I first saw this 12″ while reviewing this book for some website years ago. I didn’t think much of it until I saw the record again, remembered the book, and remembered that it was one of Tommy Boy’s early releases. I picked it up and loved it ever since; love the cover too.
“He’s Got The Beat” is an early ’80s electro-dance-cut, featuring cheesy punch-ins (“cu-cu-cut it up Whiz!“) and equally cheesy keyboards. Whiz Kid is credited with playing those keyboards, along with writing, mixing, and arranging, while a singer named Sabrina supplied the vocals. This was a fit with Tommy Boy’s futuristic-rap roster at the time, Planet Patrol, Key-Matic, and The Jonzun Crew for example. According to some websites (with often conflicting reports), Whiz Kid passed away around 2006. This song isn’t hard to come by nor is it turntable Whizardry, but it’s fun for sure. Cut it up Whiz!
Filed under: Interviews | Tags: cantor records, chandra oppenheim, transportation
When people sing “Love Me Do” to themselves on their way to a date ten years on the other side of their second divorce, it’s a sign that a young songwriter has got to a universal truth. This kind of precocious wisdom is embedded in the work of songwriters like Hank Williams, Prince, Elvis Costello, and Randy Newman. People who aren’t old enough to have lived the songs they’ve written nevertheless know how the song embodying that life should go. – Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker
It should exist, but it shouldn’t be this good. A Delta 5-meets-Jackson 5 adolescent post-punk EP with paranoid undertones, large doses of Farfisa organ and occasional melodica solos? Sounds like a dollar record. Actually, it sounds like the best dollar record ever. Transportation, the EP recorded by then-12-year-old Chandra Oppenheim and her cast of collaborators, is a brilliant artifact of the early-80’s New York club scene and a fascinating listen, full of propulsive rhythms and mildly obscure yet insistent phrasing. I usually use the term “teenage girl poetry” as an offhand diss when artists unwisely delve into confessional mode, but Chandra’s lyrical acumen just might salvage an entire genre of verse.
As the daughter of conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim, the precocious and self-assured Chandra was in the right place at the right time. Her father’s acquaintances Eugenie Diserio and Steven Alexander, already active in the downtown scene as The Dance, were looking for a child to front an experimental rock band, and the rest is history. After recording the 4 songs on the exceedingly rare original Transportation EP, the group toured the Northeast, debuting at the Mudd Club in 1980. Sometime thereafter, Diserio and Alexander took more of an advisory role, and Chandra recorded a second EP with an all-kid band as The Chandra Dimension. Those songs, stronger than those on the original EP, have finally seen the light of day thanks to Cantor Records’ recent release of both EPs on a single piece of wax, accompanied by a beautiful booklet. Moved by what we heard, we decided to speak with Chandra and dig a little deeper into her story.
When did you get involved in music in the first place?
Well, I was about 10 and I would write little songs and stuff. Like, my best friend from school was getting teased and I would write her a song and make her happy to chear her up—things like that. I was always in plays and stuff too. So Eugenie and Steve were friends of my dad and wanted to do a project with a kid. And they knew that I had done theater and wrote songs and stuff, so that’s how everything started.
Curtis Mayfield’s SuperFly is an album that moved me when I was a teenager and excites me as a grown ass man. The arrangements are complex, the rhythms thick, the melodies infectious, the lyrics streetwise, sexy & sad, and Mayfield projects a wide range of emotion from a rather limited vocal range. Prior to SuperFly Mayfield has been best known as a singer-songwriter of heartfelf civil rights anthems for The Impressions and himself. With SuperFly he joined the ranks of soul producer-writers like Isaac Hayes, Willie Hutch and Marvin Gaye, who used blaxploitation soundtracks to expand the range of their work.
I saw this movie in Times Square back when it was still down & dirty, and this tale of a New York coke dealer Priest was influential in storytelling, style and score. Listening to it recently, years after hip-hop has used SuperFly‘s themes and sampled it liberally, Mayfield’s masterpiece holds up.
