Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I Don't Think You Have Very Long To Live


King Of Woolworths “To The Devil A Donut”

by Mark Cappelletty

Hammer Films was for years the sign of quality horror. It’s like Smucker’s, but with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing instead of the Goober and the Grape: “with a name like Hammer, it’s got to be Bloody Good British Horror.”

Hammer’s last film was 1976’s To The Devil A Daughter, a fairly goofy story about demonic possession (one of the devil’s bloody minions, having just chewed its way out of a hapless woman’s womb, looks like Kermit The Frog as a fetus) that’s raised to acceptable levels with a very young (and shockingly nude) Nassatja Kinski and good performances by Hammer stalwart Christopher Lee and a cranky Richard Widmark, who undoubtedly wasn’t all that happy spouting dialogue about “the Stone of Asteroth” and the like. The documentary on the hard-to-find Anchor Bay DVD pretty much asserts how difficult Widmark was; fortunately, this was a horror one-shot for him, unlike such current “gotsta pay the bills” actors like Ben (BloodRayne) Kingsley, Jeremy (Eragon) Irons and current champ Michael (too many to mention) Madsen, who obviously needs the pain to help feed his poetic muse. Michael Madsen’s poetry will be showcased in another, scarier post.


In 2001, Manchester DJ and producer Jon Brooks put out the record Ming Star under the “King Of Woolworth” name. It’s pleasant but meandering mood music in the vein of Air, save for the cracking “To The Devil A Donut,” which fuses samples from To The Devil A Daughter with an ominous dance beat. It’s perfect Halloween music— you got your funky percussion, your cowbells and Christopher Lee telling you that he can “hear your pulse beat.” And it’s likely to scare the hell out of kids coming to your door. Take that “Monster Mash”!

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

This Is Not Mello Yellow

zodiac (2007) poster

Donovan “The Hurdy-Gurdy Man”

by Mark Cappelletty

zodiac 2007 title
dvd screengrab courtesy of dvdbeaver.com

Zodiac, as long as it is (and the director’s cut due on DVD/HD-DVD in January, is rumored to be a full half-hour longer!), is one of the most unnerving movies in years. It’s not quite as bone-rattling as director David Fincher’s Se7en, but it comes pretty close. Fincher, using a lot of invisible digital trickery, transports us back to the San Francisco of the ‘70’s, both in the look and tone of the film. We get a real sense of a city under siege and the seemingly random nature of the killings makes you feel that anyone could be the Zodiac Killer’s next victim.

zodiac 2007 capture 3

The use of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” is really effective— it’s the sixties flower-power equivalent of the “Ka-Ka-Ka” Friday The 13th musical cue. Once Donovan comes up on the soundtrack, you know the Summer Of Love is over— but good.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Fava Beans & A Nice Chianti

Picture 1

Q. Lazzarus “Goodbye Horses”

The Fall “Hip Priest”

Shriekback “The Big Hush”

by Mark Cappelletty

That Hannibal Lecter guy sure gets around. Between listening to Glenn Gould, developing psychiatric theories around the smallest piece of evidence and serving up human victims, Julia Child-style, you’d think that he wouldn’t have time to have good musical taste. But the first two movies based on Thomas Harris’ exploits of this character (I bailed after Hannibal) utilize strong music to unusual effect.

1986’s Manhunter is the scariest and most effective of all of these films. While the movie is definitely an element of the times — Michael Mann, of then-“Miami Vice” fame, traffics heavily in bright colors, pastels and knit ties (did the costume designer get a kick-back from Chess King?) — the thriller element is strong because the story’s ostensible villains are so underplayed and so frighteningly human. Brian Cox’s “Lecktor,” locked up in a white-on-white cell, isn’t that far removed from hero Will Graham (William Petersen of “C.S.I.” fame), and Tom Noonan’s Francis Dolarhyde reveals a deep sadness. But enough with all the psychoanalysis! The movie’s scary! Go rent it!

