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Blast From the Past

A Young Man’s Quest for Pump: "Jock Jams"

Hannah Morrison

By Jared Browsh

It was the Summer of 1995 and even at the the tender age of ten I knew something was wrong. I would wake up every day decidedly unpumped for the upcoming day. After dragging myself out of bed, I would look at my Michael Jordan poster and wonder why I could not constantly live the excitement of watching giant millionaires play sports.

As I unenthusiastically wandered around the local mall that July, a beacon of hope drew me in. A partnership between Tommy Boy Records, who launched the careers of artists like Digital Underground and Queen Latifah, and ESPN, the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” lead to a compilation album that would eventually yield nine volumes, including three rock focused albums and a “best of” CD.

Jock Jams helped energize an entire generation of music listeners and helped to establish the “arena rock” genre that bands like Fallout Boy continue to occupy.

Fifteen dollars later I was pumped to be pumped. I got in my Mom’s sedan ready to feel the arena energy in the car, before realizing she did not have a CD player. Those twenty minutes were the longest of my life, but twenty minutes of adult contemporary radio could not dampen my desire to feel like I was in my favorite arena.

When I got home I ran up to my room and found my Discman. Even before pressing play I could smell the stale pretzels and hot dogs, which I later realized was from a lunch I had the week before that I left under my bed. Finally the CD starts, “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” bellowed out of my headphones. Now I could hear Michael Buffer’s voice wherever I needed to ready myself for random violence.

Then a dance beat began to play before 2 Unlimited asked me “Are You Ready for This?” Before I could answer “I am not sure” the beat quickened and it felt like my favorite sports squadron was coming out of a time out, ready for a big comeback.

The three and a half minute song already had me winded, but looking at the album cover I had 18 more tracks to get through, testing my maximum pumpedness. In track three, Denver group Tag Team was certainly back again (although I did not realize they had arrived the first time) letting me know where it was with a Whoomp! Then before I knew it Black Box was telling me to “Strike it Up” and I was clapping along while also looking over my shoulder for a mascot to make sure I was not transported to an actual arena.

The Florida based 69 Boys, whose name I assumed was related to how many times they attended church each year had me eating Tootsee Rolls, which I know now was probably not the point of the song. This was followed by a short interlude that reminded me to Go ‘Head and Pump it Up, which admittedly I was unsure I should still be doing at this point in the album.

Next K7’s Come Baby Come, which I think is about childbirth, had me grooving and ready to cheer my favorite team to a game winning goal point. Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock let me know that “It Takes Two” further pumping me up while increasing my crushing loneliness as a preteen.

Gridiron Groove gave me the 15 seconds I needed to catch my breath and ready myself since C & C Music Factory, which I later found out lacked a union for its employees, was going to force everyone to dance, not later but now. They lived up to their promise to make me sweat before Naughty by Nature had me waving my arm while singing Hip Hop Hooray. Since I did not stretch earlier I did injure myself, tearing my rotator cuff, but adrenaline helped me ignore the pain and continue my quest for the pump.

This would not be the only injury I would endure as I followed MARRS’ suggestion to Pump up the Volume, leading to some hearing loss. Helping me fight through the pain was Snap!’s assurance that I did in fact have the Power. Not even cultural appropriation could stop my journey as 20 seconds of Uh, Ungawa allowed me to refocus for the final stretch of becoming fully pumped.

EMF let me know I, or some random person from their life, was truly Unbelievable as I imagined my favorite Sports Athlete Person making the game saving play. All of the sudden I was taken back in time for some old school pump with the Village People singing Y.M.C.A. as the extolled only the wholesome values of the collection of Christian community centers. Traveling back to the Nineties, hip house pioneers Technotronic were suddenly telling me to Pump up the Jam, leading to further hearing loss.

Unexpectedly 2 Unlimited returned taking me to a Twilight Zone of dancing and excitement as I begin chugging Gatorade to avoid dehydration, ingesting the large amount of sugar I needed to get me through the last couple of tracks. ESPN and Tommy Boy refused to let me think I was anywhere outside a $100 million sports arena inviting Madison Square Garden organist Ray Castoldi to play an interlude that had me thinking there was someone behind me yelling offensive and vaguely racists comments to the players below.

I was ready to take off my earphones and hit the ice bath before the familiar guitar riff of Gary Glitter forced me to dig deep and find the little bit of pump I had left. I was concerned since I had lost my voice on the previous track yelling for my favorite basketball guild to win the important match game I imagined myself attending throughout the album, but fortunately the compilers recognized this might be an issue for all listeners so they chose the nearly lyric-less Rock and Roll Part 2. I was able muster the necessary “Hey,” allowing me to feel the full pumping up abilities of the classic glam rock hit.

Although I had to spend three days in the hospital recovering from exhaustion as a result of becoming over-pumped, I would not have traded the experience for anything in the world. A previously dark world shined bright for me knowing anytime I needed to feel the excitement that can only be provided by watching other people participate in strenuous activity I could pick up Jock Jams and leave the doldrums behind.

Paul Anka "Rock Swings"

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

If you went to the Olive Garden recently and used the restroom, chances are you heard some nice, swinging tunes.

If you listened carefully, you may have noticed that Paul Anka was crooning about teen spirit over that tender brass section, because you were hearing Rock Swings, the epic 2005 album that was tastefully chosen as the official restroom soundtrack at the Olive Garden nationwide.

