DUST IT OFF: Method Man’s “Tical”…20 years later

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When Method Man released his first solo album 20 years ago today, no one could comprehend what the group were about to do. Method Man’s Tical was a statement from the man who had his own song within the Wu-Tang Clan, so it seemed natural for him to drop a solo album. It was an album not released as a way to say he’s no longer in the Wu-Tang anymore, he was still part of the collective. However, the group had established earlier in the year that each member of the group will release their own solo albums. Groups like the X-Clan and Digital Underground came close to accomplishing this, and it was great to be able to buy music from Raw Fusion, Isis, Gold Money, or Queen Mother Rage, but this was planned on being bigger.

For me, it reminded me of what Kiss did in 1978, when I walked into DJ’s Sound City in Ala Moana Shopping Center and saw an album each from Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter staring at me, and me staring in awe. It reminded me of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young. The Beatles had become very successful as solo artists. Now, it was being considered for a hip-hop group, but would it work? We would see.

If the idea of everyone in the Wu-Tang Clan releasing a solo album didn’t sound insane, hearing that they’d each have their own contract on different labels seemed insane, if not a logistical nightmare. The Wu-Tang Clan were signed to LOUD Records, distributed through RCA Records. Method Man was signed to Def Jam, one of the biggest and most influential hip-hop labels. A few months before, The RZA presented himself as a member of Gravediggaz, which featured Prince Paul, Fruitkwan of Stetsasonic, and Too Poetic. It was essentially the Tommy Boy Records All-Stars, or with the exception of Prince Paul, Tommy Boy Non-Stars. The idea of three rappers and a producer/DJ doing an album with horror-themed songs seemed a bit bizarre, but anyone who knew and loved hip-hop backed then knew that the best music was all about witty lyricism, and this one measured up. We now knew that if The RZA could present himself as a member of two groups, then Method Man’s solo album would be awesome.

Time has not treated this album nicely in the sense that when it comes to all of Wu-Tang’s solo albums, or at least one of the first batch of solo albums they released, it doesn’t get treated as well as Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, The Genius’ Liquid Sword (which was actually his second album, but the first post-Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)), Ghostface Killah’s Ironman or even Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return To The 36 Chambers. In my opinion, it is one of the best solo albums the Wu ever released, and I consider it an important album because not only was it the first, but because the music sounds incredible. If the Wu-Tang Clan were known for their “Miracle On Dirty 4 Beats”, this one as dirty and dingy as a basement that hasn’t seen Pine Sol in ages.

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Like Enter The Wu-Tang, Tical was not a conceptual album nor did it have a continuous theme, it just sounded like a bunch of random songs sequenced in a way that made each song stand out. We got to know some of Meth’s own steez from Wu’s album and now fans were going to enter his world, to discover what made him tick. The title track let us know what tical was about because he smoked it. A lot.

“Biscuits” showed his sense of humor with this song, or at least I felt with talking about putting down people who came off as fake. What I loved about the song was his he interpolated “Just An Echo In the Valley”, which I heard in an episode of The Little Rascals as a kid but I also knew it as being part of a Hawaiian song by the Ho’opi’i Brothers called “Ei Nei”. I thought “wait, he just sang a Hawaiian song?”

It then moves into Meth’s first solo hit, the awesome “Bring The Pain”, where we are allowed to go into his astroplane. It comes off briefly as a glossary entry of what Method Man is about before he tells us that he’s totally crossed out like Kris Kross.

Six months before it was released as the album’s third single, “All I Need” was already a personal favorite as it was arranged in a way that sounded differently. That was partially because there was a prepared chorus for it, although “Bring The Pain” also had a chorus of sorts too. On the album version, “All I Need” didn’t have a Motown song steering it nor did it have Mary J. Blige singing the chorus, but it still showed back then that Method Man was still live and direct from the 160, keeping things and himself and check before they decided to branch out.

“What The Blood Clot” begins with a sample The RZA used in the Gravediggaz “Diary Of A Madman”, and for me I thought perhaps that he would be using a bit of musical continuity from this point forward. He did not, but Meth spoke on how less impressive people would not matter to him because he’s about “36 chambers of headbanger, bitch.” At this point, it was obvious that this was very much about Method Man’s world, which was different when Raekwon released his album on July 31, 1995, which was said to have planned as Wu-Tang’s second album before it became a Raekwon and Ghostface effort.

While The RZA was heard in the song before, we formally hear Raekwon in the duet “battle”, “Meth vs. Chef”, and I know I wasn’t the only one who had hoped there would be future battles on later albums. At least Ol’ Dirty and The Genius did the song title to themselves in “Damage”, I was ready for Rebel INS vs. Masta Killa or something. Even though this was not a conceptual or album with a running theme, there was a unified vibe with this album, and that’s probably due to the energy created by The RZA’s productions and the lyrics that Meth wrote for his verses. As he said in the song before, “we can all get high if we unify”, so perhaps something was in mind when he wrote that.

With help from producer 4th Disciple, The RZA helped to organize the low-end “Sub-Crazy”, which sounded a bit off-kilter, or at least like a song Meth had vocalized in the studio when he and everyone else was super high. Method still retains mentioning more pop culture references, and what I also love about this song was that there are no hard drum samples. It still has a sense of a rhythm but the lack of solid drums makes it stick out beautifully. It was now time to flip the album over to Side 2.

  • “Release Yo Delf” became Tical‘s second single and begins with Blue Raspberry’s strong vocals and a drum sample in your face, with horns that sounded like something pulled from a Rocky soundtrack but ended up being a thrift store gem, Herb Alpert’s “The Treasure Of San Miguel”, proving that DJ Mark The 45 King was not the only one who could master horn samples. As far as my favorite line in this, it remains “shit’s gettin’ deep in here, I mean thick/n****s lookin’ all in my face like they want dick“. I also loved the censored/radio edit of this song, for the word “dick” was replaced with a nice thud.

    Carlton Fisk was the first non-Wu-Tang Clan member to make his presence known on a Wu-fam project (outside of Miss Raspberry) so his presence on “P.L.O. Style” was not only valued but a proud moment, still showing what it was like to be “within the fam” but to see how Meth could work with others outside of the Clan proper. What I loved about this song is not only the slowed sample, but how the end of one of those samples stutters for a few more bars to make it sound like someone is popping a car horn. Also: the use of chimes that are common on read-along books in order to turn the page while listening, that was a perfect touch.

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    I loved “I Get My Thang in Action” because it starts with a kung fu dialogue sample but also because the song was influenced by an old Schoolhouse Rock song “Verb”. In this case, the song sounded funky and should have been released a single, perhaps one that could’ve worked better on fans than “Bring The Pain”.

    The killer bees return to make their presence known in “Mr. Sandman”, a track featuring The RZA doodling almost in Rzarector mode and Raspberry caressing the tune with her harmonies. The man that makes this song his is Inspectah Deck with a verse that could’ve easily become its own song, although Meth’s Lovin’ Spoonful interpolation of “Summer In The City” is quite nice too. Second Wu-fam contribution comes from Streetlife.

    The intro to “Stimulation” pretty much sounds like it’s preparing to land back home, with a drum sample that sounds reminiscent of “Method Man”. What truly takes this song home is the string sample. Due to how it was mixed, it sounds like something from the 1930’s or 40’s but it ended up being “Snowbound” by Sarah Vaughan, arranged and conducted by Don Costa, who may be known more today as being the father of singer Nikka Costa. What also works about the last third of “Stimulation” is that it sounds like everyone in the studio was extremely high and ready to wrap this project up, even though this may have been the first song recorded for it.

    The man closes with what was originally released as a Wu-Tang Clan track as a B-side to “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'”. It now becomes a Method Man song but still remains its “remix” status. He gets down with his southpaw, tells everyone that he took 1, added 7 more and then he 8 up. What makes this one work is that the piano sample heard in the original “Method Man” song sounds filtered in an effect that makes it come off like it was coming through underwater. Horn samples are chopped and almost made indecipherable, as if The RZA wanted to make sure to keep things gritty and everyone in check. It still sounds “under construction”, almost as raw as the first Wu-Tang Clan before he became too digital and started cleaning up his production techniques.

    Tical works perfectly because the album is under 45 minutes. Not too short, not too long, no interludes, no B.S. While there are a small handful of appearances throughout the album, you get a sense that this is as Method Man project because Meth is the dominant voice, no one is barging in verses or ruining song with background yelling. This was not for the 85 who didn’t have a clue, it was very much for those who understood the music, the recipes, and the elements the Wu-Tang Clan wanted to spread around the world, merely by opening the chambers and showing what were once secrets. Looking back, maybe she should not have opened up the doors so wide. At this stage in their master plan, the Wu-Tang Clan were still together and thinking not only to show individual dominance but also brothers of hip-hop who were thinking of a master plan in order to be paid in full. At least in the process, they didn’t lose their sense of making music for the betterment of hip-hop. Four months later, Ol’ Dirty Bastard would release his solo album, the first of three solo joints from the group, and it made a lot of fans happy, excited, and anxious at the same time. No one, not including Meth, could have predicted how their lives were changing but twenty years ago, it was officially the start of their dreams becoming reality, but also the start of their grand empire slowly falling apart. For the time being, Wu-ness was good, with the album going to the top of the Billboard R&B Album chart and going as high as #4 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart.

  • DUST IT OFF: Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Welcome To The PleasureDome”… 30 years later

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    To say that Welcome To The PleasureDome (Zang Tuum Tumb) saved my life in a small way is putting it lightly, or perhaps the statement in itself is a bit too boastful, a bit too grandiose. Looking back, the music on the debut album by Frankie Goes To Hollywood did pull me put during a time in my life when I was wondering what was going on, unsure of where to go and what to do next, despite the fact my circumstances were fairly small. Looking back, it helped put me on a path that gave me a focus when I felt I didn’t have it.

    Upon its release on October 29, 1984, I had been a FGTH fan for less than a year. I knew of “Relax” as it was one of the biggest UK singles of 1983. You could barely hear it on U.S. radio not because it was banned in the UK, but because U.S. radio stations didn’t feel it was hit worthy. With people like Prince and Madonna coming out with powerful American pop that year, something as insignificant as FGTH seemed like small news. Forget the fact that the group’s first two singles, “Relax” and “Two Tribes”, both went to #1 and it seemed the U.S. didn’t care too much. They were mentioned a bit on MTV as the next big thing, someone following the likes of Duran Duran and Culture Club but the group were stuck between overhype and underwhelming. Some felt they were going to be one-hit wonders, forget the fact that at the time “Relax” hadn’t been an American hit yet. It would take three tries from Island Records until “Relax” finally caught on to American eras and by then, FGTH had already gained four hit singles and a fairly successful album. To most Americans, Welcome To PleasureDome was a confusing slab of wax to some buyers, as a few wondered if the album was just nothing but hits and a whole lot of filler, or just two slabs of waste. The album went as high as #1 in England and New Zealand and would gain #10 status around the world, with the exception of the U.S., where it went as high as #33 on Billboard’s Album Chart. Was it too much too soon, or did people not understand or want to get it?

