Friday, 4 May 2012

Beastie Boys - "Check Your Head"

This was the album that cemented their place in all of our hearts. It's the sound of them growing up, finding themselves musically, and laying down the future direction for what they would do. It's the most live, organic-sounding album they did, and although they went back to more sample and loop-oriented tracks, it seems to me that this album enabled them to break free and listen to the music inside themselves.

And that, no doubt in common with millions of others, is what this album did to me too. It reminds me of a time in my life when "in my sleep I'll be thinkin' 'bout beats and gettin' on the mic and bustin' some treats". Yes, I was a slavish imitator of their white-boy rap styling, and as Superwack (I know, what was I thinking?), we were a bit of a low-budget copy, but damn, we rocked, hard, and didn't give a damn. Wearing an absurd oversize Carhartt work cap, 48" waist jeans and worn-out Vans. Carrying a spiral bound notebook and Bic Crystal pen for when inspiration struck - you can't properly write dope rhymes with anything but a Bic Crystal.

Essentially, this is the soundtrack to that part of my life when, in my mid-twenties, I was lucky enough to be able to do whatever I wanted, to please myself, to be idle and creative all at the same time. To me, this record is the soundtrack of an intelligent mind being taken off the hook and allowed to run riot. It's a reminder that nothing is an end in itself, and that everything is but one small point on a long journey. This record sounded like freedom then, and it still sounds like freedom now.

RIP Adam Yauch.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Oasis - 'Definitely Maybe'

It's odd, but sometimes music can evoke the strangest memories.

Everything that this record brings back has nothing to do with Oasis, and everything to do with me. Being a student, living in a shared house in Leeds, playing this record after excitedly buying it, and wondering if it was just me, or whether it really did sound like Status Quo with a bit more attitude. Would it be the second record I'd taken back on the basis of simply not being good enough (the first one was the debut Lionrock album, which I took back and theatrically demanded a refund for 'for just being shit').

I remember playing the whole album through, and then going back and trying to find the good bits, desperately dropping the needle on the record increasingly randomly, then just giving up.

Oasis have written some great songs, but have also released some crappy albums.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Sugarhill Gang - 'Rappers Delight'

There's no doubt that this record is an icon, but it's also a great example of how the line between iconic and ubiquitous is perilously thin.

Of you've only ever been a consumer of music, that's to say you've never made music or played records for money regularly, it's hard to convey the idea that even greatness can pall with repetition. There's no getting away from the fact that this record is 15 minutes of history in the making. The problem is, it's also the record that, if you're a DJ, you stick on when you need to go for a piss and keep people dancing at the same time. This record is both so ace and so long that you can start it playing, go for a piss, get a beer, return to the decks and still have plenty of time for a bit of wiki-wiki before dropping the next record, which if your playing the odds will either be Deelite's 'Groove is in the Heart' or Mantronix 'King of the Beats'.

One other personal horror I attach to this track is having experienced a karaoke version of it on a mate's stag do. I'm uneasy with karaoke at the best of times, but seeing a bunch of mates hammer this out, pissed, took the shine off it in the same way that a sheet of sandpaper takes the shine off, well, almost anything. Of course, my note-perfect rendition of Johnny Cash's 'Ring of Fire' earlier on that evening merely served to underline that a karaoke version of 'Rappers Delight' is, as the French foreign secretary said when asked what he thought of Eurodisney, 'a cultural Chernobyl'.

Mixed emotions, I guess.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Run DMC - 'Christmas in Hollis'

What a record. No, not the cheeseball title track, although that does have a certain swagger that demonstrates Rick Rubin's ability not only to polish a turd, but also have it mounted and displayed in a gallery and have people coo at it like the Damian Hirst of hip hop.

And not the track that follows it either, although 'Walk This Way' is a track that still hasn't lost it's visceral thrill despite repeated listens. If ever I'm lying unconscious, don't take my pulse or hold a mirror over my mouth. Just put on 'Walk This Way', and if I fail to purse my lips and do the angry pigeon head-nod, then finally I have found peace.

No, the star of the show here is of course 'Peter Piper', a track so simultaneously raw and full of life that every time you play it, you run the risk of B-boy zombies besieging your crib, screaming 'BEATS! BEATS!'

What does it remind me of? So many things. My first job. My first DJ set. The first time I managed to drop the opening acappella lines over another record (clue - the word 'piper' falls on the second beat of the bar). But most vividly, I played this at Dust in Leeds the week that Jam Master Jay was murdered. As I dropped the opening rhymes, someone walked up, choked up with emotion and cheap beer and reached out to shake my hand. As he did so, his sleeve caught the head of the stylus and zzzzzzzzzipped it of the record. Everyone turned and looked, and I screamed 'Jam Master Jay was killed this week, show some love people', dropped the needle back onto the record, and everyone went mental.

This record totally kicks ass.