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Archive for May, 2010

The grandaddy of Michael McDonald parodies

May 20, 2010 Leave a comment

From SCTV, which was NBC’s Friday equivalent of SNL in the early 80s (and nearly replaced it, if what I’ve read is correct).  Made in Canada, it was an offshoot of the Second City comic groups that also spawned a high percentage of SNL actors (from all eras), as well as Steve Carrell, Steven Colbert, etc.

The clip features Rick Moranis, first as Gerry Todd, the original VJ (even before MTV had launched), then as latter-day Doobies frontman and ubiquitous background singer Michael McDonald.  It’d be hard to judge by Honey I Shrunk The Kids, but Moranis is a hilarious dude – even the famous Strange Brew (which spun off of a filler SCTV skit) doesn’t show off his comic talents as well as SCTV does.

**If you haven’t seen Yacht Rock, you should go there next.  It is clearly a spiritual descendant of this skit.

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Categories: Pop, TV

This is what bass sounds like in paradise…

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

OK, maybe if you’re not a bass freak, you might think this is overkill of a kind.  The bass is way more prominent in the mix than any other element, especially lead vocals.  It is UNUSUAL, compared to most recorded music of the era (or any era).  Were the Chi-Lites actually bass freaks, or is there something else at work here?

Not sure about the ‘Lites proclivities at the low end.  But this IS what well-recorded bass on a master tape can sound like (though many mixes don’t give it as prominent a place at the table).  Why, then, don’t more songs/albums sound like this?

Let me educatedly speculate on one reason: alarmingly often in the mastering phase some “thinning” or other adulteration of the bass takes place.  If I recall correctly, the debasing (ha) took place originally (or at least after recording technology became good enough to reproduce bass sounds well) because too much bass (or treble) could fry the cutterhead of the lathe – the machine that cuts the grooves into the lacquer, which is used to mold the record.  This was not true of the more modern lathes – but the practice continued throughout the record era because really big bass could pop a cheap turntable needle out of the record groove (depending on your turntable this might not have taken much anyway, hence why millions of people insisted on destroying their records by putting a penny on the end of the tonearm).

While I’m out on a bit of a record nerd tangent, let me also tell you that there are technical grounds for putting the bass in the center of the stereo image instead of on one side or the other – a stereo record is “cut” with a vertical/horizontal groove.  Stereo-only information – meaning sound that doesn’t appear in both channels/the middle – is stored on the horizontal axis.  If you put heavy bass all the way the hell to one side takes more space to cut (wider grooves), meaning you can’t put as many minutes on each side of the LP.  (Nearly needless to say it is also yet harder for your BSR record changer to track.)  This wasn’t a problem for mono, which obviously had no stereo information and thus only recorded on the vertical axis anyway.  OK, enough nerding – someday I’ll fill you in on how a lathe “computer” determines how big the grooves are – you know, for fun and excitement!

What does all this mean to the artist and/or record company?  Well, for Brunswick Records, in this case it meant if you had released the wonderful “24 Hours Of Sadness” in the form that I present here**, you would be getting a lot of returns and complaints. Which nobody wanted, one supposes, but particularly not the record industry, who aren’t known for putting artistic ideas like putting BIG BASS in the mix over commercial interests.***

So I present to you this fantastic track as a means of evaluating the bass on other records or CDs in your life, and also because it is an amazing, bouncy example of dancefloor funk-soul that would certainly make any discerning crowd happy.  This song is only currently in print on an expensive(-in-the-USA) import compilation of half of the Chi-Lites’ Brunswick output.  This MP3 comes from the BEST OF THE CHI-LITES compilation on Kent UK from 1987.

download

**This is NOT the same mix that appears on the GIVE IT AWAY LP.  Not sure what the provenance actually is, but it’s worth noting that the Kent compilation does admit to using the “best sounding” tapes over the actual single/LP mixes.  The actual LP mix can be found (ripped from the LP) on the internet elsewhere; I’ll just say it’s a lot more…ethereal.

***Another tangent about record companies guarding/expanding revenue at the expense of artistic intent: stereo was widely adopted partly because record companies could charge an extra dollar for stereo product – when they didn’t have a stereo mix and didn’t have (or didn’t want to spend the time making) one, they used a one of a few processes whose end result was usually called “electronic stereo” by the record companies and “fake stereo” by record nerds.   The most common process divided the frequency range and pushed the high end to one side and the low end to the other.  “See, it’s stereo – different stuff in the two speakers!” said the record huckster – an all time great fraud and I’ll bet your grandparents and parents didn’t even know.  Example: Pet Sounds, the last important mono-only recording, was was only available in fake stereo for quite a number of years.  From a sound perspective, 99.9% of fake stereo records are worthless and ought to be recycled for oil, so don’t get caught at the record shop paying more than a buck for one.

Categories: Funky

Dirty Harry

May 17, 2010 Leave a comment

I don’t know if you’ve all seen the movie Dirty Harry – it’s very entertaining reactionary propaganda, one of Clint Eastwood’s most iconic roles, and (most importantly in the context of this blog) one of Lalo Schifrin’s finest scores.

