Joe: Hello and welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we unravel the tangled threads that connect popular songs and the artists who make them. I'm Joe Watson, and I'm joined by my doppelganger of a co-host,
Toby Brazwell. What's up Tobe?
Toby: Man I am well. I’m happy that we are back in our recording groove again.
Joe: How are you enjoying day 3 million and 47 of quarantine?
Toby: It’s only 3 million days? I thought it was more than that! I’m hoping that this show will help people cope with COVID as much as it’s helped me.
Joe: Maybe that's our new hashtag: #copewithcovid… listen to Riffs.
Joe: To kick off the show today, I have an important question. Do you like to party?
Toby: That's a really odd question Joe. Are you potty training a new puppy or something? I mean, everybody goes potty, but it’s more of a necessity, I'm not sure anyone ever says they like it.
Joe: No my friend, not potty. Party. Do you like to party? You know, birthday cake, barbeques, friends, family, maybe a pinata?
Toby: Oh yes, who doesn't like a good old-fashioned party? If you’re hosting one, you certainly need to let me know, because that’s about all the guests you can have in these COVID times. A party of one.
Joe: Since we are recording this from the safety of our respective homes, I say we let the good times roll for this episode and make it a full-on party. Maybe Eric can crank some Kraftwerk through the headphones and we can do the robot.
Toby: …Or maybe we could poke #2 pencils in our ears. That would accomplish the same goal.
Joe: Alright, how about instead we explore the connections between some other artists that like to party.
Toby: I believe you are referring to Doug E. Fresh, Stick Rick, and the rest of The Get Fresh Crew,
specifically their 1985 hit that includes the iconic lines "la di da di, we like to party."
Joe: You know what else I like about these guys? It's very considerate partying. they don't cause trouble, they don't bother nobody. You don't have to bang on the ceiling and tell them to keep the noise down.
Toby: Can't say the same about another artist who interpolated La de da di, Miley Cyrus, for her 2013 hit We Can't Stop. It's pretty clear this Is not the wholesome party from your grade school years.
Joe: She’s one of hundreds that have sampled La Di Da Di — it is one of the most sampled songs in history — but did you know that La Di Da Di itself samples a cover of a smash hit from 1963?
Toby: But Joe, before we explain the connection to La Di Da Di, and how we got down this rabbit hole, we’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back with Riffs on Riffs.
Toby: And we’re back with Riffs on Riffs. I’m Toby Brazwell here with my co-host Joe Watson. And so we begin with our tangled musical webs! Let’s head to Japan to get the party started, and a track from Kyu Sakamoto called "Sukiyaki"
Joe: Fun fact: Japan is the world's second largest record market, so it’s interesting that while english speaking artists do well in Japan, there is little crossover success from
Japanese artists in the US + UK. And for the record, I'm still big in Japan.
Toby: If you're big in Japan then I'm the Queen of England.
Joe: Then by all means, please give us the Megan and Harry update of the day your highness!
Toby: Beef stew.
Joe: I’m sorry, what?
Toby: Beef Stew.
Joe: You know, for some reason I was not expecting that. If you were going to drop random food names, I figured you’d go the Beef Wellington route at least. Care to explain yourself?
Toby: Beef stew is the rough translation of Sukiyaki. So the number one song for 3 weeks in 1963 was a Japanese ditty about meat dishes.
Joe: Ah, well, funny story about that. While yes, that is indeed the title, turns out the song has nothing to do with prepared meats. The subject matter is actually quite a bit heavier than a full belly after a meal. The original title of Sukiyaki is “Ue o Muite Aruko”, which translates to I Look Up as I Walk. The lyrics were written by Rokusue Ei.
Toby: He was returning home from a Japanese student protest against US military presence and was feeling frustrated and dejected. The lyrics actually tell the story of a man who looks up and whistles while he is walking so that his tears will not stream down his cheeks. Pretty heavy stuff indeed.
Joe: So how, exactly, did this become beef stew?
Toby: The head of Britain’s Pye records at the time, Louis Benjamin, heard the song while touring Japan. He thought that British DJs would never play the track under its actual title, so Pye changed the title to a Japanese word that English speakers would recognize. Even if that was simply a food dish.
Joe: The strategy worked. It went to #10 in the UK, and a Washington DJ in the States picked up Sakamoto’s original version and played it on his radio show. Capitol Records picked it up and released it under the Sukiyaki title and the rest is history. It is one of the best selling international singles of all time, having sold over 13 million copies worldwide.
Toby: It was also the only non-European language songs to reach #1 in the US until Psy’s worldwide smash Gangnam Style in 2012.
Joe: In a tragic historical note, Kyu Sakamoto was one of the 520 people killed when Japan Airlines Flight 123 crashed in 1985 — the second deadliest aircraft accident in history.
Toby: Well let’s chat for a minute about a happier thought. What are some of the best songs about food?
Joe: Does drink count?
Toby: It does in my book!
