Detroit Muscle and the Contemporary Fix

The smoke inside of the car was a mixture of Rick‘s always burning Cool brand cigarettes and the joints that his girlfriend, Debbie, kept passing to me from the backseat. It was just the three of us, driving through the street of Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park. This was a time before the freeways rendered all these internal neighborhoods invisible to most people. The local population was largely black and white working-class and they kept to themselve during the long winter months. Waiting patiently for those precious summer weekends to get outside for a barbecue and a bit of fun. That’s whenRick, Debbie and I would pack into the Dodge Charger and travel the city. The streets of Joseph Campau and Dequindre coming alive with activity for three young people and our pure Detroit Muscle Machine on an warm August evening. 

Mind you, we were not out just for fun. There was business that needed to be looked after. Beginning with a trip downtown to Rick’s pot-dealer who seemed to live in an abandon apartment building near the (Detroit) River. Then, after the appriotrate greetings and gestures, a very business-like transfer of cash was made and the exchange was complete. A large brown paper bag containing about a pound of prized “Colombian Gold” was placed inside the car and off we went into the neighborhoods to sell the wares; loose joints, nickel & dime bags and the occassional half once. (please make appropriate adjustments if you are using the metric system). There was a suprising amount of happenchance to our activities as we drove to various houses, apartments and parking-lots to selling the contraband. I’m not sure how but everyone seemed to know of our arrival at each of our stops. Typically, we were greeted by the smiling faces of consumers very pleased to make a purchase. And it didn’t hurt that Rick was a big guy and a serious character when it came to business. Very few people ever fucked with him twice. 

In-between the deals and the joints and the cigarettes, we would listened to the radio, drink cold beer and talk. Back in those days, Detroit radio was still very much an independent operation. The in-between years before corporate ownership of media robbed local radio of any community personalitiy and independence. Local DJ’s still had the autonomy on song selection.  WABX, WRIF and W4 all playing a mix that was singular to the Detroit audience. (Or so we thought). But there was still a chance to hear some amazing music that didn’t feel test marketed and sold. And if you were lucky; hanging out with your older cousin and his girlfriend on the street of the city, you could find yourself in a 74 Charger, selling pot to strangers and listening to a radio set list that went something like the one below; (as best I can remember). That’s about 35 minutes of damn fine music. The sounds of the city on one particular summer night as the three of us listened to that Detroit station,”our lives saved by rock n’ roll”


The Torpedos began life as a bar band in 1979 featuring Jim Banner on bass, Johnny Angelo as vocalist, Robert Gillespie on guitar, Ralph Serafino on drums and Tom Curry on keyboards and sax. Cutting a deal with Four Winds Records and release an EP that featured Pop Star that same year. A song said to be a tribute to the late Johnny Thunder of the New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers. 

The song and the band are very much a reflection of the sounds of the Detroit music scene in 79-81. They even had some support from local radio. The original EP and singles are nearly impossible to locate today, but there is a nice alternative. The good folks at Motor City Music have release a brilliant CD called The Torpedos No Refills that gathers together the bands studio material with a number of worthwhile live tracks. Keep an eye out for it. The music could save your soul

Ryuichi Sakamoto / Neo Geo / 1987

Born in Tokyo in 1978, The Yellow Magic Orchestra was an electronic music collective that pioneered the use of programed drums, digital sampling and and sequencers. All the sounds that would soon dominate the post-punk and new wave music that was clawing it’s way out of the guitar dominated seventies. Along with Germany‘s KraftwerkYMOheavily influenced the early use of synthesizer’s as the primary instrument for an army of musican’s just stepping in the ring in 79/80; including Soft Cell, New Order and Depeche Mode. Even Detroit techno pioneers the Belleville Three (Derrik May, Kevin Sauderson and Juan Atkins) have sited YMO as a primary influence. Detroit’s techno/rock hybrid Cybotron (Richard 3070, Jon 5 and Juan Atkins)is perhaps the best example. The band’s funky Alley’s of Your Mind and Cosmic Cars echoing the hard cyberpunk / proto-techno feel of YMO’s classic track, Technopolis

More than a unique sound and style, YMO member’s Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto used their music as a deliberate statement / parody on western orientalism. Turning the band’s mix of disco, funk and traditional music into a social commentary of the western depiction and imitation of Japanese culture. With growing domestic and international record sales, YMO came to an interesting decisionin 1984, just as they were on the verge of international commercial success. The band collectively seeking a sankai or need to spread out into their own (musical) orbits. Each member taking the time they need to persue an active and rewarding career individually. 

Already a veteran of the music business before the Yellow Magic Orchestra, Ryuichi Sakamoto had been the primary songwriter for the band. His song Behind the Mask become an important hit for the band and it was later covered by both Michael Jackson and (the empty Armani suit) Eric Clapton. For Sakamoto songwriting had always been an important part of his development. Collecting sounds, samples, beats and rhythms from across every culture (and decade) and incorporating them into his ever changing music. Colloborating with a wide range of vocalists and performers; including David Bowie, Brian Wilson, David Sylvian and James Osterberg. 

Released in 1987, Neo Geo is the album that, once again, brought international success to Sakamoto. Featruing performances with Sly Dunbar, Bootsy Collins and Iggy PopNeo Geo blends the sounds and styles that reenforced that meaning of the album’s title; new world. There is a fresh funkiness that Sakamoto hasn’t provided since YMO. The one-two punch of tracks Before Long and Neo Geo get the party started right. This is the sound of electro art-funk. Sharp, thick bass that is ready for the dance floor. Although, it must be said, the hybrid of sounds does not serve every track well. And, at times, the album gets caught up in that mid to late 80s polish. Nevertheless, there are many real gems to be found here. Specificly, the lush croon that Iggy Pop uses on the track, “Risky“. This is the electronic backing that Mr. Osterberg should use more often. Sakamoto providing a simple yet dynamic soundscape for the intriguing lyric and brilliant performance. You haven’t heard it? What are you waiting for?!