Ohio Players – “Honey” (1975)

ohioplayershoneyHoney is widely regarded as the best album by the Ohio Players, and it certainly had the chart success to back up that assertion.  The album itself made it to #2 on the Billboard 200 and the Players got a #1 single with “Love Rollercoaster”.  “Sweet Sticky Thing” also cracked the Top 40 in 1975, landing at #33, and that same year Honey was awarded a Grammy for Best Album Cover Art (the model is Playboy‘s Playmate of the Month for October 1974, Ester Cordet… and if you think the cover is risqué you should see what’s inside the gatefold).  All of that would be reason enough for me to have picked up Honey this weekend.  But none of those reasons have anything whatsoever to do with my decision.  No.  I bought it for something that happened a year later, in 1976, specifically the third single from the album peaking at #30.  Because, you see, that single has a tie to Seattle.  A dozen years after it first charted it would be covered by a then obscure band that was part of a blossoming musical scene that would shortly explode out of the Pacific Northwest like a drop-D-tuned comet.  The band was Soundgarden.  The Ohio Players song was “Fopp”, and the band recorded two versions of it, including a dub mix, on their 1988 four-song 12″ also called Fopp.

I bought Fopp on vinyl right when it came out and played the hell out of it, especially the two versions of the title track on the A side.  At that time in my life I wasn’t buying 12″ singles, had no concept of a remix, and had yet to hear of Adrian Sherwood, so I had no idea what to make of “Fopp (Fucked Up Heavy Dub Mix)”.  “Fucked up” I understood, as well as “heavy”.  But “dub” meant nothing to me.  All I knew was that the way the original track was manipulated, plus the inclusion of samples from Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, blew my teenage mind.

The original version of “Fopp” is some serious funk.  While Soundgarden rocked it up quite a bit, it’s still recognizable both for the underlying groove and the horns.  Even the vocals are familiar sounding, Chris Cornell using his trademark voice and screams to capture the pitch changes on the original (which appears to have multiple vocalists).  The other thing that works well is the speed – the Ohio Players keep things heavy in a funky way, methodically pacing the low end, which was right in Soundgarden’s wheelhouse. (♠)

There’s an urban myth that the song “Love Rollercoaster” captures the scream of a woman being murdered, and one version of the myth indicates that woman was the cover model Ester Cordet.  In later years the band has denied that a murder was involved, attributing the sound to one of their own band members Billy Beck.  Which is, of course, exactly what you’d expect them to say regardless of the facts.  That being said, you can barely hear the alleged scream, so I have no idea what the fuss is about even though I do love me a good urban myth.

Honey is a solid album even without the Soundgarden connection, definitely worth a listen on its own merits.

(♠)  Holly completely disagrees with me on this.  Completely.  Don’t worry though, we’re still together.  

Stevie Wonder – “Innervisions” (1973)

There are things I take for granted as a rapidly-approaching-fifty-year-old person.  The relative convenience of air travel.  Modern medicine.  Grocery stores full of food.  The bullshit that is the two-party political system.  And, of course, recorded music.

innervisions

Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions came out a couple of years after I was born, and the album itself is now 46 years old.  And here I am listening to it on a vinyl disc that’s almost half a century old while enjoying some coffee on a Saturday morning.   However, if I was my current age in 1973… would I be listening to a 46 year old recording for enjoyment?  Said recording would have to date from 1927 and would have been on a shellac disc or a cylinder, so I guess it’s possible, though I likely would have needed a vintage machine to play it, unlike my ability to use my modern Rega to spin some old school Stevie.  And would middle-aged 1973 me actually even want to listen to that music from 1927?  Maybe.  I don’t know.  But chances are I wouldn’t have been born into and grown up in a household in which music was readily available on records, 8-tracks, cassettes, and dozens of radio stations.  I suppose as I get older I’m simply more likely to notice how things change, but also how they stay the same, all the while recognizing that just because an experience has been ubiquitous in my lifetime doesn’t mean it was for people just a couple of generations older than me.  People who are still alive.  To paraphrase the incomparable Lemmy from Motörhead, “I remember a time when there was no rock ‘n’ roll, when there was only your parents’ Rosemary Clooney records.”

