True Memories of Bliss
In this episode, Joe and Toby explore the groundbreaking 1988 hip-hop duo P.M. Dawn and their De La Soul-esque ‘romantic hip-hop’ infused catalog of music. The group, composed of Jersey City brothers Attrell Cordes, known as Prince Be, and brother Jarrett Cordes, who went by DJ Minutemix, earned enormous success for their stream of pop hits in the 1990’s. The focus track, “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” (1991) was P.M. Dawn's first (and only) number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and features a sample - everyone will recognize - from a memorable 80’s British new wave pop band.
What we geek out over in this episode: The soul music genre, saxophone solos, Bob James “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” (1974) and Run-DMC “Peter Piper” (1986), Joni Mitchell “The Boho Dance” (1975), Christina Applegate, MC KRS-One “The Bridge is Over” (1987) & “South Bronx” (1986), and the Boomerang movie (1992).
Bonus Material: Soul Searchers "Ashley's Roachclip" drum break from their 1974 album Salt of the Earth and the popular songs that sampled this memorable drum loop.
True Memories of Bliss
🔊“Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”
Joe: Hello and Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the collision of original and sampled tracks and the artists who made them. I’m your host, Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell. What’s up Toby?
Toby: Not much man! Good to be here!
Joe: Glad to have you here! So together on this show we listen to the legendary tracks and the timeless — but sometimes not-so-well-known — songs they sampled from. Toby, what are we listening to today?
Toby: This is a track called “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” from the group P.M. Dawn. Let’s hop in the Delorean and find out what track was sampled to produce this hit.
Joe: This is the title track from the 1983 Spandau Ballet album True. This song hit #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and also topped the adult contemporary charts. It charted in numerous other countries and was #1 on the UK singles charts for four weeks in 1983, finishing as the sixth biggest selling single of the year.
Toby: “True” was written by the band’s guitarist and principal songwriter, Gary Kemp. As one might expect, it was written about a girl. In this case, her name was Clare Grogan and she was the singer in another new wave band called Altered Images.
Joe: Altered Images was a Scottish band that had six top 40 hits in the UK between 1981 and ’83. one of their biggest hits was “Happy Birthday,” which was #2 on the charts for three weeks in September of ’81. Let’s give that a listen.
Toby: This is kinda catchy, but I still think I prefer Stevie Wonder’s version if I’m hanging with my boys. And if it’s just me and the Mrs… then I go with Marilyn Monroe’s version that she sang to JFK if you know what I’m saying!
Joe: You mean when things get Hotter than July? Regardless, Gary Kemp was smitten with Ms. Grogan, and even traveled up to Scotland to have tea with her and her parents. His feelings were unrequited, however, and their relationship was strictly platonic.
Toby: Outside of racking up some airline miles it certainly made for great song material! The song is about how difficult it is to be honest when you’re trying to write a love song to someone, as shown with lyrics like, “Why do I find it hard to write the next line?”
Joe: Gary has also talked about how the lyrics are full of coded messages to Clare. He says, quote, “I’m still berated for the line, ‘Take your seaside arms’ but it’s straight out of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, which she had given me as a present – although in the book, it’s ‘seaside limbs.’ The line ‘With a thrill in my head and a pill on my tongue’ is also a bastardisation of Nabokov. I don’t want to embarrass Clare. I was 22 and she was 18. ‘True’ was really a song about me and my idea of love.”
Toby: What is it with people wanting to incorporate that book in their lyrics? I don’t get it. That book was weird to me. Just weird, but not the type of weird I want to relive in a song over and over again. Didn’t Sting also reference Nabokov and Lolita in a Police song?
Joe: I’m with you man. I’ve never read the book, because the subject matter is not just weird, it’s disturbing to me. And yes, Sting gives a direct shout out to Nabokov in “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.“
Toby: Gary Kemp also gave a direct shout out in ”True" — to Marvin Gaye. Let’s listen.