This album earned Anka a star on the Canadian walk of fame, rightfully so. It got a harrowing three star review from Rolling Stone magazine, not to mention, they play it in the bathroom at Olive Garden.

Many classic tunes, like “Eye of the Tiger” and “Wonderwall” sound nothing like the original, and the only piece of recognition are the lyrics, which are a sonic representation of cultural misunderstanding.

You have heard every song that Paul Anka covers on this record before, and you did not ask to hear them in a jazz lounge style, nor did you ever wonder what Nirvana may sound like with a brass section and crooning vocals.

As one commenter on YouTube pointed out, “I bet Kurt Cobain is swinging in heaven right now.”

For almost 60 minutes, you can enjoy blissful reconfigurations of songs that you have not listened to since your fifth grade class trip to the ice rink. But now, you can listen to them while you are in the bathroom at the Olive Garden.

Or at home. Or in the car. Or with your family, as I did over Thanksgiving break. Finally, you can make songs that were hard for your grandparents to listen to hard for everyone to listen to!

Happy swinging.

Standout Tracks:

“Smells Like Teen Spirit”

“Wonderwall”

“Eye of the Tiger”

“Black Hole Sun”

Seaside Lovers "Memories in Beach House"

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

Recently, I have been binging on City Pop and various other forms of 20th century Japanese genius. Although City Pop has taken on a larger than life status in popular memory in the past decade, it lived in relative obscurity outside of the region before the internet could teleport it across time and space.

City Pop is optimistic and upbeat, but also impossibly smooth. It is meant to represent a new style of life centered in cities, and the joys of cosmopolitanism.

It is sometimes used as an all-encompassing word, but the various styles that are today referred to under this name are often widely varying in sound and approach.

Tatsuro Yamashita is perhaps the most famous city pop artist, and his album For You (1982) has achieved worldwide recognition. It is also heavily sampled.

Masayoshi Takanaka made some distinctly city pop albums, but he is not a product of the movement, rather, he could be seen as an influence, because his smooth funk and disco fusion from the 1970’s experimented with some of the sounds and concepts most closely associated with City Pop.

In any event, this week’s album is Memories In Beach House by The Seaside Lovers, from 1983. If the title alone is not enough to convince you of how smooth this album is, let the music speak for itself.

Flutes, crooning vocals, a saxophone, and harmonies create an enticing invitation on the first track, “Lover’s Paradise”.

This album is slick from start to finish, but it is creative for taking the idea of ‘easy listening’ in every direction imaginable.

“Melting Blue” has a xylophone and a talking bass, evoking many of the same emotions in a totally different way. A different singer with a very different vocal mix contributes to the tune’s flavor.

Tracks like “Sunset Afternoon” are unafraid to experiment with electronic drums, and “X’s and O’s” uses a sliding synth.

The album feels like Wii Sports Resort, as some great Japanese soft pop rock albums do.

It represents a rich culture of music that was created in Japan, and lives on the surface where so many other great albums wait to be heard.

It is high time that the talented pop musicians of Japan receive credit for their crowning achievements. In various ways this seems to be happening right now. I can’t stop listening to this album, and I found it just in time for my own Thanksgiving vacation.

Now all I need is to find a hot tub, and I will be in top shape to get all that I can out of this record.

Standout Tracks:

“Lovers Paradise”

“Melting Blue”

“X’s and O’s”

“Evening Shadows”

Hiroshi Suzuki "Cat (1975)"

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

Few albums better illustrate the magic of YouTube as a music platform than Hiroshi Suzuki’s Cat. Many of my friends have a running joke about YouTube ‘classics’. That is, albums that YouTube’s algorithm seems to favor, meaning that many people end up listening to an album that lived in relative obscurity outside of YouTube. Some Lonnie Smith albums have earned this distinction, an album by a group from Boulder called Rare Silk is often waiting in your recommended videos, and Gil Scott Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit” is a guarantee. Algorithms are sometimes problematic, and create a false sense of discovery. However, there is value. I would not have had the chance to hear this great album without the help of YouTube and its automated suggestions.

All of that aside, this is a tender and extremely moody album that transitions very thoughtfully from one song to the next. It is not Cool Blue in the traditional sense of the phrase, but it is sorrowful and pensive just as Somethin’ Else is. The title track is persuasive and light keys ride on top of swinging horns and gentle drums.

On “Kuro to Shiro”, things hasten, but even at a higher tempo the album is reserved and methodical. “Walk Tall” rises higher still, but there is remarkable consistently in Akira Ishikawa’s drum breaks. It is remarkable how many different places Hiromasa Suzuki can move on the keys. Of course, Suzuki’s trombone is the heart and soul of the record, but I am amazed by how well these musicians communicate.

Many jazz fanatics are well aware that Japan was (and still remains) a hotspot for tight, thoughtful, and majestic jazz music that rivals any of the great American and European standards. For beginners, YouTube is a great place to begin to delve into this rich tradition, and there are few better records to begin with than Cat.

Standout Tracks:

“Romance”

“Kuro to Shiro”

“Cat”

DJ Shadow "Endtroducing"

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

Terror, introspection, and sheer rage. The mastery of DJ Shadow’s 1996 Endtroducing is its ability to create horror out of the mundane. This record has garnered the acclaim that it deserves over the years, but now, looking back at it over two decades later, it is increasingly evident how innovative the first fully plunderphonic album really was.

