Detroit

‘My time to shine’ Guilty Simpson, prod. Oh No (Forge your own chains: Heavy psychedelic ballads and dirges, 1968-1974, Now-Again Records, 2009)

Released as part of a compilation, and as a single it seems, via Now-Again Records this track has a very direct verse from Guilty Simpson keeping it level, appropriate as the message is one of defiance and rejecting expectations and a magical switch about half-way through from producer Oh No.

The 60s surf-rock dimensions come from Damon’s ‘Don’t you feel me’ -

See here Damon's biography from AllMusic that spells out the singer’s obscurity (and unusual style).

"Singer/songwriter Damon (just Damon, no last name) put out an extremely obscure, folk-tinged psychedelic album in 1969, 'Song of a Gypsy,' of which only 100 copies were pressed. Such is its rarity that mint copies have gone for as much as $1000 or more. There's a droning, slightly raga-modalish flavor to the melodies and guitar lines, with a gypsy touch in the percussion and questing, spiritual lyrics. The gypsy element of Song of a Gypsy is not just an extrapolation from the title, but a deliberate action on Damon's part, who came to think of himself as a gypsy while wandering around California in the late '60s.

After one 45, "Song of the Gypsy"/"Oh What a Good Boy Am I," the LP was recorded by Damon and other musicians in Los Angeles, its existence barely even suspected by most psychedelic collectors for years. In the late '90s, it had something of a renaissance, with the title track appearing on one of the Love, Peace & Poetry compilations of rare psychedelia, and the LP getting reissued in both CD and vinyl editions.

Around this time, Damon returned to recording with a similar but less strange album, Gypsy EyesSong of a Gypsy was reissued by Now-Again in 2013, just in time for a Damon track to feature on HBO's vampire hit True Blood."

What really appeals to me is this moment in this song where Oh No does the switch, just after the one minute mark, where he deepens the sound, increasing the intensity by keeping it still. It reminds me of dub, sure, but the difference lies in the duration of the effect, how it’s so extended; it's as if he making space within the music. This is both interesting and surprising.

Here’s some information on the Forge your own chains compilation, provided by the Stones Throw site:

With the same detailed, no-stone-unturned approach he used for deep funk on The Funky 16 Corners and Cold Heat, Egon’s Now-Again Records tackles beat-heavy global psychedelia with Forge Your Own Chains. Psychedelic records, long the mainstay of older, grizzled collectors, are giving up new ghosts in the hands of Egon and those of this generation. 

Digipak CD package includes 40-page full color booklet with detailed liner notes, annotation, photos and ephemera. Gatefold 2/LP includes all liner notes. 

Coda:

Versions: 'I don't know why' Stevie Wonder (For Once in My Life, Tamla, 1968) Jackson 5, Thelma Houston, plus live performance

Forming a kind of flawless constellation, three points in triangle, that arguably represents the pinnacle of achievement of Black American Music in the 60s/70s: Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Thelma Houston.       

This song with its highly complex lyrics, describing an addictive state of desire that makes no sense, was written by a sixteen-year-old Stevie Wonder. There is something so arresting about the music, with its heavy atmosphere of portent – those descending notes and the dramatic build – but what I like best about it is Wonder’s surprising (and idiosyncratic) vocal performance. Before the two-minute mark there is separation between Wonder’s vocal line and the music itself where he breaks away almost, sounding hazy and drugged; you can hear his breathing as it all falls apart and yet the music maintains its forward movement.

You throw my heart down in the dirt
You made me crawl on 
This cold black earth, baby
No I never, I never knew 
How much love could hurt
Until I loved you baby
Till I loved you baby, baby
Oh baby, I can’t stop 
I can’t stop crying can’t you see
Here I’m pleadin’ on my knees
I’m on my knees
Won’t you help me, help me please
Cause I love you, I love you baby
Sure enough, baby, yeah

Here’s a live performance from 1969 from the Hollywood Palace; check out the ever so hip “thank you” at the start, in acknowledgment of the brief applause from the audience (other listeners appreciate his little knowing laugh later on; I like the opening curtain effect behind Stevie that happens for no reason, as he is in front of it, at the start).

