Gary Byrd and the G.B. Experience – The Crown (Vocal)

Outside of the US Gary Byrd is best known for this 1983 track.

But Byrd’s records – including this and other Stevie Wonder co-writes – make up a relatively small part of his career.

Byrd started out in the 1960s as a teenage radio DJ in his home town of Buffalo, and after several successful years, and still a teenager, he moved to New York’s foremost black radio station, WWRL-AM, in 1969.

It was at WWRL-AM that Byrd created his G.B.E. (Gary Byrd Experience) show, whose influence is perhaps best illustrated by it being referenced in the lyrics of the 1973 James Brown track ‘Mind Power’.

Stevie Wonder was also a fan of Byrd’s show and it was Wonder’s interest that would lead to the creation of this track.

After hearing Byrd delivering spoken word pieces over music in the mid-1970s, Wonder invited Byrd to collaborate on lyrics for his now-classic 1976 album, Songs In The Key Of Life.

Their friendship would continue until a chance call in 1981 where Byrd revealed he was working on a project to create an extended-length track which would preach equality whilst teaching the a more balanced social history than was taught in most US schools.

Wonder was keen to collaborate and the pair spent almost three years developing the track between their other projects – Wonder eventually produced the track and sings a verse midway through.

The end result is a first in so many ways.

It sees the Motown label moving into the rap market, it sees Stevie Wonder collaborating on a rap record, it’s simultaneously delivers a disco classic, and it has a staged glossy picture sleeve was was unusual on rap records in 1983.

The single was released on 12″ only due to its length (just short of 11 minutes) and whilst it flopped initially in the US, it was a success in the UK where it spent 9 weeks on the chart, peaking at number 6.

It would be almost a decade before Public Enemy promoted similar messages (compare “I used to hurry home from school/I used to always feel so blue/Because there was no mention in the books we read about my heritage” from The Crown with “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps/Sample a look back and you’ll find/Nothing but rednecks for 400 years” from Fight The Power) – albeit that P.E. delivered their rhymes with much greater ferocity of course.

As for Byrd, he would go on to carve out the most remarkable career, releasing his own records and spoken word pieces, continuing to broadcast radio in his own unique style, presenting TV shows and delivering inspirational lectures along the way.

Yet despite the variety of Byrd’s output, there is probably no more fitting artefact than this pioneering 12-inch single to illustrate the quality and richness that exists in Byrd’s work across several media, over six decades.

That it happens to also be Stevie Wonder’s best ever 12″ single adds further to this record’s prestige.

Label: Motown
Cat No: TMGT1312
Year: 1983

De La Soul – Eye Know (Daisy Bass Mix)

1989 saw a new breed of hip hop break into the mainstream.

The sound was sample-heavy, eclectic and often influenced by jazz and soul beats.

And the rhymes were positive, focussed on love and harmony, and often comic too.

This was the Native Tongues sound, Native Tongues being a collective of like-minded hip hop artists including Queen Latifah, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.

De La Soul stole the limelight in 1989 with the release of the universally acclaimed 3 Feet High And Rising album, which in turn spawned four top 20 singles, each of which was released on 7” and 12”.

Me Myself And I, Say No Go, Eye Know and The Magic Number all achieved heavy rotation on UK radio making the album the sound of the summer for many school and college kids.

The 12” single featured here completed the year neatly for the band, doing exactly what it promised on the tin, with 4 New Remixes – one for each of the four singles De La Soul released in 1989.

This was actually the second 12” for The Magic Number single release. The first (BLR14T) featured mixes of Buddy and The Magic Number. The 4 New Remixes 12” was catalogued BLR14R.

Here we’re featuring the Daisy Bass Mix of Eye Know, the remix being provided by Chad Jackson, who became famous for his own heavily sample-laden hit a year later, Hear The Drummer (Get Wicked).

