An Ode To David Axelrod, Who Changed The Way I Listened To Music » VSB

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An Ode To David Axelrod, Who Changed The Way I Listened To Music

Capitol Records

 

To say that hip-hop changed my life is an understatement. I feel blessed and highly favored to have grown up during what has long been considered the golden age of hip-hop, experiencing the anticipation for several classic albums at their time of release and the ensuing debates with friends in high school and college about their “classic-ness.” I appreciate being present for the trip from the hood to the suburbs. And it’s not just hip-hop itself that changed my life; hip-hop was the conduit for which my musical mind was expanded exponentially, extraly.

While hip-hop itself is the overwhelming soundtrack to my youth, hip-hop ultimately opened me up to the soundtrack of my life and as my musical knowledge expanded, less and less hip-hop songs and more and more of their foundation appeared on that soundtrack. Buying hip-hop CDs opened me up to really reading liner notes, and liner notes opened me up to searching through hell and high water (remember, we’re talking the 90s, before Google and YouTube were a thing when I had to spend $90 to order a special-issue CD from Japan for one song) to find the original productions that served as soundbeds for all of my favorite songs, in monumental fashion even.

I still remember where I was when I first heard Jefferson Airplane’s “Today”, which was covered by Tom Scott, which would lead to arguably one of the best productions in hip-hop history. Shit, I remember when The Boondocks played Tom Scott’s “Today” in an episode and feeling like they let the cat out of the bag. Nevermind that nearly all clear samples are open record nowadays on Wikipedia. I can remember the first time I heard Isaac Hayes “Hung Up On My Baby” and nearly coming to tears feeling like I’d just listened to some of the most beautiful music ever created. Thank you, Isaac. Thank you, Geto Boys.

Once I started down the “sample” rabbit hole, I was a lost cause. Finding new music that I was previously unaware of became a life’s mission. It gave me purpose. Back in the early 2000s, there were TONS of websites that uploaded entire albums from the 60s and 70s and 80s from obscure artists, and others who dropped loosies, singles and one-off songs from artists with rare or obscure 45s, etc. I currently have two 500 gig external hard-drives full of albums I obtained this way. If I ever lost those hard-drives, I would cry. I promise you.

It was on one of those rabbit-hole sites that I came across what would become one of my absolute favorite composers, arrangers, and producers in one David Axelrod. I even remember the song that introduced me to him: “The Smile,” still my favorite piece of music from him.

Bruh. Mind blown.  Please go listen to “The Smile.” For me. For life. Oh, and you’ll need to listen with both headphones. Then go pull up David Axelrod on your streaming service and just listen to anything that pops up.

Plainly, David Axelrod is hip-hop. His drums alone are beautiful, but the arrangements and good lord the mixing. And you know David Axelrod’s work. You know Dr. Dre’s “ The Next Episode” which is a CLEAN sample of his song “The Edge.” You know Lil Wayne’s “Dr. Carter” or, you know what, just check out this list of songs. He’s been sampled by nearly all of the famous and big name hip-producers from Kanye to Premier to Dr. Dre to Swizz Beatz to even underground titans like DJ Shadow. His works are everywhere hip-hop is because to listen to David Axelrod as a hip-hop fan is to hear where many songs we know came from.

But the hip-hop uses obscure the pure poetry in the original productions themselves. You’ve got lush strings, murderous drums, amazing bass, and he almost never faltered. And the mixing…good lord, the mixing. For music composed in the 1970s, it was so amazingly crisp. It reminds me of how sonically perfect Boston’s self-titled debut album is. If Dr. Dre were to tell me that David Axelrod is his spirit animal, I would not be surprised.

I love everything Axelrod created. Even if I don’t love the particular notes and chords, the sheer arrangements and intricacy of the compositions has me at hello. They all just SOUND so good. His work with Electric Prunes on songs like “Holy Are You” and “Our Father, Our King” still leaves me wanting to hit the MPC and get back to work creating new work. I wouldn’t have to mix anything because its so well done already. Axelrod was innovative and creative in everything he recorded. There are musicians who can break down the actual musicality; I can’t do that. I’m not a musician. I’m a consumer and as a consumer, David Axelrod’s music moved me and made me happy.