So what about Innervisions?  Well, the more recent Rolling Stone lists rank it as one of the Top 25 albums of all time.  Think whatever you like about Rolling Stone, but that’s still some high praise.  And it won the Album of the Year Grammy, which despite some historically questionable choices (Toto IV in 1983) isn’t an accident.

Wonder’s signature ARP synth certainly makes it feel dated today, but his voice and passion, not to mention those sweet grooves, will still hold you.  His original version of “Higher Ground” is every bit as funky as the better known (to my generation) cover by Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Lyrically it’s incredibly deep, covering a range of issues like drug abuse and racism while somehow being both cautionary and optimistic at the same time.  And those Latin vibes on “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”?  C’mon.  If that doesn’t make you dream of dancing outside with that special someone you might be dead.  And it goes pretty great with a cup of coffee on a quiet Saturday morning too.

Wild Cherry – “Electrified Funk” (1977)

wildcherryelectrifiedfunk.jpggTake blues, funk, and disco, cram them into the blender with some Jack Daniels and a dash of cocaine, and you get Electrified Funk.  Wild Cherry are generally regarded as one-hit-wonders, having released the mega-hit “Play That Funky Music” on their 1975 self-titled debut.  That song took Wild Cherry platinum and garnered two Grammy nominations as well as awards from Billboard and an American Music Award.  But after rocketing to stardom they found it difficult to replicate that success and by 1980 the band was no more.

It’s kind of odd, because there are some great jams on Electrified Funk, songs like “Dancin’ Music Band” and “Hole In The Wall” that seem like they should have become hits.  Sure it’s dated, but if this record doesn’t make yo want to put on some polyester and hit the dance floor then you might be dead.  It may not have the band’s big hit, but Electrified Funk is a good time just waiting for a needle drop, so if you find a clean copy cheap, pick it up.

Revenge of Calculon – “Electric Soup / Juicy Lucha” and “Sci-Funk / Lightning Bugs” 7″ Singles

It was one of those November Reykjavik nights that makes you want to crank up the heat, crawl into a fetal position, cover yourself with a comforter, and hide inside until morning.  Pitch dark outside, the temperature hovering around 40 degrees, the wind blowing like a pissed off banshee, and the rain… god the rain… drops the size of nickels coming at you from 45 degree angles and soaking your pants before you can even make sure the apartment door closed behind you.  It was the kind of night where you always tried to keep your back to the wind no matter what direction you were walking purely out of an instinct to at least keep your face dry.  Unfortunately the north Atlantic winds are shifty and no matter which way you turned, it was the wrong one.  But we were on a mission.  And while we arrived at our final destination Dillon four blocks later completely soaked, we were there in time to get a beer, go to the upstairs room, and see Revenge of Calculon.

Revenge of Calculon is hard to describe but I’ll give it a shot.  Take doses of Detroit techno and James Brown and Godzilla and Logan’s Run and cheap scotch and Thin Lizzy and ham radio frequencies and robots that can shoot laser beams out of their eyes and Sun Ra and Parliament Funkadelic, mix it all up in a blender, shock it a few times with a car battery, then serve it in a tumbler with a light coating of crystal meth on the rim.  Drink while wearing track suits and luchador masks.

Even the rain couldn’t stop Revenge of Calculon from extracting its pound of ear flesh from the audience.  You see, the roof at Dillon leaks a bit, anvil-sized drops of water falling seemingly at random, sometimes onto the floor, sometimes into your $10 beer, and once right smack-dab onto Sonic Abuser’s magical electro-board, shorting it out and stopping the sound with the suddenness of a stolen car hitting a brick wall.  But a quick un-plug-re-plug and they were back in business, picking up as if nothing at all had happened.  Fuck you, Reykjavik winter.  Revenge of Calculon has a show to do.

calculonlook

What Revenge of Calculon looks like

calculonfeel

What Revenge of Calculon FEELS like

I was excited to hear that the duo had a new 7″ coming out this year, then doubly so when I found out they’d be releasing a pair of singles at the same time.  So I reached out to Rob, a.k.a. Sonic Abuser (the other half of Revenge of Calculon is bassist JC9000) to get the low-down.

