Classic Melting Pot

Archive for the ‘Top 5’s’ category


Last night I went to sleep early after a long day teaching classes, grading and watching some election coverage…I woke into a world without one of the most iconic MC’s of the Golden Era of Hip-Hop, Malik Taylor, affectionately known as Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest. At 45 years old, it seems unbelievable that Phife is gone. I’m sure a lot of people hoped, as we moved closer to 25th anniversaries for “Low End Theory” (later in September) and “Midnight Marauders” (in November 2018), that the members of Tribe would be able to put aside their differences and bless us with a proper reunion tour performing these albums, but that now will never happen. Q-tip dominated the first Tribe record, not just on the mic, but also on production, with Phife doing some guess work, but soon Phife became an integral part of the group and the talents that we got a glimpse of on that first record shone through brightly on the albums that followed. All day long on social media there have been many many many many many many tributes to Phife, a real tribute to how important he was to those of us who had the privilege of growing up with Hip-Hop in the 1990s. These five tracks feature my favorite moments from his work with Tribe…

“Buggin’ Out”

“Yo, microphone check one, two, what is this?
The five foot assassin with the roughneck business,
I float like gravity, never had a cavity,
Got more rhymes than the Winans got family,
No need to sweat Arsenio to gain some type of fame,
No shame in my game cause I’ll always be the same,
Styles upon styles upon styles is what I have,
You wanna diss the Phifer but you still don’t know the half…”

Like a lot of people, I first heard “Buggin’ Out” at the tail-end of the “Jazz (We Got The)” video, and when I finally bought a copy of Low End Theory, I was surprised that the two songs weren’t back to back on the album. It’s really hard for me to separate the song from the video and how the visual performance of Phife works so perfectly with the vibe of the song and of the group. While I can’t entirely remember where I was when I first saw/heard this, I can guarantee that my response to it was pretty similar to a lot of other people’s, “WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!!!!” Those moments of complete and utter shock and surprise are a rare thing indeed.


“Heyo, Bo knows this, (What?) and Bo knows that (What?),
But Bo don’t know jack, cause Bo can’t rap,
Well what do you know, the Di-Dawg, is first up to bat,
No batteries included, and no strings attached,
No holds barred, no time for move fakin’,
Gots to get the loot so I can bring home the bacon,
Brothers front, they say the Tribe can’t flow,
But we’ve been known to do the impossible like Broadway Joe, so,
Sleep if you want, NyQuil will help you get your Z’s, troop,
But here’s the real scoop,
I’m all that and then some, short, dark, and handsome,
Bust a nut inside your eye to show you where I come from,
I’m vexed, fuming, I’ve had it up to here,
My days of paying dues are over, acknowledge me as in there (Yeah!),
Head for the border, go get a taco,
Watch me wreck it from the jump street, meaning from the get-go,
Sit back relax and let yourself go,
Don’t sweat what you heard, but act like you know.”

“Scenario” might be the best posse cut of the 1990s and Phife is the one who bats lead-off and just like Rickey Henderson did back in the day, leads it off with a home run.

“Check The Rhime”

“[Q-tip] Yo, Phife, you remember that routine,
That we used to make spiffy like Mr. Clean?
[Phife] Um um, a tidbit, um, a smidgen,
I don’t get the message so you gots to run the pigeon.
[Q-tip] You on point Phife?
[Phife] All the time, Tip.
[Q-tip] You on point Phife?
[Phife] All the time, Tip.
[Q-tip] You on point Phife?
[Phife] All the time, Tip.
[Q-tip] Well, then grab the microphone and let your words rip.

[Phife]Now here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am,
Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram,
I’m like an energizer cause, you see, I last long,
My crew is never ever wack because we stand strong,
Now if you say my style is wack that’s where you’re dead wrong,
I slayed that buddy in El Segundo then Push it Along,
You’d be a fool to reply that Phife is not the man,
Cause you know and I know that you know who I am,
A special shout of peace goes out to all my pals, you see,
And a middle finger goes for all you punk MC’s,
Cause I love it when you wack MC’s despise me,
They get vexed, I roll next, can’t none contest me,
I’m just a fly MC who’s five foot three and very brave,
On job remaining, no home training cause I misbehave…”

“Can I Kick It”

“Boy this track really has a lot of flavor,
When it comes to rhythms, Quest is your savior,
Follow us for the funky behavior,
Make a note on the rhythm we gave ya,
Feel free, drop your pants, check your hair,
Do you like the garments that we wear?
I instruct you to be the obeyer,
A rhythm recipe that you’ll savor,
Doesn’t matter if you’re minor or major,
Yes, the Tribe of the game we’re a player,
As you inhale like a breath of fresh air.”