    Frankie Goes To Hollywood was a mixture of superhype from the Zang Tuum Tumb empire, which also included a number of myths and truths. Part of this seemed to be too overwhelming for a group who, for some, were nothing more than two gay singers and three straight lads, and unlike Duran Duran, where people got to know Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes, and the three Taylors, perhaps it was hard to grasp onto the semi-legends that were Holly Johnson, Paul Rutherford, Mark O’Toole, Brian Nash, and Peter O’Toole. Maybe it was hard to grasp because of their producer, Trevor Horn. Horn already had massive success in 1983 and 1984 with Yes’ comeback album 90125, reviving the career of a formerly-dead progressive rock band and made them 80’s pop superstars. Horn also produced music by ABC and also was one-fifth of the function that was Art Of Noise, whose production and creativity essentially paved the way for much of England’s music in the early 80’s and the rest of the decade. It seemed that at the end of the day, what exactly was Frankie Goes To Hollywood, who was the real group and who really made the music?

    Regardless of the correct answers, it was a unified structure. The group were fronted by two singers, the lead vocalist being Johnson. The band definitely played their own instruments, although half of their musicianship was mixed in with sounds created by Horn’s production team, which included Art Of Noise and a number of side musicians. In a way, it was not unlike Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life and Michael Jackson’s Thriller where the headliner was backed by “a cast of millions” in order to achieve a powerful sound. However, with a group that were solely known for hit singles and steered as hit makers, how could they come up with an album? Fortunately, they did.

    Side 1 (Side “F”) began with a dramatic and operatic introduction, the start of the show before going into a delicate acoustic piece, backed by keyboards. Eventually, we formerly enter the pleasuredome, with natural sounds and a stream of water. While the cover art showed the illustrated group offering subliminal innuendo and a gatefold that didn’t leave much to the imagination, it was a way to want to know what the pleasuredome was. After a build up of two and a half minutes, a synthesized voice says “welcome to the pleasure…dome” and the wall of keyboards, the funky bass and the powerful drums began their jungle call. The pleasuredome was not only sexual, it was very much erotic, it was playful, joyful, it sounded like a place you wanted to enter and never escape. The drum pattern made things sound energetic while the guitar gave the atmosphere its funk, as if it showed the influence of Chic. The tribal chants saying “OOH HA!” could be hypnotic if you allowed it to, it was the pleasuredome’s heartbeat, its heart of noise, and while the song told about its path to the inevitable destination, Johnson and Rutherford would continue to say this place was a “long way from home”, but how far would one have to go? The songs pace barely slowed down and while it did stop at one point, it was only temporary. It was a bit of a marathon, a heated endurance test of a sexual nature, and you wanted to feel every sensation. When the female singers (uncredited) begin singing “shooting stops never stop, even when they reach the top”, the gospel element enters as if the group wanted to bring or reveal a hint of disco to their world, or wanting to bring them onto their trip to the pleasuredome. It builds and builds until the ladies sing “there goes a supernova, what a pushover” and then it leads to a powerful “YEAH!” that holds for a few seconds until it heads to an exhausting “wooo!” All you wanted to do was dance and jump, gyrate and feel every pulse of the rhythm, even if you didn’t know what the rhythm was doing to you. The instrumentation slowly quiets and Johnson is only heard singing “the world…is my oyster”, followed by sinister laughter. His voice gradually slows down until it is realized he is the leader of the show, and we’re allowed to stay for the next 45 minutes.

    Side 2 (Side G) was a chance for the group to highlight the hits and then some. As their singles in a number of different formats, it was a way to hear their songs in different mixes than what was previously released. “Relax” was the release of the album, or that what you wanted to hold back from until you could release your energy to a place known or unknown. “War”, their cover of the Edwin Starr classic, was a non-LP track on the “Two Tribes” single and found a place to talk about peace, politics, what it meant and if it really has any place in the world, or if it should matter when there are better things to be concerned about. The side formally ends with a new mix of “Two Tribes”, which barely got any attention in the United States except for the video, due to the feud between the fake President Ronald Reagan and the fake Russian leader Konstantin Chernenko. People were more into the theatrics than the song itself, even though the songs was incredibly funky and equally as theatric, if not more.

    The side properly ends with a segment that is common throughout the album: taking from the multitracks from other songs, isolating them and using them to create something else. While not credited on the album, it’s the Russian orchestral portion from “Two Tribes” featuring a voice talking about penetration and orgasm. It may not have related to what “Two Tribes” was actually about, or perhaps it was a way to combine love and war, or love and hate.

    Side 3 (Side T) was the beginning of the second half of the album and while I never had a problem with it, I can see how some people may have played Welcome To The PleasureDome and asked themselves “what is this?” “Ferry (Go)” is a much shorter version of their cover of “Ferry Cross The Mersey”, the Gerry & The Pacemakers song that was originally on the “Relax” 12″ single. In this case, it’s just the vocal track from that song, added with an all new instrumental backing. Only the first verse is heard before a dialogue is heard. It then cuts into a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run”, fitting the boys and lads into tramps of the American dream. It may not have fit in with what Frankie Goes To Hollywood represented at this point, but maybe they were in love with Springsteen. It allowed the band to rock out a bit, complete with mean bass riffs from O’Toole and a grunting Johnson getting hot and bothered.

    This is followed with what may be the strangest cover on the album, and yet somehow fitting: Dionne Warwick’s “Do You Know The Way To San Jose”, simply titled “San Jose (The Way)”. The most interesting thing from this song is the bass riff that starts the song and is heard throughout the song. While O’Toole’s bass work is heard in the song before, the bass track isn’t O’Toole at all but a sample of Yes’ “City Of Love” from the 90125 album, played by Chris Squire and produced by Horn. I remember when I first heard this and wondered why it sounded familiar. Horn was already recycling himself, or perhaps it was the Art Of Noise production team wanting to dip into their own bag of sounds.

    The following song was one I wished FGTH and ZTT would’ve/should’ve released as a song, the funky “Wish (The Lads Were Here)”. The vibe and lyrics seemed energetic to me, and what I always loved was how the song changed tempo and style during the bridge, getting funky and into a dirty disco groove before driving itself back to the faster tempo it began with.

    This goes directly into “The Ballad Of 32″, a moody instrumental that comes off like a temporary instrumental or even a song of romance and sensuality, especially when the orgasmic moans are heard in the last half. Keyboard sounds from what sounds like “Relax” are heard here too, but the weirdest part is what sounds like a random phone conversation coming through the moans. What is being said, and what does it have to do with the moans? It had nothing to do with anything, or maybe it did and I didn’t know it?

  • Side 4 (Side H) is as varied as Side 3 and begins with one of the more powerful songs in FGTH’s discography, the suggestive “Krisco Kisses” with Johnson talking about loving like thunder and feeding his hunger. If the song was released in the 2000’s/2010’s it might have had the chance of becoming a hit but in 1984, it was a bit too suggestive, even with a group like FGTH who had a hit with the already-banned “Relax”.

    “Black Night White Light” was a mid-tempo song that almost borders on being a ballad, and had it been rearranged or rewritten with a stronger bridge and better last verse, it could have been a hit too. Johnson’s vocal track from “Two Tribes” are borrowed and used in the last third of the song as an accent but what also worked for me was Rutherford’s background vocals. That in itself could’ve helped the song become a hit, in the same way they showed on their next album with “Rage Hard”.

    “The Only Star In Heaven” is next and while I love the song too, I think what doesn’t make it work is that it sounds like an idea that doesn’t come to full fruition, like “Black Night, White Light”. In fact, on the album version, it ends cold before it reprises itself with another chorus segment from the multitracks. It sounds good but doesn’t work. I prefer the piano outro from the instrumental version on the alternate 12″ single, had that been attached to the end of the album mix, it could have worked wonders. Perhaps the somewhat confusing lyrics of “got to shake you tail to break away (FISH!)/got to shake you tail to make a wave (SHARK!)” made people question their motives, what did the oceanic metaphors have to do with anything. Then they get into a bit of Sun Ra inspiration with the “space is the place” reference, so they move from the ocean to the universe to going to Hollywood for something promising, but is it marriage, a dance, or something unknown. In a way, it comes off like a bunch of random ideas written on Post-It notes and turned into a song that goes nowhere. The chorus is great, but the rest of it I still question if I have to.

    The album’s last full song is “The Power Of Song”, FGTH’s third single that doubled as the band’s holiday single in late 1984, which became their third #1 song. It tied in with a religious-themed video, but the song in itself was powerful about the strength of the song title. With lyrics like “Love is the light scaring darkness away” and “make love your goal”, it was obvious to see how it could have double meaning with its spiritual video, which may have been nothing but promotional hype to get people aware of the song, but it worked. The string arrangement from Anne Dudley is beautiful and very much sounds like what she had done with Art Of Noise and “Moments In Love”, but much more grand. If Art Of Noise offered a mere moment, she helped FGTH to create a love power.

    The album ends with another extraction from the multitracks, this time the keyboard ending heard in “Ferry Cross The Mersey” but now mixed with the mock Ronald Reagan heard in different remixes of “Two Tribes” and “War”. This time, mock Reagan brings the album to a conclusion and states that after his voice, there will be “no more”. The end. Pure genius.

  • Some people may think sides 1 and 2 have a lot of incredible peaks while side 3 and 4 may have too many valleys, but I think the multi-levels heard in the second half of the album help to balance things, making sure that they weren’t afraid to release songs that didn’t have a message, even if its messages didn’t make sense. Even within the nonsense, the group knew how to have fun and by having musical assistance making sure it sounded good, Welcome To The PleasureDome is a wonderful masterpiece representing a land of make-believe that perhaps we could only have in our minds unless we knew how to find the dreams we all want and desire. If this was a way for the group to somehow construct their own myths and to create a specific Dionysian world, they succeeded. That persona of the group would go away when they followed it up with their second and final album, 1986’s Liverpool. It may have ended some of the mythical optimism of the early 80’s that allowed them to want better, even if the reality was not as positive as the dream. Yet for 64 minutes, that fantastic world in our dreams was indeed our oyster, and we could eat it if we were hungry enough to taste it all.
  • In the first year of release, the vinyl and cassette pressings of Welcome To The PleasureDome was the proper way to hear the album. A year after its release, ZTT released a compact disc version where the track order was different, some songs appearing in completely different mixes, while others were replaced with other songs. At a time when the CD format was slowly picking up an audience, the new version of Welcome To The PleasureDome may not have been the right idea for them. As the CD format started to dominate, that’s the way some fans were introduced to the album. It wouldn’t be until much later that a remastered CD pressing would duplicate the vinyl/cassette program and finally be available in the digital format.

  • DUST IT OFF: “Chicago 13″…35 years later

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    35 years after the release of Chicago 13, the public tends to look at the album differently than it originally did, but not in a wide sense. Fans of Chicago can be very divided over their friendliness towards the group, with fans loving the Terry Kath era, fans that don’t mind the pop craft that they engaged in in the second half of the 1970’s, and those who are not afraid to embrace the lush pop that lead them to radio and many hits throughout the 1980’s. Yet if there’s still an album that continues to make people question its existence, it’s Chicago 13.

    The band had replaced original guitarist and vocalist Terry Kath with Don “Donnie” Dacus, who seemed to look and embrace the feel of other pop stars of the era like Rex Smith and Leif Garrett. He had long blonde hair, so there were some who saw his youth and looks as something that was different from what Chicago had intended. Nonetheless, the man could sing and he could play a damn good guitar, and no one said anything when their 12th album, Hot Streets, gave the world hit songs like “Alive Again” and “No Tell Lover”. It was just new Chicago music, and by that point, original bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera was becoming the band’s primary face.

