Thursday, January 27, 2005

My Piece of Heaven..... Once upon a time, a decade of so ago, I splashed out on the wonderful Rhino doo wop box set...several cds of young black and hispanic, mostly, male vocal groups from the north eastern USA in the fifties. Young street corner hoodlums harmonising like angels for dodgy mafia run record labels and then disappearing into history. I still play it fairly routinely, especially on a winter morning when I need to be enticed out by something warm and spiritual.

The classic male soul / r'n'b group does similar things, but suits a really warm evening more, or a car with the windows down. The Impressions, The Drifters, The Miracles (now that one makes me shiver..just the words "The Miracles" does the trick), Eugene Record's electric Chi-lites, The Temptations (but I didn't really quite get The Four Tops), Delphonics, O'Jays, Ravens, Elgins, Chairmen of the Board, Dramatics...there were dozens, actually hundreds, the list goes on and of the joyous things about soul is the semingly endless supply of new, old, acts to discover. I guess you could successfully argue that some of the early hip acts like the Furious Five, continued the classic tradition .... But, despite the odd exception that proves the rule, the genre has largely died out in recent years.
Which segues nicely into Ten City.....the missing link between The Chords and Carl Craig, courtesy of the genius that was and is Marshall Jeffferson. Ten City remain, 20 years into the genre, the only vocal group to have succesfully made a series of vocal harmony soul albums in the house style. To my mind, house, techno and hip hop are the heirs to the r&b and jazz mantles, the great American rhythmic artforms of the last thirty years. Shamefully much of this is unrecognised in its homeland. Hip hop gets it's rightful due but people like Jefferson, Knuckles, Craig, Pierre, Saunderson and the others, people who have probably exerted more global influence than just about any other living musican, are unknown in the USA. But go anywhere in the world...anywhere at all, even the places where hip hop hadn't penetrated until recent years (Australia is an example) and the repercussions of Detroit and Chicago are felt. As big as the Beatles and Elvis to put it in simple terms..... But I'm heading off on a formless stagger through my thoughts, so back to Ten City. Wonderful, majestic, sensual Ten City. Three guys, two of whom were called Byron for gods sake, who first turned up my turntable back at the Playground. We used to have free access to all the Warner Music 12" samples, there were dozens every week, and amongst those one day in 1987 was one a little different and I really don't think Roger and I quite knew what to make of it. Acid house was about to break and house music was all Roland grooves. This had all that but sitting on top of it...actually, no, soaring above it, were these voices "Devotion" and it didn't hit us until that evening until we tried the thing out on the club system...I think...its a vague memory..that we just looked at each other without saying a word and played it again and again..four times that evening. Then bam bam bam, they came at us.."Right Back to you","That's the Way Love is", "Suspicious", "Where do we Go?", and the albums: every one a monumental merging of all that is wondeful about soul music and house, the intense gospel vocals with acid basslines or shimmering keyboards. I also discovered the intense, exhausting and dark earlier single, "I Can't Stay Away" as Ragtyme (there were two but this is the one), mixed by Ron Hardy & Frankie Knuckles.
And eleven years on from their last release, every damned song still sounds as essential and vital as they did back in the day, in the same way the first Miracles album is so gloriously timeless. But I guess they were The Miracles of their age - the last of the great US soul vocal groups in the grand tradition - and sadly the successsful experiment that was Ten City has never really been repeated.

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