Saturday, July 18, 2009
Heeeeeyyyy soul kids~ how ya feelin' out there?
Been a long time
I shouldn't have left you
without a dope beat to step to...
However, let's not waste time dwelling on my lackadaisical fuckery...
Instead, please allow me to serve you with another outstanding volume of covers, remixes, mashes, and interpolations. As usual, I chose an eclectic variety of selections, so I have faith that most of you will discover something that causes a little commotion in your soul. I decided to split this edition into two parts because I wanted to share too many tracks for them all to fit within a single post. If all goes as planned, you shouldn't have to wait an eternity between updates this time around~ part two is already in the making.
Several people have asked me why I didn't post a tribute to Michael Jackson, perhaps because I'm one of the few writers/music lovers who hasn't entered the conversation on his untimely passing. With very few exceptions, I prefer to cover music, artists, and subject matter that's been forgotten or overlooked by popular culture and mainstream media outlets. Television, radio, and the internets have been saturated with coverage of MJ's life and death, and as a result, I found it somewhat impossible to add anything relevant to the incessant conversation that has been taking place across the global grapevine.
In the interests of reluctantly throwing in my depreciated two cents, I will tell you that I grew up listening to the Jackson 5, and every solo album that Michael released into the late '80s stays on heavy rotation in my household. However...no disrespect whatsoever...but I began to grieve the loss of my childhood hero long before June 25th. There's a vaguely discernable point at which I honestly lost my feeling of connection to him as an artist~ however this wasn't abandonment so much as a concerted effort to protect and preserve the man's iconic status in my memory bank. For those of you who are fixated on the Michael who was little more than a tabloid freak show, I would suggest that you press rewind and concentrate on celebrating his immense contributions to the past, present, and future of music history. (This strategy may also prevent you from ruminating on why Invincible was such a shitty album...)
We've reached a point in time when many of soul music's most legendary artists are rapidly departing from Earth, but rather than cultivating a virtual graveyard, my energy remains focused on emphasizing their greatness and sustaining the immortality of their monumental creations. May all of our beloved superstars continue to prosper and harvest in the imaginations of the living...
Towards that end, I decided to kick this session off with a cover of a song that MJ made famous~ an inspired take on "I Wanna Be Where You Are" rendered by The Roots and Erykah Badu.
Put ya lighters up, kids...Scholar
"I Wanna Be Where You Are"---Erykah Badu/The Roots (LimeLinx)
"I Wanna Be Where You Are"---Erykah Badu/The Roots (YSI)
*Written by Leon Ware and Arthur "T-Boy" Ross, Diana Ross' younger brother. The song marked the duo's first songwriting collaboration, and was written specifically for Michael Jackson. The track was released on MJ's Got To Be There LP and was issued as a Motown 45 on May 2, 1972.
*MJ's original version was recorded at Hitsville West In Los Angeles, and featured production by Hal Davis. Ross and Ware provided the background hollers, while the instrumentation is credited to an assortment of local musicians.
*This was Jackson's third Top 40 hit of his early solo career. The track reached #16 on the Billboard charts and #2 on the R&B charts.
*A video of Jackson performing the song on American Bandstand in July 1972:
*The song has been covered by Marvin Gaye, Willie Hutch, Leon Thomas, Zulema, O'Donel Levy, Ronnie Dyson, and more. Although Leon Ware co-wrote the track, he delayed releasing his own take on the song until 2001.
*Erykah Badu and The Roots appeared on Jimmy Fallon's show to pay tribute to MJ, but most of the good stuff happened before the taping began and during the commercial breaks. Erykah takes ownership of the track despite remaining somewhat true to the original, and the legendary Roots crew tears it up as usual.
"Wanna Be"---The Fugees (LimeLinx)
"Wanna Be"---The Fugees (YSI)
The Fugees leaked their own interpolation of the track a few years back~ easily one of the illest interpretations I've ever heard. Damn Lauryn~ can you please come back from batshit crazy??? We really miss you...
"I Put A Spell On You"---Demon Fuzz (LimeLinx)
"I Put A Spell On You"---Demon Fuzz (YSI)
*Written and originally recorded by Screamin' Jay Hawkins (w/ the Leroy Kirkland Orchestra); the track was issued as a 7" on Okeh Records and appeared on the At Home With Screamin' Jay Hawkins LP in 1958.
