Monday, 28 May 2012

The Intruders (1967)

Geez...I was pondering for quite some time how to tackle The Intruders. If I picked just one album to write about I would be terribly unjust to their remaining body of work. On the other hand, writing just about one 7" single would be like eating a cherry off the top of a delicious ice-cream dessert and then leaving the rest to melt in the sun...Oh no, boy!...with the Intruders you gobble that dessert till your face is covered in chocolate and the zipper in the fly of your jeans is desperately hanging in trying to keep your pants from cracking open...

The only problem is: how does one start eating a dessert the size of a mountain with only a tiny spoon in hand?

Well, I could start this article by mentioning that The Intruders were a group of four guys from Philadelphia...I could tell you their names: Sam "Little Sonny" Brown, Eugene "Bird" Daughtry, Phillip "Phil" Terry and Robert "Big Sonny" Edwards...I could also say that they started off as a doo-wop group singing on street corners in the early 60s...or...I could just cut straight to the chase and tell you that the true 'spiritus movens' behind The Intruders are two guys, who don't appear on any of The Intruders' album cover photos. These two guys are: Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.

Gamble & Huff, as they are usually credited on records, are a legendary songwriting/production duo responsible for over 170 gold and platinum records. They wrote and produced songs for such fantastic acts as The O'Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, The Jacksons, Teddy Pendergrass, Aretha Franklin, Archie Bell & the Drells, The Three Degrees, People's Choice, Dusty Springfield, The Trammps (damn, this list could go on, and on, and on). Gamble & Huff and their Philadelphia International Records label forged a unique sound that would be later dubbed: 'philly soul' and laid the foundations for nearly five decades of American dance music.

But hold on. Let's get back to the '60s and The Intruders. In the early years of the decade, The Intruders were a local, Philadelphia-based doo-wop group and Gamble & Huff were up-and-coming producers working for Atlantic Records, with which they had a few hits along the way (think: Soul Surivors). Their paths crossed in 1966 when The Intruders were signed to the newly created Gamble label and, under the guidance of the visionary duo of Gamble & Huff, release their first hit: '(We'll be) United'. The track goes all the way up to number 14 on the R&B Charts and a year later the group follows up with another banger of a tune called: 'Together', which also scores the charts. 1967 also brings us The Intruders' firsts album: 'The Intruders are Together'. However, it wasn't until 1968, when they release: 'Cowboys to Girls' that the group gets their first crossover hit and breaks through to the mainstream. The tune tops the R&B Charts and lands on number 6 on the pop side thereby introducing The Intruders to the wider public. The group also releases their second album: 'Cowboys to Girls' (surprise, surprise) which will prove to be their most popular LP.

The initial success of the group helps Gamble & Huff convince the Columbia officials to grant them money to create their own label: Philadelphia International Records, which will become one of the most successful soul labels of the early 70s. Meanwhile, The Intruders were facing some trouble. The lead singer - Sam 'Little Sonny' Brown - decides to leave the group and spend more time with his family. He is replaced by a nightclub singer - Bobby Starr - with whom The Intruders release their third album, entitled: 'When We Get Married'. The title track, a Dreamlovers covers, is their biggest hit, reaching number 8 on the R&B Billboard charts. Starr did not enjoy much success with the group, as 'Little Sonny' decided to rejoin The Intruders on their 1973 album: 'Save The Children', spawning such hits as: 'I'll Always Love My Mama' and 'I Wanna Know Your Name'.

Alright, there's the facts for you...Now, what is it about the Intruders that makes them so special to me? Well, it's a number of things, really.
First of all, Gamble & Huff are simply fantastic songwriters. When you take a look at tunes like: 'Together', what strikes me, is that they can create really catchy, heartwarming melodies and great hooks and yet, they make it seem so easy and straightforward. The simplicity of their songs, however, acts as a counterweight to the elaborate arrangements Gamble & Huff wrote.
That's really where the magic happens. Gamble & Huff took simple, catchy melodies and they built these rich arrangements around them, thereby creating a mouthwatering mix of fantastic harmonies and colourful sounds. Take: 'Cowboys to Girls'. You get these lush strings, piercing horns and the omnipresent, soul-soothing sound of the vibraphone. Add to that some warm basslines and a piano hook here and there and you got yourself a 'philly soul' blueprint.
Of course, the focal point of all their songs are the vocals. And boy, are they simply fabulous! I really love the harmonies that the lads create together (just listen to the intro to 'A Love That's Real' and you know what I mean) but it's also 'Little Sonny's' croaky, grab-you-by-the-nuts voice. What I really like, is that Sonny has a fantastic voice, but it's very 'down-to-earth' and 'mortal' at the same time. Bobby Starr is also a hell of a singer, and if you don't believe me, just check out 'When We Get Married' which is probably their most elaborate, sophisticated song - a true masterpiece and an homage to Gamble & Huff's songwriting skills. Starr really proved he ain't no pushover there (the other lads also did a hell of a job with the backing harmonies).