    What made Chicago 13 different was that Columbia Records decided to give the band a chance to film music videos for the songs, or what were called “promotional film clips” back then. There was no music video cable networks in 1979, so the only way you could see these film clips were on public access, in between movies on HBO (maybe), or at record stores which made a special section which involved nothing but a TV with the videos running continuously. Well, at least that’s how music videos were presented in the late 70’s in the U.S,. as England were utilizing music videos as part of a promotional tool for artists, songs, and albums. Here in the U.S., it was extra, if not strange, but Columbia Records were making an effort. The videos made were for the songs “Must Have Been Crazy”, “Run Away”, and “Street Player”, and while the video seemed to get limited exposure on TV, it seemed people were not impressed by what the videos showed. “Must Have Been Crazy” showed the group jokingly lounge at home while a black cat caused terror wherever it walked. “Run Away” involved a master reel of tape going around Los Angeles as the band were practicing at a venue, while “Street Player” showed the inevitable performance. The videos showed a sense of humor that people didn’t expect from them, and perhaps it was way too strange for those who just played “Another Rainy Day In New York City” or “If You Leave Me Now” in front of their couches and fantasized all day.

    “Must Have Been Crazy” was Chicago 13 first single but fans didn’t seem to take to it, or more specifically, hearing Dacus take a lead vocal. Chicago were known not only for Cetera, but also pianist/keyboardist Robert Lamm and guitarist Kath before he died in 1977. So who was this blonde guy singing… a Chicago song? People didn’t like the mood, or it didn’t catch on, or radio programmers felt it sounded different than what was going on the radio at the time, which was a whole lotta disco, or at least the last end of disco’s fame and (mis)fortune. Cetera did do background vocals in the song and could be heard in the last minute, but that was not enough. It also had a pleasant guitar solo from Dacus too so if radio tried to push it while a video made tried to let people know who Dacus was, it failed.

    “Run Away”, written by trombonist James Pankow, was a great song too, complete with a wicked solo from Dacus that now reminds me slightly of Toto’s Steve Lukather or Journey’s Neal Schon, as he plays throughout and including the fade. But since radio didn’t take to “Must Have Been Crazy”, “Run Away” didn’t have a chance.

    As for “Street Player”, fans praise this song for its use as a primary sample in The Bucketheads’ “The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind)”. Released 15 years after the release of Chicago 13, The Bucketheads knew that the song and the album it came from were one of the band’s biggest failures, but the song was funky in its own right and managed to turn it around and bring it its rightful majestic power. “Street Player” was co-written by drummer Daniel Seraphine, detailing his life as a rough kid in Chicago who almost lived the life of a punk, had he not had music to turn his life around. Seraphine’s primary voice before the release of the song was his drums, playing amazingly in songs like “25 or 5 To 4″, “What’s This World Coming To” and of course their cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m A Man”, but this shined the spotlight on the drummer that most people tended to ignore, or at least not grab the light that Cetera, Lamm, Kath, Pankow, or the rest of the horn section had claimed over the years. The song also gave the spotlight for a solo to jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, identified by some of the man’s high pitched horn squeals to let everyone know he was in the studio. As Cetera sang “I’m a street player…and I’ll play you a song”, the band continued to play their disco groove, which got slightly Brazilian in feel, leading to two horn breaks in the second half. This then leads to another powerful guitar moment for Dacus, all before Cetera sings “street player, what you do, gotta make you groove” and the rest of the band are pumped in ecstasy, figuratively and literally. Ferguson comes back briefly before they all fade the song, running close to nine minutes. To be honest, it remains one of Chicago’s brightest moments and yet the band suffered in the same way The Rolling Stones did with “Miss You” and Kiss did with “I Was Made For Loving You”, in that once they were identified with something disco, they were dead. It would’ve been true had they not continued once the 1980’s started, but the bad luck streak told in the promotional film clips for Chicago 13 were essentially a bit of wishful thinking that, for a few years, they thought was a bit too close to home. Fortunately, Chicago were not ready for home base, at least not yet. Years later, when Chicago kicked Seraphine, one of the band’s founding members, out of the band, he had the last laugh when the “Street Player” sample helped him out significantly in the publishing department. Considering how many Chicago songs became hits, “Street Player” is the one that people know as a sample, even if they might not realize it is a Chicago song, primarily because of its no hit status.

    The rest of Chicago 13 had some great material, and with wonderful production from Phil Ramone, who also worked on Hot Streets with the band, the band couldn’t do any harm to their career. Chicago were worthy in 1978 and with “Alive Again” and “No Tell Lover”, they were alive and they returned. Songs like “Mama Take” (Cetera) and “Paradise Alley” (Lamm) showed that the group’s pop and jazz ways were as powerful as ever. Even saxophonists Walter Parazaider and Lee Loughnane even had a joint composition on the album with “Window Dreamin'”, so it seemed the group were spirited and ready to end the 1970’s on a high note.

    HBO did run a Chicago concert special in support of Chicago 13 and it was the perfect way for listeners to hear the classics from the group, along with a string of songs from the new album. One of the performances was another song written by Seraphine and David Wolinski, who also co-wrote “Street Player”. “Aloha Mama” hit me because here I am as a kid in Honolulu hearing one of my favorite bands sing one of my words. The song was built on a very nice jazzy groove, with a rhythm that is very funky, what would be called the Purdie Shuffle., in honor of Bernard “Pretty” Purdie. You may recognize the drum rhythm from Steely Dan’s “Home At Last” or partly used in Toto’s “Rosanna”. The band were not only in jazz mode, but vocalist Cetera also put himself in jazz costume as well, crediting himself in the song as P.C. Moblee. The harmonies were perfect, the feel of the song was great, it had the right to be a hit had it been released as a single but that was not to be.

    Even longtime Chicago percussionist Laudir de Oliveira had his own song on the album, when he wrote “Life Is What It Is” with Marcos Valle. These days, we would call this type of laid back groove “yacht rock”, complete with added percussion from legendary musician Airto Moreira. The song is smooth, funky, exotic, and perfect to hear in any occasion. You could pop this song in a mix of songs by The Doobie Brothers, Pablo Cruise, and Kenny Loggins and no one would have said a thing. Cetera takes the lead with Dacus handling a few background harmonies and again, this song could have gained some AOL airplay had it been pushed in the right way.

    Sadly, Chicago 13 ended up being bad luck for the group. Music was great, singing was great, songwriting was up to par, and people were fed up with Chicago’s magical power. They were the kings of pop radio of the mid to late 70’s, they had enough. When the group followed it up with Chicago XIV, which brought the group to legendary producer Tom Dowd, it faired worse and they eventually left Columbia Records and moved to a new label. This would eventually lead to a new hit era for Chicago in the decade, and a style of music that didn’t please the earlier fans. It didn’t matter. Pop fans loved the new material and were pleased by the outcome. Chicago stayed on the charts, they sold millions of records, and that was that, even as they too would also bring in new vocalists (keyboardists Jason Scheff and Bill Champlin, the latter a founding member of Sons Of Champlin). Cetera eventually left, and Chicago moved on. However, the group became unfashionable in the 90’s and sales for new music started to drop a bit. Looking back, Chicago 13 was not a massive failure by any means, for it allowed the group to have ten more years of pop chart success, which meant hits. Sure, Chicago fans changed during this time but the album is feared because of that disco beast known as “Street Player”. They looked at the shining light from the 13th floor on the illustrated building with the Chicago logo on the cover and said “I’m not going there. Leave me out of that building now.” Guaranteed, those who discovered the album and found a liking to it all wanted to be on that building, realizing that if you don’t believe in superstitions, you can go further in life. The music on Chicago 13 definitely, in the words of “Street Player”, made you move and made you groove. On vinyl, it’s fairly easy to find at thrift stores because those who bought it have tossed it out, and covers with cut-out marks are plentiful but if you must, don’t ignore it. Play it and hear it from a band who did their best to survive in the game and while the public discarded it, they also did so without listening. It’s your time to listen.

    DUST IT OFF: Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique”…25 years later

    To say I’ve been waiting for this day to arrive is putting it lightly. When that Tuesday in 1989 happened, I went out to buy the album. I played it and did not know what to expect, even thought I had bought the Love American Style EP with “Hey Ladies” and “Shake Your Rump”. Once the album was over, I knew I would be around for 25 years to talk about its greatness. It would be too easy to say “its legacy” but that’s for others to decide. In the words of Phil Collins, I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life. I remember what I was like when I was 18: unsure of where my life would lead but I had good rap music to get me through. I wasn’t specifically thinking “what will I be writing about when I’m 43 years old?” Now here I am, and I’m able to look back 25 years in history, about to talk about what the Beastie Boys’ second album has meant to me.

     photo BeastieBoysPB_cover_zpsa709cdd2.jpg
    The moment I first heard “Hey Ladies”, I knew that this was a special song. I recognized some of the samples as if it was a part of my musical upbringing. with The Commodores’ “Machine Gun” starting things off. I recognized Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and being a fan of 70’s rock, I definitely caught the “Ballroom Blitz” (Sweet) reference. I knew Roger’s “So Rough, So Rough” was in there. In the video version, I knoew that the funky Hammond B-3 came courtesy of “Hush” by Deep Purple. All of these sounds were an accumulation of goodness, but little did I know that this small dose of accumulation would become mere drops towards the recipe that would be Paul’s Boutique.

    When I first heard “To All The Girls”, I was sitting back, enjoying the funky laid back vibe and wondering what was about to happen. Then came “Shake Your Rump”, interrupting the song that opened the album and it was their way of saying “let’s begin… NOW!” I loved how solid the soundscape was, each sample was coming at a pace similar to Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising, and I loved the randomness of it all, at least at first. One sample followed one another, as if it was just thrown in for good measure, and it was almost too much to handle. In fact, it was too much to handle, but it felt like a massive musical orgasm, and yet it kept on getting better. I was thinking to myself “if this is not the climax, how is this album going to wrap up?” That would come, heh, later.

    I’ll be honest, I didn’t take to “Johnny Ryall” at first, although what I did take to was the wind that segued “Shake Your Rump” and “Johnny Ryall”. That was the wind that was a segue between Pink Floyd’s “One Of These Days” and “A Pillow Of WInds”. With the Beastie Boys now signed to Capitol Records, I was also wondering if they were trying to be Beatlesque in some fashion. I wasn’t sure, but I wouldn’t have an answer until the end of the album. It would be years before I fully got into “Johnny Ryall”, that off-center guitar sample was a bit of a turn-off at first but once I got into it, I felt the song was an essential part of the record. However, I did love “Eggman”, enjoying the “Superfly” sample from Curtis Mayfield, along with brief glimpses of Public Enemy’s “Bring The Noise” (my favorite P.E. song). “High Plains Drifter” seemed like a new Beastie Boys to me, as they were talking about going somewhere to rob people, a topic they never really touched on with Licensed To Ill. Were the Beastie Boys trying to become a bit on the hardcore side a la N.W.A or Ice-T, or was this something else? I did catch the Loggins & Messina sample for “Your Mama Don’t Dance” and again, it was as if the album so far was having flashbacks of my childhood, but in a unique and (oddly) funky way.

    The first Beatles comparisons would happen with “The Sound Of Science”, when they were getting educational while rapping over “When I’m Sixty-Four”, which then lead to manipulations of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”, and “The End”, throwing in Boogie Down Production’s “My Philosophy” for the hell of it, then squeezing in some James Brown at the right moment.

