Tuesday, May 31, 2011

LCD Soundsystem -- "Drunk Girls" (2010)

Drunk girls know that love is an astronaut
It comes back, but it's never the same

James Murphy, a 41-year-old American, is a singer, musician, songwriter and record producer.  He is the creative force behind LCD Soundsystem, a "dance-punk" band that released three amazing albums before dissolving just a couple of months ago.

When LCD Soundsystem performed live, Murphy was accompanied by a half-dozen or so other musicians.  But the group's albums were pretty much all Murphy.  He not only wrote the songs and did the singing, but also played drums, guitar, bass, piano, organ, and assorted other keyboard instruments.

James Murphy, the man behind LCD Soundsystem 
"Drunk Girls" was the first single off LCD Soundsystem's third and final album, This Is Happening.  Someone sent me the official video for this song a few months ago.  I thought it was my Grand Exalted Senior Executive Big-Ass Contributing Editor or whatever the hell her title is.  (If that wasn't her title before, it is now.)  

She vehemently denies it.  I'm not entirely convinced that she's correct because that would mean I was wrong, and I'm not entirely convinced that I've ever been wrong.

Anyway, this video is SPECTACULAR.  (Take my word for it -- you'll be much better off skipping The Hangover (Part II) and Bridesmaids and just watching the "Drunk Girls" video.)  That really comes as no surprise, because James Murphy is brilliant, and so is the video's director, Spike Jonze.

A word about Spike Jonze, who was born Adam Spiegel in 1969 in Rockville, Maryland (home of 2 or 3 lines until I get kicked out of my house, which could be any day now). 

Jonze/Spiegel has had a remarkable career.  He was a BMX biker and a skateboarder and helped start Homeboy and Dirt, two "youth culture" magazines.  (Dirt was once described as "Sassy magazine for boys.")  He has directed numerous TV commercials and three movies -- Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Where the Wild Things Are.  He also acts -- his most prominent role was in the movie Three Kings.

Here's a scene from that movie featuring Jonze and George Clooney:  

Jonze has directed a number of music videos (for musicians as diverse as the Beastie Boys, the Breeders, Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim, Kanye West, Notorious B.I.G., and Weezer).   He was once married to fellow director Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, and the first American woman director ever nominated for an Academy Award). 

Jonze deserves to burn in hell for being one of the creators of the Jackass television show.  On the other hand, I probably deserve to burn in hell for putting this picture on 2 or 3 lines:

(Can you believe I have a lot of female readers?  At least I used to have a lot of female readers.  The last post and this one may have changed that.)

If you are the kind of person who expects a music video to "mean" something, there's no point in you watching this one.  For the rest of you, enjoy:

Click here if you want to buy "Drunk Girls" from iTunes.  (To tell the truth, you'd be better off just bookmarking the music video.)

Drunk Girls - This Is Happening

You can use this link to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Kanye West (feat. Mos Def) -- "Drunk and Hot Girls" (2007)

Driving around town looking for the best spot
For the drunk and hot girls
Up in the club -- looky here what we got! 
Some drunk and hot girls
Stop dancin' with your girlfriend 
And come dance with me
Stop talkin' 'bout your boyfriend 
Since he is not me
Stop running up my tab 
'Cause these drinks is not free
You drunk and hot girl

Call up the Guinness folks, boys and girls.  We've just set a new record for the fewest times 2 or 3 lines heard a song before writing a post about it: one!  Actually, it's more like 0.7 -- I never got to the end of the song until after I had started the post.

Here's the deal.  I'm riding my bike today, with my iPod on "shuffle," and suddenly I hear Kanye West sing the opening line of this song: "We go through too much bullshit/Just to mess with these drunk and hot girls."  

At the Rubicon
He pretty much had me right there.  By the time Yeezy got through the second verse, I was saying to myself "Alea iacta est!" -- "The die is cast!" (As my fellow classicists will know, that is what Julius Caesar declaimed when he crossed the Rubicon River and entered Italy proper at the head of the 13th Legion, violating Roman law and precipitating the bloody civil war that ended with Caesar prevailing over Pompey's forces and becoming the dictator of the Roman empire).

My son gave me Kanye's Graduation CD (which sold 437,000 copies the very first day it was released in 2007) as a Christmas present.  I immediately put a few of the singles from the album on my iPod and I've listened to them a lot.  But I don't think I ever listened to the entire album.  So although I've owned this song for several years, I think today was the first time I had heard it.

