Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Don Gardner - My Baby Likes To Boogaloo b/w Inaugural Malaise

Example Marching to Victory
Okay… The inauguration (er, coronation) of Bush the Younger approaches rapidly, ripping the already tenuous scab that took forever to form after the tragic election. This does not make me happy. On one level, the asshole gets another four years to continue to f*ck things up like a wolverine in a baby carriage. One another level observers can expect to be faced with pageantry, pomp and overkill, wholly inappropriate considering the venue (depressed Washington, DC), the funding (which the DC city fathers were forced to deduct from an already paltry allotment for “homeland security”) and the times we live in (soldiers keep dying in furtherance of the upcoming democratization of Iraq, heretofore known as the Republic of West Vietnam…). On all levels utterly disheartening and disgusting. So, what to do. I’ve decided to do battle with this negativity using one of the rustiest swords in my arsenal, Don Gardner’s ‘My Baby Likes To Boogaloo’. A song that stands as a battle cry, calling the faithful to arms, while simultaneously having nothing at all to do with the situation at hand. For those that don’t know, Gardner was an old R&B hand who had a number of hits as a duo with Dee Dee Ford, as well as a pile of his own 45’s. ‘My Baby Likes To Boogaloo’, on the New Jersey (hiyooooooo!) label Tru-Glo-Town is just under three minutes of explosive, 1967 soul/funk savagery, in which Mr. Gardner whips the band like a rented mule team and shreds his vocal cords like so much slaw. I have gone on record in the past as preferring the Emperors’ cover on Mala, but the occasion calls for a brutal, immediate response and that group’s atmospheric spooky dooky vibe must be dispensed with and Gardner brought in to do his dirty bid’ness. The tune starts off with what sounds like someone slapping a giant, novelty guitar, accented by the slightest hint of combo organ, followed then by someone bashing the hell out of a set of drums that sound like they were perched on top of the main microphone. Don then drops in, sounding like he just caught his straightjacket on a rusty nail and couldn’t be more peeved. The sound is intense, and there are points where it sounds like the whole band climbed into a dumpster and rolled down a marble staircase, always on the verge of spinning out of control (yet always just hanging on…just). Tomorrow, when Bush and his coterie are rolling down Pennsylvania Ave (or whatever street they cordon off and armor-plate and protester-proof for the occasion) with thoughts of dynasties running through their bony little skulls, I will close my eyes and think of a huge wave of angry people, led by a marching band made up of mental patients playing this song. They will wade into the procession waving broomsticks, toilet-brushes, slingshots and roman candles, while rolling their eyes, gnashing their teeth and singing ‘My Baby Likes To Boogaloo’ at the top of their lungs. The desired effect of course will be to further confuse the President, have Cheney drop stone-cold-dead, and Barbara Bush will start slapping Jeb like a little girl, causing him to soil his panties and swear off the very idea of returning to Washington under any circumstances, thereby making the world a safer place. This vision will cause me to smile (if only briefly). God bless you, Don Gardner, wherever you are. Fight the power.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Joe Cuba Sextet - El Pito