Second star in the constellation …

This gem was recorded when Michael Jackson was eleven years old, or maybe 12. There’s not much to write here, as it’s all there the artistry so obvious clear from first listen, the intensity of his delivery all the extremely cute ad-libs/Soul additions, from the opening drama of the, “sure enough baby, baby …” The “darling, darling, darling” and especially the “baby dear” added to the original “You made me crawl on/This cold black earth, baby” is so sweet.

The Jackson 5 released this version on their 1970 ABC album   

The third …

Thelma Houston, as a vocalist, has a lovely quality of restraint, of singing just behind the musical line and never over-stating and exaggerating things for effect. I like the way she sings in such a controlled, but sensual way: there are no playful additions here, no need. But this version is special, surely for the wonderful grace of the musicianship. Listening to this I can’t help but hear the continuum with the past, where current and earlier hip-hop feeds off this heritage. Obvious to say, I know, but listening to this it’s made so explicit the way the various elements play with notions of fusion, similarity and difference.

Other well-known artists have covered the Stevie Wonder classic then and since, including the Rolling Stones in 1969 with this out-of-synch honky tonk version that has certain charm. 

According to Wik

"The Rolling Stones released a 1969 cover of the song in 1975 on their ABKCO outtake album Metamorphosis. It was recorded on 3 July 1969 during the sessions for Let It Bleed, the night that news broke of Brian Jones' death. It was also used as the b-side for their 1975 single." 

Related article: Versions: “Sunny” Bobby Hebb (Sunny, Philips, 1966) 

 

Versions: ‘(If loving you is wrong) I don’t want to be right’ David Ruffin (David Ruffin, Motown, 1973)

Often in online comments below panegyric reviews of a certain contemporary US pop/R&B superstar, readers complain: she doesn’t write her own material, how can she be lauded as a great artist, or a visionary? This criticism is interesting to me, in the way it profoundly misunderstands a key aspect of black American music.

Not only black American music – Soul/R&B, jazz - but dub/reggae and other musical traditions, such as la chanson française and popular music found in non-English speaking countries. The point is not if the singer wrote the material, but more how they interpret and make it their own. Indeed, the idea that it isn't something personal, or unique to them, but part of a broader tradition is central to the interest of their work; as I've written before in relation to sampling in hip-hop, there is always this doubling going on of paying homage, while making it new.   

What then makes an exceptional interpretative artist? (I’m aware that this term is being used rather loosely here). Three qualities: artistry, investment and self-awareness. The first is self-explanatory, they need a voice with depth, range and character, not the light/treated singing style favoured by pop, but one of those voices you can’t forget; a voice that haunts you; comforts you, unsettles you.

Investment is the quality of presence, where the singer gives the impression that he/she is fully present, there in the moment and the musical expression is offering direct connection with something private, their secret self. This might seem lofty, but listen to Cesária Évora or Fairuz  and this doesn’t seem so difficult to understand. Finally, self-awareness comes from the impression you have that the singer is fully conscious of their effect (this is where their charm and ability to captivate comes in).

David Ruffin is the great interpretative artist of his generation (when at his best). Ruffin's ability to re-invent classic songs of his era, while imprinting them with his character was formidable, unbeaten (even, even Stevie Wonder came up short in comparison, as in some ways his talent could not be 'used' in this way and was inexorably linked to the expression of the visions in his mind).

‘(If loving you is wrong) I don’t want to be right was first recorded by The Emotions – see my piece on their track ‘I don’t wanna lose your love’ from last month here  - but it was not until Luther Ingram released the song in 1972 that it became a hit, topping the R&B charts for four weeks. See this wonderful live performance by Ingram that one YouTube poster has said comes from the Watts StaxFestival in August, 1972…  

The Ingram performance is flawless in terms of the voice and conviction, but in terms of the psychological message it is relatively one-dimensional. He seeks our approval, he seeks our sympathy for his predicament. It’s moving, certainly, but there is nothing inherently difficult about it.

Isaac Hayes released a version of the song one year after Ingram. Now, I understand that Hayes is an important artist, a much-sampled artist, a key artist to understand if you want to understand black American music but so often the over the top orchestration of his music makes me laugh (listen to all those beeps and squeaks that come and go; those temporary dramatic drum-rolls and dramatic pauses, it’s kind of nuts).

