31/12/2018: “On The Road Again” by Canned Heat

“On The Road Again” has an impressive lineage. It’s to be expected, given singer Alan Wilson’s deep knowledge and involvement with the blues world.

The song started out in 1928, with “Big Road Blues” by Tommy Johnson. Johnson also inspired the name “Canned Heat”, with his song “Canned Heat Blues”, which is about drinking Sterno (a type of methylated spirit) out of desperation to get drunk. It’s very old school southern blues.

Then, in 1953, “On The Road Again” was written by Floyd Jones. It’s more modern, and more lonesome.

In 1967, Canned Heat recorded their first version, which was about 7 minutes long, before a second version, the most famous.

It’s a good psychedelic boogie, with a riff based around one chord, and a number of distinguishing features. Alan Wilson uses the Indian instrument called the Tambura, which is like a sitar. It was relatively common among psychedelic bands of the time. It is used to create a metallic droning noise in the background.

The other feature is the excellent use of the harmonica. It is used sparingly but effectively in the verses, and comes into its own in solos.

Then there Wilson’s vocals. He delivers them in a distinctive falsetto, which helps them to stand out from the turbulent river of instruments below.

The song was released on Boogie With Canned Heat in 1968, and released as a single shortly after, reaching number 8 in the U.K. and number 16 in the U.S.

It’s a perfect “journeying” song!

30/12/2018: “Reckless (12″ Version)” by Afrika Bambaataa and Family featuring UB40

Afrika Bambaataa was one of the leading figures in the creation of hip hop, but he has produced a lot of music in a variety of styles. Chief among them is electro, in which he was a big player in.

It’s hard to say exactly where “Reckless” fits in. There’s certainly strong elements of a certain style of electro, and old school hip hop (especially the rapping). However, in other ways, it resembles a pop song.

UB40 make their presence felt in this one, with some subtle reggae guitar offbeat skanks and singing on the chorus. They did the instruments, basically.

The song was produced by John Robie, who was a big part of the electro scene.

The bassline and main riff on this are criminally catchy. It’s just so amazingly groovy. I’m surprised it hasn’t been lifted and reused in a load of other songs.

The song is about guys who give all their money to women to try and impress them. The girls make you reckless.

The song was released on the album The Light in 1988, which wasn’t a very successful album itself, but as a single, the song reached number 17 in the U.K. singles chart.

A great pop tune!

 

29/12/2018: “1969” by The Stooges

The 60s was one of music’s most prestigious decades. So much innovation, a cultural revolution, the music of the youth.

That’s part of the reason why this song is called “1969”. Iggy Pop recognised that it just sounds a lot more iconic than, in his words, 1971. Which is very true. It also was the year the song was made, and that’s also fair enough.

It chronicles the frustration of being a band trying to break through, and the lackadaisical attitude of youth, in particular his band…

The song songs rough, and very much a 60s track. It’s got a crunchy, rumbling bassline pushing things forward, with a rolling and vaguely tribal drum section , which has a funky, off kilter feel to it.

There’s not a lot of vocals, but the lyrics are pretty cool. Iggy Pop excels at this kind of thing, with his iconic voice sounding very young!

The guitar is quite mental, and has been recognised by Rolling Stone magazine as the 35th best guitar song ever. The rhythm guitar strums over the top with two chords, and the solo guitar wahs and spits over the top, with a layer of crusty effects giving it a trippy feeling.

The song was released on The Stooges in 1969, which is viewed as a forerunner to punk.

Very cool!

28/12/2018: “Every 1’s A Winner” by Hot Chocolate

I didn’t know that “Hot Chocolate” were an English band. They’ve absolutely nailed a wide spectrum of sounds usually considered to be the preserve of America, like Funk, Soul and Disco.

But what a good advertisement for England! “Every 1’s A Winner” is a classic Disco cut, with a tremendously catchy guitar  hook using a Roland GR500 synth guitar. It’s distorted, but in a fuzzy, warm way rather than an aggressive, biting way.

The bassline is short but sweet, a nice little groove. The vocals are very 70s, and quite soulful. It’s a richly arranged song, and the lushness pays off.

The song has a range of other synths, which creates a futuristic feeling. But the main effect of the track is a solid feel good vibe.

The song was released on an album on the same name in 1978. The single reached number 12 on the U.K. Singles chart and number 6 on the U.S. Billboard Top 100.

Such a fun tune!

27/12/2018: “Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock

This is easily one of the coolest songs of all time. As far as I know, there’s no widely accepted way to quantify cool, but this is off the charts anyway.

It was first released in 1962 as a more standard Jazz record, but was reworked in 1973.

The most instantly noticeable part of the song is the intro, which is blowing into a beer bottle in the style of Central African Pygmy tribes, the hindewhu technique. In case you’re wondering how they knew what that was, they’d listened to The Music of the Ba-Benzélé Pygmies, a 1966 album.

Rhythmically, the song is masterful. Hancock made a concerted attempt to incorporate the funk of Sly & The Family Stone and other leading artists, and in particular, the way that the instruments groove with each other.

The bass (a wonderfully funky affair) leads the rest, with a dancing guitar. The song then drops into some organ stabs, and generally just jams.