Josh Davis, a UC Davis college radio DJ, disappeared into his basement with an eclectic collection of world, comedy, jazz, and funk records, and ended up with something that was unlike anything that came before.

The record is pensive and crafts a scatterbrained story of self doubt, frustration, love, dreams, and misery. It is emotional, and even while jumping from one sound to the next it feels as though there is direction. Vocal samples offer cryptic new layers to these already fascinating samples.

“Changeling” is slow burning and hopeful, but also cynical and frustrating. Synths clash against a sloppy drum pattern, and heartfelt vocal samples ride along this haunting instrumental.

“Stem” sounds like watching a flower grow, only to be mercilessly burned by the furious “Mutual Slump”.

“Midnight in a Perfect World” is a famous song, but hearing it in the context of the rest of the album gives it new dimension.

“Napalm Brain” is perhaps a reflection on the consequences of Vietnam, perhaps a statement of self doubt, perhaps both.

The album’s grand ending, “What Does Your Soul Look Like?” leaves you with no choice but to think.

DJ Shadow considers this album to be hip-hop. The genre was young but getting older, and it was terrifying musical conservatives across the country. This album legitimized instrumental hip-hop and challenged the limits of what an artist could say through nothing but sounds created by others.

I am not a fan of DJ Shadow’s more recent endeavors, but Endtroducing and other early projects represent a profound achievement for Davis, and his contributions to hip-hop are immeasurable.

There is very little that I can say about this record that has not already been said, but I encourage you to tune in again like you have never listened before, there are so many dimensions to Endtroducing.

I have favorite tracks from this record, but because it is a concept album, I would encourage you to try and listen through the whole thing, if you so choose.

Compilation Spotlight

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

This week’s Blast from the Past is formatted a bit differently than usual. For listeners of my generation, compilations are an essential link between a culture that existed before we were conceived and our ears. They tell a story of what the sound of an era, city, or record label may have been, though we were not able to walk the streets and festivals to see for ourselves. They also acknowledge that for a variety of reasons, some artists never had a great album, and this was not due to a lack of talent or vision. Before the days of independent recording, a lot of recorded material was not solely connected to a prolific career, but it was also connected to strong monetary ties. Why did Otis Redding have so many recordings during his short life, while Little Janice has a single with two tracks? Because Otis Redding had a record label that believed in him, and was willing to pay to give him studio time. With this in mind, I have a few compilation albums that I love very much that I would like to impart on you:

Loving On the Flip Side: Sweet Funk and Beat-Heavy Ballads 1969-1977

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This compilation was released by Now Again Records, a label that you can count on for very specific and fascinating releases such as a South Pacific psychedelic rock compilation or a San Francisco soul collection. However, this album stands tall as my favorite from the label. What is so incredible is that though this collection of singles from various cities and years, one story is told clearly and with total conviction. Many of these singles lived in relative obscurity when they came out, though a few like “At the Hotel” and “Merry Go Round” were certainly heard. Commanding bass lines, sweet soul singers, and low down guitar lines make this 2012 compilation a must-listen.

Standout tracks:

“Slipping Around” - Thomas East

“We Had True Love” - Hot Chocolate

“Since You’ve Been Gone” - Little Janice

“Love” - Black Conspirators

“Young Girl” - Jazzie Cazzie

Mr. Bongo Record Club, Vol. 2

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Mr. Bongo is an awesome platform that delivers anything from classic films to obscure vinyl records, and they are well organized by region, era, and style. Even if you do not collect records, this site is an excellent place to discover all kinds of new, obscure albums from around the world. It was very formative in expanding my own taste. In addition, Mr. Bongo features mixes from various collectors and DJ’s, and these are posted on the site.

Two Mr. Bongo ‘Record Club’ records exist, and volume two is by far my favorite. It is highly eclectic, and sometimes the transitions between songs are painful or just outright wrong, but the record is a fantastic place to find interesting and obscure singles from around the world. Like the rest of Mr. Bongo’s collection, this record is a great starting point for all kinds of awesome discoveries. Ironically, this compilation also has the Delfonics single “Merry Go Round”. Do not let this sway you. Most of the tracks are funky and fun-filled.

Standout Tracks:

“Its Me O Zion” Twinkie Clark

“Family Planning” Kiru Stars

“Enjoy Your Life” Oby Onyioha

“Samba Maniero” Rosa Maria

“Put Your Love On the Line” Dee Edwards

Aquarium Drunkard Presents: The Now Generation

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This totally stoned-out compilation is something that just about anyone can enjoy. It features some notable names like Captain Beefheart, the Seeds, and Noel Redding, but most of the artists are quite obscure, and the easygoing sound of these singles is one of a kind. This compilation skillfully welds many different songs together to create a very unified sound. Organs, harmonies, piercing guitar riffs, the whole nine yards can be found here. Let this nostalgic sound take you back to a time that you did not live through and have no memory of.

