And I really want to thank you for dancin’ til the end….

Not that this is the end of this blog, and likely not my last post here of 2013.

For reasons that should be brutally obvious to anyone who doesn’t believe (erroneously, mind) that Soul and R&B stopped being relevant to Mod after 1968, I just love Janelle Monaé and just as much as her music, I’m just fascinated by this retro-futurist ArchAndroid concept / mythology that she’s created with her first EP and two subsequent LPs, the most recent being The Electric Lady. In interviews, she’s said as much as the “android” in this series of (currently five) Suites, being a metaphor for the disenfranchised –people of colour, queers, women, the underclasses, and so on…. And to get the full experience of this, you really need to listen to her music, in its entirety, beginning to end, and watch the videos on YouTube, or as Monae says, you’re only cheating yourself.

[Modcast 2013-10-14] Songs Without Moustaches

 

Lee Hazlewood – “You Look Like a Lady”
Tom Jones – “Stop Breakin’ My Heart”
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour – “Gold Rush Part 1 / Dollars In the Night / Gold Rush Part 2″
Thee Mighty Caesars – “69 Seconds”
Television Personalities – “I Was a Mod Before You Was a Mod”
Otis Spann – “I’m Ready”
Liz Brady – “Palladium”
Cal Tjader – “Soul Motion”
The Ups and Downs – “In the Shadows”
The Jetset – “The Man Who Lives Upstairs”
Long Tall Shorty – “Falling For You”
Neils Children – “Get Away From Me, Now”
The Chantalles – “I Want That Boy”
Booker T & the MG’s – “Hang ‘Em High”
Manual Scan – “New Difference”
Makin’ Time = “Honey (Fast version)”
Jacques Dutronc – “les Cactus”
Style Council – “The Whole Point of No Return”
Tom Waits – “More Than Rain”

———–
I know what you’re thinking and nope, sorry, Hazlewood released the album that one is on after demoustaching. I know, I know, it seems wrong to me, too, Lee hazlewood without a mustache, but it happened and we don’t talk about it.

While I have you here, today only, I have a coupon code for my Etsy shop. In theory, it’s a Tumblr exclusive, but this gets cross-posted to there, anyway, so go check it out. ☺

[Modcast 2013-10-07] Music to Protect Your Drag Clothes from Your Cat To

 

John Cooper Clarke – “Midnight Sun”
Makin’ Time – “I’m Not Really a Welder”
The Moodists – “Where the Trees Walk Downhill”
Graduate – “Elvis Should Play Ska”
Department S – “Somewhere Between Heaven and Tesco’s”
The Headcoatees – “True To You”
Franz Ferdinand – “Tell Her Tonight (in German)”
Broder Daniel – “Lovesick”
United Future Organisation – “Fool’s Paradise”
The Prisoners – “Say Your Prayers”
The Real Kids – “She’s Alright”
The Pretty Things – “Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut”
Rousers – “Face Toward the wall”
Powder – “I Try”
Purple Hearts – “Restless Dream Recurring”
Mick Harvey – “The Ticket Puncher”
The Fall – “Jawbone and the Air-Rifle”
The Go-Betweens – “People Say”
Tom Waits – “The Ocean Doesn’t Want Me”

Hate to Love It: Watered-Down 1990s Reggae


Unfortunately, this is still the mental image that some of my friends have of white people who listen to reggae, in spite of years of trying to recondition them to think of this.

As I’ve noted before, this is kind of a guilty pleasure of mine, due in part to personal history: I was in junior high in the mid-1990s, when there was kind of an international popularity for the more watered-down variety of reggae music easily palatable to a North American audience. While some of the artists in this reggae sub-genre have a debatable reputation for insincerity and watering-down the genre, and others have managed to retain a modest following amongst reggae enthusiasts, reputation alone is not always the factor in whether or not any selection by any artist associated with this reggapop is inherently bad, musically, and some of it has even regained a modicum of cred among the “retro 1990s” enthusiasts —apparently, in his native Canada, Snow has regained some chat success and, while easily dismissed amongst reggae enthusiasts over the age of twenty during the peak of his 1990s popularity, some enthusiasts have since decided that Snow does fairly represent reggae as a genre and possesses and displays a genuine, sincere love for the music as it was introduced to him by Jamacian immigrants to the Toronto neighbourhood of his youth.


