Episode 2.4: TANGO IN THE NIGHT

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TANGO IN THE NIGHT – Fleetwood Mac – Warner Brothers – 1987

The year is 1986. Fleetwood Mac had not released a new album in four years. And, with the radio favoring younger and more heavily pop hits like “How Will I Know” and “Papa Don’t Preach,” they were considered middle-aged and washed up, like most of their late-60s and ‘70s breezy, FM rock peers, barely a blip on anyone’s radar.

The band members themselves were fractured. Stevie Nicks checked into rehab to deal with a cocaine addiction that, over the course of the past decade, had created a hole in her nose — by the end of the year, she would be in the early stages of a long addiction to Klonopin, the drug meant to keep her off the coke. Drummer Mick Fleetwood, who had declared bankruptcy two years earlier, was in the midst of an outrageously expensive cocaine addiction, while bassist John McVie was drinking heavily, and keyboardist Christine McVie was celebrating her new marriage. Guitarist Lindsey Buckingham was holed up in his home studio, obsessively at work on his next solo album.

The end result would not be Buckingham’s third solo album, but Fleetwood Mac’s fourteenth. A shimmering, painstakingly crafted labor of love produced by Buckingham over the course of 18 months, 1987’s Tango in the Night would become a sort of sister album to the impossible-to-top Rumours: a monolithic story of a band in the throes of self-destruction. Only this time, they weren’t all stubbornly persevering together; they were being held together, puppeted, even, by Buckingham as he coaxed an album from a band that, mostly, just wasn’t there. It would be the last studio album the iconic quintet ever recorded together.

In this episode, we discuss the qualities each distinct songwriter brings to the collective group, how Buckingham’s experimental production style helped make Tango so reflective of its time, and why we will never tire of this crazy family and all of their drama.   

Listen to Tango in the Night: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

(ps — while you’re there, please rate and review us in the iTunes store so more people can discover us and we can all be friends who talk about music together!) 

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • In case you didn’t have enough family drama this holiday, here’s an episode about your favorite lives-for-the-drama rock and roll band!
  • We don’t have 300 hours for our podcast, and the history of Fleetwood Mac, with all its various lineup changes and love affairs and stuff, is so long and complicated that it might take that long to explain. If you want to learn more history, there’s a really cool website called Google dot com.
  • Obviously, we recommend you revisit our very first episode on Buckingham Nicks, the album Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham made two years prior to joining Fleetwood Mac. It would be quite useful for your understanding of this album.
  • Speaking of Tusk, here’s the very earliest version of ‘77 Music Club, the first and only episode of Drunk Album Reviews.” You can probably guess why we didn’t continue it.
  • Poor Lindsey Buckingham. He’s always tryna make solo albums and then they end up getting incorporated into Fleetwood Mac projects.
    • In addition to Tango, see: The Dance, Say You Will, and Extended Play.
  • Banger? Bop? Wut? In case you’re new here, or in case you’ve forgotten, we have a glossary that will fill you in on pretty much any millennial slang (or our own made up slang, let’s be real) we use in the episode.
  • Lindsey Buckingham is a crazy mad scientist studio rat who loves to play with his toys and control almost everything about the production of anything he touches. See our further reading links below for more.
  • Discuss: Do the “oohs” and “aahs” that are really Lindsey pretending to be Lindsey and Stevie convince you that it is Lindsey and Stevie, or do you think it just sounds like Lindsey with a weirdly tuned voice?
  • Okay, honestly, you HAVE to watch this video of “Big Love” done acoustically. Warning: Your head might actually explode.
    • Still thinking “How the actual eff does one man do all that?” Watch this short interview where he explains his playing style and does “Big Love” ever so slightly slower so you can really see what’s happening. IT IS INSANE.
  • Sorry not sorry, but we’ve gotta say it. This album is some of Stevie Nicks’s absolute worst when it comes to both singing and songwriting. We just have to be honest and objective here.
    • (Street Angel is also very, very bad, but we pretend it doesn’t exist, so we won’t talk about it any further here.)
  • “Everywhere” is an undeniable bop that will play about nine out of the ten times you are ever in a CVS anywhere. This is a fact.
    • Check out our master playlist on Spotify to hear examples of how “Everywhere” really does harken back to Fleetwood Mac’s early blues-rock days, if you think about it.
  • Carol Ann Harris = “Caroline.” She wrote a book about her experience with Lindsey Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac. We don’t recommend it. It’s been proven to be full of fallacies many times over. Ugh.
    • But lolol Lindsey, YOU DIDN’T EVEN TRY.
  • Go ahead and file “Little Lies” under “Songs You Always Hear In Drug Stores,” too.
  • Okay, hear Carrie out. “Family Man” is Lindsey Buckingham trying so hard to be Talking Heads.
    • Funky bass-driven melody? Check. Hella danceable drum beat? Check. Basic lyrics about the mundanity of everyday life? Check. I mean, come on.
    • Granted, Lindsey is influenced by a multitude of sources (see: the Spanish-style guitar solos sprinkled throughout, the Beach Boys-esque harmonies), but his affinity for punk and new wave, and for boundary-pushing, has never been a secret.
      • This excerpt from a 1980 Rolling Stone cover story on Fleetwood Mac — in which Lindsey talks about his love of Fear of Music and John McVie is shocked to hear that there’s a married couple in Talking Heads — will never not be funny.
      • And here’s a 1987 review of Tango in Spin where the critic compares it to Talking Heads ‘77. So.
    • Again, hit up our Spotify playlist to hear some similar grooves back to back. Musical walks are fun.
    • Agree? Disagree? Drop us a line. We love to nerd out about this stuff with others.
  • Stevie Nicks self-references and recycles lines in multiple songs all the time and we have SO. MANY. QUESTIONS, but it seems like there are so few answers. So, if you wanna get all English class analytical with us about it, you know where to find us.
  • See our further reading links below for more about how Lindsey salvaged “When I See You Again” and other really terrible Stevie takes in an effort to get something good from her on the album instead of nothing.
  • Lindsey’s shoes were filled by Billy Burnette and Rick Vito on the Tango in the Night tour. There’s a full video of it that we’ll link to in our further watching section. It’s… interesting.
  • Stevie and Christine would later leave the band in the early ‘90s, although the classic, 5-piece Fleetwood Mac lineup reunited in 1997 for a TV special, tour, and live album.
    • Christine McVie left after this tour, due to severe anxiety, and didn’t rejoin the group until 2014.
  • Since 1987, Fleetwood Mac has produced only one new album of original material (2004’s Say You Will) and one four-track EP (2013’s Extended Play). Though Lindsey and Christine released an album as a duo this spring (it’s good, we recommend it), and the band continues to tour, it seems highly unlikely that we will ever see a final album from Fleetwood Mac, and we think, truthfully, that that is quite sad and disappointing.