    The ping pong came that introduced “3-Minute Rule” seemed completely random, as if we were either listening to the guys in the studio or just… I don’t know, some backroom ping pong game happening. It was with this song that I started to take some of the lyrics to heart, as something that wasn’t just mere words to guffaw at. Ad Rock’s verse that closed the song hit me first:
    Are you experienced little girl
    I want to know what goes on in your little girl world
    Cause I’m on your mind, it’s hard to forget me
    I’ll take your pride for a ride if you let me

    MCA’s verse was very clever in a number of ways, and while the album did have a lyric sheet, the words were so small that it was difficult at times to go through it, yet we did, trying to go along with the stories they were telling us:
    It’s just two wheels and me the wind in my eyes
    The engine is the music and my nine’s by my side
    Cause you know Y. A. U. C. H.
    I’m takin’ all MC’s out in the place
    Takin’ life as it comes no fool am I
    I’m goin’ off gettin’ paid and I don’t ask why
    Playin’ beats on my box makin’ music for the many
    Know a lotta def girls that would do anything
    A lot of parents like to think I’m a villain
    I’m just chillin’ like Bob Dylan
    I smoke cheeba it helps me with my brain
    I might be a little dusted but I’m not insane

    Mike D.’s verse was very twisted in its own way, more puzzles and required deciphering but anyone who had ever rejected his wit before had to recommend it after his verse:
    I got lucky, I brought home a kitten
    Before I got busy I slipped on the mitten
    Can’t get better odds cause I’m a sure thing
    Proud Mary keeps on turning rolling like a Ring Ding
    Jump the turnstile never pay the toll
    Doo wa diddy bust with the pre-roll
    Customs jails me over an herb seed
    Don’t rat on your boy over some rat weed

    Did we want to know what the three-minute rule really was, or did it truly matter? Each Beastie had a minute to make an exchange before bailing out, and that was that. Then Side 1 ended with “Hey Ladies” and the album so far felt like a moving thing. What could Side 2 give us?

    Flipping the tape over (I bought the cassette of Paul’s Boutique first before I bought the CD and different vinyl pressings), Paul’s Boutique began with… a country song? Bluegrass? What the hell was going on? Ad Rock was talking about cooking up at a barbeque and everyone seemed like they were having a great time. It then cuts right into “Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun”, which was incredibly funky too. I caught Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” sample when it happened. To me, the song had a slight “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” feel, which was the band’s metal-ish track from Licensed To Ill. This new song had powerful guitar and bass riffs, but are these samples or are they being played? We really wouldn’t know until they released a video for the song, featuring outtakes from the recording sessions.

    “Car Thief” was another laid back song, and what I had liked about Paul’s Boutique was that there were a number of laid back songs, where the music was at a lower tempo/BPM, samples influenced from different sources that might not be considered obvious choices. In fact, it was obvious that this album was not full of obvious sample choices. I could spot a few, but not each and every one, and as someone who was interested in knowing the song’s ingredients, I had to know more. The album, as it was customary back then, didn’t have sample credits, so it had to be a learning process. As a record collector, that meant hunting it down in real time, at real places. More on this later. What I also caught was a sample of Max Yasgur, the owner of the land whose farm became the backdrop for the Woodstock Music & Art Fair between August 15-18, 1969. As a kid who fell in love with the soundtrack album and movie for Woodstock, hearing that brief “I’m a farmer” sample made me excited. Why was that one second sample in there? Oh, because MCA didn’t buy weed, but he grew it because he was a farmer. Or so he said.

    I couldn’t get enough of this album, but then came the drums from Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” in “What Comes Around Goes Around”. Did I also hear Led Zep’s “How Many More Times” in there? I would later learn that the guitar riffs I was assuming were Led Zep was actually Alice Cooper’s “It’s Hot Tonight” from his 1977 album Lace and Whiskey, but I wouldn’t know this until much later. What I also loved in “What Comes Around” was the piano ample that didn’t say on tempo, it seemed to go slightly off center as it made its way close to the end of the bars.

    “Shadrach” was funky from start to finish, and at the time I wasn’t aware the main sample was done by Rose Royce, nor did I know the “hey” sample and the many other lyrics heard came courtesy of “Loose Booty” by Sly & The Family Stone. I was familiar with Sly and some of his albums but I hadn’t heard the Small Talk album yet. I knew it was one my auntie had in her collection, and I would eventually learn that if my auntie had certain albums I couldn’t find anywhere else, it might be really good. Eventually I borrowed that album and heard the samples in question. The song ends with a drum sample from the familiar “Funky Drummer” by James Brown before it is interrupted by a radio commercial for this clothing store. Did a clothing store called Paul’s Boutique actually exist? If it did, did it match with the photo of the store on the cover? It sounds Jamaican, was this store in Kingston and… no, the voice says you had to call 718-498-1043 and it was in Brooklyn. I said to myself that if this store really existed, I would have to go to Brooklyn to find it. Then the album would begin a slow ride home and eventually come on itself.

    While the Fat Boys were considered the first group to release a hip-hop concept album, no one had ever done a mini hip-hop opera before, in the same way The Beatles did with Side 2 of Abbey Road. Your typical hip-hop song was three to four minutes, longer if it was extended on the 12″ single. “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” came out of nowhere, a 12 1/2 minute song with nine mini-songs. Was it their version of Abbey Road, or were they pulling off A Who tactic and making their own A Quick One. What does a bouillabaisse from a B-boy consist of? It seemed to be a massive soup of different stories from different places, with different moods and textures, and just when I was able to get into one section of the song, it cuts off or ends and goes into another. The bouillabaisse became an adventure into itself, I tried to piece it together and see if all of it fit, or if there was some grand message being said? After repeated listens, it seemed like the full song was a day in the life of the Beastie Boys, starting off by getting dressed at “59 Chrystie Street” before they went throughout their afternoon. You also had a song that was in half (“Get On The Mic” and “Mike On The Mic”), and by the time it reached the end, you realized the Beastie Boys were either at their own concert or basement party, rocking the crowd for what felt like hours before they said “goodnight everybody”. Then the album ended where it began, as if it was Pink Floyd’s The Wall. This album was dedicated to all of the girls, but you couldn’t helot that it was very much for all B-boys too.

    After the first time I played the album, I couldn’t believe what I just heard. It was an experience in hip-hop I had never heard before, not in that way. I understood some of the connections and the decoupage feel, but it felt as if there was much more. Did I truly know what the album meant, or was this going to be similar to those Russian dolls where one opened to find another to find another to find another? For me, with a love for knowing the samples I detected, Paul’s Boutique would eventually become a lifelong trek to discover each and every sound that constructed this masterpiece. Not only would I hunt down albums, compilations, and 45’s, but there were also times when I’d listen to a local AM radio station that played oldies songs and out of nowhere, as I’m sitting in the Alberton’s parking lot, I would say “THAT’S THAT SAMPLE! THE RECORD WAS RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME THE ENTIRE TIME!” I have a friend in Arizona whom I’d correspond with through the mail and every few months, I’d write out a few songs I may have discovered since the last letter. It would be years before I jumped on the internet for the first time and even when I did, there was no WhoSampled, no TheBreaks, no Crates mailing list, no place named rec.music.hip-hop, I was on my own hunt and I wasn’t sure if it mattered. When I finally got into the internet, I learned there were many other Paul’s Boutique fans, also keeping track of samples too. When there was a Paul’s Boutique sample reference page, I noticed there were a number of songs not listed. I contributed a few, and my name is now a part of their database.

    I put together a Paul’s Boutique tribute album in 1999 for the 10th anniversary, which I originally was going to do in full but decided to ask for contributions from my online friends. With each other passing anniversary, I made sure to listen to the album from start to finish, as pilgrimage of some sort. I wanted to know more about the album, the photographs, the recording sessions, and even when there was a 33 1/3 book for it, I felt there still had to be more to learn. I want to see the tape session boxes, the track notes, anything and everything.

    To this day, I swear that I still hear myself in the album too. At the extreme beginning of “Dropping Names”. There is a brief sample of Ad Rock where he allegedly said “take PCP’. However, I used to be a radio DJ at a local high school station, and it sounds exactly like my voice back then. There is a funeral home here called the Bruce Lee Memorial Chapel, and my guess is that the Beastie Boys may have come here to take a look sometime in 1988, only to learn that the Bruce Lee in question was not the Chinese kung fu master, but an old white man. My guess is that if one of them turned on the radio, they discovered a radio station and with some small change, I happened to be on the air. Every time I hear “Dropping Names”, I hear what sounds like my voice saying “KTCV”, the radio station I was on. I’ve always wanted to get in touch with Ad Rock and say “hey, can you allow me to hear the multi-tracks of that song just so I can truly hear if it’s me or it’s really you.”

    Egos aside, Paul’s Boutique is an album that is part of an almighty trilogy that represents 15 months of incredible and highly influential music. It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back began in April 1988, 3 Feet High And Rising came into play in March 1989, and the trilogy ended on July 25, 1989. The amount of music, knowledge, and education in these three albums are beyond what I can talk about in one article, it would require books. As someone who was a fan of the music, it was these three albums that made me realize that perhaps I could be a hip-hop producer too. All I had was cassette decks and a way with pause buttons, all I needed was the money to move and find my way to the recording studios in bigger cities and make myself known. I never got that chance, but the magic heard in these albums continue to influence me years later. With Paul’s Boutique, maybe it’s true that the boutique in question covers a time and place, an era of hip-hop that was slowly fading away. Upon its release, it was roughly 15 years away from its origins, and people were already worried about the integrity that existed. It’s a timepiece, a placard, a statement that the Beastie Boys said to say “this is where we came from, this is what moved us to become rappers, this is what made us, this is us as much as it is you.” All of us who lived back then, whether we were too young or showing age and maturity, either spent time in that boutique or wanted to find it, or something close to it. It was a dream place, or perhaps a place we still wanted but knew it was a part of history we could never return to. If the late 80’s lead to a moment where we wondered if this rap music would prove itself to be just a fad, Paul’s Boutique was the Beastie Boys’ and the Dust Brothers’ way of saying what they experienced, what they wanted to do, what they fantasized about, what they wanted to accomplish. It was the Dust Brothers’ ode to radio mixes, something you could only catch at 12midnight, if not between 3am to 6am. Rap music was what you had to seek and when you did, you were tired on your ass but you kept listening. Or if you fell asleep, you knew you had a cassette running on your boom box. In the end, Paul’s Boutique was Disneyland and even if it didn’t exist anymore, we could return to it for 53 minutes at a time.

    DUST IT OFF: Prince & The Revolution’s “Purple Rain”…30 years later

    (NOTE: While other writers posted articles yesterday about the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain, the actual release date is June 26, 1984, a Tuedsay, catering to the United States. While Wikipedia likes to shine the spotlight on the UK release date first, Prince did not have the kind of credibility yet for him to have one of his albums released in England first. Wikipedia lists the release date as June 25, 1984, which is incorrect, not only because that day was a Monday. The UK release date is said to be July 13th, but that would be a Friday. UK albums were released on Monday, thus the UK release date is most likely July 16, 1984, which would be much closer to the release of the film, July 27, 1984.

    Now, we begin.)

     photo PrincePP_cover_zps7b900299.jpg
    By the time Purple Rain (Warner Bros.) was released on June 26, 1984, I was a Prince fan for close to five years, with “I Wanna Be Your Lover” being my introduction to the man. Unfortunately, due to him being Prince, I didn’t hear any other of his hits until he started to gain massive MTV rotation in 1982 with the videos for “1999” and “Little Red Corvette”. MTV’s issue back then was that they didn’t normally play black artists unless that person was the bassist for another artist: Haircut 100, Big Country, Pete Townshend, The Waitresses, and Culture Club, along with various British ska groups. Michael Jackson changed that with “Billie Jean” in late 1982, but then came Prince. It was “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” that helped get Prince on the pop of the charts, and it can be argued it was because his music may not have sounded “black” to some audiences. He was still considered new wave by some artists, but these two songs made people know that he was an artist not to be messed with. As “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” had more MTV airplay, he was already hard at work on a new album, along with his first motion picture. It seemed peculiar: why would there be a movie about Prince? Regardless of why, some were wondering what was going to happen and if it was going to be a success at all. Does Prince have any level of celebrity? Longtime fans knew that he was very much a star, but he needed to get that across to wider/whiter audiences. The release of “When Doves Cry” in May 1984 showed that something was up, a song completely played and vocalized by Prince himself, with the bass removed from the final mix. The song stood out for many reasons, and this was a sign of what was to come.

