Listen to this track by canny pop song strategists and performance art doyens The KLF, featuring the First Lady of Country herself, Tammy Wynette. It’s “Justified & Ancient”, a tune that features on their 1991 album The White Room and on its own as a single version. After this song was released with notable chart showings all over the world, there were no more singles from the group at all. In fact, they deleted their own catalogue in the UK!
The KLF was a meta pop group more so than the real thing. The whole project seemed to be an active parody of the pop industry process, inventing a whole vocabulary and mythology around itself. The “band” was made up of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, both of whom were on the British music and theatre scenes at various levels since the mid-1970s. They started this project under the name JAMs (that’s Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu) by the late eighties.
By 1991, this single referenced their history and was something of a closed circle for them as their last ever single connected to the JAMs/KLF project. It certainly had a positive impact on Tammy Wynette in a very measurable way, while also being indicative of an approach to pop music as art where Drummond and Cauty were concerned all around. Read more
Listen to this track by Australian thrift shop denizens and razor-sharp sampling jesters The Avalanches. It’s their 2000 hit “Frontier Psychiatrist”, as taken from their (to date) sole full length record Since I Left You. The song would place on UK and US charts by 2001, providing critical and commercial success.
It’s difficult to broadly apply the term “songwriting” to this track in the traditional sense, just because it is made up entirely of found recordings from across a variety of recorded music streams. This includes comedy recordings, with the central one being Canadian comedy team Wayne & Shuster’s titular sketch which is heavily quoted, along with sound effects records, instructional recordings, Mariachi music, film scores, movie dialogue (John Waters’ Polyester to be exact), and sixties Enoch Light Orchestra flourishes all mixed in to make a glorious whole. How this was not a complete mess is a tribute to how deftly arranged the samples actually are. Sampling nay-sayers take note: not everyone can do this well.
I think another aspect of this song that is worth noting is that it helpfully undercuts what electronica and dance music had come to mean by the beginning of the century. A big part of that has to do with its varied and often unexpected source material, of course. But, another aspect of what makes this tune stand out is simply this: it’s hilarious! Read more
Listen to this track by Braintree, Essex crossover hit makers and controversy-stirring dance floor urchins The Prodigy. It’s “Firestarter”, their monster dance hit that scored top ten placements on the British pop charts, and serving as the first single from the band’s 1996 record Fat Of The Land.
That album was a breakthrough into the mainstream for the burgeoning dance scene that had existed in various forms in Essex for many years. By the mid-to-late nineties, it provided something of a stylistic ballast during the height of the Brit-pop period. The Prodigy reminded music fans that there was more on offer when it came to making impactful music than guys with guitars, and that there was more to dance music than sanitized beats and thin synth riffs.
The Prodigy were dogged with controversy over many aspects of their presentation and their content. With this song, maybe controversy was stirred up because of the video, and the meaning of what a “firestarter” really is, too. Read more
Listen to this track by urbanely detached duo and superlative synthpop vectors Pet Shop Boys. It’s “West End Girls”, a smash for them in 1984 as a US club single, and then again in late 1985 as a single released internationally, later to appear on their debut record, 1986’s Please. From there, it would be re-mixed many times, ready for the clubs once again.
This song had made inroads into a musical area that really hadn’t been explored; a synthpop and rap hybrid. Somehow, I’d be hard-pressed to call this a rap tune in the strictest sense. But, one might see why someone might argue that it is, I suppose. It certainly takes its cues from early hip hop records like Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”. To me, it’s more of a spoken word piece, with a big groove behind it, which somehow isn’t the same thing as a flat out hip hop record. It’s actually much closer to Isaac Hayes’ “(The Theme From) Shaft”, with the extended, tension-building instrumental intro, and with the rest of the song buoyed up by a narrator’s voice (the original definition of a “rap”, kids), this time with a cut-glass English accent.
However like rap at the time, “West End Girls” certainly does evoke a distinctly urban feel. This is a song about the city, and the culture around cities. And despite it being a hit all over the world, it touches on something that is very much associated with the culture of those who created it, which is class structure and socially encoded roles. Yet, it was originally born outside of that culture, and in a place where the roots of the song were firmly established. Read more
Listen to this track by London pop musical era cross-polinator duo Groove Armada. It’s “At The River”, a single from 1997 that was re-released two years later as a part of their Vertigo album.
The album was released during a period when chillout and downtempo beats were becoming equally celebrated in clubs and on the radio as pop songs in Britain. As such, both contexts and audiences are served here, with pop hooks and beats intertwining to make one of the most appealing confections of a genre that marked the times before the 20th century became the early 21st.
The central hook here comes from tin pan alley pop singer Patti Page’s “Old Cape Cod”, a single from 1957 that came in turn out of a poem as written by one Claire Rothrock who’d fallen in love with the titular destination. The song was a hit, salty air and quaint little villages and all, and Patti Page would be celebrated by the region of Cape Cod for many years after for being a cultural ambassador because of her hit with this earlier pop single.