Notable Tracks:

“Just Let Go” The Seeds

“Candlelight” Benny Soebardja & Lizard

“Mr. Moonshine” Fat Mattress

“The Real Thing” Russell Morris

James Brown’s Funky People, Part Two

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This is perhaps my favorite compilation that I have picked up in a long time. It is over the top funky, and lets you get as close to the magic of the James Brown band as you possibly could these days. It is complete with JB screaming in the background throughout the album, and other musicians literally talking to one another and shouting words of encouragement. Many of the singers are well known, and some are not. They all are complemented by Fred Wesley’s epic sound, and some even feature synth arrangements that sound very little like James Brown at all. Rest assured, this album is funky, perhaps more so than any other that I have listened to in a long time. It is hard to stay seated while you are tuned in.

Standout Tracks:

“From the Love Side” Frank Ballard

“What Do I Have to Do (To Prove My Love to You)” Marva Whitney

“Soul Power ‘74” The J.B.’s

“Cross the Track (We Better Go Back)” Maceo and the Macks








Joao Donato "Quem e Quem 1973"

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

Joao Donato’s 1973 masterpiece album Quem e Quem is sometimes forgotten among the tidal wave of classic Brazilian albums from the 1970’s. This is a terrible disservice to a record that I consider a true masterpiece. The only other album that I know which can so tastefully preserve a single mood over the course of half an hour is Kind of Blue.

Sharp, pattering drums whisper behind an ethereal Rhodes keyboard. Donato’s gentle voice sometimes evokes Michael Franks, but he is willing to venture into strange territory with raspy whispers and Dylan-esque bouts.

What is so special about this album is that it feels like one great song. It is so easy to follow Quem e Quem to the very end, and it almost feels unnatural to do otherwise.

“Chorou, Chorou” opens the album, displaying many of its great qualities all at once. Donato’s tender voice croons over the joyful Rhodes and a gently pitter-pattering drum. “Terremoto” introduces a flute and backup vocalists, further demonstrating the album’s versatility. “Amazonas” is an instrumental featuring three more horns. What won’t this album do? Somehow, with the varying instrumentation and changing paces, there remains an incredible unity to the album’s sound.

Quem e Quem is somewhat difficult to get your hands on. Like many classic world albums, it lives on YouTube, thanks to the efforts of whatever passionate Brazilian grandpa uploaded a recording of the record into Apple Slideshow. It is not on Spotify (like many great world records), and it costs north of $200 on eBay. Distribution of many great Latin records in the U.S. was limited.

This album, therefore, is a great example of why I feel so fortunate to be a child of the digital age. Many of the adults that I look up to who were ‘in the know’ about great music when it came out at this time did not have access to records like this. All my generation needs to discover these great tunes and others is a computer and some dedication.

Donato is an extremely talented musician, his voice and keys carry this record into coveted territory. He had great bossa albums before Quem e Quem, and a collection of records to follow. Many elements came together to create this album, which I consider almost perfect. Although the composer never again made such a tender record, this one stands tall not only among his own collection but against the background of Brazilian pop at the time as a whole.

This album sounds like a picnic on Lake Michigan, or a stroll at the foothills of Chautauqua Park. There is no place where this record wouldn’t sound good, and if you don’t believe me, turn it on and see. Either way, please just tune in and enjoy this classic.

Standout Tracks:

“Chorou, Chorou”

“Terremoto”

“A ra”

“Aihe”

“Nana Das Aguas”

Herbie Hancock "Sunlight"

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

I have had a limited amount of knowledge about this album for a year or two, starting with the surreal portrait of a cheesed-out Herbie Hancock on the cover, complete with darting collars and no undershirt. This alone is enticing enough for me. However, the title track on this album, “I Thought It Was You”, is what brought me in. This bumping track, along with the rest of the record, features some of the only vocals that Herbie Hancock ever did on a record, and they are masked by a vocoder that makes it feel like a lost Daft Punk record at times.

That is exactly what makes it so strange. If you forgot everything and listened, many parts of this album could have come directly off of Discovery, and this is the strange sort of paradox that we face as we are reminded by Q-Tip that music goes in cycles, and maybe two people from totally different worlds can create two things that aren’t so different after all in two to six minutes.

There is famous footage from this era of Hancock with his collection of moogs, synths, and keyboards, which he displays on the back of the album in good style.

A strange thing to note is that Jaco Pastorius plays bass on this album, giving it an added infusion of hard-driving funk. Wah Wah Watson and Tony Williams play on this record as well, making it some kind of accidental superstar funk project.

The vocoder is all consuming, and for some listeners it may detract from other elements of the record. I personally think it is what makes Sunlight so unique.

The album was meant to push Hancock toward a more mainstream following, but outside of a lukewarm U.K. reception, this album was largely overlooked. It is among a string of Herbie’s albums that either hit (Future Shock) or missed (Sound-System)

This is not Herbie Hancock’s greatest record. It is not even close. Records like Head Hunters, Maiden Voyage, and Thrust are near and dear to me. But this is a notable, and inexplicably enjoyable, milestone in the career of a great.

If you want something strange to dance to, pop on “Sunlight” and let that sweet vocoder take you away.

Standout Tracks:

“I Thought It Was You”

“Sunlight”

“Good Question”



The Mars Volta, "Frances the Mute"

Hannah Morrison

By Aaron D. Rubin

A young man sits in his 1973 Chevrolet Corvette convertible, driving down a road in the middle of an outer-space desert. The road will not cease to unravel into a straight route that seems to go on for an eternity. He’s darting down this never ending highway at a constant speed of 90 mph, with a look of determination on his face that is indifferent to the sand kicking back. Despite this badass aura, underneath his exterior being, he is desperate, suffering, and travels with a mercurial sense of hope that he will ever find his biological parents. He is obdurate nonetheless, as the colossal marigold sun blazes upon the vast dry landscape, the silvery moons glimmer, and the violent cosmos above swirl obstreperously, he drives. And drives…and drives…and drives…. That is Frances the Mute.