Eye Know itself features elements of Make This Young Lady Mine by The Mad Lads (guitar and horn), Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding (whistle), Peg by Steely Dan (guitar, keyboard, vocal) and Sing A Simple Song by Sly And The Family Stone (drums).

The price we pay for such heavy sample use is that De La Soul have struggled since to sell these classics online, or to share via streaming services such as Spotify.

So much so in fact that in 2014 on the 25th anniversary of 3 Feet And Rising De La Soul made their entire catalogue available for free download for 25 hours simply to get their best-known music out digitally.

Artwork here comes from the Grey Organisation artist collective, who by 1989 had relocated from London to New York where they came up with the Daisy Age concept for De La Soul, where black and white photography was combined with childlike bold primary and pastel colours on sleeves which didn’t have a right way up.

The style is followed through all of De La Soul’s 1989 vinyl releases making this 12” and its sister releases a treasure for their visual strength as well as their equally revolutionary and engaging musical content.

Label: Big Life
Cat No: BLR14R
Year: 1989

Kraftwerk – Neon Lights

The rapid rise in popularity of 12” vinyl in the late 70s and early 80s occurred against a backdrop of a mainstream music industry that to could have been considered a cartel of cash-rich corporations.

The ability to self-publish, so readily available today, didn’t exist, and instead it was a case of auditioning to major labels – who were the budget holders and the technology holders – for the opportunity to mount an assault on Top of the Pops and the Top 40.

The flip side of this closed shop was that for those who were successful in gaining entry, large budgets were more readily available for recording and marketing than in the present day.

In the 80s in particular, artists would spend huge amounts on recording albums, and on promoting singles with often lavish music videos.

The records themselves were frequently afforded similar extravagances in the form of picture discs, shaped discs, glossy posters, and gatefold sleeves, even where a well designed regular product would perform much the same function, and sell just as well.

In this example, Kraftwerk persuaded Capitol Records that ‘Neon Lights’ would be best delivered in its 12” form with luminous rather than regular black vinyl.

And whilst no corners were cut on budget, they were quite literally on the sleeve, which is printed on thicker-than-normal stock with rounded edges rather than the standard straightforward square shape.

The track itself is the full-length (8:51) version that appears on Kraftwerk’s seventh studio album, ‘The Man Machine’.

It had previously been released as the b-side to Kraftwerk’s most successful single, ‘The Model’, but roles were reversed for this 1978 release, with ‘The Model’ and ‘Trans-Europe Express’ on the flip side, resulting in a mini-greatest hits collection of sorts.

The decisions that were taken at the design stage, and the budgets invested, both paid off, as decades later we have a beautiful collectors item that is an icon of Kraftwerk’s unique vision both in terms of the music itself and the artefact as a whole.

Label: Capitol Records
Cat No: 12 CL 15998
Year: 1978

Malcolm McLaren and the Ebonettes – Double Dutch (New Dance Mix)

In the outro of this extended version, Malcolm McLaren thanks the American Double Dutch League for their help in making the record, and for their work in “furthering the international sport of Double Dutch”.

Malcolm had watched Double Dutch teams on the streets of New York in the early 80s and decided the sport should be represented on his internationally influenced Duck Rock album.

Double Dutch was big in New York at the time and the all-girl teams used the sport to show off not only their skipping routines but also elements of breakdancing and other improvisations.

The song’s chorus references Malcolm’s favourite team, The Ebonettes, and the centre-label of the 12” vinyl credits the track as being by Malcolm McLaren and The Ebonettes.

But actually, this is very much a Trevor Horn production.

Trevor was the master-producer of 80s pop, and pushed the 12” format to its limits, in particular with Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

McLaren, in post-Sex Pistols exile has persuaded Charisma Records that they should fund his idea for an internationally-themed pop album, and the record label had in turn enlisted Horn to deliver a commercially viable product.

Accounts of the process that followed are remarkable, with the Horn and McLaren continent-hopping making recordings to bring back to London, which Horn then fashioned into a remarkably eclectic yet coherent record.

