Feature Fridays: Saturday Night Fever

Feature Fridays: Saturday Night Fever

Welcome to Feature Fridays! Every week, the AU music library staff will be highlighting a different CD or artist from our collection.

This week, Student Assistant Emily Langlois will review the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever.


Bell-bottom jeans, the gleam of a disco ball, and songs brimming with funky beats — in the swing of adopting trends from the past, we are slowly moving back towards 70s glam and proving that disco isn’t dead.


The defining film of that decade, Saturday Night Fever, set the tone for boogie nights and stories of unrequited love forming through dance. It featured John Travolta as a working-class Brooklyn boy who finds an escape on Saturday nights at his local disco. After its release in 1977, the soundtrack was the best-selling album of all time until the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.


The album is chalk-full of timeless classics such as “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees and “Disco Inferno” by The Tramps. It also includes themes from the 70s that are familiar but not necessarily famous by their titles, for example, “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy. Each track on the CD whirls you through both scenes of the movie and captures the era itself. The epic sound of brass bands combined with funky rhythms makes for an energizing blast of nostalgia.


If you want to hop into a time machine and forget some of your worries, give this soundtrack a listen. The music library is also home to other disco favorites such as Off the Wall by Michael Jackson, The Definitive Collection by ABBA, and the soundtrack to The Get Down on Netflix.


AU Musical Events: Spring Jazz Concert, 4/10

That’s right! AU’s formidable jazz orchestra/ensemble/band is putting on their renowned semesterly show THIS Friday! Led by the musical legend Joshua Bayer, this student/community group will bring their best in a nice (thunderstorm-ridden) spring night of jazz!

The band, including a VERY TALENTED drummer (me), will play through a set full of classic swing and bop tunes, spiced up with a couple of latin and funk numbers, and one student arrangement of a Joe Sample piece. Also playing will be the Frederick Community College Jazz Ensemble, and possibly a combo comprised of AU students as well!

Formally titled the “AU Jazz Orchestra Spring Swing Fling” (what a mouthful!), the event will be at 8pm in the Abramson Family Recital Hall. Tickets are $5 for students and community members, $10 for the general public.

Here’s the facebook event, and you can buy tickets here. Hope to see you there!

Sweet New Arrivals: Shadow & Simon

As you saw yesterday, we just procured a large batch of new CDs. I’d like to take this time to highlight two personal favorites. These two CDs are very different from each other but both are tremendously important to the development of popular music. Each represents both a perfection of style and a watershed moment, shaping the sound of their respective genres while representing the best each had to offer.


DJ Shadow – Endtroducing….. (1996)

As far as sample-based hip hop production goes, it’s hard to top this album. While other great albums preceding it made use of extensive, creative sampling (Paul’s Boutique, Three Feet High & Rising, It Takes A Nation Of Millions…, etc.), their producers used the samples to create a backdrop for the featured rapper. Endtroducing….. features no rapper, and relies on scores of samples to provide a thematic narrative. DJ Shadow’s creative chopping of drum breaks, sampled rap lyrics, atmospheric pieces and movie dialogue keeps the album interesting throughout.

What truly stands out about Endtroducing….., however, is its compositional ambition. The songs stretch out into epic, jazzy expanses, often far longer than a traditional hip hop record. In fact, this album was such a jump from the traditional use of samples and breaks that it led to the new genre of “trip hop,” sort of a bridge between ambient music, psychedelia and jazz, anchored by rap beats. On this album the line was forever blurred between hip hop grooves and avant-garde musical exploration, and we can thank it for a wealth of creative hip hop that has since followed.


Paul Simon – Graceland (1986)

Ah, Graceland. The sight of it in our “new CDs” pile gives me an intense feeling of joy, as this is one of the best pop albums I’ve ever heard and (probably) that was ever made. Suffering from a failing marriage and a commercial slump in the early 1980s, singer-songwriter Paul Simon was inspired by a cassette of South African music and went to the apartheid-stricken country to record with some of the musicians there. After this trip he returned to New York City and wandered the streets, composing an incredible set of soul-searching, heart bearing, romantic but realistic lyrics. These lyrics rest among Simon’s best, often surrealistic, fantastical or futuristic, but all managing to hit upon beautiful understatements on the trials and tribulations of interpersonal relationships. They form a uniquely American point of view that meshes strangely well with the African musical background.

