Songs from under the floorboards #3: Culturcide, Boozoo Chavais, Dee Clark and more

Culturcide - Tacky Souvenirs of Pre-Revolutionary America

Culturcide – Tacky Souvenirs of Pre-Revolutionary America

It’s a real mixed bag this month as Getintothis’ Rick Leach unearths scurrilous songs from 1986, a soul voice to die for and someone who performed in a butcher’s apron. 

It’s a bit of a dilemma.

As I get older -and we all do, at exactly the same rate- I find myself realising more and more that time is not infinite and there’s only so long to listen to all the music out there.

Well, not all the music out there. That would be impossible.

But all the music I want to listen to. And the more I listen to music, the more music I want to listen to.

And largely, it’s new music or at least music, new to me.

Do I stick with what I know and love or do I constantly go on the search for something new?

Stick or twist? Is it possible to reach a balance between the old and the new? How do I make the best of the time?

I have no idea. All I can do is simply listen. I suppose it doesn’t matter too much. The most important thing is to keep on listening and to try to keep it as varied as possible.

In the light of that, here’s five more tracks from the attic that hopefully fit the bill.

Hang onto your hats….

Culturcide: Star-Spangled Banner/Bruce

  1. What the Fuck is Going On?

Thus spoke The KLF and from then on in Messrs Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty built a 30-year career (off and on) based at the start of sampling the likes of The Monkees, The Beatles, Abba and the rest and putting their own satirical and Situationist spin on things.

In part The KLF used the nascent technology available to twist and warp and subvert the pop world-and in doing so, were famously sued by Abba among others.

However, in 1986, mere months before The KLF/JAMMs issued their first single, on the other side of the Atlantic a bunch of American kids were a step ahead of them. Or a step behind. It depends which way you look at it.

Culturcide issued their first album, Tacky Souvenirs of Pre-Revolutionary America.

They weren’t messing around with samplers. Oh no.

They just sang/screamed/ranted and played/thrashed guitars and hammered keyboards over the top of cassette recordings of Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, The Beach Boys, Pat Benatar and well, whoever they seemed to lay their hands on. They even had a go at We Are the World re titling it as They Aren’t the World.

There was no finesse in what they did and I guess they got away with totally scurrilous nature of what they sang about was due in part to the treasured freedom of speech in the US.

Even as a massive Springsteen fan, I find myself smiling at this track and wondering if Culturcide had a point. Don’t suppose it really matters. Maybe that’s not what they were after.

But let’s face it, if you get too precious about your ‘rock and roll heroes’ maybe you’re missing the point as well.

After this album and countless threats of action for copyright infringement no record company would touch them with a bargepole.

But with this album Culturcide shone a powerful light on popular music and made it look a bit daft and quite frankly, compared to Culturcide, The KLF were pissing in the wind.

The KLF in Liverpool- the return of the Ice Cream Men

Mbuti Pygmies of The Iruti Rainforest: Elephant Hunting Song

This is from a pair of albums recorded in the early 1950s and is a collection of field-recordings from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire at the time these recordings were made).

I didn’t have the original 1950 albums-I got it sometime off the net when it had been issued as a cd just because it sounded different.

And it certainly does sound different. .

Most of the tracks are just vocals, repetitive chants and singing. The titles of the tracks are simply descriptions of what is happening; Elephant Hunt Song, First Monimo Song Sung Only On Occasions Of Great Importance, Honey Gathering Song and so on.

The first track on the album is entitled In the Rainforest Approaching a Forest Camp, and is credited to “Birds, Crickets and Young Mbuti Pygmy Boys in the Ituri Rainforest.”

It sounds exactly how it’s described.

You hear the rustling of leaves, and the gradually increasing sound of birds and insects slowly overwhelmed by chanting voices. It’s over half a century old, but close your eyes and listen to it. It sounds as if you are right in the middle of some green canopied forest with barely any light, yet it’s from a strange continent and fifty years ago.