🔊Listening to Marvin
Toby: Kemp says that line was, quote, “was a reference to me and Steve Norman, the band’s saxophonist. We were massive soul boys: we loved MTV, the Face magazine and all that glossy stuff, so this was us taking an anti-rock stance.”
Joe: It’s kind of fun to hear someone say they are taking an “anti-rock” stance, because I typically think of rock and punk as the anti-establishment genres. Kemp goes on to say, “The inky press loved blues and reggae because they were about suffering. They didn’t like soul because it was aspirational, all about dancing, wearing great clothes and having sex. They saw it as vacuous. So namechecking Marvin Gaye was a defiant statement aligning us with the London soul boy culture stretching back to mod.” That’s interesting to me, Toby. I’ve never thought of soul music as some sort of vapid form of blues, more of an evolution or permutation of it. Maybe this was an English thing. Do you think soul music has been perceived differently in the States?
Toby: I never thought of that before, and tend to agree with you and see soul music as an evolution. Every music genre does this - it evolves. Without getting too deep as far as classical music is concerned you started off with medieval which lasted from 500–1400 AD. Then Renaissance which lasted from 1400–1600 AD. Then Baroque period which was from 1600–1750 AD and so forth and so on. It happened to Jazz as well as rock and we’re seeing it today with Rap. When I was younger I felt differently because I wanted the “true Hip hop” to not be threatened, but when you love something as much as I do - sometimes you got to let it grow into what it’s going to be. I think the test of a genre’s impact is whether we can argue about what’s “fake” and what’s “True”… pun intended.
Joe: Way to bring it back, to our featured track, buddy! Returning the conversation to Spandau Ballet, band Saxophonist Steve Norman says he sort of stumbled upon the instrument by accident. He started out as a drummer, but could never afford a full kit, so he got a guitar. Then, when it turned out there wasn’t room in the band for another guitarist, he switched to saxophone, teaching himself. The sax solo on “True” is actually a composite of two takes. Steve says, “I’d only been playing a year and was listening to Grover Washington Jr’s ‘Just the Two of Us’ with Bill Withers, over and over. The solo is a reply to that: at the key change things just lift off, giving the song a moment of elation.” You can definitely hear the inspiration. Let’s take a listen to that Grover Washington Jr. solo from “Just the Two of Us.”
🔊“Just the Two of Us”
Joe: And now let’s listen to Steve Norman’s sax solo in “True.”
🔊“True” Sax Solo
Joe: Both are beautifully crafted solos that propel the song with added depth and dimension.
Toby: I know this much is true, being in a band is hard work, and sometimes the business side of things can ruin great creative relationships. In 1999, the rest of the band tried to sue Gary Kemp for a share of his publishing royalties, claiming that they had agreed he would get half and they would all split the other half. Since Gary wrote the lyrics and music for the band’s songs, he was receiving all of the publishing royalties.
Joe: They lost the case and eventually dropped the appeal, but there is good news. By 2009 they had resolved their differences and reunited. In 2014 they released a greatest hits collection that contained three new songs, and the album reached the top ten in the UK. They went on a world tour the following year. Lead singer Tony Hadley then left the band in 2017 and was replaced by Ross William Wild.
Toby: I guess happy endings do happen outside of Disney movies! Let’s change course a little bit and get into our next featured track that samples “True.” Have another listen to P.M. Dawn and “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss.”
🔊“Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”
Toby: P.M. Dawn is a hip hop/R&B group composed of brothers Attrell and Jarret Cordes. The Cordes brothers knew their share of tragedy early on. Their father died of pneumonia and their younger brother drowned at the age of 2. The Cordes brothers were raised by their mom and stepfather George Brown.
Joe: interesting fact — this George Brown was a percussionist and keyboardist and just so happened to be one of the founding members of Kool and the Gang.
Toby: So Attrell was working doing night security and was able to save up money for their first demo.
Joe: Ahh yes. Trying to get signed. Have you ever done a demo?
Toby: I have - I’ve done at least 4.
