June 29, 2008
Soweto Never Sleeps: Classic Female Zulu Jive
I just posted about this record a few days ago, I recently found it on a trip to Dodd's Record Shop. It's great, I'm floored. Soweto Never Sleeps features the music of 4 different groups that created a fusion of African sounds/ language/ concerns and American and British R&B/ Soul/ Rock. All the music here comes from predominantly female South African groups of the 60's and 70's that as the liner notes say "lightened the dark years of the mid-seventies in Soweto and the other Black Townships of South Africa."
While most of the album sounds like it could be straight from Paul Simon's Graceland album (he apparently liked this music A LOT) there are a few songs that are a little funkier, with a little more soul and a bigger beat. I chose to include audio from tracks by The Mahotella Queens  and The Mgababa Queens which are musical cousins in way as members of the former group went on to form the later.
The Mahotella Queens- Umculo Kawupheli (1974)
A Mahotella Queens Clip from the BBC Documentary "African Music: The Rock and Roll Years"
The Mahotella Queens Mgoashiyo sound (indestructible beat) and the deep voiced "groaner" Simon "Mahlathini" Nkabinde made them one of the most popular groups in South Africa and many other African nations. The mix of Mahlathini and the sweet female vocals is magic. On one track included on Soweto Never Sleeps, Wozani Mahipi (The Hippies Come to Soweto), they take turns killing it over a straight up African funk track. The Mgababa Queens, however have more of a 60's English beat sound with organ and a little bit of jangle thrown in. Either way, all three tracks are infectious and a welcome addition to my very sparse understanding of African music.
June 26, 2008
ROCKIN' WITH TOM: Part 2- The Rector Family
Tom and I have similar sensibilities when it comes to music, even if we don't always like the same records. We love stuff that rocks hard (hence Rockin' With Tom) but are equally fascinated by records that most people would rather NOT listen to. This may be a by product of music overload; when you listen to so many records, the unusual sounds stick in your brain the most.
Tom is also my #1 source for local music and has quite a few newspaper articles, interviews and facts to flesh out the scene surrounding records. Sometimes, however, he comes up with something with no story at all. Like this 45 by local gospel group The Rector Family on TMBA (Trans-Michigan Broadcast Association) Records.
These sides definitely don't rock and, if you like your music to sound "good," you may want to just wait for the next post. For me the shrill/ growly vocals, religious lyrics and odd instruments, (glockenspiel, accordion and steel ukelele?) of the Rector Family are mesmerizing. You can just about hear the smile on the face of the little girl singing on both tracks. The deep voiced dude harmonizing with her (and another female voice) on the first side's "I'll Trust In Him" reminds me of Calvin Johnson (K Records owner and musician) and they sound great together. The instruments are played unprofessionally making the recording spontaneous, rough and raw. Both these tracks are slow, shrill and earnestly religious, get psyched.
SIDE 1- THE RECTOR FAMILY- "I'll Trust In Him"
SIDE 2- THE RECTOR FAMILY- "The King and I"
June 25, 2008
SCORE! Dodd's Record Shop (6/24/08)
I like to shop at Dodd's Record Shop here in Grand Rapids, but it can definitely be overwhelming. The stacks and bins and shelves are packed so tight that without some serious time to devote you are best off sticking to the new arrivals. Which is what I do most of the time.
I always go for the 12" bin and the 50 cent records first, and then browse the loosest of piles scattered toward the back. With luck, other customers have stirred things up a bit and there may be a gem or two floating around. Sometimes I come up with some great stuff (2 Shuggie Otis records for 50 cents each a few years ago). Yesterday a found a few gems, a Michigan rap record, a comp of South African Soul, a classic experimental synth-pop LP and some funky odds and ends.
By-the-way, if you are looking for any late 70's to mid 80's Iggy Pop (which I personally feel is boring as all get out), Dodd's has it right now.
