The Drum Machine That Helped Open Paul’s Boutique

When you talk about drum machines and Paul’s Boutique, there are two things that even casual listeners can probably hear. The first is that you don’t hear a lot of drum machines on the album. A big part of the record’s legacy is its sampled beats, assembled into intricate, polyrhythmic collages by The Dust Brothers and Matt Dike.

But Matt Dike thought it was less a song than an opportunity. “When I heard it,” he told me, back in 2005, “I knew they were in trouble.”

Sam Cooke In Action: Don’t get caught in the oldies trap!

Macbeth, of course, is a literary oldie. It’s an oldie that still informs our world. Vaulting ambition and all. I mention Macbeth and the idea of relevant oldies for a reason. Sam Cooke is often dogged by the oldies label. Oldies are a genre, right? You hear “Wooly Bully” and “At the Hop” and, yes, Cooke’s “You Send Me,” on the oldies station in the car, and all seems right with the world. These songs are where they should be. You’re having a nice Sunday drive with the windows down in early autumn.

Becoming a Voracious Listener with Sam Cooke

Guest post by Colin Fleming Take the Sam Cooke path and be a VL (Voracious Listener)—it will serve you well in every aspect of life. Hello 33 1/3-ians! I’m back for guest blog entry number two, with this dossier of supplementary Sam Cooke materials. Let’s get to it! Do you remember the age you were when you first got into a given artist or work of art that you care about a lot? I bet you probably do. And you can pinpoint what it meant to you at that moment.…

Sam Cooke: Living with Art

Greetings 33 1/3 readers! I’m excited to be talking with you here in a few blog posts I’m going to do pertaining to my book in the series on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963. I imagine I’m likely speaking with some wise, veteran readers in the series, but perhaps some sagacious newcomers too, to whom I say welcome! I do a lot of writing on my own blog over at my website, so this seemed well up my street and I’m stoked to get started with you.

The ArchAndroid: The intro and companion playlist

Trying to fit all of the musical, literary, and cinematic influences that came together to create Janelle Monáe’s concept album The ArchAndroid into one 33 1/3 has been a fascinating, if difficult, project. The story of Cindi Mayweather—runaway android wanted for the crime of loving a human and destined for messianic greatness as the ArchAndroid—is rich in a way that defies distillation. The story can unfurl itself in a thousand configurations, coming to mean something different to every listener.

Food and Japanese Popular Culture

Most fans can agree on two facts about Shonen Knife: first, it’s impossible to be sad while listening to them; second, it’s equally impossible to not get hungry. Ranging from songs about savory ramen to sweet candies, Shonen Knife’s tunes work a synethesial magic on listeners’ tummies. Their forty-plus songs about food give new meaning to the phrase “musical taste.” But why does Shonen Knife have so many songs about food? I develop a couple of answers to this question in Shonen Knife’s Happy Hour: Food, Gender, Rock and Roll; one explanation is that food is a topic that all humans can relate to and take pleasure in, but that is not the only one.

Rockin’ Ramen

The Nissin Company, founded by Ando Momofuku in the early 1950s, rose to prominence with the invention of Cup Noodles instant ramen in 1971. Since then, instant ramen has become a prominent staple around the world and poor college students have spent weeks living off the savory soup-y meal. Indeed, Ando envisioned that Cup Noodles could help alleviate world hunger and bring about world peace. It should come as no surprise that Ando’s company is based in Ikeda, right next to Shonen Knife’s hometown, Osaka and now there is even a museum honoring Cup Noodles there. In Ikeda, the Osaka spirit of kuidaore or “eat til you drop” is strong. And like Ando, in Shonen Knife’s musical vision the optimistic belief that food can bring human beings together shines through. 

Midnight Train

Image of Jorja Chalmers

For a decade or so, Jorja Chalmers has been performing saxophone and keyboards with Bryan Ferry. She’s a dazzling presence on stage, as befits Ferry’s carefully curated and casually sophisticated image, plus her contributions to his concerts can be outsized. During a recent, pre-Covid performance at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles I attended, the backup singers on the iconic song “Avalon” lost their way in the final section. Ferry looked wide-eyed at Chalmers, who swiftly crossed the stage to guide the singers back in sync. Ferry, clearly grateful for Chalmers’s cool, shrugged off the misstep.

Fascination’s Fascination

Image of Walter Egan and Stevie Nicks

This year, Walter Egan released an album partly about a crush he had on Pamela Des Barres, a famous rock ’n’ roll “super-groupie” with a long list of friends and lovers in the music, film, and television industries. She came of age on LA’s Sunset Strip, in Laurel Canyon, and on the beach, relishing the full landscape of Southern California sensations. Egan met her briefly in 2001 and then again over a weekend in 2013, noting in his journal at the first encounter that she “was famous for ‘hanging out’ with rock luminaries.”