Saturday, May 05, 2018

Cardi B's "Money Bag": Half-time triplets and hard work

“We were in LA. [Cardi B's breakthrough hit] ‘Bodak [Yellow]’ was already out, we were probably No. 8 on Billboard now. The goal was to keep feeding the streets, just keep making records," producer J. White recently told Billboard about making Cardi B's "Money Bag," a deep cut on her fine debut album Invasion of Privacy. (White also produced "Bodak.") "Nobody really said in the studio, ‘we gotta do another Bodak.’ We just gotta do another record that’s dope. That’s what I preach in the studio period, to anybody that I work with. Don’t worry about what we did before, that record is done and out there to the public. We gotta worry about another record. Let’s stay in that grind mode, let’s stay hungry, and it’ll show on the track."

Earlier this year I wrote, "From Southern capitalist rap to corridos alterados to Bach cantatas, sometimes I think 'music about musicians' tireless work ethic' is my favorite genre." There's an urgency to music like this -- a sense that the musicians are using all the tricks at their immediate disposal to communicate with an audience hungry for more. It's not artlessness; more a confidence that, if the musicians can stay out of their own way, the art will simply happen.

This aesthetic also lurks behind plenty of music about love, dancing, unexplained Appalachian murders, demands to pour sugar, you name it. But when musicians make hard-working music about how hard they work, they work a thrilling, nerve-jangling alchemy on listeners. They suck us into their art without any meta-artsy fuss. We all become part of the musicians' grind.

(This aesthetic is also central to Bach's cantatas, churned out weekly based on the musicians and appointed texts he had to work with, for a regular audience who knew his work and could possibly pick up on recycled themes and minor variations. Because the cantatas were settings of texts scheduled for specific liturgical dates, they foregrounded their composer's deadlines. But that's a topic for a different post.)

On "Money Bag," Cardi raps over a hastily assembled collage from J. White's craft cabinet. The focal point is a five-note synth riff, larger than life and pulsing with the echoes of your empty skull. The bassline is gigantic; other weird synth vwoops periodically arrive, make their cases, and vanish. The beat is equal parts percussion sounds and effects; gun shots stand in for snares, while precise screams and growls conjure the image of a studio packed with people. I'd describe the track's overall affect as "sparse and doomy," but as with most rap beats, once you start examining everything that's there, you realize how full and complex it is.

Cardi's flow is equally complex, without ever grabbing us by the shoulders to insist, "Look how complex I am!" Her most notable rhythmic technique is dividing the beats into triplets, a technique also favored by Migos, Kevin Gates, and others. Triplets are OK, but they get wearing over the long haul because there's only so much rappers can do with them. The thrill of "Money Bag" lies in how Cardi switches up her normal triplet flow with half-time (slower) triplets; and how she makes different sets of half-time triplets sound completely unlike one another.

The first verse begins at 0:58; Cardi opens and closes it with different patterns built from half-time triplets.

[Esoteric music theory aside: You might call these patterns triplets, or you might call them "the first half of a clave rhythm." To help illustrate this, here's The Flowtation Device with the scenario.

Classic Clave Rhythm: ONE.*and*.FOUR./*.TWO_THREE_*. Think the Bo Diddley beat; or, you know, a clave rhythm.

A triplet rhythm at the same tempo is currently impossible to flowtate, so we have to approximate it with the clave. Basically, you'd take the first bar of the clave -- ONE.*and*.FOUR. -- and move the hits on "and" and "FOUR" a smidgen earlier, so that each of the three hits lands at equal intervals. If we were playing classical music, this would matter. But we're not. This is a slapdash attempt to notate a partly improvised vocal line, similar to a transcription of a jazz solo or a praise song. For our purposes, half-time triplets and "the first half of a clave rhythm" will function the same, and the phrase "half-time triplets" fits better into Cardi's triplet-heavy aesthetic.]

AHEM. Cardi's bars at the beginning of Verse One actually do sound like a clave rhythm, as though she were vocally conjuring the percussion pattern from a mambo or Bo Diddley's guitar pattern. Her pattern:


-- is the same as the Classic Clave Rhythm flowtated above, only with an extra beat four in every second bar. ("LIKE," "SURE," "HIS," "THIS.") The effect is spare and forceful. From there she goes into her standard, common-time triplet flow, before returning at verse's end to a more complex derivation of half-time triplets.


