Grace Jones: Living My Life (1982)


It’s her prerogative, it’s the way that she wants to live.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1981 singer-songwriter-model-living canvas Grace Jones crossed over from danceclub diva to mainstream pop star with her Top 40 album Nightclubbing, while its single “Pull Up To The Bumper” hit number 5 on the R&B charts. Finally, it seemed, the world was ready to embrace another hard-edged, brightly colored puzzle besides the Rubik’s Cube, and in 1982 she released her sixth album, the defensive Living My Life.

On the cover Jones scowls like a cagey boxer between rounds, and her songs are indeed riddled with her various sparring partners. Backed by a panoply of Caribbean, French, English and American musicians, her personal fights sound global, universal.

The gypsy Martian reggae of “My Jamaican Guy” lovingly points out the hidden brilliance of her slacker boyfriend (Take a toke from the smoke/Never standing by the door/Just stretching out pan de floor/That way him don’t fall over), yet his infantilism becomes too much for her in the succulent and punchy “Nipple to the Bottle” (Colour and warmth came into your world/It makes me crazy/When you don’t get what you want/You scream and you shout/You’re still a baby).

In a sunny, rippling cover of Melvin Van Peebles “The Apple Stretching” Jones talks of present day New York with the brutal honesty that only comes from one who loves their town (Suburban refugees fleeing the cracked cisterns/Worm ridden fruit trees stream out Grand Central/Pleased to be breathing bagels and pollution).

Jones also, quite shockingly, shows her range as a singer in the unsettling, proto-Pet Shop Boys “Unlimited Capacity for Love”, candidly revealing the woman behind the wacky outfits (And now I must add another to love in my life/It’s one thing to say, to do is another/ If I’m capable of adapting without pressured expense/In a schizoid society in a classic moral sense).

My favorite song is the title track, which inexplicably was left off the album entirely and surfaced as a B-side years later. It’s mock-classical opening slow-ly-winds-up-the-gears-then-BANG! It bounces like a steely, hyper, goofy bobblehead doll, carving out Jones’s psychic toll of remaining true to herself:

Cuss me
Cuss me
You cuss me for living
You cuss me for living my life
You leave me
You leave me
You leave me for living
You leave me for living my life
Hard as I can
As long as I can
As much as I can
As black as I am

Bizarrely, this song that was barely released has its own high-gloss music video, complete with mock suicides, polka-dot mushroom dresses, and monkey masks:

Creating demand for a song that’s nearly impossible to purchase is not the way to follow up your mainstream breakthrough.

THE FALLOUT: Living My Life dropped off the charts faster then President Bush’s 2008 approval rating, ending Jones’s tenure with her label and stopping her one album per year streak. After the ’80s she didn’t release another album for nineteen years.

Living My Life is available from Amazon, the Living My Life” is also available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

A knockout release that knocked out its own performer, Living My Life is the sound of dub narcotic defiance.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Bernie Worrell shows how it’s done.

Prince: Dirty Mind (1980)

The 204th best album ever made. Seriously.

Purchase this album: Amazon 

THE SCENE: No matter your opinion of Prince’s music, one has to admit that the composer of “Sexy MF”, “Sex Shooter”, “The Sex of It”, “Sexuality”, “Sexy Dancer”, “Lovesexy”, “Sex In the Summer”, and “Sex” is extremely focused. At least until his short-term memory kicks in. In the latest issue of New Yorker magazine he shockingly came out against gay marriage, in his own metaphorical way. He later claimed he was misquoted, but since he prevented the interview from being taped he’s culpable in his causing his own problem. (Does anyone else find it ironic that a man who’s spent most of his adult life in a recording studio refuses to let a journalist record his interviews? Maybe he just doesn’t like their choice of microphones.)

The larger oddity is that Prince, now a wealthy 50ish Jehovah’s Witness, has seemingly forgotten that he erected his career upon the bedrock of sexual freedom and gender equity, and how much more interesting he was back when he was a hungry 20-something ex-Seventh Day Adventist. And to that I present his perverted revolutionary classic Dirty Mind.

