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The Influences and Samples of Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power’ (EUR Video Throwback)

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*Brian Hardgroove, the one-time bass player for Public Enemy, famously said of the rap group’s protest anthem “Fight the Power” that it’s “not about fighting authority—it’s not that at all. It’s about fighting abuse of power.”

As the world continues to protest systemic racism in all of its forms following the murder of George Floyd, we’re highlighting the influences, inspiration and samples that went into “Fight The Power” in our latest EUR Video Throwback. Although it first appeared on Spike Lee’s 1989 soundtrack to “Do The Right Thing,” a different version was featured on Public Enemy’s third  studio album, 1990’s “Fear of a Black Planet.”

Shortly after the 1988 release of their second album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” PE was about to hit Europe as part of Run-DMC’s “Run’s House” tour whenLee called. The filmmaker needed a song for his upcoming “joint” about racial tension on a hot summer day in Brooklyn. He immediately thought of PE.

Group leader Chuck D said he was inspired to write most of the song while flying over Italy on the tour. “I wanted to have sorta like the same theme as the original ‘Fight the Power’ by The Isley Brothers and fill it in with some kind of modernist views of what our surroundings were at that particular time.

The Isley Brothers – Fight the Power, Pts. 1 & 2 (Audio)

The Bomb Squad, Public Enemy’s production team, decided to infuse the track with lots of looping, layering, and transfiguring of various samples. They recruited Branford Marsailis to add sprinkles of saxophone throughout, and a solo in the version that opens the film. Outside of Marsalis, Bomb Squad member Hank Shocklee wanted the track to be completely absent of harmonic clarity and coherence in favor of sounds that were “defiant” and “angry,”  as requested by Lee.

“Fight the Power” begins with a vocal sample of famed civil rights attorney and activist Thomas “TNT” Todd bellowing in a speech, “Yet our best trained, best educated, best equipped, best prepared troops refuse to fight. Matter of fact, it’s safe to say that they “would rather switch than fight.”

This “rather switch than fight” line was from a famous ad campaign for Tareyton cigarettes that ran from 1963 to 1981. The slogan was crafted to foster a sense of loyalty to the brand. Actors or models in the ad were depicted with black eyes, suggesting they fought hard to remain a Tareyton smoker.

The Tareyton slogan was adopted the following year by female supporters of conservative politician Barry Goldwater (aka “Goldwater Girls”) during the 1964 presidential campaign. Goldwater appeared to have the nomination on lock as primary season was winding down, but supporters of the moderate Republican William Scranton tried to mount a “Draft Scranton” movement. “Goldwater Girls” were seen trolling Scranton events wearing bandages and toting signs saying “We’d rather fight than switch!”

Then the Camp Records label parodied the slogan with the song “I’d Rather Fight Than Swish,” meaning to behave effeminately. Thomas “TNT” Todd then referenced the Camp Records parody during a speech about the war in 1967.  He was referring to  soldiers who went AWOL in Vietnam on moral grounds. In the context of “Fight the Power,” the quote aims to encourage more African Americans to get involved in defending their rights.

Public Enemy – Fight the Power (“Fear of a Black Planet” Version)

Below is Thomas “TNT” Todd in recent years, speaking at a 2014 event about the state of black Chicago politics. He’s addressing a group of leaders regarding the need for more engaged political education and participation in Chicago and across the country. He gets going, reminiscent of his booming voice on the record, at around the 10:51 mark.

Thomas “TNT” Todd on the State of Black Chicago Politics

The three measures that follow Todd’s opening  in “Fight the Power” that lead into the main beat are the lines “pump me up” from DC go-go band Trouble Funk’s song of the same name played backwards.

Trouble Funk – Pump Me Up

Marsalis throws in some triplets that are buried in the mix of this three measure wind-up. The “chuck chuck” at the end is taken from the 1972 song “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by The Dramatics. In their song, it’s a rhythmic device. In “Fight the Power,” it’s a nod to Chuck D. Listen below.

The Dramatics – Whatcha See is Whatcha Get – at the 1:33 mark

Once “Fight the Power’s” beginning wind-up ends, the main groove drops with a loop of West Street Mob’s “Come on, get down,” a bass line from James Brown’s 1971 track “Hot Pants” and drums from the most sampled breakbeat in hip hop – Clyde Stubblefield’s drum break in Brown’s 1970 song “Funky Drummer.” But here, Shocklee takes only the break’s first two eighth notes in the bass drum and the snare hit.

