Archive for May, 2011

Perfect Songs – “Buddy” by De La Soul

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

In the 80′s there was a brief media to-do about backmasking, the encoding of evil messages in heavy metal records, accessible by playing certain albums backward. If only they’d known about the coded messages of De La Soul. If America’s parents in 1989 had any idea what “Jimbrowski must wear a cap, just in case the girl likes to clap” really meant, they’d be more afraid of De La than Judas Priest.

For any small-town kid in, say, Arkansas, listening to a De La record might as well have been a starter course in cryptography. In addition to the usual hip-hop slang, De La went further to fashion their own inside references and characters: “Jenny,” “buddy,” “Derwin,” “chestnuts.” Factor in Prince Paul’s curatorial approach to sampling, and you’ve got the makings of an album that rewards repeated listening across decades. Every time I catch up to a DJ like Prince Paul by discovering the source of a cut, or untangle the rhymes of MCs like Dave and Pos, I feel like I’m slowly graduating to their level of awareness.

But it’s not all knotty linguistics or DJ science on this tune. This one ain’t about bragging or sticking it to the ever-present threat of sucka MCs. This is the band stepping back and letting their friends Q-Tip, Monie Love, and the Jungle Brothers join the fun, and the effect is something like stepping into a summer barbecue in a Brooklyn neighborhood of the mind. So maybe it’s fine that the parents don’t know who Jimmy is or why he needs a hat.

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Perfect Songs – “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

If aliens came to me and asked me to play them one song to represent humanity at its best, I would play “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells for them. It is distilled joy.

If this song does not make you at least a little happy every time you hear it, then you may be a heartless robot. This song is as irresistible as a basket full of puppies and kittens on Christmas morning. It has the most perfect bassline. It has the happiest two-chord progression ever. Even its brief, mellow bridge makes one smile. The fact that it has no real lyrics to speak of is immaterial. The fact that the song was ostensibly written as a companion to a dance no one knows is irrelevant. It remains the simplest, most elegant musical construct man has yet devised.

If I were L. Ron Hubbard, I would have designed a religion around this song instead of a lame sci-fi story. It is a testament to the ability of music itself to spontaneously generate joy. Perhaps the secret to its magic is that is has no melody. It is simply a groove. The happiest groove ever written. Melodies lose their luster with overuse, but grooves never die. A fat groove is a joy forever.

As an added bonus, if you listen to it with headphones on, you can hear all sorts of extra voices in the studio. It’s like you’re there with them, making this thing up as they go.

>> Download Tighten Up Pt. 1 (LP Version) from amazon.com.