JUST FOR THE RECORD
Angelique Kidjo hauls Talking Heads classic back to Africa
A bi-weekly vinyl review
Too white for black radio and too black for white radio — an all too familiar refrain, and one that summed up the initial reaction to the layered African polyrhythms of Talking Heads’ influential 1980 release, Remain In Light (Sire). Despite the widespread critical acclaim, the album confounded American radio programmers. But by the end of the 1980s, Remain In Light featured at fourth in Rolling Stone magazine’s selection of the decade’s greatest albums.It makes perfect sense, then, that Benin-born singer Angelique Kidjo, who first heard Remain In Light shortly after arriving as an exile in Paris in 1983, should have detected something in the album’s diverse textures and layered sounds that deeply resonated with her. “Music,” she told Rolling Stone, “is part of my heartbeat and every part of my body. This had an African touch to it.”Kidjo has now recorded her own interpretation of Remain In Light (Kravenworks Records), due for release next month. The project had the blessing of Talking Heads singer David Byrne, who accompanied Kidjo when she performed selections from the album on tour over the past year. “I tried to keep the spirit of it,” Kidjo said, “but yet bring it back to Africa.”
She’d put together a stellar band for the project, which included Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen, bassist Pino Palladino, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, and erstwhile Paul Simon bassist Abe Laboriel, among others. There’s a greater emphasis on rhythm and horns than the original, and new vocals in African languages that respond to Byrne’s original lyrics. On top of all this is Kidjo’s powerful delivery.First tasters from the album, Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) and Once In A Lifetime, certainly do impress. And the original Talking Heads LP remains a knockout.
Expensive Shit: Fela Ransome Kuti & Africa 70 (Soundworkshop/Polygram, 1975; reissued on coloured vinyl by UK-based label Kalakuta Sunrise in 2017)The late Fela Kuti, the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician and Afrobeat pioneer who passed away in 1997, would have been 80 this year, and no doubt still a thorn in the side of the authorities as a political maverick and human rights activist. His output was prodigious; he released more than 40 albums in the 1970s, a time when he was especially targeted by the Nigerian military government, and continued at a rate of almost three a year until 1991 (although these usually only consisted of a couple of long extended funk blowouts).
Critics suggest the best start to collecting Fela is this release. The 13-minute title track refers to an incident in which Fela had been detained on drugs charges in 1974. According to legend, the outspoken Fela had swallowed a marijuana joint when police raided a party at his Lagos home. Once behind bars, authorities settled down to wait for him to produce the stool that would prove his guilt. Somehow, though, Fela conspired with fellow inmates to get a “clean” sample and secure his release.
Hence the mocking cover art here, with Fela and his gleeful topless wives (he had 28 at one stage) giving black power salutes from behind barbed wire. But the real deal is the title track’s snarky lyrics, in which Fela humorously details the downside of evacuating his bowels. Musically, it is Afrobeat heaven. And the B-side, Water No Get Enemy, proves he was no slouch when it came to deep soul. Copies of the original 1975 release in good condition trade for around R3,000.
THE ESSENTIAL LIBRARY
Jim Morrison, dead since 1971, is still causing trouble. Or so his various biographers claim. Most of the quarrelling seems to centre on whether the Doors singer was either the original psycho-sexual shaman and mytho-poetic countercultural satyr of legend— or the original drunk narcissistic idiot of the 1960s.
There should however be no debate as to where to start collecting albums by the group he led, and that is at the beginning. Their debut, The Doors (Elektra), released in January 1967 remains a remarkable record, featuring an awe-inspiring sense of drama in iconic songs like Break On Through, Light My Fire, End of the Night and the album’s Oedipal nightmare closer, The End.Fittingly, it was with the latter, in the album’s final sessions, that Morrison’s true nature emerged. In what could charitably described as an artist in the throes of grappling with the nature of order and chaos, the comprehensively wrecked singer collapsed on the studio floor in a crumpled heap after countless ruined takes of the song. Then, all of a sudden, he leapt to his feet and threw a TV set at the control room window. Producer Paul Rothchild sent him home like a spoilt child. That night Morrison returned and drenched the studio with a fire extinguisher. Rothchild managed to persuade the studio owner to charge the record company for the damages — and let the band finish the sessions. The next day they nailed The End in two takes.
It wasn’t all downhill after that. In descending order of excellence, the albums to next get are 1971’s LA Woman (Elektra), the last to feature Morrison; the sophomore effort, 1967’s Strange Days (Elektra); and 1970’s “return to form” set, Morrison Hotel. (All of the above have been rereleased on high-quality 180g vinyl in recent years.)There are however several good anthologies on vinyl. The first Doors compilation, 13 (Elektra), was released in 1970. It’s fairly difficult to find, but it was made redundant anyway by 1972’s Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine (Elektra), a more comprehensive set which included the obvious hits as well as some rarities. It was rereleased in 2015. Look out, though, for the 1985 release, The Best of The Doors (Elektra). There have been several reissues on vinyl in recent years, and this may be the best compilation yet.I’d ignore the rest of the albums, especially the Morrison-less efforts, 1971’s Other Voices (Elektra) and 1972’s Full Circle (Elektra). The 1978 offering, An American Prayer (Elektra), which features old recordings of Morrison reciting his poetry over music by the surviving band members, is regrettably another big fail.CRATE DIVING
The current Rolling Stones tour of Europe has sparked some interest in their back catalogue. One oddity is worth mentioning. Their 1973 album, Goat’s Head Soup (Rolling Stones Records, COC59101), is not exactly rare and copies regularly turn up on stalls at local flea markets and vinyl fairs.
The original South African pressing is, however, fairly collectible as a novelty item due to the LP’s clunkily censored final track, Star Star — a meaty insider account on the groupie lifestyle. Originally called Starf***er, it is one of the Stones’ raunchiest songs, and was retitled at the insistence of Ahmet Ertegun, who owned Atlantic Records, distributor of the group’s records in the US.The lyrics in the verses, notorious back then, still raise an eyebrow or two today. Among other things, they allude to matters of feminine hygiene, high jinx with fruit and aerosol cans of “tasty foam” and, in what may be seen as a precursor to the modern phenomenon of celebrities dumping their filthy home movies on the Internet, widely circulated Polaroids of an alarming nature.
There was a bit of name-dropping as well, like this startling couplet, “Ali McGraw got mad with you for giving head to Steve McQueen/You and me we made a pretty pair, fallin’ through the silver screen …” Unsurprisingly, the band’s lawyers had to write to the film star for permission to publicly suggest he’d been compromised in such a manner. Surprisingly, McQueen gave it.All of which escaped the attention of nervous South African distributors, who didn’t want the song’s controversial content to spoil the local pop chart potential of Angie, the album’s massive international hit. Instead, they destroyed the song’s hook; local fans got a version in which a dull thud had been placed over every f-word in Star Star’s chorus. (There were a lot.)As far as I’m aware, southern Africa was the only territory where this vandalised version was available. Copies of the censored South African album are now trading on discogs.com at around R600 a copy. Imported and uncensored 1973 pressings in the same nick (VG+) go for a third of that.