20/10/2020: “Hard Time Pressure” by Sugar Minott & Captain Sinbad

Sugar Minott is one of the all time greats in reggae. To me, he represents a period in reggae history where dancehall and reggae were still very much intertwined. So he tends to sing on heavier riddims, but still sings.

“Hard Time Pressure” came out in 1979. I’ve opted for the full release here, with added dancehall toasting from Captain Sinbad, and the dub. The riddim’s great, so why not!

That warm bass, the chugging drums – it’s been brought together perfectly, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the legendary Prince Jammy had a hand in producing this!

19/10/2020: “Finder” by Ninetoes

Seems crazy to think that this is 7 years old now. At the moment, beach parties and boat raves are off the table – but to be honest, this will still be lighting up tropical DJ sets for quite some time in the 21st century…

Ninetoes is actually German, from the uber cool city of Stuttgart. But typical German techno production is not on show here. This has a bright, sun kissed bounce which seems to speak to Ibiza, Brazil, Trinidad.

A lot of that is due to the earworm steel drum hook that has given this song its anthemic status. There’s even a radio edit and a music video…

It’s instantly recognisable in the mix, but one of my favourite things about the song is the way the simplicity of the bassline works so well. It’s a rhythmic, deep, undulating wave, with only a couple of notes.

And when that bassline kicks in at the two minute mark, you know you’re in business!

18/10/2020: “Lucky” by Silkie

Silkie is easily one of the most melodic, musical dubstep producers of all time. And in terms of his old school sound, some of his greatest achievements? Nobody else can touch it for that chill, jazzy vibe.

He’s still killing it today, but “Lucky” is one of those classics which has helped to cement that legacy.

Released in 2011 on Silkie’s second album, the legendary (and very hard to find on vinyl…) City Limits Volume 2, this track gives a great taste of that golden, smooth Silkie flavour.

A cascading drum beat flows and falls like a crimson red maple leaf in an autumn breeze, warmed by a pulsing wobbly bassline. The harsher synths add the melody, stabbing and glittering brightly.

When the sounds are layered together, the piece comes together most beautifully. It’s euphoric, laidback, and contemplative.

17/10/2020: “India” by John Coltrane

You can never be too sure what you’re going to get with John Coltrane. It can be soft, smooth Jazz, crazy discordant free Jazz, experimental fusions… over his career, he’s pushed the boundary on many styles.

However, like a Savile Row suit, you can always be assured of enduring quality. And “India” is a Savile Row suit in song form!

The underlying foundation of the song is a gentle, rolling rhythm section with a restless, softly splashing drum part and two slightly off kilter doulbe basses. Layered on this is a subtle piano part, and a truly inspired run of saxophone and clarinet motifs.

It’s the sax and clarinet parts which most identifiably lean into ‘free’ jazz, as they pick up, play with and discard melodies in a mad dash across, as it seems to my musically uneducated ear, every scale known to humankind.

The song is designed to emulate the long meditations of Indian classical music – a sign of later eclecticism from Coltrane. It’s a slow burner, not a 3 minute pop song – but give it time, and you can soak up its brilliance!

“India” was released in 1963, on Impressions, a classic Coltrane album which pieces together his development over a 3 year period.

16/10/2020: “Prodigal Son” by Steel Pulse

Steel Pulse splashed on to the international reggae scene with Handsworth Revolution. Handsworth is an area of Birmingham with a large Afro-Caribbean community, which has seen significant tensions between the locals and the police, due to heavy handed policing and ‘random’ stop and searches.

It was, in 1981, the scene of copycat race riots following similar outpourings in Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side around the country.

Listening to this album, you get a powerful sense of the struggles of being a black person in England at that time – facing racism from the police, far right, and even everyday people.

The album was released in 1978, and provides a strong, conscious – and faith based – explanation of the issues faced by the community at the time. Sadly, many of these challenges are as relevant today as then, even if the more virulent and explicit forms of racism have been stamped out for the time being.