    I really didn’t become a deep Prince fan until Purple Rain, even though I had been familiar some of his other songs. I did not have access to souk/R&B radio stations that played his music on a regular basis, I had lived in Honolulu and it was only pop and rock. I know I heard “I Wanna Be Your Lover” on pop radio but as far as “Uptown”, “Dirty Mind”, “Controversy” or “Sexuality”, I did not hear them until I moved to the Pacific Northwest on June 14, 1984. It was then I discovered a cable network called Black Entertainment Television (BET) and considering my music interests, it was a dream come true. I also started watching a show on USA Network called Night Flight, which did not hesitate to show Prince videos. Essentially, Purple Rain opened the door wide to Prince, and I had to backtrack and pick up all of his albums. My auntie had his second, self-titled album, as she was a fan first, so eventually I would borrow that album but until I started exploring, I had to examine what this Purple Rain was about.

  • “Let’s Go Crazy” began as if we were at church, with Prince starting up a service for what his Revolution would be. Even though the song sounded very new wave, arguably code for “very white”, there was something else in the song that made me believe there was something more to him. I already had a sense with “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” but the guitar solo got me open. I had never heard anything like that, and I was already a fan of Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana. It sounded like a mixture of both guys, so at least I tuned into the right frequency. When I saw the movie, I loved and preferred the extended version of “Let’s Go Crazy” that opened the film, which I discovered when I bought the 12″ single. The 12″ mix is great, for there was an ode to “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” build right in. He seemed to be someone who was willing to play games with his music, little did I know how much.
  • “Take Me With U” always seemed like the worst song on the album, and partially because it featured Apollonia Kotero. As Prince started releasing more music throughout the 80’s and 90’s, he was more than wanting to share his musical influences, and I can distinctly hear Joni Mitchell throughout this song, but Kotero’s voice didn’t fit for me. I prefer the song without Kotero, but what stands out for me was the string arrangement. Maybe it also didn’t fit because the song was not originally recorded as part of the film, it was one of the last songs to be put together in March 1984 before Prince approved of a final master and mix. Out of the five singles released in the U.S. for Purple Rain, it was the fifth and last single and did the worst, going as high as #25 on the Billboard Top 100 Singles Chart and yet doing well in the UK, making it to #7. I remember it getting some airplay but by that time, Purple Rain had been released on VHS and he was preparing his follow-up album.
  • “The Beautiful Ones” is the ballad side of Prince that many people love and enjoy, and he gets into a wicked scream which was sure to have made some new fans panic, perhaps to say “how come this man sounds so wild?” On 1999, he was telling his lady “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” but here, he stated “If I told u baby/That I was in love with u/Oh baby, baby, baby/If we got married/Would that be cool?” He was not strong enough to say “I’m gonna have fun every motherfuckin’ night” in the song, but his juices were slowly being revved up. In “The Beautiful Ones”, he wanted to show his beautiful side, a sensual side.
  • “Computer Blue” was the first time we heard the voices of Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman that were not sung, and for me at first, the song seemed cool at first but I used to hear it as being one half of “Darling Nikki”. When I got into trading Prince bootlegs on cassette in the late 1980’s, I was able to find a longer version of “Computer Blue” and I liked that. I had hoped he would release that version in better quality. The song basically told the listener that he will forever be sad until he finds someone who will not make him so blue. It’s also significant because of the song title, very few people in the mainstream were singing songs pertaining to computers, it was heard a lot throughout the music but not part of the pop music lyrics.
  • “Darling Nikki” will forever be the song many of us heard, smiled, looked around to see if anyone else was in the same room, and turned down a bit so someone else wouldn’t hear the line “I met her in a hotel lobby, masturbating with a magazine.” We quickly learned that this Nikki woman was someone dirty and raw, and she also loved to grind. At age 13, I certainly was not grinding to anything yet, so it was a bit like finding dad’s Penthouse or Penthouse Letters and being wide-eyed. Now, we were wide eared. It wasn’t the dirtiest thing I had heard on record, I was already a fan of records by Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx but this just seemed so bold and in-your-face. The song builds up to the point where the Linn drums seemed to be louder than everything else, and then a synthesized orchestra mixed with Prince’s guitar was just turning things beyond the point of no return. Then the song ends… or did it? The choir of Prince is heard singing, but we quickly learn that it’s backwards. I had the cassette, so I couldn’t put it on the record player and turn it the other way. I also knew a technique of opening a cassette shell and flipping the tape reel backwards so when the shell was tightened again, you could hear a lo-fi version of the audio, but backwards. I’d have to discover what the full message said when it was printed in Rolling Stone. The energy of the song was felt even more when I watched the movie, and it became one of my favorites.
  • “When Doves Cry” had already been familiar to me for a month, I bought the 45 when I heard it on the radio in Honolulu, a few weeks before my family and I were to move to Washington State, so I loved it. I hadn’t been aware that every instrument and vocal was Prince himself, I already knew he did this on his earlier albums but to hear it with a different perspective with each playing, his records become listening lessons. I didn’t know the true meaning of the song at first, but I related a bit to part of the chorus which said “maybe you’re just like my father, too bold/maybe you’re just like my mother, she’s never satisfied”. I related because before my dad died, I wondered if he considered himself bold or if others did, and while I would never ask my mom if she was satisfied in anything, it’s something I wondered about as a teen and trying to understand their relationship. I was trying to piece the lyrics together and see if I could relate. It would be years until parts of my own life could be heard in the song.
  • “I Would Die 4 U” was a blast from start to finish, although the song was under three minutes, it was meant to be an example of a great pop record. Even when it was released as Purple Rain‘s fourth U.S. single, it would cut the ending cold but allow that to echo until it eventually faded. The song always felt like the perfect half for “Baby I’m A Star”, and while the 12″ version of “I Would Die 4 U” was a much lengthier (10:15) live performance, it always seemed to be its own song in this form, yet the 2:49 cut always seems incomplete without “Baby I’m A Star”. I always preferred “Baby I’m A Star” over “I Would Die 4 U”, as the song seemed more powerful and fancy free, as if Prince was now telling everyone “I’m a rocker, I’m a star, get used to it”. He was celebrating stardom in a slightly humorous fashion, and we wanted to eat it up. The movie ends with the two songs, and when we saw Prince doing a bit of the laser ejaculate, we couldn’t help but want to believe in this freak from Minneapolis.
  • The album ends with what would become the epic song, the powerful title track. It was another ballad, but this felt like something else entirely, not just “a ballad”. Looking back, one could say that this was Prince’s attempt that trying to make something as powerful as The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” or Derek & The Dominos’ “Layla”, not trying to copy what they did, but to make something that would become as moving and overwhelming as those songs. The song moves on at a very nice pace, and while it seems like it has much more lyrics than it does because of its eight minute and forty-five second length, it only has three verses and the chorus repeated three times. His bluesy guitar solo takes the listener away in the second half of the song, along with the passionate non-verbal lyrics that help take the song to what sounds like its ultimate end. Prince isn’t ready to give it up just yet, he has a few more chords left to go, perhaps a bit more tears from this “rain” before he says goodbye. He reaches those high notes and it might feel like something you’d expect to hear on John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme album, and then it… doesn’t end. The song ends with an orchestral coda while you hear a repetitive piano melody, looped as if no other chords can move into or out of it, you’re locked in for good. This goes on like a dirge or meditation and I remember being in a 7-Eleven parking lot hearing the coda for the very first time. I wasn’t sure how to react or feel, I just knew that it was special and nothing like I had ever heard. Eventually we hear all of the instruments reach a comment note before an audience applauds, and the album ends.

  • As I started to become a bigger Prince fan and collector, I would also make my own custom cassettes for Purple Rain, where I would include the long version of “Let’s Go Crazy”, along with non-LP B-sides “17 Days”, “Erotic City”, “God”, and “Another Lonely Christmas”. Making a custom version of Purple Rain would mean to expand the experience much longer than the original 44 minute album length.

    Purple Rain still holds up as an album with a lot of strengths, songs that still hold up very well thirty years after the fact. Prince didn’t only release the album with The Revolution, for he also had a hand in Sheila E’s debut album The Glamorous Life and the debut by Apollonia 6, released at the end of the year a few weeks after Purple Rain was released on VHS. The Time also recorded and released their third album ice Cream Castle on July 3, 1984, so when Purple Rain hit theaters a few weeks later, music fans had a lot of music to consume and explore. Longtime Time fans would feel that this album felt more like The Time they heard at live performances, and it had been said by many that they would outdo anything Prince could do in a live setting, which is exactly what part of the movie was about.

    Then again, what exactly was the movie about? Could fans appreciate the movie away from the music, can the soundtrack be loved without knowing how it was interpreted visually, or did they both have to be a union between one another? Musically, Purple Rain stands up on its own and will forever be known as the album that finally made Prince one of the biggest artists of not just the 1980’s, but all time. Without Purple Rain, we would not have great albums like Around The World In A Day, Parade, Sign ‘O’ The Times, Lovesexy, the first Madhouse album, and everything else he has released (and not released) in the last thirty years. Some fans who were turned on to Prince with the movie may have found him hard to endure with each subsequent release, and it’s safe to say the huge audiences that went to his shows in 1984 and 1985 didn’t bother holding true to him through his many life and career changes. I’d like to think that without those fans who chose to care and believe in his creativity before and after Purple Rain, he wouldn’t continue to do what he does today.

  • DUST IT OFF: Beastie Boys’ “Love American Style EP”…25 years later

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    Before the first day of summer 1989, there was a greater than great buzz for the follow up to the Beastie Boys’ debut album, Licensed To Ill (Def Jam). It wasn’t just about the music, as the Beastie Boys were a group who received a level of buzz that was quite different from your ordinary rappers. Then again, it was 1989, there wasn’t something called an “ordinary rapper”, or at least everyone was doing something to be original, and the Beastie Boys were definitely not like anyone else. Fans knew the group had jumped ship from Def Jam to Capitol Records, on top of moving from New York City to Los Angeles, partly because the Beastie Boys had enough of their former label and needed to find not only a change of pace, but freedom. Def Jam threw out a lawsuit, claiming the Beastie Boys owed them a contractual album, and they were going to do anything in their power to release an album, even if it was without their permission. That album was said to have been called The White House, complete with production from those who were a part of Def Jam’s roster, including Chuck D. By the time the summer of 1989 came about, when the final second album was released, then the news changed. Chuck D. was allegedly quoted as saying something to the effect of “once he heard the actual album, he knew the group were in good hands”, his way of saying that he wasn’t going to handle any part of the production as Carl Ryder. Chuck D.’s own pseudonum as one-quarter of the production team known as The Bomb Squad. However, that’s a jump ahead for what was a sneak preview of that second album, Paul’s Boutique (Capitol).

