Monday, March 10, 2008

Crates & Crates: Twenty-Five Miles

The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band- Twenty Five Miles

One of the first moments in my long love affair with soul music started on a trip back from visiting my grandparents in Ohio. I was sitting in the back seat of a rental car, listening to my Walkman. I'd officially exhausted the tapes that I had, and was listening to an oldies station outside of Winston Salem. I heard a song that blew me away, and I couldn't figure out who it was for years. I just remembered the parts about "feet don't fail me now" and "I gotta walk on! ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah". On occasion I'd remember the song, and search madly for it, quizzing my friend Brian, who was (is) a walking encyclopedia of the type of soul music that would be on oldies stations, and he didn't know what I was talking about either. Years and years pass, haunted by this song, only remembering the urgency and gritty feeling of the song, and it's aforementioned lyrical tidbits.

Then one afternoon, I bring home In The Jungle, Babe by The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. This was right after Amanda and I moved in together, so I'd say right around three years. It was a perfect find for my fledgling vinyl collection. The 103rd Street Band is probably most popular for "Express Yourself" (which isn't on this record). There's an amateurish nature to the band's recordings, Charles Wright's voice cracks like a drunken hobo, the band plays way too fast, but all that makes their sound all the more exhilarating.

And on the second side of In The Jungle, Babe, I heard it. "Twenty Five Miles", even faster, even more urgent than I remembered it being. There it was, this moment that led me into loving soul music, this moment that I couldn't even explain to anyone, and here it was. I was so happy to finally hear this song that I'd been thinking of for years.

So, years pass, I occasionally listen to the album now and again, and get slapped in the face by the greatness of "Twenty Five Miles". Today, I decided that it'd be good to bring this song to Beneath The Underdog, inspired by my "Compared To What" post from the other day. I decided to do some similar research on the song, to find that this wasn't the version I heard on the outskirts of Winston-Salem that night so long ago. I must have heard Edwin Starr's version, which was the original. Here was the line about "feet don't fail me now" which wasn't in the 103rd Street version. I think I like 103rd Street version more than I do Starr's, not to discount Starr's, it's just that The 103rd Street band tear it to pieces.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Crates & Crates: Compared To What

Les McCann & Eddie Harris- Compared To What

Went record shopping today a few days ago, and picked up a few really great things. I found what has been a holy grail of sorts for me since I've had a record player, The Swiss Movement by Les McCann and Eddie Harris. It has what is hands down my favorite soul-jazz song, "Compared To What". I first heard a few seconds of this song in Casino. Just this short burst of Les McCann shouting "GODAMMIT! Tryin' to make it real compared to what!" to kick off some scene with Robert Deniro walking through the Casino. It's literally like five seconds before the song fades out, and I was captivated by the anger, frustration, and soul in those five seconds. I didn't hear the full song until years after once we hit the mp3 age. And damn, it's even more impressive than those first few seconds I heard. The lyrics almost read like a lost Dead Kennedys record, ranting against nearly every facet of society, even taking on Christianity, which for the time must have got them their fair share of hassles.

As I was reading over the liner notes to the record, I realized that this song was actually written by someone else beside Les McCann. I had always assumed that this song was half improvised, the anger and vitality of the song is so real that I just assumed that it came up from McCann's boiling guts. It turns out that the song was written by Eugene McDaniels. Eugene McDaniels was a lite r&b singer who soured on America somewhere in the sixties and turned deeply angry and political. He never recorded this song himself, as far as I've been able to find, though he did give it to Roberta Flack to record at around the same time as this recording. Flack's version mellows out the anger, and while good, has nothing on McCann and Harris' version.

So I decided to do some research on McDaniels, he had two albums in the late sixties and was fired by Atlantic reportedly on the say-so of Spiro Agnew. The two albums Outlaw and Headless Heroes of The Apocalypse. They're semi-funky and pretty damn good, from what I've heard of them so far. The lyrics are great, and you can easily draw lines from "Compared To What" to songs like "The Lord Is Black" and "Supermarket Blues". It's too bad that there isn't a contemporaneous version of "Compared To What" by McDaniels. Though I think it really would be hard to top McCann's.

The rest of The Swiss Movement is a great, raw soul-jazz album. McCann doesn't sing outside of "Compared To What" which is unfortunate. The album was recorded live at a jazz festival in Switzerland. McCann and Harris just got together and played without any practice, they just got together and busted out this amazing live album. McCann's piano chords chop out dramatic tension while Harris' saxophone bleats out little solos that he's making up off the top of his head. And in comes the ringer, Benny Bailey. A Cleveland expatriate living in Switzerland, who inserts these amazing trumpet lines into songs whose style he's never even played before. He was more of a "serious" musician, playing for the Swiss radio orchestra. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

I'm extremely happy to have finally gotten my hands on this record. I've spent years looking for it and have finally gotten my hands on what I've been looking for here. And I was not disappointed at all. And as with all good albums worth their salt, this has sent me on a new quest, to get my hands on those two Eugene McDaniels records. And probably some more McCann records with his singing.

Check back tomorrow or Monday for some stuff from this warped Bob Dylan bootleg I found for a dollar a while back.

Also bought:
Badfinger- Magic Christian Music
Paul Butterfield Band- s/t
NRBQ- At Yankee Stadium

Monday, March 3, 2008


So, I spent the afternoon scouring the shelves of the reputable and slightly less reputable shops in town that sell records for anything from the original Badfinger lineup. I was smacked in the face yesterday by the greatness of "No Matter What", as I documented in yesterday's post. I was bound and determined to find anything from "Magic Christian Music" to "Head On" but I came up pretty much emptyhanded. (I did see Magic Christian Music at Nice Price, but skipped it in the hopes of finding No Dice or Straight Up at Schoolkids, which I didn't so, you could say that was a mistake.)