I can’t improve on what I wrote to friends this morning when I first heard the news, so I’ll just quote myself on this one…”I hope I never fully understand the magic and mystery of why certain songs, sounds and musical moments move us more than others…every time I hear this song I’m transported back to my 15 year old self listening to this for the first time and having my mind blown at how fresh it all sounded…the wordplay and flow, that Lonnie Smith break mixed with Lou Reed and especially Phife’s closing rhymes on his verse, one of the few he had in that first record. For whatever reason it always gives me chills in the way that last line is said, right before the scratching and Lonnie Smith’s organ grinds out “Spinning Wheel,” EVERY.SINGLE.TIME!”

“Electric Relaxation”

“I like ’em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian
Name is Phife Dawg from the Zulu Nation…”

Hip-Hop has always had some salacious moments, “Sex rhymes” have been a major part of the genre at least since the Fantastic Freaks got on the mic, but I’m not sure there’s a better moment of wordplay in “Sex rhyme” history than Phife’s closing verse in “Electric Relaxation,” with it’s legendary Double Entendre that’s I’m sure boosted sales for Seaman’s Furniture for a couple of years, at least on the east coast.

“If my mom don’t approve, then I’ll just elope,
Let me save the little man from inside the boat,
Let me hit it from the back, girl I won’t catch a hernia,
Bust off on your couch, now you got Semen’s Furniture.”

Whatever place there is for “Beyond Classic,” that rhyme belongs there along with Phife…truly, there will never be another. Rest In Power…


{I know I’ve been away for a month, been going through some personal things, but I think I’ve got everything sorted out and should get back to regular posting, including a couple of mixes each month and a couple of “radio” shows here on the blog…promise.}

The past couple of months have been devastating for music fans the world over.  I can’t recall a period of time during my life where so many iconic figures have passed away so close to each other.  Every time I thought I might get together a tribute post, someone else passed away, and so it seemed best to pay tribute to them all at once.

Clarence Reid aka Blowfly – Masterpiece

Clarence Reid is perhaps best known by his alter-ego, Proto-sex rap innovator Blowfly, but for fans of 1960s/1970s soul, the influence of Reid is almost impossible to fully grasp. Like his contemporaries elsewhere, such as Allen Toussaint, Willie Mitchell, Reid was a prolific song writer and arranger, who lent his talents to an extraordinary amount of songs. “Masterpiece” is maybe my favorite song of his, sampled to great effect by the Jurassic 5, and one of the best crowd pleasing mid-tempo dance floor fillers I’ve ever had the pleasure to drop the needle on.

Lemmy with Motorhead – Ace Of Spades

Like Keith Richards, you kind of had the feeling that Lemmy might be beyond death. He certainly seemed larger than life during his time here. The first time I came into contact with Lemmy, his persona and his sound, was while watching the UK comedy series “The Young Ones” on MTV in the 1980s. It’s an iconic moment from the best single episode of the show’s run, “Bambi” and one of my favorite media moments from my childhood, something that likely had a major effect on my Rock tastes as I grew older.

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust (Isolated Vocal)

I really had planned to do several posts connected to Bowie when he passed, but it was such a huge loss I couldn’t fully wrap my head around the work necessary to write them up. Instead I just listened to Bowie. One of the things that I discovered in those early days after his passing was this track. Hearing this reminded me of being young in Georgia and making tapes of music from 96 Rock’s “Psychedelic Saturday,” when I first heard this track. I never considered that it could be the same guy who sang “Let’s Dance” and “Ashes To Ashes.” Instead I was sure it was a band, not a single vocalist. My little brain back then couldn’t comprehend the different ways that Bowie was using and manipulating his voice to give it such different sounds as if it were different people singing about “Ziggy” instead of just that one lovely man.

Maurice White with Earth, Wind & Fire – Bad Tune

So much of my childhood was shaped by the music and message of Earth, Wind & Fire. Funky and fiercely uplifting, their hits crossed across all boundaries and much of their sound was directly connected to Maurice White. While I love the albums from the group in the mid and late 1970s, it’s that first full-length record as a group (not counting the soundtrack to Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song) and shows their unique blend of Kool & the Gang, Sly Stone and Jimmy Castor’s psychedelic soul. “Bad Tune” features White on one of the instruments that would give EWF a distinctive Afro-centric sound, the Kalimba. I don’t know where/when he picked up the instrument, though I imagine it was during his early years in Chicago, given the Africanist element of many Chicago groups, including those associated with Sun Ra and Phil Cohran. “Bad Tune” is truly that, hard and funky, with a sound that literally transports you away from wherever you are.

