So, you’re picking up one of your favorite literary figures (poetry or prose, living or dead) from the airport before taking them to dinner and conducting an interview. You’re a huge fan and you’re super excited about the assignment, but also a bit nervous. Relax. The main thing you need to be concerned with is having a kickass playlist going on the tape deck when you roll up to the terminal and I’m here to help. I offer no guarantees, but with some deductive reasoning, digital crate digging, and intuition I think we can manage something that leaves everyone comfortable, happy, and bobbing their heads.
Below is a 12 track set that I think should get you from the airport and back again with some stops in between. You can play it in sequence, but it will work on mix-mode as well (this might even be better). The important thing is to have it already playing when you pick them up and to not discuss it at all unless they bring it up first. Basically, play it cool and act like you’ve been there before. I can in no way guarantee that they’ll actually dig this, but I have my hopes. Worst case scenario, just have NPR locked in as station preset 1 in case things get desperate. Best of luck!
Your passenger this week is none other than the legendary Maya Angelou. Poet, memoirist, journalist, activist, dancer, singer, ICON. Quite simply she was, and remains, essential. Her accomplishments and importance are too numerous and too enormous to list here. Just get ready for a hell of a ride.
1. Singing Sweet - When I See You Smile Given all the tragedies, losses, and challenges she endured in her remarkable life it’s amazing to notice just how often Angelou was smiling (if not beaming) in the many photographs of her taken over the decades. Through everything she experienced she never deviated from her own dictum: I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it. For her, a song as beautiful as her smile. Just try not to spend too long in a state of awe-struck disbelief over the fact that this is a dancehall cover of a hit tune by Bad English.
2. Brownstone - If You Love Me Waterfalls, On Bended Knee, Fantasy, Candy Rain…it’s pretty clear that the 1995 Top 100 chart represents an indisputable annus mirabilis for Modern R&B. As a culture we can only hope to scale such heights again. And not least among the bounty was this one from Brownstone. The song is infectious and unforgettable on its own, but as far as I’m concerned it reached legend status as a central element it the Holly Hunter / Queen Latifah E-induced dance sequence in Living Out Loud which will still be recognized as a top-10 1990s movie moment in history books 1,000 years hence.
3. Fuentes All Stars - Pégale a la Nalga I have no idea what’s going on at the beginning of this song. Is the dude having a seizure? Catching the Holy Ghost? Presiding over an auction? Whatever it is, I dig it. Your average Toyota does not allow much room for dancing while seated, but I’m sure you’ll find a way…you’ll need to. Any passenger who refuses to move with you to this one can be promptly deposited on the nearest curb/exit-ramp. Not to worry, Dr. Angelou is definitely down. P.S. I got curious and Google translated the title, it seems to roughly mean “Hit him in the ass”. Sounds about right.
4. Cymande - Dove 11 minutes of effortless cool, plain & simple, from Cymande (a group among Spike Lee’s favorite soundtrack adds). There won’t be any talking while this song is playing. You and Dr. Angelou won’t need language. Just lean your seat back a bit, stiff-arm the wheel and go where the track takes you. Warning: chanting will very likely ensue.
5. Louis Jordan - Beans and Cornbread This is quite possibly the greatest song ever recorded about two anthropomorphic food items getting into a brawl. Always fun, always energetic, this is a solid trip-starter. Also, speaking of Spike Lee soundtracks: it’s a little iconic due to being prominently featured during a scene of utter (and fairly comic) mayhem in Malcolm X (if you’ve seen the movie you’ll remember it well.) It’s a fairly sure bet that Dr. Angelou would dig the Louis Jordan, considering she covered his Run Joe on her only official full-length musical release. I dare you not to be singing this to yourself 3 days later.
6. Rashaan Roland Kirk - What’s Goin’ On’/Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) She wrote seven autobiographies, but make no mistake Maya Angelou never took her eyes off the injustice, the strife, and the resilience in the face of both that she saw around her in both America and the wider world abroad. Still, she met it all with grace and the conviction that things can (and will) get better with our hard work and willingness to change. I dig Kirk’s cover of Marvin Gaye’s classic jams because he honors their original depth and truth without losing his own essential joy.
