Sabotage

Buckle up, I have a lot to say about the Beastie Boys.

And about Jazz music.

They’re related, just read the post. Or don’t, this is a long and wordy monologue full of many opinions and few facts, so I don’t blame anyone for wanting to skip it.

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To be totally honest, I hated the Beastie Boys for a long time. Most of the songs I had heard by them were not something I could appreciate, and I just couldn’t listen past the nasal voice of Ad-rock or what I considered stupid lyrics to get to the good musicianship and instrumentation which is remarkably quite excellent. Also, I wasn’t a fan of the repetitive phrase-shout-phrase-shout style of many of their songs (I’m looking at you, “Intergalactic Planetary”, even if it is a good song)

I specifically remember when I was very young and hearing the song “Girls” which, now that I’ve heard all their music, is likely the worst representation of them that I could possibly get. That one song, which I still hate today and will probably always hate, stained my opinion of them for nearly all my life. “Brass Monkey”, while not bad in general, also gets annoying really fast.

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Keep in mind I was a little girl growing up in Seattle at the time, and the a-tonal dissonant stylings of a white boy rap band from New York called the Beastie Boys was not going to impress me. Imagine tiny me, hearing her older cousins (boys) music which was by a group called the Beastie Boys? No thanks. I was predisposed to dislike it.

I remember as a child my first love in life was jazz music. I remember fourth grade me, allowed to join the elementary school orchestra for the first time (I’m sure we were awful, kudos to all parents of elementary-aged musicians for sticking around at those screechy concerts) and I knew then that I wanted to learn to play the big bass so I could one day be the bass player in a jazz band. For reasons I can’t quite remember, I picked up the violin instead and didn’t get onto the bass for 3 years after that.

But Jazz has many intricate syncopated rhythms and moving or jumping melodies. It’s a genre of music that fares just as well with singing as it does instrumental. And I loved it. No wonder I disliked the Beastie Boys with their quarter note rhythms and shouted lyrics that I didn’t really understand, right? They’re completely different. Right?

Wrong.

But back to jazz for a minute; what is it? In the words of something I heard on my favorite Jazz podcast, Riffin On Jazz, “Jazz music is sounds that are pleasing to the ears”. And in the words of Robert Glasper, noted pianist and producer,

“Jazz is the mother and father of Hip Hop. They’re both musics that were born out of oppression, they’re both kind of like protest music, you know, going against the grain. If you’re a hip-hop producer that wants a lot of melodic stuff happening, you’re probably going to go to jazz first.”

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In fact, Jazz as a quintessentially American art form was the progenitor of most popular music since it’s incorporation into our mainstream culture. Especially music such as R&B and hip-hop. If you listen to a lot of hip-hop there is a ton of Jazz sampled into it. You might hear it in such songs as “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West, which samples “Ode To Billie Joe” by Lou Donaldson, or Mary J. Blige’s “My Life” which sampled “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” by Roy Ayers.

It’s also in the Beastie Boys. As you might know, the Beastie Boys are master samplers. Their album “Paul’s Boutique” was critically acclaimed for its intense sampling. It really is masterful the way they assembled it all together.  It has some really interesting bits added from all sorts of other bands. The Eagles, The Beatles,  Curtis Mayfield, The Commodores, even the soundtracks for Jaws and (if my ears don’t deceive me) Psycho. The first track samples an amazing Jazz tune called “Loran’s Dance” by Idris Muhammad, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

If you are interested in more detail about everything sampled in Paul’s Boutique, definitely check out this complete radio show by Seattle radio station KEXP. This is a seriously in-depth look at the history behind that album as well as most of the identifiable songs sampled into the entire album, track by track. They literally spent an hour on “Johnny Ryall” alone. I really recommend it, it’s got some amazing insight and great tracks played. Turns out the Beastie Boys have great taste.

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Aside from vocals, the album is almost entirely sampled. In fact, I heard someone counted up to anywhere between 100 and 300 individual samples. That’s absolutely crazy, especially at the time. In 1989, when the album came out, sampling was a far different beast than it is today when we have much simpler digital methods. Here’s a little article on the history of sampling if you’d like to know more.