Notice how the odd bars here -- LIPS.*like*.AN., etc. -- are the same rhythm as the odd bars at the beginning of the verse -- PRO.*tein*.THICK., etc. On first listen you'd never pair these two rhythms, because the even verses are doing something completely different, reframing how we hear the half-time triplets around them. Crucially, notice the long words "Angelina" and "tangerine uh." (Has anyone cited Mark E. Smith as a Cardi influence?) They extend the final syllable of the triplet and turn the beat around, accenting unaccented syllables and vice versa. The result sounds off-kilter and tongue twisty, even though these phrases are rooted in the same half-time triplet feel Cardi used to open the verse.

Cardi returns to alter this rhythm again in Verse Two, in perhaps the song's most quoted lines:

(these bitches)

Once again, the odd bars here -- SAL_-ty*.THEY., etc. -- are essentially the same as the odd bars above, while the even bars change their character. Here, Cardi accents beat one of the even bars (SODium, petROLeum, etc.), mirroring the odd bars and giving the whole passage a tone of relentless aggression. In the second passage, Cardi was accenting unaccented syllables by placing them on the downbeat. Here, she's accenting accented syllables, making everything much more on-kilter and forceful.

That's three different passages scattered throughout the song; three different variations on half-time triplets/clave rhythms; three completely different feels.

By all accounts, Cardi works fast. White tells Complex, "All she does is work on her craft... She has those headphones on and she be engaging beats. She’s treating it like she’s in the dang NFL or NBA." It's an open question if, per White's earlier claim, an artist's hunger actually can "show on the track" -- and, if so, how exactly that aesthetic alchemy works. Using her own unique musical toolkit, Cardi offers one possibility. Mix things up; don't let your flow stay in one place for too long; use rhythms as signatures; and trust that listeners will see you, and themselves, in your grind.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Best Thing I Heard Today: Diane Renay doing "Kiss Me Sailor"

Imagine a world in which "Judy's Turn to Cry" is better than "It's My Party," or "Bristol Twistin' Annie" beats "Bristol Stomp." This is the weird scenario occupied by Diane Renay's two great hits, both from 1964: "Navy Blue," #6 the same week some Beatles hit was #1, and its superior sequel "Kiss Me Sailor," #29 during the week ruled by either "Hello, Dolly!" or "My Guy." (I'd research but I'm typing this from aboard a submarine.)

Like Len Barry and the Dovells, Renay was a Philly gal, but she fell under the tutelage of Bob Crewe rather than the Cameo-Parkway guys. Crewe has an amazing writing/producing resume, everything from the Four Seasons to "Lady Marmalade," and he co-wrote "Navy Blue" with Bud Rehak and noted Vietnam POW liberator Eddie Rambeau. For the sequel, Rehak and Rambeau were writing on their own, and they somehow managed to shamelessly imitate and improve upon the original. "Navy Blue" mourns the absence of Renay's sailor boyfriend and looks ahead to his 48-hour shore leave; "Kiss Me" takes place during the horny fulfillment, when Renay and her boy stay up and watch The Late Late Show and kiss as much as they can before he walks out the door to serve his country or whatever. Renay, on other occasions capable of pristine high notes, spends a decent portion of "Kiss Me" growling. Along with the feral vocal and sense of desperation, there are catchy horn riffs (plagiarized, but don't ask me where from, unless it's from "Navy Blue") and a wordless "ba-ba-ba" bridge from the background chorus. True, "Navy Blue" has more sociological detail; its Drive-By Truckers cover is forthcoming. But when she rips into "Kiss Me" by ripping off the hook of her previous hit, Renay sounds even better. She's insatiable, and she'll make damn sure her boy gets teased for the hickey she's about to give him.


