Week 1: Intros
Thumbnail photo by Jim Marshall.
Seven Decades. Seven Songs.
First impressions are undoubtedly important in any facet of life, so the way to start off a project (and this website) is imperative. Here are seven tracks that give resounding introductions to top-notch albums and EPs.
1920-50's: "Delilah" by Clifford Brown & Max Roach (1954)
A simple bass riff starts this tune off, and the soft swells of cymbals help to ease into the track. Once the soloists really start to get into the groove, the song grows in intensity in a way you would never predict based off of the opening. Clifford Brown's trumpet is a force of nature, but I'm partial to Richie Powell's piano solo. His playing is the definition of laid back, seamlessly working the chord changes.
This was the album that put Clifford Brown on the map, and for good reason.
1960's: "Myself When I Am Real" by Charles Mingus (1963)
Famed bassist and composer Charles Mingus was also a pianist, a talent that went unnoticed to many. Mingus put people on notice by releasing an album of improvisations on the piano, starting it off with this dream of a solo. The piece's title plays on themes of introspection, and the accompanying music fits that mood as Mingus seems to be searching for an answer throughout the track.
Even though just an improvisation, Devonte Hynes (aka Blood Orange) found inspiration in the song, sampling it for "By Ourselves" the opener of his 2016 album Freetown Sound.
1970's: "In Time" by Sly and The Family Stone (1973)
I'm not gonna lie, when I first heard this I really almost had to sit down. I expected something groovy of course, but when I heard the bassline it almost took me out. "In Time" opens up the wholly underrated Fresh, a return to funky form from the dark twisted fantasy that was There's A Riot Going On. While the bass creeps around the edges of the drums, horn stabs and organ hits compete with Sly's trademark gruff delivery.
It almost feels like there's too much going on, but the track becomes a collage of rhythm that finds new ways to surprise you from start to finish. Apparently, Miles Davis liked this song so much that he made his band listen to it on repeat for 30 minutes, a seal of approval that very few artists ever received.
1980's: "Control" by Janet Jackson (1986)
Aptly named, the title track of Janet's breakthrough album was such a departure from her past work that it almost seems like a debut single. Having finally dumped her father as manager and annulling her marriage to James Debarge, Janet was ready to become the artist she wanted to be.
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were also ready raise their profile as top producers after being fired by Prince. "Control" captures the energy of three timeless talents before they took over the world, still hungry and with something to prove. This album kicked off a run of classics that can match just about any discography, so they wouldn't be hungry for too long.
1990's: "Intro: A Million and One Questions" (DJ Premier Remix) by Jay-Z (1997)
Any Jay-Z expert will immediately notice that I didn't put up the original version of this track, as it has one of the most recognizable preludes in rap. "Somebody's pulling me close to the ground." and "I ain't no rapper, I'm a hustler. It just so happens that I know how to rap." are words ingrained in the brain of every fan of Hov. As soon as he was reloaded, he was off to the races, ready to kill any idea of a sophomore slump on In My Lifetime: Volume 1.
The DJ Premier remix is a less popular version of the classic track, but with new verses and new beat in place of "Rhyme No More", it's a worthy alternative. Premier actually sat down with Mass Appeal to discuss this remix, reminiscing on Roc-A-Fella in the early days of the legendary label.
2000's: "Hands" by Four Tet (2003)
Starting an album with the beating of a heart is already uncommon, but once you hear the music that follows it almost pales in comparison. Four Tet, who crafted the entire album Rounds out of around 200-300 samples, creates soundscapes that seem to borrow from anything he could get his ears to.
The drums seem to indicate hip-hop, but the various samples that weave in and out of the beat craft something indescribable. Somehow with all that's going on, it's still meditative and soothing first and foremost. With a driving melody that wafts calmly over the harshly chopped percussion, the early reference to a heart starts to make sense. Busy but constant, a steady force.
2010's: "Alma Do Meu Pai" by DJ Firmeza (2015)
DJ Firmeza, a Portuguese producer, is all about rhythm. Not in the mood for subtlety, this opener to his EP of the same name is pure percussion. Heavily layered, the polyrhythmic offering can become hypnotic as the drums drone on slowly morphing over the course of six frantic minutes.
In the strangest way, this song has become something I listen to when I relax, as it's almost reassuring in its consistency. Though trance-inducing it can be, it's inarguably made for dancing, for sweating away any problems you may have.
That's the seven for this week, but all these intros are the first track on highly recommended albums and EP's, so check out the projects in full.