And what a background it is! Unstoppable percussion grooves and liquid bass lines anchor exuberantly twinkling guitar runs, conjuring a dreamlike state. Often the vocalists of South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo sweep in, a tapestry of vocal timbre. These elements, previously unintroduced to American pop music, took Simon’s stellar set of lyrics to the next level, and paired with the occasional electronic drum kit and saxophone were able to create a pop sound that had never before been reached. Graceland truly represents the amazing possibilities of blending international pop styles, and it is a high watermark in pop musical history that has yet to be equaled- it’s hard to imagine such perfect chemistry occurring again.

Did I sell these well? Come check them out and see if they’re worth my hype. Or don’t, and I’ll keep listening to them during my shifts, it’s okay.

AU Musical Events: Jazz in the Fall, 11/21

Awesome quick show announcement, folks! This Friday, join the inimitable Josh Bayer as he leads a group of AU jazz aces through a bunch of rip-roaring big band tunes for our “Jazz in the Fall” semesterly jazz show!

Bayer’s band this semester are really a good group (and I could tell you, I’m the drummer!). This year we’ve really achieved a balance of lush instrumentation with brash bombast. If I do say so myself.

For this show the band will feature world-class pianist Robert Redd (and I could tell you, he played with us on Saturday!). His superchops prove to match well with the band, whether we’re playing swing, bossa, big band or funk; all will be played at this concert. Redd will also be featured in a more intimate combo-style ensemble to lead off the night (also featuring yours truly).

This awesome event will go down this Friday (11/21) at 8pm in the Abramson Recital Hall in Katzen. Tickets are $10 for the general public, $5 for students and AU community members. What a steal! Hope to see you there!

And heeeere’s the all-important facebook event, which includes a link to pre-order tickets. Make sure to click “attending!”


AU Musical Events: WVAU brings BadBadNotGood!

Friday night boys! WVAU, our beloved college radio station (recently voted #1 student-run/internet-only station in the whole country) is hosting their fall semester concert! In the past they’ve had successful shows with artists such as Dan Deacon, Deerhunter and Mac DeMarco, always with a band that’s a great balance of fun and musically interesting.

This semester, they’re bringing the great BadBadNotGood. For those who don’t know, BBNG is a trio of Canadian dudes in their young 20s who play music that’s hard to classify. Essentially they filter their considerable technical jazz chops through a love of hip-hop, electronic music and making noise. Or is it the other way around? Think a more irreverent Herbie Hancock smashing keys over a hard-knocking rap beat with the occasional spastic Aphex Twin-esque drum fill. Their aforementioned affinity for electronic music is clear in their skill at building up momentum to a crescendo on nearly every song before an itch-scratching “drop” of sorts, most often a flurry of soloing, exploratory bass and explosive drums.

One thing’s for sure: these guys will keep your attention in a tight hold as they blaze through their set, usually a mix of originals with a litany of covers: Odd Future, Kanye West, A Tribe Called Quest, James Blake, Joy Division, the list goes on and on. These guys clearly have a massive musical vocabulary and they put it to good use. First gaining popularity on YouTube via their Odd Future covers when they were young college students, they’ve only developed their skills since, releasing three studio albums as well as several live albums and EPs.

This show is sure to be an awesome time. WVAU favorite Ace Cosgrove, a MD-based rapper who’s only getting bigger, is opening. The event is free for all AU students, but it’s closed to the public, so you can leave your 30 year-old Tinder date behind for this one. In Tavern @ 8pm, this Friday!

FB event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/970469399635205/

Cool DC Events: JAZZforum- Sun Ra in Century 21, 10/22

Attention jazz heads and space freaks! Your icon and idol, Sun Ra, will be featured at this week’s UDC JAZZalive event. It’s part of an ongoing series of exhibitions, discussion forums, presentations and concerts hosted by UDC that will extend into the spring and likely the distant future as well!

While we sadly cannot attend an actual Sun Ra concert, this event still promises to be a great one for fans of the psych-jazz master. Funk scholar Thomas Stanley, who teaches sound art and sonic culture at George Mason U, has put together a monograph called The Execution of Sun Ra, which “is an attempt to bore into the late jazz oracle’s remarkable ideas about history and human development.”