Musically, "Drunk and Hot Girls" is a waltz performed at a sluggish tempo -- almost as if the singer is a bit drunk or disoriented.  It samples a song by a German progressive rock band that includes the phrase "drunky hot bowls," which Kanye claims he thought was "drunk and hot girls."

The song tells a cautionary tale of a young man in a hurry.  Like so many other young (and some not-so-young) males, Kanye is trying to cut to the chase here and bypass the usual courtship rituals.  

Drunk and hot girl
Instead of going to a club and plying a young hottie with alcohol, Kanye goes looking for a hottie who is already loaded.  That is often an effective strategy, saving time and money.

This time, it doesn't work out.  The drunk and hot girl that Kanye zeroes in on  annoys him by talking too much about her boyfriend.  And she's not drunk enough -- he has to buy her more drinks.
Hot but not drunk girl
Things soon go from bad to worse:  

I don't wanna drop your friends off, I just want you
You drunk and hot girl
You wanna sit down but we hit the drive-through
You drunk and hot girl
Please don't fall asleep, baby, we almost back
Please don't throw up in the car, we almost crash
Oh now you sober, how'd I know you'd say that?
You drunk and hot girl
In other words, things quickly go from bad (she wants Kanye to drive her friends home and then stop at a restaurant before getting down to business) to worse (it looks like she is going to throw up in his car) to worst (she sobers up before he can close the deal).  Quel désastre!

Drunk but not hot girl
Before I bring this post to a close, permit me to share an anecdote about an old girlfriend of mine who was also drunk and hot -- a little more drunk than hot, I will admit.  

On New Year's Eve 1972, I was sampling the nightlife in my hometown of Joplin, Missouri, with a good friend and our dates when my female companion -- who was a bit of a binge drinker -- urgently instructed my friend to pull his very nice car over to the curb.  Fortunately, he was able to stop the car in time for her to open the back door and ralph into the gutter rather than spewing all over his back seat.  My friend was not a fan of this young lady either before or after this particular incident took place, and I will never forget him saying to me "Pard, you've got to do something about her" later that evening.

Here's "Drunk and Hot Girls":

Here's a link you can use to buy this song from iTunes:

Drunk and Hot Girls - Graduation

Here's a link you can use to buy it from Amazon:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sparks -- "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us" (1974)

Daily, except for Sunday
You dawdle into the cafe
Where you meet her each day
Heartbeat, increasing heartbeat,
As twenty cannibals have hold of you
They need their protein just like you do
This town ain't big enough for the both of us
But it ain't me who's gonna leave!

I used to have a real weakness for tongue-in-cheek pop songs with overly clever lyrics full of bad puns and "in" jokes and over-the-top theatricality.  I'm talking about bands like 10cc and City Boy and especially the Sparks.

I picked up three Sparks albums while I was in law school.  Kimono My House (released in 1974) was their third studio album and was a big success in the UK.  (Kurt Cobain supposedly said it was one of his favorite albums of all time.)  Propaganda (1974) and Indiscreet (1975) were also quite successful.

The "Kimono My House" album cover

I played those records a lot, and I'm surprised that this wasn't sufficiently annoying to my dorm neighbors to cause someone to punch me in the mouth.  (Assault and battery -- two torts and a crime!)  Sparks is fun music, but it's not the sort of thing that is likely to be well-received by overcaffeinated, hypercompetitive law students without a speck of sense of humor.

The Maels boys then
Sparks consisted of two brothers -- Ron and Russell Mael -- and a bunch of other guys who came and went.  Ron, who dressed in odd but relatively conservative clothes and affected a stiff and somewhat robotic persona on stage, played keyboards and wrote nearly all the group's music.  He sported a Hitler-style mustache (later modified to a pencil-thin mustache) and somewhat resembled Hitler, except he wasn't as good-looking and didn't have Hitler's charming personality.  

Russell, who was a fairly typical-looking rock star, helped Ron write some of their songs, but his main role was lead singer.  He sang in a very distinctive falsetto voice and jumped around the stage like a big crazy spaz.

The Mael boys now
I'm using the past tense here even though the Sparks are still recording and performing.  That's because I've paid no attention to the 17 albums Sparks released after the three that I own.  I do know that in 2008, they performed all 21 of their albums in successive nights in London.  (They recorded another album in 2009, which makes my math come out right.  Did you really doubt me, dog?)