And I don’t get the way he sings: it’s always so bombastic, he never sounds sincere to me. Musically it has a lot of interest and I can see the influence everywhere today, but as a singer interpreting a song and connecting with his listeners ….  

This brings us to the Ruffin version, released on his David Ruffin album in 1973. Obviously, this is my favourite, especially in the way it allows for emotional complexity that sounds utterly real; Ruffin allows us to feel his desperation, but he is also defiant – again using his trademark bossy turns of phrase, all those ‘Listens’ – as if he believes that whatever others might feel, he is right to cheat on his wife.

And yet, throughout Ruffin’s vulnerability is highlighted, expressed through the gravelly timbre of his voice but also in the way the song ends, the way it falls apart (my notes: ‘tender ending, riffing, growling almost’). No other singer of his generation had this same ability to express such nuanced contradiction and such sadness; one critic said that this performance ‘gave insight to his inner demons’ in that it finds him openly pleading as ‘ ... a man in desperation,’ before begging ‘...can't you help the situation.’

(After listening to Ruffin's best work, so many other much more feted stars from the 60s and 70s, Al Green, Otis Redding, seem bland, lacking mono-dimensional in comparison).   

The Millie Jackson version, released in 1974, is special for the way she built on the original and has its own intensity and power (this description is from Wikio):  

Millie Jackson, however, took a somewhat different approach. On both studio and live recordings, her version is typically divided into three parts: “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right,” “The Rap,” and “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right (Reprise),” which together have a running time of over 11 minutes. The first and third parts include the song more or less as originally written, while the second part was written by Jackson herself. Titled “The Rap,” the middle segment is a monologue in which an unrepentant Jackson discusses her status as the “other woman” and why she loves it.

‘City slang’ Sonic's Rendezvous Band – stereo/mono (single, 1978)

Sonic's Rendezvous Band (or SRB) was an American rock and roll band from Ann Arbor, Michigan in the 1970s, featuring veterans of the 1960s Detroit rock scene. Sonic's Rendezvous Band came from the ashes of four Michigan rock bands:

Fred "Sonic" Smith, formerly of the MC5
Scott Morgan, formerly of the Rationals, a soul-influenced Detroit band of the 1960s
Gary Rasmussen, formerly of The Up
Scott Asheton, formerly of The Stooges.

They remained virtually unknown, but their one and only single retained high interest among fans of Detroit rock. The band had had only enough money to mix one song, "City Slang", so it was pressed on both sides of the single. One side was labeled mono and one side stereo although both sides were identical.

(notes from below the video)

Stereo:

Mono:

(love the ‘mono’ personally)

From an article by Oliver Hall with the great title, 'Holy relic of Detroit high energy rock: Fred 'Sonic' Smith & the mysterious lyrics of 'City Slang'

Some history (from the same Hall article): 

Around 1975, after the breakup of the MC5, guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith put together a supergroup with former members of bands from the MC5’s Detroit scene. Sonic’s Rendezvous Band comprised Smith, Stooges drummer Scott Asheton (a/k/a “Rock Action”), Rationals guitarist and singer Scott Morgan, and Up bassist Gary Rasmussen. The “City Slang” single (“City Slang” in mono on one side, stereo on the other) was the only thing the band released before breaking up, though there are now several compilations and live records, including a (mostly live) six-CD box set.'

Here are the lyrics, that Hall says are (perhaps dubiously) attributed to Scott Morgan himself:

Some dirt in my hand
A part of the land
Slip and slide communication
Downtown on the street
They measure the beat
To understand the situation
A taste on the tongue
And no place to run
With all the chances to be taken
The stranger he buys
The angel she flies
My heart is cold just like the nation
Like a dog they kick at night
Gypsy laughin’ but that’s alright
Momma’s cryin’ sister thinkin’
Well you know it’s just city slang

We rode in the car
Slept in the car
All the way to the citadel
Slept on the floor
Surfed on the floor
All the way to the Coronet
Rock was pissed in Paris
Mad in Madrid
Took the sonic European way
Gary and Rock
Sonic and Scott
Meet again up in Ishpeming
When you hear that hammer fallin’
Ain’t no reason to feel left out
Ain’t no reason to call any names
Well you know it’s just city slang

