Digging deep: Arthur Russell’s dance collaborations

Today, May 21st 2013, experimental musician Arthur Russell would have turned 62. Russell died in 1992 as a result of AIDS-related illness, but his music lives on and his influence reaches far and wide – much further than it did in his lifetime, something he sadly can never know himself.

In celebration of Russell’s birthday a couple of years ago, Dummy readers voted for his best song. The results of that poll leant heavily towards his solo work, so today we’re focusing on the more groove-led dance tracks that he made in collaboration with others. Below are ten of the lesser known and lesser celebrated tracks that he was a part of, listed in chronological order.

  1. Loose Joints – Is It All Over My Face? (Male Vocal) (1980)

    Produced alongside disco DJ Steve D’Acquisto and a host of session players and singers, Is It All Over My Face is one of the funkiest, most leftfield disco records ever recorded. Larry Levan’s remix is the version that has become a classic since its release back in 1980, reintroducing a scrapped female vocal that the group recorded, but the original male version deserves just as much love. It’s funkier, more experimental and a hell of a lot more unhinged, a marathon jam that feels as if it’s about to fall apart at any moment. It hangs together, but only by a thread.
  2. Dinosaur L – #1 (You Gotta Be Clean On Your Bean) (1981)

    Like with Loose Joints, Dinosaur L were responsible for more popular tracks and club remixes in the form of Go Bang! and Kiss Me Again, but #1 (You Gotta Be Clean On Your Bean) probably tops those tracks in terms of eccentricity, though perhaps not total uniqueness. Taken from ’24-24 Music’, a record so named because the rhythm of each track switches up every 24 bars, this totally bonkers jazz-disco fusion has frequent Russell collaborator Peter Gordon contributing the track’s distinctive mad sax.
  3. Loose Joints – Tell You (Today) (1983)

    Loose Joints were quite an ambitious project, having apparently recorded hours of music with the intention of releasing “the disco ‘White Album‘”, but only three of their tracks ever made it out into the world. Tell You (Today) is slightly more streamlined compared to the other Loose Joints releases, although “streamlined” is obviously quite subjective in this sense. The production of the song is incredibly accomplished, and Arthur’s own backing vocals often creep into the mix.
  4. Jah Wobble, The Edge, Holger Czukay – Hold On To Your Dreams (1983)

    This is one of those prototypical “six degrees of Arthur Russell” tracks, taken from an album which features, amongst others, Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit from Can, Public Image Limited’s Jah Wobble, and The Edge from U2 (this was back before he was writing the score for the Spiderman musical). Francois Kevorkian produced the album, Stephen Street engineered, and on the long, dubby Hold On To Your Dreams, Arthur Russell acted as lyricist. A serious all-star cast if there ever was one, yet the LP remains fairly forgotten in the grand scheme of things. The phrase that makes the track’s title was a mantra of Russell’s, and is the name of Tim Lawrence’s biography of the musician.
  5. Felix – You Can’t Hold Me Down (1984)

    Felix saw Arthur Russell and Gallery/Studio 54 DJ Nicky Siano (the same combination that formed the backbone of Dinosaur L) working together once again. Russell apparently had a huge dislike for the track Tiger Stripes, the a-side of this release, and refused to be credited for it, instead going under frequent alias Killer Whale. Presumably he had more love for You Can’t Hold Me Down, a minimalistic disco track which hones in on a killer groove, driven by deep drums.
  6. Clandestine featuring Ned Sublette – Radio Rhythm (S-I-G-N-A-L-S-M-A-R-T) (Extra Cheese Mix) (1984)

    Released on Sleeping Bag Records, the influential dance rhythm that Arthur Russell helped establish, Radio Rhythm is a pretty weird electro-ish track featuring experimental musician and musicologist Ned Sublette. Russell adopted the Killer Whale name again on the his two remixes of the track. Neither of those mixes are available on Youtube (the original is above), but they can be heard on 2009’s ‘The Sleeping Bag Sessions’ compilation.
  7. Arthur Russell vs. Vin Diesel (1986)
    A couple of years ago, this intriguing curiosity surfaced online. Mark Sinclair was an aspiring rapper who used to rap outside of the shop he worked at when trade was slow. Gary Lucas, an associate of Arthur, saw these raps and decided to get the two some studio time. The result was a failure – Sinclair was used to rapping a cappella, whilst Russell’s experimental inclinations prevented him from making a straight-up hip hop beat, and Sinclair couldn’t keep time with his producer’s shuffling beats. Frustration built and the sessions were aborted at 3.30am, but you can hear scraps of it below. In the end, the rapper Sinclair went on to become a very famous movie star known to you and me as Vin Diesel. Just imagine what this could’ve led to if it had worked out. Head here to listen.
  8. Lola – Wax The Van (Jon’s Dub) (1987)

    Wax The Van is one of Arthur Russell’s latter day dance classics, recorded with singer Lola Blank, her husband (and excellent producer) Bob Blank and Kenny Blank. This elongated dub version is the best, most club-friendly version, although it’s never made clear who “Jon” actually is.
  9. Jerry Harrison – A Perfect Lie (1988)

    Jerry Harrison was the guitarist in Talking Heads and an original member of The Modern Lovers, and he released a handful of solo albums in the latter part of the 80s both under his own name and as Casual Gods. A Perfect Lie is a sleek synth pop song that was co-written with Ernie Brooks and Arthur Russell. It also features Russell on backing vocals. Arthur collaborated with Harrison again, co-writing a couple of songs on his follow-up album, but the smooth grooves of A Perfect Lie make it their best moment.
  10. Arthur Russell – C-Thru (Walter Gibbons Mix) (2010)

    See-Through appeared on Russell’s 1986 album ‘World Of Echo’ and was remixed by disco mix pioneer Walter Gibbons, who would occasionally collaborate with him. It remained unreleased until 2010 when it appeared on a retrospective Walter Gibbons compilation. It’s as bare bones as it comes, and one of the few beat-driven tracks to be credited as “Arthur Russell”, not under an alias.
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