Sunday, December 12, 2010

Music of the (Blogo)Spheres

Early this year, I wrote a series of retrospective posts on my experience of the decade that just ended, one covering my personal life, one covering movies (from which I've so far spun out the first three installments of what I hope will be a ten part series covering my favorite films of the decade), and one covering music. In the latter, I wrote about the changes in how we experience music, and listed my top 10 albums of the decade. I augmented this with a two part "mixtape" of my favorite songs of the decade (YouTube links only, no mp3's). But I feel like I didn't really get the whole story. The big story of the decade in music was, of course, online file sharing. There are lots of different angles to this, but my favorite development was the rise of the mp3 blog. And so, to that end, I'm going to write a few words on this subject, and leave you with a two-part killer mixtape (actual mp3's this time) of my favorite tunes I copped from the blogosphere over the last decade.

The Napster model of filesharing was great. It allowed me, over the course of about a year or two, to accumulate a few hundred mp3's, mostly of old favorite songs that I had never been able to find and had been hankering to hear for some time. But that's pretty much the extent of where that model can take you. mp3 blogs, on the other hand, make music criticism--or music advocacy, really--come to life, by letting you listen to the songs being discussed. And that's the model of mp3 blogs I like--a couple songs posted, and some very intelligent and personal writing about them. Unfortunately, those blogs seem to be an endangered species nowadays. The more popular model are the ones that post whole albums with no writing, which seems pretty lazy to me (not that I don't make use of their efforts).

So here we go. I've uploaded two sets of mp3's. Each one can fit on an 80-minute CD, if anyone still does that (I do, to listen to in my van). They consist entirely of songs released before 2000, that I had never heard before 2000, and which I got off of other mp3 blogs. They pretty much cover my personal musical fetishes: old blues, early rock n roll, 70's funk, old school punk rock, golden age hip hop, heavy acid rock, plus a few musical oddities. If you scraped out my brain and hooked it up to a speaker, this is pretty much what it would sound like. When possible, I'm including a link back to the original post where I got the song. Most of these songs are out of print, but if you can track them down, by all means put some money in the artist's pockets.

Disc 1

Bow Wow Wow - C30, C60, C90 Go! - Pretty sure I found this song on an early blog called Bubblegum Machine, although I can't find the original post. An appropriate song, thematically, to start this mix with as it's a tribute to an older, analog form of file sharing: taping songs off the radio. Like the digital version, this is something that everyone did, nobody thought was a big deal, and record companies considered "theft." Thus, when you bought an album in the 80's, it would have a sticker with the above logo on it. In high school, within my little group of 5 or so friends, we bought records voraciously, but we'd never buy the same record that another one of us had bought. We'd just tape it. I mean, really, why would you do anything differently? Obviously, there's a bit of ambiguity here--I want the bands I love to make some fucking money--but I love how completely this song embraces the idea of getting music for free. More about Bow Wow Wow here.

The Avengers - We Are the One - I said that these were all songs I had never heard before 2000. Well, I was stretching the truth, because I actually heard this song twice around 1985: first, Redd Kross doing a slowed down "psychedelic" cover of it on one of those Flipside Video Fanzine things, and then the actual record on a mixtape that was played over the P.A. at a Circle Jerks show. I never found out who it was, though, until sometime in the last decade. I can't remember what blog I got this from, but pretty much every punk rock blog has posted it at some point. One of the best punk anthems I've ever heard.

The Red Squares - Transmitter - So much great about this tune, down to the jackhammer sound during the guitar solo. Great beat--I picture the singer doing some kind of hoppy little dance across the stage--and I LOVE that second voice in the chorus growling "Seeeeerious".

Mean Red Spiders - Rejected at the High School Dance - I've written before about how punk records often use shitty production to their advantage. Here's a great example, with everything pushed into the red (in imitation of the Stooges' Raw Power), making it sound like a migraine. Not so much a song as a misogynist tantrum, but such a great punk sound.

Vox Pop - Cab Driver - As Joe indicates in his post, this c. 1980 punk single actually sounds much more like a c. 1989 punk single. Nice and noisy.

Skafish - Disgracing the Family Name - One of the fun things about music writing is the opportunity to insert your own narrative on history. Joe Stumble, on his blog Last Days of Man on Earth, has been assembling (whether he's conscious of it or not) a sort of alternative canon of late 70's-early 80's punk rock, distinguished by a lot of these songs that are somewhere between punk and new wave, whatever either of those terms might actually mean. He also turned me on to the Atomic Shockwaves series of compilations, which I've been slowly going through. This post prompted me to post a Skafish b-side here.