Renay's compilation Navy Blue: 25 Super Tracks is highly recommended. It's got a few too many slow bleh songs, but she tears into "Soldier Boy" like the Shirelles never dared, and whenever I hear her melisma-crazy ballad "Maybe," I'm surprised nobody's covered it. This post was inspired by my surprise at hearing "Navy Blue" overhead in Wal-Mart; I'm sure there are other Top 6 hits I've heard less in the wild, but few of them -- or their sequels -- deserve to be heard more.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Albums and Singles That are WORTH IT!!! (first quarter of 2014)

I'm back to neglecting singles this year, since I've been focused on a paper that's made me neglect The Singles Jukebox. But albums, especially the ones without bad words, fit my passive listening patterns in the car and during playtime, and these albums are all pretty good at least. Like, the worst I can say about Braxton/Babyface is I'm usually ready for it to be over with about two songs left; but it still sounds gorgeous, most of its songs are good, and Braxton in particular displays some caustic wit. Writeups for Against Me! and Behemoth follow.


Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble) (indie)
Behemoth - The Satanist (Metal Blade) (indie, metal)
Gerardo Ortiz - Archivos de Mi Vida (Del/Sony Latin 2013) (major, Latin) *
Schoolboy Q - Oxymoron (Top Dawg/Interscope) (major, rap)
The Shrine - Bless Off (Tee Pee) (indie)
Raoul Björkenheim - eCsTaSy (Cuneiform) (indie, jazz)
Matt Wilson Quartet with John Medeski - Gathering Call (Palmetto) (indie, jazz)
Martin Castillo - Mundo de Ilusiones (Sony Latin) (major, Latin)
Present - Le Poison Qui Rend Fou (Cuneiform) (indie, reissue, prog)
Algebra Blessett - Recovery (Slim Frances/eOne) (indie, R&B)
Frankie Ballard - Sunshine & Whiskey (Warner Bros.) (major, country)
Toni Braxton and Babyface - Love, Marriage & Divorce (Motown) (major, R&B)

* I’m just sort of hoping this breaks big in 2014.


“Los Awesome” - Schoolboy Q ft. Jay Rock *
“Coming of Age” - Foster the People
“Noche de Lokera” - Los Buitres de Culiacan, Sinaloa *
“Turn Down For What” - DJ Snake & Lil Jon
“Drop That #NaeNae” - We Are Toonz
“Hermosa Experiencia” - Banda MS
“Give Me Back My Hometown” - Eric Church
“Twilight” - Louie ft. Boy Wonder
“Tension” - Kach
“Move That Dope” - Future ft. Pharrell, Pusha T, & Casino

* I’m just sort of hoping these become singles.

Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble)

The sixth album from Florida punks Against Me! starts with a Paul Simon homage so blatant it might be deliberate. While the drums stomp out a martial groove and everyone else plays two chords, Laura Jane Grace’s melody hovers around the notes “do” and “mi” as she sings, “Your tells are so obvious” -- it’s “The Obvious Child”! Obviously! Only, where Simon’s 1990 album opener winked with petulant bourgie resentment, “Talking Transgender Dysphoria Blues” roars with empathy, scraping away the writerly artifice of Paul Simon types to get to What’s Real. This has been Grace’s gift for the nine years I’ve loved her band. Her song structures can barely contain the blunt exuberance of her language, which makes her lyrics seem like diaristic experience even when she’s craftily turning that experience into metaphor.

“You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress;
You want them to see you like they see every other girl.
They just see a faggot. They’ll hold their breath not to catch the sick.”

Transgender Dysphoria Blues is informed by Grace’s gender transition the way, I dunno, Springsteen’s The Rising was “informed” by 9/11. The album’s unimaginable without the event. But in those would-be oglers of a summer dress, Grace sees a vision of life’s insolubility -- no matter what, some clubs will forever bar your entry. “Even if your love was unconditional, it still wouldn’t be enough to save me,” she sings in “Unconditional Love”; her band does their best gang-shouty Green Day imitation in an attempt to prove her wrong. Later, two songs about death, the only universal club, take insolubility to its limit. “Dead Friend,” the hand-clappier of the two, opens, “You don’t worry about tomorrow any more ‘cause you’re dead” -- if Grace is scraping away writerly artifice from old dudes’ songs, this would be Springsteen’s “You’re Missing” -- and then the acoustic meditation “Two Coffins” looks ahead to the inevitable, perfect for the recent Ash Wednesday. (This has been a great album for driving to church and funerals, just a step behind Hallelujah! I’m a Bum, the 2012 meditation on insolubles from hometown heroes Local H.)

