Barrabas – Barrabas (1972)

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Barrabas
“Barrabas”
RCA Victor APL1-0219 (US release)

Mono mix (stereo labels)
Genre: Rock, Latin, Funk / Soul

A1  Wild Safari  4:57
A2  Try And Try  6:21
A3  Only For Men  3:34
A4  Never In This World  3:31
B1  Woman  5:07
B2  Cheer Up  3:51
B3  Rock And Roll Everybody  3:34
B4  Chicco  3:48

Record Company – RCA Corporation
Recorded At – Estudios RCA, Madrid
Pressed By – RCA Records Pressing Plant, Indianapolis

Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Vocals – Miguel
Drums, Vocals – Fernando
Engineer – J. Cobos*, M. Barrios, N. Dogan
Lead Guitar, Vocals – Ricky*
Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar – Iñaki
Liner Notes – Tom Paisley
Organ, Piano – Juan
Producer – Fernando Arbex
Saxophone, Percussion, Flute, Drums – Ernesto

Notes – Dynaflex pressing

Recorded at the RCA Studios, Spain

Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply; Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair, manually auditioned, and individually with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

Not their best, leaning more towards the rock and less of the funky discotheque stuff they would eventually be known for. Back cover compares the lead singer to Rod “The Mod” Stewart. I’m not so sure about that claim. Actually they kind of remind me of early Traffic here, but with even dopier lyrics. “Only For Men” could have been a TV advertisement for the 1972 equivalent of AXE Body Spray, but the more you listen to it, the more it sounds like a creepy “Men’s Rights Advocate” anthem.  The two big smash cuts here were the first tracks on either side, “Wild Safari” and “Woman.  I was assured by a friend about the former, “Wild Safari was THE track blasting out everywhere in Can Piacafort, Majorca during my holiday there in the summer of 1972.” The record definitely has its appeal, and it may grow groovier as you listen to it more.  It’s easy to see how the locked-in rhythm section was already in place very early and how that made this group a fave of beat farmers everywhere.  It’s a stoney party record with Spaniards singing in awkward English, so what’s not to like?  I may not think it’s their best album, but you’re welcome to disagree.  It’s definitely a more consistent listen than their second album, Power, which finds them meandering into different styles, including an attempt to be some sort of Spanish T-Rex, this debut is just not as good as later efforts like ¡Soltad a Barrabás! and Heart of the City.  In any case I plan to post some of their other records soon, by which I mean at some point before I die.

Don’t be put off by the taped-together, busted jacket of this copy – this was a radio station duplicate copy that was probably never played before I got hold of it, although the Dynaflex vinyl is inconsistent as it is wont to be.  Also note that the label says stereo but the mix is very much in mono.  I’m not sure if this is a mistake at the pressing plant or a genuine AM Radio mix of the whole album?  There is definitely a stereo mix of Wild Safari, but I’m not sure about the rest.  Maybe some helpful reader can chime in.  Oh yes, and this record was released with at least two alternate covers.  The French one (which also boasted a different title, Afro-Soul) is particularly groovy, I think.  Oh yeah, and today’s my birthday, woo hoo and three cheers for me.

Spanish cover

Spanish cover

French cover variant

French cover variant


A word:  times are tough all over, and I’m reinventing myself for the third or fourth time in life to adjust to our New Reality.  I am trying to save some money so that I can relocate to a place where there are actual jobs for people with my kinds of skills.  I’m stuck in a rut, y’all, and it’s been hell getting out. If you enjoy reading these posts and hearing the music, consider making a donation using one of the buttons on the sidebar of the blog.  Any amounts given help me pay server costs and continue to have make posts about good (or good-ish) music.  Any amounts are welcome.  Thanks!


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Eugene McDaniels – Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (1971)

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“No amount of dancin’
Is going to make us free.”

The Left Reverend Eugene McDaniels

    Recorded at Regent Sound Studios and Atlantic Studios, New York City
1971 Atlantic SD 8281 (Original release)
This reissue 200_ by Scorpio/Rhino records

Acoustic Bass – Miroslav Vitous
Drums – Alphonse Mouzon
Electric Bass – Gary King
Featuring – Welfare City Choir
Guitar – Richie Resnikoff
Piano, Music Director – Harry Whitaker
Vocals – Eugene McDaniels, Carla Cargill

Producer – Joel Dorn
Recording and remix engineer – Lewis Hahn

Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply; Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair, manually auditioned, and individually with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp.  Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.


Inauguration day special, y’all.

Dim the lights for this one.