In the immortal words of Ishkur’s Guide of Electronic Music: “…please, if you’re a white MC, unless your name is Snow, do not try to inundate your rhymes with an annoying faux-rasta chatta. You sound like a god damn retard when you do that.”

There is, though, an element of truth to when a genre of music associated with a particular subculture gets commercial, the commercialised version loses much of what made the original artists of the genre so interesting in an effort to give it broader appeal. While, in theory, the commercialised version has every potential to be objectively good music, the dilution of that spark from the genre can understandably turn people off, especially when they’ve been fans of that genre of music since long before it became commercial. On the other hand, when a commercial example of a genre is objectively good, it’s not uncommon for that to become something of a gateway to the better stuff. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when a genre gets a bit commercialised, but it’s certainly understandable that it would annoy hardcore fans.

So when I hear one of those old reggapop songs from the mid-1990s, even long after I’ve come to appreciate better representations of the reggae genre, I have this fondness for a lot of those songs. It’s not just about nostalgia, it’s also about appreciating the structure of a song that takes the most-accessable elements of the genre and infusing it into pop music. As once was noted in The TISM Guide to Little Aesthetics, by the Australian alternative pop-rock band TISM, writing pop music structures can be harder than it sounds. Of course, writing good reggae can be harder than it sounds, as well, and the gist of the full quote is that a lot of “post-modern” music essentially hides poor craftsmanship of their work behind gimmicks like feedback and unusual tunings. It takes a kind of talent to take such an insular genre as reggae, and write pop music with, at the very least, a clear love-affair for that genre, and write it in a manner that can have very broad appeal.

In retrospect, I find the trend in the 1990s a bit amusing, cos that’s when the trend for reggae-pop was considered to be “international” —which seems to be a slick way of saying “America finall has caughy on to what Britain and the Commonwealth was into ten years ago”. No, really. Look at the timeline for the surgence in reggae-infused pop music, and you see a bit of an explosion for such in the early-to-mid 1980s in Britain, almost all of which of which were ignored Stateside at the time, until The Police practically dropped any semblance of a reggae-ish sound and hit the US charts a couple times, then there’s a dormancy for a few years, and then, around 1992/93 (around the time I started spending my summers in London), suddenly it’s all the rage on the other side of the Atlantic. Face it, America, you invented the term “international polularity” to mask the fact that you’re actually pitifully behind the times.

And apparently some places on the Internet assert that this pop music-reggae of mid-1990s popularity is technically an offshoot of Dancehall rather than proper Reggae, and the subculture around Dancehall certainly is not without its problems and contradictions (while Dancehall musos certainly seem to entertain Rastafari imagery, it’s often juxtaposed alongside the trappings of market capitalism, sexism, bigotry, and violence), and as a Queer gentleman, myself, I can’t ignore the criticisms of homophobic content in several prominent Dancehall lyrics.

Maybe “love” is a bit strong a word here, cos it’s not like I go out actively collecting some long-coveted twelve inch mixes of my youth, but I don’t hate it and yes, at risk of looking like the biggest dork amongst my skinhead friends, or at a record swap, I’ll gladly admit that I still unashamedly enjoy some of it —it may not be the most accurate representation of reggae as a genre, but I will hold to the belief that the stuff I like is still good music.

A Tribute to Soul Train

If you have any interest at all in soul, rhythm & blues, and funk music (the primary genres featured on the programme), you have no excuse to have never heard of this groundbreaking television show. As best as i can tell, in spite of its syndicated distribution (meaning it wasn’t tied to a single network, and local markets, especially independent UHF stations and, later, cable access programmes, tended to pick it up, depending on local demand), it aired only in the United States, but many British musos, when on tour in the States, including Elton John (who was later a guest musician on the show) often cited it among their favourite American programs.

