[13 February 2007]
For as long as there has been music to create, people have been creating music to accompany or describe the sex act. Sex is pretty much the central human preoccupation of the human species, so it makes sense that it would be the central preoccupation for songwriters, composers and producers. And since the advent of what we would call “pop” music, the ways in which sex has been portrayed in music have steadily become more and more explicit, passing from the realm of gentle metaphor and innuendo and into full-frontal disclosure. Used to be “rock & roll” was a knowing wink and a sigh, nowadays the kids call it fucking and think they’ve split the atom. Ah well, such is progress.
In any event, popular music and shack-shaking have been bedfellows for a lot longer than anyone reading this has been alive. While there may not necessarily be anything terrifically novel about Normal’s new HEAVYbreathing series, the commitment with which they tackle the subject is truly inspiring. Most people, whether they would admit it or not, have probably at one point or another made a mix-tape or CD-R designed specifically to be heard during the sex act. The compilers have here gone one better by attempting to create a sort of absolute, archetypal sex mix. There are a few notable absences: they couldn’t get the rights to Serge Gainsbourg, Lil Louis or Prince, to name a few (and obviously no “She’s So Heavy” by the Beatles), but they did manage to dig up more in the way of horny listening than you probably ever imagined existed.
All of which goes a long way towards pinpointing a great deal of the problem with these CDs. Sex is something that remains, even in our commodified and pasteurized era, a strictly individual preoccupation. No two things turn the same person on, or at least not the same way. Some people prefer subtlety, some prefer explicitness. The first two volumes in the HEAVYbreathing series seem to me not so much sexy artifact themselves as catalogs of what certain artists have thought was sexy, or silly in a sexy way, at specific moments in time. It goes without saying that any critical endeavor is at least partially subjective, but when the goal is titillation the notion of consensus can rarely seem more distant.
This might explain why I was so greatly amused by the series’ first disc, Bite It!. Composed almost entirely of songs featuring orgiastic moans, the compilation is not so much erotic as hilarious in its single-minded repetition. Moans and screams are always kind of cheesy in recorded music, but it’s a lot easier to accept one or two tracks in that vein than 19 in a row. This is not to say that there aren’t some interesting tracks to be heard: the compiler, IntimDJ Cpt. Schneider (now there’s an awkward handle), has a pretty deep collection, to judge by the obscurity of most of these tracks. Many of them are worth hearing. But absorbed all at once, it would be easy to overlook the novelty charm of, say, Suzie Seacell’s “Me And My Vibrator” in the midst of wave after wave of heavy-breathing pocket-symphonies (heh heh).
So, despite the presence of Screamin’ Jay Hawkin’s and Rare Earth (who appear with “Bite It” and “Come With Me”, respectively), the first disc is an altogether overwhelming affair, definitely not something to listen to in a single sitting. Volume 2, however, strikes a more interesting balance. Entitled Thrill Me, after the James Rivers track of the same name, it leans less towards the blatantly parodic and a bit more towards the knowing, goofy but wise aspects of sex. Therefore, you’ve got Kool Keith’s bizarro “Lick My Ass” side by side with De La Soul’s uncharacteristically bawdy “Pawn Star” and Lil’ Kim’s breathlessly exaggerated “Custom Made (Give It to You)”. These tracks are all about sex, ranging from the raunchy to the downright disgusting, but it’s hard not to be entertained. Thrill Me! also gets points for going about as far afield as any compilation I’ve ever seen, beginning with Pete “Guitar” Lewis and Little Esther Phillips’ “Ooh Midnight” from way back in 1951, and ending with DJ Qbert’s sampledelic “Aphrodisiskratch”.
Neither disc is what I would probably call essential—the laser-like focus wears a bit thin after extended exposure, sort of like being in a small windowless room with nothing but Barry White on the radio for two days straight. However, even given that caveat, both disc are still probably worth the effort for any lover of obscure and unjustly forgotten music. The real profit here is seeing the gems of another collector’s hard-won record collection, and the strange (soft) focus is really no different than sitting through that mixtape your friend made back in college with 30 different garage punk covers of “Louis, Louis”. There’s bound to be something on here you will find interesting, maybe even erotic. And for those who can’t get enough of this kind of thing, there’s still two CDs in the series yet to be released—Stop It! and Touch Me!—bringing the total across the four compilations to, ahem, 69 tracks. Really, I couldn’t make this up if I had to…