Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Read this and sign it, please.

Monday, April 25, 2005

I wanna hire this woman to intern for me! Please, VVM, please? [link via Candicissima]

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Now here's a surprise (well, except the "genius" part, which doesn't really apply here):

You scored as Sign 'O' the Times Prince. You're the Sign 'O' the Times Prince. You're the amazing genius that you've always known.Extremely creative, you excel to the top of the game of life.You love to keep everyone guessing.

Dirty Mind/Controversy Prince


Sign 'O' The Times Prince


1999 Prince


Lovesexy Prince


You're Not Prince... You're The Artist


Purple Rain Prince


Around The World In A Day Prince


Slave Prince


Musicology Prince


Parade Prince


Diamonds & Pearls Prince


Grafitti Bridge


Which Prince ERA are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Monday, April 18, 2005

Notes on EMP to follow, probably later this week. For now, here is the paper I presented, in its originally-written state. I will note inaccuracies and add interjections as I interjected them during the talk, but this is a start. I am seriously going to try to turn this into a book, because as the Q&A afterward amply demonstrated, there's plenty of shit I didn't even have time for (how on EARTH could I have forgotten that 1973 was the year of Wounded Knee? Damn you, insane work schedule!).


All Roads Lead to “Apache” [[NOTE: This is now available with relevant links and MP3s on Oliver Wang's Soul Sides blog. Thanks much to Oliver for doing this.]]

Jerry Lordan was not an American Indian. He was a Londoner who had served in the Royal Air Force, dabbled in stand-up comedy, and worked in advertising before he began writing song hits for Mike Preston, Anthony Newley, John Barry, and especially the Shadows, the backing band of Cliff Richard, Britain’s premier rock and roll teen idol until the Beatles came along, who would go on to become the Pat Boone of England.

In 1959, Lordan saw a Burt Lancaster movie called Apache, which had come out in 1954. In much the way Charlton Heston played a Mexican in Touch of Evil, Lancaster was Massai, the last Apache left after Geronimo’s surrender to the U.S. Cavalry in New Mexico, and a man out for vengeance. The story was based on fact—the real-life Massai did in fact escape the prison train after Geronimo’s tribe was captured—but the movie was primarily a frame for nonstop action. This gave Lordan an idea for a song, also titled “Apache,” and Lordan sold it to Bert Weeden, then the top-selling solo guitar instrumentalist in England.

34 years after Weedon cut the song, Lordan was still complaining: “He hasn’t even played the music that I wrote,” the songwriter told an interviewer in 1993, two years before he died. “I wanted something noble and dramatic, reflecting the courage and savagery of the Indian.” Soon after, Lordan, who also cut some minor hits as a vocalist, went on the road with Cliff Richard and the Shadows. He introduced the song to them (stories vary how), and after the band returned to London, they recorded “Apache” in less than 45 minutes, expecting it to be a B-side. Instead, it became a hit.

Sonically if not in fact, the Shadows’ “Apache” functions as the missing link between Speedy West, Link Wray, and Ennio Morricone. The steady galloping rhythm is a cross between military march and, thanks to the ride cymbal, the jaunty, Latin-esque dance beat, similar to Ray Charles’ recent hit, “What’d I Say.” The straightforward melody—especially its clear, ringing lead notes—was robust and instantly memorable, with Hank Marvin’s guitar nicely laconic and laden with echo. As British critic Tom Ewing put it, “It conjures a shimmer of desert heat,” an effect helped along by the Chinese tam tam drum Cliff Richard kept time on while drummer Tony Meehan played his kit—the most Indian-in-quotes portion of the arrangement. But the Shadows’ use of echo on “Apache” stayed out the realm of kitsch futurism. Instead, you could call it kitsch nostalgia, giving the old west a kind of day-glo sheen.

The song went to number one in England on August 27, 1960, staying there five weeks and selling a million copies; it did just as well all over Europe. It also became something else—a modern standard, in part because of its tough, cool melody line, in part because of its eminently variable tempo (“Apache” sounds equally good fast or slow), and in part because it was adaptable to any style of music you could imagine, though during the ’60s, most of the covers seemed to be by surf guitar bands from California.