Album credits:
Lindsey Buckingham — Guitars, keyboards, Fairlight CMI, lap harp, percussion and drum programming, vocals
Christine McVie — Keyboards, synthesizers, vocals
Mick Fleetwood — Drums, percussion
John McVie — Bass guitar
Stevie Nicks — Vocals

Favorite track(s): “Big Love” (Carly) | “Everywhere” and “Family Man” (Carrie)
Least favorite track(s): “When I See You Again (Carly) | “When I See You Again” (Carrie)

Further Watching:
Destiny Rules (truly the best Fleetwood Mac doc out there) | 2004
“Big Love” (acoustic, The Dance) | 1997
“Everywhere” (acoustic, The Dance) | 1997
“Seven Wonders” music video | 1987
Tango in the Night full concert | 1987
Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks Tango interview | 1987

Further Reading:
The real story behind Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night (interview with co-producer Richard Dashut and engineer Greg Droman) | Salon (April 2017)
Tango in the Night re-release review | Pitchfork (March 2017) (ed note: this is one of Carrie’s favorite pieces ever written for Pitchfork and/or on Fleetwood Mac, so it comes highly recommended.)
Stevie Nicks: Recording Tango in my ex-boyfriend’s bedroom was ‘extremely strange’ | Miami Herald (March 2017)
Fleetwood Mac: ‘Everybody was pretty weirded out’ (scroll midway to get to Tango stuff) | Uncut (January 2013)  
Lindsey Buckingham Leaves Fleetwood Mac | Rolling Stone (September 1987)
Tango in the Night review | Rolling Stone (May 1987)
Lindsey Buckingham, Lonely Guy | Rolling Stone (October 1984)

Episode 2.2: URBAN VERBS

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URBAN VERBS – Urban Verbs – Warner Brothers – 1980

In our very first oral history episode, we are extremely proud to present the story of Urban Verbs, an integral band in the shaping of Washington D.C.’s burgeoning punk scene in late 1970s and early 1980s.

With the frenetic energy of punk buzzing out of New York and London and the first bursts of post-punk already beginning to enter the airwaves, Urban Verbs stood at a crossroads of sonic and cultural possibilities. They had their own uncharted terrain on which they could create a scene of their own, with their own experimental sound: Their home base, the now-legendary 9:30 Club, spawned a singular new wave movement, one whose influence can still be felt among D.C. bands of today. Their unique meshing of the visual arts crowd with the music world helped to usher in a unification of the D.C. creative community.

Only circumstance separated the Verbs from widespread national acclaim, so with this episode, we offer a candid telling of a story that we feel deserves recognition, a story of music that still sounds as fresh, driving, and progressive today as the day it was recorded. These are the recollections of an extraordinary period in time, told by those who lived it.

Carly and Carrie would like to dedicate this episode to the memory of Robert Goldstein, whose music and essential contributions to the Verbs were a large part of the inspiration for this project.

Listen to Urban Verbs: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

Here, shared with the public for the first time, is the detailed, two page letter legendary producer Brian Eno wrote to the Urban Verbs upon hearing them for the first time at CBGB. Delivered to the band the morning after the show and featuring extensive handwritten marginalia, the letter reflects Eno’s enthusiasm for their unique sound, the potential he heard in it, and his eagerness to record them — at his own expense.

In it, Eno is remarkably candid, mulling over ideas that seem dated now (“I’ve often thought of the next generation of machines and computers,” he muses) but were ahead of their time, offering suggestions and praise in equal amount. “That was how far I could go before getting embarrassed,” he concludes. “I realize that this gush might surprise you somewhat, but you came at a good time for me.” 

 BRIAN-ENO-URBAN-VERBS-LETTER-CBGB-1 BRIAN-ENO-URBAN-VERBS-LETTER-CBGB-2

Click to expand thumbnails
Thank you very much to Rod Frantz for sharing this document with us.

