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New UK hip hop

I am planning an official relaunch of this blog soon, so anyone who wants to contribute please give me a shout.

In the meantime, here’s some great contemporary British music that we could roughly place in the rap or hip hop category, although only if we stretch it a bit. What I like about all these tracks is that they draw strength from the specificity of their local voices, in an age when mainstream hip hop artists typically mime an imaginary version of global blackness located somewhere in the United States.

Loki

Loki (aka Darren McGarvey) a Scottish rapper from Glasgow with an awesome way with words. This is

Trim

Trim is from London E3, the home of grime. This track, pronounced “Hashtag Kanye West”, is really smart and dark.

Jister

Jister is an MC from Middleborough in the Northeast. Here’s his “Catharsis”, with some great rhymes over some nice Digable Planets style lazy jazz beats.

I love his cover of the Arctic Monkeys’ “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High”, far better from the original.

Dr Syntax

Dr Syntax is based in Manchester but comes straight outta rural North Oxfordshire. His “Middle Class Problems” is a little close to home. I particularly love the verse about quinoa.

 

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How to make a Beck song part 2

Last year I penned a blog post called How to make a Beck song which pieced together the four songs that Beck sampled in order to create his song Where it’s at. This time I will look at the three songs he used to make Sissyneck, from his album Odelay.

First he took the whistling from Dick Hyman’s song The Moog and Me:

Hyman worked primarily as a classical musician, later using big jazz elements into his piano playing. In the 1960s he started experimenting with the Moog synthesiser, recording albums with mixed original compositions and cover versions. His song The Minotaur, from The Electric Eclectics album, charted in the US top-40, becoming the first Moog single hit.

After whistling, Beck needed a bassline. He took the one from the chord change at 01:08 from the song A Part of Me by Country Funk.

After the bassline was sorted, by the Dust Brothers who arranged the Beck song, an organ was needed. For this, Sly Stone’s organ playing was sourced, from the song Life by Sly Stone and the Family.

Eagle eared (?) listeners will notice that the moments leading up to 00:20 of the song has the organ sample that Beck used to complement the bassline for the verse of the song.

And there we have it. Those things together, mixed up a bit, does Sissyneck create:

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Woefully underrated: The Delta 72

Formed in Washington DC in 1994 the Delta 72 had much in common with their brothers in arms (and much better known) Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.  Both bands had a passionate love of black music, the former with soul and the latter with blues.

The Delta 72

The Delta 72

Neither were mere copyists, soul and blues may have formed the heart of their music but both managed to successfully combine these styles with their own distinctive brand of punk rock ‘n’ roll.

As Jon Spencer sang in ‘Talk About The Blues‘ :

Rolling Stone magazine, Coming on the phone, baby
Talk about that fashion, Haa!
I don’t play no blues
I play rock and roll
The blues is number one ladies and gentlemen but there’s something I gotta tell you right now
I play rock and roll
Yeah, that’s right baby, come on momma
I feel so motherfucking good

The lyrics were partly a jab at Spencer’s bête noire Eric Clapton but they make a good point, ‘we are white boys, we love black music but we play rock ‘n’ roll’, no pretence, straight up and honest.

This track, ‘I Feel Fine‘ from the 3rd album, 000, gives a good idea of the Delta 72 sound:

Anyway, this piece is not about the Blues Explosion. I’m just trying to get something across here, not sure how well I’m doing it, time for another beer I think (goes to fridge).

So, the Delta 72 made a furiously good punk-rock-soul sound, underpinned largely by a big hammond organ sound and Gregg Foreman’s vocals.  They released three albums, one (‘The Soul of a new Machine’) with liner notes written by John Sinclair, manager of the MC5 and founder member of the revolutionary group the White Panther Party.

Here’s some of what Sinclair had to say about the band:

It is a hell of an undertaking to which the band called Delta 72 has committed itself: bringing the roll & soul of classic rhythm & blues back into modern rock…

Not that Delta 72 is some kind of Blues Brothers act for the end of the century, slavishly aping the heroic soul singers and their elaborate backing bands in the sort of post-modern minstrel show now popular in places like the House of Blues and mainstream campus bars.

No, it’s not like that at all: the stripped-down rock & roll ensemble called Delta 72 is instead engaged in a serious struggle to make a singular form of musical expression inspired as much by the rhythms & blues that gave birth to the modern idiom as by the popular music they hear around them today.

I had the good fortune of seeing the band on their only (as far as I know) UK tour.   The gig was at the Garage in Highbury, London, a dirty, sweaty little dive, kinda perfect for the band.  They played like maniacs, I’ve rarely seen such a performance.  You can get an idea of what they were like live here:

So, why didn’t they make it big?  Are they underrated because they are obscure or obscure because they are underrated?   It’s a difficult question to answer, maybe they were just the right band at the wrong time.

Or perhaps, as Lou Reed once said, ‘maybe you know, it’s just called bad luck’.

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Underrated: Bobby Darin

[This post is a stolen guest post by the great Jim Denham, of Shiraz Socialist - stolen from the comments here, with audio-visual added by me. - B.]

Bobby Darin would be my suggestion for an “underrrated” artist. Not entirely forgotten, obviously: his hard-swinging, key-changing ‘Mack The Knife’ still tuns up on pub juke boxes, but most folks these days don’t know who he was and/or mistake him for Sinatra.