Even scarier is some of the ‘80’s music, including some earnest clunkers by the likes of long-forgotten bands like The Reds. The climax to “In A Gadda-Da-Vida” is fantastic, however, and Mann gets points for utilizing Shriekback, an art-funk band led by ex-XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews. The two songs on the soundtrack — “The Big Hush” and instrumental “Coelocanth” — can be found on their 1986 debut, Oil And Gold.

Jonathan Demme has always had an ear for good music— he directed the concert films Stop Making Sense, Storefront Hitchcock and Neil Young: Heart Of Gold and the soundtracks to 1986’s Something Wild and 1988’s Married To The Mob still hold up today. The Silence Of The Lambs is no different. When Jodie Foster chases serial killer Jame Gumb in his rotting basement, The Fall’s creepy and disturbing “Hip Priest” is playing in the background.

Picture 2
do you see?

But no scene is more memorable than the one in which Gumb —Ted Levine, a character actor best known today as Tony Shalhoub’s cop liaison on TV’s “Monk” — tucks his junk between his legs and does the serial killer equivalent of the Dance Of The Seven Veils. The song is “Goodbye Horses,” by ex-NYC taxi driver Q. Lazzarus, a lesbian who, according to her Myspace page, lives in Vegas and makes less than $30k a year. Jeez! The moody and undeniably catchy song is featured on the Married To The Mob soundtrack and proved to be a minor one-hit wonder for Lazzarus, who hasn’t put out a record in a decade. The song was parodied in Clerks 2 and turns up in weird tributes on YouTube, including one horrible clip where a little toddler warbles the song at his (off-camera) parents’ urging. That’s the scariest thing I’ll see all year.

Picture 3

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Goth Brooks


Bauhaus “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”

The Dirtbombs “Kung Fu”

by Mark Cappelletty

It’s Halloween time and that means can only mean one thing anymore: Goths. Especially out here in Southern California, skinny high-school kids with eye makeup and jet-black hair can strut their stuff and not fear wedgies, swirlies or the occasional purple nurple. The Goth song of choice is, natch, Bauhaus’ 1979 single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” a drony and repetitive song with lyrics that would give even Anne Rice pause (“The virginal brides file past his tomb/Strewn with time’s dead flowers/Bereft in deathly bloom”). But man oh man, does it work. Most Halloween-oriented songs are either novelty hits or are scary only in context. With Peter Murphy’s deep, affected vocals shambling forth like a ghoul (and, with his Skeletor face, looking very much the part) and the simplest, eeriest bassline ever, this one is unsettling on its own any time of the year.

Even scarier is the use of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in the glossy 1983 Tony Scott pansexual vampire thriller/’80’s-era perfume commercial The Hunger, which juxtaposes Bauhaus singing this in some weird club (behind the same kind of fencing that saved Jake & Elwood Blues during their “country AND western” bar set) while David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve pick up a pair of hapless club-kid victims, one of whom turns out to be Ann “The Power Of Pussy” Magnuson. Bad stuff ensues. The Hunger isn’t particularly great, but Bowie is genuinely creepy, particularly in how Dick Smith’s early-stage old-age make-up almost perfectly mirrors how he looks today, and the movie has atmosphere in spades. And did I mention the smoking hot — and, for once, not thoroughly gratuitous — lesbian sequence between Deneuve and Susan Sarandon?

If Bauhaus is a bit too Goth for you, check out Detroit’s Dirtbombs, who take Kevin Haskins’ drum-beat and Daniel Ash’s guitar distortion and sample them for “Kung Fu,” off 2001’s Ultraglide In Black. Never thought you could shake your tail-feather at Bauhaus before? Well, now you can. Just mind bumping into the kid in the Skinny Puppy shirt. That black eye-liner is hell to wash out of your clothes.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Apologies, Ad Nauseum


I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize for the lethargic attitude towards POP ZEUS! as of late. There haven't been many posts up here lately and I take responsbility for that. I'd also like to apologize for the words (and actions) of our newest writer Colonel Assrape McFuckstein. His views and opinions have apparently offended many and do not represent those of the rest of the POP ZEUS! staff. That being said, I will in no way take any actions to try to stifle him, and will instead celebrate his writings by letting him run the site for as long as he wants. This site will most certainly become a place where deviants gather, much like a virtual alleyway that smells of hobo urine. I'm sure all our readers will enjoy this new direction, and may God have mercy on all our souls.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Hey baby... I just shit my pants, can I get into yours?