So, I just finished downloading a handful of songs off of Soulseek, just to satisfy my curiousity about this band. To see if they're as good as that one 7" was. So far, so good. So far in my research about the band, I'm not seeing the kind of rhapsodizing about Badfinger that a band in a somewhat similar position (albeit with a lot less money behind them) Big Star. Not to discount Big Star. It's just that Badfinger are just as good if not better in some aspects, and seem completely overlooked. So, once I get my hands on one of their albums, look forward to a write-up about it over at The Red Skull.

Scientology Vs. The Beatles

Isaac Hayes- Something
(this is a twelve minute song, so it's a bigger sized file, just to warn you)

Isaac Hayes is many things, a composer, a Scientologist, a chef, a singer, the man wrote some of the best songs from the Stax label, and man, he could turn someone else's song on it's ear. Today's download is Hayes' take on George Harrison's "Something". A song that made it's rounds in the r&b world (another notable cover is by Ray Charles).
Here Hayes tacks on an extra nine minutes to the original three of The Beatles version. Female back up singers, electric violin, and big horn sections push the song into the outer reaches of soul music. Chants of "the girl has got something" are the only things to vaguely remind you of where the song started off. It all comes crashing down on itself at the end, the band reaches this euphoric state chasing after the screeching electric violin. It's as if even the band forgot where it was, until the guitarist fades out with that familiar reverbed part at the end of the original.
By the way, I'd appreciate any feedback on how this whole mp3 thing is working out. Are the downloads fast enough? Are they actually working, for that matter?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

C-Sides Part Two

Badfinger- No Matter What
The Box Tops- Sweet Cream Ladies, Forward March
The Arbors- The Letter

Earlier this morning I was documenting my journey through my soon to be father in-law's stack of 45s, and I promised to return with more about what I found in there. It's a kind of weird idiosyncratic selection, though it hews towards the lite rock side of things, with a few novelty records thrown in. All together, I culled twenty songs from quite more records than that. Outside of what I've already discussed in the previous post, I was absolutely floored by Badfinger. Why have I been sleeping on this band. I've heard "No Matter What" before, but damn. Hearing it again, I'm just floored by how good this song is. It's just a flat out pure pop song, powerful and compact. Immediate research is pending, I'll probably swing by Amanda's store and pick up whatever I can find of theirs. Though I'm slightly weary because "No Matter What" is actually the b-side on this 7". The a-side is a meandering song that screams "CONCEPT ALBUM!" called "Carry On Til Tomorrow".

A b-side to The Allman Brother's "Ramblin' Man", "Pony Boy" is flat out transcendent for a band like The Allman Brothers. It's a Dickie Betts number, so it's much more country and not so jammy. It's langorious and relaxed, it just unfolds perfectly for a Sunday morning with coffee and an oatmeal themed breakfast bar.

The last one I'll mention is Tiny Tim's "Fill Your Heart" covered later by David Bowie on Hunky Dory. It's the b-side to "Tip-Toe Through The Tulips", but far less gimmicky by a mile. Tiny Tim cuts out the fluttering affectations of the latter and sings in an almost baritone. Which is much closer to his actual voice as I learned from an interview with him on Fresh Air I heard a few years ago.

I'm going to spend the rest of the afternoon putting records onto the computer. Right now I'm doing the Eccentric Soul record Belize City Boil-Up, which is a flat-out amazing compilation of funk, soul, calypso, and reggae informed music from Belize. After that is this fantastic Issac Hayes record with a twelve minute long cover of "Something". It's one of the craziest Beatles covers I've ever heard. (Look for that and more mp3 downloads coming soon!)


I'm spending this morning working through this stack of loose seven inches that we got from my future father in-law last year. At the time I think my stereo was out of commission, so I couldn't listen to any records. They got shelved to the side and I put off digging through them for a while. Not all of it is exactly gold, some stuff is terribly dated, or just terrible. Like, say, I can't fucking stand the Stone Poneys. Bands with poor grammar only get a pass when they're excellent. Sorry, Linda Rondstat. There has been a few pieces of gold scattered about, though. Like an excellent lite-rock cover of "The Letter" by The Arbors. They slow the song down with a latin-tinged loping acoustic folk guitar and smooth, sedate vocals. Halfway through the song, it drops everything and starts with some ELO style harmonizing then stumbles back into it's original setting.

And speaking of The Box Tops, there was an excellent late period 45 of theirs that sounded like a lost Big Star session. Until I dug into The Box Tops further than "The Letter" I couldn't make a connection between The gruff urgent man behind that song and the much smoother voice behind Big Star.

Let's see, what else is there, a condensed version of the theme for "The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly". Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs, "Wooly Bully" which I always forget how great and fun that song is. It was a disappointment to hear the b-side being such a blatant rewrite of the a-side. Either that or maybe Sam The Sham just didn't have any writing chops. I was hoping that he'd be more along the lines of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, whose discography is filled with things even more fantastic than his one hit.

Right now I'm listening to this fantastic Supremes song called "Put Yourself In My Place", which I think might have finally sold me on The Supremes. I've spent years on the fence about this group, at first, rejecting the group outright because of how smooth they were. Especially when I first got into soul music. I've always preferred the grittier soul music, Otis Redding over Marvin Gaye, etc. But man, just on a basic level of song, The Supremes' songs were built like The Colosseum, simple but huge, impressive, and enduring.

I'll post more about the songs as I listen to them, at this point, I've covered everything I've listened to this morning, so I'll return with more soon. I'm also going to try posting some of these songs online so you can download them.