Monday, February 13, 2023

Even When They Were Crossing Over, De La Soul Was Great

So the Judgement Night soundtrack was a pretty big deal when I was in high school.  The movie itself wasn't, but the soundtrack was.  It paired many of the biggest Hip-Hop acts of the day with the biggest rock bands of the day.  I remember being excited for it, because I was a big fan of many of the MCs.  People still reminisce about how great it was, but honestly, I didn't really care for it.  Some of the songs, like the Fatal one, swung the pendulum too far in the rock direction, where it felt like, okay, a rap artist may've technically been involved, but they just made a full-out rock song.  Some of the acts - like House of Pain, Cypress Hill (of course they had two songs on there), and Ice-T - I was already kind of over by '93 anyway.  And even songs where they struck the balance better, like the Run DMC and Boo Yaa Tribe songs... I just felt like I'd rather hear them without these bands.

Honestly, there was only two songs on there I'd go back and replay.  But at least they were on the tape back to back, so you could play the last song on side A, flip it over to the first song on side B, and then you'd be almost cued back up for the first song on side A again.

One was the Del song, which was with a band called Dinosaur Jr.  They mixed Del's raps nice and loud, and gave him a pretty genuinely funky back-drop.  And the other song, of course, was "Fallin'" by De La Soul.  Oh and some band called Teenage Fanclub.

I had at least heard of every rock band on the Judgement Night soundtrack except for these guys.  I couldn't escape the hit singles by groups like Pearl Jam as much as I wanted to, and I'm not sure I've ever actually heard a Slayer song, but I've certainly seen the t-shirts.  But Teenage Fanclub were a new one on me.  Looking at their Wikipedia, they're a Scottish rock band and their biggest single in America was "Star Sign" in 1991.  It peaked at #4.  Listening to it now on Youtube, nope, new to me.

I was familiar with Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'," which this song takes its name from and samples for their hook.  I feel like the teacher would play it every day in art class for two years straight.  It's a real ear worm alright; I still remember it clearly.  He kept whinging about a "good girl" who LA guys (half the song is name-dropping LA locations) would hit on, and this would send him "free fallin'" in despair.  Real incel energy, except the music video make it look like "free fallin'" was about a skateboarding move... Not that the image of a goonish, middle-aged folk singer leering at teenage models in a California skate park is much more appealing.  And okay, look, I fucking hated that song through the peak of my adolescence, so maybe I'm not being entirely fair to it now.  But I'm never going to listen to it again to give it another shot, so don't @ me.

The point is, I did not exactly go into De La's "Fallin'" with an open mind.  But they kick it off with this ill, slowed down Soul II Soul sample while making an Ultramagnetic reference, and the Fanclub's playing, I have to say, is super smooth and reserved.  And they make a big deal of Tom Petty's role in this song in the liner notes (he gets a co-writing credit right alongside De La and Fanclub), but all they do is sample the titular line (it's also the only sample they credit).  None of the instrumentation or that catchy little "do do doo do" riff that really drives the song comes from him.

And Pos and Trugoy's writing is both more amusing and poignant than anything Petty cooked up, kicking fictitious verses about falling off in their careers that's both funny ("I knew I blew the whole fandango when the drum programmer wore a Kangol") and melancholy ("but look what you're doing now.  I know.  Well, I know").  The whole song really captures a thoughtful mood, putting it even farther ahead than Del's song, which was mostly just catchy but empty.  I mean, Pos does get a little carried away with the Six Million Dollar Man references (I remember as a teen wondering who the heck is Oscar Goldman, a famous record producer or something?), but I guess being playful is one of De La's charms you wouldn't want to scrub away.

The film producers must've known the guys were onto something with this one, too, because it's the song they play during the opening credits, and they play it again during the travel montage.  Then they bring it back a third time for an encore over final shot and closing credits.  None of the other soundtrack songs get a fraction of that much love, most of which you just hear snippets of mixed low behind action scenes.  And thankfully, Immortal Records released it as a 12" single.  If they threw on the Del song, too, I could've chucked the whole album, but oh well.  The 12" features the Album Version, Instrumental, Acapella and best of all, an exclusive Remix.

As much as any of us may've managed to get over the hippy-ness of the song, it's still pretty nice to hear that De La Soul gave us a pure Hip-Hop version without Teenage Fanclub or the Petty sample.  Only the "you played yourself" portion of the original hook survives, now mixed with a little "Flash To the Beat" routine.  The same vocals as before now flow over deep bass notes and hard drums with some simple, old school scratches.  No twangy guitars, no crooning and it's the only version that doesn't censor Trugoy's bad language.  To be clear, I really like the album version, Petty and all; but I'm definitely grateful to have this alternative when I'm not in the mood for any Teenage Fanclub.

R.I.P. Plug Two.

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