With Funky and Dog
To Minni and Mad
All the way to the Aragon
Cleveland and Chi
Ann Arbor, Detroit
All the way back to the Second Chance
Je suis un son
Un autre son
Qui n’entend qu’une cloche n’entend qu’un son
Je suis le son
Je suis son son
Hey what kind of fool do you think I am
Keep a-talkin’ those city dreams
Well you know alright you know what I mean
Detroit, Chicago now New York to L.A.
They all been talkin’ bout city slang

Love the final paragraph from Oliver Hall’s little piece:

'The first verse matches the single very closely, but the second and third don’t match at all aside from a few lines and phrases. These lyrics don’t match any live recording I’ve heard, either, and yet they seem credible enough. They mention a number of contemporary Midwestern landmarks—the Aragon Ballroom in Cleveland, the Second Chance club in Ann Arbor, the tiny township of Ishpeming, Michigan—and the passage in French, which consists of a proverb bookended by puns on the French word for “sound,” seems like the sort of thing Patti Smith’s husband might sing. Or am I the naive victim of a cruel hoax perpetrated by a teenager? You be the judge.'

Nice. 

*(re-released Mack Aborn Rhythmic Arts, 2000)

Live recordings: 'Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)' Rolling Stones, live in London, 1973*

One of my pet theories is that much time could be saved if on initial meeting you asked: which classic guitar group from the 60s/70s were you into as a teenager (and of course, this could be shifted to other genres depending on the context, say, which classic 90s hip-hop group did you like when you were 14-15 becoming human).  

Again, the key notion behind this is which music did you like as a younger version of you. Obviously such childish things would be supplanted with time, made more various and subtle and possibly even mysterious, hard to gauge, but this initial passion - that moment when your self in development said yes, I choose this, this speaks to me - would continue to say something essential about the character of the person facing you today. 

Now none of this is to say that those other musical choices were not respected, or liked by your younger self, but rather which one did you listen to under the blankets when your parents thought you were asleep; which one did you listen to when you walked to school to the point where you felt transfixed by it. 

For me it was the raw intensity of the Stooges, with a major Bowie infatuation before this ... I even used to wear a silver bangle when I was about twelve-thirteen so I'd resemble him on the cover of Diamond Dogs. Strange girl-self. 

But here would be another possibility, not for me, but others in the nascent musical-obsessive Melbourne milieu I grew up in: the Stones, though this group was never really of much interest to me (ditto, Jimi Hendrix, or the Beatles, or god forbid Led Zeppelin, or if you were a bit cooler, say MC5, though that'd be rare if that was someone's first love; the person is probably faking it).

If the guy, it was almost always a guy, said his first love was Black Sabbath, or Iron Maiden: this indicated something else entirely.       

That part from just before 2'30" when it goes low to kick in with its full intensity is bliss, but the most amazing moment is from 3'10 when the bass-line/guitars gets funky with the drums, wow.

*There seems to be some debate about the location of the concert, some say London; some say Brussels.  

'All I do is think about you' Tammi Terrell (Tamla, 1966)

With a beat so clean, opening everything up like clicking fingers, while also offering such a sweet contrast with all the swooning effects and Tammi Terrell’s stunning delivery. Her voice is so pure, it could be an instrument right there in the mix, with her playful personality shining through.

Terrell’s phrasing is gorgeous, the way she pauses in unexpected ways to offer emphasis, but in a sense just also drawing our attention back to her gift; ‘trying … to find’ and I love the way she stretches the vowels, it’s highly expressive, but perfectly controlled.

When you hear Stevie Wonder’s 1980 version of the song he wrote as a teenager …

you can see how original Terrell’s singing was. (Stevie Wonder emphasises key words that make sense in terms of the lyrics’ meaning, Terrell emphasises words as if she’s luxuriating over the sounds. Having said that, this version by Stevie Wonder has one of the most extraordinary bass-lines in popular music, truly; the way it trips about, but maintains structure is something to behold. And on Wonder’s version, check out Michael Jackson helping out on backing vocals).

You can also hear how expressive Terrell’s version is when it is compared to that of Brenda Holloway, which appears to have exactly the same backing track and came out the same year, it seems.

