397. Smokey Robinson’s ‘Warm Thoughts’

1. Sometimes you buy a record because it is the “best” by an artist. Sometimes you buy a record because it has your favorite song by an artist. And sometimes you buy a record because the cover is unbelievably awesome, something you can’t believe exists. That is the case with this one. I’m trying to buy a record by every artist mentioned on “Slow Jamz” and needed a Smokey album, and I saw this and decided he’s my new style icon. Catch me at the club next November wearing this outfit.

2. Best piece of trivia about this album? It features a song co-written by David Soul, better known as Hutch from Starsky & Hutch.

3. “Let Me Be The Clock” was actually a hit song, but it feels like a lost classic. It’s such a perfect soul song. It’s inspiring that Smokey could basically be on the classic rock end of his career and crush something as effective as this. Shouts to Smokey Robinson:

396. Shabba Ranks’ ‘X-Tra Naked’

1.

2. Of all of the #musictwitter debates that drive me absolutely fucking insane, the biggest one is where people #wellactually you about liking artists with questionable personal ethics/decisions. Mostly because I think this outrage is 85% manufactured, but also I think when you become an adult you realize that art and the artist are separate. Chris Brown beat Rihanna, but he also makes insanely catchy, and sometimes even “good” music. R Kelly is very likely a sexual deviant, but “Trapped in the Closet” is a classic. These things are not mutually exclusive, even if the Steve Hydens of the world would like you to believe that they are. It is not like R. Kelly sings about having sex with underage girls, or Chris Brown about proper punching form.

And not to mention that the selection of artists it is OK to have “hangups” about is hypocritical and probably vaguely racist. John Lennon hit women and cheated on his wives consistently, and no one ever says that’s a reason to not listen to Revolver. Jimmie Page carried on a relationship with an underage groupie for years, and no one has used that as a reason that his solo on “When the Levee Breaks” “sucks.”

If you spend anytime considering any art of any kind, you need to separate the art from the artist. Which is something that comes into liking the music of Shabba Ranks, because dude spends time on wax and at live concerts denouncing homosexuality. In fact, those views probably cost him his semi-ascendant fame in the ‘90s. But still, even though I find his personal views about homosexuality abhorrent, I am able to listen to this without wilting like a flower over him maybe not being a very good guy.   

3. 

4. I’ve talked a couple times on here about how I don’t listen to reggae—as a matter of practice, basically—and I’m realizing that dancehall might be the only Jamaican music I actually LOVE instead of just appreciate. X-Tra Naked is better than any Marley record to me, it’s better than any reggaeton record, it’s better than Peter Tosh. I think a lot of it has to do with Shabba being the personification of swag, of his confidence, and basically everything that Fergenstein raps about on the chorus to “Shabba.” He has basically no fucks to give on record, so much so that you could tell me he’s rapping a dictionary or giving directions to a McDonald’s in Kingston and I’d believe you.

 Listening to this made me realize that Shaggy was basically the worst possible version of Shabba.

 5. There are artists who yell their own name on record, and then there is Shabba Ranks. He’s the G.O.A.T. He uses it as a verb, a noun, and as an exultation. He’s the best. 

395. Beastie Boys’ ‘Licensed to Ill’

1. It starts, as I suppose all these things do, with someone’s older brother. It is sometime in 1991-1992, and I am in kindergarten at Washington Elementary in Oshkosh. Back then, kindergarten was only a half day, and I went in the morning because my parents could then send me to a daycare in the afternoon. This daycare was in the basement of a church, and there were maybe 6 other kids my age; most of the daycare was taken up by 3-year-olds like my sister.