I’m not going to post the whole score, although I suppose I could since the original mix/version is out of print (OOP).  Actually a lot of the original Schifrin scores like Bullitt and Enter The Dragon are OOP, which is a shame – back in 2002 I was buying them up like mad as they got reissued on Warner Brothers France (if you’re looking for them, they all have covers similar to the picture shown).

I’m going to post this “single version” instead, which comes from the also-out-of-print compilation MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE…AND MORE! – THE BEST OF LALO SCHIFRIN 1962-1972 on Motor Music (a division of Universal Germany).  It’s an odd little compilation.  I bought it around the same time as the other soundtracks and was a bit disappointed – it’s really a mishmash of different stuff with no unifying theme.

First, instead of fully embracing the TV/Movie thing, Motor padded out the running time with quite a few tracks from Schifrin’s Bossa Nova past.  Which is fine if you take it on a track by track basis but late 60’s TV and movies don’t necessarily sit well next to “Girl From Ipanema”-ish cuts from before jazz got really funky.

Second, a lot of the rest of the CD is made up of tracks from the 2-3 Mission: Impossible LPs released by Dot concurrent with the series’ original run.  Fine, but aren’t there enough of these for a specific release?

Third, the last track is Jimmy Smith covering Lalo’s Mission: Impossible theme.  Which is a nice tribute I guess, and the version is great, but…isn’t this a Schifrin album?

Problems notwithstanding, there are some standout cuts unavailable anywhere else – like this version of the “Dirty Harry” soundtrack, condensed neatly into a two and three-quarters minute summary of most of what makes his full soundtrack great.

download

Categories: Funky, Jazz

You Shook Me All Night Long – yes, there is a dance version.

May 14, 2010 Leave a comment

There are so many great things I’ve discovered since starting to dig into the dance genre.  Two of them are represented in the video.  First, the awesome Slingshot cover of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

Second, of course, is “The Scene,” from which this video comes.  A low-rent, multiracial Detroit dance music “Soul Train,” The Scene would have been programmed into my Tivo permanently – and, in fact, I think they should bring it back.  Who needs a dance contest?  Just get a bunch of hipsters at a dance party to sashay on camera and slap it on NY1 at midnight.  The rest will be history!

note 7/2012: the video was taken down.  Here’s a youtube recording of the record, and (below) a local news story on the history of “The Scene.”  Hope the DVD’s are coming, because that was a brilliant clip.

Categories: Dance, Irony, Italo Disco, TV

Keil Isles – If You Wanna Be Happy

May 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I was in Christchurch New Zealand recently and spent some time digging through piles of 45’s at a record store around the corner from Cartel Bar.  I kept coming across a group called the Keil Isles – figuring, due to the seeming age of the records (on the local Viking label), that they were an early rock group from the area.  When I came across a 45 with a cover of “If You Wanna Be Happy” I knew I had my prize of the day.

The Jimmy Soul version of the song, while not “original,” is the originator of the arrangement presented here (the original is a calypso from the 1930s by a guy called Roaring Lion).  Jimmy and I have a somewhat tortured history.  I first heard the song years ago on some random web page, but it was identified as being the Skatalites – naturally I searched for the Skatalites’ version for quite some time (shades of my search for Ronnie and the Ramblers!).  Eventually I found the original webpage and downloaded the poor quality MP3 – better than nothing.  (Not sure why I didn’t just search for the song name, duh.)

Then I found this 45 in NZ – leading me to a renewed search and Ace UK’s collection of Jimmy Soul’s greatest hits (none up to par of “If You Wanna Be Happy” I’m afraid).  All was right in the end.

The Keil Isles were one of the biggest early rock groups in New Zealand, according to their double CD collection (available on Amazon).  Funnily enough, it was started by Samoan immigrants who played together at their Mormon wardhouse.  The CD booklet says they leveraged Mormon connections to the USA to get up-to-date equipment sent to NZ.  I wasn’t under the impression that late 50’s-early 60’s Mormons were all that keen on promoting rock music, judging by the remains of their record collections at the DI.  I guess the rules for the outposts must have been different than the mothership.

And speaking of the home territories, Herma Keil (whose name sits atop the group’s on this release) later wound up living in Utah (home of a lot of other Mormon Samoan immigrants).  Picking up the 45 in Christchurch, I had no idea the story would lead back home.  Go figure!

Of the song’s potentially antifeminist theme I can only say “it could be worse.”  I don’t think it’s meant to be offensive, more a condemnation of vanity and selfishness.  The sentiment could surely be coarser: see the Cash Money Marvelous version, in which one of the reasons given is “messing around” without consequence.

The track itself is a bit slower than the Jimmy Soul version, and has a “party” segment in the middle that sounds spliced in at the front.  Do you think they realized they only had a minute and a half song and tried to stretch it out?  Other than that they do a pretty good job imitating the Church Street Five production style (thick and thumpy).  Having listened through the 2CD collection, I’m comfortable saying this is my favorite track of theirs.  Although there’s one more CD out in NZ only which seems to have a better track listing, neither CD has this track on it.  Hope you enjoy!

download

Categories: Calypso, Rock

Free your mind and your ass will follow…

May 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Occasionally I succeed in imposing my musical will on groups of others – sometimes they even like it!  One such case was my providing of Parliament’s MOTHERSHIP CONNECTION album for some parties during a summer I spent on The Esteemed Institution’s campus.  This was pre-MP3 player so I must have literally toted the CD over and popped it in the boombox, late in a beirut-filled evening, but who can remember the details?

