I mastered what?
The treasurer of getting
ass records: Beat Swap Meet #19!
AFTER THE MADNESS: home (outside)
The uncles of America would like you to listen to more Donald Byrd, please.
You’ve heard, loved, and looked out the window wistfully to “I’m a Fool to Want You” and “Cristo Redentor,” and watched me walk down the street to “The Emperor” (DON’T LIE I SAW YOU), so you know that uncles are absolutely justified in their Byrd pushiness. Absolutely. Uncles totally nailed it. It’s just that Byrd played trumpet – and trumpets, like uncles, don’t tend to be very cool. (Exceptions noted, of course.) My first Byrd was Royal Flush from ’61, given to me by my very own pushy uncle when I was 15. He handed it to me with the words LOGAN! It’s got Hancock and Higgins! and a huge smile. I thanked him, then promptly put it in my closet and ignored it for 2 years.
The older cousins of America, on the other hand, have been coolness royalty since the beginning of time, and it’s only when they come along and say you should listen to Byrd that you pay attention. The luckiest among us were started on 1973’s lovely Flight Time, our cousins wanting us to be familiar with it if we ever get to hang with Premier (in the rare occasion he leaves the house; PREMIER LOVES PORN) or anyone with the last name Quik or Shocklee. Byrd’s amazing, it turns out; Uncle James and the cousins were right. Tyme passes, your collection grows. And when one day you realize it’s 2013 and you’re the older cousin now, well damn. Each one better fucking teach one. It’s your responsibility to pass on some Byrd to cousins. Go with A New Perspective, from ’63 – It’s got Hancock and Hank!, my uncle would like to inform you. It’s also got some newer breaks used in songs by Ski Beatz (for DZA) and Party Supplies (for Bronson) – 2 producers who really love Byrd, or just grew up having heard that Shyheim song a bunch of times. (Probably played for them by their older cousins.)
The last LA Beat Swap Meet was on December 9, a bright, chilly Sunday, and you are correct in assuming that I attended. I prepped for it that morning by drinking my standard 2 cups of hot tea, then doing the Wiki-birthday-check to see if any notable musical figures came up, and yep. Up at the top of the list there was one very notable figure, a classy jazz cat – no offense, Junior Wells and Geoff from Portishead, but December 9 was apt for celebration because it happened to be the 80th birthday byrthday of Donald Byrd!, my uncle’s favorite neatly-dressed trumpeter with the terrible poker face whose albums always turn up in BSM bins. It was a good omen.
2 college degrees and a hundred trips to Amoeba have happened since I was a rude 15-year-old. I now have 13 of Byrd’s albums. And while I’d like to thank the Blue Note catalog for its reissue fertility over the years, the fact is that I’m not Madlib, so I’m good with my Byrd supply. Really, I’m straight. Promise. 13. I made the decision to buy no Byrd at the BSM – and in a shocking display of discipline, I actually didn’t. But I had to mark his birthday in some way, however privately; humans are comforted by rituals. So as a humble little inside-my-head birthday tribute to Donald, I kept him in firmly in mind as I walked around the BSM that day, looking and buying. I kept thinking of that charming Royal Flush cover, first Byrd cover I ever saw, and the day started to take shape around the concept of a deck of cards. I ran across Bob and Earl’s Two of a Kind, plus a few 12″s of the more recent “Royal Flush” with Rae and Dre, produced by 2 guys who called themselves – yep – Royal Flush. It was impossible to deny the cosmic factor.
A royal flush is an ace high straight flush (A♦ K♦ Q♦ J♦ 10♦), and is the highest-ranking standard poker hand. It’s only appropriate, then, that high-ranking musical royalty like Byrd and Rae and Dre cite it in song.
15 records, guys: here’s my Byrd-less haul, complete with all my triumphs and missteps from the day. And just for metaphorical fun in keeping with the royal flush theme, I’ve included the card that each album represents in the big deck of life.
1. Pat Metheny Group, The Falcon And The Snowman soundtrack (EMI America, 1985). $1.
A huge fuck-up in the record selection process, right out the gate! What an awful piece of recorded sound! Back story: In The Falcon and The Snowman, a young, adorable Tim Hutton and Sean Penn play Daulton and Chris, friends who sell national security secrets to the Russians during the Reagan era. Risky! (“If anyone’s going to do disgusting, terrible things using the CIA, it’s going to be ME,” said Ronnie, except in real life.) It’s not that Daulton and Chris need the money; they are privileged and bored, and just for kicks they decide to try something exotic that they turn out not to be very skilled in, like a couple of less goofy-looking ____ (name of any current rapper I hate. Let’s go with Mac Miller for now.). Espionage is their game, so if this album were a playing card, it would be the jack of spades, because it’s known as the “con man” of the deck.