Paul’s Boutique saved the Beastie Boys from being one-hit wonders or frat boy hip-hop. Most of the stuff on their first album, Licensed to Ill, is firmly in that camp with songs like “Fight For Your Right” “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” “Girls” and “Brass Monkey”. But like many things, The Beastie Boys got better with age. Paul’s Boutique was so different in its content it really cemented them as a quality group and changed the face of Hip-hop at the time. Impressive for three guys that were originally punk.

After Paul’s Boutique came Check Your Head which had a few tracks I especially liked such as “Pass The Mic” and “Lighten Up” as well as “So What’cha Want” which I knew before I started in on this. Thank you, RockBand

Next came my favorite* (more on that later) album by the Beastie Boys. Ill Communication has so many great tracks, I’ll just list my top picks from that album: “Sure Shot” along with the European B-Boy mix on disc 2 of the deluxe version, “Root Down” also with the Free Zone mix in the deluxe version, “Get It Together” again the Buck-Wild remix from the deluxe set, “Sabotage” which has always been amazing and is maybe the sole reason I ever gave them a chance, “Alright Hear This”, “Flute Loop”, and a bunch of instrumental tracks that are kind of transitionary, which I will be addressing later.

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Hello Nasty came out next with more innovation from the band. Seriously, I feel like these guys never let themselves get pinned down, I can’t believe I used to think they were one-dimensional musicians. Hello Nasty includes a song called “I Don’t Know” which is vastly different from the rest of their stuff; the main instrumentation is an acoustic guitar for crying out loud and it doesn’t have any rap in it, it’s much more melodic. The album also features some great instrumental tracks. Again, I’ll touch on those later.

To The 5 Boroughs called back to some of what made people love them in the first place. The only tracks that really stuck out to me were “Check It Out” and “Rhyme The Rhyme Well” which for me gets a little old after a couple listens.

Their final album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, was again full of fantastic music. They really knocked it out of the park right from track one, “Make Some Noise” and the rest of the album is pretty great as well. However, I consider it more of an album that you listen to all at once without paying too much attention. This album had a lot of publicity surrounding it I’m not gonna get into. Suffice to say there was originally a part 1 that never got released and the group disbanded with the death of MCA aka Adam Yauch, so it never will be released.

Here’s the video for “Make Some Noise” it’s pretty fun and has a lot of celebrity cameos.

And now we’ll start to get into those things I mentioned I’d come back to.

In 2007 the Beastie Boys released an all-instrumental album called The Mix-Up. This is what really caught my attention when I was listening through their music. It finally pulled my attention to the absolute mastery these guys have over music.

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I mentioned to someone how this album really helped me see their musicianship, and their response was to point out that much of it is likely sampled. I stand by my statement. These guys show just as much musicianship with their skill at playing music as with arranging all of those samples into amazing and intriguing songs. It’s just as good as any skilled jazz trio I’ve ever heard.

And on that note. The reason I brought up Jazz music earlier was this: I believe this music is the natural evolution of Jazz.

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Now, a lot of people who don’t know Jazz say they don’t like it. And that’s fair; everyone has different tastes, though I wish they’d give it a shot. A lot of people who love Jazz are purists, and those people need to open their minds. For me and many others, Jazz has always been about experimentation and creating music that makes you feel something. It doesn’t have just one definable shape as it’s ever-changing.

Is “Jazz” always the Big band style? Or always the smokey bar lounge singer? How about Bebop? No. Don’t work in absolutes if you can help it, especially in music. And what about sub-genres? There are too many Jazz sub-genres to count. From acid to electro swing to gypsy to straight-ahead to fusion, there’s just too much music in too many different styles.

One analogy I heard once was that music genres are like family reunions. You have a ton of different people/songs who are all related, but maybe they aren’t all that similar. One person has Great Uncle Stan’s wide nose and Aunt Crissy’s curly hair, but someone else might have grandma’s button nose and Uncle Vic’s receding hairline and so they look nothing alike. And some people go from one reunion right to another one on the other side of their family. Make sense? Maybe not, but I tried.

