Camberwell Now – “Working Nights” (1986)
This Heat casts a long shadow, and rightfully so–their blend of the edge and energy of punk with longer-brewing strains of art-rock tradition created one of the most lasting archetypes of post-punk. But an unfortunate side effect is that their brief years of existence can obscure the fact that drummer and mastermind Charles Hayward has continued to make riveting, artful, and often beautiful work for nearly thirty years since This Heat disbanded. His compositions have tended to stretch out a bit from the punch of This Heat circa ‘Deceit,’ favoring the atmosphere of the bands earlier work and the rhythms of something like “Health & Efficiency,” but virtually none of the judiciousness and visceral impact was lost regardless of minor production shifts over the years. “Working Nights” represents one of the (numerous) high-water marks in Hayward’s oeuvre, This Heat included, reaching musical and emotional crescendos rarely matched in rock music. It’s a political work, I think, about the worker and industry; but it also explores more mysterious ground, the emotional level of someone who feels trapped in a machine that has no regard for its components, and the clattering, ghostly world in which the night-shift worker can live. The track also happens to presage, perhaps moreso than any of This Heat’s work, the cyclical, instruments-as-loops groove of the best of 1990s “post-rock” like Disco Inferno, Stereolab, Tortoise, or the various Thrill Jockey proponents–all from the unfashionable year of 1986. [Charles Hawyard and This Heat are featured in numerous mixes at Musicophilia that seek to expand upon their unique sounds.]
L’infonie – “Mantra” (1970) ['In C' by Terry Riley]
Presaging the rocking work Terry Riley himself would undertake with John Cale the following year, Canadian avant-garde rock-and-composition group L’infonie transformed Riley’s ‘In C’ into a rollicking, funky epic. Maintaining the guiding principles of the piece–53 short phrases in the key of C, played in order, each segment played the number of times chosen by each performer–L’infonie’s “Mantra” achieves the ever-shifting, push-and-pull patterns traditionally associated with the work. Their innovation was to disintegrate remaining lines between avant-garde, intellectual compositional music and popular music, adding double drum kits, electric bass, and percussion instrumentation, arguably changing the piece enough to justify the new name. They don’t quite complete the cycle–the tape ran out just around 30 minutes–but while it lasts it’s a hell of a ride. This probably shouldn’t be the first version of ‘In C’ you hear, but if you know and love other versions, this one will make you appreciate it anew.
Family Fodder – “Philosophy” (1980)
Family Fodder are the lens through which I view post-punk, my personal central nexus for the whole movement and creators of some of my very favorite albums and EPs of the era. For me, they’re the un-U2, the un-Joy Division, the antidote to the absurdly huge shadow cast by the Big Few Names that color the genre as a dead-end of gloom ‘n politics. Family Fodder instead pick up, run with and expand all of the best attributes of the Canterbury Scene (Caravan, Soft Machine, Wyatt, Ayers), the Texas Weirdos (Red Krayolas, 13th Floor Elevators), the Ohio Freaks (Pere Ubu, Devo, David Thomas) and even the Rough Trade/RIO Artsters (Henry Cow, Raincoats, This Heat), stir in a little French chanson and Jamaican dub magic, and infuse it all with their unmatched playfulness.
For a band whose modus operandi is fun first, a philosophical manifesto might seem counter-productive. But “Philosophy” is a manifesto-of-fun, cleverly communicating an intellectual commitment to remembering not to get too damned grown up about it all. That’s not to say they’re joking–the song expresses a sincere and pithy philosophy to live by while delivering a pointed critique of a zero-sum, lock-step, religious-minded “adulthood”. They don’t get self-serious about it either, setting it all to clomping drunk-tap-dancer drums, warbling organ, and snake-charmer reeds. They ultimately appeal to music geeks like us who see the beauty of humanity in music, and sum it all up: “when you make music, you play“. Which is to say, you live.
[Family Fodder are featured on '1981' mixes here and here, as part of the 'Young Lady's Post-Punk Handbook,' and on a volume of post-punk 'Miniatures' at Musicophilia. And coming at the end of this week, they'll be featured in a guest-post by me (with a mini-essay) at the indispensable Post-Punk Tumblr blog as part of the "Top 35 Or So Songs of the 80s" project.]