"This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us" was the band's biggest hit single -- it reached #2 on the UK pop singles chart.  The lyrics were undoubtedly inspired by  James Thurber's famous short story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

In that 1939 story, Walter Mitty -- a mild-mannered suburban husband -- accompanies his wife on their weekly shopping trip.  He has five heroic daydreams, each of which is inspired by some mundane aspect of the shopping trip.  

For example, Mitty reads a magazine article about German air power and starts to daydream that he is a Royal Air Force pilot flying a suicide mission against the Nazis.  Later, his driving past a hospital triggers a fantasy that he is a world-famous surgeon performing a very tricky operation.

The first four of Mitty's daydreams are interrupted (usually by Mitty's wife) just as they are getting good.  The last one is not interrupted but ends badly.  Instead of an exciting daydream, it turns out to be a frightening nightmare.

In the Sparks song, a routine airline trip causes the singer to have a fantasy that he is the bombadier of the "Enola Gay," the airplane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  The simple act of taking a shower causes the singer to imagine he is in an exotic foreign town, shooting it out with his enemies during a pouring rain.  Just as in the Thurber story, there are five distinct scenarios.

Here's "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song on iTunes:

This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us - Kimono My House

Here's a link to use if you prefer to buy from Amazon:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

R.E.M. -- "Oh My Heart" (2011)

I came home to a city half erased
I came home to face what we faced
This place needs me here to start
This place is the beat of my heart
Oh my heart, oh my heart, oh my heart

This song was written about New Orleans, which suffered enormously from Hurricane Katrina.  But tonight this song is also about a smaller and much less well-known city that is reeling, "half erased," from an equally devastating natural disaster.

I spent the first 18 years of my life in Joplin, Missouri, and my parents still live there.  My friend Linda -- the author of this post -- also grew up there, and her mother still resides there as well.  She and I and many of our other childhood friends returned to Joplin for our 40th high-school reunion last summer, joining with those who had chosen to stay in the area.

It was a poignant and wonderful weekend, and I think it affected many of us more deeply than we anticipated.  I don't know exactly why that should have been, but I know that it is so.

I'm writing this only about 24 hours after a tornado wreaked an astonishing amount of damage on our defenseless hometown.  The only thing that was more remarkable than the power of the storm was its arbitrariness.

The German author and philosopher Goethe wrote the following words about nature generally, but they describe the tornado that laid Joplin low much better than anything I could come up with:

Nature! . . . Without asking, or warning, she snatches us up into her circling dance, and whirls us on until we are tired, and drop from her arms. . . . We live in her midst and know her not. She is incessantly speaking to us, but betrays not her secret. . . . She changes for ever and ever, and rests not a moment.  Quietude is inconceivable to her, and she has laid her curse upon rest.  She is firm.  Her steps are measured, her exceptions rare, her laws unchangeable.

I asked Linda to write this post after she told me about her recent trip to New Orleans to see her son graduate from Tulane Law School.  I could tell from her e-mails how strongly the experience had affected her.  
She was deservedly proud of her son's accomplishment -- and, I hope, equally proud of her accomplishment as a mother.  But at the same time, she was saying goodbye to her first child.  He was not only fully an adult now, but had also chosen to move far away from her to begin his career.  

As parents, our job is to prepare our children to be adults.  There can be no greater satisfaction for a parent than to see his or her child make a successful transition to independence and self-sufficiency.  At the same time, it is almost unbearably sad to have to let our children go. 

For Linda, her memories of her son and the city where he attended law school will always be inextricably entwined.  I know how she feels.  I may not ever go back to the cities where my children went to college, but I will always remember them vividly as the places where my children metamorphosed into something wonderful but something very different.

Linda sent me this post just the day before the tornado struck Joplin.  That event has given this song and Linda's words an additional layer of meaning for us and our Joplin friends.

But at its heart, this post really about a mother, her child, and a place that will always have a very special meaning for her because something very special happened to that child while he was there.  

Linda's previous posts have been terrific, and she has delivered once more.  Time for me to shut up and turn 2 or 3 lines over to her:

I would like to thank our Editor-in-Chief of 2 or 3 lines for allowing me to use his blog as a forum for a very personal and completely self-indulgent "Love Letter & Farewell" to both the city of New Orleans and to my firstborn.

My husband and I have been to New Orleans (which we usually refer to as "NOLA") eight times in the past three years.  Our son was in law school at Tulane University, so we had a built-in reason to visit this beautiful city.  Our most recent trip there was for his graduation, so there was a great poignancy in being there this time.

