“Checkered Past” Was A Tidy Look At The 2-Tone Label [part 2]

A shot of The Swinging Cats rehearsing © Mark Osborne from his This Is Then website of Coventry bands

[…continued from last post]

By the time that 2-Tone moved forward into 1980, the label’s acts began to sprawl from the focused retro Ska style into exotic new syntheses that found less favor on the British charts. The radical sophomore album of The Specials was “More Specials,” which found Jerry Dammers blending Ska elements with Muzak to a fascinating effect. The huge clue on the cover of the UK album was a sticker that covered up the “e” in “More” making the cover say “MOR Specials.” or “Middle-Of-the-Road” Specials. These later singles were tailing out of the “imperial phase” of 2-Tone where each release seemed to have a lock with the UK Top ten.

Two-Tone Records | UK | LP | 1980 | CHR TT 5003

“Stereotype” was a ghostly mix Ska rhythms and retro-lounge elements like rhythm-boxes and mariachi horns from a Herb Alpert record. Through it all vocalist Terry Hall played it like a shrinking violet. Barely singing the song in the strange sonic environment whirling around him. The AA-side to the single was “International Jet Set,” and was a bit more commercial sounding. The Ska rhythms were again minimized and the gentle watery keyboards, prefiguring the sound to come on early Antena records. The eerie backing vocals were almost the only ones here in this near-instrumental. They previewed the BVs in the upcoming “Ghost Town” single for the next year. When Terry Hall began singing in the middle eight, it really sounded strongly redolent of the similar vibe that Antena were aiming for two years down the road.

The Swinging Cats was the first record that stiffed on 2-Tone, with “Away” still having a sturdy Ska beat happening, but the juxtapositions in the songs were definitely out of the Post-Punk Pop with only the verses having remote links to the Ska mothership. Their B-side, “Mantovani” was a lively instrumental that paid tribute to the artist perhaps having the biggest influence on producer Dammers at this time, though the melody there perhaps pointed to “Telstar” as a progenitor.


Various Artists: The 2-Tone Collection – A Checkered Past – US – 2xCD [1993]

Disc Two

  1. The Specials: Ghost Town
  2. Rhoda With The Special A.K.A.: The Boiler
  3. Rico And The Special A.K.A.: Jungle Music
  4. The Apollinaires: The Feeling’s Gone
  5. The Higsons: Tear The Whole Thing Down
  6. The Higsons: Ylang Ylang
  7. The Apollinaires: Envy The Love
  8. The Special A.K.A.: War Crimes [The Crime Remains The Same]
  9. The Higsons: Run Me Down
  10. The Special A.K.A.: Racist Friend
  11. The Special A.K.A.: Bright Lights
  12. The Special A.K.A.: Nelson Mandela
  13. The Special A.K.A.: Break Down The Door
  14. The Special A.K.A.: What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend
  15. The Friday Club: Window Shopping
  16. JB’s Allstars: The Alphabet Army
  17. The Specials: Racquel
  18. Roddy Radiation And The Specials: Braggin’ And Tryin’ Not To Lie
  19. Neville Staples a.k.a Judge Roughneck: Rude Boys Outa Jail

“Ghost Town” was the eerie single that captured the desolate zeitgeist of 1981 Britain like few others. But we’ve discussed this peerless classic before. It simply can’t wear out the ears with its eerie mixture of cinematic dread, shot through with brashness for it’s ironically jolly middle eight.

I’d read a review of “The Boiler” in the pages of Trouser Press when it was released, and nothing can really prepare you for a record that make you a witness to a depiction of rape. As Jerry Dammers stated, this was a record made to be heard only once.

Specials trombonist Rico got to record a sweet hybrid of laidback reggae that mutates wildly into peppy salsa for its instrumental verse structure. Elsewhere, the singles by The Apollinaires included here showed the influence of the incipient Salsa/Funk trend of 1981 on even 2-Tone. “The Feeling’s Gone” and “Envy The Love” had the spidery rhythm guitar and congas that Haircut 100 had won the charts with the previous year with “Favourite Shirts [Boy Meets Girl].”

