Lionrock, Fire Up The Shoesaw (Original Album Mix) (1996)

lionrock-fire_up_the_shoesaw

Artist: Lionrock
Title: Fire Up The Shoesaw (Original Album Mix)
Description: single; album track, An Instinct For Detection
Label: Deconstruction
Release date: 1996
First heard: 1996

It is through no sense of willful obscurity or self-love that I put forward a song that I suspect few outside of the dance cognoscenti will recognise from its title. I’m no expert. I just took receipt of this single from a friendly PR, presumably at Q or just after, spotted that “Lionrock” was essentially producer and DJ of note Justin Robertson, was intrigued by the name (largely because Stuart Maconie, David Quantick and I had self-regardingly attempted to launch our own musical genre at the NME circa 1992 and christened it, without much depth, Lion Pop) and gave it a spin. I believe we are calling it Big Beat, though I didn’t really care what generic pigeonhole it went into, or who it was aimed at, or why Justin Robertson had cooked it up in the first place; I just knew that it was a preposterously infectious piece of construction work.

Built, like the more saleable 45s of Fatboy Slim (who will find his way into The 143 twice over, I suspect), from flotsam and jetsam which, if I went under the bonnet, I could probably catalogue sample for sample, right here, right now, but part of me wishes not to let light in upon magic. If you’ve never heard this wondrous tune, seek it out; in the meantime, I’ll describe it, just to see if I’ve still got the old magic, as it’s more than the sum of its Frankenstein’s monster-style parts.

The CD single contains five versions of subtle variation, but it’s the Original Album Mix that strikes the optimum note of upper-case melodrama and comes in at an executive five minutes 45 seconds in length. It begins, as these things so often do, with a disembodied, echoey sample of an American announcer, seemingly reacting to a primary election result of some kind and the establishment of “a new candidate” and, less conventionally, a “new favourite vegetable which is … asparagus” and then we’re off: into the one building block that a child could identify: the double bass intro from These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ (a classic single we’ll be hearing from again, I promise). It is artfully distorted by Robertson and mixed in with the squelching sound of water, until another disembodied American voice asks, “What is rock and roll?”

A second guitar and a big beat join the looped Lee Hazelwood riff and we hit our first groove. If it just did this, it would be a serviceable slice of white man’s dance music. But there’s more. At one minute in, a guess-which-nationality voice asks, “Where’d you learn how to shake that booty?”, heralding the next movement – and I don’t think it’s overstating the case to use the terminology of classical music with a piece as intricately composed as this – in which a fuzz guitar and some brass stabs seems to conjure that Jabberwockian “shoesaw” (and that’s not nearly as pretentious a description as it sounds). Think you’ve got the measure of it? Wait until one minute 53.

One of America’s great pranksters …

Here’s the wow factor, which possesses my body and my fingers on public transport every time it explodes into brilliance in my headphones: a skyscraping brass reveille from one of John Barry’s Bond soundtracks, instantly familiar and yet ingeniously punched up with some sampled jazz drums that coolly operate at the apex of Gene Krupa/Buddy Rich levels of technical skill (hey, they could be Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich). Paradiddling across the kit, this drum fill, repeated, takes Shoesaw to another level of synchronicity. It is akin to the skin-and-timber drumming sampled so adoringly by DJ Shadow. We’re so used to drum samples that either underpin with timekeeping or punctuate with a roll; these speak.

It’s actually a sad moment when the Bond section is over, and back to the fuzz guitar section, but stick around, we’re into a cycle now and only halfway through.

A disembodied American voice pleads “What are we doing here?”, and at one stage, the squelching is back, foregrounded, as if we are marching home from the trenches, at which Boots is our trusty companion back into a welcome rerun of Bond. Can it just be the drummer in me that so takes this record to heart? I don’t care. We all have our reasons. We all have our ways in. The snarework of a jazz sticksman is my way into Fire Up The Shoesaw. The title bespeaks superheroes, comic book action, maybe even the threat of violence in a megalomaniac’s underground lair, but what cinematic drama! What spatial awareness! And what generosity of length!

I’m sure Justin Robertson does not dine out on lobster too often on the royalties of a song made from other songs that only reached number 43 in the charts in 1996 when Fatboy Slim was winning superstar status, but I hope he is still in full and enriching self-employment, and held in appropriate regard by his peers and those who dance before his decks in superclubs in Russia, as he only went and created one of the best 143 songs of all time and he may not even know it.

Advertisements

The Source feat. Candi Staton, You Got The Love (Radio Edit) (1991)

SourceCandiStaton

Artist: The Source featuring Candi Staton
Title: You Got The Love
Description: single
Label: Positiva
Release date: 1991
First heard: 1991

After my first full year of absence from the airwaves of 6 Music, I felt sufficiently emancipated from the yoke of BBC impartiality and general station cheerleading to shout from the rooftops, “I think Florence Welch has pulled off one of the great confidence tricks in modern music!” She is apparently worth $14 million and feted around the world, so I don’t feel she will lose any sleep to discover that I don’t think her voice is up to much. It’s clearly of little consequence that I find her hit singles grating and facile. However, it already feels liberating to know that I can state for the record that her opportunistic 2009 remake of You Got The Love – pedantically “corrected” to You’ve Got The Love – is one of my least favourite cover versions in all of pop music. Though slavishly similar, and clearly desperate for glory by association, Florence Against The Machine’s rendition sucks every drop of soul from one of the greatest modern mash-ups of the 20th century.

I won’t bore you, or myself, with the circuitous history of the eventual 1991 version credited to The Source, whose vocal was apparently recorded by Candi Staton a capella for a video documentary in the 80s and whose vital studio production can, it seems, be credited to John Truelove and Eren Abdullah (although Frankie Knuckles was involved somewhere along the line). Needless to say, the Young Hearts Run Free disco legend supplies a supreme, inimitable vocal which needs little enhancement to raise it up. But can you imagine a more sympathetic exoskeleton than the minimally plucked “talking” bassline and mechanical, insectoid synth tinkle that frame it?

Has anybody ever heard that now-immortal intro and not air-clicked their finger in time to it? This is such a boldly graphic and sonically desaturated underlay, which adds melodrama and dirty funk to Staton’s reverb-enhanced declaration:

Sometimes I feel like throwin’ my hands up in the air
I know I can count on you
Sometimes I feel like saying “Lord I just don’t care”
But you got the love I need to see me through

The production knows instinctively when to trigger each new layer (the first finger click just as she starts the second verse with another “Sometimes”), and by verse three, everything’s working together as a team from hi-hat to added keyboard wash cycle; it’s not even a minute in. At this point if you don’t yet feel like throwing your hands up in the air, you never will do. It’s certainly one of those tracks that ought to struggle to match its own impeccable intro, but once up and running, there’s always something new, vocally or sonically, to keep you keen: the way Staton sings the word “occasionally”, that insistent synth line two and a half minutes in, the squelching sound, and the drop-out to bass, click and vocal at three minutes. Give thanks.

Sometimes a classic song comes together in a roundabout way, but as when the stars align, we should savour the moment. You Got The Love is one of those moments. I’m not a purist about cover versions – I have a few already lined up for The 143 – but this isn’t really one that should be attempted in karaoke. Just do the finger clicks instead. Or sing the bassline. That would be a greater tribute.

As with These Boots Are Made For Walking and Try A Little Tenderness, I’m always sad when the Radio Edit fades out.