22/10/2020: “Funeral March Of Queen Mary” by Wendy Carlos

Credit where credit’s due – “Funeral March Of Queen Mary” was originally composed by Henry Purcell in 1695. It’s a somber, dignified and timeless piece.

However, even if you aren’t a Stanley Kubrick fan, Wendy Carlos’ interpretation is still amazing.

Written in 1971 for A Clockwork Orange, Carlos’ version perfectly captures that theme of dystopian dread, of moral decay.

Instead of an orchestra, she marshals a raft of synthesisers into a barrage of dark, twisted – yet strangely beautiful – harmonies.

21/10/2020: “Africa” by Clement Dijmogne

Do Analog Africa ever stop digging up gems?!

This song can be found on their compilation Pop Makossa – The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976​-​1984, released in 2017.

Makossa derives from traditional Cameroonian rhythms, and in this iteration, blended with energetic disco – it’s mindblowing.

The intense thump of the bass drum pounds away relentlessly, as the bass guitar smoothly punches and slaps a distinctive, melodic rhythm.

The vocals are powerful, and I can tell you what they are about since they’re sung in English… it’s classic black power and pan-African vibes.

The song was originally released in 1979 on the Money Makes Man Mad E.P., in Nigeria.

The original!

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!

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.

10/10/2020: “Atwer Abroba” by Ebo Taylor

Ebo Taylor has had a long and fruitful career in highlife and afrobeat. This groove filled jam exemplifies the musicianship which seems to flow like honey in Ghana…

A catchy and colourful horns riff provides a lot of the melodic interest, with a rumbling bassline and solid guitar lick acting as a framework.

Throughout the song’s 8 minute run time, the different elements dance and weave, each with its time in the spotlight. Even the keyboard/organ gets a go!

“Atwer Abroba” was released in 1978 on Twer Nyame, and again in 2011 on Life Stories.

07/10/2020: “We Need Love” by Johnny Osbourne

Johnny Osbourne is one of my favourite artists. Given the right rhythm, he can nail it – in any style.

This is one of his older songs, taken from his 1979 debut Truth & Rights. It was also released as a single in 2016 on Studio One.

He’s well known for his more dancehall orientated music. This isn’t that. It’s a simple crooner, like the old school Jamaican R’n’B which gave rise to reggae in the first place.

The organ plays softly, the bass hums along slowly, the guitar barely breaks a sweat. And Johnny Osbourne? He lavishes the song with a fine vocal performance, bringing effortless passion to the song.

01/10/2020: “Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend” by John Cale

John Cale is, without a doubt, one of the most influential and innovative musicians of the 20th century.

Not only was he a founding member of the Velvet Underground, working alongside Lou Reed to create some of the most enduring and imitated rock songs ever, but he was also a gifted songwriter in his own right, with his abrasive sound a key forerunner to the punk movement.

It helps that he has never been afraid to experiment. He’s been pushing boundaries in various directions since the ’60s!

Fear, released in 1974, is a more minimal album than some of his work at the time. This song, for the most part, is a very accessible and catchy song, even if it’s jet black in tone. With a slightly disturbing ending.

The piano playing is really the main melodic hook, as Cale’s vocals are fairly distinctive, but on the gritty side. Not that this is a bad thing!

Brian Eno had a part to play in the album, and Cale wasn’t afraid to draw from the talent of other musicians. But the list of instruments John Cale played on this album is impressively expansive.

A darkly paranoid note to posterity!

30/09/2020: “Dancing (Roger Thornhill edit)” by Tru Tones

As with many modern disco edits, it’s not always easy to put your finger on the precise changes. In this case, as with many other revamps, things are cleaned up, reorganised, and generally made more dancefloor friendly.

The original was brilliant – this is simply sublime. The twanging bassline, the exuberant brass, the laid back guitar, the lush strings, the spritely piano… there’s not a note out of place.

Tru Tones were a disco band from St Lucia, active in the 70s. Their cut of the song was released in 1980, on Power Struggle.

Roger Thornhill’s version was released as a single in 2015, but also appeared on Culture of Soul Records’ 2016 compilation of old school Caribbean disco, Tropical Disco Hustle, Volume Two.

29/09/2020: “La Leyenda Del Tiempo” by Camaron De La Isla

For an artist specialising in flamenco, this kind of music is a big step away from tradition. So much so, that the album this is drawn from has since been viewed as a key milestone in the development of ‘new flamenco’.

However, as an English speaker, I have to say that I’m not too fussed – ‘real’ flamenco is still out there!

What this is, though, is fun. Camaron’s intensely performed vocals swell with passion, and rip through the song with gusto. There are naturally a few flamenco based elements, with a speedily picked guitar, and an array of clapping.

The rhythm section is energetic, with a bass part careering up and down, while the drums rattle out a military-esque beat.

The song was released in 1979, on an album of the same name.

25/09/2020: “Martha” by Tom Waits

‘Martha’ is taken from Waits’ 1973 debut album, Closing Time. If you’re a Tom Waits fan, you’ll notice immediately that his voice, by his standards, is clear as a bell.

In fact, on a scale from butter and silk to gravel and whiskey, this only comes in at dust and wine. There’s some light distortion but otherwise, he sounds fine.

The song is otherwise laid out very simply. The main accompaniment to Wait’s inimitable vocals is a piano. Later, a delicate string arrangement comes in to add another layer of depth. No drums. Just harmony.

The lyrics are poignant – it’s about an man reminiscing about a woman he was going out with, and still loves. The sad part is that they are both married, adding a heavy cloak of wistfulness to proceedings.