This is all pretty neat, but the song that first got me really hooked on The Intruders is 'Friends No More', which, contrary to my first impressions, is not a song about a guy who manages to escape the 'friend zone'. It's actually a story about two friends and one girl (oh, the cliche!) and some dirty business between them. The guys even manage to share some solid advice: 'Never trust a girl with your best friend'. But enough about that, let's get on the good stuff.
This song is simply great on so many levels, that I really am in awe every time I listen to it. I love the way the delicate intro, driven by this serene guitar and bell duo, fortifies gradually with the help of the chord-bashing piano and the bass and the drums. Then, the song bursts into the chorus and it's all the way down the hill from there! Every single part of this song is just great: from the octave-jumping bass, the sweet backing vocals, Sonny's croaky voice, the soul-soothing bells, to the gorgeous, lush strings topping the melody and accentuating the harmonies in just the right moments! I think mister Kenny and mister Gamble have really outdone themselves on this one. Chapeau bas!

It's a real shame, that The Intruders released only a few albums and just a handful of singles. But in case, like me, you're left craving for more, I'd suggest tracing their rich music heritage - and trust me, there's a lot to explore there.
The Intruders laid the foundations for the phenomenon that would soon take over the world - disco. Try listening to 'I'll always love my momma' (which, btw was sampled in Wally Lopez's 'Circus Parade' - you should see the look on my face when I stumbled upon this song by The took me nearly 10 years to find this sample). The hi-hat driven, upbeat melody would later come to define a new sound. Disco was born and before you knew it, everybody was doing 'the hustle'.
And that's not all. The way I see it, you can draw a straight line starting from The Intruders, through to the Salsoul Sound (Salsoul Orchestra, Instant Funk, Double Exposure, First Choice, etc.), to disco bands like The Trammps or Chic, to the early house sound of the late '80s/early '90s (e.g. Larry Levan, Nicky Siano, Frankie Knuckles), and finally to modern Electronic Dance Music. In my opinion they all share the same aesthetic that really stems from the street corners of '60s Philadelphia...Shit, if you ask me there's bits of philly-soul in most of the late Beatles tunes.

Don't believe me? Go ahead, see for yourself!

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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

SBB - SBB (1974)

Last week I was driving around my city looking for a parking spot when, after 10 minutes of venturing through the urban maze, I ended up in this tiny, long forgotten street. Looking around for a spot I sort of caught this small shop sign in the corner of my eye. To my astonishment, the sign read: 'MUSIC, CDs, VINYL'. Surprised and excited, I've managed to sneak a peek through the window and I thought to myself: 'Well, whatta you know, a decent record shop in my home city. I should definitely check it out'.

Wouldn't you know it, I was already in the shop the very next day, browsing through the records. Turns out the store is owned by a true music junkie, with a real passion for his hobby. Even more, it turns out that the guy hosts a weekly radio show on Radio Afera, every Sunday from 8 PM which I promised myself to check out one day. I also managed to find out that he runs a blog with album reviews and general everyday chit-chat (Viola!). Right...enough about the context, let's get to the good stuff.

With a little guidance from the store owner I managed to dig out the debut album of this polish rock band from the 70s called: SBB (Szukaj, Burz, Buduj - Search, Break, Build). They never made it really big, but they do boast a following of some sorts from the more devoted fans. The group consists of 3 lads: Jozef Skrzek, the band leader and multiinstrumentalist (bass, piano, synthesisers, vocals, harp); Antymos Apostolis, a son of greek immigrants (guitar); and Jerzy Piotrowski (percussion).