Poor choice. This was a poor choice on my part, and I could have saved my dollar by just going to my dentist’s waiting room and listening to the ambient sound (The Wave on the receptionist’s radio). But it’s important to be kind to ourselves, so I will refrain from any additional self-criticism and instead shift the blame for this purchase to 1) Pat Metheny’s name recognition from my cumulative years spent in Jazz sections, my fingers passing him on their way to Montgomery, and 2) the seductive title about a falcon and a snowman. All I heard was “and here come Nicky with the felony rhyme”* the moment I saw the cover, and just like that, here I am in apartment, and the record’s sitting in that stack over there, in the corner by the kitchen. You’ll note that it’s not on my turntable, however, and that’s because I don’t allow boring on my platter.
I’m an idiot.
Cheap prices plus no listening stations at the BSM means you’ll be bringing home much, much garbage (Taxes, death, and feeling like an idiot for buying records you shouldn’t have; Marvin Gaye wrote a song about it.) Which brings me. SIGH. To David Bowie. Falcon is a score but Bowie shows up halfway through the album to do the unheard of (be boring) and sing a song declaring America to be a place of disillusionment and false promise, a discovery to which women and the poor and the brown beat Bowie years ago and have already utilized numerous times in artistic expression. Bowie can pout all he wants about this country, but he remains a Caucasian millionaire beloved by everyone and married to a superfox so the sympathy factor here is nil. Besides, he’s already done one good song about America, and one near-great one. Enough. Ease back, friend.
Is this album good? Who knows! Listened to side A and had just gotten to the first song of B when I realized my tears from boredom were flooding my apartment and I had to unplug everything so as not to get electrocuted. Should I care about Metheny and get some of his past albums? (I have none.) Did you know he played on Joni Mitchell’s weakest album? (I did.) I’m still willing to give Pat a chance, partly because I am a softie and partly because I found out he provides the melodic structure in a pretty OK Statik/Gibbs song of which I prefer the instrumental (sorry, Freddie). I suppose I also have to respect that a 2-second snippet of his band is used by Pal Joey in that BDP song about people luuuuuving their cars and chains. I’m ready to luuuuuv you, Pat! COME TO ME WITH SOME AUDIBLE HEAT, PATRICK. Until then, the sounds of your guitar shall not ring through the halls of apt. 680 because for this lady, jazz guitar still begins with Wes Montgomery and ends with George Benson. (Grant Green gets an honorable mention, and Szabo is somewhere in there too; hi Hungary!) Listen, here’s my 2-sentence review: Dude’s got some great hair. And the name on the cover has Meth in it but I found it surprisingly easy to walk away.
The only thing that could’ve redeemed the Falcon soundtrack would’ve been dialogue snippets in between tracks, as there are some pretty righteous quotes throughout the film. “If given the opportunity,” Chris says toward the end, non-apologizing with a vengeance regarding his reasons for committing espionage, “I would have been more vigorous.” Amen, babycakes. I shall say the same on my deathbed when I’m asked about sex, food, and record digging.
* When it come to Swishers, cut the heart/Listenin to Al Green in the dark. The Falcon and the Snowman ends with its protagonists shackled and jumpsuited. None of Nicky’s songs do, though. His stories are better.
2 and 3. William Bell, Phases of Reality and Relating (Stax, 1972 and 1973). $3 each.
If William Bell were a pair of playing cards, he’d be the jack of clubs and the jack of spades. These two “black jacks” are said to bring poverty and unhappiness, which sounds just about right for the guy who co-wrote pop-bummercore anthem “Born Under a Bad Sign.”
“Percentage change in the likelihood a child will eat an apple from the school cafeteria if the apple has an Elmo sticker on it : +68.” – Harpers index, Dec. 2012, as read by me at the laundromat the day before the BSM.
