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DUST IT OFF: Art Of Noise’s “Into Battle”…30 Years Later

The 1980′s was a decade of discoveries for me. I had built a small foundation from the music I was introduced to through my parents and relatives, but as a devoted subscriber to Rolling Stone and exploring album and concert reviews, I also explored the classified section, where one was able to not only read up on records not covered in the rest of the mag, but order catalogs featuring a vast world of music I had not been familiar with before. The Rolling Stone classified section was all about taking chances, and sometimes it was the best part of the magazine. I was introduced to MTV during the 1981 holiday season, and with that came an introduction to a lot of British music that didn’t have anything to do with The Police. Madness, Culture Club, Haircut 100, Simple Minds, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Fixx, and countless others were flooding my ears and eyes, and I loved most of it. Even if I didn’t like it, I kept on listening and watching. The focus on what was considered underground music from the UK and Europe also did the same for underground music in the United States, or what was called college rock. At the same time, there was a small and steady stream of music coming out of New York City that was funky and danceable but had people speaking rhythmically over it, opposed to singing. I had become a huge fan of this music that didn’t quite have a proper name, but would become known as rap music. I loved the lyrics, the way a person rhymed, and I enjoyed what was being done with the music and production. Some of it was very funky, while some of it sounded like shades of disco, and at the time I was probably a kid who shunned disco because everyone else said they hated it too. It was a learning process that had to do with the realization that one style of dance music is the same as another style of dance music, but you go through the motions and it would take years before I understood why there shouldn’t be differences.

There was a bit of blending going on when this rap music would mix it up with electro. Add to that the awareness of Kraftwerk to a younger generation who were learning about breakdancing and pop locking, and suddenly Kraftwerk became the theme music for our video arcade adventures. It was the music of the future, but it was happening “now”. We felt like moving like robots because of what we played and what we heard. There was a time when Kraftwerk’s music seemed more exciting because of the strength of the instrumentation, specifically the drums and percussion. I loved Kraftwerk’s snappy electronic drums, where it hit hard but electronically. This sounded incredible, and nothing like the real instrumentation happening in rap music. Jonzun Crew’s “Pack Jam (Look Out For The OVC)” seemed like the next wave of music, and we all had the moves too, partly because Pac-Man was the video game for years. Then to have songs like Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock” and Malcolm McLaren & The World Famous Supreme Team’s “Buffalo Gals” out in 1982, and they felt like massive anthems for kids of my generation, or at least I wanted them to be “our” anthems. They were my anthems because the rockin’ did not stop. Ever.

Up until the beginning of fall, 1983 belonged to The Police with their fifth and what would become their final album, Synchronicity (A&M). I hadn’t been aware that there was a small record label in London that had released an EP of new music by a new group on September 26th, but it was the day that the world of music would change forever. It would soon change my world and my life, but it didn’t happen in September. It had to have been sometime in December, when the music world was blessed with the return of progressive rock band Yes and their album, 90125 (Atco). “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” had a very distinct sound that was significantly different from “Roundabout”, “Long Distance Runaround”, and “Starship Trooper”, it seemed more modern, more electronic, more computerized and synthesized, more now. One day, sometime in December 1983, I was watching MTV like I always did and there was a video with random images of people walking on a sidewalk, wearing different types of clothes. A police officer was shown, there were cars on the street, and then what started out as an early morning video turned into the evening, and people were at nightclubs. I only remembered random images from it back then, but what struck me was the sound of this song, where the drums was solid and loud, distorted but strong. I had never quite heard drums like this before in my life, but it wasn’t Kraftwerk’s electronic drums. It sounded real but… nah, it can’t be. The keyboard sounds were human voices, a lot of “bub bub bub” and “doh doh doh”, along with “aaaaah, aaaaah, aaaaaah”, as if it was some choir from an unknown land. Then horns come into the mix, but it’s not a horn section like Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower Of Power, or Osibisa. I didn’t quite understand what was going on, my mind couldn’t comprehend it. I sat there, stunned by every little “doh doh”, “bub bub bub, bub oh”, and it wasn’t some kind of secret code being passed on to me, it felt like it, as if that song was meant for me and only me, but maybe others like me who understood this code. The song ends, and a man is seen on the screen, speaking but nothing is heard. All you hear are the words “The Art Of Noise”. The MTV fonts are shown, and it states that the group is Art Of Noise, the album it is from is called Into Battle With The Art Of Noise, and it was on Island. I don’t remember if Zang Tuum Tumb (ZTT) was listed at the bottom, but without a VCR in our house, all I had was the memory of what I just heard. I had to rush to the record store to find these Art Of Noise guys. I asked my mom for a few dollars and we went to Tower Records in Honolulu on Ke’eaumoku Street. I went directly into the cassettes (as tapes were the format of choice) and went to A. There it was. Into Battle With The Art Of Noise. I had to wait until I got home to play the tape. Before my dad died, he had cassette deck, the Panasonic RX-5180. He had a friend who worked at the Panasonic warehouse, and this was considered to be one of the hot AM/FM radio//cassette decks not only because it was small and compact, but it also had a unique audio option. Not only could you switch recordings from stereo to mono and back, but it also had an “ambiance” option, where one was able to hear a broader mix of the audio coming through. Regardless, this cassette deck would become mine where I made some of my own custom mixes, and it was with a cassette deck just like this one that I popped in Into Battle. The first intro song begins, sligtly softer than what came next, but it was like a welcome mat, telling me to sit back, relax, and get ready for your head to be blown. Then the beats came in. My world would never be the same.

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  • Up until Into Battle, I wanted to be a rock star. I wanted to drive big cars, live in a big Led Zeppelin-style castle and raise cattle, and ride luxurious planes. Once I began to understand music a bit more, I realized that maybe being the sole focus of my musical dreams may not be good. Maybe I’ll just be the drummer in the band. When I learned more, I simply wanted to be the one to help preserve the hopes and dreams of the artist by recording, producing, and engineering their sounds. While there were producers whose works I admired up until that point, the person that made me truly want to become a producer was Trevor Horn. I knew he was the man behind The Buggles, the gent with the glasses, the sir who played the bass. I knew he had been a member of Yes before they split up in 1980. Horn would be partly responsible for a nice amount of music that was on MTV in the early 80′s, including ABC’s “The Look Of Love” and “Poison Arrow” and it sounded great. I was also very aware he produced “Buffalo Gals” and I felt nothing could be better than that. Then came this EP.
  • “Battle” sounded like a brief march onto a field, where a military band were walking on, tuning in, sometimes being off-key but you felt something was going to make its presence known. Then came the song that left me stunned.
  • “Beat Box”. I loved the power of the drums, I loved the stuttering keyboard sound, the echo, the reverb, it just had a feel that I found myself wanting for myself. The hi-hats, the snare, the bass drum: so beautiful. That stuttering sound: what was that? It wouldn’t be until the summer of 1984 that I realized the stuttering was a car ignition. Then came some of the best lyrics of the decade:
    “bub (bub bub) bub, doh (bub) bub, doh (bub) bub, doh (bub)
    bub bub (bub) bub, bub oh (bub)/bub bub (bub) bub, bub oh (bub)/bub bub (bub) bub, bub oh (bub)/bub bub (bub) bub, bub oh (bub)”
    I had no idea what this was, but the idea that someone was cutting or chopping up the human voice excited me, I had never heard it done this way. I understood what it meant to make homemade tape loops or repeat yourself on cassette to talk like a broken robot, but this was done on time with precision. *On time*. It was mindblowing. Then came the part of the song that, to my ears, it had sounded like it was saying “don’t (give up)”. I then realized that the “give up” was actually the word “money” backwards, so in truth it was “yenom”. This must’ve meant that the “doh” was actually “dough”, as in the slang used for money. Was this song about money? Was it anti-money? Was this just a random song not about money, in the hopes of making money? Unknown.

    This would then lead to a section of the song where there were horn stabs. It was just one horn passage repeated over and over, sometimes an octave higher, sometimes a few keys away from the original. How in the world was this done, my 13 year old mind thought. This would lead to a section where voices were cut up and to my ears it sounded as if they were saying “seventy…five days, for seventy…five days (please)” What were these days, and why 75 of them? Or did it come from some recording outtakes, and if so, whose? Was this some studio chatter before an artist was about to record a song? Could these words have been backwards, just as “money” was reversed to create “yenom”? Unknown.

    The next sequence would feature a lot of “bub bub bub, bub bo”‘s along with vocals that sounded like a church choir, and with the drums in the background, one couldn’t help but dance. In fact, it seemed less like a background thing and more like the forefront, as if the drums were the center of the song, and why didn’t all my music sound like this? This then leads to a brief part of the song where someone sounds like their hand is on a turntable, slowly moving a record around to cue themselves for a scratch, and then the scratch happens. Was this a clue, a puzzle piece? Why was that scratch there? Unknown.

    Up next was where a car ignition was played. Let me say this again for emphasis. A car ignition was played. My dad loved cars, but I had never heard him start a car to where it sounded this funky. Then the horns come back with more stabs, and arranged differently, it sounded special, sounded mighty, sounded majestic, sounded… heavenly> Not only, but as if there were limits in the sky and you wanted to go beyond. That’s what those horns sounded like to me. This in itself would lead to the editing of what sounded like applause, perhaps a sporting event. One would hear a click, then cheering and claps. What was this, where did it come from? Unknown, and unknown.

    The “bub” and “boh” sequence returned, arranged slightly different again for what would be the third “verse”, but now there was the inclusion of stereophonic “ch, ch”‘s, used as if it was a bit of Latin percussion, such as the guiro. The effect was beautiful, and if my eyes and ears weren’t on the point of orgasm, the estrus if you will, I don’t know what could have done it. The next passage begins and… what is this sound? It sounds like water bubbling. If everything was thrown into this song, could this be the kitchen sink as well? It *is* a kitchen sink, isn’t it? Unknown.

    In the music video, it was an edited version that ran for 2:55. The version on Into Battle was 4:48, so hearing this for the first time was something that I could not described, yet I liked it. I played the song again and again. As I had bought the U.S. cassette on Island, Side 1 also had the luxury of “Beat Box” repeating at the end of the side, so once I made it past the song the first time, I could play it again. Was this done merely to take up time on the cassette? Unknown.

  • Sampling other music sources was not a term used in 1983, that would happen later in the decade, but “The Army Now” was the first song where I identified my first sample source. I immediately know that the song being triggered over and over was The Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. This song sounded very weird to me, as the phrases “the army now” and “tra, la la” were the only parts used, over and over and over over electronically created jazz drums. It was completely weird, and yet that sense of mystery and confusion was one of my early introductions to minimalism and the avant-garde. This seemed to be the “noise” in the group’s “art”. My mom did not understand this song, neither did I, but I enjoyed it, partly because it also served as a bridge between “Beat Box” and the next song.

    “Donna” was sexy in its own way, a mid-tempo mixture of keyboards and synthesizes and what sounded like another human voice. It was that trigger, that human vocal “stab’ that would become a prominent sound for the remainder of the 80′s. I loved the melodies that were going on, both the primary “aaah” and the other melodies during the section half. Then came an orchestral burst from an unknown source, which didn’t fit in with the “aaah”‘s but the interruption of sound made it sound as if it was meant to be there. The orchestral stabs fit in, partly as if a classical recording was meant to be in there, or something cartoonish, like experiencing a Looney Tunes moment. The 1:44 song was perfection.

  • While the vinyl pressing of Into Battle began with “Moments In Love”, my cassette started with the three-song sequence, a mini electronic opera if you will, beginning with “Bright Noise”. My cassette didn’t have time listings for any of the songs, so it would be years before I learned that “Bright Noise”, where the only lyrics involve someone whispering “BRIGHT!…NOISE!”, lasted only six seconds. This goes immediately into “Flesh In Armour”, where the snare drum was loud, the orchestra in the background drove the song along with horn stabs, cut up with the sound of someone scratching a record. Again, a record being scratched on a turntable. The only songs I had heard up until then with a record scratching were McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals” and a song that was influenced by it, Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit”. Why were these random scratches being heard in something that didn’t sound like those songs? After almost 90 seconds, “Flesh In Armour” cuts right into “Comes And Goes”, and this sounded a bit haunting, like a horror movie, primarily because of a vocal stab that reminded me of something out of Friday The 13th, merely a whisper of someone saying “aaaaah!” That made this song more interesting was that as the primary melody played in a 4/4 time signature, the rhythm underneath played at 10/4, although I was left listening to this song for years wondering why the song would go “off track”. I loved it for that reason, where it felt as if the song started one way, was interrupted another way, and ended differently. The song moves gently along, as if it’s about to do something, but never does. It was never meant to go anywhere, to entertain the listener then and there, and only there. Let’s not also forget: the sound of a record being scratched. This three song “mini electronic opera” lasts less than three minutes, and since each of the three sequences sounded completely different from one another, I loved it even more. It was weird and trippy, but I found the three songs to be just as excited as “The Army Now”, “Donna”, and of course “Beat Box”.
  • My cassette ended with the sensual “Moments In Love”, with its gentle melody, electronic bass line, reverbed snaps, another counter-melody and another orchestra from an unknown source. This seemed completely different from the funkiness of “Beat Box” but it fit. I loved the gentle melody that was played over the “noise” and out of nowhere, an actual voice is heard within the mix, saying an actual word: “moments”. It wasn’t “bub bub bub”, “doh doh doh”, “yenom”, “aaaah” or a borrowed “the army now” and “tra la la”. Who was this voice? I had a feeling it was a voice original to the song, so I stayed for the ride. It then leads to a passage way, which then leads to the second portion of the vocals, saying “in love”. It was an electronic and romantic slow dance, and the blend of sounds seemed as if it was stirring something together, but I wasn’t sure what it was. Things move towards a bridge where the key of the song changes, and the vocals come in in a singular fashion: “In”.
    “Love”.

    The aura of the song lowers itself in volume, and The Andrews Sisters return. The phrase “in the army now” is cut to its essence:
    “now”
    “now, now”

    This is then followed by a man moaning “aaaah.”

    What’s going on here? The female “now”‘s are interacting with the male “aaaah”, are these sounds in heat? Are they tickling each other’s fancy? Are they turning the lights down, are they lighting a candle to get romantic? I believe this is beyond romantic. Oh my goodness. OH MY GOODNESS. YES, OH MY… OH YES. IT’S… IT’S… IT’S THE ORGASM!!! CUE THE HARPS!

    The remainder of “Moments In Love” is the afterglow and finally, the vocal chops of “moments” and “in love” unite and become one. Melody, noise, and rhythm are having an orgy and no one wants to stop. There isn’t a need to stop. Don’t stop. After the 10 minute mark, the word “love” is played in two different keys, signaling the inevitable end of the song and for me with my cassette, the end of the Into Battle EP.

  • In the summer of 1984, after moving from Honolulu to the Pacific Northwest, I lived in a street where we had our residential breakdancer/pop locker, a kid by the name of Travis. He felt he had the best jams and absolutely loved Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me”. He didn’t have the record, but I did. He happened to have a copy of the U.S. 45 for Art Of Noise’s “Beat Box”. While I had Into Battle, this was an opportunity to have “Beat Box” on vinyl, so we made a trade. It didn’t involve much, he just said “I want that record, you want to trade it for “Beat Box”?” I said yes, he ran to his house down the street. I gave him the Motown 45, he gave me the record on ZTT/Island and the trade was done. It was with this record where I first heard “Moment In Love”, which I originally thought was a non-LP/EP track. It was nothing more than extracts of “Moments In Love” where you could hear the orchetral stabs and a keyboard melody, along with a completely new drum section. This featured brief stabs of “mo…ments” in there and lasted only 83 seconds or so. It seemed liked something extra but it was cool to hear more “noise” than what was featured in the main song. I didn’t realize until later that “Moment In Love” closed the vinyl pressings of Into Battle, and why was this left off of the U.S. cassette pressing? Unknown.

