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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Malcolm McLaren - Duck Rock


By 1983, British impresario Malcolm McLaren had already left his mark on the world of pop-culture. From clothing designing in the early 70’s on Kings Road, London, to working with the likes of various musical acts (the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols, Adam and the Ants, and Bow Wow Wow) during the 70’s and 80’s, his resume was very impressive indeed.

But in January of 1983, he added musician and singer-songwriter to his accomplishments. For his first album, Duck Rock, he collaborated with a duo of hip-hop radio disc jockeys from New York City known as the World’s Greatest Supreme Team. Together, they mixed up musical influences from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas (North, Central and South) to create a most interesting collection of music.

The album starts of with “Obatala”, a tribal rhythm that McLaren co-wrote with musician Trevor Horn. It is very soothing, almost transcendental in nature.

Next is “Buffalo Gals”, one of the most familiar tracks from the album. It mixes the DJ voiceovers with some amazing hip-hop beats, scratching, and calls from square dancing (trust me, if you‘ve never heard this one - it works very well). This was one I heard played a lot on the college radio stations when the single was released in 1982, both in the original album version and an extended remix version. It made for a great dance song at the time. Parts of this song have been sampled by the likes of Neneh Cherry (for her hit “Buffalo Stance”), Weird Al Yankovic and the Sublime.

“Double Dutch” is next, another very popular track from the record. It was the follow-up single to “Buffalo Gals” and it actually reached number 3 on the UK Singles chart. Again, this one opens with the deejays as well. It then kicks in with an infectious rhythm with backing sounds of spinning jump ropes. The backing vocals add a world-music atmosphere to it as well. The combination of all these elements gets your toes tapping.

“El San Juanera” is another DJ interlude between songs as the guys interact with their radio show callers. Then “Merengue” provides the Central American elements to this world-party. The Latin rhythms celebrate the cultural dance from those regions. The side closes with “Punk It Up”, another energetic number that blends various elements in an interesting way. It is like a smorgasbord for your ears.

“Legba” is the first track on side two. I like the African percussion used on this one. Like the opener on side one, it is another relaxing instrumental piece. Very pleasant. “Jive My Baby” follows after another DJ interlude. It has a similar rhythm to “Double Dutch”, very bouncy and full of energy. It sounds a little like some of the sounds the Talking Heads had been experimenting with in the early 80’s.

“Song for Chango” features more African rhythms and singers. “Soweto” is an up-tempo song that mixes various elements into another celebration of cultures. “World’s Famous” features the deejays with their own free-styling.

The last track is “Duck for the Oyster”, a rather interesting mix. It takes square dance elements (calls and fiddle music) and adds some rather comic sound effects. It is kind of fun but might not appeal to everyone.

Listening to this album in its entirety is the best way that the various DJ interludes work. Clearly McLaren had a vision in mind - a concept for the album to tie together the various musical styles he and his crew presented here. Some might find the interludes to be annoying, but they work for me. It reminds me the past when radio shows were faithfully followed in part thanks to the personalities that put their heart and soul into the production. This record is a love-note to that bygone era.

1 comment:

HERC said...

This album opened the door to hip-hop to millions of pale faces three full years before the Beastie Boys tore the poor door off its hinges, making rap and hip-hop safe for Caucasians everywhere.

It also predated the world music sampling movement of Enigma and Deep Forest so we have no one to blame except ourselves.

Above all, Duck Rock stands as yet another testament to the mighty production prowess of Trevor Horn who miraculously managed to weave the many disparate sounds together as a seamless whole.

HERC is of the notion that this album deserves the Super Duper Deluxe Special Edition treatment like the one below proposed by Mike D. over at The Second Disc:

Disc 1: Original LP and some B-sides

Obatala – 4:17
Buffalo Girls – 4:22
Double Dutch – 5:53
El San Juanera– 1:56
Merengue – 3:52
Punk It Up – 4:11
Legba – 4:03
Jive My Baby – 5:35
Song for Chango – 2:49
Soweto – 3:53
World’s Famous – 1:41
Duck for the Oyster – 2:57
Buffalo Girls (Trad Square) – 3:43 (7” B-side – Charisma MALC 1, 1982)
Zulu’s on a Time Bomb – 3:23 (7” B-side – Charisma MALC 2, 1983)
D’Ya Like Scratchin’ (with the Red River Valley Girls) – 5:25 (12” B-side – Charisma MALC 212, 1983)
World’s Famous (Radio I.D.) – 3:20 (U.S. 7” A-side – Island 7-99790, 1983)

Disc 2: Swamp Thing (Charisma CAS 1170 (U.K.)/Island 90481-1 (U.S.), 1985) and more remixes

Swamp Thing – 6:17
Duck Rock Cheer – 7:12
Buffalo Love – 4:00
Supresto –1:13
B.1. Bikki – 3:42
Eiffel Tower – 3:46
Boom Boom Baby – 4:45
Duck Rockers/Promises – 5:56
Buffalo Girls (Split Stereo Scratch Version) – 3:30 (7” A-side – Charisma MALC 1, 1982)
She’s Looking Like a Hobo – 3:35 (U.S. 12” promo A-side – Island DMD 374, 1982)
Double Dutch (12” Version) – 8:21 (12” A-side – Charisma MALC 212)
Hobo Scratch (12” Version) – 9:25 (U.S. 12” B-side – Island 0-96999, 1983)
D’Ya Like Scratchin’ (Special Version) – 3:43 (U.S. 12” A-side – Island 90124-1, 1983)
Would Ya Like More Scratchin’? (New York City Remix) (12” A-side – Charisma CLAM 1, 1984)

Apparently, such an album was readied, given a catalog number and then shot down during the clearancing of the myriad samples. HERC would also add a few tracks from 1990's Round The Outside! Round The Outside!, the quasi-sequel to Duck Rock.

Thirty years down the line and surprisingly none of the tracks from Duck Rock rank among the top 2 Malcom McLaren tracks in HERC's digital library:

#2 is his 1984 opera/breakbeat fusion "Madam Butterfly"

#1 is "Eiffel Tower" from 1984's No Small Affair soundtrack album which lays claim to the title of first song ever digitized from vinyl by HERC. The song was originaly done in a decidedly deifferent fashion by Bow Wow Wow as "Sexy Eiffel Tower". (It is also on the aforementioned Swamp Thing album from 1985.) Martin, you always mention albums and songs you listened to while getting ready for a night of clubbing back in the day - for HERC, this has always been that song.

McLaren's sundry (alleged) crimes against specific artists and pop music in general will never be forgiven but somehow the resultant synthesized works (McLaren called them "customizations") help us forget somewhat.