And here are the tracks Eno ended up producing for the Urban Verbs:

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • Here’s a publicity still of the Urban Verbs from the late ‘70s that’s cool af.
  • Here’s some extensive info about the ARP Odyssey synthesizer Robin Rose used.
  • While the Verbs were pioneers in the D.C. rock scene, this article from D.C. Whiz highlights some of their contemporaries, including the Slickee Boys, mentioned in this episode.
  • For a taste of what the B-52s were like around the time they played with the Urban Verbs, check out this in-depth look at their early days.
  • Here’s some more info on Mike Thorne’s career.
  • The awful Rolling Stone review is, surprisingly, nowhere to be found on the internet. And we mean surprisingly as in “we sometimes scare ourselves with how good we are at sleuthing and deep diving the murky online waters and we STILL couldn’t find it.”
  • The Washington Post covered the Urban Verbs extensively in their D.C. days. See our further reading links below to read everything from profiles of the band to reviews of their shows.
  • The Urban Verbs briefly reunited in 2008. Here’s an interview with the band from the time, and peep our further watching links below to see a 2008 performance of Terminal Bar.
  • More from Bob Boilen on the Urban Verbs.
  • The last time that all the original members of Urban Verbs publicly performed together was at the Katzen Arts Center in D.C. in May 2016. Check out our further watching links below to watch their performance.
  • See our further reading links below to read and listen to NPR’s poignant remembrance of Robert Goldstein.
  • Members of the Verbs, along with other DC bands and artists who continue their legacy, held a tribute concert for Robert Goldstein (which came to be known as RobertFest) at the new 9:30 Club in January 2017. A video of the entire show can be viewed in our links below.
  • In the mood for another oral history? The Washington Post did one in 2010 on the founding and subsequent life of the 9:30 Club.

Album credits:
Roddy Frantz — Vocals, Written-By — Lyrics
Robert Goldstein — Guitar, Written-By — Music
Robin Rose — Synthesizer
Linda France — Bass and piano
Danny Frankel — Drums and percussion
Mike Thorne — Producer

Further watching:  
RobertFest full concert | January 2017
Urban Verbs live at Katzan Arts Center | May 2016
Terminal Bar | 2008

Further reading: 
Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation’s Capital | 2009

Ambient Genius (Brian Eno profile) | The New Yorker (July 2014)
Remembering Robert Goldstein, NPR’s Music Librarian and Our Friend | NPR (October 2016)
Urban Verbs’ Renewal (on a 1995 reunion at the 9:30 Club) | Washington Post (December 1995)
The Urban Verbs: Future Tense (debut album review) | Washington Post (March 1980)
The Urban Verbs (Pension Building show review) | Washington Post (March 1980)
The Urban Verbs (profile of the band) | Washington Post (February 1979)
Two Rock Groups Play CBGB’s (show review) | The New York Times (November 1978)
The Urban Verbs (Corcoran Gallery show review) | Washington Post (October 1978)

Episode 14: COMPUTER WORLD

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COMPUTER WORLD – Kraftwerk – Warner Bros. Records – 1981

If you imagine a Venn diagram of musical genres, you may not immediately think of Kraftwerk being the common ground for artists creating and performing pop-rock, funk, soul, and hip-hop. Yet, there in the middle, connecting them all, is that small electronic band from Düsseldorf: four men who blurred the line between human capability and digital precision.

Ironically, the band that would go on to inspire musicians from all genres never aspired to make names for themselves individually. Seeking only to expand the scope of musical technology and to comment on a changing world, Kraftwerk’s music grew to be so profound that they came to be known as the “Beatles of electronic music.”

At the onset of accessible computer technology in the early ‘80s, Kraftwerk released Computer World. Listening to it today, in our society so inundated with all things digital, it is impossible not to marvel at what a harbinger it was of things to come. In this episode, we are joined by Kid Ginseng, DJ and head of New York electro-funk label Kraftjerkz, and lifelong Kraftwerk listener. Our discussion is a deep-dive into their background and influence, highlighting an artist who is continuing Kraftwerk’s legacy today.

Listen to Computer World: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

(ps — while you’re there, please rate and review us in the iTunes store so more people can discover us and we can all be friends who talk about music together!) 

