Guest Blogger Phil Sheldon: Afrika Bambaataa – Planet Rock

24 Feb

Been a while since our last guest post, so I am happy to introduce Phil Sheldon, my first guitarist whose extreme talent spoiled me for all of those who came after. (Once again, please excuse some of the English spelling . . .)


When I saw “Planet Rock” on the list of albums up for review on Avri’s blog I was intrigued; because I’ve been a fan of the track for years, but I couldn’t remember there being an album with it on. I remember it as a single, but that was it; so I figured checking out the album might unearth a few hidden gems.

However, it turns out that the album is a compilation of seven singles by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force from the mid 1980’s. The track “Planet Rock” was released as a single in 1982 and this compilation album followed later on in 1986. This was a little disappointing, as I realised there wasn’t going to necessarily be much common ground between the tracks, like many early hip-hop compilations from that time.

I looked for the album on Spotify, no dice. I looked on Amazon, one copy available at £50, at which point I realised that hearing the album in its original form seemed unlikely. Spotify to the rescue. I managed to find most of the tracks from other compilations available, although unfortunately two of the tracks were nowhere to be found.

Now I’m going to make a statement: I believe there are two tracks on this album that standout as innovative and influential classics that still sound relevant today. There are also tracks that don’t stand up to the test of time and that remain of their era.

The tracks that succeed contain some of the first foundations for the successful crossover of hip-hop, electronica and funk music. Two of those genres were relatively new at the time, which makes this crossover project all the more interesting. Funk being the more established genre, bringing some soul to the synth and vocoder party.

This crossover is brilliantly achieved on one track in particular; “Looking for the Perfect Beat”, or as I like to think of it: The Symbiotic Jig of Crazy Robot and Mister Funk.

Crazy Robot and Mister Funk are all over “Perfect Beat”; their personalities shine through in the instrumentation and the rhythms. Every vocal, drum or synth line is attributable to one or the other and it’s this interplay that makes the track an innovative and successful crossover.

Neither personality dominants; Crazy Robot gets as much of the limelight as Mister Funk, there’s plenty of mutual respect here. These two musical personas, one representing the new wave of electronica and the other more established funk music, blend so well. “Looking for the Perfect Beat” still sounds new and inspiring to me.

Listen to the intro to “Perfect Beat”, there’s the contrast; a metronomic, sixteenth-note pizzicato synth line ticking away like clockwork, underpinned by a massively syncopated, off-beat kick drum. Crazy Robot tick-tocking all over Mister Funk’s groove.

Now I personally find it very hard to dance to music that isn’t syncopated, I love funk music for this. Four to the floor dance tunes and straight ahead rock beats don’t tend to get me bopping up and down uncontrollable. The intro to Perfect Beat does, because the synth line says do the predictable, mechanical robot dance and the kick drum tells me to jump about randomly like a lunatic. My brain likes these kinds of mixed messages. Crazy Robot versus Mister Funk, a deliciously danceable formula.

The tracks that succeed the least on this compilation are the ones locked in to more recognisable existing styles; such as “Frantic Situation” and “Renegades of Funk”. They sound more like straight ahead funk tunes that have lost something for having an electronic backing band; too much reliance on Mister Funk. “Planet Rock” and “Perfect Beat” work because they are much more ambiguous stylistically and get the genre balance just right.

One notable exception is “Who You Funkin’ With”. This is a more straight ahead old school hip-hop record and it’s a kicker for a couple of reasons. Rapper Melle Mel is on it for one and he sounds great.

Secondly, the track is packed full of real instrumental parts; grinding electric guitar and pumping bass in the tradition of other Melle Mel infused old school classics. I presume Doug Wimbish, later of Living Colour fame, is playing on this track because it really rocks along! This track is a nice discovery, as I hadn’t heard it before.

I don’t have much more to say about the other tracks than that. I like them, they’re good tracks, but they haven’t withstood the ageing process in my opinion. If I want more of the “Who You Funkin’ With” vibe then it’s over to Melle Mel for other old school classics like “Beat Street”, “White Lines” and “Step Off”.

The tracks “Go-Go Pop” and “They Made a Mistake” will remain part of the mystique of all of this for me. I never found them, they may be the missing gems I was looking for to sit alongside “Planet Rock” and “Perfect Beat”, but probably not. However, like all musical journeys worth undertaking, you never really arrive at your destination. I’m sure I’ll find those tracks at some point.

Which is great, because you always have to have a little mystery in music. I’ve been a huge Bowie fan for over twenty years; but I haven’t listened to all of his albums yet. I’m saving a few for later.

The Symbiotic Jig of Crazy Robot and Mister Funk is a subtle but influential one, I’m sure I can hear the two of them dancing around each other on many other records, check out some of them from the list below if you’re curious. Happy listening!

“Closer” – Nine Inch Nails
“Countdown” – Beyonce
“Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” – Skrillex
“Play by Play” – Autre Ne Veut
“Eple” – Royksopp


Guitarist and composer Phil Sheldon first met Avri back when they both owned vinyl record players. Not much has changed; Phil still has very tolerant neighbours. Phil studied music at the London College of Music and worked as a performing guitarist for many years. Nowadays Phil can be found in his lair hacking in to computer systems, a legitimate day job apparently, while studying orchestration and trying to figure out Steely Dan chords and Bowie lyrics.

Soundcloud –


2 Responses to “Guest Blogger Phil Sheldon: Afrika Bambaataa – Planet Rock”

  1. nycavri February 28, 2014 at 1:47 PM #

    For the Spotify users out there, I put together a little playlist based on Phil’s fascinating guest post (44 minutes, a perfect fit for one side of a mix tape!)


  1. [57] Batacumbele – Con Un Poco de Songo | . . . To Hear Before I Blog - May 9, 2014

    […] think Phil Sheldon (writer of a guest blog earlier this year) would enjoy this one – the syncopation he so craves is out in full force […]

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