Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Sound Affects

There are a million bits in records – not necessarily the whole track – that stick in the brain and when re-heard trigger some sort of euphoric high in the brain. Off the top of my head, the galloping acoustic rush as Johnny Marr leads The Smiths into Bigmouth Strikes Again, The Clash going full pelt on White Riot, the popping bass intro to Sly & The Family Stone’s I Get High On You, the 14th fret D chord that fills every second line in Rip It Up, Liz Fraser’s voice on Song To The Siren, the gear-changing riff on The Breeder’s Cannonball, the stomping goosestep that opens Holidays In The Sun, the wild-eyed storm at the end of The Beatles’ Helter Skelter, the clattering industrial funk that holds Happy Mondays’ Mad Cyril loosely together, the bit in I Am The Resurrection when Mani’s riff kicks in and the whole band head off into an episode of Starsky & Hutch for 5 minutes, Marvin Gaye’s ‘Up early in the morning!’ when the Funk Brothers momentarily drop out on Can I Get A Witness.….That 10 Favourite Albums thing that’s doing the rounds just now on Facebook is good fun ‘n all, but if you were to ask me my 10 favourite bits in music, I reckon I’d be at it, one a day, for months on end. And I’m sure any of you reading this would be similarly challenged.

There’s no doubt though (this week at any rate) that the sound of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards playing together is just about my favourite sound in music. Nile, with his chattering funk guitar, all major 7ths with extra pinky action, found the perfect foil in Bernard (pronounced with the emphasis on the 2nd syllable – it rhymes with ‘hard’ (just like those bass lines he plays)), a seasoned jazz player who ran up, down and across the 4 strings under his fingers with an effortless glide. When the pair of them lock into a groove it’s like an old married couple nattering over the kitchen table, Nile leading the conversation with positive excitement, Bernard uhm-ing and ah-ing in contended agreement.

Listen to their playing on Sister Sledge‘s Thinking Of You.

Sister SledgeThinking Of You

Rodgers’ idea for Chic was always that they’d be a hit-making machine writing songs for others as well as themselves. They’d have their own act, Chic, who took their cue from Roxy Music by dressing to the nines and fronting the band with a couple of glamorous females who wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Roxy album sleeve. Chic ran up all manner of hit singles; Le Freak, Everybody Dance, I Want Your Love….. and when Nile and Bernard weren’t guiding them to chart success they were busy helping others fill the gaps in the charts they’d just vacated.

The Chic Organisation played on all manner of records, a disco-era house band akin to the Funk Brothers at Motown or the Wrecking Crew in LA. And the best thing about those Chic Organisation records is that every one of them sounded exactly like Chic themselves.

Take the Sister Sledge record above. It opens with that none-more-recognisable Rodgers’ guitar sound, played high up the frets on the first 3 or 4 strings, simple enough to listen to but devilishly difficult to play with the same bounce as its writer. When Edwards’ bass comes in along with the vocals, the whole thing takes off in airy abandon.

“Everybody, let me tell you ’bout my love,

Brought to you, by an angel up above….”

And away we go. Strings sweep up and down, the bass drops in and out, congas and pitched percussion keep the whole thing groovy and the sisters Sledge sashay on the spot, ice-cool four-part harmonies and backing vocals from beginning to end. The Chic Organisation thought the finished track was just OK and stuck it on a b-side. A b-side! The a-side? That would be Lost In Music.

Thinking Of You finally gained chart success in 1984 when a down on their luck Sister Sledge were releasing records to ever-diminishing returns and some clever soul at the record company pointed out that that old b-side from 5 years ago hadn’t been too bad after all. By this point, Rodgers was working with Bowie and Madonna, his sound forever in demand. Listen to Let’s Dance or Like A Virgin and you’ll hear his clipped guitar all over the records like a happy rash. Not for nothing has he nicknamed his white Strat ‘The Hitmaker’.

Nile of course is everywhere nowadays, front and centre stage, in a forever-touring version of Chic. “No, it’s not the same musicians,” he’ll happily tell you, “but no-one complains when they go to hear a Mozart piano concerto and ol’ Wolfgang fails to turn up.”