by Colonel Assrape McFuckstein


Elliot Smith "Between The Bars"

Elliot Smith "Stupidity Tries"

Elliot Smith "Coming Up Roses"

Elliot Smith "King's Crossing"

WHAT? What, motherfucker? You don’t like Elliott Smith? What, are you some kind of fucking asshole? Are you a fucking asshole? Do you often find shit coming out of you? Are you right next to some female reproductive organs, or perhaps some balls? Are you an asshole? How about I come over there and cut off your fucking head with a fucking Rambo knife? Would you like that? Huh? I’ll fucking KILL you motherfucker! I’ll fucking KILL you! I’ll shove a grenade up your fucking ass! I’ll set that shit off by punching through your fucking abdomen with some gloves covered in glue, broken glass, and sea salt and then I'll pull out the pin motherfucker! Then I’ll take the pin and use it to gouge out your eyes you fucking fuck! You won’t be able to see me grab some boiling hot carrot soup and scald your fucking genitals you fuck! Carrot soup burns, bitch, that shit’s like napalm on your sack! Yeah! What now, motherfucker? WHAT NOW??!?

So I really like the late Elliott Smith. Critics claim his work was too derivative, his obvious Beatles influence being a bit hard for some to get past. Predictably, I’d suggest that all these critics get in a line and suck a bunch of shit. Critics are jobless douche bag dick-licks, that’s a fact. This guy we went to college with declared one afternoon that he wanted to be a professional critic. We argued that he should first pursue his goals before surrendering to a life of judging others. He was unconvinced. After we torched his car and got his girlfriend pregnant we told the police he was a pedophile.

I admit I didn’t discover Elliott Smith until his music was featured in that Good Will Wayans movie with Mork from Ork. I never lived in Portland, where he and his band Heatmiser first started blowing shit up. I never did much heroin. Sorry. The fuck am I supposed to do? He wasn’t on my radar because he didn’t play heavy metal and didn’t have a logo with some pointy lettering and some pentagrams and such. Luckily I had a girlfriend at the time who made me go see that movie. That girl was hot. She also drove a two-tone Toyota Supra, no shit. We got caught by the cops fucking in the front seat once. I had to wake her up so we could get the fuck out of there.

Anyway Elliott was the balls. Great songwriting, great melodies, great honesty. You can hear that he believed what the fuck he was saying – themes included heartbreak, drug addiction, disillusionment, and other heavy shit he was certainly qualified to explore and relate to us. I bet he had a huge crank.

So here’s some Elliott Smith, you fucking fucks. Do yourself a favor and check it out. Included are some of my favorites: Between the Bars -- some sad shit I can certainly relate to. Coming up Roses -- in classic Elliott style it sounds like it was recorded on a four-track inside a garbage can but is still better than just about anything out today. Stupidity Tries -- big instrumentation, big arrangement, big hooks, big, huge nuts. And finally King’s Crossing -- a really dark track that happens to be my favorite off the first of his posthumous releases From a Basement on the Hill.


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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Halfway To A Three Way


Interpol "No I In Threesome"

At first, I avoided Interpol's latest record Our Love To Admire. Its not that I dislike the band; their first record was fantastic and its follow up Antics contained one of my favorite songs ever, "Evil". All the reviews I had read of this new record had been favorable as well. It's just that it seemed to me Interpol wasn't going anywhere. Most of Antics was merely a retread of Turn On The Bright Lights and frankly I expected the same thing. Getting a nudge from hearing their single "Pioneer To The Falls" on the radio a few times (yes, I actually still listen to the radio) I decided to give the new Interpol record a try.

Well its only been a couple days, but I am pleasantly surprised. They don't break a lot of new ground with their sound, which is as always dark and forboding, but their song writing ability has grown immensely. Songs like the aforementioned "Pioneer" and "No I In Threesome" are at the same time beautiful and ominous. So color me impressed. Hey the vinyl copy even came with a cd inside, and that's something I'll always applaud.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Prognosis: Bad Babysitting!


