Screw No.371 ~ Red Hot Plus Arthur Russell

Arthur Russell

October 21st saw the release of a tribute compilation to the late and great Arthur Russell. Contributing artists include Sufjan Stevens, Hot Chip, Phosphorescent and our very own Glen Hansard. Sometimes billed as a disco cellist, Russell’s work spanned classical, disco, country, folk and the avant-garde. It is said that Russell was plagued by his own inexhaustible creativity. So much so that he is renowned for never having completely finished a body of work. The only full length record of Russell’s to be released while the musician was still alive was World of Echo in 1986. Following his death, several albums of various unreleased recordings were compiled and released, including Another Thought, Calling Out of Context and Love is Overtaking Me.

The stand out track on this compilation for me is sandwiched somewhere in the middle and by Screw Music favourite Phosphorescent. Matthew Houck and co. have adapted Russell’s 90-second “You Can Make Me Feel Bad” from 2004′s Calling Out of Context and turned it into a meditative hmyn like mantra.

Phosphorescent ~ You Can Make Me Feel Bad

Another band of note from the compilation is Hot Chip who cover Russell’s “Go Bang” from his days in Dinosaur L. It’s great to hear the band giving a reverent nod to one of their heroes and clear influencers. The band have a few words on their hero below.

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Screw No. 370 ~ Morrissey Reviews the Week’s Singles: Smash Hits 1984

Morrisey

1984, was the year that The Smiths released their critically acclaimed and scintillating self-titled debut album. Thus, unleashing Morrissey and his ‘louder than bombs’ persona on to the world. In Britain, it was said that 1984 was the year of Maggie Thatcher, Liverpool Football Club and The Smiths. It was also the year that his Holiness was invited by Smash Hits Magazine to review that weeks pop singles. For those of you have never heard of Smash Hits, it was the biggest selling teen pop magazine at the time in Britain.

Interestingly enough, it was in a interview with Smash Hits where Maggie Thatcher, when asked, said that her favourite song was the 1953 novelty “How Much is that Doggie in the Window”. Albeit, an attempt at sarcasm on Maggie’s part considering her commitment to free market economics. Of course, the tabloids and Spitting Image chose to ignore this fact.

I’ll let you decided for yourself who won the battle of wits, between these two opposing rivals, for the hearts and souls of the British public in the mid-1980′s. “How Much is that Doggie in the Window” versus Moz’s characteristically vicious, and indeed brutally honest, critique of the music of the day.

[cntr and + to enlarge]
Morrissey reviews the week's singles Smash Hits 1984<br />

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Screw no. 369 ~ Twenty Feet from Stardom

Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton and Judith Hill

This film, released in January 2013 to almost universal acclaim – including winning the ultimate accolade from the Academy – charts the lives of the often overlooked backing singers. Directed by Morgan Neville, telling the stories of Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Tata Vega amongst others, this portrayal of an essential part of the industry is revealing and compelling. The stories of the underdogs, the freaks, even glorious failures, are often far more interesting than those of the mainstream blockbuster bands and artists. The likes of “Anvil”, “Dig” and “Searching for Sugarman” all have something truly special. “Twenty Feet from Stardom” draws from the same struggle.

The overriding theme – message, even – relates to credit. These singers, both on record and live, did not and do not get the credit they deserve. A rhythm guitarist or bassist who writes nothing is counted as a full band member in both fame and monetary terms, yet it could be argued that the backing singers who are also fundamental, get their fair share of neither. They are session musicians, but their voices… Their voices are phenomenal.

This film delves deeply into their lives and careers. The role of gospel music is highlighted as a formative influence, but the overriding sense I get from this work is the sheer scale of what these women did. They broke down seemingly insurmountable barriers. The Blossoms, featuring Darlene Love, were among the first black backing groups in a still white dominated industry. And they featured heavily on some of modern music’s most recognisable songs, such as “That’s Life” by Sinatra and “The Shoop Shoop Song” by Betty Everett, the latter most recognisable almost wholly because of the backing vocals. And the other artists featured continued to make significant contributions to the output of the likes of Stevie Wonder, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie.