Terrell’s individual style is so strong and so dominant in this song, with all those asides, all the ‘oh baby’ or ‘I’m going to tell you boy’. She’s so sweet, as a performer; something that also shines through in the duets with Marvin Gaye. See, for example, their cute, naughty expressions at the start of this famous song.

I love this so much, those first 30 seconds are so pure and beautiful ... it's enough to cheer anyone up on this below-zero, cold winter's day.

'Keep on Running' Stevie Wonder (Music of my mind, Tamla, 1972)

Some gonna get you
Some gonna grab you
Some gonna jump out of the bushes and grab you
Whole lotta folks, you better run faster.

Some gonna grab you
Some gonna jump out of the bushes and grab you
Some gonna grab you
Oh You need this thing to grab you, ha.
Yea, yea

Keep on running
Keep on running from my love
Keep on running, yea
Keep on running from my love

Disco precursor, some say that this almost seven minute sparkle and joy, where Stevie Wonder's exuberance comes to full effect could be taken from the template of the later work of Moroder, but also black echo, and radical reinvention - though there is nothing to suggest that Stevie Wonder did this consciously - of a key track from the 1960s rock canon. 

Whereas the Spencer Davis group tune from 1965 is extremely accessible, comfortably fitting itself into familiar conventions of rhythm and message, Stevie Wonder's track is playful, mercurial and hard to pin down. (There's an entire back story behind the rock version of 'Keep on running' first written and recorded by Jackie Edwards, an artist who played a key role in the invention of ska, first via his recordings for Studio One and then the songs he wrote for artists at Island Records: let's hope he got those royalties).    

'One fine day I'm gonna be the one,' sings the rather stolid teenage Steve Winwood, as he makes his way through the tune, his straight-up delivery set off by the fuzz effects on the guitar. In contrast, Stevie Wonder plays around with ambiguity; starting with the 'some gonna get you' (who is that subject talking there?) and sounds like he's having a ball, smiling at the ruse.

Opening with a 'single repeated pitch in the synthesizer and piano along with unpredictable percussion accentuations,' to use the words of James E Perone, who has written a book on the artist, The Sound of Stevie Wonder: His Words and Music.  Perone writes that the track is carried along by a 'harder-edged version of keyboard-based funk, particularly because of Wonder's synthesized version of pedal-laden electric rhythm guitar' (that he says marks the influence of other musicians from the era, such as Curtis Mayfield).

'Wonder's dissonant piano links at the end of the stanzas add significantly to the "scary" nature of the song,' Perone writes. But it is this 'scariness' that Perone has problems with, as he writes that while the track 'finds Stevie Wonder expanding his expressive range, (it) also presents him as a bit of an unsympathetic figure' - the problem being what Perone sees to be Wonder taking on a 'macho "superbad" persona' that is like a 'scary ... Superfly-like sex machine'.

The problem with the song is that the lead character is so foreign to anything Wonder had done before (or after for that matter) that it stretches the limits of believability for the listener ... (It is) almost like a song that was written and arranged for another singer.

Perone cites the song's lack of commercial success - it reached no. 36 on the Billboard R&B chart and no. 90 on the Billboard pop charts - and that it was one of Stevie Wonder's worst performing singles as evidence that the audience didn't know what to make of the song,

Now, it's not really my interest to defend or explain or locate Stevie Wonder, as if, but even a cursory look at the lyrics makes it clear that taking such a literal stance is a bit problematic, especially since the (female) backing vocalists have such an important role in the song's structure (and are ones repeating the essential refrain). 

What's interesting for me when listening to the greats of this era and this genre, perhaps, is the way they understood the importance of music as being made up of distinct elements and that their genius came through the way they played around with these elements, allowing some to come forward or recede, or keep them constant. This is where their creativity lies. For this reason I'm not listening to relate to the singer, or what he/she is singing, as this music is not an expression of Stevie Wonder's feelings. It's self-conscious and manufactured, intentionally: the lyrics are not the whole, just another element.  