The Twilight Sad "That Summer At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy"

I came from a very loving family, and through my life i've known some folks who have come from some broken homes. But sleeping while yr kids are on fire in the bedroom? I'm gonna have to put my foot down and say that's just bad parenting. Yet this is the situation presented in The Twilight Sad's "That Summer At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy".

Having witnessed a pretty powerful performance by Glasgow's The Twilight Sad at July's Pitchfork concert, I decided three months later (cuz thats how I does thangs) to pick up their record. Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters does not disappoint in its shoegazing angsts. Singer James Graham's thick Scottish brogue tells tales of children left behind and lost love over wailing guitars and relentless drum cycles. Even the album's artwork depicts a boy shunned by everyone, including his family until he finally decides to smother his mother in her sleep. Wait. Smother yr mother? Hey, that rhymes!

But seriously don't do that to your own mom.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

‘I got the “F,” I got the “C,” I got the “K,” all I need is “U,” baby.’

by Colonel Assrape McFuckstein


Kyuss "Molten Universe"

Kyuss "Catamaran"

Kyuss "Mondo Generator"

Hello POP ZEUS! readers. For legal reasons I can no longer use my real name so from now on all my insightful musings will be credited to my pseudonym, “Colonel Assrape McFuckstein.”

My friend Joey came to my apartment in New Orleans once and introduced me to a band by the name of KYUSS. Joey was cool. He sold pot. You’d call him for a quarter of some MEXICAN DIRT WEED and he’d always say something slick like, “Make sure you bring 3 SONGS ON THE 5 SONG DEMO,” which meant 35 dollars – which was about 34 dollars too much for this fucking garbage. It was terrible. I’m pretty sure they dropped this shit on the Cong in ‘Nam. It burned. It was like having a beaver clawing its way out of your lungs.

I didn’t think much of Kyuss at first. Joey’s weed wasn’t good enough. This is serious STONER ROCK. It kicks you right in the balls. This music makes me want to have some kids so I can beat them.

I don’t do drugs anymore but I can finally appreciate all that is Kyuss. It’s one of those bands that has a loyal following of non-dipshits. You don’t hear many douche bags talking about how much they love Kyuss. That’s a plus.

These guys got their start playing at keg parties in the desert. I’m amazed it’s even stoner rock. STATISTICALLY SPEAKING it was more likely to be crystal meth rock – “Music to clean your house to.” “Music to look out the blinds because you’re sure the SWAT team is coming to.” “Music to watch your teeth fall out to.” Shit people would listen to really loud to cover up all the explosions from the various meth-lab trailer parks. But obviously the statistics were wrong. Math can suck a dick.

So here’s Kyuss, you fucking fucks. MONDO GENERATOR reminds me of some old White Zombie. Or maybe Zombie reminds me of Kyuss. The fuck i care? CATAMARAN is some smooth shit, the kind of song you have playing in your car when you pick a new girl up for the first time… in order lull her into a false sense of security before you unleash some Goatwhore on her. My absolute favorite is MOLTEN UNIVERSE. Fuck, it’s called Molten Universe. That’s the balls. I used to play this shit as loud as my car speakers would go and cruise by chicks. Because everybody knows chicks that put out love bad-ass riffs.

Alright, me and three guys I met outside the Post Office have to go run a train on your sister. I’ll tell her you said hello.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

The Rick James

by Mark Cappelletty


“Ebony Eyes” by Rick James & Smokey Robinson

You’re Rick James. You’ve had a tough day— the tracks you’ve just laid down wouldn’t cause a freak (much less a superfreak), your record label is feuding with you over the cost of a chain-mail-encased panther for your album cover, your cornrows are tangled, the Mary Jane Girls are feuding over cocaine and the sex slave currently tied up and tortured in the basement is getting lippy. You need to relax.

What better way than the Rick James Cocktail? This gentleman’s libation, created by the author and Jared Butler in August 2004, is just the way to ease your tension and put the troubles of the day behind you.