First thing when you get there, make a loop around the outside perimeter. Walk around and scan, take it all in. It’s just like at the strip club. Go in by the bar, upstairs, look around, then downstairs, look, and loop around the inner perimeter. BUY NOTHING at this point; you’re still running on caffeine and emotion and you cannot be trusted to make rational decisions. Then sit down and take 5 like your last name is Brubeck, sorrycouldnthelpmyself; clear your thoughts, breathe. Check your phone for distraction. Check your pulse. Check your Want/Need list. Check my Instagram feed, obviously. Then come back around to the tables that have appealed to you, based on crate organization, price fairness, and overall aesthetic appeal of the record displays, and, oh who am I kidding, friendliness of the seller.
I went off-course at this BSM, though – my first stop of the day was the table at the northwest corner, facing Hill St., before my perimeter once-over. I took 45 seconds to look in the first bin, where I saw the two William Bells, paused because I wanted them, and then put them back because in that moment I didn’t want them more than I wanted to see all other options from other providers. Vinyl game Tiger Woods. But after my rounds – including quick stop to see/hug Adrian Younge, in the red n black lumberjack with the hat to match, with some copies of the red n glossy Delfonics 45! – I came back. Trying to fight anything with the little picture of the snapping fingers on it is so hard, and trying to fight the blue label with a stack of records in black (MONO!) is totally futile. I’ve been loving Stax too long (to stop now).
Ray Lindsey, Record Man.
The table was manned by Mr. Lindsey, a reserved, older-uncle type who told me his day job is running a body shop but he’s a regular at the BSM, and that he doesn’t see very many women in either setting in a way that let me know he wished he would see more women in both of these settings. Yes, well, me too, Ray. Women are the fucking unicorns of record stores. Ray pointed at my 2 Bell records and told me he’s got lots more “old, old, good stuff” I’d like, which was music to my ears, literally, har, oh my god. Ray explained that his lot for the day was just the doubles and castaways from his personal collection that has grown too large to keep in the house – so he keeps boxes and boxes of records, you guys, snuggled in the back of his body shop, for sale, an image that has since turned into solid daydream material for me while at work. He used to have a body shop in Atlanta, he added, and William’s studio was right next door (“I used to bang on his door all the time and tell him it was too loud. WILLIAM, TURN IT DOWN”).
“We’re still friends,” Ray said, and picked up his phone. “I have his number right here.”
“His PRIVATE NUMBER?” I said, “AHAHAHAHA,” but Ray, as it turns out, was sort of annoyed by large-eyed, socially anxious ladies who have a pitiful need to be reassured that they are hilarious. I was hungry for a laugh, Ray didn’t laugh, and the whole thing just fell flat. Moving on, he gave me his body shop’s information. “It’s down off of Gage; you know where that is?” he asked, the translation of which is Listen princess there are parts of LA below Wilshire, do you realize this? This princess does know the location, as a matter of fact. (I told him I’d give his name and number out to all of you, and so done, let’s all plan a trip to the auto/vinyl shop of Ray Lindsey, Record Man.) I grabbed Relating again and looked at the credits, which included the words “Al Jackson on drums. Duck Dunn on bass.” Suddenly there was a 68-point bump in the odds that I would purchase it, and next thing I know I’m back at home and Relating is there with me, and I’m taking a picture of it on my floor and wondering why nobody’s chopped up the part of “All I Need is Your Love” that starts at 00:19. This is the “Elmo apple sticker” effect, and it is no joke.
Neither album is very good, it turns out (THANKS A LOT, ELMO), but I will rank Phases of Reality slightly above Relating, a ballad-filled waste of time that not even the presence of William’s plaid slacks can save. It opens with a thud in the form of “Lovin’ On Borrowed Time,” a song that I like to imagine is about having sex on a clock that your neighbor lent you just because I need something amusing to think about while sitting through this hogwash. Relating just never recovers from that first song. But pretty color scheme and typeface, I guess?