His previous album Prince went gold on the success of the R&B/disco single “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, but nothing about Dirty Mind said “smooth R&B lover man”. The bikini & trenchcoat cover alone telegraphs his colossal desire to share his severely naughty desires with anyone trapped by his gaze, and in a tight half-hour he lets his salacious psyche unravel.

Sonically as cold as a back-alley quickie, Dirty Mind reinvents funk for the punk age, from the low-fidelity sound that reveals its start as demo recordings to its James Brown-meets-The-Cars keyboard tones, all sour, piercing and aggressive. Here’s where he perfected his hedonist howl, his dry guitar tangs, and his obsession with messing with listeners’ heads.

“Dirty Mind” is one extended come-on, where he offers you, the listener, money to let him “lay you down”. “Sister” makes the most of its rugged and raw 90 seconds by relaying his sexual awakening through sibling-on-sibling action.

My sister never made love to anyone else but me
She’s the reason for my, uh, sexuality
She showed me where it’s supposed to go
A blow job doesn’t mean blow
Incest is everything it’s said to be

“Uptown” is his fantasyland where one can live in harmony through libidinous experimentation, which includes this randy quatrain:

“What’s up little girl?”
“I ain’t got time to play.”
Baby didn’t say too much
She said, “Are you gay?”

And then there’s the oral control anthem “Head”, where the funk is so stanky it could disintegrate soap on contact. As subtle as pair of crotchless panties, Prince initiates a plan to divert a bride from her intended destination:

I remember when I met u, baby
U were on you’re way to be wed…
…But I’ve gotta have u, baby
I got to have u in my bed, and you said
“But I just a virgin and I’m on my way to be wed
But you’re such a hunk, So full of spunk,
I’ll give you head”
‘Til you’re burning up
‘Til you get enough
‘Til you’re love is red
Love it you ’til you’re dead

OK, perhaps Prince wasn’t big on traditional marriage either.

THE FALLOUT: His label was so shocked they created a whole new Explicit Lyrics sticker for him. Rock critics immediately jumped on Prince’s jock, falling over themselves with praise. Rolling Stone eventually ranked it 204 on their 500 Greatest Albums list. Yet for all its brilliance Dirty Mind sold less than its predecessor, only achieving gold status after the release of Controversy, 1999 and Purple Rain. To date it’s the lowest selling album of his classic period*. Maybe he should give it as spin and see why the world thinks he’s lost the plot.

(*1979-1987: Classic period. 1988-present: Mostly crap.)

Dirty Mind is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

So filthy you may need to bathe, Dirty Mind set the blueprint for Prince’s musical domination, and sadly shows why hypocrisy is the greatest luxury.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Kora and trombone sitting in a tree, J-A-M-M-I-N-G.

Poundhound: Massive Grooves From The Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998)


Night of the living bass-head.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: On Chris Rock’s MySpace page he posted a so-funny-it’s-painful essay called the Only Black Guy Concert Review :

“So far this year I was the only black guy at the Van Halen concert, the only black guy at the Cure concert, and the only black guy at the White Stripes concert. And later on this year I’m sure I’ll be the only black guy at the Radiohead concert.”

As the lead singer and bassist of the veteran power trio King’s X, Doug Pinnick lives this position. No matter how unique I may feel at a Pink Floyd concert (where I was constantly asked by white hippie kids if I was selling pot), Pinnick knows he’s the only black, out, left-handed detuned 12-string rock bassist around. But the man loves his job, and after King’s X was dropped by their label in 1996 he recorded his solo debut, the powerful Massive Grooves From The Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music under the name Poundhound.

This gospel-tinged riff rock album is focused on low end the way Sir Mix-A-Lot is focused on back end; it’s not merely the starting point but the entire point. Every track features tasty deep, pelvis shaking bass, sometimes thick like slab-bacon but commonly fresh & fizzy like a mouthful of ginger ale. I played it in my car and I had to turn the bass knob DOWN, and that never happens.

