BOOK’S JOOK: Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe The Hype”/”Prophets Of Rage”

  • Book’s Jook is a column dedicated to placing a record within my dream jukebox, if I were to have one. The Seeburg jukebox shown below is similar to the one I have wanted since I was a kid. To read more on why I started this column, click here.

     photo PEDBTH_45_zps38888a8e.jpg
    By the time I bought the first single (a 12″) for what would be It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, I had already bought Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show, “You’re Gonna Get Yours”/”Rebel Without A Pause”, the “Bring The Noise split 12” with The Black Flames, and the Less Than Zero soundtrack, which featured the preferred mix of “Bring The Noise”. The 12″ for “Don’t Believe The Hype” was bought awhile before I found the 45 but it was nice to have since hip-hop 45’s are somewhat of an oddity.

    When “Don’t Believe The Hype” was released, that wasn’t even the important song in question, for I originally thought “Prophets Of Rage” was the hit. It goes back to Public Enemy’s motto on how the “B-Side Wins Again”, and it did, for I loved the droning sound that commanded Chuck D.’s verses. I also loved how commanding Chuck sounding in this, complimented with Flavor Flav’s callback and occasional humorous side to it. “Prophets Of Rage” just moved me and I felt if it was as good as “Bring The Noise”, it had to be great. Little did I know how great, powerful, and influential it would be.

    “Don’t Believe The Hype” seemed to move along at a slow pace at first, although i remember when the song title was already becoming a slogan in the spring of 1988. It would take the album for me to appreciate the song but when I did, I loved Chuck’s pace came off deliberate, and how the way he spoke sounded nothing like the other Public Enemy songs he had already done. He didn’t want to sound the same with each effort, part of the story was also how he explained the story itself. The line that hooked me first was “suckers, liars, get me a shovel”, that one allowed me to truly hear everything else he had to say, especially about the “false media”. The line spoke about the mainstream media but would soon affect how hip-hop’s means of communication would turn into a hype machine. It would still be a few years before anyone realized how much the false media persuaded the tastes and marketability of everything.

    Perhaps “Bring The Noise” should have been chosen, as the song holds up incredibly well but if there was a choice between having only one Public Enemy song in a dream jukebox vs. two, I’m definitely going to go for doubles.


  • DUST IT OFF: Public Enemy’s “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back”…25 Years Later

    My introduction to Public Enemy came through the Less Than Zero soundtrack, released on November 6, 1987. I was a fan of rap music, but I was also a headbanger, saluting the almighty power of heavy metal. The soundtrack was promoted as featuring tracks by Aerosmith, Danzig, Poison, and Slayer, and it was the latter’s cover of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” that made me want to buy it so I could play it on the high school radio station I was a DJ for. The format of the radio station was hard rock/heavy metal, along with classic rock. I’d play the songs by Aerosmith, Poison, and Slayer, and enjoyed doing so, being the only station in the area that played these songs.

    Then I decided to flip the record over to side 2.

    I had never heard of anything quite like “Bring The Noise”, the horns coming down like elephants running on a field, followed by a loud “YEAH BOYYEEE!” and a deep tone voice that said “BASS!” WHOA, what is this? I loved the force of the vocals, and I absolutely fell in love with the multi-layered sounds. Up until that point, a rap song had one primary sample and a scratch, maybe two primary samples but no more. This song felt like entering a vulgar room where everyone seemed to be speaking at once, or at least Chuck D.’s voice, Flavor Flav’s quick spits, and the samples going on all at once felt too much to take, but I wanted to take it. This lead to Flav feeling exactly what I was feeling when he said “I don’t understand what they’re saying
    but little do they know they can get a smack for that, man” and out came Chuck saying “never badder than dad cause the brother is madder than mad at the fact that’s corrupt as a senator”. HOLY SHIT! The wicked drums (courtesy James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”) pounded out doubles, and out came “soul on a roll, but you treat it like soap on a rope ’cause the beats in the lines are so dope”. Did I understand what he was saying at the time? Absolutely not, it would take months before I could figure it out, but what I also loved was that Chuck D. did each of the verses different from one another, the flows were not the same. The rhythmic patterns seemed complex, or at least hard to grasp upon first listen.

    Then it came to the third verse, and I about freaked out when someone in rap had mentioned Sonny Bono and Yoko Ono. As someone who always admired the underdog, it seemed Chuck D. was putting himself amongst these two underdogs. Not mentioning Cher, not mentioning John Lennon, but going for other. I loved it. I caught the references to Eric B. and LL, but then came the great line “wax is for Anthrax”. Hold up. HOLD THE FUCK UP. Did Flavor Flav just give a shout out to Anthrax, and did Chuck D. just say that they also could rock the bells. I loved Metallica, but I LOVED Anthrax and I know I put the needle back to make sure I heard things correctly. From that point on, I realized that this was a group that could do this, like Brutus, because they themselves always knew this. I must have played “Bring The Noise” over and over for a solid hour, and from that point on I avoided playing the rest of the album.

  • When Spin magazine wrote a year-end rap up, one of the reviews touched on some new released on Def Jam. One of them was Original Concept’s Straight From The Basement Of Kooley High. The other was Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show. I was a Def Jam devotee, so I was freaked out when I learned Public Enemy had an album out. I bought both, loved both. When I first heard the “get down” in “Miuzi Weighs A Ton”, I initially thought it was a Joe Walsh/James Gang sample. I found out it was Flavor Flav, but I learned that later. I later read an article about the 12″ for “You’re Gonna Get Yours”, which people were buying because of its B-side, “Rebel Without A Pause”. I eventually found a copy of that, and I loved the song immediately. I loved the loop and how it seemed to keep on going and going and going, almost felt endless. It was meditative, it was mind blowing, it was mind numbing. When the scratches kicked in, it was heaven.
  • In March 1988, I had heard about the group releasing a new single off of their forthcoming album, but the way I interpreted the review, “Prophets Of Rage” was the A-side. When I bought the 12″ at Eli’s, I played and listened to it as such, and always played “Don’t Believe The Hype” as a bit of a sloppy B-side. (It wasn’t until later in 1988 that I learned the song was the A-side, after reading how the song was used as introduction for athletes.) I was two months away from ending my senior year in high school when I decided to play one of these songs on the radio station I was on. Keep in mind that it was a hard rock/heavy metal station, so the only way I could play it was on April Fool’s Day, as a “joke”. However, I had a different motive. When I played a rap song on the radio, it was never as a laugh, it was a way to play the music I also loved, to perhaps turn on fans to this group that I had only known from “Bring The Noise”, “Rebel Without A Pause”, and their first album. I’m glad to say that I may have been the first person to play “Prophets Of Rage” on a radio station in eastern Washington state.

    Even if “Prophets Of Rage” and “Don’t Believe The Hype” were mere cues of what was to come, nothing could have ever prepared me for the reality of what would be.

    Public Enemy (1) photo PE2a_cover_zps0bc1160f.jpg

  • I bought my copy of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back on the week of the release date. My version of the cover was the yellow B-boy target with red outline and a green line between the words PUBLIC and ENEMY. Two men in a jail cell, looking bad ass, not afraid, always confident. The back cover featured a photo of Chuck, Flav, DJ Terminator X, Professor Griff and the S1W’s standing in a jail cell while stepping on the American flag. I enjoyed the social politics that John Lennon touched on in his music and life, and while I was far from an activist, I liked knowing about what some musicians would do to speak out on things that mattered to them, and things they were against. That photo was surrounded by shots of screenshots taken from a surveillance camera. This seemed serious, and it was time that I put the record on my turntable.

    Still, I was not ready.