Almost every adjective, positive or negative in the English language can be used to describe the mammoth that is the second album of El Paso prog rockers The Mars Volta. Most critics and the general public could dismiss a band like TMV as progressive rock bands always have been: pretentious, bombastic, deluded creators of the most ridiculously convoluted and masturbatory exercises in music. But that merely reflects not only the dearth of exceptional musicianship present in music today, but the unwillingness of artists to expand boundaries in such a bona fide fashion, alike the prog greats of the 1970s, the jazz fusionists, and the natural experimenters in Krautrock. We are just used to hearing this combination as often as to which we allow ourselves.

I am by no means hailing Frances the Mute as some sort of messianic gold standard of modern music. But there’s no denying all the elements that make this a great record in the first place. In the midst of 2000s, when hip hop and R&B were dominating the charts, and rock music hit an artistic nadir with nu-metal and pop punk, TMV, even utilizing elements from these genres and others, spat back with a profoundly refreshing musical statement for the time that immediately established itself as one of the most challenging epics in progressive music. From the majesty of Led Zeppelin that envelops the 77-minute listening experience, to jams reminiscent of Santana, Miles Davis, and Lenny Harlow, Frances the Mute is a phenomenal amalgamation of metal, punk, Latin, and jazz. If you are not one for movie length albums, progressive rock, or just wickedly long music in general, I would not blame you for not taking a chance. But for those who are up for the journey, listen to this thing. Like, NOW. Even the formerly mentioned group, try it out. You might surprise yourself. And TMV might surprise you.

Paul McCartney "Wild Life"

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

Paul McCartney’s Wild Life is, to many, considered an iconic failure. By the standards of the day, it was. McCartney had just completed his run as front man for the biggest rock band in the world, and there he was with a seemingly half-baked record that did not have any clear singles. Famously, he threw the record out of his window in frustration at the launch party. Critics and fans alike symbolically did the same. It would be decades before this album even saw widespread release. In 1992, as McCartney’s entire collection made its way onto CD, so did Wild Life. It is now available on streaming services and elsewhere, but it is still commonly overlooked by Sir Paul’s more critically acclaimed records like Ram, Tug of War, and McCartney II.

It may bear the most similarity to McCartney, the record that came a year before. This too was a heavily stripped down, roots oriented record that confused critics and fans. However, it yielded “Maybe I’m Amazed”, one of Paul’s most beloved tunes. It sits in between instrumental riffs and songs like “Teddy Boy”.

After the Beatles ceased to exist, its four musical innovators were burned out and frustrated, because they felt as though they had been creatively stifled. Each came out with a record that was unapologetically their own, and made a point of doing things that they were not allowed to during their time in the supergroup. (Note John Lennon screaming ‘cookie!’ in the middle of “Hold On”)

Paul revered country-centric music that he grew up with, and many of his most noted tunes featured these themes during his run with the Beatles. However, John Lennon had little interest in these songs, and openly mocked them.

He was also anxious to make this new music as quickly as possible, perhaps with the intention of putting it out before Lennon was able to put out his own record. This led him to produce Wild Life himself under a pseudonym, resulting in the strange warped vocals that are synonymous with the album.

None of this was totally intentional, but the homegrown sound of the record was extremely innovative, and in my mind, this record has a lot of merit.

For one thing, it features some of McCartney’s best chops on the bass, and many great melodic ideas that stand apart from his later solo work. The use of the organ gives the record a totally new sound.

“I Am Your Singer” is as terrifying as it is beautiful. The warped vocals make you feel as though your computer is a broken record player, and the stoned-out lead guitar makes “Crimson and Clover” sound conventional.

You might not love this album, especially if you love other McCartney work. However, any serious Beatles fan or McCartney diehard ought to hear this, if only as a strange and fascinating piece of Fab Four history.

Standout Tracks:

“Bip Bop”

“Love is Strange”

“Wild Life”

“I Am Your Singer”




Frank Zappa "We're Only in It for the Money"

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

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A lot can be said about Frank Zappa’s 1968 satire, “We're Only in It for the Money”. For starters, if you look closely, Jimi Hendrix is on the cover, and he was actually there, because he was friends with Zappa. Vocals from Eric Clapton are featured in one of the album’s skits. Villains, killers, and LBJ are hidden in the crowd. To top it off, there is thunder in the sky, mocking the joy and perfection of Sgt. Peppers and his Lonely Hearts Club Band.

While that Beatles album is widely considered perfect, there is nothing perfect about this album. It is a perfect disaster, but in the best way possible. In fine Zappa form, it carelessly wanders from one idea to the next, painting a large picture of dissatisfaction and resentment of the increasingly fraudulent free love culture that took over the nation. Zappa did not do drugs, identified as a staunch Libertarian, and deeply resented what he saw as high-flying ideals of the left. This may shock many, who also remember him for naming his daughter ‘Moon Beam’.

As a studio artist in San Francisco in 1968, he demanded total perfection from studio players, who were often ill-prepared for his totalitarian studio tendencies. There are a few noted instances where he demanded that his musicians play in time signatures that were either baffling or outright impossible.