David Axelrod passed away on Sunday, February 5th. I only found out about this when I saw an article about hip-hop artists, largely producers, talking about his impact on the art form. I quickly read the articles and became sad that somebody whose influence loomed so large would never get the mainstream due I felt he deserved.

His fusion recordings are the perfect 70s staples. I am one of those people who absolutely believes that nearly everything that was released in the 1960s and 70s is better than anything from any other era in history. David Axelrod perfectly encapsulated this sound of innovation, fusion, and experimentation.

So shouts to David Axelrod, an artist who changed the way that I listened to music and who influenced the way I approached how music should sound. And thank you, David Axelrod for creating a body of work so well produced that I have to actively listen because I don’t want to miss any parts.

And thank you for creating “The Smile,” a piece of music that changed my life.

You are appreciated. RIP.

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly (and gorgeous) for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. He refuses to eat cocaine chicken. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future. You can hit him on his hitter at panamadjackson@gmail.com.

  • My boy stays digging in the crates and Axelrod is a major source for his samples. When I started going through his catalog, all I could say was wow.

  • AlwaysPi7

    God bless his soul.

  • Val

    First; I’m glad youtube moderates comments now. You can really learn a lot over there from the comments now about music and music artists.

    Second; I’ve never heard of David until today but I’ve already fallen down a youtube rabbit hole listening to his music. I’m listening to “Terri’s Tune” now. Cool vibe. Lots of different elements in his music. Very 70s sound.

    Finally, listening to his music, especially ‘The Smile’ made me think of this song, ‘Honeycomb’ by Kadhja Bonet. If you haven’t heard it check it out, PJ.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajoHvTmwG4o

    • panamajackson

      This is dope. I like her voice.

      • Val

        No problem. I love her music.

    • This has a 70’s soul feel to it. The horns move the song along.

    • Ever since you posted that link to “The Internet” I’ve been rocking them daily.

  • Kylroy

    And he was from South Central LA to boot.

  • I think I’ve only listened to like two of his albums before but my god were they good. The 70s were such a great period for music. The hip hop sample of such a beautiful rabbit hole of discovery. I miss rappamelo

    • TheCollinB

      The 70’s were arguably the greatest years of music history. Off of compositions, arrangements, recording techniques and music instruments alone.

      • Val

        I agree. I love 70s music in general.

  • A.G.

    Surely I’m not the only one who thought you were referring to Obama’s former advisor.

    • Cheech

      Exactly what I thought. I couldn’t wait to see the connection.

      • panamajackson

        You’d be waiting for a very long while.

    • miss t-lee

      This was me on Sunday.

    • panamajackson

      Yeah, I figured most people would think that. Which also makes me sad. My David Axelrod is so much more awesome than the other one.

    • L8Comer

      Lol nope

    • TD

      This was me, and I was like I know I have to be wrong.

    • Charlito Brown

      Yeah. I posted an R.I.P. status post yesterday and an old classmate from college who’s into politics was like, “wait… what?” I knew she thought I meant the other one, so I had to clarify.

  • BatmansExWife

    I saw his name pop up on my alerts on Sunday, and I was like “I have no idea who you are.” Thanks for this. For me, this is an introduction for me, to the music that I knew, but did not know. Even Fat Joe sampled him. I wonder if there’s a Spotify playlist going on in his honor

  • BrothasKeeper

    I only knew of him in passing from The Next Episode, but RIP. This WhoSampled websitecaused me to fall down many a rabbit hole and download too many MP3’s. I still can’t find Reach Out by Average White Band. I’ve been looking for about 7 years now.

    • Cheech

      AWB. There’s a name you don’t hear much since the 70s. Still love their logo.

      • BrothasKeeper

        A Love Of Your Own is one of the coldest slow jams of all time.

        • miss t-lee

          Indeed.

  • I didn’t get on to Axelrod until one of my Pandora stations decided it was going to play what seemed like every thing Dr. Dre ever sampled. I remember thinking “Dre must owe somebody a ton of money.”

    Two things actually turned me on to great production. First I paid more than 20 dollars for headphones and 2) I started listening to old Prince albums. Even the songs that aren’t hits are produced perfectly.

