The 10 Best Danger Mouse Deep Cuts [Deep Cuts Week]
November 9, 2011 1 Comment
One of the great albums of the aughts was The Grey Album, a remix record that came out of nowhere in 2004. In the simplest sense, it overlaid Jay-Z’s raps from The Black Album over Beatles backing tracks from The White Album. But the record was so much more than that. Its deconstructions of the Beatles tracks were creative, audacious and mind-boggling, and set Jay-Z’s raps in compelling settings that made an already terrific album even better. Moreover, the vociferous attempt by EMI — the rights-holder to the Beatles catalogue — to quash the distribution of this viral hit made it a flashpoint for copyright issues in the digital age.
Shouldn’t music evolve, be deconstructed and rebuilt, allow for variations on a theme and blends of musical ideas? (Paul McCartney agreed with this viewpoint, and said he thought the remix was pretty awesome. Jay-Z obviously loved it, since the comparison was pretty flattering.) EMI eventually gave up trying to enforce its copyright, because the album became so popular and so acclaimed that stopping its distribution was impossible. NME wrote, “For what it is, for what it does, for what it represents and for exposing the idiocy of people who only care about ‘what it earns us’, then, a truly, TRULY great pop record.”
The man who created this amazing album and prompted these interesting questions was Danger Mouse, born Brian Burton, a producer who has gone on to be one of the top creators of great music in our time. The list of musicians he has collaborated extensively with speaks for itself: Cee-Lo Green, Damon Albarn, MF DOOM, Beck, Mark Linkous, James Mercer, the Black Keys, Jack White, even David Lynch. His unique aesthetic, encyclopedic musical knowledge, and impeccable taste makes him the #1 producer for any talented artist looking to re-invent a tired sound.
Let’s celebrate the man with a collection of 10 outstanding deep cuts that augment his already-impressive lineup of hit records.
Best-Known Tracks: “Encore” from The Grey Album; “Crazy” and “Gone Daddy Gone” from St. Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley; “Mince Meat” from The Mouse and the Mask by Danger Doom; “Feel Good Inc.”, “Dare,” “Dirty Harry,” and “Kids with Guns” from Demon Days by Gorillaz; “Herculean” and “Kingdom of Doom” from The Good, The Bad and The Queen; “Strange Times” and “I Got Mine” from Attack & Release by the Black Keys; “Chemtrails,” “Gamma Ray” and “Youthless” from Modern Guilt by Beck; “The High Road,” “The Ghost Inside,” and “October” from Broken Bells by Broken Bells; “Tighten Up” from Brothers by The Black Keys. ROTI also included “Nature Springs” from The Good, The Bad and The Queen in a recent, epic post.
#10. “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” by Nas [remix from Ghetto Pop Mix]
Although it may have seemed like it, Danger Mouse did not come out of nowhere with his work on the Grey Album. Earlier, he worked with rapper Jemini on a well-regarded mix tape, Ghetto Pop Mix, that later spawned a record called Ghetto Pop Life.
Buried at the end of the mixtape was this remix of Nas’ classic track, “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” from Illmatic, which Danger Mouse mixed with Portishead’s “Roads.” This early bit of experimentation hinted at the themes that have marked DM’s work since — fusing indie rock with hip hop, bringing together the two best genres of the 90s to form a new, hybrid, kickass sound. Danger Mouse’s facility for bringing hard beats and rhymes together with cool sonic layers is what makes him such an interesting hitmaker. All of those elements are present on this badass remix that fortold the many epic jams to come from his genius mind.
Incidentally, Ghetto Pop Life is a solid hip hop record, and to my mind, “The Only One” is the standout track.
#9. “Same Old Thing” by the Black Keys
Just when the Black Keys seemed to be repeating the same themes over and over again, they brought in Danger Mouse to jumpstart their sound; by infusing hip-hop attitude into their music, the Keys launched themselves into the most fruitful and successful phase of their career. All Danger Mouse does is take awesome musical acts and make them MORE awesome!
My favorite part of this track is the funky flute, played by Ralph Carney, a Tom Waits associate who happens to be the uncle of Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney. Mix that tasty flute in with the potent attack of Dan Auerbach’s guitar and Carney’s aggressive sticks, and add a dash of tribal grunting, and you’ve got yourself a pretty great track.
The Black Keys have continued to work with Danger Mouse — he was brought in to juice up the single “Tighten Up” from the huge hit Brothers, and apparently has worked on their forthcoming album as well. The boys from Akron know a good producer when they see one.
#8. “Three Changes” by The Good, The Bad and The Queen
We started off Deep Cuts Week 2011 by talking about my favorite 60s supergroup; my favorite supergroup of the aughts had to be the crew that made the one-off record called The Good, The Bad and The Queen. Damon Albarn, Blur frontman, recruited Danger Mouse, Clash bassist Paul Simonon, and Fela Kuti’s drummer, Tony Allen. These four masters made a truly unique album and then walked away. Outstanding.
TGTBaTQ has a lot of great songs on it, but I think “Three Changes” is the most interesting among them. As the title suggests, it’s a three-part tune, beginning with a loping groove driven by the incredible rhythm section. At 2:45 in, a whooping Albarn cues up an odd guitar vibe. Then an organ chimes in, and when the bass and drums come tromping back in at 3:13, it’s to usher in a dank, funky rhythm. A weird and wonderful song from an equally weird and wonderful record.
#7. “An Easy Life” by Broken Bells
I very much enjoyed the Broken Bells record, a collab between Danger Mouse and Shins frontman James Mercer. This track is from the follow-on EP, Meyrin Fields.