So did the Beastie Boys write jazz music for their album The Mix-Up? No. It’s instrumental hip-hop. But it’s one thing among many that Jazz has evolved into and been incorporated into, and I love it. It’s intricate and intriguing, and it makes me happy to listen to it. It inspires the same kind of feelings in me that listening to Jazz does.

And it’s not their only instrumental albums either. Many Beastie Boys albums contain a bunch of tracks that may be transitionary in nature, but I find them all to be fantastic on their own. And I must not be the only one, because there was a compilation album released comprising entirely of those tracks.

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The In Sound From Way Out! is my true favorite album by this group, but since it’s a compilation I included my love for Ill Communication earlier. It kind of sounds like the soundtrack to an Ocean’s 11 type movie.

So to conclude my rambles about the Beastie Boys and Jazz I want to leave you with this. I created a Spotify playlist of the Beastie Boys instrumental tracks (and a few select others). If you like “lo-fi hip-hop beats” you’ll probably like this. If you like the Beastie Boys for more than “Fight For Your Right” or “Sure Shot” then you might like this. If you like jazz and aren’t a purist, you’ll probably like this. If your main jam is top 40 you might want to stay away. I was told by one person it gets boring and repetitive. I don’t think so at all, but we all have different tastes.

Here’s my favorite track if you just want an example. Check out that funky bass line mixed with precision drums and killer guitar tones. Beautiful. I couldn’t find a good Youtube video, so here’s the Spotify song link.

I know this has been a bit of a weird post, I probably should have formatted it more like an essay with a thesis and conclusion and a nice linear thought process, but I’ve been out of school for years now and I’ve already spent so much time on this one. I’m ready for the next artist.

So give the Beastie Boys a shot if you haven’t yet. And if you have, try out their instrumental tracks. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I certainly was, and now I have 70 tracks by them in my music library.

Enjoy!

Rest in peace, Adam Yauch aka MCA 1964-2012

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Manic Monday

I gotta say, it’s really fun doing this little project of mine, delving into a random genre via one artist at a time really keeps things interesting for me; I think I know what I’m getting into, but sometimes I get thrown a curveball. For example, diving into The Bangles for the past week was not just a stroll down 1980’s summer pop lane as I expected.

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Initially, The Bangles took a lot of influence from 60’s rock and British invasion rock then mixed in a bit of New Wave; you can tell by the tones on their guitars and general playing style and effects. It’s fun to listen to, and some of their hits will be known for generations (even if occasionally in a mocking way).

If you only listen to the stuff released in the 80’s you’ll get mostly what you expect, as well as a few other gems that I can’t believe I haven’t heard before. There are some awesome tracks that I am so glad I found and will be happy to listen to again in the future.

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What a lot of people probably don’t know, however, is that the band reunited in 2000 after having broken up in 1989. They have released two albums since then, Doll Revolution in 2003, and Sweetheart of the Sun in 2011. When I started listening to The Bangles for this post, I started at the most recent album and worked my way back. I gotta say, They have been up to some good stuff.

Their newer songs hold true to the spirit of their original sound, keeping things fun and their instrumentation similar though probably with more modern gear; I can’t hear as much of the 80’s signature synth as is in their earlier work, and the overall production quality is better. Their vocals are the same in style, though the voices themselves are a little more mature. I can hear a bit more Psychedelic rock influence than I anticipated, but maybe I should have expected that.

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The bangles older stuff is great as well. There are the classics which most people know, primarily “Walk Like An Egyptian” “Manic Monday” and “Eternal Flame”, as well as some great other songs. I was especially a fan of “James” and “Going Down To Liverpool”

Overall, I am pleases with their library. The Bangles are more than “Walk Like An Egyptian”, though that is a great song. Really, it has an awesome groove, fun vocal arrangement, and great tones. It’s a bit silly and very fun, which is sometimes exactly what you want. I mean, just look at this picture:

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Here are my top tracks for The Bangles, from newest to oldest:

“Anna Lee (Sweetheart of the Sun)”

“Under a Cloud”

“Open My Eyes”

“Mesmerized”

“Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution)”

“Eternal Flame”

“Manic Monday” Fun fact, this song was written by Prince.