J Dilla – Anti-American Grafitti from Donuts

All of the icons above passed away recently, but today marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of another legendary iconic figure, James DeWitt Yancey aka J Dilla aka JayDee aka Dilla Dawg or just simply Dilla. IN the time since his passing, it’s become clear that Dilla is the Hip-Hop generation’s Hendrix, perhaps even it’s Coltrane, a true revolutionary, whose approach to beatmaking will likely influence many generations to come. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of Dilla’s magnum opus, Donuts. An album that continues to amaze and astound. My favorite song from that album continues to be “Anti-American Grafitti,” which floats some Wolfman Jack over a more complex than it seems sample from Tin Tin’s “Family Tree.” The basis of the beat occurs at the very end of the song, and isn’t full enough to exist as a loop all by itself, so Dilla chopped parts of it, extended it and gave it a song structure and logic that like so many of his samples, you’re surprised when you hear the original and realize how much care was put into creating the finished product. I’m not sure if we’ll ever get another Dilla, just like all of the other icons on this list, but I do feel thankful that I lived during their times.

Rest In Peace Allen Toussaint…

November 20th, 2015
foto © Michael Wilson

foto © Michael Wilson

A truly epic second line laid rest today to one of New Orleans’ most favored sons, the legendary Allen Toussaint. Toussaint passed away on November 10th, perhaps fittingly after performing earlier in the night in Spain. I don’t know if there is any way possible to fully quantify the effect Allen Toussaint had on the music of New Orleans. In all honesty, it’s quite possible that the only other figure that even comes close to rivaling Toussaint’s influence is Louis Armstrong. If you’re a fan of New Orleans soul and funk, chances are your favorite songs have Toussaint’s fingerprints all over them, whether directly as a musician, songwriter or arranger, or just in the influence he had on virtually all of the musicians, songwriters and arrangers of the 1960s and 1970s when he was truly in the pocket and recording with essentially everyone, Lee Dorsey, Ernie K. Doe, The Meters, The Neville Bros., Betty Harris, Irma Thomas and on and on and on and on. You could have successful soul/northern soul nights just based off of tracks from Toussaint’s catalog and no one would ever tire of hearing them. The ones below are just my personal favorites.

Lee Dorsey – A Lover Was Born

Without a doubt, one of my absolute favorite songs of all-time and absolutely my single favorite thing to dance to. If you ever want to see me completely lost my shit…drop the needle on this record. Lee Dorsey, backed up by the Meters, with Allen Toussaint at the controls…it does not get any better than this right here!

Lee Dorsey & Betty Harris – Take Care Of Our Love

As big fan of Southern deep soul, there had to be one of those slow burning songs on this list. This duet between Dorsey and Betty Harris, where each pledges to remain true to the other while they are physically apart, hits me deep deep down in my heart. As with so much music out of New Orleans, much of the appeal is in the delivery of choice lines like “And don’t let no sweet talking joker, come and confuse what’s going on between you and I.”

Betty Harris – I’m Gonna Get You

One of the things I found myself appreciating at a recent Allen Toussaint tribute put on by Miles and Clifton of Funky Sole, was the great diversity of sounds in the catalog of tracks. Though Toussaint’s hands were all over many tracks in the 60s, there wasn’t a single signature sound or rhythm that is associated with the tracks. They all sound distinctive and have a special sound of their own, even as the elements they’re drawn from are so clearly recognizable as being from New Orleans. “I’m Gonna Get You” starts off as if it might be a version of Toussaint’s “Get Out My Life Woman,” (and when you compare the two, it’s possible that the songs were related, though they don’t quite seem to an answer/response kind of thing), but the use of the horns, the background vocals and Harris’ impassioned phrasing might make you forget that “Woman” even exists. Such is the power of Mr. Toussaint.

The Pointer Sisters – Yes We Can, Can

This was originally recorded with Lee Dorsey, and that version is fine and dandy, but I’ve always favored the Pointer Sisters version of the “Yes We Can, Can.” Something about the mix of all those women’s vocals just gives the song and even greater sense of uplift than the original, and elevates this song above other inspirational soul songs of the period.

Lee Dorsey – Four Corners

As much as I love dancing to “A Lover Was Born” the pure insanity of “Four Corners” comes a close second. As I get older, I have a suspicion that one day someone will play these songs back-to-back and I’ll have a heart attack right there on the dance floor from the excitement. I don’t know who is ultimately responsible for that “Now give me that shaker-maker” line that Dorsey throws out just before the drum break, but I like to think that it came about as this thing was being recorded. I would have loved to have been in the studio when this song was cut, because it sounds like one of the best parties ever committed to vinyl and LORD those drums…thank you Allen Toussaint for bringing this band together and blessing us with one of the most dynamic songs of all time, in addition to all the other gifts you gave us. For this and all of those, we are so very thankful you were in our world and we’ll make sure that future generations know your name and know your songs.

