In the annals of 90’s music, you might run across a band called Soul Coughing. If you hadn’t heard the name before you’d be likely to shrug it off as some metal band that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and probably wasn’t very good anyway. You’d be hard-pressed to find yourself more wrong.
While what we remember as alternative rock in the 90’s may mostly consist of that of two California bands; Cake and Sublime, the east coast too was making its own mark on music. G. Love and Special Sauce is one such example that still has a grip on music today, though his brand of hip-hop blues hasn’t been very groundbreaking since his debut in 1994 (Though “This Ain’t Livin'” is one of the most poignant songs you’d find on any record past and present) yet there was a band with an even more creative vision who came out of NYC who would call themselves Soul Coughing.
Poetry and music had been intertwined before, but usually only to little success, and found mostly in run-down jazz clubs and open mics. M. Doughty and his band mates would try to fill the void in popular music form, Doughty’s alliterative and abstract stanzas would be a percussive instrument of their own backed by a tremendous rhythm section of upright bass and drums. However clever his lyrics, it is doubtful just how good they would have been without another key member, Mark de Gli Antoni, who played keyboards, and more importantly provided samples.
Sampling today is more important than ever in rap music, the backbone by which most rap songs live and die by and yet creatively it was never better than when Soul Coughing was at their best. Listening to Ruby Vroom, their debut album is like stepping into the looking glass from Alice in Wonderland, everything is delightfully surreal and new. Not many bands would have the gall to start their debut song with a line like “A man drives a plane into the Chrysler Building” yet their sound is so unique and dynamic that by the time “Screenwriter’s Blues” and “Down To This” roll around, you’ll never look at Los Angeles, Howlin’ Wolf, or the Andrews Sisters the same.
Yet Soul Coughing isn’t a one-trick pony, their taste for the surreal blends rather well with true sentiment, “True Dreams of Wichita” wouldn’t feel out of place on an early Tom Waits album, with its musings on a recent break-up, and songs like “Soft Serve” combine a mellow instrumentation with intricate imagery.
Check out some of Soul Coughing’s material after the jump.
When The Beatles came together for the Anthology series it was easy to assume it was just another cash in (after all the band had been gone 25 years and Apple was still making money off their one band, and they still are). Real Love was the second Lennon demo that they had been given access to master and do what they please. But it comes off great, George’s guitar work is fantastic, John sounds fresh and alive, a quality sorely lacking in Free as A Bird, and the harmonies are there along with Ringo’s steady backbeat.
G. Love has been around an awful long time with his hip-hop/blues genre, and while that is no longer novel, G. Love has a knack for production that is the show piece of this song. Starting with beautifully played piano interwoven with upright bass, it blossoms into nice syncopated drum and acoustic guitar work, the melody is shimmering and the music surrounds you, its not so much his words that have the flow on this song, its the music, though the words are good too.
Slow Club is an English folksy rock duo in the She and Him style, except they’re much more bright in their melody and harmony, this song chugs along at a frenetic pace and the singing is wonderful and catchy too.
This song bursts out of the gate with a Motown drum roll but keeps itself low-fi, the melody is insanely catchy and the whole thing sounds like it was recorded on one take, full of life and energy, you can just hear the fun the band is having playing this song.
Q-Tip defied common belief when he continued to have a quality career after the fallout from A Tribe Called Quest’s breakup. This song has swagger but in ways that Jay-Z wished he had, the back track is funky and D’Angelo’s backing vocals are beautifully arranged, try and hate this song, go ahead I dare you.
Boasting a Simon & Garfunkelesque harmony as well as a feel for Elliot Smith melody, Pete and J (now known as Harper Blynn) are a great up and coming group fashioned in the old style melodies and classic rock production.
Prince is never conventional, and the cello violin arrangement thrown into this song is a perfect example of his eccentric genius, and no song about this subject matter should be this catchy and the bridge is fantastic. Favorite line thunder chimes out when the lightning sees her kinda makes you feel like a movie star. Wonderfully done all around song.
Some songs just put you in a mood, overcome with love and memory, this is one of them, the arrangement is sparse and the lyrics are beautifully poetic, and Sammy Davis Jr.’s performance here is fantastic.
People love to look back at the early years of The Beatles and criticize their simplicity, but sometimes simple is perfect (Lou Reed made a career out of it). This song is very beautiful in its understatement, the harmonies are great the melody is sweet and you can just hear their youth, and the feeling is universal.
As great as he was a guitarist, Jimi Hendrix was an equally excellent arranger and lyricist. His flashy guitar work takes a backseat on this one and even without it, I rate this as one of his best songs.
At the time they hadn’t blown up yet, Use Somebody and Sex on Fire hadn’t been overplayed by every single radio station yet, the bravado hadn’t come yet, but the presence was there, great arrangement and vocal performance on this one, I’d argue this song is more powerful then Use Somebody and Sex on Fire put together.
No longer was he under the shadows of Bob Dylan and Van Morrison comparisons, he was on his own, and he exploded on to the scene with this album. She’s the One doesn’t do alot to avoid his former comparisons though, it even adds a few new ones, his lyrics are as poetic as Dylans and his vocal performance is reminiscent of Morrison and Orbison and the guitar work, Bo Diddley. But that great melody, and those hooks, and the heart, thats all his.
Robert Palmer wasn’t always the suave power rock guy his 80’s hits made him out to be, sure he always loved the suits, but in the 70’s he was funky and he had great taste. Fine Time boasts the immortal James Jamerson on bass as well as a combined backing band of Little Feat and The Meters who were both great bands on their own. The highlight of the track though is the intensity he puts into the vocal performance, he really feels the music and he drives the band in return with his powerful presence.
Keb’ Mo’s first record soungs so organic, if you closed your eyes you’d feel like he was just in front of you playing his acoustic guitar, he’s got a great voice to boot, an underrated essential to being a bluesman, and nice harmonica work as well. A real sunny Sunday afternoon kind of song.
The original demo before The Beatles put their production hands on it, the piano work is beautiful as well as his vocals, its almost as if you’ve got him playing the piano just for you and its really endearing.