May 30, 2011

Watch the Closing Doors: A History of New York's Musical Melting Pot

Somewhat quietly, UK label Future Noise Music has been amassing a catalog of excellent reissues, and smart compilations that put the proper perspective on different musical genres. A  big part of their efforts has been long time music writer, music maker & scene shaper, Kris Needs. After putting together two excellent volumes of Dirty Water: The Birth of Punk Attitude, with liner notes worthy of a book, Needs and Future Noise subsidiary Year Zero have recently announced the release of a massive undertaking beginning on June 20th - the release throughout this year of a five volume, double album series entitled Watch the Closing Doors: A History of New York's Musical Melting Pot. This is surely the soundtrack equivalent to Tony Fletcher's 2009 book, All Hopped Up & Ready To Go, and then some!

Here's what Suicide's Martin Rev has to say about this series: "No doubt this is a major work of total uniqueness and scholarship. I'm sure it's the first and definitely only of such depth and breath of knowledge.


The booklet is a major document in itself, an important historical volume. The notes from these releases should be printed together as a separate entity in book form.


Absolute congratulations. It's a rare sensibility that would and could put something like this together."

Needs, who lived in NYC during the 1980's, will be hopefully be sending along some exclusive tidbits to Stupefaction in the near future to put a bit more focus on his perspective. We worked together at Bleecker Bobs for a couple of years, and we certainly had a time of it. 

Here's everything you need to know for a start...



Watch The Closing Doors: A History of New York’s Musical Melting Pot is a five volume, double CD series, by renowned journalist and author Kris Needs. This ambitious project is released throughout 2011 via Year Zero and it is aiming to capture the fast-vanishing magic of New York City while documenting major musical landmarks and developments, decade –by-decade from post-war New York of the mid 1940s through to 2000s.

The first volume focuses on the 1940s and 50s, setting the scene for a further five sets, straddling the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s, each accompanied by a book containing the relevant musical and social history, artist biographies, illustrations and Needs’ own stories and recollections of the city that once never slept. For some local perspective and occasional advice on inclusions, Needs is pestering names he has encountered during his 35 years as a writer, starting with Suicide’s Martin Rev. For the distinctive artwork, he is applying the graffiti techniques he picked up in New York in the early 80s.

The first volume includes jazz giants such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Cozy Cole, Horace Silver, Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk, Machito the Mambo king, the burgeoning activism-fired folk and blues movements represented by Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers, Harry Belafonte, Josh White, Dave Van Ronk, New Lost City Ramblers, Allen Ginsberg heading up the Beats, John Cage and Raymond Scott the avant garde and Cab Calloway the Cotton Club street-slicker, before Big Joe Turner ushers in the rock ‘n‘ roll revolution along with Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters and the Honeycones. Singing the blues are Danny ‘Run Joe’ Taylor, Sonny Terry and Big Maybelle. The singers which the city became renowned for are beautifully here in the spine-tingling soul forms of Nina Simone, Faye Adams and Billie Holiday, while the mighty cavalcade of vocal groups who, for many, define New York City, include the Paragons, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Five Satins and the Embers.

Explains Needs, who recently compiled and annotated two volumes of the highly-successful Dirty Water; The Birth Of Punk Attitude, ‘I first became fascinated with New York City in the 60s through Dylan’s early albums and Phil Spector’s girl group sound spearheaded by the Ronettes, further stoked by anarcho-poets the Fugs and wild side narratives of the Velvet Underground. The 70s saw Latin hot sauce, before the whole CBGBs-fostered punk invasion and the parallel disco explosion plus, it has to be said, gritty TV programmes like Kojak adding fuel to a burning desire to experience New York’s evident buzz for myself. The early 80s erupted in a post-disco boogie wonderland, which couldn’t help spilling into post-punk’s wildly-disparate innovations and the hiphop explosion.

  I finally got to visit New York in the early 80s. It was every bit as exciting, dangerous and artistically volcanic as I’d hoped for, so I spent a lot of time there, living there for nearly five years in which I experienced every aspect, from cathartic gigs and clubs to jail and hospital. Even when I became a victim of the city’s mercilessly savage dark side in the late 80s, I still got the same buzz from traversing the streets, riding cabs and the subway, listening to the 24 hour radio stations and hitting the bars and clubs.

Over the last decade this has grown into a more scholarly obsession, investigating everything from the history of the subway to the bottomless well of music to be found in genres that I’ve only recently really began to appreciate, such as jazz. During the course of this foraging, it often occurred that, while there have been many sets documenting the city’s groundbreaking artists and seismic musical scenes, they usually focus on one particular genre, scene or era. There hasn’t really been a project which brings together all the different ingredients in New York City’s musical melting pot as they happened in parallel neighbourhoods since the war. The sets will aim to reflect the different forms of music which gestated in local scenes, often before exploding onto the world stage; jazz, folk, mambo, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, avant garde, psychedelia, electronic, punk, hiphop, disco, electro, house and post-punk’

Since time immemorial, those who visit New York for the first time have come back reporting similar epiphanies, whether that first senses-blasting glimpse of the skyline from a yellow cab, or the unique energy coursing through the teaming streets and whichever gigs and clubs selected from the multiple choices available every night of the week. This century has seen those feelings increasingly tempered with a realisation that the funky New York of legend and infamy is vanishing as Times Square turns into Disneyland and once no-go Lower East Side streets become safe to navigate through the next trendy bar or cafĂ©. The Downtown spirit which fired up so much great music has been smothered by sky-high rents, Mayor Giuliani’s ‘zero tolerance’ crime blitz and closing of long-running venues such as CBGBs. August Darnell, one of New York’s most celebrated exports in his Kid Creole persona, says he cries when he goes back to the city where he grew up. “New York has changed so drastically. The thing that bothers me most is the melting pot aspect is gone. Manhattan has become an island for the very wealthy.”

One of the aims of the series is to document and celebrate this lost world before it totally disappears, give it some unity and due respect, while striving to explain why the New York of the last half of the 20th century was the most exciting place on Earth. The buildings and individuals might be disappearing, but that indefinable spirit which affected so many has thankfully been captured for posterity on countless records, standing like snapshots of a bygone age, the tip of a mighty iceberg which will be gathered on these albums like an old photo album.

Like the subway system is the lifeblood artery of the city, we will pinball through neighbourhoods and boroughs, musical trends and styles, accompanied by a bit of local background to conjure something of a backdrop as, quite often, the music was born out of the environment, whether positive or negative. There will also be the odd incident which may prompt the age-old sigh, ‘Only in New York’.

1 comment:

NYCDreamin said...

I agree, a definate audio companion to "All Hopped Up." Looks pretty cool - looking forward to more!

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