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • First and foremost, a special thank you to our first guest, Kid Ginseng. If you dig electro music and turntablism, or just want something different and funky to dance to, check out the albums he releases from his label Kraftjerkz.
  • We love old music, but we love new music, too, and with our special guest episodes, we’ll be bridging the gap between the two. As we’ve said before — you have to know where you came from to know where you’re going.
  • “Numbers” is a template for current electro beats. Listen to the track here for an idea of what that sounds like.
  • If you don’t have Planet Rock,” then you probably aren’t a good DJ. Just saying.
    • Peep our further reading section for more info about how revolutionary “Planet Rock” was in the hip-hop scene.
    • Hit up our Spotify playlist to hear some of the similar tracks, like “Cosmic Cars,” and pick out the connections.
  • No, really, Kraftwerk used Texas Instruments tools to create music. Way better than hacking your TI-83 to play some off-brand version of Super Mario Brothers in calc class. Not that we did that in high school. Of course we didn’t do that.
  • Kraftwerk probably predicted the nightmare that is online dating and the rise of Tinder, which is pretty pre-woke.
  • Talk about the double-edged sword of technology with us for a second. Yes, technology makes the creative process of making music accessible and open to innovation for almost anyone — good. But, it makes creating music accessible for almost anyone i.e. people don’t necessarily need skills anymore because they can rely on a machine to do it all for them — bad.
  • Kraftwerk was woke — they only used state of the art technology and recorded in the best of the best studios.
  • It feels partially quaint and partially eerie how accurate and prophetic a concept album about the rise of home computing made in the early ‘80s was, doesn’t it? 
  • Read more here about how they began incorporating sequencing on their Man-Machine album.
  • Emil Schult is a lowkey BAMF.
  • No, really, Kraftwerk stans cycling pretty hard.
  • Debate: Is Kraftwerk funky?
  • Hello, fellow millennials! That Coldplay song you love so much is actually built out of Kraftwerk’s melody on “Computer Love.” One good thing: they actually got permission before they used it, which apparently was an issue with people sampling Kraftwerk before.
    • Ugh. We hate lists so much sometimes, but here’s what Pitchfork had to say about “Computer Love” in their 200 Best Songs of the ‘80s list (scroll to number 53). It’s a pretty good blurb.
  • Late ‘90s/early 2000s electroclash takes a huge page out of Kraftwerk’s book — peep our Spotify playlist for some examples.
  • Sorry for talking about LCD Soundsystem again (but not really because it’s relevant).
  • Johnny Rotten + Kraftwerk = World Destruction.
  • Okay, but really. Sofia Coppola cannot curate a bad soundtrack, and the impeccable Marie Antoinette soundtrack is no exception to this opinion.
    • Aphex Twin draws inspiration and samples from Kraftwerk so often — again, hit up our master playlist to listen to some examples.
  • Here are two brief lists of notable times Kraftwerk was sampled: in hip-hop and from Computer World in general.
  • Hi! Do you have opinions about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? We would love to opine with you! Get at us on Facebook, on Twitter, or over email, if you have a taste for salt.

Album credits:
Ralf Hütter – album concept, artwork reconstruction, cover, electronics, keyboards, mixing, Orchestron, production, recording, Synthanorma Sequenzer, synthesiser, vocoder, voice
Florian Schneider – album concept, cover, electronics, mixing, production, recording, speech synthesis, synthesiser, vocoder
Karl Bartos – electronic percussion
Emil Schult – cover

Further watching: 
Kraftwerk: Pop Art documentary | 2013
Kraftwerk & the The Electronic Revolution | 2013
“Computer World” live at the Tate Modern | 2013

Further reading: 
The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time | Rolling Stone (December 2012) 
Sound Machine: How did a pop band end up in a museum? | The New Yorker (April 2012)
Kraftwerk Day Five: 1981 ‘Computer World’ Invents Electronic Funk | Rolling Stone (April 2012)
Who Knew That Robots Were Funky? | The New York Times (December 2009)
Kraftwerk: I Was a Robot | 2017
Kraftwerk: Man, Machine and Music | 2001

Episode 13: NIGHTCLUBBING

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NIGHTCLUBBING – Grace Jones – Island Records – 1981

Music. Fashion. Art. Icon. Attempting to mix these to create an internationally acclaimed persona would be a daunting task for anyone with less magnetism than Grace Jones, who succeeded so overwhelmingly at becoming a cross-genre “It Girl” that she forged a path for future generations of singular artists to follow.

Already a well-known model and disco queen, Grace Jones began recording music in the late 1970s. The records did modestly well, but in 1979, Island Records founder and producer Chris Blackwell began working with her on a new musical aesthetic, combining funk, disco, reggae, and new wave styles to create something new — and uniquely Grace Jones. With the talents of Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Wally Badarou, Mikey Chung, Uziah Thompson, and other musicians who comprised the Compass Point All-Stars, the sessions that became Nightclubbing would go on to influence music through each subsequent decade.

As we seek to bridge the gap between the generations, there are few better examples of lasting musical, sartorial, and artistic inspiration than Grace Jones. In today’s episode on her 1981 album Nightclubbing, we explore the effervescent enigma of a woman who left her Jamaican home to travel the world, only to return to the Caribbean to create the music that would become the focal point of her legacy. We dive deep into the relationships between music and art, between the artist and the image, and between icon and legacy. 

Listen to Nightclubbing: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

(ps — while you’re there, please rate and review us in the iTunes store so more people can discover us and we can all be friends who talk about music together!) 