Five for John Holt…R.I.P.

October 22nd, 2014


Of late I’ve been remiss in paying tribute to dearly departed musicians here on the blog, but when word of John Holt’s passing came through earlier in the week, I knew I’d be writing a bit about this man, his amazing voice and some of my favorite tracks. What I always appreciated about Holt was his smooth delivery. So cool, just effortlessly breezy, in the way the words flow. Without a doubt I’m sure Holt was a major influence on maybe my favorite singer from Jamaica, Gregory Isaacs, and his songs have been a delight to all who’ve heard them. While most people know Holt’s “The Tide Is High,” because mega pop stars Blondie covered it in the 1980s, the man cut a number of fantastic sides, originally with his group the Paragons and just by himself. These five are the ones I’ll remember him most for.

The Paragons – Wear You To The Ball

“The Tide Is High” and “On The Beach” got more acclaim, “Wear You To The Ball” is as good if not better. Maybe it’s just because of the story in the song, where the singer is taking a date to the Ball, that other people wouldn’t. As Holt croons, “Though you don’t suit those other guys, you suit me fine.” I’m a sucker for underdog/ugly duckling stories. Additionally, “Ball” has one of the most distinctive openings for a rock steady song. Just great all around.

The Paragons – I Want To Go Back

Along with all the other songs on the Paragons’ album On The Beach, I discovered this one on my first trip to the Bay Area as an adult back in 1997. I don’t know exactly how long it took, but I was convinced for years that the Beatles covered Holt and the gang, not the other way around. This version was just so good, so thoroughly soulful that it couldn’t have originated from anyone else. To this day I can’t even listen the Beatles version…for me there’s just no comparison.

John Holt – A Love I Can Feel

Another cover that I didn’t know was a cover until years later, in this case the Temptations, “I Want A Love I Can See.” Might be a little up-tempo to fully qualify as Lover’s Rock, but that sentiment and Holt’s phrasing make it just about perfect.

John Holt – Let’s Build Our Dreams

“Let’s Build Our Dreams” is without a doubt one of the most soulful reggae I’ve ever heard. Some of that comes through in the just ever so slightly slower riddim and those notes on the organ. But it’s Holt’s singing, the style and the sentiment that kills me every time. The interplay between John Holt and Slim Smith also is deeply soulful. A classic amongst classics.

John Holt – Ali Baba

One of my all-time favorites. Not a week goes by where for one reason or another either the first line, “I dreamed last night about Ali Babe, with the 40 thieves…” or “I rode through the valley with the princess by my side…” pops into my mind. My response is almost always the same, whether I’m walking down the street, sitting in my office or in my car, in the shower, wherever…I start singing it and dance a very particular reggae step. The riddim just by itself would have made this one a classic. Holt’s cooler than cool delivery makes it legendary, just like the man himself.


All week long I’ve been planning a tribute to Lou Reed (which will broadcast today from 4-6pm on KPFK), who passed away at the age of 71 exactly one week ago. As I’ve been listening to music from Reed. I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out exactly when I heard music from his seminal group the Velvet Underground. I have a very vague memory of hearing “Walk On The Wild Side” sometime in middle school on the radio and even then realizing that there were things going on in that song that were far beyond my 9 or 10-year old understanding of the world. But for the life of me I can’t recall the moment I actually heard the Velvet Underground. By the time I’d gotten to college and began working at Album 88, it seems like I’d already heard of the group. Mo Tucker lived in Atlanta and would always come down to the station asking to be interviewed about some new project and people would complain that, “just cause she was in the Velvet Underground doesn’t mean we ‘should’ interview her now.” It’s a strange feeling with a band so iconic and with such a distinct sound, to not be sure when you heard it first. What I’ve basically figured out is that part of the reason that it seemed like I’d just always heard much of Lou Reed’s music was that it was all over the place, in terms of the massive influence his work had on musicians since the 1960s to the massive amount of covers that had been done of VU and Reed songs. Here are 5 of the ones that I’m sure I heard before I truly became a fan of the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed.

Tribe Called Quest – Can I Kick It

Now, I know this isn’t technically a cover or Lou Reed song, but it samples “Walk On The Wild Side,” (before Marky Mark’s version, which I wish I can actually unhear from my mind) and was probably one of the first Hip-Hop songs where I absolutely knew the sample and then could recognize that other aspects of the song weren’t from that sample, thus sending me out to find those other elements. So, there you have it, Lou Reed is partially responsible for much of the crate diggin’ I’ve done in my life.