The flooded 8th Ward of NOLA
When most people think of NOLA, Hurricane Katrina is the first thing that comes to mind. It was a terrible tragedy in terms of loss of lives and livelihoods and destruction of property.  Nearly six years later you can still see the results of its effects – abandoned homes with no windows and roofs blown away, houses and other buildings spray-painted with codes for utility workers (so they knew when they returned at which places the gas and electricity had been already been turned off).
Yet none of that really defines the essence of NOLA.  No matter what time of the day or night, the French Quarter has a vibrant party atmosphere.  There are street musicians sharing the sidewalks with street preachers.  In Jackson Square, you can see cross-dressing men (in full make-up and stiletto heels), fortune tellers, and local artists with their paintings displayed for sale.
Bourbon Street is an entity all to itself.  Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club is just a few doors away from some of the best and most traditional Creole restaurants.

"Home of the Hustler Honeys"
Drinking alcohol as you stroll down the street is perfectly legal.  Before our first visit, my son (already a veteran of several trips to the Quarter), warned me not to wear open-toed shoes on Bourbon Street. The possibilities of what you might step in are very unappealing to say the least!
A drink called the “Hand Grenade” seems to be the libation of choice for many college students and tourists.  You see a lot of people walking around carrying long plastic tubes filled with fluorescent green liquid.  I sampled this concoction once, but only once – Everclear (190 proof grain alcohol) is its main ingredient, mixed with some deceptively sweet and innocent-tasting fruit juices and drink mix.

Sipping on a Hand Grenade
The cracked and uneven sidewalks of Bourbon Street filled with thousands of people are difficult to get around on under the best of circumstances. Add a snootful of Everclear to the equation and . . . let’s just say I was lucky to get back to our hotel without breaking an ankle or a hip.  (My son loved to warn me about breaking ahip as a way of taunting me about my advanced age).
Shrimp po'boy
No discussion of NOLA would be complete without talking about the food.  In the past three years, I have never had a bad meal or a rude server there.  It’s truly a paradise for seafood lovers.  The shrimp and oysters always taste like they have just come straight from the fisherman’s boat.  Whether you have a shrimp po’boy and a bowl of gumbo at a hole-in-the-wall dive, or an elegant dinner at a charming, old French Quarter restaurant, you can’t go too far wrong with a meal in NOLA.

And we certainly didn't go wrong choosing Muriel's Bistro for our farewell NOLA dinner:

It’s sweet and it’s sad and it’s true
How it doesn’t look bitter on you.

Those lines from “Oh My Heart” certainly describes most of the locals we’ve interacted with there.  Tourism is a large part of NOLA’s economy and it took a huge hit after Katrina.  The staffs at hotels and restaurants are genuinely glad to have you in their establishment.  You hear very little bitterness when they talk about how the city suffered after the hurricane, especially at the hands of inept politicians who squandered or stole much of the relief money – just gratitude for the people who have started visiting their city and spending much-needed money there again.
The choice of song for this post was an easy one for me.  I’ve been an ardent (some might say obsessive) fan of R.E.M. for many years.  This song is off their most recent album “Collapse Into Now,” much of which was recorded in NOLA not far from the French Quarter.  In fact, they were in the studio during one of our trips there. I tried to get my son to drive me past the studio, but I think he considered that a little too stalkerish.

R.E.M. at the Music Shed recording studio in NOLA
R.E.M.’s guitarist, Peter Buck, once owned a home in the NOLA's Garden District. The band has recorded parts of other albums there in the past, so they evidently have a continuing emotional tie to the city.
A Garden District home
“Oh My Heart” is by no means even close to being one of my favorite R.E.M. songs. But for me, it evokes the spirit of the people there and the city itself.  New Orleanians have lived through a massive hurricane and the BP oil spill within a five-year period.  Some the residents did throw in the towel and move away permanently, but many came back and rebuilt and carried on with their lives, unwilling or unable to let go of their beautiful city.
On a more personal level, R.E.M. was the last concert my son and I attended together.  He begrudgingly went with me, but afterwards commented, “They rock pretty hard for old guys.”  
High praise from an 18-year-old who, at the time, was heavily into the hardest of rock music.  After living in the deep South for 3 years and hanging out with new friends who are mostly good ol’ boys from Georgia, he has gone over to the other side and now listens almost exclusively to country music.  Go figure!
NOLA street musician Doreen Ketchens
On the way to the airport, when we were leaving NOLA the day after graduation, I tried hard to hold myself together.  

