Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force – Planet Rock

Planet Rock

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

The early days of hip hop collided with the early days of electronic music and no other artists encapsulated the era like Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force. Bambaataa embraced the groundbreaking eerie synths used by Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra and married the sounds to rhymes that were positive in nature. Produced by Arthur Baker, Planet Rock stands as the pinnacle of the sound & vision Afrika Bambaataa brought to music. Kraftwerk are a huge influence on this particular song – the TR-808 (and heartbreak) beat is based on the song Computer World while the melody is the synth line from Trans-Europe Express. The only other song I can think of that uses a sample to such stunning effect is the remix of Busta Rhymes Fire it Up that incorporates the Knight Rider theme. Planet Rock peaked at #4 on the soul charts and #48 on the Hot 100 – but has proven to be influential far beyond its modest chart positions. Hip-hop, dance, electronic, and trance all owe a huge debt to Afrika Bambaataa. The founders of Kraftwerk – Ralf Hütter & Florian Schneider – were later added as principal songwriters after reaching a settlement with Tommy Boy Records. Lyrically, this is a far cry from the later days of misogyny and violence in hip hop – in fact, the song is positively inspiring in places. With the perfect beat and infectious melody married to the perfect words, how can you go wrong? “You gotta rock it, pop it, ’cause it’s the century / There is such a place that creates such a melody / Our world is but a land of a master jam, get up and dance / It’s time to chase your dreams”

 

 

Brothers of the Sonic Cloth – Brothers of the Sonic Cloth

Brothers of the Sonic Cloth

In the summer of 2013 I had the opportunity to meet up with some friends and attend the Sub Pop Silver Jubilee celebration in the Georgetown area of Seattle. I certainly made note of a few artists that I absolutely had to see – J. Mascis, Father John Misty, Mudhoney, among others – but it was the artists I had no preconceived notions of that left me stunned and bewildered (except for Mudhoney – I’m still riding on that obsession). I strolled over to the Elysian Stage, oblivious to the bodyguards turning people away from the gate. A tap on the shoulder later, and I was enjoying the set from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth from outside of the filled to capacity main viewing area – along with hundreds of other folks who were lined up in the street and on the hills bordering the I-5 freeway. What we were treated to was a grunge doom metal set that delivered in spades.

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The Times – This Is London

This Is London

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

1983 saw The Times release their 3rd full length (though 2nd released) LP, This Is London (their 1st LP proper was held back and not released until 1985). Ed Ball fronted The Times through various guises, but the period immediately following his tenure as a founding member of the Television Personalities, O-Level, and Teenage Filmstars is my favorite. Hipsters and those in the know look towards The Jam for their daily fix of mod inspired punk rock – dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Ed Ball was a mod before Paul Weller was a mod. The Kinks as filtered through a punk rock delivery? Something like that. The title track presents a bleak picture of London, England – times changing, hope evaporating. The song has a mod punk vibe but is wrapped up in pop sensibilities making it one of the most memorable songs by The Times. Resignation and anger collide as Ball delivers these words “I’m walking in the streets of Battersea in search of happiness / But all I find is misery in this London borough mess / My very best friend deserted me for someone else today / She met a small time insurance broker / And they’ll be married by next May”. This is amazing stuff and it is fairly easy to find as most of the early records by The Times were reissued in 2007. You can’t go wrong starting out with this song and record.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday

Chasing Yesterday

At their peak of popularity, Oasis were the biggest band…in the UK. Though they had a few hits in the US, they never broke the US market like many expected them to in the mid 90’s. Driven to success with the double-edged sword of talent & sibling rivalry, it all fizzled out in 2009 after a pre gig fight between Liam and Noel Gallagher. Critics mocked their reverent worship of The Beatles, but I admired it. Is it really so different from the latest crop of post-punk bands who worship at the altar of Joy Division? At their best, Oasis could hang with The Beatles. At their worst, they were left in the dust by The Rutles. Where does a band go when it all crashes down?

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Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart

LWTUA

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Listening to Joy Division the other day, it dawned on me that I haven’t written about their signature tune, Love Will Tear Us Apart. I briefly mentioned it in my overview of their 2nd record, Closer (since it was cut from the same sessions), but haven’t given it the proper breakdown. For me, it is a bit obvious – anyone who has interacted with me will eventually know that I hold Joy Division as the standard by which all other bands are measured. Love Will Tear Us Apart lyrically deals with the issues presenting themselves between singer Ian Curtis and his wife Deborah. Written in late 1979, it was cut two times – January 1980 and March 1980, both versions making appearances on the original 7″ release (a 3rd version was remixed / released on 1995’s compilation Permanent). The version cut in March 1980 is the single version, the January 1980 version was the b-side – the instrumentation is the same, with Ian Curtis singing each cut slightly differently. Musically, it hits all the high points that Joy Division are known for – Peter Hook’s bass is prominent, Stephen Morris lays down the perfect beat and Bernard Sumner gives us melodic guitar lines (though Ian Curtis played guitar on this song when it was played live). The song was released as a single in June of 1980 and hit #13 in the UK, #42 in the US, and #1 in New Zealand (where my brother lives, smart country). It was the band’s 1st hit, and unfortunately Ian Curtis wasn’t around to revel in its success – he committed suicide in May of 1980. Much like the song itself, the song’s success was bittersweet. I’ve listened to Joy Division since I was 15 and they sound as fresh now – 22 years later – as they did the day I 1st heard them.

