

I was listening to that Sarah Vaughan track (a couple posts down) again and while I LOVE Marcos Valle's vocal I'm not a big fan of Sarah's work on the song. It's a shame cause I have to listen to a whole verse of Sarah before I get to Marcos's sweet R&B-infused bossa smoothness to tickle my eardrums. Then I was thinking of other songs that have marvelous guest contribution buried in someone else's song.

This Gary Byrd song is a perfect example of this. "The Crown" is a collaboration between Gary Byrd, a radio DJ and friend of Stevie's, and Stevie himself. It's basically an early-ish rap entry that's kinda embarrassing to listen to today because of Gary's uptight flow, if we can even call it that. Gary has made his contribution to "black music" many times over (including writing some lyrics to a few classic Stevie songs: "Black Man" and "Village Ghetto Land" so we don't need to get down on him for this well-intentioned effort to get-across to the kids about their heritage.

Thankfully when this 12" single was released in 1983 they included on the B-side the "instrumental" version which is just that except they left Stevie's short (53 seconds, beginning at 5:27) sung verse intact so that you can have your cake and eat it too! Stevie's lyric is one of the best things he's done since his 1980 album "Hotter than July." I'll try to post the instrumental version of "The Crown" soon. Now, if only Sarah Vaughan's "Something" had an 'instrumental' version . . .