Zappa saw his operation as a fine tuned machine, and felt that his players were paid handsomely. They could either tolerate his high demands, or find other work.

All of this was totally foreign to a culture of free loving, acid-tripping, commune living, long haired dudes who were perhaps more accustomed to the jug band fun of the Lovin’ Spoonful.
Zappa felt that youth culture was being commodified and sold, and he thought that The Beatles were a symbol of this excess.

When the album was finally coming to fruition, as the story goes, he called Paul McCartney to explain the project and ask permission to use the satirical cover. McCartney told him that this was an issue to take up with the label, who staunchly objected to Zappa’s album art. This delayed the release of the album for five months.

In between bewildering vocal breaks lie heavily rhythmic, totally ruthless, and incredibly angry songs like “Harry, You’re a Beast”, which lay hippie culture to waste for its excesses and flaws.

“What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body” is a mockery of the Sgt. Pepper’s medley that instead tells hippies that their children are ‘poor unfortunate victims of lies [they] believe.’

“Flower Punk” tells the story of a middle-aged man who tunes in and drops out, ‘playing his bongos in the sand.’

We often are saturated with images of free loving spirits in light clothing, hand in hand preaching love against war. We remember Woodstock, as John Sebastian, Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix played songs that were heard around the world. We’re Only In it for the Money is essential, because it paints a more complete picture of a country where conservatives would soon retake the White House, where counter protesters with clubs shocked peace marches, and, to be frank, where hippie culture was to many nothing more than a fashion trend.

This unapologetic concept album laid the groundwork for Zappa to pursue his career of cynical rejectionism.

Yet, despite the anger that drives the album, it is funny, smart, enjoyable, and, when it chooses to be, easy to approach.

Zappa fans often muse about the albums you give a non-believer to get them hooked. This is an album that I often preach when asked.


Standout Tracks:

“Absolutely Free”

“Who Needs the Peace Corps”

“Harry, You’re a Beast”

“Flower Punk”

“Let’s Make the Water Turn Black”




Chicano Batman "Cycles of Existential Rhyme"

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

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Chicano Batman’s Cycles of Existential Rhyme, to me, represents one of those rare moments when everything goes completely as planned. There is so much that can be said about this album, which, I will make no attempt to hide, is one of my all time favorites. The cover is a clear homage to the Door’s Waiting for the Sun, and the band’s influence is clear through whirling organs on the title track. Ironically, this was one of the Doors albums that did not prominently feature the instrument, but there are other clear influences. Dreamy, romantic, and ultra-poetic lyricism dominates Chicano Batman’s album.

What makes it so fun is that half of the tracks are in Spanish, and half are in English. The group flows effortlessly between these two languages in an enviable way, creating profound poetry back and forth.

The album has highs and lows, but in a way it functions like one great big jam, with each track flowing into the next with a sort of reserved logic.

Influences are everywhere: in interviews, the band has cited everyone from Frank Zappa to Metallica to Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and these sporadic ideas are expressed throughout the recording.

I won’t make any secret of it: these guys are my heroes. I can only name a few modern artists who make me this excited. Their most recent album, Freedom is Free, is excellent and represents clear growth for the group, but this 2014 album will always amaze me for its innovative blend of sounds.

It moves anywhere from the brassy funking fun of “El Frio II” to the majorly mellow, aptly titled, “Stoned Soul Picnic”. There are some tracks, like “She Lives On My Block” that I can listen to anytime, but there is no bad place to start on this album.

Bardo Martinez has a voice like a classic crooner, and it can rarely hide his infectious optimism. Eduardo Arenas’s bass lines are incredibly distinct, and they create a full sound for the recordings.

Each spicy, bouncing track on this album is more infectious than the next. How much fun can four guys with a bunch of instruments possibly have?

The group did a Tiny Desk concert, which gives a great insight into their sound, you can find the video below.

Everyone has their guilty pleasure. Some people love sweets, or fast food once a week, or things far worse. Mine is Chicano Batman.

Standout Tracks:

“Cycles of Existential Rhyme”

“She Lives on My Block”

“El Jalapeno”

“Bilbao”

“Amor Verde”

Yussef Kamaal "Black Focus"

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

I often like to focus on music from long ago in this column, however, Yuseef Kamaal’s Black Focus from 2016 is so exceptional that I feel as though it deserves recognition. The album is not only unlike anything that I have heard in recent years, but it is also truly unlike almost anything from the era that it most accurately pays homage to.

In the early 1970’s, talented bebop and blue Jazz players such as Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Albert Ayler, and Miles Davis shifted away from the tightly constructed sounds that they had created for so long and began thinking more freely. Journey in Satchidananda, Thembi, Bitches Brew, and Music is the Healing Force of the World, these are all albums that are loosely bound into the strange category known as Free Jazz.

Enter the British concept called Yuseef Kamaal, who, nearly 50 years later, begin creating music that has profound similarities to the great creative experiments that came so long ago.

Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi (1971) is perhaps the closest direct comparison, but this is not a throwback album. I believe that it is very much a product of its time.

It relies on modern electronic technologies to create many of its strangest sounds, and while I am no audiophile, the recording is distinctly modern.

However, all of these thoughts are unrelated to the sound itself.