  • Cheech

    I love this article because it captures perfectly the passion I had, and have, for digging up the roots of the music I first loved. For me, growing up in the 70s, that first love was what is now called the “classic rock” of the generation before me, and the journey led, as Keith Richards said, back through daddy Chuck Berry, granddaddy John Lee Hooker, on back to Charley Patton, and so on, and so on. It’s been a thrilling journey, and involved digging in lots of crates in lots of used record stores (when that’s what they were called, because vinyl was all there was). It’s included Memphis, Muscle Shoals, going back through the vocal groups who left the church to sing secular music, and still continues.

    Being one of those old white guys still chasing the blues, I’m basically hip hop ignorant after about 1991, and only surface-aware before that. (And more aware now than when I was younger of cultural appropriation, but all I can say about that now is I have grateful cultural appreciation, for all that has inspired me.) Though I don’t know hip hop, I appreciate the genius of the production of it and can see the passion and thrill of following those loops and samples back–new layers of musical archaeology.

    This article reminds me of the passage in Questlove’s book where he details his similar trips of discovery down the rabbit hole. Whatever your generation, it is a thrilling ride. And as Chuck D said at PE’s HOF induction, it is all the damb blues.

    I will definitely check out the old and different Mr. Axelrod. RIP. Great post.

    • Val

      I love classic rock but hate rock before about 1970 with a very few exceptions. And I really love 70s mellow rock. I have whole playlists of mellow rock and I’m always looking for more.

      • PriceIsRightHorns

        I can listen to yacht rock all day.

        • Val

          Never heard that term before. What’s an example of yacht rock?

          • miss t-lee

            Christopher Cross is one artist.

          • PriceIsRightHorns

            Hall and Oates, Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Toto, Ambrosia.

            • Val

              Okay, that’s what I call mellow rock.

            • TheCollinB

              Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins just did a record with Thundercat that’s fire.
              https://youtu.be/62EmHhZSjEI

              • Cheech

                I have a love/hate relationship with Michael McDonald. Immensely talented musician and songwriter who killed my first love, the Doobie Brothers.

                • PriceIsRightHorns

                  There are days when I have What a Fool Believes and Takin it to the Streets on repeat.

                • TheCollinB

                  He sang backup for Steely Dan and used to GET. OFFFF.

                  • miss t-lee

                    Indeed he did, but Steely Dan was already awesome…lol

                    • Love me some “Babylon Sister”
                      (Shake it!)

                    • miss t-lee

                      Hellz yes.
                      Also
                      Dirty Work
                      Only A Fool Would Say That
                      Kid Charlemagne
                      Peg
                      Do It Again

                      Lemme stop…lol

                    • BrothasKeeper

                      Black Cow.

                    • miss t-lee

                      Another good one.

                    • I wasn’t aware of Steely Dan until Wolverine mentioned them in a comic and made a Dr. Wu reference. Heard the songs but never knew the artists.

                    • miss t-lee

                      Pops listened to them when I was coming up. Always knew the music, but never the name of the band til I was old enough to pay attention.
                      Pick an album, any album. They’re all great.

                    • TheCollinB

                      Aja is my favorite album of all time.

                    • miss t-lee

                      It’s so great.

                    • Val

                      Peg!

                    • TheCollinB

                      Black Cow

                    • Val

                      Deacon Blues!

                  • PriceIsRightHorns

                    YES! He killed it on “Peg.”

                    • TheCollinB

                      Murdered it

                  • Cheech

                    Yup. And Jeff Baxter played guitar for them. After Baxter joined the Doobies, they owed WB another album and didn’t have the songs, so Baxter phoned up his old bandmate McDonald, who joined up, and we got Takin It To The Streets. But then (IMO) it went left ….

                • BrothasKeeper

                  Michael McDonald used to eat the microphone.

              • PriceIsRightHorns

                Sang Kenny, lol.

            • I remember seeing
              Donald F a g e n, Michael McDonald. and Boz Skaggs performing together.
              Good times.

              • miss t-lee

                Jealous.

              • PriceIsRightHorns

                That had to be a h*ll of a show.

                • It was bananas. I drove to south Jersey to see them in a storm.

                  • PriceIsRightHorns

                    I’m sure it was. The Doobie Brothers and Chicago were touring together a few years ago, but without Michael McDonald and Peter Cetera I passed.

                    • Cheech

                      See, without Michael McDonald and Peter Cerera would be the Doobies/Chicago show I’d want to see.

                    • PriceIsRightHorns

                      Interesting. I can’t imagine anyone else singing lead on “Minute by Minute.”

