Steely Dan Discogs Haul

Steely Dan is one of the reasons that I got into records, and after buying these records I want to buy a better record player to get as much out of these records as I can. The quality can’t compare to perfect digital versions, but with this band and its obsessive attention to the sound of the album, I am sure there is a lot that I am missing. What I am saying is, listening Steely Dan is a great way to test out your audio system, and for that alone they are a great purchase for any record collector. I love the group, and found a seller on Discogs that had Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied and Gaucho so I got all three, along with a couple others. Since I was only paying a few bucks for a Manu Dibango album and Miami Sound Machine’s Primitive Love, I thought I got a good deal on all five for less than $30.

Manu Dibango – Ambassador

Great early 80’s album from Cameroonian Manu Dibango, who plays all solo saxophone and marimbas on the record. Known mostly outside of world music for Soul Makossa and “Mama-say, mama-sa, ma-ma-ko-ssa”, 1981’s Ambassador is full of awesome grooves and was recorded in Kingston, at Compass Point in Nassau, in New York, Paris and London. This is the first Manu Dibango album I have listened to in its entirety, and I really enjoyed the wide styles incorporated on this album, including funk, soul, jazz and dub. Its a great first album to buy from Manu Dibango, and I’ll be looking out for any albums from this UNESCO Artist For Peace that I can find.

Listenability – 4 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – 3 LPs

Miami Sound Machine – Primitive Love

You may be thinking, Henry, you jackass. Whatever you paid for this, you paid that much more than it’s worth. And it’s true, it’s tough to listen to. The drum machines sound like really cheap drum machines, the FM synths on some songs sound like they were recorded in a Sam Ash. It sounds like people just programming pop sequencers and samplers, but sometimes it’s better than the awful 80’s schlock that can sound more composed. Conga was an enormous success for them, too, but the ballads are mostly also-rans. I think I bought it because I believed there would be some venue for this music, and I love the gruyere that is Primitive Love. I like it so much more than everything else on this album, and I really wish they just went for it every time like they did in the title track. It could be the Cuban Giorgio Moroder/Miami Bass crossover of my dreams. But if you like Gloria Estefan, this is one of the best albums in her long career.

Listenability – 1 LP Mood – 1 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – 1 LP

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic

1974’s Pretzel Logic was the group’s third album, and second with only Donald Fagan performing vocals. The music is incredible, with some of the musicians in the session business, and the songs are all terrific. Listening to it again, I’m still surprised how uniformly excellent each song is, with most about three minutes. The B-side of Rikki Don’t Lose Your Number is Any Major Dude Will Tell You, a sincere attempt to reassure a down friend with enough cleverness to avoid becoming melodramatic. The title track was also released as a single, and is my favorite on the album.

Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, on the left, would later be retained by Northrop Grumman as a defense consultant.

The guitar playing is also very bluesy and interesting from Denny Dias and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, who would go on to join The Doobie Brothers immediately after this album was recorded. Baxter also had a second career as a defense consultant due to his knowledge of electronics and aviation and research into missile defense systems. After buying this only to find Katy Lied inside, I just went online and bought both for about $8 in near mint condition.

Listenability – 5 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 2 LPs Value – 5 LPs

Steely Dan – Katy Lied

The followup to Pretzel Logic and released the next year, Katy Lied picks up with the same style of elaborate arrangements and absolute best from every musician involved. And the songs average about three and a half minutes, which is unbelievable for all that’s packed into each song. The musical styles range from overdriven and bluesy to glassy and jazzy, and the way that it becomes such fluid pop has to be attributed to the incredible songwriting talent of Fagan and Becker.

I’m still surprised by how much I am enjoying these records after having listened to the songs on them so many times, but listening to the album itself straight through has a different sort of appreciation. While the music Steely Dan made over a half-decade is consistently amazing, there are a lot of highlights, especially Doctor Wu, on Katy Lied. But in its entirety, it is incredible even now to hear all at once. I’m sure that I’ll always be able to play this album and enjoy how impressive everything sounds.

Listenability – 5 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 2 LPs Value – 5 LPs

Steely Dan – Gaucho

The Cuervo Gold, the fine Colombian, the slickest Steely Dan album. 1980’s Gaucho, named after an Argentinian Cowboy, was released three years after Aja and took about two years to record due partially to Fagan’s and Becker’s perfectionism and personal problems. Becker was hit by a taxi in NYC and remained in a wheelchair during the recording of the album and became addicted to drugs, contributing to a strained relationship with Fagan. The next Steely Dan album would be released 20 years later, and would win a Grammy for best album.

Gaucho is a great album, overproduced, but full of excellent songs that you’d expect from the group. Side A starts with Babylon Sisters and Hey Nineteen, and subsequently every song after doesn’t reach the same high, but it’s still so much better than so much music that it’s among the Steely Dan albums that you should listen to if you like the group.

Listenability – 4 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 1 LP Value – 4 LPs

Discogs Dance Haul

After having little success finding dance tracks in record stores, I decided to grab a bunch on Discogs, finding this entire collection for about $25. I was happy to have about 20 minutes worth of dance tracks, and ones that audiences would recognize and have broad appeal. If I had to produce a bunch of music and only had vinyl records to play, I thought I’d be on my way to being covered. Especially if I had to DJ a wedding, an opportunity I should have insisted on but missed. I’ve collected more 12″ since this Discogs order, but this was fun to grab a bunch of records for a few bucks and collect some classic singles and get a couple classic albums while I could bundle some records to save on shipping.

Bananarama – Venus 12″

The label says it all, its in E Minor and the tempo is 126 BPM. The English production trio of Stock Aitken Waterman ran off hit after hit by exploiting Hi-NRG club music and bringing it to artists like Bananarama and writing songs for Rick Astley and Kylie Minogue. SAW followed up their huge hit for Dead or Alive, 1985’s You Spin Me Right Round with this Venus in 1986 for Bananarama, which hit No. 1 in the U.S. Its a typical example of mid-80’s Hi-NRG tracks, filling every 1/16 note with LinnDrum percussion and synths. I started getting dance 12″s in case I needed to just fill some time with dance tracks, and I figured I could do worse.