David Axelrod – “The Human Abstract” (1969)
Following up the recent post of two brilliant Electric Prunes-in-name-only tracks, here is another utterly unclassifiable, stunningly beautiful piece by David Axelrod. This is one of those guaranteed-goosebumps tracks, for me–the very definition of timelessness, masterfully combining stunning orchestral arrangement with an electrifying and effortlessly funky bass and drum combo. Gainbourg’s strings man Jean-Claude Vennier would’ve killed to compose this track. Axelrod is a master of the understated theme, repeating a three or four note pattern in such a way as to produce incredible emotional tension and, eventually, maximum release. There’s just not enough music like this, but I doubt there ever could’ve been. If you generally dig what Musicophilia and Musicophilia Daily are about, run and buy any Axelrod album from ’68 through ’75 and be prepared to be lifted to ecstasy.
Richard “Groove” Holmes – “Red Onion” (1973)
Hell yes. No tears here, just sweetness. Bernard “Pretty” Purdie slamming the funky drums, a tight bass-flute-percussion combo, lean guitar lines and well-tempered brass, and Holmes rolling his Hammond: this is a track to make even the Meters and the JBs weak in the knees.
Electronic System – “Time Trip” (1977)
Speaking of usually sharing things a few of you might not have heard–let’s follow up Kraftwerk with one of their very first disciples you might not know. No, this isn’t an pseudonymous outtake from Moroder–this is the sound of the influence of Kraftwerk spreading just west to Belgium, rather than south to Italy, and merging similarly with the spread of disco. It’s by Dan Lacksman, who should be just as well-known and revered as Moroder, at least for his work with his partners as part of Telex. Amazingly, the album from which “Time Trip” comes is easily found on reissued CD, while Telex’ admittedly more brilliant work is completely out of print–probably the most glaringly crazy O.O.P. I can think of at present. The album is not perfect–Lacksman was only a couple of years removed from pretty cheesy but promising sound library-esque synth-jingle-pop work–but it’s a lot of fun and sure to go down easy at your personal discotheque. [Electronic System are beatmatched at Musicophilia with the other disciples and children of Kraftwerk, and Kraftwerk themselves, on the "four LP set" 'Le Meilleur de Les Rythmes du Monde'.]
Kraftwerk – “Antenna” (1975)
I mostly try to share things at least some of you might not have heard. But sometimes, hearing a track that’s become embedded in our mutant musical DNA without setting out to do so can be just as amazing. That’s the feeling I’ve just had, hearing “Antenna” at complete random, not having put on ‘Radio-Activity’ in at least a year. Maybe there’s nothing left to be said about music upon which multiple genres are founded–this is as much the bedrock of modern music as James Brown, and hip-hop MCs in the late 2000s are declared geniuses when they have the insight to borrow heavily from the grandchildren of the disciples of Kraftwerk. The Knife, probably my favorite modern group to get started this decade, live and breath in the radiowaves of this album. Even my beloved OMD, themselves now well and duly canonised, were but a minor homage (however wonderful) when they aped the album outright eight years later to make ‘Dazzle Ships’. But there’s no need to say anything really, when thirty five years on, the music still sounds like the future. Simply resplendent (the track, the whole album), and worth being reminded of now and again.
Harold Ousley – “Come Get It, I Got It” (1972)
“Come Get It, I Got It” is just a laid back bit of swagger, a low-key stew of jazz and funk with a little bit of Meters-ish southern twang and a no-pussyfooting hip-hop beat. Harold Ousley was an slightly older cat getting hip to the funky young sounds of the late 60s and early 70s–having gotten started in the 40s, recording with Billie Holiday, and still playing with Count Basie in the 70s–but clearly he got it good. No “fusion” here, nothing avant garde or experimental (though there is one sound in common with ‘On The Corner’ Miles here), but it’s a sweet thing indeed.
Henri Texier – “Le Piroguier” (1976)
This is music that can only be called genre-free–spare, pure, feeling equal parts experimental and folk-made, calling to mind only other iconoclasts like Brigitte Fontaine & Areski or Emmanuelle Parrenin in its spooky stillness-through-rhythm. Consisting solely of acoustic and organic sounds–handclaps, wordless vocals, single-note bowed strings, and upright bass played in a whirling fashion–it feels vaguely Turkish or Moroccan. It’s elemental and at the same time futuristic, small and yet suggesting wide-open space. Simply beautiful–and inexplicably out of print, so grab it at the ever-essential Mutant Sounds.
