Little Feat: Tripe Face Boogie
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What’s jazz music without an occasional quotation? And during the bebop era, we hear a lot of them. Cut in 1953, “The Serpent’s Tooth” is especially fun and gives us a two-fer from the Miles Davis Sextet. At 1:21 into the song, trumpet-player Davis quotes “Heart and Soul.” Not too much later, at 3:04, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins offers a direct challenge to Charlie Parker, with a quote from Irving Berlin's "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)". It seems to be an amusing little commentary that the jazz musicians are having. A second take of the song is also included here for a comparison.
Recorded at New York City’s WOR Studios on January 30, 1953, the rest of the band included Charlie Parker (tenor sax), Walter Bishop Jr. (piano), Percy Heath (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums). Miles Davis passed away in 1991, but he left a long legacy of classic jazz that emphasized his lyrical, introspective, and intimate style.
Mantronix: Don't Go Messin' With My Heart
Whether musical or otherwise, quotations tend to be used for a reason. Perhaps the artist or writer wishes to prove a point, or to allude to another work in order to stir or inspire specific feelings in the listener or reader, feelings they know to be entwined with well-recognised and culturally significant artifacts. To an extent, quotations - especially musical ones - can be seen not just as winks toward a knowing, post-modern audience, but also as subliminal attempts to link a new work with an established and celebrated precursor and, in doing so, attempt the quick elevation of said newer work to a higher level of recognition and acceptance.
Or, they could just be entirely arbitrary and as mad as a bag of cats.
By the time The Incredible Sound Machine was released, Curtis Mantronik had long since given up the experimental beats and angular, Kraftwerk-inspired sounds that had marked him out as one of Hip-Hop's early pioneers, moving instead toward the pop market and the burgeoning New Jack Swing movement. Still, this lead-off single was remarkable for two things: the hook-filled and joyous chorus, and, most importantly, the bizarre and inexplicable use of the whistled theme to the Andy Griffith Show, which pops up appropos of entirely nothing at around the half way mark. Eccentric? Perhaps. Random? Oh, yes. But strangely it works, and the song was a hit around the world.
As August wanes, I offer a great summer song, which quotes from another great summer song (or two). “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard” is a brilliant piece of summer fluff. Released in 1980, it has the sound of classic ‘60s surf music, and it quotes, liberally, from the Surfari’s legendary “Wipeout,” whose drum riff inspired millions of drummers, and instantly makes you think of surfing, the beach and simpler, more innocent times. And yet, the song has a certain amount of pathos—it is about a guy, selling shoes, who dreams about working as a lifeguard and spending his days at the beach checking out girls, instead of being a loser attending to stinky feet. And, because it is Blotto, the song is hysterical—my favorite line is:
Summer blondes revealing tanlines
I'll make more moves than Allied Van Lines
Blotto was a solid bar band with some good schtick who briefly made it “big” before reverting to cult status, disappearing, then reforming to take advantage of said cult status. From the Albany, NY area, they honed their craft in the Capitol District, particularly in Saratoga Springs (where, about 3 decades later, my son would go to college. I suspect he would have been a big fan.) What distinguished the band from other, similar bands was its sense of humor. For example, parodying The Ramones, each member of Blotto was billed with Blotto as a last name and a false first name.
“Lifeguard” was only one of their amusing songs. I also like “(We Are) The Nowtones,” a spoof of lounge bands, “She's Got a Big Boyfriend,” about the risks of attraction to a girl with, yes, a really big boyfriend, and “The B Side,” which explains, hilariously, why some songs make it, and some don’t.
Blotto’s humor, and the way they poked fun at themselves, prefigured the satire of “This is Spinal Tap,” the definitive affectionate skewering of rock music. The line from the movie where Michael McKean and Harry Shearer explain that there is a fine line between “stupid and clever” clearly describes Blotto, and this song, perfectly. And it is definitely on the “clever” side of the line.
Fun fact—Unlike most bands in 1980, and certainly unlike most bands in those days on independent labels, there was a music video for “Lifeguard,” shot by SUNY Albany students. It was played on MTV’s very first day, and was a bit of an early hit for the band and the station. Unfortunately, despite the MTV exposure, and a song that featured Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, they never were signed by a major label and disbanded in 1984, before reuniting in the 2000s.
The song that is quoted, throughout the song, is “Wipeout,” one of the great surf rock songs, originally released by The Surfaris in 1963. It has been covered many, many times, and its iconic drum riff will, I believe, be recognizable forever. There is, also, in “Lifeguard,” a Beach Boys quote, from “Fun, Fun, Fun,” which also fits the song, and the humor that made Blotto special.