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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Back in 1993

posted by on August 29 at 14:25 PM

Found a .99 cent sale on used CDs at the Lifelong Thrift Store over on 11th and Union the other day. Usually I don’t even bother with thrift store CD racks but something compelled me to check these out. Holy bargain bin! I couldn’t believe my luck:




All three albums I had on cassette my freshman year of college. Memories of that time are hazy, except regarding the music I listened to. That I can place perfectly—the wheres and whens of hearing these albums.

Basehead is one of the original alt-hiphop groups, helmed by the stoned-out, laconic Michael Ivey. Their ‘92 debut is super lo-fi and revolves mostly around drinking beer. Songs are played with lazy, minimal guitar and simple drum kit beats, “2000 B.C.”—that’s 2,000 brain cells later—and “Ode to My Favorite Beer” are slacker rap anthems. At the time, Basehead’s music went over just about everybody’s heads, but years later this album is a hiphop cult classic.

Formed by a bunch of former punks, Love Jones was big in the lounge revival scene of the early ’90s. This ‘93 debut matches its velvet-swank swing with a hungover, down-and-out lyrical bent, never taking itself too seriously, except in the playing. Cooing, gin-soaked tunes like the title track and the clever “Custom Van” felt like throwbacks to a Vegas golden era that existed only in drunken hipster imaginations. Perfect cocktail party music, Love Jones brought in horns and vibraphone to enhance the showbiz vibe. Which is weird, because I wasn’t having cocktail parties when I was 17, but I still identified with something here. These guys presaged the swing revival, Friends of Dean Martinez, and Pink Martini by years.

I can never remember which one’s Chaka Demus and which one’s Pliers (I think Chaka has the booming voice and Pliers is the crooner), but this album hangs on the international dancefloor hit “Murder She Wrote.” If you’ve spent any time at dancehall or reggae nights in just about any city in the world you’ve heard the track. Mudede insists the murder referred to in the chorus is actually an abortion; I’ve never heard that interpretation but it makes some sense. It’s a good track, too—the riddim’s come up in other places, other songs and remixes, since its ‘92 release. For some reason, this song is the one that you hear most often, but the real banger here—and I mean banger—is “Tease Me,” one of the most infectious reggae tracks I know.

“Tease Me” made it to Number 3 on UK singles chart back in ‘93 and is still second fiddle to “Murder She Wrote,” though it bounces along on a far superior riddim and features a better vocal performance from both Chaka and Pliers. I rocked this tape over and over my freshman year at UCLA. How I heard about it I have no idea; dancehall wasn’t really my scene, but I knew I liked it when I heard it. I was broadening my horizons, I guess. Watch this YouTube vid and you will too—just be prepared to have “Tease Me” stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

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Speaking of high school, tomorrow on my Hollow Earth Radio show I'll be playing 2 hours of music I listened to in high school. None of these hits in there, but I wager there'll be some overlap with your teenaged listening habits.

Tomorrow, 5 to 7,

Sorry if that was a little spammy, but it is relevant!

Posted by Levislade | August 29, 2007 2:40 PM

radical, levi. can you give us a little sampler playlist?

Posted by jz | August 29, 2007 2:47 PM

Well, it's not finalized, but among other things there will be some Tom Waits, some weird noisy jazz, some less weird noisy jazz, some punk, some ska, some girly pop, some grunge, the Pharcyde . . . oh, and Dischord records will be heavily represented.

Posted by Levislade | August 29, 2007 2:57 PM

Oh shit, Basehead! Haven't played that album in years. Thanks for reminding me of that one.

Play with Toys is one of those unique hip-hop albums that just baffle people, like Son of Bazerk's Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk. Headz still ain't ready...

Posted by segal | August 29, 2007 8:20 PM

Hair splitting time.

Play With Toys was from 1991 on Emigre Records in Berkeley. Imago bought the band from Emigre and re-released the album in 1992 (removing an uncleared sample) along with the new one Not In Kansas Anymore, which was actually the better album, but both records are great.

Posted by matthew fisher wilder | September 1, 2007 8:58 AM

not in kansas was damn good. the difference, i found, was that play w toys was about beer and kansas was about weed. one had a looser, drunker vibe, the other a weirdr, more paranoid feel. i wouldnt say the second album was better--they were both pretty damn good.

Posted by jz | September 1, 2007 6:33 PM

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