Elsewhere, The Higsons also dipped their toes into horn driven funk that was everywhere in ’82/’82 and ended up closer to the Post-Punk variety that Scotland’s APB were proffering. They ended up plowing a similar furrow to The Apollinaires and yet, their execution came a lot closer to my comfort zone and as with The Selecter, I should be investigating full CDs by The Higsons. I see that Cherry Red released a 3xCD of their debut album “The Complete Curse of the Higsons” that might have my name on it.

Late period the Special A.K.A. featuring the post-’81 split band Dammers was fronting were well represented here. The glorious “Nelson Mandela” was another career high point, but its B-side, “Break Down the Door” showed a penchant for funky R+B [with synths!] not a million miles removed from what Terrence Trent-Darby would be selling a few years down the line. Dammers himself sang the falsetto lead for one and only one time on the minor key lover’s rock of the single “What I Like About You Is Your Girlfriend.”


What we ended up with at the end of this set was music that had strayed far from the auspices of the Ska Revival, taking in the other commercial styles prevalent in the UK charts in the subsequent years, but usually finding room to have those horn players still active in the arrangements. Even if the bluebeat had been replaced by other rhythms.

This US-only set was a useful thing for me to have since I had no CDs by The Specials or The Selecter. The 1993 discs seem to be a subset of a UK 4xCD box that came out in the UK the same year.

Two Tone | UK | 4xCD | 1993 | 7243 8 27721 25

That set is now scraping three figures and featured more of the B-sides than this set, but as an early Vinny Vero project, all of the album/non-album A-sides were here, with B-sides included if the source was just a single with no album component. This 2xCD was a sturdy placeholder for the Specials and Selecter CDs that I really should have in the Record Cell. More than anything, I think I am really enjoying hearing The Selecter and lo and behold, they’ve just released a SDLX box of that title a fortnight ago!

Two Tone | UK | 3xCD | 2021 | CDL TTX5002

At the very least I need that original album as well as the first two Specials discs. I think half of “The Special A.K.A. In The Studio” is on this set, so I’m probably good for that one. As far as Ska goes, I enjoyed the 2nd wave as evidenced here in this release more than the largely American 3rd Wave Of Ska. While The Toasters were enjoyable, there was a lot of Punk/Metal crossover in the American 3rd Wave in the 90s that rubbed me the wrong way, as recently my friend Dan reminded me of storming out of a Mustard Plug show in an angry snit. None of the music here would provoke such a negative reaction!

-30-

Posted in Record Review, Ska | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Checkered Past” Was A Tidy Look At The 2-Tone Label [part 1]

Chrysalis Records | US | 2xCD | 1993 | 7243 8 27677 2 5

Various Artists: The 2-Tone Collection – A Checkered Past – US – 2xCD [1993]

Disc One

  1. The Special A.K.A.: Gangsters
  2. The Selecter: The Selecter
  3. Madness: The Prince
  4. The Selecter: On My Radio
  5. The Specials featuring Rico: A Message To You Rudy
  6. The Specials featuring Rico: Nite Klub
  7. The Beat: Tears Of A Clown
  8. The Beat: Ranking Full Stop
  9. The Special A.K.A.: Too Much Too Young
  10. The Special A.K.A.:Guns Of Navarone
  11. The Selecter: Three Minute Hero
  12. The Bodysnatchers: Let’s Do Rock Steady
  13. The Bodysnatchers: Ruder Than You
  14. The Selecter: Missing Words
  15. The Specials: Rat Race
  16. The Specials: Rude Boys Outa Jail
  17. The Bodysnatchers: Easy Life
  18. The Bodysnatchers: Too Experienced
  19. The Specials: Stereotype
  20. The Specials: International Jet Set
  21. The Swinging Cats: Away
  22. The Swinging Cats: Mantovani
  23. Rico: Sea Cruise
  24. The Specials featuring Rico with the Ice Rink String Sounds: Do Nothing
  25. The Specials: Maggie’s Farm

This was a collection that I discovered in the used bins in 2013 and it really filled a missing gap in my Record Cell. I was always light on Ska. I think it came down to the fact that in 1979 it really was a nearly 20 year old retro sound and nothing very up to date at a time when I was hearing startling, new styles of pop music that were like little that had come earlier. As an American, it was not a part of my country’s musical nostalgia. And the few tracks I had heard by The Specials sounded really thin and cheaply produced to my ears. Plus I was into synthesizers. This was the furthest thing from that sort of sound I gravitated to.