Just a few years before forgetting to be my lover, Mr. Bell forgot to take a lesson from Isaac Lee Hayes, Jr. and the Dramatics in how to open a Stax album in epic fashion. With that pleasant voice of his and the good sense to have fairly capable musicians Al Jackson and Steve Cropper (!! and !, respectively) flanking him in the studio, he could have really laid it down something proper, and by “it” I mean me in a yellow sundress, in the Stax office upstairs in the back, on a sweaty Tennessee afternoon while everybody else at the label is out at lunch just kidding, Mom. This had nothing to do with me buying it, but I’ll add that Relating features the harmonies of Rhodes-Chalmers-Rhodes, the same trio who sang soulful romantic backup on Al Green songs that you have had sex to, and who, in a big Fuck You to stereotypes, LOOKED LIKE THIS:
“Stillllll in lovvvvve with youuuuuuuu.” Sorry if I just ruined future sexytime listens of Al records for you : (
Phases is a far better album, boosted mostly by songs with livelier pacing and fatter bass, plus the breakdown in “Fifty Dollar Habit.” William’s oddly cheerful delivery is super inappropriate for a story that ends in rats finding his dead body when he ODs, but I really dig inappropriateness in general so this is a plus. The song’s highlight is the background sighing and crying that’s meant to echo the wails of family members worried about the habit in question. But it sounds more like bedroom wails, making it super inappropriate in a sexy way. Remember how the Kid plays Apollonia that track of the girl backwards-crying in his room? Like that. Shame-sexy. It’s pretty hot and I’d enjoy hearing it chopped and looped. However: the one measly breakdown and echoed sighs in “Fifty Dollar Habit,” and another song that would be kind of unexpected and rad to hear in a disco set are simply not enough. Therefore, my verdict is that none of William’s output after ’71 is worth my time. The first 13 seconds of “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” (’68) have given him an eternal pass, though, so he should hold his head high. (A more correct ending to that sentence would be “Steve Cropper’s guitar coupled with Booker T’s production on ‘I Forgot to be Your Lover’…,” but I am trying to be less of a know-it-all in 2013. NAILING IT so far.)
“I paint pictures of infinity with my music and that’s why a lot of people can’t understand it.” –
French Montana Sun Ra.
4. Sun Ra, Live in Paris, August 1970 (Recommended, 1981). UK pressing. $12.
KING. Of everything. Also: queen, and jack, as well as diamond, club, spade, and numbers 1 through 10. There’s no card in the deck apt enough to be a metaphor for him. Sun Ra is not the deck, or a million decks. Sun Ra is the human-shaped mass of carbon and good juju that controls the tides which are in sync with the moon that rises in the evening while men are sleeping and who will later get up at the crowing of the roosters to go to work in the factory that makes Bicycle playing cards. He’s Artemis and Charybdis. He’s Apollo. He is Zeus. He decided the P in Ptolemy should be silent. He was the one who reminded Major Tom about the protein pills and the helmet. He came up with the recipe for cosmic slop, and he’s currently in a meeting with God in order to make sure the years 2073, 2084, and 2093 are worth the wait. (Until then, he has ordered us to socialize, get down, and let our souls lead the way.) The original title of that Kubrick movie was Sun Ra: A Space Odyssey. Rammelzee did Sun Ra’s laundry and Carl Sagan used to call him for relationship advice. We’re all supposed to act like Jay-Z isn’t in the IllumiRati and frankly I’m tired of the charade.
I COMPLETELY MISSED THIS RECORD AT FIRST because I am a fucking moron, nice to meet you. My killer combination of social anxiety and poor indoor vision caused me to walk right by the seller’s display, which featured a signed Street Songs (!) and Live in Paris leaned up against a piece of cream-colored velvet.
Luckily Cosmically, during my third or fourth go-round of the day, I walked by the table again. The backdrop had fallen down in one corner, exposing a dark brown wall that contrasted with the white of the cover and made it stand out. I zeroed in on it immediately, said, “fucking christ,” and threw my hands up and out, fingers spread, like you do when you’re frustrated with a toddler. BAD GIRL. I had walked right by it. The record had been there all day, near my body several times, but invisible until I just looked a little closer. I eventually forgave myself for my sloppy window-shopping methods, as I’m a human being at the mercy of her astigmatism and terrible depth perception combined with the low light inside the building. I’m just thankful that the velvet fell down, showing me something that I had been blind to just minutes before. The moon is always there too, you know? It’s just that you can only see it at night.
5. Lonnie Smith, Move Your Hand (Blue Note, 1970). $4.
Lonnie’s the ace of spades, because he has long hair and a facial mole, just like Lemmy.
(Lonnie’s long hair is because he is now a devout Sikh, by the way. The mole, and his way with a keyboard, are from God.)