  • What Into Battle did was made me obey the ways of Trevor Horn. But it also lead to obey the musicianship and musical knowledge of Art Of Noise’s Anne Dudley, Jonathan “J.J. Jeczalik” and engineer Gary Langan. Dudley brought her classical influenc and love of soul into the mix. Jeczalik brought technology and “noise”. Langan also had a hand in the “noise” but also assisted in bringing in the funk, even though it seems that it wasn’t meant to be funky. Or so it has been said.

    All of this would make me into an obsessed fan of the label that provided the music, Zang Tuum Tumb. Better known under its initials, ZTT created something I loved, the idea of someone creating music though real instrumentation and found/borrowed sounds was something I wanted to do. I wanted to create something with that feel, that timing, that extravagance. I would eventually discover other records on ZTT: Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Propaganda, along with Anne Pigalle, Andrew Poppy, and das psych oh rangers. I had to have every record ZTT ever released: the 12″ singles, the alternate 12″ singles, the cassingles, the picture disc, the alternate to the alternates, the promos: everything. For four years, I made an attempt to get everything, all due to the power of what I felt Horn presented on the artists he worked with or approved of.

    As I got into buying the records, I also loved the way the records were packaged, designed, and more importantly, how they were examined and promoted. He was the non-musical member of Art Of Noise and yet it is was his liner notes that arguably had a bigger impact on me than the music itself. As a teenager, I not only wanted to be a producer, but a music artist, perhaps making the kind of music groups like Art Of Noise and Kraftwerk were making. As hip-hop music became more exciting in the late 80′s, it was the sounds of the Bomb Squad, Prince Paul, and the Dust Brothers that made it official: I have to be an artist/producer. Yet the writing found on all of ZTT’s records were interesting because it didn’t read like the kind of notes I found myself loving on the Hawaiian and jazz records I grew up listening to and sitting with. The writing were adventures in itself, sometimes taking me outside of the listening experience and leading me elsewhere. It would sometimes feature references I didn’t understand but would want to do research on so I could figure things out. There were random quotes from people I weren’t familiar with, and yet somehow I felt they were pieces of a puzzle, however abstract. When I bought records on ZTT, each side of the record had its own dedicated phrase. One side may say “A To-Day”, the other would be “B To-Morrow” (as shown on Propaganda’s “Dr. Mabuse” 45). Or the “Two Tribes” 45, where the A-side said “cowboys and indians”, the flip said “doctors and nurses”. Sometimes it made sense, where one could not exist without the other, while others they were just goofy riddles that probably mattered only to the person who created it. I was not raised on the New Musical Express, although I would become aware of his work with them through his work during the ZTT era. While some music journalists may site Lester Bangs or Kurt Loder was influences, it was Paul Morley who moved me to become a journalist, who made me realize the concept of words, interpretation, and (re-)definition was something I enjoyed. I may not have been a wizard with puzzles, but writing was and remains my game of choice. It would be years later before I read Morley’s fantastic book, Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City, where I learned his puzzle playing, associations, and curiosities have been something that had become a part of my life as well. In the early 1980′s, I wanted to be the Hawaiian Trevor Horn. Yet I ended up being someone influenced by the most silent member of Art Of Noise, yet the most vocal.

  • Into Battle may have been nothing more than a mixture of music with noise, or as Morley said on the ZTT Sampled compilation album, a sarcastic “spanner in the works”. Maybe Art Of Noise created music out of the non-musical, or were trying to to make non-music from their music. Maybe their interruption of their program was to say “I can do what youre not doing, and even if I’m not doing, I’m still doing more than you”. It was the sounds of Horn/Dudley/Jeczalik/Langan that not only had a major hand in “Buffalo Gals”, but also created an influential EP by Malcolm McLaren called D’Ya Like Scratchin’, the U.S. catalog number of which is Island 90124-1. Following that was Atco 90125-1, which was Yes’ 90125 album, which brought Yes back from the classic rock bins and showed they could easily be as valid as any of the group’s of the early 1980′s. In fact, when I first heard “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”, I thought it was a non-LP B-Side by The Police. I clearly remember loving “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and riding my bike to Tower Records in the hopes of finding the song. It was not on any Police 45 and it left me confused. When I heard who it was, I know I said “this is Yes?” When I saw Horn’s name in the credits (along with that of Dudley, Jeczalik, and Langan), I started forming pieces to a growing puzzle. A few months later, now living in Washington State, I bought my first Frankie Goes To Hollywood record: the 12″ single to “Two Tribes” at Vinyl Donut. I loved everything about it. Horn’s name was on it.

    Without Into Battle, I do not know if I’d have the same optimism in my teen that I did. My teenage years involved a wealth of music and discoveries. My love of hard rock and heavy metal lead me to thrash, speed, and death metal. My admiration of those styles finally opened me to punk and hardcore, and everything underground. I had already been a fan of rap music and in time, the quality of rap music improved, especially when Def Jam came to be. I found myself going to thrift stores to look for weird records, and i would take a chance on a lot of people and labels I hadn’t heard of. I became a fan of jazz through my dad, but I started to go much deeper with access to my public library, where I borrowed My Favorite Things by John Coltrane and Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock. I had to have more. I wanted all rap music to sound as hard as the beats in an Art Of Noise song, and I felt LL Cool J’s “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” was the first step in making that happen, which also had vocal stabs scratched into it, not unlike an AoN song.

    Into Battle was about beauty, construction, sound, and presence. It was electronic, or at least a new electronic, where sounds could be replayed in four-or-so increments at the time. These sounds had to be triggered live in the studio, and it was done with quality (or at least a 1980′s quality). Yet some of those sounds were very much of the past, and how far into the past, I didn’t know and wouldn’t know until much later. Perhaps it was in the air or that Art Of Noise’s entry into my life was meant to be. I still remember playing “Beat Box” in my old house in Honolulu and my next door neighbor running over to ask me “what is that?” I had Art Of Noise, and he didn’t but he ran over because he had heard the song somewhere else too. It was that important to him, a neighbor whom I would do sound system-style battles with our record players, even if that lead to trying to sync up the same Donna Summer record. We were, in turn, making our own noise.

    Whatever it was, the music of Art Of Noise and Into Battle worked on me and I still get excited hearing it from start to finish, just as I did in late 1983. As I had stated a few months ago, The Police’s Synchronicity album was the last music my dad bought for me before he died. I was going through the motions and found myself wondering where the rest of my life would lead me. I had started the 8th grade, and there were already plans for my family to move to the mainland. It was those last months of 1983 that lead to the type of musical discoveries that remain in my mind forever, the type that made me realize that I could perhaps do “this” too, even though I didn’t know how (nor have the means) to do “this”, whatever I felt “this” was. Into Battle opened the door towards greater doors, uncertain of what I’m looking for but knowing that when I find it, I’ll be either satisfied or looking for more doors to open. To the entire Zang Tuum Tumb empire: thank you for the keys and creating a brick road full of Fairlights, Synclaviers, and elephants that are big. I continue to walk on my own path, always in honor of your presence. One day I will be in England, in the summertime or whatever time, with my love, close to the edge, at the very heart of the city.

  • P.S. I also like the fact that in “Beat Box”, in the “doh doh duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh” sequence, the “duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh” is from the low-voiced man in McLaren’s “D’Ya Like Scratchin’”. Y’all hear that? My ears are forever open in the hopes of hearing that, this, and so much more.

  • DUST IT OFF: Kiss’ solo albums, 35 years later

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    If you were not a Kiss fan in the days before they removed their make-up, you may not fully understand the phenomenon that was Kissmania. Growing up in the mid to late 70′s lead to having respect for a group who made lots of music and was heard on the radio a lot. Of course with Kiss, there were extras, specifically, their make-up, costumes, and on-stage personas. The way they were promoted, at least at my level, was constant magazine coverage. I was a regular reader of 16 magazine, which was a magazine for teens but this was the only magazine with Kiss in it that I could read, perhaps Circus or Hit Parader was too much (or maybe it was a magazine my mom was familiar when she was a teen, so if 16 was good enough for her, it may be good enough for her son). Along with Kiss was a fair share of known groups like the Bay City Rollers, unknown groups like WOWII, and much promotion for Scott Baio, Rex Smith, and John Schneider of The Dukes Of Hazard. Looking back, perhaps 16 was not a magazine meant for me, I wasn’t ripping posters of Henry Winkler or Mark Hamill and pinning them next to my bed but again, it was about Kiss. The output of Kiss merchandise was amazing, and I had the baseball cards and a belt buckle. For a brief moment I thought I may have had their lunch can, but that was limited to Fat Albert and another involving some Marvel comics characters.

    I believe my first Kiss album was the 1978 2-record set for Double Platinum and to obtain it, I had to beg. I would normally get records as gifts, usually 7″ 45′s but for having good grades, I would get a free album and that meant “single LP”. When I would hang out in the record section in department stores or go to record stores, I’d find myself looking over records by Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, Chicago At Carnegie Hall, or The Concert For Bangla Desh and wanting the 3- and 4-record sets. Single LP’s were cool, but to be able to have a box with more records? I wanted that, but that also meant spending $10+ for those, and my family generally had a budget of spending $7.99 or less, which was roughly the “suggested retail price” for albums in the late 70′s. $5.99 meant they were on sale. I remember walking into Woolworth’s in downtown Honolulu with my Austrian grandmother, whom I called my Omama. She knew I loved music and asked me to pick out an album. I saw Double Platinum, I selected it for her and she said “oh, that’s too much”. I acted like I was looking for others but I didn’t want anything else but Double Platinum. I probably made a mock weepy face, I remember her looking at the cashier in frustration, then grabbing the album out of my hands and saying “c’mon”. It was mine. When I brought it home, my mom was pissed. I now had a double album to call my own, just like my uncle did with Miles Davis’ Live Evil. I played the record like crazy.

    A few weeks after starting my 3rd grade year, my family went to Ala Moana Shopping Center, as per the norm for their shopping. The record store was my safe haven, so they knew if they dropped me off there, I would be safe. You probably wouldn’t leave a seven year old kid alone in any store these days, but it was a different time. I loved DJ’s Sound City because as a kid whose lifelong goal was to become a radio disc jockey, I felt that this was my mom away from home, my city for a wanna-be DJ like myself. Since we normally would go to Ala Moana on a weekend because of me going to school on the weekends, I would say that I entered that DJ’s Sound City on a Saturday morning. It was the usual scene: record store with cassettes and 8-tracks to the right, new releases, buttons, and accessories on the left, plus the turntable that played the music which was heard in the store. The jazz section, which I often looked through because of my dad’s love of jazz, usually rotated in the store. Walking towards the back, one could also see the storage where there were posters and boxes, both opened and unopened. I had looked forward to growing up so I could work there. On the left and right walls were usually where all of the new releases were on display, so you’d walk to it, glance at the front and back covers, and consider making a purchase. My walk towards the back would eventually feel as if my world was moving in slow motion, for I saw the greatest site I had ever seen in my entire, close-to-eight year old life. I remember turning my head to the left, not believing the vision in front of me, and I was completely blown away. I know for a fact that I stopped and stared for what felt like an hour or two, even though it may have been only two minutes. I found myself in front of a display involving not one, not two, but four records, each one featuring a member of Kiss. Holy crap, FOUR KISS SOLO ALBUMS?!?!? I didn’t know if I should approach, as if moving closer to paper and cellophane was going to zap the life out of me. It was mysical, it was freaky, it was weird, but it was so damn awesome. FOUR KISS SOLO ALBUMS? Ace Frehley was my hero because he was the Spaceman, and I also thought silver make-up looked cool. The covers were black, and I looked to see if they were photos or paintings. They were indeed paintings. Gene Simmons was the demon, and while I wasn’t exactly scared, holding something that involved the devil was a bit spooky only because my parents taught me that being evil or doing bad things would lure me to hell. But I grabbed his album and loved the fact that he had blood dripping out of his mouth. I then looked at Paul Stanley’s record and he was Mr. Suave, looking perfect for a 16 magazine poster. While I loved the drums, I didn’t grab Peter Criss’ album at all, but it looked cool. My mom walked into the store and in complete excitement, I told her that Kiss had four solo albums. She could care less, but she probably noted how happy I was. Then I made the request for something I had dreamed about, or at least dreamed for two hours (a/k/a two minutes): I wanted all four Kiss solo albums, right there. She said no, grabbed my hand, and walked me out. I’m sure I jumped, stumbled, and pulled my way demanding the records, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen so I accepted it. However, I knew someday I would have all four.

    I did, but not all at once.

    I would get the albums within a two or three month period, in this order: Ace, Gene, Paul, and Peter. Oddly enough, that was in the order I picked them up at DJ’s Sound City. Mock divine luck, or just coincidence? Most likely the latter. I found myself enjoying the albums in that order as well, although I found myself fascinated with Gene’s album for how different it was and even today, I still go back and forth on who had the better album of the four: Ace or Gene?


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    Ace Frehley’s album was the best of the four. Outside of the coolness factor, I liked his guitar work and voice, and his album rocked from start to finish. Kiss were a rock band, a hard rock band, and to me that’s what an album from a member of Kiss should sound like. “Rip It Out” started the album and it was great to hear him play without the band. Liberating? I wasn’t using that word at the age of 7 or 8, but it was awesome and I wanted to hear more, and I did. “Speedin’ Back To My Baby” was co-written with his sister Jeanette, whose name was similar to my sister’s, so I’m sure I thought “wow, Ace has a Jeanette, just like me.” Then the album gets into “Snow Blind”, which most likely lead me to wonder how snow could make someone blind before I learned years later that it may have been a reference to cocaine. “Ozone”, with its slightly meditative drones and vocal harmonies, moved me even though I didn’t know how. “New York Groove” was the poppiest song of the bunch, and it definitely grooved a long to where you didn’t mind singing this along in front of everyone, a friendly song. I loved “Wiped Out” because its title reminded me of the popular surf song by The Surfaris, “Wipe Out”, and maybe, just maybe, Frehley was, I don’t know, surfing? Most likely not. My favorite song on the album would be the one that closes it, “Fractured Mirror”. It begins with the sound of a church bell before the guitar is faded in, and I liked how there were different guitar melodies and riffs in this, done through multi-track recording. Most of the song is played with a limited amount of chords, with Frehley playing in between them, with a brief passage that served as the song’s bridge, before it fades out as it began, but with the guitar now double tracked so that it would echo with itself. It’s an instrumental piece, but I liked how it closed the album and when I play the album in full, everything builds up to that grand moment.