The lead track ‘Buffalo Gals’ was the first time many British music fans had heard scratching, or in fact, any elements of hip hop.

‘Double Dutch’ was the follow up single, and was the highest charting single from ‘Duck Rock’ reaching number 3 in the UK, and being successful both sides of the Atlantic, which in turn, made the whole ‘Duck Rock’ album a commercial success.

This extended version is odd in its structure, as it descends into a spoken-word breakdown which then just ends suddenly.

The front of the sleeve explains that this is an “8 min 40 sec New Dance Mix” whilst the reverse provides instructions and illustrations on how to perform Double Dutch tricks.

A classic piece of pop then from McLaren and Horn, and one which still sounds great today, especially in this extended reworking.

Label: Charisma
Cat No: MALC312
Year: 1983

Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley – Jack Your Body (Club Your Body Mix)

The 1980s threw up few more interesting 12″ singles than Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s Jack Your Body.

Listening to this now, almost 30 years after its release, it’s difficult to appreciate just how unique a sound this was back in 1986.

When Jack Your Body started its ascent to the top of the UK singles chart, Pump Up The Volume was still a year away, and Voodoo Ray two years away.

It hit number one on 24 January 1986, knocking Jackie Wilson’s ‘Reet Petite’ off top spot, and beating off further competition from Alison Moyet, Elkie Brooks and Swing Out Sister.

Jack Your Body was the UK’s first house music number one, but rather than being the start of a revolution, it was more a trailer for something that would follow far later.

The single was released on 7″ and 12″, but it is the 12″ version that is interesting.

First, this was the first number one single to sell more copies on 12″ than on 7″.

But secondly, the 12″ sales should not have counted towards the chart position.

The four tracks on the 12″ clocked in at more than the permitted 25 minutes, so the 12″ was not actually chart eligible.

But Jack Your Body spent two weeks at number one before anybody noticed.

In actual fact, Jackie Wilson’s ‘Reet Petite’ should have enjoyed a further week at number one, and George Michael and Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’ should have entered top spot a week earlier.

So perhaps this is one oversight we should be grateful for, and aside from the quality of the tune itself, this is a nice piece of 12″ vinyl history and trivia too.

Label: London Records
Cat No: LONX117
Year: 1986

Happy Mondays – Lazyitis (One Armed Boxer Mix)

This blog is dedicated in the main to 12” singles that feature extended or remixed versions of the original tracks.

And for this single release, Happy Mondays did record a new version of this track, which had originally appeared on their 1988 Bummed album.

But the new “One Armed Boxer” mix appeared on both the 7” and 12” versions of the track, so the benefit of the 12” became the better sound quality resulting from the thicker vinyl and wider grooves, rather than a longer mix.

But the true pleasure in this track is in trying to unravel how it might have come about – and the more you listen, the less clear it becomes.

Most obviously, it lifts vocal melodies from the Beatles’ Ticket To Ride.

But listen more closely and you’ll notice that some of the lyrics in the opening verse are inspired by Sly & The Family Stone’s Family Affair.

Then you have lyrics drawn from the children’s nursery rhyme This Little Piggy Went To Market, and finally, more borrowed lyrics, this time from David Essex’s Gonna Make You A Star.

As if that weren’t enough, for this new version, the band drafted in Scottish singer Karl Denver to duet with the Mondays’ own frontman Shaun Ryder.

But rather than take alternate lines or verses, they sing the track simultaneously, in entirely different styles and with different lyrics.

The resulting mix has no right to be anything other than a total shambles, but instead feels effortlessly beautiful, and has its own unique character.

It’s a piece of music that surely came about by accident rather than design, and you have to feel that producer Martin Hannett’s experience played a huge part in pulling the whole thing together.

Happy Mondays put out some fantastic 12″ singles – it’s likely others will feature in this series as it unfolds – but do any sum up the band’s chaotic charm better than this one?