The album opens with “Black Focus,” a deep groove that functions like a battle between kicking drums, a mean bass line, and a highly capable trumpet player. Beautiful electronic key patterns provide calm in the midst of the storm.

Next, “Strings of Light” spotlights wicked basslines and punishing drum licks, showing the group’s ability to do a lot with a little.

“Remembrance” furthers this notion, and it is perhaps the most minimal track on the album.

Even during the most relaxed and introspective moments on the recording, Yuseef Kamal is able to create a diverse range of thoughts and ideas that project masterfully.

A track like “Lowrider” feels like something made for the Bay City Rollers while still displaying the group’s knack for grooving.

On the right day, at the right time, this album is fantastic to listen to, from front to back. I highly recommend it.

 

Standout Tracks:

“Strings of Light”

“Remembrance”

“Lowrider”

“Joint 17”

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Cortex "Troupeau Bleu"

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

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Cortex was everything jazz-funk fusion could have ever hoped to be. Their music was tightly arranged, with imaginative improvisations and not a note out of place. It was uplifting, with dance-worthy tunes, but it was also highly experimental and at times pensive and otherworldly.

Troupeau Bleu (1975) was the first album created by the trio under this name. It was recorded in two days. The album begins with “La Rue”, meaning ‘the street’, a song that symbolizes the incredible uniqueness of the album as a whole. The way I see it, a trio of sounds gives the album it’s extra-terrestrial quality. Bumping, ever changing bass lines, sputtering drum patterns, and a female lead singer whose operatic falsettos carry these heavy street-beats into the sky.

Of course, this is an unfair assessment in light of the man who virtually conceived the whole thing. Alain Mion was a renowned French pianist whose virtuosic solos challenged any of the great players of the day. He is still active, and even continues to play many of the arrangements that he wrote for Cortex. He took the young Moog synthesizer places it had seldom been before.

Yet, even for a talented player with a plethora of other notable studio albums (Pheno Men, Cortex, Vol. 2, Pourquoi) Troupeau Bleu represents an extreme high, a point of total euphoria. Few other fusion albums create such a distinctive sound and ride it in so many different directions.

The album dances between pensive piano compositions that are reminiscent of David Axelrod and tight funk arrangements that almost evoke “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines”.

Perhaps the tallest order on the album is the spaced-out “Huit Octobre 1971”. Here, the vocalist rides various tides in an arrangement that could be mistaken for a true opera if it wasn’t for the heavy basslines and funky drum breaks that sat beneath those stunning jumps. The track is complete with movements, where tempo and structure change completely without warning. A willing listener will be rewarded for sticking this track out.

One notable willing listener was Daniel Dumile, MF DOOM, who sampled this track on “One Beer”.

I found this album during my senior year of high school on Mr. Bongo’s website. I was blown away, because my knowledge of music was so limited in those days, and I didn’t know that non-U.S. releases could achieve this depth. Frankly, I didn’t know how little I knew.

This album inspired me to dig deeper. It motivated me to scroll through Mr. Bongo, YouTube, and Spotify for hours and hours, looking for new albums and artists to paralyze me the way that this album did.

Two years and hundreds of songs later, I still am awestruck each time I put this album on and dive back into the unconventional, deep groove experiments on this 1975 masterpiece.

Alain Mion, circa 1978.

Alain Mion, circa 1978.

Standout tracks:

“La Rue”

“Prélude à Go Round”

“Huit octobre 1971”

“Sabbat 1-3”

John Coltrane "Interstellar Space"

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

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John Coltrane is known as one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. He played longer solos than Miles Davis on Kind of Blue, created A Love Supreme, and constantly pushed jazz in an increasingly experimental direction during his short and prolific life. His life ended unexpectedly in 1967, and he would not live to see the impact of his experiments.

His last year of life was spent touring and cutting records in the studio. It was during this time that he created Interstellar Space, an album which would not be released until 1974.

By the time the album was printed, the landscape of jazz had changed dramatically, and ironically, this record, which was so profoundly cutting-edge, seemed to fit well with some of the sounds of the day such as Corea’s Circle and McCoy Tyner’s Extensions. It stood almost completely alone at the time it was recorded, and the release date somewhat obscures this fact.

By the end, Coltrane was so free that he had lost many allies. His original drummer left, calling John’s new sound ‘noise’, and his ingenious wife Alice played keys. A Newport performance in 1966 shocked jazz audiences, and this was only a small preview of what was to come. By 1967, the only musicians still playing with Coltrane had an undying vision for his genius.

No musical terminology can express the sounds on Interstellar Space. They are simultaneously unorganized and completely logical; foreign to the ear yet totally energizing.

This album was my first step off the diving board. I thought I had listened to free Jazz before I heard this album, but I was paralyzed by what I was hearing. I remember turning the lights off in my dorm room and turning the volume as loud as it would go on my speakers. The music was energy in its purest form.

It is worth noting that Rasheid Ali’s shocking spasmodic drumming is both as free and as innovative as Coltrane’s solos. Without Ali’s vision, this album would not have been possible and it certainly would not reached the incredible level of terror that it does. He was virtually the only man up for the task of matching Coltrane’s imagination and energy.

Each composition begins with a small pattern of bells and shakers, and then Coltrane ‘enters his spaceship’, as many have said, moving in any which direction he pleases.