The show’s origins began with Chicago-based radio personality, Don Cornelius, and origins have also been cited in local Chicago UHF programs, Kiddie-A-G-Go and Red Hot & Blues, the latter of which was especially notable for its predominantly African-American dancers, and the former, well, today it would be said to aim for the “tween market”, but back then, if you were between the ages of eight and twelve years, you were just a kid. While I can confirm that both programs first aired in 1965, both seem to have ended within a few years before Soul Train. The format of each programme seemed similar to American Bandstand and other, similar programmes that produced and aired locally: Play some of the latest singles of the day, feature a popular band or two, the host MC of the show might hold some Q&A with one of the music acts featured, and some sort of featured “game” or quiz based around a record featured on the show.

I would like to apologise for being unable to find any video for Red Hot & Blues.

Now to Don Cornelius: In addition to his radio work, he also hosted a travelling series of “record hops” around Chicago area high schools as an after-hours activity, and this became nicknamed his “soul train”. WCIU, which had previously hosted Kiddie-A-G-Go and Red Hot & Blues, soon took note of Cornelius’ success with the travelling record hops, and made him an offer to basically tweak the format a little and put it on television. On 17 August 1970, Soul Train first aired on WCIU, as a local Chicago program, after securing a sponsorship with the Chicago-based Sears & Roebuck company.

It didn’t take long at all for Soul Train to prove a local success, and the Johnson Products Company (the makers of Afrosheen and Ultrasheen; not to be confused with Johnson & Johnson, the baby shampoo people), also based in Chicago offered to co-sponsor the program for national syndication, which began on 2 October 1971.


(apologies for the awful rip, just be assured that I had nothing to do with this)

Initially, the program was only picked up in seven local markets in the States, in addition to Chicago: Atlanta (Georgia), Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco —all cities which, at the time, had large African-American populations, except perhaps San Francisco, but then again, this is San Francisco. In Chicago, Soul Train was also unique, at this time: Cornelius moved production to Los Angeles, upon gaining national syndication, but wanted the Chicago production of the show to remain on WCIU, in spite of Chicago’s CBS affiliate picking up the national version, so professional dancer and co-host in the earliest pre-syndication episodes, Clinton Ghent, hosted the WCIU Soul Train until 1976. Chicago essentially had two versions of the show for most of the 1970s —and unfortunately, I can’t find a single pre- or post-syndication WCIU Soul Train, not even a clip, on the Internet.

The first theme song for Soul Train was King Curtis’ “Hot Potatoes”, recorded in 1962, but this didn’t last very long. In 1973, the theme was replaced by “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)”, and though it only lasted until 1975 (though with re-recordings featured as the show’s theme from 1986 to 1993), it became the programme’s best-known theme song, and has been covered several times, with one notable version by Dexys Midnight Runners —which is oddly appropriate, as the piece is essentially an instrumental with prominent horns and strings, and horns and strings certainly define the DMR sound.

Don Cornelius wasn’t all that keen on the comparisons that Soul Train got to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, in spite of the similarities in format. One of the reasons is likely cos in 1973, Clark sought to compete with Soul Train, and produced Soul Unlimited, which didn’t survive a full television season on ABC. Soul Unlimited was presented by then-DC area DJ Buster Jones (who later became best known as a voice actor), and a lot of the program’s critics, including Jessie Jackson and record producer Clarance Avant, felt that Soul Unlimited pandered to stereotyping by alleged use of “deliberitely racial overtones” —being a white kid born long after Soul Unlimited left the airwaves, and having only very limited access to clips from Soul Unlimited, I can only guess on what this was all about, but I do sense the “jive talk” enunciation in Jones’ voice in a few interview segments, which has been a problematic portrayal of African Americans since the 1920s, and his wardrobe tended to be a bit more flash than Don Cornelius.