I’ve heard different rumors about Eugene McDaniels and the Nixon administration – that the FBI was tapping his phone, that Spiro Agnew himself called Atlantic Records to complain about this album, which would seem to indicate that the reactionaries were much hipper to popular culture than I personally give them credit for.  But it’s not too far fetched – his most famous song, Compared To What?, which became a huge hit for Les McCann & Eddie Harris and then again for Roberta Flack – may be the boldest, most biting sociopolitical critique to ever top a record chart, and has apparently been covered by 270 different artists by today’s count.  So I can believe that, for the forces of Empire, Eugene McDaniels was a man who had to be stopped.  Atlantic Records dropped him after Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse.  The record is a profound and mercurial work of art that is revolutionary, less in some kind of militant way than in its general refusal to fit into any preconceived framework.  Instead, it carves out its own space and leaves the listener transformed and looking at the world differently than before they put it on.  This album, and Eugene himself, were their own gestalt.

I’m still thinking that, someday, I will file a Freedom of Information Act on Eugene McDaniels to see what, if anything, the Deep State was thinking about him.  This is what how I imagine a summary of his file might read:

  “McDaniels, Eugene Booker.  Born February 2, 1935 in Kansas City.  Black communist singer with known jazz associates.  Calls himself a Reverend, may be planning to form a religious cult or commune – field reports are inconclusive.  Believes rock singer Mick Jagger to be the Antichrist.”

I have been wanting to post about this album at various moments throughout the last couple of years.  It’s become a relevant soundtrack again and a source of solace for me.  The enigmatic  McDaniels is truly one of the great unsung songwriters of the twentieth century, because I think he wanted it that way.   This record gets name-checked a lot because it’s been sampled by prominent artists. The grooves are undoubtedly deep, and the musicians first rate – in fact the notes to the 2005 reissue of this on Water Records, with the limited space they have, talk more about arranger and keyboardist Harry Whitaker than they do Eugene.  Granted, Whitaker is the special secret sauce that makes this album stand out from its 1970 predecessor “Outlaw.”  That album is also really great, but this one is explosive and astounding,  unquestionably a masterpiece.  It was made with almost no budget, with Whitaker doing the arrangements, and with minimal overdubs (mostly just vocals, except for the first track which has a second guitar and some percussion added).   H.W. deserves tons of credit for the sound and cohesiveness of the final product, but for me it is McDaniels’ voice, lyrics, melodies and above all his completely unique vision that make this an album about which I can say “There’s really nothing else quite like it.”   It was a boundary-defying fusion of funk, jazz, rock, and soul; a record that is utterly psychedelic without a single wah peddle or production gimmick, hell there isn’t even a solo anywhere here in spite of the fact that every one of the musicians were utter virtuosos.  Apparently Whitaker wanted to bring horns in on the record but they had no money for it.  I’m so glad they didn’t, because its sound of lean restraint became an essential characteristic of its sound.  It’s intense, but also relaxed.

When I say he is enigmatic I guess I just mean enigmatic to me, because he left a big musical footprint with an incredible career arc, but chose to spend most of his life rather quietly away from the spotlight.   We’ll have a look at his YouTube channel that he started sometime around 2010 in a minute, but first let’s recap the basic facts first. McDaniels was a huge cross-over hit-maker in the early 60’s with “100 Pounds of Clay,” a song so popular that my parents remember it from their high school days, and “Tower of Strength,” both when he went by Gene rather than Eugene.  In the middle of the decade he wrote the song that would end up being recorded innumerable times, Compared To What?, the royalties from which presumably left him set for life.  At the end of the decade, McDaniels features prominently on one of my favorite Bobby Hutcherson albums, the adventurous and politically-charged Now!   He never lost the pop instincts he honed early in his career, but chose to make uncompromising, uncommercial music.  Like one of the only other people I would put in his category, Andy Bey, he also had a classic jazz singers voice (check out Freedom Death Dance…), and a four octave range, and he apparently preserved both up to the very end, in spite of  – or is it because of? – disengaging from the crazy world of the music industry.  The guy was too deep for the machine to process, and he didn’t need the money, so he went and lived his life privately, and took very good care of himself.  Listen to this man speak for a few minutes about Compared To What.  He looks so great here, with no indication that he would pass away within the year

 

Now is the place where normally I might indulge in a track by track breakdown of this record.  I could do that, and maybe someday I will, but it should really be heard first, and I bet some of you haven’t played it yet.  So let’s all listen to it and meet back here in a month to discuss it?  Really, it does speak for itself, and has to be absorbed with all of its quirks.  It should be left to the listener to follow his labyrinthine thread that ties together end-times religious imagery; invective against war and calls for justice that are clever, funky, and tuneful; a story of how everyday life as a black man going about everyday capitalist acts (trying to exchange an item at a grocery store) can lead to a near race riot; and a narrative of the colonial “settling” of the United States, decrying the indignities visited on First Nations peoples.   This last track is the climactic closer to the album, The Parasite (For Buffy), which in spite of just having guitar-bass-drums and vocals, comes off almost orchestral in its sweep (which is definitely a testament to Whitaker, who I imagine standing in front conducting them all with a baton).  It’s a breathtaking unity of words, music, execution.  McDaniels vocal control here is worth a study of its own: the verses have a sweetness that becomes a snarl in schizophrenic increments, with the anger slowly being peeled back in single accents and intonations, replaced again by sweetness almost like he is trying to hold back the demon.  Until, by the end, his voice becomes a raw exposed nerve, with the final minute collapsing into literal screaming and the group attacking their instruments in a free-form festival of noise, an avant-garde blast, like the sound of the universe diving into its own navel.

