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"If it wasn't for flashbacks, I wouldn't have any memory at all," says George Clinton during his interview on Soundcheck.
Over his 50-plus years in the music industry, the funk pioneer best known as the founder and driving creative force of Parliament-Funkadelic, and later, the P-Funk All-Stars, has seen -- and done -- a lot. Clinton started out as a doo-wop singer and and a songwriter in the Brill Building in the 1960s. But his sound quickly evolved into something much more rock -- and, eventually, funk -- oriented. Clinton describes that funky sound as "psychedelic versions of the songs that my mother would listen to."
"Music from way back up in the woods," he says. "Matter of fact, all the way in the jungle. We wasn't even going back to slavery -- we was going back primal."
With his '70s and '80s bands -- Parliament and Funkadelic — Clinton achieved four No. 1 R&B hits, including the anthem "One Nation Under A Groove" and "Atomic Dog," which topped the R&B charts for four weeks in 1982. Other songs like "Flash Light," "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)," "Maggot Brain," and "Mothership Connection," remain indelible, and frequently-sampled classics. And with his exuberant marathon concerts, Clinton and his sprawling, colorful band earned a reputation as one of the most memorable and unpredictable live acts around.
Clinton's winding musical journey -- and his longtime struggles with a crippling crack addiction -- is chronicled in his new memoir, Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard On You?
In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Clinton reflects on his early years bridging divided black and white audiences, his musical highs and career lows, and the invention of famous The Mothership.
If there’s a “sound of New York,” then you’ll hear it in the work of the band Peliroja. They fuse traditions from locations as far-flung and diverse as Ethiopia, Cuba, the Congo, and the Dominican Republic. It’s as good a melting pot as you’ll find anywhere in the five boroughs.
In this episode: The original funk pioneer George Clinton reflects on his decades-long career in his new memoir
Plus: Hear the Chicago garage rock band Twin Peaks perform songs from its latest album, Wild Onion, in the Soundcheck studio.
Stevie Wonder has put out his fair share of hits over the years, especially that incredible stretch in the 1970s, when he released many of his best records -- Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness' First Finale (1974), and Songs In The Key Of Life (1976) -- all in a row. That era yielded big-time singles "Superstition," "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," "You Haven't Done Nothin'," "Sir Duke" and "I Wish" -- all-time classic songs most know and love.
But fewer people will remember the singer's very first No. 1 single from his earliest Motown years, when he was a 12-years-old child prodigy that went by "Little" Stevie Wonder.
"The Last Day" really did happen, in 2012, and we are now apparently living in a post-apocalyptic world.
"If you remember a few years ago, there was supposedly the Mayan apocalypse," Moby says in a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer. "[But] maybe the apocalypse is rather like an unfolding. The more I thought about this, the more I thought there is a lot of evidence to support the idea that there is this benign apocalypse unfolding and we're a part of it. We have a progressive African-American president. Our next president will most likely be a wonderful, progressive woman. The world is generally moving in a more rational direction. And then there is a part of the world moving in a more atavistic, fear-based direction."
When Beyonce dropped a surprise album on the adoring masses at the end of 2013, one of the biggest surprises wasn’t the music itself, but rather a mysterious name that showed up all over the album’s credits. The artist known only as Boots has kept fans guessing: this song, called “Mercy,” is all you’ll find on his website.
In this episode: Moby has photographic proof that we are now living in a post-apocalyptic world. He’s displaying it in a new exhibit called Innocents, which supposes that the world did in fact end in 2012 – in a “slow” apocalypse. He talks about the exhibit, and about his 2013 record with the same title.
Then: Pop charts analyst Chris Molanphy profiles another unlikely chart-topping success as part of Soundcheck's That Was A Hit?!? series, with the 1963 No. 1 hit, “Fingertips Pt. 1 and 2” by Little Stevie Wonder. It was Stevie’s first No. 1, and amazingly, his only chart-topper of the '60s.
And: Adult Jazz has made one of the most startlingly beautiful and idiosyncratic records of the year with Gist Is. Hear the young quartet from Leeds perform in the Soundcheck studio.
The saturation of sound in the novel caught the attention of theater director Daniel Aukin, who worked with Michael Friedman -- best known composing the 2010 musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson -- to produce a musical adaptation of the book. The show is now running at the Public Theater in New York and has just been extended through Nov. 16.
In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Jonathan Lethem talks about the book's adaptation, working with Friedman on the musical tone and whether the story has changed after being translated for the stage.
Today is the 100th anniversary of Dylan Thomas' birthday. If you read any of the Welsh poet's major works, you’ll hear the music of the sea, and the music of the city. And as with any good poet, there is music in his use of language.
No surprise, then, that musicians have been inspired by his poetry since his premature death in 1953. Classical composers, led by Stravinsky, have written pieces dedicated to him or built around his poems. But one of the touches of genius in Dylan Thomas’ writing was the way he combined the formal and literary concerns of classic poetry with a common man’s touch. His work wasn’t aimed at academics or classicists; his work was aimed at Everyman. So here are some of the artists from the wide world of popular music who have drawn inspiration from Dylan Thomas.
When your main gig is with a band known for its technical prowess and meticulously composed, if chaotic pop songs, it makes some sense that you’d want a side project to be something a little more reined in. That seems to be the case with Maps & Atlases guitarist Erin Elders, who started writing and recording simple yet lovely songs on his own between lengthy stretches of touring with the "math pop" band. Soon, once the backbones of those tracks were created, Elders’ solo endeavor grew into a collaboration with Mike Russell and Matt Lemke (Suns), Bobby Burg (Love Of Everything/Joan Of Arc), and Christian Dawson (Gypsyblood).