Joe: Well the demo tape for the Cordes brothers cost them $600. I’m just assuming that included mixing and mastering. And it was money well spent as it did get them signed, but not without having to jump through some hoops at first. The label, Tommy Boy, thought that they sounded too familiar to the other hip hop groups. De La Soul weren’t the hardcore rap act the label was looking for.
Toby: Yeah hardcore is definitely NOT a term that I would used to describe P.M. Dawn. Attrell used the name Prince Be the Nocturnal and Jarret used DJ Minutemix as their stage names.
Joe: Wow… with names like Prince Be the Nocturnal, I feel like should change my name from Sonowats. What about “King Mojo the Dreamweaving Thunderlord of the Apocalypse?”
Toby: How about Just NO. Let’s get back to P.M. Dawn. Well thankfully another label did pick them to get signed. They were signed to the Gee Street label. Gee Street is a label based in the UK, but they weren’t the only UK label interested in the Cordes brothers.
Joe: Which is a very good thing, because Gee Street unfortunately went bankrupt during recording. Imagine your dream coming true and getting signed in the first place by a label that is confident enough in your music to fly you to the UK to record the album. And then boom… the label goes bankrupt during recording.
Toby: I can’t help but to think that the trips back and forth to England might have affected the cash flow. I’m just thinking that Gee Street might still be around if Frontier or Spirit Airlines existed back then. Regardless of how they went bankrupt, the label — including all of the recorded P.M. Dawn material — was bought by Island Records. Luckily they believed in P.M. Dawn as well and released several singles to gain traction before their album entitled: Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross was released. The first single “A Watcher’s Point of View (Dont’cha Think)," let’s take a listen to that:
🔊“A Watchers Point of View (Dont’cha Think)”
Joe: The song was an underground hit, but they made a giant leap into the mainstream with their second single which is our featured song “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss”. The song was a hit, and to add a cherry on top, Tony Hadley, lead singer from Spandau Ballet, has a cameo in the video. “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” hit the number 1 spot on Nov 30, 1991 and actually made history as being the first song since the introduction of the Nielsen Soundscan to do so.
Toby: Nielsen Soundscan, for those that don’t know, is a system that tracks sales of music and music video products in both US and Canada.
Joe: It kinda makes you wonder what people were using before Nielsen…
Toby: Great question: I’m so glad that you asked… Before Nielsen, Billboard employees would call stores across the country to ask about sales. I know… sounds real accurate right?
Joe: Right. I’m sure there was no fudging of statistics at all. But “Set Adrift” was certifiably a hit. Let’s break down some of the other samples on this track. Besides the obvious sample of “True,” “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” also samples Bob James 1975 track “Take Me to the Mardi Gras.” Let’s take a listen to that.
🔊“Take Me to the Mardi Gras” - Bob James
Joe: This is an instrumental cover of the Paul Simon original, which was found on his 1973 album entitled There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. I guess everyone wants to be a rapper! Let’s take a listen to the original “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” from Paul Simon.
🔊“Take Me to the Mardi Gras” - Paul Simon
Toby: And for those that think that drum break in the Bob James version sounds familiar, it has been sampled in several songs, one of the most well known being Run DMC’s “Peter Piper.” Let’s take a listen to that:
Joe: Love this track! It’s so funny that here we are talking about one of the hardest hip hop groups in history, Run DMC, in the same breath as P.M. Dawn. This is a group thought of more or less to be a part of the hippie movement of hip hop, along with Tribe Called Quest, and aforementioned De La Soul.
Toby: Just the fact that these songs are linked proves that music is a universal language.
Joe: Lyrically, Set “Adrift on Memory Bliss” connects multiple genres as well. They were clearly fans of Joni Mitchell. Let’s take a listen her song “The Boho Dance” off of her 1975 album The Hissing of Summer Lawns.
🔊“The Boho Dance”
Toby: You can hear how lyrics like “The camera pans the cocktail glass Behind a blind of plastic plants,” and “Subterranean by design” are lyrical interpolations of “The Boho Dance.”
Joe: And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the call back to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum.” Let’s listen.