It remained until I finally heard The [English] Beat’s miraculous cover of the already fantastic Smokey Robinson + The Miracles song “Tears of A Clown,” that I could wrap my head around Ska. But in the last 40 years that has only meant that I had all three of the Beat albums in the Record Cell, and little more. So seeing this package that had every A-side from the 2-Tone label was a no-brainer to buy. My spouse brought it out to play this weekend while doing housework and it’s not left my car since.

the special aka - ganstersUK7AThe first 2-Tone single set the, uh, tone, for the label’s first, incredibly successful year. The traditional Jamaican Ska sound of 1962 revisited by musicians who had just been put through the Punk Rock experience of the prior two years. The mid-tempo groove had vocalist Terry Hall bouncing around the tune in a cocoon of reverb and thin organ chords, pinned down by the rock steady rhythm section. The Specials sound less weirdly exotic to my ears 42 years later. That was not the case for me in 1979.

Having first encountered them at the beginning, Madness always will feel like a Ska band to me even though they quickly passed through that trend to embody their ultimately Ray Davies-like songwriting aim to become a quintessentially British pop band. Of the sort that had one hit in America, and then went on with their chart-topping lives in the UK to become a beloved pop band. But “The Prince” was an homage to Ska prime mover Prince Buster that threw the Ska gauntlet for the band admirably well.

The Selecter
The Selecter

While I really can enjoy The Specials now, I think that the next band I need to get full albums of for the neglected Ska zone in the Record Cell are The Selecter. I can remember seeing the video for “On My Radio” on “Rockworld” back when it was new and listening to the singing voice of Pauline Black comes across with crackling electricity there. The Jamaican accent she sang with made her vocal less melodic than was the norm for vocals. Her delivery was wedded strongly to the bouncy Ska rhythm and the juxtaposition with the unresolved, open minor chords of the song’s chorus was exciting and unexpected.

“A Message To You Rudy” was the first song here that was an actual vintage Ska cover, but they all fit together in the same retro space well enough. Rico’s trombone skills got the deserved spotlight and when the only other other model for trombones in rock and pop are the stuffy antics of Chicago®, it was most welcome to have Ska available to show another way forward for horn players not interested in following the Vegas path. The laid back vibe here was probably as close as the band could get to replicating the original from 1967.

If “A Message To You Rudy” was a bucolic throwback to the island of Jamaica, then The Beat proffered a frantically upbeat, urban Ska energy with their cover of “Tears Of A Clown.” Instead of covering a vintage Ska hit from the 60s like “Rudy, A Message To You,” The Beat instead injected Ska energy into this Motown classic and insured that this was a song that no longer just made you nod your head, but instead, all but demanded that you dance to it. It fairly burst with energy and wrapped up in a dizzying 2:42.

The Bodysnatchers ca. 1980

Rhoda Dakar and The Bodysnatchers were an all female band who formed in the wake of the excitement and energy of seeing an early Spcials gig and wanting to do that on their own. In true D.I.Y. spirit they didn’t let the idea that not all of them knew how to play an instrument stop them. All four sides of The Bodysnatchers recorded output were gathered here and given their instrumental abilities, found that the faster tempos of Ska eluded them, so they opted for a slower Rocksteady beat. They covered “Let’s Do Rocksteady” as their first single and the band’s self-written songs meshed well with the covers on their A/B sides. They wrote their next single, “Easy Life,” and it prefigured some of the pop gloss that the band’s next incarnation would have as The Belle Stars.

Next: …One Step Beyond… Ska!!!

Posted in Record Review, Ska | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classic Cowboys International Singles Coming To Your Ears This Friday, Immaterially

I received a note yesterday from Pnuma Recordings; the face of Post-Punk and post-Post-Punk musician [?] Ken Lockie, alerting me to the fact that the classic four Cowboys International singles with full A/B sides were being released by UMG on Friday, May 6 2021. Of course, we have half of these in their original 7″ form, as well as the US “Original Sin” LP and the CD issued by Lockie’s Pnuma Recordings in 2003.

It’s been a long time since I listened to the latter with headphones, but I seem to recall hearing anomalies pointing to possible vinyl sourcing back in the day on the only CD of that period of music. At least according to my comments on the thread. One bright factoid that Lockie let slip in his press release was that these songs were all retrieved from the Virgin vault at Abbey Road so they are all expected to be immaculately mastered from the best possible source.