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    If Frehley’s album felt liberating in some fashion, Gene Simmons’ album was a different type of liberation. I remember the first time I dropped the needle on the record and heard the laughter that welcomes the listener in. Again, as kids we believed in their characters, so this was the sound of a demon laughing, it was Lord Satana smiling and giggling, followed by an orchestra and what sounded like a choir (in truth, multi-layered vocals from Janis Ian), pulling in everyone who dared listen. Then the guitars and bass came in, and he started to sing:
    You’re my food, you’re my water
    you’ve got to be the devil’s daughter
    can’t get near, can’t get far
    you’ve got the power, but know who you are

    He then revealed that the woman in question was “Radioactive”, complimented by nice background vocals. The devil’s daughter, I thought, so he’s talking to *his* daughter? All I knew back then was that Gene portrayed the demon, I knew he was a character but wasn’t fully aware just yet on what it meant to be devilish. Then the next song comes on, and what I liked about “Burning Up With Fever” was the count-in, the off-notes of the guitar leading Simmons to say with a smirk “lovely”, before he talks about a feeling that he just can’t hide. As I was someone who read liner notes and album credits, it was a trip to learn it was Donna Summer who did the background vocals. Also, as someone whose record collection seemed to be filled with many releases on Casablanca Records, it seemed to make sense that Summer and Simmons would join, but wasn’t aware of any other unions that may or may not have had. Each song on Side 1 had explored different themes, moods, and emotions, and it felt weird realizing Simmons was…nice? I would say today that it showed a more emotional, perhaps human side to the man behind the mask, which he’d touch on with “Man of 1,000 Faces”, but tracks like “Tunnel Of Love”, “See You Tonite”, and “True Confessions”, the latter featuring singer Helen Reddy, just didn’t seem like it was the music from the devil. Yet this devil seemed cool, approachable, but with caution. Flipping the record over to Side 2, I loved “Living In Sin” from the opening drums to the heavy breathing Simmons was making. Again, a dark soul from hell was saying “I know you write me sexy letter”, but the next line, I had initially interpreted as “and you send your pictures for my war”. For years, I wondered why anyone would send photographs for war, until I learned he actually said “and you send your pictures for my wall”. Looking at the back cover again, I learned it was Cher who was the recipient of the phone call in the song, which again made sense, since Cher had just been signed to Casablanca. Again, I was not aware of any other unions that the two may or may not have yet. I also really liked “”See You in Your Dreams” because it reminded me of the type of pop/soul that one could hear on the radio or on TV, and while I was not aware of who she was, it was Katey Sagal who handled the background vocals on it and a number of other tracks on the record. I wouldn’t know until much later that Sagal was in a group who were also signed to Casablanca, and as the story goes, unions, not happening, etc. The weirdest song was the one that wrapped things up, his rendition of Jimini Cricket’s “When You Wish Upon A Star”. Is this guy, the demon of the band, going Disney? It was tacky, corny, cheesy, and I’ll throw in kitschy as well, complete with an orchestra and lush background vocals, and the fact that it seemed so much unlike him made the whole thing work, eventually reaching the high note at the album where it sounds like he actually unleashed a tear from his evil eye. A tear equal to the drip of the blood that poured from his mouth. Awesome.

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    Even though Paul Stanley was my third favorite member of Kiss, he was the vocalist of some of my favorite Kiss songs: “Detroit Rock City”, “Do You Love Me”, “Strutter”, “Love Gun”, “100,000 Years” and the intro to “Black Diamond”, so there was always respect for him. His album began with a ballad, or at least that’s how “Tonight You Belong to Me” before it rocked out afterwards. Stanley’s record would show a love for pop craftiness and ballad, which some might have been taken aback by but again, he was the Starchild, the man who pucked lovingly for the ladies, so maybe this was his romantic side. “It’s Alright” was a solid rocker from him, while “Hold Me, Touch Me (Think of Me When We’re Apart)” sounded much like a lot of the songs on the radio at the time, what is now known as yacht rock, but it fit his character. I’m certain that this was and remains a personal favorite for some Kiss fans, but no one expected it to be pure pop, even though Kiss were having an overwhelming amount of pop success. Maybe people expected for Peter Criss to dish out the pop, since he had hits with “Beth” and “Hard Luck Woman”, which maybe lead some to feel that it would be he to dish out the true pop album.

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    Criss’ solo album was one that received the worst reviews and partly because of them, sold the less. In fact, as this was the last of the four I received from my parents, by the time I obtained my copy, it already had a cut-out mark on it, which to me meant it wasn’t good enough so they had to sell it cheap. I would later learn that with some releases on Casablanca, they would often ship an overwhelming amount of records for release day, only to learn not everyone could afford to buy all four in one crack, which would leave a lot of unwanted copies at stores, thus were given a cut-out hole or notch in the hopes of clearing them out.

    In truth, Criss’ album was not bad at all and was probably the most human of the four, in that it sounded more like an album that would’ve been made by George Peter Criscuola of Brooklyn, not the mysterious CatMan. It sounded like songs one could easily hear on the radio or at the jukebox from the corner bar, especially his cover of “Tossin’ And Turnin’”, which was the first song I really liked because it was familiar to me. Other tracks like “Rock Me, Baby”, “I Can’t Stop The Rain”, and “Hooked On Rock’N’Roll” showed the rock’n’roll spirit that swept him and the other members of Kiss in their youth, but Criss wasn’t afraid to reveal it. It had an old feel, and with a group such as Kiss, you wanted to feel as if you were listening to music of the now or the future, not what happened before. Maybe surprisingly, Criss’ album was the only one of the four that spawned two singles, even though the other three had a wealth of songs that were potential hits. Hit singles, they weren’t, but people still loved Criss because he remained and will always be Kiss’ Catman.


    A month after Kiss released these solo albums, they would release their made-for-TV movie, Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park. For those of us who loved the idea of having four new releases by the members of the band, perhaps it was this movie that made some feel that this was the beginning of that high rise to the top. Some wondered if anyone in the band could act, or maybe it was that Simmons seemed believable and that the others should not act. For many, it was the first time fans got a chance to see Paul, Gene, Ace & Peter move, but it seemed a bit too out-of-place. Kiss may have been for the youth even though their lyrics were often very adult themed, so to see them being involved in things that were child-like, along the lines of the Banana Splits, was something not many wanted to see. It would be another seven months before the band was heard from again, when they released Dynasty. At this point, Kiss had a completely new look and now had a song that was considered their entry way into disco, “I Was Made For Loving You”, and that broke a lot of people’s hearts. It didn’t break mine, it sounded different but the song had always been cool to me, even though I was more of a “2000 Man” and “X-Ray Eyes” fan. While this was billed as the return for the band, it also started the next level of their downfall. While Criss was considered a failure with his pop solo album, the band were eventually turning into the pop band they didn’t originally set out to be. Dynasty would be the last album Criss played on and when the 80′s began, no one was sure if Kiss would continue on or fade away. We now know that they not only continued, but would reveal themselves without make-up, perhaps losing the magic we all felt the group had, but still rocking out strong.

    Nothing will take away the power of glancing at those four solo albums in September 1978, as if their glares transmitted some kind of power to listen and “buy me. No wait, buy us all.” We wanted Kiss stuff like we wanted Hot Wheels and Tyco cars, and we got them in abundance. As Kiss, we didn’t know or care about some of the stories they were singing about, and yet the group seem to make a shift at the moment we wanted them to continue rocking our worlds. Maybe they knew, maybe their fans were getting older, I’m sure there is a college course that has looked into the phenomenon far deeper than I could. While I was aware of who Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were, I only knew about Young’s solo work, so to me, Kiss were the kings of the solo album and I thought that all groups should have their members release their own work. When I’d get into The Beatles, I had been aware of who John, Paul, George, and Ringo were but didn’t piece things together that they do released solo albums, primarily after their split. In hip-hop, groups like Digital Underground and the Wu-Tang Clan would spawn solo and group contracts, and the more music there was, the merrier I was. But in 1978, my music loving self was realizing that music could be so much more than the few 45′s and albums my parents bought me, and the songs I heard on the radio in Honolulu. The Kiss solo albums made me understand that the possibilities were endless, and I wanted to explore those possibilities, hoping all of my favorite groups would do more music with their own separate releases. It didn’t happen with most of them, but it felt like a revival when Digital Underground and the Wu-Tang brought back that mentality to the industry in the early to mid 1990′s. These days, anyone and everyone can release their own projects for purchase and for free, and maybe that magic no longer exists, but I’d still like to think that if a group surfaces with that kind of fan devotion, it could happen again.

    DUST IT OFF: Rap Reiplinger’s “Poi Dog”…35 Years Later

    As a kid who grew up with a wealthy share of television sitcoms, perhaps it was inevitable that I would also embrace the comedy album. Then again, while both can be independent from one another, I would eventually discover that most of the funny people on TV I had enjoyed were comedians. With parents who were fairly open and a grandmother whose love of comedy was much more risque than I had realized, I discovered the dirtier side of Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor. Some of my aunties and uncles had Pryor’s albums too, and it was cool to read the covers and see the track listings, only to realize that I couldn’t say some of the titles. In time, I wanted to know what type of comedy existed in Honolulu. Through my grandfather, I discovered Kent Bowman, a white comedian who would go into a character as a local boy, complete with a pidgin English dialect. Bowman’s routines were very much the type of “talk story” tales one would hear in a garage, park, or luau and with an album that was considered explicit called No Talk Stink, it is what I wanted to hear. They seemed dirty and “kolohe” (rascal) then, but is fairly tame by today’s standards. They were bar stories, but fun bar stories, even if as a kid I didn’t understand some of it.

    Through listening to the radio, I had heard of a Hawaiian comedy group called Booga Booga. These guys had played a nightclub in downtown Honolulu and were always praised for their hilarious routines, stuff that was considered too dirty for radio so naturally as a kid, I wanted to hear it. With my mom, we would sometimes walk past the club where there were Booga Booga posters on the front window, and I wanted to know who was Booga Booga, had to know what they looked like. They were a huge mystery to me. I’d see the front album covers at record stores, but that was it. A news story came out around 1977 or so which talked about how one of the members had left, and if that would lead to the break-up of Booga Booga. It was then announced that the member who left was trying out comedy on his own, and that he would be releasing his own album. In the summer of 1978, I went to a record store, most likely House Of Music, and went into the Hawaiian section. It was there I saw a photo of a man: half of him presented as the typical Hawaiian working man, complete with aloha shirt, work shoes, ‘ukulele on the side, and his hand presenting a shaka that was dipped in a poi bowl. The other half of him was a typical Hawaiian tita: a tube top that barely contained what was in there, nylons, a cigarette, his foot on top of a wine bottle, and face with lipstick and eye shadow. Was he half mahu (gay)? Did he want to be a woman? Was it a metaphor for the different cultures that existed in Hawai’i, which also represented the ethnicities he was? As a 7 year old kid, the picture seemed so weird and yet he seemed proud to show off who he was, whatever he was. Shaka covered in poi? I had to hear it.

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    Poi Dog would become one of the most influential comedy albums in my life, and I know I embraced it because it was local (Hawaiian) comedy, done by someone who looked like he could have been a relative. I may not have been his target audience then, but the routines I could understand were hilarious. It was obvious that he was poking fun at the different ethnicities of Hawai’i, cultural humor that was very much a reflection of himself, such as “Portuguese Huddle”, which involved a football team of Portuguese kids who are about to play at the championship game, but only have one important thing in mind: eating. It then leads to the realization that when it comes to a cheer, they’re unable to count past a certain point:

    This leads into a great recreation of the old radio soap opera, but reflecting on a Hawai’i before it became a state and a territory. It touches on a young Hawaiian couple who are in love, but have to deal with a cockroach in the lady’s shoe, and what must be done to get rid of it. This leads to a radio spot/commercial for lau lau, covering in-depth what is inside the eight pound beast before getting into some playful double entendre. The soap opera comes back, and we now realize that the lady is now in the family way. By the end, we now learn that “The Young Kanakas” will not be returning due to the coming of “The Young Missionaries”, which may sound like a new soap opera but is actually code for “the white people are coming”.

    “Room Service” is a phone conversation between a tourist named Mr. Fogerty, who is calling for room service from his room, specifically to have a meal. There are problems with this meal, for Mr. Fogerty has an American accent and the room service lady can’t quite understand his dialect. Throughout the call, room service lady feels open to suggesting one of the Hawaiian specials: the first one featuring pickled pig’s feet with Spanish rice on mashed potatoes, a choice of dressing on top of the fruit cup, and a choice of bread or toast. When the room service lady asks for a second special, Russell, the cook in the kitchen, yells out “nothing”. Thus, only one special is available. Mr. Fogerty (or as the receptionist says in her Hawaiian accent, “Mr. Frogtree”) sounds very frustrated in how a simple order can take so long to be made, which leads to the cook in the kitchen to fool around with the receptionist, leading her to say “you do that again, I going karang your ala’s (i.e. “hit you in the balls”) The order is not completed.

    A series of “Haikus” follows up, spoken with a Japanese accent but covering different local stories of the island, including Filipinos, being stuck out in the country surrounded by Samoans, finding yourself in a ladies restroom and not knowing what happened, along with finding oneself at the bank when it is closed.

    “Mahalo Airlines” has Reiplinger portraying an airline stewaress telling her passengers about the flight to come, safety precautions, and some of the hazards that may come if the plane suddenly falls into danger.

    “Fate Yanagi” opens up Side 2 and is based on those tragedy pop songs of the early 60′s, and is specifically a parody of “Tell Laura I Love Her”. It features nothing but Reiplinger and an acoustic guitar, where he, as a surfer who knew he had to catch the big wave while surfing, and is basically a message for his girlfriend that he loves and needs her, and if he must part, she shouldn’t cry but as a final message, he tells her don’t go out with “that other guy”, Mits Funai. In the version he did for his one and only TV special, Rap’s Hawai’i, Reiplinger tells the listener that the song was written before he had massive brain damage.

    It then leads to the greatness that is the “Lolo Telethon”. The word “lolo” is Hawaiian for someone who is dumb or stupid, so the fact that there would be a telethon for lolo people was funny. This hit home because any of us who were kids living in Hawai’i probably had parents who told us at one point that we were lolo, or kids who shouldn’t do dumb and stupid things. In Hawai’i, one could also watch or attend the local coverage of the Easter Seals and Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, so the idea that we could have our own telethon sounded great, even if it was meant to represent the HHH Institute: The Hawaiian Hospiital for the Helplessly Lolo. One was then able to hear some of the talent that would be playing at the telethon, everyone from Auntie Agnes Kealoha and her gourds, the Pohaku Four (or Five), The Gangi Barange Connection (which was notable for me, as one of my dad’s best friends was a Portuguese guy named Freddy Barange), that unusual dog act from Ewa Beach, and let’s not forget the Sunny Ah Fook Orchestra with the irrepressable voice of Winona Santos. I mean c’mon, who wouldn’t want all of that talent in one place? This then leads to a plea for money and the chant “Bucks For Lolos”, which my friends and I in the third grade used to chant because we were all proud to be lolo. The “Lolo Telethon” seemed like our own telethon, and we all wanted to be on it or watch, even though we knew very well that it didn’t exist. In our hearts, though, it did.

    “Date-A-Tita” was very cool for me, because of the way Reiplinger, as Auntie Nellie Kulolo, said the word “Tita”. I had an auntie whose real name was Linda, but as a kid, since I couldn’t pronounce Linda properly, it came out as Tita (“tee-tah”). In this case, Auntie Nellie was representing a dating service for a tita (“tih-tah”). In Hawai’i, a tita is a rough, local/Hawaiian woman who doesn’t take any bullshit from anyone. He is a strong, confident, and will probably beat you and any relatives up if you mess with her. As Auntie Nellie introduces the service, she tells potential customers “boys, you know sitting at home trying women’s underwear can get real stale, and lonely to boot. So go take Auntie’s advice: go out, have fun, and do it with a girl.” She makes reference to a need to go out with one’s kind, as in “don’t take a haole girl when you have plenty local girls waiting for you”, along with wearing a tag that shows that you are the man and she is a woman, so that other people can tell the both of you apart. Plus, “special kama’aina rates” are available for those Hawaiians who don’t have money, which is to suggest that some Hawaiians don’t have too much cash, but one must experience the dating experience instead of putting on panty hose for fun. If one does date-a-tita, it can also involve getting personally involved with her family members, all of which may sound stereotypical but as the saying goes, the best stereotypes are true.

    “Local Argument #7″ is a typical local argument done in Hawai’i, perhaps out in the country, between two friends. It begins with one man asking why did they agree to meet somewhere and when one guy went to the destination, he wasn’t there. The other guy states that he was on the way when he was at the meeting place, how come he didn’t call him? The first person asks how could he call when he was already on his way? It leads to the debate of what should and shouldn’t have been done. In an era where there are iPhones, this verbal transaction might not happen today unless he didn’t have easy access to Wi-Fi. It may be impossible for the non-pigeon minded to understand, but it simply involves trying to come to an understanding as to why these two friends didn’t meet, and what could have been done to make it better and easier, without hassle.

