Words & selections by Balearic Mike.
Yesterday was a couple of very important anniversaries. One terribly sad, and the other a much happier date. Let’s start with the happy one, yeah?
Beastie Boys – Check Your Head – Grand Royal Records 1992
April 21st was the 30th anniversary of the release of this quite magnificent third LP from the Beastie Boys. There`d been a 3-year gap since their last wonderful album, the largely ignored but nevertheless appreciated by me, Paul’s Boutique, and that was when 3 years between records seemed like an age!
Loads had changed…and, unsurprisingly, so had the Beasties. Check Your Head was preceded by the 4-track E.P., Pass the Mic, which hinted a little that things might have evolved somewhat. Fans of the band would already have been aware of their hardcore / punk roots. In the wake of the success of Licensed To Ill, their earlier recordings had been reissued to cash-in on the Beastie-Mania of 1987, but few would have expected that they would have begun to embrace those roots, and bring them back onboard. The ‘Boys’ have picked up their old instruments again!
The opening side of the album puts it all out there for you to try and get your head around. Starting with a trio of rap numbers, but something about the sound is different. The funky, psychedelic, and jazzy vibes of Pauls Boutique have now been replaced by – still psychedelic – fuzzy, distorted live bass, blasted through busted vintage Marshall amps. The drums are cavernous, monstrous – somewhere between early Funkadelic and Led Zeppelin…and then the fourth track is Gratitude!
My mouth hung open when this came on for the first time. It’s basically the father of Sabotage from their next LP, for me. All their hardcore / punk rock roots are there, but mutated it through their love of hip hop into an almighty Funkadelic-style track. With Lighten Up, we’re into Cymande territory, with a beautiful, loose, jazzy, almost folk-funk groove. They explore this direction even further on the sensational, Somethings Got To Give. Not only are they playing real instruments, but the Boys are also actually singing!
The whole LP spends it’s time moving effortlessly between genres, and inventing new ones along the way. We can’t overlook the massively important input from the secret fourth member of the band, ‘Money’ Mark Nashita, who begins his long and fruitful working relationship with the band here.
This is the sound of a band who’ve matured into wonderful, open minded, experimental, and visionary artists. They’ve built not just a studio, G-Son, where they’ve written, played and recorded this album – and where they’ll write and record their next, possibly their finest, Ill Communication – but also built lives for themselves out in LA. They’ve started their own record label, will soon publish their own magazine – the fantastically brilliant, stupid, weird, Grand Royal – will have their own clothing line, X-Large, and they will also be one of the first bands to understand how to use the internet to enhance their relationship with their fans.
The cover photo has them subliminally recreating the Adidas trefoil – apparently!
You gotta fight, for your right to progress.
And so, to that very sad anniversary…but I’m matching it up with a happier one as well…
Prince & the Revolution – Around The World In A Day – Paisley Park 1985
Yep, yesterday was 6 years since Prince Rogers Nelson passed. Probably the most important man in my life – sorry Dad. It freaks me out to think that quite soon, I’ll be older than Prince was …But 37 years ago today, Prince released this confusing, surprising, and utterly wonderful LP.
Issued with very little publicity, and without even the advance guard of a single to herald the way, Around The World In A Day came out to a quite baffled UK – and US – public, most of who had only discovered the purple love god less then 12 months earlier! The band had played their final dates on the Purple Rain tour just 3 weeks prior – cue complete wardrobe, hair, and makeup re-vamp, as well as a musical leap towards … what exactly?
The easy angle is towards St. Pepper-era Beatles, and there’s some truth in that comparison, even though Prince wasn’t much of a Beatles fan (Musicians! Idiots the lot of them!). Certainly, on Raspberry Beret, Paisley Park and Pop Life, the drumming really reminds me of Ringo. But the album is actually all over the place stylistically. I think the Beatles comparison comes from the undoubtably psychedelic sleeve art as much as the music. What I can say is that this is in my top 5 favourite Prince LPs. The title track, alongside Raspberry Beret, Pop Life, Condition of The Heart, and The Ladder, are among some of Prince’s finest songs, and the album as a whole is a beautifully complete piece of art.
It was a success, going to #1 in the US, but doing much worse over here. Pop Life, for example, spent only 2 weeks on the UK chart, peaking at #60!!!, hence my copy, bought only a few weeks after its release, was already a discounted US cut-out copy.
Prince, a bit like Bowie, was sometimes just too good for us, wasn’t he?
“What’s the matter with your life, is the poverty bringing U down”?
I originally wrote these notes for the second volume of Down To The Sea And Back, but we lost the track at the last minute… With the triumphant return of The Idjut Boys – Dan and Conrad – and their new Droid record just about to arrive through the post, I thought I’d dig this out again and give it a bit of a re-edit myself…
The Lighthouse Family – Question Of Faith (Idjut Boys Remix) – Wildcard Record 1998
“THE FUCKING LIGHTHOUSE FAMILY? YOU’RE SHITTING ME!”
Well, the conversation went something like that, the day Moonboots popped into Vinyl Exchange on his lunch break and informed me that those talented Idjut Boys, whose work we loved so much, had just remixed a band that personified MOR.
“No, honestly, it’s brilliant – really Balearic”, he assured me…and you know, he wasn’t wrong. Dan and Conrad’s genius here is that they see there’s a really beautiful song to work with, and then go about stripping it back to the essentials, adding space, their trademark reverb and dubby delays, and leaving the key components – of bassline and piano. It’s a truly magnificent remix.
One of the great things about working in a record shop back in the 1990s was that if there was a hot new record about, with all the DJs, journos and reps bringing stuff in, you were guaranteed to get a copy before most of the rest of the populace, and I managed to get my hands on said promo double-pack before the end of that same day.
This record has become something of an anthem for Manchester’s small Balearic community, a fact that came as a bit of a surprise to Dan and Conrad when I mentioned it to them. Coincidentally, around the time it was released, Moon and Jason Boardman had started their now legendary Aficionado party. This record is probably one of a very tiny number that has been played in almost all of Aficionado’s different homes over the last 24 years. An honour not bestowed lightly.
I’ve played this 12 pretty solidly ever since it appeared. I love two things about playing it. Firstly, the reaction of the dance-floor, which is never short of joyous – it has a similar sound and effect to Sister Sledge’s Thinking Of You – and secondly, the reaction on the face of anyone who comes up to ask what it is – a mixture of horror, revulsion, surprise and disbelief!
In 2009 I was lucky enough to be asked to play at an ambient / electronic music festival called Chillits, just North of San Francisco. I had a lovely 3-hour set in the middle of a sunny Saturday afternoon, and towards the end I span this. I then took orders for copies of the record from about a dozen ecstatic festival goers. It was / is a UK only promo.
Later, during the same trip, I dropped the song towards the end of my set at a party in L.A. called The Do-Over, which is an amazing Sunday afternoon soiree run by the chaps from Stones Throw, amongst others. Aloe Blacc, who was the MC at the session, started singing his own lyrics over the instrumental passages – this was a year or so before he had a hit with the I Need A Dollar track – and it was amazing to have lots of proper heavy-duty hip-hop dudes coming over to ask what it was. Brilliant!
I now own forty-six – yes 46! – Fela Kuti records, but this was the first … and I can still recall the first time I heard it…
Fela Kuti – Black President (Feat. Sorrow, Tears & Blood) – Arista 1981
It was the Summer of 1991, and one of the big Italo hits of the time was a record by Kwanza Posse, called Wicked Funk. It was, as the title suggested, wickedly funky! A killer slice of mid-tempo Italian Balearic fare on the Italian Flying Records label – combining elements of US funk with African music influences, and it was rather popular on the old ‘Balearic Network’ as it was then called.
Fast forward to early ’92, and Ade LuvDup, Chris Sheep and myself have ordered a taxi to take us into town for a night out. I can’t recall where we were going, but we jump into the taxi and this wonderful music is playing, and it’s the track that those cheeky Italian chappies sampled on Wicked Funk. I ask the taxi driver – a strikingly beautiful young man who looks like Naomi Campbell but with a beard and long braids tied back – “What`s this incredible music?” “Fela Kuti”, he replies. I’ve honestly never heard of him before, but Adrian has.
The next day in the shop I dig fruitlessly through the ‘World Music’ section in Vinyl Exchange, and then ask Jo how often we get records by Fela Kuti in, but the reply isn’t that encouraging. It must have been a good 6 months before I saw any sight of a Fela Kuti record, and it occurred in King Bee Records. By this stage I`d resolved to buy anything I found, but as luck would have it, it just so happens that this is the one, with the exact track I was looking for, although I’d later come to realise that it’s an edit, at just over 10 minutes.
It’s an ex-Manchester Libraries copy that’s been withdrawn. It looks like it had never been borrowed. I didn’t know it then, but Black President is actually a compilation. Both of the other tracks were equally incredible, and so began my compulsive on the spot Felt Kuti purchasing spree. To be fair, most of my LPs are part of the 5 box sets of reissues – 31 to be exact. But you can never have too much Fela.
There are some lovely record folks out there you know …
White Feather – Summer Days / Golden Haze – No No Records 1983
Some of you may have seen my recent piece on quite stunning new compilation from Paul Hillery, on BBE records, called We Are The Children Of The Sun. It is a totally fantastic collection, and you should all go out and buy a copy. Anyway, on an album comprising entirely of outstanding tracks, a couple of them did stand out just that little bit more than the rest, and this was one of them. When I looked it up on Discogs I saw that it was a privately pressed 7” only release, of 500 copies, and that there were some for sale. One of the sellers oddly enough shared their name with the writer of the song. So, I bought a copy from him.
