No matter how pure the intentions, the soul revivalist movement, like any hip musical trend, falls prey to dilution, pale imitators and overplay. For every Sharon Jones and Black Joe Lewis, there is a pop construct ready to be molded into a “soul singer” to capitalize on the movement. The tricky thing about soul is that, for better or worse, you either feel it or you don’t. A performer could be onstage sweating, writhing, and dancing their ass off, but if the heart isn’t there, it’s merely a gimmick. Enter J.C. Brooks. Mr. Brooks and his merry band of noisemakers the Uptown Sound are the real deal, ladies and gentlemen. Hailing from Chicago, Brooks and the Uptown Sound have slowly been winning over fans through word of mouth and the undeniable electricity of their live performances. With his swagger, velvet croon, and sex-on-a-platter dance moves, Brooks is a tad Otis Redding, a dash of Clarence Carter, and the epitome of true American soul.
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Halloween is less than a week away, and that means you need to start thinking about your party soundtrack for the night. Never mind the hackneyed, overripe “Monster Mash”—what you need is some goth. Defined by grim-faced performers sporting pallid complexions, an overabundance of black lace and leather, a fascination with all things olde and macabre, and vocal stylings that more often than not evoke an undead Ian Curtis, no other genre of music is better suited to score the spookiest day of the year.
So what is the most essential goth anthem to blast out of the speakers on Halloween? Popular wisdom would suggest Bauhaus’ debut single ”Bela Lugosi’s Dead” since it’s the song that kicked off the whole gloom-laden trip over 30 years ago in the first place. Sure, the nearly-ten-minute-long song has a fantastic eerie vibe and (just as importantly) conjures up visions of the funeral of Hollywood’s most famous silver screen vampire. But it suffers from one major flaw: you can’t dance to it. Anyone who’s ever been to a goth club night can tell you that whatever is playing at any sort of mass gathering of scary-vibe aficionados has to get your feet moving. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” doesn’t do that, but luckily there’s always the Sisters of Mercy’s pummeling seven-minute-plus goth dancefloor anthem “Temple of Love”, a track that’s not as well-known outside of goth circles but stands toe-to-toe with its spectral predecessor.
Save for “Magic and Ecstasy”, “Seduction and Magic” is perhaps the most Goblin-esque of the thirteen tracks on Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to Exorcist II: The Heretic. It is, however, conversely so. Much like the legendary giallo prog-rockers’ “Sighs” from their 1977 release Suspiria (released the same year as The Heretic), in “Seduction and Magic” there is a thematic cue coupled with voice, sighs and creepy whispers of sorts. Each piece is more functional than it is musical; each track itself is not simply foley, rather each is an ambient process outputted from the composer’s more tuneful efforts. These amalgamate selections seem common to giallo films, always included as if the listener, having never watched the film before listening to its soundtrack, would never be able to perceive its full mood without being given two-minutes or less of what an outside perceiver might consider haunted house music. And I don’t mean witch house.
The second inclusion of this sort of cue comes by way of “Dark Revelation”, the more interesting of the two, including both the soundtrack’s coda and a strange vocal ambiance that could remain at home on the next Burial album. “Dark Revelation” is less post-exotica and more traditional film score, but its a reusable piece that transcends much of the other coda-based pieces in The Heretic. Like a quick rendition of the Jaws theme played in under two minutes and with significant emphasis on mood, tempo, and dynamic control, “Dark Revelation” is simply a taste of more busied soundtrack inclusions like “Great Bird in the Sky” or even “Magic and Ecstasy”.
Klinger: Aah…there’s nothing like relaxing on a pillowy cloud of soulfulness for a half-hour or so to settle the old nerves, eh Fresh? I feel like a new man.
Mendelsohn: You nailed it, Klinger. I had no idea what I was missing. I mean, I’m familiar with Marvin Gaye—who isn’t? But I never spent any time with his albums and if it weren’t for this little endeavor we’ve embarked on, I don’t think I ever would. And oh what I would have been missing!
I have a very limited knowledge of soul music, but it seems to me that there is something a little bit different about this album compared to the soul albums that had come before it. Shed a little light on this for me.
Klinger: Well, I’d say the main thing is that What’s Going On is one of the few soul albums of its time that was constructed as an album first and foremost. Up until the late 1960s, soul was almost exclusively a singles genre. LPs were generally a few hits scattered among a handful of covers and lesser tracks. But the advent of serious rock writing gave a few artists a new perspective by the end of the decade. After blowing the hippies’ minds at Monterey Pop, Otis Redding was starting to get big picture about his work, but his death seemed to set things back for a couple more years.
Ironically, the big breakthrough happened at Motown, a label that had kept its artists under pretty tight control. Maybe Berry Gordy was preoccupied with the move to L.A., the grooming of the Jackson 5, and the shtupping of Diana Ross, but he seemed unusually willing to cede territory to budding auteurs such as Stevie Wonder and, of course, Marvin Gaye.
But I take it from your response that What’s Going On is to your liking, my funky friend?
Let me tell you, Adam Ant is awesome. Boasting a natural charisma, cool pirate-themed outfits, and ridiculously-chiseled facial features, at the height of his powers in the early 1980s Ant was a pop star to behold. Certainly his heroic image was striking and well-timed following punk rock’s ascent and sputtering-out, but even Ant’s own force of personality would have been meaningless if he didn’t have songs like the 1981 single “Stand and Deliver” to back up his self-assured posturing.
Adam and the Ants’ string of early ‘80s hits is one of the most unconventional runs of chart busters from any artist. Tunes like “Kings of the Wild Frontier”, “Antmusic”, and especially “Prince Charming” were bizarre tribal calls that mixed world music exotica with messianic self-belief. Of those hits, the group’s first UK chart topper “Stand and Deliver” has one of the more conventional song structures, sticking the tried-and-true verse/chorus/bridge pop outline. The wedding of that structure to the Ants’ trademark sound (defined by clacking Burundi polyrhythms and Marco Pirroni’s twangy guitar lines) is what makes “Stand and Deliver” the group’s most indelible song for me. The Ants always threatened to overtake the pop world, and here they turn out the ultimate pop single of the time.