The Blossoms themselves were also victims of an insidious practice common in the industry at the time, that of ghosting. They recorded “He’s a Rebel”, which was released under The Crystals name. In the clip below, not only are the Crystals lip-synching (hardly a major sin on a TV show), but they are miming to someone else’s voice. And it wasn’t the only example.

The Blossoms – He’s A Rebel

And while Merry Clayton did indeed get full credit for her contribution to Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”, I don’t think that fans of the band would be fully, fully aware of her and her career. Her absolutely magnificent vocals lift this song from a great rock tune to a 1960′s classic. How she hits those notes as she screams “rape, murder, it’s just a shot away” is beyond me. Her voice breaks and cracks around 3 minutes in, such was the strain she put herself under, just to show what she was capable of. And to this day, it remains one of the finest contributions by a guest vocalist to a rock song. Listen to the vocal track isolated below.

Merry Clayton and The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter

No single artist emerges from this documentary as the star, as they all have wonderful stories to tell, all suffused with the sort of personality that only comes from leading the lives they’ve led, with their backgrounds, their sense of spirituality and strength garnered from it. But Lisa Fischer does stand out. A vocal titan, she briefly flirted with being a solo artist in the early 90′s but returned to the backing singer role shortly after. She only won the one Grammy in that time, so her choice to do so was all hers. Since 1995 she has toured with the Rolling Stones, sharing the spotlight with Mick Jagger and becoming a de facto member of that band, singing Merry Clayton’s old part on “Gimme Shelter” amongst others. Her performance of her hit “How Can I Ease the Pain” below tells you all you need to know about how ludicrous a voice she possesses.

Lisa Fischer – How Can I Ease the Pain

As I mentioned above, the over-riding theme is credit. Or recognition. We all know backing singers exist. We all hear them all the time, yet even in some of the most famous songs referred to above and littered throughout this documentary, they are taken for granted and in many cases, their names forgotten. This film seeks to redress this imbalance by putting these artists centre-stage. And they excel beyond belief in that position.

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Screw No. 368 ~ Fatima Al Qadiri

One could throw Fatima Al Qadiri’s album ‘Asiatisch’ (Hyperdub 2014) into the vaporwave soup and it certainly does nod to that genre’s hyper synthetic, fetishistic orientalism, wrapping old musical structures in her signature chrome-like sheen. Asiatisch however feels a more coherent and direct a musical statement than most of what Vaporwave has to offer and she has transposed this signature sound from the Middle East (Desert Strike EP, Fade to Mind 2012) to Asia brilliantly. It manages to transcend mere fetishism and it’s power lies mainly in it’s canny invocation of China (Most of the songs reference China, Shanghai Freeway, Szechuan, Forbidden City etc) through a prism that suggests a blending of it’s past and present and hints to it’s future.

Fatima Al Qadiri ~ Wudang

Fatima Al Qadiri ~ Shenzhen

Fatima Al Qadiri ~ Dragon Tattoo

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Screw No.367 ~ 808: A New Documentary About the Most Used Drum Machine of All Time ~ The Roland TR-808

808

Due out in 2015, the documentary film 808 tells the story behind this landmark drum machine the Roland TR-808. It features a diverse range of artists from Afrika Bambaataa to Phil Collins and from Damon Albarn to Pharrell Williams .

In 1980, when the Roland TR-808 drum machine was launched, only 12,000 units were sold. It was a commercial disaster for Japanese electronics manufacturer Roland. And yet, it went on to become a defining sound in hip-hop, dance music, pop and rock, right up to present day global artists such as Kanye West and Lil Wayne. Along with the Technics 1210 turntable, it is a single model of electronic manufacturing that has utterly dominated over its competitors ( a very rare thing) whilst being elevated to cult status by all those that use it.

