Arthur Russell: revisiting a classic, 20 years after his death

By Ken Taylor

Without the internet and the relatively young concept of reissue labels, few people would ever come to know the genius of Arthur Russell, a true innovator of dance music and modern composition, who played major roles in New York’s disco and avant garde scenes of the ’70s and was almost a fifth member of Talking Heads. He was primarily a cellist, composer, and singer, but his turns as a producer of music for the dancefloor are unmatched.

Yesterday, Dangerous Minds ran a great piece commemorating Russell’s death of AIDS-related causes 20 years ago, so we figured it was worth a quick peek into his back catalog to dig out a few favorites, whether solo works or with his Dinosaur L and Loose Joints projects.

Arthur Russell – Get Around To It [Audika Records]

“Get Around To It,” taken from his gorgeous Calling Out Of Context album, is signature Russell: melodic, moving, driven as much by a vocal line as its instrumental arrangement. In fact, EBTG’s Tracey Thorn covered this one on her first solo album.

Arthur Russell – Make 1,2 [Audika Records]

With “Make 1,2” you can feel New York’s hip-hop vibes creeping into Russell’s work. He doesn’t rap, exactly, but the blapping drum-machine beats and his lyrics about waiting for a call at a payphone suggest that such an undertaking might not be far around the corner.

Dinosaur L – Go Bang [Warlock Records]

As Dinosaur L, one of Russell’s numerous musical guises, “Go Bang” was as classic a New York post-disco Loft-style house tune as there ever was. The repetitive, funky, yelped refrain has been sampled by god knows how many people over the last 30 years, and its crazy organ keys, Latin-influenced percussion, jazzy guitars, and all-out party vibe have stood the test of time like no one’s business.

Loose Joints – Is It All Over My Face? [West End Records]

Produced with friends Steven Hall and Steve D’Aquisto as Loose Joints, “Is It All Over My Face?” is equally classic Arthur Russell material, a Paradise Garage essential that’s seen remix treatments by everyone from Larry Levan (whose female vocal version is probably the more popular mix) to Masters At Work. One for the canon—Saschienne even included it in last week’s Power Of Ten feature.

Loose Joints – Pop Your Funk [K7]

Minimal before minimal existed, “Pop Your Funk” took a waaay-stripped-back vocal, barebones organ tones, and a subdued drum track, and turned it all into something that wouldn’t sound out of place if it came out today.