A few years ago we (I say ‘we‘ – I’m part of a group who put on local gigs) were looking for a headline act. We had enough money for either Nile Rodgers or The Magic Numbers, but not both. Nile lost out on the vote, which greatly upset me…..and the others when he popped up a few months later owning the stage at Glastonbury, at that very moment reborn. Our Magic Numbers gig a few short weeks later was great, but, y’know, not Nile Rodgers great. Nowadays, believe me, you could probably fund a Magic Numbers World tour for less than the cost of putting on Nile for one night. On stage, Nile plays with a smile as wide and long as the zeros on his royalty cheques. And who can grudge the man! He’s survived a very disfunctional childhood. He’s beaten cancer. And he seems like an all-round decent man. If you haven’t already, you really should read his book.

Bonus Tracks

Paul WellerThinking Of You

Taken from his Studio 150 album, clearly a contract-filling album if there ever was one, Weller treats the original with politely-scrubbed acoustic respect but not the required funk.

Sister SledgeThinking Of You (Dmitri From Paris remix)

Dmitri From Paris takes Sister Sledge’s original and turns it into a rolling, soulful house cut. Sensibly, he keeps all of Edwards’ and Rodgers’ parts. There is, after all, some music DNA that you just don’t mess with.

Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Tension Is Rebuilding. Something’s Got To Give.

When the Beastie Boys first appeared, a burping and belching frat boy’s idea of fun (and, KIIIICCCKKK IT!, it was fun when you were 15, let’s not kid ourselves), all backwards baseball caps and crotch grabs and stuck-on sneers, you could’ve been forgiven for presuming they’d have 3, 4 hits at most on the back of one album before disappearing with diminishing returns down the very Noo Yoik sewer from whence they’d crawled. But something happened.

MCA, the gravel-throated tall one, better known to his ma an’ pa as Adam Yauch, found inner peace. Through Buddhism he left behind the rapper’s trappings of guns, girls and glorified violence and guided his fellow band mates onto the path of righteous being. The Beastie Boys were always a cartoon version of the staple diet of rap to begin with. They had far more wit and wisdom than your average angry boy from the ‘hood to ever truly mean it. To coin a well-worn cliche, he, MCA became a lover, not a fighter and the band gradually dropped the more base stuff in favour of a sophisticated worldly approach.

The signs were there on Paul’s Boutique, the cut ‘n paste meisterwork that is considered by many to be the Beasties’ greatest moment. On the album’s Year And A Day, MCA reports that, “my body and soul and mind are pure.” By the time of 1992’s Check Your Head (the Beasties’ true greatest moment) MCA had written Something’s Got To Give, a call to unite the world as one.

Beastie BoysSomething’s Got To Give

It’s a real turn-up for anyone who thinks of the Beasties as ‘just’ three white boy rappers. Returning to their hardcore punk roots, to a time when the band played as a band, drums, bass, guitars ‘n all, the trio wanted to show the world there was more to them than sexist raps and songs jigsawed from the best bits of other people’s records. The cover of Something’s Got To Give‘s parent album Check Your Head featured the band sitting at a roadside carefully guarding their instrument cases and band ephemera. “We’re a real band,” they’re saying. “We can play our instruments.” And boy, can they!

Something’s Got To Give is a terrific slab of slow-burning rock/rap. And if that has you breaking out in a Chili Pepper-sized rash of disgust, listen to the playing. It’s echoey, live and loose. Built from a tape of the band jamming live in the studio, there’s so much depth and space and separation between the instruments it could almost be a Lee Perry production. There’s great hi-hat action. There’s some spot-on clavinova from 4th Beastie Money Mark who seems to be living out his mid 70s Stevie Wonder fantasies. And there’s that constantly na-na-na-nagging refrain that runs through it like the Lincoln Tunnel under the Hudson, taking you from beginning to middle to end. Every time I hear it, I hear a subtle new thing; maybe a stray piece of percussion or an Ad Rock adlib, that surely marks Something’s Got To Give down as a great track.

With trigger finger-happy Presidents here and itchy warhead owners there and a growing sense of right wing bully boy tactics over the UK’s stubborn and stupid stance on Europe, we could all do worse than listen to its message. And then jump over a ghetto blaster with giddy abandon, y’all.

 

 

Alternative Version, demo, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Factory Record

Walk On The Wild Side is perhaps Lou Reed‘s best-known song.