The catch is that we are not certain if these will be available for purchase as downloads or not. Yet. All we can say with certainty is that come Friday, you will be able to stream on those various platforms that don’t connect with Ye Olde Monk.

While we enthusiastically own the “International Sin” album as well as Ken Lockie’s “The Impossible” [in fact, two copies of the later as we are awaiting the “Today” single’s arrival in the Record Cell to make a REVO disc of that album with all of the requisite bonus tracks] and the 2004 “Backwards Life of Romeo” album. They are all of a piece, but Lockie has not been sitting idle. I was aware that he was releasing new material of a vastly different stripe.

As if this single from 1981 was not a HUGE clue…

Over the last few years I had seen the occasional House single from Lockie but last year, unbeknownst to me, he issued a full album of Tech House material. So he’s definitely committed to this sound moving forward. Wow! Lockie looks like Hugh Cornwell with a lockdown beard® in that cover image, but the material that I sampled falls just to this side of the “faceless house music” line that vexed me so in the 90s. It’s too minimal and repetitive to do much for me. Long buildups on the cuts I sampled before actual vocals happened managed to lose me. At least there were vocal performances and not just samples thereof. Perhaps in concise 7″ edits instead of six to eight minute track lengths I’d have a better chance with this material. Your mileage may vary.

It’s apparent that Lockie has moved on from the Art Pop he was making 40 years ago. But isn’t even Tech House considered a retro style now? As long as we are going to listen to retro music then I vote for Post-Punk [obviously].

-30-

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Hard To Believe That There’s A Universe Where The First B-52’s Album Hadn’t Always Existed! [part 2]

B-52's in a club somewhere; early on
B-52’s in a club somewhere; early on

[…continued from last post]

“Lava” was a fantastic deep cut with all three vocalists trading lines off of each other, while the only organ line in the song was the monophonic rhythmic pulse at various points in the song. I loved hearing Keith Strickland’s drum fills inserted sparingly at just the right moments to advance the song. And this little exchange was priceless.

“I’m gonna jump in a crater”

Fred Schneider

“See you later” [deadpan, in unison]

Kate Pierson + Cindy Wilson

The neat trick of Kate Pierson harmonizing along with her organ line that added oomph to “Planet Claire” was used again for the intro to “There’s A Moon in The Sky [Called The Moon.” The spartan, southern funk of the jaunty track made for some angular bop with a great return of Kate singing with her organ in the coda. Again, the band’s penchant for off-kilter minor key tension made for some refreshing dance music.

“Hero Worship” was an odd one out here with just Cindy Wilson singing and as much as I enjoy the whole band, at the end of the day Cindy’s vocals just speak to me strongest. Her delivery of the song was replete with squeals in the middle eight instead of singing and throughout the song, her range of expression was as wide as I’m used to ever hearing in a song. She covers so much ground embodying the various states of excitation and devotion held in the lyrics that it manages to make even as idiosyncratic a vocalist as Fred Schneider seem staid by comparison.

b-52's - 6060842UK7AWhile many B-52’s songs were more than a little abstract, “6060-842” was a rare attempt at constructing a narrative, with the tale of Tina who saw a number written on a bathroom wall and tried to ring it up. Here, you could made out the keyboard bass [there were no bass guitars on this album] more easily in the spartan mix of the music. The unresolved jangling guitar licks and bongos subverted expectations yet again as this band loved to mine awkward, minor key arrangements and make of them their own. The exchange between Fred asking “hello?” while the operator replied “sorry!” was a funny bit of anxiety for the song to fade out on.

The album ended with a cover that wasn’t. There was party ambiance on the fade up and while it was nominally Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” the actual lyrics delivered had more than a little “I Know A Place” mashed up into the results. Cindy took lead vocals with a wild fake British accent in homage to Pet Clark imposed over her Southern drawl for maximum mutant appeal. There was no guitar here until the climax as the organ wove a loopy two-chord path through the drums. Then the song and album ended with the party ambience continuing for a few seconds. An inversion of the first moments of the debut Roxy Music album and “Re-Make/Re-Model.”