This one’s a perfect example of the cover doing all the seducing. Sure, Sylvester Goshay is an epic jazz name (on par with Spanky DeBrest), but his name on the credits does not particularly move me. And while I enjoy Lonnie’s work, I feel the Reissue department at Blue Note has taken advantage of my debit card over the years, so I’m trying to rein it in with the spending. That gatefold cover, though! Those pants! That typeface! Sand! For the Move Your Hand photo shoot, a terribly overdressed Lonnie showed up to play some beach volleyball, or perhaps flag football, rushing directly over from the set of that western he had been shooting with Melvin Van Peebles earlier in the day. (It co-starred King Floyd.) In his haste, he brought neither sunscreen nor a gauzy cover-up and sweated all afternoon in his brown polyester. “C’mon, son,” said Syreeta.
Move was recorded in August 1969 at a place called Club Harlem, a tiny tiny subdivision of Harlem World, I guess, in Atlantic City. Hence the beach photo. Peel off another layer of meaning, though, and the scene serves as a big metaphor – something about the swell and retreat of the waves being just like the American public’s fluctuating hunger for jazz over the years. Or it’s a sign of Lonnie’s clairvoyance, maybe, in that he knew that Andre Benjamin would say, “You go to the nearest beach and open your car door and walk to the place where the sea meets the land” in a wonderful wiggly-basslined rap song almost 40 years later. These scenarios are all possible for the amazing Lonnie, self-taught B3 pro who has time on the side to be a doctor too, and somehow make us all refer to him as Doctor despite not being a doctor. Lonnie compelled me to research tonewheels and oscillators, a beautiful lady named “Leslie 22,” and electromagnetic pickups (different from Ultramagnetic Pickups, Kool Keith’s country music side project); it’s because of him I discovered that the phrase “pull out all the stops” has its origins in the mighty organ. (This is the perfect synthesis of music dorkery and word etymology obsession, and for an English major with a million old records, it is pure pornography.) Lonnie survived some mean Buffalo winters and played with Marvin at Montreux so amazingly that Curren$y wrote a song about it (Al Jarreau in the third row!). He’s obviously a clergyman in the church of Hammond but he’s somehow a Sikh too; as such, he is beholden to sacred texts demanding that one must perform acts of service and stay immersed in virtues, exactly like me when I held the door open for somebody behind me this morning. And never mind his own albums – as a Benson side man he is consistently distracting. Please consult the left channel of your Sennheisers during his particularly upstage-y performance in “Willow Weep for Me.”
Almost as good as Drives from the same year, Move Your Hand has no breaks that I’m aware of but retains the slight upper hand in apt. 680 primarily because it is ALL THE WAY LIVE, a thing I specifically look for when it comes to jazz, Cheap Trick, Donny Hathaway and BDP records. Quick shots: • 4 songs, 5 dudes. • Lonnie’s “Sunshine Superman” cover is sexy like a song with the line I can make like a turtle and dive for your pearls in the sea should be, no offense to the supremely unsexy Donovan. • I wish someone would take “Layin’ in the Cut” and lovingly isolate, tweak and loop some part of 04:43 – 04:53 then let me decide who raps over it so that the beat is properly respected, shout to Larry McGee and his amazing fingers on those guitar strings. Shout to guitar strings in general, actually. • Shout to me walking down the street to “Layin,” which starts out as sweet and unremarkable but rewards those who stay with it. The thing my uncle said to me about jazz when I was 15 is the same thing my cousin told me about house music when I was 16 and it’s the same thing that the old and wise say about love itself: LET IT BUILD.
SUMMER JAMZ 1996! (Ew, no, not you, “Twisted.” Have a seat.)
The ONLY place where Wallace has ever been 2 spots behind Combs.
6. 112, “Only You” remix (Bad Boy, 1996). $1.
KANG OF DIAMONDS, CLUBS, SPADES, AND MY HEART & MIND: Christopher George Latore Wallace. My drive home from the BSM only takes 7 or 8 minutes, and even in that amount of time, my attempts to merge, turn, and reach an optimal cruising speed in traffic serve as a reminder that very, very few people in this world understand the importance of timing and flow. Miss you, Big.
The joker: Stevie J.*, producer of this fucking DELICIOUS MID-’90s-MAXIMA-STEREO BEAST. Because like the guy on the card, he is unnecessary, can be easily tossed aside, and acts like a fool. I will refer you to MediaTakeout for further information.
* In the tradition of creativity that birthed the names Steven “Stevie J” Jordan and Jeffery “J-Dub (My Last My Starts with a ‘W’)” Walker, my Hitmen name would obviously be Logan “Logan M.” Melissa.
