Ten South Florida Albums that Tried to Change the World
Never regarded as a musical nexus of great import, South Florida has no definitive genre to call its own, save perhaps Miami Bass. But individual records have made an impact, or died trying. Not all make for great listening, but each one helped delineate our crazy combination of cultures -- and none of 'em could have originated anywhere else. That's why the following list of Ten South Florida Albums that Tried to Change the World takes the low road, the high road, and the road less traveled. Forgive the deliberate omission of KC and the Sunshine Band and anything to do with Gloria Estefan, but Bandwidth figured that, after three years in the saddle, it was high time to play supreme arbiter of taste.
1.) Fred Neil, Everybody's Talkin' (1966)
American folk music's path was once routed through bohemian-tropical Coconut Grove in the 1960s, with Fred Neil as its quiet oasis. With his astounding voice and moments of brilliance (coupled with a tendency to turn isolated and withdrawn), the troubled troubadour was like an American Nick Drake. After his debut, Bleecker & MacDougal, set the tone for sensitive East Coast coffeehouse dwellers, Neil returned on Capitol Records with Everybody's Talkin'. Thanks to the film Midnight Cowboy, the title track later became a hit for Harry Nilsson. Much more accomplished and pure is Neil's original version, but it's actually Everybody's Talkin's leadoff track, "The Dolphins," that remains his most stunning moment. Rescued from save-the-whales sappiness by its fusion arrangement, Tim Buckley, Brendan Perry, and The The's Matt Johnson have all capably reworked this forgotten classic. Neil died a year ago at age 65, after avoiding the music business for decades. And as we all know, the Grove gradually lost its cool, never becoming an acoustic-folk nerve center.
2.) 2 Live Crew, As Clean/Nasty as They Wanna Be (1989)
Luther Campbell's X-rated masterpiece remains notorious for the reams of press it rang up over the First Amendment. Along with Duchamp's seed packets and Negativland's infamous and oft-sued U2 parody, As Clean/Nasty as They Wanna Be's send-up of Roy Orbison's "Oh Pretty Woman" raised the issues of copyright law and fair use. The song's publishers contended that sampling without authorization is cold-blooded theft. Yet after much hullabaloo, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music Inc. ended with a unanimous Supreme Court decision upholding 2 Live Crew's right to make fun of famous folks without asking their permission first. Plus, this is where Miami booty-bass began, and the lightning rod of controversy sparked with Clean/Nasty only helped it spread. Nasty doesn't sound so nasty 14 years later, though evidently back then, folks' thongs got bunched up over Luke's bawdy black comedy. People started paying more attention to Miami after this record, for better or worse.
3.) The Mavericks, From Hell to Paradise (1992)
Without limitations, Miami's odd band out, the Mavericks, rode roughshod over the fences demarcating country, rock, and Latin music. The sound was cinematic and exotic, unlike American country-western or traditional Cuban, but strangely just like them too. Raul Malo crooned ballads like "This Broken Heart" with the chest-clutching vigor of Roy Orbison, thumbing his nose at studio tricks, fancy effects -- and, usually, the Spanish language. The title track went to great lengths to present the band's hometown in the best possible light (it refers to the flight of Malo's aunt from Castro's island to Miami) but From Hell to Paradise really sounds more like Memphis or El Paso than Calle Ocho. That's largely because of the faithful Buck Owens cover, but just as the Mavericks were far from a typical South Florida band, this is far from a typical Mavericks record. More than a decade since the band broke out, however, it's still their best and bravest.
4.) Various Artists, Churchill's Hideaway: Music Generated by Geographical Seclusion and Beer (1993)
Too drunk to change their pants, let alone the world, the Churchill's crowd somehow remains proudly if dimly aware of its legendary place in local lore. All the usual suspects are corralled here, various sloppy portraits of the artists as young punks: Juan Montoya, Bobby Johnston, Sam Fogarino, Rob Coe, Bobby Baker, and of course Rat Bastard. Opening with a noxious squall of feedback and the medieval torture of Harry Pussy's "Brown Butterfly," Geographical Seclusion and Beer is titanium-studded with historic tracks from Kreamy 'Lectric Santa, Load, Postface, Pontius Pilate, Quit, Boise Bob & Pete Moss, Wahoos, Demonomacy, the Human Oddities, Drive Choir, Blanket, Cell 63, the Holy Terrors, and Snatch the Pebble. This upside-down, out-of-focus, black-and-white Polaroid of the nascent Miami punk scene -- the year after Nirvana broke -- is uncannily accurate. High point: Load's profane and insane bloodbath "Pickin' Dayze/User," featuring Johnston's bloody-larynx yowl.
5.) Nil Lara, My First Child (1994)
Loved by all who've seen him, Miami cubano-folk-rocker Nil Lara made his best music before big labels trained their scopes on him, intending to bag and tag him for the big market. David Byrne salivated over Lara, but the spoils went to Capitol offshoot Metro Blue. The results, collected on 1996's Nil Lara, are excellent. But on his 1994 independent release, My First Child, many of those same tunes (the title track, "How Was I to Know," "Vida Mas Simple") felt far less self-conscious, despite their clean-yet-pedestrian production and sometimes distracting guitar solos. The combination of Lara's earnest songwriting and powerful, alluring voice drew hordes of admirers -- Anglos and ex-islanders alike -- to the long-defunct Stephen Talkhouse over and over again; his shows (infrequent now) still have that pep-rally feel. When-oh-when will he get over that seemingly interminable bout of writer's block?