Like all of the best debut albums, this one really built a new world for the listener to explore. There was such a minimal sound at work here; multi-part vocals, with drums, a little percussion and bongos, with minimal organ lines vamping through it all. The twangy guitar as pictured on the famous inner sleeve only had four of its six strings, but reveled in retro twang/surf kicks from a generation earlier. The resulting album was a seminal influence on party records henceforth.

Generations of musicians learned that having fun and bringing humor to the work didn’t mean that they were a joke. Their kitsch aesthetics were so necessary and subsequently became widespread, that it seems hard to believe that there was ever a time when the blend of Post-Modern attitude that the album represented was not thick on the ground. The band were clearly sending up the girl group and party rock tropes present in these songs, yet in their poses which were clearly over the top, there was also a passionate sincerity if one scratched beneath the surface appearance. In particular, Cindy Wilson was pouring her heart and essence into her performances here.

It’s amazing to think that this album was recorded in Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell producing! Island had signed the band for territories outside the US so that sort of made sense, but in terms of production, The B-52’s were a far cry from the Classic Rick and Reggae that Blackwell was known for, but if we dig further back, there were some commonalities to the Jamaican Ska that Blackwell cut his teeth on as well as a Dub influence in the abundant space in the arrangements and mix of the album.

For me, it’s the classic B-52’s album and listening 42 years later, I can cherish the total lack of quantization as there was no programming back then or a way to make the timing uniform, and the repetitive musical structures were played by hand [and sounded it]. And sounded wonderful for it as the tyranny of machine-like music has long since worn out its welcome with me. I breathe sighs of relief when the attack of each note played varies by a millisecond here and there and wish we could let that genie back into the bottle. The B-52’s lost a lot for me when they began to take on synthesizers and drum machines and became a precision unit. Then when Ricky died, Keith switching to guitar was a different ball game.

Gone were the days of playing rough and loose and doing things for the fun of it. It became a job for the band and records past the first two have a lot less of the playfulness and joy that erupts from these grooves. Their next album got a lot more polish but one could still recognize the party band from Athens in the results.

Posted in Deadpan Women, Record Review | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Hard To Believe That There’s A Universe Where The First B-52’s Album Hadn’t Always Existed! [part 1]

Warner Brothers Records | US | CD | 1987 | 3355-2

B-52’s: B-52’s – US – CD – [1987]

  1. Planet Claire
  2. 52 Girls
  3. Dance This Mess Around
  4. Rock Lobster
  5. Lava
  6. There’s A Moon In The Sky [Called The Moon]
  7. Hero Worship
  8. 6060-842
  9. Downtown

For months it stared at me. Daring me to buy it, but I was more yellow than the sleeve was. It remained until I saw the band play on Saturday Night Live on January 26th, 1980 that I finally got to hear this band that was so obviously unafraid of garish “bad taste.” Once I actually heard their sound I was right on this. In retrospect, I wish I had been brave enough to have bought the LP as soon as it hit my local K-Mart®. It’s not like that Screaming Yellow Zonker® of a cover didn’t immediately catch my attention.

B-52's planet claire coer artBecause albums this bracing and paradigm-shaking don’t come around on a regular basis! It began with Morse Code over an ominous organ drone. Then a hypnotic, slinking Spy-Fi surf riff of impeccable pedigree [stolen from “Peter Gunn Theme”] shot through with bongos, and the piercing beep of a …walkie talkie code key! Then the eerie, insinuating minor key organ riffs grabbed me by the lapels and made sure I was paying strict attention. Then, after what was 2:30 of a gripping instrumental track, Fred Schneider began delivering the lyric in his deadpan sprechgesang style. Except for the line “well she isn’t!” where Mr. Schneider went deep into the red to make his point.

Had I ever heard music this angular before? I daresay not! And did I say that it make you want to dance? Oh yeah. In fact, it made dancing to it seem like the coolest thing that you could ever be doing right now! The minimal, deliberately eccentric music was short on overkill but long on groove and coolly ironic attitude. And in hearing it, you were more than halfway to a party. Here’s proof!

 

b-52's 52 girls cover artThe next song was perhaps the most conventional “rock” music to be found on the first side. “52 Girls” played like the mutant cousin to “My Generation” with its two chord, two vamp at the heart of the song. But The Who would never have allowed Kate Pierson’s cheesy organ riff to ride their song like the B-52’s did here. Philistines.