Lou ReedWalk On The Wild Side

Its languid vocal and lazy shuffle conjurs up images of stifling summer New York heat; sticky tarmac on pavements (or should that be sidewalks?), teenage girls singing with carefree abandon on street corners, a loose-limbed groove that never outstays its welcome. Listen closely though and you’ll hear a tale of the New York underbelly, the New York that was off the beaten track yet a daily experience if you were part of the Warhol ‘Factory’ set; Hustlers hustling. Drugs and dealers. Pimps and prostitutes. Females who were shemales. This is girls who are boys who like boys to be girls long before it was a Britpop soundbite. Not for nothing was its parent album called ‘Transformer‘.

Here’s an early version, with very different lyrics and Lou pointing out the girls’ parts….

The released version is a radically re-written homage to the Factory set; the scenesters and teensters who orbited around Andy Warhol’s Manhattan Studio. There were actually 3 Factories, but that’s another story for another day.

Holly who shaved her legs was Holly Woodlawn, a transgender actress who ran away from home in Florida at the age of 15 and by the act of shaving her legs on the way literally changed from man to woman.

Candy was Candy Darling, also a transgender actress. The subject of the Velvets’ Candy Says, she grew up in Long Island – the island – and was known to perform favours in the back room of Max’s Kansas City, the hipper than hip venue/hangout that was central to the scene. That’s Candy (above) with Andy. It’s her face who’s on the cover of Sheila Take A Bow, The Smiths’ 14th single. But you knew that already.

Little Joe was Joe Dallesandro, Warhol actor best known for his role in Flesh, where he played a teenage hustler. Coincidentally, that’s Joe on the cover of The Smiths’ debut album. But you knew that already too.

The Sugar Plum Fairy was another Flesh reference, this time to the name of a drug-dealing character in the film.

Jackie was Jackie Curtis. To say the least, an interesting person, she performed bizarre cabaret dressed sometimes as a woman and sometimes in drag. With overdone glitter, big lipstick, heavily kholed eyes, brightly dyed hair and ripped stockings, Jackie’s combination of trash and glamour was considered the catalyst for the glam rock movement. Certainly, she wouldn’t have looked out of place in the New York Dolls. At one time, Curtis was mooted to play James Dean in a biopic of Dean’s life. This never came to fruition, hence the thought she was James Dean for a day line. So now you know.

Perhaps not surprisingly, such a parade of characters and subject matter fell foul of the US censors. On the released single, they removed the references to the colored girls and giving head and the record peaked inside the Top 20. In the UK, the lyrics remained as Lou had intended and Walk On The Wild Side peaked at number 10. Make of that what you will.

Walk On The Wild Side was put together by Lou alongside co-producers David Bowie and Mick Ronson.

Walk On The Wild Side – hissy outtake with David Bowie on backing vocals

It’s said that Bowie plays guitar on WOTWS, although no credits exist to back this up. Considering at this point in time (August ’72) Bowie was spreading himself between Ziggy tours, Mott The Hoople handouts and Lou Reed production duties, given his propensity to eschew all form of food for music-related activity, it’s not unlikely to suggest he did play on it. It was quite an era for Bowie when you stop to think about it.

One person who definitely did play on WOTWS was seasoned sessioneer Herbie Flowers. Later to find fame in 70s instrumental prog/jazz group Sky, the fly Flowers played two bass lines on the song, thus ensuring himself twice the fee. He played that great defining slinky rubber band bassline and double tracked it with a more traditional Fender bass part, doubling his fee from the industry standard $17 to a more eye-watering $34. Quite how he must feel these days, now that the record is a radio standard and that his part is instantly recognisable, not to mention that the bassline was liberally sampled to form the hook on A Tribe Called Quest’s Can I Kick It? is anyone’s guess, but I bet he wishes he’d gambled on taking the royalties instead of the session fee.

Alternative Version, Get This!, Kraut-y, Sampled

A Lifetime Of Surprises

You can take The Lexicon Of Love away, but I’m keeping Remain In Light….

The Mystery Jets, in their (as it would turn out) ironically-titled ‘Greatest Hits‘, knew the score when they were penning their great break-up song. ABC’s album is a masterclass in heaven-sent melodies and hit singles, but stuck in the 80s with slightly more style than substance and a Trevor Horn production to boot. Talking Heads‘ 4th album endures, remains in light even, to this day.