6.) Mary Karlzen, Yelling at Mary (1995)
We all know what happened with this one: Back in the mid-'90s, Atlantic Records signed up-and-coming Miami singer Mary Karlzen, promising her she was going to be the next big thing. Then, the story goes, they fucked her over and threw her away. Now, dusty old American tale-telling like Karlzen's may be tough to market, but whatever: Atlantic, mired in internal upheaval and business struggles, dropped the ball when it dropped Karlzen. Sure, the Tex/Mex tale "St. James Hotel" may come off as a girly ghost of Steve Earle, while "Dimestore Life" steals sentiments from Tom Waits' "Heart of Saturday Night." And despite her wholesome appeal and refusal to be silenced by the corporate sliming she suffered, there may be stronger female singer-songwriters policing the same district. But the hope South Florida music fans felt when a major label swept Karlzen off her feet -- and the letdown when she came crashing back to earth -- was an exhilarating ride just the same.
7.) Marilyn Manson, Smells Like Children (1995)
High on more than just life following his first pairing with industrial mogul and sugar-daddy Trent Reznor, little Brian Warner still had something to prove. A long way from the band's Fort Lauderdale breech birth as the Spooky Kids (now available on DVD!), the Smells Like Children EP shows how the band evolved from papier-mâché schlock to sci-fi trickery. Ghoulish, irreverent, twisted, and cartoonish, with unauthorized Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory samples and other verboten sound bites, this EP was actually neutered for public consumption. "Abuse (Pt. 1)" and "Abuse (Pt. 2)" were excised before it was officially released in October 1995, and most of the other offending material was deleted. Key word: Most. The sampled/spoken word piece "May Cause Discoloration of the Urine or Feces" is calculated to disturb moms across the country, while "Everlasting C***sucker" and "S****cky Chicken Gang Bang" aren't exactly, you know, for kids. Three covers ("Sweet Dreams," "I Put a Spell on You," "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger"), especially "Sweet Dreams," smell profoundly careerist, as if all involved knew that Manson couldn't become the bogeyman under America's bed without a Eurythmics song to clear the dust bunnies. Original promotional copies of Smells Like Children fetch big bucks on eBay. It reportedly remains the most bootlegged item in Manson's catalog.
8.) Trick Daddy, www. thug.com (1998)
As they come squished through his gleaming gold grill, Trick Daddy's words are hard to understand. But his message isn't: www.thug.com is a fearsome reality show, a hand-held view of the bottom end of the Dirty South. Still, his domain name, www.thug.com, paints Trick Daddy as mack daddy on "Stroke It Gently" and "I'll be Your Other Man" while blowing off steam on "So What" and "Nann Nigga." The latter track introduced the tough-as-gristle Miami rapper to urban airwaves, along with a foul vixen named Trina, who went on to eclipse her mentor with 2002's tight-ass joint Diamond Princess. Trick's still thuggin' and collaboratin' at a righteous rate, but log on to www.thug.com for the best summary of the man's mush-mouthed mystery.
9.) Puya, Fundamental (1999)
Rock en español's heavy-metal hybrids have produced plenty of proto-Sepultura thud-packers, but Fort Lauderdale's Puya really struck ganglions with its MCA debut, Fundamental. An explosive combination of crushing metal riffs, melodic bass lines, skewed salsa, and Spanglish vocals, this Latino rap-core touchstone didn't sell nearly what it should have. Puya's puertoriqueño vibe infuses "Oasis," "Sal Pa' Fuera," and "Retro" with timbales and horns for a sort of worldly-wise take on nu metal. Brazenly tinkering with such a formulaic and blinkered genre proves that Puya's got big balls, which didn't shrink even as its relationship with MCA soured. The unique and brave mix of Fundamental seemed to encapsulate a whole generation of Latin American anger, maybe not in the most erudite manner but with the speed and brutality needed to make its case. Nonpoint and others attempted, with varying degrees of success, to emulate this posture, but Puya was there -- and here -- first.
10.) Dashboard Confessional, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most (2001)
More than slightly silly when seen through the rearview mirror, Dashboard Confessional allowed Boca Raton's Chris Carrabba to earnestly introduce emo-core to the entire country. Pubescent girls and MTV Unplugged all lined up to wring sleeves to The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most's pity-me party-poopers. At the height of the album's popularity (it scanned shitloads of copies, you know), only the hardhearted could stay unmoved as soft voices shored up the set list night after night. The hit single "Screaming Infidelities" inspired achy-breaky sing-a-longs from tough guys as well as their smarty-cute girlfriends. But TPYHCTFTM is of most use to adolescents enduring the pain of pulling off a recent breakup's Band-Aid over and over again. Enduring Carrabba's pain over and over again is a lot harder than it sounds.
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