The plot of “Only You”: I love you, I need you, I think of you often, woman why in the hell can’t you let bygones be bygones, and room 112 is where…well, you know. Lyrics: a scattered pile of varying degrees of quality, from mediocre to awesome, but fun fun fun every second. Bouncy fun, with a lyrical thesis from the King of Kings County right in the middle just in case the ladies needed just a tiny bit more convincing to get open. With an absolute wizard of cadence like that on the mic, I tell you it’s a wonder anybody remembers anything Mase says in this song. Production: fucking fantastic. FUN. So fun. Perfect amount of bass, perfect BPM, and you don’t even have to be a good singer to sing it, just like the guys in 112! Suitability as “Good or Terrible?” Debate Fodder: high. As a young lady who was pretentious as hell in the ’90s, I stayed mad for yearrrrrrs at every last member of the Hitmen for defiling that Vaughan Mason break. I spun my wheels and wasted a ton of energy on feeling indignant, it was totally pointless, and when I find myself repeating this behavior in 2013 I nip it in the bud (unless it is 100% justified, like the case of my hatred of Cool & Dre for pulling this little stunt). Humans forget that a lot of the originals we consider sacred classic bangers today were just ordinary radio candy upon first release. So I see your criticism of “Everybody know I got more bounce than the ounce,” guys, but I raise you the lyrical laziness of “Bounce left, bounce right/It’s disco time” of your precious original. It’s a draw.
During the recording of “Only You,” the elephant in the
room studio (Daddy’s House) was that it’s Michael Foreman’s bassline plus Biggie’s entire everything that makes this thing work. Sean Combs has built himself quite a comfortable life out of delusion and ego, however, so I am not surprised that this particular elephant was ignored. Obviously I’m Team Andre Harrell forever, and the “Bounce Rock” time-stretch is a perfect example of that patented lazy n’ pandering Combs production style. But listen, hi ladies, the song’s instructional! The raps are like a direct lesson in how to please your boyfriend from New York who has outdated ideas about gender roles in the ’90s but you’re kind of into it; you like being bossed around sometimes. And your mom hates him, so that’s fun. “Only You” was constantly on the radio during a summer of particularly intense romantic confusion and lust for me; it no doubt had some sort of formative effect on my ideas of proper romantic rules and roles, leaving me with the understanding that we gals should always keep it tight, and that Mase, despite what I may have heard, will not be paying my phone bill. It’s all macho BS, but even today’s era of professional adult rappers DMing smiley faces to me, emo male singers of the Oprah generation who are too busy journaling their feelings over a beat to open jars or kill spiders like I need them to, and the affront to manhood known as Joe Budden on my television, I’ll take it.
I could’ve sworn I told you that we were not going to stop. Did I not tell you?
“I miss when music was real. nothin like this crap thats out today,” a YouTube commenter laments, echoing the guy in ’96 who gave “Love You Down” a wistful listen and so badly missed when music was real that he took to his computer to complain about 112. Before that it was “Never Too Much,” ooh those chords and that pretty string arrangement!, man nobody cares about good production anymore and who the fuck names their band Ready For The World anyway. But before Luther’s hit it was all about “Sweet Thing,” now that’s a great song, putting Luther to shame I mean that guy’s a complete hack he won’t go far in this industry. Please realize, however, that Rufus’ studio-perfect creations were all garbage compared to the ’60s grit and struggle of real love songs like “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Percy had to get it right in 2 takes, no studio tricks, boy I tell you, memories, music, realness, best to ever do it, etc. etc., rinse and repeat, round n round, heel up wheel up bring it back come rewind. You know sometimes I get caught up in thinking that times have changed, and then I’ll overhear a music validity debate between two idiots at Starbucks or see Percy Miller pop up on a fucking mixtape in 2013 and realize: NOPE.
7. The Ohio Players, Observations in Time (Capitol, 1969). $7.
Poker hand: Straight. Because this album is respectable, but it’s only when these guys later veered off the straight path into squiggly-bassline/Pat Evans-cover-photo territory that they became fantastic.
The Great Miami River runs through the city of Dayton, a simple fact of geography that illustrates just how much the throb of bass is everything, everywhere – powerful enough to connect two otherwise unrelated names in the great state of Ohio, for example. The course of the Great Miami wasn’t always so definite, however; in the 1800s, it needed to be focused and controlled for commerce purposes, so they built a canal that freed the river to go from Cincinnati to Dayton. The process took 2 years but now the water flows smoothly.