You have to hear it to believe it.


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The Brothers Johnson – Right On Time (1977)

01-frontThe Brothers Johnson
Right On Time
1977 A&M Records SP-4644

Runnin’ For Your Lovin’     5:05
Free Yourself, Be Yourself     4:26
“Q”     3:25
Right On Time     3:50
Strawberry Letter 23     4:58
Brother Man     3:10
Never Leave You Lonely     3:02
Love Is     4:20

A1     Runnin’ For Your Lovin’  5:05 (George Johnson, Louis Johnson)

Backing Vocals – Alex Weir, George Johnson, Mortonette Jenkins Drums – Harvey Mason Horns – Tower Of Power Horn Section Keyboards, Synthesizer – Dave Grusin Percussion – Ralph MacDonald  Guitar, Bass – George Johnson, Louis Johnson

A2     Free Yourself, Be Yourself      4:26  (George Johnson, Louis Johnson)

Backing Vocals – George Johnson, Jim Gilstrap, Louis Johnson, Richard “Jose” Heath* Drums – Harvey Mason Horns – Tower Of Power Horn Section Keyboards, Synthesizer – Ian Underwood  Percussion – Ralph MacDonald Rhythm Guitar – David T. Walker   Guitar, Bass – George Johnson, Louis Johnson

A3     “Q”     3:25  (Louis Johnson, George Johnson)

Keyboards, Synthesizer – Dave Grusin Percussion – Ralph MacDonald Guitar, Bass – George Johnson, Louis Johnson

A4     Right On Time      3:50  (Quincy Jones, George Johnson, Louis Johnson)

Backing Vocals – Alex Weir, George Johnson, Jim Gilstrap, Louis Johnson, Richard “Jose” Heath Drums – Harvey MasonHorns – Tower Of Power Horn Section Keyboards, Synthesizer – Dave Grusin Lead Vocals – George Rhythm Guitar – David T. Walker Guitar, Bass – George Johnson, Louis Johnson

B1     Strawberry Letter 23     4:58  (Shuggie Otis)

Backing Vocals – Alexandra Brown, Denise Trammell, George Johnson, Jim Gilstrap, Louis Johnson, Oren Waters, Stephanie Spruill Drums – Harvey Mason Guitar, Soloist – Lee Ritenour Keyboards, Synthesizer – Dave Grusin, Ian Underwood Percussion – Ralph MacDonald

B2     Brother Man   3:10  (Louis Johnson, George Johnson, Dave Grusin)

Drums – Harvey Mason Keyboards, Synthesizer – Dave Grusin Percussion – Ralph MacDonald  Guitar, Bass – George Johnson, Louis Johnson

  
B3     Never Leave You Lonely    3:02  (Louis JohnsonValerie Johnson, Peggy Jones)

Drums – Harvey Mason Guitar, Bass – George Johnson Lead Vocals – Louis Percussion – Ralph MacDonald Guitar, Bass – Louis Johnson

B4     Love Is   (Louis Johnson, George Johnson, Quincy Jones, Peggy Jones)

Backing Vocals – Alexandra Brown, Denise Trammell, George Johnson, Jim Gilstrap, Oren Waters, Stephanie Spruill Keyboards – Dave Grusin Percussion – Ralph MacDonald  Guitar – George Johnson Guitar, bass – Louis Johnson

Horns arranged by Greg Adams

Alto Saxophone – Lenny Pickett
Tenor Saxophone – Emilio Castillo
Trumpet  – Greg Adams
Trumpet – Mick Gillette
Baritone Saxophone  – Stephen Kupka

Produced and arranged by Quincy Jones
Synthesizers programmed by – Ian Underwood, Michael Boddicker

Art Direction – Roland Young
Creative director – Ed Eckstine
Engineer – Norm Kinney
Assistant Engineer  – Chuck Trammell
Engineer, Remix – Don Hahn
Mastered By – Bernie Grundman
Book photography by  – Andy Kent, Dennis Callahan, Neil Preston, Randy Alpert,
Ron Phillips, Jim McCrary, Patricia Reynolds, James Fee
Design – Phil Shima

Produced for Quincy Jones Productions
Recorded from February 1st to March 21st, 1977 at A&M Recording Studio “B” Hollywood, California


This post is right on time to break the silence of nearly two months without a blog post. Flabbergasted Vibes (the blog) is on life support and the plug could be pulled any day, if not by me than by a Higher Power.  There’s been enough dying in 2016 without adding this place to the list, but my enthusiasm is definitely at low tide in the grand ebb and flow of things.

