Music

Bo Diddley: The Black Gladiator (Remastered)

An unfairly lambasted and ignored near-masterpiece from rock 'n' roll's most humble elder statesman.


Bo Diddley

The Black Gladiator

Label: Future Days
US Release Date: 2012-03-13
UK Release Date: 2012-03-13
Artist website
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For those of you who don't know who Bo Diddley is, he was never shy about telling you; Bo Diddley is a man, a lover, a gunslinger, the originator who used a cobra for a necktie and made a chimney out of human skulls. Bashful, he is not.

But beyond the fact that about ninety percent of his songs were made up of personal boasts (most certainly a precursor to the braggadocio that would later appear in hip-hop), Bo Diddley was first and foremost one of the finest electric bluesmen, an architect of rock music, and a guitar pioneer. His career began in true in 1955 when the legendary Chess label issued the single "Bo Diddley" b/w "I'm A Man", and he continued churning out incredible rhythmically focused music for the next decade, often employing the signature beat that was named after him. But in the post Sgt. Pepper era, the blues was increasingly dominated by white groups like Cream, Traffic, Led Zeppelin etc. who were not only incorporating the contemporary sounds of psychedelia, but were also getting "heavier", that subjective term.

All in all, the old blues guys were starting to look rather anachronistic. Some of them were pushed into 'updating' their sound around this time, which resulted in some of the weirdest and most divisive blues records ever made, like Muddy Waters' Electric Mud, Howlin' Wolf's This Is Howlin' Wolf's New Album and this, Bo Diddley's Black Gladiator. However, whereas the first two delved into 'white' music and even used some of the most famous British bluesmen of the day as sidemen, Bo Diddley's album went in the opposite direction and drew largely from the "black" music of the day, such as Sly Stone, James Brown, etc. What he came up with was an album rife with hard funk that largely wouldn't have sounded out of place with George Clinton's P-Funk ensemble and even sounded like a cruder, looser version of Miles Davis' works of this era such as Jack Johnson and On The Corner. People picking up this album in 1970 must have had a real hard time figuring out what they were getting into when they found it in the record store, with the bright yellow cover punctuated by the melting blacks and Bo himself front and center wearing some kind of nightmare S&M gear. And for those record buyers who were familiar with Bo's previous work, they were probably even more shocked when they took it home and put the record on their turntable.

The album is, by and large, a radical departure for one of the preeminent bluesmen of the classic '50s Chicago scene. But that's not to say that Bo has given up some of his trademarks. Check out the opening track, "Elephant Man", which is surely one of his finest songs ever, in which he explains in detail how he made the titular animal. Yes, you read that right. Bo Diddley is such a bad motherlover that he invented the elephant. The music meanwhile, is a pounding conjunction of hyper-organ riffing and a swinging rhythm section that is somehow extremely tight yet extremely loose, held together largely by Bo's powerhouse, longtime drummer Clifton James. The verses are punctuated by Bo's wailing (both vocally, and with his guitar, as he lets loose some fierce solos).

But the main draw that differentiates the album from others in his catalog is the organ of Bobby Alexis that flawlessly comps and seriously brings the funk, as does the rampant, incessant tambourine of backup singer Cookie Vee, who takes a larger role in the next song, "You, Bo Diddley". As Bo asks such questions as "Who's the greatest man in town?", Cookie answers him repeatedly by singing the title back at him. As if there were ever any doubt, Bo.

Elsewhere, Bo keeps up the idea of incorporating black music with another slice of funky, empowering music appropriately titled "Black Soul", where he embraces the nascent black power movement of the immediate post civil rights era. He also remains affiliated with the music of the past, wondering "If The Bible's Right". For a song that so easily lyrically fits with gospel, the accompanying music is preposterously secular. It's the kind of thing that one would hear in a club, not in a church, the kind of thing that only a singular talent like Bo Diddley could get away with.

A few of the songs here actually follow traditional blues structures; "Hot Buttered Blues" is a slow 12/8 workout that wouldn't have been out of place on a much earlier album, while "Power House" works over the same simple, classic groove that Bo used for "I'm A Man" and a number of others (conspicuously absent on this album is the actual "Bo Diddley beat"). But it is the two closing songs that might be the most entertaining. Firstly there is another bouncy, funky jam called "Funky Fly", which probably got its title as it sounds like it was made up completely on the fly. Over a series of simple, circular riffs Bo shouts gibberish and spouts lines like "Make it funky now… back to work!"

Then, album closer "I Don't Like You" just has to be heard to be believed. It begins and ends with Bo doing his best impression of an opera singer, which basically means that is sounds like someone who has never been to an opera trying to sing like Pavarotti. What's even stranger is that the rest of the song is taken up by Bo and Cookie engaging in "the dozens", another precursor to hip-hop, where they trade insults in some good-natured ribbing, much like Bo did years ago with his maraca player Jerome Green on Bo's biggest hit, "Bring It To Jerome". There is very little on this planet more entertaining than Bo Diddley saying "You gonna play football and get kicked", to which she replies "You gonna play mountain and get climbed on", only to have Bo immediately retort "Start climbin', baby!" The divine mixture of high art in the form of operatic singing and the low art of schoolyard verbal sparring works brilliantly here and is something that could only have happened at a period when everyone playing the music game was expected to take risks and think outside the box and more importantly, outside their comfort zone. This is exactly what Bo Diddley accomplished on this album, and most explicitly on this song, a bizarre bastard child of two diametrically opposed genres.

All in all, this is a nearly flawless album that was and has been unfairly disparaged simply because it so far removed from everything else that the artist had done previously and would go on to do. The negative criticism is the result of blues purists having the proverbial stick up a certain orifice. The elements that make this stand out, like the organ and the highly syncopated funk attack, are combined with the aesthetic approach of a true artist. The from-the-gut compositions and the rough, visceral production are hallmarks of rock music as it should be made (unsurprising, since it was made by one of the guys who invented the damn genre). The only real flaw of the album is the bit of misogyny of "Shut Up, Woman", which, while offensive and completely unnecessary, completely pales in comparison to the abject hatred of women that would be spewed forth by hip-hop groups decades later. If you can look past that, and try to get over the fact that this is not the typical album of twelve-bar blues after twelve-bar blues, this will be a highly rewarding experience. Just make it funky now, and get lost in the grooves.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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