Swervedriver – Jesus

Shortly after hearing the Tribe song above I feel in love with this shoegazey band from the UK. As remains the case when I fall head over heels for a group I try to get my ahnds and ears on every single bit of music I can from them and this cover of what now is one of my favorite VU songs was on a single release that included “Sandblasted,” called “Reel to Real.” I have the vaguest recollections of thinking to myself, “maybe I should check out the original version,” but I still don’t think that was what actually led me to discover the music of the Velvet Underground.

Jane’s Addiction – Rock’n’Roll

Around the same time I heard Swervedriver covering the VU, Jane’s Addiction was all the rage. It took me a little while to work backwards to their live recording, essentially their debut, from 1987. For sometime I just had this on a cassette, so it wasn’t until years later that I realized it was a cover. By that time I’m pretty sure I’d already heard the earlier stuff from the Velvets, but hadn’t really heard anything from Loaded. It was probably a few years later until I realized what a profound effect Lou Reed must have had on this band and so many others.

Cowboy Junkies – Sweet Jane

This was something that I didn’t hear until I made my way into college radio at Album 88, where the Cowboy Junkies and “Sweet Jane” were already staples of programming by the time I arrived in 1993. In a similar fashion to Jane’s Addiction above, there was a bit of ignorance on my part for quite a while before I realized that this was a cover and actually fully heard the original version, which also came from the album Loaded, which was both the last album from the group that I heard any music from, but strangely also THE album that finally made everything click for me and made a massive fan of the Velvet Underground.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – All Tomorrow’s Parties

Final cover of note comes from an artist who I now realize must have been profoundly influenced by Reed, Nick Cave. Around 1994, I heard “Do You Love Me” from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and was floored. Seeing them live at Lollapalooza later that year completely sealed the deal and I’ve been a major fan ever since. Over the course of a couple of months I got nearly every record Nick Cave and the boys had recorded, and eventually found my way to the collection of covers, Kicking Against The Pricks. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” wasn’t my favorite song on that album, turns out it also isn’t one of my favorite VU tracks, but knowing that this was a record of covers of people who influenced an artist that I was completely smitten with was likely the thing that got me to formally listen to the Velvet Underground’s first two records. That wild sound was what I associated with the group until years later picking up a copy of Loaded at Amoeba in Berkeley and hearing “Pale Blue Eyes” shortly after that and finally fully and completely understanding the power and the glory that was Lou Reed.

5 for Jason Molina…R.I.P.

March 24th, 2013


{Molina’s Label, Secretly Canadian, has chosen to honor his memory by streaming all of his recorded works, take the time to dig in and get lost…}

Word came out and hit like a punch in the gut for a lot of people who care about good music, Jason Molina passed away this past Saturday at the far too young age of 39. For just about the past 20 years Molina has produced some of the most fascinating, frustrating, inscrutable, passionate and soulful music in virtual obscurity. I first came to hear of Molina in 1996 or 1997 when his debut release as Songs: Ohia was released. I wasn’t able to get the record added to our playlist at Album 88, but I sure played the hell out of it when I could and kept on playing Molina’s music wherever else I could on the radio. Songs from that first record were required listening on many a road trip over the years. More than anyone other recent singer/songwriter, besides perhaps Elliot Smith, the music of Jason Molina has a haunting quality that sticks with you. It’s not a sound for everyone, but if it is for you, well I’m sure you’re like me and deeply mourning the loss of a talented though troubled man. I’ll be playing an hour of Molina’s music this Sunday on Melting Pot, here are 5 songs that will definitely be in the playlist.


Songs: Ohia – Our Republic

More than any other song “Our Republic” is the one that keeps finding it’s way into my mind. Part of it is in the lyrics, which for the most part are as inscrutable as much of the other songs on the debut, but in what passes for a chorus there is this lovely line that’s always stuck with me, “you should know, trouble comes from a passionate word, you should know passion comes from a troublesome word.” Musically the song is marvel for a particular reason. After all these years of listening to it I still can’t tell if the instrument at the end is a saxophone or violin/viola. Charles Mingus talked about how if he had a group of bass players as talented as him they could mimic a horn section. To my ears it sounds like this might be one of those rare instances. I never heard anything quite like it, so it makes sense that it would pop up here in one of the first songs I’d hear from such a distinctive musician.

Songs: Ohia – How To Be The Perfect Man

Whereas the debut record seemed to be built out of esoteric lyrics put together in ways that didn’t even seem like they were from the 20th century, many later albums mined much more clearly personal territory while retaining Molina’s distinctive sense of phrasing. “Perfect Man” is less a tutorial than a plea from Molina. He knows he’s not the perfect man, he knows he’s never going to be a perfect man, but he’s still hopeful that the woman he loves will “Be mine, til you’re reminded of something better, be mine, til it comes along.”