Revenge of Calculon is dropping a pair of brand new filthy 7” singles at the same time.  Why did you you guys decide to give us the double dose of funk at once?

We’re not into LPs or 12”s so when we realised we had too many tracks to fit on a 7” it was an obvious choice to make.  I kinda like the idea of bringing out a double (mainly because hardly anyone does it, so it makes us look cool), and it’s interesting to match up the two singles to compliment each other in style rather than just two stand alone 7”s.

For “Sci-Funk” we went down with the P-funk vibe of constant driving groove with a classic vocoder riff going on and this track pairs up nicely with “Juicy Lucha” which is on the B-side of the other 7”.  “Electric Soup” is slightly more stand alone because it’s our second collaboration with our hip-hop hippie rapper Motormouf. It’s probably the first time we’ve come anywhere near to what you’d call a ‘song’ rather than just pure funkatronics.  I seem to remember watching a lot of old cop shows and reading about the legend of ‘electric soup’ which was the nickname given to an illegal booze drank in Scotland in the early 1900s. “hey, that’s a grand idea for a song”.

What are the inspirations that drive Revenge of Calculon? I assume the go beyond musical…

Now your talking!  To be honest, me and bassist JC had just come out of another musical project and wanted to have a complete break from the whole ‘band’ thing, so I was just messing around with ideas for an imaginary band.  The visual concept and whole mythology behind the masked duo definitely came first, the music just morphed out of it.  Musical inspirations are whatever has been mashed up in the back of my brain over the years, some on a production level and others that are more visceral.  I guess if I had to throw down a bunch of influences it be Frank Zappa, Beatsie Boys, Sly and the Family Stone, Primus, Public Enemy along with more soundtrack-based stuff like Bebe & Louis Barron, Bob Crewe, Lalo Schifrin and Wendy Carlos.  Big fan of Delia Derbyshire who was a pioneer of electronic music working for the BBC Radiophonic workshop in the 1960s.

The video for “Electric Soup” is amazing. I believe you reached out to some of your friends and fans and asked them to send in video clips of nighttime driving in their cities, right? How was the response? What cities do we see in the background?

Yeah, we really got lucky with our mates on that one. We wanted to act like players for the shoot, so what could be better than driving a big assed white Cadillac around, right?  But lets face it, UK streets don’t quite make the grade for a 70’s copshow style video.  We didn’t want to go down the green screen CGI route because it had to look very obviously fake to give it that Starsky and Hutch/Kojak vibe.  So we went back to using traditional projectors live on set.

Our director checked out a load of stock footage from all the 70’s shows and it was gonna be either New York or San Francisco, but it turns out that 1970’s stock footage is insanely expensive to licence so we had to come up with another plan.  Hang on, we have a bunch of mates living in these towns and they have camera phones right?  So we reached out to a few people and in the end we got our mates Marssy and Lyman who live in San Francisco to do some drive-bys.  Would have loved to have been there to see Marssy hanging out of the door of a moving car trying to shoot footage of liquor stores and strip joints!

The two records have a similar overall style, but each have their own flavor. What differentiates the two in your mind?

I guess the obvious difference would be that “Electric Soup” features legendary rapper Motormouf laying down riffs about dealing illegal alcohol and “Sci-Funk” is more of a dance floor funk thing.  The “Sci-Funk” 7” is actually a double A-side with the track “Lightning Bugs” which is by a band called Honey In The Swamp. Turns out they’re actually just some weird old dude with a bunch of crappy guitars and drums who got bored of producing electro-funk.