Sure, it seems like the world has come unstuck – personally, professionally, politically – but none of it is really a surprise.  I don’t have much to say about this particular album at this particular moment.    Spinning a well-worn dusty classic is about all I’ve got left, and I’m finding even that doesn’t cut it on most days.  But if you  are pressed for time on your way to the fallout shelter and unable to deliberate at length, you could do worse than randomly grabbing this off the shelf with a few other long-players.  I hope you had the foresight to equip your survivalist shelter with a working turntable and speakers.  And a bicycle, for generating electricity off the grid, obviously.

The instrumental reliability of The Brothers Johnson is beyond dispute, and here they have some big cheeses in their pantry to help serve up the funk – Harvey Mason on drums, the Tower of Power horns, Ralph McDonald on percussion, David Grusin and Ian Underwood on keyboards.  And, of course, the whole thing is greased with Quincy Jones’ aural butter to keep the smooth proceedings from ever getting so hot that they scorch.  Burnt, crispy funk was not Quincy’s thing.   The title-track, which strives a little too hard for silliness, is maybe a little boring and could use a little extra grit.  It’s hard to fault anything else though.  The highlight is naturally their cover of the Shuggie Otis’ song Strawberry Letter 23 .   Shuggie has always been “a musician’s musician,” and it’s not as if he was an unknown when he recorded this song for his second LP in the early 70’s.  But the fact that it wasn’t the huge hit it could have been the first time around just meant that the world got to enjoy it twice.  The Brothers Johnson version, which came out a full six years later, is remarkably faithful to the psychedelic spirit of the original.  Maybe it is less cryptic and more mysteriously happy.  Quincy’s production pushes it into heavenly and exciting places, and it sports an epic  layered guitar solo by Lee Ritenour too.  Has Tarantino ruined this song yet by making it the background for some ultraviolence?  I think he has but I can’t remember where.   There are some fine original songs here too in a similarly breezy, windows-rolled-down summer spirit.  In fact the opening and closing tracks of the LP could have been written as bookends to accommodate Strawberry Letter, which is sequenced squarely in the middle of the album (first song on Side 2).  There are a couple of tight instrumentals too.  But yeah, no doubt, Strawberry Letter 23 is the showcase piece here.

Is this the last post of 2016?


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MFSB – Summertime (1976)

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MFSB – Summertime
Vinyl rip in 24-bit/96 kHz | FLAC | m3u|  Artwork
800 MB (24/96) + 330MB (16/44) + 105 MB (320 kbs)| Funk, Disco, Soul| 1976
Philadelphia International Records ~ PZ 34238


Picnic in the Park (Gamble & Huff) 4:10
    Summertime (George Gershwin) 4:53
   Plenty Good Lovin’ 4:33 (Gamble & Huff)
    Sunnin’ and Funnin’ (John Whitehead, Gene McFadden, Victor Carstarphen) 4:14
    Summertime and I’m Feelin’ Mellow (John Whitehead, Gene McFadden, Victor Carstarphen) 4:00
   I’m on Your Side 3:30 (Gamble & Huff)
   Hot Summer Nights 4:25 (Gamble & Huff)
    We Got the Time (John Whitehead, Gene McFadden, Victor Carstarphen) 4:41

Bobby Eli, Norman Harris, Reggie Lucas, Roland Chambers, T.J. Tindall – guitar
Anthony Jackson, Ron Baker – bass
Leon Huff, Lenny Pakula, Eddie Green, Harold Ivory Williams – keyboards
Earl Young, Karl Chambers, Norman Farrington – drums
Larry Washington – percussion
Vincent Montana, Jr. – vibraphone
Zach Zachary, Tony Williams – saxophone
Don Renaldo and his Strings and Horns
Barbara Ingram, Carla Benson, Evette Benton, Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, Victor Carstarphen – backing vocals


Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply; Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair, manually auditioned, and individually with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp.  Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.


02 - Back

Even when I attempt a timely, topical post, it’s still kind of late.  I mean, I could be posting a Bobby Hutcherson album recorded by Rudy Van Gelder (two birds with one stone), or something from my stash of calypso and soca in solidarity with Notting Hill carnival (happening right now).  But instead I am bringing a soundtrack for the summer, which in the 24/7 stress culture of over-planning and anxiety in the United States is unofficially drawing to a close, even though there’s nearly another month of it.   But then again, we have a pretty strong South American readership at this blog, and quite a few friends in Australia, and they’re summer hasn’t even BEGUN yet, so really I’m just trying to cover all the bases here.