Big Jay McNeely - Just Crazy - There's a lot of great material on Big Jay in Central Avenue Sounds. He was (like all the jazzbos coming out of Watts at the time) classically trained, and according to all who heard him a pretty good bebop player, but when he recorded his first record ("Deacon Hop"), a raunchy r&b instrumental, he cleared all training and technique from his mind and just started wailing. He goes even further out on this one, which sounds almost like Albert Ayler or something.

Myron Lee - Homicide - This is one of the best rockabilly records I've ever heard, not least for that nasty sax.

Ronnie Lee Dawson - Action Packed - Ya hear me? I said ACTION PACKED!

The Surfaris - Bombora! - This surf instrumental rocks so hard that I have a hard time believing it's a vintage 60's tune, and not some 90's surf-punk band like Man...Or Astroman? or, uh, The Bomboras.

The Pleasure Seekers - What a Way to Die - Absolutely brilliant girls-in-the-garage rocker out of Motor City featuring the Quatro sisters. That's Suzi Quatro, and her three sisters, one of whom is Sherilynn Fenn's mama. You can find this on the great comp Friday Night at the Hide Out.

Thee Midniters - Jump, Jive and Harmonize - I never even heard of this East L.A. band until I moved here, but they have a huge following out here. Generally, they seem to be more loved for soul tunes like "Chicano Power" than their killer garage rock like this song and "Whittier Boulevard," but this has got to be one of the hottest rockers of the era.

Marvin Holmes and the Uptights - Ride Your Mule - The next three songs can all be found at the above link. I came upon them all simultaneously when I discovered Soul Sides, one of the original mp3 blogs. I probably have plenty of hard funk songs that are better than this one from the blogosphere, but I like these three tunes together. Listen to how tight the band is, especially in that drum break!

Albert Collins - Do the Sissy - A lot of these songs I lost when my computer crashed, and went back and recovered them from CD-R's I had burned. Thus, I was surprised when I looked this up to find that it was by blues guitarist Albert Collins. A great Meters style funk song, but the polyrhythmic tension is even tighter here than on any Meters record!

The Nite Liters - Afro Strut - The title says it all. Can't you just see Freddie "Boom-Boom" Washington struttin' down the halls of Cooley High in slo-mo while working his blow-out comb?

Jimmy Rogers (?) - Sloppy Drunk - I'm actually not positive that this is Jimmy Rogers (I know there are several versions of this song), but when I searched for the song, I found this rather amazing post on Locust St., which I think is the source. Locust St. was, I've always said, the best mp3 blog out there, and the epitome of what a good mp3 blog should look like: Chris posted an ecclectic array of very obscure songs, with extensive (and very good) writing to give context to the music. This is the kind of thing that should be encouraged, or at least tolerated, by copyright holders, so it's all the more depressing that he had to call it quits. He's now attempting to blog about every song David Bowie ever wrote, recorded or performed.

Charley Jordan - Keep it Clean - The next three songs are all from the pre-war blues blog Honey, Where You Been So Long?, but I can't find the old posts. There are lots of variations of this clever tune, but Charley Jordan seems to be the originator.

Frank Stokes - Chicken You Can Roost Behind the Moon - Completely surreal blues about stealin' chickens.

Elizabeth Cotten - Oh Babe it Ain't No Lie - Man, this is some serious blues. Listen to Cotten's voice, you can hear a lifetime of hardship and misery in it (which probably brings up a lot of questions about a white listener's fetishization of black suffering, but we'll skip that for now).

Small Island Pride - Carnival Celebration - A rare entry into the gangsta calypso genre.

Butterboy - Old Aunt Dinah - A bizarre "eefing" recording that I got from Tofu Hut. Can't find the original post.

The Fendermen - Mule Skinner Blues - More eefin' on some nuts proto-rockabilly.

Ernie Cook - Shut Your Big Fat Mouth - And another great proto-rockabilly tune, with some seriously aggressive lyrics.

Lee Andrews and the Hearts - Girl Around the Corner - Great upbeat doo-wop. This song just tickles me.

The Bosstones - Mopity Mope - This one begins three a threefer of songs with wacky vocals. I was pretty sure I'd gotten this from Reverend Frost's Spread the Good Word blog, but I can't find it. Didn't realize how much that blog is represented here, though.

Claude McLin - Jambo - no idea.

Doc & the Dwellers - Oh Baby! - From the metadata, this one seems to have come from the archives of The Hound's show on WFMU. The Hound currently runs my favorite mp3 blog.

Frank Motley - New Hound Dog - This comes from a comp called Wild and Frantic, which pretty much describes the music contained therein. I don't know anything about this band (although, based on the arrangement, I would venture to guess they're from New Orleans), but this record has pretty much everything I look for in a rock n roll record: growling vocals, chaotic arrangement, insane energy and wailing horns.