    “Loving You Is Surfing You” is a man telling a love story to his lady, where she is represented as a surfboard, and the metaphors of the ocean and the reef are used to describe his love for her.

    The album ends with “Japanese Roll Call”, where a foreman at the workplace makes sure everyone is there at the place of employment before they begin their day. He calls out Tanemisu, Misuyoshi, Yoshimura, Murakami, Kamikawa, Kawamatsu, Matsutaka, Takahashi, and as you can see, the half of one man’s last name becomes the first half of the next man’s name and continues on playfully until the piece ends, with the hope that everyone who has to be there is there.


  • Hearing this was like opening the door to everyone at school, next door neighbors, and friends of our parents. Most of us were of mixed ethnicity, so the issue that I was Hawaiian/Chinese/Portuguese/Filipino/German/Austrian was not an issue, but rather a stamp of pride. It meant that our families were much better, and the fact that Reiplinger was making fun of these qualities while showing pride for it too was something to admire. We weer as mixed up as a puppy that was a “poi dog”, or as mixed up as something as simple as eating hot dogs with poi. We were all mixtures, so Poi Dog was very much about us, the us we were to become, and the us we wanted to be. Maybe this was the “us” that was embarrassing, but we also loved the fact that we could be who we were, without outside issues.

    As a kid who used cassette players who record my voice for no reason other than to hear myself, I loved the fact that Reiplinger created all of the voices (male and female) and played all of the instruments on it, which included keyboards, ‘ukulele, guitar, and drums. Even though there was a list on the back cover with all of the musicians playing on it (i.e. the drummer was Sticks Cabang, while one of the other musicians was the Portagee genius Sterling Silva), it showed that all of the people on the album were Reiplinger himself. I know I thought “wow, how did this guy make all of these sounds and make all of these voices at once?” While I would learn about multi-track recording through listening to, exploring, and doing research on The Beatles, I had never heard a comedy album recorded in this fashion before. Up until then, albums by Foxx, Pryor, and Bowman were live performances. The idea that one person could make all of these voices, in one studio, and have it mixed to sound like there were many people there, blew me away, and I wanted to make sounds just like that.

    Perhaps the most bizarre thing about the album was the back cover, featuring a old photo of a hula girl (Reiplinger’s mom or relative?) with an accompanying fan letter for Rap, written in a slightly suggestive manner. I know I thought “what is this little girl doing, writing in this manner to a grown-up?” but I hadn’t been aware that Reiplinger had been more suggestive before. When I finally found a Booga Booga album and listened to it, I then understood some of the suggestive overtones that Reiplinger would do. Reiplinger played it fairly safe on Poi Dog, even though it was still somewhat risque for its time. No one ever said “karang your ala’s” on a record, yet regardless of its tone and rough language (at least in Hawai’i), every track was heard on KCCN, which back then was the only Hawaiian radio station on Oahu. It was also played on pop stations KKUA and KIKI. Everyone was proud that a local boy could make a comedy record that was this funny, an album where people were remembering the routines word for word. I remember going to Royal Elementary School, and during a school assembly, the son of the lady who ran the cafeteria did a one-sided version of the “Room Service” routine. It was one-sided because he only did the part of the room service receptionist, and no one was there to play Mr. Fogerty. All of us sat in the cafeteria, looked at each other, and said without words “what is this?” We all knew the routine, but it seemed like half a conversation. We all offered him half-hearted applause.

    Poi Dog made me want to become a comedian, a dream that remains unfulfilled, although I try to slip in a few humorous things in my writing. With Reiplinger came Andy Bumatai, a Filipino comic from Waianae who, like Reiplinger, was signed to Mountain Apple. While Reiplinger didn’t mind being suggestive, Bumatai was a little safer in his style but just as funny. He released a small number of albums but what made him become a comedian to watch were his two TV specials, Andy Bumatai’s High School Days and All In The Ohana. Any of us who watched them could relate to the characters he portrayed, because we either wanted to be like them, or had relatives who were like them. Reiplinger and Bumatai represented then then-new school of comedy, and we were proud to call them our own.

    Reiplinger would follow up Poi Dog with other albums, including the great Crab Dreams, and it would eventually lead to his first and only TV special, Rap’s Hawai’i. Some of the routines on this album would be visualized for the first time, and it showed how funny and playful he was, whether he played a stuttering priest, Auntie Marialani with her cooking show, or the brain damaged surfer with a heart. While he was able to finish production of Rap’s Hawai’i, he didn’t live to see his influence on countless other comedians and comedic writers, as he died from drug-related causes in 1984 at the age of 33. While he has left a void that will never be touched, comedy in Hawai’i has never stopped and continues to thrive with such comedians/actors as Frank DeLima, Augie Tulba, Bu La’ia, and Paul Ogata, among many. Reiplinger was definitely not the first funny person of Hawai’i, but when he departed from Ed Ka’ahea and James Grant Benton to form his own legacy away from Booga Booga, he said things that made everyone pay attention immediately. He spoke about us, laughed at and with us, because he was us, and we were him. James Kawika Piimauna Reiplinger, mahalo nui for your mind and humor, and your presence in my lifetime. If you had become the old grandpa that you portrayed in Rap’s Hawai’i, you would have been even more righteous.
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  • DUST IT OFF: Guy’s self-titled debut album… 25 years later

    Soul and R&B were at a very unique place in the late spring of 1988. On one end, you had a number of artists still carrying on the traditions of the styles from the mid to late 70′s. You had a good share of artists who were also utilizing pop music formulas to create their hits. There were a growing amount of dance music offshoots that were heavily influenced by soul but couldn’t be called that with distinction. The growing rise of rap music’s popularity did leave many wondering if the ways of soul were dying. James Brown was still making music, but “Living In America” sounded nothing like “The Payback”, “Papa Don’t Take No Mess”, or “Licking Stick – Licking Stick”. The success of Prince’s career post-Purple Rain left many wondering if the Minneapolis man was soul, funk, rock, new wave, or pop, and when he embraced them all, that confused even more people, yet what he was doing showed how strong he was to music as a whole. The production of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis lead to the great success of Janet Jackson’s Control, showing people that there was someone else from the Jackson household that could make incredible music. That lead to many people wanting to look and sound like Prince and Janet Jackson, they created the sounds everyone wanted to achieve. That’s not to say Michael Jackson wasn’t someone to look up to, but one becomes untouchable when you influence a group of people to impersonate you. However, there was something brewing in Harlem, something that was not expected but when it came, it seemed to arrive at the precise moment.

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    By the time Guy released their self-titled debut album on June 13, 1988, the lineup on the cover was obsolete. The group had a vocal line-up of Aaron Hall and Timmy Gatling, but by the time the group had finished the recording of Guy (MCA), Gatling had left to try out a solo career. When the group had released their first video for “Groove Me”, there was a new man in his spot, Aaron’s brother Damion, and they would solidify the lineup and face of Guy. Created by producer Teddy Riley, Guy was his way of getting out a vocal group that could pull off the kind of music he wanted to create himself: a mixture of soul and R&B stylings, a hint of gospel, but also bringing in some of the elements that made hip-hop music work. No one in soul at the time was truly tapping into the essence of what made hip-hop work, except by bringing in a rapper to drop a verse. What Riley ended up doing was creating an all new sub-genre, bringing in something that would keep the people moving while showing the old heads what the new heads could do. This was new jack swing, and Guy were very responsible for a sound that is still tapped into, 25 years after the fact.

    Guy’s album may seem formulaic from the outside: start the album with some great songs that will rev up the listener, move into some groove that are laid back, get them into a slow jam, come back for a refresher, move them into another slow jam, and then end the album on a bright and positive note. That is essentially the template for many soul/R&B albums, a formula that generally works with the right amount of talented people. For whatever reason, the Guy formula worked, and it all started with the immortal “Groove Me”.

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  • The magic may have started out with the video, as the group found themselves standing out in their slick and cool gear, impressed by a lady walking by, but was it Aaron Hall’s suggestive ways that brought people in? Many singers would say “hey”, “ho”, and “yeah” in their lyrics on a casual basis, but looking back, it seems like he’s singing “ho, really like the way you groove me”, and after the vocalized “groove me”, he responds with “ho”. As simple as that may be, one could also see how suggestive it was, or that it may allude to something else, a sign of Hall’s true desires.

    Suggestiveness aside, the keyboards and synths were a bit more than something you might hear in a song by Atlantic Starr or Starpoint, it was lush and full bodied, not unlike the way Prince would utilize it in his own recordings. However, there was also something else in the song that hooked many, or at least hooked the ear of anyone who loved hip-hop music: the very brief organ sample from The Mohawks’ “The Champ”. It would only take the chopping of three notes from the original song created by Alan Hawkshaw to ignite the start of the storm.

    There were also two other essential ingredients: the use of a single word (“funky”) from James Brown’s “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” and another word from “My Thang” (“yeah”) that would contribute to this moving instrumental. No one in soul music was using the sounds from another record, so this seemed revolutionary, leading me to say “wait a minute, these guys are doing what the rappers are doing”, but making it soulful and funky with their brand of boom bap. It was revolutionary, and it was the start of something major.

    As for the video for “Groove Me”, it was to be expected that if you were not Michael or Janet Jackson, your video would have a lower budget than your pop (read “white”) counterparts. The atmosphere of the video looked like a cross between a sweaty evening at a hot nightclub and high school or college assembly, complete with dancers wearing what look like cheerleader or stepping outfits. You have the sexy ladies showing a good amount of this and that, the men who wanted to show and prove, but what did it for me, what truly sealed the deal, was seeing the dancer in the video wearing a Public Enemy T-shirt, one I had myself, behind her denim jacket:
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    This was not something you’d see in a soul or R&B video, someone/anyone wearing the T-shirt of another artist. That was the rock and heavy metal thing to do, but here she was, grooving on the wall, almost as if she’s saying “I’m down with rap music, I am a public enemy, and yes, you may be able to groove me if you’re lucky”. For me, the video builds up to that moment right before everyone on the dance floor is getting down to the point of no return after the false breakdown. When Riley tells the listener that “it ain’t over” and that “the party’s not ever”, I absolutely went nuts. It was as if he was bringing back various elements in music that had been considered old or forgotten, or untapped in soul, and resurrected the goodness. There was no way anyone would dare attempt to do the same. The jump and groove in the song was different, there were extra beats heard throughout, as if there was a nice Latin touch/tinge at hand, and the constant repetitive James Brown and Mohawks sample stabs: I wanted to know who this was, what it was, and how could I get down with the program. It was glorious.

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  • On the album, “Groove Me” was followed up with an egotistical yet powerful song, not quite an instrumental but not having enough lyrics to where it could be considered something worthy for the radio. Or so they thought. “Teddy’s Jam” was the quickest way to let people know that Teddy Riley was the boss, for this was “his” jam, his track, the reason this music exists. Taking a hint from “Groove Me”, it also borrows a quick “tramp” vocal from The Mohawks’ “The Champ” along with Trouble Funk’s “Pump Me Up”, laid over atop some gorgeous keyboard and synth lines, and a bass synth. If “Groove Me” didn’t move you to dance, “Teddy’s Jam” would because it seemed fun and jubilant.

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  • With “Don’t Clap…Just Dance”, one realized that Aaron Hall’s vocal style owed a lot to Charlie Wilson of The Gap Band, those rich and husky tones that caused women to sweat and pant, and guys just giving it up for the funk. The way Hall sings this song is interesting, for he adds space and dimension to the meaning of the song, in anticipation of the true meaning behind the lyrics:
    “You know, girl, as I look into your eyes
    you got me hypnotized
    my tem…
    …perature’s about to rise
    oh, just get up on the floor
    baby, go for yours
    ’cause, I know that’s what you came here for”

    Add that with some of the countermelodies Riley is playing behind Hall’s voice, and there’s that bit of that something which is irresistible, wanting to hear more of what is being offered.

  • What comes next is the first of two songs featuring a lead vocal from Timmy Gatling, the excellent “You Can Call Me Crazy”, complete with a vocal lisp. The instrumental in this became the template for almost everyone from this point on: the snare drum snap, the vocal harmonies, the keyboard elegance, a nice sub-chorus, the vocal stabs, you can hear how everyone from Al B. Sure! to Tevin Campbell would take hints from this song, and most likely, Teddy Riley had something with those productions too. On Side 1 of the album, “You Can Call Me Crazy” is one of many highlights. (NOTE: After posting this article, a video has come to my attention where Riley reveals that Al B. Sure! handled the second verse, so he wasn’t taking possible hints, he was creating them. I always felt the background vocals were an uncredited B. Sure, but never the lead. Start the video below and head to the 22:30 mark for the beginning of the discussion about “You Can Call Me Crazy”.)

  • After four great dance floor tracks, Side 1 ends on a mellow note with Guy‘s first slow jam, the song that will forever be known as the one where Aaron Hall did or didn’t say the words “dumb bitch” at the 0:47 mark. It would be funny, as it seems to go back to what Hall made clear in “Groove Me”, saying “groove me, ho!” Here, the background vocals are saying “you can have a piece of my love” with Hall offering words that very much sound like “dumb bitch”. Maybe that attitude was appropriate, for the lyrics touch on things of his past, presenting himself as a bad boys of sorts, a player, but for “a little while”, you may indeed have a piece of his love. He may be with someone somewhere else tomorrow, but right now is the right time for Aaron. It is uncertain on how true these lyrics were, or whether it was written as a bit of an R&B bad boy romantic tale, but it worked and ended the first side on a barely delicate note.

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  • “I Like” opens Side 2 on a positive note, with the lyrics being a bit more poetic but also simple, especially the slight lullaby-ish melody that Hall sings in the song’s last minute. The core of the song tells the tale of what they like, with the background vocals saying “I like the way”, followed by Hall explaining the ways he is lured in by ones beauty:
    “my dreams are now reality
    each and every time, you are hear with me
    the touch you give me with your hands
    when you caress my skin, I’m under your command
    girl, you hypnotize me with your eyes
    it took me some time, now I realize
    it’s you to whom which I belong
    I love it, the feeling’s getting strong”

    It’s basically a song about a woman jacking him off, isn’t it? What she does is bringing out Aaron Hall’s ecstasy.

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  • The second song on Side 2 was also the album’s second single, the video of which begins in the same way “Groove Me” ends, with Riley stating “it ain’t over”. The musical cue was a way to let listeners know that this was the follow-up, as Hall shows more of his vocal stylings while throwing more sexual hints. If a relationship will lead to marriage, there’s still an obstacle that you must do:
    You can get this ring, if you can ride this thing

    As he states earlier in the song, he is the sole controller of his merry-go-round, and once she gets off, there is no telling when it’s going to end. We don’t know what will end, or if it responds to her rear end, but we know it involves riding it.