Joe: I’m going to start with a song that I despise; I would say this is not a good song about food, but “American Pie” by Don McLane. Everybody knows that. What do you got?
Toby: Well this song is titled about food, but isn’t about food: “Brown Sugar” by D'Angelo. And then there’s “Margaritaville”…
Joe: ...and we could do “Tequila”. Right?
Toby: For sure. And what’s that song “I like bread and butter, I like toast and jam”
Joe: I don’t know what the name of that is, but that’s a good one. If we stayed on the tequila vibe we could do The Eagles and “Tequila Sunrise”. If we had to go fruit, we could do “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” right?
Toby: True. If we went back to liquor I think “Tennessee Whiskey” and Stapleton, that does it for me.
Joe: Do you remember- what's the one about meatballs? The meatball falls on the floor… on top of old smokey, I lost my poor meatball… do you know that one?
Toby: “On Top of Spaghetti”, that's a good one for sure.
Toby: On the topic of food, let’s see how Sukiyaki was taken to number one on the charts years later by the LA group A Taste of Honey in 1980. This is a cool story that really demonstrates what we always say — music is a universal language.
Joe: A Taste of Army singer Janice-Marie Johnson was 9 years old when she first heard sukiyaki on the radio, and even though she didn’t understand the lyrics, she was deeply moved and begged her mom to buy the record. 18 years later she wanted to cover the song with her band and contacted the original lyricist, Rokusuke Ei, who sent over & literal translation.
Toby: Since the literal version didn't translate into complete English sentences she decided to rewrite the lyrics and make the song about a love gone bad.
Joe: Nothing worse than beef stew gone bad!
Toby: Right? Well, she also had to battle her record label to get it recorded and released. Cecil Hale, VP of Capitol Records at the time, said, "Absolutely not! Black people don't want to hear Japanese music!
Joe: Johnsons had a great reply, saying, "Well last time I looked in the mirror, I was black and I want to hear it!"
Toby: Thankfully she won out, and I'm pretty sure that Cecil and the rest of Capitol is glad she did. But how did we get down this rabbit hole? We are far away from where we were, so how do we get to party, not potty, and La Di Da Di?
Joe: The original version of La Di Da Di contains song lyrics of the Taste of Honey version of Sukiyaki. But since the sample was never cleared, later CD versions of the song omit that middle section.
Toby: Let's talk a little more now about the Get Fresh Crew, starting with Douglas Davis, aka Doug E. Fresh.
Joe: Two cool things about this rap pioneer. One, he's known as the Human Beat Box. Two, he was born in Barbados, which for some reason just sounds like a place that ranks high on my bucket list of travel destinations.
Toby: You hoping to run into Rihanna?
Joe: I mean, I think she likes to party, right? And I just love her jazzy ways. By the way, do you want to play the famous-people-from-Barbados game?
Toby: I'm not sure the rules but let's give it a go.
Joe: Pretty simple. I'd give you 3 names, you tell me which one is not of Bajan descent. Ready?
- Grandmaster Flash
- Gwyneth Paltrow
- Jada Pinkett South
Toby: I’m thinkin it’s Gwyneth… but I don’t know.
Joe: Well turns out it’s a trick question because they all are.
Toby: Really? I hate when you do that.
Joe: Well I cheated. I’m a cheater.
Toby: Well I did not know that at all, so thank you for sharing.
Well besides being the Human Beat Box, Doug E Fresh Is also the inspiration for the dance move named after him, the Dougie. Joe, do you know how to Dougie?
Joe: I prefer to go with the joey.
Toby! I'm not familiar with that one.
Joe: I'll teach you. It's pretty simple really. You just make like a baby kangaroo and hop the hell off the dance floor!
Toby: Sounds like a solid plan! Now let's chat about the rhyme half of the Get Fresh Crew and one of the most talented Mcs and lyricists of all time, Richard Walter, aka MC Ricky D, aka Slick Rick.
Joe: Certainly an icon and one of the best storytellers of all time. I think Questlove sums it up best:
"Point Blank, Slick Rick's voice was the most beautiful thing to happen to hip hop culture. Rick is full of punchlines, wit, Melody, cool cadence, confidence and style. He is the blueprint."
Toby: That's definitely high praise and well-deserved. But I'm seeing a recurring issue rear its ugly head again for this episode. Did you know that La Di Da Di was once again. the B-Side of the single? I feel like we need to put together a PSA for artists. Release the B-side first people!
Joe: Not had advice at all, but in this case the A Side didn't do too shabby either. It was a song called "The Show" that went Gold, and Spin magazine named it the top rap single of the year. Plus it also became the inspiration for a diss track. By Salt N Pepa.
Toby: Yep! Inspired by Roxanne Shante, they decided to do a diss track response to The Show called "The Showstopper”. At the time they were named Super Nature, and "The Showstopper's” radio play propelled them to booking gigs and further recognition. So let’s put it this way: it was more of a show-starter for them.
