For decades, Radiohead has been hailed for their iconoclastic and individualistic approach to rock music. Volumes have been written about the lads from Oxfordshire, including two separate 33 1/3 books, and no small part of that literature is devoted to their influences on acts to come. However, in this screed I will tackle a more niche and underappreciated subject: What has been Radiohead’s impact on contemporary pop acts?

As a tone-deaf, arhythmic rube, I could not possibly analyze anything of value. Instead, my entire investigation will be conducted off the back of two post-2000 Top 40 namechecks.


In 2013, long after her zenith, Avril Lavigne issued a puzzling chorus in her song “Here’s to Never Growing Up”: “Singing Radiohead at the top of our lungs”

Any band with a three-syllable name could have slotted in easily – yet Avril consciously chose the one band it is impossible to sing to AT THE TOP OF ONE’S LUNGS.

It is possible to sing ALONG to Radiohead, if barely. “Creep” and “Karma Police” are probably the only two you could karaoke. Maybe “Anyone Can Play Guitar” if you’re at a weird karaoke place. Personally, any time I’ve ‘sang’ ‘along’ to Radiohead, I’ve had to rely heavily on mumbling in a heavy, semi-melodic way while hoping nobody’s around to hear.

Yes, Avril has tricked me, a person of average to below-average savviness, before – I remember studying her video “Nobody’s Home” closely in the 4th grade, trying to decide whether she was playing both main characters (answer, yes, it’s a bad wig) – but I feel fairly confident that despite Canadians’ natural propensity toward mumbling, even she couldn’t pull it off.

triangles… triangles everywhere


DATA POINT TWO: Kathryn “Katheryn “Katy” Perry” Hudson

However,  music historians tell us that Avril was not the first to invoke Radiohead in the pop charts.

In 2010, Katy Perry dropped “The One That Got Away,” the sixth-best single from her Teenage Dream album. The unremarkable, though charting, song opens with this claim: “Summer after high school when we first met / we’d make out in your Mustang to Radiohead”

The music video, a low for the generally very lovable Diego Luna and a very scary Digitally Old Katy Perry, unfortunately skips right over this dubious plot point. That’s right: It features no music video-exclusive bridge of a muffled “Moring Bell/Amnesiac” (a CD my father threatened to throw out of our minivan window in 2005, because It Is Not Music) set to footage of the two canoodling.

Established: Singing along to Radiohead is impossible. But while making out to Radiohead wasn’t incredibly plausible to me either, it seemed a lot easier to accomplish, at least on the surface.

I opened iTunes, closed my eyes, and tried to imagine making out to Radiohead. It was kind of depressing. I could imagine some tracks sequencing a rainy, slow goodbye kiss at the end of an action film where the female love interest is going to die because of course she will, but hey, I’m no music supervisor.

I needed more eyes on the situation. There was no one at my disposal willing to make out with me to Radiohead for kicks. So I brought my friend Lesley, a big Radiohead fan, a doctoral candidate, and my loving wife of five years, into my investigation as a consultant.

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 5.36.48 PM


Well, that wasn’t much help. Between a rock and a hard place, I decided to not ruin Radiohead for my wife. Instead, I realized, I should use historical evidence to pin down Katheryn “‘Katy’ Perry” Hudson’s timeline. What year was her “summer after high school”? What material had Yorke & co. even put out then?


One quick Wikipedia search and I found my next dead end. Katheryn “’Katy’ Perry” Hudson earned her GED when she was 15. It was nothing more than a Hollywood fiction!!!!!!!

Possibly, the question we should be asking instead is: Have Katy Perry, Avril, and their songwriters ever heard Radiohead? I know once Miley Cyrus tried to meet Radiohead backstage at a concert. They sent a note back: “We don’t do that.” Had Miley Cyrus ever heard Radiohead? I also know she once said she didn’t listen to hip hop. It’s not relevant to this article, but Miley Cyrus is a mess who exploits black culture for her own gain and we shouldn’t pay attention to her, even if she can sing live, so kudos to Radiohead.

However, Buzzfeed gave me one last clue. I was aimlessly trying to learn about myself through a quiz when I was confronted with the following:


At first puzzling, this outlier in fact may help crack the case. Coupled with their recent Lana Del Rey lawsuit, one has to wonder: Have Radiohead themselves become the establishment and hegemony they rebelled against in their early career? 

As of press time, Radiohead had not returned a request for comment sent to their management’s Facebook page. Sad.

This is authored anonymously to guarantee the writer’s safety from Big Radiohead.

Our Indiana Boy: A Conversation with Slow Dakota


PJ Sauerteig_046

credit: Martha Scott Burton

PJ Sauerteig loves a careful listener; a very careful listener could reasonably catch the muffled shouts in the background of “June 2nd,” a track from Our Indian Boy, his first release under the Slow Dakota moniker. He is, now, some 5 years after the album’s release, amiable about his mother and sister’s conversation accidentally finding its way onto the song.  “When I look back on it now it’s a very brash record —  so amateurish and very unashamed of how very amateur and unrefined it is,” he says, noting the recording mistake. “I’m sentimental about it. I didn’t know anything.”

Our Indian Boy (2012) may be a modest effort by Sauerteig’s standards, but for a bedroom project it’s astonishingly well-realized and lush, fleshed out by Sauerteig’s one-man baroque pop band. As luck would have it, any clumsiness of his first go-round bleeds through with a rawness that complements the emotional vulnerability of the record.