A couple songs here get by on their rage -- “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ” gets by on its title, mostly -- but the worst song, “Fuckmylife666,” shows that a band can’t live on pretty chords alone. I keep comparing Against Me! to hoary classic rock rather than nihilistic hardcore because they have hooks and big bright classic rock chords, and they come up with distinct grooves that actually groove. Atom Willard’s drum parts sparkle with personality, and Grace sings as powerfully as ever. In the stunning second verse of album closer “Black Me Out,” she makes every tremor in her howl count. When life stands in your way, you rage on anyway; and even if it doesn’t get you anywhere, in the raging itself there’s some kind of answer.

Behemoth - The Satanist (Metal Blade)
Back at the Burnside Writers Collective, I kept meaning to write a series called “Should I Really Be Listening To This?” to deal systematically and philosophically with music of questionable moral content. Schoolboy Q and Behemoth would have been prime contenders, given their respective endorsements of Oxycontin and Satan. Satan metal still makes me nervous; I’m suddenly back in junior high youth group watching an anti-rock video and learning about the lurid acronyms AC/DC and KISS and trying to envision an eternity of pain and hairy devils baring their teeth at me. I mean, ETERNITY. So, Behemoth! Should I really be listening to this? On my metaphorical shoulders, Bon Scott and anti-rock institution Jeff Godwin (The Devil’s Disciples) are torn.

Bon: It’s a really good album! Bloke! The guitars are amazing and the power and evil of the songs is real show-don’t-tell stuff -- like, they slip free of expected song forms so you don’t need to suspend yr disbelief. You’re no longer listening to mere songs -- THESE ARE THE ACTUAL RANTS OF POLISH HEATHENS (i checked) PRAISING SATAN.

Jeff: Which is why you shouldn’t listen to it, because after enough exposure to this music you’ll be convinced to worship Satan too, or at least to not love Jesus --

Bon: but that’s RIDICULOUS, because it’s an ALBUM and you, Josh, are an OLD MAN and any Jesus love or Satan love is pretty much fixed at this point. You know, don’t let your EIGHT YEAR OLD listen to it. He doesn’t want to anyway. He walks around singing “Let It Go” all day.

Jeff: I realize I barely have a case here [NOTE: the real Jeff Godwin would never ever say that], but I’ll go down rocking the hell out of you. Isn’t the mere act of listening to Satanic metal disrespectful to the Jesus you claim to love? How can you look at his sacrificial death and resurrection, and go through life in grace and truth, trying to see Jesus in everyone you meet, and YET listen to music that depicts and endorses his overthrow by the Ultimate Despicable? If you’re dead to yourself in baptism, isn’t Behemoth one of the worldly things you leave behind? Like paying the plumber cash so he can cheat on his taxes?

Bon: Twit, if you’re really going in grace and truth to serve the Lord and remember the poor, the music you listen to is like the smallest part of your witness. It basically has no effect. If anything, it’ll up your empathy with people who also enjoy listening to Behemoth --

Jeff: OHO! That is silly! Because Behemoth does not want you to be a casual observer, spying on Satanists through your… spyglass… You said it yourself -- THESE ARE THE ACTUAL RANTS OF POLISH HEATHENS (you checked) PRAISING SATAN.

Me: Guys, I haven’t researched Behemoth to know whether they’re actually Satanists. Irrelevance of intention and biography blah blah blah

Jeff: Irregardless, Behemoth’s goal is not to write a National Geographic article about Satan’s overthrow of the Kingdom and set it to music. They marshall a visceral power. They want to move you liturgically. They want to rock the hell INTO you. You can’t have it both ways -- either this is music you listen to with a grain of ironic salt (and I’m struggling to turn this into a Holy Pun about losing your saltiness, help me out here), or you acknowledge that Satan rock this grand and powerful is bound to affect you and your walk with Jesus.

Bon: But then do you also deny the thrill whenever Satan shows up in Paradise Lost? Or should we stop reading Paradise Lost because Satan is the best character in the book? And furthermore -- hey, this is my shoulder, who are you?

