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

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

Now, we begin.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    DUST IT OFF: Breakin’… 30 years later

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

    What does that mean, exactly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • As someone who loved music, I wanted to find the soundtrack album to Breakin’ so Chris, Ryan, and I walked over to Tower Records on Ke’eaumoku, which was a few blocks down the street. I wanted the soundtrack so I could have “Tour De France” and maybe “Beat Box”. Forget the fact that I already had the 12″ for “Tour De France” and the cassette for Into Battle, I just had to have the soundtrack album. I asked if they had the soundtrack album available, and the cashier said that he did. He gave me an album on K-Tel Records called Breakdance. I looked at it, then looked at the credits. i saw “Tour De France” was on there but it was not by Kraftwerk, but someone called 10 Speed. 10 Speed? What the hell is that? I found myself fairly proud that I knew about my music at that age, but I was cocky. I was a thirteen year or music elitist, I looked at the Breakdance tape and said “no, that’s not it. That’s not the soundtrack. I’ll get it when the real cassette comes in” and I walked out. What I’ve learned as I’m writing was that the song was produced by John Driscoll, and their version of “Tour De France” was released as its own 12″ single on Quality Records out of Canada. I don’t know who they were trying to fool or why, but someone bought it and assumed it was the original. Hopefully they learned it wasn’t, or maybe they discovered they liked 10 Speed over Kraftwerk. I eventually bought that soundtrack ten years later or so, but it was awful.
     photo Breakdance_tapecover_zpsd60c8e6a.jpg

    If there was something to like about the film, it was about actress Lucinda Dickey in her role as Kelly. She was cute, and the outfits? This was the area of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”, Aerobicize, 20 Minute Workout and fitness, everyone had to wear new clothes as a means to get healthier. My thirteen year old mind said “it’s going to get sexier” and it was. Kelly was what a lot of us guys wanted to find. At my age, I didn’t know how I was going to find someone like her or where. It wasn’t important, maybe we were lucky to bump into a Kelly type. Good luck in that.

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

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

  • Over the years I would look to see what had happened to the Kapi’olani Theater once it was closed down. For a brief moment it was a Blockbuster store, which eventually turned into a Papa John’s, where it remains as of this writing. The entrance still looks like what I remembered, but of course with the box office long gone.
     photo KapiolaniTheaterPizza_pic_zps6ccf1143.jpg

    Breakin’ was a move that showed what Hollywood was about to do with this new thing out of New York City called hip-hop. To them, it was more than just the music and the dances, it felt like so much more. We all wanted to live in a world where “Planet Rock” was an anthem where the rockin’ don’t stop, but maybe we didn’t want it to rock that big. Or maybe we didn’t want those outsiders to intrude on what we felt was ours. Yes, I was very much an outsider too, and I never visited New York until eleven years after I heard “Rapper’s Delight” yet when I did, I wanted to be in the city where hip-hop came from. I wanted to make a hip-hop pilgrimage despite the fact Breakin’ was far from New York, nor I at the beach where Jean Claude Van Damme danced at the beach.

     photo VanDammeBreakin.gif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Feel no shame, blame your children.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Yes, it was indeed so simple then.

    DUST IT OFF: Me’Shell NdegéOcello’s “Plantation Lullabies”…20 Years Later

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    At the time of release, Me’Shell NdegéOcello was not a complete unknown, but she wasn’t known outside of her Washington, DC circle. She had played bass for years and was known for being a young powerhouse, but she hadn’t yet established herself as a major artist. Considering the work she did, one might argue that she didn’t want to be a major artist but eventually she found herself on Madonna’s then-new Maverick record label. Maverick was partly created to showcase some of Madonna’s interests but primarily to show her as a record label CEO with ten successful years in the music industry. If The Beatles had Apple, Elton John had The Rocket Record Company, The Rolling Stoned had Rolling Stones, and Prince had Paisley Park, then Madonna was ready to show that she had hers. NdegéOcello was one of her early signees.

    With Madonna’s name attached to hers, people were not sure what to expect from a female bassist, born Michelle Johnson. Immediately, a female musician might have lead people to wondering if she played jazz. Yes, she did. By the time one finished listening to her debut album, one couldn’t help realize she was so much more, a singer/songwriter/musician who could arguably outshine the co-owner of her label.

