Cover Versions, Hard-to-find, Sampled

Cavernous

Housed in a sleeve that suggests free movement, fluidity and motion; the gentle, undulating swirls, the band name written on two contrasting axes, Liquid Liquid‘s Optimo EP is a product of New York’s imperial post-punk phase, a fertile, ‘anything goes’ period that encouraged – demanded, even – individualism and originality. For extra homework, you might want to check out ESG, The Contortions or Bush Tetras. For now though, find your feet with Liquid Liquid.

With its pots ‘n pans poly tempo, the lead track Optimo borrows the feel of its window-rattling rhythm from Booker T’s Soul Limbo, before firing off in brave new directions; jittery, staccato lead vocals, bass-as-lead-instument, the piston pattern of steaming hi-hats, the sum of its mish-mash of musical styles old and yet to come making something that’s altogether inherently brand new. It’s no coincidence that the multi-genre embracing ’90s club night at Glasgow’s Sub Club was named after the track.

Liquid LiquidOptimo

The EP is most interesting and celebrated, perhaps, for the track Cavern. It’s the bass line, obviously, that pricks the ears. It leaps, flying off the record to skelp you round the chops with a ‘wherehaveyouheardmebefore,eh?‘ smack of familiarity. A chrome-covered aerodynamic pulse, its cave-like sound, moving-ever forward and flowing was, for all I know, an influence on both the band’s name and their best-known track. It was certainly an influence on hip-hop, that bassline, although more of that later.

Liquid LiquidCavern *

The drums, shuffling, sparse and fat-free, showed that the most powerful music doesn’t always need an earthquake of percussion to propel it forwards. There’s some lovely shaker action all the way through, keeping it less rock and just on the right side of funky. I’d imagine Reni of the Stone Roses would enjoy playing along to this. The vocals, sparse and infrequent, almost an afterthought to the groove, throw up little melodic phrases and half-lines that, funny this!, were also an influence on the hip-hop community. Indeed, if you can’t hear the recognisable melodies and key words (and musical interludes and tempo and general vibe) that form the vocal for Grandmaster Flash‘s White Lines, where have you been all this time?

Yes, not content with copying – not sampling – the bassline, Flash took a liberal dose of the vocal’s style and phrasing and – ooh-whu-ite – created a version of Crystal that was far more reaching than anyone could ever have anticipated.

Initially, Liquid Liquid were flattered. Hearing White Lines adopt their bassline (and vocal inflections…and melodic interludes…) and have it boom from the subway-shocking soundsytems in Manhattan’s clubs – higher baby! – hearing their vocals aped and added to – higher baby!! – hearing their track get an epoch-defining makeover, replete with a boxfresh rap and more hooks than an Ali 15-rounder – higher baby!!! – was quite the thrill, until – don’t ever come down! – the thorny issue of copyright and plagiarism reared its dollar-happy head. Slip in and out of phenomena, indeed.

Grandmaster FlashWhite Lines

There’s only ever one winner in this type of fight, and it tends not to be the creators who benefit, Both Liquid Liquid and Sugarhill Records, the label who’d issued White Lines, were ordered to pay legal costs that ultimately led to both parties winding down, citing lack of funds as the reason.

Full Time from the City of New York:

Finance 2 – 0 Culture

 

* there are two versions of Cavern on this one sound file. I’ve no idea how I did this or how to fix it. So enjoy Cavern Cavern by Liquid Liquid Liquid Liquid.

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Knuckles Rapped

There was a terrible version of You’ve Got The Love a few years ago, a windswept and earnest cover that was drama school in delivery and hive-inducing in reception. Florence & The Machine had chosen to close their festival slots with it and there were enough enthralled and taste-free people giving thumbs up around the band that their record company rush-released a version. It was all over the radio like a rash in need of antihistamine, its Asda-priced Kate Bushisms making me almost crash the car more than once. Sting. King.

The source (aye!) of Florence’s version was the deep throb of The Source‘s track, recorded with finger clickin’ soul survivor Candi Staton on vocals.

The Source feat. Candi StatonYou’ve Got The Love

Taking her vocal line from the motivating commentary on a keep fit video – ‘sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air…sometimes it feels the going is just too rough…I know I can count on you‘ – Staton’s delivery ensured something of classic cut status for the track.

Many people wouldn’t have realised the record was essentially a cover. Indeed, for most chart music-buying folks, the record’s 5-note bassline and viralish, ear-worming keyboard motif would be their first unknown introduction to Frankie Knuckles.

Waaaay back in the years when house music was first thumping and throbbing its way from the sweaty basements of Chicago to the switched-on fringes of the mainstream, New Yorker Knuckles teamed up with Chicago soul singer Jamie Principle and hotwired his original soulful vocal to a tune that was at once progressive, deep, emotional and zeitgeist-riding.

