Guest Column: Five Albums That Will Change You By Family’s Jody Smith
Creating lists such as these is always synonymous with the whole “if you’re stranded on a desert island…” conversation – questions that, for me, are directly dependent upon which side of the bed I woke up. For instance, if today were a Monday morning that followed a Sunday filled with bloody marys, wine, and beer, this list would likely have some death metal included on it. That said, today is not that Monday, and while these may not be records that will change YOUR life, they changed mine and if you haven’t heard them maybe you should!
The Meters — Rejuvenation
This was the first of my four drum‐centric, life‐altering listening experiences and it hinged on a single name: “Zig.” New Orleans is a town of badass drummers, and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste is no doubt one of the quintessential New Orleans drummers. He also happens to be in straight ‘beast mode’ at times on this record. Supported by a cast of fellow New Orleans legends (keys player/singer Art Neville, uber‐groovy bassist George Porter Jr., rhythm‐shark guitarist Leo Nocentelli and percussionist/singer Cyril Neville), this is the album where the group really came together and started crafting full‐on sing‐along funk opuses.
From my first favorite jam “Just Kissed My Baby” to the slamming funk of “What’cha Say” to the swamp‐nasty tempo of “Jungle Man” to the twelve‐minute jam‐out “Ain’t No Use,” this record’s got it all. (Not to mention the closer, “Africa?!?!?!”) Given that the Meters started out as an instrumental band, this record is the convergence of the funk, the vocals, the songwriting… you name it.
If The Meters were the gangsters of swampy New Orleans summer‐funk jamz, James Brown’s bands were precision‐based, up‐tempo groovin’‐ass SEX MACHINES that could bulldoze your house in one sitting!!! And NEVER was that more apparent than on this album… it seems like the entire band might have had some “cocaine snooters” right before they hit the stage, ‘cause these motherfuckers sound like they’re riding the white tiger straight to the pearly gates with swords n’ shields n’ shit!!!! FOR REAL!!
This record has an all‐star band comprised of the original JB’s: you’ve got the dual drumming anchors of John “Jabo” Starks and Don Juan “Tiger” Martin, the root of all funk bass playing Bootsy Collins, countered by the insanely funky rhythm guitar playing of Bootsy’s younger brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins, AND it’s all led by the Godfather himself ‐‐ James Brown!!!!! Oh, and there’s horns, organs, and all sorts of other bad ass‐ness as well.
It starts with Bobby Byrd MC’ing and setting the stage for The Godfather to come out against the backdrop of grooves pounded out with start/stop precision… you can already start to taste the electricity in the air!!! Then Bobby Byrd pronounces: “And now the star of the show, let the brother rap… JAMES BROWN!!!!” From there it’s a steamroller‐style set, including a killer version of “Ain’t It Funky Now” where Phelps “Catfish” Collins slays dragons with his axe, yet another “Catfish” killer in “Sex Machine,” followed by a high‐speed medley of “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag/I Got You (I Feel Good)/I Got The Feelin’” and wild reprises of “Sex Machine” with segues into “Super Bad” and “Soul Power.”
One of the most incredible moments comes where Brown hypes the crowd to an absolute frenzy prior to dropping “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” only to be topped off with “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” to close it all out. And to think that this was originally slated to be a triple release that never saw the light of day (due to Bootsy and his brother leaving for Parliament‐Funkadelic) until 20 years later when it was released as a single disc… Better late than never!!!!!!!
Zappa — Roxy
With the vast catalog that is Frank Zappa’s output, sorting through the silly shit (lots) and pinpointing the gems can be a task. This record, however, to me is the pinnacle of Frank’s catalog and an absolute testament to the genius that was this prolific writer, composer and (often underrated) guitarist. One thing to remember: Zappa learned to write ORCHESTRAL PIECES by going to the LIBRARY and reading about it!! That is a true story! But I digress…
The players on THIS crazy record are a cast of (at times) 15 musicians utilizing melodic percussion, horns, bass, guitar, two drummers, backing vocals and more. You have instrumentals like ”Echidna’s Arf (Of You)” and ”Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?” (with dueling drum solos courtesy of Ralph Humphry and Chester Thompson), an ode to B movies and the prototype for the entire first Mr. Bungle record called “Cheepnis,” and the finale called “Be‐Bop Tango (Of the Old Jazzmen’s Church),” which features a bizarre skat‐style organ/vocal unison melody that is played, then sped up beyond comprehension WHILE members of the audience are invited up on stage to dance to it. Not to mention it is of course LIVE and with the exception of live guitar solos from other shows that Frank edited into this recording (yes, he actually did that), what you hear is what you get. AND THAT IS RIDICULOUS! It’s all totally fucking weird and totally Zappa.
The Police — LIVE!,
Ahh, the last of three LIVE discs to make this list!!! Not to mention that a trio is at the helm of this one… As a child of the ‘ 80s, I was by no means immune to the barrage of hits the Police had over the years. It wasn’t until some years later (mid ’90s) that I really discovered their other recordings, and this particular CD exemplifies that youthful raw energy, punk attitude, and diverse, quirky, reggae‐tinged skill set possessed by the band.
It also seems to document a band teetering on the brink of superstardom, unconcerned with playing songs too fast and every other beautiful aspect of youthful naiveté. In addition, this show (recorded in 1979) is just prior to what would be a transformation from quirky punky‐reggae club band to iconic, ‘ 80s hit‐ writing arena‐anthem power trio. Sting is in full form vocally, hitting all those high‐ass notes while simultaneously nailing the bass parts… Stewart Copeland kills it the entire night as always (albeit with a little tempo rushing, which he was notorious for), and also lends backing vocal duties… and Andy Summer plays the syncopated/ethereal/rocking solo role, sandwiching himself between the two often‐colliding planets that are Sting and Stewart.
From the opening snare flams of “Next to You” to the reggae/punk sections of “So Lonely” to the blazing‐fast version of “Truth Hits Everybody,” you get the sense of The Police’s unique sound and the melding of aforementioned styles that made them so special. Throw in incredible versions of “Hole in My Life,” “Bring on the Night,” “Message in a Bottle,” and “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” and this might not only be the definitive collection of the band’s early songs but the best performances you’ll ever hear of them as well. When the Police played with all the bombast that was often missing from their early studio recordings it’s just too hard to deny it. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, bitches!!!!!!!
Originally composed nearly 100 years ago, these 22 minutes of extreme dynamics, thunderous accents, bizarre asymmetrical meters, and bassoon‐induced creepiness has always amazed me. It was also originally written as the accompaniment to a ballet whose theme revolved around a pagan celebration of Spring, in which a sacrificial girl dances herself to death. Needless to say, the first performance caused a series of arguments amongst the crowd that nearly led to a riot.
Today, it is more often unaccompanied by the ballet and instead executed by huge orchestras. And having seen it in the flesh I can vouch for the amazing experience that it is. Over the years it has also been recognized as a seminal work of Igor’s, and as representing a turn in the very paradigm that was orchestral music in the early 1900s. Boy, I wish I could’ve been there for the debut! Now go eat some mushrooms and go on a journey…