It arrived a few days later in a really strangely shaped package. The reason for which was that he had decided to use up the postage weight allowance by filing the parcel with stuff that I might like, plus a lovely letter. He included copies of the original press sheet, a copy of a poster they’d knocked up, as well as a selection of CDs that he also released. I was so chuffed with all these little extras that I thought I’d share my joy with you all.
Salute to you Alan Robinson for this wonderful record, and your incredible generosity!
Oh, and if you’re ever short of a few quid, Balearic Wife and I reckon Enya completely nicked the main melody for Orinoco Flow from your wonderful record, so might be an idea to contact a music lawyer.
I was very sad to hear of the death of Klaus Schulze this week – one of the giants of German music for over 5 decades…
Clara Mondshine – Luna Africana (Feat. Die Drachentrommler [Dragon Drummers]) – Innovative Communications 1981
My immersion in the music coming out of Germany in the 1970s and early `80s is almost entirely due to my obsession with the mixtapes of Daniele Baldelli and the Italian Cosmic / Afro scene. Despite my adoration of Kraftwerk, and despite Mark LuvDup making CAN`s “…And More” a big record at Hell – a night that we did at the No.1 Club – I just never really thought to explore much further.
That all changed with those Cosmic tapes, and the subsequent lists, and fan sites, that we found on the internet. Suddenly anything on Innovative communication or Brain was a ‘buy on sight’. As a result, I now own quite lot of records by Klaus Schulze, either as an artist or a producer, and although Kelvin Andrews and I included one of his tracks on our second volume of Down To The Sea And Back, it’s this one, as a producer, that I’ve chosen to post today.
I prefer Klaus’ work from the `80s if I’m honest. It’s more rhythmic and percussive, less noodling, more groove, and this LP has lots of grooves. The opening track is the killer for me, Die Drachentrommler (Dragon Drummers) – and I believe a Baldelli favourite. Although I think that he may have played it at 45rpm -8. I often pitch it up on 33rpm to +8.
I started my mixtape, Cosmic Alphonsus Vol.2, with this track, and it helped considerably in relaunching my completely stalled DJ career, so cheers Klaus!
It’s such a beautiful looking record that when Jan Hammered and I began our Night Music parties, at Dulcimer in Chorlton, back in the late noughties, we used the sleeve as our flyer. My copy also includes a really nice promo booklet, that’s all in German of course.
Thank you for the music, Klaus.
Released 34 years ago this week…the first single from Prince’s last truly great LP, snuck out into the world in the aftermath of the “Black Album” controversy. It honestly couldn’t be further from the darkness of that record if it tried…
Prince – Alphabet St. – Paisley Park 1988
What you have here is Prince completely tuned into the zeitgeist of what was happening as spring ’88 turned into summer ’88, and Acid House was heralding in the second summer of love on the dance-floors of the UK. It’s an absolutely joyous burst of psychedelic funk, straight from the Sly & The Family Stone songbook, but with the added bonus of a thumping drum machine-powered rhythm and a glorious polka-dot obsessed new wardrobe from my musical idol.
It’s rumoured that the withdrawal of the “Black Album” as it became known, was the result of a night where Prince took ecstasy and decided that he didn’t want the LP released. In the dayglo, psychedelic video for the song, there’s a split second hidden message which says, “Don’t buy The Black Album. I’m sorry”.
From the sound of it, the ecstasy use might have continued for a little while, as the LP he quickly recorded and released, and subsequent world tour has been described as like “Liberace on acid!” – which is about right! Over on the flip side we have Alphabet St. (This Is Not Music, This Is A Trip), which is a fancy name for a quite blissed out – mostly – instrumental version of the song, and gives you a firm idea of where the Lovesexy album, which was about to follow, was heading.
Alphabet Street bounced into the UK charts in early May, peaking at #9 in its second week, before quickly dropping and disappearing altogether after only 6 weeks. While this sounds like a disappointing outcome, it’s totally in keeping with Prince’s chart success in the UK. It wouldn’t be until 1994 that he would have a UK #1 single!
Later that summer I’d get to see Prince live for the first time on the Lovesexy Tour, at Wembley Arena. It’s still one of the greatest nights of my life!
For more from Balearic Mike you can find him on both Facebook and Instagram – @balearicmike. Mike has a Mixcloud page packed with magnificent, magical, music, and you can catch him live on 1BTN, from 12 noon until 2 (UK time) every 1st and 3rd Friday.
You can also check out the super silk screen prints of “Balearic Wife” over at @jo_lambert_print – personally I think they’d make damn fine record sleeves.