DM and Mercer make a great combination. This song has a clever, idiosyncratic beat that effectively backs one of Mercer’s voluble vocal parts. It warps and builds, accelerating underneath each verse. Swooping organ comes in on the chorus, reflecting Mercer’s falsetto stylings. A wah-wah guitar interlude adds a nice element of funkiness to the mix.
This tune makes me bop my head like I have a persistent tic. I’m all about it.
#6. “November Has Come” by Gorillaz feat. MF DOOM
Oh man. This is my JAM.
Can we just reflect for a minute on the fact that Damon Albarn, frontman of the very white, very British band Blur featured in yesterday’s post, went on to lead a group that made one of the best alt-rap records of the aughts? Helped along by the guiding hand of Danger Mouse, Gorillaz’ Demon Days is a truly incredible achievement, mixing London pop with the rap stylings of De La Soul and Bootie Brown.
How can you make an Albarn/DM collab even better? Add in MF DOOM, one of the best rappers in the history of earth. He’s in absolutely top form here, dropping splendid lyrics like “These kids is too fast, juiced off a junk treat/ who could get looser off a crunk or a funk beat?” and “She wore a filled-in thong of Billabong, and said ‘Naw, for real-a, the Villain on a Gorilla jawn?'”
I can’t get enough of the beat and Albarn’s hook is rad. This is just an awesome song.
#5. “Everytime I’m With You” by Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse feat. Jason Lytle
Mark Linkous, the man behind Sparklehorse, brought in Danger Mouse to work on his last album, The Dark Night of the Soul. It’s unfortunate that Linkous chose to off himself for many reasons, one of which is that he and DM had a pretty awesome musical partnership goin’ on.
I especially liked this track, which features Jason Lytle on vocals. Anybody else out there like the band Grandaddy? Lytle was the leader of that outfit, and hasn’t been heard from much since they dissolved a few years ago. He delivers a signature vocal on this song, backed by an eerie, spacey backing track. The whole thing has a running-through-molasses feel to it, like it’s just slowed down a tiny bit. Like a scene from a creepy dream.
What with Danger Mouse’s signature sound and the shadow of Linkous’ suicide, the whole Dark Night album ended up having a pretty spooky vibe. It’s well worth checking out for its collection of vocalists (Gruff Rhys, Black Francis, James Mercer, Iggy Pop and more) and obviously a must-have for Linkous fans.
#4. “Orphans” by Beck
I am a huge fan of the entire Modern Guilt record, and I think it holds up with Beck’s best — which is saying something, since Beck is my very favorite Scientologist.
As producer, Danger Mouse brought an amazing style to the record. “Orphans” is the opening track and sets the tone perfectly. It gets things going with a Halloweeny beat and brings in some tasty acoustic, reminiscent of Beck’s Mellow Gold-era acoustic jams. A weird harmony overlays the sorta-chorus. Beck leads us further into Danger Mouse’s dark world, lulling us into submission — then he springs an OUTSTANDING bridge.
I have oft listened to this song on my iPod in a public place and fought my id to avoid singing out loud “To be loved…or destroyed…from a void…to a grain of sand in your hand.” Thus far, my superego has kept the id in check. But that line, and that melody, and that harmony, are a combined temptation that can’t be resisted forever.
#3. “Surprise” by Gnarls Barkley
Not only is Danger Mouse one of the best music producers of our time, he delivered Cee-Lo to stardom with the all-aughts classic “Crazy.” That later paid dividends with “Fuck You” and all the other entertaining stuff Cee-Lo’s been doing lately…
This deep cut from the same record is one of my favorite Danger Mouse jams. It’s built around a great sample from a forgotten song of the 60’s, “Building With A Steeple” by The 8th Day. (Fans of the Association need to check that song out.)
As always, Danger Mouse adds a nice beat to the sample, giving the whole song a mysterious sensibility. Cee-Lo’s vocal is awesome, natch — that little weirdo can really croon. He lets rip against the counterpoint of the sample’s backing vocal track. It rules.
#2. “The Mask” by Danger Doom feat. Ghostface
I must begin with a shoutout to Youtube user goldenticket, who created this video. It is absolutely stellar.
As for the song, all I need to tell you is that it features MF DOOM and Ghostface, aka the two best rappers of the aughts, going off on a tasty DM beat built around a 60s sample (this time The Nova Local’s “If You Only Had The Time“).
At this point, do you really need more evidence that this song rules?
Best line by DOOM: “Head on straight, mask on crooked/ Exit stage left with the cash, done took it/ off like a kufi, the fit was a bit doofy.” Best line by Ghost: “My money green like my nickname was Celery.”
#1. “Public Service Announcement” from The Grey Album
It’s fitting that the #1 deep cut on this list is from the album that started Danger Mouse’s rise to fame, and benefited us all by bringing this genius to the fore to work with so many other talented artists. There are a lot of great tracks on this album, but “Public Service Announcement” melts my face every time. It’s at this spot on sheer merit.
The outstanding beat is a total deconstruction of one of the best White Album deep cuts, George’s “Long Long Long.” By adding some finger snaps and some drum machine to a broken-out McCartney organ riff and a couple of snatches of Harrison vocal, Danger Mouse builds an epic beat that is a perfect counterpoint for one of Jigga’s most boastful verses.
I still can’t really dome how awesome the beat is, or wrap my mind around how great this remix is.
Danger Mouse is the best producer working today. I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve in the years to come.
For these songs and more from Danger Mouse, check out this playlist on Spotify:
This is a great video that carries out the Grey Album to its logical conclusion.
I also wanted to include something from Danger Mouse’s latest project, called Rome. It’s basically an album of spaghetti western soundtrack music, with cameos from Jack White and Norah Jones. This dude is so eclectic, it’s silly.
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