The Chemical Brothers Spin ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’

Here’s a clip of British big beat champions the Chemical Brothers with their giant-sized rave-up ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’, a central track off of their 1997 record Dig Your Own Hole.

Before hearing ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’, electronica and dance music and I weren’t too close.  Most of the stuff I’d heard up until then was thin, lifeless backbeats deviod of any real sonic depth. It was meant to be  functional, not listened to.  It’s hard for me to say a lot of the time why I love or hate a certain piece of music or even entire genres, but nine times out of ten, if the music is designed to do something without having a life of its own outside of that thing, it sucks. Music is its own thing.  It doesn’t need to be for something other than itself.

But, when I heard ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ I was forced to reassess my preconceptions about what electronica and dance music actually is, and how to judge it as music in relation to my rockist point of view.

The piece is a collection of samples, yet the juice from the performance (Schooly D’s “Gucci Again”, among others) once removed is retained.  That central riff is a bass guitar played high up the neck, and the beats are borrowed from real drums.   The Chems left something of the warmth of a real performance in.   And where the raver kid doesn’t notice perhaps, the rockist like me does.  I think this is a part of what made them such a prominent force in dance music from the mid-90s onward.  They understand subtlety, and attention to detail.

And this may explain why someone like Noel Gallagher – a bigger rockist you’ll never find – worked with them on their subsequent single ‘Let Forever Be’.  They knew that sampling is as much a part of rock history as the blues is, and Noel Gallagher knew this from being a Beatles fan, the band that made the song to which the Chemical Brothers owe a debt – “Tomorrow Never Knows”created  it using tape loops.

‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ opened things up for me, and where I’m still a boring old rockist for the most part, this track and many like it from outfits like Underworld, Orbital, Royksopp, and others still have the ability to give my ear something to chew on while I’m shaking my butt embarrassingly around the room.

For more about the Chemical Brothers, check out the Chemical Brothers Website.


Isley Brothers Perform “It’s Your Thing”

Here’s a clip of soul-funk emperors The Isley Brothers with their 1969 hit “It’s Your Thing”, surely one of the sweatiest, funkiest floor fillers in the history of sound.

The Isley Brothers are more than just a band, they're more like a family business, with several line-ups of the band made up of at least two sets of brothers and other family members. The group scored hits in every decade from the 1950s to this current decade, covering material ranging from doo-wop, to soul, to funk, to disco, to modern R&B. They've gone from being a quartet, to a trio, to a sextet, and are currently a duo, changing with the times and keeping the band's legacy going strong. At one time, they employed a young guitarist named James Marshall Hendrix (Jimi to his friends) to back them up. And they successfully sued Michael Bolton for plagiarism, which is a nice bonus.

I just love this tune, full of joie de vive and almost supernaturally funky.  I love the flowing rhythm guitar lines, and the sexy horn shots.  This is of course not to mention the bassline, a writhing, seething thing that defies you not to shake your hips.   The song is used to great effect in Stephen Soderburgh’s heist picture Out of Sight, starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, which also included their song “Fight the Power” in the soundtrack.

The band began in the 50s, starting out strictly as a gospel group before starting on a pop career.  Their biggest hit from their early period is probably “Twist & Shout”, a tune which was arguably supplanted by the Beatles’ 1963 version of the song on their debut album.  Yet, the Isleys had more tricks up their glittery sleeves, with another song called “Shout“, which is heard at  wedding receptions across the nation and yet never gets stale.  By 1969, the line-up of the band had changed, when younger siblings came into the fold, a period known as the “3+3” period.  And the landscape of soul music had changed by then too.  Luckily the infusion of new blood into the band would allow the Isleys to easily make the transition from early gospel-based pop, to a sound with a funkier edge.

The group had a string of hits in the 70s, particularly with their take on Seals & Crofts “Summer Breeze” being a massive hit in the UK, where they’d built a solid following.  Their 1985 hit “Caravan of Love” was covered by British group The Housemartins, featuring one Norman Cook (AKA Fat Boy Slim), and future Beautiful South frontman Paul Heaton.

And because of their vocal and instrumental prowess (Ernie Isley in particular is one of the world’s most underrated guitarists), they are a popular choice for sampling, up there with the JBs and Parliament-Funkadelic.  Public Enemy, Notorius B.I.G, and Snoop Dogg are among the hip-hop artists who have sampled the Isley’s work.

Check out the Isley Brothers MySpace page for more music and info.


William Bell Sings “I Forgot to Be Your Lover”

Here’s a clip of under-exposed soul man William Bell with his 1968 single “I Forgot To Be Your Lover”,which can be found on the recent Stax compilation album The Very Best of William Bell.

William Bell was born William Yarborough in 1939, initially serving time as a backing vocalist for other artists including Rufus Thomas.  He joined Stax as a staff writer, before recording his signature hit “You Don’t Miss Your Water” in 1961.
William Bell was born William Yarborough in 1939, initially serving time as a backing vocalist for other artists including Rufus Thomas. He joined Stax as a staff writer, before recording his signature hit “You Don’t Miss Your Water” in 1961, a version of which appears on his 1967 debut album, Soul of a Bell.

This tune packs a punch; a song of regret as expressed by a man who finds himself the victim of his own mistaken priorities.  His work has taken him away from focusing on the one he loves.  Will she forgive him, or is it too late?  In this song, we don’t get to find out.  We only hear the anguish of a man who knows he’s messed up, and that he has come to this realization, perhaps, too late.

This is a love song with a big helping of desperation, which really hits me whenever I hear it.  I’ve had my own troubles with losing sight of love, and what is important.  In this, I kind of find this tune reassuring; that I’m not the only one.

William Bell never gained the stature of an Otis Redding, or a Wilson Pickett. Yet the foundations of a great soul singer are evident in his passionate vocals that bring out the best in his material, putting the song first before any self-indulgent acrobatics by which so many soul singers are often known.

His work while with the Stax label helped to define the sound of southern soul music, and the sounds associated with Stax in particular.  His first album Soul of a Bell remains to be an undiscovered gem by many soul fans.

Bell was a songwriter previous to his role as a performer. His first hit was 1961’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, the self-penned song which remains to be the one for which he is best known.  He is also responsible for co-penning Albert King’s hit for Stax, “Born Under a Bad Sign” with Booker T. Jones, a song  which Bell himself recorded. The song is now considered to be a blues standard.

The tune was also covered by Cream in 1968 on the Wheels of Fire LP, proving that his material was open to interpretation as well as cross-over appeal.  Indeed, “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” was sampled by the hip-hop artist The Alchemist, featured in the track “Worst Comes to Worst” by Dialated Peoples.

William Bell continues to be a steady performer today, gaining a W.C Handy Heritage award in 2003, and having put out his most recent album in 2006, A New Lease on Life.