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  • While Riley had his own “Jam” on the other side of the album, he decided to make his true vocal debut in “Spend The Night”, which by title along could have been the most suggestive song. However, we would learn in later years that Riley is someone who never wanted to sing explicit lyrics, thus the reason this song mentions “milk and cookies” and how “we can do the nasty without no interrupts”. On the single version, Riley also adds a rap to the proceedings, which helped to open up the possibilities of other artists working with him, if he was open to do so. Throughout “Spend The Night”, Riley and Aaron Hall would interact each other as they both describe who they want to spend the night with. On the album version, Aaron introduces each member of the group to a lady but in the single version, it may very well be the same lady. Nonetheless, as the album’s sixth and final single, this would also mark a slight change in how Riley produced his works and what Guy would become with their follow-up album, as Riley’s presence in the lead would become more dominant. Right before the release of “Spend The Night”, the song “My Fantasy” was released, credited to “Teddy Riley featuring Guy”. It was released on the soundtrack to the Spike Lee joint Do The Right Thing, and the song would help to put Riley on the map for good.
  • “Goodbye Love” was the album’s second slow jam, featuring the vocals of Tammy Lucas. (NOTE: In the original version of this article, I posted that it was Mary J. Blige who handled the vocals, but she would have been 16 at the time, which would have been unlikely considering the timeline of her career.) After Aaron Hall shared a bit (maybe too much) of his swagger, he appears here in a song of heartbreak, not wanting to tear her heart but knowing that maybe it is best.
  • The album closes on a mid-tempo note with the second of two tracks featuring Gatling on lead vocal, “My Business”. It seems to end the album on either a “to be continued” note or “we lost the inspiration, let’s just fill the record up with this one”. It would have been more appropriate to close the album with “Goodbye Love” as a way to also say goodbye to the listener, but if anything, “My Business” showed that if there is a group that would make late 80′s soul and R&B something worth listening to again, it was Guy. For a little over a year, the hits from this album seemed non-stop and that was fairly good considering the two albums that would be released the following week in 1988: Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel and New Edition’s Heartbreak. Not only was quality soul/R&B reaching a new level, but it seemed MCA Records was the hottest record label in the land, and they were. Whatever magic was happening at those NYC and New Jersey recording studios at the time, it worked.

    Maybe looking back at Guy is a way of looking back at what we were like when younger, when love, romance, and sex was everything to look for and perhaps fear at times. We were tempted to play with, among many things, emotions, even though we couldn’t quite figure things out. We would learn right from wrong, but suffer many times when wrong got in the way. Nonetheless, it showed that soul music was one of hip-hop music’s roots and that it still had a lot to say and prove, and it was going to be said with some new kids on the block. Funky? YEAH!

    (P.S. When I bought and collected all of the 12″ singles from Guy’s album, I had made my own custom tape because MCA didn’t bother releasing one in the same way they did for Bobby Brown and Jody Watley. It featured all of the extended versions I had at the time, and I called the tape One, Two, Three…Swing It!, which I ended up playing for years.)

  • DUST IT OFF: The Police’s “Synchronicity”…30 Years Later

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    By the time The Police had released their fifth album, they were already known for their semi-exotic or confusing album titles: Outlandos d’Amour, Regatta De Blanc, and Zenyatta Mondatta. Okay, maybe the first two were not confusing if you knew French, but as a kid I asked what was Zenyatta Mondatta, and what kind of song title is “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”? I had first became aware of The Police when they played in Honolulu in the late 1970′s when they played at the University of Hawai’i. They were the new wave of bands from England, and their concert was highlighted on a show that aired on KGMB-9 called The Hawaiian Moving Company. Eventually, I would hear songs like “Roxanne” and “Message In A Bottle”, but not as heavy as we do these days because The Police were still considered a college band. However, that would change with the release of Zenyatta Mondatta when songs like “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” was released, and that would become the first Police record bought for me. Around that time, I would see the video for “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” on Casey Kasem’s syndicated TV show, America’s Top 10, and that was most likely the first time (or one of the first times) I had seen the band. Local radio stations in Honolulu started to put other songs into rotation such as “Driven To Tears”, “Canary In A Coalmine”, “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around”, and “Man In A Suitcase”, so it felt like a big deal. More music from a specific artist meant, at least to me, that they were on the rise in terms of status. Zenyataa Mondatta would become my first Police album, on cassette no less, and it was great, I played it all the time at home.

    I don’t think I was aware that The Police had a new album in late 1981 until the following year, when MTV made itself known on our cable system. Ghost In The Machine was released on October 2, 1981, but the band’s presence on MTV was always there. The videos for “Spirit In The Material World”, “Invisible Sun”, “Demolition Man”, and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” were on rotation with all of the MTV heavies, and it was through that rotation that lead to me getting that album from my parents, this one on vinyl. I always wondered about what exactly the ghost was in whatever machine they were talking about. In 1981/1982, the cover graphics resembled a calculator, but could a calculator be a machine that has a ghost? Or were they speaking of a much bigger machine? Little did we know.

    Due to heavy exposure on MTV, one was never far away from a Police song. What most people didn’t know was that by the end of 1982, the group were back in the studio to record a new album, and no one could have ever expected what would happen next.

    As an avid fan of Rolling Stone, I became aware of the new album through the news blurbs that were in the magazine. I remember that it helped to create a buzz that this would be a unique album, one that Police fans had never heard before, but that’s usually how the publicity machine begins: stir people up and start up a frenzy of sorts. The first time I became aware of the album to come was a short film A&M Records put together promoting it. I remember watching this, liking the scroll of the title, and everything being in black & white. It was essentially an album sampler. There were various objects in a room, as the camera panned around the room before it approached the images that would become the background for the new album, except it didn’t stop there. Various photos and alternate shots of each member of the band were shown, and it panned from right to left, showing Sting. It then moved on to drummer Stewart Copeland, his images going from left to right. Next was guitarist Andy Summers, scrolling from right to left, as his photos moved around. At the 2:38 mark, there was a glimpse of the band’s first proper video made for the album, with a song called “Every Breathe You Take”. At the 3:28 mark, we have a look at the book that was an influence behind the new album before we see a Chinese woman who is a part of Summers’ photos, shot from the back. This film builds up to this point that happens at the 3:40 mark: the introduction of the three slashes of paint: red, blue, and yellow. When that moment happened as the song in the background blasted with its vocal chant, I got excited and anticipated this great thing to come.

    I remember walking into Tower Records that used to be on Ke’eaumoku Street, either on Friday or on the weekend. I was about to wrap up my year in the 7th grade, so school was still important and I didn’t have the luxury of being able to hang around Tower whenever I wanted. Synchronicity was the album I wanted to have, so I went directly to section P and saw the album cover. But wait, I also saw different versions of the cover. Hell, I saw a heap of Synchronicity covers that were different from one another. I would later discover that the band and A&M made 36 different variations of the cover, where the arrangement of photos of each member of the band were either moved around or different. Maybe one of the color strips were rearranged as well.

    However, I went directly to what I called the black and yellow cover, as it didn’t have the soon-to-be well known colors. It was a darker variation, and I wondered why that cover was different from the one with colors. I put it down, and went into the cassette section, where my dad was. He asked me what I wanted, and I decided to not pick up one of the 36 different covers, but went for the cassette. I also picked up the latest issue of the Tower magazine, Pulse, and was able to see that “Every Breath You Take” was one of the top selling singles of the moment. Synchronicity was on sale, most likely around $5.99 or so, so I gave it to my dad and it was purchased for me. When I ripped open the cellophane, I had noticed something different. In the cassettes that were bought for me, the artist name and song titles were printed on the tape shell. This, however, looked like someone had bought a Sharpie pen and written on it. I remember him asking “did someone scribble on that?” I didn’t know, but it looked cool. I was able to pop the tape in as he drove us home, and I listened to “Synchronicity I”, “Walking In Your Footsteps” and “O My God” for the first time. “Walking In Your Footsteps” seemed weird but exotic, but so did the other two songs. It was not The Police I had expected to hear, but it was new and it was good. I looked forward to getting home and listening to it in the privacy of my room.

    The first thing I wanted to know was: what does Synchronicity mean? Even though the song was very descriptive, my dictionary didn’t have it listed. I would learn that it has to do with two different things happening at the same time, and while they may not be related to one another, one can find a way for both to be happening for a reason. I really didn’t wrap that around my head as a pre-teen, I simply wanted the new music although as I’ve become older and started to think about coincidences and events, the word would always pop up. One must thank Carl Jung for coming up with the theory of synchronicity and how it affects us in some fashion. With that known, one has to wonder how that concept is used on the album. While not a true concept album, Synchronicity is an album with a running theme, that being the title.

  • The themes are discovered immediately in the opening song, “Synchronicity I”, which is in a 6/4 time signature. It covers some of the topics that are brought up in the album, that being incidences of coincidence:
    With one breath, with one flow
    You will know: Synchronicity

    A sleep trance, a dream dance
    A shared romance: Synchronicity

    A connecting principle
    Linked to the invisible
    Almost imperceptible
    Something inexpressible
    Science insusceptible
    Logic so inflexible
    Causally connectible
    Yet nothing is invincible

    The song slowly builds in mood, it sounds a bit soulful and jazz but also distant. Foreign? Worldly? The song’s last verse is the climax of the story, and is the key towards what lurks inside of the album. It maybe heady, but one can be satisfied in knowing with the first step forward:
    It’s so deep, it’s so wide
    You’re inside
    Synchronicity

    Effect without a cause
    Sub-atomic laws, scientific pause
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity
    Synchronicity

  • “Walking In Your Footsteps” may sound like a slight variation of Toto’s “Africa”, with its slight musical nods to the forests and oceans, but it tells a story that isn’t so happy and loving. It goes back 50,000,000 years ago when some of the first creatures walked the planet. Sting sings about what the character of the song sees, but when he says the song’s title, it implies that if we as humans do not watch our steps, we will one day become extinct. The final verse of the song was printed on the album’s lyric sheet, but not heard in the final album mix. The only way one could hear it was if they went to see the band live, and it is there where Sting reveals the moral of the story:
    Fifty million years ago
    They walked upon the planet so
    They live in a museum
    It’s the only place you’ll see ‘em

    By continuing to say that we are walking in the footsteps of the dinosaur, perhaps our evolution will lead to our inevitable end. The song comes to a close with Sting getting biblical by saying “they say the meek shall inherit the earth.” One may be lead to ask “what or who are the meek, and if we as humans are in a slow demise, who is running us? Or who are we allowing to run us?”

  • “O My God” is a man speaking out to his spiritual maker, asking for someone to fill the void in his life. He is, of course, talking to himself, hoping that his inner dialogue will lead to answers that we, as humans, will ask ourselves for life:
    Everyone I know is lonely
    and God’s so far away,
    And my heart belongs to no one
    So now sometimes I pray
    Please take the space between us
    And fill it up some way
    Take the space between us
    and fill it up some way

    My favorite part of the song is when Sting revisits the second verse from “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”. Again, a completely different song from a completely different album, but by bringing it into this song he is able to make it fit and appropriate for the theme, a synchronicity:
    Do I have to tell the story
    of a thousand rainy days
    since we first met?
    It’s a big enough umbrella
    But it’s always me that ends up getting wet

  • “Mother” is Andy Summers’ contribution to the album, a track that some fans and critics have called the weirdest song on Synchronicity. To me, it seems Summers decided to bring the lyrical mentality of their non-LP B-sides onto the album. It may be disturbing that Summers compares his tentative romantic interests to his mother. It is never revealed whether he needs motherly love or is warped by his upbringing, but the vocal torment he has through his screams means that that connection, even though unconnected, will continue to punish him.
  • “Miss Gradenko” is a Stewart Copeland composition that touches on a possible romance at a place where events should not happen. Is it political, is it social, or a mixture of both? By the end of the song, clothes have been removed and a seduction is in process, with no one knowing a thing but the two involved.

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  • “Synchronicity II” may sound nothing like “Synchronicity I” that opens the album, and maybe that’s the point. The song, released as the album’s third single, touches on a man going through his day, from the point he wakes up to going through his work day, and eventually returning back home. He is completely stressed, which is expressed as “the pain upstairs that makes his eyeballs ache” and while he doesn’t have to go home, he knows that’s where he has to go. At the end of each verse, it may seem that the Scottish Loch ness monster has absolutely nothing to do with the work day being described, but he is comparing his daily activities to that of the monster that is unknown, but always seems to return to the surface. End of Side 1.

    I was in college (and) “Synchronicity II” was one of the last 45 RPM records I ever bought, and I had to forgo food to do it. (The song) was dramatic, different from everything else and used instruments in ways I rarely heard. Remember the ping-pong steps guitar riff? Almost like listening to rubber bands being plucked but – as a transition? Very effective.” -Donna (@konanut)


    THE POLICE – SYNCHRONICITY II by FRKS

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  • “Every Breath You Take” was released as the album’s first single on May 20, 1983. What people seemed to enjoy about this mid-tempo song was that it came off as a love song, something to pass along to a loved one, but by the last verse, the voice sounds like an obsessed stalker. The bridge itself is quite beautiful, as it describes someone who has departed or is no longer there:
    Since you’ve gone I’ve been lost without a trace
    I dream at night, I can only see your face
    I look around but it’s you I can’t replace
    I feel so cold and I long for your embrace
    I keep crying baby, baby please

    It is that point in the song where the direction of things makes a unique turn, and it’s not a nice one. The song would become The Police’s biggest hit and according to Wikipedia, Sting’s biggest money-maker, providing him at least $2000 a day from radio airplay and streaming. Not bad for a song where the primary theme is “I may not be with you, but I may be around the corner looking at or for you. Trust me.”

    What I thought was cool was that The Police would present the video in different shades, coordinating with the blue, red, and yellow paint strips on the cover. A version would be with a red tint, another would be in yellow. There was also a version of the video where the colors would change throughout, and these were shown in the year of the album. Eventually, MTV and VH-1 would keep the standard black & white version in rotation.

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  • “King Of Pain” was the follow-up single to “Every Breath You Take”, and the only single out of the album’s four where a music video was not made. Sting compares himself to various things, beings, or people who are caught in some type of trauma, from a skeleton chocking on a crust of bread to a butterfly trapped in a spider’s web. Even though he has nothing to do with those items, he can relate to that trauma and stress, and has done so throughout his life. It is a bit amazing that someone like Weird Al Yankovic can turn that around to create a parody like “King Of Suede”.

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  • If lines like “just like that old man in that book by Nabokov” didn’t lead people to a library or encyclopedia for a definition, then the next song would. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” is the album’s fourth single, a song that has to do with making a choice between two evils, which is clear in the song’s second line, “caught between the Scylla and Charybdis”, referring to Greek sea monsters, which also goes back a few songs with discussion about the Loch Ness monster. When the song leads to Sting singing “then you’ll find your servant is your master”, it has him realizing that the two evils will always be joined, no matter how bad it is, and perhaps we ourselves are one of the evils in the equation. Or perhaps the fight between the two evils are nothing more than our own.

  • The album closes with the beautiful “Tea In The Sahara”, which tells the tale of three people who are seeking the presence of a specific man. The man meets up with them to grant one of their wishes, and that is merely to have tea with him in a desert. While they would like to have more meetings like this, it never happens in the same way again, if at all. Their initial obsession becomes something that ends in tragedy, which in a way describes the circle of life we all experience. The demise of us will happen, but at the same time, someone else may be having their first cup of tea. Even though The Police had become worldly with their touring, they always remained very British in their music and lyrics, and while the music direction on Synchronicity may sound different, they remained a ska and reggae band until the end with “Tea In The Sahara” being a very laid back reggae song that falls into a warm dub.

    While it is known as the final song on the album, it actually isn’t. “Murder By Numbers” was first released as the non-LP B-side to “Every Breath You Take”, and was released as a bonus track on the cassette and CD versions of Synchronicity. The song was co-written by Sting and Summers, and comes in the tradition of Summers’ more sinister songs like “Friends”, which details the story of a man who asks for his friends to come over, only so he can eat them. This one covers the killing of people and how easy the task is, especially when you bring in people to help. As the song’s final verse states, maybe murder is a pleasure:
    But you can reach the top of your profession
    If you become the leader of the land,
    For murder is the sport of the elected,
    And you don’t need to lift a finger of your hand

    “Someone To Talk To”, the B-side to “King Of Pain”, is a Summers track, and his sinister side is much calmer, as he realizes some of his flaws, knows he fucked up in the relationship he had, and simply asks for something sensible, a bit of calm in his life.