Arty, smarty, punky and funky, Remain In Light benefits from the combined talents of the four ‘Heads, Brian Eno on sonic architectural duties, Bowie foil Adrian Belew on weird ‘n wonky guitar textures and R’n B belter Nona Hendryx on occasional backing vocals. It’s an astonishing album which, as the cliche goes, sounds as relevant and fresh today as it did in October 1980.

Side 1 (Pffffft. Everyone’s a hipster nowadays) begins with the knockout blow of Born Under Punches, a track that starts as if you carelessly dropped the needle near enough, but not quite at the start. Not for Talking Heads a gentle warm-up to ease into the flow. From the off, Frantz and Weymouth, the symbiotic, married rhythm section drive the track with polyrhythms and a body-poppin’ bassline that George Clinton might’ve strived his whole life to perfect. ‘Take a look at these hands!‘ barks David Byrne, before his own call-and-response vocals allow the chorus to ebb and flow. The music though is relentless throughout, a fantastic opener that sets the scene for what follows.

And what follows is more of the same. Crosseyed And Painless maybe even betters the opener. Short, sharp, barking verses and crooned choruses, with the band whippersnap tight and taut. Eno’s contribution is undeniable. The band are on fire, but the extras he adds lifts the whole thing into the stratosphere. Whooshes and effects, possibly heavily-treated guitar, possibly cutting edge keyboard technology are liberally splashed across the top adding colour to the Talking Heads’ stark noo wave punkoid funk. ‘I’m stiiiiiill waiting!‘ points out David Byrne, as he’s doubletracked with himself into oblivion.

Talking HeadsCrosseyed And Painless

Even more incredibly is the 3rd track, side 1 closer The Great Curve. Without ever dropping a beat, Frantz and Weymouth’s incessant funk continues. Thers’s space here for both Nona Hendryx to do one of her skyscraping hollers in the chorus? The verse? The bridge? Who knows?!? and Adrian Belew to get in on the act with a metallic squall of lead guitar that coulda come straight from a Bowie ‘Lodgers‘ session. It’s just as well you’re forced to get up and turn the record over at this point, as to this day, I still need to catch my breath when the side closes.

Side 2, without being glib, is more of the same; one chord grooves, polyrhythmic percussion, effect pedal-heavy guitar and Eno’s golden ambient touch. Houses In Motion, the flop second and final single from the album is the perfect juxtaposition of Sly Stone’s pitter pattering skeletal funk and Talking Heads’ own Slippery People, still 3 years from release, but surely conceived in this very moment?

Talking HeadsHouses In Motion

Seen And Not Seen is an atmospheric spoken word groove, with a backing track that Grace Jones might’ve utilised to her advantage. Second last track Listening Wind is very Can. Or maybe Can is very Talking Heads. Chanting vocals, meandering, textured music…..  there’s lots going on here. It’s great late-night headphone music. You should try it. Pour yourself a drink of whatever, maybe supplement it with an extra something of your choice. Then close your eyes and see where it takes you, but remember to get up before final track The Overload kicks in. If the previous track is very Can, then The Overload is very, Very, VERY Bowie. More chanting vocals and more ambient textures, it closes the album with a sense of impending doom. Scary Monsters indeed. Perhaps they should’ve left it off the album. It still scares me half to death whenever I forget to lift the needle before it starts.

The big track on the album is Once In A Lifetime, the number 14-with-a-bullet hit single. It’s omnipresent and, I’d wager, so ingrained in the fabric of most of the readership on here that you can hear it just now as you read. You can call it up from the virtual iPod in your brain and it’ll play for you from start to finish, with no need for you to go and find the actual track. The chorus is playing just now, I bet. Amazing that, isn’t it? But have you ever stopped to truly listen to it? It’s an incredible piece of music.

Talking HeadsOnce In A Lifetime

How do you even go about writing a song like that? Did it come from the band riffing on the light ‘n airy grooves of Fela Kuti, whose ‘on the 1’ influenced James Brown? Once In  A Lifetime starts ‘on the 1’, but as Eno has since said, each member of the band had a different ‘1’ to follow. That’s what makes the track sound so different. There’s that brilliant opening bass whoomph and bam! we’re on the one and away with it…..