But my son is moving to New York City.  I get verklempt all over again just writing those words.

His long-time girlfriend, whom he met at the very beginning of law school, is from there and that’s where they decided they would live.  His girlfriend is a beautiful, intelligent and charming young woman whom we adore and I know he would likely follow her to the ends of the earth if she asked.  Which is exactly how it should be when two people are young and in love.

Any parent who has ever had to say good-bye to a child who is leaving home will understand and sympathize with my mixed emotions about his move to the Northeast.  I’m so excited and unbelievably proud to know that he has accomplished some huge goals and is ready to go out and conquer the world.
Still, no matter how old they are or how happy you are for them, when they leave home, a big piece of your heart goes with them.  Good luck, Alex – knock ‘em dead in New York. The Big Apple’s gain is the Big Easy’s (and your mom’s!) loss.

Alex and Linda
Good luck to Alex, and thanks to his mother for yet again contributing a wonderful piece of writing to 2 or 3 lines.  But more importantly, best wishes to everyone who lives in Joplin or has loved ones there.

Our city has indeed been "half erased," and I don't envy those who have to rebuild it.  Their strength and their patience will be sorely tested over the upcoming weeks, months, and years.
Here's a live version of R.E.M.'s "Oh My Heart":

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wall of Voodoo -- "Mexican Radio" (1983)

I feel the hot wind on my shoulder
I dial it in from south of the border
I hear the talking of the DJ
Can't understand -- just what does he say?
I'm on the Mexican radio

I had some very nerdy hobbies when I was a teenager.  One of them was "DX'ing," which refers to seeking out and listening to distant radio stations and obtaining written confirmations of reception from the stations.  

A "QSL" card from WRVA in Richmond, VA

I didn't have a shortwave radio, so I was limited to broadcast-band ("BCB") DX'ing -- plain old AM radio, in other words.  There were a fair number of 50,000-watt clear-channel stations (stations that had an exclusive or near-exclusive frequency assignment, which meant they could be heard hundreds of miles from where their transmitter was located), a larger number of 5000-watt regional stations (which could often be heard from a couple of hundred miles away, and occasionally from a much greater distance), and a whole bunch of small, local 250-watt to 1000-watt stations.

1950's table radio
The local stations often signed off the air at sunset, which made them difficult to receive from very far outside their immediate area.  (AM radio signals travel much farther at night -- radiation from the sun causes interference.)

To get a confirmation -- or "QSLs" -- you would write a letter to the station and summarize its programming for a long enough time period to establish that you had actually received its broadcast.  

At 8:00 pm, there was a station identification -- "This is KNRD, 1230 on your AM dial, playing the Tri-State area's favorite hits" -- followed at 8:01 by ads for Homer's Sinclair Station and Jenny's Needle Nook.  Next, there was a news broadcast, which highlighted recent flooding in the area.  At 8:05, you played "Shotgun" by Junior Walker and the All-Stars, followed by "Abergavenny" by Shannon -- etc., etc., etc.

KNBR was the NBC affiliate in San Francisco

I was even in a BCB DX'ing club, which had a twice-a-month newsletter consisting of articles about receiving equipment or individual stations and brief notes from members talking about which new stations they had picked up.  The club had contests -- how many different stations you could confirm in a year, or how many different states you could bag.  It was good, clean fun -- a hobby whose demographic was almost 100% male and almost 100% nerdy. 

1950's radio station
Higher-frequency or "shortwave" signals usually travelled farther than AM signals.  Nearly all the stations I could pick up with the household AM radios I used were American, of course.    

But there were a couple of high-powered stations located just across the border in Mexico whose signals blanketed much of the Southwest and Midwest -- at least after the sun went down.  These stations had 250,000-watt transmitters -- 5 times as powerful as the legal maximums in the United States -- and were located in border towns like Ciudad Acuña (which was just across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas), Ciudad Juarez (across the river from El Paso), and Tijuana.

WILS was a regional station in Lansing, MI

The words to this song imply that the singer is listening to a Spanish-language Mexican radio station.  But the "border blasters" were created to attract American audiences.  The bread-and-butter of most of these stations were fundamentalist radio preachers and various quack health-related products or medical clinics -- American legal standards didn't apply south of the border.

The most famous border blaster was XERB in Tijuana.  (The station still exists but uses different call letters.)  That station was the home of DJ Bob Smith -- better known as "Wolfman Jack" -- from 1966 to 1972.  With the help of the government, his Mexican partners managed to squeeze him out of the very profitable station just a few months before George Lucas would film the Wolfman for his movie American Graffiti.