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • Forest Hills is honestly one of the most magical, historic venues in the city. Definitely try to get to a show there, if you can.
  • Fairfield, Connecticut and the people who live there are delightful, and the Fairfield Theatre Company is such a great space to check out a show. It’s so close to New York on the train! And it’s green! In this summer of subway hell, maybe skip the L and hit up the New Haven Metro-North line instead.
    • As we’ve mentioned before, we love love love FTC’s Emerging Artists Series. Here’s more info on the next installment on August 21 with Easter Island and Oak House. You know we’ll be there.
    • If you love harmonies and feels as much as we do, check out the Wild Reeds. You won’t be disappointed.
  • If you love punk, post-punk, rock, soul, psychedelia, and/or a combination of all of them, check out Lulu Lewis! We’ve mentioned them before, but we’re not gonna stop anytime soon because we really dig their music and hope you do, too.
  • We’ve mentioned this before, but once again, Chris Blackwell is a BAMF.
  • As is Alex Sadkin.
  • Revisit our episode on Betty Davis’s They Say I’m Different and let us know if you see any similarities between Betty and Grace.
  • TURN TF UP FOR COMPASS POINT 👏 👏 👏
    • Here’s a rad podcast we literally just found that serves as a mini audio-documentary on the studio and some of the cool people who passed through and the records they made.
    • ALSO, TURN TF UP FOR THE COMPASS POINT ALL-STARS 👏 👏 👏
    • Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Wally Badarou, Mikey Chung, Barry Reynolds, and Uziah “Sticky” Thompson are all killer musicians on their own, but the sum = magic
    • Peep our further reading for more on them.
  • A lot of Nightclubbing actually comes from sessions for Warm Leatherette; THAT’S how good they were.
  • Let’s talk about this album cover!
    • First and foremost: Grace Jones is the OG baddie, textbook unfuckwithable. (Confused what that means? Good thing we have our glossary.)
    • Especially, let’s talk about John Paul Goude. Here’s one article about their working relationship, but check out our further reading for more.
  • Here’s that “I came to slay” Grace Jones-Pee Wee’s Christmas Special appearance we were talking about. Childhood memories are crazy, y’all.
  • This album is full of cover songs, so check out our master playlist on Spotify for all the side by side comparisons.
  • Here’s that incredibly in-depth lecture with Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth at Red Bull Music Academy. The link will take you right to the part where they discuss Compass Point and the creative community there, but we highly recommend watching all of it. It’s a good one.
  • Check out the further reading links below for a piece about Grace Jones’s androgynous impact on fashion and music that’s worth reading, if you’re interested.
  • Turnup for Stromae. (Carly recommends watching these videos for Tous Les Memes” or Papaoutai.”)
  • If “Pull Up To The Bumper” doesn’t give you time-machine-going-out feels, maybe this isn’t the podcast for you 👀
  • Turnup for Fonce Mizell.  
  • No, really, they don’t have street numbers at Compass Point, so if we ever by any chance get an apartment or house there, Funky Spaceship is on the short list of names.
  • Here’s some science stuff about how Compass Point’s engineers EQ’d the bass and the drums the way they did that creates that cool, loud-but-open sound.
  • Hey, if anyone knows a physicist who can make us a time machine, hit us up.
  • If you want to read Grace’s ironically titled memoir, follow the link in our further reading section below.
  • Here are the translated lyrics to “I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango),” if you’d like a more thorough explanation than Carrie’s subpar French can offer. (She tried. Also, if anyone wants to tutor her, she’s willing to re-learn.)
  • Visuals are a huge part of this album — see our further watching section below for some great links.
  • Buckle up. We’re about to take you down a musical rabbit hole: Compass Point edition. It’s gonna be fun.
    • Of course we’re going to bring up the rhythmic similarities between Grace Jones/Sly and Robbie and Frantz and Weymouth, even though it’s all mostly unintentional. They were all recording in the same place at the same time — studio osmosis is a pretty cool thing.
    • Add this to the list of mashups we’d very much like: Tom Tom Club’s “As Above So Below” vs. Grace Jones’s “Feel Up”
    • Tom Tom Club’s woke-and-dope sophomore album Close To The Bone isn’t on Spotify or iTunes for some reason (???), but we highly recommend you listen to it. YouTube is the real MVP — here you go.
    • Also, while you’re there — how great would a Grace Jones cover of Bamboo Town” be?
    • Okay, dig: the bassline on Grace Jones’s “Love is the Drug” sounds very similar to the bassline on Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless”
    • OMG THERE’S MORE! The “Crosseyed and Painless” bassline also sounds a lot like the bassline on “Feel Up,” so now we’ve come full circle.
    • “Y, tho?” you’re probably asking. The short story: it’s because all three basslines are outliers to pre-established bass aesthetics. Rather than being funky and melodic, as per usual, they’re pointed grooves (that happen to sound similar) and serve as anchors to keep busy, polyrhythmic songs from running away.
    • Wild, right?
  • Here’s more info about “Demolition Man” so you can learn what exactly Sting was talking about when he wrote it.
  • “I’ve Done It Again” is probably about an LSD trip, so, there’s that.
  • Grace Jones has an enormous legacy. Here’s a short list of information:
    • Grace Jones was and is a huge gay icon, and this album has been noted for its gay following.
    • Artists who have Grace to thank for paving the way for connecting music, fashion, and art: Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Madonna, Janelle Monae… the list goes on and on.
    • Grace’s influence on fashion has also been vast and long-lasting.
  • Finally, worth repeating here, the final paragraph of Grace’s memoir: “If people complain that I am not doing enough of my old material, not performing all the hits, I will stand in front of them, a formlessness that engulfs all form. I will put on another hat, crack my whip, scatter fireflies, fix them with a five-thousand-year-old stare, fit to fight to the bitter end, becoming a ghost with the passing of time. I will be ready for the afterlife, for my bones to be buried in the mountains of Jamaica, or the canals of Venice, or the dark side of the moon, or under the ground in the cities I’ve lived in and loved. And I will say: Do you want to move forward with me, or not? Do you want to know where I am going next? It’s time for something else to happen.