Ted Gioia: What is this, lifestyle reportage? WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC?

Me: Yes yes. I apologize for not going full Pallett on this, but the characteristic musical effect is slow-ish minor-key harmonic and melodic movement over furious blastbeats, and then the lead vocalist, who did i mention is a leukemia survivor, growls and rasps in an unsyncopated manner. But sometimes there are backbeats with screaming solos, sections that sound more like radio hard rock. Sometimes the band slips into creepy ambient passages and it’s unclear how they’re doing it. The forms of the songs are so unpredictable, they create the illusion of the Natural -- roiling and unfolding with little reference to musical convention. I mean, there are VERSES, you know you’re still on the same song, but any song structure is the bare minimum required to create a sense of cohesion within each song. They keep exploding into new areas of grisly spectacle, sort of like Inferno, which is obsessively structured but the structure gives Dante the freedom to go off on tangents and create the illusion of life.

Bon: Right! And should we also discourage Christians from reading Inferno? Because it makes hell seem cool?

Jeff: Are you sure you actually read Inferno? Because it did not in any way make me wanna end up in hell.

Bon: But The Satanist doesn’t make you wanna worship Satan! It might make you wanna swagger around 10 feet tall and rage against the presumption of the moral authorities in your life, which isn’t necessarily a bad influence or antithetical to the message of Christ, who though he came to fulfill the law not abolish it nevertheless railed against the presumptuous moral authorities of his day.

Gioia: Whoa, Bon Scott is a major theologophile.

Bon: Anyone can see that worshiping Satan is itself paradoxical, because a) Satan is a shifting symbol throughout history and b) Satan’s consistent symbolic character is one that challenges powers and authorities, the anti- figure. So while scary people do actually worship Satan and defile churches, The Satanist is less a gateway drug than a meditation on awesome power that rages against ultimate power. Not too far from that Against Me! album, actually.

Jeff: Whatever dude, you’re gonna start doing drugs and sacrificing your cats. I’ve seen it man! I was there! Don’t listen to Stryper either. Total gateway drug.

Bon: But that’s just the thing! Everybody draws the line somewhere different, and Behemoth unmoors you from simple line drawing strategies. Music of such exaggerated and yeah I’ll say it EXTREME power demonstrates the futility of our piddly everyday moral lines in the sand. It might even make you stop worrying about such stuff and kick you back into Love God Love Neighbor territory, which we’ll all agree is where Jesus wants us to be anyway.

Gioia, listening to The Satanist on headphones, starts cackling and making devil horns and carving little pentagrams into his arm.

Monday, March 17, 2014

These two regional Mexican comps are NOT worth it!

I wrote up two mediocre comps for PopMatters:

My wife, God love her, complains that all male country singers sound the same. This is patently untrue. Blake Shelton sings like a smarmy geezer wiling his way into a younger crowd, while Luke Bryan’s blank prettiness belies his terror of turning into Blake Shelton. Big difference. Eric Church is the reedy outlaw, Jason Aldean is the wannabe outlaw who also wants to rap, Brantley Gilbert is the outlaw who can’t sing. Justin Moore, who claims to be an outlaw, is really a big-hearted romantic; Kip Moore celebrates “Young Love” but remains a sociopath. Isn’t this all obvious? You can hear it in their voices!

Regional Mexican radio works in a similar way; all genre radio does, really...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Noel Torres, José Feliciano, y Otros are Worth It!

From my latest Sheep & Goats, over at Burnside Writers Collective:

