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.

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.

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, Sampled

Good Felas

What a shitty few weeks. The previous post below will fill you in if you’re an infrequent visitor. Thanks for taking the time to leave your comments. I read them all, even if I couldn’t face replying. Truly, thanks.

Anyway, what better way to get back on track than by digging out some slick Nigerian Afrobeat from 1977?

fela kuti

Fela Kuti is a real musicians’ musician. A multi-instrumentalist, equally at home on sax, keys, trumpet, drums….you name it, between 1960 and his death in 1997 he was responsible for around 60 LP releases. Perhaps only The Fall would appear to be able to top that. Much like The Fall, many of his albums are live affairs. A few are also dubious-looking compilations of indeterminate origin. Amongst the regular studio recordings, there are whole LPs of collaborations with other musicians (‘Stratavarious‘ with Ginger Baker, ‘Music Of Many Colours‘ with Roy Ayers.)  All Fela’s albums are tight and taut, superbly played and full of meandering grooves underneath the politicised lyrics.

In the 70s, Fela changed his middle name. Ransome, he said, was a slave name.  And Fela was nobody’s slave. He was a folk singer. The Nigerian equivalent of Woody Guthrie, singing the songs of the ordinary man.  He took to singing in his own unique pidgin English as a way of ensuring Africans throughout the continent would understand his message – they all spoke in their own native tongue, but they also all understood basic English. He sang of the barbaric Nigerian Government and had a smash hit (‘Zombie‘) on the back of it. This resulted in him barely surviving with his life after a severe beating from government flunkies whilst his studio was burned to the ground. More than just a fly in the ointment, Fela galvanised his fellow countrymen into action, a real anti-establishment hero.

fela kuti 2

Fela’s music is terrific. There’s a real discipline to the playing. Much of it is simple and  repetitive. The musicians could easily break out and rattle off a little lick or two, and sometimes they do. His brass section in particular (sometimes just Fela) are fond of the odd up-the-garden-path solo. But mostly to Fela, the rhythm is King. It’s a bit like Can at their grooviest – hypnotic, shamanistic, designed to subconsciously affect the limbs. Feet will tap. Hips will sway. Heads will bob. Before you know it you’ll be on your feet and wondering how you got there.

1977’s Sorrow, Tears and Blood LP is typical of his work at the time. The title track formed the entire first side, a relentless guitar ‘n sax-led tour de force, all polyrhythms and funk bass, lightly toasted with electric piano.

Fela KutiSorrow, Tears And Blood

Atop the non-stop one chord groove is a lyric worthy of Joe Strummer at his authority-baiting best;

Everybody run….Police they come….Army they come….confusion everywhere…..someone nearly died….Police don’t go away….Army don’t disappear….them leave sorrow, tears and blood….

Fela’s work is absolutely ripe for sampling and reinterpretation. Mr Mendel has done this excellent remix of Sorrow, Tears And Blood:

Fela KutiSorrow, Tears And Blood (Mr Mendel mix)

fe la soul

….and a couple of years ago, someone came up with the brilliant concept of Fe La Soul, where they took the Daisy Agers raps and placed them on top of Fela’s funkiest fills. There are whole albums of the stuff if you look in all the right places. Here‘s one of my favourites;

Fe La SoulItsoweezee

….and no doubt inspired by the relentless, driving grooves of Fela, during the sessions for 1980’s Remain In Light, Talking Heads recorded Fela’s Riff, a terrific piece of instrumental New York, new wave funk. I really need to do a Talking Heads feature at some point…

t heads