Joe: The Show also gets bonus points in my book for sampling parts of the Inspector Gadget
theme song. Kind of like how Wu Tang used the Underdog theme song, which we discussed in a previous episode. You remember Inspector Gadget? Did you watch it growing up?
Toby: Of course I did. Penny and the dog… I love that show
Joe: I used to love that show. Of courses as an adult I went back and was reading up on it and there's all this talk about how Penny is really an orphan and it's a sad tale, blah blah blah. More shattering of childhood dreams.
Toby: Ok buddy, bring it back. Remember-we're doing a party episode here.
Joe: Let’s keep it going with a cover of La Di Da Di by a man who is certainly an expert on parties, Snoop Dogg. While not recessed as a single from his 1993 debut album Doggystyle, Lodi Dodi still charted and won the video won video of the year at the 1995 The Source Hip Hop Music Awards.
Toby: And of course, Biggie flipped the chorus of Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick’s original
version of La Di Da Di in a very similar fashion for his 1997 hit Hypnotize.
Joe: Hypnotize also samples the beat from the 1979 Herb Alpert instrumental "Rise," which spent two weeks at #I, and won a Grammy for Best Pop Instruments Performance.
Toby: The party never stops around here! La Di Da Di has been sampled by everyone from 50 Cent, Ice Cube, Del the Funky Homosapien, Kanye, Pusha T, Beyonce, Mariah Carey, De la Soul, Color Me Badd, Iggy Azalea, and of course, Miley Cyrus.
Joe: Let's talk about that Miley track. Give me the scoop Tob!
Toby: “We can’t Stop” is a hit single off of Miley’s 4th album entitled Bangers, which was released on June 3, 2013. Now I don’t want to get into a lot of the background of Miley. Those of you that are listening are probably familiar with her famous country singer Father Billy Ray Cyrus or you’ve seen her on tv playing the character Hannah Montana or as a judge on the Voice.
Joe: The song We Can’t Stop actually samples the lyrics from La Di Da Di from Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick. Her usage of that lyric in this song is more than apropos because this song is all about partying it up and doing whatever the heck young people not in quarantine tend to do when adults are not present.
Toby: This song was written and produced by Dj, rapper Mike Will who has also worked with the likes of Rihanna, 2 Chainz , Lil Wayne and Beyonce. Miley does have some writing credit on this and it’s all about the party. I remember this song because I was shocked at some of the lyrics that were being utilized.
Joe: Yeah there was a ton of references to sex and drug usage. I didn’t grow up on Hannah Montana but did that shock you a bit Tobe?
Toby: Yeah it did. But I feel that being on that show is like being a Preacher’s kid. As soon as church is over, sometimes the wild comes out!
Joe: Wait a minute, Tobe isn’t your Dad a preacher.
Toby: Focus.. Joe… this show isn’t about me…. let’s stay focussed on Miley for a minute. I remember this album being very successful for her. Her video for We Can’t Stop actually set a record on the Vevo site by having more than 100 million views in 24 hrs.
Joe: So let’s move away from this song and just talk about Miley in general. There were a lot of people that liked the track but what was it that made this album so popular.
Toby: I think we were watching her evolution before our eyes. She was obviously tired of the Hannah Montana image and wanted to break free of that. So I think when people do that sometimes they go REALLY hard the other way.
Joe: and for Miley that meant making this is a pop version of a southern hip hop influenced R&B album with romantic themes.
Toby: Exactly! Before you judge her please remember that she’s only 27 years old. She’s still young and I encourage any young person that takes chances musically to find themselves. And for the record she’s still experimenting with her music but the one thing I really respect is that she isn’t afraid to write about how she’s feeling.
Joe: You stated that Miley took a gamble by changing her sound and it was a gamble that worked out because this album went triple platinum and actually earned Miley her first Grammy Nomination for best Pop album.
Toby: Her latest single is called Slide Away and it seems to focus on some of the life changes that she’s made in her life and in June she came out about being 6 months sober. We wish her the best of luck on her journey!
Joe: Well speaking of journeys, we’ve certainly taken one today. You want to sum up all we covered?
Toby: With pleasure. Our first featured track was La Di Da Di by Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick. We then talked about Sukiyaki, aka beef stew, A Taste of Honey, and other food related hits. From there we examined a few of the hundreds of tracks that have sampled La Di Da Di, including Lodi Dodi from Snoop
Dogg, Hypnotize by Biggie, and We Can’t Stop from Miley.
Joe: So are you telling me we can’t stop the party? I like your style!
Toby: We can continue the party, but I’m afraid the episode is over my friend. But in the meantime, you can keep the good times rolling by heading over to Spotify and listening to the playlist for this episode. Just do a search for Riffs on Riffs and select the playlist for Episode 46!
Joe: Sounds like a great plan. And while you are spinning through the interwebs, please leave us an iTunes review, and chat us up on Social: @riffsonriffs. As always, thanks for joining us, and we’ll catch you next time for Riffs on Riffs.
Toby: Keep listening, Huzzah!