In an era when (Stateside especially) hair metal was the mainstream’s thing, when The Smiths were putting out The Queen Is Dead and every other guitar band in the country was hanging on to their jangling coat tails, Knuckles was busy programming sequencers and drum machines – MC80s, 303s, 707s and 808s – to create a record that still resonates today. If How Soon Is Now is, as was said, the indie Stairway To Heaven, Frankie Knuckles’ Your Love is dance music’s She Loves You.

Frankie KnucklesYour Love

The record kicked doors down. It gatecrashed the notion of what ‘dance music’ was, and what it was not. It wasn’t a hundred mile an hour electro pogo. It wasn’t base and derivative. It wasn’t (always) an anonymous guy hiding behind a rack of technology while a lip-synching beauty mimed her way atop the caterwaulings of a session singer. This particular brand of dance music was forward-thinking, cerebral and deeply soulful. As it turned out, it was pretty much timeless too.

Your Love‘s rattling, reverberating snare must’ve sounded wonderful clattering off the walls of the Hacienda, even on a half-empty Wednesday night in February. Me? I wouldn’t know. I was too busy twisting my fingers into Smiths riffs and worrying about the length of the sleeves on my cardigan. I caught up in time though.

The sequenced keyboard line that formed the melodic hook of The Source’s cover is, at source (ha, again) hypnotising and trance-inducing, the Jungle Book’s Kaa and his spiralling snake eyes set to music. Its bassline is massive; instantly recognisable and capable of inducing Proustian rushes in even the most pasty-faced of guitar band-lovers when heard unexpectedly. It builds beautifully, from sparse electro through keyboard swells and man/woman gospelish harmonising to deep-breathing backing vocals, tasteful foreplay to the wham-bam of Lil’ Louis’ French Kiss, if you will.

I can’t let go’, sings Principle, as the song builds to its steamy-windowed climax, a notion that I wholeheartedly subscribe to. Your Love is a great record, propulsive and soulful house in the vein of Promised Land, both Joe Smooth’s original and the Style Council’s faithful reworking. I can’t let go indeed.

demo, Get This!, Live!, Sampled

Twin Reverb

Check…check…check!

A-woo-oo! A-woo-oo! A-woo-oo! A-woo-oo! A-woo-oo! A-woo-oo!

(Pause)

Trrrr-rat-at-a-tat a-tee-tee

Trrrr-rat-at-a-tat a-tee-tee

Bass. How low can you go? Actually, not that low for now. A tight ‘n taut bass guitar plays high up the frets, its woody thunk foreshadowing what will follow:

dur der-der-duh-der

dur der-der-duh-der

Nagging, inistent. Immediately earwormish. It moves through the gears a semitone and the drummer falls in with a loping, skipping, skittering beat that’s been rescued after falling from the back of a lorry last seen leaving Manchester in 1989.

A brief dropout from the bass brings another burst of rat-a-tat percussion, immediately followed by two short and teasing electric guitar riffs – bendy, wobbly, hypnotic – and then, on a surge of nagging, asthmatic guitar, the band is here. The second guitar player makes themselves known by triggering their distortion pedal and a viral squiggle of feedback bleeds from the speakers for a bar or two before plectrum meets nickle. It’s a cheap, punky trick and you love it. 

Spitting in a wishing well. Blown to hell. Crash. I’m the last splash.

As far as song intros go, Cannonball by The Breeders is so familiar, so engrained that even 29 years later, Pavlovian rushes make their way to the soles of the Doc Martens without you realising.

The BreedersCannonball

It might be the riff that moves the feet – a nagging, twanging, guitar player’s sore finger of a lick jigsawed to a monster, see-sawing tidal wave of fuzzed-out barre chords, but it’s the vocal that moves the mind.

Kim Deal, moonlighting from a by then fragmented Pixies, has the unequalled ability of sounding as if she’s constantly grinning as she sings. Not in a Marti Pellow, I-can’t-believe-I’m-getting-away-with-this dimple buster of a grin, but a proper mile-wide smile as expansive and welcoming as the Ohio of her birthplace. In the golden age of Hollywood, Kim and her cheekbones would’ve been filmed swinging carefreely around lamposts. “I’m in love…I’m in love with singing, and I want the wurld t’know!” Check the video below for proof.

Freed from the pressures of Pixies, Kim takes centrestage and ropes in her twin sister Kelley (replacing Tanya Donnelly who’d by now left and formed Belly) alongside English bass player Josephine Wiggs and Slint’s Britt Walford on drums; an alternative rock supergroup of sorts that occasionally – especially on Cannonball – surpasses much of what made them so revered in their respective day jobs.

Kim and Kelley mesh and meld and harmonise across the verses, an electrified Mamas and Papas (or should that be Mamas and Mamas?), surfing the wave where two voices become one yet sound like three. Clever stuff, you’d need to agree. A metallic clatter of muted six-strings amplified to dangerously exciting levels heralds the noisy bit and suddenly you can see why The Breeders were one of Nirvana’s tour supports of choice. Melody and mayhem – always key ingredients in a proper guitar band’s arsenal.

