06/07/2019: “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John

Elton John is a massive star, with enduring power. He has been popular for decades, and his inimitable style shines through whatever he does. His fashion sense has calmed down since the 80s, but he’s still as flamboyant as ever.

“I’m Still Standing” can have a few meanings. Part of the reason for this is because a lot of Elton’s lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin, his longtime collaborator.

So for Elton John, the song is about how he remained popular even as tastes changed in the 80s. For Taupin, it’s about proving to an ex that he doesn’t need them. I thought it was just a general motivational song about overcoming adversity.

The song itself is a very triumphant one, with an unabashedly “Elton” video to go with it. It’s fast, with big, bold keys and a furiously twanging bassline.

The vocal performance is very strong, and I do think that the “yeah yeah yeah” part works great!

“I’m Still Standing” was released on Too Low For Zero, Elton John’s 1983 album. It was a reasonably strong hit, and got to number 4 on the U.K. Singles chart.

05/07/2019: “Children Of The Grave” by Black Sabbath

What a riff. Kicking off with the killer bassline, the distorted guitar flares into action with all the subtlety of a herd of wildebeest trying to sneak onto an ice rink.

The drums are equally exuberant, with judicious cymbals and a fair amount of tribal toms.

Ozzy Osbourne is in fine form here, capturing the classic generational rebellion which recurs every decade or so. He has described it as “our punk song”.

The guitar and bass are, like many Sabbath tunes, a lower pitch than is normal. This results in a truly wonderful heaviness which has inspired a whole new generation of metalheads…

It’s actually got quite happy and hopeful lyrics, in contrast to the title. Like many of Sabbath’s biggest hits, it’s an anti-war song, which can be deduced by the warnings of “atomic fear” and the like. The message is, the world needs to change, or the children of the future will be children of the grave.

The song was released on Master Of Reality in 1971, and as a single.

04/07/2019: “Internal Dub” by Prince Far-I

Prince Far-I is a towering figure in dancehall and dub. Although his gruff voice is a worthwhile listen, he’s also behind one of the greatest dub albums of all time.

Dub To Africa was released in 1979, a few years before Prince Far-I was shot to death. It’s a brilliant dub album, with unusually tight drums and bass, creating a minimal feel rather than the huge cosmic sounds of some dub music.

“Internal Dub”, unlike many of the other riddims on that album, had never been released in anyway before. It had only circulated as a dubplate, for use by soundsystems.

It’s a sublimely beautiful track, with the sharp and heavy rhythm section laying the foundation. The other elements of the song are the intermittent, subtle organ skanks and the haunting horns.

It’s those strangely beautiful horns, echoing and discordant, which give the song its unique character.

The percussion is of the 4 to the floor style, a real steppers vibe, and naturally there are more than a few moments where the dub effects kick in and build up that classic clattering dub drum pattern.

03/07/2019: “Nightclubbing” by Grace Jones

“Nightclubbing” started life as a song written by Iggy Pop in collaboration with David Bowie. It’s a very cool song, with a distinctive drum machine beat, a general feeling of unease, and Bowie on the piano. That version was released in 1977.

Grace Jone’s version is very cool though! She brings a Jamaican influence to it, most notably through the use of space. There’s the odd dubbed out guitar chord too. The album this is from is entitled Nightclubbing, and was released in 1981. It drew from an eclectic range of influences and is one of pop musics unique moments, for sure.

Using legendary Jamaican musicians Sly & Robbie certainly helps!

The song is much slower than the original, with a bass heavy riff hitting between the sparse drum beats. The song feels quite minimal, and is all the better for it. Everything on the song feels like it has earned its place.

It’s so wonderfully spaced out, and Grace Jones has such powerful vocals that they imprint themselves on your mind immediately.

So chilled.

02/07/2019: “Inmost” by Scuba

Scuba is an artist who has been constantly on the edge of the bass music innovation in the U.K.

Starting with dubstep, he has diversified through a range of electronic styles, including ambient, techno and the sort of unclassifiable “bass” that Peverelist and Martyn make.

He’s also the label boss of Hotflush, which was one of the earlier labels to catch on to the dubstep sound way back in 2003.

All his stuff is united by a penchant for dubby atmospheres and heavy, deep sub-bass.

“Inmost” is a classic track from the period when Scuba was relinquishing dubstep. His own compilation albums are sorted by date: 2005-2007, 2009-2010, 2011-2012. My favourite by far is the 2005-2007 one, with the classic dubstep sound.

