Previously in this blog, I have talked about the album discussion group I help organize (for the unfamiliar, imagine a boog club but about music albums). Though we meet every other Sunday, it seems to be something I can never get enough of. I’m always looking forward to the next meetup.
I just really enjoy talking about music with friends. That is the most exciting aspect of the group, but there is more I get from the experience. It gives me an opportunity to try new things and be more open-minded about approaching music. And that was kept in mind when the group was formed. By only picking albums from the book 1,001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and alternating decades with our albums selected at random based on attendee feedback, it guarantees that everyone has some say in what album is chosen. This keeps things really fresh because everyone in the group has different levels of interest and experience with music.
That is why I was so surprised with our recent pick World Clique by Deee-Lite. When that album was selected, I groaned a bit. It was only because I was super skeptical. I had only known two songs by them. Of course, I knew “Groove Is in the Heart” which is catchy but a song I just never really enjoyed. And the, within the last few years, I heard “Rubber Lover” from their second studio album after it was featured as a desert island pick on WBEZ’s Sound Opinions. I had limited knowledge of this band and a bias based on that limited knowledge.
However, as key with this group, I had to give it a listen and keep an open mind. I found the album on iTunes Music and pressed play. Immediately, any preconceived notions about what I anticipated my listening experience to be faded away.
I was hooked with the opening “Deee-Lite Theme” for its sampling, cool beat, and funky saxophone. The song originally wasn’t featured on the original LP release of the album, but was added as one of two bonus tracks for the CD. Regardless, it perfectly set up the mood in such a perfect way.
As I listened through the album, I was surprised about the thematic content. I didn’t realize how inclusive the album was. The band itself is really inclusive from a gender and racial perspective, but the themes of the album present a message of love and acceptance that I just wasn’t anticipating.
One of my friends who joined the discussion talked about the impact this album had on her during her teenage years. She picked up the album when it came out and, as a young girl, really identified with the feel-good energy of the group and the lead singer’s colorful clothes.
The group then discussed the origins of house music in Chicago. I’m not from Chicago. And prior to moving to Chicago, I was completely unaware of the city’s contributions to that music. Someone in the group claimed that, along with jazz and the blues, house music was a true American musical invention. And it came from the city we loved and shared.
House music just wasn’t on my radar. I wasn’t old enough to understand it when it hit the mainstream by the end of the 1980s. It was something that was already established by the time I would become aware of it. Considering that, I also had no other emotional connection to it. It was just a genre that I lumped together with electronic forms of music and miscategorized them all as “techno.” I have since knowledgeable of house music’s key qualities and its impact on Chicago’s musical development and our culture at large.
When house music was invented, it was an underground movement. Much like with Warhol’s Factory crowd or the early days of Grace Jones era disco, it was a subculture that celebrated life and love. It was a venue where transgender, gay, lesbian, and mainstream social outcasts at that time could come together and be themselves, to not feel invisible, and to dance in a movement that celebrated love and the individual. Inherent in that is a profound political inclination. While house music typically doesn’t contain allusions to greater political themes such as war, the notion that people can live and love how they wish is a grand statement about acceptance and inclusion.
“Good Beat” was the LP’s original opener before the later addition of “Deee-Lite Theme.” While I feel “Deee-Lite Theme” is a stronger opener with it’s funky instrumental and thematic declaration of “from the global village in an era of communication,” “Good Beat” is a solid track that propels the music and the message.
“Good Beat” is fun, but the lyrical content contains a surprising amount of a depth for a danceable house music tune. The vocals challenge that depending on how you see a thing, your perception around you can change. Your own outlook determines the openness of the world around you and what role you play in that world. Whether it is dividing or closely binding, how you perceive things ultimately impacts your contributions. And for those tired of the hatred, vitriol, and violence, they just wanna dance to a good beat. And that is a powerful declaration. To just let everything go and move to the rhythm with your fellow global citizens is something we should all strive for.