Pretty Young Things: The Women of TLC Stay Cool Under Fire

THE WOMEN of TLC are sitting on a couch in a tiny New York production facility taping safe-sex commercials to supplement their interview for an ABC special, In a New Light: Sex Unplugged. Network television has never been quite this real during prime time. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes offers perky instructions on how to improvise a dental dam with Saran Wrap. Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas describes losing her virginity as a Fractured Fairytale worthy of Voltaire. Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins explains convincingly why casual sex is vastly overrated. Continue reading “Pretty Young Things: The Women of TLC Stay Cool Under Fire”

Isaac Hayes: We Like Ike

As an opinionated teen in the early ’70s, I hated Barry White for stealing Isaac Hayes’s sound — even though by 1973 Hayes had evolved so far beyond the gravel-voiced love god of his late-’60s recordings that he wouldn’t have begrudged White or anybody else their assumption of his earlier incarnations Cotton picker, meat packer, singer, writer, producer, corporate executive, community activist, actor — Hayes has worn an astonishing array of hats. After cutting through the first half of his life like a diamond through a sack of glass (going from Stax to his own ABC-distributed label to Columbia), Hayes hit some kind of creative wall and all but disappeared under the weight of his own legend. “I had a renegade mentality,” Hayes admits. “I always dared to go where other people said: “you can’t go there.” But at one [point] I looked around and all I was hearing was me, and people trying to be me. And I started to worry about it.” Like many high-profile overachievers, Hayes ultimately chose to step away from the spotlight for awhile. Continue reading “Isaac Hayes: We Like Ike”

Dallas Austin: Manchild in the Promised Land

1991 WAS A banner year for Dallas Austin. The Atlanta writer-producer was barely out of his teens when two records he made for Motown with then-unknown acts — “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by Boyz II Men and “Iesha” by Another Bad Creation — became massive crossover hits, bringing fresh energy to a label whose roster had grown cold and uninspired by the end of the ’80s. Continue reading “Dallas Austin: Manchild in the Promised Land”

Green Day: Punk Rock With a Sense of Humor

Green Day: Nassau Coliseum, NY

By matching the cheeky insouciance of the early Beatles with the amphetamine hooks of the Ramones in the late ’80s, Green Day graduated rock and roll high school built for maximum velocity.

By undercutting the nasty edge of punk nihilism with a fairly broad and accessible sense of humor, Green Day has achieved a mainstream appeal the envy of most of its peers and many of its role models. Continue reading “Green Day: Punk Rock With a Sense of Humor”

Prince: The Most Inscrutable Cocktease in the World

Warner Bros.

If you hear the sound of a gauntlet slapping the floor, it’s only the echo of Come (Warner Bros.) and 1-800-New-Funk (NPG/Bellmark) hitting the racks of your local record retailer. Both are excellent albums, and each arrives at the “wrecka-stow” from theoretically competing labels. I mean, the guy folks used to call Prince has put WB on notice. In February, while trying to resolve some ongoing contractual disputes with his friends at Warners, he released a single through the black-owned independent label Bellmark. Now, still resentful over pressure to dump the Paisley Park imprint and make more predictably commercial music, his royal badness returns in the wake of a comprehensive greatest hits package that all but buried his baroque symbol album and drops his two most accessible and ideologically cohesive LPs since Dirty Mind. Continue reading “Prince: The Most Inscrutable Cocktease in the World”

Lee Perry & Maxi Priest: Reggae Redux

THIS YEAR’S New Music Seminar featured a panel called “Reggae in the ’90s: Does Dancehall Rule?” Both Jamaican and New York’s regional enthusiasm for dancehall were thus brought to an internal forum for the first time, and the mainstream recording industry had to take notice. Not only have dancehall singles penetrated all sorts of New York nightclubs, but local black radio has been slipping them into their mix shows and drivetime programming for more than a year. Although this Jamaican music trend is considered a subset of Jamaican music, most attempts to define dancehall and how it differs from “reggae” somehow miss the mark. Continue reading “Lee Perry & Maxi Priest: Reggae Redux”

Emerald Sapphire & Gold: Alive, Well and Working in the South Bronx

Being one of the most widely imitated and innovative live bands of the early ’80s isn’t necessarily a bed of roses.

When the production trends of the last decade turned away from real instrumentation and D.I.Y. hipness into TV. track dates and M.I.D.I., live performers like Liquid Liquid, E.S.G., James White & the Blacks, Defunkt and many others were shoved onto the sidelines of a scene they had pioneered. Today their trademark hits are regularly robbed for samples to be used on less imaginative dance and rap productions. Even some complete songs are bootlegged and sold by 12-inch retailers without a dime of those sales going back to the artists who wrote and played the originals. Continue reading “Emerald Sapphire & Gold: Alive, Well and Working in the South Bronx”

The Noise From Brazil

MARCO AURELIO DA SILVA, known as Mazola, sits hunched over the console in one of Rio’s top recording studios, waiting for a live horn section to overdub an arrangement on a salsa-influenced dance single. Almost all of Brazil’s top-selling artists have had their work produced by Mazola at least once, and mostly by their own choice. By North American standards, he might be described as a cross between Quincy Jones and Tommy LiPuma — but operating under the socio-economic restrictions of a Third World country. Continue reading “The Noise From Brazil”