Listenability – 1 LP Mood – 2 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – 1 LP

Basement Jaxx – Remedy

Basement Jaxx’s 1999 debut Remedy spawned four singles, Rendez-Vu, Red Alert, Jump N’ Shout and Bingo Bango, all classic tracks that still sound great. The album was released at a time when The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim were the faces of electronic music, but Basement Jaxx were seen as a savior of dance music in England. The duo of Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe were hyped a great deal, with Rolling Stone writing “Basement Jaxx have spun the whole British dance scene upside down,” and “set the dance world on fire”. Basement Jaxx went from spinning house music weekly in the basement of a taco restaurant in Brixton to scoring three No. 1 hits on the U.S. dance charts with Remedy. Since I was trying to collect more dance tracks, I opted to just buy this album since it had so many great songs and really compelling artwork. Classic!

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 5 LPs Value – 3 LPs

Earth, Wind & Fire – That’s the Way of the World

This is the Earth, Wind & Fire I had been looking for since I started buying records. I wasn’t able to find it in any record stores, for some reason, so I opted to just buy it on Discogs for a low price. Starting with Shining Star and the title track on side one, 1975’s That’s the Way of the World is one of EWF’s best albums and an enduring classic. The album went 5x platinum, and the band won a Grammy for Best R&B performance for Shining Star. The musicianship is characteristically terrific on all of these tracks while Reasons is a perennial ballad because of the voice of Philip Bailey. A definitely must-own, if you can find That’s the Way of the World in a record store (I was just impatient) be sure to pick it up, it belongs in every collection.

Listenability – 5 LPs Mood – 5 LPs Danceability – 5 LPs Value – 5 LPs

Soul II Soul – Keep on Movin’

Another album to pad the dance tracks, Keep on Movin’ is a classic that I needed to have. The drum machine rhythms and soulful vocals date it, but it reached #1 on the R&B charts in the U.S. and it is still a great track. Before becoming a big star, winning Grammys and producing work for Sinead O’Connor, Smashing Pumpkins and U2, Nellee Hooper released great club music while incorporating soul, R&B and dub/raggae in Soul II Soul. He also produced Massive Attack and was a member of that group when it was The Wild Bunch. Keep on Movin’ sold over a million copies in the U.S. and is a staple of late 80’s dance music.

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – 3 LPs

M/A/R/R/S – Pump up the Volume 12″

A collaboration between A.R. Kane and Colourbox, Pump up the Volume is a seminal dance song that makes inventive use of sampling and hip-hop rhythms back in 1987. The song was an effort by the bands to produce a hit dance track for America, and it succeeded there and worldwide, going to No. 1 in the U.S., No. 1 at home in the UK, and also to the top in Canada and New Zealand. It was such a success that the artists were mired in litigation with the aforementioned Stock Aitken Waterman production group/record label, which fairly earned SAW the ire of the entire music world. It’s fresh, it can still get people dancing, and belongs in any collection of British acid house for its enormous influence on the genre.

Listenability – 4 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 5 LPs Value – 5 LPs

End of June Haul

At the end of June, I had a lot of new reference points for records that I wanted to buy. I also had good luck finding albums at great prices, which indicated that I should be more, ahem, uninhibited in my selections. For the price of a coffee, you can afford to be liberally selective, and at the end of the month I was really starting to build out my collection with these in-store purchases and other Discogs buys.

I was able to find great albums at Rasputin’s that week, including Joe Sample’s Carmel and Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygene, and George Benson’s Greatest Hits for one buck. I also found a bootleg Sergio Mendes record for $0.50. At Jack’s Record Store I found Cameo’s Feel Me and the Japanese jazz-fusion band Native Son’s self-titled, which really turned out to be an interesting record. I felt that I had good luck at the end of June and it was a good time, when record collection held so much potential for me.

Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygene

History has been kinder to Oxygene, which was received poorly when it was released in 1976. It was Jean Michel Jarre’s first album that wasn’t a soundtrack, but it still sounds like one, and critical comparisons to Tangerine Dream are valid. But the synths on Oxygene sound terrific and it made a lot of new listeners appreciate electronic music, selling over 12 million worldwide. Oxygene is a good album if you are looking for cinematic synthesizer sounds or a fun listen to an electronic music classic.

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 1 LP Value – 3 LPs

Joe Sample – Carmel

Carmel-by-the-Sea serves as the inspiration for Joe Sample’s album Carmel, released in 1979, seven years before it would elect Clint Eastwood as its mayor. “A spectacular greeting of the land and sea,” and “symphony of life” with “a thousand love songs” inspires an album of great piano grooves that feature The Crusader’s Stix Hooper producing and playing drums. It sounds like early smooth jazz on some songs, a lot more than Street Life, which was amazingly also released the same year. But the musicians on Carmel are all terrific and have covered a lot of ground, making the album occasionally unpredictable but an impressive and enjoyable listen.

I also learned that Joe Sample and Stix Hooper lost a lost of recordings to the 2008 Universal Studios fire, and although much of the material is already digitized, the quality may never get better than what has already been released. Its worth the probably under $5 price you will find it for.

Listenability 4 LPs Mood 4 LPs Danceability – 2 LPs Value – 4 LPs

Steely Dan – The Royal Scam

A lot of the songs on 1976’s The Royal Scam got me into Steely Dan when I was first playing guitar, and Larry Carlton’s work on this album made me a big fan of him (and The Crusaders) and of Walter Becker and Donald Fagan. If it hadn’t been for songs like Kid Charlemagne and Don’t Take Me Alive, it probably would have taken me longer to appreciate all of their work since it was the guitar that drew me in a lot more. But it seemed inevitable anyway. The greater rock focus on their songs usually results in it being ranked lower than say 1979’s Aja, but the other singles The Fez and Haitian Divorce show their versatility and humor. I bought The Royal Scam at Amoeba Music in mint condition, you can find it in many places too. Fans of Steely Dan are going to buy this record, and it is a great album, but non-fans who want to try a more rocking version should try it too.

Listenability – 4 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value 4 LPs

Heatwave – Too Hot To Handle

Heatwave offers, “If you can’t afford to move to England, you can at least afford to move to the English disco sound,” and I guess that’s true. The Rod Temperton-composed album features him playing keyboards while Johnnie and Keith Wilder of Dayton, OH provide the vocals. Heatwave began when Johnnie Wilder, Jr. responded to an ad placed by British songwriter Temperton and then released Too Hot To Handle in The UK in 1976 and the U.S. in 1977. Their debut album went platinum in the U.S. and features the single Boogie Nights, which reached #2 in the UK and U.S. Other songs run the funk/disco gamut that Temperton would bring to Michael Jackson two years later in Off the Wall while the vocals of Johnny Wilder, Jr. make a difference in these songs. Heatwave’s debut is a good example of music that set the mold for disco and would ride that wave to success, and the songs are funky too.