    “Hammersmith Odeon, are you ready for the Def Jam tour, let me hear you make some noise!
    In concert for BBC Television tonight and the fresh start of the week, let me hear you make some noise for PUBLIC ENEMY!

    The crowd goes nuts, and then it happens. The siren.


    Then “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” from the first album starts, followed by Griff yelling out “alright, let’s make some fuckin’ noise! C’mon, let’s break this shit out and get busy!” before it fades. I still wasn’t ready.

    Malcolm X is then heard talking about how when it’s “too black”, it means it’s “too strong”. It is played a second time, slightly louder. Then “Bring The Noise” comes in. It’s the first full song on the album, and it hits things off beautifully. I know this song, and yet it fits perfectly as the starting point on this journey. I was slightly comfortable, but barely. This would lead to “Don’t Believe The Hype” and as an album cut, it fit quite nicely too. Chuck D. and Flavor Flav’s flows were quite nice bouncing back and forth when needed. This felt like a track of information, where one was able to listen to one page of their agenda, their manifesto. It was their way of saying that whatever you ear, don’t believe the bullshit, or cut through it and discover the facts for yourself. The one line from the song that remains very strong in my mind is “suckers, liars, get me a shovel”, and I’ll spring that out at any given them when necessary.

    The next track was a fun track, the first solo song by Flavor Flav, and after getting bombarded with serious information, it was time to get down and funky for a few minutes as he drops
    “live lyrics from the bank of reality
    I kick the flyest dope maneuver technicality
    To a dope track, you wanna hike get out your backpack
    Get out the wack sack
    I’m in my Flavmobile cole lampin
    I took this G upstate go campin’
    To the Poconos, we call the hideaways
    A pack of franks and a big bag of Frito-Lays”

    Did it matter what he was saying, and that he just seemed to be rattling off shit like crazy? No, but did it sound good? As the samples in the song said clearly, “YEAH!” This song was the first to truly establish Flavor Flav’s steez, and everyone fell in love with what William Drayton was all about.

    “Terminator X To The Edge” of panic was not the first song to present their DJ in music, but it was the first song where he was mentioned in the song title, and with a sample that was merely the sample source of “Rebel Without A Pause” flipped backwards, it just seemed that Public Enemy were wanting to pull in people into their world, in whatever way worked. “Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?” was a line that stood out like a pitchfork into the skull, pretty much stating that one does not need an award to achieve a level of success, or to complete a mission that involves making a statement.

    “Mind Terrorist” might seem like a minor interlude, but it seemed to present It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back as a concert performance, and this was a brief intermission before the next movement.

    “Louder Than A Bomb” opened up with a Kool & The Gang sample before Flav spoke on how Public Enemy are from hell, and if someone ever said he and the group would celebrate the 4th of July, it is very much a “worldwide lie”. Some of Chuck D.’s lyrics in this, including about his phone being tapped, pave the way for the next song, but until that is heard, Chuck is about telling the untold stories once and for all, and his messages are going to be offensively loud.

    The first Side ends with the incredible “Caught, Can We Get A Witness”, where Chuck talks about stealing a beat in the name of sampling, and how people are after people like him for taking music to create another song. 25 years later, hearing Flav talk about how no one can copyright beats seems a few world’s away, and yet this was the start of the industry and lawyers looking at the value of rap music not for its lyrics or messages, but as a means of violating copyright. By the end of Side 1, Public Enemy have accumulated enough ammunition for a battle, but again, I was not ready.

  • Side 2 begins with another interlude, “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got”, which may be a way to re-introduce the listener to the program that is the album, but for listeners to come back from intermission, to let everyone know that with every side, there is a flip side, the B-side.

    I loved when I first heard “She Watch Channel Zero?!”, as it starts with Flav’s message to his lady about watching garbage on television. Then the music begins and it’s a sample of Slayer’s “Angel Of Death”, flipping the original meaning of the song and showing that TV’s perceived angelic ways could slowly lead to a mental death. Kerry King’s and Jeff Hanneman’s guitar riffs, mixed in with the repetitious “she watch” looped vocal sample, was one way of entering the lure of the boob tube and trying to get out before one is fully trapped by the ways of the cathode ray. Everything about this song is excellent, a solid piece of genius where the music is a drone duplicating the ugliness of TV. Flav has a simple solution: “read a book or something, read about yourself, learn your culture.”

    “Night Of The Living Baseheads” touches on the evils of drugs, specifically the crack epidemic that was pulling in a lot of people in the mid to late 1980’s, specifically the black community in the inner cities of the United States and England. While it did reach the higher levels of corporate America, crack was hurting millions of people because this new cheap means of a high was pulling people down below the doldrums. The entire song is structured as a dialogue from the introduction of crack to its destruction, complete with Chuck D’s “how low can you go?” sample being scratched all over the place before Chuck himself answers his own question by looking at the faces of crack’s downfall.

    “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” is one of the highlights of the album, where Chuck finds himself in prison because the government wanted him to join the U.S. Army, and he refused to enroll. Upon finding himself homeless in prison, he comes up with a plan to escape beyond the wall. It features metaphors that include the Underground Railroad, but one could also say that the United States itself is a prison and one must escape its ways in order to find a home and some sense of sanity. With each verse, Chuck covers his plan by step-by-step, bringing the listener in as if they are at one with he and the the “53 brothers on the run”. The moment when Chuck D. says “and we are gone” and Flav is cheering with passion, it’s easily one of the boldest statements ever made in hip-hop, because like the Native American in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen in “Deacon Blues”, “this brother is free” and we’re all in support of someone obtaining the freedom many die trying to grasp.

    “Security of the First World” is another interlude, a temporary intermission that allows the group and listener to regroup after the blast of “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos”, only to pave the way for the album’s three song finale.

    “Rebel Without A Pause” comes out of hiding from its presence as a non-LP B-side to becoming a solid album track, also adding to the pieces of the It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back puzzle. The bass is deafening, the saxophone is numbing, and the power of James Brown (and JB-related) samples is causing a mean ripple effect that is like you looking at yourself in a mirror looking at yourself, looking at yourself looking at yourself until its infinity is too much to bare. When Chuck D. says “we’re on a mission, y’all”, we then realize that we the listener are being exposed to the blueprint, and we’re close to finding where all of this will lead.

    “Prophets Of Rage” turns the corner, and every emotion that was built with “Rebel Without A Pause” continues with a revelation of who and what these songs are for:
    With vice, I hold the mic device
    With force I keep it away, of course
    And I’m keeping you from sleeping
    And on the stagem, I rage and I’m rolling
    To the poor, I pour in on in metaphors
    Not bluffing, it’s nothing that we ain’t did before
    We played, you stayed, the points made
    You consider it done by the prophets of rage

    Flav then tells Griff and the S1W’s to proceed with the completion of the mission by adjusting their coordinates, leading to the eventual proclamation of the master plan.

    “Party For Your Right To Fight” ends the album by revealing the master plan, the manifesto, the moral of the story. While hip-hop music may have originated as a party vibe, they turn the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” and turns it into something much more serious than just drinking and getting wasted for the hell of it. In the mind of Public Enemy, one should use their minds to turn the world into a better place for themselves and all. Both Chuck and Flav rap the entire song together, both rapping in their own styles and Flav dropping in a few ad-libs along the way. By combining Sly & The Family Stone, Bobby Byrd, and Bob Marley in the mix, they mention the origins of their commitment to the rights of themselves, and in turn, all. It is the third and final verse where Chuck and Flav mention what they are fighting for:

    To those that disagree, it causes static
    For the original Black Asiatic man
    Cream of the earth and was here first
    And some devils prevent this from being known
    But you check out the books they own
    Even masons they know it but refuse to show it, yo
    But it’s proven and fact
    It takes a nation of millions to hold us back

    It’s about fighting for recognition, for honor, for respect, for everything that someone else doesn’t want to provide, or will take away, from the other. If no one fights, the presence of a people and consciousness will disappear, or be re-interpreted by someone else, or perhaps completely disappear from existence.