V/A- Soweto Never Sleeps: Classic Female Zulu Jive (1986 Shanachie)
Sparks- Sparks in Outer Space
Laurie Anderson- O Superman EP (1981 Warner Brothers)
Connoisseurs of Groove- Reap and Destroy (1987 Flint Fresh City Partners)
50 Cent Records:
Milky Way- Chocolate Milk (1979 RCA)
Idris Muhammad- Boogie to the Top (1978 Kudu)
Slave- The Concept (1978 Cotillion)
Slave- Show Time (1981 Cotillion)
Johnny Guitar Watson- A Real Mother For Ya (1977 This Record Co)
Tower of Power- Back On The Streets (1979 Columbia)
Yellow Magic Orchestra- S/T Yellow Vinyl!!! (1979 A&M)
Prince- 1999 (1982 Warner Brothers)
June 19, 2008
(NOT ALL) DISCO SUCKS #1: Dinosaur
It's no secret to those who know me; I love Disco. I don't love it ironically either. Like with most genres, I like the weird stuff, the outliers and the under appreciated the most. Still, when Disco is mentioned, most people can't see beyond Saturday Night Fever, platform shoes and bell bottoms. Maybe a little history is in order.
It's widely accepted that Disco started in New York at the private dance parties David Mancuso threw in his home, which he called The Loft. The first party to be hosted there was held February 14, 1970 and called "Love Saves the Day." At The Loft Mancuso would play records on his audiophile-quality sound system (crafted to be one of the best in the world) for invited guests. At the time gay and lesbian people were often harassed and could be arrested in New York for dancing together in public, so The Loft was a sort of haven for them and all the other freaks without a home. It broke new dance songs regularly including the one considered to be the first disco track, Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa" .
The Loft existed in a legal gray area but since it was invite only and didn't sell food or drinks it was able to defend itself against the city's insistence that it apply for a cabaret license. Many people are unaware of the DIY independent spirit that birthed Disco. It was an exciting time of innovation and new sounds.
Many music styles popular today owe a ton to Disco. Hip Hop and any DJ oriented music is indebted to Disco for the rise of the DJ, the popularization of the remix and the invention of the 12" single. It was during these early days of the 70's when records and the people who could mix them became stars. DJs like Larry Levan, Shep Pettibone, Francis Grasso, Frankie Knuckles, Walter Gibbons, Nicky Siano and Tom Moulton ruled the clubs with their mixes. Moulton perhaps left the largest mark on the dance music industry inventing both the remix and the 12" single.
Most people, however, don't know the innovative, independent Disco. They know it as a mainstream phenomenon of the last few years of the 70s, all finger-pointing and crass commercialism . By the end of the decade, Disco had taken over. It was THE dominant music in many areas. Many radio stations moved from other formats to all Disco all the time and record companies made a fortune flooding the market with Disco records. Most of these records are just plain boring and indistinct from one another. The backlash was inevitable.
By the end of the 70's the country was over-saturated with Disco. Although not causing it's demise, the infamous July 12, 1979 "Disco Demolition Night" at Comiskey Park in Chicago marked its downturn in the mainstream. There was not much time left for Disco in America.
But that is fine by me. It was alive and well underground.
There are all kinds of records made from the early 70's to the early 80's that are considered Disco (or Disco-influenced) and are funky, original and weird. These are the records I love to find.
One of my favorites is Dinosaur's "Kiss Me Again" which features some of the characteristics most often associated with Disco: strings, four-on-the-floor drumbeat, and emotional female soul vocals. However, the strings are not some soulless orchestra, but the cello of musical genius Arthur Russell. The female vocals are affected, but they don't sound cheesy like in so many other Disco songs. Russell and legendary DJ Nicky Siano, two visionaries of dance music, produced the track and throughout its 12+ minutes, it grows and changes brilliantly. Oh, andDavid Byrne plays guitar on it too.
I found my copy at Corner Records in Grandville amongst a haul of amazingly pristine 70's and 80's promo 12"s. It was my personal mother-lode. This copy was probably never played and it sounds like gold. There are two versions of "Kiss Me Again" on this red vinyl promo 12" but since they are so long I just included my favorite side, the remix, "Kiss Me Again" (Version).
By-the-way, in 1984 another band would name themselves Dinosaur and after a little lawsuit decided they'd rather go by Dinosaur Jr.
If you are interested, check out YouTube for the documentary about Larry Levan and the beginnings of dance music/ Disco/ DJ culture called Maestro. I'm not under any delusion that I'll be able to convince anyone to love Disco as much as I do, but hopefully you can admit that (Not All) Disco Sucks.
June 16, 2008
SCORE! Encore Recordings (6/15/08)
A new feature for NICE!, SCORE! is a way for me to share the sweet hauls of kick-ass vinyl I find (or don't find). Plus, I think it is always interesting to see the sometimes unusual selection of records people buy.
I just picked this stuff up at Encore Recordings in Ann Arbor, a place I am frequenting more often now that my Dad is working in AA (Happy Father's Day Dad!).
