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The Friday Writers’ Bloc: June 6th, 2008

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Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE

Jonathan’s Picks

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few weeks talking about remixes — their origins, their value, their potential — and how sometimes the remix(es) of a song are just better than the originally recorded version. Today I’m giving you three different examples of this idea, but by picking three different remixes of the same song: Jay-Z’s “Change Clothes,” (listen to the original version here) which was the first single off of his epic “last album,” The Black Album. While I loved The Black Album on the whole, “Change Clothes” is among my least favorite songs on it, and I admit I was moderately horrified when it appeared as the debut single off icon Jay-Z’s supposed farewell to Hip Hop. He’s goin’ out like THIS?? Naw. Can’t be, I remember thinking. Well luckily, as it turns out, he wasn’t goin’ out at all.

1. Jay-Z – Change Clothes (The Pink Album Remix)

The Black Album is probably the most remixed album of all time due to the (intentional) release of an a capella version, which provided all of Jay’s vocals with none of the Black Album beats behind them. This allowed everyone from top-flight producers like Just Blaze, to wannabes and Garageband users the same remixing ability. Though the most well-known of these remix attempts is undoubtedly Danger Mouse‘s The Grey Album (a mash up of Jay’s Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album), I’ve never bought into the idea that it was the best of the remixes. In my opinion, one of the best attempts (if not the best), is The Pink Album. For a long time after it first came out, the Pink Album remained a mystery work by an unknown producer (or producers) — though the Internets were ablaze with speculation (even Kanye West’s name was mentioned) — but more recently the Pink Album has been clearly attributed to the team of Hasan Insane and DJ Mills (though which DJ Mills — there are multiple — is not as clear), as the former is now actually selling cuts off the Pink Album on his MySpace page. In any case, the album is great, and “Change Clothes” is definitely among the standout remixes, as the original version’s Neptunes-produced pop appeal is toned down slightly by a new, smoother, Jay-Z friendly beat.

2. Jay-Z – Change Clothes (The Purple Album Remix)

The Purple Album is another great take on Jay-Z’s Black Album, as it uses tracks and sounds taken exclusively from Prince’s Purple Rain and creates almost entirely new beats with them. I either don’t know or can’t remember who’s responsible for this one, there are just too many Black Album remixes to keep track, though DJ Quest and K12 both come up as possible candidates. Either way, mixing an already pop-oriented song with Prince certainly doesn’t make it any more hood, but it most definitely makes it much better, and a hell of a lot more fun to listen to. This is one of those tracks that when you throw it on a party, half the people in the room (Jay-Z fans or not) will look at you and go, “Where the hell did you get this?” It’s a completely different take on the Black Album, and one that I think works pretty gloriously. As long as you don’t try to take it to seriously. Oh, and if Reasonable Doubt is the only Jay-Z album you listen to, you’re not gonna like this one bit.

3. Jay-Z – Change Clothes (The Black Chronic Remix)

The Black Chronic is probably among the most understandable (in terms of knowing what it is you’re hearing) Black Album remixes. Done by the Bash Brothers, it’s actually more of direct mash up than a remix, taking the rhymes from the Black Album and laying them over all the sick beats from Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001 masterpiece. In this particular song, “Change Clothes” is mashed with the hard and heavy beat from Dre’s “Fuck You,” and it works out quite well. Unlike mixing the Black Album with a Prince album, mixing it with something that carries the street-cred and street-sound of a Dr. Dre album definitely turns “Change Clothes” into an entirely different song, transforming it from chart-friendly “hip-pop” back into a legitimate hip hop song. Funny thing is, it really does work too. Problem solved.

JustJake’s Picks

This week’s picks have been a long time coming. They are all from my hands-down, desert-island-choose-one-and-only-one, favorite group, The Band. Eric Clapton said about the group’s seminal first album: “Back in 1968 I heard a record called Music from Big Pink and it changed my life and the course of American music.” Legend has it that it’s the reason he left Cream. But don’t take Clapton’s word for it, here are three picks (and it’s hard to pick only three) off that record.

1. The Band – Long Black Veil

This song is simply tremendous. Written in the 1950’s and originally recorded by country legend Lefty Frizzell, “Long Black Veil” is a haunting tale from beyond the grave that sounds as old as the hills. The organs, tubas, and harpsichord that The Band uses add to the song’s strangeness and emotion without taking it out of dirt and grit that give it its soul. This album has very few songs on it that sound like anything that came before, but “Long Black Veil” serves almost as a reminder from The Band that it knows where it comes from and cares about its roots.