M.F.S.B. is most famous for having given us the immortal theme song to the show Soul Train (whose title was another acronym, T.S.O.P, for The Sound of Philadelphia), but you’ve also no doubt heard them on dozens of hits since they were the studio house band for Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International label.  Sharing members with the Trampps and the Salsoul Orchestra, the ensemble has had as many as forty people pass through its ranks.  Aside from the Latin disco-tinged spin on the Gershwin tune that gives the album its name, the songwriting and production credits are nearly evenly split, with Gamble & Huff taking half and Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, and Victor Carstarphen providing the rest.  Of the latter, McFadden and Whitehead had given us the O’Jay’s ‘Backstabbers‘ and would deliver their own ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now‘  a few years later, while Carstarphen gave us “Wake Up Everybody” from Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, among others.  The first cut, Picnic In The Park, was a minor chart hit off this record.  To me it seems like a strange choice for a single, but that’s because I find the song better suited for the impending doom of a tense movie scene, setting up a child abduction or drive-by shooting, rather than a soundtrack for a relaxing summer day.  I guess I’ve always been one of those glass-half-empty types?  It’s a cool tune though, and the guitar riff engages in some accidental ska rhythms. (Incidentally, the name of my band in high school was Accidental Ska…)

While not as memorable as, say, their Music Is The Message album, it’s a fun spin of summer-themed tracks.  And you can populate them with your specific memories and meanings, as their almost-instrumental format – featuring choruses with vocals, but no verses – lends itself to daydreaming.  In fact, as with some of their other LPs, I can’t help feeling like some of these were half-finished tunes intended for singers on the Philadelphia International label which never came to fruition.  In an parallel universe, then, some of these songs were massive smash hits that everyone knows, and you are using this record for your next karaoke party (because it is a known fact that karoake is popular all throughout the multiverse).


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Mass Production – Believe (1977)

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MASS PRODUCTION
Believe
1977 Cotillion Records SD 9918

Free And Happy     5:20
I Believe In Music     6:46
Being Here     6:20
We Love You     0:40
Keep My Heart Together     3:58
Cosmic Lust     5:53
Superlative     4:33
People Get Up     5:43

Bass – Kevin Douglas 
Drums – Ricardo Williams   
Keyboards – Tyrone Williams
Lead Guitar – Rodney Phelps
Lead Vocals – Larry Marshall , Tiny Kelly 
Percussion – Emanual Redding  
Rhythm Guitar – Coy Bryant
Saxophone – Gregory McCoy
Trumpet – Otis Drumgole

Producer – Ed A. Ellerbe
Engineer – Dave Whitman, Michael Frondelli
Design [Logo] – Gerard Huerta
Mastered By – Dennis King
Photography By – Anthony Loew
Art Direction – Abie Sussman

Produced for Pepper Productions
Recorded & mixed at Electric Lady Studios, New York
Mastered at Atlantic Studios, New York, N.Y.
Manufactured by Atlantic Recording Corporation


Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply; Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed manually with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp.  Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.


I know I am badly overdue for some Brazilian posts, but I feel a responsibility to write stuff and give half-informed commentary on those, and I’ve been just barely treading water in real life and unable to give the kind of TLC that the blog deserves.  So I’m opting to post one or two things that are just good fun while I catch up on work.  I don’t know why I’m worried about making sloppy half-assed posts of Brazilian music, since the Olympic committee doesn’t seem too stressed about things like preparing rooms for the athletes or non-toxic shit-free water, but let’s not get off track here.  Except that I will take the opportunity to say, if any Olympians are reading this, I have a friend with a kitchenette to rent out in Rio, right in the Copa a few blocks from the train.  He’s a really great guy.  Gymnists are preferred, not because of any fetish or anything, but because y’all are small and he can fit more of you in there.  Just call +55 21 2224-4607 and ask for Eduardo.

02 - Believe back

Now on to this record from this ten-piece band from Virginia.  Any “disco sucks” people who stumbled on this blog can just click through this and move on, unless of course you are willing to open your mind and trust me that this record will neither turn you gay nor black (the root fear of most disco-phobia).  Mass Production was also a solid funk and soul outfit but they had their own approach to rescuing dance music from the blahs, and that was to show ’em how it’s really done.  A couple of these cuts are unarguably disco, and they jam so much you’ll want to call them Smuckers.  I don’t know if maybe its the difference between a band playing a disco groove, and a bunch of session musicians assembled by a producer, but I like it.  On this record Mass Production reminds me of Gary Tom’s Empire on the upbeat cuts and maybe Frankie Beverly & Maze on the mid-tempo material (their Firecracker-era stuff often gets compared to Brass Construction).  Singer Tiny Kelly adds a nice touch, especially to “Being There”, salvaging a schmaltzy ballad with genuine feeling (“long as you’re here/nothing matters” is wonderfully succinct).  She’s no Minnie Ripperton, and tends to go off pitch when reaching for some of the high notes, but in this age of Auto-tuned everything, this imperfection is actually kind of refreshing.  Note: I’m referring to the original use of the Auto-tune plug-in, and not the modulated effect that sounds like a malfunctioning Vocoder that was on every modern R&B song for a while.   The actual purpose of Auto-tune was to correct the pitch of vocalists in the studio, to greater or lesser degrees depending on their skill and on just how sterile and slick a production was desired.  I’m only some anonymous voice on a blog, but to my ears, when literally everything sounds “perfect” all the time, I find myself profoundly bored in about two minutes flat.    So, bring on the slightly sharp or flat high notes, Tiny Kelly, and remind me that you are all living and breathing humans making these glorious sounds.  I can handle it.