Elders’ first record under the new moniker Wedding Dress, Desperate Glow, is now set to drop on Nov. 18 -- and judging from the song “Frail Flakes,” the album will be far more restrained and minimal than most of Elders’ work with the “math pop” band, but just as sonically rich.
Move over, Miley and Katy. There's a new pack of female pop artists on the rise -- and together, they just set a new all-time Billboard record.
For the first time in Billboard's 56-year history, female solo artists -- led by young singer Meghan Trainor, whose debut single "All About That Bass" has topped singles charts from New Zealand to Croatia -- have occupied the top five spots on the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-breaking seven weeks.
"The last time that there were this many women in the top five for more than one week was in 1999," says music writer Melinda Newman, who recently covered the trend for Billboard magazine. "And that string only lasted four weeks."
In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Newman talks about whether this female singles chart domination signifies a shift in the typically male-dominated music industry -- and about the relative newcomers (with the exception of pop star Taylor Swift, whose new album 1989 comes out on Monday) who are holding down the top of the chart.
ARTIST: Jennifer O'Connor
Jennifer O’Connor got a songwriter’s dream-boost earlier this year when her song “When I Grow Up” was featured in a lengthy Apple iPhone commercial. Whether or not her forthcoming new album gets a surprise unveiling at the next Apple mega-event, the songs will likely continue to be gorgeous mini-soundtracks.
Jennifer O’Connor is at Rough Trade tonight.
In this episode: For the first time ever, female solo artists have held all top five spots on the Hot 100 for more than four weeks in a row -- going on seven weeks at this point. Melinda Newman, who recently wrote about this record-breaking trend for Billboard, walks us through each of the five songs.
Then: Author Jonathan Lethem’s 2003 novel Fortress Of Solitude is getting a new musical adaptation. The author talks about the musical DNA of the original story and how it’s being translated to the stage at The Public Theater.
And: The band James became one of the biggest bands in the U.K. in the early 1990’s with massive hits like “Sit Down,” “Sound,” and one of the best songs of all time about sex — “Laid.” After a hiatus in the early 2000’s, James reunited and has released a string of albums, including their latest, La Petite Mort.” Hear James perform new songs and and old favorite in the Soundcheck studio.
Soko is a French-born, Los Angeles-based musician and actress. The New York Times said she was "as grave and luminous as a silent film star" in one of her latest film performances. Grave and luminous on-screen – but brash and brassy on record. Here’s her song “Who Wears The Pants?” from her upcoming 2015 album.
Soko is at the United Palace in Washington Heights with Foster The People tonight and tomorrow night.
In this episode: Earlier this year at RadioLoveFest at BAM, comedian Wyatt Cenac previewed some of his upcoming comedy album and special called Brooklyn. Well, that special just premiered this week – so we thought we’d revisit some of his hilarious set -- about stinky subway cars, being mistaken for a pothead, and the time he unwillingly babysat a child on the street.
Then: Russell Simmons is the entrepreneur and entertainment mogul who co-founded Def Jam Records among a plethora of other highly successful business ventures. Simmons shares some memories from those early days and reflects on 30 years of Def Jam.
Then: The three Australian women who make up Little May blend folk harmony vocals with a catchy pop sensibility – and maybe something a little subversive and darker. Hear the trio perform in the Soundcheck studio.
For a band that shares its namesake with a certain influential TV drama, Twin Peaks sounds nothing like the quirky and unsettling moods evoked in the David Lynch and Mark Frost series -- nor the eerie dreamscapes composed by Angelo Badalamenti. Instead, the young Chicago garage rockers simply chose their name because it "sounded cool." It does, certainly, but the band's sneering bursts of feedback and scorching guitar riffs also sound way cool -- especially when cranked up real loud.
"Everybody knows who James Brown is," says filmmaker Alex Gibney. "But I think the impetus here was going back and looking at a couple of things that maybe had been overlooked."
Gibney, whose past documentary work includes Taxi To The Dark Side and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, chronicles funk pioneer James Brown's early career through the peak of his success in his new documentary, Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown. And although Brown's life has certainly been studied before, the film, which airs on HBO on Oct. 27, does direct the spotlight onto some areas of his career and work -- from the jazz roots of songs like "Cold Sweat" to Brown's early days impersonating Little Richard on stage -- that perhaps haven't come to light before.
In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Gibney talks about being approached by producer Mick Jagger to work on the film, and about uncovering layers of the funk star's past.
But if you never understood exactly what he was saying, you're not alone. Turns out, that’s the calling card of producer Dijon McFarlane, otherwise known as DJ Mustard. He’s saying “Mustard on the beat,” and he’s saying it to the tune of 19 different Billboard Hot 100 hits in the last three years, including seven currently on the charts.
"Being DJ Mustard is great right now," says
Even at a time when the perfect three-minute single is the most commonly-traded currency for shuffle-enabled listening, there's still something wildly satisfying about long-form pop music. When a band makes room to stretch and allow for sonic exploration -- not to mention, say, a B-section, or even a second chorus -- those songs can feel like fully-formed statements capable of transporting the listener somewhere else. Cue Adult Jazz, a band that has a way of making expansive, otherworldly sounds with very little.