Saturday, 31 October 2009
I've written about The Funk Of The Memphis Flash before a couple of times, most expansively here at Mof Gimmer's Electric Roulette. Elvis was essentially a synthesist; overt hoodlum sexuality aside, Presley's most significant contribution to pop music was his innate, entirely effortless ability to fuse various root forms of southern rock and roll; gospel, blues, country, soul etc. Elvis did it all, and continued to internalise and adapt contemporary styles as they developed during the course of his career, with 60s-70s funk/soul no exception. Crate diggers looking for breakbeats in unusual places have long known that there are a handful of super-funky Elvis tracks, nuggets of sampleable gold packed with clattering drums and fuzz bass lines, that would come as a surprise the casual Presley fan. David Holme's use of 'A Little Less Conversation' on the Oceans 11 soundtrack (and the subsequent JXL re-mix, exponentially lamer than the original Presley track) served to shine some light on this particularly dusty corner of the Elvis archives - a classic reminder that there's treasure everywhere.
And so it proves with the 'Please Don't Stop Loving' LP, which despite being generally as dismal as the sleeve suggests, manages to contain a couple of gen-u-inely brilliant RnB tracks (the up-tempo floorfilling smasher 'Rubberneckin' - also laterly subject to a diabolical dance re-mix, and the sizzling, southern-fried country soul of 'Clean Up Your Own Backyard'), and one kitschy movie theme song ('Change Of Habit'...from a movie about, yep, nuns) which begins with a phenomenal fuzz-bass & drums break, fat enough to be sampled by DJ Format. Enjoy!
Friday, 30 October 2009
Sunday, 25 October 2009
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
His most enduring piece of music, recorded over 40 years ago and revealed in the video clip below, has embedded itself more deeply and unmovably in the firmament of Western pop culture than the work of even our most revered songwriters. It is part of our DNA, it's opening riff illiciting an instinctive pavalov's dogs reaction amongst anybody who hears it, generating not just a vocal response, but two physical finger clicks. Try it today at work or college; go up to somebody and utter a"dur-dur-dur-duh". Nobody can resist the two-click answer. It's like casting a spell - mysterious and spooky, indeed.
Sunday, 18 October 2009
Dazzling Dean Martin biog, and by a nose, the best thing I've read this year. (A+)
Andrew Chaikin: 'A Man On The Moon - The Voyages Of The Apollo Astronauts'
Spellbinding history of NASA's Apollo missions. Sci-fact that makes sci-fi redundant. (A)
Bob Woodward / Carl Bernstein: 'The Final Days'
Depressing descent into Nixon's post-Watergate heart-of-darkness. (A)
Evan Wright: 'Generation Kill'
Iraq's answer to Michael Herr's 'Nam classic 'Dispatches'...but no where near as good (B-)
Randall Sullivan: 'LAbyrinth - Corruption & Vice In The LAPD'
Shaky investigation into the murders of Biggie Smalls & Tupac Shakur (C-)
The Editors Of Rolling Stone: 'The Ballad Of John Lennon & Yoko Ono'
Brilliant anthology of RS Lennon/Ono pieces. (B)
Alan Moore: 'The Watchmen'
As good as everybody says it is. A mindblowing work of sheer genius. (A+)
Alex Ross: 'The Rest Is Noise'
Or: 'Modern Classical Music For Dummies'. (A-)
The 9/11 Commission Report
Essential Noughties text (Ungradable)
Matthew Smith: 'Victim - The Secret Tapes Of Marilyn Monroe'
OK-ish Marilyn biog. Frankly, not dirt-rakey enough for me. (C-)
Kenneth Starr: 'The Official Report of the Independent Counsel's Investigation of the President'
The Monica Lewinsky Scandal, in all it's grubby /funny / shocking glory. A great read. (B)
The 1973 Harlem Globetrotters Annual