Dorothy Ashby – “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” (1969)
There were some German guys like Jonny Teupen who gave it a good showing, but Dorothy Ashby is pretty clearly the royalty of funky jazz harp. Her playing and song selection is top-notch–but she was produced magically, with incredible arrangements that merged jazz, funk, rock, and bits of subtle studio trickery (as here with the subtle delay on the flute hooks) in fantastic ways on her late 60s and early 70s albums (hurry and purchase the ones that are in print–several are priced to move). I could pick half a dozen showstoppers from Ashby, but I recently heard this album thanks to the Joe Blow, The Sample King blog, and it’s a stone-cold killer. The bass line is remarkably modern, and the syrupy string arrangements counterpoint the ultra-heavy beat perfectly. [Dorothy Ashby is featured at Musicophilia with a track even more brilliant than this one, a heavy-hitter that starts of with a funk-sci-fi-theramin intro and never looks back, as part of 'Le Tour du Monde, Volume 7']
Electric Prunes (David Axelrod) – “Holy Are You” and “Our Father, Our King” (1968)
Some might mourn the loss of the band that “had too much to dream last night,” but a “proper band” couldn’t become a product front with a result less like the faux-Velvet Underground debacle than what David Axelrod did with the Electric Prunes moniker. It’s hard to figure it was really worth the trouble of keeping the discarded name alive, financially–especially if what you plan on doing with it is realising albums of quotes from a Mass and from the Torah, however hip. But the whole album from which these tracks come–all 25 minutes of it–is bliss approaching the sublime, with beats that can only be described as “dope,” vibes and organ and soaring strings, fuzzed out guitars and funky basslines, all spinning ever higher in exultation of the text. Not hard to imagine this one dropped the jaws of Monseurs Vannier & Gainsbourg.
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – “Affection” (1979)
In honor of Fathers’ Day, today I’m sharing one of my Dad’s favorite songs (at least of those I’ve shared with him over the years). It’s one my faves, too. I’ve known Dad to play this song several times in a row–and it deserves it. Jonathan Richman is one of the few people I’ve ever seen who seems genuinely imbued with real, unadulterated kindness and an openness to the goodness of the people around him; and in that way he’s a lot like my Dad, one of the world’s true idealists, who makes it his business create the good he knows we’re all capable of achieving. “Affection” is sweet, silly, and as a bonus it has that musical spookiness and energy we all love from the early Modern Lovers. Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad!
Can – “Safe” (1979)
As adventuresome and eclectic as Can had always been, and as much as you have to figure Can fans were a little more open-minded in the day than, say, fans of Chicago or Journey, I imagine they lost a few listeners when they crossed that un-rock barrier of all barriers: the disco beat. Logically, of course, Liebezeit was perfect for it: what drummer could get more out of a simple beat, who could combine machine-like precision with human expressiveness better? For those who stuck with Can post-“I Want More. . .,” there would be plenty of gems in the admittedly inconsistent last few albums. One of my favorites, from the most disparaged album (save perhaps ‘Out of Reach’), is “Safe,” which feels anything but, with Czukay’s ominously building locust swarm of noise and the pointed contrast between the strutting-speed disco beat and lyrics like “Hear the helicopter, hear the thunder” and “safe as the mighty eye”. Made in 1979, this is disco from ‘1984’. [For more late-Can and post-Can music like this, be sure to check out two recent Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia.]
Eurythmics – “Take Me To Your Heart” (1981)
A few heroes of art rock/proto-punk were welcomed with open arms by their post-punk progeny, and had a distinct and direct effect on, even participation in, their music despite the reputation for death-to-the-past futurism: Eno, This Heat’s Charles Hayward, Brian Ferry, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lennon and Reed comrade Klaus Voorman, even hippies like Mayo Thompson and unrepentant longhair Robert Wyatt. No less important or participatory were Can’s Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit and their producer Conny Plank. Here they assist Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart on the very first Eurythmics album–what fledgling group could have hoped for a more auspicious start? [For more late-Can and post-Can music like this, be sure to check out two Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia. The Eurythmics are also featured in the '1981' Box Set and the Young Lady's Post-Punk Handbook]
Michael Rother with Jaki Liebezeit – “Zeni” (1977)
While I would say Klaus Dinger‘s post-Neu! work (especially via La Dusseldorf, whom you can check out here) is generally fuller and more energetic than Michael Rother’s, the latter was buoyed by the involvement of Can‘s Jaki Liebezeit, who ably brings Dinger’s Motorik drumming to Rother’s airy and stirring melodic tendencies with the guitar and synthesizer. Other tracks are more representative of the flying-down-the-Autobahn side of Neu!, while this one is closer to the bands more contemplative, minor-key work, with Liebezeit emphasising the toms. [For more Can and post-Can music like this, be sure to check out two recent Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia.]