Pinnick’s church-trained bluesy voice is stunning not only for its purity and vulnerability, but also for its sheer strength to cut through the rumbling wall-o-bass to even be heard. The creeping paranoia of “Supersalad” approaches like a tipsy marching army. “Jangle” dangles some rootsy acoustic accoutrements where “BlindEye” sizzles in its primal, salty groove.

His 12-string bass, on which one has to press multiple groups of strings with every pluck, has such an massive orchestral range that it’s nearly another singer on the album. It enhances the Beatle-ish “Red” with a ticklish slip-off-the-face-of-the-earth vibe. On “Hey” it anchors the extended outro like a sexy American sitar.

For reasons like this Pinnick has been deemed one of the inventors of grunge by none other than Jeff Ament, the bass player for grunge superstars Pearl Jam. Unfortunately, pioneering this genere never led King’s X to large album sales, but one would figure that the face and voice of the band would lead to modest returns for Massive Grooves…

which might have happened had Pinnick released it under his own name. To the world at large Poundhound was a completely new band, and outside of the metal community it was treated as such: with utter indifference. Eventually his marketing bells went off, and he now issues his solo albums under the name dUg Pinnick. Yes, small “d” and big “U”. Believe or not, he’s not the first person on Uppity Music to apply unique capitalization to his name.

Massive Grooves From The Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

If you appreciate a thick & meaty low end, Massive Grooves From The Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music will rattle your cattle.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Prince cleans his mind, and I call him out.

Linda Perry: In Flight (1996)


Between Blonde and Pink.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1995, rock band 4 Non Blondes had sold 6 million copies of their debut album Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, mostly on the strength of their unrestrained hit single “What’s Up?”. But lead vocalist and songwriter Linda Perry couldn’t stand singing it anymore, nor could she deal with Interscope Records’ constant pressure to produce another “What’s Up?”, as that song didn’t represent her current musical identity. So she quit the band to create a confessional song cycle that was a complete about-face from her last recording, resulting in the austere and elegant In Flight.

Where the brash energy of Bigger, Better, sounds like it was recorded during the half-time show of a bullfight, In Flight emotes the quiet stark beauty of a votive candle’s flickering shadow. It slowly but confidently tells you its fears and mistakes with the deliberate stillness of a truth-telling session.

Perry’s massive voice is still the sun by which all instrumentation orbits around, but she’s learned to tailor its heat to the tone of the track. It moans over the shadowy desert of “In My Dreams”, and drones along the decaying essence of “Life in a Bottle”:

Stoned and demented

Walking through the walls

When I banged my head I slowly fell

Sad but delighted

Swimming in my well

I guess I’m going straight to Hell

The understated production evokes a ever-constant dream state, where the songs feel both weightless and heavy. The faerie garden of “Taken” is dappled with dew-glistened violin, and the swirly ascension of “In Flight” is grounded by a Stevie Wonder-esque gospel ballast. (So I flew unto a tree/ Gather inspiration/ Happy to meet/ All the other birds).
Not that ALL the songs are so serious; Perry does eke out a marvelously tap-danceable tinkly reminiscence of her childhood called “Fruitloop Daydream” that really should have been a single:

This ain’t no walk in the park

But I call it my home

And you’re all invited

Waking up in the dark

Knowing I’m not alone

It’s all so familiar

The drag queens

The speed freaks

All the homo boys they touch me baby

Tainted love

The park on a Sunday afternoon
Ah, childhood.

THE FALLOUT: Interscope Records was unhappy with Perry leaving the gravy train of 4 Non-Blondes only to replace it with odes to queer love and underage drug use, so they released In Flight with no promotion. It sold a piddly 18,000 copies and was promptly deleted, leading to her 1999 release from Interscope. This was the last the public heard from her until 2001, when scowly meta-wigger Pink demanded she work with Perry, resulting in her co-writing and producing Pink’s 5-million selling M!ssunderstood. In 2005, after contributing to Interscope artist Gwen Stefani’s triple platinum album Love. Angel. Music. Baby., Interscope gave Perry the album masters to In Flight as a token of appreciation.