The rest of the tracks are hypnotic in the extreme; it is difficult to estimate how long each of them lasts. They could be two, three or ten minutes long. (I’ve just looked at the track times-the longest is 5 minutes, the shortest is 59 seconds and most of them clock in at about 2 minutes or so).

This is not a criticism, but rather the reverse. The sheer repetitiveness and rhythmic nature of each track makes time a slight irrelevance. There are a few tracks where basic instruments are used-sticks to beat out a tune, simple stringed and strange instruments and a flute song (called Flute Song). According to the liner notes, these instruments were either “borrowed or stolen.”

It makes you wonder how old these songs and chants were-had they remained unchanged for tens of thousands of years? Has it all gone now? Is it all hip hop on Spotify?

I do have to ask myself, “Do I only like this music because it is strange and exotic or because I actually appreciate it?”

As with any music that is “different”, I think that this is an impossible question to answer truthfully.

Well, not truthfully, but realistically. I don’t think that you can really disentangle what you feel about this sort of music from any preconceptions you may have, or how you respond to anything that has been labelled “world”, or “ethnic”, or whatever. (By the way I detest the term “world” music; surely everything we listen to is world music?).

All I know is that I do enjoy listening to this- I wouldn’t have played it more than once if I didn’t and listened to it on long car journeys when driving alone.

It makes a change from guitars and drums. And God knows, we all need that at times.

MX-80 Sound: Man on the Move

Boots (The Chemists) used to sell records.

Not sure if they still do. Maybe CDs. As I never really go into Boots anymore I haven’t a clue.

The strange thing is thinking that a large chemists’ chain would sell music. It just seems odd.

It was a Saturday morning in Southport in Boots sometime in 1979. I was in the music and camera department on the first floor and in the LP section marked M (there were racks and racks of LP sleeves) I came across the album (Hard Attack) that this track is from.

A bit esoteric for Boots’ you may think. Not really though.

On the same day, in the bargain bin, I picked up a copy of The Residents compilation, Nibbles, for 99p (still my favourite Residents album), Wire’s Chairs Missing for £1.49 and a tatty-sleeved copy of this gem for 49p.

I don’t know who was the record buyer for Boots’, but on the strength of this MX-80 Sound album alone, they possibly had been hitting the drugs cabinet a bit hard.

This was the best ten bob that I’d ever spent. The album had been well thumbed-the sleeve was bent and ripped on one corner, and there were stickers on the sleeve showing the price heading in an inevitable downward spiral from an initial £4.99 to 49p. But what a great record!

Whenever I read anywhere about a perfect mix of metal and punk, or prog and hardcore or thrash and whatever, I always smile and think to myself, “Well, you’ve clearly never heard MX-80 Sound!” It is the one of the most deranged record I ever heard- and that’s going some.

I’m extremely surprised that it’s not yet been talked of as a cult classic and if any record deserves to be dragged from the vaults and reissued then it’s this one

This is something that’s very hard to describe and I can’t place it in context of anything that’s happening now-or before to be honest. It’s sounds like the sort of music that stands teetering on the cusp between one style and another, marooned historically but thumbing its nose at both.

It’s a marvel to this day as to why Boots would ever think they’d sell a single copy of this, stuck as it was among the Phil Collins, Boney M and Shaking Stevens albums. But I’m glad they tried because it’s been a joy to me for over thirty years.

The best albums picked for you every month in Getintothis’ Album Club

Boozoo Chavais-Paper In My Shoes-Folk Star single

What a bloke Boozoo Chavais was.

He was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1931 and died in 2001 in Austin, Texas.

He’s considered one of the greatest zydeco players of all time, but prior to taking up his instrument, he was a horse trainer and, as a teenager, a successful jockey. When he started playing the accordion he became very popular, very quickly. This was possibly helped by a flamboyant stage presence.