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – 3 LPs

George Benson – Greatest Hits

I bought this album mostly for Breezinand Give Me the Night, but this is a fine sampling of a jazz legend’s music. This album attempts to straddle the careers of George Benson the jazz guitarist and George Benson the smooth jazz vocalist, and includes big hits like The Greatest Love of All, later re-recorded by Whitney Houston, and guitar showcases like White Rabbit and Cast Your Fate to the Wind. But Bobby Womack’s Breezin’ and the Rod Temperton-written Give Me The Night are so good they would make waiting in a dentist’s office almost tolerable.

This ‘Greatest Hits’ collection is full of George Benson songs and serves as an excellent introduction. I see these records everywhere, so you’ll find a good value, and if you haven’t listened to George Benson or have only heard one of his songs in a Duane Reade this is a good pick.

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – 5 LPs

The Gap Band – Not Guilty

Taken from The Gap Band’s first self-titled album released in 1977, Not Guilty/Knucklehead Funkin’/Listen to the Music is great early Gap Band funk. Synths are not as prominent as they would be later, but these three songs have a lot of what made The Gap Band a very popular funk band in the late 70’s/early 80’s. I found this promo release for $1, and not having been able to find a lot of other Gap Band records I scooped it up. Nice little record, but not as good as the music the Wilson brothers would later make.

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 2 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – 3 LPs

Cameo – Feel Me

Now fully in funk territory, Cameo’s 1980 album Feel Me was their sixth album, with their first six all made within a four year span. Feel Me has classics like Keep It Hot and other choice cuts like the title track along with very funky tracks throughout Side A and B. Once a 14-piece band known as the New York Players led by drummer Larry Blackmon, Cameo would become very successful in the 80’s, but this album from the middle of their successful period showcases the straightforward funk that Cameo could pull off. Recorded at H&L Sound Studios in Englewood Cliffs, NJ! Carla says, “Do you think Bruno Mars listened to this record?”

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – 3 LPs

Native Son – Native Son

I’ve never heard of Native Son, but they were a Japanese jazz fusion band that were active in the early 80’s. I thought the artwork was cool on this album, and I looked at the instruments and musician credits: Fender Rhodes? Saxophones? Electric bass and cuica? It looked good, and was a pleasant surprise among the records I bought. 1979’s Native Son can sound cheesy, but its mostly impressive jazz-funk that I’m happy I was able to find. I haven’t been able to find anything else about this band, so it will remain somewhat of a mystery to me.

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 2 LPs Danceability – 1 LP Value – 2 LPs

Return To Forever – Where Have I Known You Before

This was one of the first fusion albums I listened to, drawn to the accolades given to the keyboard work of Chick Corea and the guitar of Al Di Meola, and I didn’t really like it. I remember meeting much older progressive rock fans who talked about this record, but I wasn’t digging it. It is one of the most fusion-y albums I have ever listened to, one of the first and best examples of the genre, and 10 years later I appreciate it more. The virtuoso keyboard playing and guitar work is exceptional. When I started buying more fusion records, I stayed on the lookout for this one and found it for about $4. Recommended to people interested in jazz fusion, the songs here are standouts and show what made Return to Forever one of the frontrunners of the genre.

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 1 LP Value – 3 LPs

Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

I found this in one of the underneath bins at Rasputin, and for $0.50 I couldn’t pass it up. It is actually a bootleg, which explains its low price, but otherwise its a great copy of a great album by the most popular Brazilian group in the U.S. Fool on the Hill is another perfectly cromulent cover of a Beatles song by Brasil ’66, and the rest of the songs are great loungy, adult contemporary music to play during get-togethers or while you are cooking dinner. Also has the Simon and Garfunkel song Scarborough Fair, and other fun ones like Fiesta.

Listenability – 4 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – N/A

First Discogs Haul

Discogs is a fantastic online record store and vendors that often are record stores across the world, or collectors that buy and sell vast quantities of records. I also use it to track my collection, which helps when cataloguing which release I have and provides additional details about the pressing.

I initially made a lot of purchases on Discogs to build out my collection, and its fantastic at that; the prices are often lower than what you would find in record stores, or good for hard to find releases. And browsing/combining records to save on shipping is fun while deliveries are nice to receive. However, you can sometimes buy so many records that you deprive yourself of the store experience and digging for good finds. That might be a terrible way to spend time for some people, so if that’s the case Discogs is a great resource for you!

This was my first purchase on Discogs, and the experience was good. You have to rely on descriptions for the state of many records, but you can’t always tell if a record will play flawlessly by sight either, so its a crapshoot sometimes. Just be sure to acquaint yourself with the Discogs grading guide when you purchase records.

Herbie Hancock – Future Shock

Interesting album from Herbie Hancock, 1983’s Future Shock is best known for Rockit, a five minute exploration of sampling and turntablism. Rockit became a hip-hop/electro classic, largely because of its music video, which received a lot of airtime on MTV once the network started to play music by black artists. Future Shock was originally conceived by Material’s Bill Laswell and Michael Beinhorn, with Herbie Hancock playing keyboards and releasing the album under his name. The album is very textured and incorporates drum machine rhythms to maintain a consistent feel, but still brings out some feeling in the keyboards and vocals.

A departure for Herbie Hancock for sure, Future Shock is an interesting record for its intersection of Material’s No Wave experimentation, Herbie Hancock’s virtuosity and the rapidly developing instrumentation in hip-hop. While Robert Christgau thinks “those who esteem “Rockit” as highly as Head Hunters are too kind to Head Hunters“, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, and Future Shock is a great addition for anyone who likes Herbie Hancock or Material.

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 2 LPs Value – 4 LPs

The Timelords – Doctorin’ the Tardis

The first big KLF hit, Doctorin’ the Tardis is “probably the most nauseating record in the world” and the KLF’s efforts to go for the lowest common denominator by referencing popular British touchstones with their mixing of Gary Glitter’s Rock And Roll (Part 2) and the Doctor Who theme song. The record went on to reach No. 1 on the UK singles chart, and of course the Bill Drummond/Jimmy Cauty duo followed it up with the book The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way). Doctorin’ the Tardis is more than a novelty because of its deliberateness but much less than the heights of popularity and musical accomplishment the KLF would reach. The artwork on the single is great and second side has an unlistenable club mix.

