Have a Great Weekend

It feels a bit odd to end Friday conversations with “Have a great weekend” these days, with no travel, no restaurants, no bars, no concerts, no sports, and not much else brewing to separate weekend from weekday routines. Hopefully it won’t be long before the weekend resumes its rightful place in the rhythms of our lives.

During a conversation this past Friday, lamenting another weekendless weekend, I was introduced to the O’Jays “Living for the Weekend”.  Thanks, Spencer!  The song was released in 1976, in the middle of the group’s run of classics.  Don’t know why I can’t recall it, but maybe clocking in at over six minutes it didn’t get the air play of “Love Train” or “Use ta Be My Girl”.   Let the O’Jays sing you through the entire weekend cycle from Friday pay check to Sunday wind down.

A year after “Living for the Weekend”, Dave Edmunds released “Here Comes the Weekend”.  The song was co-written by Dave’s regular collaborator and sometime bandmate Nick Lowe, and only demands your attention for a radio-friendly two minutes.  Here’s a nice live version.

Among the goofier weekend homages is “Party Weekend” by Joe King Carrasco and the Crowns from 1980.  It has a special place in my heart, though.  On Friday afternoons in the 1980s, Jonathan “Weasel” Gilbert – DJ for Washington D.C.’s progressive rock station WHFS – played “Party Weekend” along with “Here Comes the Weekend” to close his Frantic Friday shows.  Have a great weekend.

Women in Music

HAIM just released their third album, Women in Music Pt. III.   Sisters Danielle, Este and Alana Haim arrived on the scene in 2012 with their first album Forever and the hit single “The Wire”.  It’s official video is an awfully entertaining girl power trip.  The video for “Summer Girl”, one of three singles released from the new album, adds new meaning to “layering” and gives a big boost to the baritone sax.

Forty years before HAIM released Forever, Fanny, fronted by sisters June and Jean Millington, covered Marvin Gaye’s hit “Ain’t That Peculiar” (click through to YouTube to watch the video and forward to 1:30 to skip the studio chatter).  If you want to compare Fanny’s version to the original, check out Marvin Gaye’s live performance at New York’s legendary club, The Bitter End.

About half way between the launchings of Fanny and HAIM came the formation of the best selling female group of all time, TLC. Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas joined forces in 1991. One of four #1 charting U.S. hits from their second album, CrazySexyCool, was “Waterfalls”.  It may be their signature tune, and the video won MTV’s Video of the Year.  It’s a very heavy song and video with a super-infectious chorus.

 

Roland TR-808 – Iconic Drum Machine

Ikutaro Kakehashi, the founder of Roland Corporation, died on April 1st at the age of 87.  Roland has produced a huge range of electronic musical instruments and effects since its founding in 1972, and Kakehashi developed MIDI, the Musical Instrument Digital Interface that sits at the heart of electronic instrument communication. But no product or invention by Kakehashi and Roland has had more impact on popular music than the TR-808 drum machine.

Manufactured for three years beginning in 1980, the 808 has been used by innumerable artists for nearly 40 years, and it’s said that the 808 is to hip hop what the Fender Stratocaster is to rock and roll.  The 808 was built just before sampling became widespread and produced 16 synthesized approximations to sounds from a bass drum to a handclap.

The first hit record to use the 808 appears to have been Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” from 1982.   Listen to the opening bars and you’ll immediately recognize the iconic sounds.

Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock”, also from 1982, is credited with cementing the 808 into hip hop’s early vocabulary.

Whitney Houston used the 808 to set the beat for her 1987 hit “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”.

In 2008, Kanye West built his fourth studio album around the sounds of the 808, and even named the album “808’s and Heartbreaks”. The drum loop in “Say You Will” is all 808.

If you want to get the full scoop on this history of this important piece of technology, here is the trailer to “808” the movie!

Anderson .Paak – Grammy Bound?

At the 59th Grammy Awards, airing tomorrow night, the Best New Artist category is quite diverse.   There are two new country singers, Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini, a DJ duo, The Chainsmokers, who had a hit called “#SELFIE” that has almost a half-billion YouTube views (don’t add one, I warn you), and two hot hip-hop artists, Chance the Rapper and Anderson .Paak.

While he might be a long shot for the Grammy, .Paak’s music is in the hip hop vein I really like.   Thanks for the introduction to him, Ben!  His arrangements use real instruments, which may owe to .Paak being a very fine drummer himself, melodic vocals, a solid foundation of R&B, and Southern Cali jazz fusion mixed in.

.Paak performed “Am I Wrong” live on French TV about a year ago, and closed the song with an apropos David Bowie tribute.

It didn’t take American TV too long to catch up to the French. Steven Colbert hosted Anderson’s first American TV performance in March of last year.

.Paak produced a video for “Come Down” from his recent album “Malibu” using friends and family from Oxnard, California. And, yes, he apparently honed his drumming skills backing a gospel choir as a kid.

If you want to hear a bit more from .Paak, how many hip hop artists can pull off an NPR Tiny Desk Concert.  Forward about 3-1/2 minutes into the set to hear “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance”.

Let’s Start 2017 With a Trip to Motown to Visit Bob Babbitt

It is oddly prophetic that my last post, four months ago, covered the band Hiatus Kaiyote.  Hiatus indeed!  Well Happy New Year to all, and allow me to begin the year with a trip way back to the early 70’s.

A few months ago I watched the movie “Searching for Sugar Man” for the first time.  Hard to believe it took me so long to see the 2012 Academy Award winner – thanks for the DVD, Margaret!  It’s a great flick if you haven’t seen it, and one little snippet from the movie is the basis for this post.

It seems that on Sixto Rodriquez’s first album “Cold Fact”, which included the track “Sugar Man” from which the movie title was taken, his producer hired some top notch Motown session men to back Sixto’s vocals and guitar.  Among them was bassist Bob Babbitt.

Babbitt was part of The Funk Brothers, studio musicians who backed most of Motown’s hits from 1959 to 1972.   A little research on Babbitt reveals that he played some of the most recognizable bass tracks in history, including those on “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” by Stevie Wonder, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” and “Just My Imagination” by the Temptations, “War” by Edwin Starr, “The Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” by Marvin Gaye, and many more.  In all he played on more than 200 Top 40 hits including 25 gold and platinum records.

Below is more than my usual number of videos, but turn up the bass and appreciate  Babbitt’s genius.  You’ll wonder what these songs would be without him.

Babbitt passed away in 2012 at age 74, some years after winning a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.  The 2002 documentary on The Funk Brothers, “Standing in the Shadow of Motown” is now on my “to watch” list.