Songs: Ohia – Baby Take A Look

It wasn’t until Molina’s death that I reaquainted myself with this stunner from the Lionness. In contrast to the pain of love lost that was often in a number of songs from this period of Molina’s writing, “Baby Take A Look” is awfully tender. It strikes me as the kind of thing that might have been written in reply to an argument and as a reminder of the love he had to share.

Songs: Ohia – Goodnight Lover

In a career of fine and distinctive songwriting, in my opinion, this is the best song Molina ever wrote. Such a personal appeal to a former lover that I always felt the performance was almost too intimate for anyone else’s ears than the person it was written for. A true heartbreaker for sure.

Songs: Ohia – Blue Factory Flame

It’s truly astounding looking at the full career output of Jason Molina. Prolific doesn’t even seem like it fits the body of work. I was amazed at how many recordings I’d never even heard and while I can’t say every single song speaks to me in the way his earliest recordings did, “Blue Factory Flame” was one of the tracks that stopped me in my tracks. It’s hard to listen to these lyrics, so focused on his own end of days, a little over a week after his death. While I feel “Goodnight Lover” is the best thing Molina ever wrote, I’m not sure there’s any thing he ever more deeply sung than this track.

5 for Shadow Morton…R.I.P.

February 24th, 2013
Foto © George Schowerer

Foto © George Schowerer

Heard the news that Shadow Morton passed away on Valentine’s Day, as I was driving home from my show on KPFK this past week.  Shadow Morton is perhaps best known as the driving force behind one of the greatest girl groups ever, The Shangri-Las.  As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, the Shangri-Las are one of my all-time favorite bands and “Remember” is one of the most amazing songs I’ve ever heard.  When I set up a “Pound For Pound” between the Shangri-Las and Ronettes, I acknowledged that the Shangri-Las had a more lasting influence and strangely enough it seems Shadow Morton himself took notice.


I don’t know if that was really Shadow Morton or not, but I’d like to hold on to the idea that it was. Morton wrote songs, produced and recorded a number of bands in the 1960s and 1970s.  According to his NY Times obituary, Morton wrote over 300 songs, most of which were never recorded.  I sincerely hope his family finds a way to get those songs into the hands of gifted musicians so that we will be able to get an even fuller appreciation of Morton’s considerable talent.  With the fundraiser ongoing at KPFK (including an Oscar special this week, we’ll be back on the air next week), I won’t be able to pay proper tribute to Morton, but I wanted to definitely take a bit of time to mention a few of my favorite Shadow Morton songs/productions.


The Shangri-Las – “Remember (Walking In The Sand)”

While “Be My Baby” is still my favorite girl group song of all-time, “Remember” as a song is so much more stunning. Nothing else really sounds like this song. Yes, it has elements of the style of the time, but the way everything comes together is so distinctive and fascinating sonically that again there’s really no comparison to this song and any other from this period of time. The fact that Morton essentially put this together in a matter of hours, all of it, writing the song, finding the band and a space to record the demo, is absolutely astounding.

The Shangri-Las – “Give Him A Great Big Kiss”

I know “Leader Of The Pack” is the big song from the Shangri-Las, another track that Shadow Morton wrote for the group. But to me, there’s nothing better than Mary Weiss’ introduction to this song, “When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in Love…L.U.V.”! and later on when the girls ask Mary about her new man and she says “He’s a Good Bad, but he’s not Evil”…pure bad girl perfection.

Vanilla Fudge – “You Keep Me Hanging On”

For some time I was a really big fan of the Box Tops version of this track, until I realized that Vanilla Fudge were the first group to employ this over-the-top rocked out treatment of the Supreme’s hit. As much as I love Alex Chilton, there’s really no comparison, particularly in those drums from Carmine Appice, who later on would feature in one my favorite 1970s LPs, from Cactus. The fact that this was “directed” by Shadow Morton (as described on the 45), just makes it even more special.

Iron Butterfly – “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”

This one might be more legend than reality. But even though he is uncredited, it appears that Shadow Morton played a major part in this classic bit of psychedelic music. Apparently the band had a hard time recording this song, so Morton convinced them that there was some kind of malfunction but that they should keep playing to work out the kinks, while secretly recording the unsuspecting band. Morton himself at times confirmed the story and at other times mentioned how he was so drunk that he didn’t really remember too much, so it might have all been because of engineer Don Casale. No matter what, it’s such a great story and it is clear that Morton was in the studio, even if he never receivetd a formal credit.

