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Rod Hunter

November 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Rod Hunter was a bit of a mystery man.  His version of Soul Makossa goes for big bucks, but we know little about the man/group.  Possibly French, his/their first claim to fame was a version of Gershon Kingsley’s classic “Popcorn” which had been made into a US hit by the group Hot Butter.

Kingsley’s original version might have invented ambient techno, but it was also set to a fairly music-hall-ish beat – making it simultaneously ahead of its time and a relic.  More of their era in both regards are the Hot Butter and Rod Hunter versions, and both are more similar than different.  They were even released the same year (1972), with Hot Butter’s version conquering most of the world, and the mysterious Mr. Hunter taking the lead in France and Turkey (at a minimum).

As for the differences, I’d say Hot Butter’s is a bit more novelty (owing to the pizzacato/wood block melody), but it also includes some great real drums and a pretty awesome mellotron.  Rod Hunter’s sounds like it was made entirely by androids in a secret lab on a Doctor-Who-ish quarry planet.  It might lose a bit of the organic feel of the Hot Butter version, but the quirkiness is off the charts.  When I reach for “Popcorn” I almost always choose the Hunter version, but it’s more of a personal choice than anything else.

I found this Turkish single pressing in a shop in Istanbul – it has a graphic art sleeve which is unfortunately quite beat up, so I’ve not yet scanned it.  It is in mono, but probably just a folded-down version of the stereo track.

[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/16170967-508.mp3]

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Categories: Funky, Pop

One of the most uplifting songs ever.

November 14, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m not a gospel guy necessarily, I need a little of the gutter thrown into my church music usually (a la Ray Charles).  But there are exceptions, and I can think of no worthier exception than this cover of Archie Bell and the Drells’ “(There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown.”  The Rance Allen Group were lead by one of the most charismatic singers of the era, with a range that would make Jackie Wilson blush, and a band behind him that could (in the immortal words of Donald “Duck” Dunn) turn goat piss into gasoline.  “Showdown” is somewhat of an anomaly in the Rance Allen catalog – the “Best Of” collection that I have isn’t filled with rave-ups, and actually a good number of the tracks are a bit boring.  And considering how poky the original Archie Bell track is (ironically!), the idea to speed it up must have come from within the group*.  Wonder what possessed them (ha!) to change it up.

At any rate, the result is pure brilliance no matter your religious convictions.  I find the track oddly sunny considering the (added for this version) dark lyrical content – in fact if you just let it wash over you, the effect is quite opposite to the stark warnings about the end of the world.  Kind of like a goth “Higher and Higher.”

Provenance: I used the BEST OF RANCE ALLEN GROUP version (CD) for a variety of reasons.  First, my copy at right is absolutely TRASHED.  Second, I have a UK Stax copy as well, but it turns out that the track is one of the harder tracks to master.  It has a lot of weird peaks that would necessitate some compression along the way.  Not sure how they got it onto vinyl in the first place, but I’ve left it to the pros to get it into digital this time around.  N.B. The track seems to speed up throughout, and I’m not sure if that’s bad mastering or on the tape.

[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/16170753-f6f.mp3]

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*The other famous cover of “Showdown” is by the New York Dolls, whose emphasis was clearly on sleaze, not speed – and I believe followed the Allen version by several years.

**bought for mere cents in Philadelphia the first time I went – then I bought the “Best Of” CD on a subsequent visit.  Philadelphia and Rance Allen, a match made in (groan) heaven.

Categories: Funky, Gospel

Talko – Psyko Flash

November 14, 2011 Leave a comment

clutterriffic!

Originally posted April 13 2010 – some edits to content and new link.

Vocoder!!! I love vocoder. I understand it’s somewhat overused in today’s hip-hop. Sadly, being that I tend to pay attention to hip-hop only when someone else points it out for me, I can’t say I’ve been burnt by its overdeployment (which I guess is good, in the end).
Given that information on Talko is relatively scarce (according to discogs, they put out three records in the 1983-1984 time period), I’ll concentrate on what scored me this record: Digging.

See photo at right: if you look closely, piled on the floor and clearly a second class citizen to the mighty book, are records.  This place, in downtown Sydney, had thousands of them.  And mostly it was a thrift store-y kind of collection – you know, with lots of Mantovani and Mitch Miller Sings Christmas albums (the kind of music your grandparents had in their record collections, in and amongst the classical).

But there’s something extra satisfying about digging through piles like that.  The thought that other record nerds might not have gone through the piles is always foremost on my mind.  Which leads to the second satisfaction – the sheer thrill of finding a gem amongst the stuff that should have been thrown in the dumpster ages ago.

Of course, you have to deal with a high signal-to-noise ratio to do real digging outside of a record store context.  Record stores are generally well-collated but usually (with notable exceptions) the people who price know what they’re doing.  Unless you’re going into a really bizarre genre, deals are hard to come by.  (This problem has been driven into my skull living in Switzerland, where good deals are completely few and far between, to the point that normal-high NYC prices now seem like bargains by comparison.)

So we ran across this store quite randomly in Sydney, and naturally I didn’t have my portable player with me, since it was vacation and I’m too lazy to bring it along anywhere.**   And I didn’t have time to go through everything since, you know, I was on vacation (and probably on my way to lunch).  But in the one pile I did have time to go through, I found 3 12″ singles worthy of purchase.  Talko’s magnum opus is the best of the three.

[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/16170023-6d0.mp3]

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** P.S. – a portable is the best defense against taking fliers on random records and being disappointed, but they’re not cheap – get a rich uncle to give one to you for xmas.  But first make sure you like to dig – if dusty piles don’t appeal on some level, you won’t get enough use out of it.  Or you could leave it at work like I do for extra nerd cred…?

P.P.S. – I used a picture of the original Italian label for the metadata, but this record came on an Australian Carrere/RCA pressing.  It looks more or less like a French Carrere label.

Categories: Italo Disco

Meatier man?

November 14, 2011 Leave a comment

I find Dee D. Jackson’s “Meteor Man” hilarious, but it’s also a fine example of the catchiness of Italo Disco (or chart pop in that style) at its best.  Part of the reason it succeeds is that it’s structured exactly like a normal, non-disco song – more specifically, it sounds like something The Shocking Blue would have cooked up after “Venus” except with more electronic drums.  Or maybe Stevie Nicks if she had taken a few mushrooms along with her coke.  Clearly no normal femme-rock-balladeer would sing about a guy from space – but substitute something else for “Meteor” and you have a winner in any era with any production style.

As for the specific things to love about the production, beyond the clearly excessive but perfect electronic drums?  The ethereal background vocals?  The call and response “I had the fire in my eyes?”  The synthy sped-up oompah beat?  The processed acoustic guitar chords (given their tangential relationship to the beat, I wonder if Julian Casablancas had a copy of this single at his boarding school)?  The soft bleepy bloopy background tones during the chorus – which have basically become shorthand for “space and stuff?”   RIGHT on the border of musically legitimate and self-parody, which is a great place to hang out if you can.

Dee D. had success with the previous “Automatic Lover” (which was subsequently out-robot-sexed by the cover version from Sylvia, not to mention the similarly-themed Electra’s “Are You Automatic”), but would quickly lose the quirky charms in favor of generic popitude.

[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/16169952-41b.mp3]

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Coming soon: a comprehensive posting about disco songs about Star Wars and video games – NerDisco!

Categories: Dance, Pop