Favorite track(s): Feel Up and Pull Up To The Bumper (Carly) | Pull Up To The Bumper and Feel Up (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Art Groupie (Carly) | I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango) (Carrie)

Album credits:
Wally Badarou – keyboards
Monte Browne – rhythm guitar
Mikey Chung – guitar
Masai Delon – vocals
Tyrone Downie – keyboards, vocals
Sly Dunbar – drums, syndrums
Jack Emblow – accordion
Grace Jones – vocals, backing vocals
Barry Reynolds – guitar
Jess Roden – vocals
Robbie Shakespeare – bass
Mel Speller – percussion, vocals
Uziah Thompson – percussion
Chris Blackwell, Alex Sadkin – production

Further Watching: 
Grace Jones: One Man Show | 1982
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (trailer) | Forthcoming documentary

Further Reading:
I’ll Never Write My Memoirs | Jones’s irony, please memoir (2015)
Grace Jones: Warm Leatherette (re-issue review) | Pitchfork (June 2016)
Welcome to Planet Grace Jones | Paper Magazine (October 2015) 
Grace Jones Explores Androgyny in a New Memoir | Vogue (September 2015)
As Much As I Can, As Black As I Am: The Queer History of Grace Jones | Pitchfork (August 2015)
I’ve Seen That Face Before: Looking back on Grace Jones’s iconic Nightclubbing with the people who made it happen | Fact Magazine (May 2014) 
Grace Jones: Nightclubbing (deluxe re-issue review) | Pitchfork (May 2014)
Grace Jones pulls up to the bumper | The Guardian (June 2011)
Chris Blackwell | Interview Magazine (March 2009)
Grace Jones by Jean Paul Goude | V Magazine (February 2009) 

 

Episode 7: THE MESSAGE

grandmaster-flash-the-message-album-cover

The Message – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – Sugar Hill Records – 1982

In 1982, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released their debut album, The Message, but putting their sound to vinyl had been a long time coming. Formed in the south Bronx in 1976, prolific DJ Grandmaster Flash and his team of MCs (Melle Mel, Kidd Creole, Rahiem, Mr. Ness, and Keith Cowboy) started playing and rapping at house parties, with local fame and notoriety soon to follow. When “Rapper’s Delight” became the first hip-hop record to garner national attention in 1979, the door opened for the Furious Five to release their sound to the masses and come to commercial and critical success.

Released against a backdrop of an economically ravaged and crime-ridden New York City, The Message is widely heralded as the record that made social-consciousness a subject that could be covered by hip-hop. It’s an album that has received considerable praise, from creating a template from which hip-hop could expand, to setting technological standards by blending hip-hop and electronic music, foreshadowing the evolution of EDM.

In this episode, we examine The Message’s connection to modern hip-hop and rap, speak about the lyrical and musical techniques that excite us every time we listen to it, and take a look at the music that influenced the album, as well as what makes it an enduring influence on artists today.

Listen to The Message: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • Record Store Day is a wonderful initiative to get people out to buy vinyl (locally, ideally), and we really scored, but, we cannot stress this enough: support your local record stores as often as you can. Three classic shops in the West Village have closed in the past year alone, if that’s any indicator of just how important it is to support small businesses.
  • Fanny, you guys. Fanny. We’re so glad we discovered this rad all-female rock group and we wholeheartedly endorse the documentary through which we discovered them, Girl in a Band. See our Further Watching links below for a link to watch the doc (if for no other reason than to watch the standing ovation moment behind this perfect go-to GIF).
  • BRB, listening to our new, beloved copies of Marquee Moon (BTW — if Carrie’s dad called Adventure “the red one” one time, we may refer to it as “the black one” at some point in the future) on repeat. Yes, we will be lying on the floor (sorry we said “lay” in the episode; we know better). Yes, we will light multiple candles. It’s a thing.
  • Here’s a brief history of rap (as seen previously in our Tom Tom Club notes)
  • Sylvia Robinson was a total BAMF  — this speaks a bit to why Carly is totally obsessed with her.
  • Here’s some further reading on how funk influences hip-hop.
  • We love basslines. We love them entirely too much. Enjoy this playlist.
  • Hmm… doesn’t “It’s Nasty” sound so familiar? Oh, right. Yeah. That’s because it’s basically “Genius of Love.” Just like hip-hop references what came before it, we’re referencing what came before this episode. As in, revisit our Tom Tom Club episode and notes for a refresher on this particular bop and its history of being an iconic, oft-sampled song.
  • Laura Levine is up there with Henry Diltz and Mick Rock as one of Carrie’s favorite music photographers — you should really check out her work.
  • Hi, let’s talk about vocoders for a minute.
  • “It’s A Shame (Mt. Airy Groove)” makes a dip into social conscious rap — we’ll get into this more extensively in a minute — that is both of its time and ahead of its time at the same time.
    • Honestly, though, it IS a shame that we’re still thinking the same things called out in a song that’s 35 years old.
    • But, it’s not surprising. Every generation has their own “What’s happening to this world?” anthem, and each draws upon what has come before it.
  • Shoutout to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five for not letting toxic masculinity keep them from writing a song all about how much they admire another man.
    • “Dreamin’” is basically how we talk about our own heroes, though, so we’re not throwing any shade. We’d do it, too, if we could.
  • Gospel music certainly influences hip-hop (see current mastery of it from artists like Chance the Rapper); it’s just that “You Are” misses the mark.
  • You can’t understand “The Message” without understanding the history of New York in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. We went into the CliffsNotes version, but to go more in-depth, we recommend documentaries like NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell or Blackout (links below in our Further Watching section), or reading Love Goes to Buildings on Fire.
    • “The Message” is still excruciatingly relevant. New York didn’t get cleaner without some people paying a price. The problems evident in “The Message” still exist today, just amplified in smaller pressure cookers, exacerbated by issues like gentrification, the war on drugs, and the way the war on poverty has turned into a war on the poor.
    • The lineage of “The Message” is evident in current hip-hop, from Jay-Z to Kendrick Lamar. We’ll have some examples in our master playlist on Spotify.
  • The recording of “The Message” actually caused some discord within the group. According to this video note by Rahiem, each person auditioned to have a part on the track, and Melle Mel was the winner — but the rest weren’t pleased that it was just him.
  • “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” was a bonus track released first as a single, then as the final track on the 1982 UK release and subsequent reissues.
  • Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five doesn’t have a happy ending as a group; they’ve broken up twice and performed under different combinations of alliances with no real clear chance of getting the original group back together. Animosity between some members still exists: in 2015, Scorpio made headlines when he accused Grandmaster Flash of being a “fake” DJ.
  • Their legacy lives on, however, from the current hip-hop and rap scene to shoutouts in Hamilton to the Netflix series The Get Down.
    • Shoutout to anyone who has been lucky enough to see Hamilton by now. If you haven’t, and you can miraculously get your hands on tickets: GO. SEE. IT.
    • Seriously, watch The Get Down. It will bring you joy.
  • We have several issues with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s induction process, and we’re pretty sure we’re not alone — DM us, @ us, email us — we’d love to talk.
  • Pssst — if you like us, shares us with your friends, and please rate and review us in the iTunes store. We would very much appreciate it and you would be a friend of the pod for life.
  • As always, talk with us! Even if your question can be answered from our FAQ page here, never hesitate to shoot us an email, message us on Facebook, or follow and DM on Twitter to get at us with questions, comments, or just to say hi. We’ve had some great conversations so far.