  • One might ask what exactly are Plantation Lullabies? Madonna was signed to Sire, which was a Warner Bros. Records-affiliated label. Maverick was also distributed by Warner Bros. It has been said that the Warner Bros. movie studio plot in Burbank, California was built on land that was originally a plantation. With an artist who is social and political in her music, perhaps it could be said that NdegéOcello was now making music “for the man”, and thus if she was now a slave to a system, then the music she would create would become her lullabies for the plantation, songs to sing in the meantime before she would eventually make her way out.
  • The album begins with the mellow title track, an instrumental that serves as the album’s introduction to her show, welcoming everyone in, hoping people were firmly seated for what was to come. “I’m Diggin You (Like an Old Soul Record)” begins incredibly funky and the bass immediately jumps out. “Damn, this is some funky shit” I said, and then she spoke by telling the listener to “just sit back and relax, listen to an 8-track”. Immediately she was telling you what kind of comfortable vibe her album wanted to create. This was an album that was meant to listen to, to allow the metaphorical 8-track tape to take its time, a format that initially was made without being able to fast forward (or rewind) the tape. Once you popped it in, you had to listen to it from start to finish, and your only way of moving around the album was clicking the button to go between tracks 1 to 4. Lyrically, she touches on how the world was different when people were singing not as a means to be free, but because it was normal to feel free, because “love brought us all together”. It referenced the Black Power movement, but also a different mentality, which now became sentimentality. It was now the 90’s, and now love seems to have been replaced by heavy drug usage:
    Now brothers be base-in
    Running from the beat-down cops that be chasin’
    Running out of time, running out of patience
    In this war of the conscious mind

    These Lullabies were not going to be about Little Jack Horner putting his thumb in a pie to find a plum.

  • If “”I’m Diggin You (Like an Old Soul Record)” was more spoken word in feel, it couldn’t be denied that “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)” was a rap song about her finding a man that she wants, and if that man is attached to someone else, it is not her problem. She wants what she wants and she’ll get it. If it comes to her (or looking for her), even better. The song was released as Plantation Lullabies‘ second single and its black & white video would receive a healthy amount of MTV and BET rotation in late 1993/early 1994, which would help give her a great amount of exposure. The song was also notable for featuring two samples within the mix (the “hey” which opens the song and the “oooh!” stabs heard before the first verse drops), which was distinctively different from the funkiness of “I’m Diggin You (Like an Old Soul Record)”, as if it was dipping into her own soul record collection to find influences.

  • The drug reference made in “I’m Diggin You (Like an Old Soul Record)” was explored in full with “Shoot’n Up and Gett’n High”, but one could say is the drug in question heroin, or the type of mental and social injections that turn some of us into slaves of/for ourselves:
    And damn I thought I was shootin’up Africa in my veins
    White man voodoo slow my brain the while man fights wars and enslaves
    All in God’s name
    What ya trying to achieve with your suntan lotion
    You wanna keep me down keep me down
    Revolution against this racist institution
    The white man shall forever sleep with one eye open
    Dehumanize me
    Criticize, set aside
    Livin’ in the midst of genocide I hear voices voices are what I hear
    Uprise would you die for your right

    If Curtis Mayfield recorded an album about a man named John Shaft who was trying to make his community better by getting rid of the pusher man, NdegéOcello showed that 20 years later, people are still struggling and “trying to get over”, and the pain still hurts. The track marks were becoming more difficult to hide.

  • “Dred Loc” was the first single released off of Planatation Lullabies and was my formal introduction to NdegéOcello when the song found a home on BET’s Video Soul and Video Vibrations. The song was about love, or more specifically, black love, with her voice casually saying “let me run my fingers through your dreadlocks and rub your body down”. The song was soothing, moving, and grooving from start to finish, and her bass riffs throughout showed this was very much a personal slow jam, or had the potential to become one.
  • From an untitled interlude towards the deepness of love, “Step Into The Projects” has her singing about looking for someone to find an affection that’s more than just the physical, although the darkness of ones skin also equates to the darkness of the mind that is split between dealing with the true darkness of the world and a sensibility that is unique to ones own darkness as people are “groovin’, love to hear the brothers signify sisters with their head held high”. No need to think about a world looking at you for who you are based on what they think you are, when being dark and lovely becomes much more of a statement than just a casual beauty product.