    “Once Upon A Daydream” was released as the B-side to “Synchronicity II”, and while it begins as a calm tale of romance and possible marriage, it turns into quite the opposite with the second verse:
    Once her daddy found out
    He threw her to the floor
    He killed her unborn baby
    And kicked me from the door
    Once upon a nightmare
    I bought myself a gun
    I blew her daddy’s brains out
    Now hell has just begun

    The third verse has the man regretting the task, stating that what started out as someone who wanted to sweet his woman away turned into someone wasting his life and dreams away. The song ends with him clearly stating this was nothing more than a daydream, and one that has the listener wondering if he prefers it that way, or if he would like for similar dreams to return,.


    Synchronicity is my favorite Police album, although it very much has battles with Zenyatta Mondatta and Ghost In The Machine, ahtough for my all-time favorite Police song, that honor will always be “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”. I loved Synchronicity not only for its music, but the fact that it was released with 36 different covers.

    I remember the album not only for what was contained within, but for the effect its music had on me and some of the events that were happening in my life. My dad had wanted to join a small music group for bar gigs, as a means to make some extra money. He had auditioned at the restaurant and chose to sing Hall & Oates’ “One On One”. He was asked to join, and I clearly remember going to the leader of the band for a jam session. The song my dad chose was “Every Breath You Take”. It was the hit song, so it would make sense that he would chose a song of-the-moment. Three weeks after the release of Synchronicity, my dad died. I remember holding the cassette in my hand, thinking of the music and more importantly, how it was the last album my dad bought for me. During that week, I heard the bridge in “Every Breath You Take” a bit differently:
    Since you’ve gone I’ve been lost without a trace
    I dream at night, I can only see your face
    I look around but it’s you I can’t replace
    I feel so cold and I long for your embrace
    I keep crying baby, baby please

    I had interpreted those words as one that dealt with how I was feeling at the time. The man that I had learned a lot from, and hoped to learn from in my soon-to-come teen eyars, was no longer there. I had learned from TV shows that I was supposed to become “the man of the house” but it’s different when you’re actually confronted with it. At the age of 12, I was not ready for that.

    I bought all four singles from Synchronicity just so I could enjoy all of the B-sides, including the live version of “Tea In The Sahara” that was on “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. When I bought the 4th and final single from the album, I knew that we were only a few months away from moving from Honolulu. My parents had plans on moving to Canada for a complete change of pace, a different way of living. When my dad died, my mom decided to continue with the move but to be closer to her sister, who lived in Washington State. I had always wanted to finish school in Honolulu, for I had all of my friends and liked many girls, a few of who were friends with me, at least in an 8th grade capacity. Who knows, maybe I would fall in love, or fall in and out of love of number of times, maybe go to prom, get my first car, start a family… all the possibilities, and to be able to experience this with those friends would have been great. But I did not. My mom also wanted to move us because she felt things in Honolulu were going for the worse, and also did not want to see our education go to waste. My sister and I both went to public school, but as with some teens in Hawai’i, perhaps going down a bad side would have lead to drugs or violence. I was (and still am) a nerd, I wasn’t about to touch any shit, I loved school and had plans on taking it to a college level. We eventually moved right before the summer of 1984, and that was that. By then, Prince’s “When Doves Cry” was dominating the airwaves and MTV. Synchronicity was now last year’s album, but one that would always be one that I marked as the time in my life where some changes were made, or where I had to make a mad rush to change to embrace what would come, whatever it would be.

    Before this move happened, I did get a chance to see The Police perform live at the Aloha Stadium on February 25, 1984. Bryan Adams and Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble opened up, with Stevie Ray Vaughn pointing at me, Jimi Hendrix style, during his solo in “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. There was also a man who juggled for The Jacksons. It was an incredible show, and when they showed how many people attended on the stadium’s score board (somewhere close to 33,000), the crowd went nuts. I had been aware of how the band was on the Sunchronicity tour through the concert that was shown on Showtime, but it’s another thing to experience in person. I left the Aloha Stadium barefoot because I had went there in slippers and broke them having fun in there. It would be my last concert as a Honolulu resident.
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    Yet with all that happened in my life 30 years ago, I can still listen to an album that sounds incredible, even though it had taken years for me to fully understand what was being said. Things happen for a reason, things may happen without us ever knowing it, but perhaps those things are happening with some sense of union. What is that missing link that we continue to search for in our lives? Maybe we’ll never know unless we truly look into ourselves to see the full picture. Or find a way to connect things for the sake of figuring out this puzzle called life.

    A star fall
    A phone call
    It joins all
    Synchronicity

  • DUST IT OFF: Yall So Stupid’s “Van Full Of Pakistans”…20 Years Later

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    To say that I loved this album is putting it mildly. I had liked Outkast but on a casual level. For me, Yall So Stupid represented what I felt was the best in Atlanta hip-hop, at a time when artists from the city were still struggling to be heard in a major way. The East Coast still ruled but the West Coast was dominant in the early 1990′s, and anyone who was from anywhere else found it a luxury just to be heard, although things were changing for the better. I felt Yall So Stupid were going to be the group that would break through and show what the ATL was about, perhaps helping to open the way for other groups from the South. It didn’t work out that way.

    I became aware of them as being part of the roster of Rowdy Records, founded by producer Dallas Austin. By the time I was aware of Yall So Stupid, I wasn’t aware that they had already distributed YSS’ music at music conventions in 1992. When I was aware of Rowdy, it wasn’t as a hip-hop label, but initially as the label that was the home of alternative band Muzza Chunka, whom I was familiar with through a 7″ single on Bong Load Records, the label that would release Beck’s “Loser” as a single. When I saw that Rowdy were releasing some hip-hop, I had hoped to find out more. YSS were the first group I heard, and with nothing but a biography, publicity photo, and advance cassette, I popped in the tape to discovery what I would find. I loved it.

    To my ears, YSS had a very nice Native Tongue vibe, sounding like a mixture of De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and the Jungle Brothers. They mixed in humor in between the serious moments, they were not afraid to make fun of themselves, and more importantly, it sounded smart. In fact, I also found them to have the vibe of The Pharcyde. To be honest, I found them sounding like people from other places than from Atlanta, or in their case Decatur, Georgia, so by sounding a bit more worldly, it opened me up to them. As with many groups of the era, they didn’t hesitate to share their love of marijuana with a song like “The Plant” where they rapped about getting fucked up with one another. It was the serious side that showed that they were not all about fun, games, and getting high, as they showed in “Family Tree”, where they asked why some black families in the United States are falling apart like leaves in autumn.

    In “Dirt Road White Girl” they focus on Caucasian women who they feel are “black girl wanna-be’s”, and while some may feel that the song is slightly misdirected, it’s basically a plea for people to be themselves and not fall into the stereotypes that exist for one segment of a culture. This track followed the Highland Place Mobsters’ own “Dirt Road White Girl”, produced by and featuring Dallas Austin, and while that was on the soul side of things, it seemed there was a need to bring this “dirt road” discussion into music but it came and went without a trace.

    Another hot topic in hip-hop at the time were bootleg and counterfeit cassettes being sold at street corners, swap meets, and flea markets, which YSS addressed in “Bootleg Beatdown”. It was something that the music industry felt was an issue, since it meant that the street corner entrepreneur could make up their own cassettes of legitimate releases and profit from it, taking away the money that was meant for the artist and the label. When I visited New York City for the first time in 1990, I came across a number of street corner vendors selling illegal copies of Bell Biv DeVoe and Run-DMC. I never bought any as I was (am) a quality freak, but I would read stories of people buying these tapes and not having the music that was shown, or the graphics on the cassette falling off into the hands of the purchaser. Just like the pro-weed trend, it seemed the anti-bootleg trend lasted for a good 18 months in the early 90′s, which also showed the dominance of the cassette format in the genre as other forms of music were slowly catering to the compact disc. Back then, if a hip-hop album made it onto compact disc, it would be released three to six months after it was available on cassette and maybe vinyl, so the CD wasn’t even secondary. It would be by 1994-95, but the power of the cassette was still strong for the first half of the 1990′s, and would remain so for the most part until the MP3 was introduced in 1995. Until then, artists would tell their fans to ignore any and all bootleg dealers. Fake Simpsons and Michael Jordan shirts didn’t get as much attention, however.

    Van Full Of Pakistans would only have two singles, the funky title track and the awesome “85 South”. I remember when I first saw the video for it, and I thought “wait, what in the hell is a camel doing in the middle of an Atlanta freeway?” That hooked me, and I wanted to know about the greatness of this place known as Decatur. I had been curious about Atlanta since WTCG-17 (now TBS) was shown in Honolulu on our cable system, for Atlanta was the city that provided great cartoons and wrestling. Perhaps in a small way, YSS represented the fun of those cartoons and wrestling matches, as if we all existed watching the same things, but existing in different cities. I found myself yelling “AWWWWWWWWWWWWW, SHAKATEEEEEEEEEEEE” for no apparent reason, but I loved what the group offered and I had to have more. The first time I visited Atlanta in 1995, I was mockingly looking for a camel.

    The group also talked about record industry politics, with references about “why do I need drugs? SHIT! I lost my record deal” (from “Van Full Of Pakistans”) to “sold a million records, but I never had a hit” (from “85 South”), which may have surprised those who listened. Why did this group rap about the hazards of “the game” when this was their debut album? In turn, were they setting themselves up for trouble? With a song like “Yall” they brought things back to an old school mentality, which was nice to hear on an album that for the most part seemed advanced and modern. In “You Wouldn’t Understand”, they looked at the world around them (both musical, physical, mental) and questioned everything from personal integrity to the need to comply to the hip-hop standards at the time, including the plea from Uncle Buk asking “why I gotta be hard when I rap?”, fighting the need to fit in with the Joneses just because that is what brought in the money. That to me was the biggest highlight of the album, and a huge revelation at a time when everyone was talking about struggling to survive by participating in tactics they really weren’t doing, but here was an issue that truly mattered amongst those who were called “alternative hip-hop” because it was different from those receiving the most attention.

    On her debut album also released in 1993, Me’Shell NdegeCello stated in the CD booklet that “the alternative to hip-hop is silence”, and Yall So Stupid did their hip-hop in a loud, boastful, funny, and serious manner. To this day, I keep on asking why Van Full Of Pakistans didn’t make it? Was it because Atlanta/Decatur, Georgia was their residence, or due to a lack of a big promotional push? Was their music not understood, or did they not have “it”? Was gangsta rap that massive to the point where YSS was just pushed to the side for being too different? Even though the group featured qualities that were like their contemporaries, Uncle Buk, H20, Sha Boogie, and Logic stood out as being on their own, making music on their own terms and making a huge impression, at least on me. I wanted to visit Decatur when I visited Atlanta for the first time in 1995, and was told bluntly “no”. I wanted to be in the city where this music was created, to take in the good and bad elements to fully understand where the passion found in these songs originated. Whenever I return to Atlanta, I’d still would love to visit Decatur, to be able to say thank you, in person, to influencing a group who made one of the best hip-hop albums of the 1990′s. Six months after the release of Van Full Of Pakistans, a collective from Staten Island would change hip-hop for the remainder of the decade but for a good portion of 1993, Yall So Stupid was my group and Pakistans was my tape.

    DUST IT OFF: Iron Maiden’s “Piece Of Mind”…30 Years Later

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    Piece Of Mind (Capitol/EMI) was not the first time I had heard of Iron Maiden, for my Uncle David was the Iron Maiden fan first. He had the debut album, along with Killers and the Maiden Japan EP, so outside of sitting down and holding the record covers so I could be introduced to the band’s mascot, Eddie, I was able to hear the rough and rugged heavy metal from a band fronted by Paul Di’Anno. However, I would say that my first proper introduction to the band was through the music videos that played on MTV in 1982, specifically from the band’s third album, The Number Of The Beast. MTV would play “Run To The Hills” and the title track like crazy, and I remember thinking to myself “this is a new singer”. That new singer would be Bruce Dickinson, and his voice was clearer and perhaps more… I don’t want to say operatic but he was truly a singer opposed to Di’Anno’s primal wails, which I liked but Dickinson was better. My uncle also had The Number Of The Beast, and I enjoyed not only the songs I was familiar with, but also “The Prisoner” and to this day, out of nowhere, I will say “who is number one? You are number six. I AM NOT A NUMBER, I AM A FREE MAN! Ah ha ha ha ha…”

  • The first Iron Maiden I ever bought was released in May of 1983. Piece Of Mind was cool to me because as a kid who was raised with Loggins & Messina albums, I knew of the song “Peace Of Mind” from the Sittin’ In album. But this was Piece Of Mind, as in someone is taking a chunk, a sliver of brain matter and it was going to be offered. At least that’s what I thought when I was 12. In the spring of 1983, the album was made known by its first single, the great “Flight Of Icarus”.
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  • The video was different from the videos that the band had made so far, for now the group were shown in a recording studio creating the song. The video also introduced to the world new drummer Nicko McBrain, who may have also portrayed the character of Death in the video as he looks down at an ocean shore, and who also offers the camera a very big piece of brain to the camera. Nonetheless, the song seemed not so frantic as “Run To The Hills” or “The Number Of The Beast”, or at least to me it wasn’t frantic. It had a nice groove to it, and I loved it. I thought “yes, I have to get the album”.

  • Piece Of Mind was also the first Iron Maiden album I would immerse myself in, for while I enjoyed the hard and torrid sound of their music, I found some of the songs on this new album to be more developed and, at times, progressive. Their early albums (at least in the U.S.) were released on Harvest Records, whom I always associated with Pink Floyd. The new album was released on Capitol proper, and yet there seemed to be a move towards trying to make their songs a bit more dramatic thematically powerful. “Still Life”, with its backwards spoken word introduction (which says ” “What ho said the t’ing with the three ‘bonce’, do not meddle with things you don’t understand…” as spoken by McBrain), is an example of the direction the band felt like exploring and would do for many years to come.

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  • “The Trooper” was the album’s second single, where the video seemed to be a slight throwback to the old film footage used in “Run To The Hills”. This was the energetic I loved where bassist Steve Harris played his instrument like a jazz pianist, while the twin guitar power of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith was like a more electrifying version of the type of bluesy Southern Rock the Allman Brothers Band had made famous in the late 60′s/early 70′s. One might not immediately think of The Allman Brothers Band while hearing Iron Maiden but the proof is there in the riffs and solos. On top of that, McBrain’s drumming showed more versatility than that of previous drummer Clive Burr, and that’s not taking away anything from the greatness Burr made in his time with the band, but McBrain was (and is) on another level with his playing, and “The Trooper” was proof of this.