I’m told, by the way, that Sinatra hated him, which suggests that Darin must have been an OK human being as well as a fine singer. And whilst Darin could out-Sinatra Sinatra on the Great American Song Book, he (Darin) could also turn in a crditable R&B, Rock’n’Roll and (towards the end) politically orientated Love’n’ Peace semi-folk (as “Bob Darin”) performance. Come to think of it, that’s probably the main reason Sinatra hated him.

To quote from the booklet notes (by one Joseph F. Laredo) to my only Darin CD (recommended: Capitol ‘Spotlight On…Bobby Darin’, 1995), “How can it be in a world where doddering tyrants hold entire nations under their thumb for decades that an awsome talent like Bobby Darin, so transcendentally capable of imparting joy and happiness to millions, was only given 37 years to strut his stuff? Surely if there was any justice at all, spontaneous combustion would be an occupational hazard common to dictators and Bobby Darin would today be well on his way to being a finger-snapping, toe-tapping sexagenarian.”

[So, here he is, singing “I’m Beginning to See the Light (Duke Ellington, Don George, Johnny Hodges, Harry James) followed by hom in folk protest mode.

Apologies to Jim if you’d have chosen totally different songs.]

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The Friday mixtape relaunched

On music blogging

A great post by John Eden on ten years of blogging, nicely captures a wonderful moment, now passing.

The race politics of noise

Down with the king: black folks and Elvis (for Elvis’ 78th birthday).

Jew-ish music

Bert Berns’ Seven Year Itch. Richard Hell for Hannukah.

Alterglobal

1980s Kuwati pop. Music between cultures. Mento in the UK in the 1950s. Kyu Sakamoto on the jukebox.

Music of resistance

Turkish pianist and composer, charged with blasphemy for his tweets. Los Macs, Chilean leftist baroque psych rock heroes of the 1970s. Nine protest songs for 2012. Mali’s music fighting back against Islamist puritanism and brutality 1 and 2.

Jazz Is…

…Treme: Funeral Scene & Second Line. …Jim Godbolt. …dirt, grime and sadness.

Food music

Dumplins.

Completism

Inside Llewyn Davis.

Shopping

His Master’s Voice goes silent.

Music from Bob’s misspent youth

Half Man Half Biscuit “The Referree’s Alphabet”. Banco de Gaia “Last Train to Lhasa”. The Long Ryders “Final Native Son”.

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Underrated songs: “Stayin’ Alive”

“Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees might not appear to qualify as an underrated song, as it was an enormous hit and remains a staple of cheesy disco nights, office parties and hen parties the world over. But I think it is underrated as a piece of music.

First of all, the lyrics are just brilliant, with their ambiguous reflections on urban survival and on sexuality and masculinity, echoing the complex depiction of urban working class maleness of the film Saturday Night Fever they were written for. Musically, it is also superb, with the Barry Gibb’s haunting falsetto, Maurice Gibb’s truly groovy bassline, and the robotic disco drum loop. The bassline comes from Betty Wright’s 1971 “Clean Up Woman”, which was written by Clarence Reid, aka Blowfly, one of the protogenitors of hip hop.

The loop was quite important in the history of music, coming about accidentally because of the death of drummer Dennis Byron’s mother in the middle of the song’s sessions: basically, they cut up a loop from another track of the album and used it temporarily while they recorded the rest of the song, but then realised how perfect it was by itself. You could say they helped give birth to hip hop, techno, jungle, and all the crap plastic pop music of the 1980s-2010s.

Here it is:

And here are the lyrics: Continue Reading »

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Underrated artists: Charlie McCoy

You may not have heard of Charlie McCoy, but you’ve most probably heard him. He’s one of the most prolific of Nashville session musicians.

One of his most well-known songs is Roy Orbison’s “Candy Man” (basically a gospel song about a girl, in the Ray Charles mode), which opens with the McCoy’s harmonica, giving the song a melancholy edge that lifts it into a special territory. The song was a million seller, but I believe McCoy, around twenty years old when it was recorded, only got a small wage for the session.

The nearest he had to a hit in his own name was a decade later, with “Today I Started Loving You Again”, which I think he wrote the lyrics to. The song was a bigger hit for the great Merle Haggard (with whom I associated the song for a long time).

I learnt of him via Bob Dylan, who first worked with him in 1965, on “Desolation Row”, for which McCoy provides an achingly lovely guitar, the sweetness of which complements the acidity of Dylan’s voice so well, making the song much more poignant. Dylan then went to Nashville to record Blonde on Blonde with McCoy. McCoy plays the trumpet on “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” (for which Dylan plays harmonica), giving it its weird fairground ambiance. McCoy also plays guitar on “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”. McCoy then played all of the bass guitar for John Wesley Harding and then (I think) several instruments on Nashville Skyline.

He’s done session work for everyone from Elvis to Ween, but his solo instrumental work is great. Here is his signature tune, “Orange Blossom Special”, a 1930s 12-bar blues-based bluegrass song, in which in which the harmonica basically plays the sound of the train that gives the song its name. McCoy also recorded it with Johnny Cash, who sang the lyrics and perhaps also over-emphasised the train  rhythms.

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