    Soul On Ice is a book written by Eldridge Cleaver and published in 1968, the year of NdegéOcello’s birth. In this song, she explores what some might do to try to fit in with another culture just to get by or simply pass, and sometimes that also touches on what some within their own culture will do to validate what it means to be what they feel it means to be what they are. At the time, a number of hip-hop artists were doing songs about “dirt road, white girl”, a way to say “why do you want to look, speak, and dress this way when it’s all cosmetic to you? You can remove the clothing and make-up when you’re home, wipe the dirt away before you go to sleep.” At this point, NdegéOcello throws out boomerangs and she knows exactly who, or perhaps what, her intended target is:
    Creams sad passion deferred dreams
    I am a reflection of you
    Black and blue pure as the tears of coal-colored children crying for acceptance
    You can’t run from yourself
    She’s just an illusion
    Black love anthems play behind white-skinned affection
    New Birth stereophonic Spanish fly let her cry
    But you no longer burn for the motherland brown skin
    You want blond-haired, blue-eyed soul, Snow White passion without the hot comb

    One can equate that as a lullaby of the plantation, or parallel to what Cleaver was dealing with when he wrote Soul On Ice while in prison, or simply NdegéOcello dealing with what she knew, what she saw, what she experienced, and putting that into something that could have fit in perfectly on the Super Fly soundtrack.

  • After repeat listens of this album for years, I feel the last five songs are a perfect suite, equal to the Abbey Road suite, Chicago’s “Ballet For A Girl In Buchanon” from Side 2 Chicago II (or even the “Prelude/A.M. Mourning/P.M. Mourning/Memories Of Love” or “It Better End Soon” movements from the same Chicago album), The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away”, or the Beastie Boys’ “B-Boy Bouillabaisse”. The songs may not have been done as a suite, and there may not have been a steady stream of consciousness when they were written, recorded, and pieced together for the album, and yet it feels as if she did it that way. The running theme in the last five songs are love and romance, which begins with a request (if not a subtle demand) for a call for a hook-up in “Call Me”:
    Dial the 7 digits, It’s quite simple
    I’ll be there in a hurry, Jack be quick Jack be nimble
    Call me up when you feel the need to talk
    When words aren’t of the essence I’ll soothe you with my presence
    A kiss here and there from head to toe
    Just call me up when you want more
    You can be king for a day
    I’ll be your queen, let me treat you that way

  • “Outside Your Door” is being on the verge of wanting someone, or telling that special someone that I am within arms reach, you just have to extend your hand to get to me:
    “I’d be content to just sit here and talk to you
    In my dreams you love me and me only
    The way you kiss and hold me
    Love is what I search and search to find
    But until then I’ll just dream for the meantime

    The song is done as an incredible, soulful and jazzy slow jam, going back and forth between spoken word and vocals, as she sensually caresses her own mind in the hopes that other things may be catered to when that time comes.

  • “Picture Show” is more umtempo, very much a feel good song where one discovers when the hand is extended, you can share a warm embrace and watch a movie. The fact that she uses a term like “picture show” is very old school, especially in 1993 when most people were no longer using the term to describe a movie or film. Then again, the reference where she sings “we can sit and neck, baby” is a reflection of the mentality she once discussed a few songs earlier, when you can only sit back and relax for so long while listening to 8-tracks. Old school thought, old school mentality, old school feelings”
    In my script there’s a love scene, picture it
    Candles with warm apple cider
    Sly Stone on the radio
    Oh, caress your funky dreads in the candle’s glow
    Whisper in my ear
    “‘Cause I’m in the mood for love”
    I’m just a hopeless romantic
    Hopelessly in love with you

  • “Sweet Love” is another slow jam that I’d like to think she enhances (or used to enhance) in a live setting. The song is about a certain type of desire wanted. While she found herself speaking for the woman who didn’t mind loving anyone she wanted, she now finds herself in sorrow, wanting someone who is in love with someone else.
    Cry my tears by candlelight, I’m just another lonely heart
    Here on a lonely night, screams of passions
    I call out your name making love to another
    Just to ease my pain, will this ever change?
    Will you ever feel the same way about me?