I’ll say that again: Interscope, a label known for combatively managing its bottom line against the wishes of its artists, gave its own property away to an artist because they felt it was the right thing to do. FOR FREE.

In Flight is once again available from Amazon (with a new cover) and you can sample tracks here:

In Flight is the diary of the only Brazilian-Portuguese-American dyke rock star, and how she made her specific traumas universal.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: The puzzle of Georgia Anne Muldrow.

Q-Tip: Open (2004 but unreleased)


Record company people are still shady.

THE SCENE: When we last left Q-Tip in 2001, Arista Records refused to release his album Kamaal The Abstract, deeming his ambitious fusion of hip-hop, jazz & rock “uncommercial”. I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Record Exec: “I don’t think this album is going to sell.”
Q-Tip: “But every album I’ve made has sold over half a million units, including all the Tribe Called Quest albums.”
Record Exec: “You were in A Tribe Called Quest?”
Q-Tip: (says nothing in return, makes note to call J Records.)

After negotiating a release from his label, Q-Tip moved to J Records where in 2004 he refined Kamaal‘s breakthroughs with the abstract grooves of Open.

Melting the melodic expressiveness of jam-rock into the cadence and form of hip-hop, Open is a confetti explosion of re-interpreted sounds. Q-Tip’s treble flow retains its tap dancer grace, but his usual sunny self is shaded with caution and abandonment. He’s also singing again, but he’s given near duet status to guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, who drops prominent chunks of jazz-metal riffs over the live band.

“Johnny Died” crystallizes Q-Tip’s manifesto, as he raps over a headbopping beat in 6/8 time, playing slip-n-slide around the guitars’ ragged pogoing. The sneaky, circus-like riffs of “Black Boy” crunch greasily like fried chicken as Q-Tip’s sweetly paranoid vocals peel back the carnival curtain:

Be careful of the thing you say
Or they’ll tow your black butt away
Be careful ’bout how you roll
They’re gonna say that you’re outta control

Anyone expecting traditional rap songs on this album will also think he’s outta control with his blues jam “Feelings” and the spidery, climaxing 9/4 rhythm of “Where Do You Go?”. The tracks get groggier and drowsier in the rapidly detuning “Late Mornin'” and the constantly rewarping “I’m Not Gone Have It”. He finally collapses, sinking into the magenta mud of “Lisa”, his melancholia telegraphing the beginning of a romance’s end:

When I woke up in the morning
I still felt it in my bones
Because I think about that morning
When I called you at your home
I told you about my rough times
And you rushed me off the phone
Was it because you didn’t really care
Or because you weren’t alone?

A tour de force of grand experimentalism, with sharp lyricism and tight beats. What could go wrong?

THE FALLOUT: J Records refused to release Open, deeming his ambitious fusion of hip-hop, jazz & rock “uncommercial”. I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Record Exec: “I don’t think this album is going to sell.”
Q-Tip: “But every album I’ve made has sold over half a million units, including all the Tribe Called Quest albums.”
Record Exec: “You were in A Tribe Called Quest?”
Q-Tip: (says nothing in return, makes note to call Universal/Motown Records.)

Q-Tip eventually decamped to Universal/Motown, where he recorded Live at The Renaissance in 2005, which also remains unreleased. On November 7 he’s scheduled to release a reworked version called The Renaissance, making it his first solo joint in 9 years. As this is the same date as the most important presidential election in American history, will anyone even notice?

Open remains unreleased, but you can sample tracks here:

Throbbing with human fraility, Open ushers in a stillborn musical genre, one too un-regimented for an official airing.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Step aside, Larry Graham! Dorothy Ashby plays her funky…koto?