Did Tina Weymouth come to the session with a killer bassline looking for a song? Did Jerry Harrison, swapping guitar for synth, say, “Hey! I’ve got this little synth riff that I kinda stole from the Velvets’ What Goes On – let’s build a song around it!” Did producer Eno pioneer his Oblique Strategies on the track, the four Talking Heads plus guests individually recording overdubs, unaware of what their fellow band mates had played?  The answer really is that the song is (even) greater than the sum of its parts.

Want more? Here’s the extended version of Once In A Lifetime.

Talking HeadsOnce In A Lifetime (Extended Version)

Random fact. Bassheads‘ 90s rave anthem Is There Anybody Out There? samples the wee tingaling bleeping and blooping keyboard track that weaves it’s way throughout Once InA Lifetime. But you knew that already.

 

*Bonus Track!

As if to underline that Fela Kuti reference, sounding like a manic Moroccan market in the height of summer, here’s Fela’s Riff, an African-influenced unfinished outtake from the album.

Talking HeadsFela’s Riff

If you’ve never heard Remain In Light, I suggest you rectify this forthwith. You can thank me later.

Cover Versions, Sampled

Mock Turtles

Incredibly, there are still people who obliviously walk this earth who’ve never heard the skewed majesty of De La Soul‘s debut album ‘3 Feet High And Rising‘. I was enthusing about its esoteric eclecticism to a DJ pal last night when he confessed he’d never actually heard it. What?!?! Maybe it’s an age thing – when De La Soul first broke he was a right old bastard at the tail end of his 20s, deaf from a decade and more of gigging, with a set of creaky knees and a mind unable to process any new sounds that strayed too far from the cosy ‘n comfortable traditional guitar/bass/drums set-up. “Rap with a silent C” was his presumption. He preferred Bryan Adams. It was his loss.

de-la-u2

But….but….you’d love it!” I told him. “It’s the ‘Sergeant Peppers’ of the eighties! They sample loads of stuff – aye, there’s James Brown grunts and drum beats and Blue Note jazz riffs and Parliament and Funkadelic horn parts and all that normal stuff, but they have no regard for hip-hop rules. They liberally pinch Steely Dan guitar riffs, vocal ad-libs from TV chat show hosts, Johnny Cash vocal refrains, The Monkees, Michael Jackson – (‘I wanna raack with you!’) – Liberace, Hall & Oates, the Steve Miller Band, Bo Diddley, The Average White Band…. you name them , they’re probably on there.” They probably are.

de-la-soul

Produced when sampling was still something of an unknown entity in recording law, De La Soul somehow managed to get away with releasing an album totally jigsawed together from the random parts of other, wildly varied records. It’s something of a psychedelic mongrel of a record, flower-power hip-hop, a gazillion light years away from the shouty, sweary undercurrent of violence thrown out by the guns ‘n poses posses. Not that there’s anything wrong with them – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is a terrifying document of mid 80s black America and I can imagine a whole generation of parents shouting at teenagers to ‘Turn that rubbish down!‘, but as a white man from the West of Scotland, I cannae really relate to the politics of it all. Give me my hip-hop gift-wrapped in a giant daisy any day of the week.

I love spotting the samples on ‘3 Feet High…’ and as my musical knowledge has grown in direct proportion to the size of my record collection, each play of it brings another familiar fleeting riff to the fore. I’d always liked the lopsided drunk string sweep, clipped guitar and keyboard stab that runs through the whole of Transmitting Live From Mars. Along with the strings, there’s some crackly breakbeats and a French language tape instructing us to ‘écoutez et répétez‘. Arch and knowing, it wouldn’t sound out of place on St Etienne‘s Foxbase Alpha.

De La SoulTransmitting Live From Mars

I had no idea what that string part was until almost a decade later, when the Lightning Seeds put out their version of The Turtles‘ ‘You Showed Me‘. A constant refrain, the strings were clearly the same strings that De La Soul built their track around. Cleverly, De La Soul slowed The Turtles single down from 45 to 33 rpm. This gave the sample that superb slurry drunk effect.