    The melody that fades-out the song almost hints at child-like innocence, as if someone is doing hopscotch and discovering what it means to have a first crush, and always feeling that way when a desire is wanted but cannot be fulfilled at this time.

  • The Lullabies conclude with “Two Lonely Hearts (On the Subway)”. There’s two ways of looking at this five-song suite and how it ends. It may seem as if NdegéOcello found her man and is enjoying everything that it means to be in love, or to simply be. She pleads for that person to extend their hand but by the end of them, it is she who reveals it is her resisting the temptation to simply say hello, yet knows that first word (or words) could lead to some sense of freedom, if only for a morning, afternoon, or evening. It is then she reveals that as she boards the train to head back home, she is not the only one who feels alone:
    We could read some Ntozake Shange
    and I loose myself in the book
    I escape to my heavenly tomb
    Or we could read the voice
    It’s your choice, I just want to get to know you
    Your lovely black face
    Accompanied by some strictly roots
    As we venture, it’s just nice to be near you

    Words expressed, but not heard? Emotions felt, but not spoken externally? As the song gently fades and the instrumental backing moves towards hearing nothing but NdegéOcello playing a slightly mournful-yet-optimistic goodbye, you realize that this was not the lullaby you expected to hear, but are comforted in knowing that as one fades into slumber, there is always that metaphorical promise of a new day, and whatever we’re able to make of it.

  • The album brought in musicians she had worked with over the years, such as David “Fuze” Fiuczynski, Wah-Wah Watson, Joshua Redman, Geri Allen, and Luis Conté, but when it came to needing a DJ for some scratching on the closing track, she asked DJ Premier to help out with “turntable interpretations”, which helps to enhance the feeling of the “Two Lonely Hearts” by recreating the external sounds of the subway. It sounds gritty and it’s fitting for an album that goes in a number of places throughout a song, sometimes within the same section of a song.

    If NdegéOcello herself felt as if she didn’t know how to fit herself in with the rest of the world, what to make of an album that for some may have felt like a confusing array of sounds unsure of how to unite? I always felt the mixture of soul, funk, jazz, hip-hop, and spoken word fit perfectly, and that one didn’t have to limit themselves to a constraint, if they allowed themselves to be free.

    One of the most notable things about the album was the liner notes, which featured some of her own writings. It also featured a few statements, including one that hit me and I still remember to this day:
    the alternative to hip-hop is silence

    Hip-hop was slowly dividing itself to where one didn’t, couldn’t, or refused to recognize the other, so it seemed to become one group of those who wanted the attention, and the other who simply wanted to be. Could hip-hop welcome in someone like NdegéOcello who could not only rap, but sing and play an instrument? Forget the fact that people like Shock G. and Kwame Holland were already playing instruments in their own music and productions, but the scope of what hip-hop was meant to represent in 1993 was very different than it would be at the dawn of the internet’s first hip-hop communities. Technically, NdegéOcello was an outsider even though hip-hop felt as if it was without rules. Technically, Beck’s “Loser” is a twisted hip-hop song but he could be considered someone who rapped. Or maybe it was a credibility issue, that he could “rap” but no one care call him a rapper.

    Regardless, Plantation Lullaby showed what could happen if one chose to go beyond the boundaries of what was established so you could create your own territory, even if that territory made you feel alone and isolated. One means of isolation will eventually lead you to find the promised land, be it within the plantation or not. However, part of the album’s beauty is listening to her struggle through the ways of the plantation and coming to the conclusion that we can make it exist or not, especially when you reach the epiphany of what you really want. It’s the eternal search for a lonely heart so that it’s possible for them to beat as one. That’s a lullaby worth singing about, or in this case, 13 Plantation Lullabies worth singing and remembering.