I’d seen the band perform “Dance This Mess Around” on Saturday Night Live and it’s still my favorite B-52’s song to this day. It all came down to Cindy Wilson’s commanding performance. The naked beat with the pulsating organ riff on the beat was illuminated with her heartfelt delivery. I love how she stared the song out in rapturous love and gradually became unhinged as her paramour would not dance with her. Moving from lovestruck ingenue to a woman screaming ferociously that she’s “not no limburger!”

And then at that peak of impact, the song abruptly sidestepped into a call-and response “new dance” song with complex harmonies and interactions by all three singers. Schneider being his usual deadpan self, and Kate Pierson’s strident vocals functioning like horns in the music. But it’s the sassy vocals of Cindy Wilson that cut through the busy arrangement with her pushing the southern drawl she has ready access to into the red, and that wins me over every time.

b-52's rock lobster cover artThe first side closed with a perennial New Wave dance floor filler par excellence. “Rock Lobster” was played at every party you probably attended from 1979 to 1983 at least. Though it was a heck of a calling card for the album and band, I see that it reached only as high as #56 in the Billboard Hot 100®, which was higher than I would have guessed. But in Canada, the tune topped the charts! The Duane Eddy guitar twang over the relentless beat didn’t waste any time in making a big first impression. Kate and Cindy contributed an abstract vibrato vocal hook that came out of left field as the electric organ added that mid 60s trash aesthetic in spades.

Like many of the songs here, the band preferred minor keys to stake their claim in. Even the middle eight stayed in a minor key where others might have given in and switched to a major key. I love how the band used a smoke alarm buzzer for rhythmic sounds there and the disturbing ululating vocal interjections by the ladies were ripped screaming from the Yoko Ono playbook in a way that had never happened before.

The nearly seven minute track had plenty of structure to keep dancers grooving that long. The call and response section where Fred counted through various real and imaginary sea creatures was where Kate and Cindy made grotesque animal noises; allowing the song to build in frenzy. Finally, Kate let out a blood curdling scream as the track peaked after Fred shouted “here comes a bikini whale!” Does Rock & Roll get and more exciting than that?

Next: …Lava Love

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Todd Rundgren + Sparks Cover A Lot Of Territory [And 50 Years] With New Single, “Your Fandango”

Cleopatra Records | US | DL | 2021

Gloryoski! When it rains, it pours. Just four days after the stunning trailer for the Mael Brothers’ first narrative film, “Annette” hit the web, came news last Friday morning that the busy brothers had released a new collaborative single with an artist incapable of gathering moss, Todd Rundgren. Half a century ago, Todd had produced the self-titled debut album by Halfnelson, a band he got signed to Albert Grossman’s Bearsville label, which was Rundgren’s recording home for most of the 70s. After the album flopped, Grossman suggested a change of band name, and liked “The Sparks Brothers” with the Mael’s compromising with just the more iconic Sparks. The album was reissued with a different cover the following year, to little acclaim once more.

And that was it for Rundgren’s involvement with the band until his involvement with the “Sparks Brothers” documentary [what goes around…] that Edgar Wright was filming recently. The two factions found themselves in a room together and Rundgren gamely suggested a collaboration if they were up to it. Todd was working on a teamup album called “Space Force,” to be released later this year and the Mael’s took him up on the idea. They sent him an unfinished track, “Your Fandango,” that Todd finished off and now it will be a 7″ single on July 30, 2021. But we can have the DL right now and I think I waited all of 12 seconds before buying it.

The first two bars were robotic minimal synthpop with Russell repeating the mantra-like chorus [“everybody likes it when you do your fandango, when you do your fandango, when you do your fandango”] that weaves through the song incessantly; marking the track as one dating perhaps as far back as the seminal “L’il Beethoven” period for the band. It certainly was built on that same kind of chassis of repetition that the 2002 album was famed for.

Then the vibe switched to chunky glam rock with a pronounced backbeat for several more bars as Russell interwove his lilting BVs. Then with a Rundgren vocal trill, the acoustic flamenco guitars hit as the song made its third radical mood shift in its first minute. It was the musical equivalent of successive jump cuts but the mantra-drone vocal of Russell carried through a thread of continuity that ultimately held this song impressively together in spite of the almost random stylistic shifts throughout.