Cannonball rocks. From the static bursts of fuzz mic, to the spontaneous “Heys!” that appear with satisfying regularity, to the underlying breathy a-woo-oos that you’ll spot if you scratch below the surface, it’s a real beauty of a guitar track, punky yet, eh, funky too. Do they really sing, ‘I’ll be your whatever you want…the bong in this reggae song‘? Yes. Yes, they do.

*Bonus Tracks!

Here’s the demo of Cannonball, working title Grunggae. Very much a work in progress, you can hear the seeds being sown; that shuffling beat, the twin vocals, the a-woo-oos, the metallic k.o. and rattling clatter before the noisy bit. The DNA is all in place, even if the arrangement isn’t.

The Breeders  – Cannonball (demo)

Fantastically lo-fi live version here:

The Breeders  – Cannonball (Live in Stockholm, 1994)

Magpie DJs Radio Soulwax have oft incorporated Cannonball into their sets, mashed up occasionally (as was the parlance of the time) with Skee-Lo’s I Wish, intelligent rap and indie rock cross-pollinating into something wholly different.

Radio Soulwax part 0

 

Listen from 3 min 20, or download the whole thing and marvel at the psychedelic jigsawing of it all; Beastie Boys, Maceo & The Macks, EMF, God Only Knows, Elastica, Jack And Diane, Eye of the Tiger, Mr Oizo, Erik B & Rakim, What Have You Done For Me Lately?, Basement Jaxx, Funky Cold Medina, No Diggity…..all fed into the Radio Soulwax super-blender and served up as something brand new…. even 20+ years later. The soundtrack to every one of my barbecues for the past two decades, I can never get enough of 2 Many DJs mixes.

 

 

 

Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Sampled, Studio master tapes

Hey DullBlog

The healthy song-writing one-upmanship in The Beatles meant that after Paul McCartney had presented the others with the music hall-by-way-of-Fats Domino Lady Madonna and had it committed forever to tape, John Lennon sat himself at the piano to compose a worthy response.

The result was Hey Bulldog, a driving barrelhouse blues rocker, with ascending, augmented chords in the chorus and some epoch-defining stinging lead guitar throughout.

The BeatlesHey Bulldog

It’s truly fab four in execution; Lennon pounding away at the ivories, his sandpaper-roughed and double-tracked vocals just on the right side of raw, McCartney playing melodic lead bass, a whole tune within the tune, and harmonising the key lines from start to finish, Ringo going tribal for the song’s intro then jangling heavy rhythmic tambourine to keep the beat from thereon in and George, quiet George, brilliantly colouring the whole thing with some rasping fretboard fireworks, minimum fuss but maximum fury.

For years I’d believed the solo to be played by McCartney – in tone and technique it’s very him – but research points to George and his Gibson SG, so the cap is duly doffed. There’s a tiny wee lick he throws away towards the end of that stinging solo upon which Badfinger, Jellyfish and countless others have based entire careers. If you know, you know.

With the Lady Madonna session wrapping up quicker than expected, and Abbey Road’s Studio 3 still booked for use, the plan was to use the time to film The Beatles working in the studio so that the footage could be used in a promotional film to promote Lady Madonna around the world. Such is the speed of things in Beatleworld though, that by the time the cameras were rolling, The Beatles were already beating and barking Lennon’s brand new tune into shape. The footage that duly accompanied the Lady Madonna promo is actually film of them recording a handful of the ten takes it took to nail down Hey Bulldog.

The BeatlesHey Bulldog – isolated McCartney bassline

Amazingly, incredibly, written on the spot and played no more than ten times – how many times did YOU go away and learn your part before daring to step into a recording studio? – Paul’s muted palmed and woody thunk is the constituent part that drives the whole track. 98% flatwound Rickenbacker snap and 2% forgivable slop, McCartney’s bass playing in this phase of The Beatles is never anything less than peerless, inspired and beautiful. You knew that already though.

In the pantheon of indispensable Beatles lists, it’s only in recent years that Hey Bulldog has crawled its way on there, finally recognised as one of the band’s great tracks.

A sampler’s nightmare – pinch a portion of Beatles and you’d better have a good lawyer at the ready, it’s for that very reason you rarely encounter a Beatles sample. Yes, you can point to The Sounds Of Science on Paul’s Boutique, cut ‘n pasted together in the last century, way back when waters were murkier, but since then, there’s not been much. Cypress Hill took McCartney’s cooing opening bars to Your Mother Should Know and looped them into hip hop heaven on a track (a remix perhaps) that I can no longer locate. Jay Z’s official/unofficial Grey Album dismantled the White Album with varying degrees of brilliance, and that’s about it.

The Roots – switched on that they are – appropriated the Hey Bulldog riff into their own Thoughts At Work, a track that appeared only on original vinyl copies of Phrenology then, following a hard rap (ba-dum tish) at the door from suited and booted legal heavies, never again.