Most people are going to gravitate to the rump shakers on the disc, though.  I am pretty sure the first track, Free and Happy, was the inspiration for one of Weird Al Yankovic’s early pastiche singles, Gotta Boogie.   The secret weapon of this album is the instrumental cut called “Cosmic Lust,” which nowadays sounds like it could be a brand of synthetic cannabis (melon-flavored and with aphrodisiac properties), but in 1977 was actually a hit single off this record and huge club favorite.  Love these warbly analog synths from the space age, and the saxophone solo by Gregory McCoy (who wrote the song) is nice too.

Cosmic Lust

Mass Production’s first album was in 1976, but the idea for the band was actually hatched during some house parties thrown by Frankfurt school theorists Max Horkheimer (d.1973) and Theodore Adorno (d.1969).  The two were renowned for throwing wild get-togethers involving Hollywood celebrities, music luminaries, piles of cocaine, and stag films on 8mm.    Reportedly after hearing Eddie Kendrick’s 1973 solo album, Horkheimer confessed from his death bed that one of his main regrets in life was that he was about to miss one of the crowning achievements of human creativity, the efflorescence of disco funk.  Entrepreneur and producer Ed A. Ellerbe, a regular attendee of the Frankfurt exiles’ bacchanals,  assembled the group Mass Production in his honor.

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Funkadelic – America Eats Its Young (1972)

Funkadelic America blog

Funkadelic – America Eats Its Young
Vinyl rip in 24-bit/96kHz | FLAC and mp3 | LP Artwork (sans gatefold)
Funk/Rock| 1972  | Westbound/ 4 Men With Beards ‎~ 4M179 ~ 2010 180-gram reissue

A1     You Hit The Nail On The Head
A2     If You Don’t Like The Effects, Don’t Produce The Cause
A3     Everybody Is Going To Make It This Time
B1     A Joyful Process
B2     We Hurt Too
B3     Loose Booty
B4     Philmore
C1     Pussy
C2     America Eats Its Young
C3     Biological Speculation
C4     That Was My Girl
D1     Balance
D2     Miss Lucifer’s Love
D3     Wake Up

Distributed By – Janus Records (original release)
Produced For – Westbound Records (original release)
Recorded At – Manta Sound
RCA Studios, Toronto
Toronto Sound Studios
Olympic Studios
Artie Fields Studios
Mastercraft Recording Corp.
Pressed By – Mastercraft (original release)

String and horn arrangements  – Bernard Worrell (tracks: B1, D2 to D3)
String and pedal steel guitar arrangements – David Van De Pitte (tracks: A2 to A3 , B2, C2 to C3)
Produced, arranged, cover concept by– George Clinton
Vocals arranged by Bernard Worrell
Bass – William Collins, Cordell Mosson, Prakash John
Cello – Peter Schenkman (2), Ronald Laurie

Guitar – Eddie Hazel, Garry Shider, Harold Beane, Phelps Collins
Steel guitar – Ollie Strong
Juice Harps – James Wesley Jackson
Keyboards, Melodica – Bernard Worrell
Percussion – Frank Waddy, Tiki Fulwood, Tyrone Lampkin, Zachary Frazier
Alto Saxophone – Randy Wallace
Tenor Saxophone – Robert McCullough
Trumpet – Al Stanwyck, Arnie Chycoski, Bruce Cassidy, Clayton Gunnells, Ronnie Greenway
Viola – Stanley Solomon, Walter Babiuk
Violin – Albert Pratz, Bill Richards, Joe Sera, Victoria Polley
Vocals – William Collins, Clayton Gunnells, Diane Brooks, Ed Hazel, Frank Waddy, Garry Shider, Harold Beane, Phelps Collins, Prakash John, Randy Wallace, Ronnie Greenway, Steve Kennedy
Vocals [Uncredited] – Calvin Simon, Fuzzy Haskins, George Clinton, Grady Thomas, Ray Davis
Written-By – B. Worrell (tracks: A1, A3 to B1, C2, D3), G. Clinton (tracks: A1 to B3, C1 to D3)

Artwork [Cover] – Paul Weldon
Artwork [Poster] – Cathy Abel
Concept By [Cover] – Ron Scribner
Coordinator [Album] – Mia Krinsky
Engineer – Lee De Carlo
Engineer [Assistant] – Rick Capreol
Supervised By [Producer] – Bob Scerbo

A PARLIAFUNKADELICMENT THANG


Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply; Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair, manually auditioned, and individually with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp.  Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.