                • Cheech

                  The concept was, they weren’t there to play their hits, they were there to play the R&B that originally inspired them. I am so jealous of pops. I didn’t catch it.

                  • PriceIsRightHorns

                    Wow. Was this a national tour or a one night only deal?

                    • Cheech

                      National, but small scale, just for fun.

              • Cheech

                The “Dukes of September.”
                I’m jealous, I missed that one. I hope they do it again.

          • miss t-lee
            • Val

              Lol Thanks. I have almost all of those songs. I just never heard yacht music to describe them. Always heard mellow rock.

              • miss t-lee

                Ah!

                • Cheech

                  Love that one. And until recently it was hard to find–you had to search out the vinyl.

                  If you like this one, you’ll like Santana’s “Zebop!” album.

                  • I’ll have to check it out. I recently got Santana’s autobiography but haven’t had time to read it yet.

          • PriceIsRightHorns

            There’s a cover band called Yacht Rock Revue that incorporates original members from Player and Ambrosia at times. I have yet to see them, but I’ve heard they’re really good.

            • miss t-lee

              And Mayer Hawthorne’s Where Does This Door Go? album, has a lot of songs inspired by the genre too.

              • PriceIsRightHorns

                Yeah, that album is cool and laid-back.

                • miss t-lee

                  Indeed. Saw him perform it live and he’s just as awesome.

                  • PriceIsRightHorns

                    That’s good to know. If he ever comes through, I’ll check him out.

                    • miss t-lee

                      You should. I’ve seen him 3 times. Always a great time.

                    • PriceIsRightHorns

                      I just set up an alert for him through Ticketmaster (even though they’re the devil’s crafty little minion).

                    • miss t-lee

                      Hahahah.

          • Cheech

            It’s the stuff you like–“soft rock” of the 70s.

            “Summer breeze, make me feel fine ….:

            • Val

              Yep, I’ve heard the term soft rock too to describe this music.

            • esa

              gonna make me play some Chuck Mangione and sip dessert wine ~*~

        • miss t-lee

          YES.

      • Why 1970?

        • Val

          Partly because a lot of the rock bands of the 60s, mid to late sixties in particular, openly stole from Black blues artists. And partly because a lot of that music is ‘psychedelic’ music. Which was mainly conceived of as music for people who are high.

          And, just in general, my aural palette doesn’t respond to it.

          • I see. I’m not a fan of a lot of the soft stuff.

      • Kullervo

        Before 1970? That’s a hard pill to swallow; the last few years of the 60s was such an incredible time for rock music, between the rise of Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The doors, Hendrix(!!!), Janis Joplin, plus the later Beatles records.

        • Val

          I really hate Led Zeppelin. They are some of the biggest theives in rock history. I also hate the Beatles. I like Pink Floyd’s The Wall album, I like some of Jimi’s music. Not a huge Janis fan but I liker a few of her songs.

          • Negro Libre

            When you say thieves, are you saying they never paid to sample or sing the songs?

          • miss t-lee

            Well…if we’re going there, white folks have been stealing since forever, since the blues back in the 30s.
            Which is why I’ve always said that rock is ours anyway.

            • Val

              True but there’s a difference between stealing a style of play and just outright stealing songs. Zeppelin just outright stole songs.

              • miss t-lee

                Gotcha. I can’t say I’m a huge LZ fan so I’m not up on that. I definitely wouldn’t doubt it.

          • Indeed!

          • Kullervo

            “They are some of the biggest theives in rock history.”

            They BANG, though.

            If you’re into weird, absurd, art-y rock, Floyd’s 1967 debut album ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ is really cool. A lot more tongue-in-cheek than The Wall (which I thought took itself a bit too seriously).

            • Val

              No, not really into the psychedelic stuff. The Wall was right on time though considering what was going on.

          • Cheech

            I hate Zeppelin for a different reason; I think they’re just effing evil. Also too much screaming.

            In HS, though, the Beatles, the Stones, and the Who were pretty much the Big 3. I imagine we’re gonna have to see them differently. (Fully acknowledging that their thing was playing Black American R&B for white audiences, when American record companies wouldn’t release and promote the originals.) (Other than a few exceptions like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Ike and Tina.)

          • Jimi is God

            • “Machine Gun” is a brilliant-a** song.