“Walk Like An Egyptian”

“James”

“Going Down To Liverpool”

I definitely recommend you listen to “Under a Cloud” and “James”, those might be my favorite two finds for this band. I couldn’t find a good video for “Under a Cloud”, so to give you an idea of their more recent songs here’s a video for “Anna Lee” in what looks like an acoustic session:

I think that’s it for this post, onwards to another genre shift: we’re gonna hit up the Barenaked Ladies for the next one, and I’m super excited to see what they’ve got for me!

Lucille

Before we get started, it’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I adore the blues. You can reference my post on Aynsley Lister as well and you’ll see what I mean so I’ll try not to rhapsodize about the many virtues of Blues again. Wouldn’t want to be redundant.

On with the post…

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It is a well-known fact that B.B. King’s guitar is named Lucille.

B.B. King said Lucille was a reminder for him, both not to brawl over a woman and never to run into a burning building. There’s a great story there, and if you listen to his song “Lucille” you’ll hear it in his own words. Playing guitar was B.B. King’s life. It was such a part of him and his style seems to have a personality all it’s own, so I’m not surprised in the least that his guitar had a name. Lucille’s sound is very identifiable, and it was strongly linked to King’s singing voice as well. He would essentially sing duets with Lucille, trading off lyrics in his voice and soulful expression from Lucille.

B.B. King is the prototypical blues guitarist, and the way he plays that lovely guitar Lucille is something that guitarists have striven to emulate for decades. I myself am primarily a bass player, but one day I hope to be proficient enough on the guitar to play delta blues like B.B. King, though I know I’ll never achieve his level of skill.

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B.B. King (whose name was Riley, actually) was heralded as the King of the Blues, along with Freddie King and Albert King, and rightly so. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, and boy was B.B. an expert at the Blues. Something I don’t think a lot of people realize is how much work is involved in being a professional musician. B.B. King wasn’t a great guitar player because he was just naturally gifted. He wasn’t just “discovered” one day – he set out to make it happen. He was a phenomenal musician because he dedicated his life to being so, even at the cost of other things. For example, his two divorces have been attributed to his heavy work schedule, something like 250 performances a year. In fact, in 1956 alone he had 342 performances and three recording sessions. He played and performed until he died, just as he said in his song “Riding With The King”

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B.B. set the stage for blues artists for decades. And let’s be real, if your career is playing a genre of music spans 60-odd years, you probably have had some influence over a lot of musicians.

In fact, B.B. King has more albums on Spotify than Aretha Franklin, more than 70, and I’m not ashamed to admit I lost count. He led an incredibly long career, spanning from 1949 to 2015 when he died. He was a dedicated musician as well as a philanthropist. He was very public about being diagnosed with diabetes, and ultimately it was consequences from his diabetes that led to his death.

If you want to know more about B.B. King’s life and career, I really recommend the official BB King website, there’s a great article on the main page that gets into it a bit more.

I fell into a Youtube rabbit hole in getting ready for this post, and there were too many great videos for me to share. Please feel free to check out some of it, there are tons of amazing videos of him playing with other renowned guitarists. For this post, I’ll stick with this simple version of “Sweet Sixteen”

There are obviously a lot of great songs and albums in his repertoire, though a number of them have repeats and a number are live albums. If I were to suggest any of his Albums, I would first suggest his collaboration with Eric Clapton, Riding With The King, it is now one of my favorite albums ever. I would also suggest Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. B. B. King, as a fantastic collection of all his best tunes. Don’t disregard his earlier work either, I was jamming out even when I made it back to his albums from the 50’s and 60’s.

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As far as individual songs go, I now have 26 of his songs in my own music library, though I could easily add more. I’ll spare you the whole list and just give you my top 10 favorite tracks. This doesn’t include his collab. stuff, by the way, so feel free to check that out on your own if you’re interested, especially the album Deuces Wild.

Top 10 tracks:

“The Thrill Is Gone” – this song alone has something like 50 versions by B.B. King on Spotify.

“Lucille”

“How Blue Can You Get” It took me a while to realise this was a song sampled in a super chill song I know called “Standing Outside A Broken Phonebooth” by Primitive Radio Gods.

