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20 Years Ago, Part 2
As promised, here’s where the less familiar stuff starts to show up.
Noise is right. This free jazz supergroup of equals – saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, guitarist Sonny Sharrock, bassist Bill Laswell, and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, all not only band leaders of note but innovative stylists on their instruments – could and did create a mighty din. All but one of their albums were recorded in concert; this is the best, and would be even without the cameos by pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist/clarinetist Akira Sakata. This was avant-garde that reached all the way back to the blues for inspiration, but could also peel paint with scorching blasts of atonal skronk. Theoretically out of print, yet very easy to track down.
Funky, bluesy (including a cover of Memphis Slim’s “Mother Earth”), jazzy (not least because alto saxophonist Julius Hemphill guests), Hendrixy (JPB’s vocals and guitar, though he’s no mere imitator but rather a distinctive stylist on his own terms). There are few wider dichotomies in the ‘80s between quality versus sales.
Minimalism crossed with computer-assisted interactive improvisation to produce engrossing patterns and captivating timbres. Nearly two decades after its release, electronic music fans were exposed to it again when Four Tet AKA Kieran Hebden led off his volume in the DJ-Kicks series with a burbling excerpt from the opening title track.
Famous as members of Prince’s backing band The Revolution, they went out on their own (with bandmate Bobby Z co-producing) and showed that they were also excellent songwriters and multi-instrumentalists. Though the high-gloss production shines, there’s a moody darkness to it, nowhere more than on the ballads “Song About” (reputed to be about Prince) and the absolutely gorgeous “The Life.”
The band’s fifth LP, and last indie release, features “The One I Love,” which surprised by making it to #9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 (the LP reached #10 on the album chart). In its wake, the patter song “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” made it to #69. One can only wonder what the mainstream fans attracted to the album thought of the rest of the tracks: a cover of the Wire song “Strange,” quirky political screeds, and typically murky Michael Stipe lyrics.
The greatest white punk-funk album ever, bursting with grooves, aggression, and wit. Ira Robbins starts his Trouser Press Record Guide review by writing, “They could have been bigger than the Red Hot Chili Peppers...” Yeah, and they were better too. That RHCP are arena superstars while RCM’s albums are out of print is a gross musical injustice.
Who? Rockingest Sufi ever Richard Thompson, avant-garde god Henry Kaiser, Henry Cow/Art Bears linchpin Fred Frith, and Magic Band drummer John “Drumbo” French. French’s songs unsurprisingly recall Captain Beefheart. “Drowned Dog Black Night” and “A Blind Step Away” are two of Thompson’s most gloriously depressed efforts. Frith mostly takes one for the team by playing bass and violin, but does get in one ripping guitar solo on the Kaiser-Thompson original “Tir-nan-darag.” And then there are the fun covers, not only familiar material such as “Surfin’ USA” and Willie Dixon’s blues classic “The Same Thing” but also a rollicking rendition of cult hero Shokichi Kina’s hit drinking song “Hai Sai Oji-san, sung in the original Okinawan!
In the wake of a series of collaborations with Material that almost made this former member of Labelle a star, she hooked up with Dan Hartman and made her masterpiece, a mix of percolating dance tracks and soaring ballads that showcased her best singing. Speaking of Prince, “Baby Go-Go” was written by him under the alias J. Coco. Out of print, but not hard to track down.
XTC’s loving tribute to psychedelia started with the EP 25 O’Clock, then exploded into this LP (the two are now combined on the CD Chips from the Chocolate Fireball). “Vanishing Girl” is great pop, and the closing “Pale and Precious” does the Beach Boys better than they themselves could.
It’s less daring and more polished than their Twin/Tone stuff or even their Sire debut, Tim, and the anarchy of hard-rocking guitarist Bob Stinson is missed, but there are too many great songs here to write off this LP: “Alex Chilton, “The Ledge,” “Never Mind,” and especially “Can’t Hardly Wait.”
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