But, what’s it doing being referenced on a late-20th century dance record made in rainy London? Read more
Listen to this track by dance floor-ready Manchester-based post-punk-meets-techno foursome New Order. It’s “Blue Monday”, a single put out originally in 1983 as a forerunner to their second full-length album; Power, Corruption, and Lies. The song would be re-mixed later in the decade and in decades to follow.
The band would be one that grew out of the ashes of another one, namely Joy Division. That former band would be blessed and cursed, laying down a template which is still followed today with any band interested in minimalist, subterranean, darkly textured guitar music. But with lead singer in Ian Curtis gone too soon as the result of illness and self-destruction, their body of work, potent though it is, would remain small.
In the aftermath, guitarist and singer Bernard Sumner took Curtis’ place up front, flanked by bassist Peter Hook, drummer and keyboardist and programmer Stephen Morris, and the addition of keyboardist and guitarist Gillian Gilbert. This track was penned by the whole band, and represented both a turning point for them, and for what would become known as “alternative dance” culture as well for the rest of the ’80s and beyond. But, how did they get from guitar-based post punk to electronic dance music in such a relative short span of time? Read more
Listen to this track by masked and anonymous Parisian disco-electro twosome, Daft Punk. It’s their made-for-summertime single “Get Lucky” as taken from their long-awaited 2013 record Random Access Memories. The song features vocals by Pharell Williams, a vocalist, songwriter, and one-half of The Neptunes production team.
Also joining them on this track is the one and only Nile Rodgers playing that impossibly funky rhythm guitar part that only he can play. If only they could have got Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson too for the full on Chic effect, although that bass part played by Nathan East nails that Edwards style. But, that’s the thing with this song, and with the rest of the record as well; it is very conscious of its inspirations.
This tune is unabashedly 20th century, with ’70s disco, and ’80s electro being the main courses, supplemented by fender rhodes soft rock textures and real drums, as played by Omar Hakim no less, to supplement the duo’s characteristic vocoders, drum machines, samplers and synths.
There seems to be quite a lot of sentimentality on this record as a whole, with a number of other contributions and references to bygone eras to be found therein.
Listen to this track by Vancouver-based electronica and post-punk popist concern Catlow, a solo project conceived and led by singer-songwriter Natasha Thirsk, known for her work with the Dirtmitts. It’s “Remorse Code”, recently featured on the Catlow Facebook Page with a video using crowdsourced images made by and submitted by fans.
A while ago, we featured a piece on Natasha Thirsk, and a track off of her newest EP Pinkly Things. The song; “House Arrest”.
I love that track!
And, I love this one too, less guitar driven than “House Arrest”, and touching on an ambient dance feel instead. Yet, that post punk feel is a thread that runs through both tunes, and the rest of Pinkly Things, too.
Anyway, I wanted to get the word out in this special edition post here on the ‘Bin, just because Catlow is one of four acts to be featured at Vancouver’s Railway Club on December 21, 2012 as a part of D Trevlon Band album release.
For all of you local Vancouver readers, or out-of-towners looking for a reason to come to Van City, you can find out all of the details on the Facebook Event page above, and then come see Catlow play live, and up close.
And don’t forget to ‘like’, as they say, Catlow on Facebook.
Once you’ve done that, you will be able to watch the video for ‘Remorse Code’ too.
Listen to this track by dance-music pioneers and disco heavyweights Chic. It’s “Le Freak” an enormous hit single from 1978’s C’est Chic album, and one of the biggest hit singles of the era. Written by guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards, the song became the biggest selling song on the Warner Music label, holding that position until it was supplanted by Maddona’s “Vogue” in 1990 – twelve years!
But, like many smash singles, it had a fairly humble origin. Rodgers and Edwards, along with drummer Tony Thompson, had been on the New York scene for a while. And while there, they made a lot of friends. One such person by 1977 was singer and model Grace Jones, who had made a name for herself on many fronts, one being her association with Andy Warhol, and by extension Studio 54.
But, that particular nightclub was not known to be friendly to “the little people”, with long lines and surly doormen turning people away being standard fixtures. And yet ironically, in the age of optimistic and inclusive disco music, it would be this very surly and elitist attitude at the door of ’54 that would inspire this now immortal dance track. Read more
Listen to this track by Sheffieldian one-time Human League splinter group, and sonically ambitious hitmakers in their own right, Heaven 17. It’s their smash UK single “Temptation” as taken from their 1983 album The Luxury Gap.
One of the features here is guest vocalist Carol Kenyon, who sings in a Northern Soul influenced style, contrasting the synth-pop groove. The tune would also incorporate a full orchestra, creating even more textural contrast, and producing a high-charting single that year for the band, reaching number 2 in the UK pop charts.
The Luxury Gap was the group’s second record, after 1981’s Penthouse and Pavement. The band had been one of the most prominent proponents of Northern synth pop, although initially split off from the Human League, a project that was abandoned by keyboardists Ian Craig-Marsh and Martyn Ware. They’d left the band in the hands of vocalist Phil Oakey. That version of the Human League under Oakey’s leadership would become an international success with a new line-up.
But, Craig-Marsh and Ware had pop smarts of their own to draw from. Read more