Example Joe Cuba
If you grew up in the New York area, Latin music was pretty much summed up by the tempting but ultimately incomprehensible sounds of NY salsa radio stations on the streets of the city – punctuated by the heavily echoed, fast talking DJs who would anchor spaghetti strings of Spanish sentences with exclamations of “Yankee Stadium” or “Times Square”. That and the always entertaining world of Spanish TV – but that’s another post entirely. Back in the 60’s, several NY based Latin artists (many Puerto Rican, some Cuban) started to fuse the sounds of salsa with R&B and soul, resulting in the super-tasty sounds of the boogaloo. Cats like Ray Barretto, Joe Cuba, Larry Harlow (not himself a Hispanic but a master of the music), Mongo Santamaria, Ricardo Ray and Willie Bobo started (on labels like Fania, Tico and Allegre) cranking out some of the hottest grooves on 45. They combined black soul with clave and filled dance floors. At the time, in spite of the obvious high quality of the music many of these artists – who had been successful as purveyors of more “traditional” sounds – met resistance with some in the Latino community who saw all of this boogaloo and shingaling as a corruption of “real” music. Fortunately the music they were making had crossover success and artists like the Joe Cuba Sextet and Ray Barretto made it onto the pop charts. Joe Cuba (real name Gilbert Calderon, and a member of the Stickball Hall of Fame) had been releasing albums since the late 50’s before hitting in 1965 with ‘El Pito (I’ll Never Go Back To Georgia)’. Based on a chant from a Dizzy Gillespie song, the tune is a raving, soul-clapping burner featuring the vocals of Jimmy Sabater and Cheo Feliciano, plenty of Latin percussion and Cuba’s vibes. If ever a 45 had the power to get your toes tapping and your ass moving (hopefully at the same time) ‘El Pito’ is it. The Joe Cuba Sextet would hit it even bigger the following year with the international smash ‘Bang! Bang!’ (the LP ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ (Bang! Bang! Push! Push!) also included the sublime Latin jazz of ‘Que Son Uno’) . The mid to late 60’s was the golden era for Latin soul, and it would be wise to seek out the sounds of cats like Ricardo Ray (who’s cover of ‘Nitty Gritty’ on Allegre is a killer), Ray Barretto (cuts like the monumental ‘Soul Drummers’ and his landmark ‘Acid’ LP which includes classics like ‘Hard Hands’ and ‘A Deeper Shade of Soul’), Mongo Santamaria (all of his Battle, Columbia and Atlantic recordings), Harvey Averne (on Fania and Atlantic), Willie Bobo (on Verve) and countless lesser known but no less amazing artists like the LeBron Brothers, Monguito Santamaria (son of Mongo), Kako, and The Latinaires. If you don’t have the time or cash to hunt down the original 45’s and LPs (and some of them pull extremely righteous coin) I’d suggest picking up some of the Boogaloo comps on the UK Harmless label and reissues of original Fania and Tico LPs, many of which are available over at DustyGroove.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Velvelettes - Lonely Lonely Girl Am I

Example The Velvelettes
As a soul and funk collector I have to admit that I have taken Motown and it’s associated labels for granted for a long, long time. I can attribute this negligence to two things:

1. My initial exposure to soul music – as a kid in the 70’s – was via oldies radio which has a propensity to overplay a dozen or so painfully obvious Motown cuts, i.e. ‘Stop In The Name of Love’ by the Supremes, 'I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)' by the Four Tops, ‘My Girl’ by the Temptations etc. As wonderful as many of these records are, familiarity breeds contempt and by the time I started actively pursuing soul 45s, Motown was low on my list.

2. My tastes in soul, for a long time, ran more toward the grittier southern heat generated by labels like Stax and Goldwax. My Motown-phobia was first conquered in the mid-80’s when my search for the original version of ‘Leaving Here’ (which I first heard by UK mid-60’s R&B giants The Birds) led me to Eddie Holland’s original on a compilation of “rare and hard to find” Motown tracks. It was on this CD that I was first introduced to Shorty Long, Brenda Holloway and the Velvelettes. In the ensuing two decades, my tastes in soul have broadened considerably (especially toward the ‘Northern Soul’ sound which would not exist without Motown) and my knowledge of the depth of the Motown catalog (including Gordy, Tamla, Soul, VIP and other associated labels) has increased considerably. The scales have fallen from my eyes and many, many brilliant records have been revealed. As I said before, one of the groups I was first exposed to via that rarities CD was the Velvelettes. The track on that disc, ‘A Bird In The Hand (Is Worth Two In The Bush)’ became a fixture of my mix tapes, and as time went on I became aware of more brilliant tracks by the group including the storming ‘Needle In A Haystack’ which was an R&B #1 record in 1964, and ‘He Was Really Saying Something’ which I first became aware of via a cover version by Bananarama & Fun Boy Three in the 80’s. The group only released six 45s between 1963 and 1966 (many written or produced by Norman Whitfield). This past summer my father-in-law was gracious enough to acquire a huge lot of old 45s for me and bring them down to NJ for my perusal. As I spent several evenings digging through the boxes, separating the wheat from the chaff, I pulled out anything that I recognized or that looked interesting. One of these was a Velvelettes 45 on V.I.P. that I had never heard of, ‘Lonely Lonely Girl Am I’. At first I didn’t hold out much hope for the record as it had scotch tape on the run in groove and looked kind of poorly taken care of. Fortunately I was able to remove most of the tape and debris, and when I finally dropped the needle on the record I was blown away. This was one of those rare records that reveal themselves as future cornerstones of your personal taste before the first chorus is over. A record so good that I was immediately confounded by an excited mixture of “how could I have missed this record?!?” and “How quickly can I re-cue this record after it finishes?”. Written by Whitfield, Eddie Holland and Eddie Kendricks (and produced brilliantly by Whitfield) ‘Lonely Lonely Girl Am I’ is just over two minutes and eleven seconds of dancefloor soul brilliance. Opening with a fanfare of strings and drums, and a propulsive beat led by a ringing tambourine, the song sports one of the finest melodies in the Motown arsenal, a stunning lead vocal by Carolyn Gill, and a great hook in the chorus. It is simply one of the most remarkable 45s to come out of Detroit in the 1960’s and that it wasn’t a huge hit is mind boggling (at least to me…). Someone at Motown had confidence in the quality of the song. It was first recorded by Jimmy Ruffin in 1964 (as ‘Lonely Lonely Man Am I”), by the Velvelettes in 1965, the Temptations in 1966 and Chuck Jackson in 1968 (though it should be noted that the male versions of the tune are taken at a much slower tempo). The Velvelettes never recorded a full album, though all their official releases (as well as a fair amount of unreleased material) are available on a single disc UK Tamla/Motown “Best Of..” and a deluxe (also a UK release) 2CD set that includes live tracks, alternate takes etc. and is available at Dusty Groove. Buy one of them (or find the 45s) and start dancing.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Keith Mansfield & his Orchestra - Boogaloo