The RootsThoughts At Work (orig. vinyl-only release)

Welded to a beat created from the oft-sampled Incredible Bongo Band’s version of Apache, it’s a sweary blast that’ll make you want to drive the Fiat Punto slowly down the High Street, Detroit leaning with the windows down, like the hep cat you secretly always wished you could be. A pretender, a nearly-was, much like the track that rides on the coat tails of the sample it stole.

 

 

Get This!, Hard-to-find, Sampled

Someday We’ll Evaporate Together

One of the high points of lockdown (pts 1 and 2) has been the consumption of new music. I’m a particular fan of Bandcamp Friday, when on the first Friday of the month, Bandcamp waives their usual artist fee and, with no string-pulling middle man, the artists benefit by an extra 15%. If a record costs you twenty quid, the artist gets every penny of your twenty quid; good business for both sides in the transaction.

I took a bit of a punt on Hifi Sean‘s ‘Ft.‘ compilation – only half of those twenty notes, as it goes – and I’m glad I did. Hifi Sean is Sean Dickson, one-time vocalist with the Soup Dragons and Ft. is a double album of Sean-produced electronica where a whole gamut of disparate guest vocalists pop up to add their recognisable voices and/or playing to the music. With collaborations involving Crystal Waters, Norman Blake and David McAlmont, an elastic-band bass-popping Bootsy Collins, Alan Vega and Soft Cell’s Dave Ball amongst others, it’s quite the pick ‘n mix. But the standout in what is undoubtedly a bountiful bunch is the Yoko Ono-voiced In Love With Life.

It’s astonishing. Ambient, textured and glossy, it’s a beautiful mesh of Pet Shop Boys’ minor key minimalism and the sort of dragged-out dark beats that Underworld might choose to close an album with.

Yoko OnoIn Love With Life

A good marker for the sort of music Sean has been creating in recent years, it’s as far removed from both his old band and Yoko’s more artistic endeavours as you could possibly get. Synthetic and computerised, sterile yet soulful, it’s a juxtaposition of spoken word against synth washes and echoing snares that triggers some sort of deeply conscientious nostalgia for simpler times and clearer values. Seriously, it does.

Yoko’s vocals are lovely, taking centre stage when they need to before dropping out to let the music wring your heart dry. It’s like an audible yoga trip or something; cleansing and spiritual and, despite the subject matter, life-affirming in many ways.

I hate thinking that our civilisation and the culture that we’ve created in 5000…10,000 years, we’re trying to destroy it.

It saddens me because

I am in really in love with life

and with people

They’re beautiful.

 

That’s it. That’s the message. We’re destroying everything that’s sacred…and standing back watching as we do so.

Yoko’s words are almost haiku in economy. She writes simplistically yet she says it with a real, undeniable gentle love, an extension of the words she first wrote in Grapefruit in the mid ’60s when she said, ‘Listen to the sound of the earth turning.

I assumed the Yoko vocal to be a sample but part of me would love to believe that Sean and Yoko (Sean and Yoko!) sat down together in some small studio or other and recorded it together, he at the faders while she recited her simple poetry atop the glistening beats. It’s all rather cryptic, though, as Sean told me.

“Myself and Yoko decided we would not reveal how we made this track, as the mystery of it adds to the magic of it all.

All I can say is that it was based on a poem Yoko wrote and we both worked together to make it work with the music. I wrote the track around the concept of the poem, with Yoko deciding where she wanted to place the words.

She loved the finished track and in 2016 featured it as part of the Ono Lennon ‘Give Peace A Chance’ campaign.”

So there y’go.

There’s also a remix/revision (track 7, below) on Ft.’s sister album Excursions. It’s currently a tenner on Bandcamp too, and if you wait until Friday to order, Hifi Sean will receive all of what you pay. You really should buy it.

In Love With Life in both its forms is terrific. Hippy, peace-loving and pleasantly at odds with the mess of the world around us, it’s the Balearic end-of-set closer that never was. I reckon you’ll play it forever.

*You can buy Ft. at Hifi Sean’s Bandcamp page here.

Get This!, Hard-to-find, New! Now!, Sampled

Velvet. Underground.

phenomenon
[fəˈnɒmɪnən]

a remarkable person or thing.
“the band was a pop phenomenon just for their sales figures alone”

I’m annoyed at myself. I’ve somehow managed to miss the two Sault albums that were released at pivotal points this year. It’s only now, as the movers and shakers and barometers of hip opinion are revealing their favourite albums of 2020, that I’m discovering that a band I found quite by fortune a year ago via a succession of blogs and Bandcamp links (snapping up both albums LIKE THAT) has released another two albums – both doubles! – in 2020.

Sault, it would appear, are a proper phenomenon.

They arrived a year or so ago with no fanfare or front page spreads. They have next to no online presence. No press shots exist. There appears to be no record company at work. Their artwork is sparse, dense and free of information. They are, like the good old days of yore, a proper underground sensation.

