Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Plagiarism or homage?

COMPARE THE CHORUSES. In the first song, you'll hear it at :30 and in the second, at 1:20. Besides a half-step difference in pitch and different bass lines under them, the vocal parts are nearly identical.

The first, from '82, is  written by Joey Gallo and Kevin Spencer, produced by Leon Sylvers III, and sung by the sweet-voiced Carrie Lucas. Sylvers additionally wrote and produced hits for the Whispers, Shalamar, Lakeside, and Midnight Starr, all labelmates at Solar Records (which was co-founded by Don Cornelius of Soul Train fame).

 The second song, from '89, is credited to Gene Griffin and performed by Today. Production was by Griffin's protege, a then up-and-coming Harlem music wunderkind named Teddy Riley.

It should be noted that, aside from the chorus melody/harmony, the songs are different, right down to instrumentation and recording technique. "Show Me" is classic early '80s dance funk: smart but simple drum pattern, everything perfectly in the pocket, and the kind of bass line that makes you miss bass lines; the band is the same crack studio team that was behind the Whispers.  

"Girl" features the patented synthesized, layered, drum-machined, stuttering-digital-sample- studded, driving and infectious sound that Riley invented and dubbed "New Jack Swing" -- the music I was doin' the "Running Man" to back in high school.
The two songs differ lyrically too. Whereas Griffin/Riley/Today are all about layin' down the mack and romancing their target, the original song is all about pre-AIDS-era frankness: don't bullshit me about romance when all we really want is to get down.

Monday, April 09, 2012

He's an Aryan Warrior

ABOUT FOUR YEARS AGO, on a shortwave radio frequency I don't frequent, I heard the cutest little ditty. Apparently, it was a girl duo, singing a groovy melody to the bounciest, catchiest Krautrock tune you could imagine. What is this? I wondered. Some cool indie band? There's no indie rock on shortwave, unless maybe it's from one of the foreign stations -- Japanese? Korean? Dutch? French?

After listening a bit further  thought the voices reminded me of the adorable trio of girls I sometimes hear on a Baptist evangelist program out of Canada. But those girls sing hillbilly style, not krautrock.

I listen closely to the lyrics. My eyebrows raise a little.

He's an Aryan Warrior 
Tradition very old 
Battling Zionist menace 
To win back what was stole. ... 

Okay, I get it.

After the song's done, the announcer says that this program is the “Vocal Minority Report.” They're out of Arkansas. The band is called Heritage Connection.

Great, but guess what, cute little Warriors. Krautrock's filtered through Germany, but it's still rock, okay? That backbeat's still a black beat. (Is that why when you perform the song live, you have no drummer?) You're still singin' jungle music. Got that, baboons? If you wanna be all pure-opean, I'm afraid you'll have to go back to waltzes, marches and oom-pah music.

By the way, Gawker.com recently discovered these guys and spent a nice little weekend with them. It's called “My Kasual Kountry Weekend With the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” Fun stuff!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


THE MUSIC OF THE late Karen Carpenter and her brother, Richard, sometimes gets labeled yacht rock, but this is unfair. The Carpenters' music does not qualify, in any way, shape, or form, as "rock." And that's okay. The brother-sister duo were synonymous with late-seventies saccharine orchestra pop, untouched by the rock 'n' roll revolution, by the blues chords, the wailing and primitivism and raw sexualism that characterized that genre. But that doesn't mean Karen Carpenter was asexual. In fact, I'm positive she was not, with lines like this on her posthumous 1989 release Lovelines:

Remember when lovin' took all night?
Remember the feelin of doin' it right ...

("Remember When Lovin' Took All Night," a steamy Brazilian-jazz-tinged song that fades out with Karen doing sexlike "oohs")

Or, from the title track -- courtesy of Rod Temperton (who also gave us "Rock With You," "Boogie Nights," "Groove Line," and "Always and Forever"):

Heaven knows I need you, I wanna feel you
I got that strange sensation deep inside
That only you can satisfy  ...

So give me loving
Like I've never known before
Make me cry out loud for more ...

I'd love to, Karen. That is, if you had not allegedly killed yourself 29 years ago by overdosing on ipecac. You'd have just turned 61, but that's okay; you'd be a fine, fine 61. After a bit of fattening up....

Anyway. Karen's alto croon is the aural equivalent of some kind of creamy, buttery dairy concoction which if it were literal, I'd be highly intolerant to, but since it's merely metaphorical, I can bathe in its delights like a milk bath. A milk bath for my ears. The woman just had a freakishly smooth voice. And don't tell me you (guys) wouldn't have done anything to have her purr these love lines into your ear hole.

And, although this record is dated 1989, there's barely an electronic sound to be heard, no MIDI, none of the brittle cheap sound quality that became so prevalent in the late '80s. That's because Lovelines was recorded ten years earlier, literally at the height of the recording art and recording budgets -- when  it was all done with instruments played by musicians, in 48-track studios on two-inch tape through custom-made mixing boards, likely tube- rather than transistor-based. The result is an unstinting tribute to the lavish disco-era studio production: an orchestra, flugelhorns, and about twenty tracks of Karen stacked atop each other, giving dairylicious sustained "ahhs" and "oohs" so perfectly harmonized that all today's Autotune-dependent poseurs should literally hang their heads in shame. It's one of the most fantastic-sounding records in my collection, and I'm glad it happened to be at the thrift store with a 50-cent sticker, just waiting for me to get it.