Michael Karoli & Polly Eltes – “Home Truths” (1984)
Michael Karoli is sometimes easy to miss (for me) in his contributions to Can–dominated by Jaki Liebezeit’s incredibly inventive beats and Holger Czukay’s sonic textures–and I’ll confess, his soloing is occasionally the thing that detracts from the focus and force of later Can. But he seemingly followed some of the same obsessions of his bandmates, post-Can–especially reggae/dub and a penchance for a blissed-out quality of songwriting. His lone post-Can LP, with Polly Eltes (on whom I can find little information, but who apparently sang on Eno’s ‘Taking Tiger Mountain,’) will be a major find for fans of the Raincoats ‘Odyshape’ and after albums, the Slits’ “Earthbeat” phase, and the Rough Trade/west London sound in general: it’s playful, percussive, warm, sophisticated but unaffected. This is one of few post-Can projects that seems readily in-print and available (along with Liebezeit’s Phantom Band’s third LP, ‘Nowhere’) and is expanded with three fantastic tracks not on the original 1984 issue, so be sure to pick it up if you enjoy this track. [For more Can and post-Can music like this, be sure to check out two recent Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia.]
Phantom Band (Jaki Liebezeit with Rosko Gee) – “You Inspired Me” (1980)
Phantom Band, Jaki Liebezeit’s post-Can band and the most sustained project of any Can member, morphed considerably over four years and three albums (see this post for a track from their next album) but maintained a very high quality throughout. The second and third LPs have a distinct arty post-punk feel to them. But their self-titled LP from 1980 picks up largely where Can’s ‘Saw Delight’ and ‘Out of Reach’ left off, bringing in strong elements of African pop music and polyrhythmic percussion (as well as the underrated Can vocalist Rosko Gee). But in my opinion, it improves on these albums with greater focus and musical clarity, stripping things down a bit, and bathing everything in a gentle warmth combined with a feeling of mystery that reminds me of the best of Hamilton Bohannon‘s late 70s work (the echoed guitar at 3:20 is a virtual homage) and a touch of fusion-era Miles Davis. “You Inspired Me” is especially Bonannon-esque, combining major-chord joy (matched by Gee’s lyrics) and minor-chord ambiguity (in the instrumental sections) deftly. [For more Can and post-Can music like this, be sure to check out two recent Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia.]
Irmin Schmidt with Jaki Liebezeit, Michael Karoli & Rosko Gee – “Endstation Freiheit (Title Theme)” (1981)
The “breakup” of Can was apparently not an acrimonious one, if judged by the frequency with which its members collaborated on one another’s projects and with one another on production work–it seemingly matched pace with Can’s album output. It also often matched the quality of Can’s work, as with this piece, involving three core members plus late-era vocalist and bassist Rosko Gee. [Be sure to check out two recent Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia for an in-depth exploration of late- and post-Can music.]
Sorry for the lack of posts the last week or so. I’ll have at least a couple up every day this week, starting today with a couple Can-related tracks to coincide with two Can-based mixes up this week at Musicophilia–one focusing on the under-loved last five albums under the Can name, and another (up later today) focusing on the remarkably fertile period of creativity and collaboration that followed their 1979 “split”.
I’m still seeing the weird title-only ghost-reposting of early posts from Daily via Reader, and I still can’t figure out what’s causing them or how to stop them. I apologise if they’re cluttering your inbox–but maybe it’s not too bad in case you missed something 9 months ago! If you have any familiarity with blogging/Wordpress and have any advice on how to fix the issue, I’d really appreciate hearing from you. Thanks everyone!
Steve Reich – “Piano Phase” (1967)
Don’t miss this one. “Piano Phase” is as much an experience as a piece of music, and as an experience it profoundly affected the way I heard music, how I decided what was music. It gave me permission, as it were, to follow an impulse that was already growing in me when I first heard it age 20: to admit I loved sound first and foremost; if sound took a song form, great, but if not, that ruled nothing out. What mattered was the effect it had on my ears themselves, in my mind, in my heart–and a repeating shape could have as much of an effect as painterly ballad.
I still tend to perceive Reich’s music (especially the phase-based work) as shapes, visually as much as sonically, and I think this is because its constituent elements are so simple and laid bare at the very outset. “Piano Phase,” a simple duet run of twelve notes, played in a staccato, unsentimental fashion: clear, precise, perhaps slightly mechanical. And then these simple elements, with very few changes internally over the course of 20 minutes, are ever so slightly shifted: and instantly an ever-changing set of new, far more complex shapes begin to emerge, as the basic parts continue to slide past one another. And these evolving shapes are anything but mechanical, producing emotional reactions in me that are subtle in their nature, but wholly visceral.