Listenability – 1 LP Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 2 LPs Value – 1 LPs

Chic – Chic

Chic released its debut album in 1977 and went gold on the success of singles Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) and Everybody Dance. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards are musically terrific as always, and Everybody Dance is one of my favorite Chic songs, but they would go on to record better albums than their first. Rodgers’ love of Roxy Music shows in the cover, a reference to Country Life.

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 4 LPs Value – 3 LPs

Chic – Risque

Chic’s best album, Risque it starts off with the classic Good Times and keeps rolling. The other singles, My Feet Keep Dancing and My Forbidden Lover, are impressive as well and demonstrate Chic’s ability to ride a groove, a talent that made Rodgers and Edwards enormously popular at the time and for years to follow. Immensely enjoyable, 1979’s Risque sold over a million copies and represents Rodgers and Edwards best single album. Every track is just great, great music from supremely talented songwriters.

Listenability – 4 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 5 LPs Value –4 LPs

Donovan – Greatest Hits

You can find Donovan records in most stores, but I found this at a low price and it looked like an interesting package with an included booklet. There are some big hits like Hurdy Gurdy Man, Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow but also other songs like Epistle To Dippy that were only released as UK singles and express Donovan’s gratitude at looking through “all kinds of windows” and through “crystal spectacles”. This is probably the best place to start with Donovan, the record was released at a time when Donovan was very popular (January 1969) so copies are not expensive.

Listenability – 4 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 2 LPs Value –4 LPs

Econo Jam Haul – Oakland

I visited Econo Jam Records in Oakland before going to the New Parkway Theater to attend a fun karaoke night and was impressed by it. The store is fairly small and sells a good selection of records, so if you are in the area I definitely recommend checking it out. I was able to find six records for about $25, and was happy to snag a copy of Songs in the Key of Life for $8, but the condition of the record is so bad I am going to have to replace it at some point. I also left the copy of MFSB’s Love Is The Message that I was going to buy in the store somewhere, so it a little frustrating, but I’ll be back at some point. And go for karaoke at the New Parkway Theater while you are at it!

Peter Frampton – Frampton

Peter Frampton’s fourth album Frampton, released in 1975, contains the hits Show Me The Way and Baby, I Love Your Way. Peter Frampton left Humble Pie to go solo, and did not reach the level of success he is known for until he released the classic live double album Frampton Comes Alive one year later. That live album contains many of the same songs and is superior in nearly every way than this release but the guitars, vocals and talkbox still make this enjoyable. If you can find Frampton Comes Alive, which was a much bigger seller and should be highly available, get that rather than 1975’s Frampton.

Listenability – 2 LPs Mood – 2 LPs Danceability – 1 LP Value – 2 LPs

2 Live Crew – Greatest Hits Vol. 2

I love 2 Live Crew, I love Miami Bass and I respect Luther Campbell for standing up against the Broward County, FL sheriff and its efforts to censor him. For anyone not familiar with 2 Live Crew, I recommend watching the wonderful 30 for 30 documentary The U, which covers Luther Campbell as much as it does the Miami Hurricanes. After buying this compilation, I learned that the record label responsible for it, L’il Joe Records, is threatening litigation against Mr. Mixx for even using the 2 Live Crew name or playing this music despite the fact that he created it. But I got this compilation for $1, and that’s worth it just for six minutes of Get It Girl, never mind tracks like the superbly tasteless Me So Horny and Banned in the U.S.A. I can throw this on any time, its freaky, I’ll have fun, and people will dance to it.

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 5 LPs Value – 5 LPs

RJD2 – Since We Last Spoke

Columbus, Ohio’s RJD2 followed up Deadringer with 2004’s Since We Last Spoke, and although it did not receive as many favorable reviews as his debut it is still a very good record. Much like DJ Shadow, RJD2 ventures into different territory for his sophomore album and away from sample-heavy instrumental hip-hop, with fewer immediate tracks standing out as on Deadringer. There are more straightforward rockers and soul songs as Since We Last Spoke dwells in the sounds of the 70s, like “Clean Living” built around a groove from fellow Ohio artist Pure Essence’s “Third Rock”. The double LP starts with a heavy first side, first disc and mellows out in the middle before moving into power-pop territory with “Through the Walls”. Perfect for playing in the background during a little get-together but not background music, highlights on this satisfying album include 1976, Making Days Longer and Clean Living.

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 2 LPs Value – 3 LPs

Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life

Stevie Wonder’s music has got to be one of the reasons that people collect records. There is something about putting on one of these albums on that streaming music can not replicate, and fortunately you can find Stevie Wonder records at most secondhand stores. Songs in the Key of Life was released in 1976, sold over five million copies (ten if you count each LP) and was Stevie Wonder’s most successful release. Featuring sparse songs like “Vintage Ghetto Land” that showcase Stevie Wonder’s voice, “Black Man” with its futuristic synths and schoolhouse call-and-response and the jazz fusion of “Contusion”, the album won Stevie Wonder his third Grammy for best album and is unequivocally considered one of the best albums ever made.

This album should be in everyone’s collection, but be careful, Stevie Wonder’s albums are some of the most marked up despite many selling over a million copies. Still, you won’t find better music, so whatever the cost it is probably worth it. If you are able to get the additional bonus disc, lucky you, I’ve never seen it included in any store.

Listenability – 5 LPs Mood – 5 LPs Danceability – 4 LPs Value – 4 LPs

Electric Light Orchestra – Out of the Blue

Love him or hate him, Jeff Lynne can write very catchy and musically inventive songs, and Electric Light Orchestra’s Out of the Blue also sold 10 million records after it was released in 1977. Riding a wave of disco fever, the album also delivers for fans of a band that attempts to carry The Beatles’ legacy. Probably one of ELO’s most accomplished albums, Out of the Blue uses strings, synths and Lynne’s voice on lead and backing vocals to create a fantastically lush sound. It’s also notable for its early use of the vocoder.