Bottom line, by the end of the summer I was fielding requests for the album – probably never happened before that.  Thank Dre for G-Funk – I think everyone knowing the samples really eased the transition.

This isn’t a MOTHERSHIP CONNECTION post but you should own that anyway.  This one comes to you from planet MAGGOT BRAIN – you should also have that**, but I’m willing to cut you some slack in the case that funk is not your all-consuming interest in life.  Even though you’re wrong.

The P-Funk artist identity here is Funkadelic, and while a lot of Funkadelic’s existence was due to the fact that George Clinton lost the rights to the name “The Parliaments,” it is somewhat the case that Funkadelic’s albums evince a more psychedelic, guitar-heavy, Hendrix-influenced funk – contrasting with Parliament’s slower, mellower groove (NB: mostly the same musicians – more horns in Parliament).  Put it this way – Dre wasn’t sampling “Maggot Brain” for THE CHRONIC because they mixed the band out to focus on the Jimi-eat-your-heart-out guitar solo.  Can’t really loop that shit, yo.

It’s tough to choose between “Can You Get To That” and “Hit It And Quit It” as they’re both so good – early enough in P-Funk’s funky career to retain some Motown-northern soul veneer (befitting their roots as a vocal group a la The Impressions), while hinting at the complete stoned-ness of their participants and the blunted, cartoony songs their addled (genius) brains would later produce.  Both tracks (as well as “Super Stupid,” which sounds exactly like Jimi in the Band of Gypsies era) are staples of my party mixes.

Can’t decide.  In the words of the late, lamented Frank Lapidus, “Aw, hell.”  Here’s both.

download can you get to that

download hit it and quit

**This album is in print on CD – I promise next time to provide something rarer.

Categories: Funky, Rock

Archangels Thunderbird

May 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Once upon a time I was in college.  And after my first year at That Esteemed Institution was a dismal and horrid near-failure, I decided to re-evaluate my academic priorities and resume the German language classes I had abandoned after my junior year in high school.  Good decision on many levels in retrospect, the consequences of which include, not least, my entire current life.  At the time though I was just another slacker bemoaning the fact that the class met on Friday.

Anyway, there was a project assigned that I somehow transmuted into an investigation of 1970’s German art rock.  (I very much think that was a stretch, topic-wise, and I suspect my prof did as well.)  Research was a bit more difficult, being that blogs and wikipedia hadn’t been invented yet. but somehow I scrubbed through with only a few errors (one notable one was writing that the Belgian group Front 242 was German – oops).

Fortunately, being that this was the pinnacle of the original Napster era (according to Wikipedia, usage peaked in February 2001, which was the middle of the academic year in question), I had no trouble downloading my target bands once I’d identified them.  Kraftwerk, Can, Faust and Amon Düül II – all bands that I’d never really encountered in suburban Utah (even with Mark Prindle’s help) – were now available at no charge to this extremely skint college student (thanks to the DVD era exploding in 1999 I’d already discovered the joys of credit card debt).  Which was awesome.

I don’t consider Amon Düül II (sprung off of an art collective which also released a couple records called Amon Düül – should have renamed themselves) the best of the bands I named above.  In fact they’re probably 3rd on that list of 4 – Kraftwerk and Can would duke it out for the top spot.
This makes it ideal that I present to you Amon Düül II’s best song – you won’t be missing a vast, deep catalog (Can) or some of the most influential antecedents to current dance and hip-hop music (Kraftwerk).  Archangels Thunderbird, a classic fuzz-stoner rock track with a huge breakbeat, is the one to own if you only own one.

This song is taken directly from the original German Liberty LP.  There’s also a 7″ single pressing which I don’t have, as well as numerous other countries’ pressings.  Just by cursory comparison the Repertoire CD digipac from the early 2000s has, compared to the LP, a little too much more in the high frequencies for my taste (possibly to bring the vocals out of the murk, though I’m not sure why you’d necessarily want to do that).**  The LP certainly casts it more in a Black Sabbath-y stoner rock vein, with the vocals eerily low in the mix – I think that suits the material better, not to mention it’s more historically accurate.

I’m reproducing the entire LP cover art here as well – it’s too wierd not to share. I might write a bit more on this later, but if you look at the lower-left-hand part of the second image (back cover), you’ll see that Liberty/United Artists Records was a part of the Transamerica conglomerate. Transamerica – the insurance company with the iconic building in San Francisco. Don’t suppose the guys at the head office knew what their German subsidiary were releasing – or it’s the best example of not micromanaging in history.

download

**If you want more Amon Düül II I wouldn’t let that stop you from ordering it, though. Or maybe there’s a better CD version somewhere.

Categories: Rock