“Prodigal Son” is a classic roots track, full of bounce and heavy vibes. After a short intro, the song kicks off, bass heavy, strong on the guitar, and lyrically excellent.

It’s about the decline of society and the redemption which can be attained through Rastafari – a spiritual exhortation is true 70s roots style.

15/10/2020: “Da Bumble” by E-40

E-40’s been spitting the same way since the 90s and it’s still not got old.

He’s got one of the best flows in the game and his lyric skills are up there with the best. Plus, he seems to have an ear for the best instrumentals!

This track is one of his earlier efforts, released in 1995 on In A Major Way. It’s more obvious here that he’s West Coast – his Bay Area ‘hyphy’ style sounds very similar to Southern rap in later years.

This hits outrageously from start to finish, blending piano and funky squeals to great effect, even as E-40 lets loose over the top.

14/10/2020: “Blue Suede Shoes” by Elvis Presley

Some people have all the luck. Others can’t seem to catch a break!

Carl Perkins, like most of us, falls somewhere in between. He was the original writer of “Blue Suede Shoes” in 1955, but was severely injured on route to a TV date to publicise the track.

He’d had enough success with the song to spur Elvis’ label at the time, RCA, to put their guy forward for a cover. So it was that in 1956, Elvis recorded his version, which is the version which everybody knows. The track kicks off Elvis’ eponymous debut album, released in the same year.

It’s not a total loss for Perkins – you’d imagine there’s some money for him somewhere along the line, when the young rising star who covered his song became one of the most iconic singers of all time.

The song is classic 50s Rockabilly, marking the decade out as surely as New Order’s ‘Blue Monday‘ splashes its 80s vibes around so lavishly.

A raucous acoustic guitar, spritely electric guitar, running double bass and splashy drums all power forward for the song’s 2 minute run time. And at the centre of this sonic maelstrom? Elvis!

13/10/2020: “Samba” by Les Amazones de Guinee

Anyone who’s been going to the cinema in the last 5 years might be familiar with the Amazons as the tribe of fierce warrior women in Greek mythology. Or, you might know that through your extensive classical education and what not. In any case, the Amazons are a byword for bad ass women.

Have a listen to this banger, originally released on Au Coeur De Paris in 1983, and tell me that this all female ensemble of Guinean ex-servicewomen doesn’t absolutely smash it!

The pulsing percussion comes in a torrent, exuberant horns riding the wave, with the classic afrobeat guitar lick steadily rolling. And those vocals; the power!

You can feel the energy of the crowd, since the recording was done live. The appreciation of the deft guitar solo and bold horns rings out – and why not? This is simply flawless from start to finish.

12/10/2020: “Tunnel Of Love” by Dire Straits

Dire Straits can pull a lot of moods. They can do slow, epic contemplation very well. Hard rock? They smash it.

That leaves their bluesy ballads, and the swinging soft rock exemplified by “Tunnel Of Love”. There are other songs I could choose for this, as it’s one of the band’s more distinctive, and popular, styles of music.

The track is from Making Movies (1980), and saw a release the year after as a single.

As with many Dire Straits’ songs, Mark Knopfler’s guitar work is a sonic spectacle. The long solo in the final couple of minutes, kicking off at 6 minutes, is a true masterclass in the soft rock guitar solo. Sublime, truly.

I personally prefer the verses to the chorus, but the chorus does kick in magnificently, with a hard edged guitar riff. There are plenty of worse ways to spend 8 minutes than soaking up this gem!

11/10/2020: “Eagle Eye” by Cimm

Cimm is one of a new wave of dubstep producers continuing to take the sound in new directions.

This middle eastern flavoured banger absolutely slaps. I’m actually not sure what the two sampled instruments are – I think it may be a zither?

The samples give the song colour, but without solid foundation of bass and beats, it’d sound contrived. Luckily, that foundation is there. Rock solid.

The track was released in 2018 on Sentry Records, backed with “Old Scratch”.