Saturday, February 18, 2017

James Brown - "Funky Drummer" (LP Review)

After completing my previous blog post about an obscure source of hip hop samples, I just learned of the death of Clyde Stubblefield, the original "funky drummer" and the source of what is probably the most popular -- almost to the point of cliche -- hip hop sample. 

"Funky Drummer" is a non-LP single released in 1970 by James Brown.  At 7+ minutes, the song itself was split over the A- and B-sides but it really should be heard as one song.  Then skip to about 5:34 in the track: it might not be the first breakbeat, but it's probably the most sampled.  Even when the breakbeats are from other songs, they pretty much all owe a debt to the Wilhelm scream of hip hop: "Funky Drummer" and Clyde Stubblefield. 

In the immortal words of James Brown, "give the drummer some!"

James Brown - "Funky Drummer" (break at ~5:34)

Final score: 10/10

DJ Shadow - "Midnight in a Perfect World" (LP Review)

David Axelrod, another artist who nicely illustrates the difference between influential and popular, died earlier this month.  You probably haven't heard of him, but he is a popular source of samples for hip hop heavyweights such as DJ Shadow, Lauryn Hill, and Dr. Dre.  I have David Axelrod's eponymous 2001 LP, but instead of that I'm focusing on my first introduction to his music: DJ Shadow's "Midnight in a Perfect World". 

"Midnight in a Perfect World" is the lead single and arguably the best song on his seminal 1996 LP "Endtroducing...." In fact, "Midnight in a Perfect World" was almost the name of this blog, which should convey the depth of my feelings about this haunting yet substantive song.  DJ Shadow samples many artists in the song, but the prominent piano sample is from "The Human Abstract", of Axelrod's 1969 William Blake-themed LP "Songs of Experience".

As is typical for Mo' Wax releases, there are several versions of this single.  My version is the 1998 US 5 track CD single with:
  1. "Midnight in a Perfect World" (LP Version)
  2. "The Number Song" (LP Version)
  3. "Red Bus Needs to Leave" (non-LP track)
  4. "Midnight in a Perfect World" (Gab Mix)
  5. "The Number Song" (Cut Chemist Party Mix)
They're all great tracks, and it's a shame that the Gab Mix (technically a DJ Shadow remix featuring Gift of Gab) for "Midnight in a Perfect World" is relegated to an obscure B-side.  I won't say it's better than the original, but rather it illustrates the best elements of a remix in that it incorporates an alternate but necessary perspective on the original.  That's probably also true for the Cut Chemist mix of "The Number Song" (which is an even more radical transformation), but that track has appeared on so many releases it hardly still qualifies as a B-side.

I'm breaking from my standard LP review format by linking the DJ Shadow songs above, and the David Axelrod song below.  To fully understand "Midnight in a Perfect World", you really need to listen to "The Human Abstract".

David Axelrod - "The Human Abstract" ("Songs of Experience" Full LP)

Final score: 10/10

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Allman Brothers Band - "Dreams" (the song remains the same)

The Allman Brothers Band are the link between the southern rock sound and Grateful Dead style jam bands, and one of the similarities between TABB and the Grateful Dead is they both had two drummers.  For TABB the drummers were Jaimoe Johanson and Butch Trucks, who I was disappointed to learn died recently.

Songs like "Whipping Post" or "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" would be a more obvious tribute, but I'm choosing the slightly less popular "Dreams" from their eponymous 1969 debut LP.  I've already established the cultural importance of Molly Hatchet for Danette and me, so it won't come as a surprise that I first learned of this song via Molly Hatchet's cover, which they retitled "Dreams I'll Never See", from their 1978 debut LP.   They do a good cover, and though I first heard their cleaner and streamlined version, over time I've come to appreciate the fuzzy/groovy original more. 

The Allman Brothers Band - "Dreams"
Molly Hatchet - "Dreams I'll Never See"

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Woody Guthrie - "This Land Is Your Land" (spotlight)

Super Bowl LI (notice how we're back to Roman numerals?) looked like it would be a blow out, but then featured 25 unanswered points for an OT win, the first in Super Bowl history.  Lady Gaga did a great halftime show, and I'm not even a big fan of hers.  The right was busy congratulating themselves for Lady Gaga "not being political".  Perhaps the right-wing snowflakes were too hurt by, you know, beer commercials and such to notice, but Lady Gaga's performance was filled with left-wing dog whistles.

First, she's Lady Gaga, and she's singing LGBT anthems like "Born This Way", in front of Mike Pence et al.  That's only apolitical if you don't understand the words.  Second, in the opening patriotic, pre-recorded piece it was not an accident that she ended with "...with liberty and justice for all".  Third, she started with a snippet from "God Bless America", but then followed it with Woody Guthrie's response song, "This Land is Your Land".  That also wasn't an accident, and it invokes the history of the song, recorded in various versions, most often with the overtly political verses removed.  Here are the full lyrics of the song as written in 1940:
This land is your land this land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
So yes, while Lady Gaga's show wasn't anti-anything, it was an appeal to our better angels.

"This Land is Your Land": Woody Guthrie (1944?), Bruce Springsteen (1985), Bruce Springsteen & Peter Seeger (2009)

Bonus link: full halftime show.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Asia - "Heat of the Moment" (forgotten song)

John Wetton recently died.  Once again, you're probably thinking "who?"  The answer to that question is dependent on your musical orientation.  He was in various incarnations of, among others, Roxy Music, King Crimson, and Uriah Heep but is arguably best known as the bassist/vocalist of Asia, the 1980s "super group".  Their eponymous first LP was hugely successful, expertly finding the middle ground between prog rock and pop, but the following LPs failed to reproduce that success.  "Heat of the Moment" was Asia's first single and the video, with the first use that I can recall of monitor arrays, was in high rotation on MTV.  I remember Bill Glidden had the LP, but either he or I must have also had the 7" because I remember the non-LP B-side "Ride Easy" as well.  I'm not sure I would count myself as a huge Asia fan, but I still turn up "Heat of the Moment" whenever it comes on...

Asia: "Heat of the Moment"

B-side bonus link: "Ride Easy"