The Roland 808 is heard everywhere from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, to Talking Heads “Psycho Killer”. It can even be heard on Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”, a song that has a very special place in the hearts of Screw bloggers MacFlecknoe and Rico~San. With its booming bass beats and distinguished snares, it is within the world of hip hop and dance/club music that the Roland 808 really revolutionised music. “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa took the eerie synths of Kraftwerk and added the 808 beat to provide some serious muscle to his breakbeat experiments. Then there is Juan Atkins’ – Cybotron “Clear“, which laid the foundation for electro/house and completed the bridge between Kraftwerk and techno. Come the early 1990′s, it was in the bedrooms of small flats all over London laying the foundations for the Golden Age of Jungle. Of course, it is early hip hop which made the Roland 808′s name. And come the late 1980′s, the 808 was providing the fire and brimstone to Public Enemy’s musical and social attack on conservative America.

Roland TR 808

Here is iconic producer and dj A Guy Called Gerald, who only last year helped Roland in the development of new sound technology at their plant in Japan. A producer who’s almost peerless track “Voodoo Ray” echoed across the acid house explosion in the UK in 1988. He explains the impact of the Roland 808 on his music: ‘To explain, I was buying stuff cast out by the studios, so we’d go to second-hand shops and buy old instruments that were either broken or things no one wanted or used anymore. I had a TR-808 with no manual, just got it from the shop. I found it was easy to trigger the other machine I had, which was a Roland SH-101.

‘At the time, I got into the idea that if both machines had the same name, I believed they could talk to each other. I took them apart to see what they were and I realised you could go from ‘trigger out’ of the 808 into the clock on the SH-101. I noticed there was a sequencer on there, but I didn’t have the manual, so I was: “How do you work the sequencer? Where’s the trigger that’s playing the sequencer?” So it was through trial and error that I realised that you put it into the clock and that plays the sequencer. I started writing stuff, writing these little notes, but it was as if the main sequencer was in my head. I’d write things that way round at first, rather than trying to do my own melodies. It was an easy way of writing.’

A Guy Called Gerald’s former bandmate Graham Massey named their band 808 State after this little piece of electronics. “The sound palette of this machine made it a cut above the other drum machines around at the time,” stated Massey in a BBC4 Radio interview. “It has this devastating bass drum, which if you turn it up can absolutely shake a room.”

So do as the man says and pump up the bass on your EQ to the max and enjoy this rather brilliant 1980′s electro mix from The Unknown Dj aka Andre Manuel; pioneering producer of West Coast hip hop and exponent of the Roland TR-808.

The Unknown Dj ~ Back To 80 Mix

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Screw No.360 ~ R.I.P. John Holt

John Holt

John Holt, pioneering reggae solo artist and former lead singer of The Paragons, has died at the age of 69. “John died at 2.40am English time. [John's] nephew informed of his death,” his manager, Copeland Forbes, told the Jamaica Observer.

John Holt has been one of the pillars of reggae ever since he won his first prestigious talent show at the age of twelve, in 1958, in Jamaica. Talent shows were hugely popular in Jamaica at the time and unearthed many future stars. The shows were often featured on Jamaican national TV and radio. Holt notching up a record-breaking 28 titles, and it was these performances that sealed his first recording contract with producer Leslie Kong in 1962, who recorded Holt’s debut single, “Forever I’ll Stay”/”I Cried a Tear”.

It was when Holt joined The Paragons in 1964 that his career really took off. Not long after Holt had joined, veteran band member Bob Andy quit the group. Holt was entrusted with the responsibility of composer and arranger. Roles which he had been born to fulfill. By 1968, the Paragons were Jamaica’s premier vocal group, with virtually every one of their releases a hit. By this stage, Holt had already begun a parallel solo career. A career which went into overdrive when The Paragons split in 1970. Holt went on to releasing an astonishing 37 solo albums, and whilst living Holt was elevated to iconic status in his native Jamaica.

Here is a brief sample of John Holt’s work which spanned all off five decades:

The Paragons ~ Paragons Medley
The Paragons ~ Man Next Door
John Holt ~ Stick by Me
John Holt ~ Ali Baba
John Holt ~ Police In Helicopter
the Paragons ~ The Tide is High

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