The recipe is simple but packs a Rick James abusive-spouse-esque punch.

The Rick James - 13

In a cocktail shaker full of cracked ice, pour

1 ½ ounces good cognac
½ ounce Grand Marnier

Shake well and pour into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with powdered sugar.

Then put on today’s song for that special lady friend of yours (NOT the one in the basement).

But some days are worse than others. When you want to forget that you ended your career as a footnote to some wiseass comic who’s turned your entire history into a pun (note: revenge would be sweet with that joker’s meltdown if he’d only the decency to have it before you died), you need to step things up.

These are the days that call for the I’m Rick James, Bitch! cocktail.

Simply double the recipe above. But instead of a cocktail glass, procure a large shot glass and pour in as much of the liquor as will fit. Drop that into a two-liter bottle, neck removed, filled with your malt liquor of choice (Olde English, with that extra “e,” is a classy choice). And drink— deep. You’ll be doing 3 to 5 upstate for aggravated assault in no time

The Rick James - 23
before the Rick James cocktail

The Rick James - 24
after the Rick James cocktail

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

There Is No Beginning And There Is No End


The Lemonheads "Rick James Style" (Come On Feel The Lemonheads, 1993)

In 1993 Rick James resurfaced for a duet with Evan Dando for his band the Lemonheads follow up to their highly succesful record It's A Shame About Ray. "Rick James Style" from Come On Feel The Lemonheads is a slowed down and funkafied version of "Style", a punk tinged rocker found earlier on the record. James' duet with Dando is eerie at best, as it can assumed both men were in a rock bottom state of drug abuse. The chorus, "Don't wanna get stoned/But I don't wanna not get stoned" reflects the battle going on between the both of them.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

New Hairstyle, Same Rick


Rick James "Rick's Raga" (The Flag, 1986)

Rick James "Funk In Amerika/Silly Little Man" (The Flag, 1986)

In Rick James' 2001 interview with the Onion's A.V. Club, I count four different occasions where he references his love for as well as ability to play Indian music:

"I have a very fine love for classical music, I have a love for Indian music, sitar. I went to India, lived, and studied. I studied sitar in the early '70s. I lived in Sweden and London. So I'm very familiar with Europe and its ways, very familiar with the European culture in Paris, and the French, and the English, and the Danes and whatnot, and Indian culture."

You would think then we would hear more of this influence that solely on a thirty second track from 1986's The Flag entitled "Rick's Raga" ("Om Raga" is listed on the record's label). By this time, Rick's career had really slowed to a halt. He wasn't getting the radio play he used to (at least his new material wasn't) and his music was suffering due to his increasing drug abuse problems. If Glow had been a step forward, The Flag was a huge step backwards commercially. But at the same time, his inability to rely on his usual punk-funk formulas had freed him up in a way. The Flag contains a "message song" of sorts, "Funk In Amerika", that showed that even Rick was feeling the effects of the Cold War. The track "Silly Little Man" was dedicated to Ronald Raygun and Makhail Gorbachev. Apparently it's easier to come up with a pun on Reagan's name than it is Gorbachev. But Gorbachev did have that birthmark on his head though, Man, did Cracked magazine get a lot of mileage out of that one!

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Just Let Your Soul Glow!


Rick James "Glow" (Glow, 1985)

Rick James "Rock And Roll Control" (Glow, 1985)

By 1985 Rick James' act was seen as played out. His infamous decline into drug abuse was in full swing. But Glow was a comeback of sorts for him. After producing a hit single for his good friend Eddie Murphy ("Party All The Time"), Rick returned to the studio to make his first solo record since 1983's Cold Blooded. 1984 had seen a hits comp entitled Reflections (that featured one new single "17") and Tony Montana sized piles of blow. The album's title track was the first single and saw moderate success. "Glow"'s video saw Rick James honing his acting chops, and could be seen as an indirect commercial for the product Soul-Glo from Murphy's film Coming To America. In the video, James depicts a rock star falling apart at the seams (a stretch for him I'm sure) and actually contains the line "I'm Rick James!", which may or may not have been included to embellish Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories sketch on Chappelle's Show.