*While "I Put A Spell On You" was reportedly intended to be a refined blues ballad lamenting a lost love, the final product was anything but subdued. Hawkins screams, groans, and gurgles on the track like an unrestrained wild man whose heartache is both palpable and primitive. He later accounted for this dramatic change in tone by explaining that the producer "brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version. I don't even remember making the record."
Although some sources state that Hawkins had actually recorded a more sedate rendition several years prior, there doesn't appear to be any definitive evidence to justify that claim. What is certain, however, is that the Okeh original was edited to override the song's initial ban from the airwaves. The alternate version allowed the song to sell over a million copies and crack the Top 40; no small feat for a track that had once been shunned due to its "cannibalistic sounds" and overtly sexual grunting noises.
Hawkins' newly found success ultimately led to his professional affiliation with famed DJ and radio personality Alan Freed. Hawkins had always been somewhat more flamboyant and ostentatious than the prototypical bluesman, but Freed soon had a bugged-out brainstorm that would forever alter the course of Jay's career. He imagined that if Hawkins developed an outlandish persona to match the eerie vibe of his popular recording, his live act was destined to garner quite a bit of attention. Freed had such confidence in the potential of this idea that he offered Jay a $300 bonus to pop out of a coffin at the beginning of one of his performances. The gimmick paid off, and Hawkins' outrageous onstage antics would come to include a number of voodoo stage props, including rubber snakes and a cigarette-smoking skull named "Henry".
The whole madman schtick was brilliant to the extent that it profoundly influenced later purveyors of "shock rock"such as Alice Cooper, Warren Zevon, Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath, Marilyn Manson, and even George Clinton. The downside of Hawkins' grossly exaggerated peculiarities and wildly theatrical live performances was that the emphasis predictably shifted away from the purity of his artistic potential. Like it or not, most snobby music elitists are reluctant to admit their fondness for the kooky guy in witch doctor regalia who sang his deranged heart out on jams like "Constipation Blues".
*In addition to the indelible mark he made on music history, Hawkins fortified his notoriety by fathering a whole shitload of unclaimed children. The deadbeat dad estimated that he had approximately 57 children in various parts of the world, although he only remained in close contact with one~ a puppeteer from Cleveland named Irene. At one point there was actually a website that sought to unite anyone who thought he might be their daddy. In 2001, the year following Hawkins' death, a fraction of his offspring gathered in Los Angeles for an event that was tauted as Screamin' Jay's Illegitimate Family Reunion. Accordingly, there's little doubt that the man's legacy will live on...and on...and on...
*Nina Simone was the first major recording artist to cover "I Put A Spell On You", although her interpretation was decidedly less maniacal than the original. Artists as diverse as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Arthur Brown, Bryan Ferry, Marilyn Manson, Bonnie Tyler, Nick Cave, Manfred Mann, The Animals, Joe Cocker, Fever Tree, Queen Latifah, and The Eels have subsequently put their own spin on the classic tune.
*Demon Fuzz has never been given their proper due in popular culture, but they certainly amassed a substantial cult following during and in the aftermath of their all-too-brief, 18-month musical career. The past decade has certainly seen a marked rise in their popularity, as record collectors, DJs and producers have become increasingly enamored with their material.
The group's inception is generally traced back to Paddy Corea, who reportedly conceived of the idea to blend a multi-genre mélange of musical styles while on an extended sojourn in Africa. Due in part to Corea's panoramic worldview, Demon Fuzz's sound is a large-scale synthesis of latin grooves, soul, funk, jazz, reggae, rock, calypso, highlife, the blues, Ethiopian church music, ska, etc. You name it and they likely experimented or were in some way influenced by it.
The London-based collective's music has been likened to Cymande, Sly & The Family Stone, Mandrill, Santana, and Funkadelic, but a simplistic comparative analysis is no substitute for actually listening to their material. Many writers are quick to describe recording artists as "unique", but these guys were legitimately innovative, if for no other reason than their deviation from many of the usual trappings of guitar-oriented popular music. Demon Fuzz were far more focused on exploring the infinite possibilities of rhythm and percussion, and their unorthodox time signatures and elaborate arrangements further added to the progressive vibe of their recordings.