James Brown and His Famous Flames: Sings Christmas Songs (1966)


Funk is…a ham hock in your egg nog.

Purchase this album: Amazon

(The following is a repost, in honor of James Brown’s passing on Christmas Day 2006.)

THE SCENE: In 1966 Christmas albums were strictly the domain of pop acts (think Nat “King” Cole) or smoothed-out rock acts (think The Beach Boys). James Brown was the first Black rock’n’roll or R&B artist to release an entire Christmas album, the aptly named Sings Christmas Songs.

One of five albums he released that year, Brown recorded a surprisingly lush assortment of standards with subtle dustings of breakbeats. Even though this coincided with his ascent into his heavy funk many of these tracks are waltzes. Go figure.

Brown tackles Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” with skittering drums, warm horns and a vocal raspyness that humanizes some of the more trite lyrics. He also serves up a cover of Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby”, in which he oddly tries to emulate Charles Brown’ buttery flow.

He reclaims his own voice in “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year” where he stops singing and talks to you, the listener, about what he’s thankful for this holiday season. It should be corny as hell but he pulls it off brilliantly.

Rich romantic violins feature prominently in “Please Come Home For Christmas” and “Christmas In Heaven” where Brown gets his croon on and gently pleads (OK, begs) for his baby.

His ode to Jesus, “Sweet Little Baby Boy”, is a surprisingly orchestrated country & western affair, perfect for drinking hot toddies or slow line dancing.

All in all, the perfect holiday package for, well, no one in 1966.

THE FALLOUT: Stylistically out of character and indifferently packaged, Sings Christmas Songs went over as well as coal in a Christmas stocking. He fared exceeding better with his next Christmas album, 1968’s unabashedly funky Soulful Christmas.

All of Sings Christmas Songs can be found on The Complete James Brown Christmas, available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

A groundbreaker in holiday albums, Sings Christmas Songs opened the door for all musical acts to record Christmas-themed concept records. (So in some strange way, William Hung’s Hung for the Holidays is James Brown’s fault. Thanks, James.)

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Ornette Coleman goes to London to discover America.

Living Colour: Stain (1993)


Friendly as a backhand.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1992 Living Colour was surfing an unprecented wave as “America’s Favorite All-Black Rock Band™”. Their melding of social positivity and hard rock, combined with catchy lyrics, world-class musicianship and colourful imagery had led to gold records, hit singles, Grammy awards, sold-out tours, commercial fame and musical credibility. And then…the bass player quit. The next year brought a new bassist, a new vision and new dark album, the nihilistic Stain.

Unlike the hopefulness of their last two releases, Stain defines a unsettling, friendless landscape without happy endings. Even the song titles burn with desolation: “Never Satisfied”, “Mind Your Own Business”, “Nothingness”. Always a sample-happy band, Living Colour now populated their metallic songs with bursts of atonal squawks and random found sounds, much like how crazy street people yell things at you right before they nod out from narcotics.

The characters that singer Corey Glover inhabits in these songs aren’t any more balanced, suffering from sexual discrimination and bipolar disorders (“Bi”), police brutality, (“This Little Pig”) and nervous exhaustion (“Go Away”). Racism haunts the victim of the combative “Auslander”, as he shrieks a duet against the assaultive melodies. The titular “Postman” is one step from going postal himself, muttering creepy revenge strategies:

Day in, day out, day in, day out
Chaos and carnage around me
Well I hear their shouts and cries
Well I laugh at the gut when they try to surround me
They won’t take me alive

Even the instrumentals get under one’s skin. “WTFF” is a brilliant glittery slice of claustrophobic hip-hop laced with fear, while “Hemp” is a contemplative eulogy to a dead mentor, whose graveled speaking voice wafts through the mix.

It’s ironic that an album about finality should result from what was essentially a new band.

THE FALLOUT: A caustic grunge song cycle was not what the world expected from Living Colour, as “America’s Favorite All-Black Rock Band™” had suddenly transformed into “Four Angry Black Guys”. No hit single, no gold album, no Grammy award. Sadly it also led to no Living Colour, as they disbanded due to creative differences.