I don’t remember a whole lot about this daycare except for two things: 1. The time I pooped my pants and I tried to hide that fact by throwing my underwear in a locker, which of course was the locker actually assigned to me, so everyone knew it was me because the whole locker area smelt like shit and they found shit-filled Ninja Turtles underwear in my locker 2. the fact that for the kindergartners, the area where we hung out—this elevated room in the basement that was segregated off from the rest of the kids—had a boombox that we basically controlled. Most of our time was spent goofing off and wrestling and picking on the one girl in the room—it was 5 boys, 1 girl—but we also spent a lot of time fiddling around with that boombox. We listened to the radio mostly, but every once in a while, we’d play tapes that someone brought from home. Kyra, the girl, used to play New Kids on the Block, and then we used to have to BE New Kids on the Block for Kyra’s enjoyment (I suppose this what a PUA would call “building worth”).

But the tape I remember listening to the most was the tape of Licensed to Ill that Zach’s older brother gave to him. We played that shit over and over again, and “by that shit” I mean the three song stretch of “Girls,” “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” I remember headbanging to “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and slam dancing and basically being 6-year-old punks. I remember trying to get every word of “Girls” right, and I remember when the tape got taken away because our teacher—who spent most of her time sitting outside the room reading magazines and checking on us every half hour—finally heard that we were singing songs about wanting to have drunken parties while inside of a church.

I was supposed to tell my parents I was sorry for listening to that music—our teacher was trying to teach us “responsibility”—but I never did. I didn’t feel bad for liking the Beastie Boys.

2. 

3 . I know the Beastie Boys eventually began to hate this album—they never made anything close to it again, and felt bad about the subject matter—but as a kid who was born 7 months and 9 days before it came out, it’s one of the few albums that has been a constant my entire life. It’s in that ThrillerPurple Rain, seminal albums of the ’80s territory. I think a song from License has been played at every dance/wedding/church service I’ve been to my whole life. I played air guitar to “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” at my first dance in sixth grade, and then two weeks ago at a bar. I have no doubt that I will try to slam dance with another 80-year-old in the nursing home when “Fight For Your Right” comes on.

4. When I was in middle school, we had this school-wide project in English class, where for a quarter of the year, every English class wrote, filmed, and produced its own 10-minute movie, and then we had a film festival every year. It was a pretty cool thing to be involved in; it was basically the only thing everyone in school always looked forward to academically.

In sixth grade, the love story (there were sub groups in every class writing a script based on different genres) me and a group of girls wrote became the movie our class made, and I was a character actor in it—I played the fat weirdo in 3 separate scenes. In seventh grade, the science fiction script me and the two “hottest” guys in class wrote got selected and filmed, despite not having a third act…or a first or second one. But then in eighth grade, I was selected as director of our class film, a script about a kid who was dating two different girls at once, and then they conspire to sabotage a skateboarding contest he was in.

As part of being the “director” I was the principal editor, along with this girl Katie, who I had taken to a couple dances in 7th grade before it became clear that we liked each other mostly because we liked to argue angrily with each other in classes and at lunch.

So here’s where I’m going: as part of editing this movie, we had to pick music for scenes, and Katie and I had a very angry fight in the school library—where the editing computers were—over my insistence we use “Girls” as the soundtrack for a scene where the main character goes between dates at a restaurant. I don’t remember all of what I said, but I know she kept saying that that song was “misogynistic” and I was mostly mad that I didn’t know what that even meant because I was 14 and stupid.

I guess I remember this because it taught me that there are different ways to interpret songs, and that maybe I need to be aware of how other people will react to songs that I think are great. I also remember this because this would basically be the beginning of my exposure to the never-ending—which it shouldn’t end—misogyny and hip-hop battle.

Either way, the song was in the movie. I won.

5. 

6. The major thing I get from listening to this album in 2014 is how audacious the sample swipes are here; I mean Led Zeppelin, the Clash, Black Sabbath samples are on here, which would cost something like 12 billion dollars today.

But that’s maybe the most genius thing about the album. It was made to sell a generation of Middle Americans on hip-hop as an art form, and functionally, the album is a rock album with spoken vocals. There are more guitars on this than the newest Van Halen album.