7. Common - The Food (Ft. Kanye West) Put aside the fact that Dr. Angelou referred to herself & Dave Chappelle (on whose show this track was recorded live) as “soulmates”, or that she appeared on Common’s song The Dreamer, and you’re left with a ridiculously chill cruising song that manages to incorporate some super-sly shots at pop cultural/consumerist sacred cows. This one makes the playlist on a musical level, no question. But the biographical extras don’t hurt either.
8. Lyn Collins - Think (About It) Sure this is basically a James Brown song with a guest vocalist…but there could never be anything wrong with that, so crank this! Hard funk, in-you-face lyrics, female empowerment, endlessly sampled (Dj E-Z Rock I’m looking at you). Hell yes! Play it twice.
9. Alice Coltrane - Journey in Satchidananda If only every journey down the interstate were as mellow, expansive, and as full of possibility as this, the title track of Alice Coltrane’s 1970 release… A perfect late-night tune, no one in history has ever managed to switch this off past 11 p.m. If you acquire a single harp record in your entire life, make it this one.
10. Nirvana - Where Did You Sleep Last Night Angelou often spoke of how the rhythms & mysteries of the blues acted upon her writing and how important the music was, not only for African-Americans but as part of the DNA of the country. This song, originally an Appalachian folk tune, but most famously recorded by blues legend Leadbelly, was covered by Nirvana for their 1993 MTV Unplugged set and it just might be the most searing moment from that entire series (for real, check out 5:08 in the clip when Cobain finally opens his eyes). I can never listen to it without thinking of Angelou’s Insomniac.
11. Wendy Rene - After Laughter I’ll admit, this isn’t necessarily the most highway-friendly song out there. For one it doesn’t have the kind of intense & pulsing beat that you generally appreciate on the open road. Beyond that, it’s difficult to stay in your lane when your sight is occluded by open weeping. Still, this is one of my fav tracks of all time and Rene’s raw emotion is compelling to the nth degree.
12. Latyrx - Lady Don’t Tek No Look back at her life and you can really only come to to one conclusion: Maya Angelou was a superhero. Sure, she suffered, she knew loss, and she battled doubt…but so did Peter Parker. To overcome everything she experienced in her long life while never retreating, while never pitying herself in the face of steady racism, sexism, and tragedy took someone with undeniably singular character and resolve. The fact that she had the talent to share her experience so effectively with the rest of us, well…we’ll just have to be eternally thankful for that. If there were a movie about Dr. Angelou as a superhero this just might be in the opening credits sequence.
Due to a variety of circumstances (all good actually) I needed to juggle Photon Pitch's time block on the airwaves for the summer of 2014. After a year plus going on before the always awesome High Voltage Circumcision Show w/ Deftly D & Josh B on Mondays 6pm-7pm I’ll be appearing every other Wednesday from 7-9p.
Yes, that does indeed mean that for the very first time since Photon Pitch began its run 3 years ago it will not be heard weekly (or more) on WZBC. That is a slight bummer. BUT this latest 2-hour spot does work out to equal airtime and the extra legroom per-set means I can establish more heavily-themed vibes, play longer cuts that I’ve stayed away from in the shorter format, and offer more exposition/context for some of the stuff that I’m particularly excited about. I think/ hope you’ll dig it, I know I’m looking forward to it!
The debut in the new block is this Wednesday 5/21. Which is exciting because it immediately precedes the record release party of Photon Pitch fav Andre Obin. His new work Ways of Escape is out now and I’d highly recommend grabbing it…followed by playing it LOUDLY. I’ll be doing just that on Weds before heading out to the show.
Here’s the latest in my every-other-week blog series for The Missouri Review wherein I curate & comment on the “perfect playlist” for picking various literary figures (poetry or prose, living or dead) up from the airport and driving them to dinner/readings/interviews.
What are some solid picks for picking up Booker Prize winning novelist/poet/essayist/critic/activist Margaret Atwood? Well, here’s hoping she digs Prince, Michael Nyman, & Iron Maiden.