SBB formed around 1971 by the young Jozef Skrzek, who by that time has already been working with Tadeusz Nalepa's Breakout (Nalepa on Platinum Grooves). The Silesian Blues Band, as they were then known, began touring with the famous Czeslaw Niemen and managed to perform with him on a few festivals in Western Europe. However, as it  usually is when two powerful personalities crash, the group parted Niemen around the summer of 1973, and officially became SBB: Search, Break, Build. With regular concerts in the Silesian area and frequent radio shows, the group got more and more recognition.

It's around that time when they release their debut album on Polskie Nagrania Muza. The disc is actually a live recording from a 1974 concert they gave in the Stodola student club in Warsaw. The material is really peculiar, I must say. It's this free-flowing run of progressive rock jams with some bluesy piano-suites in between and plenty of solo improvisation. If I were to pinpoint their music I'd say it's like a mixture of McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, Cream's trio-format sound and Pink Floyd's hazy aura; but I feel that it's just a facade, and that if I were to dig in more deeply I'd find a richer dimension to their music. There's also something really catchy and nearly hypnotic in Skrzek's vocals (which, for the love of god, reminds me of Robert Plant).

Well anyways, I'm definitely glad I got this record. Not only because I have a fetish for debut albums, but also because it inspires me to explore more polish rock which, admittedly, I still have a lot to learn about.

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Friday, 13 January 2012

tony tiptrip - we back in '82 (2009)

Been in a kitschy 80's mood recently so I figured I might share with you this mix I did back in 2009. It's called: 'we back in '82' which is a wordplay on this inside joke me and my friends shared back then. Well, without further ado, here's the mix along with the tracklist and a short info I wrote when the mix came out:

This time I'd like to take you on a musical journey through time and space...Hold on to your seats cause we're about to go back in time... 
The year is 1982: Atari has just introduced the hit game 'Pac Man', 'E.T.' earns millions of dollars in cinemas worldwide, Reagan declares his 'War on drugs' and Mr.T from the A-Team is just an anonymous, random bouncer in some dodgy nightclub... 
Think 1982, think 'Ghostbusters', think black leggings, tight Lycra mini skirts, leotards, leg warmers and green/pink nylon tracksuits! You get the picture?
Expect over-synthesised beats, soulful vocals, funky grooves and lyrics that are just as predictable as you'd expect them to be! Yeah, your right, it sure is kitsch, it sure is cheesy! But believe me - it'll make your ass go boompty-bop in no time! 
So getcha Ray-Ban's outta yer closet cause the '80s are now officially back!


1. Shalamar - A Night to Remember (1982)
2. Dynasty - Love in the Fast Lane (1981)
3. The Whispers - It's a Love Thing (1980)
4. Midnight Star - Night Rider (1983)
5. The Whispers - In the Raw (1981)
6. Lakeside - Fantastic Voyage (1980)
7. The Whispers - Contagious (1984)
8. Midnight Star - Midas Touch (1986)
9. Midnight Star - No Parking on the Dancefloor (1983)
10. Midnight Star - Operator (1984)
11. Dynasty - I Don't Wanna be a Freak but I Can't Help Myself (1979)
12. Dynasty - Satisfied (1979)
13. Carrie Lucas - Dance with You (1979)
14. Ripple - The Beat Goes On and On (1977)
15. Instant Funk - I Got My Mind Made Up (Larry Levan mix) (1978)

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Thursday, 5 January 2012

Sylvester - Over and Over (1977)

Long time no see, eh? Well, I'm back and full of new goodies to love and share.

To start off the new year with a bang, I got a tune that will definitely fit in with the festive NYE vibes that are still probably echoing somewhere in your heads. I'm talking about Sylvester's 'Over and Over'.
This fantastic upbeat disco joint comes from his/hers 1977 Fantasy Records debut album entitled: - surprise, surprise - 'Sylvester'. The song was originally composed by Ashford & Simpson, who gave it a more subtle touch with a lower tempo and a sweeter, ballad-ish feeling. Don't get me wrong, theirs is still a hell of a tune. But Sylvester's version...well, it just has that juice, that mojo!