    Paul’s Boutique was supposed to be everything the industry wanted it to be: the best follow-up of Licensed To Ill, the worst follow-up to Licensed To Ill, there were a lot of things discussed but no one could quite guess what their direction would be. Would it be more of the same, a rehash of the old formula, or could it be the future? Will the Beastie Boys be able to go past the sophomore slump or would they prove to be a one-album wonder. The Beastie Boys were loved, as much as they were hated, for their drunken college rhyme schemes and nothing more. There was definitely a clever side to their pranks and humor, but people seemed to love them for their childish ways as much as people didn’t. They were white guys and nothing more, but those who did hear more were anxious to know what they’d come up with next.

    The Love American Style EP was far from what anyone expected. The title was based on the 1970’s sitcom of the same name, so on that alone the group were setting a mood. What type of mood, not quite known yet. The cover photo was taken with a fish-eyed lens of three women posing around in a red, white, and blue=painted kitchen. Trippy, psychedelic, far out, but what did it mean? Does it mean anything. The EP consisted of the first two hits-to-be from Paul’s Boutique, the big single being “Hey Ladies”.

    If music videos were already becoming, for some, the sole way to be literal about a song, then fans watched the disco-era clothing and scenery of the video and wondered why did the Beastie Boys turn disco? Keep in mind too that in 1989, the link between hip-hop and disco was not something thoroughly discussed or investigated, for there wasn’t a hip-hop mainstream media just yet. If you were to read about topics like that in the mainstream, you might catch it in Spin, but rap music was still rap music, it was the end of the decade. The music was still kicking it, but people were also wondering of rap music would become a fad of the 80’s and return to obscurity once 1990 found itself on the calendar. “Hey Ladies” began with a sample from The Commodores’ “Machine Fun”, a funky song that might not be stereotypically disco but caught a group that made some feel its 1970’s splendor. Listeners seemed to refuse to detach the disco-era feel of the video with the song, which left some confused. Meanwhile, those who watched the video and saw a Foghat 8-track, heard the Deep Purple sample, and heard lyrics like “take my advice, at any price/a gorilla like your mother is mighty weak, man” and “woke up in the morning with a one ton ho” were catching something new, that something else was going on that had nothing to do with the Licensed To Ill experience. Either you got “Hey Ladies” at first or you didn’t. I could sense the disco-ness of the song but it seemed a lot more than just flat out disco. The Roger, Deep Purple, and Kool & The Gang sample puzzle felt as if there was a lot more going on, quick glimpses from other records that felt more original than Licensed To Ill. I wanted to hear more.

    While “Hey Ladies” was the introduction to what was to come on their second album, the first song on Love American Style EP was the incredibly funky “Shake Your Rump”. It seemed further from the first album but felt more like what was going on in rap music at the time. It felt modern, as if you could put this next to De La Soul, The D.O.C., MC Lyte, Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo, Kid ‘N’ Play or Boogie Down Productions and it would match with everything else on a mix tape. What I loved about “Shake Your Rump”, outside of the samples, was how they were more than happy to pass the mic to one another as if they were on a basketball court or basement and just throw rhymes to one another. There were different levels, depths, and textures in the same song, as if one could hear each verse distinctly, going into a different room (or a multitude of rooms) before making it to the outside. The moment I heard the line “disco bag dropping and you doing the bump”, followed by the “shake your rump-pah” sample, and heard the crowd going nuts while another sample was being scratched. I went absolutely crazy. This felt right, as if this was the block party in New York City I had to be in, and I wanted to be a part of this place.

    No one outside of the group or CapitoL Records had any sense of what this new album would be like. No one saw the cover, no one knew the vinyl pressing had an 8-panel gatefold. There was a buzz for what was new, but outside of “Hey Ladies” or “Shake Your Rump”, there were no other hints. “33% Is God” and “Dis Yourself In ’89 (Just Do It)” were nothing more than instrumental versions of the two songs, but were they? They weren’t quite remixes, it seemed what the Beastie Boys and producers The Dust Brothers did was enhance an instrumental by creating individual songs that could be enjoyed on its own. Years later, when the background for John King, Mike Simpson, and Matt Dike were learned, you realized why they did sound like a mix tape, or an old radio aircheck: they wanted it to be like that. Imagine tuning into a radio frequency in the distance and finally catching something that feels good. If you were in a car, you’d drive to the limits of the city and keep on driving so you could listen to that frequency until the gas ran out. You knew if you drove just outside of the city limits, you may not ever get that frequency again. This is what Paul’s Boutique would sound like, but no one 25 years ago knew that in full yet. I’d like to think a lot of people don’t know that now. The sound was meant to capture a time and place, and a feeling that already didn’t exist. 25 years after the fact, we’re still wondering how so many forgot to keep the spirit alive. Fortunately, there are many who know the full strength of the album that was to come.

    DUST IT OFF: Prince’s “When Doves Cry”…30 years later

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    This was something I looked forward to. I knew the 30th anniversary of this was on its way this month, but Wiki, Discogs, and Prince.org lists it as either May 9th or 16th, 1984, which is wrong since both dates are Wednesday. While I know Wikipedia tends to cater to the UK release date, both dates would still be wrong. Anyway, regardless of the actual release date, we are now 30 years beyond the impact of this song. It’s a bit significant for me, as it’s the last Prince song I heard as a resident of Honolulu before I moved a little over three weeks later. I had been a Prince fan since I saw the video for “I Wanna Be Your Lover” on public access, which lead to me buying the 45 at Music Box in downtown Honolulu. I knew of Paul McCartney playing all of his instruments but I had never seen a promotional film clip of anyone doing the same. I was hooked and loved the song. Sadly, due to radio genres and formats, I didn’t become aware of Prince again until “1999” and “Little Red Corvette”, and that was because MTV had played him. I want to say I heard “Controversy” back then too but I honestly don’t remember. Nonetheless, when “When Doves Cry” was released, this was just a new Prince single, sounding uniquely different from “1999” or “Little Red Corvette”. It sounded like Prince was going to change his method a bit, but we weren’t sure why. A month later, a soundtrack album arrived, and we all knew a movie was going to come out. Little did we know how big this film was going to be not only for him, but 1984 as a whole. I wasn’t able to see Purple Rain at the theater because it was Rated R, and while my mom had no issue with him, I don’t think she wanted to take me to the theater to see the movie just because. I ended up renting the VHS for Purple Rain before we even had a VCR, I was that advanced and dumb at the same time. When I hear “When Doves Cry”, I hear a bit of sadness from someone who was about to move away from home and discover new people and scenery. I found a way to relate to “how can you just leave me standing alone in a world so cold” because I was about to leave behind everything and not sure what the future would offer However, in the album version of the song, the courage came back through that guitar solo. For me, I guess the song was the start of a new way of living for me, and little did I know how much it was going to change me, discovering many things the hard way.

    DUST IT OFF: Breakin’… 30 years later

    Push it to pop it!
    Rock it to lock it!
    Break it to make it!

    What does that mean, exactly?

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    Hearing about a movie about our music was a highlight when I was 13, it was sometime my friends had to see, we wanted to be a part of this to see what was going on. Forget the fact that “our music” didn’t have an official trademarked name or that it was some kind of corporate movement, we didn’t care about that. In my mind, this was a way to see and feel the music we loved on the big screen, and that’s all we cared about. While the movie was released in the United States on May 4, 1984, it was a school day but it was important for me and my friends to see this the next day. We did, on May 5th at Kapi’olani Theater in Honolulu. I was aware of these movie theater as a place near where my Auntie Tita (Linda) used to live, down the street from the old Holiday Mart store.
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    Upon heading there, it was something unique. I had always went to movies and seen kids from other parts of Honolulu and for the most part it didn’t matter. Coming to see Breakin’ that afternoon felt different, as it was a chance to see other kids who were into breakdancing and popping to see this film with everyone else who were into it. I was more of an observer, not an actual dancer, although my move was the worm, which made a few of my friends laugh because they didn’t expect a fat kid to do that. Nonetheless, I was the kid who had a radio and the cassettes, I was the one who made sure the music was sharp. At the theater on Saturday, I got to see various kids from different neighborhoods and schools to wear their breakdancing “uniforms”. Forget the fact that there was nothing on TV that would let us know what we were supposed to look like, MTV didn’t exactly cover rap music in 1984 and Honolulu didn’t air Black Entertainment Television (BET) until a decade or so later. Was “the look” highlighted in magazines? How did they know? Maybe it was a segment on a TV show but regardless of how it happened, it happened.

    We weren’t sure who these other kids and teenagers were, but we saw them from other areas. Being in the 8th grade, we were aware of fellow kids wanting to get into fights with kids from other schools, was it gang-related? Back then, I didn’t think of it as a gang thing, nor did I really know what gangs were. All we knew was that some kids hated other kids in other areas, and that’s all there was. We were pissed about someone else, and it probably had more to do with the possibility of watching people fight one another. On this day, there were no fights whatsoever. There was a unique difference, one the involved the gathering between neighborhood kids and military kids. These were the kids and teens, primarily black, who looked and dressed differently because they looked like they were from the mainland. There was a slightly different attitude and vibe, but it was the first time I had seen the military kids come in to our section to see what was going on, and for a movie. A Breakin’ movie? Wow. Maybe they too listened to the rap music radio show that was on an AM radio station every Friday, or maybe they had their own records and tapes. Nonetheless, it felt different to see all of us, young kids, waiting in line and feeling that anticipation of something that might feel good.

    We loved when the movie started, as it began with graffiti and a bunch of dancing to a snapping rhythm. What I noticed about the graffiti near the basketball court was the letters CxCxB. We kids were told to fear these letters, as this was the arrival of a crew from California called the Crip City Boys, a new gang. Times were changing, we didn’t have gangs back then but now we were seeing CxCxB in various tags in the neighborhood. Or maybe it had to do with my neighborhood of Pauoa, knowing the parks and always seeing those letters in various sports. All of a sudden, when CxCxB was shown in the film, I thought “wow, they’re in this”. I didn’t know how CxCxB were in the film but they were, but then again I didn’t know exactly who or what the Crips were back then.

    The credits end and the film formally begins. We discover Kelly, who is “a struggling jazz dancer” living in California, hoping to make it to the big world. We never hear where she is originally from, don’t know if she is from the country backwater or a rich lady. Nonetheless, she loves to dance but spots a few street dancers at the beach. She’s excited because she has never seen this type of dancing before, unsure of what’s going to happen but it moves her. It grooves her. Kelly meets with Ozone and Turbo, who is unsure about this polished dancer because they don’t feel a woman of her caliber would have to deal with him and his street dancers.

    In time, Kelly becomes friends with Turbo and Ozone, both of whom work at a corner store. They don’t work at the mall, they don’t work at a car dealership, they’re working at the corner store. Turbo gets bored one night and decides to dance with his broom. That became the first massive highlight of this show, as it appears Turbo is floating the broom in a dance routine while playing Kraftwerk’s “Tour De France”. It was mindblowing, because “Tour De France” was not a song played on the radio nor seen on TV, and now it was in a movie theater. Now we had a way to dance to that song, we had the moves, but how are we going to use a broom? More importantly, how are we going to make it float? Forget the fact we could see the string floating the broom in the movie, but I was 13, it didn’t matter.

