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The Miracles – Hi… We’re the Miracles

The Miracles
Hi… We’re the Miracles
June 16, 1961
Tamla
085/100
miracles---_hiwerethe_101b
1. Who’s Lovin’ You // 2. (You Can) Depend on Me // 3. Heart Like Mine // 4. Shop Around // 5. Won’t You Take Me Back// 6. Your Love // 7. After All // 8. Way Over There// 9. Money// 10. Don’t Leave Me

Once upon a time in the 1950s there was an African-American Detroit songwriter called Berry Gordy. Gordy had written and produced hit singles for contemporary R&B-artist Jackie Wilson such as the number one on the US R&B-chars Lovely Tears. He felt that he should make more money off the work he put in than he did and decided that the way to go was to produce more recordings of his writings, own the publishing rights of said recordings and start a record label of his own. This he did in the form of indie label Motown Records, named after a nickname of his home town Detroit.

The rest is history. Rather than cater to the niche market for African-American R&B music it would take the genre to the mainstream by putting out music that crossed racial barriers. Motown music consistently sold to white music audiences at a time when this was by no means something to be taken for granted by African-American artists. This was no accident. Gordy meticulously groomed his artists to cater to as wide an audience as they possibly could. It in the process Motown launched the careers of some of R&B’s most enduringly iconic names: Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson are the best remembered examples.

The first act to actually get a full album released however was vocal sextet (five gentlemen and one lady) the Miracles, previously named the Matadors (That last bit of trivia is reflected in the album’s cover art by the outfits worn.)

Most of the album’s lead vocals were performed by sweet-voiced tenor William “Smokey” Robinson, although Ronnie White and Claudette Robinson managed to get a few leads as well. Robinson and White, along with Gordy, also wrote most of the album. Marv Tauplin (not pictured on the cover) played the guitar and is the only instrumentalist to receive credit for doing anything in the liner notes. The remaining two members: Bobby Rogers and Warren “Pete” More for those asking, sang background. The rest instrumentation was provided by a collective called the Funk Brothers, a band which one effectively became a member by playing any instrument on any Motown Recording. Gordy oversaw this merry bunch as the album’s producer.

The album’s three singles Way Over ThereShop Around and Who’s Lovin’ You were each released about a year before the album dropped which goes to show that this album can be considered somewhat of an afterthought to the singles. Or maybe the success of the singles (Way Over There US #93, Shop Around/Who’s Lovin’ You US #2, US R&B#1) was necessary for Gordy to gain the confidence to record and release a full length LP on his label, a costly affair no doubt. It was after all the very first one. (For reasons unknown to this reviewer, the group’s first hit, the doo-wop classic Bad Girl was left off.)

This album isn’t for everyone. Many of today’s R&B listeners will find this too crude and elementary while simultaneously think of this as too sweet and tame. For grinding against a shawty at a house party this album is unfit. Such is the fate of R&B music from the doo-wop era compared to almost to that followed it. Early sixties-soul however gets no more accessible than this for modern music audiences. The instrumentals are comparatively rich and developed and the vocal performances by Smokey and his fellow Miracles are excellent, emotive and raw and almost devoid the melisma. Another reason to pick this up is that songs like Who’s Lovin’ You and Shop Around have been re-recorded so many times they have become standards. These are the original versions of these songs (That goes for every song on here except Money (I Need It), which was originally recorded by Barett Strong and was the Motown label’s very first single) and generally the best versions available.

Hi… We’re the Miracles is by today’s standards a pretty relaxed, meandering record. Even it’s relatively up-tempo songs such as its biggest hit Shop Around are midtempo at most. Its lo-fi quality gives it a certain warmth. If this album were much longer than it is it would probably overstay its welcome because of its backgroundish quality. Given that it clocks at thirty two minutes and spreads that time over twelve tracks and divides those over eleven songs neither the album nor any of its songs stick around for longer than necessary. We have the technological limitations of vinyl to thank for that.

This album is as notable for the classic songs contained within it as it is for the music it paved the way for. Despite its simplicity it doesn’t bore, in part because it sounds terrific, in part because the vinyl LP format didn’t allow any of these songs to last much longer than three minutes. In short Hi… We’re the Miracles is short and sweet.

Best songs
Shop Around
Who’s Lovin’ You

Recommendations
Pick this up.


