Posts from 15th April 2003

Apr 03

The Heptones – “Make Up Your Mind” b/w “Why Must I?”

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One of the big problems with fads is that they generally do burn out the general public – even the general hipster public – to a specific sound, which is a shame when the victims are records as beautiful as this one. Will admit to not having listened to it in a while – I’m making CD-Rs of my favorite songs right now…the full list is here on an ILX thread – but hearing it yesterday I’m reminded of why it was the track which really “put me over” when it came to reggae. (The province of stinky hippies with a clutch of Wailers records, at least if you had just recently left American academia.) A fairly unremarkable roots track on the surface, not devotional except in the sense that all roots is devotional. But no cornbread and collie opacity, no shouting down Babylon. It’s a love (lost) song, and as such it’s easy to see why it struck such a chord: throw it up against any moody, mopey indie or pop record you wish and it wouldn’t sound too out of place.

In it’s way it reminds me of a Jamaican Smiths or Go-Betweens. Except the Heptones don’t mope. They lope, they glide, they hymn the heavens down with their song, but they do not languish unwashed in their beds wondering Why She Hasn’t Come Back. Towards health and efficiency.

The dub (I always forget which is the dub and which is the vocal) is hardly Lee Perry’s most radical production, but that seems slightly beside the point. (At least he doesn’t throw some mooing cows in there for us mere mortals to wonder why.) He abstracts the sound of the original, gutting the vocal and throwing glints of trace memories back at us, in order to make the pain that much more keenly felt. It’s not particularly heavy, or particularly dread. But the “collapsing chambers” here are the hearts. (Easy to find – even in the pre-mp3 sense – on the Perry anthology Arkology, a tricky document which alternates stretches of brilliance and tedium…six versions of “Police & Thieves” in a row.)

JIMMY SPICER — ‘Super Rhymes’

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I have more than a bit of sympathy for Jess on this thread — I find the earliest hip-hop tough going sometimes too. Thing is, I usually find myself nodding my head more at the positive descriptions of and arguments for Funky Four &c. than the actual records. This stuff should press all my fun buttons, but apparently only in theory — listening to it isn’t a bad experience, it just rolls along happily, and every now and then there’s a spark of grinning revelation as my drifting consciousness intersects with the MC’s wandering rhymes and I’m touched by the magic. The rest of the time it’s either switch-off or plain hard work, though, and I’m sure that’s not how I’m ‘meant’ to be hearing it because while the rewards are definite they’re also not enough to sustain a world-conquering pop style like they, well, did.

It may be that C. Eddy, M. Matos etc are right and something great has been lost in hip-hop’s journey from then to now, but you have to work with what’s around you. Maybe my pleasure centers are so wired to the current stuff that I won’t ever ‘get’, say, ‘That’s The Joint’ except on semi-academic terms: fine, my loss, don’t care either because as long as my neurons are getting fired I don’t worry too much about the context. (Well, I try not to.)

Anyway, ‘Super Rhymes’, which I heard on that old compilation Mantronix did for Soul Jazz, is great, so forget what I just said. Mantronix or his handlers edit the thirteen-minute original down to five which I philistinistically think is a sound move: the section they preserve finds Jimmy Spicer chatting to Dracula, who is — naturally – also Spicer doing a funny voice. Funny voices are hardly unknown in hip-hop now but whether anyone would have the balls or stupidity to keep a really bad one up for a whole song I’m not sure. Spicer does, it works, the bassline keeps teasing you with ‘Good Times’ then dancing off somewhere else, I like it so much I almost don’t care why.