Moby – Come On Baby

Moby

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

When you think of Moby, you probably think of radio friendly electronic music. Or perhaps Eminem dissing him in his 2002 hit single Without Me (side note, part of the diss related to Moby’s age at the time which was 36. Em’s in his 40’s now. Time’s a bitch, eh Marshall?). You could think these things and you wouldn’t be wrong. If you came across Moby in the mid 90’s though, you’d be thrown into quite a bit of confusion. Fresh off 3 electronic albums released from 1992 to 1995 that were starting to make Moby a household name he decided to throw a curveball. Feeling disillusioned by the lack of positive press, Moby released a punk rock album in 1996. Animal Rights might be the most misunderstood album of the 90’s – confrontational punk / metal tunes mixed with soothing ambient instrumentals, it was confounding. It also almost destroyed Moby’s career (we all know he recovered beyond his wildest dreams). Personally, it is my favorite record that Moby has ever released. The 1st single was a cover of Mission of Burma’s That’s When I Reach For My Revolver which received a bit of radio play. The 2nd single was Come On Baby - a slab of electronic punk metal. You’ve never really heard Moby like this before – and probably never will again. Guitars rage, sound f/x overwhelm and Moby shouts lines like “Love myself with a broken-hearted love / What I never saw what do I care? / You don’t want a sick celebration love / Think about a broken time was soulless”. The single was released in late 1996 and was backed by a death metal version of Devo’s Whip It (yes, I’m serious). By 1997 Moby was back to making electronic music almost exclusively (save for the odd Joy Division cover here and there) and would hit mainstream success in 1999. Some might look back on the Animal Rights punk rock experiment as a failure – I look on it as a glorious experiment that is still exhilarating 19 years later.

Lay Low Moon – One Winter

LayLowMoon

Winters in the Pacific Northwest are a different beast compared to the snowy winters of my youth in Southeast Pennsylvania. The rain lingers, the grey skies seem omnipresent. From mid October until April, the outlook can be a little bleak. For me, I’m counting down the days until the sun returns in fully glory and I can skimboard on Puget Sound and Pacific Ocean beaches again. While I’m dreaming of the sun, I look towards wintry type music, those albums imbued with wistful longing and nostalgia. Boston’s Lay Low Moon fit the bill perfectly.

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The Sonics – Louie Louie

The Sonics

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

If you were to ask me where the roots of Seattle grunge lie (and you are reading this, aren’t you?), I’d tell you to look 40 miles to the south in the city of Tacoma and go back in time to the mid 60’s. The Pacific Northwest music scene was a vibrant community that leaned towards the garage rock end of the spectrum. The Sonics were rougher than all of their peers, sounding truly possessed on their records. Abrasive (though melodic) sax by Rob Lind was part of their signature sound, along with Gerry Rosalie’s unhinged vocals. Rounding out the classic line-up were the Parypa brothers – Larry on guitar, Andy on bass, and Bob Bennett on drums. For the recording of their 2nd record, Boom, The Sonics ripped the sound proofing off the walls at Wiley / Griffith studios in Tacoma to get a rawer sound. The cover photo for the record, of course, is one of the most famous record sleeves in history – the handiwork of Jini Dellaccio.  An exhilarating mix of covers and originals, it features the definitive version of Richard Berry’s Louie Louie. Originally an R&B hit from 1955, it was covered in the early 60’s by The Wailers, The Kingsmen, The Beach Boys, and Paul Revere & The Raiders. All of those versions are great and stand on their own – but they pale in comparison to the aggressive version offered up by The Sonics in 1966. A fuzz drenched guitar riff opens the tune with Rosalie’s entering the mix at the 7 second mark sounding like a man absolutely possessed. This is THE definitive version of this song, sounding like a precursor to punk AND grunge. It should be mentioned that even later versions by punk legends Motorhead and Black Flag don’t sound this aggressive. Lind’s sax lines keep the tune from falling apart, while the band creates a storm of white noise. Absolute perfection. I’m looking forward to seeing this performed live by The Sonics at their Seattle show in April (with Mudhoney opening up!).