That a band can slip under the radar in a world of streaming and playlists and metatags and analytics and appear at the top of the tree above your Bruces and Bobs and Idles and Swifts is both remarkable and admirable. Phenomenal even.

They are, we have worked out, a collective of anonymous musicians, possibly a group of megastars, possibly a collaborative of home studio boffins or a mixture of both, with their music fine-cooked into its heady soulful stew by the hands of ace producer Inflo, the man who steered Michael Kiwanuka’s most-recent album to Mercury success and healthy worldwide sales. Urban Gorillaz, you might say.

Their music is eclectic, taking in straight-ahead, knee-dropping soul, sample-heavy gospel funk and the sparse, skittering sound of New York’s post-punk No Wave scene, that on-the-one bass and chanting sound pioneered expertly by ESG and their sing-song nursery rhyme vocals. In short, it grooves. And, short ‘n sweet, the songs never outstay their welcome. The albums – those first two at least – beg to be played again immediately after the needle has hit the run-off groove on side two.

SaultDon’t Waste My Time

Their first album – teasingly titled ‘5‘ (did this mean there were another 4 releases before it? I looked, believe me) is everything that’s great about the band; expert playing that treads a fine line between an ‘is it real or is it a sample‘ conundrum, interesting/weird synths and ambient noise, insanely catchy and street-sussed, super-confident vocals, sulky as hell one minute, smooth as velvet the next but always irresistible.

SaultWhy Why Why Why Why

SaultNo Bullshit

Their second, ‘7‘ (they’re messing with us now!) popped up a month or so later and continued in the same vein. No drop-off in quality, no less essential, no more clues as to who Sault actually is.

Sault Smile And Go

To discover that they’ve released another two albums – four sides of guaranteed-to-be wonderful music – is both frustrating and exciting. I should have known about this! I didn’t, though, so there’ll be some good new music to look forward to and there’s nothing better than that, is there?

A quick search led me to an Alexis Petridis review in the Guardian. Even he has been caught slightly off-guard as the review is built around this year’s two releases, both untitled (yet both titled.) How very Sault.

Untitled (Black Is) came first, a record apparently put together in the hours and days that followed the George Floyd murder. The follow-up, Untitled (Rise) crept out just a few weeks ago. It is, for those in the know, the album of 2020.

Jeez. I gotta hear it.

Them.

But, look! Their Bandcamp page is sold out and the eBay scalpers are having a laugh. Yeah, you can play the soundfiles to your heart’s desire – and there’s a superb Kiwanuka-voiced Afrobeat belter amongst them, but we need physical product man! Surely a quick repress is on the cards? Everybody loves you, Sault! Everybody! (You knew that already though).

 

 

 

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Sampled

Rasta-Far-Out

The ghosting season is upon us, the one time of year I truly despise. I hated it as a child. I hated it as a parent when my kids were young enough to participate. I just hate it. The dressing up… the greediness… those creeping Americanisms of going trick or treating for candy around cobweb-frosted front doors and plastic gravestone-enhanced gardens can do one.

Amazingly, brilliantly – God bless ye, Covid – this year there’ll be no drip-nosed grubbers standing at my door in their various states of grotesqueness, reeling off the same combination of tired and/or risque jokes (Q. ‘What’s the difference between the tyres on my dad’s car and a blonde?‘ A. ‘A blonde will go down quicker than my dad’s tyres.’) in return for a handful of Haribo and a “have you told your mum that joke?” telling-off from me. The wee girl who first let slip that horrorshow of a party piece four or five years ago, and every year since, might finally stop telling it for good now.

Anyway.

Reggae.

Bob Marley‘s Mr Brown is one of his earliest recordings, dating back to 1970. It just so happens to be a ghost song, written in response to local legend that told of a duppy/ghost that could be seen hurtling across Jamaica late at night on a three-wheeled coffin. Perched atop the coffin alongside the ghost were three crows, one of which could talk. The talking crow would repeatedly ask for a Mr Brown. If you ever saw this hideous and creepy apparition, the story went, then RUN!, because you didn’t have long left on this earth. 

Bob Marley & The (Wailing) WailersMr Brown

The tune itself is a gently lilting three chord skank, played at relaxed pace and featuring some sweet falsetto backing vocals. Guitars and keys lock the rhythm and never deviate, allowing Marley to tell the story of the out of control ghost-driven coffin and the talking crow. Not yer average subject matter, and all the better for it.

Mr Brown was produced by the ubiquitous Lee Perry. Lee Perry is synonymous with reggae. The more dubified the music, the more prominent his involvement. His blunted, mercurial touch has been applied to literally thousands of records from Jamaica and beyond, fried at the edges and sprinkled with madness but beating with a heart of thunderclapping echoes and cavernous bass.

As I get older, I’ve begun to appreciate his more outré work in much the same way age has allowed me to appreciate a fine malt. Slightly unpalatable at first, you quickly develop a taste and ponder how you could go an evening without it.

