Friday, December 4, 2009

Album Review-Grandmaster Flash "They Said It Couldn't Be Done"

I was browsing my inbox today and realized I had forgotten to post this record review done by a close friend of mine from elementary school. He mentioned he had done a review, but didn't tell me what album he would be reviewing. Much to my delight it turns out he covered the single most important album in my collection. The very first piece of wax I ever purchased as a young and naive teenager, hungry for new sounds and yearning for a piece of the relatively new rap sound. I can't begin to describe the impact this LP has had on my development as a DJ, and the numerous stories that accompany it. One of my fondest memories is having this LP signed by Grandmaster Flash himself back in 1999, when he made a rare Canadian appearance at a party. 2 years ago I ended up interviewing Flash for my radio program and picking his brain about the impact of digital deejaying in today's clubland. Needless to say, this album started the ball rolling for me as a young kid and the ball hasn't stopped yet! Thanks Shwinkle for the entertaining read and trip down memory lane...

It was the spring of 1986 and my good friend Dr. J (at the time 13 years old) returned from a trip to Calgary, Alberta with a new album under his arm. Up to this point in my relationship with Dr. J, he had largely been into new wave artists such as Tears For Fears and more established artists such as Gino Vannelli who had adopted a new wave style in the early 1980’s.
So, what was this bizarre album cover that he now presented me with? “Grandmaster Flash”? Never heard of them. One look at the cover – even in the mid-1980’s – had my juvenile mind giggling with delight. This album must be really bad; cheesy at best. Was this some kind of twisted Village People tribute?
At this point in my life, like many young teens in the 80’s, I was a closet metal head. Kiss, Van Halen, Motley Crue, ZZ Top, and numerous other rock gods were my heroes. Rap? Hip hop? The New York scene? What were these things? Dr. J was knowledgeable as he had been listening to taped radio broadcasts from New York for quite some time. I was a total neophyte and was biased beyond belief. Black music? Michael Jackson, maybe. Grandmaster Flash – again, I assumed that this album must be utter trash.
Dr. J insisted that I should have a listen. Nah, not interested. But, I certainly did enjoy laughing at the album cover. Again, who were these goofballs?
In early 1987, about a year later, I agreed to expand my horizons and give this record a spin. What was the worst that could happen? Useless, vile, rancid grease being released onto my turntable’s needle? Not likely. Besides, this album was released on Electra Records – the same label that Motley was on; how bad could it be? So, Dr. J lent me his precious album and I took it home and recorded it onto a cassette. I was blown away…
Wow! What a classic piece of material this album turned out to be. This was Grandmaster Flash’s first real “commercial” recording issued after the break up of the original “Furious Five” line up. Flash had added new members (Lavon, Shame, Larry Love, and Mr. Broadway) to replace the departed Melle Mel, Cowboy, and Scorpio who had formed their own group “Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five”. At the time I did not make the connection that this was the same Melle Mel who had a track called “Vice” on the Miami Vice soundtrack that was hot at the time.
I listened to that cassette recording of mine over and over again and continue to do so until this day. Numerous tracks have become a part of my personal history with Dr. J:
“Girls Love the Way He Spins” – What the hell was this about? I had never heard of New York urban DJ’s spinning records like this. My first exposure.
“Rock the House” – Okay, this sounded good. Some metal guitar. Cheesy but awesome.
“Jailbait” – ‘You’ve been sentenced to life in prison for corrupting the morals of a minor…’ Hmmm… that kind of gets one’s attention!
“Sign of the Times” – “He bought a coke and he forgot the glass!” No Dr. J – those lyrics are incorrect. “He bought the kind of coke that you don’t drink out of a glass!” Makes more sense, no?
“Larry’s Dance Theme” – This has got to get you jumpin…
“Paradise” – Mellow, mid-tempo 80’s new wave love song. Yeah, we laughed at it at the time but a great way to end this album.
This album is a bit hard to track down now but if you can find it and you’re into early rap from the mid-80’s you can’t go wrong with this. Flash may have made other albums that are more true to hardcore hip hop and that are more ‘classic’ in the true sense of the word but this is a consistently good romp through the sound of the mid-80’s.
Thanks Dr. J for making me aware of this masterpiece and opening up my world to a new form of music!

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