Stain is out of print in America but you can find it supercheap on Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

Stain is sound of innocence lost and paranoia found, but it’s lotsa fun.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: A repost from the hardest working Santa in showbiz.

Martin Luther: Rebel Soul Music (2004)


Preaches and verve. (Yes, I’m back. Thanks for hangin’.)

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: When I was playing clubs with my band in San Francisco during the early ’90s, I found the soundchecks fascinating due to the number of soundmen who did not think we played rock music simply because I was the guitarist. After we played a rock song or two the point became moot, but for those first twenty minutes of microphone placement the sound engineers would bark out “blues?” or “folk?” because that’s the music where you see Black guys with guitars at the front of the stage. Blues or Folk.

And performing in the oh-so-diverse city of San Francisco meant that Black rock guitarists were accepted, but much in the way that one would accept a blind housepet: tolerated but not encouraged. Nevertheless this is the musical environment that produced rock guitarist and songwriter Martin Luther, who dropped his first album The Calling in 2000. After several tours as a sideman with The Roots he returned in 2004 with the polished Rebel Soul Music.

A smooth and furious collection of gospel-ish vocals, chill-out beats and metallic riffage, Rebel Soul Music is the lyrical and audio equivalent of a Luther Vandross/Living Colour mash-up. The glimmering and simmering “Daily Bread” twinkles with the comfort of a vintage leather coat, the kind one wears in the mosh pit of “Rebel Soul Music”, the trip-wired call-to-arms exploding with militaristic guitars and gurgling synths.

Luther is transfixed upon maturation, be it his own in the humorously public “Growing Pains” or the cultural lack of it as displayed in the gutter arena rock of “Sleep Walking”:

We know the game is to be sold but who will explain…
If you don’t know, if you don’t know
I’m tired of your drama your game done got old
Thinking that you up on ya game but you don’t know
If you’re ready to unshackle your brain let’s go…
In television prison too scared to let go
Need to put down your remote and gain some control.

At his contradictory best he gives birth to several new musical genres within the same song. The wholesome handclaps and beautiful stacked harmonies of “Liquid Sunshine” happily relay a most ominous weather report. In the classical-meets-metal “The I.R.S.” he separates a bittersweet breakup into “pastry cream sweet” and “unfiltered Camel cigarette bitter”: (“I don’t mean to be so cruel/But I’m so fucking over you”).

Released on his own label, Rebel Soul Music garnered enough momentum to keep him touring the world for years, and the video for “Daily Bread” got some love from BET, but Martin Luther didn’t break through to the level he deserved. He’ll get another shot this spring in the Hollywood Beatles musical Across The Universe. His role? A rock guitarist.

Rebel Soul Music is available worldwide from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

An exploration of inner transitions and outsider awareness, Rebel Soul Music offers this simple request in its title song: “In a sea of black music the water is so deep / Won’t you dive in?”

See you next Wednesday. Yes, next Wednesday. (I had a baby during the holidays, and when I woke up five months had passed. But I’m back!)

NEXT WEEK: Jay Hawkins learns how to screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeam.

Eugene McDaniels: Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (1971)


Executive branch pimpslap.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: 1971. Post-hippie America was fracturing under the twin weights of the Vietnam Conflict and the harsh social policies of the soon-to-be-impeached President Richard Nixon. Gene McDaniels was a moderately successful smoothed-out R&B singer-songwriter whose growing political awareness had started to blossom on his 1970 album Outlaw. Reclaiming his given name of Eugene McDaniels he set his angry, humanitarian ideals to music and recorded the groovalistic Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse.

Stirring up a Molotov cocktail of blues, rock and free jazz Heroes set the sonic and lyrical blueprint for conscious rap decades before it existed. The luscious gravy-thick groove of “Jagger The Dagger” was wholly sampled by A Tribe Called Quest at the beginning of their first album, and mirrors Tribe’s approach to positivity and questioning of the music industry.