When Rundgren appeared for his vocal turns, in came the harpsichord and his willfully eccentric vocals for the first verse that was so gleefully over the top that he managed the not insubstantial achievement of upstaging Sparks [and sounding like he was having a great time doing it]. Rundgren said that he added his vocal parts and lyrics to the song to fill in its unfinished spaces and if he wrote the lyrics in his first verse below, then he’d really met Ron as a peer on the battlefield of song.

In a bright pink tuxedo

Or a little tiny speedo

You make everyone’s libido

Stop and say Oh Yes Indeedo

Your Fandango

The second dose of Rundgren managed to make the first one sound staid as he slotted in a Sousa march complete with a full-bodied Neapolitan cantata [sung in fortissimo, naturally] in a manner that had me agog that he was able to get the vocal take down without cracking up. Then more vocal trills and a digital flamenco run as the song built up its climax with layer upon layer of aural fondant icing. Best of all the arrangement of the song was conducive to repeat play that managed to loop seamlessly for really enjoyable infinite playback.


The net result of this teamup was a song that reflected the moderne Sparks trope of being minimal and repetitive while the song’s construction was a throwback to the band’s overripe Glam Rock roots. And Rundgren sounded like he had a blast going far, far beyond the limits of good taste in doing so. I also can’t shake the notion that its very title was a case of Sparks re-claiming the vibe that Queen had pilfered for their “Bohemian Rhapsody” back in the day. And the DL was one of the vaunted $0.99 songs that I’ve heard that iTunes has for sale, yet rarely see when it comes time to buy. So that was appreciated as well.

Cleopatra Records | US | 7″ | 2021

If you want some old school thrills, Cleopatra Records [Rundgren’s label for this album campaign] will be releasing a colored vinyl 7″ on July 30, 2021 and buyers may pre-order the wax in their choice of red, white, and gold currently, with the B-side of the wax featuring an instrumental mix of the track that will most likely only figure there. The price is $13.98 and if this calls out to you, then hit that button below.

post-punk monk buy button

-30-

Posted in Record Review, Want List | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

“Beastie Boys Book” Was An Indelible Portrait Of A NYC Era [part 3]

ad rock's mix tapes
The mix tapes that we all had to thrive on back then from Ad Rock’s collection

[…continued form last post]

So while Beastie Boys managed a Hardcore 7″ to their name, they were exposed to every kind of hip music that spread in NYC clubs. Post-Punk. Technopop. The tail end of New Wave. Goth. Even rap records. Their Danceteria playlist is filled with club classic that are well beloved, and one of the records that they mention was Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals.” A crazy-ass fusion of Hip-Hop and what would emerge as World Music a year or two later. They loved everything from New Order, to Shannon, and yes, “Buffalo Gals” as well.

But the winds of change were gusting through Brooklyn as Hip Hop was detonating. An exposure to Afrika Bambaataa and scratching/breakbeat mixing/beat matching blew their young minds and like that, Hardcore had served its purpose. Beastie Boys loved “Buffalo Gals” so much they had to make their own obnoxious goof on that Hip Hop sound and thus was the first record I’d ever heard of by them born. “Cooky Puss.”

RUN-DMC + Beastie Boys
RUN-DMC were like Magnetic North to the compass needle of Beastie Boys …for better or worse

The band were in a weird position where they played Hardcore sets for a few months where they would follow it with a Hip Hop set with DJ. Eventually they went all-in and needed to hook up with a full time DJ. Enter Rick Rubin, a slightly older college student how had a dorm room full of gear that was getting used. The band hung out with Rubin as their new thing and Rubin was cool to the presence of Kate Schellenbach in their numbers and steered the band to edge her out of the picture in one of those music weasel power plays that the tractable band gave in to.

So the shabby way that Ms. Schellanbach was treated was the first heavy regret in the book, but it would not be the last. Not only were Beastie Boys were thrilled meet Rubin, but so was Russell Simmons; the “rap mogul” who managed over a dozen Hip-Hop crews and could not believe that a white guy had produced the “It’s Yours” 12″ from T La Rock + Jazzy Jay. Beastie Boys were amazed to meet RUN-DMC’s manager and a mutual admiration/exploitation society soon happened. Simmons went into the game like an African American Sam Phillips. If he could get Rubin to produce a Hip Hop record with these white punks, it might crack the genre wide open.

