Let the Beat Build #20: July 2014
1. “Brilliant Disguise” - Bruce Springsteen
KW: Maybe it’s because I just spent a few days in a boardwalk town, or because beaches have increasingly figured in my own small attempts to determine what’s real and what’s fake, or at least what’s important to me and what belongs to someone else. What happened to the rest of that sentence? Did Elvis Costello write this song? Maybe I’ll just say this: Cape May, summer, circa 2007, night, fog rolling in.
2. “Freaks of the Industry” - Digital Underground
JW: Bruce is talking about the feeling of “I don’t even know who you are anymore.” And you and I were talking about the artfulness and efficacy of a good disguise. I felt you rolling toward Doom, and I don’t want to derail that AT ALL. So I’ll just throw in a splash of Humpty/Shock G dropping science about the freak game. We can always step our game up.
3. “International Players Anthem” - UGK, OutKast
KW: When this song came out I wasn’t super into it, despite being super into both groups who were arguably at the height of their respective games. Now I’m all bout it bout it. I love the tip of the hat to Paul McCartney. I love the fact that the song can’t make up its mind whether it’s about getting serious or getting dirty. Also, “smashed up the gray one, bought me a red” reminds me of one of my favorite rap one-liners, from Snoop on “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” “and I, uh, think I got a black Beamer.”
4. “Live and Let Die” - Paul McCartney, Wings
JW: Can’t. Play. Girl Talk. Can’t. Play. Girl Talk. Ahh, the songs that can’t make up their mind. Rocket Queen. Layla. Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns. Stairway! I had trouble thinking up the ones I was looking for, so I started this side playlist. Anyway, the all time “split personality” song to me is A Day In The Life. Like Strawberry Fields and a few other Beatles songs, it was an original mashup (can we say that legitimately?) of songs Paul was writing and songs John was writing. It switches up content, context, melody, rhythm and yet somehow melds together perfectly. So that was then. Why does Paul switch it up with this one? Did George Martin do it? Did James Bond do it? Did Victor Vaughn do it?
5. “Peachfuzz” - KMD
KW: “Live and Let Die” could be the MF Doom story. Young, idealistic, optimistic -> totally fucking jaded and faded -> a legitimate goddamn hip hop phoenix. Love that guy. Doom owns misdirection the way Weezy owns one liner quips and Kanye owns comparing himself to Jesus. Scratch that. There’s only one Big Baby Jesus. “Peachfuzz” is great on its own, but also really interesting because Doom’s style is so different--still obviously bursting with ideas, but not quite in his own voice, and showing off in a different way than his later work.
6. “Corvette Bummer” - Beck
JW: We were just talking the other day about Beck wanted to be known for his songwriting. His early work has the most disjointed stew of words. They were awesome but also sold easily as “quirky, alterno but safe, hip hop but safer, you know for the college kids.” At the time, on first glance, it all seemed like “Sun King” gibberish. But the more you listen to them, the more they feel like intentional metaphor and coded verité. So I went back to Mellow Gold. I’ve never heard this song before. It wasn’t on the album as far as I know. I like it.
7. “Don’t Touch My Bikini” - The Halo Benders
KW: Amateur nonsense, a big joke, or two fucking geniuses wrecking shit with an absurdist anthem? Word is these guys wrote their own lyrics for each song and then grafted them together in their lab of Dr. Frankenstein, or whatever. God damn this album is good.
8. "Swimsuit Issue" - Sonic Youth
JW: I listened to this song a bunch before I figured out that the names listed were actual swimsuit models. I considered it emblematic of a bigger problem (which it is) and took swimsuit issue as a metaphor. The notion of hearing “Roshumba... Naomi... Vendella…” in a Sonic Youth song was unexpected at the time. It also made a powerful connection that highly successful supermodels at the top of their game are still confronted with the sexual harassment and marginalization that all women might be subjected to. In fact, they likely had to deal with obstacles in order to get to supermodel status. The cool thing to me, in retrospect, was that this album came out at a time where more women were disrupting the record industry compartmentalization of what they were expected to listen to. Women, young women, were diversifying their tastes and getting into harder more traditionally male-dominated genres and subcultures. Kim Gordon was this cool, distant, powerful, straight-talking, disaffected icon of women in rock (but not a VH1 special). Songs like this had real impact on my latent perception of social issues.
9. “Keep it Real… Represent ‘96” - Kool Keith
KW: Or, the opposite. Kool Keith was frequently blasting back when almost everyone I knew still lived in the East Village. It’s a not-quite-right perversion of hip hop tropes and posturing, fucking genius.
10. “A Little Less Conversation” - Elvis Presley
JW: When keepin’ it real goes wrong... the olden days. Elvis Presley was The King of flossin’. Graceland was built for MTV Cribs. It was decades before its time. Or is shit like Graceland the actual reason we have luxury house fetish? Have you been there? So many mirrors! The joke is, it’s actually not that big. I mean, Li’l Romeo’s got a Italian chandelier in his competitive game room! But Elvis’ was bigger. Elvis was right about one thing though. Less talk, more action.
11. “Keep Me Cryin’” - Al Green
KW: Fuck yeah. Stadium R&B, something Elvis was trying to do. Right around the time Presley met his end, Al Green was about to have his big flame-out, racing Presley to death or something. I read that Presley’s big R&B revue style was a major influence on Dylan’s record Street-Legal (which I will always point out as an underappreciated record) and also on Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. Between the three of them, it was hard to pick Green over Dylan or Springsteen. Where Springsteen had resolved to never become a parody of himself, and Dylan decided to do whatever the hell he wanted, as usual, Green actually picked himself up and he seems to have gotten his shit together. JW: He’s a pastor now. I wonder if MC Hammer and Ma$e cite him as an influence.
12. “Little Child Runnin’ Wild” - Curtis Mayfield
JW: Superfly added complexity to the Blaxploitation genre by glorifying the dope game while simultaneously showing its downsides as Priest tried to leave the game behind. Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack was essential to this purpose.
“And I didn't have to be here
You didn't have to love for me
While I was just a nothin' child
Why couldn't they just let me be”
13. “Cocaine” - Eric Clapton
KW: Fucking genius. He made it a refrain, punctuating everything, getting right in the middle of everything fun or necessary. It’s a fun song to boot. I guess Clapton knows a little about the dope game.
14. “Things Done Changed” - Notorious B.I.G.
“If I wasn't in the rap game I'd probably have a key knee-deep in the crack game” - Biggie
“It’s all in the game” - Omar Little