You don’t look to the Managing Editor of Entertainment Weekly for music tips, but it was still jaw-dropping to read this in his post-Grammy editorial: “Mumford & Sons’ victory established folk rock as the most exciting and artful movement in music right now.” Do people really think that? Apparently so — EW ran a cover story on the “movement” the following week, and worship music has started biting the Mumfords’ style like they’re a new U2. Nothing against the Mumfords, who basically resemble what you’d get if Coldplay replaced ZZ Top in Back to the Future III, but surely folk rock is only the most exciting and artful music played by acoustic instruments, covered byEntertainment Weekly (a Time Warner company), and directed at English-speaking brains — if that. (I’d still take jazz, fwiw.)
Where I live, in the northern suburbs of Chicago, the winner of Most Exciting And Artful Musical Movement is currently banda from the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. Like English folk music, banda’s been around for a long time and is enjoying one of its periodic resurgences. If you’re seeking acoustic radio hits, the big swinging horn sections of Roberto Tapia, La Arrolladora Banda El Limón, and Banda El Recodo get as much radio play as the Mumfords, the Lumineers, and their ilk. One of our seven (!) Spanish-language FM stations recently changed its slogan from “Más Y Más Música” to “Banda Y Más,” which seems significant, though several other Latino genres are hot on banda’s heels. This is the cultural bounty of demographic shift, of course; the suburbs where I live and work are both younger and more Hispanic than the country at large. But if the last presidential election taught us anything, it’s that diversificación is sweeping the nation, so with any luck your radio waves and public library will soon carry some of the following, if they don’t already. (Or you can click on most of the titles below to stream them.)
(... and then you get reviews of the astounding Torres, the suave Felicianos, the dreamy Veronica Falls who don't really fit, the Dovells-like Los Caporales de Chihuahua, and more...)

Monday, January 07, 2013

Happy Birthday To Me! (1977 Playlist)

Back in August I gave myself a birthday present: 26 songs from my birth year*, one for each letter of the alphabet, only one of which I'd heard before that month, and they all had to be good or at least indelible in some way. They also had to be streamable -- I wanted to hear them. Turns out I didn't find a Q or an X (I can't do Rush's "Xanadu" every year), so I supplemented with some others and wound up with 27. They make for a pretty good playlist -- so here's the list with Youtube links, rescued from my Facebook page.

*The Year of Impact Rule applies.

1977 IN NIGERIAN POP: "Arabade" by Sir Victor Uwaifo and the Titibitis. This is probably a minor work (reminds me of Sly's "Dance to the Music") but I dig the rhythm, horns, and brutal shrieking keyboard layered on top of each other -- plus, it's hard to resist a song where the singer tells you, "The song goes like this." First big hit was in 1965, and Ronnie Graham sez: "By the 1980s Victor had established his own TV studio with his weekly half-hour show going out to all corners of Nigeria."

1977 IN LATIN DISCO: "Black Pot" by Santa Esmerelda. This is the B-side of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" -- which you know, you've seen Kill Bill! -- and it chronicles Leroy Gomez's swirling mystical trip into a "land of make believe". The swirls are portrayed by Gomez's sax and somebody else's electric guitar darting around a bunch of horns.

1977 IN SHOCK ROCK: "Child Eaters" by Rubber City Rebels. This song is about exactly what you think it's about, though it's very tastefully done. Before the Black Keys were born, Akron had these guys and the Bizarros, who I'll get to later. "Child Eaters" stands in the proud pro-cannibalism tradition of the Buoys' "Timothy", and its fake Brit accent and creepy spoken interlude foreshadow Kix's "Yeah Yeah Yeah".

1977 IN GLAM METAL: "Delirious" by Heavy Metal Kids. This performance kicked off an episode of the German TV show DISCO, which started airing in 1971, which should give some idea of the omnivorous reach and breadth of the term "disco". (Wiki assures us, "The name of the show was devised before disco as a musical style existed.") Other performers on this particular episode included:
* Howard Carpendale - Nimm den nächsten Zug
* Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Anything that's Rock 'n' Roll
* Bonnie Tyler - Heaven
* Peter Maffay - Andy, Träume sterben jung
* Graham Bonnet - It's all over now Baby Blue
* Didi Zill - Rock 'n' Roll made in Germany
* Uriah Heep - Lady in black

1977 IN POMP ROCK: "Down To You" by the Strapps. I guess it's pomp rock, because it seems to fall halfway between glam and prog -- keyboard solo that sounds like Keith Emerson with an editor, multiple instrumental textures but still concise, even at six and a half minutes, and very very loud. (Martin Popoff says, "The new sound is unlike any other act I can think of," and then he lists, like, six other bands.)