  • The album’s opening track, “Where Eagles Dare”, came off like the Iron Maiden from the first two albums, with that type of juggernaut attack that Murray, Smith, and Harris had made famous throughout Europe, Japan, and South America, and slowly throughout the United States, and Dickinson was showing that he could easily do the type of singing comparable to Ronnie James Dio. “Revelations” shows why the band became representatives of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), where it sounded like they enjoyed the progressive rock energy of early Judas Priest, the uncut sexual prowess of the Scorpions, and the bluesy bite of Led Zeppelin and turned it into something that hadn’t been done in this fashion before. One can listen to it now and go “oh, that’s King Crimson flavored” or “that could be something Rainbow tried in the late 70′s” but now it was becoming the Maiden song, which would lead countless teenagers to want to form their own bands and rock out in their own way. “Die With Your Boots On” continued to show the band’s fascination with the military and being involved in wars and sacrificing their lives for the love of country. What I loved about the song is Dickinson’s background vocals during the bridge where he sings “and you’re gonna die”, he does it differently from his normal singing voice but does it with a bit of bravery and snide sarcasm, as if to say “I’m dying for you, what are you going to do for me?”
  • The album ends with “To Tame A Land”, a song where the band go through a number of different textures, emotions, and song structure, something they would take to higher levels with “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” (from their follow-up album Powerslave) and the title track to Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. It showed that the band were more than capable of exploring new worlds and themes, taking the listener into deeper thought processes that in truth was always there since the first album. Except this time, it was on a progressive rock label that most heavy metal bands of that time were not doing. It was something that the next wave of metal groups, specifically those of the thrash and speed metal varieties, would take to heart, especially groups like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Testament, Dark Angel, and Death Angel (with the fantastic 10 minute instrumental, “The Ultra Violence”, oddly enough used recently for a string of commercials for the Carl’s Jr/Hardees burger chain).
  • As with most heavy metal bands, Iron Maiden were championed by headbangers throughout the United States, they were something new that was not Black Sabbath, who despite now having Dio as a vocalist, was still considered old school, but a champion of the old and cherished ways. Iron Maiden represented a new breed of hard rock that England always embraced, and they were considered pioneers of the genre. What made Piece Of Mind different was that it was the first Maiden album to be majorly pushed by MTV promotion. Sure, MTV did place two videos from The Number Of The Beast into heavy rotation but MTV also played Def Leppard, Dio, and Rainbow videos within Haircut 100, Culture Club, and Joe Jackson videos too. The difference is that the new album could be promoted with help from MTV, a deliberate push because after almost two years of existence, MTV were proving to be the way to get music to as many people as possible in one time. It used to be where radio promotion meant dealing with local and regional program and music directors, MTV essentially cut that out and went directly to the millions of people who had cable (or who lived in homes that had cable) and got into their consciousness that way. While Piece Of Mind only had two singles/videos, it was more than enough to get the word out about its existence. That didn’t make them an MTV band the way Def Leppard were becoming at the time, for Def Lep’s pop qualities helped crossed them over. Piece Of Mind may have arguably had some pop touches, but barely, and if Def Leppard became the hard rock band the ladies could like, then Iron Maiden would remain the music of the working man or, to add to existing stereotypes, “hard enough for the ladies to love too”, as if women couldn’t love aggressive metal. Shame on them.

    In rock’n’roll, it is known that if an artist makes it to a third album, they may remain successful for the rest of their careers, however long they plan on taking it. As the band’s fourth album, Piece Of Mind showed a group that may sound comfortable but they also had something to risk with a new drummer in their lineup. It is the Dickinson/Harris/Murray/Smith/McBrain lineup, started with this album, that would take the band around the world many times over and keep them on the top of the heavy metal chain for years. The group may have taken a risk by sharing a piece of their minds with listeners, but it proved to be a very successful risk, and one that they have done and continue to do very well.


  • DUST IT OFF: The Muffs’ self-titled debut…20 Years Later

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    In that era of music in the 1990′s that was alternative friendly, it’s still sad that The Muffs were not on the top of the game. Then again, if that meant being MTV darlings and having massive product endorsements… well, The Muffs were briefly apart of that when “Everywhere I Go” was used for a Fruitopia commercial, but despite being on a major label (Warner Bros.) and being able to rock out in anyway possible, they did not achieve the kind of fame and stardom their contemporaries were able to obtain. Sure, part of the industry were signing anything and everything that was Seattle, which lead to countless bands actually moving to the Seattle area, wearing lumberjack flannels, and adjusting their looks to “be Seattle”. The Muffs were born and raised in the Los Angeles, and were proud of this fact, but for whatever reason, their music did not catch on to the masses/them masses. More for fans.

    I believe I had first heard about The Muffs in an issue of Flipside, when they were one of the hot upcoming bands of the L.A. scene and I’d read their concert reviews and occasional interviews. To me, they came off as energetic and powerful, all without me ever hearing a note. The articles would always mention that vocalist/guitarist Kim Shattuck and guitarist Melanie Vammen were original members of The Pandoras. They were a band I was familiar with only by name, as I had remember seeing them neitoned a few times in Rip magazine but I had never made the effort to listen to or buy their music. I had always felt that it was odd that The Pandoras were mentioned in a magazine that was primarily hard rock and heavy metal, but the early issues of Rip were a bit more diverse than what they would become, as I would eventually hear about groups like The Goo Goo Dolls, Flaming Lips, and whatever Henry Rollins felt like doing. Nonetheless, The Pandoras were a thing of the past, and The Muffs were something completely different. On top of that, what band would actually name themselves The Muffs? Was it a pubic reference? Something for the ears? Maybe a guitar pedal of voice? When I heard The Muffs were going to be signed to a major, I thought that was ballsy because here was a band with that name, going to be pushed by a major label. I felt that was awesome. On a selfish note, Shattuck and Vammen were attractive to me but I thought cool, if these ladies are rocking, I want to hear it. Bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Criss Crass: not attractive at all, but what do I know? In May of 1993, the CD arrived in the mail and I pressed play.

    Wow.


  • The Muffs is a 17-track album (or in truth, 16 tracks plus a bonus hidden track at the end of the album) that defined Shattuck, Vammen, Barnett, and Crass as a powerful punk band with incredible pop tendencies, reflective of the music of the short-but-sweet songs of the late 50′s and early 60′s but with the power and volume of the late 70′s and early 80′s. None of the songs went over four minutes, with a few clocking in at under two, and the lyrics touched on personal experiences that related to love and relationships, but done in a fashion that sounded extremely passionate in a rock’n’roll way. “Lucky Guy”, the opening track on the album (and the second single from the album) touched on a man who was doing nothing but being a bum at home and living “the good life” in his own mind, while Shattuck found grief in someone who felt like he could “do anything in life and taking it easy”, as if all that mattered. The second scream Shattuck does when she says “I don’t know why” sounded horrifying, and from that moment I had a feeling that this album would be quite good.

    On the same note, a group out of New York called Luscious Jackson were signed to the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label, and had come out with the In Search Of Manny EP. They had a song on their called “Life Of Leisure” that also spoke of a man who was asked “why you wanna waste away, lover of the life of leisure” and it felt like the perfect 1-2 punch for all men who wanted to be in a relationship with someone but didn’t want to do anything but be lazy. Had The Muffs and Luscious Jackson toured, it would have been perfect.

  • After the megablast of “Lucky Guy”, it is followed up by a track that perfectly compliments the negative energy of what came before. “Saying Goodbye” comes off as a song of sorrow, but Shattuck’s optimistic vocal performance has a hint of partial sarcasm and full on happiness. The bitter sweetness of it almost has the feel of a girl group sound going the wrong way, but in the end becoming the right and only way.
  • “Everywhere I Go”, the first single released off of The Muffs, could easily stand alongside songs by The Breeders, Belly, The Replacement, and Throwing Muses, with a chorus that touches on someone loving the fact that her man is there, but the lack of space and breathing room causes her to wish for some quiet time. In a way, one could say it was her talking to Sting’s character that he created in The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”, the man who had an urge to watch his woman everywhere she chose to go.

  • “Better Than Me” is a rough and rugged song with wicked guitar work from Vammen, as Shattuck looks over the lack of equality of the sexes, and how she wishes to do her thing on her own terms, so she indirectly states that he needs to steer clear of her path.

  • Track 9 was “Big Mouth”, the third and final single from the album, and one clocking in at a nice and wholesome 1:51. The song is a not-so-healthy exchange of words that have to do with the words passed between one another, and how a negative experience leads to blame and anger.

  • The rest of the album is a rollercoaster of emotions, with songs that touch on everything from jealousy, envy, fear, and a bit of hope. In fact, by the time the album reaches “I Need You” (originally released as a 45 in Sub Pop’s Singles Of The Month series in 1992), it seems the anger that begins the album has turned into the opposite, with desires wanting to be met but with the kind of fierce screams from Shattuck that may make listeners go “holy shit, this woman is insane” but it is those insane screams that was one element of The Muffs’ charm, where Shattuck was able to go back and forth between being infuriated while also asking for what she wants out of a relationship, in her own way. In a way, fans of the band could appreciate this because these were not songs relating to teen love, this was grown-up stuff, what could lead to fights at a nightclub or at the apartment. Maybe their songs were the soundtrack to a number of relationships in the 1990′s, or it may have been a guidebook of sorts on what to expect in moments of love, for better or worse. If anything, Shattuck’s vocal and lyric strength came off as someone who wasn’t about to stand there and have shit thrown her way. She was going to fight it out because she wanted to be heard. If, as Stacy Lattisaw once said, love was on a two way street that was lost on a lonely highway, Shattuck had no problem in finding another route to get to a destination of choice.
  • The group did a healthy amount of touring for their debut album, but by the time they released their second album two years later, they were a trio, with Vammen leaving the band and Crass being replaced by Redd Kross drummer Roy McDonald, who has remained with the group to this day. The Muffs ended up staying with Warner Bros./Reprise for two more albums before becoming independent, where the band has released only a small handful albums but each having the same kind of passion, power, and fortitude (sure, let’s add vim and vigor in there as well) that has made them stand out from the rest. Sure, maybe one of the band’s biggest glories was being on the soundtrack to Clueless doing a cover of Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America” or having their sticker seen on Billie Joe Armstrong’s guitar in the video for Green Day’s “Longview”:
    Green Day photo GreenDay_Longview_zpsa6951baf.jpg

    but I’d like to think that their fans know that the output they have managed to release in 20+ years is glory in itself, and I’m proud to still be one of their fans.

    The Muffs photo TheMuffs_promo1993_zps49f729bc.jpg

  • DUST IT OFF: Prince’s “Lovesexy”…25 Years Later

    Prince photo Prince_Lovesexy_zpsa22849de.jpg
    As a Prince fan, I had been waiting to find out what his follow-up to Sign ‘O’ The Times would be. Sign ‘O’ The Times was an album that had to grow on me in the first month I was listening to it, perhaps because his previous album (1986′s Parade) was one I got into completely. There was a lot of territory covered on Sign ‘O’ The Times that I had to, as he says in “Slow Love”, take my time in listening to things. Up to the release of Sign ‘O’ The Times, there was a lot of coverage in Rolling Stone magazine about the album he was working on, and how that was scrapped and turned into the record we now know. When the singers were released and Prince was ready to try something new, more news in Rolling Stone surfaced that he was working on a grittier, dirtier, and raunchy album, perhaps even more filthy than his earlier works, or at least it was compared to the Prince of yesteryear, before he was embraced by the mainstream post-Purple Rain. I was highly looking forward to this new dose of dirty music, but as time moved on in the early spring of 1988, there was word that Prince was not happy, that he allegedly rejected this submitted album, almost as in a way to say “if I were to die, I don’t want this to be my last statement”. However, review copies of The Black Album were sent to journalists and that became the hot item to have. Except most people didn’t have it or couldn’t obtain it, at least not yet. Eventually, Warner Bros. Records revealed that Prince would be releasing something that would be more acceptable/accessible to the public. No black cover, no raunchy songs, and with the exception of one song, no trace of anything that was on The Black Album.

    When Lovesexy was released on May 10, 1988, “Alphabet St.” was the first single from it, promoted by a video that looked like it was shot on a public access cable show with the cheapy graphics to match. The song was incredibly funky with a nice pop shine, but due to how irresistible it was, fans loved it enough to help get it into the Top 10 of Billboard’s Singles chart.

    As with most first singles, this was the entry way into an album that, in effect, represented The Black Album‘s replacement album, but people seemed to be taken aback by him sitting nude with a photograph of a flower behind him. Some had felt the flower featured a phallic component that represented its penis, which made things worse for stores who refused to sell the album. In some cities, the album cover was censored while other stores would sell them behind the counter, the old school practice way of selling something to the public that was considered offensive. In some cases, the album would not be stocked which resulted in lower-than-expected sales, which is sad considering how good Lovesexy is.

    The album was supported by three singles: the aforementioned “Alphabet St.”, “Glam Slam”, and “I Wish U Heaven”. “Glam Slam” was one of Prince’s great efforts at making pop, right alongside “Raspberry Beret”, and the video featured him and his group performing at the warehouse in Chanhassen, Minnesota that was his rehearsal space at Paisley Park studios. The song is meant to be a representation of love and beauty in the way Prince does it best, but it did not do as well as a single as “Alphabet St.”, at least in the U.S.

    The third and final single was the short and sweet “I Wish U Heaven”, another pop gem that seemed to be influenced by everyone from Sly Stone to Larry Graham to Curtis Mayfield, with nice gospel overtones heard in Prince’s own multi tracked background vocals. As quirky as the song was, with its 1960′s pop single length of 2:43, it seemed to be pure perfection. While Prince was a master of releasing extended performances of his songs, a song like “I Wish U Heaven” very much showed that there was someone who was very much the king of pop in his own right, when he could be.

    Even in the seven months following the release of Lovesexy, I always wondered if Prince made the right choices in singles. While “Glam Slam” is a decent song, “Anna Stesia” is far more incredible although perhaps the spiritual overtones of the second half may have been considered a threat to pop radio, even though I’d like to think it would have been a massive hit on the black charts. It’s a song where he proudly finds a love he can’t get enough of:
    Anna Stesia come to me
    Talk to me, ravish me
    Liberate my mind

    Tell me what you think of me
    Praise me, craze me
    Out this space and time

    The second half of the song almost seems like a much lighter version of “Temptation” from Around The World In A Day, but again, not released as a single. Nonetheless, it was a moving way to end Side 1, and the opening song on Side 2 should have been released as a single too. “Dance On” was irresistible from the moment he yells “PICK IT UP”, but at a time when R&B music was not this deep in the pocket, it may have been too much. The only song from The Black Album that survived on Lovesexy was “When 2 R in Love”, a beautiful ballad that might have thrown off some fans, who knew this was from the raunchy album but outside of talking about things that shouldn’t be forbidden and taboo, it seemed fairly safe for a Prince song. A video was made for it, but like the album it was originally meant for, it consisted of nothing but black.

    Lovesexy ends with “Positivity”, with the line “have you had your plus sign today?” a part of its chorus. It seemed to be the antithesis to what The Black Album was supposed to represent, a bit of Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hyde, a Prince with two personalities, one feeling completely guilty of the other. For the time being, no one had heard The Black Album and had nothing to compare it to. However, by the summer of 1988, cassette copies were being circulated by fans, some of which were sold in stores as the real thing. For many, The Black Album was the real thing, or at least better than the “thing” that fans felt was Lovesexy, the untouchable album that few wanted to hear, yet alone hold in their hands. The speed of distribution and bootleg sales were so strong, it moved a group of anonymous British musicians to perform The Black Album note for note and pass it off as being a dub of the album. The most noticeable differences is when you hear British men say “2 Nigs United 4 West Compton” with a British accent. Did underground sales and distribution of The Black Album do better than Lovesexy? Some will say yes, but it didn’t stop Warner Bros. from finally releasing the album six years later.

    Looking back at “Alphabet St.” and its success, would “Anna Stesia” and “Dance On” have been more successful than “Glam Slam” and “I Wish U Heaven”? No one would ever think “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “U Got The Look” (from Sign ‘O’ The Times) would become hits in their own right, but they were. Lovesexy should not be looked at as the replacement album, because now that we do have The Black Album available, it can be placed between Sign ‘O’ The Times and Lovesexy. Or just like countless hip-hop artists, consider it his street album, which is exactly what it is. Prince may love being uptown, but The Black Album was his downtown release. Lovesexy holds up quite well despite the flaws I may have felt upon first listen, and is arguably the last bit of glory in the 1980′s before he released Batman and Graffiti Bridge in 1990. Was this the start of Prince running out of ideas or coming up with great songs? It’s easy to debate about it, but Prince would eventually come up with tracks like “Joy In Repetition”, “Scandalous”, “Thieves In The Temple”, “Money Don’t Matter 2 Nite”, “Diamonds & Pearls”, “Strollin’”, “Live 4 Love”, “The Morning Papers”, “Blue Light”, “Come”, “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”, “Dolphin”, and “Had U”, and these songs barely skim the surface of what Prince has done in the 25 years since Lovesexy. If one is to look at Prince’s discography, you can either love the hits and only the hits, or take him on for the duration. Prince has tested the limits of not only his fans, but very much himself, and Lovesexy is barely an album that people should complain about it. We’re still talking about its music 25 years later, and he should be proud of that fact. Yet most likely, he spends less time talking about what was and continuing on with what will come next. Maybe Prince himself.