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 2 LPs Value – 5 LPs

The O’Jays – Ship Ahoy

With cover art and a title track depicting the passage of African slaves to the Americas, The O’Jays Ship Ahoy combines stark commentary with soul ballads in a 1973 release that went gold the next year and platinum in 1992. It was a big success for Philadelphia International and the songwriting team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who originally intended some of the material for the soundtrack to the film Shaft in Africa. The O’Jays released this a year after Back Stabbers, and released two singles, the sublime For the Love of Money and Put Your Hands Together. For the Love of Money combines Anthony Jackson’s phased and echo’d bass with a straightforward look at the root of all evil, and was apparently was the theme song for The Apprentice, so that might have ruined it for some of you. But I never saw The Apprentice, it sounds amazing and it’s impossible to ignore how uncompromising its view of money is.

Listenability – 4 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – 5 LPs

New Record Hauls

Sometimes you have to pay the piper, and if you want a record you’ll need to buy it new. If I want to play some of my favorite albums or introduce someone to an artist I appreciate, I would like to have these records. I visited Green Apple Books in the Richmond with a gift card to buy a couple records, and after looking through their small collection I realized I was going to have to buy new. I found two albums that I listened to a lot in college as I was discovering new music thanks to a very active filesharing community. I was very fortunate to find it as it opened up all kinds of new music to me, including Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation and DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing…, and I might otherwise not be buying these records today.

I also purchased a few new records from Amoeba Music after not finding any used records on my first trip there. I hit the electronica section first and found Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92 and Boards of Canada’s Music Has The Right To Children, then picked up Parliament’s The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein. While I mostly go to record stores looking for secondhand records, there are some that I really want to have in my collection, and I doubt many people that buy these records will ever sell them.

Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92

Richard D. James was one of the first artists I listened to when getting into electronic music, and I have listened to this album on my headphones many times. A landmark ambient techno album, Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is early Aphex Twin that represents some of James’ more listenable music. If you aren’t familiar with the artist, this is the best place to start and I recommend listening to it before moving on to other albums from this brilliant Cornish artist. As for records, I haven’t been able to find any Aphex Twin used, but it’s worth buying at retail price.

Listenability – 5 LPs Mood – 5 LPs Danceability – 5 LPs Value – 5 LPs

Boards of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children

Another of my favorite albums of all time, Boards of Canada’s Music Has The Right To Children is the Scottish electronic duo’s breakthrough album and one of the best Warp Records releases, no small feat. Dreamy, nostalgic and astounding, this 1998 album also was one of my introductions to electronic music and really made me aware of what was possible. Boards of Canada would continue to make great albums (Tomorrow’s Harvest’s foreboding San Francisco skyline was my desktop background for a while) but Music Has The Right To Children is still such an incredible listen and was something that I felt I needed in my collection and would recommend to anyone.

Listenability – 5 LPs Mood – 5 LPs Danceability – 5 LPs Value – 5 LPs

Parliament – The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein

I found this at Amoeba for less than retail, and the quality of the groove is really high throughout. The horns are the highlight of this 1976 album, with arrangements by Fred Wesley and Bernie Worrell, while Dr. Funkenstein and Do That Stuff were also released as singles. I heard Do That Stuff’s synth hook first sampled in Royksopp’s Happy Up Here, and its bouncy melody carries the chorus while the horns and rhythm hold the rest.

A really good Parliament/Funkadelic album, it makes for great listening and is a good buy for fans of the one. But these albums do not sell for much less than new, so if you want P-Funk albums you have to pay P-Funk prices.

Listenability – 4 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – 3 LPs

Green Apple Books

Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation

Daydream Nation is one of my favorite albums from one of my favorite bands, and probably one of the best college rock albums of all time. Released in 1988, it is the album that made Sonic Youth alternative rock superstars and regularly is cited as one of the best albums of the 80s. This album was Sonic Youth’s most successful to that point and brought them to the major labels, where they would reach better sales numbers (arguably due to increased distribution), but this should be everyone’s first listen if they are new to this band. It one that most fans will likely still enjoy listening to.

Listenability – 5 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 1 LP Value – 5 LPs

DJ Shadow – Endtroducing…

Akai got an MPC sale out of me because of this album, and I’m still inspired by what a single artist with limited equipment can accomplish. Endtroducing…, the 1996 album by DJ Shadow from Davis, CA is a thrilling listen from start to finish and pretty much invented the genre of instrumental hip-hop. I hear some of the samples from this album every so often in the original songs and it makes me think of the songs on this album. Composed almost entirely from samples of records found in the basement of a Sacramento record shop, Endtroducing… was released by British label Mo’ Wax and found more initial success in the UK than in the U.S. A huge inspiration to bedroom producers everywhere, DJ Shadow’s debut album belongs in every music fans collection.

Listenability – 5 LPs Mood – 5 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – 5 LPs

Lower Haight Haul

I visited the Lower Haight to check out Jack’s Record Cellar, a record store only open one day a week with a great selection of 45s, 78s and old audio equipment. The place is cramped, some sections have only one entry and exit point and the records are priced to sell. I was able to find three records to take home, and the owner even discounted them. I picked up Ohio Players’ Fire, Chic’s C’est Chic and Earth, Wind & Fire’s All ‘N All, making it one of my best days since all of the records are fantastic.

First opened in 1951, Jack’s Record Cellar is my favorite store in San Francisco, and every few weeks I try to get there on Saturday. It is filled with regulars, the owner is very friendly and it has a variety of albums. If you are out here on a Saturday, especially near Golden Gate Park, visit this store.

I also went to Groove Merchant, where I found XTC – Drums and Wires, The Best of Wes Montgomery. This store has a lot of old rock, funk/soul and world music records, and is recommended if you are in the neighborhood. I’ve always been able to find something at this store and the boxes of $1 records they place outside on weekends draws in a lot of customers. I also visited Vinyl Dreams where I picked up Bootsy Collin’s Stretching Out In Bootsy’s Rubber Band.

Earth, Wind & Fire – All ‘N All

Fantastic album that was released in 1977 and went triple platinum. Side 1 of All ‘N All starts with Serpentine Fire, the very funky Fantasy and the hypnotic Jupiter, bringing the groove right away with fantastic vocal harmonies. Soulful horns and ballads like I’ll Write a Song for You balance the album, and the very fusiony Runnin’, co-written by Eduardo El Barrio, stands out as an instrumental track. Songs like Brazilian Rhyme also indicate the South American influence on the album, making it extremely danceable and demonstrating the diversity of the album. A real winner!

