Monday 30 April 2012

Actually, while I am in a musical mood I have to say that another great record from the 70s (though rather different from those posted below) is Armand Schaubroek‘s pretty extraordinary, epic “Ratfucker" a claustrophobic, gummy, misogynist peak into a decaying mind stuck in a collapsing city. As a portrait of the urban and psychic malaise of 70s' inner-city America it is a kind of sonic analogue to something like William Lustigs’ Maniac or Nightmares in a Damaged Brain. And someone has kindly posted it on youtube in its entirety. Enjoy

At some point in the last ten years as crate-digging, re-discovering lost classics and forming alternate canons reached a pitch, several rock albums/bands from the early ‘70s were held up as being just as good if not actually better than Sabbath etc. Pentagram were one such etc, but personally I think they are a bit over-rated. The three bands that really seem to have been unfairly excluded (but have now been brought into the fold) are May Blitz, both of whose albums are also tremendously unrock in fascinating ways, Sir Lord Baltimore, and Leaf Hound.

Phil Zone reckons Leaf Hounds “ Drowned Myself in Fear” is the Holy Grail of Seventies’ rock and he may well be correct, but I thought I would post something by the the other two bands for your (and my own) delectation and I welcome any corrections/ invitations to explore further in the comments’ box below.

(or any additional posts in this thread by fellow bloggers.)


Phil also nominates this;

Further update and riposte.

Phil also points out this.

and I remember this...

that's a lot of wah-wah.

Sunday 29 April 2012

Perhaps the Most Perfectly-Titled (If Not Perfect) Song, Ever

I remember Tom Waits saying in an interview many years ago, "A lot of music sounds better when you're hearing it on a shitty speaker from several blocks away."

This is one of those songs. It's a song that's followed me throughout my life. A number of times over the years I've heard it off in the distance while it was pumping at some party from a block (or two, or three...) away. You know it as soon as you hear it, because it can't be mistaken for any other tune. The beat and the voice -- that voice -- always carry strongly. What usually doesn't carry is the dubbed-in party chatter that undergirds the track, which doesn't matter because the song usually generates its own party noise whenever it's played -- the sort that travels clearly with the rhythm in nighttime air. Each time I hear it, it prompts the same immediate compulsion -- to leave my apartment or the low-key party I'm attending, follow the groove to its source, and see if the dancefloor at the gathering in question has the same come-one-come-all policy that the song compels. As you'd expect, this usually happens in the middle of the night or in the earliest hours of the morning.

And I mention it now, because it happened again last night.

At any rate, perhaps the weirdest time this ever happened was about four or five years ago. It was about 11 AM and I was standing on an El platform on the south side of Chicago, catching a northbound train to make the 60-block commute to work downtown. And there it was -- that song, bumping away somewhere nearby. Actually, it was a house remix of the tune -- a remix that managed to build on the quasi-Latin groove that fueled the original (rather than, y'know, squashing it). The song caused a few of us on the platform to turn in its direction, quickly tracing its source to an aged three-story townhouse located about a block away, where it sounded like a party was going on.

Broad fucking daytime. Not even noontime, yet. On a weekday. Who knows how long that party had been going on. An hour? Maybe ten? Whatever the case, the song soon ended and another began, at which point a pair of police cruisers came rolling up in front of the place with their blue lights blazing atop. From our elevated vantage point, we saw the back door to the place fly open and a number of the party's attendees -- all young and able-bodied -- come scrambling out into the rear alleyway, taking flight in every direction. Those of us on the platform who'd watched the whole thing transpire turned to look at each other, exchanging variations on the same slightly bemused, arched-eyebrow expression. Each of us had turned to look, to follow the sound. Maybe we'd each had the same urge upon hearing it. No matter, our existence dictated that we had other places to be. And even if we'd gone with that impulse, it was clear that we'd have arrived too late.

Thursday 26 April 2012

White Riot

If there’s one cultural milestone that separates the Sixties from the Seventies, I would say that it’s Jefferson Airplane’s "Volunteers", an album that anticipated Sly & The Family Stone’s "There’s A Riot Goin’ On" in two ways - the first and most obvious one being the purloining of the Stars ’n’ Stripes for the purposes of irony; the second, and only mildly less obvious, of announcing the death of the counter-culture. Released right at the beginning of the decade, it is perhaps the last pop-culture statement that can be taken genuinely seriously, being as it is an admission of total defeat; a bloody-but-unbowed acknowledgment that whatever dreams of a better world the boomer generation may have entertained, there was now no possibility of them ever being realised.