Observations in Time is an album by a band called the Ohio Players, just not the Ohio Players Ohio Players. Observations Players hadn’t hit musical puberty yet and were neither balling nor (doing their own thang). They were also sorely A&R deficient in 1969 and had the misfortune of releasing this album of tepid love songs the same year Cloud Nine and Hot Buttered Soul came out. Something about a knife and a gunfight.
There are some nice handclaps on Observations, some Impressions-ish chord progression, Temps-ish lyrics. It’s perfectly fine, but perfectly…fine, meaning it doesn’t make me want to take my hips out for a walk down the street, drive really fast, cry or take my clothes off, so of course I forgot it as soon as it was over and moved on to the actual Impressions (below). Women, to put it in more practical terms: you put on a dress and bake a pie to the sounds of Observations. That’s as sexy as things are going to get. But at least you have pie to show for it. Pain, on the other hand, the result of studio copulation and conception 2 years later when Junie came on board and the group’s sound got tight and right, is for walking down the street in jeans that are a half-size too tight looking really right, making a man wanna snatch you up and take you on his Love Rollercoaster all the way to O-H-I-O, ladies PLEASE don’t act like you don’t know exactly what I’m talking about.
8. The Impressions, Keep On Pushing (ABC-Paramount, 1964). $20. (MONO!)
The king of hearts: Curtis Lee Mayfield, SIMPLY BECAUSE.
I’m currently in Week 14 of my lifetime boycott of Samsung products in response to THIS dignified piece of finery being turned out like a common WHORE.
(most legit version I could find, complete with crackles and tinny sound, the levels all fucked up. LOVE IT.)
LeBron James, more like The Don of Lames!, HEYYY. His enormous head looms high up on a Sprite billboard on Sunset, a daily sight I must suffer through during my drive to work. He turns up 2-4 times each night on SportsCenter and I am occasionally forced to suspend my hatred of him when videos of him being a fun human turn up, but overall he remains terrible and annoying. You’d think that a goddamn Impressions song at least would provide refuge from his constant media presence, but ha, the joke’s on me. There he is on YouTube, tapping on a Samsung Galaxy which he definitely uses in real life, not an iPhone, silly. Then Shaq comes to the set to pick him up in his Buick, a car that Shaq definitely drives in real life. ANYWAY. THIS RECORD! Tons of history here – the story of ABC-Paramount is an interesting one, weaving together Impulse Records, Lou Adler, and Enoch Light. Look into it. Also worth your time is the Wailers’ version of the Lilies of the Field theme (“Amen”) in keeping with Jamaican men doing gorgeous Mayfield covers. I will also direct your attention to the graceful moment of restraint that happens at 01:28 in “Long Long Winter.” Lovely, great, but let’s get to the breaks:
Before he stole the word trill from Houston pro tem mayor ASAP Rocky, Bun B selected Texas producer Mr. Lee’s beat for “Pushin,” a song in which he repurposes Curtis’ word about struggle and perseverance as a song title about serving to the narcotically challenged. The firmly anti-drug Curtis would’ve haaaated his music being used this way, but as an English major I find the wordplay delightful. Kanye of course chopped it too, except I liked his drum programming the first time I heard it, when it was on a song called “Overnight Celebrity,” and even then I didn’t really care for it.
One of the best finds of the day, Keep On Pushing actually turned out to cost less than $20 because I had 4 other records I was buying from the same guy, and he gave me the classic, thrilling “Just gimme 30 for the whole thing” when he got tired of doing addition in his head. I put it in my bag, straight out of ’64 with the seam splits to prove it, and it just felt heavier than the others, adding 2 whole pounds to my bundle, I swear, from gravitas. You know when you can kind of feel the years in the weight of a record?
