Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #12: Malcolm McLaren - "Duck Rock" (1983)

Ok, pay attention. This one is special.

There are two incongruous truths about pop music. Blondie is mostly responsible for introducing mainstream America to rap music (thanks to “Rapture”, the first song ever in the top 40 featuring rap. Btw, look fast for Jean-Michel Basquiat as the DJ in the video at the 1:58 mark) and Paul Simon holds the same honor for world music (thanks to Graceland, of course), specifically African. The years that indigenous creators toiled with these sounds were not validated by the mass populace until white people showed it to them by repackaging it into something they could easily digest. Both of these artists did commendable jobs, and achieved it in a truly artistic fashion, but that doesn’t make it authentic. But, hey, that’s what rock music’s all about! We wouldn’t be here if white folks hadn’t done the same thing with their old blues records.

Well, what is ignored and forgotten is that McLaren, the impresario responsible for the Sex Pistols, nearly pulled of an almost perfect amalgamation of the two styles himself. Only problem was, not as many people were listening. Duck Rock remains an unadulterated classic of cultural mash-ups and combined styles that was WAY ahead of its time.

Here’s some background. After the demise of the Pistols, McLaren, taking himself entirely too seriously, felt the next fad (after punk) was going to be a sort of Afrobeat and ska mix. Take some of the guitar strums of punk, strip off the distortion, and add the ever necessary Burundi drum style derived by tom tom beats and traditional African ritual music, which he called "Duck Rock". This notion crystallized for him in the form of Bow Wow Wow, the band he managed after the Pistols. One listen to “I Want Candy” and you sense the exact style he’s going for.

While managing them, he put out his own album, Duck Rock, which served as an even wilder blend of sounds from the melting pot streets of New York City. Two singles from the album (the hip-hop influenced“Buffalo Gals” and Graceland precursor “Double Dutch” complete with twirling rope sound effects) became staples of the underground dance scene. So, while neither were mainstream smashes, they were embraced by their target audience and are still often played today.

McLaren almost takes a backseat to the performers on this record. He’s more of an orchestrator than a frontman. But, the evidence of what must have been swimming around in his head is startling. Each song practically recalls a different spot on the globe, whether it be downtown NYC, or the shantytowns of Soweto, or the isles of Latin America. Just because he can, he even ends the album with "Duck For The Oyster" which sounds an awful lot like that remix of "Cotton-Eyed Joe" they play at every dance. The listener is immediately transplanted to, not only the locale, but to the hottest club of 1983 within each locale where they're hearing the hottest music in the hottest club.

The one distraction to the album, which is only a distraction on repeated spins, is that it features snippets of the actual broadcast of the World’s Famous Supreme Team, a late night hip-hop radio show in NYC in the early 80s. While the time-capsule nostalgia of listening to what radio was like in ’83 (when DJs didn’t just play music, they influenced behavior and prompted action) is interesting, it’s really only interesting once. On subsequent listens, it would be nice to mute them and just let the music play, as the snippets play over the beginnings and ends of songs, just as they would on the radio.

One other interesting tidbit. Guess who was playing on this album? Trevor Horn and Anne Dudley. If you don’t know why I think that’s cool, read here. Trevor especially has had his finger in some of the best music of the last 25 years.

The Nugget - I've played the hits out, so I'm picking "Merengue", which sounds exactly as the name would imply, a song meant to be merengue'd to.

1 comment:

Marilyn said...

Great article (again!!), Jon. How do you know all this stuff?? You're amazing. Seriously, send your Lost Gem articles to Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly, and do it NOW.