New York Dolls – “Human Being”

It was pretty clear that the New York Dolls were fans of the Shangri-Las, after appropriating the opening lines of “Great Big Kiss” for their song “Looking For A Kiss” on their debut. It must have been a dream come true for the band to work with Morton on their second album Too Much Too Soon, one of the best examples of Rock’n’Roll America has ever produced. “Human Being” might just be my favorite song from the Dolls, and it’s something that wouldn’t sound quite the same without production from Shadow Morton.

5 for Donald Byrd…

February 8th, 2013

We learned this week that another giant has left us.  Donald Byrd has passsed away at the age of 80. As is the case with a lot of people from my generation, my love affair with Donald Byrd was largely connected to the use of several of his songs as samples in Hip-Hop. Having been into jazz even before I got deep into sample lore, I appreciated the depth and breadth of his playing from the late 1950s into the 1970s. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Byrd’s sound seemed to fit perfectly wherever it found itself. Whether he was playing blistering hard bop, the most soulful soul jazz, serene and pretty ballads or sweaty dancefloor jazz-funk, Byrd always sounded like he was just where he was supposed to be, comfortably at home. We’ll pay tribute to the many moods of Donald Byrd during the first hour of Sunday’s Melting Pot, for now here are 5 of my favorite songs from a legendary musician and great teacher, peace be with you Donald Byrd.

Donald Byrd – Blackjack

Likely the first track that I recognized as a being from Donald Byrd, even before I fully discovered Byrd’s playing with the Mizell Bros., was this deeply soulful number from a 1967 album of the same title. Pianist Cedar Walton lays it down hard and heavy, Smilin’ Billy keeps things soulful and breezy with the drums and Byrd, as usual soars through his solo. To this day, still on my all-time favorite soul-jazz numbers.

Horace Silver feat. Donald Byrd – Senor Blues

While Byrd had an amazing career as a leader, he also had a part in the recording of a number of exceptional recordings as a sideman. Perhaps my favorite is the vocal version of “Senor Blues” which unfortunately is not online, but the instrumental version also showcases Byrd’s playing very nicely.

Donald Byrd – Lansana’s Priestess

“Lansana’s Priestess” was the song that started my love affair with the Mizell Bros. style of production. More so than any other artist they recorded with during the 1970s, the Mizell Bros. sound blossomed with Donald Byrd. Though I’ve never had the guts to throw this on while DJ-ing in a club, as soon as the song begins I immediately want to dance. One of the most uplifting grooves of all time.

Donald Byrd – (Fallin’ Like) Dominoes

Simply put, my single favorite song recorded in the 1970s. Nothing fills my heart with joy quite like this song. “Dominoes” truly is the sound of summer. Trips me out that I was exactly 4 days old when this song was recorded.

Donald Byrd – Quiet Temple

I’ll saying quite a bit more about this one in a moment, but for now, I’ll just say that this is also one of my all-time favorite songs. “Quiet Temple” is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard and more than any other song it’s the one that’s been in my mind since hearing of Donald Byrd’s passing. A fitting elegy for a true giant.

On yesterday’s Melting Pot, Guest host Oliver Wang of broadcast this 48 minute tribute to MCA and the Beastie Boys, with a mix of classics and rarities from their entire career.

Tribute to Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys: Mixed by O-Dub of

Shocking news in the music world today that Adam Yauch, better known as MCA of the Beastie Boys, passed away at the age of 47. Yauch had been battling cancer for the last several years, but the news still came as a shock to me. Growing up in the 1980s, the Beastie Boys were a favorite band of mine, both in their party-hard early days and their conscious prankster later years. Tracking down samples from Beastie Boys records broadened my tastes and my appreciation of Hip-Hop production as much as any other groups, save the Native Tounges. MCA’s conversion to Buddhism expanded my curiosity into a variety of philosophies and helped me to find greater calm and patience at times when I was dangerously close to losing both. Here are 5 of my favorite tracks that MCA cut with the Beastie Boys, and the 5 I’ll remember him most for.

Beastie Boys – Brass Monkey

My first experience with the Beastie Boys, I can still remember a crew of four of five black kids at my elementary school in the halls singing the lyrics to this song, at a time where Hip-Hop was still thought of as purely “Black Music.” I’m not sure if they even knew the Beastie Boys were white, or if the fact they made Hip-Hop was enough for them to claim them as their own, but that moment is forever etched in my brain, as well as  MCA’s classic line that was probably the first time I’d even ever heard of Brooklyn.

“I drink Brass Monkey and I rock well
I got a Castle in Brooklyn – that’s where I dwell”

Beastie Boy – Sabotage

Quite possibly the single most entertaining music video of all time, “Sabotage” marked the emergence of Spike Jonze and got me to appreciate 1970s genre cinema. Even though you don’t really hear MCA’s voice in this track, that fuzz bass is so important to the sound, especially when everything breaks down in the second half, that it’s impossible to imagine this song being a success without that rumbling sound.