Playing around with the Wailers’ track, Perry removed the vocals, credited the instrumental to The Upsetters and manouevered it onto the flip side of the Wailers’ single. In keeping with the original’s ghostly/horror theme, it was given the title of Dracula.

The UpsettersDracula

I don’t for a second think that Bob, Bunny and Peter sat around in rehearsal saying, y’know what….what this tune really needs is a funky, alien vibration every now and again. That ever-present deep electronic shimmer that sounds like the ancient central heating pipes in a school I used to teach in was clearly the madcap work of Lee Perry. Half a century later, it’s that sound that’s become the record’s signature.

Removing Marley’s vocals also allowed Perry the opportunity to incorporate the instrumental version into his soundsystem and toast across the top of it should he fancy doing so. Forever forward-thinking.

Eco-aware long before there was such a thing, Lee Perry not only grew his own herbs, he recycled tunes for his own benefit. In a burst of foresighted creativity, and long before many a future hip-hopper or soundscaper was out of short trousers, Perry actually sampled the vibe from another record entirely and enhanced the Wailers’ and, subsequently, his own tune.

Jackie MittooPeenie Wallie

He’s lowered the pitch, from toe-tapping shuffling ska to head-nodding deep-fried reggae, but you can hear exactly where Perry welded the backing track onto the Wailers’ own easy skanking shuffle, enhancing and filling out what is a fairly straightforward run through by a band still finding their musical feet.

The track’s title – Peenie Wallie – intrigues me. Here in Scotland, if someone is unwell, pale faced, or indeed ghost-faced, we refer to them as peelie wallie. Not a million miles away from the Jackie Mittoo title. I’ve often thought the owner of Studio One might’ve been referring to such a person, albeit in slightly interpolated form. Which of course, would bring us back onto the subject of pale-faced make-up and ghouls and ghosts.

*Bonus Track!

“And for our next track….!”

Bob Marley & The WailersDuppy Conqueror

Bob and the Wailers went on to record an ‘answer record’ to Mr Brown, the self-explanatory Duppy Conqueror. Proving that there’s great mileage in reggae, it too used a variation of the same backing track as Mr Brown.

Poke your nose in and you’ll discover that reggae is full of wonderful, recycled tunes. You knew that already though.

 

 

Sampled

Between The Lines

Massive Attack‘s Blue Lines added new textures to electronic dance music. It didn’t go for impersonal repetitiveness or hands in the air euphoria. It didn’t care much for sticking helium-voiced anonymous female vocals atop pounding 130+BPMs. The music sat around a head-nodding 100 beats per minute, occassionally dipping lower and slower into deeper, darker, dubbier moments. Blue Lines, a fantastically original mishmash of dub reggae, string-soaked house, parochial rapping and the choicest of samples opened many an eye and many a mind to the possibilities and endless limitations of sample-based electronic music. It’s a considered classic, and for good reasons.

You’ll know the album inside out, from the perpetually rolling Safe From Harm to the meditative Hymn Of The Big Wheel, via the peerless, timeless Unfinished Sympathy. I thought I knew it back to front until this week. With no distractions – I wasn’t listening on an iPod as I exercised or via the car CD as I commuted to and from work, I was in my favourite chair in the living room, the kids remotely jostling for their share of the bandwidth upstairs – and I stuck it on, sat there and listened. Then I flipped it over and continued. And when side two had finished, I did it all again. And again. New things leapt out at me, in particular a previously unnnoticed sample on the title track, Blue Lines.

Massive AttackBlue Lines

Tricky totally owns this track, spooling out a freeflowing stream of conscience rap that takes in relationships, paranoia, ethnicity, territorial tribalism – take a walk Billy, don’t be a hero – and existentialism in all its guises.

Built on a base of groovily shuffling drums and keys, all side-of-the-stick rim shots and noodling Fender Rhodes, it’s one of the album’s most downtempo moments. A scratching DJ and stut-stut-stuttering woozy re-set knocks the track briefly out of sync before a familiar guitar riff (James Brown?) brings the slo-mo rhythm back. It’s a sublime soundbed, the tight but loose rhythm and popping bass line making it a headnodder’s delight, no matter how many times you’ve heard it before.

The soundbed is lifted wholly from Tom Scott & the L.A. Express‘s 1974 jazz funk epic Sneakin’ In The Back. Contrast and compare…

Tom Scott & the LA ExpressSneakin’ In The Back

Cheeky sample

You can practically see the wispy blue curl of nicotine from smouldering Lucky Strikes jammed into headstocks, and the handlebar moustaches, white ‘fros and oversized baker boys caps as it plays.

With an expansive sax solo as wide and willfully free as a generously-cut bell bottom, the track would become something of a signature tune for Scott and his 5 bandmates. In the world of sampling and reappropriation, it was only a matter of time before someone such as Massive Attack would bend and shape the tune for their own ends. Or lift it, hook, line and wink (uh-huh) and base a whole new sound around it.