Right, you might be wondering why the hell did I refer to Sylvester in both male and female terms. Well, did you ever see the guy...erm, woman? To keep things short, he was a gay singer and drag performer. His looks might seem confusing today, but back in the day Sylvester James blended seamlessly with the black and gay community that ran the disco scene. Nuff said.

'Over and Over', which was his first single, is a really joyful, upbeat, hands-in-the-air type of tune.  It's got a killer bassline, that's really the driving force of the song. Apart from that you get you're usual funky rhythm guitar, bunch of horns here and there and some strings to fortify the melody.
But there's really something special about this tune, something that makes it rather laid-back and so...sophisticatedly cool. It could be the instrumentation that leaves quite a lot of 'air' in the song making it different to your average in-your-face disco joints. It could be Sylvesters hazy, loose, nearly reluctant style of singing (try to distinguish the lyrics - you'll know what I mean). Or it could be the screams and shouts of the background singers (btw. 'Two Tons O'Fun' is the name of the duo of these rather hefty African-American singers that do the backing vocals on Sylvesters albums. Never heard of them? Well, it's the same girls that gave us the hit 'It's Raining Men')...all in all, put all these elements together, add a nice guitar solo in the middle (Tip Wirrick, who later wrote most of Sylvesters songs) and you got yourself a hit!

Also, if you're up for a more up-to-date rendition of the song, try John Julius Knight's 'Find a Friend' on Soulfuric Trax. It's a top, top house tune with a bunch of 'Over and Over' samples.

Last but not least, here's a little trivia for you. Sylvester was discovered by Harvey Fuqua who just departed from Motown and became a scout for Fantasy Records. Fuqua later became the producer of Sylvesters albums. Remember the guy? That's the same Fuqua who sang duets with Etta James and then broke her heart...or the other way round. (Here's Etta on Platinum Grooves)

(There might be better quality versions of the song on YouTube but this is one is really awesome in that it shows clips of the legendary Paradise Garage. See for yourself!)

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Friday, 5 August 2011

The Prodigy - Experience (1992)

Prodigy's debut album is the soundtrack to my early childhood. I remember the exact day when my mum, coming back from one of her business trips to London, brought me their CD. She clearly had no idea what she was buying, and neither did I...until I whacked the disc into my CD player...Fast forward a couple of weeks, and you'll see me and my friends play fighting to the sounds of 'Out of Space' (however embarrassing it may sound now, we thought we were the dogs bollocks!). Since then, The Prodigy have always held a special place in my personal sonic landscape; and rightly so - the 'Experience', as well as their two next albums ('Music for the Jilted Generation' and 'The Fat of The Land'), are really top class material.

Released in 1992 on XL Recordings in the UK and Elektra in the US, the Experience paints a very colourful picture of early 90s Britain, which (at least in the underground) was this hot'n'heavy collage of sweaty rave, fast-paced jungle and jaw-gurning hardcore. From this lethal combination, fueled with the digital power of synthesisers, beat machines and samplers, came Prodigy's debut album, which is basically a snapshot of urban life in post-Thatcherite England, with all its goodies (or should i say: good E's) ;)

The mastermind behind the group is none other than Mr. Liam Howlett, who produced all of the tracks and is the man responsible for this madness. The more widely recognized Keith Flint and Maxim Reality were merely dancers and MCs - check out the live recording of: 'Death of the Prodigy Dancers' (last track on the album) for a lil' demo of their drunken shouting.

The music, however, was solely Howlett's department and the guy is really a great producer. Nevermind the awesome, original and surprising sampling (vide the 'Charley Says' public information films for kids samples in 'Charly' or the iconic Max Romeo's 'Chase the Devil' sample in 'Out of Space'); nevermind the crazy, multi-layered breakbeats he created; nevermind the great sounds he managed to bring out of them synth-pads; he simply knew how to build fantastic tracks. Whenever I listen to his songs I have a feeling they are really well-thought out and that every 4-bar loop has its specific purpose. If you were to say that making electronic music is simply like playing with Lego bricks, then this guy would be one of them crazy motherfuckers that build 1:1 replica's of Darth Vader's 'Death Star' space ship from Lego.

Anyways, this album is a must-have. And, if you decide to go for the 2001 'Experience: Expanded' double-disc version, you're up for some b-side treats!