It’s not my imagination with this one. A few years ago, people with melanin levels like mine needed to be forced by law not to put human beings of different melanin levels into separate spaces in buildings, so LBJ turned this car around like he swore he would do if we kept it up, put everybody in time out, and signed the Civil Rights Act. The south got fucking heated, of course, exacerbated by the fact that it was summer – the first week of July, 1964 – but the legislation got pushed through, George Wallace got an ulcer, and Curtis Lee Mayfield provided the soundtrack to the whole fuckin thing if all the documentaries are telling the truth. Glorious. While the Four Seasons were at #1 romanticizing poverty, “Pushing” climbed 8 spots on the charts and reached its peak spot during the last week of July 1964. It became a civil rights anthem because of its lyrics, everyone says. I don’t disagree, its earnestness is important, but I’d add that people loved it for its honey as well – the simple, memorable hook that everybody could sing, the horns, and the heartbreaking wonderfulness of those Ha-al-le-luuh-jahs. They matter too, you know.
I do not deserve to have this magnificent piece of American history in my apartment. With my goofy ass. But I’ll treat it with honor and a little bit of fear, sweat on my hands, like I treat all Impressions original pressings (Original Impressings). Its historical value is just a bonus; I would have bought it anyway just because it’s Curtis. Midcentury soul records just sound so pretty to modern ears, my ears, even in 2013, when it’s hard to appreciate the cultural context from which the music sprung –
especially since we no longer have to worry about fighting for equal treatment under the law. YAY. As the civil rights movement rode the momentum through the following year, Curtis’ songs remained uplifting yet non-preachy, and most importantly, melodically gorgeous. People Get Ready came out in February ’65, convincing LBJ to sign the Voting Rights Act in August ’65, and henceforth there were never again any outright acts of voter suppression or gerrymandering, YAYYY. I’m keeping this pretty round fossil forever and using it in the future for comedic purposes, when one day I’ll turn to you and say, “And now it’s time for me to make my Impressions felt” in a Dre accent as I am putting it on the turntable.
9. Ice Cube, The Predator (Priority, 1992). $8.
HA. Yes, OK, fine. You got me. I am about as likely to put this on the turntable and drop bombs on your moms as I am to walk around wearing my dumb new WE TRIPPY MANE wristband (thanks, Jason!) or use my busted old Blackberry in my desk drawer. Still, it’s important that some things are owned just to share with future generations. I look forward to holding my younger cousins hostage for so many speeches, as these are the only forums in which I’m able to spout useless facts about ’80s sitcom stars (Kelsey Grammer bought his house from Priority’s Steve Drath) and segue right into tales of a guy named Larry who made songs that sounded like they were straight Bomb Squad if the Bomb Squad secretly liked Suicidal Tendencies and hung out with Cubans in LA.
“P1 57185,” it says on the spine, immediately putting my smugness levels on 10 when I brought it home, checked for it online, and confirmed that it’s an original pressing. As of this writing you’ll find that a polite British man is selling one for the low low price of $33 American on eBay. MusicStack has one for a completely fucking ridiculous $39, though it did elicit a quick moment of appreciation from me for price consistency in the vinyl marketplace, as it’s a rare thing. (Jacked-way-up price consistency, but still.) I don’t care that there’s nothing on The Predator that compares to “Steady Mobbin,” and yes, thank you for asking, I am still irritated by the use of “featuring” on that song with Das Efx instead of “Intro and Hook By.” Ice Cube is a liar. But I cannot deny the appeal of the names Jinx and Pooh on the back of an album or the appeal of an $8 sticker on the front of it. You’ll be happy to know The Predator is now snuggled safely inside my apartment while eBay pages are getting refreshed by cyberdiggers in the tristate area.
I’ll never listen to The Predator, true, but that is not the point. I’m never drinking my Clos du Caillou Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve from 2010 either, but just like The Predator, I most definitely will take it off the shelf, shove it in your face, and brag about it next time you come over.
10. Young Dro, Best Thang Smokin’ (Grand Hustle, 2006). $3.
2006 Winner, Sweetest Radio Candy from the Great state of Georgia: “Do It To It,” obviously. “Shoulder Lean” is a tight second, however, which makes Young Dro the queen of clubs. He’s the second-in-power to the king. The next-best
thing thang. The understudy.
This one’s got all the TRAPpings of a good southern rap album from the same year we were blessed with that Yung Joc dance and the pool palace, the news that Jeezy already has a job (staying alive), and the glorious sight of Juicy J clutching a golden man-shaped statue onstage at the Oscars. J is still around, though just to get paid to show up at places and play the part of “Juicy J”; Dro missed the “Yung” trend by 6 years and to my knowledge is no longer a part of this Grand Hustle team of kings that’s gettin rich, not pretty enough or life-of-the-party enough or