The drums are jazzy enough to be interesting, but still kick hard like in funk.  There’s a lot of African influences and percussion.

The song is a Jazz standard, which means it’s really famous and an important part of performers’ selections.

It was released on the 1973 album Head Hunters. 

Amazing song!

26/12/2018: “Murderer” by Buju Banton

Ragga Dancehall is a genre that requires a distinctive voice and flow to make a name for yourself.

Buju Banton has that. His crusty shouting is hardly the most subtle style, but you know it’s him on a track.

“Murderer” is a track which juxtaposes a serious, conscious message with a scratchy, angry delivery of the type Buju Banton specialises in.

He had been known for more standard slack dancehall songs, getting a string of hits in the early 90s.

After he became a Rastafarian, his 1995 album Til Shiloh was released. It was more spiritual and dealt with more spiritual matters. However, the song “Murderer” had already been released in ’93. It was fashionable at the time to talk positively about shooting and violence in songs, but Jamaican society was plagued by these issues.

After some of his friends were shot, he recorded this song to speak out against it.

The song is a heavy one, with a solid bassline and face slapping snares.

The artist is not without his controversies. His song “Boom Bye Bye”, recorded at age 15 but re-released in 1992, is homophobic even for a 90s ragga song. He has also just been released from jail this month on drugs charges.

Still, he’s still talented as it comes.

25/12/2018: “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney went through a period of experimental music creation, and somehow, this super popular Christmas song was one of the things that came out of it.

The echoey electronic riff is almost dubby, but somehow seems a bit offkey in pleasant way. The little instrumental intro in particular makes it hard for me to hate this!

A lot of people apparently do, which is fair enough I guess. There’s a load of Christmas songs out there that I get bored of after the first couple of hundred repetitions in the first week of December.

The lyrics are a bit vacuous, but to be honest it can expected from this kind of song. Different rules seem to apply to Christmas songs…

McCartney played literally everything on this, including the drums, bass, keyboards, guitar and synths. Quite impressive really.

The song was released in 1979 as a single and reached number 6 in the U.K. singles chart.

Apparently he makes about $400,000 a year from this song, so I’m sure he has a very merry Christmas…

Happy Christmas!

24/12/2018: “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” by The Everly Brothers

I will do a happy, traditional Christmas song tomorrow. But today, I wanted to do something different.

“Christmas Eve Can Kill You” is a reminder that for a lot of people, Christmas is a sad, lonely time. Think of the huge numbers of homeless people who are cold and lonely at a time of extravagance and “good cheer”.

It’s about a man hitchhiking on Christmas Eve, and getting ignored, so he has to trudge in the snow, alone.

The song is very much an Everly Brothers standard template, which is a good thing. It’s obviously a melancholy song, but very beautiful. It’s a country-esque instrumental, with guitar fingerpicking, and a mournful steel guitar. The Everly Brothers’ harmony singing is wonderful here, and the story is expressed movingly.

A line like “take pity on the stranger in the cold” makes its meaning pretty clear…

The song was written by David Linde, and released by the Everly Brothers in 1971.

A thought provoking take on Christmas.

 

23/12/2018: “Calle F” by Mala

Mala has released three albums. Return II Space was the classic 2010 DMZ one, and is just that; Mala in space!

The latest one Mirrors,  was inspired by Mala’s time in Peru, courtesy of Brownswood Recordings. Basically, Mala In Peru.

But in between that, was 2012’s classic Mala In Cuba. It did what is said on the tin. Mala went to Cuba, and worked with local musicians to produce a dubstep album incorporating traditional Cuban sounds and rhythms.

“Calle F” leans towards the Latin end of the Cuba-Croydon spectrum. There’s piano chords, distinctly Cuban sounding brass, and a Rumba inspired percussion section.

The whole thing gives off a strong scent of rum and cigars. But the half time snare and powerful, bouncy sub bass remind you of the track’s Dubstep parentage. More than that, the whole thing is dubbed out and dreamy, with no shortage of echo effects and reverb.

“Calle” is spanish for street, so the song is probably inspired by a specific place in Cuba.

The song is on the digital version of Mala In Cuba, but the vinyl version of the album doesn’t contain Calle F and Cuba Electronic. They were released separately as a single.

A great tune!

 

22/12/2018: “The Bells” by Jeff Mills

Jeff Mills was one of the most influential figures in the early Detroit techno scene.

He was known for his amazing DJing ability, so much so that he has earned the title of “The Wizard”.

He started to DJ back in the early 80s, when techno still sounded a lot like electro, but remained in the scene in those formative years, helping to take it in a faster, more hard edged direction.

“The Bells” is one of the most famous tracks to emerge from the Detroit techno scene. Like most techno, it uses subtle changes and hypnotic rhythms to sustain itself, with the main hook being a simple 4 note progression.

The bass drum is fast and relentless, and is surrounded by swirling, splashing hi-hats which change throughout the song, changing the atmosphere.

There’s another synth riff as well, the bassier version of the main riff, which is a repetititive and vaguely paranoid chug.

The song was released in 1997 on the Kat Moda E.P., and there was 2006 orchestral remake.

This makes it a relatively late song for that scene; Mills had moved to Germany before that, but it captures the spirit of Detroit techno very well.

Brilliant.