West Street Mob – Let’s Dance (Make Your Body Move) 1981 (at the :11 mark )

James Brown – Hot Pants (at the :07 mark)

 

James Brown – Funky Drummer (Pt. 1 & 2) (at the 5:19 mark)

Bits and pieces of the following are also tossed into “Fight the Power’s” main groove: the  Bobby Byrd/James Brown 1971 track “I Know You Got Soul” (at the :12 mark below), the auto-tuned “Yaaaaaah” from Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock” (at the :13 mark below), and the “Oh Jam” from Guy’s “Teddy’s Jam” (at the :02 mark below).

Bobby Byrd – I Know You Got Soul

Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force – Planet Rock

Guy – Teddy’s Jam

And let’s not forget the “Let me hear ya say” snippet and subsequent wails from Sly and the Family Stone’s hit “Sing A Simple Song.”

Sly and the Family Stone – Sing A Simple Song

Spike Lee produced and directed two music videos for the song. The first featured clips of various scenes from “Do the Right Thing.” The second opened with a movie newsreel of the 1963 March on Washington before it cuts to Chuck D dismissing the entire march as “nonsense” and leading a staged, political rally in Brooklyn called the “Young People’s March to End Racial Violence.”

Watch below:

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How Herb Alpert’s ‘Rise’ Topped the Chart 41 Years Ago Today for All the Wrong Reasons (EUR Video Throwback)

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*Some people of a certain age hear the 1979 instrumental “Rise” by Herb Alpert and think back no further than the 1997 image of Notorious B.I.G. and Puffy on a yacht. But there’s an entire generation of fans who, to this day, hear the song’s baseline strut and are instantly taken back to a critical scene on the soap opera “General Hospital.”

A rape scene.

On October 20, 1979, “Rise” went to No. 1 in the U.S. after it was used in a scene featuring Luke Spencer and Laura Webber, “General Hospital’s” “Luke & Laura” lovebirds whose immense popularity would explode beyond their own soap – and daytime dramas in general – to become a cultural flashpoint.

luke & laura

But the iconic characters, played by Genie Francis and Anthony Geary, weren’t even a couple when Geary reportedly suggested “Rise” to the show’s music director for his pivotal scene with Francis.

In fact, Laura was still with Scottie Baldwin when Luke – after Laura rebuffed his declaration of love – threw on the DJ’s record player and raped Laura on the floor of the campus disco, as “Rise” played in the background.

Watch below:

“General Hospital” ran this song several times a week for a short period after this scene, until writers transformed Luke and Laura into romantic lovers and made his redemption a part of their storyline.

“Rise,” written by Andy Armer and Herb’s nephew Randy “Badazz” Alpert, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 exactly three months after its July 20, 1979 release from the album of the same name. It remained at the top for two weeks, and gave Alpert the distinction of becoming the first and only artist to score Hot 100 chart toppers with both an instrumental performance and a vocal performance (1968’s “This Guy’s in Love With You,” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David).

“Rise” was also a fixture on Black radio in 1979, having peaked at number four on the R&B chart and number seventeen on the disco chart.

Sean “Puffy” Combs came along 18 years later and gave “Rise” new life by choosing its bass line for Biggie’s track “Hypnotize.” Released on March 1, 1997, one week before the rapper’s death in a drive by shooting, Puff’s production laced with B.I.G.’s indelible lyrics took “Rise” back to the Hot 100 summit. The original spent the entire summer of ’79 climbing the charts until that episode of “General Hospital” shoved it into the No. 1 spot on Oct. 20. Biggie’s version debuted at No. 2 and reached the pinnacle a week later.

Randy Alpert told the website songfacts.com, “I asked Puffy, in 1996 when he first called me concerning using ‘Rise’ for ‘Hypnotize,’ why he chose the ‘Rise’ groove. He told me that in the summer of 1979 when he was I think 10 years old the song was a huge hit everywhere in New York and ‘Rise’ along with Chic’s ‘Good Times’ were ‘The Songs’ that all the kids were dancing and roller skating to that summer. He had always remembered that summer and that song. When he first played the loop for Biggie, Biggie smiled and hugged him.”

Randy Alpert continued: “Over the years I was approached by Ice Cube, Easy E, Vanilla Ice, and maybe another 4-5 artists to use the song and I never said yes until I heard a rough version of Biggie’s recording. I was sent a cassette from Puffy and when I cranked it up I not only immediately loved it but my gut thought that this could be a #1 record once again.”