But what of that familiar guitar riff?

It had to be a James Brown riff, surely? Tighter than a pair of hot pants and ceaslesly funky, it had me scouring the tracks on the 4 album Star Time set until I found it.

I couldn’t.

Ashamed of myself, I resorted to Google. And discovered it was a Blackbyrds riff. Of course it was. Massive Attack ground it down to 33rpm – I worked that out myself – a high intensity cardio-vascular workout slowed to the natural pace of resting breath and used to colour the Tom Scott track with some low in the mix additional funk. Like the final ingredient in a bowl of your granny’s soup, it helps take Blue Lines just that wee bit further into the out there.

The BlackbyrdsRock Creek Park

*Extra Track!

As an interesting aside, that brief and unexpected DJ scratch that Massive Attack employ at the start of their track became part of the fabric of Barry Adamson‘s Spooky-stealing Something Wicked This Way Comes. Poachers turn game keepers ‘n all that. If you’ve never heard it or its parent album, Oedipus Schmoedipus, you could do worse than rectify that right now. Listen out for the sample…

Barry AdamsonSomething Wicked This Way Comes

…and investigate the album. You’ll love it.

Alternative Version, Cover Versions, Peel Sessions, Sampled

Orderly Cue

New Order‘s Power Corruption & Lies has just had the luxuruious, deluxe treatment. Not for any anniversary reasons it seems, but it follows swiftly on the heels of the similar treatment afforded to its predecesor, Movement. Movement is a landmark album for New Order in some ways, not least the band’s decision to continue making music in the aftermath of Ian Curtis’s death, but Power, Corruption & Lies, as you know already, is the album where New Order is truly born.

Gone are the self-conscious carbon copy Curtis vocals and mannerisms. (Almost) nowhere to be heard are the rattling, richocheting Hannett-affected steam-powered drums. The high up the frets bass is, crucially, still there, more to the fore even; post-punk liquid mercury, fluid and meandering, creating that signature New Order sound without anyone being aware at the time.

Where the synth lines on Movement were occasional and minimal, on Power, Corruption & Lies they’re elegant and glacial, polishing New Order’s confident new sound with a reflective sheen. From the flowers on the cover – the juxtaposition of old and new worlds, explained sleeve designer Peter Saville – and its code-cracking tracklisting on the back, via the grapple and struggle with new technology to Bernard finding his own shaky voice, everything about Power, Corruption & Lies screams fresh new start.

The soul of the band’s adventurous new sound can be found at the end of the 1st side.

New Order586

Peter Saville’s original sketched idea for the back sleeve

586 is, to begin with, a bit of a strange track. Those rattling, richocheting drums make a brief appearance at the start before a squelchy, squiggly keyboard line assumes the role of lead. Freeforming for a good couple of minutes, and just as you think it might be running out of ideas, a familiar ghostly synth line introduces itself, curling in like a cold, grey fog off the Manchester Ship Canal. Back in 1983 (or ’93 or ’03 or even right now,) New Order obsessives listening for the first time would have pricked their ears in a Proustian rush of recognition.

Coupled with the clattering sequenced electro and rapid-fire snare that follows immediately afterwards, 586 reveals itself to be Baby Blue Monday. It’s got it all going on – the tempo, the four to the floor dancefloor beat, the breakdown in the middle…but mostly, it’s in the propulsive, forward-thinking rhythm and pulsing, sequenced synths. Blue Monday was the stand alone single, released before the album, but 586 was clearly conceived at the same knee-trembling session behind the mixing desk. 

Peter Saville’s guide to cracking the tracklisting code

It’s significantly different in other ways though. Bernard’s voice is in a higher register, falsetto occassionally, and nothing like the bottom of the boots Curtisish vocal on Blue Monday. There’s an energy of its own to it and a high synthy melody that repeats throughout, giving way to warm and fuzzy synths before the gears begin to grind to a halt and the whole track sloooooows doooown to a juddering stop, bringing both itself and side 1 of the album to a definite close.

586 began life in May 1982 when Tony Wilson asked New Order for “20 minutes of pap.” The original version was put onto video and played when the Haçienda opened its doors for the first time. A shorter version was redone for the band’s Peel Session a month later.

New Order586 (Peel Session)

With backwards sections and helicoptering synths, bendy bass and a rhythm track made up of heavily treated sleigh bells and jangling percussion, it isn’t the “20 minutes of pap” that their label boss asked for, but it’s very much a lyric in search of a better tune. That tune duly turned up a year later, half of it soundtracking the album version, the other half lending itself to the greatest 12″ single of all time.

New Order/Ennio Morricone bassline

Talking of which – where would Blue Monday be without that twanging, Spaghetti Western bassline? Stolen twang for twang from Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for For A Few Dollars More, it became Peter Hook’s signature sound on New Order’s signature record, and a sound that’s still very much likely to prick the ears of people of a certain age forever.