“Ghetto Woman”

“Caldonia”

“Alexis’ Boogie”

“To Know You Is To Love You”

“Sneakin’ Around”

“Is You Or Is You Ain’t (My Baby)”

“Sweet Sixteen”

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Seriously go listen to some B.B. King. Right now. Don’t let this important part of your personal music education get away from you!

A Rose Is Still A Rose

First off, let it be said there is no shortage of Aretha Franklin music out there. I mean, holy crap, there are more than 40 albums on Spotify alone and that’s not counting the singles and compilations. Actually that’s why it took so long for me to post again; I was busy listening to that massive library of Aretha Franklin music.

And she’s still going, by the way. Her most recent album was in 2014, and she still tours and performs.

It was interesting listening to the different styles and recording qualities as I listened backwards through time. Current era Aretha’s voice shows her age just a little bit. If you want an example, listen to her cover album Sings the Great Diva Classics.

00’s and 90’s era Aretha left me a little tickled. It sounds just like the rest of the R&B/soul music of that time that I remember. Recommendation: listen to the songs “Wonderful” and “A Rose Is Still A Rose”

80’s Aretha was par for the course (but don’t be fooled, par on this course is fantastic) though I would note she recorded a jazz album in 1984 that stood out. It’s called Aretha’s Jazz, and it shows off her voice in a beautiful way.

Classic 60’s and 70’s Aretha will probably always be my favorite. Her voice is and always has been incredibly beautiful and strong. There are so many amazing songs from this period, I would recommend all of it. Really, just check it out. If you want specific recommendations, I will include a list of some of my all time Aretha favorites at the end of this post.

When you get back into the early 60’s she was mostly recording Gospel tunes. As with many famous soul and gospel artists, religion was a huge part of her upbringing. Her father was a well known pastor and she had been singing in churches since she was a little girl. There are some excellent tunes there as well, a good collection of which can be found on the album Amazing Grace.

All in all, Aretha Franklin has earned her title as Queen of Soul ten times over. She is extremely talented and skilled. If you like soul music at all, you are probably already quite familiar with much of her music, but I would suggest checking out some of the deeper cuts.

However; if you want to just listen to a good sampling, there are many great compilation albums available that have the best of the best of her music.

Fun fact! She famously stepped in at the Grammys one year for an ill Luciano Pavarotti, singing the famous opera tenor piece “Nessun Dorma” and absolutely nailed it. Here’s a video clip: https://youtu.be/5PONptwUo-Y

She shaped a genre, her music moves people, and her legacy will last for a long time to come.

Happy Listening!

As promised, here is a short list of some of my favorite Aretha tunes:

“Today I Sing the Blues”

“Think” *

“See Saw” *

“I Say a Little Prayer”

“Chain Of Fools” *

“The Weight” *

“Fool On The Hill”

“Respect”

“I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You” *

“(You Made Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”

“A Song For You”

“A Rose Is Still A Rose”

“Wonderful”

“Rock With Me”

“Son of a Preacher Man”

“Love For Sale”

Well, that turned out to be longer than I intended. I starred my top 5, if you want a shorter list. They are all great songs, though. And there are many more! Go check it out!

Obsession

Just a quick post for you today.

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When I started playing Animotion what I found was a sound that is the epitome of 80’s music. They don’t have a ton of music on Spotify, but I feel there was plenty to get an understanding of their sound. As a majority of pop music in the 80’s, this features heavily on the synth. In fact, if I were to describe synthpop or New Wave, this is a prime example for me to use.

Animotion had exactly one big hit, and I would say it is their best song. If you are not familiar with the song “Obsession” here is a video link for you to check it out. The video is almost even more stereotypically 80’s than the song, you really ought to watch it.

It’s got some nice elements to it, the synth is driving, and the guitar riffs fit really well into it. If you like it, maybe check out their song “I Want You” or if you enjoy lyrical humor in the same way I do, listen to “Bad Review”

All in all, This is the music I would expect to hear if I turned on an 80’s based internet radio station, so if that’s your thing, check it out.

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