A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge is one of the most subtextually loaded horror films ever made. Like, to the point where a razor-gloved, dream-dwelling, janitor from Hell is kind of the B-story. Doesn’t make it a less worthy film…just…quirky.
Most of the 8 Freddy movies have featured some solid musical moments (seriously, Part 3 kind of made me like Dokken) but this track in #2 is undoubtedly my fav.
I highly recommend this disco/early-house comp on which it’s found. A lot of gems here.
Def in my top 5 hip-hop releases for 2014 so far, and it will take a lot to boot it from there in the next 8 months.
I’ve played this the last 2 weeks straight, and you know what….I don’t know if I’m done yet.
Coming to Monday’s show.
OK, so I was trying to find a youtube video containing the audio of the Prince & The Family track Nothing Compares 2 U for inclusion in the previous post. I momentarily forgot that Prince (hallowed be his name) is one of the most YouTube-unfriendly acts out there. So no dice.
BUT, I found this awesomeness: a live band rendition of the song performed by what appear to be twelve-year-olds…and it’s GREAT. Oh man, why does this have fewer than 100 views?!
Do yourselves a favor and help change that. God bless the internet.
Bit of an abbreviated set here as I had to run off to ye-olde Prince themed comedy show - but still a bunch of fun. Opened with one of the few post-Mezzanine Massive Attack tracks that I really dig. It felt like a good fit b/c it’s sung by Sinead O’Connor and I was very much in a Prince state of mind (Nothing Compares, Nuh-THING Compares 2 U!)…Staying in the 80s pop state of mind I couldn’t resist me some Rockwell. I always thought it weird that he was a one-hit wonder given that his dad was, you know, Berry Gordy. But then again if your signature song is sung in a faux novelty accent (British vampire??) and garnered most of its airplay because of an obvious-but-uncredited Michael Jackson hook maybe it makes sense after all… Moskow Diskow is a fun song, but I swear to God if you play it more than twice in one day you will come to loathe it. Damn you Euro Disco! Thou most conflicting of genres! I love you, I hate you, I love you again…Prince made his mark again, this time with one of my fav cuts from the Batman Soundtrack, which was featured prominently in one of my favorite scenes from all of 80s film. Just heard the Ron Trent track in the last month. I’m loving it, along with pretty much the entirety of this MONSTER Chicago House boxed set (15 discs!) that I recently got my hands on from a colleague in the station. I can’t wait to bring out cuts from it over the coming weeks…Closed with more, you guessed it, PRINCE. OK, full confession time here: I’ve always been a Prince fan. Knew all the hits since I was a kid, would never change the station if he popped on the radio, etc. But I was really just, you know, a greatest hits fan. It wasn’t until the run up to the theme show that I really dug into his discography and actually listened in full to every album from For You (his 1st) through “The Love Symbol Album" after which things started to get real weird (The Gold Experience is solid, mind you). And that’s when I discovered I’ve been robbing myself blind for YEARS by only listening to edited radio/greatest hits CD versions of I Wanna Be Your Lover (on of my fav songs, period) which are about two full minutes shorter than the one on Prince, which is now the only version I’ll listen to for the rest of my sorry life. Sigh.
06:01PM Massive Attack “A Prayer for England” from “100th Window” on Virgin
06:08PM D-Train “You’re The One For Me” from “Prelude’s Greatest Hits”
06:13PM Rockwell “Somebody’s Watching Me (Single Version)” from “Gold - ’80s Soul” on HIP-O
06:17PM Telex “Moskow Diskow” from “Looking for St. Tropez” on EMI Belgium
06:21PM Prince “Partyman” from “Batman”
06:25PM Ron Trent “I Feel the Rhythm” from “EPM Selects: Chicago House”
06:31PM Crazy P “Open for Service (Ron Basejam Mix)” from “REMIXED” on 2020Vision
06:37PM Javelin “Nnormal” from “Hi Beams” on Luaka Bop
06:41PM Prince “I Wanna Be Your Lover” from “Prince”