It’s driven by a fractured half-time drum beat and a repetitive, echo-ey bass hit. On top of that, there’s a wonderful off-kilter bell sound which constitutes the main melody.

The song was released in 2007, as a single and on the Hotflush compilation album Space And Time.

Brilliant!

01/07/2019: “Keep It Up” by Milton Wright

Milton Wright was the brother of Betty Wright, the much more famous Soul singer. Although his career was nothing like as stratospheric as hers, he put out very good funk and disco in the 70s.

“Keep It Up” is a Soul tune, sizzling with synth magic. The basic groove is decent enough, simple and laidback. But here, it’s the decorative keyboards which really make the tune.

One synth takes the role of a fizzy, electrified flute or trumpet, providing many of the melodic flourishes of the song. The other is an ominous background texture, combining the lightness of strings with the sinister rumble of an organ.

It’s such a chilled out track, perfectly for a long summer’s day or a dusky Autumn evening.

Lyrically, it’s a nice love song, repeating the central message in an almost trance-like way.

The song was released in 1975 as a single, backed with “The Silence That You Keep”.

30/06/2019: “For The Love Of God” by Steve Vai

Steve Vai was a disciple of Frank Zappa, and there’s a great deal of the Zappa style in his playing. But Vai has surpassed Zappa in terms of technically ability, if not in the sheer creativity, prolific output, and innovation which remains the sole domain of a select few like Frank Zappa.

“For The Love Of God” is Steve Vai’s masterpiece. It was apparently written during a 10 day fast, which fits with the spiritual nature of the song.

The album version runs to 6 minutes, and the most popular live recording goes to 9. This is Vai really allowing himself the space to solo, without having to cut anything away.

The backing track is actually quite unremarkable, a cliched although pleasant soft rock stroller. This is probably intentional. The star of the song is Steve Vai’s guitar, so it’s only natural he wants all attention focused on that.

The solo was rated number 29 on Guitar World’s reader survey top 100 guitar solos.

“For The Love Of God” was released in 1990 on the album Passion & Warfare. 

29/06/2019: “Getting Nasty” by Ike Turner & The Kings Of Rhythm

Ike Turner was one of the central figures behind the evolution of rock n roll from blues. His 1951 hit, “Rocket 88”, is widely considered the first rock n roll song.

This song is a bit different from the style he normally pursued, incorporating a lot more funkiness than the fast paced rock n roll he was known for.

Billy Preston plays the piano superbly on this, using a some simple chord progressions to jam and groove effortlessly. It’s infectious without being too superficial.

The bassline echoes the piano, and you can almost feel the band’s synergy, working together so smoothly. The drums have a little step to them, reinforcing that wonderful jive feeling.

The whoops and shouts in the background contribute to that; it really does come across as a quick session of friends. In fairness, it was laid down in a studio session in his free time while touring.

The song was released in 1969, on the album A Black Man’s Soul.

28/06/2019: “Prophecy” by Fabian

The bassline of this one is an absolute monster. Even in the reggae scene, there aren’t many heavy than this.

The song is very catchy too. From the first licks of the intro, the dread trumpets, the alluring vocals, to the earth shattering bassline itself, the song has a natural groove.

At the time, due to the potentially inflammatory lyrics and the violent nature of 70s Jamaican politics, the song was suppressed within Jamaica. It did find a following in the U.K.

The song was produced in Jamaica by Jack Ruby, and in the U.K. by Sir Coxsone.

Sometimes the song is credited to Faybienne or Fabienne, because that was Faybiene Miranda’s name. She was born in Panama, but grew up in the U.S.A., moving to Jamaica to pursue a career as a reggae singer.

The song was released in 1977, on Coxsone’s Tribesman label. The heaviest cut is the Black Swan release though!

27/06/2019: “Pulp Fiction” by Alex Reece

This is one of the undisputed classics of the drum and bass scene. Not only did it bring stripped back 2-step drum patterns into vogue, it’s also just a flawless tune.

The track has a killer bassline, overlaid with an anxious sounding synth pad. The drums are snappy, but have a very cool second snare and hi-hat pattern in the background. Together they’re almost mesmerising.

The female vocal sample, dubbed out with delay and cut short, is incredibly effective. Along with the jazzy horns, they give the track a sophistication which simply can’t be reduced to a formula.

A further bit of energy is provided by the ominous, repetitive percussion noise in the latter third of the track.

There was some disagreements between Reece and Goldie, the Metalheadz label boss, over Pulp Fiction’s release, because Goldie wanted it on a compilation album and Reece wanted it on his own album.

This landmark song was released in 1995 on Metalheadz.