Ten Amplitude Modulations
Several records that have been on my mind.
Paul Simon, "Loves Me Like a Rock," 1973
Sounds a bit like the Five Blind Boys of Alabama stumbling into a Kingston Trio session-and transcending it. Essentially, that's not too far from what Paul Simon is about. He was a 50s rocker who ended up, like many of his generation, besotted by folk music. Unlike many of his peers, though, Simon also was besotted with the notion of having hit records, as well as being creative, and worked all sorts of different types of non-white-folk-or-English-rock influences into what he did. Not all of these "influences" were procured, shall we say, completely ethically (ask Los Lobos 'bout it).
Ohio Players, "Fire," 1974
I'm so thankful I heard this song when I was 11. If what's on this record--the out-there, hypersexual insanity of P-Funk injected with an extra dose of Midwest grit--was made accessible to impressionable kids like me, maybe the world wasn't a completely ridiculous place in which to grow up.
Robert Palmer, "Bad Case of Loving You," 1978
Back in 1978, there was this revolutionary idea that you could make stripped-down, driving rock and roll that just might get played on the radio. Every time something like "Bad Case of Loving You" came on the AM dial, it was riveting. Regrettable steps (bimbos in black dresses, cocaine, The Power Station) aside, Robert Palmer did some good sides. He had something going on.
Shadows of Knight, "Shake," 1968
After the formerly bluesy ("Gloria") Shadows of Knight, Chicago's teen kings of raunch, fell on some hard times, singer Jimy Sohns--one of the true wild men of the era--signed on with bubblegum producers Kasenetz & Katz and sang this piece penned by veteran pop/rock songsters Levine & Resnick. "Shake" has a solid punk-rock guitar tone, funky drumming, two-finger Farfisa-style organ, and a growling vocal. Solid all around, a really unique pop-punk hybrid. Some Hollywood movie needs to license this song (which was a top 40 hit in '68) and make Jimy Sohns a star again, even for just a little while.
Chase, "Get It On," 1971
Quite simply one of the most jaw-droppingly over-the-top records to make the charts anywhere. In this day and age, it's amazing to hear music this passionate and unconcerned with reserve; some new bands either adopt glum-faced monotony or just wink at you to show they're not really uncool enough to actually believe in what they profess to be passionate about.
Listening to this brass-section-fronted rock/latin/jazz band throw every last bit of sweat-dripping, masculine brio into the recording, one is reminded that John Lennon, Little Richard, James Brown, Elvis Presley, and Kurt Cobain were entertainers as much as anything-and played with passion.
All that being said, this record is also as funny as hell.
Les McCann, "Kathleen's Theme," 1963
Despite repeated exposure over the years, I know almost nothing about classical music. Sure, I've retained some of the great melodies of Beethoven, and the grand settings of Bach, and I think maybe some Mozart and maybe Debussy. (You see my point?)
Which is a strange way of getting to this haunting, gorgeous record. I think it owes something to Flamenco, or some other Spanish classical form. But it's also got something of a chamber-jazz approach, as well as a major-key upbeat piano solo in the middle. I know about as much of jazz as I do of classical, occasional exceptions ("In a Silent Way," Django Reinhardt, Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz) aside, so I can't say where this comes from or led to. But as its own thing, it's special. Strings arranged by Jimmy Haskell, who later did some work with Steely Dan.
Slim Jacobs, "That's Truckdrivin," 1965
Talking country blues concerning the ups and downs of a fascinating occupation, featuring a singer not particularly competent either at singing or playing his guitar, but who knew how to write and sell a damn funny song.
The Flares, "Foot Stomping," 1961
Only recently did I get a hold of this. It's certainly more of an R&B record than a soul record; what I mean by that in this case is that "Foot Stomping," a simple dance number, has a touch of the lowdown, the driving "oomph," rather than the smoother production values of much soul. It's music meant for grinding and shaking on wooden dance floors until your stylish clothes get soaked. This record--oddly enough, done in Los Angeles--is going into my DJ set.
Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, "Treat Her Like a Lady," 1971
The guitars have a classic funky, rock-styled click to them, the rhythm section (tambourine too!) are solid, and the vocals glide over the track as if they were also instruments. The hilarious machismo, masquerading as sensitivity, expressed in the lyrics is special, too. If you can resist taking the singer's sentiments seriously, you might find it a fantastic, driving uptempo record with as much garage rock in it as soul.
Shangri-La's, "Sophisticated Boom Boom," 1965
The Shangri-La's, a quartet of high-school girls from New Jersey, were marketed as tough biker chicks, but they were capable of singing rock, ballads, and uptempo girl-group pop. They sounded "street" and were totally charming.
Dave Marsh got this one wrong, just as he got a lot of things wrong in his Heart of Rock and Soul book (a listing of his 1,001 favorite 45s). His misreading of this song says that the character in this song is a tough chick unhappy to be at a party full of wallflowers.
I don't know where Marsh's interpretation comes from. The song begins with the lead singer having been ditched by her date. Walking sadly down the street, she hears music coming from "over there." "Over there?" one of the other girls asks. "No, there."
When our heroine walks into the party, she sees that the "girls [are] wearing formals and the guys [are] wearing ties." Everyone's keeping their cool but dancing to the sophisticated music: "Take two steps forward, then shake your hips." Marsh paints this record as depressing, which couldn't be farther from the truth! It's funny and sexy, a rallying cry for sharp dressers who like to dance while looking good.