Here's the scene from American Graffiti where Richard Dreyfuss meets Wolfman Jack:

Don't cry for the Wolfman, Argentina.  He edited and sold his old XERB tapes to other radio stations, and later created the first syndicated rock 'n' roll radio show, which was eventually heard on some 2000 radio stations in 53 countries.

"Mexican Radio" was Wall of Voodoo's only U.S. hit.  Click here to read more about Wall of Voodoo.

I was inspired to post about this song today when I heard a truly bizarre Gruppo Sportivo song while listening to some of the music I recorded in 1980 from the old "Mystic Eye" radio show (and which I recently managed to get copied on to CDs).

You remember Gruppo Sportivo, don't?  The Dutch group with an Italian name that recorded in English and French?  They are one of the great favorites of 2 or 3 lines.

While I was looking for more information about that truly bizarre song -- which I will save for my upcoming "Mystic Eye" series -- I came across a YouTube video of Gruppo Sportivo performing "Mexican Radio."  Which reminded me of the original version.  Which inspired me to dig out my old QSL cards and letters.  One thing leads to another, doesn't it?

Here's Gruppo Sportivo's "Mexican Radio" -- you gotta love the tiny little sombrero and the singer's Dutch accent.

Here's Wall of Voodoo's "Mexican Radio":

Here's a link to use if you'd like to buy the song from iTunes:

Mexican Radio - Call of the West

Here's a link to use to buy it from Amazon:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ice-T -- "6 in the Mornin'" (1986)

Six in the morning, police at my door
Fresh Adidas squeak across the bathroom floor
Out the back window I make a escape
Don't even get a chance to grab my old school tape
Mad with no music, but happy 'cause I'm free
And the streets to a player is the place to be
Gotta knot in my pocket weighin' at least a grand
Gold on my neck, my pistols close at hand
I'm a self-made monster of the city streets
Remotely controlled by hard hip-hop beats
But just livin' in the city is a serious task
Didn't know what the cops wanted, didn't have the time to ask

It's time to leave New York City -- the birthplace of hip-hop -- and head to Los Angeles, where "gangsta" rap was invented.

Ice-T was not the best of the first generation of gangsta rappers, but his "6 in the Mornin'" was the first big gangsta rap hit.  And the album it appeared on -- Rhyme Pays -- was the first hip-hop album to carry a "Parental Advisory" warning label.

Ice-T was born Tracy Morrow.  His family lived in an affluent New Jersey suburb, but both his parents died of heart attacks when he was still a child.  So he moved to Los Angeles to live with an aunt.

Morrow graduated from Crenshaw High School, a poor, predominantly African-American high school.  Last year, according to the school district website, Crenshaw was about 2/3 black and 1/3 Hispanic.  It was 0.5% Asian and 0.2% white -- that means of its more than 1800 students, only about 10 were Asian and 4 were white.  

After high school, Morrow served in the U. S. Army for 4 years.  After his discharge, he was involved in a number of music-related projects.  For example, he wrote the "raps" for Mr. T's motivational video, Be Somebody . . . or Be Somebody's Fool!  Here's an excerpt from this video.

Ice-T eventually got a record deal and released Rhyme Pays in 1987.  "6 in the Mornin'" was released as a B side, but it is the only song that most people remember from this album.

The song is over 7 minutes long and consists of 32 4-line verses, the first 3 of which are quoted above.  Like many early rap songs, the song's basic building block is the rhyming couplet -- which means each pair of consecutive lines rhymes (AABBCCDD, etc.).

Rhyming couplets are one of the oldest and simplest rhyme schemes in poetry.  The Canterbury Tales are written in rhyming couplets.

The rhymes in rhyming couplets are often predictable, and poetry written in this form often sounds sing-songy.  "6 in the Mornin'" sounds like something my kids could have written when they were 12 years old or so.  

Rappers talk about "flow," which is the hip-hop equivalent of what jazz musicians mean when they talk about "swing."  Rap that flows (like jazz that swings) has a rhythmic momentum that is natural and irresistible.  Modern-day hip-hop tends to be much more complex and unpredictable than old-school rap, but it still can have flow.  

"6 in the Mornin'" does not have flow.  One reason for that is that every so often Ice-T tries to force way too many syllables into a line in order to complete a rhyme.  Most of the lines quoted above, for example, have 10 or 11 syllables.  A couple of them have 13 syllables, which pushes things pretty hard.  But the last line has 15 syllables, which is too many.