    DUST IT OFF: Public Enemy’s “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back”…25 Years Later

    My introduction to Public Enemy came through the Less Than Zero soundtrack, released on November 6, 1987. I was a fan of rap music, but I was also a headbanger, saluting the almighty power of heavy metal. The soundtrack was promoted as featuring tracks by Aerosmith, Danzig, Poison, and Slayer, and it was the latter’s cover of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” that made me want to buy it so I could play it on the high school radio station I was a DJ for. The format of the radio station was hard rock/heavy metal, along with classic rock. I’d play the songs by Aerosmith, Poison, and Slayer, and enjoyed doing so, being the only station in the area that played these songs.

    Then I decided to flip the record over to side 2.

    I had never heard of anything quite like “Bring The Noise”, the horns coming down like elephants running on a field, followed by a loud “YEAH BOYYEEE!” and a deep tone voice that said “BASS!” WHOA, what is this? I loved the force of the vocals, and I absolutely fell in love with the multi-layered sounds. Up until that point, a rap song had one primary sample and a scratch, maybe two primary samples but no more. This song felt like entering a vulgar room where everyone seemed to be speaking at once, or at least Chuck D.’s voice, Flavor Flav’s quick spits, and the samples going on all at once felt too much to take, but I wanted to take it. This lead to Flav feeling exactly what I was feeling when he said “I don’t understand what they’re saying
    but little do they know they can get a smack for that, man” and out came Chuck saying “never badder than dad cause the brother is madder than mad at the fact that’s corrupt as a senator”. HOLY SHIT! The wicked drums (courtesy James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”) pounded out doubles, and out came “soul on a roll, but you treat it like soap on a rope ’cause the beats in the lines are so dope”. Did I understand what he was saying at the time? Absolutely not, it would take months before I could figure it out, but what I also loved was that Chuck D. did each of the verses different from one another, the flows were not the same. The rhythmic patterns seemed complex, or at least hard to grasp upon first listen.

    Then it came to the third verse, and I about freaked out when someone in rap had mentioned Sonny Bono and Yoko Ono. As someone who always admired the underdog, it seemed Chuck D. was putting himself amongst these two underdogs. Not mentioning Cher, not mentioning John Lennon, but going for other. I loved it. I caught the references to Eric B. and LL, but then came the great line “wax is for Anthrax”. Hold up. HOLD THE FUCK UP. Did Flavor Flav just give a shout out to Anthrax, and did Chuck D. just say that they also could rock the bells. I loved Metallica, but I LOVED Anthrax and I know I put the needle back to make sure I heard things correctly. From that point on, I realized that this was a group that could do this, like Brutus, because they themselves always knew this. I must have played “Bring The Noise” over and over for a solid hour, and from that point on I avoided playing the rest of the album.

  • When Spin magazine wrote a year-end rap up, one of the reviews touched on some new released on Def Jam. One of them was Original Concept’s Straight From The Basement Of Kooley High. The other was Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show. I was a Def Jam devotee, so I was freaked out when I learned Public Enemy had an album out. I bought both, loved both. When I first heard the “get down” in “Miuzi Weighs A Ton”, I initially thought it was a Joe Walsh/James Gang sample. I found out it was Flavor Flav, but I learned that later. I later read an article about the 12″ for “You’re Gonna Get Yours”, which people were buying because of its B-side, “Rebel Without A Pause”. I eventually found a copy of that, and I loved the song immediately. I loved the loop and how it seemed to keep on going and going and going, almost felt endless. It was meditative, it was mind blowing, it was mind numbing. When the scratches kicked in, it was heaven.
  • In March 1988, I had heard about the group releasing a new single off of their forthcoming album, but the way I interpreted the review, “Prophets Of Rage” was the A-side. When I bought the 12″ at Eli’s, I played and listened to it as such, and always played “Don’t Believe The Hype” as a bit of a sloppy B-side. (It wasn’t until later in 1988 that I learned the song was the A-side, after reading how the song was used as introduction for athletes.) I was two months away from ending my senior year in high school when I decided to play one of these songs on the radio station I was on. Keep in mind that it was a hard rock/heavy metal station, so the only way I could play it was on April Fool’s Day, as a “joke”. However, I had a different motive. When I played a rap song on the radio, it was never as a laugh, it was a way to play the music I also loved, to perhaps turn on fans to this group that I had only known from “Bring The Noise”, “Rebel Without A Pause”, and their first album. I’m glad to say that I may have been the first person to play “Prophets Of Rage” on a radio station in eastern Washington state.

    Even if “Prophets Of Rage” and “Don’t Believe The Hype” were mere cues of what was to come, nothing could have ever prepared me for the reality of what would be.

    Public Enemy (1) photo PE2a_cover_zps0bc1160f.jpg

  • I bought my copy of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back on the week of the release date. My version of the cover was the yellow B-boy target with red outline and a green line between the words PUBLIC and ENEMY. Two men in a jail cell, looking bad ass, not afraid, always confident. The back cover featured a photo of Chuck, Flav, DJ Terminator X, Professor Griff and the S1W’s standing in a jail cell while stepping on the American flag. I enjoyed the social politics that John Lennon touched on in his music and life, and while I was far from an activist, I liked knowing about what some musicians would do to speak out on things that mattered to them, and things they were against. That photo was surrounded by shots of screenshots taken from a surveillance camera. This seemed serious, and it was time that I put the record on my turntable.

    Still, I was not ready.

    “Hammersmith Odeon, are you ready for the Def Jam tour, let me hear you make some noise!
    In concert for BBC Television tonight and the fresh start of the week, let me hear you make some noise for PUBLIC ENEMY!

    The crowd goes nuts, and then it happens. The siren.

    “PEACE. ARMAGEDDON HAD BEEN IN EFFECT, GO GET A LATE PASS. STEP!
    THIS TIME AROUND, THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED. STEP!
    LONDON, ENGLAND…
    CONSIDER YOURSELVES… WARNED!”

    Then “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” from the first album starts, followed by Griff yelling out “alright, let’s make some fuckin’ noise! C’mon, let’s break this shit out and get busy!” before it fades. I still wasn’t ready.

    Malcolm X is then heard talking about how when it’s “too black”, it means it’s “too strong”. It is played a second time, slightly louder. Then “Bring The Noise” comes in. It’s the first full song on the album, and it hits things off beautifully. I know this song, and yet it fits perfectly as the starting point on this journey. I was slightly comfortable, but barely. This would lead to “Don’t Believe The Hype” and as an album cut, it fit quite nicely too. Chuck D. and Flavor Flav’s flows were quite nice bouncing back and forth when needed. This felt like a track of information, where one was able to listen to one page of their agenda, their manifesto. It was their way of saying that whatever you ear, don’t believe the bullshit, or cut through it and discover the facts for yourself. The one line from the song that remains very strong in my mind is “suckers, liars, get me a shovel”, and I’ll spring that out at any given them when necessary.

    The next track was a fun track, the first solo song by Flavor Flav, and after getting bombarded with serious information, it was time to get down and funky for a few minutes as he drops
    “live lyrics from the bank of reality
    I kick the flyest dope maneuver technicality
    To a dope track, you wanna hike get out your backpack
    Get out the wack sack
    I’m in my Flavmobile cole lampin
    I took this G upstate go campin’
    To the Poconos, we call the hideaways
    A pack of franks and a big bag of Frito-Lays”

    Did it matter what he was saying, and that he just seemed to be rattling off shit like crazy? No, but did it sound good? As the samples in the song said clearly, “YEAH!” This song was the first to truly establish Flavor Flav’s steez, and everyone fell in love with what William Drayton was all about.

    “Terminator X To The Edge” of panic was not the first song to present their DJ in music, but it was the first song where he was mentioned in the song title, and with a sample that was merely the sample source of “Rebel Without A Pause” flipped backwards, it just seemed that Public Enemy were wanting to pull in people into their world, in whatever way worked. “Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?” was a line that stood out like a pitchfork into the skull, pretty much stating that one does not need an award to achieve a level of success, or to complete a mission that involves making a statement.

    “Mind Terrorist” might seem like a minor interlude, but it seemed to present It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back as a concert performance, and this was a brief intermission before the next movement.

    “Louder Than A Bomb” opened up with a Kool & The Gang sample before Flav spoke on how Public Enemy are from hell, and if someone ever said he and the group would celebrate the 4th of July, it is very much a “worldwide lie”. Some of Chuck D.’s lyrics in this, including about his phone being tapped, pave the way for the next song, but until that is heard, Chuck is about telling the untold stories once and for all, and his messages are going to be offensively loud.

    The first Side ends with the incredible “Caught, Can We Get A Witness”, where Chuck talks about stealing a beat in the name of sampling, and how people are after people like him for taking music to create another song. 25 years later, hearing Flav talk about how no one can copyright beats seems a few world’s away, and yet this was the start of the industry and lawyers looking at the value of rap music not for its lyrics or messages, but as a means of violating copyright. By the end of Side 1, Public Enemy have accumulated enough ammunition for a battle, but again, I was not ready.


  • Side 2 begins with another interlude, “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got”, which may be a way to re-introduce the listener to the program that is the album, but for listeners to come back from intermission, to let everyone know that with every side, there is a flip side, the B-side.

    I loved when I first heard “She Watch Channel Zero?!”, as it starts with Flav’s message to his lady about watching garbage on television. Then the music begins and it’s a sample of Slayer’s “Angel Of Death”, flipping the original meaning of the song and showing that TV’s perceived angelic ways could slowly lead to a mental death. Kerry King’s and Jeff Hanneman’s guitar riffs, mixed in with the repetitious “she watch” looped vocal sample, was one way of entering the lure of the boob tube and trying to get out before one is fully trapped by the ways of the cathode ray. Everything about this song is excellent, a solid piece of genius where the music is a drone duplicating the ugliness of TV. Flav has a simple solution: “read a book or something, read about yourself, learn your culture.”


    “Night Of The Living Baseheads” touches on the evils of drugs, specifically the crack epidemic that was pulling in a lot of people in the mid to late 1980′s, specifically the black community in the inner cities of the United States and England. While it did reach the higher levels of corporate America, crack was hurting millions of people because this new cheap means of a high was pulling people down below the doldrums. The entire song is structured as a dialogue from the introduction of crack to its destruction, complete with Chuck D’s “how low can you go?” sample being scratched all over the place before Chuck himself answers his own question by looking at the faces of crack’s downfall.


    “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” is one of the highlights of the album, where Chuck finds himself in prison because the government wanted him to join the U.S. Army, and he refused to enroll. Upon finding himself homeless in prison, he comes up with a plan to escape beyond the wall. It features metaphors that include the Underground Railroad, but one could also say that the United States itself is a prison and one must escape its ways in order to find a home and some sense of sanity. With each verse, Chuck covers his plan by step-by-step, bringing the listener in as if they are at one with he and the the “53 brothers on the run”. The moment when Chuck D. says “and we are gone” and Flav is cheering with passion, it’s easily one of the boldest statements ever made in hip-hop, because like the Native American in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen in “Deacon Blues”, “this brother is free” and we’re all in support of someone obtaining the freedom many die trying to grasp.

    “Security of the First World” is another interlude, a temporary intermission that allows the group and listener to regroup after the blast of “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos”, only to pave the way for the album’s three song finale.

    “Rebel Without A Pause” comes out of hiding from its presence as a non-LP B-side to becoming a solid album track, also adding to the pieces of the It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back puzzle. The bass is deafening, the saxophone is numbing, and the power of James Brown (and JB-related) samples is causing a mean ripple effect that is like you looking at yourself in a mirror looking at yourself, looking at yourself looking at yourself until its infinity is too much to bare. When Chuck D. says “we’re on a mission, y’all”, we then realize that we the listener are being exposed to the blueprint, and we’re close to finding where all of this will lead.

    “Prophets Of Rage” turns the corner, and every emotion that was built with “Rebel Without A Pause” continues with a revelation of who and what these songs are for:
    With vice, I hold the mic device
    With force I keep it away, of course
    And I’m keeping you from sleeping
    And on the stagem, I rage and I’m rolling
    To the poor, I pour in on in metaphors
    Not bluffing, it’s nothing that we ain’t did before
    We played, you stayed, the points made
    You consider it done by the prophets of rage

    Flav then tells Griff and the S1W’s to proceed with the completion of the mission by adjusting their coordinates, leading to the eventual proclamation of the master plan.

    “Party For Your Right To Fight” ends the album by revealing the master plan, the manifesto, the moral of the story. While hip-hop music may have originated as a party vibe, they turn the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” and turns it into something much more serious than just drinking and getting wasted for the hell of it. In the mind of Public Enemy, one should use their minds to turn the world into a better place for themselves and all. Both Chuck and Flav rap the entire song together, both rapping in their own styles and Flav dropping in a few ad-libs along the way. By combining Sly & The Family Stone, Bobby Byrd, and Bob Marley in the mix, they mention the origins of their commitment to the rights of themselves, and in turn, all. It is the third and final verse where Chuck and Flav mention what they are fighting for:

    To those that disagree, it causes static
    For the original Black Asiatic man
    Cream of the earth and was here first
    And some devils prevent this from being known
    But you check out the books they own
    Even masons they know it but refuse to show it, yo
    But it’s proven and fact
    It takes a nation of millions to hold us back

    It’s about fighting for recognition, for honor, for respect, for everything that someone else doesn’t want to provide, or will take away, from the other. If no one fights, the presence of a people and consciousness will disappear, or be re-interpreted by someone else, or perhaps completely disappear from existence.

  • While I am not of African descent, I also listened to this album as a way to describe what it means to be Hawaiian. I looked myself as someone who now represents less than 0.2 percent of the world’s population, and while I am not a full-blooded Hawaiian, I like to think i remain an element of the land I came from and the people who made me who I am today. While my views may be different from those who are back home, I remain someone who wishes to be recognized for who I am and for what I do before I and my people no longer have a chance.

    I wore a Public Enemy T-shirt during high school, and when catching the bus home, I was asked by the driver “so, you’re a public enemy?” I said, “yes, I am”. She gave me a small smile and I sat down. I was the only kid in my high school with that P.E. shirt, and I was looked at by everyone. No one understood me or where I was coming from, so in a very small way, I did feel like a public enemy, or at least an outcast. As a 17-year old high school student angry at the world, angry at my situation and fighting for a way to want and demand more, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back was an album that showed that one can’t sit around and allow the world to pass you by. Sometimes we get stuck on a dead end street, but it’s never late to fight, even if that fight feels like a one-man battle. Throughout life, one learns that those fights are sometimes not good when done alone. Whether it’s a million, or ten-thousand, one hundred, or five, nothing can hold us back but ourselves. Whether it’s for Africa, for Jamaica, for Japan, for Germany, for Thailand, for Brazil, for Argentina, or for field workers throughout California, that “nation” once talked about by Chuck D. and Flavor Flav is very much a worldwide thing, a Marley style “one love” if we allow it to be. The fight discussed throughout the album may not have been my own, but I felt I could appreciate it as one that was very similar to mine. It was with this album that I learned about people that were not discussed during high school, including Louis Farrakhan and Assata Shakur, so to have these references flying out in lyric form was like hearing audio sidebars, so that I could remember them for future use.

    25 years later, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back remains my favorite hip-hop album of all time because of its message, its musicality, its strength and power, and its inclusion into music creativity. For some of us, getting that late pass mentioned by Professor Griff was a passage way towards a door which lead to another message: “you want to know more, or keep your head in the ground?” There have been a number of hip-hop albums that have followed in the spirit of, but none will match the aftershocks that came after the siren made itself known on this record. It will forever be a benchmark, an album that should always be discussed as an important document in hip-hop.

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