              • miss t-lee

                So many azz kicking songs of his.

            • Val

              Well, he’s definitely the best rock guitarist in history. I think he died before we heard his best stuff though.

              • Best overall guitarist. Arguably greatest American musician

            • Cheech

              Without Jimi, what is Prince like? He was Prince’s hero.

              • Michelle

                I heard Prince was more of a fan for Carlos Santana than he was Jimi.

                • PriceIsRightHorns

                  This is true.

          • Kylroy

            Hating the Beatles but liking The Wall is an unusual combo.

          • Cleojonz

            I don’t like a lot of Led Zeppelin but I LOVE Kashmir.

            Do you like the Stones? Because they have always been notorious for doing covers.

            • Val

              I like their Some Girls album. And that was a departure from their other albums in that it was on the edge of being a dance album. Otherwise they’re okay.

              • Cleojonz

                I don’t consider them as egregious as others in their appropriation because from what I’ve read about them they had a genuine appreciation for soul music and they surrounded themselves with the artists that they loved.

                • Val

                  I agree. They were heavily influenced but not outright thieves.

                • Plus they generally didn’t steal composer credits.

                  • Cleojonz

                    This is true.

        • Question

          Can you explain the Beatles to me? Because I’ve tried, like really tried. And I don’t get it.

          • Cleojonz

            There is a lot of hit or miss with the Beatles. I do think you have to be high to appreciate them and that’s not my thing. I get why people say they are pioneers, no one else sounded like them and some of their songs sound like 2-3 sounds in one. Most of it is not my cup of tea.

            • Question

              I feel like compared to other music of the time, the Beatles’ music sound so thin. Other artists and bands were experimenting with incorporating strings, various percussion instruments and rhythms (why can I never spell that word?), the sounds of soul, blues and even classical or operatic elements…

              and then there’s the Beatles. And they’re so critically acclaimed and celebrated and I’m like “What am I missing?” but I just don’t get it.

              • Kullervo

                Well to tell you the truth that seems a bit anachronistic. A lot of bands didn’t get experimental until after the Beatles did. For example, ‘Norwegian Wood’ was the first ever rock song to feature indian instruments (in this case, the Sitar), and after that was released many bands took it a step further and brought more indian classical influences into rock. So, side by side, the Beatles may seem tame compared to their contemporaries, but before the Beatles did it there was no indian instrumentation in rock music, at ALL.

                • Cheech

                  Similarly with incorporating orchestral music, tape loops, concrete sounds (zoo animals, traffic noise), stereo effects, even just overdubbing to expand the number of tracks available back when there were just 4-track machines. Lennon and their producer, George Martin, were pioneers of studio production as well as the Beatles having expanded the scope of what pop/rock music could be on record.

          • Kullervo

            They were a perfect storm. It’s hard to pinpoint what it was that they had; it was the total sum of it all. They wrote prolifically, all four of them were distinct personalities that appealed to their audiences in different ways, at least one member was a legitimate musical prodigy with a very beautiful voice (McCartney).

            Politically, they arrived at a time when rock music was threatening to completely abandon its countercultural roots and become a safe bubblegum novelty. So they made a huge impact

            • Another Man’s Rhubarb

              Yes to all of that. I’ve always said that I think the Beatles would be successful at any time because of the reasons you stated. They were all talented, cool looking, and wrote amazingly catchy music. They were always going to be great.

              BUT, coming out at that exact moment in American history the way they did, and coming from where they came from — just the stuff of legends. They perfectly represented where pop culture was going. And initially the critics and parents hated them, which made them even cooler and more crave-worthy to the kids. Hence, Beatlemania!

    • miss t-lee

      Mucle Shoals!
      I love Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude” with Duane Allman on guitar.
      Pristine.

      • Cheech

        Oh yes. He was a session player there, playing on Otis records, before he created his own band.

        I also love why Duane wanted two drummers in the ABB. “Because James Brown and Otis did.”

        Going to see Tedeschi Trucks Band in a couple of weeks. They still have two drummers.

        • miss t-lee

          Too cool.

      • Val

        Did you see the doc on PBS about Muscle Shoals?

        • miss t-lee

          Sure did.

    • “it is all the damb blues.”

      The boasting, sadness, reflection, violence, and joy are all reflected from every genre from rap to country.

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