  • While I am not of African descent, I also listened to this album as a way to describe what it means to be Hawaiian. I looked myself as someone who now represents less than 0.2 percent of the world’s population, and while I am not a full-blooded Hawaiian, I like to think i remain an element of the land I came from and the people who made me who I am today. While my views may be different from those who are back home, I remain someone who wishes to be recognized for who I am and for what I do before I and my people no longer have a chance.

    I wore a Public Enemy T-shirt during high school, and when catching the bus home, I was asked by the driver “so, you’re a public enemy?” I said, “yes, I am”. She gave me a small smile and I sat down. I was the only kid in my high school with that P.E. shirt, and I was looked at by everyone. No one understood me or where I was coming from, so in a very small way, I did feel like a public enemy, or at least an outcast. As a 17-year old high school student angry at the world, angry at my situation and fighting for a way to want and demand more, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back was an album that showed that one can’t sit around and allow the world to pass you by. Sometimes we get stuck on a dead end street, but it’s never late to fight, even if that fight feels like a one-man battle. Throughout life, one learns that those fights are sometimes not good when done alone. Whether it’s a million, or ten-thousand, one hundred, or five, nothing can hold us back but ourselves. Whether it’s for Africa, for Jamaica, for Japan, for Germany, for Thailand, for Brazil, for Argentina, or for field workers throughout California, that “nation” once talked about by Chuck D. and Flavor Flav is very much a worldwide thing, a Marley style “one love” if we allow it to be. The fight discussed throughout the album may not have been my own, but I felt I could appreciate it as one that was very similar to mine. It was with this album that I learned about people that were not discussed during high school, including Louis Farrakhan and Assata Shakur, so to have these references flying out in lyric form was like hearing audio sidebars, so that I could remember them for future use.

    25 years later, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back remains my favorite hip-hop album of all time because of its message, its musicality, its strength and power, and its inclusion into music creativity. For some of us, getting that late pass mentioned by Professor Griff was a passage way towards a door which lead to another message: “you want to know more, or keep your head in the ground?” There have been a number of hip-hop albums that have followed in the spirit of, but none will match the aftershocks that came after the siren made itself known on this record. It will forever be a benchmark, an album that should always be discussed as an important document in hip-hop.

    Public Enemy (2) photo PE2b_cover_zps4546475f.jpg

  • VIDEO: Sound City (trailer)

    If you read your liner notes, you’ll know about some of the recording studios that are considered “the best”, or at least those that offer a certain feel that welcomes artists from around the world. Sound City is one of those studios that was a mandatory visit for all, and perhaps some of your favorite records in your collection may have been recorded, mix, or mastered there. Sound City is a new documentary film which focuses on the magic and chemistry created in that room, and it stars everyone from Dave Grohl (who is presenting the film) and Josh Homme to Lindsey Buckingham and Barry Manilow, all celebrating the wonder of the room and some of the analog equipment that made it what it is and has become. I love the quote in the trailer which says “how do we keep music sounding like people?” The film will be released on February 1st, while the soundtrack album is scheduled for a March 12th release.

    REVIEW: Linkin Park’s “Living Things”

    Photobucket Nothing I say in this review will matter to any of Linkin Park‘s diehard fans, they have managed to keep the band going through cultural and musical changes, and good for them. But this is my review, and you’re welcome to complain. I was once a Linkin Park fan, I loved their first two albums and really got into “One Step Closer” and “In The End”. Second album was really good too, bought the deluxe edition. Then their music started to sound more, in my opinion, more pop accessible. Those pop elements were always there, you can hear it throughout those first two albums, but it just seemed to be the general focus. I was and remain a huge Mike Shinoda fan, love Fort Minor and what he was able to do with that. But this is far from being Fort Minor.

    Living Things (Warner Bros.) shines differently from their recent efforts, and a big reason for that is Rick Rubin, who produced this album alongside Shinoda. In fact, the reason there’s any level of Shinoda rapping in some of these tracks is because of Rubin, who probably said “yeah, I love what you guys do, but Shinoda can’t be just mere eye candy for girls who love hapa guys”. I think the two work together, so what you have on this album is a nice blend of the pop-friendly metal that fans have come to love, accenting everything that has made Chester Bennington a stand-out vocalist. Let’s face it, if he was into R&B, he would be a variation of Justin Timberlake. Here, he can rock it out and keep it going because he has that strength. I’ll be honest, Bennington’s voice can occasionally get on my nerves because on the pop-side, he could easily be doing music with Justin Bieber as well. Songwise, all of the tracks hold up and I think it may show not only the growth in the band, but also knowing what their fans want too. This is about growth and strength in a world that sometimes feels like it lacks the need for both. While not quite being their equivalent of Metallica‘s self titled album (the Black one), it comes close to that level of maturity, as if they were doing this just in case they decided to call it a day. in other words, if this was the last, they could leave this behind feeling good about themselves.

    For me, what makes these songs great is when Shinoda drops rhymes on the mic. It is what has always made Linkin Park a damn good band when they can be, and in tracks like “Until It Breaks”, he shows why he is not to be messed with, all while giving a slight nod to Biggie Smalls while he’s at it:

    here’s something for you people on the block to black out and rock ta
    give me what you need, like Poppa, who shot ya
    separate the weak from the obsolete
    You meek? I creep hard on imposters
    I switch styles on a dime, quick witted
    Y’all quit trippin’, I don’t have time for your cryin’
    I grind tough, sucka make your mind up
    Are you in the firing squad or are you in the line up?
    Bang bang, little monkey man playing
    With the big guns only get you slayed, I ain’t playing
    I’m just saying you ain’t gotta sliver of a chance
    I get iller, I deliver while you quiver in your pants
    So shake shake down, money here’s the break down
    You can play the bank, I’mma play the bank take down
    And no mistakes now I’m coming to getcha
    I’m a Banksy, you’re a brainwash, get the picture?
    It’s like that

    Now, based on that alone, if they wanted to create a remix project for this entire album where they brought in a number of rappers to compliment Shinoda, I’d welcome it. Hell, I’d love it, get me to assist in being an executive producer for it.

    My high praise for what Shinoda should not take away anything from Mr. Bennington, because what he sings is the lure that keep pop and pop-metal fans listening. For hip-hop fans who aren’t afraid to rock out, Living Things is quite good and I think fits in as something that could easily compliment the band’s first two albums. The production is superb, and while Rubin definitely doesn’t need an apprentice, if this leads to more outside productions between Rubin and Shinoda, I’m all for it.

    AUDIO: Justice’s “On’N’On (Ruined By Rick Rubin)”

    Oh no, here’s another song “ruined” by Rick Rubin, and in this case it’s Justice‘s “On’N’On”. Listen to his desecration. The song is from Justice’s single for “On’N’On”, but what they’re calling an EP and it features this ruined track, plus remixes of the song by others.

    (NOTE: For those who don’t know, Rubin has often “ruined” many songs, but it is the way he credits many of his remixes so it’s not meant as an insult. In this case, when it is “ruined” by Rubin, it is a good thing, but of course YMMV.” If you’d like to see the video for the album version of the song, click here.)
    JUSTICE “ON’N’ON” RUINED BY RICK RUBIN by edbangerrecords


    THE LISTENING EXPERIENCE: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Down On The Corner”

    Creedence Clearwater Revival is one of the first songs I remember in my early years, and a song that showed me what the power of music and sound was. My parents had the Willie And The Poor Boys album, so when the album on the blue Fantasy played, I’d look at the cover. Perhaps the photo of John Fogerty & Friends playing music outside with local kids made an indirect influence on my subtle love of corner stores. Or if not that, it represented a “down home” quality of sorts, the idea that you can be a kid, go to a store and if you see grown-ups playing music with a harmonica, guitar, and washboard, it’s okay. Or if not that, I think it was one of the first instances of me associating an image with music, and becoming timelines for me to remember moments in my life. The song and the album cover are a part of some of my earliest memories.

