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Cassette (Re)collection: 3

Posted by NumberSix , 18 September 2009 · 334 views

I grew up using my mom's JCPenney turntable as my primary music player. It had an 8-track tape player that we never used, plus dial settings for AM, FM, and "FM Stereo", which was so radically different from ordinary mono FM that the two couldn't be trusted to share the same dial setting. My next-door neighbors introduced me to the concept of the tape recorder in the early '80s. When I finally got my own, I used it to record the audio from syndicated episodes of The Muppet Show, then expanded my repertoire to include top-40 radio songs. I was hardly a discerning, skilled technician -- I amassed a few dozen tapes filled with songs ruined by DJ patter over the intros and outros, or with the intros cut off because I couldn't hit the "Record" and "Play" buttons simultaneously and quickly enough. I also didn't mind duplicate recordings -- if I heard a song I liked, I recorded it every single time I heard it. One year I brought my recorder and all my tapes on vacation with me, and regaled my family with several dozen repeat plays of "Beat It", "Family Man", and "Flashdance...What a Feeling".

Most of those tapes were purged from my collection ages ago, but the subliminal scarring remains.

Arrested Development -- Not the failed Fox show, but a one-hit wonder of a rap group whose hard-grooved quasi-gospel "Tennessee" earned them temporary recognition and an appearance on SNL, in which we could see that their membership included a dancer who was twice as useful as Bez from Happy Mondays. Their debut album 3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days in the Life Of... sounds in retrospect as if its title is taken from an episode of Pushing Daisies, but contains more finger-snapping grooves on songs like "Mr. Wendel" (a funky salute to the homeless), the fast-paced "Mama's Always on Stage", and the Sly & the Family Stone tribute "People Everyday". The album eschews today's rap clich├ęs -- there's no crude sex talk, no harsh language above maybe a TV-PG level ("Everyday People" throws in a few "niggaz" for the purpose of satirizing other, more popular rappers), and no gangsta violence (strongest threat: "I ain't Ice Cube/but I had to take the brother out for being rude" -- even when they're strongarming someone, it's in the name of good manners).

I don't think about 3 Years too often except when I run afoul of prejudiced white dismissal of the entire genre on the basis of content and vapidity. Then this album leaps to mind every time, proof positive that rap can appeal beyond the lowest common denominator...regardless of how challenging it might be to find recent examples.

Barenaked Ladies -- 1998 was my final year for purchasing new albums on tape. Among those was Stunt, thanks to the ubiquitous rap of "One Week" that I absolutely had to memorize, although I never could enunciate "Gonna get a set of better clubs" to save my life. The enclosed lyric sheet complicated the process because it included lines that were deleted from the finished product:

"Like Andrew Lloyd, I've got a big show, mine's about a backhoe
There'll be a big sound from the pavement"

"Like Skywalker, gotta big hunch, hey, that's my lunch
Yoda's a really old guy"

They're not really missed. Beyond this novelty piece (which, Lord knows why, also turned up in the opening scene of Digimon: the Movie), the album is affable fun rock. "It's All Been Done" received its fair share of airplay, the delicate "Call and Answer" has haunted me via Muzak on occasion, and ""Who Needs Sleep?" would be one of my personal anthems if I could just listen to it several more times.

[Next entry: the funkiest Scientologist around and some wacky retro Georgians.]

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