This week, two different collections from two different British-born music producers from two different eras, are getting heavy rotation on my iTunes. And, I would go so far as to say that these two collections together make for the best one-two punch of summer party jams you can find.
The new: DJ Mark Ronson’s acclaimed second album of collaborations, Version, finally gets its U.S. release this week. Ronson is the celeb spinner (he DJ’ed TomKat’s wedding) and Brit expat who is also the force behind two great solo albums of the last 12 months: Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black and Rhymefest’s Blue Collar. On Version, he takes a bunch of special guests and a bunch of special cover songs, and mashes them up as one sonic, superior cocktail. Avoiding some of the problems other producers have found in recent collections (Timbaland’s terrible Shock Value disc comes to mind), Ronson smartly chose to showcase talent around songs already certified as hits. You have Lily Allen covering Kaiser Chiefs (“Oh My God”), Amy WInehouse covering The Zutons (“Valerie”), Robbie Williams covering The Charlatans (“The Only One I Know”), and newcomer Daniel Merriweather expertly covering The Smiths (“Stop Me”).
The choice to pick semi-recent and semi-obscure Brit-pop tunes, was brilliant. It allows for two things: 1. The original songs are great but not overplayed, 2. They are obscure enough to let Ronson and his team poke holes and play as much as they want without seeming disrespectful. There are a couple of big hits covered (Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and Radiohead’s “Just” among them), but they are so reworked and reimagined, that they strip the excess and flesh out the beauty. All in all, this is – as has been reported in some publications – the party record of 2007. Ronson’s talent is on display, yet he knows when to show off and when to shut up.
The old: British producer Joe Meek (who died from self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1967) is one of those musical figures with a legacy often reserved for the die-hard Anglo/audiophiles. He was an innovator in the studio, toying with sound effects and fuzz in a way few would then or few do today. If you look at ’60s producers like Phil Spector and George Martin, Joe Meek was the outsider, the indie wunderkind (he even reportedly refused to work with The Beatles and David Bowie).
The recently released collection, You’re Holding Me Down: 30 Freakbeat, Mod & R&B Nuggets, offers dozens of vintage Meek tunes that he worked on in the final years of his life. Bands like The Birds of Prey, The Buzz, and The Cryin’ Shames are showcased as whacked-out but infectiously simple. What Meek’s “nuggets” have to offer here, are the soulful and summertime sounds of garage rock-meets-surf rock-meets-pop. It’s an essential document of a master producer pushing sweetly sincere sounds out of a fuzzed console, with enough organs and guitars and tambourines, to build an army. It’s highly recommended for fans of contemporary acts like A Band of Bees and The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
What we have in these two 2007 collections from Ronson and Meek, are enough ammo to throw into your iPod for a drive to the beach and the party possibly ensuing well into the dawn hours. It’s danceable, it’s kissable, and it’s gonna get you through the heat.