Rick Rubin behind the decks with Beastie Boys

So then Beastie Boys decisively made their moves. Making ta few 12″ singles that saw them getting more reputation over time. They were in the “Krush Groove” movie with all of their favorite Russell Simmons Hip Hop acts like their heroes RUN-DMC. They did low-end TV appearances like the can’t-get-more-New-York Joe Franklin Show.

celebrities just starting out flocked to The Joe Franklin Show

Of course, in 1986 “License To Ill” dropped and their penchant for punk irony took a back seat to as the band themselves put it… “becoming the thing you hate.” As Punks they hated obnoxious frat boys, so they morphed into the most obnoxious frat boys on the planet for a good two years. And then they mined gold and platinum while feeling trapped in a world they never made. The joy of this book is not only that it charted the bend’s rise from teenagers in NYC with a band that didn’t gig, to a Hardcore band, only to end up a Hip Hop crew, but that it did it with a clear eyed ability to air their big time regrets for the actions that, indisputably, cemented their initial fame.

Anyone can hate their job. It’s been known to happen, but can you imagine hating your art? Art that you were at least nominally in control of so the buck stopped there. Since Beastie Boys were in the middle of growing up at the time, and learning things, their mea culpa for “License To Ill” and its commensurate effect on their lives at the time rings solidly true. When they all but split up after their huge world tour of beer-spraying excess, that was one of the smartest things they had ever done at that point. They stepped away from the Def-Jam machine which was pressing them to make “License To Ill II: Electric Boogaloo,” and extricated themselves from their Def-Jam contract and Simmons and Rubin.

beastie-boys---heyladiesUS7AAt the time I could have cared less as I did not find Beastie Boys appealing very much at all; save for the intriguing “Hold It Now, Hit It.” No one was more shocked than I was when they emerged in 1989 with”Hey Ladies;” a funky jam that took the embers of “Hold It Now, Hit It” and greased it liberally with Jimmy Castor Bunch, James Brown, and Sweet at their most florid for good measure. They had begun to find their mature voice and it made a big difference. One of the heartbreaking things about the book was reading about them taking such care and expense to make this immense Hip Hop record only to have it fall flat commercially. That the disc is now regarded as a classic in retrospect doesn’t make for any revisionism in the record of their [then] commercial failure. Fortunately, Beastie Boys persevered.

They re-imagined themselves as a band that fused Punk Rock, Hip Hop and Funk and went back to playing their instruments and finally re-won their acclaim a second time while reaping the benefits of their maturity in having the sort of fun that didn’t carry a hidden payload of regrets later on. From 1992 onward they manage to sell missions of albums, build a creative empire and make their marks on the world in their own way.

Beastie Boys doing a costume change on the run [sans permits] while filming their gut-busting “Sabotage” video with Spike Jonze

This book had an lock on my eyeballs for the time it took to read it, which was fast and furious. As I had previously seen the “Beastie Boys Story” film, it can be argued that the outline for that movie was down to seven or eight chapters of this book, so the depth of their tale was given a comparatively luxuriant canvas in print. The variety of voices, joining in with Mike D and Ad Rock were numerous and, vivid, and eclectic. Then the variety of diagrams, photos, recipes, and spurious histories of non-existent people took the book over the top into the sublime. The contributors and design added many facets to the gemstone of their career in these pages.

The band admit that the book would not exist had Adam Yauch not tragically died of cancer in 2012. Horowitz admits that if Yauch were still alive, they most likely would still be making music. The closest that they come to actually discussing that painful event was the story of the band’s final show at Bonnaroo in 2009. Ironically, the groups’ penultimate show was the day before at The Orange Peel in my own city of Asheville. A 1000 capacity club that I didn’t even try to grab tickets for, but in retrospect…I should have at least tried. But the details of MCA’s health and decline were tabled and not for inclusion in these pages.

That the band stopped after MCA died makes all the sense in the world after reading the story of how how this kid a year or two older than Mike D and Ad Rock pulled them along in his wake to develop and grow to meet all of the challenges that lay ahead for them. Mike and Adam paint a vivid picture of how Yauch’s vision and drive was the motivating force on their journey. And after reading it, just having the first three Beastie Boys albums seems inadequate, so the last five are now on the Monastic Want List As Long As Your Arm®.

-30-

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , | Leave a comment