…I think the biggest reason for the outcry against Soul Unlimited was ultimately that it was conceived of and produced by a white man who clearly was attempting to take over a television niche popularised by an African American who worked very hard most of the prior decade to gain he success he had earned from this syndicated program —and that program had become successful beyond what many, I’m sure, expected of it. In the end of Soul Unlimited, Clark agreed to work with Cornelius on a series of soul-themed network television specials for ABC.

While Soul Train remained culturally important throughout the 1970s, its relevance was believed to decline in the 1980s. Why? Hip-Hop.

Don Cornelius was a bit conservative in his tastes, and didn’t feel that even a lot of the downright silly early rap of the 1980s portrayed a positive-enough image for the African American community, which he prided himself over. He eventually brought on Hip-Hop and rap acts, though often making sure to choose who was featured very carefully. He was also critical of a lot of the more overtly sexual dancing popular on the East Coast in the 1980s hip-hop scenes, and apparently claimed to have been frightened by the theatrics and the prominent Black Panther imagery adopted by Public Enemy. One of the few hip-hop acts to have made several appearances on Soul Train throughout the 1980s was Whodini, likely because their best-known songs are indisputable “positive” and, well, rather tame:

Though Don Cornelius stepped down in 1993 from his role as presenter on Soul Train, the program continued (with several different presenters) until 2006, securing it as the longest-run program in national television syndication, an honour some sources site as being previously held by Hee-Haw (a similar program based around Country/Western and American Folk music) and The Laurence Welk Show (another similar program, but centred around early 20th Century pop, big band, and music hall selections).

Currently, Soul Train reruns in the United States on Aspire, a cable network owned by Comcast and Magic Johnson —which can probably be described as “The African American ME-TV” (there’s a huge rotation of African-American programming from the 1960s and ’70s, including the subtle espionage farce I Spy, featuring a young Bill Cosby, and Julia, starring Dihann Carroll, before she did Wookie porn), but with the addition of station-IDs that feature various current African-American singers, actors, poets, cellists, ballerinas, and so on. The cable network, Centric (formerly BET Jazz) also hosts the Soul Train Cruise and formerly hosted the Soul Train Music Awards.

Don Cornelius’ health had been in decline for some time, and apparently, in 1982, he underwent brain surgery to correct an abnormality in a cerebral artery, but being a private person, few knew about this. In 2008, he’d also been arrested on domestic violence charges, to which he pleaded no contest and served a minor probation term. Finally, on 1 February 2012, he took his own life. An autopsy revealed that he had been suffering seizures as a complication from his 1982 surgery (and which may have very likely contributed to his 2008 DV charge), and a close friend believed that Cornelius had also been suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, and Cornelius’ son claimed that he had also been suffering extreme chronic pain, citing Don Cornelius’ last known words as “I don’t know how much longer I can take this”. While Soul Train certainly had its peak influence in the 1970s, its legacy continues on, and the archive footage certainly serve as a time capsule for US urban music and fashion during the 1970s.

Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra

Let me be clear: By standards of the subculture as it was, Lee & Nancy were not Mod —but because the only way to define “Mod music” is thusly:

Mod Music

  1. Music played by people who self-identify with the Mod subculture
  2. Music widely enjoyed by people who identify with the Mod subculture

…it simply cannot be denied that Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra have gained some cred over the years. Granted, this is not without reason.

It’s argueable that in 1966, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” was kind of an ironic anthem amongst Carnaby Street girls and American youthquakers, outfitting themselves in go-go boots. Hell, one of the earliest covers was by The Artwoods (also released in ’66), and three years later, Symarip released the first altered version on Skinhead Moonstomp. Written and produced in its original version by Lee Hazlewood, and written for Nancy Sinatra, whom he suggested to sing it as if she were “a sixteen-year-old girl who fucks truck drivers” (for the curious, Nancy was twenty-six, at the time it was released), it’s clear the song has a long history not only as a traditional 1960s pop standard, but also as a kitschy favourite amongst Mods and Skinheads. It is thus only logical that, at some point in the 1980s or ’90s revivals, people would get interested in other work written by Lee Hazlewood, especially works performed with Nancy Sinatra.