  • DUST IT OFF: Herbie Hancock’s “Head Hunters”…40 Years Later

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    It was not my first exposure to jazz. My dad was the jazz fan who enjoyed the music of Herbie Mann, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Ramsey Lewis’ Sun Goddess album. These guys were fairly tame compared to the album I was listening to at my uncle’s place: Miles Davis’ Live Evil. I liked it because it featured an illustrated album cover with a nude, pregnant woman. Surprisingly, my parents didn’t shield my eyes from this and perhaps because I had already been a child raised on Santana’s Abraxas, another cover with not one, but two beautiful nude women. Yes, these covers were considered naughty even though I wasn’t quite sure what made them bad, other than the fact that they showed drawings of a woman’s chichi’s. It was the music that brought me in, so getting into songs like “Sivad”, “Selim”, “Funky Tonk”, and “Inamorata and Narration by Conrad Roberts” was very cool, even this type of jazz was louder, noisier, and nothing like what my dad was into. It was weird, zany, and wacky, and I loved it.

    As I got older and started looking at records as much more than the containers of sounds I enjoyed, I would read the back cover, go over the album credits, or look at the photos on the inner sleeves. If you bought an album on Columbia or Epic, it would come with record company sleeves advertising other albums the label wanted to suggest. One album that always seemed to come up was Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters. The cover image was just a thumbnail so it was hard to figure out what was the face on it. I don’t remember searching for it before the age of ten, but after moving from Honolulu to the Pacific Northwest, I found a great resource for music: the public library. I had already borrowed records and cassettes from the Honolulu library so doing this in a new place was not strange, I just had to see what kind of records were there. One of the albums I found was the album with the weird face, and I believe it was the first time I picked it up. I now realized it was some kind of robot mask, but why? I looked at the cover and saw that it had only four songs. This meant there were some long songs and as someone raised along a good share of rock and jazz, I felt these long songs were little mini-journeys someone could take with a record and stereo. By this time, Hancock’s music was only familiar to me through “Rockit”, “Automatic”, “Hardrock”, and “Karabali”. I didn’t yet make the connection between Hancock and Miles Davis, in fact I wasn’t listening to Davis’ music at all at the time. Yet Hancock seemed… no, it didn’t seem, it was available to me at the library and I could borrow it. I was probably 15 or 16 when I borrowed it along with John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things (Atlantic), another artist I had heard of but not really explored. I borrowed them and had taken them home. I was blown away by both. Coltrane’s music and playing seemed very calming, while Hancock’s sound was funky and on the same level of Lewis’ Sun Goddess, but quite different. It was this visit to the library that truly opened the door to the vast world of jazz that I had brief hints of when I would visit record stores in Honolulu, but I had absolutely no idea how deep or lost one could get. I didn’t know if I was ready or not, but I wanted in the room.

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  • Head Hunters was my introduction to what I may have called the “true” Hancock, the “real” Hancock. That’s not saying “Rockit” or “Automatic” was not his real music, but I felt the album was much closer to what he was about as a musician. Keep in mind that I had yet to discover the Mwandishi period, his Blue Note work, or his vast work with Davis’ quintet. Head Hunters represented the funky style of jazz I loved. The album begins with “Chameleon” with one of the most recognizable riffs in the world of electric jazz. It has a nice and calm flow before the song reaches the halfway point and before the synth solo is shrill and twisted and completely different. Was this the music played by the robot? By then, I had the cover in my hand so I knew the man within the can was Hancock himself, but the futuristic mask was meant to repersent the music in some way. I found this song to be more powerful than “Rockit”, but as I’m listening to “Chameleon”, the song seems to end but moves on to a completely different mood and feel. Where was this leading to? I don’t know, but I got into it and enjoyed it when the song went back into the vamp and then the melody which started the song. Close to 16 minutes of bliss and I had to have more.
  • “Watermelon Man” was beyond funky, I loved the African feel but I wondered if it was meant to sound tribal? A ritual? Or just a gathering of musicians playing for the love of music and life? The song felt…slinky. In other words, it was literally like a Slinky toy going down a flight of stairs, where everything grooved and had its own rhythm. There’s a part of the song I was always drawn to, and it was great when Puff Daddy did a remix of a Super Cat song and included that exact segment as the core of “Dolly My Baby”.
  • “Sly” seemed too much to me at first, and not because of how fast the band plays throughout, but there seemed to be too much information going on in the song. The song begins at a calm page, but then it stops and they come out of it fully recharged and ready to play with brilliance. Hancock’s piano solo is incredible, and the band stop not once but a few times before returning to the melody which opened the song.
  • “Vein Melter” was the album closer and upon first listen, it seemed way too slow, or that the song was going nowhere. I didn’t understand it and yet when I played the album, I would never shut the song off. With continued listens, the song then sounded like a return home to the city or home after a long voyage through the unknown, and everyone is going back into the comforts of slumber, or they’re all returning to normality through calm and peace. Again, multiple plays lead to me loving this song along with the rest of the album, and it is a mandatory listen when I put on Head Hunters, I must play it from start to finish.