03 - Label A_2

America is on a bad trip, y’all.  The Empire is crumbling and in flames.  And I’d say that’s mostly a good thing.  Sure it’s depressing and scary. Don’t worry though, Funkadelic is here to help you pull through another day in the 240-year-old genocidal nightmare of white supremacy and capitalist greed.  Just don’t expect to feel much better when the record is done playing, though.

This one probably should have come with a warning label on it in 1972, cautioning listeners to only mix it with mind-expanding substances under supervision of a professional.  Sure there were a lot weirder records out there – Funkadelic’s three records prior to this one, in which recording sessions were reputedly fueled by manic acid binges, were more “far out” than most of what graces these grooves.  And they were peppered with meditations on death and Armageddon.  But this one has always seemed more sinister and strange to me.  It was one of the last of their classic early records that I got into, preferring the releases that bookended it (Maggot Brain and Cosmic Slop) instead.  Lots of people describe this record as “transitional” and bit all over the place, a reflection of the dissolution of the original band lineup and the presence of  over thirty musicians participating on it.  But I think there is more than just an aural confusion that makes the album dense and inscrutable at first.  It is also ideologically and spiritually incoherent, and in that sense perfectly captures where the band – and, hell, most of the world – was at in 1972.  If I take each song individually, this is classic Funkadelic, top notch material with a couple of near-misses, but taken collectively all at once they have me reaching for a Thorazine injection.

clinton_1407065371_crop_550x794Critical reception seems split between people who panned it as being “over-indulgent” (that favorite word that critics use for anything ambitious that they don’t immediately fancy), or those who want to recover it as the groups great neglected “grand statement,” like in this story on the site The Quietus that I think is kind of mediocre but still worth a read for those interested.  But whatever your take on it, there is no denying that this was an album of important “firsts,” with the departure of much of the original lineup and the inclusion of new players who would come to be major figures in the P-Funk Empire, most notably Bootsy Collins but also Gary Shider, Catfish Collins, and the funkiest Indian-Canadian around, Prakash John.  As usual, George gets (or is it “takes”?) all the credit in that Quietus story, but as this Wax Poetics feature argues persuasively, Bernie Worrell was in many ways the key to P-Funk’s genius, and this is the record where his contributions were really allowed to shine and blossom.  He arranged many of the songs, put his classical training to good use in arranging strings and horns, and his keyboard textures point the way forward for the next decade of P-funkateering.   A Joyful Process is really a showcase for this.  This cut was actually released as a single in a shorter edit (which is included with the Westbound CD version from the 1990s).  For me, one of the great things about the great, recently-departed Worrell is that his genius could be a subtle one.   On that song, as well as the B-side Loose Booty, attention to tone and rhythm helps his keyboard work to blend in synergistic harmony with the guitar work.  You can find this kind of musical camouflage throughout his career all the way to his collaborations with Talking Heads: whenever Worrell was on stage, if you closed your eyes you would probably have trouble figuring out what sounds came from where and who was making them.  And the string arrangements on this album are pretty brilliant. They seem so natural that it might it take a few minutes to sink in that “hey, there’s a string section on a Funkadelic album.”  That is,if you hadn’t been around at the time reading interviews where George Clinton was citing Sgt. Pepper and Tommy as inspirations for this ambitious double-album.  Hearing this eighteen years or so after it was released, the prog-rock allusions were not so pronounced or obvious to me.  Likewise it was hard to see how anyone expected this to be “shooting for the mainstream”.  Yes the songs are tightly composed, with none of the freeform freakouts found on the last two records, and a few tracks are rather epic in length and have multiple parts.   Perhaps George had thoughts of college kids putting this record on after Thick As A Brick left their turntable.  But even the sludge-rock crunch of “Balance” is funkier than anything you’ll find on an ELP record, so I prefer to ignore what the critics and maybe even George have to say about what the album was trying to achieve and just listen to what’s here.   That, and maybe look at what the band had been doing rather than saying, which is to say sharing bills with other Detroit upstarts like the MC5 and Iggy & the Stooges, with whom they shared a kind of anarchistic, agit-prop aesthetic.  Even their ad campaigns for this record were confrontational.