What are you listening to and getting inspiration from right now? Who are some of the new artists you’re into?

There’s so much tasty music around at the moment, I reckon everything I listen to influences me in some way.  Really into BCUC’s LP Emakhosini at the moment, Icelandic duo Kiasmos are always a fave and I’ve been rediscovering King Tubby.

I picked up a couple of singles (and a luchador mask – true story) from the guys at that Dillon show, and later ordered the other two from their web store.  And man let me tell you, it is some filthy funky stuff.  So when my copies of “Sci-Funk” and “Electric Soup” arrived I wasted no time getting them onto the turntable.

“Sci-Funk” / “Lightning Bugs”

sci-funk

As Rob mentioned, this is a split release with Honey In the Swamp.  The Calculon track is called “Sci-Funk”, a jam that conjures up image of Battlestar Galactica cylons (not the new smooth ones; the old-school blocky monsters from the original series that looked metal pyramids on top of legs wearing rubber pants) dancing on Soul Train, all smooth low end and angular high end, their red-dot eyes kind of fuzzed out from drinking too much anti-freeze and staying awake for three days conquering the universe.  It’s groovy.  It’s sleazy.  It’s good for your soul and bad for your liver.  “Lightning Bugs” is more a lo-fi Americana experience, the guitar work and grooves and coffee-can-mic vocals still giving it a similar feel to “Sci-Funk” but coming at you from a completely different angle, one down on the bayou with dangerous crawling things all around.  Two disparate performers on one 7″, but they still fit together in a curious way – if you’d told me that “Lightning Bugs” was a Calculon track I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.  Pressed on blue vinyl.

“Electric Soup” / “Juicy Lucha”

electric-soup

“Electric Soup” is, quite frankly, the jam.  Let me clarify with capital letters.  The.  Jam.  It’s one of the best two or three new songs I’ve heard all year.  Calculon’s brand of electro-funk acts as the base for Motormouf’s rap, a song about consuming and being consumed by the concoction known as electric soup (…mixing milk with cheap speed…), which sounds like it will both keep you up for a week straight and likely result in you waking up in a basement with no pants on, wearing a luchador mask, and surrounded by the remnants of burned candles and chicken blood.  And the video?  The video!  Check it out below and prepare to play it about a half dozen times straight as you get your funk on (and check out JC9000’s smooth moves!). The B side, “Juicy Lucha”, is like the soundtrack to a 70s blaxploitation film about a cop with a hard edge who protects his old neighborhood, all strutting polyester funk with a hint of danger, the synths putting a bounce in his step as his eagle-eyes scope out the streets like a predator.  Pressed on orange vinyl.

You can find these gems, as well as Revenge of Calculon’s other four 7″ records, over at their online shop HERE.  At £5 each you should definitely pick up at least a couple, because if you’re going to have a package sent from the UK adding an extra 7″ or two isn’t going to increase the postage.  I believe they’ll be at Iceland Airwaves again this year, so you might be able to grab some copies then as well.  And make sure to look for me at their shows… I’ll be packing my luchador mask, so I should be easy to spot in the crowd…

Kome Kome Club – “Go Funk” (1988)

komekomeGo Funk seemed very out of place when I ran across it the other day at a local shop.  A funk record in a sea of rock, a Japanese record buried behind a pile of American ones.  And because I’m a sucker for Japanese records I took it upon myself to rescue Go Funk, taking it home where it could live on my shelves with some of its friends.

Musically Go Funk is a little less funky than I expected, but still a good listen.  There’s definitely a big band kind of vibe happening here, and songs like “Bee Be Beat” actually do bring the funk pretty hard.  Add some pop elements and what you have is a talented group of artists who can pretty much do whatever they want… and that’s exactly what they do.  Some songs are in Japanese, others in English, making it more approachable to Western ears.

Go Funk is a lot of fun, a good party time go-to kind of record that would appeal to people with a wide range of musical tastes.