Favorite track(s): It’s Nasty and Adventures…Wheel of Steel (Carly) | It’s Nasty and The Message (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Scorpio (Carly) | You Are (Carrie)

Album credits:
Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler) – turntables, drum programming, Flashformer transform DJ device
Keef Cowboy (Keith Wiggins) – Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
Grandmaster Melle Mel (Melvin Glover) –  Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
The Kidd Creole (Nathaniel Glover, Jr) –  Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
Mr. Ness/Scorpio (Eddie Morris) –  Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
Rahiem (Guy Todd Williams) –  Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
Doug Wimbish  – Bass guitar
Skip McDonald – Guitar
Reggie Griffin, Jiggs, Sylvia Robinson – Prophet Sequential
Dwain Mitchell – Keyboards
Gary Henry – Keyboards
Keith Leblanc – Drums
Ed Fletcher – Percussion
Chops Horn Section – Brass

Further watching:
Hip-Hop Evolution | 2016
Girl in a Band | 2015
Blackout | 2015
NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell | 2007
“The Message” music video | 1982
Grandmaster Flash explains his DJ theory | Date unknown, likely early ’90s

Further reading:
Grandmaster Flash Beats Back Time | The New York Times (August 2016)
Grandmaster Flash: ‘Hip-Hop’s Message Was Simple: We Matter’ | The Guardian (August 2016)
So What Exactly Is ‘the Get Down’? Let Grandmaster Flash Explain | Vulture (August 2016)
‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five is the Embodiment of New York City’s Spirit | Culture Creature (June 2016)
The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time | Rolling Stone (December 2012)
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever | 2012
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message (reissue review) | Pitchfork (July 2005)

 

Episode 4: TOM TOM CLUB

tom-tom-club

TOM TOM CLUB – Tom Tom Club – Sire Records – 1981

The year is 1981 and pop culture is exploding around the world — Raiders of the Lost Ark premieres, the wreckage of the Titanic is found, and Lady Diana Spencer marries Charles, Prince of Wales. The music industry is coming out of one of its worst slumps in decades, dealing with the backlash against disco music, and tucked away at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz of the Talking Heads record their first album as Tom Tom Club.

The album will become one of the most popular post-disco dance records of the ’80s and gross more than any of the four albums Talking Heads had released to that point. It incorporates international musical techniques and influences, giving the songs a flavor that expands the post-punk art rock sound Tina and Chris had established with Talking Heads, and sets the tone for the new directions that they would take in their musical careers.

While this album can definitely be dated to the early ’80s, we are in love with how it simultaneously sounds fresh and exciting to our millennial ears. In this episode, we explore the sound combinations that make this album the joyous thing that it is, discuss its legacy and relevance, and speak about why Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz are two artists who inspire us big time.