Cheap Hannah Barbera cash-in. Fun, but basically rubbish. (D)
Suzy Kalter: 'The Complete Book Of M*A*S*H'
Glossy coffee-table 'mash'-note (ha ha) to the peerless TV comedy/drama. (B-)
Daniel Woolff: 'Dream Boogie - The Triumph Of Sam Cooke'
Serious music biog. (A)
Joan Didion: 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem'
Collection of short, down-beat, hep-cat late 60s new-journalism. (B)
Keith Badman: 'The Beatles Diary Vol.2 - After The Breakup 1970-2001'
Day-by-day accound of the Fab's post-Beatles careers. Dull, at length. (C-)
John McEnroe: 'Serious'
Wildly entertaining sports autobiog from The Mac. (B+)
Studs Terkel: 'And They All Sang'
Anthology of Terkel's encounters with popular musicians. (B-)
Phil Hardy & Dave Laing: 'The Encyclopedia Of Rock Vol. 2: From Liverpool To San Francisco'
7os Rock music encyclopedia compiled by the era's top music hacks. A nice period-piece. (B-)
Stephen E. Kercher: 'Rebel With A Cause: Liberal Satire In Postwar America'
High-brow-ish history of satire in the US. (B)
Bob Woodward: 'The Secret Man'
More Watergatery from the Washington Post's finest. Inessential, but die-hards will dig. (C+)
Lewis Carroll: 'Alice In Wonderland'
Undeniably druggy children's classic. Such an odd little story. (A)
Enid Blyton: 'Five Go To Demon's Rocks'
Lashings of ginger beer and scenes of mild peril a-go-go. Timmy the dog steals the show. (C+)
Quas-historical self-help science fiction classic. (A)
Public Enemy: Public Enemy #1
Les Baxter: Hogin' Machine
Wu Tang Clan: CREAM
NBC'S Saturday Night Live Cast Recording
Victor C Lewis: Bird Sounds In Close Up
Frank Sinatra: Moonlight In Vermont
Star Wars -The Empire Strikes Back: Main Title Theme
The Shangri-Las: Leader Of The Pack
Edan: Rock & Roll
Stereo Performance Evaluator Test Record
Theme From M*A*S*H* (Suicide Is Painless)
Big Daddy Kane: Ain't No Half Steppin'
Bob Doroughs: Three Is The Magic Number
Black Sabbath: The Wizard
Steve Martin: King Tut
Jimi Hendrix: Level
Gangstarr: Just To Get A Rep
El Michaels Affair: Shimmy Shimmy Ya
Sunday, 11 October 2009
Typically freaked-out slice of heavily fuzzed, evil psyche-soul from the geetar supremo, as sampled on the very first track of...
Public Enemy - 'Yo! Bum Rush The Show' (LP)
Lo-fi, rough & raw, needles-in-the-red , drum-machine clattering 1987 hip-hop debut. Hits hard, relentlessly. By the time they came to record their next LP, PE's sound had become a bewilderingly complex collage of noise and layered samples, but the tough minimalism of their debut still impresses on its own uncompromising terms.
The Not Ready For Prime Time Players - NBC's Saturday Night Live (LP)
Sporadically great '76 compilation of sketches from SNL's debut season starring Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin and others. A fun document from the early days of US comedy's 70s - 80s golden age, characterised by the freewheeling, improvisational, irreverent, prepared-to-miss-as-often-as-you-hit attitude common to so much great live comedy. "Live from New York - It's Saturday Night!"
Frank Sinatra - Come Fly With Me (LP)
The Chairman of The Board's carefree, atomic-age, jet-set lifestyle concept LP. Peerless late 50s popular art. Almost ten years since I first bough this on CD, the impressionistic, pastel shaded Moonlight In Vermont ("telegraph cables, how they sing down the highway, as they travel each bend in the road") remains one of my very favourite pieces of music...
John F Kennedy - The Kennedy Wit (LP)
Probably not strictly accurate to describe this is being 'by' JFK, this is a collection of prize Kennedy-isms selected from 'speeches, press conferences and Off-The-Cuff Remarks', released the year after his assassination. An opportunistic cash-in, no doubt, but a fascinating and ultimately saddening artefact nevertheless.