Mary Irwin - Bully of the Town - Minstrel shows are a fascinating part of American history. Yes, there was a time in the early 20th century when there were huge hit songs with titles like "All Coons Look Alike to Me" and "N---- Want a Watermelon." My gramma used to sing me (far less offensive) songs she'd heard at minstrel shows. She was from Long Island--minsterlsy was not popular in the South, interestingly enough. Anyway, this is about as fucked up as any recording I've ever heard. Chris describes it better than I could: "May Irwin's 1907 record "Bully of the Town" is minstrelsy at its most surreal. A century on, the track (an enormous hit for Victor Records at the time) seems an obscene absurdity--a middle-aged white woman singing, in a genteel soprano, "I'm a Tennessee nigger" and going on about fetching her razor and cutting down her rival. It would be as if Bette Midler had covered the Geto Boys' "Mind Playin' Tricks On Me.""

Disc 2

Paul Humphrey and the Kool Aid Chemists - Funky L.A. - I consider this the unofficial theme song of our fine city.

Archie Shepp - Attica Blues - I believe this came from Ear Fuzz, can't find the original post. This is just such a "Goddamn!" track. Lester Bangs HATED this album, which pretty much proves he was full of shit.

Randy Holden - Fruit and Icebergs - Blue Cheer's cover of "Summertime Blues" is one of my favorite recordings of all time. Unfortunately, there's really only one other song ("Parchment Farm," I think it was) on Vincebus Eruptum, and nothing in the rest of their discography, that sounds like it. But this solo album from Blue Cheer guitarist Randy Holden (he wasn't even one of the founding members) is pretty much what you'd want from a Blue Cheer record. So blue cheers to ChrisGoesRock, a great full-album blog that keeps getting shut down and reappearing, for making it available.

Gil Evans - There Comes a Time - I listened to this amazing album as I was recovering from gallbladder surgery. This very long track feels like sinking down into a swimming pool, or at least that's the comforting feeling it gave me as I was drifting in and out of consciousness.

The Professionals - Theme from the Godfather - Take the immortal theme from the great gangster epic, add funky drum breaks, psychedelic guitars and spaghetti western horns, and it's almost impossible to believe that this has never been used in a Tarantino movie.

Young Zee - Juice - I like the way you feel the bass thump at the beginning, barely within the range of your ears.

LL Cool J - Crime Stories - Possibly the overall best LL Cool J track I've ever heard, an out-of-print bonus track from the Walk Like a Panther cassette.

Volume 10 - Pistol Grip Pump - Ah, early 90's hip hop. Great Cypress Hill rip-off (with a little ODB thrown in) that I'd never heard before.

J. Walter Negro & the Loose Jointz - Shoot the Pump - One of the great discoveries. Remember the scene in Do the Right Thing where the kids open a fire hydrant and direct the spray with a hollowed-out spraypaint can? Apparently, that practice is called "shooting the pump," and this anthem dedicated to that activity has got to be one of the all time great summer jams, performed by a live band hip hop group c. 1981!

Kid Koala - Drunk Trumpet - I think I got this from Ear Fuzz. Might even be from this century, but it fits nicely in this mix, so I'm including it.

Aesop Rock - Hold the Cup - I love that "dragon waking up" bowed bass sample, but the lyrics are what really set this one apart.

Ray Barretto - Acid Nice, long, funky jam.

Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe - Aguanille
Marius Cutler - Zouk
Larry Harlow - Freak Off - These last few songs all come from Captain's Crate (defunct, replaced by Mixtape Riot), one of my very favorites. I could do a whole mix of stuff I got from there. They specialized in what might be called "tropical funk," a sound that just fits right up my alley. The first two are a sort of funky exotica, the last an outrageous salsa track.

Bonus Track: That ending seems a little abrupt. If I had room, I would add Lee "Scratch" Perry - City Too Hot. Here's the video instead:


Blogger Brandonio! said...

Man Or Astro-Man? do so happen to cover that Surfaris song "Bombora" on their "Destroy All Astro-men!" album.So you weren't to far off.

12/13/2010 7:03 AM  
Blogger Chris Oliver said...

I should have known! I used to have a cassette dub of that very album.

12/16/2010 4:37 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...


Thanks, as always, for the kind words, and for this reminiscence of the old (& I think gone-for-good, sadly) MP3 blog era. Bubblegum Machine was a fine early one & John Seroff's "Tofu Hut" was probably the main inspiration for Locust, and that's where I first heard great stuff like "Shoot the Pump."

I've been meaning to officially end LS at some point (it was always meant to end with this particular entry, on Duke Ellington's last recordings) but have been overwhelmed with work & the Bowie stuff (which is going to be a book at some point), so little time. But sometime in 2011, hopefully.


12/17/2010 6:01 AM  

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