There once was a small man who had a big dream.
His stage name was Spookie, and Lord could he scream
with a gospel falsetto both shrill and elastic;
he sang his wee heart out, and it was fantastic.
He stood on street corners with tip cup in hand,
performing his songs in a one-person band.
His lone instrument was a CasioTone,
a magical keyboard that played on its own.
It had tiny buttons named “March” and “Beguine”
that spit out drum patterns synthetically keen.
Over these sounds he would sing about life.
He’d sing about love and about his new wife.
He’d sing homemade show tunes, he’d sing rockabilly.
He’d sing torchy ballads so grand they were silly.
He sang to man from a large record label,
who gave him a contract that seemed somewhat stable.
He recorded songs with his CasioTone,
and the big-name producer of rock band Fishbone.
The tracks all still sounded like tunes from his toy,
but glossy and huge like a old Bob’s Big Boy.
Candy-like melodies sparkled with joy,
earnestness bouncing alongside the coy.
Who cares about where all the studio days went
if all the songs tango with childlike amazement?
But there was a fallout, as there always is
In the “look for a sure fire hit-driven” biz.
Spookie was set-up to be the next Prince,
and when that fell through we’ve not heard from him since.
Spookie’s long deleted so you’re out of luck.
Sometimes it’s on eBay for twenty-odd bucks.
I’ve added some tracks for your listening pleasure,
decide for yourself what’s better to measure:
the cost of a dream to a label’s stockholders
or the whether the lack of a dream leaves you colder.
See you next Wednesday.
NEXT WEEK: Uppity Music’s first podcast, featuring an interview with Greg Tate of Burnt Sugar.
THE SCENE: In 1996 surfing the Web was a silent activity until multimedia company Macromedia announced Shockwave®, the first browser plug-in that could play sound over the Internet. I excitedly downloaded and installed Shockwave then clicked on one the few song samples Macromedia had posted, expecting to hear something simple, basic. What I heard instead was a molasses-slow alien ooze, undulating under tender displaced violins, punctuated by a single note bass line and a calmly disturbed emcee:
Dr. Octagon, paramedic fetus of the east With priests, I’m from the church of the operating room With the strike support, scalpels since the holocaust I do indeed in greed, explore meet the patients Back to brooms with the nurse with the voodoo curse Holding up office lights, standing at huge heights Back and forth, left wing swing to north East and south with blood pouring down your mouth I come prepared with the white suit and stethoscope Listen to your heartbeat, delete beep beep beep Your insurance is high, but my price is cheap Look at the land… blue flowers!
By this point I’d completely forgotten about the technological feat of audio streaming because my synapses were in overload. What was he on about? Who was responsible for this unhinged brilliance?
Turns out Dr. Octagonecologyst was the brainchild of ex-Ultramagnetic MCs rapper Kool Keith and up-and-coming producer Dan The Automator, with supremely wicked scratching by DJ Q-Bert. Kool Keith had long been twisting surreal verses about animals and orifices under assumed names but this was the first time his alter-ego had consumed an entire project.
The good doctor was on a mission to misdiagnose, over-medicate and violate all patients while traveling through time and space. Over a soundscape of boom-baps, blip-blips and skits that mimicked a 1950s hospital drama, Kool Keith uncoiled intricate rhymes of unbridled lunacy.
They drop science of the nonsensical kind in “No Awareness” (Reinforce mixing copper nickel-beryllium oxide/Concentric layers, proportional carbon density of the radius/Indisturbed existence if it does produce contradictory statements) and meet mutations in the creepy “Halfsharkalligatorhalfman” (With my white eyes, gray hair, face is sky-blue yellow/ Sideburns react, my skin is colored lilac/ My skin turn orange and green in the limousine/People think I’m mixed with shark, drinking gasoline).
Radio transmissions of the alien kind infiltrate the beat-poetry of “Technical Difficulties”, while the doctor reinterprets the Hippocratic oath in the clinically gangsta “Waiting List”:
You enter, step in the room, 4, 5 My overcompressed thoughts and ways make you get live You are the patient, and I your black doctor, Medical bills, insurance, cash in the ceiling. Dioxalyn fingerprints here ever since I got my white suit pressed, out the cleaners, X-ray shades, with hard shoes and some razor blades Who’s the brother that’s sick, and needs the operation? Bullets removed from your head, grand central station I gotta cut off your ear, first behind your neck Rip out the stomach, and open rectum’s to dissect Shine the light, inside, roaches crawling in your throat I have no tools, my hammer’s done, my drill is broke
An underground indie record sensation, Dr. Octagonecologyst was picked up and re-released by major label Dreamworks Records…
THE FALLOUT: … a label best known for country superstar Toby Keith and alternative rockers AFI and Papa Roach. Communication breakdown between the band members and the label came swift and hard, resulting in Kool Keith refusing to perform on a tour booked without his consent. Dr. Octagon soon disbanded, and Kool Keith had the doctor whacked on his next album, Dr. Dooom’s First Come, First Served.