PHILIP GLASS- The Photographer (1983 CBS Records)
PHILIP GLASS-Glassworks (1982 CBS Records)
LIL JON & EAST SIDE BOYZ feat. YING YANG TWINS- Get Low 12" (2003 TVT Records)
BER'NE THOMAS- Welfare Chek (4 Sight Records)
RJ's LATEST ARRIVAL- Body Snatcher/ Listen 12" (1981 Sutra Records)
CLIPSE- We Got The Remix EP (No Info)
LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY- Crash Goes Love 12" (1984 Streetwise Records)
MODERN JAZZ QUARTET- Pyramid (1952 (repress) Atlantic Records Stereo)
MODERN JAZZ QUARTET- Modern Jazz Quartet (1959 (repress) Atlantic Records)
June 11, 2008
ROCKIN' WITH TOM: Part 1- The Rattles
I have quite a bit of music knowledge in my old mind grapes, but I have to admit most of that delicious juice came from friends and fellow record nerds. I will try to give the credit to those people responsible for introducing me to stuff as I keep posting. Everyone loves a shout-out!
One of the many people I talk about/ listen to music with is Tom Shannon. I go over to his house and sit in his basement (it's an effing clubhouse of vinyl!) and we drink and share records. Every session is so full of possibilities. Boxes of 45s cover the floor and LPs are packed in shelves on the walls. Within reach are old punk zines, 45s, LPs, books, newspaper clippings, whatever you could need to while away 5 or 6 hours at a time. His knowledge of soul/garage/punk/rockabilly/blues is way deep and I have found some of my favorite tracks from our sessions. He also is a fountain of GR music wisdom and is not afraid to cold-call people straight out of the phonebook when he finds a weird local record. Then he goes over to the musician's houses and they give him stuff (sometimes).
I could post dozens of records that he has turned me on to, so I just chose one of my many favorites. These tracks are from a 45 by a German heavy rock band called The Rattles released in 1970.
When Tom first put on this record I was floored. The A side "The Witch" has weird lyrics ("Can you see the witch, can you see the witch, can you see the witch by my side?!!") revved up guitars and some spooky sounds/ violins/ kettle drums. When I did a little digging I was shocked to find out this song was sung by a woman (it really sounds like a dude singing falsetto to me!) and that it was a varified hit. They even went to Top of the Pops with it. And made some weird music films that unfortunately make the song seem cornier.  
SIDE A- THE RATTLES- The Witch
The B side is my favorite track here, though. Geraldine opens with some funky drums and an echoey piano. The lyrics are cheese (Geraldine, good lookin' lady!) but once the oboe (or is it bassoon?) busts in I don't even care. I am a sucker for unpredictable sounds and unusual instruments in music so the bassoon (or is it an oboe?) seals the deal for me and The Rattles.
Plus, check out this rad sleeve! (I took a photo of Tom's copy when I was over there, my copy is sleeveless.) I wonder if this sleeve ever sealed the deal that music was Satanic in some parent's mind?
June 8, 2008
Psych-Rock? How about Psych-Baseball?
Even though my first 3 real posts have been about records I always intended to blog about all kinds of stuff. Like LSD and baseball.
I am a baseball fan and currently writing an article about Vintage Base Ball teams in Grand Rapids. As part of my "research" I began googling and a search for "baseball controversy" yielded this golden nugget: on June 12, 1970 legendary pitcher Dock Ellis no-hit the San Diego Padres... on acid.
Ellis apparently thought he had the day off but after dropping a few hits he was informed by his girlfriend (who found out from reading the paper) that he had to pitch that night in San Diego. His girlfriend rushed him to the airport in time for the 3:30pm flight out of Pittsburgh, he landed at 4:30pm and arrived on time to pitch the first game of a double header at 6:05.
It wasn't until 1984 that he revealed that he was tripping on that day back in 1970, which was described more fully in an 1987 High Times article. On April 8, 1984 he describes the events of that day to the Los Angeles Times:
"The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. They say I had about three to four fielding chances. I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn't hit hard and never reached me."
This no-hitter was no total fluke, Ellis was a fantastic pitcher and had a great 1970 season. In his 12 year career he was 139 and 119 with a 3.46 ERA.