It’s hard to categorise Lee Hazlewood’s music, as a whole — he wrote and performed but pop and country music, and was probably one of the first musicians to write music that would later be called “alternative country” —which pretty much seems to be a sort of catch-all phrase meaning approximately “quirky rock or pop music with a strong country or folk vibe to it” and has been applied to people and bands as diverse as Cracker, k.d. lang, Wilco, Murder By Death (???), Mumford & Sons, Amy Rigby (I highly recommend Diary of a Mod Housewife), Holly Golightly, and others. I’m pretty sure I once even saw the term applied to Elvis Costello, but I’d rather not think about that. I kind of wince at the notion of people referring to his music as “Cowboy Psychedelia”, because with possible exception of “Some Velvet Morning”, his music doesn’t really fit any kind of “psychedelic” definitions.

Well, maybe “Big Red Balloon” touches on some of those “trippy” elements, too:

While Nancy, with and without Lee, did have a steady stream of hit singles in the 1960s, most of her career was a staple of the “Beautiful Music” format radio —which today would be “Soft Adult Contemporary”, basically a middle-of-the-road, wholly inoffensive format that takes few (if any) risks, musically, and its selections are chosen to appeal to adults over thirty (in the 1960s –the current MOR formats aim to appeal to the 50+ crowd).

Upon examination of Hazlewood’s music compared to other Beautiful Music standards of the 1960s, it’s really hard to imagine how he got relegated to such a format, leaving a fair amount of his music without Nancy fairly obscure (most of his own records never charted, and if he hadn’t already been a successful songwriter, he would easily be described as an unappreciated genius.

Nancy Sinatra herself was also far from a hit factory. While she did maintain a string of char “hits”, most of these settled between numbers twenty and forty-five on any given Billboard chart for that year. The now-iconic “Sand” from the record Nancy & Lee peaked at #107 on the US Billboard, and only broke the Top 20 in Australia. The longevity of her popularity amongst the underground subcultures seems to rest on the fact that she’s one of those singers who was too cool to be square, but too square to be cool. Sure, she had a couple odd television specials, which might lead one to think that she was a major performer of the time, but keep in mind: The 1960s was before rock-n-roll was considered anything more than a gimmick, commercially. Sure, a few gutsy adverts used rhythm & blues-infused rock music in a jingle or two, but these were very few and far-between. Sure, rock music did appallingly well in the charts, when compared to traditional pop musicians, but but the corporate world was still a bunch of old men refusing to budge on anything that might make the company seem less old-fashioned.

If you’ve seen Mad Men, ignore the fact that there are all these spectacular bouffants and bullet bras, and it makes you want to go out and buy a tube of Brylcreem. Think about it and remember all the various scenes where Don Draper is practically running into walls because jackasses older then himself are still treating his successful adverts as a fluke, or how often Peggy or Pete bite their tongues because while their ideas are clearly innovative and eye-catching, some white-haired jackass in a suit doesn’t quite get it and wants them to basically make the same ad the previous agency did, only “new”, somehow. This is why Nancy Sinatra and other people who barely sold records in the 1960s got some television specials: They were young-enough and just quirky enough to appeal to teenagers, uni students, and the general under-thirty crowd; they were also considered widely “safe” and “inoffensive” enough for ma and dad and grandma, and doc boy to be entertained, as well. Her recording of the Lee Hazlewood-penned “Sugar Town” is clearly a revival of 1940s-styled post-swing vocal pop reminiscent of The Andrews Sisters or similar.

…but then, speaking of “Sugar Town”, Hazlewood often mentioned later in life that the song was about LSD —that he went to some club in Los Angeles, and these younger people had lined up some sugarcubes, and applied something to them with an eyedropper. Since he avoided drugs, he wasn’t sure what they were doing, so he asked one of them, and was told “it’s LSD, man, a real sugar town”. He claimed to have intentionally dumbed-down the song with inane lyrics so that the kids would be certain as to what it was about (even though he intentionally avoided divulging its true meaning, at the time), but adults, especially those running the record company, would be none the wiser. Though “Sugar Town” only peaked at #5 on Billboard’s main US and UK charts, it was a #1 on the US Adult Contemporary chart in 1967. A lot of his other songs could also have an intentional double meaning like that, illustrating just how clever he was, especially when compared to other artists derisively lumped into the “MOR [Middle of the Road] pop” category, named such for its apparent simplicity and inoffensiveness. While he certainly entertained the tragically kitschy pop genre of Neil Diamond and others, his aspirations as a lyricist were clearly subversive enough to rival the Factory hangers-on numbly nodding along with The Velvet Underground.