    Kelly associated herself with those who could help her career, specifically a man with a money. Ozone and Turbo could not understand how someone like them could be friends, or why she would want to associated herself with them. It just didn’t fit. Ozone realizes that Kelly seems real, she may be considered “something else” (or simply put, the white girl) but there’s something about her that he likes. It seems Ozone may be attracted to her as well, but that is never addressed until the second half of the film. Ozone and Turbo tells Kelly that she should see something with them, and they take her to a basement party. It is there when the second massive highlight for me happens: the playing of Art Of Noise’s “Beat Box”. I had fallen in love with Art Of Noise and producer Trevor Horn in 1983, through Horn producing Yes’ “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and being involved with AoN and their Into Battle EP. I had also loved Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals”, so Horn was slowly becoming someone whose production techniques were becoming impressive. Not only did I hear “Tour De France” a few minutes ago in the film, but “Beat Box” was on the big screen. “Beat Box”! A DJ scratched the record through the introduction, which then leads to the debut of a rapper that I honestly was not impressed with at the time. He wasn’t named in the film but we now know him as Ice-T. My uncle was a Judas Priest fan, I saw Judas Priest videos on MTV and Ice-T seemed to be wearing clothes that looked like he was one of their members, complete with makeshift leather and studs. Yet it was someone rapping involved in a basement/club battle, and it looked cool. Nonetheless, Kelly loved it.

    In time, Kelly tries to be involved in a dance production but is torn with her love for this new street music, which makes her agent feel as if they are corrupting her to the ghetto ways. No matter. In time, the three decide they should have their own dance group, calling themselves TKO after their first names. It’s perfect: Turbo, Kelly, and Ozone, it’s a very nice TKO (“technical knock out”), using a boxing metaphor. Kelly comes up with another idea for her dancing, perhaps a scheme of sorts that will make people know that her talents are good and can impress anyone if they give it a try. Earlier in the show, Kelly was shown dancing in a studio but now with Ozone and Turbo, she finds herself in a garage studio made by Ozone. That’s when the third massive moment happened, one I remember fondly. Ozone and Kelly were dancing to Rufus’ “Ain’t Nobody”, and as someone who grew up with the music of Chaka Khan, I knew who that was. Almost everyone in the movie theater didn’t react, it was just a song being played during a dance. Except for the military kids. They started dancing in the seats and singing, almost as if it was a family get together or church, as if they were honoring Chaka Khan. I believe people started dancing in the theater aisle, getting down to Khan and her singing, and everyone else thought it was very weird, as if they were thinking “oh no, here come the military kids”. I, on the other hand, wanted to stand up and get down with them, but I would’ve felt goofy and what would happen if I danced wrong?

    The movie ends with a dance production where it not only has Kelly and her dance team, but also Ozono, Turbo, and all of their friends. It’s a collaboration between the dance studio and the streets, it looked like something straight out of a Hollywood production, and it was. This didn’t seem like something we had seen but again, I was thirteen, I didn’t see or experience anything in my life. It was polished and somewhat hokey, but it was the happy moment, Kelly had her big dance and it all seemed good. End of story, right?

    Then the ending came. We were all ready to leave the theater but we saw a brief moral of the story, or so we thought. We saw a segment where we saw scenes that we did not see in the movie. How come Ozone and Kelly were getting more romantic? It looks… sexy? Are these movie outtakes? It then said there would be Breakin’ 2. WHAT?!?! A SEQUEL!??!? WOW!!! We all cheered and we walked out. It was a good Saturday afternoon. As I walked out of the theater and into the lobby, I saw other kids all curious about what was going to happen, but they looked at all of us who saw the film. We were all smiles, our reaction became their smiles and again, they were all in their breakdancing gear. For them, this was going to be their moment.

  • As someone who loved music, I wanted to find the soundtrack album to Breakin’ so Chris, Ryan, and I walked over to Tower Records on Ke’eaumoku, which was a few blocks down the street. I wanted the soundtrack so I could have “Tour De France” and maybe “Beat Box”. Forget the fact that I already had the 12″ for “Tour De France” and the cassette for Into Battle, I just had to have the soundtrack album. I asked if they had the soundtrack album available, and the cashier said that he did. He gave me an album on K-Tel Records called Breakdance. I looked at it, then looked at the credits. i saw “Tour De France” was on there but it was not by Kraftwerk, but someone called 10 Speed. 10 Speed? What the hell is that? I found myself fairly proud that I knew about my music at that age, but I was cocky. I was a thirteen year or music elitist, I looked at the Breakdance tape and said “no, that’s not it. That’s not the soundtrack. I’ll get it when the real cassette comes in” and I walked out. What I’ve learned as I’m writing was that the song was produced by John Driscoll, and their version of “Tour De France” was released as its own 12″ single on Quality Records out of Canada. I don’t know who they were trying to fool or why, but someone bought it and assumed it was the original. Hopefully they learned it wasn’t, or maybe they discovered they liked 10 Speed over Kraftwerk. I eventually bought that soundtrack ten years later or so, but it was awful.
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    If there was something to like about the film, it was about actress Lucinda Dickey in her role as Kelly. She was cute, and the outfits? This was the area of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”, Aerobicize, 20 Minute Workout and fitness, everyone had to wear new clothes as a means to get healthier. My thirteen year old mind said “it’s going to get sexier” and it was. Kelly was what a lot of us guys wanted to find. At my age, I didn’t know how I was going to find someone like her or where. It wasn’t important, maybe we were lucky to bump into a Kelly type. Good luck in that.

    The most important thing about the film was not the film itself. My dad had died almost a year before the movie was shown, and my mom had decided to move us away from Hawai’i and to the mainland. I was going to leave the place I knew as home and find a new place, new people, experiences and adventures. My dad had originally wanted us to move to Canada, as he was learning a bit of kung and had met an instructor (a sifu) who had suggeted the move would be good for him. It would be a way to get away from the changing Honolulu was going through economically, so why not try Canada. That changed when my dad died, and my mom decided to move to a town in SE Washington State to move closer to her sister. She didn’t want to live somewhere with no one around her, so in retrospect it was a wise choice. My mom later told me she assumed her sister (my auntie) lived in or near Seattle but discovered we were 200 miles SE of Seattle. Wrong move, perhaps.

    However, I knew Breakin’ was going to be the last movie I would watch as a resident of Honolulu, and I knew that it would possibly be the last thing I would do with my best friends Chris and Ryan. I was slowly seeing things become of a past, and I was not aware of what the future would hold for me. I was wanting to hold on to whatever I could get, if not keep, and Breakin’ was something that made me remember not only the music and dance moves we felt, but also the friendships and bond that I thought we would hold to as we got older. Life changes, you know?

  • Over the years I would look to see what had happened to the Kapi’olani Theater once it was closed down. For a brief moment it was a Blockbuster store, which eventually turned into a Papa John’s, where it remains as of this writing. The entrance still looks like what I remembered, but of course with the box office long gone.
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    Breakin’ was a move that showed what Hollywood was about to do with this new thing out of New York City called hip-hop. To them, it was more than just the music and the dances, it felt like so much more. We all wanted to live in a world where “Planet Rock” was an anthem where the rockin’ don’t stop, but maybe we didn’t want it to rock that big. Or maybe we didn’t want those outsiders to intrude on what we felt was ours. Yes, I was very much an outsider too, and I never visited New York until eleven years after I heard “Rapper’s Delight” yet when I did, I wanted to be in the city where hip-hop came from. I wanted to make a hip-hop pilgrimage despite the fact Breakin’ was far from New York, nor I at the beach where Jean Claude Van Damme danced at the beach.

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    In the end, rap music was changing, for better or worse. All of us were changing, nothing could stop us if we wanted to because there’s no stopping us. No one does it better.

  • DUST IT OFF: Messiah’s “Twenty First Century Jesus”: 20 Years Later

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    The early 1990’s were an interesting time, but that phrase could be used for any era in history. On the first album by Messiah, the history of tomorrow was being talked about then, which is now yesterday but back then, it seemed like a mystery to most people, this future we were to have. As Tricky would later say, there was a sense of pre-millennium tension so while things were fairly good for many, there was a sense that what we were experiencing in the 20th century should be considered good, because that sense of innocence and naivety may no longer exist. We were about to praise something greater than any of us could ever imagine, with a mixture of high powered movies, movie and music samples, we would find a way to embrace the power of a Twenty First Century Jesus.

    Ali Ghani and Mark Davies were the men behind Messiah, and if Twenty First Century Jesus had already sounded a bit dated by the time it was released on December 6, 1993, good reason: some of the songs had been released two years before as 12″ singles. What makes the album so great is that while it is meant to detail a time in the not too distant future, it did so by exploring the different sounds of the past through samples, and that’s one of the primary reasons why I loved it. It’s an album that encompasses some of my music listening habits back then. Listen to songs like “Creator”, “I Feel Love”, “Beyond Good And Evil”, or “There Is No Law” and you’ll hear everything from Public Enemy to the synths from 808 State’s “Pacific”, Whitesnake to The Scorpions, The KLF to N.W.A, James Brown to Ted Nugent, LL Cool J to Lisa Stansfield. via Coldcut. As someone who was and remains a fiend for sampled-based music, this was what I loved and the oddity of the different dance styles was too much for me, but I embraced it with open ears and mind.

    This is something I’ve never revealed to anyone. There was a time when one could deal with just house music, techno, jungle, along with disco and other forms. Then sometime in the early 90’s, what was considered a standard genre started to reveal sub-genres, and then those sub-genres revealed more genres, leading to weird hybrids and offsprings. I loved listened to whatever you threw to me and if I liked it, I liked it. I accepted it. The different with me is that I did not bother to discover all of the sub-sub-sub-genres and hybrids of hybrids so while there were communities of GOA, Rashbeat, and DoucheDub fans, I hesitated to explore further because it seemed a bit pointless to me. I was becoming a faithful reader of URB magazine, which I enjoyed because it featured a wide range of dance music styles along with hip-hop, everything was one and I could read about it all. When I got into Twenty First Century Jesus, I knew it was an electronic album, or what we’d loosely call electronica today. It’s a dance album, it’s meant for the club, it’s a pop record, but I didn’t know it was acid house, or techno, or whatever anyone chose to call it. What moved me first and foremost was what I felt was the hip-hop style of sample production, which also started to sound like the construction made famous by Art Of Noise, Bomb The Bass, Simon Harris, and M|A|R|R|S. Piece together random sounds and create a story that seemed like the disco equivalent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and you essentially have Twenty First Century Jesus, which seemed so random then, as it does now. Ian Astbury was and remains the singer for The Cult, and people freaked when Rick Rubin produced their Electric album, one can only imagine what some must’ve thought when he did the vocals on “Creator”, an incredible dance track.

    As for the mood of the album, the samples tell the story. It looked into a future where the 22nd century becomes “the age of the machine”, and this was a time long before the internet was what it is today. What would be considered a machine today? Social media? Internet commerce? The samples also touch on some of the dialogue from the film The Running Man where people are looking for messiahs to praise, while the suffering and poor humans have to deal with an lack-of-accepting or uncaring god figure. Do we really know what the figure is, if it’s a human, a machine, or something else entirely? We do not know, the science fiction feel merely touches the surface and the house and dance feel of the songs is almost a means to bring it back to the essence, which is the human quality, finding a need to find human emotion again. How will we know if we as a species are too far gone, beyond remembering what happened a few seconds ago?