    I am not sure what I liked about the song, but I am sure the reason I liked it was because my parents loved it. It was the first song on the album, so when I saw my dad pull the record out of the cover, I knew “Down On The Corner” was going to be played, it was a ritual. My dad had some of the other CCR albums too, and what I thought was cool too was that Fogerty and the rest of CCR wore flannel shirts, not unlike my dad. At that age I don’t think I even thought of the word “cool”, but in a way, CCR looked like my dad and vice versa so again: image association. As for image association, I clearly remember Bayou Country, Green River, and Cosmo’s Factory being at the house. Bayou Country looked trippy, I had never seen a picture like that. Green River was simple but it reminded me of some of the scenery I had seen as a child, it seemed “very California” to me. But it was Willy And the Poor Boys that represented a small bit of my life before we would move to Honolulu.

    To this day, when I hear the hi-hat and the cowbell comes in, I’m 3 or 4 years old all over again. Then the band kicks in and plays a little funky groove. Fogerty then begins his tale about being Willie and his group, The Poor Boys, are jamming for the neighborhood:

    Early in the evenin’ just about supper time
    Over by the courthouse they’re starting to unwind
    Four kids on the corner trying to bring you up
    Willy picks a tune out and he blows it on the harp

    That’s the album cover right there, and their mission is explaiend in the chorus:

    Down on the corner, out in the street
    Willy and the Poorboys are playin’
    Bring a nickel; tap your feet

    The album cover comes to life, in sound and in your mind. Then “Willie” introduces his group:

    Rooster hits the washboard and people just got to smile
    Blinky thumps the gut bass and solos for a while
    Poorboy twangs the rhythm out on his kalamazoo
    Willy goes into a dance and doubles on kazo

    The band get into a nice little groove, and the song ends with his hopes of what the group hope to accomplish:

    You don’t need a penny just to hang around
    But if you’ve got a nickel, won’t you lay your money down?
    Over on the corner there’s a happy noise
    People come from all around to watch the magic boy

    (“Down On The Corner” written by John Fogerty, published ©1969 by Jondora Music, BMI.)

    That’s what CCR and “Down On The Corner” represented to me, and what I continue to seek throughout my life: “a happy noise”. Granted, I didn’t know the lyrics at first, I think the last line of the chorus was interpreted as “playing nickle, happy feet”. The rest of the lines were just sung in the unique way Fogerty vocalized, so with the album not having a lyric sheet, I knew most of the chorus but would just groove along and dance to its catchy rhythm. Once I found the proper lyrics, I realized how the cover photograph was made to represent the lyrics in the song, and thus the name of the album was the name of their fictitious group, a more down home version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

    The song has always been on oldies and classic rock radio, so it has never been out of mind. When the Beastie Boys‘ released Licensed To Ill in 1986, I immediately recognized one of the last samples in “Time To Get Ill”, and that gave me the biggest smile. Sampling was not a word used to describe the production technique Rick Rubin was doing, but as I was a devotee of rap music, I became fascinated with the Beastie’s combination of rap, soul, funk, and rock. When the “Down On The Corner” sample came on, followed by Led Zeppelin‘s “Custard Pie”, it felt like the group and Rubin had listened to the exact music I listened to as a kid. It wasn’t just the rock aspects in their music I loved, but that this new rap music felt like just going into my record collection and making the kind of sounds I’d hear and have in my head. The use of “Down On The Corner” in “Time To Get Ill” would never ruin my initial appreciation for the song, in fact it made me love it even more.

    As for the Duck Kee Market that is seen on the album cover, it had been an unofficial landmark in Oakland for years and remained there very close to a freeway, where thousands of Creedence Clearwater Revival would visit to get a glimpse of an iconic image. In truth, it had been said that the band and their label, Fantasy Records, was not too far from a corner store that was suggested as a possible site for a cover photo. Photographer Basul Parik drove them to the corner of Peralta Street and Hollis Street, which was only a few blocks from where they were at, and spent a few minutes there playing as some neighborhood kids watched. It was perfect, but not wanting to cause a ruckus by being a bunch of white guys posing in front of a Chinese market in a black neighborhood, they simply returned back to the studio with the hopes the photos taken would suit them. It did. Over the years, when the location of the photo shoot was discovered, fans would make it a regular practice to steal the Duck Kee Market sign as a souvenir, until the market was eventually closed down in the early 00’s.

    Music, image, emotion, feeling. It all brings me back “Down On The Corner”.

    (For years, I have always wanted to see other images of this photo shoot, other than what is on the front and the photo of the group and the kids dancing in the back. Some of the outtakes have been used in various CD reissues over the years, and here are those that have been published online:

    If one is to look at these and create some kind of sequence, these photos eventually lead us to the back cover.)

    DUST IT OFF: Slayer’s “Reign In Blood” 25 years later

    Junior year in high school, 1986. My childhood dream of becoming a radio disc jockey came true when I found out that there was a vocational skills center for all high schools in the region. I had to do it, this is what I wanted to become, and I joined. It was a radio/TV production course, and while I paid more attention to the radio side of things, the TV production portion would become essential for working in news eight years later. The radio station’s music format was hard rock and heavy metal. Perfect, I grew up listening to hard rock and metal and I still listened to metal so it was not an issue. However, my level of metal up until that point was the mainstream stuff, which meant Black Sabbath, Dio, Def Leppard, and whatever could be read in Hit Parader and Circus. I was aware of small scenes involving something new: thrash metal and speed metal. These styles of music was the “indie rock” of heavy metal in the mid-1980’s, Metallica had yet to break big but their buzz was growing by the time I joined the radio/TV class (their third album, Master Of Puppets, had come out in March of 1986).

    When I became a radio DJ, a lot of my classmates were into the heavier stuff. Some of them were into punk and hardcore, styles of music I was aware of but never listened to. In my high school, only the exchange students were aware of anything goth or new wave, but “that” was “meant” for schools in other cities. Nonetheless, kids in those “other” schools were open to listening to it, most likely passed on by older relatives. As a teenager who was open to listening to anything and everything, and had done so for years, I felt like an introvert at my high school. When I joined radio/TV class, it was more than technical knowledge, it would become music. In that time, I’d eventually discover Metallica, would become a huge fan of Anthrax, and Megadeth‘s first album was awesome. MTV had Headbanger’s Ball, the must-see show for all metal fans. We were also in the era of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), a parents organization that were able to make record labels place warning labels on music they felt was offensive. If it was sexual, violent, or explicit, they wanted a sticker. Before 1985, if you saw a voluntary label or warning, it was generally on comedy records. But if it had an illustration of a demon-like figure with horns, that would mean it was promoting Satanism, and thus needed a sticker. As with any discussion of Metallica, Anthrax, and Megadeth, all roads eventually lead to Slayer.

    When I joined the radio station, Slayer was a favorite amongst my classmates. Show No Mercy, Hell Awaits, and Live Undead would be played and talked about religiously. The music was fast, furious, and it sounded sinister. But did it sound evil? I think the perception was that it sounded that way, but on purpose. The music was not telling its listeners about cutting off the heads of goats and sacrificing babies, most of the time they were talking about social and political ills. There’s a generation of people who will still chant the words !SU NIOJ !SU NIOJ !SU NIOJ !SU NIOJ and those within listening range will answer by saying WELCOME BACK. But the release of Reign In Blood blew up everything, not only for the group but thrash and speed metal.