Toby: Of course, P.M. Dawn spun this a bit to shout out the object of many a teenage boy’s fantasy, Christina Applegate, who at the time was starring in the TV show “Married with Children.”
Joe: Side note, a random tidbit I found out when researching this episode: Christina Applegate was one of the founding members of The Pussycat Dolls. And speaking of dolls, P.M. Dawn went on to have more success with their next release, “Paper Dolls,” which reached 28 on the Billboard Chart. Let’s take a listen to a bit of that:
Toby: I remember buying this album and wondering how many times “paper doll” was said on this song. I mean he says it a lot!
Joe: Good news, I counted for you. He actually says it 100 times. There’s only one other song that hit the top 40 that says it more and it’s a song from one our past episodes. If you guessed MC Hammer and his song “Pray”, you’d be correct.
Toby: If you guessed wrong, then we will be praying for you at the conclusion of this podcast. Joe, there’s a funny thing happens after you get a little fame. People actually start listening to what you’re saying on a variety of subjects.
Joe: Yes, I feel like this can be a good thing, or go south very quickly.
Toby: In order to tell this story I first need to say that it has to do with MC KRS–1 and for those that aren’t familiar with KRS–1, KRS–1 stands for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Every 1, and is respected as being one of the major forces that forged hip hop into what it is today. This dude is from the Bronx and famously took on the entire borough of Brooklyn with the song “The Bridge is Over." Let’s take a listen to that:
🔊“The Bridge is Over”
Toby: So the story goes that during an interview with the magazine, Details, Prince Be made the following statement about rap icon KRS–1. “KRS-One wants to be a teacher, but a teacher of what?”
Joe: OK, in the grand scheme of disses, this doesn’t feel like it should even move the needle. It’s kind of like saying, “I don’t really understand your point, would you please explain it to me kind sir?” Alright Tobe, tell me the rest of the story.
Toby: Well I wasn’t there but at the Sound Factory Nightclub a while later Kid Capri, well known NYC DJ, details what happened next. So P.M. Dawn comes on stage… it was [Prince Be] and [DJ Minutemix] in the booth, and it’s three girls [doing background singing]…They let him do his first song. When the hit started, it was all bad, man. Yo, they rushed on the stage—Kris and the whole crew…Kris grabbed the mic from [Prince Be]. I.C.U. grabbed all the girls, hugged them and picked them up at the same time [and led them off stage]. When Kris grabbed the mic, Will’ hit [Prince Be], which threw him off stage.” While Kris led the charge, Kid says it was his affiliate’s blow that sent Prince Be flying. However, it was a team effort. “Kenny [Parker] went in the [DJ] booth, threw the DJ out the booth. When the Kris threw them off stage [DJ Kenny Parker] threw on ‘South Bronx.’ It felt like the floor was gonna cave in. What was crazy was, when Kris left, Super Cat was supposed to be next. [However] when Kris left, the whole crowd [left and was] walking down the street with him. It looked like a video! Super Cat was on stage with nobody [left]. It was monumental!” Let’s take a listen to another song by KRS–1 called “South Bronx” just for the heck of it…
Joe: This is a classic case of not knowing your audience. Jeez this got way out of hand and quickly.
Toby: Thats hip hop! I just don’t think that right questions were asked.
Joe: What do you mean?
Toby: Immediately after Prince Be made that statement, the interviewing journalist should have asked the question: “Prince Be… Can you Box?”
Joe: Luckily this incident didn’t stop the hits from coming. P.M. Dawn got a chance to record a song for the movie Boomerang starring the one and only Eddie Murphy. This soundtrack had a number of hits to help it reach triple platinum status, including the P.M. Dawn track “I’d Die without You”. Let’s take a listen to that:
🔊“I’d Die Without You”
Toby: Actually one of my favorite tracks off of this soundtrack. Great track and in my opinion it showed the diversity of the group. The song was great and the movie was incredible. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it and been reminded the importance of making sure that my outfits coordinate.
