Category: Tape Monitor

The sun is up, the sky is blue

Beatles white album esher demosAt The Atlantic, journalist James Parker writes about The Beatles’ self-titled ninth studio album (the one we call The White Album). This November marks the 50th anniversary of the record that took five bitter months to make, the same one that saw an exit from legendary studio engineer Geoff Emerick (who’d been on board since Revolver‘s first session, for “Tomorrow Never Knows”) as well as Ringo Starr’s week-long departure midway through.

Kept hanging on

At Avidly, Spencer Everett writes about Diana Ross & The Supremes and the weight of a late 1969-era performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The group’s official last show would occur less than a month later in Las Vegas, but Everett sees this televised performance as the final act. Alarmingly, they ran through a “medley” of hits on the show that night:

Reducing these songs to their most elemental signatures not only saves (prime) time, and not only stuns us with the concentrated formula derived from what had tenderized us months and years before— the medley is also honest for its sheer economy, because it distills what works and disregards the rest. This central tenement of pop music was realized only sporadically in the previous decade, and Berry Gordy had the vision to pursue it from 1959 because he would not tolerate—as he could not afford—to release anything less than the hits we would live by. And if tonight is December 21st, 1969, as it remained throughout my 90s childhood, then that was ten years ago— both a blink of an eye and infinity away. In a certain narrow sense, then, this main-lined medley is something like the apex of Motown’s formal achievement.

Read Everett’s whole piece at Avidly.

For no real reason other than to recommend them, I think these are the last five Motown releases or Motown-related LPs we’ve played at home:
David Ruffin, My Whole World Ended (Motown, 1969)
Freda Payne, Band of Gold (Invictus, 1970)
Dennis Coffey, Evolution (Sussex, 1971)
The Temptations, Psychedelic Shack (Gordy, 1970)
Marvin Gaye, I Want You (Tamla, 1976)

Well-guarded spreadsheets

At Pitchfork, there are some great behind-the-scene nuggets in hip hop scholar Jeff Chang’s revisiting of the classic debut album from De La Soul, particularly the notes he gets in on the LP’s infamously sample-heavy textures, which were conceived by the group and legendary crate-digging producer Prince Paul.

With abstract lyrics as well as loops pilfered from psych or jazz albums woven together on a Casio drum machine/sampler and a budget of $13,000, the Long Island trio’s 3 Feet High and Rising was issued on Tommy Boy in 1989. Chang notes that the Beastie Boys, in working on their similarly audacious sample-driven Paul’s Boutique, heard 3 Feet and nearly started over (1988-1989 saw still-sonically riveting LPs and singles from Public Enemy, N.W.A., Third Bass, Eric B. & Rakim, and more). Here’s Chang:

3 Feet High and Rising emerged fully formed, offering a world as richly imagined as anything American pop has ever produced. Just as hip-hop was firmly establishing itself as the most avant of pop’s garde, the best of their peers—from smooth operator Big Daddy Kane to Blastmaster KRS-One to Living Colour’s Vernon Reid—showed up at their release party to salute their achievement. Even KRS, who had just dropped what would come to be recognized as one of the best albums in hip-hop history, said it couldn’t compare what De La Soul had just made. While huddled in Los Angeles to finish their own sample-heavy Paul’s Boutique, the Beastie Boys reportedly listened to 3 Feet High, despaired, and briefly considered starting all over again.

What they all heard in it was an unprecedented assemblage of sound. Four years before, Marley Marl had accidentally unlocked the power of the sampler—a technology that allowed time to be captured and manipulated. The sampler vaulted hip-hop out of its inferiority complex. Now it too could meet the sonic ambitions of rock, funk, jazz, and soul. Like their peers, Prince Paul and De La Soul set about using it to build a world.

Read Jeff Chang’s review at Pitchfork. Also worth a look: Writer and friend Judy Berman explored PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me for the site’s “Sunday Reviews,” too.