A major exception was the version that hit number one in America the year after the Shadows’, the one by Jorgen Ingmann, a Danish guitarist who would later win the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest along with his wife, Grethe, with a song called “Dansevise (I Loved You).” Credited to Jorgen Ingmann and His Guitar, the beat of this third version of “Apache” is played entirely on a tom-tom, losing the Shadows’ drive but emphasizing the song’s cod-Native American war-drum associations; though the acoustic that the lead line was played on had some slapback echo on it, it didn’t answer itself the way Marvin’s did. Instead, Ingmann overdubbed curlicuing slide playing on the higher-pitched electric that evoked Hawaiian and Pacific Island music, then enjoying a vogue in American pop, in part via artists like Les Baxter and Martin Denny, who mined those sounds for their own hi-fi head-trips.

In short, what Ingmann did was take something that was already sourced in the ersatz—it gets no less realistic than Burt Lancaster playing a Native American—and added a sonic patina of “exotica,” turning a simulacrum of a simulacrum into a Moebius loop of third-hand representation. (This was added to by the photo on the cover of Ingmann’s album, which featured the musician in war paint and headdress—Comanche war paint and headdress, to be precise.) Add to that Lordan’s comments about nobility and savagery, and the cumulative implied condescension becomes thicker than Hank Marvin’s guitar tone.

Yet “Apache” was evocative, conjuring dusty plains via echoing guitars, the old west arrived at though modern methods. It loomed and sunk, cast long shadows and bided its time until the cavalry arrived. It had presence—you could move away from it, but it was so rich and full you didn’t necessarily want to. For a record that sounded like the soundtrack to the most somber Bugs Bunny vs. Yosemite Sam cartoon ever made, it didn’t sound silly. It meant business. Until its legacy took a turn in the mid-’70s, the artist who deviated from its melody the most was the person who first recorded it, Bert Weedon. Yet pliability was built into the song’s structure—not just in its inherent, if suspicious, pluralism, but the fact you could do just about anything with it and it would remain recognizable.

For the next several years, lots of people did things with it. For the most part, this meant taking it to the beach or out for a ride. Surf-identified artists like Seattle’s Ventures honored it as a forerunner of their hollow, wave-riding guitars, while the wild-assed Davie Allan and the Arrows, from L.A., revved it up and dragged it through black-tar roads, fuzzing it up. “Apache” it remained, which meant it stayed earthy. Guitar rock, however, did not—it got cosmic. Psychedelia began in earnest in the mid-’60s, and while a few of the surf vanguard were down—Davie Allan’s best song was a seven-minute ditty titled “Cycle-Delic”—the old guard suddenly became the corniest thing going, a fate sealed in June 1967 by Monterey Pop, where the Beach Boys no-showed, the San Francisco sound began its long ascent into classic-rock radio-programming tedium, and Jimi Hendrix introducing himself to America by lighting his guitar on fire and intoning, “You’ll never hear surf music again.” He was wrong, but the damage was done: Like girl groups and the Twist, the forms that “Apache” had nurtured would seem like a relics even—especially—when revived by future generations.

That would likely have been the fate of “Apache” itself if it hadn’t been for Richard Nixon. In 1970, Nixon awarded a special commendation to Mike Curb, the future governor of California who was then running MGM Records, for ousting 18 artists from his roster the previous year for supporting drug use, including Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, the Velvet Underground, and . . . Connie Francis! Actually, the real reason he dropped the artists was that none of them made money, but that didn’t stop Nixon from praising Curb, or the two of them from becoming friends—such good friends, in fact, that Curb oversaw the music at Nixon’s second inaugural.

Working alongside him was Michael Viner, a Canadian who had worked on Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign before becoming an MGM talent scout and A&R man in L.A. Viner was also a bongo player who did occasional film work. In 1972, the year of Nixon’s inaugural, Viner put a pair of songs on the Psychotronic drive-in classic, The Thing with Two Heads, which starred fallen ’40s star Ray Milland and football player Rosey Grier together as the title character. Milland was white, Grier was black, the joke got old fast, and Viner’s cheesy “Bongo Rock” was a minor hit for MGM’s Pride subsidiary. Viner recorded it under the name the Incredible Bongo Band with a revolving cast of studio musicians anchored by Viner and drummer Jim Gordon, formerly of Derek & the Dominos, who later went on to kill his mother.