The group's stirring rendition of "I Put A Spell On You" was originally issued as one of three bonus joints on an EP released alongside their five-song Afreaka LP (Janus 1970). The EP has long been somewhat of an obscurity, but those who are primarily seeking convenience should check out the remastered version (Castle 2005), which includes all 8 tracks. Diehard fans will also want to seek out the Roots & Offshoots collection, which has also been reissued on CD (Paco Media Inc 2006).
"Impossible"---Diz Gibran (LimeLinx)
"Impossible"---Diz Gibran (YSI)
*Contains an interpolation of Feist's "Intuition" (written by Leslie Feist) from her 2007 LP, The Reminder.
*"Impossible" by Diz Gibran appears on Crooks & Castles Presents: Soon You'll Understand, an ill collaboration between the Los Angeles-based MC and Moonshine, a producer hailing from Queens, New York.
*Some of you may be questioning why I didn't save this for the Souled On Samples series. Essentially it's because "Impossible" can't even be accurately described as sample-heavy~ Moonshine wisely allowed the Feist song to breathe and play out for a minute at the beginning of the track with very little technical interference. This approach is effective in that the plaintive mood of the original song is fully preserved, while Gibran's reflective lyricism graciously complements the track's already engaging atmosphere.
*Several months ago, Gibran told Vibe Magazine that he intends to work diligently towards "reshaping the perception of the West Coast". The up-and-coming MC views this transformation as being far bigger than hip hop~ he is of the mindset that this "renaissance" encompasses multiple aspects of style, culture, and creativity. Striving to modify the generic gangsta stereotype that's long plagued the Left Coast, Gibran is steadily making good on his promise to be a positive force in the expansion of the New West.
"Going In Circles"---Wayne McGhie & The Sounds Of Joy (LimeLinx)
"Going In Circles"---Wayne McGhie & The Sounds Of Joy (YSI)
*Written by Jerry Peters and Anita Poree; the song originally appeared on The Friends Of Distinction's 1969 Grazin′ LP. It peaked at #15 on the U.S. Pop chart, and #3 on the R&B chart.
*While Isaac Hayes released what I consider to be the definitive version on his Black Moses LP, the song has also been covered by artists such as Esther Phillips, Luther Vandross, and The Gap Band.
*Wayne McGhie & The Sounds Of Joy's self-titled debut is widely regarded as the first Canadian funk album, although the group expertly infused elements of soul, jazz, reggae, and R&B into their sound as well.
Shortly after the Kingston-born Jo Jo Bennett relocated to Toronto in 1967, he began performing regularly at the West Indian Federation Club. When asked to assemble a house band, Bennett requested that several Jamaican musicians join him, and Wayne McGhie left his home in Montego Bay to answer his call. The WIF club eventually became a popular hotspot, and McGhie triumphantly emerged as a highly sought-after singer/songwriter. During this time McGhie became acquainted with the legendary Jackie Mittoo, as well as many other artists who were affiliated with the "Motown of reggae", otherwise known as the famed Studio One label.
In the winter of 1969, McGhie assembled many of his affiliates and friends to begin work on the Sounds Of Joy album. The collective of musicians worked on their material during off-hours at Art Snider's Sound Canada Recording Centre, and McGhie forged a seemingly solid distribution deal with the Birchmount label.
The record was released the following year, but it fared rather poorly in terms of sales, due in large part to the fact that Birchmount neglected to promote the album. Months later, a fire at the label's pressing plant destroyed the remaining copies of the LP, and somewhat predictably, the record was never reprinted.
McGhie continued recording one-off projects for Studio One and his friend Jackie Mittoo, but by the end of the decade he had literally disappeared from the music scene. Evidently, the talented musician suffered from a severe chemical imbalance that resulted in him being homeless and out-of-touch with all of his friends and previous industry contacts.
In the mid-90s, a record dealer stumbled across the Sounds Of Joy album and sold it to Prince Be (of PM Dawn) for $300. Word spread quickly amongst crate diggers, and original copies of the record began raking in as much as $500. Pete Rock, Q-Tip, Buck 65, Mr. Supreme, and DJ Sureshot were amongst the bevy of hip hop producers who would eventually come to champion the long lost LP.
Light In The Attic Records embarked on a mission to contact the elusive McGhie, and in 2004 they discovered that he was living with his sister in Toronto. Their meeting ultimately led to the LP being reissued, both on compact disc and 180 gram vinyl.
While the funky drum breaks are worth the price of admission alone, the covers and original material on the album qualify this as one of the nicest LPs you've probably never heard.
"Just Ain't Gonna Work Out (Astronote Remix)"---Mayer Hawthorne (LimeLinx)
"Just Ain't Gonna Work Out (Astronote Remix)"---Mayer Hawthorne (YSI)
Mayer Hawthorne may look like that dude you want to do your taxes, but there's a reason why conventional wisdom preaches that appearances can be deceiving. I don't know how well the man flips digits, but I'm certain that his ultimate strength lies in his extraordinarily soulful falsetto...
*This lovely joint (described as Smokey meets J Dilla) was Mayer Hawthorne and The County's debut single. Released by Stones Throw as a heart-shaped 7-inch (STH7028), the 2008 track premiered on Gilles Peterson's show on BBC Radio 1. The 45, backed with "When I Said Goodbye”, was limited to a mere 1000 copies. Hawthorne wrote, recorded, sang and played on both tracks.
*Peanut Butter Wolf says that Hawthorne is the only artist he's signed on the strength of only two songs.
*Although he's since relocated to Cali, Hawthorne grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just outside of Detroit. He reports being heavily influenced by the Motown sound, while drawing additional inspiration from Curtis Mayfield, Barry White, Smokey Robinson, Leroy Hutson, and Isaac Hayes.
*The crooner's debut full-length, A Strange Arrangement, is slated to hit the streets on October 6, 2009.
*Astronote is a DJ/producer/remixologist from Paris, France who has steadily been building his resume since 2004. His first drop was his killer spin on The Black Album, and he's been holding steady ever since. His most renowned project to date is Bigger & Better : The Notorious Remixes, hosted by Talib Kweli.
"All For The Best"---Thom Yorke (LimeLinx)
"All For The Best"---Thom Yorke (YSI)
*Written by Marc Mulcahy, ex-frontman for Miracle Legion; "All For The Best" appears on the group's Surprise, Surprise, Surprise LP (Rough Trade, 2000).
*This cover just hit the internets a few days ago (shout out to 2Dopeboyz)~ it's one of 21 tracks that will appear on the upcoming LP, Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy. Ciao is a tribute album being released to provide support for Mulcahy, whose wife's sudden death last year has left the musician to raise their three-year-old twins alone.
Clearly there's a charitable intention behind the project, but even if you're an evil-hearted bastard, the stellar line-up should persuade you to consider purchasing the LP when it's released in September. Yorke's fellow contributors include The National, Dinosaur Jr., Frank Black, Michael Stipe, Mercury Rev, Vic Chesnutt, and many more.
*Written by Joy Division's Ian Curtis (alongside Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Forest), "Ceremony" was penned while the band was still called Joy Division. Following Curtis' suicide, the group reincarnated itself, and "Ceremony" (b/w "In A Lonely Place") was released as the first single under the New Order moniker. For the revamped NO version, guitarist Bernard Sumner took over the lead vocals, allegedly using a graphic equalizer to transcribe Curtis' lyrics from their rehearsal tapes.
Later that same year, New Order went back into the studio to record a second take, featuring Gillian Gilbert on guitar just before she formally joined the band. There are numerous differences between the two renditions New Order released, but to simplify the discrepancies, the earlier take was far more heavily influenced by Joy Division's signature bleak soundscapes than the latter.
There are also two known Joy Division versions of the song~ one is a live recording that appears on Still, while the other was included on their Heart and Soul four-disc box set. Unfortunately, in both cases, Curtis' lyrics are only partially comprehensible/audible.
*Xiu Xiu, The Morning Benders, The Echoing Green, and Galaxie 500 are amongst the many bands who have taken turns reinventing the track.
*Radiohead performed their stellar cover for their Thumbs Down webcast on November 9, 2007:
Word From Your Moms:
“The theme is the theme of humiliation, which is the square root of sin, as opposed to the freedom from humiliation, and love, which is the square root of wonderful.”
“The mind is like a richly woven tapestry in which the colors are distilled from the experiences of the senses, and the design drawn from the convolutions of the intellect.”
“It is a curious emotion, this certain homesickness I have in mind. With Americans, it is a national trait, as native to us as the roller-coaster or the jukebox. It is no simple longing for the home town or country of our birth. The emotion is Janus-faced: we are torn between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.”
~Above quotes by Carson McCullers