Example Example Alan Hawkshaw Library music (see my previous post about Tony Newman’s “Soul Thing”) is a strange – but ultimately rewarding – world, the deep exploration of which is best left to the hardcore aficionados. This is not to say that it cannot be appreciated with glee by dilettantes like myself. That is also not to say that ‘Boogaloo’ by Keith Mansfield and his Orchestra is technically “library” music. While Mansfield was/is one of the genre’s most serious practitioners - and it doesn’t seem unlikely that ‘Boogaloo’ could have been used in an ad or as background for a “swinging discotheque” scene on the telly* – this particular gem was concocted and served up for the listening pleasure of the general public. ‘Boogaloo’ originally appeared on the LP ‘All You Need Is Keith Mansfield’ in 1968 (along with the original version of ‘Soul Thing’). The tune is a swinging, ever so slightly funky exercise in magic, in which Mr. Mansfield waves his wand (baton) and conjures up a glittering slice of the Jet Set, zodiac medallions, Nehru jackets, dry gin, dolly birds etc. The opening bars seem cribbed from Herbie Hancock’sBring Down The Birds” from the ‘Blow Up’ soundtrack (better know to most as the sample source for Dee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart”). The back-up singers drop in along with the drums, and things move along at a nice, breezy pace. Then the flutes and brass come in kicking things up another step, until a horn break, after which things become much more explosively groovy with the addition of none other than Mister Alan Hawkshaw and his mighty Hammond organ. For those out of the loop of all things Hawkshaw-ian, Alan Hawkshaw (another storied UK studio musician and library cat) was the mastermind behind the organ grooves factory the Mohawks (they of ‘Champ’ fame, another frequently used sample source). Hawkshaw wails on the organ in his inimitable style, with a great cowbell riff cycling in the background. After his solo begins, the singers and the brass drop back in to bring things full-circle. Hawkshaw riffs on the Hammond along with a flute solo and the record fades out. In the end, what you’re left with is a serving of stylish perfection. Enough polish and glitz for the lounge heads, enough greasy Hammond for collectors of that particular variety of groove, combined to create a stellar example of the third, heretofore unknown genre of Dancefloor Groovadelics. If you should happen upon a 45 copy of this gem you will also receive the extra added bonus of a non-LP flipside, the also-quite-groovy (and similarly Hawkshaw laden) ‘Soul Confusion’. *Discotheque scene - not unlike any late 60's episode of Playboy After Dark– filled not with young mods but older guys, tricked out in upscale Carnaby-esque knockoffs and up to their ruffled collars in much younger ladies, all doing that generic dance that everyone on Laugh-In used to do.
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