Monday, September 18, 2017

Get Eldritch or Die Trying

The curious Dark Shadows/hip hop connection


DARK SHADOWS has a recent-but-proud relationship with punk rock. The series was originally broadcast when the movement began to ferment in New York City during the late 1960s, but it wasn't until after the show hit The Sci-Fi Channel during the 1990s that DARK SHADOWS began to have any influence on the anti-genre. How we managed to never get a Ramones song about the Collins family is one of life's great mysteries, but The Damned, Misfits and Argyle Goolsby were more than ready to step up and fill that void.

Because the fan base of DARK SHADOWS is painfully white, the show's influence on hip hop during the 1990s went mostly overlooked. It shouldn't be surprising that the fans who picketed the cancellation of the series on the New Jersey Network during the 1980s weren't listening to the likes of Gang Starr or Chino XL a decade later, but they missed some of the most delightfully weird crossovers ever heard in popular music. If you thought those reggae tributes to DARK SHADOWS were offbeat, you ain't heard nothing yet.

Chino XL, "Waiting to Exhale"
From 1996 album "Here to Save You All"
This is one of the more subtle uses of composer Robert Cobert's music from DARK SHADOWS ... which is odd, because it's also one of the most pervasive. The song samples the music used for the "Meditations" track on "The Original Music from Dark Shadows" album from 1969. Jonathan Frid's dialogue from the original version is gone (more on that later) and the music re-pitched, creating the kind of background track that's equal parts horror movie and crime thriller. Frid's matra on "the throbbing sound/of a one way path to eternity" is replaced by "I'm slick like Deon Sanders/jheri curl when I represent." So, there's that.

Metal Fingers, "Hyssop"
From the 2003 album "Special Herbs, Vol. 4"
If you're familiar with Metal Fingers/MF Doom, the use of the DARK SHADOWS theme won't come as much surprise. This is a guy who routinely samples things like the 1967 FANTASTIC FOUR cartoon, SCOOBY DOO and Godzilla movies. Dude's a straight-up nerd who makes mc chris look like Bender from THE BREAKFAST CLUB. While a few of the artists on this list are fairly obscure, Doom has had a huge impact on music .... and you really should check him out. His 2004 album "Madvillain" is as good a place to start as any. Get thee to Amazon!

Gang Starr (feat. Big Shug and Freddie Foxxx), "The Militia"
From  the 1998 album "Moment of Truth"
Hey, look! It's the DARK SHADOWS theme again! As with the Chino XL track, Cobert's music is used to make things a bit tense, if not downright unsettling. If you've got any doubt that his score to DARK SHADOWS isn't balls-out terrific, just listen to how it retains its power even when stomped on by hip hop beats, chopped up and matted with dissonant lyrics. I don't have much of an opinion of Gang Starr (the only track of theirs I'm familiar with is "1/2 & 1/2" from the BLADE soundtrack, which isn't my favorite song in the world) but they get extra credit for this tune. (But I might subtract that credit because of the cheesy "Jack the Rapper" lyric here.)

Third Sight, "I Will Never Leave You"
From the 1998 album "The Golden Shower Hour"
David Selby makes his first (and maybe only?) contribution to hip hop with this track, which begins with his spoken word "Shadows of the Night." I've got to admire the balls of an artist "sampling" almost an entire track before sliding directly into another piece written by the same composer. (Cobert's "Meditations" is used again.) Bela Lugosi gets a shout out here, but at this point the use of the same pieces of music in exactly the same way is getting a little tired. But hey, it ends with a short clip of more DARK SHADOWS music, this time some of the faux-rock used during scenes at The Blue Whale. The whole thing is a little ponderous, but I'm still chalking this up as a win.

King Geedorah,
"Take Me to Your Leader"
From the 2003 album "Take Me to Your Leader"
If you love MF Doom, you already know the name King Geedorah ... because they're the same guy. Doom's identity crisis is pretty well established, but if you're interested in catching up you can find a short outline of his many aliases HERE. In "Take Me to Your Leader" he throws everything and the kitchen sink at the beats, including dialogue from FIST OF THE NORTH STAR, "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" by Hall and Oates and Looney Tunes. Does it all add up to anything? I can't tell.

Hive, "A Chain of Prophecies"
and "One Way Path"
From the 1998 album "Devious Methods"
With these last two tracks we're leaving hip hop behind for the world of trip hop/drum & bass. Hive is a Los Angeles DJ who made the kind of music that would have sounded right at home played behind images of Wesley Snipes killing vampires. These two tracks are essentially the same, so I'm leading with "One Way Path." Once again, Cobert's "Meditations" is sampled, but this time with pitch-shifted vocals by Jonathan Frid. The title of this tune is taken from the original lyrics to "Meditation," which fit these dreamy beats like a glove.

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