However, it was not the only moment of insane brilliance from his playing days. After feeling like his 1974 Pirates had lost their ferocity and were too easily intimidated by the Future-Hall-of-Famer-full Cincinnati Reds, he supposedly proclaimed before the game, "We gonna get down. We gonna do the do. I'm gonna hit these motherfuckers." He proceeded to open the game by pegging Pete Rose in the ribs, Joe Morgan in the side and Dan Driessen in the back. Clean-up hitter Tony Perez dodged the assault long enough to claim a walk. Ellis didn't last much longer; two pitches at the head of Johnny Bench and he was yanked from the game.
June 5, 2008
The Greatest Hungarian Band You've Never Heard Of
I don't know how many Hungarian bands you are into right now, but most likely they don't have the hits or the history of Omega. Okay, to be fair, I couldn't name you a single Hungarian ANYTHING before I actually went there in 2004 with a group of artists from Portland. We toured a number of European cities and, when we could, Matthew Yake and I searched out record stores and lost sounds.
In Budapest we stumbled upon Lemez Dokk, a little record shop specializing in Prog and Jazz. The guys there were very friendly and in their broken English explained the qualities of records with words like "Heavy" "Beat" and "Progresseev." It was there that they played us a handful of albums by Omega and our collective American faces were melted. Matthew picked up 2 or 3 of their early albums (as well as some other Romanian and Hungarian psych stuff), but at 20 bucks a pop I was satisfied buying Aranyalbum, a collection of songs from 1969-1971, for around 8. It is now one of my favorite records and one that I love to share with collector friends.
Below are two of my favorite tracks, but almost every song on the collection is killer. It was difficult to pick only two.
The first, "Egy Lany Nem Ment Haza" is full of fuzz guitar, reverb, echo- all the components of great psych. I like that I can't understand the lyrics, the dude's voice becomes just another texture in this monster track.
This second track is like little else. It was a huge hit internationally and has been covered a few times (including in 1995 by Scorpions??? with new (lame) lyrics and entitled "White Dove"). It begins with a slow build which is powerful and beautiful at the same time. By the end, it's a full-blown inferno. This is one of my favorite tracks of all time.
Omega has played together since 1962 and they continue to tour and record. They enjoyed immense popularity inside as well as outside their country. Formed in the dark days of Communist rule I believe they left Hungary for Germany at some point so they could record their music without the censorship of the communist Song Committee. Over their history Omega recorded in styles as disparate as folk, prog and disco, but it is their early Psych/Prog/Folk where they really shine. Check out their homepage at www.omega.hu and you can stream all of their records (click diszkografia and then studioalbumok). I would focus on the first few, especially 10000 Lepes.
June 3, 2008
Funky Theme Songs
Most of my favorite records are the things of dollar bins and garage sale stacks of scratched 45s. I'm forever a lover of the undervalued, the overlooked, the one awesome track from a band that's supposed to suck (oh yeah, posts from Bananarama, Thompson Twins and Flock of Seagulls WILL be coming...). These two 45s are sure to get brought out when record-geek friends come over. They are genuine underdog thrillers. I put these two particular tracks in the same post because they happen to be covers of theme-songs of TV shows/ movies.
The first track is Ahmad Jamal covering the theme from M*A*S*H. I love the original track (aka "Suicide Is Painless"), but he builds a little soul, a little funk into it. The song moves with a melancholy and groove similar to Bob James theme to Taxi (titled "Angela" on his 1978 album Touchdown), which is another favorite theme song of mine. I could listen to this song daily; click the picture to hear it for yourself.
The second track is the real sleeper. It's Percy Faith covering Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells (The Fifth Movement), the theme from The Exorcist. I can't remember what possessed me to listen to this record but once I hit the killer break about 2/3rds in I had to have it. That's right, I just typed "Percy Faith" and "killer break" together.
This is the epitome of a sleeper track. Percy Faith occupies a full 25% of thrift store record bins and probably 10% of their trash. He was one of those prolific popular conductors who covered EVERYTHING. (Percy Faith Does the Beatles, Percy Faith Goes Disco, A Percy Faith 4th of July, Percy Faith: Psych Out!) So it's easy to tune out anything with his name on it while flipping through stacks of vinyl. The flip side, a cover of the theme to Chinatown, is expectedly dull.
Like the theme to M*A*S*H, I love the original Tubular Bells. It would be fair to assume Percy Faith would drain whatever was awesome right out of it, but miraculously he makes it FUNKY. Click the picture to listen for yourself, skip right through to the break if you aren't into the beginning.