Saturday, February 23, 2013

Damian Marley - "Welcome To Jamrock" (spotlight)

In this post, in my best James Burke impression, we'll go from Bob Marley to "My Fair Lady". 

Riding around in the car earlier this week, 96.1 played a song that I had never heard before.  It was crossover of dub/reggae/rap, but with a hard enough sound to warrant play on an alt rock station. After parking, I pulled out my iphone and discovered that it was Damian Marley's  "Welcome To Jamrock" ("Jamrock" being used as an umbrella term for reggae, dancehall, and other Jamaican musical genres).  Although I had never heard it before, I discovered that it came out in 2005 and its YouTube video had 25M+ views, so clearly it had been important somewhere, but just not on the local alt rock radio.  So why did 96.1 play it:  experimenting with their playlist?  recognition from Damian performing at the 2013 Grammys (even though this song was not featured)?

I'm not sure why they played it, but I liked it.  Sampling the 1984 Ini Kamoze song "World a Music (Out In The Streets They Call It Merther)", the lyrics (slang and Patois delivered in a thick accent) were all but undecipherable, but upon reading the meaning is clear: Jamaica is gripped with poverty, violence, and despair.  Damian is the son of Bob Marley, and whereas his father had a hopeful, spiritual message for Jamaica, the son's message is one of bleak, gritty realism, e.g.:
C'mon let's face it, a ghetto education's basic
And most ah de youths them waste it
And when dem waste it, that's when dem take the guns replace it
Then dem don't stand a chance at all
What made my belated discovery of "Welcome To Jamrock" more interesting is that it was only a few days after really discovering "Safe European Home" by The Clash.  I've written a lot about The Clash, but I (and most others I believe) have overlooked their 1978 sophomore LP "Give 'Em Enough Rope".  It's not a bad LP, but it doesn't really have any memorable singles and is overshadowed by their first LP (by virtue of being first) and their third, 1979's iconic "London Calling".  The first song on the LP is "Safe European Home", and it is arguably the best song on the LP.  But the lyrics are nearly as indecipherable as "Welcome To Jamrock", so only last week did I really sit down and study them.  I've mentioned before where The Clash spearheaded punk's interest in reggae, but "Safe European Home" is the story of their bad experiences on an early trip to Jamaica, the reality of which did not match the tourism image:
Wasn't I lucky n' wouldn't it be loverly?  
Send us all cards, an' have a laying in on a Sunday  
I was there for two weeks, so how come I never tell  
That natty dread drinks at the Sheraton hotel?  

Now they got the sun, an' they got the palm trees  
They got the weed, an' they got the taxis  
Whoa, the harder they come, n' the home of ol' bluebeat
Yes I'd stay an' be a tourist but I can't take the gun play     
So despite both "Welcome to Jamrock" and "Safe European Home" existing for quite some time, I somehow managed to "discover" them both in the space of a few days.  Apparently little has changed in Jamaica in the nearly 30 years between The Clash's initial visit and Damian's dirge. 

The connection to "My Fair Lady"?  Danette pointed out the sly "wouldn't it be loverly" reference in "Safe European Home", "loverly" reflecting Joe Strummer's adopted Cockney, blue-collar focus.   How many punk songs do you know that sneak in a Broadway reference?

In addition to the "My Fair Lady" reference, the last minute of "Safe European Home" also gives us a preview of a song to come: note the the "Rudie, Rudie, Rudie, ... Rudie Can't Fail" lyrics, which would become a song of its own on "London Calling" ("Rudie" = "Rude Boy").  

Damian Marley: "Welcome To Jamrock"

The Clash: "Safe European Home" (studio), "Safe European Home" (live from the 1980 "Rude Boy" film; note that Joe Strummer often improvised lyrics during live performances)

Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros: "Safe European Home"

Ini Kamoze: "World a Music (Out In The Streets They Call It Merther)"

Audrey Hepburn: "Wouldn't It Be Loverly"

Julie Andrews: "Wouldn't It Be Loverly"

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mariachi El Bronx - "Cell Mates" (spotlight)

Some things you just have to listen to...  "Cell Mates" is the single off the 2009 self-titled LP by Mariachi El Bronx.  The twist is, in a sense, there really is no band called Mariachi El Bronx -- it is just the mariachi alter-ego of the punk band The Bronx.  How does a punk band decide to do mariachi music?  Prolonged cultural exposure, not unlike the observation I made about Danette and myself with respect to hip hop in the review of "My Philosophy".  Quoting frontman Matt Caughthran:
"[the LP] was something that was a part of us that we didn't really realize. I mean, being from Los Angeles and, you know, growing up and surrounded by Mexican culture, it just kind of happened."
I'm not qualified to evaluate this song as mariachi music, but it sure is fun.  And the b-side of this single?  A mariachi cover of Prince's "I Would Die 4 U".  That's right: a punk band masquerading as a mariachi band, covering Prince.

Mariachi El Bronx: "Cell Mates", "I Would Die 4 U"

What do they normally sound like?  The Bronx: "Shitty Future", "False Alarm"

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Beyonce - "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" (the song remains the same)

I seem to have a Super Bowl tradition going, so no reason to stop now...

Super Bowl XLVII had Beyonce for the halftime show, and by all accounts it was very successful.  Although I'm not really a Beyonce fan, it did seem like a high-energy show.  It was surprisingly short on guest appearances, so I'll have to do my first (and probably only) Beyonce post.

She performed several of her big hits including "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)", which is probably her biggest hit, crossing over into many other genres.  You've heard it countless times before, but did you know that:
I find the last bit the most interesting: rather than the theatrical, complex arrangements of 1983's Thriller, which was meant to be viewed on a large screen TV, modern videos are optimized for smaller, mobile devices.  This means lots of flashing lights, centering framing, and facial close-ups.  The contrast with Michael Jackson is interesting, because it was his 1993 halftime show that launched the current practice of A-list performers.  Prior to that, you were more likely to see "Up With People" at halftime (seriously, look it up). 

Now that you've learned about how the viewing devices influence video making, take another look:

Beyonce: "Single Ladies"

Enjoy it because Super Bowl XLVIII might not have a halftime show (however, I'm betting they do).

* Aside from the obvious icon status, Danette completely doesn't get Liza Minnelli

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ass Ponys - "Little Bastard" (forgotten song)

Do you remember this one?  Danette swears she's never heard it before, but I'm certain it got a tiny bit of airplay when it came out in 1994.  "Little Bastard" was the single from the Ass Ponys's LP "Electric Rock Music".  Not a lot of airplay, mind you, but it obviously stuck with me enough to remember some nearly 20 years later.

Based in Ohio, I don't think the Ass Ponys ever made it big.  Vocalist Chuck Cleaver later formed Wussy, who I think I've heard of but their biggest accomplishment seems to be the undying admiration of veteran rock critic Robert Christgau, who is entranced by Chuck's stories of off-kilter Americana.  I've never seem him praise an entire discography like that before.

Anyway, back to "Little Bastard": this quirky, jangly, catchy song (& video) is a perfect mid-90s time capsule.  It makes me want to grow my goatee again.

"He said, `don't call me little bastard / call me snake...'" 

Ass Ponys: Little Bastard