Armed with a musical posse of Roberta Flack’s sidemen, including both acoustic and electric bassists, McDaniels tunes snap like dry twigs in a bonfire. Their prickly grooves are a match for his cactus-sharp insights. The slow genocide of the American Indians in “The Parasite” is smoothly supported by a blanket of downtempo melody that slowly devolves into a smallpox of chaos.

McDaniels looks for answers to painfully clear social inequities. “What is the connection between racism and mob violence” he asks in his only-funny-in-retrospect “Supermarket Blues”, where his attempt to return a can of peas results in a personal beatdown. “How much ass will Jesus kick when he returns” is the subject of the rockin’ “The Lord is Back”. His razor-sharp voice evokes preacher-like rage when he sings of impending divine payback:

The Lord is mad
His disposition’s mean
He’s traveling the road to mass destruction
Poor hearts be glad
Y’know your troubles have been seen
He promised he’d make power reductions
Revelations tells us the time is near
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
Better pay attention to the warning voice you hear.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)

There was a payback all right, but not what McDaniels expected.

THE FALLOUT: It’s hard to conceive of it now, in a post-hip-hop universe, but in 1971 there were no angry, government-criticizing Black artists on a major label. In fact, Heroes enraged sitting Vice-President Spiro Agnew so much that he personally called up Atlantic Records and demanded to know why they had released such a disturbing and seditious record. From that point on Atlantic stopped all promotion and the album died. Although Heroes lived a secondary life in hip-hop, baked into songs by The Beastie Boys, Organized Konfusion and Pete Rock, McDaniels didn’t release another record under his own name for thirty-three years,

Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Muzzled by the powers that be, yet sampled by a future generation, the social rage of Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse is eerily current and prophetic.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Just in time for Yom Kippur, the music of Ugandan Jews.

Defunkt: Thermonuclear Sweat (1982)


Skyscrapers of groove.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: The downtown scene of New York City circa 1980 was the nexus of punk, jazz and dance music yet few artists attempted to compile all three styles into one mega-style, citing reasons such as “technically impossible” and “virtually unlistenable”. Enter trombonist Joseph Bowie, who developed the Voltron-like powers to merge these genres into one sound with his group Defunkt, who released their debut album the same year. A hit with musicians and a miss with everybody else they returned in 1982 with a tighter yet schizoid follow-up, the pummeling Thermonuclear Sweat.

Named after a song from their first album Thermonuclear Sweat stacks fast and furious funk grooves on top of one another – horns colliding with guitars crushed by percussion – until every sonic cavity is bursting with sound, and then Joseph Bowie sings on top of that. If the orchestral funk of Earth Wind & Fire walks with military precision Defunkt moves like a prison break: quick and focused but chaotic and angry.

“Avoid the Funk” ignores its own advice, slapping horns upside their heads with mercilessly heavy low end. Ever the versatile band they can stampede “Ooh Baby” into a headlong fury of melting guitar harshness, courtesy of a pre-Living Colour Vernon Reid, yet also float into the straight jazz (kinda) of “Big Bird (Au Private)”.

Bowie sings like a football coach yelling plays, which makes the revealing “I Tried to Live Alone” much more engagingly paranoid, and their revved-up fluttery cover of the O’Jays “For the Love Of Money” increasingly desperate.

THE FALLOUT: Not only did Thermonuclear Sweat not gain Defunkt a larger audience but it divided their fans over the inclusion of more traditional jazz elements. Defunkt soon left their label.

Thermonuclear Sweat is available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

There once was a band from New York City who combined serrated punk guitars with high-speed polyrhythmic funk beats and made a breakthrough dance record in the early ’80s. That album was Talking Heads’ Remain In Light. Defunkt, ironically still together after 25 years, has yet to receive their due for pioneering the same sound years before.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Eugene McDaniels reaches the apocalypse.