At this lecture he will speak on his findings. This should be an incredibly interesting experience, considering the intellectual depth and strangeness that defined Sun Ra’s view of our species. The event is tomorrow night (Wednesday the 22nd) at 7pm. It will be held in the Recital Hall of the Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives, on UDC’s Van Ness Campus (4200 Connecticut Ave). It is free and open to the public, and books will be available for sale at the event.

Also, if this talk engenders a deep interest in Sun Ra in you, the reader, take the time to stream some of his albums online or, highly suggested, check out his Space is the Place DVD- sure to be a trip!


Sweet New Arrivals: Hip Hop Classics

This is a very exciting week for the music library, in which our modest hip hop collection gains some serious firepower with the addition of four excellent CDs (continuing a trend of re-imagining our collection which also resulted in the recent acquisition of the Wu’s first release). And now four other certified classics can join the ranks in a quickly-getting-awesome rap CD collection:


Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)

The first album of four (and the only ’80s rap album to make the cut) comes in the form of this 1988 landmark. On It Takes A Nation, this New York crew defined their sound and edified rap’s flirtation with noise music. The production, courtesy of the Bomb Squad, takes the funkified sound common in 1980s rap and takes it through some horrifying, traumatizing experiences, from which it emerges unsettled and unsettling. Layer upon layer of samples build on drum breaks and machines to build an atmosphere of chalkboard-scratching tension. Frontman Chuck D dominates these beats, aggressively spitting lyrics of distinctive radical politics, while idiosyncratic hype man Flavor Flav shouts ridiculous slogans. Between the two of them they fill the album with uncompromising lyrical content, paving the way for the hardcore rap of the 1990s.


Nas – Illmatic (1993)

If you know the bare minimum about rap and you saw the word “classic” in this post title, you probably assumed that Illmatic would be somewhere on this list. Widely considered the best rap record of all time, Nas’ debut was recorded when the Queens rapper was a mere 19 years old. But age mattereth not; on Illmatic Nas spits arguably the strongest verses of his career, verses that few if any rappers have matched. With effortless polysyllabic rhyme schemes and an unbroken flow that sounds fresh even today, Nas alternates a melange of cultural references with street stories of  surreal, lurid detail. And with an all-star lineup of producers including Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Large Professor and Q-Tip, the entire album knocks with hard but musically ingenious beats. To many, this album is an endless source of musical and intellectual inspiration, the artistic high watermark of hip hop, and is something to which all should aspire.


Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Coming two years after Illmatic, Jay-Z’s debut was one of the only albums that could stand up to it in terms of near-perfect 90s hip hop. It’s hard to imagine a better introduction to a man who would become one of the biggest stars (if not the biggest) in rap in decades to come. This album, like its star, overflows with style, talent and personality, with Jay’s distinctive voice making an indelible impression. His rapping, polished for years before this release, emerges hot out of the gate, with a smooth but aggressive flow, stellar imagery and wordplay and uncompromising braggadocio applied to various mafioso fantasies and the occasional wise-hustler life lesson. The beats are a lush, sparkling take on the usual boom-bap mid-90s fare with producers such as DJ Premier, Clark Kent and Ski applying their nimble touch. While Jay-Z would evolve in many ways throughout his career and release several landmark albums, this was indeed a peak.


Dr. Dre – The Chronic (1992)

Lastly, this album has quite the soft spot in my heart, because it is the only L.A. album on this list (hometown pride). New York certainly has the lion’s share of ’90s rap classics (Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt, 36 Chambers, Ready to Die, etc.) but L.A. has The Chronic, an album with possibly the greatest influence (for better or worse) of all previous mentioned. Coming early on in the 90s, The Chronic was a massive update of the genre from the decade preceding it. Influenced more by the smooth, lush funk of Parliament than the quick beats of James Brown, Dr. Dre forged his sonic stamp on this album. All the beats simply riiiiiide out, slow and with layer after layer of keyboard and sample. And with a distinctive, frosty synth sound (which came to characterize G-Funk as a rap subgenre), Dr. Dre dripped lazily beautiful melodies all over the place. Meanwhile, Dre and his 20 year-old sidekick (soon to become superstar) Snoop Doggy Dogg delivered flows that were the polar opposite of, say, Chuck D, taking the form of languid, laid-back menace rather than all-out bluster. Their lyrics, often ridiculously violent, explicit and offensive, have not aged well, but the sound remains gorgeous- the perfect album for cruising right after sunset on a warm summer night.