This song covers a lot of ground.  It begins with the singer hopping out the back window and escaping from the police who are knocking on his door.  He then hangs out on the corner, shooting dice and chatting up the fly girls.  

An Uzi
While cruising the streets later that day with a friend, the narrator is pulled over by the cops, who find a pistol, an Uzi, and a hand grenade in the car.  That lands him in the county jail, where he stabs another inmate in the eye and ends up spending 7 years in prison.

When he's released, his homeboys front some cash to him and he buys a Mercedes and starts pimping whores.  Here's perhaps the worst verse in the whole song:
I bought a Benz with the money, the rest went to clothes
Went to the strip, started pimpin' the hoes
My hair had grew long on my seven-year stay
And when I got it done, on my shoulders it lay
The worst part about this verse is the clumsy and artificial-sounding inversion of the natural sentence order in the last line.  "And when I got it done, on my shoulders it lay" -- are you kiddin' me?  Who talks like that?  That is right out of some lame 19th-century poem that your old-maid English teacher made you read in 1962.  (Alfred Lord Tennyson had better flow.)

Later, the narrator is involved in a shootout with rival gang members -- "Six punks hit, two punks died/All casualties applied to their side."  He then escapes from a SWAT team raid on his house, eludes the police in a high-speed chase, has a zesty session with his girlfriend ("She ran her tongue over each and every part of me/Then she rocked my amadeus as I watched TV"), and finally hops on a flight to New York City with a bail-jumping pal of his.

I'm exhausted and all I did was listen to "6 in the Mornin'."

Ice-T later became the poster boy for everything that parents and other authority figures hated about rap music when he released the song "Cop Killer," which is told from the point of view of a criminal plotting revenge against some racist cops.  We'll save that story for a future "Hip Hop 101" lecture.

Ice-T's first major motion-picture role was as one of the good guys in New Jack City, a film about a crack kingpin that co-starred Wesley Snipes, Mario Van Peebles, and a very young Chris Rock.  He's been a regular on Law & Order since 2000.

Here's the cover of Gangsta Rap, the only album he's released in the last decade.  That's his wife, Nicole "Coco" Austin, with him on the cover:

Ice-T was arrested in New York City in 2010 for not wearing a seatbelt while driving his bulldog to the veterinarian for knee surgery.  I don't know about you, but I'm a little disappointed this original gangsta rapper didn't pull out an Uzi and shoot it out with the cops, or at least lead them on a high-speed chase through the streets of New York.  

Here's "6 in the Mornin'":

Here's a link you can use to order an abridged version of the song from iTunes:

6 'N the Mornin' - Rhyme Pays

Here's a link you can use to order it from Amazon:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel -- "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" (1975)

Blue eyes, blue eyes
How can you tell so many lies?
Come up and see me,
Make me smile

It's so strange to hear a record you used to listen to over and over, but haven't heard in decades.  Of course, it's strange to be old enough to remember doing anything decades ago.  

Until I got married and settled down in Washington, I used to move often -- from school to my parents' house every summer and back to school every fall for seven years, from one apartment to another every year or so when I got out of school and was single and ready to mingle, etc.

What I took with me when I packed up and headed out was usually what would fit in my car, and that meant stuff was constantly getting left behind.

I must have left my Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel album (albums?) at my parents' house at some point, although it could be squirreled away somewhere in my basement.  

In any event, I haven't seen it in years -- it's probably been at least 30 or 35 years since I heard this song.  Until tonight, that is, when I decided to write a post for my series about the records I listened to in law school.

Steve Harley was a Londoner.  He attended a very highly regarded secondary school that specialized in music education.  Its name -- I kid you not -- was Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College.  (I'm telling you, those Brits are wack!)

Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College today
He formed Cockney Rebel in 1972, and the band quickly became popular.  But after a UK tour in support of its second album, The Psychomodo, most of the other band members quit -- apparently Harley was a bit of an egomaniac.  He formed a new Cockney Rebel in 1974 (putting his name out in front) and released The Best Years of Our Lives album -- which included "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" -- early the next year.

Steve Harley
"Make Me Smile" was a #1 hit single in the UK, and sold over a million copies worldwide.  In a 2002 interview, Harley admitted that the lyrics were aimed at the original band members who quit on him in 1974.