The Lightning SeedsYou Showed Me

You Showed Me was written in 1964 by Gene Clark and Roger McGuinn. It was recorded by The Byrds, considered for inclusion on their Mr Tambourine Man album and ultimately shelved before finding favour with The Turtles. It’s an epoch-defining, West Coast hippy-dippy saccharine-sweet love song.

The TurtlesYou Showed Me

turtles

The original Byrds’ version, fact fans, was recorded at a much higher tempo, but when the Turtles’ producer first played them the track, he did so on a broken harmonium. In order to explain the chord changes, he played it at a much slower pace and before they knew it, The Turtles’ collective lightbulbs glowed brightly and they had a hit on their hands.

That string part also makes an appearance on U2‘s ‘Pop‘ album. An extremely hit and miss affair (with more misses than hits) ‘Pop‘ has the distinction of being the lowest-selling U2 album of the modern era (just the million in the States and two million in Europe!) although you could argue that by giving albums away for free on iTunes, U2 have trumped themselves since.

u2-pop-2

Pop‘ is a strange album. Not quite the freeform experimentalism of the Zooropa era nor the songs-with-sheen of All That You Can’t Leave Behind, it was made under the direction of Nellee Hooper, Howie B and Steve Osborne, producers more at home with a faceless dance act than a post-modern, mock-ironic rock band with an opinionated numpty out front. Due to a bad back, drummer Larry Mullen was out of action for much of the recording, so the band began experimenting with loops and samples.

The Playboy Mansion was one of the more cohesive moments on the album. A role-call of pop culture – If Coke Is A Mystery, Michael Jackson History…etc – it’s carried along on a pitter patter of processed beats, heavily synthesized Edge guitar….and that ubiquitous Turtles’ sample. It’s a cracker…

U2The Playboy Mansion

But what about the sample? Surely, in this day and age, the relevant musicians are given credit and maybe even cold hard cash for their efforts half a century ago? Well, De La Soul lost a court case a few years back over this very sample. The writers were awarded an undisclosed amount of money in back-dated royalties. The writers of course being McGuinn and Clark. But the string part – the signature riff, if you like – was played by someone else, an anonymous member of the Wrecking Crew very probably, working for a flat Musicians’ Union fee of $25 per day, as was the standard in those days. Pop music wasn’t meant to last. They took the money and ran. Whoever played that sweeping string part must surely be regretting that nowadays.

Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Sampled

Big Brown Bag

The mid 60s was an extremely fertile period for James Brown. By then he’d moved away from the tear-soaked, down-on-his-knees gospel/soul that defined much of his early career. Relatively straightforward 12 bar song structures were replaced instead by jerky, jagged one-chord grooves. Brass stabs emphasised the first beat – “On the one!” as he’d instruct his musicians, and the tracks would tick along with well-timed metronomic precision. No-one knew it at the time, but the Godfather of Soul was inventing funk.


To be in James’ band then must’ve been terrifically exciting, yet extremely stressful. Here you were, creating this new form of dance music, all the while unable to enjoy playing for playing’s sake, lest you miss the beat and risk a fine from the boss. James Brown records are littered with phlegmily barked instructions; “Horns! (Bap! Bap!) Maceo! (Toot! Toot!) Pee-ann-er! (rinky dink dink dink) – every musician hitting his part with laser precision. Miss the beat and you’d find your pay packet a wee bit lighter come the end of the week.

When you strip the records down into their component parts, they’re extremely simple affairs. Take 1965’s Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. Individually, there’s fairly little going on; a rickety-tick drum beat played by Melvin (brother of Maceo) Parker, a repetitive, a see-sawing, octave-hopping bass line, a simple horn section, blasting ‘on the one’, a chicken scratching guitar, stuck forever on a Major 9th chord (I think it’s Db, though the released recording was sped up half a tone to make it faster and more energetic, so this, muso minds, would in effect make it an E major 9th) and James’ gravel-throated lyric about an old guy who’s discovered he likes the new dance all the kids are doing.

brown-gif

James Brown’s Star Time box set – one of THE essential additions to any serious music collection features the complete, unedited take of Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. When the track was originally released as a single, it was edited so that ‘Part 1’ became the a-side, and the extended funk workout that followed was renamed ‘Part 2’ and featured on the b-side.

