Tuesday, September 25, 2007

10 Records That Changed The World Part 2

Just to recap:

The June 2007 issue of Mojo magazine featured a list of 100 Records That Changed The World.

Inspired by this Testify eventually presents, in two parts, 10 records NOT included in the Mojo list that, nontheless, changed the world (The first part is here).

Various Artists- Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis

Masterminded by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil 1968’s Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis is a collaborative effort embracing the talents of Rogerio Duprat (who arranged it), rock band Os Mutantes, Tom Ze, Gal Costa, Nara Leao (who appears on the album cover in a photograph held by Veloso) and poets such as Torquato Neto, who contributed lyrics.

It is a wildly experimental album devouring influences from both Brazilian culture, (second track Coracao Materno, for example, belongs to an older Brazilian tradition) and western culture (the hauntingly beautiful Baby closes with Veloso audible in the background singing “Please ,please stay by me Diana”in a deliberate echo of Paul Anka’s Diana).

Its soundscape embraces everything from bicycle bells and a factory siren to snatch’s of Bach.

Although not overtly critical of the US backed military regime that had come to power in 1964 the album bristles with indignation and anger: the first track, Misere Nobis, by Gilberto Gil ends in cannon fire over the repeated refrain “ora pro nobis” (“pray for us”) and Veloso’s track Enquato Seu Lobo Nao Vem (While Mr Wolf Won’t Come) abounds with images of escape and military oppression:

“Vamos por debaixo das ruas (Os clarins da banda militar)
Let’s go under the streets (The military band’s bugles)
Debaixo das bombas, das bandeiras, debaixo das botas (Os clarins da banda militar)
Under the bombs, the flags, under the boots (The military band’s bugles)
Debaixo das rosas, dos jardins, debaixo da lama (Os clarins da banda militar)
Under the roses, the gardens, under the mud (The military band’s bugles)
Debaixo da cama (Os clarins da banda militar)
Under the bed (The military band’s bugles)
Debaixo da cama (Os clarins da banda militar)
Under the bed (The military band’s bugles)”

(I am indebted to this essay for all translations)

In December 1968, the year of Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis release, Veloso and Gil were arrested by military police. Two months of interrogation and imprisonment followed, after which they were told to leave the country.

Sergio Dias, founding member of Os Mutantes said of that time:

“We, all of us, the Tropicalia movement…we were the face of Brazil-and it is much easier to conquer a place that has no face. So they basically took out the culture of Brazil

Veloso and Gil arrived in England in 1969 and remained there until1972 when they were finally allowed to return to Brazil.

In 2003 Gilberto Gil became Brazil’s Minister for Culture.

The Buzzcocks – Spiral Scratch E.P.

Spiral Scratch was recorded on the 28th of December 1976 with money borrowed from guitarist Pete Shelleys dad at Manchester’s Indigo sound studio and released on The Buzzcocks own New Hormones label in early 1977. A perfect encapsulation of amphetamine fuelled punk rock joy it was, in the words of Rough Trade impresario Geoff Travis, “the first independent record that people really wanted.”

Produced by Martin Hannett Spiral Scratch contained four tracks, all penned by vocalist Howard Devoto with the aforementioned Shelley on guitar with Steve Diggle on bass and John Maher on drums.

Devoto split from the group in March 1977 to form Magazine and Pete Shelley took over vocal and song writing duties for The Buzzcocks and although both did many fine things they never again equalled the fizzing wonder and polytechnic nihilism of Spiral Scratch’s anthemic first track: Boredom.

It may seem quaint in the age of myspace but, prior to Spiral Scratch, music in the UK was made, marketed & distributed more or less solely from London. The Buzzcocks gave a voice to the regions and a flourishing independent scene followed with small labels springing up throughout the British Isles as others, following The Buzzcocks lead, clamoured to make there voices heard.

Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force – Planet Rock

But for the fact this was written in 1964 about jazz Ralph Ellison could have been describing hip hop in general and Bambaataa in particular when he wrote:

“Each true... moment…springs from a contest in which each artist challenges all the rest; each solo flight or improvisation represents …a definition of his identity: as individual, as a member of the collectivity and as a link in the chain of a tradition.”

Though there were others, three names dominate early hip hop: DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa.

In the early seventies these three DJ’s and there sound systems would set up at opposite ends of a park or community hall and battle for audience share.

Bambaataa, founder hip hops most famous and influential posse; The Zulu Nation had at one time been a member of infamous Bronx gang The Black Spades:

“You really have to understand that the Zulu Nation had originally been the Black Spades. They were the biggest most feared gang in the Bronx,” says hip hop original Fab Five Freddy, “They’d wear these denim jackets with the cut off sleeves and fur around the collars and Black Spades written across the back. This was before gangs had a lot of guns so it was all about getting beat down with sticks and knives. It was brutal.And Bambaataa had the inspiration to stop this gang banging nonsense…he turned one of the most violent street gangs into one of the most influential cultural organisations.”

Bambaataa’s great strength as a DJ was his eclectism as he recalled:

“I used to like to catch people who’d say, ‘I don’t like rock. I don’t like Latin.’ I’d throw on Mick Jagger – you’d see the blacks and Spaniards just throwing down, dancing crazy. I’d say ‘I thought you said you didn’t like rock’. They’d say ‘Get out of here’ I’d say, ‘Well you were just dancing to the Rolling Stones’ ‘You’re kidding!’

I’d throw on Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band – just the drum part. One, two, three, BAM – and they’d be screaming and partying. I’d throw on the Monkees, “Mary,Mary”- just the beat part where they’d go ‘Mary, Mary were you going?’- and they’d start going crazy. I’d say, ‘You just danced to the Monkees.’ They’d say, ‘You liar. I didn’t dance to no Monkees.’ I’d like to catch people who categorize records.”

Bambaataa, at that time the undisputed Master of Records, is credited with introducing such classic ‘breaks’ as Herman Kelly’s Dance To The Drummers Beat, The Mohawks Champ, and, crucially, English prog rock band Babe Ruth’s The Mexican and Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express.

These last two together with Kraftewerks Numbers and Captain Skys Super Sperm would go in the mix to make Bambaataa’s masterpiece: Planet Rock .

Bambaataa had provided support for Malcolm McLaren’s post Sex Pistols act BowWowWow and this gave him an in at New York’s new wave clubs of the time.

It was this cross cultural fertilisation that gave birth to Planet Rock. As Fab Five Freddy said:

“From being in a room, dominated by young white new wave heads, people with weird haircuts, who were just super cool beyond belief – that inspired him to go and make a record called Planet Rock which kinda changed the whole state of the game.”

When Bambaataa, producer Arthur Baker and keyboardist John Robie came together to create a black electronic music they married New York’s two vibrant underground scenes; new wave and hip hop.

Besides being the most sampled record in hip hop, it increased the beat and opened the door for the developments in dance music that were happening in Chicago and Detroit.

Frankie Knuckles/ Jamie Principle - Baby Wants To Ride

House music. The very name is a tribute to The Warehouse, a Chicago club which DJ Frankie Knuckles presided over from 1977 to 1983. Knuckles memorably described The Warehouse as “church for people who have fallen from grace”.

On leaving The Warehouse Frankie Knuckles founded The Power Plant and it was here, in 1984, that one Byron Walton aka Jamie Principle, a Depeche Mode and Prince fan, brought him the music he had been making at home on his four track Portastudio.

In 1987 this partnership brought the feverish Baby Wants To Ride? into the world.

By that time House music had come to something of a crossroads; the success of Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s Jack Your Body, and its subsequent imitators, had threatened to see the groove become a monotone. House artists began looking back to the 70’s to try and find a way forward and as a result the Chicago house sound was getting trancier and deeper. Lyrics echoed this shift borrowing phrases and phrasing from righteous black power fuelled funk and uplifting gospel inflected disco.