I must have heard it on good ol' WBCN in Boston -- my go-to rock station in those days -- and probably bought the "A Closer Look" album (a 1975 album consisting of songs selected from Harley's earlier UK albums that was released only in the US) at the Harvard Co-op.  But I wouldn't swear to it.

It's a very odd song.  It's very dated -- perhaps not as dated as Harley's haircut -- but dated nonetheless.  It's been used on the soundtracks of at least half a dozen movies (most notably The Full Monty), and there have been an amazing 120-odd cover versions of the song recorded.  The most well-known cover version is Duran Duran's, which is awful.

I do still like the song.  But I don't plan to dig through the old albums in my parents' garage the next time I visit them so I can repatriate it to my house.  I've got a turntable, but I haven't played a vinyl LP on it in 10 or 15 years.  And if I ever do break that fast and play a record on it again, it won't be this one.

Do any of you remember Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel?  I have a feeling someone among my friends will -- but I wouldn't be shocked if all I got in reaction to this post was shrugs and blank looks.

Here's "Make Me Smile":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song on iTunes:

Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) - The Best Years of Our Lives

Here's a link you can use to buy it on Amazon:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Boogie Down Productions -- "The Bridge Is Over" (1987)

What's the matter with your MC, Marley Marl?
Don't know you know that he's out of touch?
What's the matter with your DJ, MC Shan?
On the wheels of steel Marlon sucks
You'd better change what comes out your speaker
You're better off talkin' 'bout your wack Puma sneaker
Cause Bronx created hip-hop
Queens will only get dropped
You're still tellin' lies to me
Everybody's talkin' 'bout the Juice Crew
Funny, but you're still tellin' lies to me
Do those last two lines remind you of the last two lines of another song?

That song was a #1 hit by a singer whose music was about as far from hip-hop as popular music can be.  Surprisingly, it's not featured in the 2002 "jukebox musical" based on many of his hits.

If that's not enough of a clue, here are the two final lines from that singer's song:

Everybody's talkin' 'bout the new sound
Funny, but it's still rock and roll to me
If you still don't get it, don't worry -- I'll embed both songs at the end of this post.

In a previous "Hip Hop 101" lecture, we discussed the numerous "Roxanne" answer songs.  The first and most successful of those songs resulted from a collaboration between 15-year-old Roxanne Shanté and Marley Marl, a very influential DJ and early hip-hop "superproducer."

DJ Marley Marl
Marley Marl is responsible for a number of innovations in the art of sampling, and was the greatest beatmaker of his day -- he was one of the first producers to lift beats from James Brown's opus.  He founded a record label that released records by Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, and other first-rate New York City rappers.

When the Juice Crew -- a hip-hop collective that Marley Marl had helped to found, and which was best known for its many answer records -- released a song titled "The Bridge," they found themselves the target of this answer song from rival Boogie Down Productions.

KRS-One in 1984
Boogie Down Productions -- let's call them BDP -- was a South Bronx rap group with something of a Jamaican sound.  Its membership changed constantly over the years, but the two most prominent BDP members during "The Bridge Wars" were KRS-One and Scott La Rock.   They interpreted "The Bridge" as claiming that hip-hop had originated in the Queensbridge section of Queens, which was the home of Marley Marl, Roxanne Shanté, and most of the other members of the Juice Crew.

The lyrics quoted above question the DJ'ing skills of Marley Marl (who was born Marlon Williams) and also diss MC Shan.  The dissing gets very personal:
You can't sound like Shan or the one Marley
Because Shan and Marley Marl dem-a-rhymin' like they gay
It gets worse than that, boys and girls -- when you listen to "The Bridge Is Over" in its entirety, make sure the kiddies aren't listening.

"The Bridge Wars" was one of the classic rap "beefs," and quickly escalated.  It cooled somewhat when Scott La Rock was shot and killed shortly after "The Bridge" was released -- his death was unrelated to "The Bridge Wars" -- and his BDP partner, KRS-One, became heavily involved in the "Stop the Violence Movement" after a young fan was killed at a BDP concert a year later.

But the hatchet wasn't officially buried until 2007, when KRS-One and Marley Marl collaborated on the Hip-Hop Lives album.

And here's a brief excerpt from the Beef video about "The Bridge Wars" -- it will at least give you a taste of the personalities involved.

Here's "The Bridge Is Over":

And here's Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" -- the song quoted above:

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

The Bridge Is Over - Criminal Minded (Deluxe Version)

Here's a link to use if you prefer to use Amazon: