How we feelin' out there, soul babies? Sincerest wishes that all the good people in the funky universe are fat, happy and healthy on this fine February afternoon...
As for myself, I have to admit that I went through a brief phase when I didn't feel particularly inspired to write, but I'm back into my groove now~ and as I'm testifyin' in the title of today's post, I've finally got that feeling again...
Scrambling to make up for lost time, I quickly dug up another collection of soulful covers and ill remixes for your headphones. I wish I'd had sufficient time to produce something as large as last February's Love Lockdown series, but I tried to proceed with the same spirit of eclecticism that my friends and affiliates brought into the mix last year. I've got some of my superfriends lined up for upcoming posts, but for the moment I'm focused on delivering at least one track you truly dig.
Mad love and much respect to all of you...Scholar
"The Mexican"---El Michels Affair (LimeLinx)
"The Mexican"---El Michels Affair (YSI)
*Written by Alan Shacklock; originally recorded by Babe Ruth at Abbey Rd Studios in 1972 and was subsequently released on the band's First Base LP (Harvest Records EMI). The track also appeared as the B-side to their "Wells Fargo" single (HAR 5087).
* The original song interpolates "Per Qualche Dollaro in Piu" (aka "For a Few Dollars More"), a soundtrack theme song composed by Ennio Morricone.
*Babe Ruth hailed from Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England, but they ultimately enjoyed greater success in North America than their homeland.
*While it wasn't technically a hit single, ask any DJ worth the weight of their crates and they'll likely enthuse about what a monumentally large record "The Mexican" is. A key ingredient in Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force's "Planet Rock", the track was also sampled by other pioneering hip hop acts such as Funky 4 + 1 and Grandmaster Melle Mel and The Furious Five.
*The first semi-famous cover version of the song came in 1978, by way of a twelve-minutes-and-counting disco mix by The Bombers. John "Jellybean" Benitez followed suit in 1984, recruiting Babe Ruth's original lead singer (Janita Haan) to lay down her powerhouse vocals on his first #1 Hot Dance Music/Club Play single.
*Ultimate Breaks & Beats is a 25-volume compilation series that qualifies as a audible encyclopedia entry on the history of sampled music. Originally released on Street Beat Records between 1986 and 1991, this massive library of tracks with prominent drum breaks began with the intention of providing a quick go-to reference for beatsmiths and DJs. While the selections were tweaked and remixed to facilitate beat-juggling, contending with the vocals still proved to be a source of consternation for the average bedroom/basement producer.
As hip hop production increasingly lent itself to more user-friendly methodology and the internet aided in disseminating long-held secrets of source material, collections such as these undoubtedly lost some of their appeal and gravitas. In a calculating effort to regain relevance, Traffic Entertainment Group began to release all instrumental versions of some of these essential recordings, extending itself even further to reduce the difficulties associated with sampling and chopping.
Truth & Soul Records' funky president/co-founder Leon Michels (perhaps better known for his work with El Michels Affair) took the reins on the first volume of the newly revamped series, working with a stellar cast of studio musicians to revisit/recreate 13 of the most oft-sampled joints of all freakin' time. In less capable hands this project could have invited a shitstorm of criticism, but if you've witnessed El Michels take on the Wu-Tang songbook, you probably won't question Michels' ability to rise to the occasion. Some versions stray farther from the original material than others, but the common denominator amongst this baker's dozen is undoubtedly quality musicianship.
Since the release of this LP in 2008, two subsequent volumes in the series have dropped~one credited to Mr. Chops and Friends and the most recent installment, which focuses exclusively on rock songs. I haven't checked either of these out yet, so if you'd like to weigh in on their merits, please feel free.
"Inspiration Information"---Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (LimeLinx)
"Inspiration Information"---Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (YSI)
*Written by Shuggie Otis for his homonymously titled 1974 LP.
*Shuggie was born the son of R&B bandleader Johnny Otis, and as the stars would have it, his intense love affair with music seemed to have been inspired when he was an embryo. After playing in clubs at age 12 and recording sessions with Frank Zappa and Al Kooper at 15, Shuggie began his own complex and deeply curious foray into genre-bending, style-fusing soundscapes when he was still a young teenager.
Here Comes Shuggie Otis and Freedom Flight were both visionary, renegade excursions into musical territory that was not necessarily uncharted, but infrequently explored. To the casual listener, a lot of his material sounds dissonant and strange, but for those who tune into his frequency, the listening experience is immeasurably rewarding.
*For all the creativity he poured into his first two releases, Inspiration Information was perhaps his most delicately constructed body of work, a masterpiece that he devoted a few years of his life to composing. Otis had evolved into a virtual one-man band, playing guitar, bass, piano, drums, the organ, and the vibraphone. He wrote horn and string arrangements, and stayed on the cutting edge of burgeoning trends such as drum machine technology. His palette was a pastiche of diverse sonic styles, blended seamlessly by his fluency in speaking the robustly variegated language of music. In other words, Shuggie fuckin' rocks!
Like so many of the greats, Shuggie's timing was way the hell off~ it was as if people still believed that the world was flat, and Shuggie played as though it was round. He captured the attention of many acclaimed artists who invited them to share the stage or record with them, but as the man himself once quipped, the solo run beginning with Here Comes Shuggie Otis was sadly punctuated by an all-too-quiet 'there goes Shuggie Otis'.
*Otis all but disappeared in the years following the release of Inspiration Information. He occasionally did session work and an infrequent live gig here and there, but for the most part, he'd gone ghost. Shortly after the album was released, Billy Preston had called to ask him if he's be interested in replacing Mick Taylor on The Rolling Stones' upcoming tour, but Shuggie wasn't down with the idea. He was also reportedly offered the opportunity to have Quincy Jones produce a follow-up record, but of course this also never materialized. In retrospect, some would consider these two of the most ill-advised career decisions of all time, but consider the fact that Otis was still only 21 at the time. His creative potential as a solo artist likely seemed limitless in his young mind.
*While he's always been somewhat of a cult hero, Otis enjoyed a brief resurgence of interest in 2001, when David Byrne re-released Inspiration Information and four tracks from Freedom Flight on his Luaka Bop imprint.
The new millenium saw Shuggie's material being sampled by the likes of Dilla, RJD2, and even the flyest-bitch-in-the-game-wearin'-Hov's-chain, Beyonce (I'm not crazy about the chica, but obviously I'm in the minority). In 2004, Otis agreed to play guitar on Mos Def's "Blue Black Jack", further establishing his exalted reputation amongst crate-digging hip hop kids such as myself (not the illest Mos Def joint, but a collaboration that still sounds fly as hell on paper).
Otis' most recent appearance was on the 2008 multi-artist Novemberin' LP, where he played alongside Jimmy Vivino and Mark Lotito. Towards the end of last year he talked about the album on KKZQ with Jeff Duran, also hinting that he was in the process of recording new material. It was a bittersweet interview for myself, a longtime Shuggie fan, as compelling as it was disconcerting. Otis came across like the average guy next-door, living through the glory years of days gone past and struggling to find his relevance in the present and future tense. One of the most striking moments in the interview was when Shuggie fumbled his way through explaining his lack of knowledge about the internet, encouraging people to contact him through tribute pages set up by relatives and friends. Once again, it appeared as though Otis was cursed by being out of step with the vibe of contemporary culture, this time arriving too late rather than ahead of time.
*While Shuggie's material has been covered numerous times over the years, the most popular take on his music came by way of The Brothers Johnson's remake of "Strawberry Letter 23". The track appeared on the group's 1977 Right on Time LP, becoming an extremely popular dance-oriented flip that peaked at #5 on Billboard's Hot 100 that same year.
By far, my personal favorite is this ridiculously phenomenal cover by Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. The track was unleashed last year on the Red Hot compilation Dark Was the Night.
"Sexual Healing (Me & You Re-Edit)"---Hot 8 Brass Band (LimeLinx)
"Sexual Healing (Me & You Re-Edit)"---Hot 8 Brass Band (YSI)
*Written by David Ritz, Odell Elliott Brown Jr, Marvin Gaye; Gaye recorded the track in Belgium and released it as a 7" on Columbia in 1982. It also appears on his Midnight Love LP, his first album after being relieved of his long-standing contract with Motown.
*Holding its ground at #1 on Billboard's Hot Black Singles chart for ten weeks, the track earned the distinction of being the longest-running R&B number-one single of the 1980s.
*It's impossible to overstate the impact this song had on cementing Gaye's legacy. Gaye hadn't had a hit song for five years prior to its release ("Got to Give It Up"), and the single earned the legendary vocalist his first Grammy and American Music awards.
*The backstory on this internationally beloved tune is completely fucking bizarre. David Ritz, one of the song's co-authors, was interviewing Gaye for a biography ("Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye") when he noticed that the celebrated artist had an abundance of pornography in his room. He allegedly told the singer that he needed sexual healing, and the idea for the song was born.
Ritz was not listed in the original songwriting credits, although he did get in a shout in the liner notes. The writer claimed that Gaye had commissioned him to write a poem about sexual healing in the aftermath of their inside joke, and Ritz's words comprised the bulk of the lyrical content. Feeling unduly slighted, Ritz promptly filed a lawsuit, effectively ending his friendship with Gaye. The writer didn't win his suit or formal acknowledgement for his contribution until after Gaye was murdered.
*According to many accounts, "Sexual Healing" was the first hit single to use the Roland TR-808, an early programmable drum machine that later became a staple of hip hop and electronica.
*The song was christened #231 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
*The track was recorded in Belgium because Gaye spent approximately 18 months there trying to relax, regroup, and kick his drug habit. He had been so stressed out prior to his self-imposed exile that he seriously entertained the idea of becoming a monk.
*Upon achieving success with the single, Gaye left Belgium to go on a US tour in support of his album. The consensus seems to be that he began abusing drugs again, becoming increasingly depressed and mentally unstable. He moved back into his parent's home where his father eventually shot him in 1984, claiming self-defense. A physical altercation ensued when Gaye's mother and father were in the midst of a domestic dispute. Marvin Sr. was initially charged with first-degree murder, although his sentence was reduced after it was revealed that he had been beaten by Marvin Jr. a short while before the shooting. Many accounts suggest that Gaye jumped on his father merely to protect his mother. Regardless of the specifics, it remains unsettling that the gun Gaye's father used had been given to him by his son a few months prior to the incident.
*"Sexual Healing" has been sampled on tracks by artists such as Doug E Fresh, Fat Joe, Erick Sermon, M.O.B.B., and Big Daddy Kane, just to name a few.
*Artists who have covered this track include Ben Harper, Soul Asylum, Anita Lane, El Debarge, Mahogany, Hot Chip Ne-Yo, Michael Bolton, and Kate Bush's prolly-could-have-done-without-it Celtic-influenced take on the track. Yet and still, the oddest (but somehow apropos) rendition came by way of George Michael at Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday bash.
*To use a blistering/blazing/fire analogy to describe Hot 8 Brass Band's take on "Sexual Healing", I'd say this joint is a sonic inferno, children.
The New Orleans-based outfit is comprised of a constantly rotating cast of musicians, but the founders were tuba player Bennie Pete, Jerome “Bay Bay” Jones (trombone) and Harry “Swamp Thang” Cook (bass drum). Since their formation in 1995, the group has generally consisted of 8 or 9 top-notch musicians who are committed to delivering traditional styles to the next generation.
They initially released "Sexual Healing" on a New Orleans label called Louisiana Red Hot, but the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina wiped out the company, as well as the masters of the group's recordings. As if that alone wasn't a tragic enough loss, four members of the collective have passed away over the years, two of which were related to violent acts on the streets of New Orleans.
A stroke of good fortune finally blessed them due to the fact that Quantic had acquired a rare copy of "Sexual Healing" that Robert Luis and Paul Jonas of the Tru Thoughts imprint enjoyed immensely. The label first released the cover as a limited edition in the summer of 2007. The 500 copies they pressed were snapped up immediately, and the label responded accordingly by re-releasing the single as well as a full-length album (Rock With The Hot 8 Brass Band) later that same year. The effort garnered the group well-deserved praise, and my own two cents is that even when I'm a miserable bastard, this record lifts me up as a result of its mysterious powers to actuate levitation.
"Leila Dies, Lyrics Born"---dj BC (LimeLinx)
"Leila Dies, Lyrics Born"---dj BC (YSI)
*This track blends Philip Glass' "Leila Dies" and "Calling Out" by Lyrics Born; mix courtesy of Bob Cronin (aka dj BC)
*Mashes/bootlegs/blends are somewhat of a dime a dozen these days, and usually aren't nearly as interesting as they should be. The shock value sort of wore off after a while~ yes it is entirely possible to blend Barry Manilow with Nickleback and return a product that's inexplicably even more nauseating than the sum of its parts; this theory has been soundly proven, and pairing seemingly disparate genres isn't nearly as ironic as it was in the preceding millenium. That said, I am all about diggin' for the exceptions to whatever the rule may be.
Simply put, Bob Cronin is one of the nicest dudes to ever do the damn thing. In addition to his ultra-impressive techniques on the wheels of steel, dj BC has crates for days. While other mixologists are trying to figure out what shitty radio fodder they can blend with "Poker Face", BC is blowing the dust off of Vladamir Ussachevsky and Barry Martyn's Down Home Boys.
*Glassbreaks is one of my favorite BC projects to date~ unfortunately it's no longer available for download on his site. I'm quite certain that he is plagued by the same legal clusterfuck that DangerMouse found himself in when he dared to sample the Fab Four without EMI's express permission (cuz you know, their legacy is so much more well-preserved by 10 year-old Rock Band virtuosos). At any rate, it's a must to check his site frequently if you want to cop his projects before The Man does something sinister to it.
If you dig this and you want to hear the rest, you can still download the tracks individually via the good people at WFMU's Beware of the Blog.
"Air (fLako & Robot Koch Remix)" ---Dabrye/MF Doom (LimeLinx)
"Air (fLako & Robot Koch Remix)" ---Dabrye/MF Doom (YSI)
*Lyrics by Daniel Dumile (aka MF Doom); original beats by Tadd Mullinix (aka Dabrye); "Air" was released as as both 12" and on Dabrye's Two-Three album in 2006
*Although Dabrye's earlier releases caught the attention of elite underground hip hop heads such as Dilla and Fat Jon, his shit was too...something...to appeal to his target audience. Mullinax has said that his intention was to collaborate with his favorite MCs all along, but his beats were given the kiss of death by being labeled by the masses as *gasp* glitch-hop. In addition to prompting him to feel misunderstood as an artist, Mullinax had a degree of difficulty with the realization that most of his fans were pretentious douchebags. "I was playing for white boys that would stand there and stroke their chins, and that bothered me. Some would dance a little, but I was like, 'This music has sexiness in it and it needs to get to the right audience.'"
As a consequence of this painful exercise in self-awareness, Dabrye set out to make his sound more palatable to people who were willing to do a little dance and make a little love to his unique sonic creations. In order to achieve this coveted clout with the cool kids, he brought in masters of ceremony such as Doom, Invincible, Finale, Beans, Guilty Simpson, Paradime, Ta'Raach, Vast Aire, Big Tone, Phat Cat, Wajeed, Wildchild, etc.
Whether this venture was successful or not depends largely on who you ask, but "Air" was undoubtedly the track that garnered the most attention (with "Game Over" squarely positioning itself as a close second). Even when Doom's a bit lazy, he tends to be more interesting...and certainly more colorful...than the majority of his peers. His fanbase tends to be ridiculously loyal, and fortunately this joint was released before the MC was exposed for hiring actors to impersonate him during live shows. All in all, the collabo turned out to be a fairly good look for both artists.
*As of this writing, Dabrye still hasn't come with Three/Three, the final chapter of his musical trilogy. It remains to be seen whether or not he'll pull a George Lucas, but if Mullinax has his way, it sounds like he'd dig going a bit more mainstream with it. "The other idea, since I have so much momentum in the hip-hop community, is to go [to] the next level with MCs. If I could get Busta Rhymes on the album I'd be stoked!" Perhaps we shouldn't hold our collective breath for Lil Boosie to return his call.
*In my humble opinion, this remix trumps the original all day long. No disrespect Dabrye...but...I think these dudes may have sonned you on your very own track.
"Seven Nation Army"---The Dynamics (Limelinx)
"Seven Nation Army"---The Dynamics (YSI)
*Written by Jack White; the original version was recorded by The White Stripes at ToeRag Studios in London. The track appears on the group's Elephant LP, and was released as a single in the US on April 21, 2003.
*In 2008, Rolling Stone placed this song at #21 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. Perhaps more interestingly, the UK's Observer Music Monthly rated it at #2 on their list of the top 75 songs of the decade~ just behind "Crazy In Love" by Beyonce. What the bloody hell is that all about, children???
*Jack White told one of my favorite film directors, Jim Jarmusch, that the song "is about a character who is involved in the realm of gossip with his friends and family and is so enraged by it that he wants to leave town."
Initially plagued by much rumor and innuendo about the nature of his relationship to bandmate Meg White, it seems likely that this lyrical tale was at least semi-autobiographical. Prying into celebrities' personal matters is often an unflattering look for so-called journalists, but hey~this is the sort of madness that ensues after you tell folks that your ex-wife is your fuckin' sister. Just sayin'...
*"Seven Nation Army" is evidently what Jack White called the Salvation Army when he was a kid. That is so...cute?
*Let's be all the way real, children..."Seven Nation Army" covers fucking blow. Every cachophonous high school marching band in Europe and North America have pissed all over this joint at one time or another...and even The Oak Ridge Boys saw fit to having their ultra-strange way with it. The list of repeat offenders includes (but is sadly not limited to) Kelly Clarkson, The Flaming Lips, Nostalgia 77, Weezer, Audioslave, The BossHoss, Apathy, Pursued by a Bear, Hard-Fi, Rihanna, and the crackhead down the street...
Not to be confused with the R&B group from Detroit of the same name, The Dynamics who rendered this cover of "Seven Nation Army" hail from Lyon, France. With influences ranging from Curtis Mayfield to King Tubby, this phenomenal groove collective fuses deep soul sensibilities with reggae and dub influences to create a harmonious union of styles and sounds.
If you dig this track, you'll definitely want to check out their Version Excursions LP (Groove Attack, 2007), as well as their highly sought-after singles collection.
"Didn't Cha Know (Biscope Boot)"---Erykah Badu (LimeLinx)
"Didn't Cha Know (Biscope Boot)"---Erykah Badu (YSI)
*The album version of "Didn't Cha Know?" was written by Erykah Badu, James Yancey, and Phil Clendeninn.
Clendeninn was credited as a co-author after it was discovered that "Dreamflower" by his short-lived group Tarika Blue was sampled on "Didn't Cha Know?" without permission. The band's record company (Chiaroscuro) filed a lawsuit, and Universal/Motown and Badu agreed to pay a settlement fee. A renewed interest in the jazz fusion group's recordings was quickly ignited, and Chiaroscuro reissued both of Tarika Blue's '70s LPs on a self-titled CD. It was released on the company's Downtown Sound label in 2002.
*"Didn't Cha Know?" was the second single from Badu's Mama's Gun LP. The track peaked at #28 on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts.
*Mama's Gun features substantial contributions from several members of the Soulquarians collective, of which Badu and Dilla were members. More on the origins and influence of the Soulquarians here.
*Biscope has recently been making some noise on the internets, although there still isn't a great deal of information available about the Cape Town production phenom. Depending on who you ask, there are one to three members (a byproduct of the misinformation age, no doubt), but it's certain that Richard the Third is at the epicenter of Biscope's creations. Not only do I dig the laidback vibe of this mix, but anyone who labels their music love-step is unequivocally all right with me...
"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"---Donny Hathaway (LimeLinx)
"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"---Donny Hathaway (YSI)
*Written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell; the song became a hit single for Buddy Holly in 1969. Neil Diamond actually recorded it first, but his version (also a success) wasn't released until 1970.
*When Bobby Scott and Bob Russell met in California, Russell was dying of cancer. It is said that they met only three times in person, but still managed to create one of the most beloved compositions of all time.
*In 1924, Roe Fulkerson published an article in Kiwanas magazine called "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". This is the first known usage of the phrase.
There is also a possible connection to Father Edward J. Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town. As the story goes, Flanagan came across a line drawing in a 1941 edition of Louis Allis Messenger bearing the caption "He ain't heavy Mister — he's m' brother!" Flanagan felt that the drawing illustrated the work done at Boys Town and requested permission in 1943 to recreate the drawing in color with the caption "He ain't heavy, Father . . . he's m' brother." The phrase eventually became the motto of Boys Town (now known as Girls and Boys Town).
*Many listeners interpreted this song to be about soldiers in the Vietnam War and/or the civil rights movement. Whether or not that's what the writers had in mind is of little significance. In my opinion the hallmark of a great song is the ability to be brazenly open to subjective interpretations, bearing personal significance for everyone who hears it. Whether or not you like this song, you have to give it props on that particular measure~or else!
*Elton John played the piano on The Hollies' version.
*This is another frequently covered track, including versions by The Ruffin Brothers, Barry Manilow (ugh), The Housemartins, Rufus Wainwright, Olivia Newton-John (another nails-on-the-chalkboard rendition), The Osmonds (once again...ugh), Brotherhood of Man, Cher, Sanchez, and a bunch of tone deaf shitheads on American Idol.
*Hathaway's rendition has received mixed reviews. Some people obviously love it, but it's also gotten slammed for being too depressing. One writer expressed the following opinion: "Donny sings beautifully, but he sounds hopeless and defeated instead of confident of victory."
Scholar says: fuck that. Donny was and always will be one of the high priests of soul. Taking his interpretation in it's context, Hathaway's eponymous 1971 album arguably contains much of his darkest material. I've always thought that the LP was self-titled because its content and substance painted an incredibly honest portrait of the man himself, all posturing and artifice set aside. Like all of Hathaway's recordings, this one stays on steady rotation at chez moi.
The Best Of The Rest:
Because it's nearly Valentine's Day, here's some extra love for all of you beautiful people to enjoy~ two more amazing covers:
"Why Try To Change Me Now"---Fiona Apple (LimeLinx)
"Why Try To Change Me Now"---Fiona Apple (YSI)
*More beautiful than you can imagine, this remake of a Cy Coleman track is all kinds of lovely...
"Can't Tell Me Nothing"---Francis & The Lights (LimeLinx)
"Can't Tell Me Nothing"---Francis & The Lights (YSI)
*Many of the most impressive covers are so wildly different from the original that they make you look at a song from a whole new perspective. I adore this truly unique rendition of Kanye West's popular single for that very reason.
Word From Your Moms:
"But if these years have taught me anything it is this: you can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in."---Junot Díaz