Tag Archives: Afrika Bambaataa

[47] Afrika Bambaataa – Planet Rock

28 Feb

Tom Moon led me on a merry dance with this single – a Hip Hop classic I had somehow managed to avoid until now – which left me grooving and scrambling to follow the apparent progression from Kraftwerk, through SoulSonic Force, to the Beastie Boys.

Planet Rock

Planet Rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The liquid, artificial drum sound that opens and anchors this 1982 hit has never been a favorite of mine.  Neither has the call and response rapping that makes up the balance of the vocals here.  Yet here the varied and interesting soundscape interspersing the vocals, nailed down by the purposeful, energetic and fascinating drum programming, attracts and then demands attention throughout the 5 minutes 20 seconds of the original 45rpm record.

The structure, and to an extent the melody, of “Planet Rock” is apparently inspired by a pair of songs by German Electropop band, Kraftwerk – “Trans-Europa Express” and “Numbers”.  After hearing “Planet Rock” for the first time, I quickly queued up the earlier tracks.

While there are thematic and musical similarities, Bambaataa and The SoulSonic Force use the now primitive but at the time revolutionary Roland technology to create a sound that is so much more warm and human than the intentionally sterile Kraftwerk pieces.

And since I was poking around in anyway, I latched onto a recurring lyric in “Planet Rock” and played the Beastie Boys “Sure Shot”.

There is no indication that “Sure Shot” owes any direct debt to the earlier song, but it was an interesting moment, transitioning from a sound I was unfamiliar with but enjoying, through a sound I knew better and had never connected with, and landing on a later sound that I know and love.

This has been a bonus effect of my seemingly ridiculous endeavor – instead of constraining my listening, I have found the list of 1000 to be a jumping off point, often for parts unknown, to sometimes unexpected places.

I somehow think Bambaataa and co. would appreciate this sentiment, this exploration and experimentation.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 47. 4%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 47. 9%)
Recommend? Yes. (38 of 47. 81%)

Next Week: The Band – The Band

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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 – https://soundcloud.com/temporalspaceclub
IMDB – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2676290

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