The Way Up The Hill: Diary Playlist April 8-14

I’m launching a new feature on Sundays: a Spotify Playlist containing favorite tracks of the week. If in the case Spotify isn’t streaming the track or album in question, I’ll try to find excellent tracks from the artist’s other work to sub in. Such was the case this week with Tapper Zukie, JD Allen, and Sonny Criss. Also, weekly “awards”:

Plucked from History’s Dustbin (best recent purchase of an old record): Mississippi Blues Festival 86 

Grower, Not a Shower (old record I already owned that’s risen significantly in my esteem): Billy Bang and Frank Lowe–Above and Beyond

Encore, Encore (album I played at least twice this week): Fela–Best of Black President Volume 2

Through the Cracks (sweet record I forgot to write about): Tracey Thorn–Record

Coming Attractions (Sunday’s Children): John Prine–Tree of Forgiveness and Jinx Lennon–Grow a Pair

ILC: I Reminisce Over You (April 7th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

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I have been tearing through David Peisner’s Homey Don’t Play That!: The Story of In Living Color and The Black Comedy Revolution.  I highly recommend it; it’s full of insights about both threads of the subtitle, and Peisner presents his findings in a very balanced manner, letting both a wealth of both major and minor players tell the story, then drawing his conclusions from that. Long about page 190, Peisner recalls the show’s then-choreographer Rosie Perez’s efforts to bring live music to the show (Keenan Ivory Wayans claims that was always going to happen, but I’m more convinced by rap music’s explosion on the show’s stage coinciding, more or less, with Perez’s arrival). This took me way back to the days that we (my wife, my few rap-oriented friends, and I) watched the show religiously, and how permanently their East Coast-leaning guests affected our taste, though I never could get much of a conversation going with my mid-Missouri 10th graders, who were West Coast fans all the way.

I was planning on finishing the book, but my repeated jumps to YouTube to watch clips (of the musical guests and the classic bits) foiled that goal. However, for your (and my) pleasure and convenience, here’s a playlist of ILC‘s hip hop highlights–at least the ones which have been uploaded:

Short-shrift Division:

Orquesta Akokán’s self-titled debut is fabulous. If you like Cuban music, the band’s a mix of young and old, and while on first listen you’re going to think the band’s playing classics, the material’s all original. The sessions took place in Havana, at the legendary state-run Arieto Studio, which reputedly was designed to get the most out of percussion instruments–especially congas and bongos. The evidence supports that claim. In my Top 20 for 2018, easily.

Nicole and I also attended Battle High School’s Pride Prom in the evening. Nicole had volunteered for supervision (she’s the district career center’s liaison to Battle) and I said I’d keep her company–honestly, I was planning on finishing the book! Fortunately, the event was too exciting to miss in favor of reading; it was very well-attended, the kids (and adults) were clearly having a blast, and the centerpiece was a drag show featuring participants from all of Columbia’s public schools. All the queens were energized and fun to watch, but the fifth of five contestants, Black Icing, knocked the crowd dead. Victory was by audience applause, and there was no doubt who reigned supreme.

I’d report the music, but, um, I guess I’m too disconnected from the charts since I only recognized one of the songs (and couldn’t name that one), and Battle is a concrete and steel fortress that forbids Shazaming. When I got home and started to look it up, of course, I instantly remembered it. A great choice it was:

Anyhow, as a southwest Missouri boy who taught in this red state’s public schools across four decades, I found myself shaking my head at the spectacle, in awe, amazement, joy, and HOPE. If that event is happening here, perhaps we are not completely lost.

Never Forgetting / Doin’ The Peanut Duck–wait WHAT? (April 4th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

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Perkins

Today marked 50 years from the day that one of the world’s greatest advocates for social justice, economic equality, and peace–a man who quite literally, in that advocacy, courted assault and death for at least a third of his life–was shot dead in Memphis. Say what you will about the range of theories: his assassination was a further iteration of this country’s power structure’s willingness to commit spectacle murder in order to protect itself. I’d like to think that since 1968 we’ve evolved; I’m far from sure.