I know it’s messed up that a white group helped prime a large population for rap music, but at the same time, I don’t think N.W.A. would have made as much of an impact in Wisconsin—my cousin Troy had their first album, and he lived in Wausau—if a generation of kids hadn’t listened to “Fight For Your Right” at every turn up function. We had no frame of reference for rap at all—and I don’t mean this in the Macklemore way of people who don’t listen to rap liking him, I mean that the Beastie Boys were the only rap group on pop radio in Wisconsin in the ’80s (my dad confirmed this)— until the Beasties. For that, they’ll always be Important.  

7. 

394. ‘The Muppet Movie Soundtrack’ (Written By Justin “Bauce Sauce” Roberson)

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If you spend anytime on social medias of any type—which I suppose you have to if you are here right now—you know of Justin “Bauce Sauce” Roberson. I’m not speaking hyperbolically when I say Bauce makes Twitter a web site worth visiting; he’s one of the funniest, sweetest, nicest dudes on all of the Internet. He’s written for a bunch of places—Noisey (his thing about Little Richard makes me laugh once a week), Mostly Junk Food (this thing on Future is still the most “this is what it was like” concert review I’ve read), Complex, and other places I can’t find links to right now.

When I asked Bauce to write about an album, I was delighted when he picked the Muppet Movie Soundtrack. It’s quietly a devastating album; it’s about…well, let me let Bauce tell you:

I unabashedly adore The Muppets.

I’ve never written Muppet fan-fic or proposed a Muppet-inspired roleplay session with my wife… but I love them. I love the concept of them. I love every eclectic character (especially Rizzo and especially not Sam the Eagle). I love the baby versions of them. I love Jim Henson, and most of all I love what he/they represent.

I have listened to less than 10 vinyls in my life, two of which were Jay-Z’s “Money Ain’t a Thang” and Destiny Child’s “Say My Name.” I listened to them because I bought them as the first two vinyls to jumpstart my short lived DJ hobby in 8th grade…Wow…That felt good to get off my chest. The remaining ones were the loose vinyls I found in the garage; those represented 1/1000th of my dad’s music collection packed away in storage. One of those seven was The Muppet Movie Soundtrack.

It’s almost serendipitous that Andrew emailed me with a list of albums to possibly cover for this project, and The Muppet Movie was in that list of less than 10.

I’d sit in our basement with these gigantic can headphones plugged into my dad’s antiquated analog audio system and listen to this thing over and over. I was fascinated with not only the music and lyrics, but how the people doing the voices for these Muppets could sing while maintaining those voices. I still don’t know how people do this.

The entire album is peppered with gems, and as I listen to it every couple of years in a new life segment I mine more of them:

1. How the “Never Before, Never Again Instrumental” will put you all in your drunken feelings at 3 am. Those fucking flutes, man. They get me every time.

2. Rowlf and Kermit’s conversation at the 1:10 mark of “I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along” is gospel:

Rowlf: “Stay away from women. That’s my motto.”
Kermit: “But I can’t.”
Rowlf: “Neither can I. That’s my trouble.”

3. Weirdly prophetic that all of our “grown-up” lives mirror Rowlf’s “I live alone…I finish work. I go home. Read a book. Have a couple of beers. Take myself for a walk, and go to bed.”

4. I would pay $60 for a ticket to see The Electric Mayhem in concert covering contemporary rap songs.

5. Gonzo’s absolutely gorgeous performance on the mysterious “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday.” Those lyrics are absolute poetry. My favorite being “There’s not a word yet / For old friends who’ve just met.” (BTW, it’s now called “Twitter.”)

6. “Finale: The Magic Store”: “Life’s like a movie. Write your own ending. Keep believing. Keep pretending we’ve done exactly what we set out to do.”

There is so much to love about this album, and we haven’t even mentioned “Rainbow Connection.” We. Haven’t. Even. Mentioned. Rainbow. Connection.

Whether by natural design or forced acquiescence, we all eventually grow up. ‘Tis a shame really. The fundamental disconnect that exists between our ideals and the real world —our dreams and reality— increases with every second. Sometimes we submit to life’s Crippler Crossface and simply give up on our dreams, which is perhaps the saddest eventuality life has in store for us. If we’re lucky, we’ll still get to dabble in our dreams all too infrequently as a hobby.