It’s an unusual record mainly for its frankness - there is no attempt here to disguise the defeat of the counter-culture in allegory or metaphor, or to pretend that there were never any serious expectations entertained; there’s also no attempt to pretend that the future offers any opportunity to rebuild the movement - it’s either "up against the wall" or a "march into the sea". In its nihilism it is strangely reminiscent of The Pop Group’s recordings at the end of the decade - there’s not only the same sense of hopelessness, but also that feint sense that there was never any hope all along. "Volunteers", its sleeve art especially, crackles with sardonic humour - the mock Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich gatefold sleeve taunting the presumed bourgeois gluttony of the listener; the parody of the archetypal rock festival report on the back cover satirising the already-visible phenomenon of the spectacle.

All pop-cultural rebellion after the release of this record was either phoney and manufactured, which could be graded on a sliding scale from Alice Cooper to The Sex Pistols, or stillborn, as in the case of Crass or the aforementioned Pop Group. Even the Airplane themselves conveniently forgot that they’d recorded it; in the Eighties their dissipated remnants declared that they’d "built this city on rock’n’roll", as though their entire generation had never been motivated by anything more than apple-pie wholesomeness all along. If they hadn’t left the archaeological remnants of their actual recordings behind, you could’ve been forgiven for believing that the whole thing had never happened.

The Beginning of the End

By most accounts, today marks the 35th anniversary of the grand opening of Studio 54 in New York City. The club's heyday would -- depending on whose recollections you trust -- epitomize either the apex or the nadir of the disco era.

Hence the clips above. Chances are you know the song, which was a big smash at the time, for what would ultimately amount to one among many one-hit wonders of the time. I remember it very well. I was in seventh grade at the time, and the tune was pretty much the tune of the autumn of 1978, having followed hot on the heels of other era-defining hits like Taste of Honey's "Boogie Oogie Oogie" and Heatwave's "The Groove Line." All three songs were regularly a part of my junior high school's pep rallies that season; the cheerleading squad having worked out dance routines for each, with the Foxy tune usually being the 'big finish" number that got the kids in the bleachers the most worked-up.

So it came as some surprise seeing the clips above many years later, and finding out that the artist in question was another non-African American funk outfit of the White Wild Cherry variety. In actuality, Foxy was a Cuban-American outfit that hailed from Miami and landed themselves a spot on the roster of Miami-based TK Records, the label previously responsible for giving the world KC & the Sunshine Band. The band featured -- curiously enough -- a son of Tito Puente in its lineup, as well as one member and contributing songwriter who'd previously played in Paul Revere & the Raiders.

The reason for having two clips of the same track might be obvious once they've rolled. Viewing them many years after the fact, both strike me as deeply comical -- comical in a way that vastly exceeds the usual fashion hazards of period-specific quaintness. First, there's the way the song -- upon revisitation -- pimps certain formulaic clichés to optimal, cartoonish effect. Then there's the matter of the group itself -- the ill-advised shiny makeup and overdone pouting (grimacing?) of the first clip, the overdone (if not overcompensatory) thrusting boogie moves, the fact that the bass player vaguely resembles Borat. If there's one thing that unifies the two clips, its the very sketchy charade of pretending to play along to the song; especially the parts of pantomining along to the absentee female backing vocals (the one element of the thing that went the furthest toward putting the song over, making it a hit).

In a way, the whole thing is a shambles -- deliriously over-affected in a way that seems to carry the stench of the impending death of disco all over it. Inasmuch as it reeked of decadence, it wasn't so much decadence of the debauched variety as that of the aesthetically degenerative kind. Sure enough, the nine months that followed in the song's wake would bear this harbinger out. Chic's "Le Freak" would quickly follow, shooting to the top of the charts and making the group a huge success. (The irony being, of course, that "Le Freak" song started off as "Fuck Off," originally penned by songwriters Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers as a response to Studio 54's discriminatory door policy.) By mid-summer, jumpcut to Chicago's Comiskey Park where the unintended melee that was AM radio disc jockey Steve Dahl's "Disco Demolition Night" gave testament to a growing public antipathy. Come autumn of 1979, the pop charts were starting to clutter with disco tunes by non-disco artists who were, under label duress, trying to poach a hit out of the "craze" while it lasted. But it was too late, the tide -- as such things happen -- had already turned.

Clams on the half-shell...and roller skates, roller skates.