Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Just like Pagliacci did...* *its the obvious line to use ok?

The second part of the album thing I started here……

Smokey Robinson and The Miracles - Make It Happen (Tamla 1967)…the great Motown myth is that Stevie and Marvin took the company into the era of great albums, with the label fighting all the way. That’s not strictly true, but, yes, I guess it adds to the mythology somewhat. Those wondrous Norman Whitfield albums from The Temptations predate the era of Music of My Mind and What’s Going On and so do the two finest albums from Motown’s greatest songwriter, William “Smokey” Robinson. One of those, Sings Smokey is another Temptations album from 1964, complete with My Girl. The other is this record is this glorious album from 1967. Reissued in 1970 with the last track, the now iconic Tears of a Clown as the new title after it was a massive hit. But this record stands squarely on its own as one of Motown’s finest releases, ever. We all know Dylan’s famous line about Smokey, it’s over quoted but still stands as the gospel truth and the evidence is herein. Ever the most, superficially, facile, intent seems to flow like some of divine moment But the magic of this record is not just the majesty of the songs it’s the execution, and more that, its Smokey’s astounding production. His arrangements and mix absolutely redefine the use of space in a song and his instinct as to what to use and what to lose at precisely the right moment is pure genius….on My Love For You, for example, the strings are used with such economy, drifting around the hint of a piano and the simple snare. Not one song here has an element that is unneeded or overstays its welcome. Put it one, turn the lights off and float away…

Mantronix-The Album (Sleeping Bag 1985)…oh, yeah I guess it sounds a bit dated now but this is another album that, in its own humble way (ok, its hip hop…its not that humble) changed the face of popular music. And toss any track from this album on within the earshot of any old B boy and watch the involuntary tears of joy. When this first hit the streets back in ’85 nobody had heard, or for that matter expected anything like it. This was electronic rhythmic mastery from the end of the universe and with it half a dozen sub genres were invented, or at least a doorway was opened to, not least of which were the big beat boom and drum’ n’ bass. If this album had only included Bassline and Needle to the Groove it would’ve been enough to nail its place. It confused the fuck out of the hardcore hip-hoppers at the time (and lets face, they’ve often been the more conservative element in the post funk / disco universe and most resistant to change) but it signposted a clear path forward. Oh, and it rocks…still.

E-DancerHeavenly (Planet E 1998)..I said in the first part of this listing that house music is a genre that has produced few classic albums, and so it is. But not so its mutant cousin from Detroit. On the contrary Techno as a genre has produced dozens of great long players, but a few stand out, in particular this killer collection from Kevin Saunderson’s alter ego. Heavenly, many of the tracks from which, appeared as singles too, of course, comfortably bridges the gap between where techno had come from and where it was going. It has elements of the early rough core of Detroit’s rough machine soul and yet it also points to the more mellow direction the music was going to and works as well on a big dancefloor as it does on the headphones. The album drags in the likes of Carl Craig, Juan Atkins and Kenny Larkin, all big guns in the techno universe, and all of whom provide worthy contributions, but its Saunderson’s trademark keyboard sounds and moody swirls and dives, oh and his subtlety which are the real stars here. Techno was never, despite its reputation amongst non believers about being loud and banging. There are hints of Inner City but this record is far deeper than anything recorded under that name. A bunch of us played this album incessantly for god knows how long and I still grab it at least once a fortnight. Hard to find now, but if any album lives up to its title…

Various ArtistsAK79 (Ripper 1980)..this about the vinyl release of this record, not the CD which I compiled a decade ago and stands on its own as a documentary of the Auckland Punk scene. No, they may contain many of the same tracks but they sound and feel a million miles from each other. No CD can ever re-capture the raw snarl of the thick PolyGram pressing plant dinner plate vinyl complete with sub standard mastering that was a feature of both NZ plants in the late seventies (PolyGram mastered stereo for months with only one speaker working and the other under a desk). But for all that, it sounded as shitty as it should and was just right, especially thru a battered Sony 3 in 1 system after having been walked over at a dozen parties by gatecrashers with Doc Martens’ finest on as they threw bottles at the confused and protesting host. No, that was the way AK79 was meant to sound and the way we listened to it. From the opening bars of the Zwines anthem, Mysterex (about ex Scavengers singer Mike Lesbian, who was proudly proclaimed by the wall at the club to be a C**t) to the last notes of The Toy Love Song, we knew every bloody word of every song (ok maybe not The Swingers who were the odd ones out and never that cool) many many months before this came out. This was our record and we fucking loved it…And you know what, that battered old vinyl copy still sounds better than the CD all these years later. Nothing to do with nostalgia, ok…

Blaze 25 Years Later (Motown 1990)…once again, it’s about the vinyl which is a different beast to the CD, released simultaneously. The CD was reordered and had these annoying little talking bits between the songs. To be fair, the CD order and the story it told was as Blaze originally wanted but the label said no and talking bits between songs are always annoying, let’s face it. So the big black version works best. But with this album, Blaze, who had made some of the seminal early East Coast Deep House singles, gave us what may be the finest Motown album of its decade (if you place it in the last year of the eighties), and let’s not forget, the label still mattered then, in the years before it became just another Universal label. This is the most soulful, most delicate urban music ever produced by a house act, from the sensual, post Curtis of Lover Man to the yearning, Wonder-ish Missing You to the shuffling, reggae-ish We All Must Live Together, the best version of which is the remix on the 12” from co-producer Timmy Regisford. This album has an enormous, and much deserved reputation amongst those that know it but somehow got lost in an America which was awash with swingbeat and chicken dancing in harem pants at the time. That it is, and has been, unavailable for 15 odd years is a crime.

Lil Louis and The WorldFrom the Mind of Lil Louis (Diamond 1989) favourite Lil Louis record is the US Epic EP of I Called U which I’ve mentioned before, but its hard to go pass either of his early albums, both of which still sound like the masterwerks they are, a decade and a half later. What I particularly love about this, the first of them, is the way it so successfully veers between the rather, at the time, off the wall almost nightmarish twisted oddness (but house had so much oddness in its first decade that it didn’t seem quite so odd then if you get the drift) of French Kiss, and I Called U, to the sweetly soulful Nyce & Slow and Insecure, all of which feel connected by the inherent jazzness (god, another word that definitely doesn’t exist, I guess it does now...its better than the god awful “jazzy”) of it all. What I’m trying to say in a very clumsy way, is that, for me, great jazz albums veer almost unpredictably all over the place, sometimes into uncomfortable zones, sometimes into easy warmth (think Coltrane at the Village Vanguard or Saxophone Colossus), and this album does all that, and seems part of that tradition. The uneasy noise of Blackout, complete with Biblical quotes into Tuch Me , co-produced by Larry Heard really sums that up. Once again, this album is, these days, predictably unavailable.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, Mantronix still rocks - OK maybe a little dated but it was so ahead of its time! And so much better on vinyl (isn't everything!).

Big Tom said...

Dude, Smokey Robinson rocks. So did David Ruffin, before he O.D.'d on crack.

Tears of A Clown is classic!

Apparently, there are a lot of Ruffins in the Southern U.S., but they're mostly black. My name is also Ruffin, but I'm white. Were these people my ancestor's slaves?

Good on ya for keepin' up on the Motown.

Are you in Bali?

I was just there. Love it for the dose of Western culture it provides.

You wouldn't understand, until you realize I live in Korea.