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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Etta James - At Last! (1961)

Etta James' debut album - 'At Last!' - is really a hell of a record. Released in 1961 on Chess' jazz sub-label: Argo (later renamed Cadet Records), with the visionary brother duo of Phil and Leonard responsible for the production and orchestral arrangements, the album gives us a neat overview of Etta's musical sensitivity.

James, simply put, is really a great, all-round singer. 'At Last!' proves she feels just as comfortable doing jazz standards (like 'Stormy Weather' or 'A Sunday Kind of Love') as ripping the hell out of blues tunes ('Tough Mary' and Willie Dixon's 'I Just Want to Make Love to You'). And that's really the power of this album. Etta seamlessly moves from smooth, romantic phrasing to powerful, energetic blues 'shouting' with plenty of r&b and gospel infused singing in between.

Want an example? Well then check out: 'All I Could Was Cry', which was written for Etta by the 'head songwriter' at Chess - Billy Davis with the Gordy siblings - Berry and Gwen. History has it that the song was inspired by Etta's ordeal with her ex-boyfriend Harvey Fuqua (more on that gentleman, later), who, at the time of the recording of the song, was dating Billy Davis' ex-girlfriend - Gwen Gordy - and was just about to marry her. How's that for a love story, eh? The script writers from 'The Bold and The Beautiful' couldn't have come up with a more confusing arrangement. Nevertheless, Etta simply sounds true and authentic in this song, going from a dreamy, delicate singing voice in the beginning to a powerful, wall-trembling holler in the chorus.

The title track, on the other hand, shows a rather well-tempered Etta as she gives a fantastic rendition of this classic song, first recorded by Glenn Miller and his orchestra. James did a great job here, managing to retain the same vibe as the original tune but still giving it her own twist - an accomplishment that's really hard when it comes to cover songs.

Fair play, the tune is good. However, I find just as predictable as it is good. What really got my attention is the four bonus tracks you get if you decide to go for the 1999 CD reissue on Chess/MCA. These tracks feature Etta singing in a duet with her ex-boyfriend: Harvey Fuqua. That's where the magic starts. Try their version of Willie Dixon's classic: 'Spoonful'. A cheeky bassline, roaring horns and Etta's sexy blues cry. Bang!

With a completely different vibe comes: 'My Heart Cries', which is probably my favourite song from the album. Here, both Harvey and Etta keep on singing this beautiful melody over a constant 6-note guitar lick and some horns and a piano in the background. By joining their two voices, they manage to create a very vivid and colourful harmony which really got me hooked and perfectly suits this little love song. Spot on!

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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Beastie Boys - The In Sound from Way Out! (1996)

The Beastie Boys have frequently proven that they feel comfortable in a variety of genres. The New York-based trio started off as a punk band in 1979 but some time around the mid-1980s they turned towards hip-hop and since then have sold over 40 million albums worldwide to much critical acclaim. However, their records have never been solely hip-hop flavoured. The group incorporated a variety of sounds in their albums, mixing fast-paced rock tunes with laid-back, funky grooves in between sample-heavy hip-hop joints. What glued it all together were the razor-sharp lyrics of Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock and their trademark rap style. At times, however, the guys would abandon their mic's and jam out funk-filled instrumental tunes that would later work as interludes in their albums.

By 1996, the Boys, inspired by their French fan club which came up with the idea, decided to make a compilation album with the instrumentals from their previous records. And so, 'The In Sound from Way Out!' (which btw borrows the title and the cover art concept from the 1966 Perrey and Kingsley album) was released. The disc features 13 tracks, all of which have already previously appeared on: 'Check Your Head', 'Ill Communication' and the 'Jimmy James' and 'Sure Shot' singles.

Fair do's - there's no new material on the record, but it still is a pleasant listen. The album features a bunch of loose funk grooves with rhythmical wah-wah guitars, warm Hammond licks and laid-back, conga-heavy percussions, all neatly wrapped up in a jazzy vibe. But that's not all. With tunes like 'Eugene's Lament' and it's distinctive violin solo or 'Shambala' with the Tibetan monk chants in the background, the Beastie Boys give us a little taste of the Orient thereby keeping the album material fresh and interesting.

At any rate, this album will definitely not provide any big surprises if you know your Beastie's. But if you enjoyed bopping your head to their lazy funk joints on their previous records, then I really do believe it's an album worth having.

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