Other than that my preference is to see the 'some' as intentionally vague; potentially referring to internal/external devils, ready to play havoc and attack your peace of mind, rather than a literal bad guy waiting to take a leap 'from the bushes'. Wonder, too, seems to be encouraging such a perspective ie that the lyrics should not be taken literally: at one point he shifts it to talking about his friend, rather than himself ('Some folks say that you're really, really fine/But all you want to be is just a friend of mine/But I know I'm gonna get you with him - real soon').

Anyway, whatever your take on the lyrics, this track is magic in itself, even the sceptical Perone can't help but recognise this:

Some of the synthesiser links are more showy than what Wonder would later allow himself in his more commercial funk pieces. The piece slows down approximately 4-1/2 minutes into a 6-minute-40 second performance. The subsequent re-crescendo in the repetition of “keep on running, running from my love” chorus sound like what a fine funky soul band might do in a live concert performance, or a studio jam.

And better sound quality, though am not 100 % sure it's the same live performance (or even if Stevie Wonder is playing in the video above ... he seems to be missing just a few musicians). 

It's commonplace for critics to note that Music of my mind marked an important development in Stevie Wonder's career, as a statement of independence (as his first record freed of the shackles of Motown) and musical intent. Penny Valentine in her review for UK magazine, Sounds praised Wonder's arrangement of 'intriguing vocal patterns" on what she deemed "an album of explosive genius and unshackled self-expression.'

Check out this interview between Valentine and Wonder on the album's release, where Stevie Wonder rhapsodises about the Moog synthesiser and how liberated he felt to be doing his own thing. Indeed, the use of synthesiser is key to Wonder's musical development, to quote a more recent Sputnik review: Wonder 'makes a small job of transposing the passion of soul music into a synthesized world, turning his army of electronics into delicate digital emotions.' Here's another assessment, running along the same lines:

What resulted was a cohesive album where the songs fit together well. It was his first album to make the synthesizer the dominant instrument, which resulted in the dramatic use of chord and key changes, which quickly became a consistent part of his style and sound.

And yet another that begins with a quote from the album liner notes ...

The sounds themselves come from inside his mind. The man is his own instrument. The instrument is an orchestra.”
Music of My Mind was also the first to bear the fruits of his increased focus on Moog and Arp synthesizers, though the songs never sound synthetic, due in great part to Stevie’s reliance on a parade of real instruments — organic drum work, harmonica, organs and pianos — as well as his mastery of traditional song structure and his immense musical personality.

 

But to close I like this quote best, from a super-enthusiastic contemporary review from Rolling Stone that captures my own point of view regarding this piece of music four decades on:  

‘Keep On Running’ is a knockout. The cut begins with a kind of ominous tangle of electronic squiggles, piano, nervous cymbal clashes and dark bassy threats as Stevie sings, “Something gonna get you/Something gonna grab you/Something gonna jump out of the bushes and grab you.” After two verses and a few anticipatory beats, the song breaks out in earnest, the beat picks up and Stevie repeats, “Keep on running/Keep on running from my love.” I can’t remember hearing a synthesizer sound so exciting and alive. Later, as the music gets hotter, and Stevie more mock-threatening, a girls’ chorus comes in and all build together on a relentless repetition of “Keep on running, running from my love” that takes up the better part of the song’s more than six minutes. If you can listen to this sitting very still in your chair, something is wrong.

'Sandstorms'/Just another day, Carl Craig (Planet E, 2004/2011)

And God said unto Noah, the end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through Them; and, behold I will destroy Them with the earth
Genesis 6:13 

('Notes' on Just another day, Discogs site)

(The) “interesting and sadly ironic thing about the release is that the cut ‘Sandstorms’ is about the second Gulf War. I say ironic because seven years later, we’re still at war in the region with no true end in sight.

“Also, if you look closely at the cover artwork, you’ll notice it also follows the theme of warfare. Each track sets a very distinct emotional tone. It starts out very high and even hopeful with ‘Twilight’, then descends into deeper, more morose feelings with ‘Sandstorms’ and ‘Darkness’, until it ends in sheer insanity/chaos with ‘Experimento’. You could say it mirrors the history of this country or even the city of Detroit. I’m not sure if that’s what Carl intended but as a listener, this is how I interpret it.
— Planet E label manager Monty Luke, 'Carl Craig gives his classic 'Sandstorms' a 2011 update', FACT, 13th Oct 2011