I listen to this album and think of Charlie Parker, whose free flowing improvisations captured a young John Coltrane and helped him create his own vision.

To me this album is another stop on Parker’s train.
These were two men with troubled lives and short careers who challenged the character of the genre they helped define.

What is so profound about Coltrane is how much control he had over his instrument. When you listen to second takes of compositions that sound completely improvised, you hear him deviate slightly but maintain the nuances of his darting and chaotic solos.

This was the work of a genius who had transcended the Cool Blue that he helped define, and even the free-flowing nature of his magnum opus, A Love Supreme.

I listen to this album and wonder what would have been next for John Coltrane. How much freer could he possibly have gone? Would he have returned to a more structured sound?

The only way for us to speculate is to look at the things created by those in his orbit.

Pharoah Sanders, his prodige, turned to instruments from around the world and created albums like Karma and Thembi. Journey In Satchidananda, an album credited to Alice Coltrane but featuring Sanders, seems like a logical progression from the unforgiving sounds of Interstellar Space, if that is even possible.

But any guessing is only speculation. John Coltrane dictated both where he went and where jazz went with each step further from convention. Interstellar Space offers a clue as to where the legend may have gone, but nothing more.

It was a final Giant Step taken by a jazz titan.

Standout Tracks:

“Mars”

“Jupiter”

“Leo”

Kenneth Anger and Nostalgia

Hannah Morrison

By Jacob Newman

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Very few would commonly connect Gay pride, 50’s nostalgia, avant-garde film, and motorcycle culture. Kenneth Anger did so regularly, through a variety of strange and beautiful films. Today I will be celebrating the masterpiece that is Scorpio Rising (1963)

Ignoring any technical cinematic innovations, this film was noted for something which would become standard in film but at the time was not well understood: a 1950’s revival soundtrack. Anger’s film features songs that you have certainly heard many times, but you have not heard them used in this way, and you have never considered the great darkness that they hid in their pleas and snarls.

The movie was made in the early 60’s and thus, the era that Anger was celebrating was hardly gone by the time he was active.

However, he was doing something significant: celebrating a culture that was clearly gone by the time he was active, even in a matter of years.

The 1950’s were high wired, plagued by the end of one war and the beginning of a new and confusing one. The popular music of this period was happy but often laced with double meanings and deeper emotions than the artists were allowed to convey in a strictly conservative society.

As musicians began openly experimenting in the 1960’s, Anger made the intriguing choice to rely on music that had fallen out of fashion. Why?

Anger was well connected. He was so revered by the counterculture that he rejected a soundtrack made by Led Zeppelin for his film Lucifer Rising. Mick Jagger created an electronic soundtrack for one of his films, and in a strange twist, a convicted member of the Manson Family scored an Anger film. He was a regular Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, where Marilyn Manson was an honorary priest.

But none of those new rebels could convey the longing that artists like The Angels and Claudine Clark did in the retro music that Mr. Anger decided to use in his film.

A repressive society and a highly censored music industry created a unique challenge for popular artists in the 1950’s. They had to express their desires and intentions in discreet ways through acceptable language. This meant that the Ronettes used heavy eye shadow to creatively imply their rebellious intentions, and others had to sing with heightened passion to show that there was meaning beyond their happy-go-lucky lyrics.

Lucifer Rising has a unique challenge: it intends to mock a highly repressive society by portraying a group of menaces who make no attempt to conform to high cultural demands while utilizing slap happy 50’s pop music to show that stranger things lurked below the surface of those seemingly innocent recordings.

“My Boyfriend’s Back” seems sinister as the trio claps to the beat when juxtaposed with images of the rough-and tough biker gang in the film. If David Lynch didn’t make “Blue Velvet” by Bobby Vinton terrifying enough for you in his film of the same name, try hearing it while watching a man clean a motorcycle with the angel of death hovering above him. Kris Jensen’s “Torture” has an eerie quality on it’s own, but as Anger’s unapologetic gang rides in the short film, a tune that already may have left you wondering about it’s real meaning is even more bewildering.

The strongest connection that Mr. Anger creates is with Claudine Clark’s “Party Lights”. As he plays this song, the Gay biker gang enters a barn for a party, and Anger superimposes images of Jesus Christ and his disciples entering a different barn for a meeting of their own, suggesting that the two aren’t so far off.

This image was offensive to many in the era, and I would imagine that this has not changed. The film was so offensive, in fact, that police ripped the film from projectors in the Bay Area when it was first screened, and it became one of the avant-garde films in the 60’s which would define obscenity and free artists down the road to exercise their imagination as they pleased.

In a sense the film achieved the stated goal of the avant-garde, which loosely translates to ‘front battleline’. The film pushed the guard forward, freeing artistic soldiers to follow with pride.

It’s depiction of gay men as proud and heroic was almost unprecedented, and at a time when Hell’s Angels were terrifying the West Coast, a biker gang was not exactly sympathetic.

In this way it was an important film, but I believe that it’s soundtrack was a large part of it’s legacy.

After this film, American Graffiti, The Big Chill, Forrest Gump, and many films in between would utilize the complex and seemingly joyous sounds of Wall of Sound pop to create a sense of joy and serenity.

But few others saw so much sorrow and strangeness in songs that represented pure bliss to most untrained ears.

Standout Tracks:

“My Boyfriend’s Back”

“Party Lights”

“Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)”

“Point of No Return”