Let the Beat Build #19: June 2014
Spotify playlist: Let the Beat Build #19: June 2014
Diversions playlist: LTBB #19 Diversions
1. “What is Love?” - Howard Jones
JW: Alright, here it is. The Mother Fucking Summer Jams list we’ve not made yet. This is a playlist for songs that captivated you during the summer OR songs that just sound better during the summer. This is NOT, I repeat NOT a Now Hear This TV commercial compilation. I don’t want to hear any Will Smith. I saw the unexcited look on your face today when I mentioned Howard Jones, but… get into it! Let me break down how it all began. When I was little, I went to summer camp in Kerrville, TX. They must have scraped their staff from the Austin Community College summer school roster. A great bunch of people. Chillers, all of ‘em. There was this one counselor named Karma. She was the coolest. She had bleached hair with things tied in it. She was funky. And she always wore rock t-shirts. She wore this Howard Jones one all the time, and it took me all summer to connect the songs to the shirt. I hadn’t had that tape, you see. But the older kids always played it on the camp radio station (a.k.a. the PA). There is this genre of music in the 80’s that by all accounts, I shouldn’t like. I’ll have no truck with most pop music, but New Wave and it’s kissing cousins, I have a soft spot cell for.
2. “Shake Dog Shake” - The Cure
KW: It’s highly likely that I’m only going to put 80s jams on this list. In the winter of 1994 I got a huge record collection from my friend Casey. It was his sister’s record collection, but they had no record player and his mom was going to throw them out. I imagine she was one of your counselors. We filled up my dad’s hatchback with tons of Depeche Mode, The Cure, New Order, Erasure, Information Society, Pet Shop Boys, it was a full-on education into the best of eighties pop. Casey was heavy into The Cure himself, I remember asking him about The Cure because I’d never heard of them and he wore a Cure shirt one day. In fact, I think that I first heard of them through him back in 1992. Ah the rock shirt. Anyway, everything that Howard Jones was, Robert Smith was his funhouse mirror, the kind of pop star that accidentally happened into reality because of something Vonnegut wrote. Or something. I reckon it was summer 1995 when I first heard this. Something about The Top (the album, not the song) felt like reggae to me back then. I still don’t know why.
3. “Stop” - Jane’s Addiction
JW: I was this close to playing West End Boys, but that’s a Winter Jam. I wasn’t that into Jane’s Addiction when I saw them at Lollapalooza. I had been more into the Chili Peppers at the time, and in truth, was most excited to see Siouxsie and the Banshees that day. They hooked me with Three Days. It had been a long day, the sun was going down beyond the walls of the Starplex Amphitheater and it was mesmerizing. They were weird. They had stadium power like Gn’R, but they were not hairmetal rockers. “Alterno” (or “Progressive” depending on where you lived) but not “New Wave”. They felt like punk, but not as abrasive and repetitive. More melodic, yet Perry Farrell’s voice was not mellifluous. It felt like music I had to grow into. I spent much of that summer listening to Nothing Shocking, Ritual… and once we found a copy, the Jane’s Addiction (Live) album, which we called “2 X’s” because the way the album art was printed, it had a white band with two X’s on it, presumably a record label thing. This was also the summer where if you didn’t buy the album early enough, you got the one with the white censored cover, because 3 topless papier maché women were too scandalous. KW: I wrote back in LTBB#4 about a classic girl who loaned me a few key cassettes over the summer in 1992, including Ritual de lo Habitual. Ritual used to blast at all the parties we had on Spring Lake (which was really just a pond), drinking forties and jumping into the water with all our clothes on, trying to swim across, hiding from the cops, pining for each other but rarely saying it, and so on.
4. “Supernova” - Liz Phair
KW: I missed the whole Liz Phair thing. Maybe she just wasn’t that big in Houston. My wife and I have a habit of listening to old cassette mixtapes while gardening outside our house. We have a lot of obvious overlaps (Jane’s Addiction, Matthew Sweet, Nirvana) and a lot of stuff I never heard back then. “Supernova” is one of those summer mixtape tracks, transmitted via cassette from twenty years ago. I find Liz Phair kind of fascinating.
5. “Patti Smith Math Scratch” - Thurston Moore
JW: I got into Sonic Youth in the sweet spot of “Dirty”, “Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star”. 1992 - 1995. Moore’s solo album, Psychic Hearts also came out in ‘95, like he had so much good energy in him, he had to get it out on his own. Um… anyway. I feel a connection here to Thom Yorke’s Eraser being released shortly before Radiohead’s In Rainbows album. All great sounds, distinctly unique as a body of work from the primary band and contemporary album, still sounding like a part of the artists’ career trajectory. This album sounded so much like Experimental Jet Set…, an album I was really getting into despite weak reviews. If songs like It Takes Two and Let Me Clear My Throat get you out of your seat, Patti Smith Math Scratch compels you to shift in your driver’s seat, grip the steering wheel and prepare to drive aggressively. At least what I was doing. This song made it onto many of my mix cd’s in the mid/late 90’s, particularly driving mixes. In fact, hearing now makes me want to turn on Grand Theft Auto.
6. “Girlfriend” - Matthew Sweet
KW: Thurston came up listening to people like Robert Quine destroy it on guitar in sleazy dives. I came up listening to people like Robert Quine destroy it on rock radio, I mean, come on, this is a flawless guitar rock song. But it’s also pop in a way that Sonic Youth never was. Isn’t it kind of crazy that Sonic Youth was pop for a minute? Anyway, I could blast this song in a car. I’d rather be doing that right now, somewhere, say, 2000 miles from here, along a coastline where the water is currently 80 degrees.