It moves me as no other Modern artform can, because music is never primarily functional; more than any medium, a “functional” conceit no matter how austere must take temporal and emotional form, and beauty need not be rejected or destroyed. I find it fascinating that every time I hear the piece, the shapes are different than previous times, based on the volume listened at, the quality of the speakers, with headphones on a loud bus or in a forest–this is music that technically but more importantly musically is reborn each time it’s heard. [Reich is heard in several of my very favorite mixes at Musicophilia, which attempt to mirror Reich's work in creating near-physical reality from sound.]
The Suburbs – “Ghoul of Goodwill” (1981)
Minneapolis’ The Suburbs are a unique hybrid of American, even Mid-Western, qualities and European sensibilities that leaves them sounding like little other “post-punk” music, fitting neither nascent “indie rock” qualities nor glitzy “New Romantic”. They’re not at all slavishly tied to Euro heroes like Roxy Music or contemporaries like Visage or The Only Ones, but they possess a similar elegance. They combine this elegance, most singularly expressed through their unique use of piano (not synth) as a principle instrument, with muscular rhythm and wit. Their 1981 album ‘Credit In Heaven’ is one of my favorite of that year. [The Suburbs are featured on several mixes, including two '1981' discs, at Musicophilia.]
Hi everyone–just a quick note–I’m not sure why, but it seems (at least in Google Reader) that the titles of several of the very first posts from Musicophilia Daily half a year ago are being sent back out to subscribers. I see no evidence of what’s going on here at WordPress, but I’ll try to figure out how to stop it. In the meantime, sorry for bombarding your RSS reader. Thanks!
Tonio Rubio – “Bass In Action No. 1″ (1973)
Sound library music doesn’t get any more stone cold than this track. Music of any kind rarely does. What should have been a cornerstone of golden-age hip-hop, “Bass In Action No. 1″ is an incredible audio stroll consisting of sweet glistening electric piano glissandi, an ice cold single-note bass line, and the ready-made laid-back hip-hop breakbeat. It’s enchanting for the first minute; but when the beat kicks in at 1:05, you won’t be able to keep from grinning. [Tonio Rubio is featured in on an equally groove-laden mix of tunes from around the world at Musicophilia.] Update: Corrected the streaming link.
China Shop – “Kowtow” (1983)
Another great track originally unearthed by Hyped2Death, China Shop’s “Kowtow” is what psychedelic could’ve meant in the 80s, instead of a (usually) twee indie imitation of the late 60s. It ebbs and flows in a woozy way, but it’s not a purple haze–it has a New York post-punk edge and New Pop catchiness to its tripiness that places it pretty much out of time. China Shop’s nearly-complete work–a seemingly uneven but always interesting and often surprising oeuvre–is available at the nifty digital reissue label, Anthology Recordings.
Songs:Ohia – “Being In Love” (2000)
“Being In Love” takes the teenage romanticism (or dramatism, if you prefer) of love best exemplified by The Cure’s ‘Disintegration,’ and transports it to a simple guitar, organ, melodica and Casio-solid electronic rhythm section singer-songwriter presentation. I know that might not sound like a recipe for sure-fire success; but this is romanticism that feels honest, the plaintive earnestness earned, and it has the good fortune of being well-matched musically. I’m not the same love-lorn fellow I was at age 20 when I mix-taped this track for a girl (or two), but it overcomes my tendency toward emotional demystification of my own past, and still hits home.
Kode9 & The Spaceape – “Quantum” (2006)
To the casual follower of the Hyperdub label, Burial’s work looms large. However, Kode9 & The Spaceape’s album ‘Memories of the Future’ is almost equally appealing. Existing in a less hazy/rain-drenched landscape of sharper shapes amidst the cavernous dub, propelled as much by The Spaceape’s vocal contributions as Kode9’s beats, this music lives up to the album’s name. It sounds like a future that knows the past, a futurism that isn’t about pretending to exist ex nihilo. [Kode9 & The Spaceape are featured in an appropriately spooky, rich mix, 'Tall Stories of Evil Gris-Gris,' at Musicophilia.]
