Thursday, January 26, 2012

Song #101 of 9999 - Fight the Power by Public Enemy

Song #101 of 9999

Title: Fight the Power
Artist: Public Enemy
Year: 1990
Album: Fear of a Black Planet

"Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant shit to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother fuck him and John Wayne"

Whether you agree with or appalled by this lyric, you can't deny its impact and power. As with the most provocative visual art, the music of Public Enemy was designed to get people thinking and debating. It's a call to action for some and scares the crap out of others. The album title Fear of a Black Planet is very appropriate for the group that took on a militant look and produced music wrought with pure tension.

In an homage to Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" production method, Pubilc Enemy's Bomb Squad set out to produce a "Wall of Noise" and did they ever. Piecing together hundreds of samples on a single album, the producers developed a dense cacophonous stew of sounds that set the stage for Chuck D's proselytizing and Flavor Flav's antics. "Fight the Power" features over a dozensamples from such disparate sources as Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff," "Planet Rock" by Afrika Bambaataa, and Uriah Heep's "Bird of Prey." These are in addition to the usual soul records from James Brown, Syl Johnson and Bobby Byrd. In fact, the only live instruments on the record come from Branford Marsalis (saxophone) and Terminator X (scratches).

Chuck D said, with Fear of a Black Planet, he was "shooting for Sgt. Pepper's." Considering the limited technology available in 1989 (when this single was actually produced), I think there is a case to be made that he succeeded in terms of pushing production values to their limits in the same way George Martin and The Beatles succeeded in coaxing amazing results from a four-track recorder.

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