7. “Jimmy James” - Beastie Boys
JW: I was having trouble thinking of the other songs I was hearing all summer when Girlfriend was in heavy rotation. I did remember clearly that the next summer, 1992, Check Your Head came out. It was a big fucking deal. Actually, it came out in the spring, which got us all excited for the summer tour. My friends and I went to see the Beasties Boys at the Sportatorium, Fu-Shnickens opened for them. It was insane. Hanging from truss insane. Sportatorium was a pretty small venue. It had been primarily used for WWF events and home to the Von Erick dynasty. And the energy in that building, plus that of Check Your Head, PLUS being 15, squirrely, angsty and mosh pitty had us all bursting with power, invincibility and mischief. That’s probably why, at 2 in the morning, half my friends snuck the car out and went to Harry Hines. We had all been crashing at my friend Lucas’ house that night and were having trouble settling down. Lucas had an insatiable desire to get a pint of Ben & Jerry’s (1992’s gold). None of us had a driver’s license, not even sure if he had a learner’s permit but he was determined to take the car out. I can’t remember why I chose not to get in the car, but I think it had something to do with incrementally learning not to trust that what Lucas said we would do was never just what we would do. As it turns out, Lucas’ dad woke me up at 4am asking where lucas was. I played possum. Then I played dumb. What they had actually done was drive way out of our normal, comfortable and familiar radius, and cruise Harry Hines Blvd., a stretch of road where many strip clubs, massage parlors and adult book stores were sequestered. Apparently, they had left the car doors unlocked, like novices, and at a stop light, two women got in the car. I heard hazy stories of solicitation. When they said they had no money, the women suggested his UT Longhorns baseball hat would be fair. As I understand it, no transactions were made. But then again, I wasn’t there. I went to see my boys World’s Fair the other night at Webster Hall. It reminded me of a part of my life that is not dead, but doesn’t exist in the same way. Nevertheless I still have a mischief/excitement nerve that tingles every time I see the youts wild n’ out. And it tingles when I hear Check Your Head.
8. “High” - Freddie Gibbs, Madlib, Danny Brown
KW: The Beastie Boys excelled at bringing something old and something new at the same time. Check Your Head was a monstrous set of jams. “High” is my current favorite hip hop track, on frequent rotation as a proto summer jam (8 days to go). It’s got this nasty bounce circa 2000 dirty South, with samples that seem to come straight from 1975, while everything else is set entirely in a mad fresh present.
9. “The Corner” - Common
JW: I was singing this song in my sleep last night, so I felt compelled to play it. I don’t know this is as fresh as Danny Brown, but maybe it’s timeless? You know what is fresh AND timeless? Common’s lyric ability. He plays off generations of colloquial wordplay and cultural reference. His observations about the complexity of the Corner have a realness and depth that we don’t see enough.
10. “Myintrotoletuknow” - Outkast
KW: I love how old Outkast tracks used rock guitars. I also love how the guitar from this track is later sampled on “Aquemini.” But anyway, smoke is central to this track, or more like a backdrop. I imagine these guys in their basement all summer, getting high and working on music, like I should be doing right now. Summer always feels like it’s slipping away, time is slippin’, slowly but surely.
11. “Stoned Is The Way Of The Walk” - Cypress Hill
JW: On the nose? Maybe. But they’re not just a clever gimmick. Cypress Hill, hyperbole aside, expresses an intimate and authentic relationship to smoking even when their lyrics are about something else. More than Dre. More than Snoop. Now it’s hard to remember a time where someone couldn’t freely talk about their own personal drug use. But this was 1991, on the tail end of Just Say No and the PMRC. It was somehow okay to talk about killing and fighting, but talking about drug use this explicitly in such a mainstream way was, um, iconoclast. Maybe I’m getting emotional. Anyway… this song about being stoned sounds like it was recorded while they were stoned on their way to get stoned. I think it’s making me stoned. Meta and out!
12. “Mary Jane (DJ Green Lantern Remix)” - Rick James
KW: I’m listening to this song every day lately (JW: git it girrrrrrl). Folks are starting to wonder why I listen to so much dope music yet I don’t smoke the drugs. By folks I mean my family. It’s summer. Time to cut loose. Gangsta Gibbs say: “gettin’ zoned out, eyes red, mama and my daddy say my mind dead.” And so on. But damn this is a crush groove. I don’t even know what that means.
13. “Mary Jane” - The Alkaholiks
JW: There was this movie that no one ever saw called Plain Clothes. It’s about an “old” 30ish (?) cop who has to go undercover in a high school to clear the name of his wrongfully arrested brother. In it he reads a steamy poem about car parts for a class assignment about metaphor. I always think of that when I listen to this song. What’s great about it is that you could come up with a few of these metaphors while brainstorming for Highdeas, but they have somehow woven a complete narrative where each vignette paints a well-balanced duality of Mary Jane as a woman and Mary Jane as a way of life. The Roots do this well. GZA does this well. LL does it in his candy style. But something about this song gets me amped, like a wall of lights at a concert.
14. “Clint Eastwood” - Gorillaz
KW: Talk about weeded-out MCs, Del is up there. The first time I went to Park Slope was to see my first post-college apartment. “Clint Eastwood” was blasting out of the bar across the street. It was August, we went up on the roof as the sun was setting. Then we walked around 5th Avenue and it was just lovely. My friend (and then next door neighbor) Asif said he misses Brooklyn the most in the summer. Me too.