1977 IN NAZARETH: "Expect No Mercy" by Nazareth. I wonder if Paul Ryan rocks out to this when he formulates budget proposals OH SNAP

‎1977 IN VINTAGE COUNTRY DISCO: "The Feelin's Right" by Narvel Felts. This #19 hit from his album The Touch of Felts - eek! - floats and flutters with erotic expectation, and I hear more than a hint of anxiety too. Felts sounds thrilled by his own vibrato, even as it makes him nervous.

1977 IN GERMAN ITALO DISCO IF THAT'S A THING: "Get on the Funk Train" by Munich Machine. Basically this is a '77 Donna Summer album without Donna Summer -- Moroder & Bellotte produced, personnel looks the same, and the Midnite Ladies sing "Love to Love You Baby" twice. Not much singing on this song, though -- a 15 minute disco suite with three or four memorable themes, the precursor to Quad City DJs big hit and heir to... some old-timey song where people dance on trains, I guess. There must be at least one of those.

1977 IN LATIN FUNK: "Happy as a Fat Rat in a Cheese Factory" by Mongo Santamaria. If you liked that big Fania salsa compilation back in 2011, here's the least Fania-salsa-ish person on it. There's a wild guitar solo halfway through, harmonically and sonically at odds with the surrounding horns.

‎1977 IN COUNTRY WEEPERS: "If You See Me Getting Smaller" by Waylon Jennings. This is a beautiful Jimmy Webb song that I've posted before, although now it occurs to me that it might just be Waylon explaining the principle of linear perspective to an incredulous Willie Nelson.

1977 IN INEXPLICABLE CHART POP: "Jeans On" by David Dundas. Or should I say LORD David Dundas? Wiki sez #3 in England, #17 here, #1 in Germany, originally a jingle for Brutus Jeans, sampled by Fatboy Slim, and can't we all relate to its sentiment?

1977 IN EASY LISTENING: "Kyrila" by Demis Roussos. So the ex-singer of Greek prog band Aphrodite's Child records this song in German, and its parent EP scrapes the bottom of the British singles charts. And from Wiki I learn this: "In 1993, he released Insight to general acclaim, although his attempt at a rap song, 'Spleen', which appeared on the album, was generally seen as a regrettable idea."

1977 IN COUNTRYPOLITAN: "Love's Explosion" by Margo Smith. This has a big winding melody that allows her yodeler's voice to swoop all over the place, though there's no actual yodeling here. Produced by Norro Wilson, who -- fun fact! -- would also work on Kenny Chesney's early stuff.

1977 IN BRAZILIAN FUNK: "Melo de Lula" by Banda Uniao Black. Atmospheric!

‎1977 IN PUNK (oh yeah, that happened then): "No Heart" by the Vibrators. A poor millworker comes home every day to find his wife neglecting him for the TV. If this was Gene Watson, he'd turn to drink. But since the guy's a punk, he shoots her. (At least I think that's what happens.) (I can't believe I'd never heard these guys before.)

1977 IN TV SOUNDTRACKS: "O.K.?" by Julie Covington, Rula Lenska, Charlotte Cornwell and Sue Jones-Davies of ROCK FOLLIES OF '77. Plot summary: "Anna and Dee both write songs, but Dee's pop/rock song 'O.K.'" -- sort of a proto- "I Do Not Hook Up" -- "is chosen over Anna's more literary effort. Thus begins a growing rivalry between the two friends." Has anyone ever seen this show? The song's really good, and it hit #10 on the British chart.

1977 IN DOWNTOWN CLASSICAL: "Piano" by Morton Feldman. This might misstate their compositional strategies completely, but for me Feldman's music is like a slowed down, quieted down Cecil Taylor. Both are compelling for their harmonic language, which is dissonant but not haphazardly so (you hear things repeat and themes emerge), and for their rhythms, which are extremely precise but do their best to hide it. If Taylor's found ways to give improv the integrity of composition, Feldman developed techniques to give his composition the character of improv. Anyway, a palate cleanser. Part 2/3 is actually my favorite, but I'm sure you can find it if you're as compelled as I am.

1977 IN CHRISTIAN GUITAR HEROISM: "Rejoice" by Phil Keaggy. It's just an OK song until the extremely fluid guitar solo starts around 3 or 4 minutes. Mark Allan Powell calls him "probably the most versatile guitarist who has ever lived, having taken on a wide variety of styles, mastering them all, and putting his own identifying stamp on them. It is easy to imagine both Jimi Hendrix and Andre Segovia smiling down on him, nodding their heads in approval, albeit with reference to completely different projects."

1977 IN JAZZ: "Song of Songs" by Woody Shaw and Anthony Braxton. After a swoony introduction with Shaw's trumpet, Braxton's clarinet, Arthur Blythe's alto, and Muhal Richard Abrams's piano smearing all over the place, the band launches into a waltz full of fine solos and cheek. The interval between the third and the flat six features prominently; nice changes in the second half of the head. Cecil McBee's bass sometimes sounds like a foghorn.

1977 IN SOUTHERN METAL: "Shame" by Hydra. Speedy!

1977 IN SPACE DISCO: "Tango in Space" by Space
A French outfit headed by classical musician and early synth adopter Didier Marouani, Space got very popular in the USSR, in part because (according to this interview) the state TV channel would play stuff like the "Tango" underneath all their space footage. Space got to play Russia in the early '80s and did very well, and in 1992 (can this be true?) performed the first major concert in Red Square. "Tango" is not a tango at all, but one of those clean, sparse jams whose pleasure comes from hearing every instrument interact. You can practically see the different musical lines intertwining.

1977 IN REGULAR DISCO: "Tattoo Man" by Denise McCann. In the RS Record Guide, Dave Marsh gave this album one star and declared McCann "in no danger of being mistaken for Donna Summer" (who, let's face it, basically owned 1977 along with her producers). But this song is really good! It's a tightly wound portrait of a pimp, made scarier because it doesn't overstate its scariness. Horns, background singers, occasional synths, burbling beat, and and a great guitar riff -- it could be any high-flying minor key disco strut, until you notice that it can't escape the minor key. Whenever the "Tattoo Man!" chorus comes around, I expect it to resolve major, but it doesn't, and the mood of tension is inescapable until the fadeout, with McCann babbling "Gotta get away from the Tattoo Man" with increasing desperation.

1977 IN COUNTRY GOSPEL: "Uncloudy Day" by Willie Nelson. A #4 country hit, voice and guitar inhabiting the song like comfortable cotton, the opening guitar solo just a little bit off-kilter.

1977 IN CROSSOVER MINIMALISM: "Victor's Lament" by Philip Glass. Christgau gave the North Star album an A- and said Glass achieved his rhythms "through mechanical repetitions cunningly modified." Which you can hear here -- built over the same ostinato Sonny and Cher used in "The Beat Goes On", this is basically a rondo that keeps returning to the high keyboard theme after it modifies the midrange keyboard theme, I think just by adding a note each time and letting the rhythmic chips fall.

1977 IN POST-VELVETS PROTO-PUNK: "White Screen Movies" by the Bizarros. A raver, from their split album From Akron with the cannibalistic Rubber City Rebels (see above).

1977 IN EXPLICABLE CHART POP: "You've Got Me Runnin'" by Gene Cotton. Like a big shiny hug from your dentist.

1977 IN ZIGLIBITHY: "Zibote" by Ernesto Dje-Dje. From the Ivory Coast; Ronnie Graham says, "This is a Bete dance rhythm which [Dje-Dje] sought to modernise, thus demonstrating to fellow Ivorians that they should make increasing commercial use of their indigenous musical heritage. Ziglibithy was a highly rhythmic dance which Dje-Dje mastered completely. He would stop and dance sideways, shaking his shoulders to an irresistible sound which found appreciative audiences around the country."

The Accidental Evolution of Rock 'n' Roll, Chuck Eddy, Da Capo 1997.
The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Joel Whitburn, Billboard 2010.
British Hit Singles 8th Edition, Paul Gambaccini, Jonathan Rice, Tim Rice, Guinness 1991.
The Collector's Guide to Heavy Metal Volume 1: the Seventies, Martin Popoff, Collector's Guide 2003.
The Da Capo Guide to Contemporary African Music, Ronnie Graham, Da Capo 1988.
Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, Mark Allan Powell, Hendrickson 2002.
Joel Whitburn's Hot Dance/Disco 1974-2003, Joel Whitburn, Record Research 2004.

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