Baby Wants To Ride was one of the first and, for my money, is still the finest example of this new sound: a sparse electro funk pile up of sex, submission, revolution and Revelations!

Wu Tang Clan – Enter The Wu Tang Clan (36 Chambers)

This album revitalised hip-hop scene when it appeared in ’93. At a time when hip hop was stagnating into a seemingly endless round of dull laid back gangsta’s rapping about keeping it real blah, blah, blah The Wu brought the ruckus by keeping it surreal. It’s not that they weren’t thuggish enough to be gansta, Wu Tang Clan weren’t nothing to fuck with, its just The Wu were too original and, well, strange.

The RZA recalled: “When I put the first album together, I was in a real competitive state of mind with real vengeance in my heart. ’Fuck the music industry, fuck the hip hop game’. I realised that a lot of these guys was corny and they was acting like they was the best”

RZA had form, as Prince Rakeem, on Tommy Boy. His solo single, Ooh I Love You Rakeem had flopped. On his return to the industry RZA came mob handed.

Hip Hop’s stars had always had a posse, the Clan were different though. As Nelson George wrote in 1998:“ The logical conclusion of posse performance has been reached by Wu Tang Clan, whose posse, instead of hangers-on, is packed with skilled rhyme animals who stalk the stage ready to ‘catch wreck’ at a moments notice. While in most cases the posse is somebody’s cousin and the kid from down the block, Wu’s killer B’s attack is the example that proves the rule because with them the posse is the star”

Pooling there resources, and with loans from family members the RZA scraped together enough to release 500 copies of The Wu Tang Clans debut: the stone cold classic Protect Ya Neck: “I just went to a radio station and pushed through the door – ‘Play this one. It’s better than everything else out there, and if you like hip hop, you gotta like this.’”

Bobbito Garcia, the radio DJ who first played it said: “In the summer of ’92 we got a test pressing of Protect Ya Neck… I remember putting it on and being like ‘What the fuck is this karate shit?’”

This ‘karate shit’ was an early glimpse of Wu world and it had record labels salivating.

What followed is industry legend. As Rich Isaacson of Loud Records remembered: “What we did with Wu Tang was unprecedented. In almost all record contracts, when you sign a group there’s a paragraph called ‘the group provision’. Basically that says if any of the members of the group leave and start a solo career , they have to do it with the label…That’s sacred within the record industry…We told him that if you sign with Loud for a lot less money, we’ll let you take solo artists to other labels.”

For the RZA it was about control: “We got less money but we got control and that was what we wanted, so we could go out there and make other deals. We came with a plan”

When the album Enter The Wu Tang Clan (36 Chambers) it was an imaginative tour de force. RZA and his cohorts cinematic vision presented there Staten Island home as a dark b-movie Gotham through which the Wu Tang’s killer B’s swarmed armed only with a multitude of aliases, a baffling homemade philosophy drawn from kung-fu flicks and, best of all, a fistful of southern soul samples.

Against a background of looped piano’s the RZA unearthed dread at the heart of Stax and Hi records. The Wu Tang’s samples enriched not only the Wu’s work but also there sources. It is impossible now to hear The Charmels’ I’ll Never Grow Old, for example, and not think of C.R.E.A.M. The RZA identified a sickness, a melancholia, in these southern soul pieces and, with his sampling, highlighted this, leaving the original song altered forever.

The Wu Tang individuals did indeed go onto produce often innovative solo albums for a variety of labels that consolidated there reputation at the forefront of hip hop but none had the impact of their initial entry into our world and ours into theirs.

The image accompanying this post shows a Helio Oiticica designed flag. It depicts the criminal Cara de Cavalo, who was the first victim of Brazils military junta's death squads, and reads Be A Criminal, Be A Hero. In October 1968 Gil and Veloso performed at Rio's Sucata nightclub in front of a backdrop that featured this image. It was to be their last live performance before being arrested.