The "Glow" video has a happy ending, though. As soon as Rick takes the stage and falls flat on his face, he remembers why he's up there: to rock the house. Clad in leopard skin, he shimmies and rocks his s-curls to the delight of the crowd, all while jamming on his bass, and in the end he gets his girl back. "Rock And Roll Control" from side two of Glow backs up his comeback kid concept, admitting his flaws as well as his battles with cocaine:

I was so shy
All I did was just get high
And live my life in a dream
I was snowblind
That my two eyes couldn't see
A true reality
But now I'm back y'all
Did you think
That I would fall
And not get up in style?

"Glow" would be the last true hit for James until 1990, when the spandex bicycle shorts/big puffy pants sporting MC Hammer would sample "Super Freak" for his universe smashing single "U Can't Touch This". At first James was angry that someone had sampled his song. That is until he saw how much royalty money he was going to make from the smash hit, upon which he embraced the former Oakland Athletics batboy with open arms. If "Glow" was a redemption story, remember it's just a story. Dark clouds were forming around Rick James impeccable mane, and they were about to rain shit upon his flowing locks.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

That Shit Was Cold Blooded


Rick James "Tell Me (What You Want)" feat. Billy Dee Williams (Cold Blooded, 1983)

If you were looking forward to hearing Lando Calrsian croon alongside Rick James, sorry old fellow, but it appears you may have been misled. All Billy Dee Williams really adds to this standard Rick James sex jam is his bedroom voice. But what a bedroom voice it is! I can understand why Williams was soon tapped to be the pitch man for Colt 45 malt liquor. He could make the polar ice caps melt with that voice. Hey come to think of it, Billy Dee Williams may just be the culprit for global warming. Congress needs to pass a law banning Billy Dee's vocal chords from future use. It may damage his acting career, but- ah, who am I kidding.

As Billy woos his lady friend by talking about the "stars being out" and "watching the galaxy together", I can't help but think that what's really eating away at his soul is that he's longing to be back in his home on Bespin, aka Cloud City. After all, Lobot can't hold down the fort without him forever, and he had to leave just as he was just starting to consider himself a legitimate business man. Plus he probably had a sweet fucking pad up there in the clouds. Much better than hanging around a studio doing blow with Rick James and banging groupies- Well, okay, I guess it could go both ways. Either or, this man's voice is SILK.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

About To Throw Down


Rick James "Standing On The Top" (Throwin' Down, 1982)

Rick James "69 Times" (Throwin' Down, 1982)

1982's Throwin' Down found Rick sporting a loin cloth on it's cover, an axe shaped bass guitar at his side. The baclk cover depicted James as a sort of Conan the Barbarian of funk, complete with a damsel in distress he can be seen pulling to safety atop his pedestal. Rick was at the top of his game. The problem was that he was now just repeating the same formula that made Street Songs such a success. "Standing At The Top" is essentially a Temptations track that merely features Rick James. But James' formula for success was hard to deny. "69 Times" was a "Super Freak" retread, but who really cared when you were dancing at New York's infamous Studio 54 with Bianca Jagger and a young Leslie Ann Warren. The world was now Rick James' oyster, and he was doing gargantuan amounts of blow off that oyster every day.

Throwin' Down reflected Rick's new outlook on success. That is, he got there by becoming a sort of "warrior of funk" (not to be confused with the "Renegades Of Funk"). A rhyme by Rick in the sleeve of the record backs up this idea:

Follow the path I have laid on this ground
And all battles you'll win, by just throwin' down

footnote: Rick thanks the Buffalo Bills in the liner notes.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Do Ya Do Ya Do Ya Do Ya Do Ya


Rick James "Below The Funk (Pass The J)" (Street Songs, 1981)

