What’s In My Discman, August 2011

Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne (2011)

As we get ready for a year’s worth of politicians explaining why the rich should get richer, we get an album from two of the most talented beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts. And when you consider that on Watch The Throne, Jay-Z & Kanye West reach some spine-tingling heights on the backs of some crazy-expensive samples, this makes for a quintessentially American success story in 2011. Sure, it’s probably unfair that West might be the only producer out there with the clout to license “Try A Little Tenderness,” but there’s no use whining about it, because he also happens to be the best person for the job. The resulting cut, “Otis,” is a magnificent swash of braggadocio that boldly reframes Redding’s theme – in the place of a tender lover making life “easier to bear,” we now have obscene wealth. Both MCs egg each other on, resulting in some propulsive egomania (e.g. “Welcome to Havana/Smoking cubanos with Castro in cabanas”). It’s the precise formula we hoped for with this pairing – huge, luxurious productions, and a palpable sense of one-upsmanship on the microphone. The best example of it might be the RZA co-production “New Day,” which finds Jay and ‘Ye pleading with their hypothetical future children over a haunting beat that runs Nina Simone through AutoTune (!!!). It’s not a track by track masterpiece a la My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (the mix of pseudo-feminism and rock star hedonism on “That’s My Bitch” just wasn’t thought through), but on Watch The Throne, these superstars spread the wealth so generously, trickle-down economics almost starts to make sense.

Check out “New Day”:

Queen – Sheer Heart Attack (1974)

Everybody knows that Queen could do bombast better than anybody. But it doesn’t seem to be common knowledge that they could straight-up shred, probably because the unbridled adrenaline that fueled this, its third album, would take a back seat to grander production flourishes on later masterpieces. As a result, it might be the least polished record of the band’s oeuvre, and my favorite. Every aspect of the band’s personality is here in its rawest form – towering vocal harmonies, vaudevillian freakouts, proto-thrash exercises and earworm-infested pop gems. From the Moet & Chandon melody of “Killer Queen” to the muscular arena rock of “Tenement Funster,” the halcyon balladry of “Lily of the Valley” to the bloody-fingered metal of “Stone Cold Crazy,” Sheer Heart Attack proved that Queen could do it all, and do it better than your band.

Here’s the harrowing, record execs-are-the-devil rocker, “Flick of the Wrist”:

Tyrone Davis – “Can I Change My Mind” (1968)

This is an idyllic R&B confection that gives credence to that classic advice women get when they want to make a man interested – act like you could give a shit about him. Davis, a singer I hadn’t heard of until I stumbled across this song, shows that he should’ve been in the conversation alongside the Motown and Stax greats of the time. Over a clear-as-day guitar riff and some punchy horns, he gets every drop of regret out of the lyric, with an effortless delivery that’s firmly in the tradition of Davis’ Chicago soul forefather, Sam Cooke. “But y’all, the girl, she fooled me this time,” he sings, going on to explain his emotional discovery to us – he thought he wanted to leave his woman, but he just wanted to get a rise out of her. He’s unsuccessful, of course, which clears the way for the beautiful plea of the chorus.

Experience this sweet soul for yourself:

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