Boozoo was not his real name as not even Americans would lumber a baby with that name. His real name was Wilson Anthony Chavais. Anyway, Boozoo (let’s stick with that) was so exuberant when playing on stage that he always wore a plastic butchers apron to prevent the copious amounts of sweat he produced ruining his beloved accordion.

He wrote many zydeco songs that became classics and used to tell his bands not to bother if the songs didn’t sound quite right. ‘If it’s wrong, do it wrong, with me. If I’m wrong, you wrong too!’ Maybe more musicians should take a leaf out of Boozoo’s book.

Paper in My Shoes was originally released as a single in 1955 and was his first single and a massive hit at the time. It sold over 135,000 copies in the U.S.-roughly equivalent to 6 million today.

I can’t make out what Boozoo is singing on this except for the repeated assertion that he’s got some paper in his shoes. He sounds quite happy about that, so I do think it’s the 1955 equivalent of having to wear odor-eaters.

Some of the song is sung in French/Creole, so it’s a mystery to me.

He does helpfully keep switching into English however, so the question ‘what’s your momma gonna do?’ is asked, as well as the assurance of ‘but don’t you worry about your baby’.

These two phrases are fairly generic I guess, but they may have some more specific relevance in the context of having paper in your shoes. I love the fact that Boozoo sings in more than one language, and seemingly at random during this track. It’s not as if the verses are in French and the chorus is in English, it seems to be as the feeling takes him. It would be like the Manic Street Preachers singing in both Welsh and English within one song and it getting to number one in the charts as well.

(After digging around the wonder that is the internet, wearing paper in your shoes is, in relation to the cultural norms of Cajun tradition existing in 1955, something to do with voodoo rather than bad feet.

It’s a sort of charm.

Women used to write the name of who they wished to entrance on slips of violet paper and place it in their shoes with a dab of love potion, just to be doubly sure.

Alternatively, if there was someone you wished to have power and dominance over, then again, writing their names on paper and walking around with it in your loafers usually did the trick).

Dee Clark: Just Like a Fool

I’m not sure when this slow soul track was made-it sounds like the late 50’s/early 60’ but its 2 minutes 11 seconds of heaven.

For a good while I thought that Dee Clark was a woman with a deep voice, but somewhere along the line I discovered that Dee Clark was a bloke with a great voice who could really hit those high notes.

Dee Clark was born Delectus Clark in 1938 in Blytheville, Arkansas. (If you had a first name as good as his, would you change it?).

Delectus had a penchant for cool names.

His first recording success was with a band called The Hambone Kids, before joining an r & b group called The Goldentones, who in turn, mutated into The Kool Gents. All fantastic names for bands.

The Hambone Kids is a good one, but The Goldentones must be one of the best ever. If you were in a band with that name you’d never want to change the name. Unless it was to The Kool Gents.

As the Kool Gents they also recorded a single as The Delegates. This was all before he went solo and took over from Little Richard when he (Little Richard) skipped out of live dates for a while to study the Bible, in order that Little Richard’s tour would not go belly up.

The thing about that is that he sang with Richards’ backing band, The Upsetters. Coincidentally of course, The Upsetters was also the name that the genius of Jamaican music, Lee “Scratch” Perry gave to his house band.

Dee Clark moved from Arkansas to Chicago and therefore to me this song sounds like it should be sung under a lamplight on a street corner in the Windy City.

The backing vocals are all swooping oohs and aahs.

The only percussive bits on the song are the softest gossamer, whispering, slowest, jazz brushed drums- if they were any quieter, they’d be silent.

They are imperceptible, but just add enough to the song, like the gentlest, most delicate flavouring.  I can’t hear any guitar on it-there’s probably a bit of bass, though only in the background, subconsciously.

How to describe the best thing about the song- Dee Clark’s voice? It’s impossible.

There are some fantastic soul singers we all know of and know so well; Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Al Green-it goes on and on. Dee Clark has to be on that list as well.

That’s all that can be said. Words alone can’t do it justice. This is a voice that has to be heard and treasured.




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