  • I wasn’t just a kid who enjoyed listening, this is the type of music I wanted to learn how to play. I wanted to be the rock star and play the guitar, then I felt the drums were cooler, especially when it became the instrument my parents refused to buy me. I didn’t want to be just a rock or jazz musician, I simply wanted to play music and if it included jazz, so be it. Head Hunters seemed to be an album that was of importance because of how it always seemed to be available, unlike before where labels would make a release out of print when it would collect dust in the racks. When compact discs were made, labels were slow in releasing popular releases. Eventually, labels realized that fans did want to buy old music if it sounded clean and crisp. Columbia Records were initially slow in opening their catalog but once they did, the jazz releases would eventually flood the market. One of the first Columbia jazz releases I ever saw was Head Hunters, so I bought it and loved the clarity. I would later buy the Legacy remaster, and later the SACD so I could hear the surround sound mix. It wouldn’t be later until I tracked down the original 4.0 quadraphonic mixes and loved all of the differences between the stereo and the quad. When Warner Bros. dipped into their vaults, they released a compilation featuring the three albums Hancock released for the label, so I got into Fat Albert Rotunda, Mwandishi, and Crossings. By then, I was getting heavy into Davis and also finding Hancock’s other records, including the work he did with The V.S.O.P. Quintet, and as with most jazz, one release leads to another, which leads to full catalogs, which leads to exploring sessionographies, the search and listening process is endless.

    Yet despite all of the excursions I would go on with jazz, I always found myself returning to Head Hunters as much as I had already returned to Sun Goddess, and it would become one of my default jazz albums. One can hear this album and imagine its influence on thousands of musicians. One can listen to a lot of hip-hop and hear what this album provided to everyone. One can play this and hear what a lot of artists today are missing and/or overlooking.

    For me, when I started my one-man music project known as Crut, I drew four non-existent members of the non-existent group as a way to describe the aspects of me and the different things I listened to. The DJ of the group was Jeffrey Duduho, a/k/a DJ Tungmaduduho, and he was represented by the robot mask on Head Hunters. In many ways, it described the mentality I had with my music at the time: cover up with masks and maybe people will be more open to listening instead of looking. I just wanted to say “I like Hancock, and I can music this funky, in my own way.”

    Was Head Hunters meant to be important music made specifically for the head? Mind expanding sounds? If so, were Paul Jackson, Victor Moscoso, Bill Summers, Harvey Mason, and Hancock the true rebel hunters of sound for the head? Unsure.

    What I am certain of is. I had once inquired about an extended Legacy edition of Head Hunters, complete with any existing outtakes and/or alternate takes, and the answer I received was that there weren’t any, which could have easily meant that there wasn’t anything worth releasing from what may or may not exist. “Chameleon” does fade out, so why not release a mix of the song that comes to a proper (or improper) ending? Same for “Watermelon Man”. The quadraphonic mix of “Sly” features a few notes that aren’t in the stereo mix, how about any existing count-ins or studio dialogue. Then again, if you entered a recording studio were time is of the essence and money, maybe if there were any false takes, the tape reel was rewound to the beginning and everything that was put on tape was immediately erased with the next take. It is also very much possible that Hancock and friends did single takes of each song and perfection was made in 42 minutes. At least there are existing live recordings, for those who wish to hear how some of these songs were explored in a live setting.

  • What will be the legacy of Head Hunters in 40 years? 20 years? Five years from now? I think its legacy will remain strong and will grow stronger as more people discover this masterpiece, and older musicians rediscover it, while others will discover it for the first time, perhaps leading some to say “why did I ignore hearing this?” It shows the diversity of Hancock and everything he has made in the 50+ years as someone who loves and enjoys music. I hope those who will discover it for the first time will become their own “head hunters” as well.

  • 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”.

    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”

    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 wife 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.