    October 7, 1986. I know for a fact I didn’t buy this album on opening day, but I did buy it. The band had been signed to the California indie label Metal Blade, where they released two albums and a live EP before being picked up by Rick Rubin and Def Jam. Metallica had been signed to Elektra, Anthrax would gain distribution via Island Records (then associated with Atlantic/WEA), and Megadeth were a month away before releasing their major label debut for Capitol. Hard rock/heavy metal was a hot music, but majors were picking up on “the new, harder shit” and just like hip-hop, other labels were still clueless as to its appeal but signed bands because there was an audience. Fortunately they were able to take risks by signing them, and what appealed to fans was that the music didn’t sound glamorous, and neither did the bands. Look at the back cover of Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All. They look like a group of friends ready to skip class, smoke cigarettes at the church across the street, and get high while listening to Deep Purple. That perceived ugliness was something the “ugly youth” loved. For a lot of listeners, hearing the fast and aggressive music would often become the gateway towards punk and hardcore, something that would be called “crossover”. A few punk and hardcore kids would end up checking out some of these brutal metal bands because it didn’t look or sound like Motley Crue and Def Leppard. Slayer just seemed different, but then again you also had an album cover with a bunch of evil beings on the cover. If you had parents who were religious or spiritual, this might get you grounded. At least in my case, music was music and listening to metal was not an issue. I didn’t smoke or drink, nor did listening to thrash and speed metal cross me over to “the other side”, this was just something that was loud and raw, and I loved it.

    “Angel Of Death” was a song about the Nazi atrocities of World War II, it didn’t celebrate it but rather focused on its brutality and pain. That loud scream from vocalist/bassist Tom Araya became a rally cry, and those riffs (the “mosh part”) from Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman would turn into meditative drones (the repetition of which would be perfect for Rubin when he sampled them for Public Enemy in the song “She Watch Channel Zero”). As the album goes on, that heaviness never seemed to end. There were moments of progressiveness, all of which would be explored by the band in future albums, but this seemed like a punk effort at times, just going into the song and coming out soon after. Guitar solos were wicked and fast, Araya’s bass came off like drills, and the sick ass drums of the almighty Dave Lombardo made all drummers stop and go “I need to play as fast and good as him.”

    Fans loved the album because it lasted as fast as the songs themselves, and just mentioning song titles will bring memories to those who embraced each track: “Necrophobic”, “Jesus Saves”, “Altar Of Sacrifice”, “Criminally Insane”, “Post-Mortem”.

    The greatest high on the album comes when “Post-Mortem” is played on Side 2, especially when the song breaks down for a moment before “filling up” before the last drive home. Araya sings the last verses at a rapid pace, including the lines “The waves of blood are rushing near, pounding at the walls of lies/turning off my sanity, reaching back into my mind/non-rising body from the grave showing new reality/what I am, what I want, I’m only after death”. About 10 seconds later, King and Hanneman do one last vamp and then you hear the thunder. Upon first listen, one has no idea what’s about to happen, and then you hear guitar feedback and distortion, along with a tribal drum pattern, going through the echo chamber. You then hear the sound of heavy pouring rain and you think “oh oh”. The song is called “Raining Blood”, and it’s the album closer. It already sound epic, but at that point you have no idea how big it will be. Then the thunder claps, the cymbals come in, and a guitar melody comes in. You’re sitting down, looking at the cover, flipping it to the back cover seeing them smile and grin with a broken beer can. The riff feels awesome, you have that shiteating grin, the drums pound, you want to turn your stereo up loud, but it’s already loud as it can get. Then comes the last thunder clap until the end, and then SATAN HAS ARRIVED!!! The music gets locked into that fast groove, and you feel like making your evil horn hand gesture annd rocking out, and you do. You don’t care that your neck becomes sore, this moment means something to you. You can’t believe how great this sounds, and then out of nowhere it leads to the “JAGGADA-JAGGADA-JAGGADA-JAGGADA-JAGGADA-JAGGADA-JAGGADA-JAGGADA” and they play faster. Holy shit. Araya finally sings:

    Trapped in purgatory
    A lifeless object, alive
    Awaiting reprisal
    Death will be their acquisition

    The sky is turning red
    Return to power draws near
    Fall into me, the sky’s crimson tears
    Abolish the rules made of stone

    Pierced from below, souls of my treacherous past
    Betrayed by many, now ornaments dripping above

    Awaiting the hour of reprisal
    Your time slips away

    It is at this point where the band finally break down a bit into another groove, at half the speed but still as intense. You don’t know where this song is going, but you look at the needle on the record and you see there isn’t much time left until it reaches the label. The riffs keep on going, and all of a sudden one last verse:

    Raining blood
    From a lacerated sky
    Bleeding its horror
    Creating my structure
    Now I shall reign in blood!

    You then feel like Slayer is speaking not only to you, but about you. You feel the horror and disgust of your own young life, wanting better, and you want to tear up your room. Then all of a sudden, you hear the band drone, and then TSSS-TSSS-TSSSTSSSTSSSTSSSS. There’s complete mayhem coming out of the speakers, the riffs keep on getting faster, Araya and Lombardo have no problem in keeping up, you hear King and Hanneman fucking up the tremelo and it feels like the guitars are about to explode in their hands. If there is such a thing as a hell, it truly awaits and we all want to go there to party, for hell is the place where great music like this comes from, and you want to celebrate that in unity. You now want to get the closest piece of glass and start slashing your wrist or abdomen to spell out SLAYER or SLATANIC WEHRMACHT, and at the moment you feel you’re about the mentally ejaculate, the thunder rips one last time, the raining blood falls, and you realize you have just experienced the biggest heavy metal orgasm ever.

    25 years later, the oddity of Reign In Blood being on Def Jam, the label that gave us LL Cool J and Public Ememy, seems perfect. Rick Rubin knew what he was doing, and taking a complete left turn for what he would become known for was what he needed to solidify a career that continues to this day. I was able to witness Slayer when they had taken part in the 1991 Clash Of The Titans tour, where I was up front, feeling the pressure of the crowd and the heat of everyone being in there, plus the drums pounding in my chest as it was macked into the speakers, hip-hop style. For over an hour I felt like I was in the hell Slayer had created in their music, and I loved it. To this day, it remains one of the best concert experiences I’ve ever had.

    To Tom Araya, Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman, Dave Lombardo, and Rick Rubin: eternal gratitude for your major contribution to my life. Mahalo nui.

    DUST IT OFF: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “BloodSugarSexMagik”…20 years later

    BloodSugarSexMagik was the fifth album by Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band that I had been a fan of a year before they released an actual album. It was this brief rap interlude on MTV, when they were at the New Music Seminar in New York City in 1984, that made me a fan.

    Keep in mind that it was the oddity of white guys doing a goofy rap, and then the fact that they said they were funky. I love funk, but still had no idea what they sounded like at all. They were signed to EMI America but being 14 at the time, my only means of knowing what kind of impact they were making was the videos I may have seen on MTV. That’s when I saw the almighty “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes”, and when the band jump out of the sand farm in the video, I was happy.

    Truth be told, Anthony Kiedis did a lot of raps on a music video network that didn’t have a lot of raps, Run-DMC‘s “Walk This Way” being one of the few exceptions, so their exposure on the network was minimal. Yet if you read Spin magazine, they were obviously having a good time traveling throughout North America and eventually the world, so someone was listening. One could see their videos elsewhere, because “Catholic School Girls Rule” was nowhere to be found on MTV.

    Despite doing an full album with George Clinton and actually making it to a third album (the belief was that if you were a band and could make it to a third album in one piece, you might have the potential to go further), Red Hot Chili Peppers were not massive. The release of Mother’s Milk on August 16, 1989 changed that forever, with a promotional campaign that was bigger than before, and constant MTV exposure, which was important in terms of getting their music to everyone at one time, when most radio stations across the U.S. would shy away from anything “alternative” or anything with a rap in it. It may have been 1989, but music fans had bought the Beastie BoysPaul’s Boutique that summer, expecting Licensed To Ill Again only to get what they called “disco rap” (the term coming from the disco-era clothing the group wore in the “Hey Ladies” video). De La Soul came out with 3 Feet High And Rising, but because it wasn’t hardcore rap, they were called “alternative” or “the hippies of hip-hop”, only because of the fact that “Me, Myself & I” was getting rotation on the 20th anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, what some call “the end of the summer of love that lasted two years”. Red Hot Chili Peppers came out with “Knock Me Down” as the first single and video from the album, and they welcomed in the guys in Fishbone for the video. As a diehard Fishbone band, I was excited because maybe it meant that they too would finally break through. It would make sense since another California band, Faith No More, were getting a lot of attention with their third album, The Real Thing, the first with their new singer, Mike Patton. “From Out Of Nowhere” went into rotation, but it was “Epic”, with its verses being a rap, that brought them over the top. Also in the air were yet another California band, Jane’s Addiction, whose Nothing’s Shocking album had been out for a year and new fans were discovering how wild Perry Farrell and friends could take things in their music and in a live setting.

    Once again, take a look at the four albums that were released between the summer of 1988 and summer of 1989:
    Jane’s Addiction-Nothing’s Shocking
    Faith No More-The Real Thing
    Fishbone-Truth & Soul
    Red Hot Chili Peppers-Mother’s Milk

    These were albums that pulled me through a summer that could’ve ended better but didn’t. I was wrapping up my senior year in high school but knew that I wouldn’t be graduating with my class due to being short in credits. A lot of it was of my own doing, as I was fed up with the bullshit of my high school, and I wanted to move away but didn’t know how. I dealt with my situation, and while I had been a fan of a wide range of music at this point, these albums helped me expand my interests even more. They might be considered “college rock”, and maybe in a small way I was listening to them because I ended up not going to college as I wanted to, but they were groups in the magazines I read on a regular basis, I had the option and means of hearing them, nothing was going to hold me back. I was never under pressure in high school to fit in, in fact I was more like Enid in Ghost World in that I roamed in my own world, found my friendships dwindling down to a small handful, and waited for my bus to arrive. I used to show off my musical tastes by bringing in albums and placing them next to my desk in each period so people would know what I would be into. Yet if I was being ignored, no one could care less. Then, like now, I figured if I was going to be that goofy fat kid that people would want to poke and prod at, I’ll give them something to look at. Looking back, I think I had wanted some friends to carry me through my “golden years” of education and didn’t get it. I was a headbanger, but I wore a Public Enemy T-shirt in a school where Michael Jackson jheri curls and Sir Mix-A-Lot‘s “Posse On Broadway” were kings, so even P.E. were extreme and bizarre. Nonetheless, I was on my own and music was an outlet. I ventured forward.

    Red Hot Chili Peppers’ cover of Stevie Wonder‘s “Higher Ground” is what broke the band, and you were not able to avoid them on MTV. Their infamous appearance on Club MTV, where all artists would normally lip-synch to their songs and the band ended up doing everything but comply while people danced to the song, remains an incredible moment, and that would help make them big time rock stars. With all this attention and accolades, it surprised everyone when the group announced they would be leaving EMI, the record label that helped make them reach an unknown level of success. Reports indicated that while they enjoyed the attention they were getting on their own terms, they did not like working on Mother’s Milk with producer Michael Beinhorn, who was insistent on coming up with a hit song for the group. RHCP were funksters who just wanted to jam, Beinhorn wanted to trim the fat from their jams and find a way for the group to produce concise, radio-friendly singles. The group did achieve this, but their time with Beinhorn was one of a number of reasons the group felt it was time to try a new home. The band wanted to explore new territories and a new label home, and after taking a breather, they shopped themselves around before they reached the plantation that was Warner Bros. Records. Little did the group know it would become their home for 20 years, four times longer than their stay at EMI.

  • When Rick Rubin came into the picture, he was no longer the Def Jam guy. He had wanted to do his own thing so upon leaving the Def Jam camp, he moved to Los Angeles and formed Def American Recordings. He wanted to remain “Def” (figuratively and literally) and that would bring him success when working with Danzig and The Black Crowes. Fans wanted to know if he would still keep his foot in the hip-hop door, and he did when he signed the Ghetto Boys, later changed to Geto Boys, and recorded and released an album that became (in my opinion) one of the best albums in hip-hop. Some fans were upset that Rubin “ruined” the Geto Boys’ music, especially since many of the songs were taken from their previous album, Grip It! On That Other Level, and fans were devoted to the rough, almost demo-like qualities of the songs, while these new versions were rough-yet-polished. Def American would achieve bigger hip-hop success when Sir Mix-A-Lot entered the picture, but that’s another story, another time.

    When the union of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rubin was set in stone, Rubin decided the best place to try something new would be to bring the band in what is known as The Mansion, a literal mansion that was converted into a recording studio. Artists could come in and literally feel at home, because it was a home. The studio is located in Laurel Canyon in California, an area that has become mythical for what represents Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Some of the mysteries of those who have lived and died there make Laurel Canyon what it is, and people are drawn to it because it is located in “the crossroads of fame and obscurity”, and perhaps the Red Hot Chili Peppers, seeing that metaphor as something that could easily apply to them, found the use of The Mansion perfect, and working with Rubin who understood the reality and myths of the area would be more than ideal.

  • Had there been the world wide web in 1991, I believe an album like BloodSugarSexMagik would brings fans in with blogs, photographs, live Twitter updates, and everything. Yet the reality of these recording sessions was that it was the band and Rubin, and no one else. If they wanted to bring in family during a down time, they could, and they did as shown on the documentary film they created to show the album’s recording sessions, Funky Monks. But for four months, their world remained in The Mansion and only the mansion, as they recorded, ate, bathed, sleeped, drank, and partied there 24 hours a day until the album was complete. That is, with the exception of drummer Chad Smith, who believed in the myth that the home was haunted and wanted nothing to do with the “heebee geebees”, so he would ride on his motorcycle on a daily basis to the mansion, and leave when the day was over. As for the rest of the band, being isolated of the world locked them as one, and the end result was something that was beautiful and brilliant.
  • What I wanted to hear was how different the group would be, knowing they were at a new label. Warner Bros. knew they were a successful band, which is why they were welcomed from EMI, so they and everyone was curious to see what they would bring to their new label. What they brought was an accumulation of everything the group had ever wanted to be, but pushed even further. They may have feared the possibility of being a pop group who could create hits, and Rubin probably told them to do it in a unique or different way, to at least give it a shot and see where it leads. No one ever expected RHCP to come up with a song like “Under The Bridge”, not from a man who used to sing songs about wanting to “party on your pussy” a few years earlier. No one ever expected for “Give It Away” to be a staple song for a generation of younger kids who would eventually discover a band of weirdos from… where? Seattle? What is that? What is a Nirvana?

    MTV put the Red Hot Chili Peppers into rotation religiously, but music videos were nothing more than commercials for the full album, with the hope that the album would be a welcome mat for fans to see them in concert. What fans discovered was a band who showed a lot of musical and songwriting maturity, with help from a producer who allowed them to grow up without losing the fun, funk, or foolishness they were known for. Rubin could be credited as someone who helped them redirect their “itchy nut” energies towards something that could benefit all of them. This is what happened.

    I was actually lucky to received a copy of BloodSugarSexMagik two months before the album’s proper release on September 24th. I had my own fanzine, and Warner Bros. gave me an advance tape of the album in full. In the summer of 1991, the album’s 17-song sequence was set in stone, but my copy featured every song separated from one another. The final album was a non-stop experience in that there were little to no gaps separating each track, with a few songs mixed right into the next. I immediately loved “The Power Of Equality”, as it was an ode to their old-yet-trusted funky ways, sounding like the perfect “welcome back” song for fans who first became aware of them with Mother’s Milk. “If You Have To Ask” reached back even further with its deep funky grooves as Kiedis dropped a rhyme in his laid back Los Angeles style. The song leads to the chorus with sweet vocal harmonies from Flea and John Frusciante, and for at least two songs it sounded like the group were still in top form. It was business as usual, but then came song #3.

    I grew up admiring The Beatles and everything they represented as innovators of the recording studio as a true instrument, and that would help shine light on a lot of the creative ways artists in the mid to late 60’s were getting their music across. There are certain sounds, sound effects, and filters that are associated with a “psychedelic” sound and “Breaking The Girl” could be considered a bit Beatlesque, if not psychedelic. The kind of head games RHCP would sign about was more about the groin than mental games, but this was a move up for the group. The song begins in a 3/4 time measure with Flea playing his bassline while Frusciante played his acoustic guitar, and it isn’t until the 0:40 mark when the drums are pushed up into the mix. The song is obviously about a man wanting to deflower a woman, but done in a way that was without jokes or humor. People would later claim the song was about everything from rape to child molestation (since the song title refers to a “girl” and not a “woman”), but the song seemed to be a slight reflection of that late 60’s mentality of love being free and easy, while also being a song that absorbed the myths of the band’s Laurel Canyon surroundings. The highlight of the song is hearing the “breaking” of the girl, created with various percussive instruments pounding with rhythm, as if was a tribal experience, as if everyone in their community is united in a man “breaking” in the girl. Is it savage, is it cruel, or is it merely the circle of life? Or a folk life drum circle? Something that sounds so great and tribal becomes more humbling in the Funky Monks> documentary when it is shown that the sounds were nothing more than random pipes, cans, and hubcaps pounded by hammers. It’s a Wizard Of Oz moment when you discover the truth behind the curtain: does it take away from the myth you want to visualize, or does it just add to the “aura” of the song? For me, it’s the latter, seeing reality to create something that simply sounds cool even though the way they did it is quite simple. Upon hearing this song, I knew I had to hear the next 14.

    The band go through a lot of unique levels of funk, rock, and pop to get to where they need to go, dwelling through “Funky Monks”, “Suck My Kiss”, “Mellowship Slinky in B Major”, and “The Righteous & the Wicked”. Calling out Bob Marley as a prophet in “Give It Away” did not validate the reggae singer, but singling him out as the song gained a lot of exposure let fans know that the group were never shy from citing their influences and music interests. The songs were programmed on the album in a way that was arguably like sexual endurance, knowing when to go deep when needed, understanding the role of foreplay and touching audio erogenous zones, and adjusting one’s techniques and speed. The group sound like they are in tune with one another and themselves, and the idea of Rubin as an overseer that would help them complete the journey can be considered as the album moves along and heads home.

    “Sir Psycho Sexy” immediately brought to mind Parliament‘s “Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk” on their 1977 album Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome. In the Parliament song, George Clinton and his crew explore the character of Sir Nose, a man who is “devoid of funk” and they want to shoot him with a “bop gun” because they feel those who instinctively know how to bop are becoming an endangered species. The song is done at a laid back pace throughout its 10-minute duration where casual fans may seem it’s poorly executed, but it’s about putting faith in the journey and trusting where the song will end up. With RHCP, it seems Sir Nose has, in theory, helped create the confident offspring known as Sir Psycho Sexy. Or at least helped inspire someone who was inspired by the P-Funk to become his own man, and in a way that’s a metaphor for what the band had become: offspring ready to leave home and become their own people, not just mere “children of the funk”. The song changes textures around the 4:00 mark, showing what they are about to do before locking themselves in at 5:37, when Kiedis says that perhaps he (they) will stay there for awhile. The band then get into a cool and laid back repetitive groove that shows hints of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and the “Würm” section of Yes‘ “Starship Trooper”, and one then realizes that the young, itchy-nut boys, with the Mellotron-layer in the background, are ready to grow up and become something more.

    But then again, they leave us with one last message showing fans that they’ll never forget who they are by doing a speedy and quick rendition of Robert Johnson‘s “They’re Red Hot”. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are ready to have some hot tamales because, yes, they’re red hot, and yes, she has them for sale. Is it food, is it sexual, is it complete foolishness? Truth is, it’s all of the above. While it wouldn’t be known until the Funky Monks documentary was released, the song was recorded outside of The Mansion recording studio late at night, and it’s a cool way to end an album that was not expected to be anything but “the band’s Warner Bros. debut”. For me, it was a solid album from start to finish and one that I felt was… well, maybe not perfect but I knew it would become my “instant classic”. I liked, no, I loved it because it wasn’t just Flea slapping his thumbs on his bass over and over, I loved that but I loved when his funk was laid back, but he was much more than the funk/punk guy. When he got into it in a jazzy fashion, he showed he was as effective being deliberately subtle and complex at the same time. Kiedis didn’t have to prove himself as being the cool white guy who loved rock, funk, and rap. Smith and Frusciante were new when they were on Mother’s Milk, but this album showed they were perfect for the group and hopefully stay with the band for years (Frusciante would eventually leave a few months after the making of this album, but would return years later).

    As a whole, the album title could not have been a more perfect title for what the group represented. Blood was the bond, Sugar was the topping, Sex was the lure, and Magik was something that often times was created without their being knowledge or motive of it being created. Rubin was aware of how things could and should work, and thus was the hall monitor for all of the “happy accidents” that could happen in the locked confines of a mansion posing as a recording studio. The album would lead to incredible success for the band, but the sound and chemistry they created during May and June 1991 would not be duplicated. It was as if the group had given their all during that month and said “it’s all or nothing”, and when all was given, the end result was an album that in my opinion became the best thing they ever recorded.

    As a fan of an album, I tend to want to hear more and find out what else they recorded. As it was the habit for bands for years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers would record songs that would be released as non-LP B-sides (the “B-side” being a term for the flip side of a single (known as the “A-side”, the potential hit that would often be merely something else to listen to. A lot of times artists would become more adventurous on their B-sides, or carry a unique path that was often times different from the focus of their proper albums, see Prince, Paul McCartney, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, and Bruce Springsteen for incredible references). For RHCP, the band initially presented four more songs recorded during these sessions:

    1. Search & Destroy (a Stooges cover)
    2. Soul To Squeeze
    3. Sikamikanico
    4. Fela’s Cock

    “Search & Destroy” probably received the most attention since it was found on “Give It Away”, and it would often be the gateway drug for new fans who had never heard of the band until now. Because of the success of “Give It Away”, a number of radio stations would also play “Search & Destroy” (plus, anything Iggy Pop-related is always a good thing.) “Soul To Squeeze” sounded as if it was unfinished, with Kiedis eventually doing a verse that sounds like him doing a reference vocal track and running out of things to say. The song was widely ignored because of this, but would gain attention when it was used for the Coneheads soundtrack two years later. RHCR were dormant and perhaps Warner Bros. Records felt that with no new music coming from the band, they needed to fill the market with something to keep attention towards the band active. The song, to me, sounds like fluke and yet when released as a single, the group would shoot a video for it and the song actually became a hit. I feel that the success of this song helped to shape the path the group would end up taking for the next 18 years. My thought is that “wow, their success is based on a garbage B-side that sounds unfinished, and yet the public likes this without even knowing this?” A lot of times, artists don’t care what path they end up going on, as long as it’s one that leads to more music and more activity. It may not have been my personal favorite, but it’s still part of the BloodSugarSexMagik experience.

    The two other songs were released in a number of ways, depending on where you lived and what you chose to buy. “Sikamikaniko” should have been on BloodSugarSexMagik, but with the final album being just under 74 minutes (at a time when the limit of a compact disc was a few seconds short of the 74 minute mark), something had to be removed. The song combines an aggressive punch of funk and rock, with wicked bass runs from Flea, hard beats from Smith, and groovy riffs from Frusciante. Forget the fact that much of what Kiedis was saying was nonsense, but it was a fun and good nonsense that made the song work, like a lot of their EMI work.

    “Fela’s Cock” was a instrumental done in honor of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti‘s penis. Flea had mentioned a few times in interviews (including a great article in Spin m,agazine) that he was a hardcore Fela fan, anyone who loves funk will eventually find himself going towards the music of Nigeria’s greatest musical export. This was also at a time when embracing the music of Kuti meant seriously searching, because his music could not be found anywhere, especially not in any normal record stores between the two coasts. If anything, it was a group who, like the Marley reference in “Give It Away”, were simply sharing another musical interest. It wouldn’t be until later in the decade, as the internet started to change the way people consumed and learned about music, that people like Fela and Lee “Scratch” Perry would gain attention outside of their core audiences. Both “Sikamikaniko” and “Fela’s Cock” could be found on the “Under The Bridge” CD single, while in Japan and Australia you could find it on the Suck My Kiss tour EP.

    Right after I posted this article, I noticed that the most current digital version of the album features yet another track, a cover of Jimi Hendrix Experience‘s “Little Miss Lover”, available if you buy the album through Amazon, iTunes, and I’m sure other digital outlets. I had assumed the song was a random outtake from another time, but after taking a listen, it definitely has the same audio characteristics as the rest of the album.

    The end result is 22 songs recorded during the BloodSugarSexMagik sessions, and along with the Funky Monks documentary, it’s a chance to experience the album from the inside out. The Red Hot Chili Peppers have never been big headed, or at least they have never presented themselves that way, and the Funky Monks showed the group to be humble and just good friends who loved music and good times. This album definitely represented their good times, and the good times of those who experienced this album when it was first released 20 years ago. I remained a fan with their follow up album four years later, One Hot Minute, even though the band felt that guitarist Dave Navarro changed their sound a bit to the point where some felt they left that core sound behind. One listen to BloodSugarSexMagik shows they were a group willing to take the risk of not only exploring, but jumping ship into a vast ocean of the unknown. In other words, they didn’t want to be locked in that punk/funk vibe forever. There is a generation who may have only heard the band from the sample of “Pretty Little Ditty” in Crazy Town‘s “Butterfly”, not even realizing that it is a Peppers song and not anyone in the video playing instruments. RHCP became known for playing and living hard, but when they allowed themselves to share a more delicate side, they were rewarded. The rewards probably lead them to wanting to repeat that formula in order to keep the attention and success, and I myself didn’t find anything I could hold onto anymore. The last RHCP album I cared for in full was One Hot Minute, and out of everything they’ve recorded in the last 15 years, I really enjoy “Can’t Stop”, and that’s partially due to Frusciante’s input in the song. I think years after the fact, it may be time to approach those older albums from a different perspective.

    BloodSugarSexMagik was released when I was 20, looking at 21 a few weeks ago. It reminds me of my youth, and as I listen to the album today, I’m honored to be still around 20 years later. This doesn’t sound like old man music, even though a younger generation may think this is. I say listen and approach this from a different perspective. For those of you who were around to hear it the first time, but haven’t in years, listen again. If you consider yourself an RHCP fan but haven’t heard this for whatever reason, do so.

    It would be too easy to say that this is their Abbey Road, their Sgt. Pepper, their Dark Side Of The Moon, their The Wall. This could be their Wesley Willis album for all that I know but for me, this will forever be a masterpiece, not bad for a band who will always be known for their “cocks on their cocks”. It seemed that in the spring of 1991, these guys finally decided to put on some pants. It may not have been washed for a month, but they had pants on nonetheless.

    To Anthony Kiedis, Michael Balzary, John Frusciante, Chad Smith, Rick Rubin, engineer Brendan O’Brien, and everyone else involved in the making of that album, from Gus Van Zant (who snapped the photos of the tattoos on the cover) to the band’s assistant in the Funky Monks documentary who drove around watching their clothes and doing errands for them: mahalo nui loa. Eternal gratitude for this album.

    In closing, I’m surprised Warner Bros. did not remaster this album this year as a deluxe edition, with all of the B-sides, remixes, and perhaps outtakes, alternate takes/mixes, and demos. If there are more songs from these recording sessions that remain “in the vaults”, I’d love a chance to hear them and write about them and these sessions someday. Let me explore the multi-tracks (with proper supervision of course). I’m at BooksMusica [at] gmail [dot] com if someone wants to contact me.

    ADDITION (September 26, 2012)
    While I posted the digital bonus track of “Little Miss Lover”, a year after I wrote this article, I’ve discovered another bonus track for the iTunes addition, yet another Jimi Hendrix cover, this time for “Castles Made Of Sand”. The band had always performed this over the years, and a live version had been released when they were signed to EMI. Here is the Rick Rubin-produced version from the BloodSugarSexMagik sessions.

    As a journalist, I tend to play the role of someone that is trying to push a product for someone. We are sent press releases that are meant to be a guide of sorts to help the writer out. Some writers will use them religiously, to where their review tends to be a rewrite. If you read more than five reviews of the same product, you can often see certain “keywords” that are meant to be used as the sales pitch, written so that it will be effective in creating awareness of the product, and thus sales.

    While I have written my share of press releases, I tend to ignore it from others. When I do reviews, I tend to read it after I’ve listened and done the review, as I don’t want someone else’s views becoming my own. When I have read a press release, I sometimes will refer or acknowledge this in the review, and highlight whether or not those words made an impression on me. Most of the time it doesn’t, but I’m not afraid to make fun of the press release if I feel it was written a bit half-assed.

    I feel that music press releases are not only a means of marketing, but can often be a document of the way the record label wanted the public to perceive the album. Sometimes press releases are written well, with a bit of humor from its creator and occasionally from the artist involved. I tend to like the “marketing” aspect of things, which is why I’ve been interested in radio spots for albums and movies. I may not have been alive or too small to care, but it’s interesting to see and hear how something was marketed, and whether or not that sales pitch had an effect on its success, if at all.

    What you’ll find below are scans of the original 8-page press release for BloodSugarSexMagik as sent out by Warner Bros. Records in early 1991. It touches on the mindset of the album, where the group came from and where they hoped to go with this then-new release. These press releases are usually promotional items made only available to the media in press kits, usually with a photo or two of the artist. Occasionally you can find them sold by those who collect music memorabilia, but the rise of eBay has made it possible to purchase press kits by meeting or beating the minimum bid. Since this album has been a personal favorite, I kept this press release. It’s interesting to note that the press release does express the humor the group have with one another and share, but still shows them to be humble. It is usually “the responsibility” of the media to help create the superhype, so consider this press release merely a guide for what others had to work on in order to describe the band and its music through radio, newspapers, magazines, television, and cable. These days, a big chunk of that buzz is created via social media, websites, and blogs, so you might consider this a documentation of a means of music promotion that once was. It most likely will not change your view of the album or its music in anyway, but if it adds a bit more perspective, excellent. Enjoy.