2. The Band – Chest Fever

As the story goes, Garth Hudson, The Band’s organist, horn player, and musical guru originally had to tell his family that he was giving his fellow band members music lessons instead of playing in a rock n roll band. Hudson was raised as a serious classical musician and even jazz was blasphemous. His talents remain to this day and you can still find him making strange music on strange instruments, sounding part seafaring, part space exploring. Hudson was responsible for much of ornamental details and subtle touches in The Band’s music that ultimately help give it its depth. While on tour, this song became Hudson’s time to play around. For an idea of what that was like check out this grainy but amazing video from Wembley Stadium (1974).

3. The Band – I Shall Be Released

The last song on Big Pink, “I Shall Be Released” is one of three on the album either written or co-written by Bob Dylan, who The Band backed before striking out on their own. Richard Manuel was one of three amazingly talented singers in the group (Levon Helm and Rick Danko being the others) and his falsetto (and piano) on this track is both eerie and beautiful. The space stands out in this song almost as much as the music itself does; there’s a pervasive sense of loneliness, as if the song were recorded in a giant empty cell.

Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE

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The Friday Writers’ Bloc: May 30th, 2008

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Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE

Jonathan’s Picks

1. Wyclef Jean Feat. Lupe Fiasco – Fast Car (Fugee Remix)

Unlike last week’s picks, I’m really not going with any particular theme here — these songs are about as unrelated as you can get (one new, one old, one classic). First up is somethin’ new, former Fugees bassist and Wyclef Jean cousin Jerry Wonder’s remix of Wyclef’s “Fast Car,” the second single off Clef’s much-anticipated album, Carnival Vol. II: Memoirs of an Immigrant. Personally, I had been looking forward to the album’s release for months, as I grew up bumpin’ great tracks like “Guantanamera,” “We Trying to Stay Alive,” and “Gone Till November” off Wyclef’s first album, The Carnival, which I thought was amazing. Unfortunately, the newest album failed miserably to meet my already high expectations, and that disappointment extended to the original version of “Fast Car” as well, which features Paul Simon. I remember thinking upon first listen that the song had potential but stopped short of being really good. Needed more bump. Thus, I’m glad to say that Jerry Wonder’s remix has done just that: elevated “Fast Car” to another, greater level. Not only is the remix a good one, but it stands strong as its own entity, with producer Wonder giving the track three different layers of beats and building the chorus into an infectious sing along. Even though the Carnival Vol. II album isn’t as good as I’d envisioned, the “Fast Car” remix is going a long way towards making me feel like Wyclef’s still got it.

2. Clipse Feat. Sean Paul, Elephant Man, Kardinal Offishall – Grindin’ (Reggae Remix)

So this is the old(er) pick, and admittedly the logic that brought me to choosing this track is somewhat convoluted, so bear with me here. I think it’s safe to say that Kardinal Offishall is among the top three Canadian rappers of all time (not that I can name the other two), and I was sad to see that he had somewhat fallen off the face of the musical earth over the last few years. But recently, he signed with Akon’s Konvict Muzik, reinvigorating his career, and just released a hot first single with Akon called “Dangerous,” instantly inserting himself back into the game. Hearing Kardinal spit on “Dangerous” (yes, I admit it’s almost a pop song, but who cares?) immediately brought me back to 2002, and the release of what was the hottest beat I had ever heard at that point in my life and DJ career: “Grindin’” by Clipse (beat by the then en fuego Neptunes). Frankly it might still be the hottest beat today, I don’t know. Regardless, the only thing better than “Grindin'” itself was the reggae remix, which featured Sean Paul, Elephant Man, and of couse, Kardinal Offishall, who absolutely SLAYS the track with his closing (third) verse, and steals the song altogether, despite tight verses from both Sean Paul and Elephant Man. See, “Dangerous” you can find anywhere now. But the “Grindin'” reggae remix?? I don’t know if it even left the decks of New York’s DJs! (Who loved it, by the way). Therefore, I give you what you might not ordinarily be able to find. Behold.