Listenability 5 LPs Mood – 5 LPs Danceability – 5 LPs Value – 5 LPs

Ohio Players – Fire

The funkiest album that I had at this time and still one of the funkiest, Ohio Players Fire is a classic from beginning to end. The title track was a big hit that sold over one million copies and is probably recognizable by everyone, but other songs like I Want To Be Free show how much soul the band could display alongside terrific musicianship. One of two Ohio Players released in 1974 (following Skin Tight), Fire continued the band’s streak of successful albums and features amazing songs that display their many talents and a trademark gatefold photo.

Listenability – 5 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 4 LPs Value – 5 LPs

Chic – C’est Chic

I first became a fan of Chic since hearing I Want Your Love in the film Shame, but I am still surprised by how incredible the songwriting team of Rodgers and Bernard Edwards were. Every song on C’est Chic is superb, and while the other singles stand out there is no wasted second on this album. While Disco is not a bad word, and Le Freak was originally written because they were once denied entry into Studio 54, Chic should not be considered a disco band only because their music was very popular in clubs. Every song can be danced to, but the virtuoso work of Chic grabs your attention and forces you to listen while the songs groove effortlessly on the bass and guitar of Edwards and Rodgers.

My wonderful girlfriend and I attended a Chic and Earth, Wind & Fire concert at Oracle Arena, and we were amazed by Nile Rodgers. I went specifically to see him, and it was one of the best performances by an artist that I have ever seen even though it was the first show of the tour. Rodgers and his touring band were completely locked in and showed what an impressive musician he still is. Considering this album sold over a million copies, its wide availability means it should really be in everyone’s collection.

Listenability – 5 LPs Mood – 5 LPs Danceability – 5 LPs Value – 5 LPs

Bootsy Collins – Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band

P-Funk in the Bootsy Collins flavor, Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band was recorded around the same time as Mothership Connection in 1976 and produced by Bootsy Collins and George Clinton. Bootsy’s Rubber Band features Bootsy Collins on his Space Bass, his brother Catfish on guitar, Bernie Worrell on keyboards and the Parliament ‘horny horn’ section to bring the funk you are accustomed to . I Want To Be With You has been sampled by everyone from N.W.A. to Donald Glover, and along with the rest of the album really comes at you with both hands. Highly recommended for Parliament/Funkadelic fans since its pretty much a P-Funk record, and for funk fans since half of the people on the records have backed up James Brown.

Listenability – 4 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – 5 LPs

XTC – Drums And Wires

Awesome post-punk from English band XTC, 1979’s Drums and Wires has XTC’s first huge hit Making Plans For Nigel, a funny song with great hooks about a young man with a future in British Steel. Lush guitar, tight rhythms and quirky vocals make for a good listen from a band that would help define new wave in the 80’s. I found this unfairly relegated to one of the floor bins of Groove Merchant, and got it for $2.50.

Listenability – 4 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 3 LPs Value – 5 LPs

The Best of Wes Montgomery

Also found this at Groove Merchant, a compilation of songs from one of the best jazz guitarist of all time. This album has Wes Montgomery classics like Movin’ Wes and Bumpin’ on Sunset along with renditions of Tequila and Caravan.

Listenability – 4 LPs Mood – 3 LPs Danceability – 2 LPs Value – 3 LPs

June Vinyl Haul – Rasputin Music

The weekend after I got my record player (An audiotechnica AT-LP-60) I visited two record stores, Rasputin and Amoeba Music in the Haight. I couldn’t find anything at Amoeba but I brought home nine records from Rasputin for $30.

I made some mistakes on some of these records, but I learned some lessons and can hopefully sell this album of Inner City remixes from Japan someday for what I paid for it. Overall it was a good haul for the money, and built out my collection with some great albums. Additionally, I bought a copy of Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic, but found later that the LP inside was Katy Lied, so I had to return it.

Crusaders – Street Life

I was pretty interested in the Crusaders since hearing Street Life in Jackie Brown and learning they were once known as the Jazz Crusaders, but adopted a more fusion jazz style and added electric bass and guitar. This 1979 album was their best seller, and the title track featuring Randy Crawford is an 11 minute groove that features solos from Wilton Felder and Joe Sample while Roland Bautista of Earth, Wind & Fire contributes rhythm guitar on the track. The rest of the album is great listening, with Carnival of the Night really standing out.
Listenability – 4LPs Mood – 4LPs Danceability – 3LPs Value – 5LPs

Various – 6 In The Mix Vol. 2

A 1991 Belgian compilation of popular songs by English artists and remixes of Afrika Bambaataa and De La Soul. It is an eclectic composition, but does provide minutes of dance floor filler in a pinch. The version of KLF’s Last Train To Trancentral is more arena than house, but I’m just happy to find anything by the KLF. Also notable for featuring a good track by Mental Cube, a.k.a Future Sound of London. The previous owner circled Nomad’s Just A Groove and wrote “Sample” on the cover, but I can’t understand why anyone would want to include any part of this song in a future production.

A lot of these tracks exemplify the Belgian New Beat, and this flavor of European Body Music is definitely more Jean Claude Van Damme than Arnold Schwartzenegger. It includes a ‘bonus megamix’, which is basically just parts of other songs on this records combined into one mix. One can imagine a DJ putting this record on, running from the booth to join the crowd in vigorous calisthenics and returning only to flip it to side 2.

Listenability – 2LPs Mood – 2LPs Danceability – 4LPs Value – 1LP

Technotronic – Pump Up The Jam 12″

The cover to Technotronic’s 1989 “Pump Up The Jam” is as phony as the music itself, a Belgian remake of Farley “Jackmaster” Funk’s This Acid Life. Congolese-born model Felly Kilingi appears on the cover and in the video where she lip-synced the vocals of Ya Kid K, Manuela Kamosi. It takes liberally from Chicago house, even utilizing unaccented vocals from Kamosi, who spent time living in Chicago. Still, it’s an excellent example of Belgian New Beat and reached no. 2 on the U.S. Billboard charts, the first House track anywhere to do so, and can still charm. As a fun fact, the original recording used vocal samples from Eddie Murphy’s standup, but vocals were added later.

