Dur-Dur Band - Hiyeeley [1986]

Credit to Permanent Records in Highland Park for spinning a track from this album while I was in there last year (the one on the north side of York -- still don't understand why they have two stores there). While their first two albums were just recently re-issued by Analog Africa, the Dur-Dur band was once the premier act of late 80's Mogadishu, Somalia, playing a unique brand of incredibly catchy and fiery funk just before the country fell apart. It definitely casts the vitality of the music in a somewhat tragic light. Somalia is a place I've only known of in the continuing aftermath of it's civil war, but here there's such an exuberant celebration of life. From what I've read, members of the band ended up fleeing to Ethiopia and other countries, effectively ending the band. The founders now live in Ohio.

Achim Reichel - Drei in Eins [1974]

Though I've tried a few times, I've never found my way into American jam bands. There were a few early Grateful Dead tracks that did something for me, and a Jerry Garcia guitar piece off the Zabriskie Point soundtrack that I quite enjoyed, but even those have seemed like outliers of the genre. The jam bands from the other side of the Atlantic, those of the 70's European psychedelic scenes, always seem to capture my attention.

This track from guitarist, Achim Reichel typifies what I'm always hoping for American jam bands to be; a bouncy little balm for whatever ails ya. Reiched started as a member of a 60's German rock band in the Beatles mold, The Rattles, before leaving to record solo prog experiments as A.R. & Machines. The title here translates to "Three in One", referring to the songs three distinct sections, in case you didn't take German in high school, or did but somehow paid less attention than me.

Kwick - I Want To Dance With You [1980]

I have had pieces of this song popping up in my head for months but couldn't remember who did it for the life of me. I guess it's still an oddly under the radar track as none of my searches for the lyrical sections I could recall turned up anything, but eventually I broke down and just started playing old playlists from parties I DJ-ed and finally landed on it. (For some dumb reason, I had convinced myself that doing a search of my music library for "dance with you" couldn't possibly yield the song as it was too obvious of a name")

Perfectly balanced between the soulful-disco of the late 70's and the funky-pop of the 80's, its charms are instantly obvious, but what always thrills me me is how well written each part is. From the Giorgio Moroder-esque intro to the wonderfully bouncy vocals of the bridge to the full soul rinse of the chorus, it always feels like you're in good hands.

Kwick spent the 70's under the name The Newcomers working their way up through the southern soul hub of the Stax-Volt label system in Memphis, contributing background vocals to other acts, performing as an opening act on live tours, and occasionally releasing a single. But when the label closed down in late 1975, the members were left without a home, releasing only one lackluster single on Mercury in 1978 before they made a bold retooling. Adding a new member, changing their name to Kwick, and signing to EMI, they came out with a wholly different and more modern disco-influenced sound that few would have expected based on their previous material.

Santana - Practice What You Preach [1974]

The opening track of side two of Santana's 1974 album, Borboletta, "Practice What You Preach" consists of two sections that add up into something wonderfully unique. It begins with an extended psychedelic duet between Carlos Santana' guitar and Tom Coster's Hammond organ before blossoming into a gem of spiritual proto-disco, all with a little something to say thanks to the vocals from the band's lead singer of the time, Leon Patillo. 

Bill Fay - Screams in the Ears [1967]

A lot of people tried their hand at Bob Dylan mimicry in the sixties, but few aimed at the apocalyptic diver bar blues that filled Highway 61 Revisited, and it's hard to imagine anyone pulled it off as well as Bill Fay did here on the B-side of his debut single. That's not to say that Fay wasn't a talent in his own right, but the connection here seems undeniable. The shared sense of vicious judgement and deep disillusionment with the culture of the day in their lyrics combined with the similar circumstances of their recordings -- they were both solo songwriters that were taking a fresh spin fronting already existent bands (here Bill is backed by a group called The Fingers that the producer brought to the recording date) -- may explain a certain amount of stylistic overlap, but the link still stands.

I don't mean to sound critical of the song. In fact, I wish there were more songs like it, because for any of us who has had that moment of clarity deep in the midst of a party where you find yourself saying "who are these monsters and what am I doing here?", how many songs do we really have?

Bud Isaacs - Skokiaan [1954]

Named after a bootleg alcoholic drink that can be brewed in one day and initially recorded in 1950 by the African Dance Band of the Cold Storage Commission of Southern Rhodesia (and what a name), "Skokiaan" became a worldwide phenomenon in 1954 spurring a multitude of covers from artists across the musical spectrum; The Four Lads to Perez Prado. To me though, this Bud Isaacs take of it on his pedal steel guitar stands above all the other versions I've heard.

As the originator of adding the pedal to the steel guitar, Bud Isaacs certainly earned his place in my personal heroes of music history, but his playing here is so ebullient that he'd probably have earned the spot with this song alone.

The July Four - Mr. Miff [1967]

The B-side to a one-off single from a slightly-psych pop vocal group, "Mr. Miff" is essentially just the instrumental backing to the A-side, "Frightened Little Girl", with an echoing guitar lead replacing the vocals and brass, but, wow, does it make a difference. The melody's initial darkness seems to take emotional stock of the weight of the world before progressing into an airy refrain, that allows the listener to let go, open the window, and invite in a little fresh perspective. Wish I had a little more info on the group to share, but I guess that's often the nature of hidden gems ...