Hard-to-find, Sampled

Hopping In A Barrel Is A Barrel Of Fun

Hall & Oates seem to be on a wee bit of a renaissance just now. In recent months the hip-to-the-jive stadium announcer at Rugby Park has started playing You Make My Dreams Come True at the end of every game. Plastic soul for a plastic pitch, it’s a positive nod to Kilmarnock FC’s lofty league position, where they currently occupy the European spot with one game left to play. The duo has just played the Hydro (terrible sound, by all accounts) and are currently winding their way around the larger arenas of the UK and beyond to generally sold out (and affluent) crowds. Did you see the price of the tickets? I can’t go for that, no can do, ‘n all that.

While their best songs endure as shiny FM pop/soul hits – Maneater, Out Of Touch, the just-mentioned I Can’t Go For That, they were always a bit too slick for me; it was the moustaches ‘n mullets ‘n multitude of sleeveless t-shirts that failed to engage me. The nadir was their appearance on American Live Aid. It was a forgettable performance by and large, but the images of vests and leather trousers and blow-dried Lady Diana bouffants are as burned to the retina as those of Bono clambering into the Wembley pit and Freddie Mercury leading that mass clap along during Radio Ga Ga.

De La Soul famously copped I Can’t Go For That’s “you want my body now you want my soul” chorus refrain and used it to great effect on their own Say No Go. Hippy and trippy rather than tough and bluff, in radical, revolutionary fashion, De La Soul ripped up the accepted rules of rap and rewrote them over the course of their terrific catch-all, sampleadelic debut 3 Feet High And Rising. Out went standard outsider braggadocio about guns ‘n girls built around James Brown drum breaks and in came all-inclusive, socially-conscious, self-proclaimed Daisy Age rap constructed from all corners of the trio’s parents’ record collection; The Turtles sit happily (together) next to snippets of Sly Stone and Steely Dan, slowed down Johnny Cash vocals, sped up Detroit Emeralds guitar riffs, George Clinton keyboard parts and even Liberace adlibs.

Eclecticism runs through the grooves like the lettering in a stick of Blackpool rock. Bo Diddley maraca shakes jigsaw into Lee Dorsey drum breaks….. the hits of a sky high Michael Jackson are pushed aside by bits of a superfly Run DMC… Richard Prior skits give way to Wilson Pickett hits…. Sewn together by an inter-track gameshow, it’s an album that’s as cartoonish and day-glo and fun as the sleeve it comes (w)rapped in suggests.

3 Feet High And Rising is terrifically, brilliantly all over the place. Its carefree abandon to copyright are both a lawyer’s nightmare and dream, and a spin of the album today throws up new things still. There are websites upon websites breaking down the samples used, but as my own taste becomes increasingly catholic with each passing year, it’s much more fun to play spot the sample without over-reliance on Dr Google.

With my fairly decent knowledge of music, I could argue the case for the group renaming themselves De La Stole, but then, the sticky-fingered pilfering is what makes the album so enduring. No one, least of all the band themselves would dare dream of taking such a cavalier approach to record making again, especially when the lion’s share of all future royalties go straight to the original songwriters, ie anywhere other than the people who put it all together. It’s no surprise that since the album’s release, hip hop producers such as Dre and Pharrell have steered clear of sampling and instead created their own sounds via keyboards and computers and alchemic wizardry.

De La SoulSay No Go

Say No Go is the album in miniature. Constructed from half a dozen or so samples it manages to be hip hop and high pop, as boxfresh as a new pair of Nikes on Thanksgiving. Crashing in on the horn part from Sly Stone’s Crossword Puzzle, creating a hook by playing Detroit Emeralds’ Baby Let Me Take You In My Arms at 45 rather than 33 and employing a beat mishmashed from both Hall & Oates’ Say No Go and The Turtles’ I’m Chief Kamanawanalea (to be honest, I Googled that one), De La Soul manufactured one of their most enduring tracks.

Sly StoneCrossword Puzzle

Detroit Emeralds – Baby Let Me Take You In My Arms

Hall & Oates Say No Go

 

The vocal sample that lends the track its name is the icing on a cake packed full of interesting ingredients; blink-and-you-miss-‘em parts of The Emotions’ Best Of My Love jostle for ear space alongside the Dragnet theme and the Funky 4 + 1’s That’s The Joint. The sprinkle on top of the icing, the lyric is a terrific stream of (social) conscience that addresses the issues of inner city drug abuse:

Now let’s get right on down to the skit

A baby is brought into a world of pits

And if it could’ve talked that soon in the delivery room

It would’ve asked the nurse for a hit

Undoubtedly political but undeniably populist, the finished track (unwittingly, perhaps) manages to be influenced by James Brown, although not in the usual cut ‘n paste manner favoured by hip hop artists: De La Soul realign that hybrid HallnOates/Turtles’ beat so that the track kicks off ‘on the one’, lending it that driving, forward-seeking groove. It’s propulsive and insistent and downright funky. I could listen to it for ages.