Listenability – 2LPs Mood – 3LPs Danceability – 4LPs Value – 1LP

Missy Elliot ft. Ludacris – Gossip Folks 12″

When Missy Elliot saved the Super Bowl in 2015, I was really happy to see Missy use a big stage to show what an entertainer can do. For most of my youth Missy Elliot made fantastic hip-hop songs with music videos that were among the coolest made. Gossip Folks has a great beat from Timbaland, caustic lines from Missy like “I know ya’ll poor ya’ll broke/Ya’ll job just hanging up clothes” and was released in 2002. I think this song has universal appeal and could definitely improve people’s moods if they were standing in line or waiting for the next set. Gossip Folks reached No. 8 on the Billboard charts at its peak, and No. 2 on the Hip-Hop charts.

Listenability – 3LPs Mood – 5LPs Danceability – 5LPs Value – 4LPs

Rufus ft. Chaka Khan – Rags To Rufus

I wanted to get an album by Rufus after reading about them in Funk: The Music, The People, and The Rhythm of The One by Rickey Vincent, a good book. I like Chaka Khan as well, so it seemed like a good buy at $1 but its in terrible shape. It sounds interesting in between the skips and repeats, but I can’t listen to it. Tell Me Something Good, the Stevie Wonder song that Rufus won a Grammy for performing, sounds shrill as well. I’m sure I’ll find a better copy, this was a gold record in 1974.

Listenability – 1LP Mood – -1LP Danceability – 1LP Value – 1LP

Stacey Q – Two of Hearts 12″

I couldn’t resist buying this one for $1. Aside from the camp value, it is a fun up-tempo Hi-NRG lite track. At one time a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus showgirl and elephant rider, Stacey Q peaked at No. 3 with this one in 1986 and the album was certified gold. I-I-I-I-I-I, I Need You.

Listenability – 2LPs Mood – 3LPs Danceability – 4LPs Value – 3LPs

Weather Report – Heavy Weather

I know that I can build out my jazz fusion record collection pretty easily here in San Francisco, as I consistently find classics at pretty good prices, and I picked up Heavy Weather for $5 in very good condition. I love Birdland, and the rest of the songs on this album are good listens. This was a great jazz fusion album to start with.

Produced by keyboardist Joe Zawinul, bassist Jaco Pastorius and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, Heavy Weather was the Weather Report’s most successful album. For me it has been a nice surprise and encouraged me to try more fusion albums. Zawinul seems like a really interesting character after watching this short documentary from the BBC, too.

Listenability – 5LPs Mood – 4LPs Danceability – 2LPs Value – 5LPs

Inner City – Good Life Buena Vida 99 remixes

I’m a pretty bad electronic dance music buyer, because I can’t easily find great albums. There are a few good stores around and I’ve found some good records, but this wasn’t one of them. I overpaid for it a bit after first listening to Inner City and being unable to find anything else. In a lot of record stores, especially the larger ones, there are not a lot of good options. I can’t find any Detroit Techno in San Francisco, so I bought this thinking I’d get something close to the original, but no luck.

The remixes here are ok, I don’t like any of them nearly as much as the original. It has some interest to someone, especially someone in Japan where it was pressed, but I just want a copy of Big Fun. The albums don’t really change much in the electronic sections and a lot are overpriced. I’d buy up a ton of house records just to hear more, but DJs need these albums and they either pick out the best or drive the price up because there just aren’t a lot of records on the market. Where do the people who play house sets sell their collections when they get tired of it? I’ll let you know one day, dear reader.

Listenability – 2LPs Mood – 1LP Danceability – 2LPs Value – 1LP

First Vinyl Haul – Bookmark Bookstore

I started collecting vinyl after recently staying at a friend’s place and experiencing the pleasure of playing records as the evening went on. I have been streaming music for years, mostly at work, or while making and eating dinner, and sometimes I choose it based on how little of a distraction it will be. It’s terrible. I knew that I would enjoy visiting record stores, thumbing through rows of overpriced records that inveterate diggers passed over, but I was reluctant to take up a needlessly expensive hobby. But the searching, the buying, and the playing on my home stereo has been so fun for me that I can’t resist. And I’d like to share what I’ve learned and the albums I’ve been able to find in the Bay Area.

My first purchases were made at the Bookmark Bookstore in Oakland, a non-profit bookstore that sends proceeds to the public library system. This was my first experience buying records, and while the selection wasn’t great, I thought that I found some great records. However, I now see the Pointer Sisters Break Out and 5th Dimension records at nearly every store I visit, so in retrospect it was an average haul. I think that it was a good start, and at the time I was excited by what I found.

5th Dimension – Greatest Hits on Earth

I really like the hokey cover here, and I’m very happy with it since I don’t think I’d want to buy more than one 5th Dimension album but I want the hits. The Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In medley is wonderful, and other songs like Stoned Soul Picnic, Up, Up and Away and (Last Night) I Didn’t Get Any Sleep At All make this album delightful Sunday morning listening. I see a lot of 5th Dimension records in most record stores, and it seems that there are a lot of reissues and ‘Best Of’ ‘Greatest Hits’ so it can be a really popular easy listening addition to your collection.

Listenability – 4 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 2 LPs Value – 4 LPs

Pointer Sisters – Break Out

Tthe Pointer Sisters found their greatest success with the appropriately titled Break Out, their 10th album. This is the 1984 reissue of Break Out, which includes I’m So Excited after it was re-released as a single in 1984 and then added to this album after executives realized they could shift more units by adding the remixed 1982 version. The album is fun and catchy, with four Top 10 singles. Side 1 begins with Jump (For My Love), Automatic and I’m So Excited, three classics. Automatic’s funky guitar and bright synths support a deeper vocal by Ruth Pointer and resulted in their highest-charting R&B song and also in the UK. The rest of the album is typical early 80’s R&B flavor, including Neutron Dance, which featured on the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. But you can only hear “I’m So Excited” so many times before you kind of tune it out, which is where a lot of people are already. Bonus points since the Pointer Sisters were from Oakland, where I bought this album.

Listenability – 3 LPs Mood – 4 LPs Danceability – 5 LPs Value – 4 LPs

Steely Dan – Aja

I was thrilled to find this one on my first day of buying records! I love Aja, it is my favorite Steely Dan album, and I played it later that day when I set up my record player. Side 1 is Black Cow, Aja and Deacon Blues, hard to beat! I believed finding this was a good omen, and the universe’s tacit approval of my indulging my aging white man brain and starting to collect vinyl. And what better album to start with than Aja. This 1977 album sold over five million copies, and it’s the album I would recommend anyone listen to if they are not up on the Dan. The album sounds quieter on my setup than I expected, so I have raise the volume considerably to really hear it, which I suppose you can attribute to the dynamics and mastering. Sounds great though! You can find these new for $25, and you probably shouldn’t pay more than $10 for this or any other used Steely Dan album.