What’s so beautiful about “Rainbow Connection,” and more broadly The Muppets and Jim Henson, is this overarching theme of “Keep Reaching.” Kermit got heckled by Statler and Waldorf DAILY. Did he give up? No. Miss Piggy got curved by Kermit DAILY. Did she give up? No. Beaker fucked up experiments DAILY. Did he give up? Nope. It’s about perseverance in spite of the bullshit. Can you remember back to a time your weren’t jaded by the world you occupy, or constantly thinking about decorum or how to act or feel or what was appropriate to say in a given situation?… Sheesh, that was taxing just writing. We grow, and at a certain point, our journey can no longer be fueled by abstract ideas alone. What we do in response to that is what defines us. To completely give up hope or not?

“It’s something that I’m supposed to be.” - Kermit The Frog

So simple: “It’s something that I’m supposed to be.” Supposed to be. Your dreams are not a guarantee, but it’s yours if you want it badly enough.

I am perpetually sad, and at odds with my duties as an “adult.” To an extent, I think we all are. It’s scary pursuing a perhaps pipe dream. It’s easier to fall in line and accept a career that pays decent, and isn’t unbearable. But is it better for your spirit?

We need rain for rainbows, my lords.

Don’t let the pitch black night stop you from being a starchaser.

PS: The flame is okey-dokey.

You should follow Bauce Sauce on Twitter. And on Tumblr

393. Paul Williams’ ‘Just An Old Fashioned Love Song’

“Guess I hoped to find a future in my past”

I know that the “Taylor Swift is shocked she didn’t win album of the year” gif was the most bloggable moment from the Grammys last month, but I really think there wasn’t a better moment than tiny Paul Williams standing with Pharrell and Daft Punk when they won album of the year. Williams was touring casinos around the world till this year, till Daft Punk tapped him to sing on “Touch,” which every Random Access Memories fan can tell you, is the emotional centerpiece of the album.

My favorite thing about Random Access Memories is that instead of just trying to make an album that sounds like the big, emotional albums they liked from the ‘70s, Daft Punk went out and hired Nile Rodgers and dudes who played on Thriller, and wrote a Paul Williams song with Paul Williams. Daft Punk became more human in 2013, because they showed they have has dorky musical heroes as the rest of us.

“I think you’ve charmed me, I always hoped that someone would”

One of the things that interests me about music culture is how quickly something can go from being at the center of the culture for a few years, and then suddenly become impossibly “corny.” Like, it makes me cringe to listen to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah right now, because those dudes are corny, but back in 2006, they seemed fucking incredible. And they weren’t even famous.

Paul Williams was huge in the ‘70s; he wrote “Just And Old Fashioned Love Song” he wrote “Rainbow Connection” and he wrote “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and while I am sure there were New York hipsters who wrote thinkpieces about how Paul Williams was “saccharine” or whatever, the guy had huge hit songs and he could write stuff that could be huge hits. But by like 1978, and basically since, you play his stuff at a party or wherever, and people are going to go “Oh that’s so corny” and only like it ironically, which is fucked up and weird to me.

But maybe it’s not fucked up; pop culture is an inexorable grind, and eventually you become the corny one. 

“I’ll take my memories to bed, and know that I’ll be waking up alone”

A few years ago, I was covering the Wisconsin Film Festival for the A.V. Club Madison (R.I.P) when I was assigned to see Paul Williams: Still Alive, a documentary with the somewhat fucked up conceit of the filmmaker (who was in attendance) trying to find out if Paul Williams was in fact still alive. He was; he wasn’t the inexcplicably famous dude he was in the mid-‘70s—one of the funniest parts of the movie is the part that chronicles the myriad of places Paul turned up in the ‘70s, including The Love Boat—but he had found some kind of solace and happiness in his life by performing one-off shows in Winnipeg and the Philippines. He was also harshly self-critical; he mocks the fact that he took every paying job available to him, and he mocks the very idea of the documentary itself. It’s maybe the best portrait of an artist documentary I’ve ever seen.