Rick James' best selling record is 1981's Street Songs, a concept album about city life where most of the songs deal with prostitution. Thanks to hits like "Super Freak" (featuring his uncle Melvin Franklin's band The Temptations on backing vocals), "Give It To Me Baby" and "Ghetto Life" the album achieved double-platinum status, stayed in the Top 100 Album chart for 54 weeks and was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Even though "Super Freak" and "Give It To Me Baby" are classics that are impossible for anyone to deny (I once saw my mom dancing to "Super Freak" at a wedding), it's the non-single tracks that really demand attention. "Below The Funk (Pass The J)" finds Rick smoking dope (a common thread throughout his songs) and reminiscing about his days growing up in Buffalo, NY. The flamboyant singer mentions the ridicule he was burdened with for being so different; in retrospect James finds it laughable:

But it's strange the gossip is so tragic They called me a faggot Me and all my women laugh at it

Rick James can certainly be called a lot of things, but a homosexual is not something that immediately springs to mind. "Below The Funk" tells James' story with surprising clarity, all the while being carried along by the shit hot funk rock of the Stone City Band, the backing band for his entire career. It's funny to think of Rick James (real name James Ambrose Johnson Jr.) coming from a place so bland as Buffalo, but life was not easy for the Johnson. The third oldest in a family of eight, James was raised solely by his mother, whose main source of income was running numbers for the Italian mob.

Mama raised me on the numbers racket With eight kids and no father Said she couldn't hack it

"Below The Funk" fails to mention James' first prison stint after going AWOL from the US Navy as a young man. He had fled to Canada where he hooked up with Neil Young and formed a band called the Mynah Birds (the band also featured future Steppenwolf member Goldie McJohn). The band signed to the Motown label but their career was cut short because of Rick's military trouble. After his jail time James went to Europe where he would hone his musical craft for the next seven years. James remembers the time with fondness in an Onion AV Club interview: "It gave me a sense of independence, a sense of the whole traveling minstrel thing. I was just over there singing and playing for a living".

James would return to the States a new man. He formed the Stone City Band, signed to Motown's Gordy label and became the now legendary superstar Rick James. But songs like "Below The Funk" prove that he never forgot where he came from: "It's like going to see a psychiatrist. It's no different than that. If you're telling it the way it is, and you're being really honest, you're going to get help. If you bullshit and lie, then you're not going to get any help. I'm trying to get my mind and my soul together. The only way I can do that is to be as honest as I can be."

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Rick James Week: Mach One


It's sort of a shame that the resurgence Rick James experienced in the years leading up to his death celebrated the darker, more comical moments of his career (a la Chappelle's Show's "I'm Rick James, bitch!" sketches) because the man's musical cannon (I say cannon instead of canon because I believe James probably would have appreciated it) is as solid as any other artist considered to be a "musical genius". I've recently delved into Rick James back catalogue (unfortunately only available on its original vinyl format, save for 1981's Street Songs and a number of "Greatest Hits" comps) and found him to be a versatile and witty, but above all else funky. So many non-single tracks have commanded my attention that I've decided to christen this week the first ever "Rick James Week" on POP ZEUS! A first for the blogosphere I'm sure, but definitely not the last.


Rick James "Hollywood" (Come Get It!, 1978)

Come Get It!, Rick James & the Stone City Band's 1978 debut, featured James on its cover looking like Stevie Wonder had he joined KISS, casting a sort of "funk spell" over a scantily clad model. This Smell The Glove-esque cover is not a true represenation of the music inside however. Yes, it's a party album, just like all of Rick Jame's musical output. But underneath there is a true sensibility for emotional range, much like Nigel Tufnel's "Lick My Love Pump". "Hollywood", the second to last track on the record is the voice of a young man yearning for fame and fortune. With due respect to his parents, Rick James is on his way to Hollywood where "the singers and the movie stars and the people live in mountains and the sun shines all the time".

Alright, the lyrics don't sound like they were written by Dylan or Lennon, but the message is a bittersweet one. Rick James longed for the fame and fortune that would ultimately do him in. "Hollywood" is a somewhat naive ballad about longing to be famous and getting out of the ghetto. Ltille did Rick know that once he conquered Hollywood, Hollywood would in turn kick his fucking ass. Or maybe he did know that. Rick seems like the type who planned his excesses in advance. I don't know if he planned on kidnapping, raping and torturing a girl with his lady friend twenty something years down the line, but you never know.

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