Listenability – 5 LPs Mood – 5 LPs Danceability – 2 LPs Value – 3 LPs

Seals & Crofts – Greatest Hits

I was not familiar with any Seals & Crofts songs aside from Summer Breeze, and I think their Greatest Hits album is a good buy for hearing more. Summer Breeze is such a great song with its lead guitar hook, and is by far the best song here along with Diamond Girl and Hummingbird. The album sounds like AM radio on a sunny day, and I think that there are good soft rock songs here for anyone looking for that, but the vocals aren’t for everybody. This was a huge seller so you should be able to find out for yourself at a low price. $1 in my case.

Listenability – 2 LPs Mood – 3 LP Danceability – -1 LP Value – 2 LPs

Sylvester – Sell My Soul

Bargain Banger

I actually left the store, then walked back an hour later to pick this up for $1. I knew about Sylvester’s music, his origins in San Francisco and his work with Patrick Cowley, but never listened to any of his albums. This was made in 1980, sounds years ahead of popular music and still sounds fresh. Sylvester takes every opportunity to move the music to an interesting place, and it works mostly because he’s got a great voice. This album displays a lot of range, and there are pleasant surprises throughout. What a find!

Listenability – 5 LPs Mood – 5 LPs Danceability – 5 LPs Value – 5 LPs


Kinji Fukusaku’s Battle Royale

The generational divide in Japanese culture/cinema is a fertile trope for many storytellers. Stories of youth rebelling against adults and the established order, and even posing a very serious and devastating threat, provide the context for films like Akira (1986). The failure of adults to pass the values and responsibility for society is also a central theme to Akira Kurosawa’s King Lear adaptation Ran (1985). There may be no greater film exploring this divide and the inability of the previous generations to bridge that gap than Kinji Fukusaku’s Battle Royale (2000).

The setting is established using austere titles at the beginning of the film that announce a terrifying situation in Japan where the nation has collapsed and there is a 15% unemployment rate. The students are boycotting school, millions are out of work and fear of the youth lead the government to pass the Millenium Educational Reform Act, aka the “Battle Royale” Act. The games are covered by the media, and are seemingly intended to control the youth though the students have no conception of the law when they are selected to be the game’s players.


Released as a novel in 1999 and adapted for film in 2000, Battle Royale’s influences can be seen in the concept for the Hunger Games trilogy as well as on Quentin Tarantino, who reveres the film and cast one of its actors as Gogo Yubara in Kill Bill. Nearly prevented from being released in Japan, the extreme plot has its foundations in the experiences of the director Kinji Fukusaku during World War II. In an interview with The Guardian, director Kinji Fukusaku’s recounts his wartime experiences when he was the same age as the high school students in the film:

I was working in a weapons factory that was a regular target for enemy bombing. During the raids, even though we were friends working together, the only thing we would be thinking of was self-preservation. We would try to get behind each other or beneath dead bodies to avoid the bombs. When the raid was over, we didn’t really blame each other, but it made me understand about the limits of friendship. I also had to clean up all the dead bodies after the bombings. I’m sure those experiences have influenced the way I look at violence.”

Battle Royale is permeated with ire and indignation, both of elders for their children and from the children for their elders. The main character, Shuya Nanahara, is raised by his father after his mother leaves the family until his father’s suicide on the first day of seventh grade. As an orphan that has had his trust betrayed by his parents, his only relationships are with his classmates, though he is haunted by memories of his father’s suicide. Another student’s mother prostitutes her child to a predator while hoping that her daughter is not weak and unable to manage her responsibilities like her.

The only adult in the film is played by the famous Japanese actor “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, who plays a former teacher named “Kitano”. Seen at the beginning of the film being stabbed by one student in the leg, Kitano returns as the students learn of their selection in the annual Battle Royale and relishes the terrible fortune of his former students. He mocks them, and advises them not to become “an adult” like their current teacher, who is shot dead for opposing their selection for the Battle Royale.

In this scene, we first see the characters interact with an adult, and the dramatic corpse-strewn gulf that separates them. Kitano feigns disappointment in the students, but tells them “the country is now good for nothing,” and kills two students for their insubordination while telling them about the rules of the game. This scene is critical for displaying the transition of the established adult authority (teachers, military) to a culture of fear from a shame society. It does not matter that the kids don’t fear the Battle Royale Act or its consequences, and their ignorance is not shameful; society now fears the youth and is using them as pawns to fight a murderous game in an attempt to exert control. Fear and danger form the foundation of the game, and if the students don’t obey and play the game, they will be killed by the government anyway.

The progression from disregarded teacher/authority figure Kitano, whose class the students mockingly won’t attend and is stabbed by one orphaned student, to feared despot demonstrates this degeneration. The threat of Kitano is established by his casual murder of two students and regular updates of the death toll, which is cheerfully broadcast across the island site as he mocking reads off the list of “goners”. While initially the teacher was dejected by his class’s lack of respect for school and him, he has become an enthusiastic participant of the game and even brings gifts to the students he likes, who will later aid him in his suicide and put him out of the misery that his adult life has become.

Another student, Shinji Mimura, builds a bomb and hacks the military’s network in an effort to rebel against the military and government while devoting no effort to playing the game. Mimura’s uncle, a soldier of fortune, taught him bomb-making and provided other military instruction and is seen as a positive force in young Mimura’s life. Similarly, one of the transfer students absurdly credits his surgeon/fisherman/polymath father for having given him every skill needed to protect himself or others, demonstrating that adults do have valuable information to give to the younger generation, but are incapable of providing them with a functional society or performing their parental roles.

The film’s absurdity and dark humor wonderfully underpin the ridiculous plot and make it more palatable. The concept for the film has inspired so many other stories, though it is the central Japanese themes, dark humor and ridiculous teenage melodrama that distinguish it from the flavorless repeats that followed. It is a great choice for kickstarting this series of 21st century films, both for its release date in 2000 and for its depiction of a new world, born from the calamity of the previous one and desperate to place itself apart from it.