Beastie Boys – Jimmy James

A tribute of sorts to Jimi Hendrix, featuring 5 or 6 separate Hendrix samples, I’d never known until today that this was originally just an instrumental track and that all the cuts were by Adam Yauch himself.

Beastie Boys – Sure Shot

Aside from the blistering Jeremy Steig sample and one of my favorite lines, “I Strap On My Ear Goggles And I’m Ready To Go,” which caused me to refer to headphones as “ear goggles” for about a year, “Sure Shot” was also the song where MCA publicly denounced the misogynistic lyrics and behavior of his past and called for other artists to follow suit.

“I Want To Say a Little Something That’s Long Overdue
The Disrespect To Women Has Got To Be Through
To All The Mothers And Sisters And the Wives And Friends
I Want To Offer My Love And Respect To The End”

That kind of mea culpa and statement of solidarity, affected my own thinking on issues of gender, and likely helped to put me on the path where today I educate other men and women on the influence of popular culture on our ideas of gender, race and class.

Beastie Boys – Bodhisattva Vow

There are so many songs the MCA had great lines and rhymes, but this track from Ill Communication remains what I think is his signature song. A deeply personal and sincere take on his Buddhist faith and who his beliefs have affected his character.

“If Others Disrespect Me Or Give Me Flack
I’ll Stop And Think Before I React
Knowing That They’re Going Through Insecure Stages
I’ll Take The Opportunity To Exercise Patience
I’ll See It As A Chance To Help The Other Person
Nip It In The Bud Before It Can Worsen
A Change For Me To Be Strong And Sure”

The backing track was also stunning, with its use of Buddhist chant, drums from “Kissing My Love” and what sounds like the doors of a monastery crashing and closing. Hearing it the first time was like a revelation, one only made possible because of Adam Yauch, Rest In Peace.

David Jones of the Monkees passed away earlier in the week at the age of 65. Growing up as a suburban latch key kid in the 1980s, I was lucky enough to have gotten into the Monkees TV show when it started to re-air during that time in the afternoon. This was far before I knew anything about music history, or cared about issues of authenticity, or made judgements about the value or relative worth of music. The Monkees introduced me to a world of 1960s pop music, and most of my current pop sensibilities come from being a fan of their extraordinary music. I have to admit that Davy was never my favorite in the group. I always gravitated towards Michael & Mickey’s tunes more than any other. I even liked Peter’s quirkiness over the smoother charms of Mr. Jones. But as I reflect back on things, I really appreciate Davy’s vocals, how perfectly phrased ever thing is, and I recognize that Davy was likely the most talented of the bunch. I also have to admit that that Davy Jones’ shuffle is a move that I still occasionally break out into when listening to 60s music. Here are a few of my favorite Monkees’ moments featuring Davy Jones, may he rest in peace.

This doesn’t come from the show, but instead from the film Head, which is exhibit A for me in why the Monkees should be more highly regarded than they were. The film is a 60s psychedelic trip and not at all the kind of thing you’d expect from a “pre-fab” pop group. I could never imagine any of today’s stars producing something so incredibly bizarre and self-deprecating as this film. It does contain a moment of pure entertainment courtesy of Davy Jones and Mickey Basil (Yes, THAT Mickey!) with this dance sequence for “Daddy’s Song,” which also proves that Davy could do a lot more than his signature shuffle.

“Valleri” is one of my faves from the tail end of the TV show. I’ve always thought this must have been one of the final videos that the group cut together because there just seems to be a lot of tension between them, but Davy shines, as usual, with a very cool bit of TV magic that allows him to float away from the group as he starts to go into the second verse.

Bar-none this was my favorite Monkees song and moment from the original TV show, until I found out what the song actually was about in my adult years…Despite being “potentially” inspired by a Hell’s Angels train, the song is a pure pop gem, with a little bit of bite courtesy of Harry Nilsson’s lyrics. Every thing just melts away though when you watch Davy dance and goof around with a dancer whose name I’ve never been able to track down.

In some ways this is the quintessential Davy song from the series, since EVERY episode found him falling in love with some new girl, generally being the problem that the other boys in the band had to solve. It’s also a really fantastic vocal performance, I’ve always loved his phrasing in the chorus and the whispery “Darling…I Love You” at the end.

For most people THIS is the quintessential song from Davy, and perhaps from the group too (though “I’m A Believer” might be as big), It’s not a song that I’ll be playing in my mini tribute to Davy Jones this weekend as Melting Pot returns, but it’s certainly the song that he’ll be remembered by most of all. Plus it gives us some of the best examples of that signature little finger popping shuffle that Davy Jones. That pure joy in performance is how I’ll always remember him.

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