Ghostface Killah featuring Raekwon and Cappadonna – Ironman

Ghostface Killah featuring Raekwon  & Cappadonna
Ironman
October 29, 1996
Razor Sharp/ Epic Street/ Epic RecordsSME
073/100
Ghostface Killah - Ironman
1. Iron Maiden (feat. Raekwon & Cappadonna) // 2. Wildflower (feat. Scotty Wotty & Jamie Sommers) // 3. The Faster Blade (performed by Raekwon) // 4. 260 (feat. Raekwon) // 5. Assassination Days (performed by Inspectah Deck, RZA, Raekwon & Masta Killa) // 6. Poisonous Darts // 7. Winter Warz (feat. U-God, Masta Killa, Capadonna & Raekwon) // 8. Box In Hand (feat. Raekwon, Method Man & the Force M.D.s) //9. Fish (feat. Cappadonna & Raekwon) // 10. Camay (feat. Raekwon & Cappadonna) // 11. Daytona 500 (feat. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah & the Force M.D.s) // 12. Motherless Child (feat. Raekwon) // 13. Black Jesus (feat. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, U-God & Popa Wu) // 14. After the Smoke Is Clear (feat. Raekwon, RZA & the Delfonics) //15. All That I Got Is You (feat. Mary J. Blige & Popa Wu) //16. The Soul Controller (feat. the Force M.D.s) // 17. Marvel (feat. RZA)

This isn’t a proper Ghostface Killah or anything but that’s fine, it’s not like the album’s two co-stars aren’t listed and pictured on the front cover. Also Pretty Toney already had albout half a solo-album in OB4CL…which makes the amount of solo-albums he had under his belt after releasing Ironman 0.83333333333.
But Ghost’s name is the one on the front cover that appears first and in the biggest font, which means that Ironman definitely is promoted as a being Ghostface Killah album, which would be fine if Raekwon’s wasn’t the voice you actually hear rapping on it before anyone else’s and if Rae didn’t have a solo song all of his own on this while Ghost has but one track where he’s left unaccompanied too.
But Rae is the first guy you hear, Rae and Ghost do have a solo-song each and in addition Assassination Days is a pretty cool Wu-posse cut doesn’t have Ghost on it but and does have a Raekwon appearance, so that’s some fairly false advertising if ever I came across any. Truth is: This is a Raekwon album, or at least as much a Raekwon album as it is a Ghostface Killah album.
One has to wonder who at Razor Sharp Records/ Epic Street was as unconfident in Ghost’s abilities to make a consistently entertaining solo-album and why exactly because the man is considered by many, including yours truly, as the Wu-member with the most consistently entertaining solo output out of all nine.

Where Ironman does deliver is that it’s packed with RZA beats, glancing at the track list there isn’t a song without RZA’s involvement except Fish which True Master snuck into the studio when Robert Diggs was taking a piss or smoking one of his honey-dipped blunts or something.
But ‘deliver’ may be an overstatement of sorts because the beats, while far from being sucky, don’t bang as hard as you’d expect based on the stack of classics Bobby Digital produced that is every Wu-solo album from Tical to Liquid Swords.
The most likely explanation for the small but notable drop in quality of the soundscapes is that Ironman is notable for allegedly being the first Wu-member album recorded after the flooding of Wu-ringleader RZA’s basement studio, which took out all of the man’s equipment and the beats he had laying around (both finished ones and works in progress, one must assume). So basically RZA had to start from scratch creating and recreating instrumentals for this album in a very short timespan, which must’ve been a daunting task regardless, but was likely to be especially fucking exhausting for someone who had been producing five classic albums in the three years before this one.
Anyway it’s not as though he did a shitty job. As usual the music sets a variety of moods while always showing a hint of dust and creepiness or oddness depending wat the song calls for (or rather everyone who ends up on the beat bows down to RZA which is more likely). These instrumentals are diverse but do have a minimal yet cinematic quality in common which helps unify these tracks into an album, and a fairly good album it is. It just doesn’t sound as good as what came before it, unreasonable expectations or not.

In these two manners Ironman is a definite but slight disappointment. It is not an effective introduction to Ghostface Killah the solo-artist and beatwise it is not as good as Liquid Swords (or anything that came before it from the Wu-Tang’s original nine). But despite those two concerns it’s still good enough to serve the Wu-hungry. The beats here do still bang harder than those found on most contemporary competition’s albums and if this doesn’t have much in the way of Ghostface Killah solo songs it has the next best thing: Plenty of Rae/Ghost collabos, that sound perfectly good when they’re on but don’t leave much of an impression when they’re gone. They’re not as good as those found on) OB4CL… but they’ll do.
Cappadonna is on here quite often as well, but he’s nowhere near as omnipresent as Rae, so I’m assuming that the reason he gets a full credit on the front cover and not the Force M.D.s is because he was Razor Sharp Records’ artist to promote and would have a solo-album for himself on the shelves in the foreseeable future. The guy doesn’t suck behind the mic so there’s not necessarily something worth additional complaining about.

The album starts off catchy enough with Iron Maiden, which as usual with the Wu is introduced with a fragment from an action movie. This time it’s not a kung-fu flic but a ’70s blaxploitation movie which is all well, but once the music starts playing and Rae is the first guy you hear spitting you feel like something is wrong and envision Ghost quickly leaving the studio after the beat starts playing in fear of failing to spit something entertaining, and Rae jumping in rhyming to prevent on-record awkward silence while Cappadonna outside with Ghost is trying to convincing him to go back and do the second verse. (I realise that this is not how songs are recorded, don’t bother explaining.)
Wildflower is a rabiate deconstruction of one of Pretty Toney’s ex-girlfriends which is a song format that both Ghost and some of his Wu brethren have repeatedly revisited and All I Got Is You is an ode to Ghost’s mother featuring the only non-Wu guest in Mary J. Blige. It’s a touching song and with Wildflower is forshadowing of the more emotionally charged work the man would be known for later in his career.
260 and Motherless Child are entertaining Ghost-Rae crime tales tailor-made for those who loved OB4CL….
Other highlights for fans of Rae/Ghost chemistry are Winter WarzFishCamayDaytona 500 and Black Jesus. All these tracks also feature contributions by either Cappadonna, U-God or both, two MCs who have often been called the worst things about the clan (when Wu-fans are generous to consider Cap a Wu-member at all). But here the work of either rapper never sounds anything less than inspired.
For people who nevertheless demand songs with nothing but A-list Wu-members there’s Box In Hand with Method Man in addition to our dynamic duo, and After the Smoke Is Clear which has RZA stepping away from the boards and into the booth with them to land some bars himself. His voice also pops up Marvel, which closes out the disc and on the posse cut Assassination Days which hasn’t got pretty Toney on it anywhere for whatever reason. Also there’s that The Faster Blade song which has Rae going for dolo and is probably a returning of favours since Ghost got his first solo-song on OB4CL…‘s Wisdom Body.

Overall Ironman sports a pretty impressive collection of music, and it doesn’t really have any shitty songs on it. It’s just as consistently entertaining as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… just consistently less so. But that shouldn’t necessarily be seen as any sort of disencouragement to listen to it. Most rap albums don’t hold up to OB4CL… and that still allows them to be pretty good.This is often seen as the last classic Wu solo-album because it was the last one in RZA’s five year plan in which the guy produced everything.This assessment isn’t true for several reasons: Arguably while not being a bad album per se it is the worst out of the first round so the last true classic would be Liquid Swords if the Clan had completely stopped recording solo-albums after Wu-Tang Forever. Secondly the official sequel to OB4CL…, released in 2009, is a classic too (There I said it.) Finally and perhaps most importantly Ghost would only get better as an artist and would release his true solo debut in the form of Supreme Clientele in early 2000, and it sounds better than this.With that said it does mark the end of an era. It is the last solo album by a Wu-member RZA completely produced (bar RZA’s own albums) and the last one more or less done in the style of olde before Robert Diggs cut his inner artiste loose starting on Wu-Tang Forever. So if you can’t get enough of the original Wu-sound by all means pick this one up. Just pick up 36 ChambersTicalReturn to the 36 ChambersOnly Built 4 Cuban Linx… and Liquid Swords before you do.

Best tracks
The Soul Controller
260
Box In Hand
Black Jesus
Winter Warz
Motherless Child
Poisonous Darts
Daytona 50
The Faster Blade

Recommendations
Yeah enough nitpicky bitching already. You can go and pick this up now. It’s not bad (Not bad meaning fairly good).


2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.