    There is a sense of humor throughout the slogans and chants, from wrestling announcer Tony Schiavone screaming “NOW IT’S TIME TO FEEL THE HEAT!” (heard in “Beyond Good And Evil”) to The Scorpions’ Klaus Meine screaming “I like rock’n’roll! ANYBODY LIKE ROCK’N’ROLL” taken from the Tokyo Tapes album (heard in “The Future Is Ours”), and that balance of uncertainty and humor is what helps to steer the music along. It’s one way of saying “no matter what the future holds, we have to be together in some fashion, even if it means keeping our own personal shit together.” Looking at some of the issues today: personal and financial security, identity theft, and wondering about “the powers that be”, it’s something that has come across in music many times throughout recorded music history, but this was a project that looked into a new century that was only eight years away from starting. Again, it goes back to uncertainty and fears, wanting to hold on to what felt good but expecting that we would also lose something as we all move together or apart towards tomorrow. Who are we obeying or to obey, and why do we not obey ourselves? What is it that we need and desire, and why do we seek to find it elsewhere when many times it is within? These are the stories that keep us going, keep us asking questions, keep us questioning. We are now in the 21st century, and things have been quite odd in the last twelve years and Twenty First Century Jesus seems more perfect now than it did in 1993 because the concerns are real, the issues are stronger, and the barrage of noise is part of the noise that may be the clutter we deal with in this thing called life. As Astbury sings in “Creator”, “shattered the illusion, creating your confusion, hell has got a hold on me.” Then, as Charles Manson says via a spoken word sample, “I know, God knows, and the Holy Spirit knows.” As The Beatles once said, tomorrow never knows, and that’s a fear to have and not have. Time to get rid of the Thunderdome mentality to create a PleasureDome, and maybe one day in our own lives, we’ll be able to get closer to that than to obey the delusions passed along by a Jesus of the 21st century.

    Feel no shame, blame your children.”

    DUST IT OFF: Wu-Tang Clan’s “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)”… 20 Years Later

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    It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since the Wu-Tang Clan made an impact with this album. That impact was definitely not immediately, at least not nationally. When Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (LOUD/RCA) was released on November 9, 1993, the Wu did not have any heavy rotation anywhere, outside of NYC. Those months between the album release day and the spring of 1994 would eventually cause a shift, which would mark the end of another era of hip-hop and the glorious beginning of another.

    I became a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan when the video for “Method Man” was getting airplay on BET’s Rap City. I loved the raw feel of the song, could not get enough of Method Man’s flow, it was that great. I also loved his constant barrage of pop
    culture references, as if this guy knew where I was coming from even though I had no idea where he had come from, at least not yet. It was with that song that The Genius said “from the slums of Shaolin, Wu-Tang Clan strikes again: The RZA, The GZA, Ol’
    Dirty Bastard, Inspector Deck, Raekwon The Chef, U-God, Ghost Face Killer, and the Method”, then Method Man rhymed for the next three minutes, making reference to everything from Tootsie Roll Pops to the Rolling Stones and Dr. Seuss to Digital Underground, and I did not know what was going on. I felt I had liked the rap music that was released between 1990 to 1993, there was a hell of a lot of great music in those four years and yet it felt like this approach was old school and yet new school. Method Man was truly “hitting you from every angle” and I had to have more, but at the time there was very little to
    go on.

    For me, the big news in hip-hop was that A Tribe Called Quest had just released their third album, Midnight Marauders. This was going to be the album of 1993, nothing else could beat it. There had also been some buzz for a group called Black Moon who had just released “Who Got The Props” as a single, a song that sounded fun and festive, a bit different from the slightly dark vibe of the album. Or if not dark, it was a bit like walking down an alley unsure of what would be lurking, but you’d take that risk anyway. Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage was an album that was a few weeks before and people would soon not get enough of them and the collective they helped create. I definitely didn’t buy Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) on release date, for the group and the album was not something in demand, at least I wasn’t looking for it. Looking back, maybe it was looking for me. It would actually take video airplay for “Da Mystery Of Chessboxing”, with its kung fu imagery, for me to finally by the album. Were these the same guys who were rapping about making a bitch squirm for
    supersperm? Yeah, there was Method Man with his face hidden.

    This had to have been in December or early January, but I remember the moment when I popped the CD in:
    Shaolin shadowboxing, and the Wu-Tang sword style. (Hmmm.) If what you say is true, the shaolin and the Wu-Tang style could be dangerous. Do you think your Wu-Tang sword can defeat me?

    En guard, I’ll let you try my Wu-Tang style.”

    This was straight out of all of the kung fu movies I watched as a kid, either at theaters in downtown Honolulu with my dad, on Kung Fu Theater on the USA Network or all the kung fu movies I was renting on VHS. Then came the chant of “BRING THE
    MOTHERFUCKING RUCKUS! BRING THE MOTHERFUCKING RUCKUS!” It may not have happened, but my eyes, mouth, mind were wide open and in awe from what I was hearing. There was nothing like it, this was not something I heard in songs by Biz Markie, Showbiz &
    AG, Ice Cube, Ice T, Gang Starr, or Dr. Dre. This was far better. The song also had percussive snaps and brick slaps, as if it was a group of warriors in a Shaolin temple praying and waiting for someone to invade. Ghostface Killer would start up the song before Raekwon comes in and delivers, and then Inspector Deck offers greatness. The song ends with the sacred words of The Genius. They were waiting, and eventually they could no longer wait. You heard warriors fight, smacking each other left and right before came the one man army Ason Unique, a/k/a Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and getting dope with “Shame On A Nigga” before Method Man comes in with his verse. The album continued to build from there, and to hear all of these new voices and not have any sense of who was saying what was incredible. The group may have shown themselves on the cover behind masks, but
    inside there was a photo, but Method Man was not a part of that line-up. At least here on the west coast, I had never seen the video for “Protect Ya Neck”, which offered a chance for viewers to see who was who and by name, as if they were teen pop
    sensations. Outside of hearing them mentioning their own names in song, there was little to go on in terms of applying a face to a name.

    It wasn’t until the DasEFX cover issue of The Source did I know who they were, their pseudonyms, and everything else that made them out to be hip-hop’s Marvel Universe. I had read and collected comic books as a kid, so I understood what it meant to be named this, then that, and then maybe two or three other things. The Wu-Tang appealed to me because they thought like kids, but doing things in a very adult manner. It was a bunch of guys shooting shit amongst one
    another, but there was also a sense of the now, as if they knew that they could not live in the past, and thus thought about the future, what would come next for themselves and for others.

    Each song on the album felt like there were reaching new plateaus, and when the song finished, they would all make it to the next level and build again. It was great to hear a song that might have two members, or another with four or five, before it leads to a song with the core eight. Then you learn that the core eight expands to a nine. It would be a few more years before that nine turned into a ten man team, but while Digital Underground did it to a point, it was always “to a point”. Plus, Shock G. was also Humpty Hump, who was also MC Blowfish, a/k/a Piano Man, and when when you heard Money B. say “well I’m Humpty Humpin'”, I was left wondering “well, who are these guys?” X-Clan had an incredible collective too, even though on their albums it was generally Brother J doing most of the raps. You also had Isis and Queen Mother Rage, and of course Professor X had his own solo album too but that was it, Brother J really didn’t get his own path until X-Clan was over. The Wu-Tang Clan seemed like a different beast, an entity, as if they were looking at hip-hop, celebrating what came before and were going to build on the successes and see how far they could go with it.

    I’m someone who lived in Honolulu but grew up admiring the hip-hop from the east coast, specifically what came from New York and New Jersey. It was NYC or die, and yet I loved what everyone else from Seattle to Los Angeles, Dallas to Miami were doing, the more the merrier. In my mind, there was a slight shift on the artists that would gain acceptance, and maybe that had a lot to do with some of the shifts happening in the community. If hip-hop started in NYC, it seemed to turn into Motown in 1971 and headed to Hollywood. Nothing wrong with that, but there was a lot of music being released that became hits but I did not like. At the same time, there was much more to Cali hip-hop than MC Hammer and everyone had a chance, yet it seemed from afar that the NYC stuff was being pushed to the side. It seemed to make artists push harder to be heard and make better music, even if it meant “better for ourselves”. The Wu-Tang Clan came out not giving a fuck about anyone else but themselves, and I loved that attitude. It was in that early 1994 interview on MTV where Ol’ Dirty Bastard talked about his name, how he was old school, his style was dirty,and he was a bastard, because when he rhymed, there was no father to his style. That was attitude and a half, and yet he meant it, as if to say “I know what came before me, but I want to show you what I’m about, for the now people.”

    What also made Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) interesting is that by the time “C.R.E.A.M.” had become the hit of early 1994, that’s when news surfaced about how they were going to make sure that each member of the group would be signed with their own solo contract and release their own solo albums. To me, this brought back memories of Kiss and their four solo albums in 1978, and what Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young did with the various combinations they made music under. This was much bigger, and I couldn’t wait. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait that long, as The RZA was working with producer Prince Paul, Stesasonic’s Fruitkwan, and fellow Tommy Boy Records’ alumni Too Poetic in a group project called Gravediggaz. This would be RZA’s thing, and while no one knew it at the time, Gravediggaz was one of two “make or break” projects he was working on in 1992-1993. His career as Prince Rakeem only lead to the “Ooh, I Love You Rakeem” single which barely caused a dent in 1991. The RZA offered the Wutang (no hyphen) to Tommy Boy Records as a possible group to work with but they passed. Tommy Boy was losing their impact on rap music, and that’s when Rakeem became The RZA and started two projects, hoping one of them would gain some glory. Due to the success of the Wu-Tang, Gravediggaz would soon pick up steam, eventually becoming recognized in their own right. Then there was word on Method Man being signed to Def Jam. His solo album would be released in the fall of 1994, and then there was word of three more Wu solo albums on the way.

    It seemed too much, and I loved it because within a two year period, the Wu-Tang Clan were doing things other rap groups had only talked about or imagined. As Method Man would later say, “you talk about it while I live it”, and no one had ever done what they were doing within a hip-hop context. On top of that, if any of the guys in the Wu wanted to drop a verse/cameo in other songs, they could. Did they want to product something? They did. Have some affiliates they wanted to hook-up with? There was more than enough time for everyone, and to experience it in real time, before the MP3 became the format of choice for music fans, was something that may not be repeated in the near future. The music felt good, it sounded good, and you couldn’t help but want to find people who were into that goodness.

    Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was about entering their world, knowing that one had to echieve certain levels before bein gable to proceed, but realizing that even if you had reached the peak, you had to then create your own path. It was as if they were also telling their fans “it’s all on you. Take it where you want and if we can help guide you towards your own path, go for broke.” That was the attitude they all had on the album, as if they were all going for broke, as if tomorrow did not exist for any of them. We all know what happened with their individual careers. We all know how Ghostface Killer (later Killah), the man who once hid his face from view, would become the most visible of the bunch. We all know how The Genius, like true geniuses, would become the hermit crab. We all fell in love with The RZA’s “Miracle On Dirty 4-Beats”. We loved what Inspectah Deck offered in everything he rhymed and was hoping he would be next to release an album in 1995. Some of us were stupefied by Raekwon’s delivery and wit. Then there was U-God, the 4-bar killer, who came and went with his 4- or 8-lines in a song, we all wondered why but we were happy with it. For a brief moment, it seemed everything that was good about hip-hop was achieved with that album. The egos were self-contained and it had a Three Musketeers-meets-Brand Nubian feel, “one for all and all for one”. Anyone who had ever felt the East Coast had lost its way, they would find the path again with the Wu-Tang. It was a celebration of Spider-Man, porno flick bitches, and Saturday morning cartoons and cereals. We all understood the power of that shot in the “Can It Be All So Simple” where the kid did a wheelie with his bicycle, when that was considered the ultimate goal. Nothing else in the world could be better than that wheelie, and you felt like a bad ass. For a brief moment in my life, the Wu-Tang Clan meant the world to me.

    Yes, it was indeed so simple then.