James BrownPapa’s Got A Brand New Bag (Parts 1, 2 and 3)

The box set includes James Brown’s declaration that, “This is a hit!” before a note is even played, and for the next 7 or so minutes, the band follows their leader with an unnerving mechanical rhythm. The whole recording sounds tight and taut, lean and mean, stripped of unnecessary excess and flab. It fair packs a punch.

A favourite dancefloor filler in this part of the world, it can make my pal Greg move in ways a white man from the west of Scotland has no real right to. Soul of a black man, feet of a rhythmically-challenged Glaswegian. Right on.


You know this already, of course, but James Brown’s influence goes far and wide. Early 80s DIY punk/funk collective Pigbag named their signature instrumental Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag in clear homage. An instantly catchy 8 note riff, it failed to chart initially.

PigbagPapa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag

 

Nowadays, Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag is ubiquitous with over-zealous, celebratory football chants and montage soundtrackers who think they’re still making yoof programmes for the TV, thanks in no small part to Paul Oakenfold’s ‘monsta!’ souped-up makeover around 20 years ago, but Pigbag’s original version took 2 or 3 goes before it went chart-bound. The Jam, in particular their keen-eared, sticky-fingered bass player Bruce Foxton, must’ve been blushing slightly when it eventually started gaining airplay.

jam-selfie

By this time their own Precious, out as a double a-side with A Town Called Malice was starting to get played on the radio and you couldn’t help but notice the (cough) similarity between the two tunes.

The JamPrecious (12″ version)

The Jam even went as far as naming their posthumous live album Dig The New Breed, a line from the James Brown tune that kicks off this post. Which just goes to show, what goes around comes around.

 

Double Nugget, Hard-to-find, Sampled

Soul Brothers

Siblings in soul is, as Tom Jones might say, not that unusual. The Isley Brothers weren’t so-called for nothing, ditto the Family Stone, with Sly fronting a band including his brother Freddie and sister Rose.

Erma and Aretha Franklin both developed singing careers from a church background. Their father was a travelling preacher, a pop star in his own right who’d go from town to town raising hell with his fire and brimstone sermons before his daughters raised the roof with their pure gospel. Big sister Erma would go on to have a hit with ‘Take A Little Piece Of My Heart‘, but it was Aretha who went on to far greater success. You may have heard of her.

Then you had the Jackson Sisters and, no relations, a whole hairy-headed handful of brothers in the Jackson 5, who had expired long before Michael would climb the charts all over again, duetting with little sister Janet.

There are loads more, of course, but to acknowledge them all would turn this article into a listathon, and who wants that?

One of the more interesting musical family rivalries was that of the Butler brothers. Big brother Jerry was a songwriter chiefly, but a decent crooner in his own right. Like many of his ilk, he found his voice via gospel and actually ended up being the lead vocalist in the Curtis-free first line-up of The Impressions. Mayfield certainly made the bigger, er, impression, as Jerry and his voice were soon dispatched to make way for Curtis and his distinct vocals.

jerry butler

Most of Jerry Butler’s tracks never get out of 2nd gear; shiny-suited and highly pompadoured mid-paced mushy love songs that were expertly delivered, easy on the ear  and admired by many. To me, he’s a bit too wallpaper, ie, he’s there, but kinda in the background and unnoticed. This track from 1968’s ‘The Ice Man Cometh‘ LP though is a stone-cold classic.

Jerry ButlerNever Gonna Give You Up

Wee brother Billy on the other hand favoured up-tempo soul stompers. In an act of how-to-piss-off-your-brother-pettiness, his early material was produced by Curtis Mayfield. Loud, in your face, driving brass-led blasters were his speciality.

billy butler

In the mid 60s, Billy had a hit with ‘The Right Track‘, a dazzling slice of Temptations-inspired northern soul. You can take any meaning you fancy from the lyrics – ‘I’m gonna keep on steppin’, never lookin’ back, I believe I’m on the right track‘ could be the rallying cry of a manifesto-wielding civil rights supporter, but it could also be the rallying cry of the weekend mod and his pals, pilled-up and looking for a good night out. Take yer pick.

The Right Track‘ has it all; clipped guitar, blasting horns, a piano riff absolutely ripe for sampling and, with Billy outta the traps like a talcum-covered whippet, all over and done with in under 2 and a half explosive minutes.

Who disnae like this, eh?

Billy ButlerThe Right Track

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