“Bongo Rock” was a remake of Preston Epps’ 1959 instrumental hit; Viner reconstructed it as a goofy funk number. Like the original, it entered the charts alongside several other instrumental hits: Deodato’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra (Theme from 2001),” Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandell’s “Dueling Banjos,” the Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein,” Focus’s “Hocus Pocus,” and Love Unlimited Orchestra’s “Love’s Theme” were all top-ten in 1973. For the Bongo Rock album, Viner tried a few others in the same vein.

The best of them was “Apache,” which the Incredible Bongo Band reworked into grandiose, kitschy funk. But something about that stentorian melody escaped camp, even when turned into a pitched battle between colliding horns, jetliner guitar, boiling-over organ, and massed percussion. Viner and his crew had concocted the most crazed piece of orchestral funk ever recorded, and what made it all the more ridiculous was that the song never lost its shape, never stopped being “Apache.” It was, as Jerry Lordan had wished, noble and dramatic, and maybe a bit savage, though probably not all that courageous—apart from the biggest liberty it took, which was to extend the song via a minute-long percussion break, the trap drummer (probably Gordon) and the congaist (probably Viner) [[**NOTE: Jeff Chang emailed to correct me--"It was definitely King Errisson playing the bongos on all the hot Incredible Bongo Band records." Thanks, Jeff!]] dueling to a draw, the congas winnowing into the beat, the drummer never losing pace. The song was never released as a single; after a second album in 1974, the Incredible Bongo Band—never really a band to begin with—was no more. It was around that time that a young man named Clive Campbell began playing the record at parties in the Bronx.

“I’m not a DJ, I’m a disc jockey. I play the discs that make you jockey,” Campbell, professionally known as DJ Kool Herc, told Terry Gross in March on Fresh Air. “The breaks came out of an experiment. I’m watching the people dancing, a lot of people used to wait for some particular part of the record. I’m studying the floor . . . I was noticing people used to wait for the particular parts of the record, to dance to, just to do their special little moves. So I said, Listen, I’m going to do a thing, I’m-a call it the Merry-Go-Round . . . At the time I had a record called ‘Apache,’ and it was off an album called The Incredible Bongo Rock [sic]. And when I did that, that experiment went out the window. Everybody would come and really wait for that particular part of my format for me to get into it. And that’s when everybody started searching for the perfect beat, try[ing] to beat that record. They still can’t beat that record until this day . . . Everybody’s still using Bongo Rock’s ‘Apache.’”

In other words, a record written by a white Englishman imitating Native Americans as portrayed by white Americans and made famous by a Dane with a vaguely Hawaiian sound, arranged by a Canadian, became the biggest record in black New York. Juggling multiple copies of the track’s percussion break until they became a hypnotic rhythmic mantra, over which his accompanying MCs would rhyme, Kool Herc and the pioneering hip-hop DJs who followed him—the most storied being Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash—turned the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” into an underground hit in the manner of other early-’70s records like Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa” or TSOP’s “Love Is the Message”—a DJ specialty, played and treasured by those in the know. And like those songs, “Apache” eventually become a mass-cult hit. It just wouldn’t do it as itself.

The Sugarhill Gang were the first group to utilize “Apache” as hip-hop source material, releasing their own “Apache” in 1981, where the interpolated break was replayed by the Sugarhill Records house band and the Chops horn section. (They too emphasized the cod-Native American leanings of the original: “Tonto, jump on it . . . Geronimo, jump on it.”) But it wasn’t until two years later that the Bongo Band’s “Apache” made its way onto wax as a sample source, getting cut up on West Street Mob’s “Break Dance—Electric Boogie.” The following year, it was interpolated into Double Dee and Steinski’s “The Payoff Mix,” its bongo-led opening providing the starkest moment on a jam-packed record, and both subsequent “Lesson Mix”es by the cut-and-paste duo also featured it.