Tuesday, 6 October 2009
Host: Who, in 1680, composed Canon In D?
Contestant: That would be Johann Pachebel.
Host: Correct. Who released the 1986 album 'The Queen Is Dead?'
Contestant: I'll have to pass. A bit before my time, I'm afraid, ha ha!
"A bit before my time." YOU JUST CORRECTLY ANSWERED A QUESTION ABOUT A PIECE OF MUSIC THAT'S OVER 300 YEARS OLD! THAT WAS PRETTY BEFORE YOUR TIME TOO, BUT YOU KNEW THAT!
Fair enough if they say 'pop music isn't my thing.' But 'before my time' isn't a valid reason for not knowing the answer about an 1986 pop album any more than it's a valid reason for not knowing about the Franco-Prussian War or the fall of the Berlin Wall. If 'before my time' was an acceptable answer for not knowing something, nobody would know about anything that occurred before their birth, or later. "Ooh, World War 2? Sorry, bit before my time."
The thing that really bugs me is that quiz show hosts tend to accept this as a reasonable excuse. The worst offender is Jeremy Paxman, who frequently sympathises with students on 'University Challenge' who get questions on pop culture from 'before their time', often excusing them entirely with a chuckle, like, yeah, why would you know who played the lead in 'Gilda'? And yet they'll have just answered a question about the invention of penicillin, or even more tellingly, Paxman will have just berated them for not knowing the answer to a question about penicillin. Like anything, if you don't know something, you just don't know it. It has nothing to do with when it happened relative to your birth.
I guess what really grinds my goat here is the barely concealed subtext that pop culture isn't important enough to learn about, that nobody is expected to have accumulated any knowledge about it outside of whatever they've happened to experience first-hand during their lifetime. It's snobbery, basically - you're expected to read re-prints of classical literature, but not watch re-runs of Dragnet. It's almost like the idea itself is ludicrous. As somebody who has dedicated much of his life to the study of pop culture, I know this idea is simply wrong. You can do it. It is perfectly possible to take modern history and 20th Century pop culture seriously, and there's no reason an intelligent 19 year old student on University Challenge should be any less knowledgeable about John Ford movies than they are about the paintings of Rembrandt.
Monday, 5 October 2009
Hip-Hop Culture and Calvin & Hobbes have both taught me alot of important lessons,pehaps the most crucial being a philosophy common to them both: there's treasure everywhere. The endless quest for that perfect break requires, first and foremost, an open mind. You've gotta un-learn what Rock Orthodoxy has told you 'bout The Canon. Diggin' in the crates is all about taking a risk. Infact, it's about having fun. Buying a re-issue of Third/Sister Lovers by Big Star for £14.99 isn't fun. You get a pretty good LP out of it, but you knew that already, 'cos Mojo Magzine gave it a 4* review. Buying a battered copy of a piece of crap lookin' Liberace LP for £2 and finding a great funk track on it...that's fun. (In a really nerdy way. It's relative.)
One of the really fun things about that hip-hop mentality is finding unusual albums, ignored albums, even maligned albums, by big-name artists (especially big-name artists deemed 'uncool' by The Orthodox Rock Police), which actually turn out to be really great. If it were up to The Orthodox Rock Police, we woulda never heard Electric Mud by Muddy Waters, or all those great psyche-fuzz 45s that Fats Domino put out, or 'I Got The' by Labi Siffre, or even Elvis' 'A Little Less Conversation'. They were saved from obscurity by open-minded, happy-go-lucky crate-diggers, people who were judging what they found by a whole different set of prejudice-free criteria, ie: "check out the drums on this", people listening in a different way. Often it is the work of big name acts which is uncharacteristic of the sound they were commercially succesful with that suffers the most disrespectful, ignorant treatment. Hip-hop has taught us better than that. It tells us that there's treasure everywhere, and that we shoud be prepared to look everywhere for it. To that ends, enjoy Sammy Davis Jr's funky-ass version of 'Hi Heel Sneakers', from his totally un-loved 1970 Motown LP,'Something For Everyone!