11/07/2019: “Chopper (Shy FX Remix)” by Ray Keith

Two massive names in drum and bass for the price of one!

Shy FX’s remix of this is a huge banger, ripping apart dancefloors from the moment of its release in 1996.

Ray Keith’s original, released under the moniker The Terrorist in the same year, is a more straightforwardly jungle tune. This means that it has deep 808 bass, big breakbeats, and just a general dark vibe.

The Shy FX remix has a distinctive buzzy bassline that rises at the end of every few bars, and a much tighter drum pattern. It’s a big anthem because of its catchiness, blended with a strong dose of heaviness!

If anything the song is a bit too relentless, but it has enough of a bounce to stop it becoming to breathless.

The intro is a very cool one, with that time-stretched “we’re now ready for takeoff, so please fasten your seatbelts”.

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. 

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.

26/06/2019: “You Better (Original Mix)” by Mount Rushmore

I love a bit of old school organ house. The big, bold vocals, the funky drums rhythms, and naturally, the fat organ basslines!

The title of this one is a bit confusing, because the song was re-released a few times in the 90s. The first release was 1996, where this version is called the Andi Amo Mix. The popular ’98 release calls the song “Original Mix”.

It was a real crossover track, big in the house scene and the speed garage scene.

The vocal is powerful, in a way which is not exclusive to this sort of music, but still very much connected with it.

These songs live or die by their basslines, and this has a real stomper. It’s a classic heavy organ bass, relentlessly groovy and very catchy.

The drums have a bit of a tribal feeling to them, with a subtle bongo/conga roll…

The big organ chords are proper hands in the air stuff, complementing the bass perfectly.

14/06/2019: “Free (Mood II Swing Extended Vocal Edit)” by Ultra Nate

Are there any more songs more filled to the top with euphoria than this?

Certainly, there can’t be many more. As great as the original mix is, it’s hard to deny that the Mood II Swing magic touch, subtle as it is, really elevates the song into a masterpiece.

The sounds remain largely the same, but the changed order shows the power of a good edit to draw out the best elements of the song. This one also demonstrates the catchiness of the original; the edit spans 12 minutes without getting tired!

Mood II Swing are the production duo behind the song and Ultra Nate is the vocalist who helped make it such a big hit. The edit is much more orientated towards hardcore house fans and DJs, whereas the original mix is very radio friendly.

The song was released in 1997 on the classic Strictly Rhythm label, and reached number 1 on the U.S. dance chart and number 2 on the U.K. dance chart.

Sublime!

05/06/2019: “Catch A Bad One” by Del The Funky Homosapien

The title of this artist is often styled as Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. But make no mistake, there aren’t many rappers sharper than him.

Apart from being Ice Cube’s brother, Del’s affiliations are to the Hieroglyphics crew, which he founded.

“Catch A Bad One” is a cautionary tale not to mess with him, in classic 90s hip-hop style. The main melody is a very short and slowed down sample from a 1970 Eric Dolphy Jazz song called “Mrs. Parker of K.C. (Bird’s Mother)”, injecting a nice swung jazz feeling into the track.

This is augmented by a sub bass, which echoes the original double bass in the sample.

The lyrics are full of interesting wordplay and roll on from one line to the next, keeping the rhymes coming in fast.

The song was released on No Need For Alarm, released in 1993. 

22/05/2019: “Modjadji” by Chicco

Film soundtracks are very often carefully curated and interesting collections of music, containing songs selected for a variety of moods.

Even the most unlikely of films can serve to popularise otherwise obscure songs, or introduce the songs to wider audiences.

Here, the tacky 2016 Sacha Baron Cohen comedy “The Brothers Grimsby” finished with a classy piece of South African disco, and I’m glad that it did because I might not have discovered the song otherwise.

The song is joyous and catchy, led by a chorus of vocals which mingle with the relaxed Afropop beat. More instrumentation follows, a rich smorgasbord of African percussion and westernised dance patterns.

Although the song is very much driven by the vocals, the marimba part could probably sustain the song by itself.

Chicco is the stage name of Sello Twala, a producer from Soweto who was very popular in the 80s.

“Modjadji” was released in 1995 on an album of the same name.

A true gem!

09/05/2019: “The Dark Stranger (Origin Unknown Mix)” by Boogie Times Tribe

The original mix of The Dark Stranger is a fantastic hardcore tune, paranoid but still with healthy dose of euphoria.

The Origin Unknown remix ramps the paranoia to nail biting levels, stripping back the sound and adding the trademark beeps of the type heard on their textbook drum & bass banger, “Valley Of The Shadows”.

This eerie arpeggio is coupled with a sharp breakbeat and a deep, smooth bassline, creating a dark and nervous soundscape.

The synths in the second half of the song add another layer of fear and sonic texture, and all the elements come into their own.

The song was released in 1993 with a Johnny Jungle Remix. There was also another version called the Origin Unknown Re-Remix, which is less stripped back.

As to all the main versions and remixes of the Dark Stranger, it’s hard to say which is the best. They are all different styles, except the Q-bass remix, which is by one of the two guys in the Boogie Times Tribe.

Drenched in fear!

03/05/2019: “Papua New Guinea” by The Future Sound Of London

Not many songs from the early U.K. rave era can claim the same sort of longevity as this one!

It’s still widely regarded as one of the best songs of its kind, a landmark rave track, and shows a particular mastery in blending ambient soundscapes with a heavy bassline and smooth breakbeat.

The bassline is lifted from the Meat Beat Manifesto’s track, “Radio Babylon”. There’s undoubtedly a big sampling element to the tune, but there aren’t many tunes which sound like “Papua New Guinea”…

The ominous, tribal vocals are from “Dawn Of The Iconoclast” by Dead Can Dance, released in 1987. This creates a huge contrast with the sweeter vocals from 1989’s “Shelter” by Circuit.

As a finished product, it’s hard to argue with the effect. There’s a trancelike, otherworldly feeling emanating from the exotic quilt of samples, far beyond what any of the sampled songs themselves could ever muster.

The song was released as a single in 1991, and reached number 22 on the U.K. Singles chart. It also featured on the 1991 album Accelerator.

Timeless!