In the Overeem house, we like to remember King and his impact on people across the American spectrum, and remind ourselves about the dangers inherent in public truth-telling, by playing George Perkins and The Silver Stars’ heartbreaking “Cryin’ in the Streets.” Perkins, though not credited, claimed and is generally believed to have written the lyrics about King’s funeral; the song, unsurprisingly, became a big regional hit and rose to #12 on the Billboard r&b chart. Few songs in the American canon penetrate as deeply into the country’s historic sorrow, and testify as eloquently to its original sin:

Also, it’s stayed relevant over the last half-century and, considering current social unrest and the lack of urgency our elected leaders have in addressing it, is bound to remain that way. Here is Buckwheat Zydeco’s differently heartbreaking rendition, recorded following the Katrina disaster–neither version would sound out of place being played, sung, or sung chanted for Stephon Clark and Saheed Vassell, just to name the most recent in the litany of black bodies robbed of lifeflow by those charged with protecting them:

 

I did reach for something later in the day to break angry, frustrated, and sorrowful thoughts: Rhino’s kaboodle-kontained girl group compilation One Kiss Leads to Another–Girl Grou Sounds Lost & Found. It’s most definitely one of the most prized presents my parents ever got me for Christmas, one I’m sure they thought was also one of the weirdest.

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It’s four fabulous, and very consistent, discs of mostly unsung highlights from the girl group era. Though it does contain some acknowledged and not-so-obscure classics–The Exciters’ “He’s Got the Power,” The Shirelles’ Beatle-adored “Boys,” Brenda Holloway’s (Del-Fi version of) “Every Little Bit Hurts,” just to name a few–it very much justifies its existence by unearthing some unforgettable gems. My favorites from yesterday (they tend to change every time I break this set out):

Carole King: “He’s a Bad Boy”

Donna Lynn: “I’d Much Rather Be with the Girls” (written by two guys named Keith and Loog…)

Dee Dee Warwick: “You’re No Good” (it may be a certified masterpiece, but it’s not easy to locate, at least physically)

The Shangri-Las: “The Train from Kansas City”

Earl-Jean: “I’m Into Something Good”

P. P. Arnold: “The First Cut is the Deepest”

Dolly Parton: “Don’t Drop Out” (did she beat JB to that?)

The Egyptians: “Egyptian Shumba”

The Goodees: “Condition Red”

The Whyte Boots: “Nightmare”

Wanda Jackson: “Funnel of Love” (a bit of a ringer, but what the heck!)

The What Four: “I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy”

Marsha Gee: “Peanut Duck” (one of the great pop music mysteries–see below!*)

Hollywood Jills: “He Makes Me So Mad” (Not Hollywood–NOLA!)

Lesley Gore: “Brink of Disaster”

Gayle Harris: “They Never Taught Us That in School” (amazingly, non-existent on YouTube!)

The Ribbons: “Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya”

The Pussycats: “Dressed in Black”

Here’s a convenient playlist containing (most of) the above:

About the only thing keeping this package from being perfect is the absence of the Pleasure Seekers’ “What a Way to Die”–if they could wedge in Wanda and Dolly and the Whyte Boots, they could make way for proto-punk Suzi Q.! Also: where’s Little Ann’s “Deep Shadows”! (I added them to the above playlist, FYI.)

*For about five minutes, I shut my office door and practiced “The Peanut Duck.” I recommend you take some time today to do so yourself, but I’ll warn you that “Marsha”‘s instructions are, um, esoteric to say the least. I mentioned a mystery, and straight from the set’s eye-popping and brain-expanding booklet, authored by Sheila Burgel, here it is, yet to be solved:

“At Virtue Sound Studio in Philadelphia, a mystery girl singer cut “Peanut Duck,” a feverish soul stomper that trailed the Loco-Motion, Mashed Potato, Twist trend. But the track was never released, and Marsha Gee was not the actual singer. The only proof of “Peanut Duck” lay in an acetate discovered by a British Northern Soul DJ who took the disc back to England and released it as a bootleg on Joker Records in the ‘80s. Not wanting his rival DJs to infringe upon his precious find, he christened the unknown singer Marsha Gee (who incidentally had a single out on Uptown Records in 1965). The true voice behind “Peanut Duck” has yet to be revealed. Anyone?”

 

 

 

 

UPDATE: My Favorite New Records of 2018–Three Months In

Enjoy this playlist, composed of mostly new additions to my 2018 fave-rave list. See my February and January YouTube playlists for a deeper dive.

  1. Sonny Rollins: Way Out West—Deluxe Edition
  2. Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart
  3. Princess Nokia: 1992
  4. Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
  5. Berry: Everything, Compromised
  6. CupcaKe: Ephora
  7. Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldiers: Rifles and Rosary Beads
  8. JPEGMAFIA: Veteran
  9. Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive
  10. Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman
  11. Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom
  12. Alice Bag: Blue Print
  13. Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
  14. Jonghyun: Poet / Artist
  15. Halu Mergia: Lalu Balu
  16. Various Artists/Sahel Sounds: Field Recordings
  17. Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
  18. ZU & Mats Gustafsson: How to Raise an Ox
  19. Various Artists: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…and Rights!!!
  20. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
  21. Camarao: The Imaginary Soundtrack to a Brazilian Western Movie
  22. Tracy Thorn: Record
  23. The Revelators: “In which The Revelators play live versions of selections from the Billy Childish songbook”
  24. Kris Davis and Craig Taborn: Octopus
  25. Tal National: Tantabara
  26. Shame: Songs of Praise
  27. David Murray (featuring Saul Williams): Blues for Memo
  28. Rich Krueger: Life Ain’t That Long
  29. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
  30. MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk
  31. Tallawit Timbouctou: Takamba WhatsApp 2018
  32. Amy Rigby: The Old Guys
  33. Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
  34. Kendrick Lamar, et al: Black Panther—Music from and Inspired by the Film
  35. Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Goin’ On

A Birthday Playlist (February 22nd, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I turned 56 yesterday, and I admit I was a bit too distracted to now be making any sense of what I listened to, which was plenty. So, after a few bits of news, I’ll just leave you with a playlist of the highlights.

Nicole and I had breakfast at Ernie’s, a diner which every visitor to Columbia should visit. Whatever blues satellite station they were tuned to was kickin’ my ass–we didn’t have Shazam handy, and the selections were stumping me, which, to be honest, isn’t easy for a blues satellite station to do. A sprightly blues version of “Old Chunk of Coal”? Hmmmm.

Perhaps one of the best presents I received was from Netflix, which announced a Roxanne Shante biopic set for a March 23rd release. I’m all about that, as she has long been a hero of mine; as she once put it herself, she gave birth to most of them MCs. Here’s the trailer, which looks mighty promising:

Also, I subscribed this year to a very interesting series of albums Joyful Noise Recordings is curating. The White Label Series sends subscribers an “undiscovered LP” each month; each LP has been chosen by an already-established artist (the presence of Serengeti, Mike Watt, and Aesop Rock convinced me to pony up) and is limited to a 500-copy run. I finally had time to listen to the first two White Label releases yesterday: Weirding Module’s A Newer Age (curated by Kid Millions, and including an apology to Italo Calvino!) and Berry’s Everything, Compromised (curated by Dale Nixon, who was initially transfixed by the band at an unamed dive bar in St. Louis). The former features some aggressive and zoinky noise which I kinda liked; the latter, which I wasn’t able to concentrate much on at first but came quickly back to, some very plaintive, literate, subversive (!!) and odd semi-pop music. I have to give them both more attention, but I really like the idea, especially since the liner notes require the curators to justify their choices, and since it forces me out of my comfort zone. Care to sample?

Annnnnnd…here’s my birthday playlist! Enjoy!

G’Bye to Mark E. (January 24th, Columbia, Missouri)

Mark E. Smith, who stepped on a rainbow yesterday, once said about his sui generis group that “if it’s me and your granny playin’ bongos, it’s The Fall.” That quote’s been endlessly repeated, if you read pop music media you’ll have it memorized by the end of this day if you didn’t have it already, and it is damned witty.

BUT–the thing is, it’s very true. For 40 years, and all the way up to the very end, Smith produced records with a wide variety of musicians, featuring a wide variety of augmentations and methods of attack, presented with production ranging from cruddy to crystalline, and, should you care, for example, to listen across a Fall compilation (like 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong or, especially, Castle Music’s two Fall box sets, one of five and of six discs), you will hear that, to tweak John Peel, the more different they sound, the more they sound the same.

And not just that. Across 40 years, they sound good. Consistently good. Funny, caustic, cranky, irritating, repetitive, baffling, rabble-rousing, poetic…but catchy. And catchy ain’t easy, especially when one is shooting for and hitting those other goals. Or maybe, paradoxically, not shooting for anything at all other expressing one’s unique self.

Mark E. Smith: He was a man. Take him for all in all. We shall not look upon his like again. Enough with the quotes and allusions; click on the above playlist and get hooked, or simply revisit some wonderful shots across the bow of pop music. I listened to him all afternoon yesterday, and I’ll be listening to him most of the day today.