3. Cherrelle & Alexander O’Neal – Saturday Love

Now this one is definitely a classic: 1985, baby. Back in the day, old school R&B style. A duet between Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neal, “Saturday Love” hit number two on the U.S. R&B charts (and number 25 overall) in 1985-86 thanks to Cherrelle’s addictive chorus and O’Neal’s signature silky smooth 80s vocals. What could be better? It’s a classic example 1980s R&B pre-New Jack Swing era, which began to dominate R&B at the tail end of the 80s and into the early nineties. And though Cherrelle may draw top billing on this track (it’s from her album, High Priority) it’s O’Neal who has experienced a bit of an unintentional resurgence as of late. His verse from “Saturday Love” was (very obviously) sampled in 1999 by Italian DJ and house producer Junior Jack for his hit single, “My Feeling.” More recently, however, and perhaps more pertinently, Alexander O’Neal’s equally amazing R&B hit (I could easily have picked it instead of “Saturday Love” for today’s playlist), “If You Were Here Tonight,” — video HIGHLY recommended — was sampled by none other than up-and-coming Swedish rapper and old IDK favorite, Adam Tensta. His track “80s Baby,” which I chose for IDK’s very first edition of The Friday Writers’ Bloc, prominently features both the melody and the chorus from “If You Were Here Tonight” to great effect. So embrace the throwbacks, young people, embrace ’em. And right here’s a good place to start.

JustJake’s Picks

1. Corb Lund – The Horse I Rode in On

I don’t know a whole lot about this guy. He’s comes from a long line of Alberta cowboys and he likes to use civil war cavalry images on his albums and website. He writes beautifully simple songs that seem to emanate from a time out of mind and yet feel oddly familiar. If you don’t think you like country music, try coming to this song with an open mind because it exhibits an honesty and genuineness that has been lost in the glitz of modern country music.

2. Andru Bemis – Huck Finn

Another strange character from the West, Andru Bemis has spent time traveling the country on the rails with his instrument on his back, working odd jobs to support his odd music, which is quiet, solitary, strange, and out of place. This particular song has an irresistible childishness while expressing a very grown-up sense of sadness at feeling out of place in time.

3. Avett Brothers – Salina

Like Lund and Bemis, these guys came somewhere from the fringes of the American musical landscape and create strange and soulful tunes. While in the last couple of years, they’ve moved more towards the center of Americana music the brothers haven’t lost much of their weirdness. This tune, off their most recent album Emotionalism (2007), showcases the Avetts’ superb songwriting talents as well as the catchiness that has propelled them into a growing spotlight.

Carman’s Picks

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Y Control

Somebody once said to me, “I don’t get why people think Nick Zinner is such a great guitarist. All he does is just play the same two notes over and over again.” Obviously the person who said that simply didn’t get it. Not only was Zinner great because of the harsh and sonorous buzz of his guitar, but for his economy. He played those two notes over and over again, sure, but he did it with the driving force of a Wagnerian symphony. We all remember the surprise hit that was the beautiful “Maps,” but the highlight of their debut album was the incredible “Y Control” that immediately followed “Maps” in the track sequence. Following the dripping guitar lines that concluded “Maps,” this song immediately slams you down with Zinner in control. When we look back on this decade, I can only hope that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are remembered with more fondness than they are now. At least before they wrote “Gold Lion.”

2. The Police – “King Of Pain”

OK, so I realize I’m not digging very far into the record collection with my picks today. Last night I saw The Police (with Elvis Costello & The Impostors as the opening act) at the Hollywood Bowl so I’ve been in a Sting mood. The Police are an interesting band because they’re far better than we ever really give them credit for. Yes they had all those hits and are beloved by classic rock fans everywhere so they get credit where credit is due, but they’re far better than just being another flavor-of-the-month borrowed nostalgia trip to the unremembered Eighties for the 20something crowd. They released 5 excellent albums in their brief career as a unit, and made quite an interesting progression from new wave popsters to essentially creating the world music soundscapes that Paul Simon’s Graceland helped to popularize amongst the yuppies. While the concert was good, it was sad to see The Police essentially Synchronicitize many of their early hits (“Next To You,” “So Lonely,” “Message In A Bottle” to name a few) into Sting solo material by sapping all of the energy that was present in those songs. The transformation was imminent as far back as the second Police album, but Sting fully metamorphosed from rock star into scented candle with the band’s 1983 swan song of Synchronicity. It sounds like I’m slagging the album, but I actually truly love it. It’s easily the greatest adult contemporary album ever recorded.

Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE