Tuesday, May 13, 2003

When in doubt, or absent some uncertain, focused inspiration, a (music) blogger blogs his mixes.

I closed out 1989 by making a mix for my friend Penny. At the time, Penny was the queen of jangle-pop and goth. She lived for any pearls to drop from the mouth of Michael Stipe, while loving Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy as well. As part of my eternal quest to get my guitar-centric friends to learn and love stuff of a more rhythmic tilt, I made Penny a mixtape titled newpowersoul, which I described as "a collection of pretty good dance music." My definition of dance music was, shall we say, rather big-tent. The point was to ease her into it, akin to giving her a gateway drug. I've never been certain (though I've been doubtful) that I succeeded; somehow, someway, I ended up with the cassette back in my possession. I like it quite fine, though, so it's not such a tragedy, and it makes a tidy snapshot of me at the time.

side A
1. Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, "Freeze." I like it, and think Hitchcock is fairly amazing, but couldn't tell you even what album this is from.
2. Fine Young Cannibals, "I'm Not the Man I Used to Be." I've always found FYC to be horribly underrated. I mean, c'mon, great, great rhythms (two-thirds of 'em were in the Beat!) and that phenomenal voice of Roland Gift. They had a gift (sorry) for covers (see: "Suspicious Minds"), and a similar one with originals, this being a fine example, a stripped-down, late-eighties counterpart to some of the great Stax singles. Can't you just hear Otis Redding singing this?
3. Terence Trent D'Arby, "This Side Of Love." Speaking of underrated - yeah, he had the ego from hell, but had talent to back (at least some of it) up. Introducing the Hardline... was a smashing debut; his followup was even better, much further along artistically and in terms of songwriting. Great uber-Eddy twanging guitar, too.
4. Simply Red, "The Right Thing." Interesting to see the same arguments used to slag off Simply Red 15 years ago used on Jamiroquai now. Jamiroquai's more talented as a whole, but Mick Hucknall may be a better interpreter. In his prime, Simply Red cranked out one effortless pop gem after another; this was about midway through the streak. Check the bassline moving into the bridge.
5. Pet Shop Boys, "Love Comes Quickly." Because they're brilliant, that's why. Because Neil Tennant is the spiritual heir of Noel Coward and Cole Porter when it comes to songwriting. Because they're just as adept at slow as fast. I said, because they're brilliant.
6. Soul II Soul featuring Caron Wheeler, "Back To Life." A generation of British R&B starts here.
7. Depeche Mode, "Personal Jesus." I've always preferred hearing the chorus as "reach out and suck face." Their first record to prove they actually knew how to play instruments that weren't keyboards - they were better for it.
8. 24-7 Spyz, "Jungle Boogie." Red Hot Chili Peppers + Fishbone - Living Colour = 24/7 Spyz. A wonder they didn't have a long, fruitful career. Their Kool & the Gang cover was equal parts naff and great.
9. Culture Club, "I'll Tumble 4 Ya." Their lightest, frothiest hit, here because I could (and to provide a contrast to the overwhelming machismo of the prior selection).
10. The Art of Noise featuring Tom Jones, "Kiss." Who better to cover one of Prince's greatest moments than Mr. Throw Your Panties In The Air? I mean, really? Jones singing with AON is so far absurd it comes back around to practically normal.
11. Skinny Puppy, "Testure." Don't ask; they seemed very au courant at the time.

side B
1. Salt-N-Pepa with E.U., "Shake Your Thang." Wherein SNP team up with the then-newly-crowned kings of go-go to take on the Isleys. Fun in a summer blockbuster kind of way, but by no means essential.
2. Blondie, "Heart of Glass." Well, really, what more do you need to know?
3. UB40 with Chrissie Hynde, "I Got You Babe." I told you this was a very, very loose definition of dance music, and that I didn't want to push too hard. UB40, I've always thought, pulled off that surprise - at least until they started becoming a wedding band in the '90s, cover versions, nothing but cover versions - a pop-reggae (reggae-pop?) band who were actually good. The entire Rat in Mi Kitchen record is excellent, as is the earlier EP Little Baggariddim, from whence this suprising Sonny & Cher cover comes. Chrissie Hynde? Well, she's always been a reggae kinda girl, even if her music didn't always show it (but don't forget, the Pretenders' basslines sometimes did).
4. Prince, "Partyman." We all make mistakes: when Prince met Kim.
5. Wire, "Kidney Bingos." Wire's first, circa '77 incarnation, as skittery punkers, never really torqued my wrench for some reason. But their mid-'80s comeback, hepping up the electronics and appearing as godfathers for the (then-)current generation, works a charm. What really struck me about '80s Wire, however, apart from their deliciously oblique lyrics ("money spines/paper lung/kidney bingos/organ fun"?!) was the chiming guitars, sounding like the sun rising over England after weeks of rain - the UK alternate-universe version of Peter Buck's Rickenbacker jangle, perched uneasily atop layers of production and keybs. A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck sounded like truth in advertising to my teenaged ears. It still does.
6. The Smiths, "Panic." A myriad of commentators have since claimed that this song revolves around Morrissey's dislike of black music. But to me, an alienated Midwestern teenager, I took his words as tabula rasa. The radio did suck, yes, I could certainly understand feeling panicked myself as well.
7. Ofra Haza, "Galbi." She was the Israeli Streisand, or Madonna, or something. She could certainly fucking sing like few others - funny how voices sometimes sound stronger when you've no idea what they're singing. And the new wave/heavy synth f/x production backing her up actually upped the exotic ante. For a brief time, this sounded like the sound of a brave new world, maybe the way bhangra does now? The difference is that, globally speaking, she was a one-woman army. I wish she'd had reinforcements.
8. Pop Will Eat Itself, "Can U Dig It?" Can we take a minute to praise the genius that was PWEI, that really none of us, not even fans, realized at the time? Put it this way: add bootloads of samples, that particular British sense of humour, if not being, and more goofy intelligence to Linkin Park, and they're PWEI. Kind of. They were a rock band who understood the nascent DJ culture, tossing in as many odd, occasionally kitschy samples per minute as they thought they could get away with (and probably didn't care). On top went squalling metal guitar leads. And rapping. And nearly enough cheek to make Robbie Williams blush. But they weren't rap, or metal, or sampledelic merchants: they were a new thing, a hybrid, and we didn't know what to do with them, other than get get down. But damn it, they were brilliant, and so future-seeing it's still breathtaking. Oh, and this song, a public utterance of all of their beloved cultural totems, roolz.
9. Beastie Boys, "Shake Your Rump." Speaking of white boys rapping... remember when the Beasties still had a sense of humour? When they cared about the funk, and about jokes post-Licensed To Ill but pre-hangin' with Mr. Lama, "like Sam the butcher bringin' Alice the meat"? We could use 'em back, but I don't expect we'll ever get 'em.
10. a-ha, "The Living Daylights." So unfairly never given their due like you don't even know. The Norwegian trio made pop records, pure pop crafted from molten hooks and melodies, like few others in the late '80s. This, one of their highest moments, was a Bond theme, and is stellar, with just the right amounts of Morten's plaintive wail and a suspense-flick feel driving t'ings.
11. Living Colour, "Glamour Boys." Ah, what could have been. Oh, wait, it was.
12. Paula Abdul, "(It's Just) The Way That You Love Me." Of the four top-5 hits from Ms. Vibeology's debut full, this is the one no one remembers, which is a shame, as it's the best of them all. More of that hard, dry dance-pop indigenous to the era (see: Janet's "The Pleasure Principle," et.al.) that so expertly makes your body rock, whilst Paula runs through the laundry lists of what you got that she don't need, 'cause she just needs you. Yeah, you.

The audio quality of this tape sucks. But if you'd like a copy anyway, holla.

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