The day the records stood still

I’ve been out in Milwaukee for the last week on a writing retreat (and visiting my wife who started her MFA in dance here this summer). I gotta say, its a gem of a town. Great music, art, dance and…records. In my typical style, I had to seek out the dankest, darkest, deepest piles. Along the way, I wound up at Flipville Records where I spent the better part of two days digging til my hands turned black. Aside from the somewhat high prices for standard stuff, there are lots of gems to be found here. I was particularly excited by the boxes of soul 45s that seemed like no one had looked them over in years. I took care of that.

I simply flipped when I found this holy grail of a record for a buck.

Flipville gold

Despite thinking lots about whether early hip-hop djs were rockin this 45 (and if so how) I had never seen or heard the original pressing (though it was obviously high on my “want” list). Needless to say, I flipped on Sunday when it titrated out of the piles at Flipville. Sure, its scratched a bit, but for a buck, hell yeah!

As luck would have it, the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee has some 70K records (I’m meeting their archivist music librarian tomorrow to talk shop). So I went directly there to listen.

Beat research

As I sat intently waiting for the break, I was marveling over the fact that this iconic jam was split up on two sides of the 45. I was imagining teenage dancers in the heat of some impromptu dance party stopping to flip the record right in the middle of it (did some keep on shaking it while the DJ flipped the wax?). So funny/analog. Side one passed with no break. Flip. Then, just as my hope was wearing out (along with my memory cause I couldn’t quite remember how deep in the track it came), there it was, on the very last grooves of side two. It seemed so odd that the break that became one of the most sampled in all of history appeared almost like a coda on this original pressing. Amazing how retrospective sensemaking works (and also record karma). I had to think that I was doing something right cause the record gods were sure smiling on me today.

Computer Rock Control

Computer Rock Control 1

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Computer Rock Control.mp3 1983
Discog Page for Computer Rock Control

As we prepare for another Project MUM party (August 29, 2009) under the Mcgrath O’Brien bridge in Somerville, I have been digging through my piles of electrofunk, beantownboogie, discobreaks and other appropriately future themed music. Once again, I gravitate back to this  foundational Boston electrofunk classic, Computer Rock Control from (Maurice) Starr’s Computer Band.

Not only do I love the idea of a “Computer Band”, but the title itself seems so forward thinking. Back in 1983 Maurice was already creating the kind of computer fueled dance funk that was sweeping the hip-hop underground along with the recently released “Planet Rock”. In fact, Back in the day, Boston was a hotbed of these electro-sounds. Looking at the credits for Planet Rock the producer was none other than our own Arthur Baker. Not only that, Boston-based “Planet Patrol” (formerly “The Energetics”) recorded a follow up hit “Play At Your Own Risk” on the same backing tracks that were used for “Planet Rock”.

Here’s Arthur Baker’s own description of the recording process from Sound on Sound. “In fact, we realised we might get sued by Kraftwerk if we used the ‘Trans-Europe Express’ melody, so John performed a different string melody just in case — it was on one of the tracks on the same tape — and that was what we ended up using for ‘Play At Your Own Risk’.” I mixed the two on my Beantown Boogie mix, if you want to hear it there. Or simple youtube it and you are sure to find.

Not taking away from the genius spark provided by Bam in all things electrofunk, just sayin that the Bean was right in there at the ground floor c/o folks like Arthur Baker, Maurice Starr, Michael Jonzun, Planet Patrol and the flows of people and styles moving back and forth between Boston and NYC in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Tracks like “Computer Rock Control” and Dwayne Omarr’s “This Party’s Jam Packed” document Boston’s place in the early electro-sound that was to serve as the foundation for so many styles to come.

I’ll be tracing some of these early Boston electro-links in subsequent posts leading up to the MUM party in August. For now, enjoy some electrofunk from Boston back in the day!

Freakazoids…robots…please report to the dance floor.

Michael Jackson’s Destiny…

….finally became clear us as the global catharsis caused by his recent passing unfolded in real time. Like so many others, I was struck/surprised by how much his loss affected me. I felt the need to pull out all my Jackson records and MP3s and spent a week awash in tunes so funky/familiar they feel encoded in in my DNA. On the day of his death, a few of us gathered at the Chicken Loft to listen and talk in a beer fueled (and ironically emotional) farewell. Earlier I had festooned my decks with all the Jackson records I could find and noticed that Destiny was right in the front. Funny/strange. Then I found the Thriller 12″ (I got where?) and realized it was the perfect size for an Album Face. So I created a little shrine and snapped away.

With Umass cap over heart, I caught this super ironical shot in which Michael looks back at his Destiny and my many, many faces. Perfect.

Farewell. Say “hi” to Elvis for us.

Thriller Instrumental for all MPFreejays! Njoy.