Dr. Octagonecologyst is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:
Doing for doctors what Little Shop Of Horrors did for dentists, Dr. Octagonecologyst transforms repulsion into altered consciousness.
See you next Wednesday.
NEXT WEEK: Behold the Casio-Tone shrine of Spookie.
THE SCENE: The English music sub-genre “shoegazer pop” never took off large in America. Its layers of watery, echoey guitars nearly smothered most vocalists’ delivery and we here just couldn’t hang with that, man. But the Chapel Hill, N.C. natives The Veldt evolved this sound with the addition of hip-hop beats, resulting in their major-label debut, 1994’s breathtaking Afrodisiac.
Heavy blankets of oceanic guitars still ring through cuts like “Soul in a Jar” and “It’s Over” but the drums are surprisingly groovy and propulsive. Lead singer Daniel Chavis’ tenor cuts through the brittle fog like a mountain climber, his introspection soulfully directs the hard-driving bell tones of “You Take the World”.
“Until You’re Forever” dreamily glides like metallic butter melting over a very large piece of toast, rooted by unfeasibly funky, cannon-like drums, The sculptural feedback of “Heather” carves space with its leonine roar, and the band almost flirts with new jack swing in the shiny’n’ fuzzy “Wanna Be Where You Are”.
THE FALLOUT: “Black guys with guitars who aren’t bluesmen” were a difficult issue for their label, and in spite of positive reviews Afrodisiac never caught a wave of acceptance. Their next album was released independently, and after its followup The Veldt packed it in.
Afrodisiac is out of print worldwide but you can pick up used copies from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:
If you stood on the planet equidistant from the musical centers of New York and London then lunged into the Atlantic Ocean, that feeling would be the sound of this album. Unique, unmatched and overlooked, Afrodisiac is still waiting to catch a wave.
THE SCENE: In 1968, in a pop world dominated by Motown soul, British rock and American folk, blues legend Muddy Waters had all been forgotten by mainstream music fans. His record label then crassly masterminded a comeback plan — fuse his Chicago blues stylings to the hot new sound of the day, psychedelic rock, which resulted in the lysergically enhanced Electric Mud.
Although Waters himself sounded exactly the same, he replaced his usual band with a collection of young avant-garde jazz musicians who re-rendered his blues into smeary hyperactive acid funk.
“She’s Alright” is a death march prelude to a bar-knuckle bar fight, with power-drill guitars, goofy audio panning, and a completely unexpected segue in The Temptations “My Girl”.
Perfect for a blaxploitation soundtrack, the ultra-macho come-ons of “Tom Cat” strut around a radioactive fallout of moist sax riffs and parched guitar feedback.
“Mannish Boy” was a song he’d performed for years, but now it was dressed up with backward rooster sounds and trashy jungle drums, ready for its modern spotlight:
Now when I was a young boy, at the age of five My mother said I was, gonna be the greatest man alive But now I’m a man, way past 21 Want you to believe me baby, I had lot’s of fun I’m a man I spell M, A child, N That represents man No B, O child, Y That mean mannish boy I’m a man I’m a full grown man I’m a man I’m a natural born lovers man I’m a man I’m a rollin’ stone I’m a man I’m a hoochie coochie man
“Herbert Harper’s Free Press News” swings like a lost James Brown vamp, with Waters’ locomotive-strong baritone nearly dueting with the ear-piercing guitar shriek that runs through the entire track.
This was not your fathers’ blues.
THE FALLOUT: Blues purists abhored it. They, in fact, still abhor it. Muddy Waters totally disowned it, refusing to play any of it live and dissing the session musicians. He never publicly disowned the money he made though, as it sold an unexpected quarter million copies. The album also neatly set up Led Zeppelin’s debut the following year, a band whose fame was built upon electrifying (and stealing) Muddy Waters songs. Nevertheless Electric Mud fell out of print until 1996.
Electric Mud is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:
Sure it’s a sellout to the white audience but Electric Mud is still, inadvertently, a hard grooving and rewarding album.
See you next Wednesday.
NEXT WEEK: Gaze at your Timberlands with The Veldt.