While “Hypnotize” wasn’t the only record to sample “Rise,” it was by far the most successful.

Monica used the groove on “I’m Back” from her 2002 album “All Eyez on Me.”

And Bell Biv DeVoe sampled the groove in their 2016 single “Run,” the trio’s first track in 14 years.

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RADIOSCOPE RAW Podcast: Our Uncut 1989 Interview with Gladys Knight and the Pips

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Gladys Knight & the Pips

*Episode 4 of the Radioscope Raw podcast features our 1989 interview with Gladys Knight and the Pips.

The group had just signed with MCA Records to release their final album, 1988’s All Our Love. It included the singles “Lovin’ On Next to Nothin'” and their Grammy-winner “Love Overboard.”

In the four years before leaving Columbia and signing with MCA, Knight flirted with Hollywood, starring in the sitcom “Charlie and Co.” and several TV movies. She also joined Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick and Elton John in 1985 for the anthem “That’s What Friends Are For.”

Our RadioScope writer sat down with Gladys and her brother Bubba Knight of the Pips to talk about their 35 years in the business, Gladys’ approach to acting and their last album as a group before the Empress of Soul embarked on her epic solo career.

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The Significance of Oct. 13 for Both Michael Jackson and Prince (EUR Video Throwback)

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Prince-MJ

Michael Jackson and Prince – Phil Walter/Kevin Winter Getty Images

*It’s been well documented that Prince and Michael Jackson were both personal and professional rivals during the height of their commercial success in the 1980s. But it turns out that both enjoyed significant career markers on the same date, 13 years apart.

On Oct. 13, 1979, Michael Jackson’s single “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, becoming his second ever solo number one hit after 1972’s “Ben.” On Oct. 13, 1992, Prince released an album with a symbol on the cover that represented both his new professional name and defiant independence.

“Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” also represented independence for Jackson. It was the first track on his fifth studio album “Off the Wall” in 1979, but more importantly, it was the first solo recording over which Jackson had creative control. Critics consider the track to be the first that also showcased Jackson’s talent as a songwriter.

And who can forget the video, with its then state-of-the-art, 1979 green screen graphics and special effects showing Jackson in innovative triplicate.

Michael Jackson – Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough

“Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” went quadruple platinum, topped the chart in nine other countries and earned Jackson his first Grammy.

Meanwhile, the album that came to be known as “Love Symbol” was actually an unpronounceable blend of the male and female gender symbols that Prince had featured on past album covers. He copyrighted an enhanced version of the image under the title “Love Symbol #2,” and began using it as his unpronounceable stage name from 1993 to 2001 in protest of his label, Warner Bros. Records. The label distributed the album, which was released on Oct. 13, 1992 by Prince’s own Paisley Park Records.

Warner Bros. wanted the track “7” to be released as the first single.

Prince – 7

But Prince instead insisted that “My Name Is Prince” be the lead single, arguing that its sound would appeal better to listeners that had enjoyed “Diamonds and Pearls.”

Prince – My Name Is Prince

The “Love Symbol” LP was actually a concept album featuring dancer Mayte Garcia, who would become his wife four years later. In visuals for the album, Mayte played an Egyptian princess who falls in love with a rock star (Prince) and entrusts him with a religious artifact, the Three Chains of Turin (or track “Three Chains o’ Gold”). She is eventually captured, then escapes from seven assassins, as referenced in “7.”

The original cut of the album had eight spoken segues to help tell this story, but most of them had to be cut for time when Prince decided to add one last song, “I Wanna Melt With U,” instead of making it the B-side to the “7” maxi single, as was the original plan.

Prince – Eye Want 2 Melt With U (Live 1992)

MJ reportedly said that Prince was “nasty” and “one of the rudest people I’ve ever met.” Although Prince and MJ were rivals, they were respectfully competitive. Prince’s good friend Tavis Smiley told Conan O’Brien that Prince was devastated by Jackson’s death and “[locked] himself literally in his room for days, and didn’t come out. Didn’t talk to anybody.”

There are videos of Prince playing Michael Jackson songs in concert as a salute to the King of Pop following his death. Below is one of them.

Prince dips into the MJ song that reached number one on the very date that he would release his pivotal “Love Symbol” album 13 years later.

Prince – Medley: Cool, Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough (at the 23 second mark)

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