“Give Me Your Love” still makes me wanna get with a girl in a bathtub. The hook on “No Thing On Me (Cocaine Song)” is as addictive as doing lines in a nightclub restroom. The title song has one of the great intros and rhythm arrangements in black pop history. With the legendary Johhny Pate helping with arrangements and a all-star team of Chicago session cats holding Mayfield down, SuperFly stands up next to Shaft and What’s Going On? as one of the greatest albums of the early ’70s, a period which was a high point in soul/funk.- Nelson George
Nelson George is an author and filmmaker. His memoir, City Kid (Viking Press), was just published, and his directorial debut, Life Support with Queen Latifah, is available on dvd. His short films can be seen via www.vimeo.com/nelsongeorge. You can also contact him at www.nelsondgeorge.net. He wrote this exclusively for NERDTORIOUS.
Filed under: Tunes | Tags: lowrider ball live, mary wells, san jose lowrider band
The back of the record reads: “Dedicated to all the beautiful brown people everywhere…our statement is heavy.”
Released in 1979, Lowrider Ball Live is an album of live events that took place in San Jose, California in the mid-to-late ‘70s. These “balls” gathered more than 100 car-clubs throughout the country, celebrating cars and music, and calling for an end to violence and drugs that plagued the community. It was held at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, a spot that today holds flea markets and tradeshows (and where the new 49ers’ stadium is in consideration to be built).
This record is especially meaningful for two reasons: 1) It features a rare version of the Mary Wells’ jam, “You Beat Me To The Punch”. It’s a clean live recording and totally kills. The other standout, “Brothers And Sisters Lowriding Around”, written and performed by The San Jose Lowrider Band, starts with a skit about police harassment before leaning into a huge bassline. I dig the fact that the one (known) recording by cats who called themselves “The San Jose Lowrider Band” is a straight funk song. And 2) NERDTORIOUS is based in the South Bay Area, Santa Clara/San Jose to be exact, two places that aren’t exactly synonymous with funk and soul. This right here is local history. And it’s funky. Hear the liveliness:
CLICK TO HEAR: MARY WELLS’ “YOU BEAT ME TO THE PUNCH (RARE LIVE VERSION)”
Filed under: Interviews, Tunes | Tags: chuck d, flava flav, public enemy, s1ws, terminator x
Foreword By Nate LeBlanc
At ten, the thing I noticed was the voice– a commanding instrument that demanded my attention. As a kid, a hip-hop novice, I respected and almost feared Chuck D. His presence dominated my Public Enemy tapes, though he was saying things I couldn’t understand. However, now I know why John Connor sported a PE shirt; not Flav’s borderline gibberish, not the Bomb Squad’s revolutionary layering, or the S1W’s simulated militancy, but Chuck and his thunderous, brilliant rhymes.
Flash forward ten years. Campus was abuzz with the news that the most recent lecture tour would bring the legendary Chuck D to our little corner of the world. Would he rhyme? Talk music? Literally lecture us in the style of some of his more didactic verses? I bought my tickets, waited in a long line, and found my answers in a poorly-lit dining hall. He talked to us like the not-quite-adults that we were. He was by far the realest dude in the room. My most vivid memory is of his palpable consternation that college-educated people all over the world were striking thug poses in deference to prevailing hip-hop trends. He relayed to us, in no uncertain terms, that we should act like what we were—educated people. Good advice.
Ten more years, I’m more or less grown, a man in the world struggling to make ends meet. I appreciate Chuck and his artistry more than ever. There was a time when I didn’t rate Chuck very highly as an MC, but I was using all the wrong criteria. I underestimated what he said and how he said it. As brilliant as the ideas contained in his rhymes may have been, people would not have been as receptive to them if it weren’t for his iconic delivery. More than anything else, I appreciate the fact that he is out there in the world, making himself available to students, news organizations, and independent journalists like David in order to provide reasoned commentary from a hip-hop perspective. He is an absolutely brilliant speaker, an underrated musician, and the best example I can possibly think of for up-and-coming cats to model themselves on—as is readily apparent in the following interview.
Why do you think your messages in PE’s songs have stayed relevant for all these years? Talk about your writing a bit.
I’m someone who was born in 1960. I was at the right age at the right stage when I started writing. I spoke from the perspective of a cat that was born in the ‘60s. I was a curious kid, as I think most kids are, and I always wanted to find answers in my own particular way. I wrote about what I knew about; history, you know, Vietnam and Dr. King, Black Panthers and stuff. Actually as a child, I was always privy to those things. And I mean, from a purely writing standpoint—–you gotta write about somethin’! Continue reading