Well, I feel another bout of nostalgia coming on thanks to Brad’s comments here, and after doing some research on my past, I found this gem by Newcleus from deep in the depths of the early 80s. A band known for the first “wikki-wikki song” well before Wikipedia. I freely admit this song remains one of my favorite songs of all time, what a narrative, what a concept…ahh, the beginning of rap was a beautiful thing. And according to Newcleus’s Wikipedia article this early rap song is bonafide historic:
Their follow-up single “Jam-On It” has become their most famous single, ushering in a new sound altogether for hip hop: from the conga rock of the old school to a more programmed sound. This song was ahead of its time in production techniques and general atmosphere.
“I learned to rock like a dolomite.” Who could get away with a line like that today? Cosmo D, where have you gone?
If you like that, you may get a kick out of this song too…
Interesting video. This isn’t my genre, really, but I’m learning.
I’m particularly interested in the way the video pulls out all the familiar tropes of a band and its instruments in performance, right down to the dry ice atmospherics, but the tropes are completely contradicted by the actual sounds being produced. For example: we see a closeup of an electric bass being played, but the sound is of a synth bass, maybe an Oberheim or a Minimoog; we see a drummer pounding away, and even a closeup of a kick drum, but the sounds of a Roland 808 drum machine are unmistakeable. We see children singing/speaking, but the sound is a David Seville-style chipmunk vocal. Is this contradiction because of a transitional moment in which familiar stuff pulls us into a new mode? Or is it part of the conceit?
Wow! I remember this tune well and it’s inspired some serious flashbacks this morning (esp. to Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” from ’82). The early 80s were quite a moment – funk melding with punk (I won’t get started on this again) together with European electronica of the 70s and some of the jazz masters hopping in with their own stuff. Tunes that your Newcleus post has brought me back to —
Herbie Hancock, “Rockit” (1983) – A song that seemed both smooth and funky at the same time, grabbed a new edge in the synthesized sound (while, unlike much other synthesized sound of the 80s, maintaining that edge). The video offered a great satire of domestic frames and corporate wardrobes, all with an existential edge (along with the figure of HH, jamming from the screen within the screen…) just perfect for the culture of the early 80s…
…and then, a tune I heard from a stranger who was using his own tape to test boom-boxes on sale at a Lechmere department store back in ’83 or ‘84 – it was the Art of Noise’s “Beat Box” (1983). Looking back now, it’s interesting to find two different video versions floating on YouTube. One seems to mix the boom box sound with a spin on urban scenes, late capitalism and late empire (hello 1970s and early 80s…) in the British context while the other seems oddly toned down or constrained, by comparison…
Beat Box 1:
Best Box 2:
I’ll need to take a look at “Rockit” again; I remember not liking it so much but being glad Hancock had such a great payday. Art of Noise I always liked, probably because they were doing such odd things with the soundscape. Their version of the “Peter Gunn” theme with Duane Eddy on guitar always appealed to me. I’ve actually got that first album on vinyl and CD … “Paranoimia” still gets my blood flowing.
Wow, what readings, did I ever tell you how happy I am that you all are here to make these off-handed bits of nostalgia intelligent!
@Gardner: What a reading of Newcleus’s video, I wouldn’t even know what instruments were what, so seeing this reading makes me pretty excited that there may be far more at work with the moment of transition a song like this represents into a moment of what would soon after be widely represented by Run DMC, who almost immediately cross rap over with rock with the “Walk this Way” remake with Aerosmith.
And this goes with some of what @Sue is talking about with the kind of musical borderzone during the early 80s, wherein punk, jazz, rock, and rap were not as clearly distinguishable as we might think in retrospect.
@Sue: Your reading of Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” is amazing, it takes one of my favorite videos of the 80s, and maps it on a fascinating political, social, and specifically historical reading of this moment. Making me love it all the more. As for the two different versions of “Beat Box” makes me think about the video of “The Message” from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. This sense of the urban space in both these videos “The Message” and “Beat Box” (at least the first one) is really provocative. The space of the city in this dynamic is really cool and important, and the idea of the urban as a space that all these forms could come together with some kind of social and political figure that focuses and melds some of these forms.
Sorry I missed this the day it went live. I have to say at one time I was seriously into this kind of stuff — I have to admit I even I have a picture from the local newspaper of me doing windmills in the town square (probably listening to this song on the boombox). Pushing the edge of it all has always appealed to me. Thanks for the old skool look back and I have to say as soon as the song started I actually remembered (nearly) all the words. Good stuff!
When are you going to scan that windmill image and share it via flickr 🙂 It sounds awesome. I figured a couple of like-minded nuts would get a get out of this tune, for i remember singing it non-stop for an entire Summer, it just seemed so different to me back then, but then again I imagine many things did.