 Speaking of sludge, this is the first Funkadelic record where you can clearly hear everything going on in the mix.  Clinton once again accepts credit for this, as this was the first album where he was in charge of mixing, and apparently did many remixes until he arrived at the sound he was seeking.  But that may be less a function of him being “in control for the first time” as it is a reflection of the haphazard, spontaneous nature of the preceding Funkadelic records.  FuNCKEALDIEcADAMericAEATASitsOTOUNG_465_628_intMultiple mix-downs of a record in any genre, especially with this many players on it, is actually the rule rather than the exception, and it would probably be more accurate to say this was the first time they actually started to care how the end result sounded.

There’s some steel guitar on this record from Ollie Strong.  It’s not the first time they’ve incorporated the weepy country-and-western instrument – it also appeared on the one-off Invictus record by Parliament, Osmium, on “Little Ole Country Boy” (which you might recognize from a certain ‘Potholes In My Lawn‘ twenty years later).   Osmium (aka Rhenium)  had some other first-appearances related to this one.  “I Call My Baby Pussycat” (here retitled simply ‘Pussy’) was the opening cut on that LP.  In its incarnation on America Eats Its Young, the tempo is slowed way down, the lyrics nearly incomprehensible, the vibe lascivious.  In a live setting they often combined both approaches, as heard on the archival release “Live at Meadowbrook” that appeared in the mid-90s.  Compare and contrast if you like.

Personally, I don’t think the album is quite the magnum opus or Great Statement it strives to be, but it is still a classic, and certainly doesn’t merit the more negative assessments that some short-sighted critics gave it at the time.  There is an undercurrent of malaise and unease, no doubt tied to the sociopolitical circumstances of the darkest years of Vietnam, the fracturing of the civil rights and peace movements, and the dissolution of the optimistic utopia found in Sly Stone’s upbeat Family vision as he traded it in for the wonderfully paranoid claustrophobia of There’s A Riot Going On.  Oh and there is the matter of the band’s own heroin consumption at the time.  One has visions of them snorting lines of smack off the mixing console during this record.  But at least some of the malaise comes from its flirtation with the Left Hand Path.  For years I ignored the spaced-out diatribes in the liner notes attributed to The Process Church of the Final Judgement on this album and Maggot Brain — I had assumed it was a fictional thing in the P-Funk universe, named after a hairstyle.  But it was in fact a real organization (which may well have had an influence on that other Family, the one presided over by a certain Charlie Manson), so you also get this pseudo-occult, chic satanism bubbling up between the grooves that contributes to the hazy incoherence of it all.  Now, I’m actually an aficionado of any music tied to weirdo cults from the 60s and 70s, whether its Tim Maia’s Racional period, Father Yod’s commune, Incredible String Band’s cryptic Scientology paeans, your run-of-the-mill Hare Krishna or TM-influenced artists, or musical invocations of that wickedly bald mountain-climber Aleister Crowley.  (Edit: I forgot to add Prince’s “Rainbow Children” record to this list, which I shamefully just kind of listened to once when it came out and didn’t pay much attention to… it’s a solid and ambitious effort, albeit uneven). I’m certainly not bothered on religious grounds by these kind of antics.  But there is something just icky about Funkadelic’s relationship to the Process Church and I’m relieved they didn’t continue down that road.  In any case, that entity has swapped out its bodily vessel and now exists as an animal shelter in Utah.

Even the exhilarating, upbeat stuff here is not what it seems.  I remember the first time I heard “Loose Booty” and assumed it was a song about shaking your ass on the dance floor, only to be slightly disturbed when I began to pay attention to the lyrics, eventually learning that it was slang for a junkie, a reference to their occasional inability to control their own bowel movements (loose butt!). And yet there are also songs of delicate beauty here, like the lovely “Everyone Is Going To Make It This Time.”  The ballad “We Hurt Too” is a throw-back to the groups’ roots in doo-wop.  It doesn’t quite work, but it works better than throw-away “That Was My Girl,” which is some sort of convoluted parody of The Temptations or Motown or love songs or something.  Bootsy’s one songwriting contribution, on which he also sings lead, is a 60’s-style soul rave-up, and surprisingly unfunky.  America Eats Its Young may be an ambitious Concept Album but it seems kind of rudderless and bereft of a clearly-articulated Concept – in short, a perfect representation of their spiritual and musical transmogrification in ’72.  I for one am glad that it doesn’t have an explicit narrative like The Who’s Tommy or an Alan Parsons Project record,  because it lets the album age a little differently and survive like a kind of musical Rorschach ink blot.  One thing I think the Quietus piece gets right is that this record does sort of set a template for how Clinton & Co. would approach making records for the rest of their run.  There is usually an over-arching Big Concept, increasingly populated with figures and icons of their own mythological universe.  But unlike the majority of high-concept albums, it isn’t really necessary to fully immerse oneself or even pay much attention to any of those embellishments to fully enjoy the great music they contain.  And there is a lot here to enjoy.

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