I believe the first major rapper to utilize “Apache” is—and I’m happy to be proven wrong about this—L.L. Cool J, with “You Can’t Dance” from his 1985 debut, Radio. [[NOTE: No one at the talk could prove otherwise, but that doesn't mean it's true. I'm not convinced "You Can't Dance" was first; please email me if you know otherwise.]] By the end of hip-hop’s sampling era, “Apache” had become nearly ubiquitous, thanks to its inclusion on the first volume of Streetbeat’s Ultimate Breaks and Beats compilation series of popular hip-hop crate-diggers’ treats, inspiring partial or wholesale swipes until the early ’90s. After the combined effects of litigation and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic ended the sample era, “Apache” didn’t die—it migrated into dance music. Drum and bass, which was created by speeding up hip-hop breakbeats, took to it instantly: two artists on London’s Metalheadz label, Goldie and Digital, utilized “Apache” for “Inner City Life” and “Metro,” respectively. It made its way into several techno records as well: Future Sound of London’s “We Have Explosive” and Moby’s “Machete” both contain it.

That seemed to be all for the song—until late 2002, when two big hip-hop names resurrected it for completely different reasons. On the Roots’ “Thought @ Work,” from Phrenology, the group looped a hefty chunk of “Apache” underneath Black Thought’s rapid-fire flow, emphasizing the MC’s playfulness—and, by extension, the group’s and hip-hop’s as well. Nas went the other direction: On “Made You Look,” from God’s Son, while Nas taunted, “You’re a slave to a page of my rhyme book,” producer Salaam Remi isolated a guitar echo and slowed it down until menace oozed out of the grooves. Hank Marvin would have been proud.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

How popcrit blinkeredness can blind you, example one: Yesterday, I added Junichi Semitsu to my sidelinks for the first time because he and Oliver Wang have combined forces. Given what a funny, often brilliant motherfucker he plainly is (dig the caption on the Britney photo), why is it that I didn't link P-Nuthouse before? The sad truth: Because I wasn't familiar w/his byline, and far too many of the bylines I'm familiar with tend to belong to music writers. I am going to rectify this . . . right after this weekend, obviously.

Monday, April 11, 2005

This is a picture of me and my new best friend, Balloon Elmo, whom I met during a weekend business sojourn to Portland. More later.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The series I wrote about Sign 'O' the Times for now has its own blog--good idea.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

It's always a good thing when you get a new boss who's cool, which I now have. Two talks over three days and I feel, oddly, more focused than I have in a while regarding my job. We figured out a couple tweaks that should be helpful in making the section work better for readers, and the edit comments on the first piece I've handed her are good and sharp. I'm looking forward to this.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Keith's latest post reminds me that I've been really lax about keeping track of singles/songs this year--or at the very least, about ranking them. Which is sort of odd considering that I started the CD-R column specifically to help me keep track of fave songs/singles. Instead of focusing me in that direction, though, it's had the opposite effect, making me hear those songs in a way that defies ranking--they're cogs in a free-floating machine, and if they don't work one week, they will another. Release date becomes part of the pattern as well--I have 45 minutes' worth of songs picked out for the fourth of my installments (if you're not familiar w/the column, it rotates between myself and other writers, with me doing one, it now looks like, once every three weeks), and I haven't even finalized no. 3 yet. The reason for that is that most of the ones I'm putting on no. 4 won't be out till that one's scheduled to run. Obviously, general busy-ness of the kind I've noted here previously has plenty to do with this as well; so does the fact that the year is early yet, though I don't seem to be having any trouble quantifying the albums I hear. But note that I haven't touched the singles list on that link in weeks. Better get cracking, eh?

Friday, April 01, 2005

I'm thinking a graf a day is a good way to kick this thing back into gear. I've been incredibly busy and not a lot of fun lately--not in an I'm-grumpy way (though maybe I am; hope not, though) so much as a buried-under-work one, as well as a just-finished-moving (something I've been doing fairly piecemeal, though Tuesday I got a big push w/the help of Kate and Liza--you two are the fucking best). The work is sometimes really fun and pretty rewarding, and sometimes it's, well, work. Then there's the matter of Andrew Bonazelli leaving the Weekly, which I mentioned in the live column (last graf), which is great for him (he's going to my favorite hard-rock mag in the U.S. right now as reviews ed) and sucks for us, because he's one of the best and easiest-to-edit writers I know. (I'm headed to his going-away party right after I hit "publish post.") But the apartment is nice, I have to build shelves still which ought to be fun, been hanging out w/some people I need to spend more time with anyway, which is nice. [[Deletion of something I half-thought out when I wrote it and that really had no business being put here; apologies to all parties for writing it in the first place.]]