I never thought it’d be possible to tolerate a Nickleback song, but it turns out I was wrong. All you have to do is get other people to perform it (in this case Scott Bradlee and friends), and for that band to perform it in the style of Motown. Interesting.
When I picked up Last Night A DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey, I expected it to be a history of popular music on the radio. After all, when one encounters the term “disc jockey” the mind generally doesn’t jump to an image of a man behind a set of turntables, pulsing lights and thudding bass abound – but this is in fact the type of DJ authors Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton are referencing in their 1999 release.
The radio DJ does get a fair shake in the book, providing context for the history of bringing music to the masses.The focus, however, is a thorough history of dance music and its accompanying culture in the US and UK.
Northern soul is the first trend to be covered, revealing a culture of obsessive collecting of obscure tracks partying until the break of dawn. A celebrated example of northern soul is R. Dean Taylor’s “There’s A Ghost In My House” – a surprisingly gritty Motown track from 1967.
Next to be covered is raggae, with its early remixes and soundclashes. Elements from both the raggae and northern soul scenes paved the way for the two most expansive genres of DJ-led phenomena, disco and hip hop. Brewster and Broughton set the record straight on the origins of these genres and shine a light on their far-reaching impact on both culture and music.
Later forms such as house and techno are also covered, with the final portion of the book tying everything together and offering commentary on the then-current state and future of dance music. At the book’s press time, late-90s dance music was cracking into the American mainstream with acts like Fatboy Slim, Moby, and the Chemical Brothers, but the authors did not comment on the trend, instead focusing on the more established UK/European success of acts like Sasha and Paul Oakenfold.
Though I’d consider myself a dabbler at best in the field of dance music, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life was a a great read. Brewster and Broughton make even the most foreign of experiences seem accessible while seamlessly providing snapshot after snapshot of cultural history.
Chances are after reading any of those song titles, you can immediately play the song in your head. The lyrics may escape you, but you definitely know the tune. Standing in the Shadows of Motown examines the history and influence of The Funk Brothers, the men behind the music of Hitsville, USA.
Early on in the documentary, several people in a record store are questioned about their knowledge of Motown. Everyone has a favorite singer or group, yet no one knows who is responsible for the instrumentals. So is the fate of the thirteen men who made up The Funk Brothers.
The film blends archival footage, interviews, and cuts from a reunion concert featuring new vocalists performing classic hits with The Funk Brothers. The film succeeds not only in capturing a living history of a group that created more hits than Elvis, the Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, and The Beatles combined, but also winning the group the recognition it deserves.
In a particularly moving portion, author Allan Slutsky recalls a dinner with guitarist Robert White. As they were ordering, “My Girl” came on over the PA. White became very excited, and started to ask the waiter “Do you know who…,” but trailed off before he finished the question. Slutsky asked White why he didn’t finish telling the waiter that he was responsible for that memorable opening guitar line, and White sadly admitted that he didn’t think anyone would believe an “old fool” like himself. This tale is later juxtaposed by The Funk Brothers emerging to a standing ovation at their reunion show – something White didn’t live to see.
The cuts from the reunion concert show a band still on top of their game. The best performances feature Gerald Levert (LeVert, LSG) and most surprisingly Joan Osborne (of “What If God Was One of Us” fame, sans obnoxious clip-on nose ring). Also appearing were Meshell Ndegeocello, Bootsy Collins, Ben Harper, Montell Jordan, and Chaka Khan.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown is a must-see for any music lover, and will be enjoyable for anyone who loves the Motown sound.