By 1977, Hazlewood retired from music for a time, and Nancy Sinatra semi-retired in the late 1970s, stating she wanted to focus on motherhood for a bit, and released a country record with Mel Tillis in 1981, being pretty much the bulk of her activity until 1995, when she jump-started a new career with a spread in Playboy at the age of 54. Nancy is still with us, but Lee passed off this mortal coil in 2007, after a brief career relaunch and several years battling cancer. Maybe they didn’t get much cred amongst the Mods and Youthquakers in the mid-1960s, but they certainly have earned it since.

Modcast for 22 July 2013

 

The Triffids – “Love & Affection”
Go – “Don’t Take Her Away”
Sharp Ties – “Get That Beat”
The Killermeters – “Twisted Wheel”
The Go-Between – “On My Block”
The Distractions – “Something For the Weekend”
The Merseys – “Sorrow”
Pizzicato 5 – “Sweet Soul Revue”
The Monochrome Set – “Crystal Chamber”
The Saints – “Simple Love (original)”
The Art woods – “Keep Lookin'”
Sharon Forrester – “Silly Wasn’t I?”
Les Elite – “Get A Job”
The Prisoners – “Go-Go”
Billie Davis – “Nobody’s Home to Go Home To”
Sandie Shaw – “How Can You Tell?”
The Chesterfield Kings – “Time to Kill”
Squire – “Live Without Her Love”
Jean Dushon – “Hitch Hike!”
Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band – “She Shot a Hole In My Soul”
Gloria Jones – “Stage Coach”
Wall of Voodoo – “(Don’t Spill My) Courage”

DJ RJ’s Modcast for 15 July 2013

 

Saint Etienne – “Railway Jam”
Department S – “Whatever Happened To the Blues?”
Dexys – “You”
Paul Bevoir – “Changing Places”
Madness – “Believe Me”
Gli Evangelisti – “Un ragazzo di strada”
Tony Clarke – “Landslide”
The Out Cast – “You’ve Gotta Call Me”
The Smiths – “Work Is A Four Letter Word”
Purple Hearts – “Plane Crash”
The Small Faces – “Tin Soldier”
The Meddyevals – “Place called Love”
The Kinks – “Village Green”
The Ordinary Boys – “Over the Counter Culture”
The Monochrome Set – “Two Fists”
Prince – “4 the Tears In Your Eyes”
Skandalous All-Stars – “Cult of Personality”
Alexei Sayle – “The Winebars of Old Hampstead Town”

At the Gallery: The Kinks by ~gabrio76


The Kinks by ~gabrio76 on deviantART

DJ RJ’s Monday Modcast for 10 June 2013: Free Form Music for the Mod Inclined

 

Flipper’s Guitar – “The World Tower/Hidden tracks”
Judy Mowatt – “I Shall Sing”
Beat Merchants – “So Fine”
Television Personalities – “Silly Girl”
The Nips – “Gabrielle”
The Cigarettes – “Miranda”
The Weekends – “Want You”
Sandie Shaw – “Nothing Comes Easy”
Maxine Darren – “How Can I Hide It From My Heart?”
The Raped – “Cheap Night Out”
Secret Affair – “Time For Action”
The Zombies – “She’s Not There”
Otis Spann – “I’m Ready”
PJ Harvey – “The Piano”
Les Twins – “Je Suis Timide”
Department S – “Just Pretend”
The Moodists – “Swingy George”
Baris Manço & Kaygisizlar – “Trip (Fairground)”
Dave Berry – “Picture Me Gone”