Joe: That must explain why your shoe game is so on point. “I’d Die without You” peaked at # 3 on the charts. This song was also featured on their second album entitled “The Bliss Album…?,” released on March 3, 1993. Another single from that album was a track called “Looking Through Patient Eyes” Let’s take a listen to that:
🔊“Looking Through Patient Eyes”
Toby: Unfortunately this is when things start to take a downward slide. They got sued for allegedly using samples from a David Bastile and the Gladiator’s track called “Funky Soul.” P.M. Dawn and Island Records won the lawsuit, but their problems didn’t stop there.
Joe: Right before they released their third album, DJ Minutemix was arrested for charges alleging that he had sex with a minor in 2005. The charges were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence but by that time he had parted ways with P.M. Dawn. He was replaced by the Cordes brother’s paternal cousin Doc G. that same year.
Toby: As if that wasn’t bad enough, several years later, Prince B suffered a stroke in 2005 that left him paralyzed the left side of his body. Unfortunately his health still continued to decline. Health complications led to Prince B dying in June of 2016.
Joe: Very sad, but at least the music lives on. In April of 2018 it was announced that a rapper by the name of K-ROK would join Doc G to continue the group.
Toby: So let me get this straight, we don’t have either of the original members in the group now. Furthermore, they have redone several songs and they don’t sound remotely close to the original. This ain’t P.M. Dawn… this group should be called AM Dusk or something now.
Joe: Seriously. I’m just glad that we were able to get an original copy of their music. Alright Toby, time to get into this episode’s bonus material. What do you say we dig into some funk and see how many times one of the drum breaks that was sampled for “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” has been used by other artists?
Toby: I think you are referring to the 1974 track “Ashley’s Roachclip” from the funk group The Soul Searchers. I’m not sure who Ashley was, but she should be happy to have been immortalized in this song. Let’s listen to the drum break that appears at the 3 1/2 minute mark:
🔊“Ashley’s Roachclip” Drum Break
Joe: That’s every producer’s dream, a clean drum break to lift and loop. Which would explain why it’s appeared on over 400 tracks. Let’s check out the diversity of songs that have sampled “Ashley’s Roachclip.”
Toby: First up is Erik B & Rakim’s 1987 track “Paid in Full.”"
🔊“Paid in Full”
Joe: How about a #1 one hit from across the pond? This is EMF with their 1991 smash hit, “Unbelievable.”
Toby: Well I know that Lloyd sampled this break as a tribute to all the unbelievable girls that grace our planet. Let’s listen to his track featuring Lil Wayne, “Girls Around the World.”
🔊“Girls Around the World”
Joe: We can go old school again with some Geto Boys and their 1990 track “Scarface.”
Toby: And we can go back to pop with the 1994 hit from Des’ree, “You Gotta Be.”
🔊“You Gotta Be”
Joe: Alright Toby, we could literally spend the next several hours playing this game, but we are out of time. So I’ll match your pop sample with one from some international superstars that ruled the pop charts during their heyday…
Toby: Ah, I bet you are going with Duran Duran and their use of the Ashley’s Roachclip break on their song “Come Undone.”
Joe: No my friend, though that is a good one! We are going to head to Germany to find our next sample. This is Milli Vanilli and their hit “Girl You Know It’s True.”
🔊“Girl You Know”
Toby: I’m going to pretend that you didn’t play this just to torment me and instead were trying to bring this back around to tie into our first featured track, “True” from Spandau Ballet.
Joe: Tobe, you know it’s true. And while this song takes me back, I wouldn’t say it give me the same warm fuzzies as our other featured track, “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” by P.M. Dawn. But that’s enough trips down memory lane, let’s look towards the future. What do we have lined up for our next episode?
Toby: We are going to head to Chicago, then maybe Brazil, and see what makes Mr. Worldwide such a Street Player.
Joe: Can’t wait. Until then, we are going to take you out with a recent song that samples P.M. Dawn’s “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss.” This is Keyshia Cole featuring Remy Ma and French Montana and the song “You.” As always, thanks for listening.