Listen to Tom Tom Club: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • Here’s a brief timeline of Tom Tom Club’s formation and growth.
  • Tom Tom Club’s first album was not only a greater commercial success than the previous Talking Heads albums; they partially credit it with giving Talking Heads new life when a split seemed imminent.
  • Chris Blackwell is a real MVP and a true BAMF.
  • The chorus of “Wordy Rappinghood” is a riff on the Moroccan childhood tune “A Ram Sam Sam,” and, if you grew up in the ‘90s (or raised kids then), this version might ring a bell.
  • This documentary short on “Wordy Rappinghood” explains everything, in their own words (and, by the way, we could totally go for one of these for each song on this album…)
  • Some (very brief) notes on the origins of early rap:
    • Rap’s origin is based around NYC block parties uptown in the early ‘70s, but it wasn’t something people took seriously — commercially, at least — until the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979 and Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks” in 1980.
    • Meanwhile, downtown, Blondie released “Rapture” in 1981, which was Billboard’s first #1 rap song, as well as the first rap video to play on MTV, opening the door for a broader interpretation of rap from a new musical community.
    • Here’s a little starter guide about the birth of rap.
  • Everyone and their mother knows “Genius of Love” and if you don’t, you’ve probably spent your life in a cave (sorry, but honestly…), because about a million artists have sampled or covered it.
  • This two and a half hour lecture with Chris and Tina at the Red Bull Music Academy is so thorough and comprehensive and pure geek heaven, and, at the same time, not nearly enough — it makes you (okay, us) want to have a longer conversation and soak in their knowledge and experiences even more.
  • Peep our ‘Further watching’ links below to watch two must-see performances of “Genius of Love” — one, a grand production from Stop Making Sense, the other, a sparse, acoustic performance from NPR’s Tiny Desk.
  • Here are the translated lyrics to “L’Elephant,” if you’d like a more thorough translation than Carrie’s 7th grade-level one. (She tried.)
    • Food for thought from Carrie’s subpar French: the French word for “to kill” sounds a lot like the phrase for “you are” — tuer vs. tu est — which, when repeated in the coda, could perhaps be interpreted as an implication or accusation of complicity. Or, it could just sound cool.
  • Listen to “Lorelei.” Then listen to “Suboceana” (from their third album, Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom). Repeat. Tell us if you agree with Carly’s belief that they are sister songs (we love sister songs).
    • “Lorelei” sounds like a song that would be a Pitchfork fave if it were released today, and makes us think of a slew of artists who are influenced by Tom Tom Club, from Tennis to Vampire Weekend to Haim (fun fact: Este Haim decided to switch from guitar to bass after watching Tina in Stop Making Sense) to Jenny Lewis (in all incarnations: solo, with Rilo Kiley, or with Nice As Fuck)
    • Honestly, we just really want a Jenny Lewis – Tom Tom Club cover session to happen.
  • “On, On, On, On” is the new resistance anthem, pass it on.
    • Again, another Nice As Fuck-y song — play NAF’s “Door” video. Play it again on mute with “On, On, On, On” playing in the background. Woke.
  • Pssttt — follow us on Spotify to hear all the songs we discuss on this episode that influenced and were influenced by Tom Tom Club in our ongoing master playlist.
  • A brief history of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz being WOKE AF:
    • This 1983 feminist bop called “This is a Foxy World” that is also our new resistance anthem (although we lament that it’s still a spot-on critique of today’s society)
    • On the “being a woman in rock” trope (circa 1984)
    • Being pre-woke about the changing music industry in 1999 (scroll to the part about $50 concert tickets — we would love to know what they think about the whole $500 VIP ticket racket that’s prevalent today).
    • This.
    • This badass segment in the “Girls in Bands” doc (starts around 27:30), but mostly this here-for-this-write-this-down-and-frame-it moment: “If you want to do something, just do it. Don’t talk about it — and don’t criticize other women. If they want to go out and swing on a wrecking ball naked, why not? Let them do what they want. We’re just smart, as women, because we have our balls neatly tucked inside where they’re protected, and that’s that.” 
  • We’re highkey into this pro-choice PSA from 1991 that featured Tina.
  • Here’s just one piece of context to what we mean when we describe “Booming and Zooming” as a Brian Eno-esque track.
  • The original vinyl album was rereleased with a cover of The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk” replacing “Booming And Zooming” as the final track.
    • Fun fact: Tom Tom Club albums frequently include covers of a song previously done by men, with Tina singing lead, because they are not here for your gender stereotypes.
    • These include: “Under the Boardwalk” on Tom Tom Club, “Femme Fatale” on Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom (sure, Nico sang it for the Velvet Underground first, but it’s still a very Lou Reed song), and “You Sexy Thing” on Dark Sneak Love Action (which is our personal favorite).
  • Tom Tom Club became their full-time band after the Talking Heads split up; their most recent album, Downtown Rockers, was released in 2012.
  • We’re up on our legacy soapbox again and we would love to talk with you about how, as millennials, we want to make sure music that came before us lives on forever — email us, follow us on Facebook (thanks to everyone who asked if they could find us there — we’re on the ‘book now), or tweet at us
  • We are passionate about classic music that has legs beyond its era of origin, and established artists that continue to grow and expand and embrace new technologies and stay in touch with new generations of listeners. Tom Tom Club does this, and they have our utmost respect for that.

Favorite track(s): Genius of Love (Carly) | Wordy Rappinghood and Genius of Love (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Booming And Zooming (Carly) | Booming And Zooming (Carrie)

Album Credits:
Adrian Belew – Guitar
Chris Frantz – Drums, Co-Producer
Tina Weymouth – Bass, Vocals, Co-Producer
Monte Browne – Guitar
Tyrone Downie – Keyboards
Uziah “Sticky” Thompson – Percussion
Lani Weymouth – Vocals
Laura Weymouth – Vocals
Steven Stanley – Co-Producer, Engineer
Benji Armbrister – Engineer
Kendall Stubbs – Engineer
James Rizzi – Cover art

Further watching:
Tom Tom Club: Red Bull Music Academy Tokyo lecture | November 2014
Tom Tom Club: NPR Tiny Desk Concert | October 2010
Wordy Rappinghood doc | 2009
Genius of Love (Stop Making Sense) | December 1983

Further Reading:
Tina Weymouth Writes a Letter to Her Younger Self | i-D [Vice] (January 2017)
The Best 200 Songs of the 1980s | Pitchfork (August 2015)
Rockers Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth Talk Marriage | Rolling Stone (July 2013)
How We Met: Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth | The Independent (March 2013)
Talking Tom Tom Club: Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth Interviewed | The Quietus (July 2011)

“OKAY, BYE!”