Crash Course In Science – “Flying Turns” (1981)
Crash Course In Science made homemade music from a basement in the distant future, in 1981. And it still sounds like the future in 2009. The ingredients are not dissimilar from much that we recognise as DNW, but what often feels amateurish and even cute from Germany is, perhaps counter-intuitively, more menacing, hard-edged, and cool-as-hell from a boy-girl-vocals group from Philadelphia. I can’t think of a single post-punk act more desperately in need of a full-on reissue treatment (outside of the full works as originally created of Family Fodder).
Mr. Partridge – “The Day They Pulled The North Pole Down” (1980)
“Mr. Partridge” is Andy Partridge of XTC, but this solo-ish work isn’t the singer-songwriter-perfect-pop you might expect from later years. This track comes from one of the attempts Partridge made at dub/remix work in the early, more post-punk phase of the band’s career, sampling elements songs from the first three albums. The results are unique in the band’s oeuvre, and are underrated and wonderfully weird. [My other favorite track from early solo Partridge, though not a sample-based piece, can be heard as part of this beat/dance-oriented set at Musicophilia.]
Fela Kuti – “Unknown Soldier” (1979)
Make the time for this track, I promise you won’t regret it. “The personal is political/the political is personal” doesn’t even come close to getting it for Fela Kuti. This track has everything that’s great about Fela’s music and Afrobeat–all participants serving the groove in the best JB’s-like way, some playing a repeating, individually tiny sound figure repeatedly for the duration of this 30-minute track in order to create something much larger than the individual, something hypnotic and transcendent.
But this is one instance where I’d insist on paying attention to the lyrics, too: the story Fela tells here is astonishing, and the way he tells it keeps my hair standing on end for the duration. I can think of few moments in music more wrenching, heart-breaking, and astonishing than Fela’s description of the murder of his mother peaking at the pure sound of loss at 22:55-23:05. But the whole thing is the most effective contrast of humanity versus the dehumanising effect of military-minded “order” I’ve ever known, in any medium. This is one of the high achievements of popular music.
Death Comet Crew – “Exterior Street” (1984)
Rammellzee posesses a rhythmic fluidity and a full-force speed that made his MCing pretty damned advanced for the early days of hip-hop. And it fits the post-punk-ish artiness and darkness of this Electro/hip-hop track. The combination adds up to a manic, tense, sharp, and fiery concoction. Certainly it doesn’t feel like party music, unless it were a celebration of an apocolypse.
Various – ‘No Heroes’ Bonus Tracks, Part 1
Post-punkers were ardent futurists, concerned only with moving forward, striving for ex-nihilo expression, right? Well, maybe rhetorically; but like everyone, they made art partly because they loved art they’d experienced.
Following the recent ‘No Heroes’ compilation at Musicophilia (with links to YouTube videos for the originals), here are some “bonus tracks” of more post-punk covers of classic rock/pop/r&b/jazz tunes. In this set, we’ve got Agent Orange and The Cramps taking on surf rave ups, and Cristina adding a touch of classy schmaltz to The Beatles.
Agent Orange [Dick Dale] – “Miserlou”
The Cramps [The Trashmen] – “Surfin’ Bird”
Cristina [The Beatles] – “Drive My Car”
Howlin’ Wolf – “No Place to Go (You” (1959)
There’s no denying Howlin’ Wolf’s absolutely singular, absolutely thrilling voice is key to his appeal. But his early records stand out in the realm of mid-century electric blues for their rhythmic qualities, too. Here the not-what-you’d-expect emphasis on the three, and a subtly swinging jazz-like emphasis to all the instrumentation is spooky and captivating, and feels somehow exceptionally modern. It certainly adds a menacing quality to the desperation of the “old and gray” protagonist’s story. I don’t know if it appeals to electric blues purists, but it certainly goes a long way toward dispelling the “it all sounds the same” prejudices of the non-initiated and the casual listener.
Gang of Four – “I Love A Man In Uniform” (1982)
Gang of Four’s transition into slinky-sexy New Pop is certainly not as deftly graceful as that of, say, Scritti Politti. And they’re not quite reaching Fela-like sublimity in their “move their asses and sneak in a message” approach–they wield their politics as forcefully as ever to really give your ass equal consideration. But I suspect there’s a reasonable sense of humor at work here not so evident in earlier work; the music is servicable, and the satire of Thatcherite machismo and gun-as-“self-respect”-as-sex-organ psychology is pretty fun. I mean, “the girls, they love to see you shoot,” “I need an order,” and “to have ambition was my ambition” are pretty succinct and biting. The vocal crooning style du jour–well, again, not graceful, but enjoyable in its campy employment.