After seeing the movie and filing my review, I downloaded Just an Old Fashioned Love Song, because I was knocked out by the music that was played in the documentary, and I wanted to see if it could hit me hard without the added context of watching Williams talk about his alcoholism. It did. For about a week, it was all I could do to not fall into a k-hole of depression, because it felt like of any songwriter of the ‘70s (or ‘80s or ‘90s) Williams hit me in the gut. This was a dude who understood what it was like to be a romantic weirdo without many love prospects, this was a dude who had cried his fair share of semi-crocodile tears over a woman into a beer. That this period dovetailed with the implosion of a mostly one-sided relationship I was carrying on with a woman who couldn’t decide if she liked me is both appropriate and predictable. 

 “So you must know that I was lonely”

The thing that is most unbelievable to me about Paul Williams’ ‘70s fame is how outwardly sad he clearly was the whole time, and that no one paused to consider dude was not probably chipper and ready to play nice on the Match Game or whatever. His songs are the original #sadboy anthems; he might as well be the patron saint for dudes with feelings who live inside of their heads. But he was also hilarious in stuff, so I think in that way I relate to him; he’s able to be witty and funny even though he’s clearly bummed the fuck out. 

I guess I’m saying I started listening to Paul Williams because of a movie, and then I listened to it and it knocked me out in a way I am repetitively trying to express here. I just listened to it while I was washing dishes, and I found myself just standing in my kitchen zoning out. Part of it is thinking about how all my friends are gone this weekend and I’m staring down a 4-day weekend spent alone with my records. Like basically every other weekend of my life, I guess. I need to go get some beer.   

392. Muddy Waters’ ‘After The Rain’

Sometimes you end up buying blues records that are actually cash-in psych rock retreads of blues songs by a great bluesman that make you feel like you got conned and robbed of $17, and sometimes you buy another one of those records, and it turns out that the dude’s playing was kind of distorted and experimental in the first place, so the psych rock re-workings don’t feel so sad and cynical and it is actually the second record the bluesman made like that, so they didn’t need to completely bend to weak ass psychedelia, and you don’t feel so bad buying this instead of a greatest hits comp.  

390. Luther Vandross’ ‘The Night I Fell In Love’

“I think it was because he was so unique. There’s never been anyone like him, before or since. It was the emotions. The romance. He wasn’t like that guy with the deep voice who just kind of moaned. Who was that? Yeah, Barry White. Luther was great on the slow stuff, but he was also great on the uptempo stuff. He was just so great. Luuuuuthar. I loved him.”

That was my mom, 20 minutes ago, when I asked her about why she loved Luther Vandross. I ostensibly bought this record because Luther is mentioned on “Slow Jamz” but I also bought this to have a conversation with my mom about Luther Vandross, because as a kid, I think I was the only kindergartner in Oshkosh, WI, who could sing along to Luther Vandross when it came on in the day care van. And I owe that all to my mom, who had an eclectic music taste—and still does—that included Taylor Dayne, Wilson Phillips, Andy Kim, Lyle Lovett and Luther Vandross.

 I guess I’m saying shout out to my mom. 

389. Sporty Thievz’ “No Pigeons”

I don’t know how popular this song was in the rest of America, but I know that for close to six years, I had to argue with people in Oshkosh that this song actually existed, that a rap group recorded an answer song to “No Scrubs” and it was really dumb. No one believed me forever, and I’m not even sure I remember how I heard the song in the first place; I suspect I saw it on a MTV News segment.

Listening to this in 2014 raises a lot of questions:

  1. Why answer an R&B song?
  2. What is the over/under on thinkpieces that would be written against Sporty Thievz if this came out in 2014?
  3. Same question but thinkpieces FOR Sporty Thievz
  4. Has anyone, before or after this song, even called a woman a pigeon?
  5. Imagine how popular TLC were in 1999. They could support a rap group who released an answer song to their last major hit.