I’m not sure they do – and what’s more, this feels like one of the tracks that just sounds better on a big thick slab of heavy black vinyl than anywhere else.

Label: Factory
Cat No: FAC222
Year: 1989

Duran Duran – Girls On Film (Night Version)

Duran Duran took the 12” format in a different and unique direction by creating what they referred to as “Night Versions” of each of their early singles.

Like their contemporaries they created reworked extended versions, designed for the dance floor.

But Duran Duran invested a little more in their remixes, by heading back into the studio to record additional parts to include in their new nightclub-friendly versions.

The end result was that rather than simply creating extended versions, Duran Duran’s 12” singles actually had a different feel and a different sound to their 7” equivalents.

“Night Versions” were produced for most of the group’s early singles including Planet Earth, Girls On Film, My Own Way and Hungry Like The Wolf.

The example here is the Night Version of Girls On Film, from 1981, of which two slightly different versions exist, one timed at 5:45, and this one which clocks in at 5:27.

A version of the controversial Girls On Film video was also edited to accompany this remix, the idea being it would be shown in nightclubs with video screens.

With MTV just around the corner, Duran Duran were one of many bands experimenting with the music video format. MTV was actually launched just 3 weeks after the release of Girls On Film.

As for the Night Versions format, Duran Duran moved towards more common re-editing techniques within a couple of years, possibly because rapid advances in technology made remixing so much easier.

But the idea and the name were resurrected by Soulwax in 2005 for their “Nite Versions” album which contained re-recorded dancefloor-friendly versions of tracks from their “Any Minute Now” album, paying homage to Duran Duran’s early 12” singles in both name and format.

And one final piece of trivia regards the track Girls On Film, which was actually written by the band’s previous singer Andy Wickett, who left and was replaced by Simon Le Bon in 1980.

Upon his departure the band paid Wickett £600 to waive his rights to the track, before their new version became Duran Duran’s breakthrough single in 1981, reaching number 5 in the UK chart and become a live favourite for decades to come.

Label: EMI
Cat No: 12EMI5206
Year: 1981

Sunsonic – Driveaway (Masseymix)

High school homework for me meant evenings spent recording acid house, dance and chart tracks off the radio, building libraries of cassettes for more in depth study on my walkman during my twice daily paper rounds.

Midweek was the Evening Session on Radio 1 (1FM as it was known then), and the weekends would be Stu Allan on Key 103 (Manchester) or No Sell Out Live, with Phil Bowker and Davy T on Radio City 96.7 (Liverpool).

I’d have an at least weekly visit to the record shops in the town centre to see what new releases and imports were in stock, and the beauty of being into acid house and dance was much of it didn’t chart, so the genre’s 12” singles would often be in the 99p racks in HMV and Our Price.

Driveaway by Sunsonic featured on one of my most listened to tapes (I still have it) along with a number of other classics of the era, but I never bought this track, and never learned anything about Sunsonic at the time.

They’ve been a mysterious “one hit wonder” band to me for more than 20 years.

The miracle of the internet means I can now learn about them, and purchase the 12” vinyl so for the first time I can hear the full track start to finish.

Back in the day, I was a huge 808 State fan and collector, and the first thing I learn from the sleeve is that the version of Driveaway I loved as a teenager is the “Masseymix” – by Graham Massey of 808 State of course.

Little wonder it connected with me.

Turns out Sunsonic were previously called The Flowerpot Men, and subsequently called Juno Reactor, and the original version of this track was taken from their Melting Down On Motor Angel album.

Juno Reactor signed to Mute Records in the UK before supporting The Orb on tour and have since produced 7 albums and scored music for several hollywood films including The Matrix and Lost In Space.

Not quite the “one hit wonder” I perceived them as then, but either way, this collaboration with Massey is as solid a 12” single as there was from the era and the genre, and whatever may have come afterwards for all involved, this extended reworking is worthy of celebration in its own right.

Label: Polydor
Cat No: PZ103
Year: 1990