Structured as a series of diary entries, the songs were written as a result of a truncated do-gooder mission: Sauerteig intended to spend the summer after his freshman year of college teaching English at an orphanage in rural India. Reality, as it is wont to do, bit, and serious illness forced his return home to Indiana after just a fraction of his intended stay. The album is tinged with the embarrassment of privilege and naivety; as well, as could be more broadly noted about his catalogue, with the basic embarrassment of being alive.  A thread of sexual anxiety, impotence, and disappointment runs through the album, a gentle reminder of the difficulty of maturation: the difficulty, in the end, of becoming and being a person.

It’s fine; one collateral of this is an almost overwhelming sensitivity to the beauty of the world at large, and what rivets about Our Indian Boy is Sauerteig’s sense of poetry, his lyrics recalling at times the tenderness of Sufjan Stevens and the evocative obscurity of Neutral Milk Hotel. The diaristic entries turn photographic, impressionistic, nostalgic, prayerful, epistemological – and tremble with, among other themes, life, death, God, time, limitations, joy, and failure. That sounds overwhelming and tedious; but, as with Neutral Milk Hotel, the granular and evasive nature of the work keep it from being utter trash.

Back in early September Slow Dakota’s press man, PJ Sauerteig, agreed to allow me to interview the artist himself, so at the appointed time I sat cross-legged, picked up the phone, and became, in addition to a longtime listener, a first-time caller. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity, and to excise embarrassing personal tangents.

-Charlotte Murtishaw


credit: PJ Sauerteig

One thing I was curious about with it being your first solo record is – well, I should say it sounds like an I-statement, you can hear all these different instruments but it sounds like it is very much coming from one person – it goes different places and some of these places are embarrassing and intense and I was wondering if it was tough to put out, especially because there’s this whole range of emotions. You’re not some weepy singer-songwriter with a guitar being like, I fell in love with this person, here are 12 songs about it in different ways.

As a preface to an answer, it’s interesting that you mention this very sappy sort of sort of archetype songwriter because it’s very strange, I’ve never had a desire or any sort of momentum towards songs about romantic love. The love that I think that’s explored here is more familial love, and it’s also a love of people, writers, grandparents, people like that.

There’s never a ‘I love you, I miss you too, don’t break up with me’ and I wonder why that is. But you asked about the range of emotions, so anyway, I never keep journals but when I was in India, I was like, I’ll try. I kept a little diary with me and I would write things down just impressions of places, my feelings, and stuff like that. You read the diary over the course of the getting sick and becoming disillusioned and there are these really weird, kind of very ugly emotions that I’m still kind of ashamed of.

Long story short, I got home and I didn’t have a job or anything to do for the rest of the summer. I remember flipping through the diary and grappling with it. Each song is taken in some form from the diary – sometimes word-by-wrd – so that’s where the structure comes from. It was interesting because I ended up working a monotonous cubicle job for the rest of the summer, and I was doing like the most boring stuff ever and had music in my headphones playing all day. The music that I listen to that summer really informed a lot of songwriting structure and style that I was playing with, a lot of the Microphones and a lot of Regina Spektor, the power of what she can do with just her and the piano. All that combined into a lot of guilt and coming to terms with not being nearly as powerful or smart or full of perseverance as I thought I was, being haunted by my memory of that place and my memory of my failures.

Oh, it’s so interesting to me that you usually don’t keep a journal. In my head, I was like oh shit, this is someone who hardcore journals. But anyway, through the album it’s so evident how very good you are with words: you’re so specific and descriptive, you do a great job of conveying a bunch of stuff on a purely lyrical level. I was wondering if there was a particular literary influence on the album.

In June 1st there’s the talk about an orchard, and that was a reference to Helplessness Blues, which I was listening to that was the summer. But in terms of literary references? I had taken some creative writing workshops at Columbia that year but I’ll have to think about it. Regina Spektor is a huge influence on that album and I would be very surprised if her lyrical style didn’t come through on that. I’m trying to think of other ones. For example, Whitman with a huge influence on The Ascension of Slow Dakota, the record that I put out last year, and that was very clear literary kind of reference for the album.

It was one of those things where I thought that I was maybe catching these little musical references, but they’re subtle enough that you’re not totally sure. But I know exactly what you’re talking about with Fleet Foxes and I was wondering whether you put those references in there to be caught or for yourself.

I love love love love artists and writers who tuck things in their work knowing full well that 99.5% of people for many reasons aren’t going to pick up on it, whether they’re not paying attention or it’s too subtle or whatever. Eliot is someone who I studied a lot in college, and he’s someone who I love for that reason. Anything he writes so densely packed with little winks and nods towards people that it’s unclear whether he’s doing it for himself or for others. That’s something that I’ve always loved and tried to replicate in all the stuff that I do, lyrically, but in another way, musically. For instance, in Our Indian Boy there are a lot of melodies that, throughout the course of the work that I’ve done since then and different albums, that blueprint of melodies has been recycled over and over and over again but in different ways, different tempos, different arrangements, and that’s really fun for me. It’s sort of a trail of bread crumbs for a careful listener. I think there has to be some reward for people who really engage with an album and listen to it over and over and over again.

Easter eggs?

Exactly! Our Indian Boy is significant I think for that reason – that those melodies are used over and over again. Spanning like five or six years, all this work that can be traced back to that album, which is fun.

And you come back to certain concepts again and again, which I know is a different thing and maybe a little less fun, but does it feel like you’re circling the same thing and you keep kind of readjusting these melodies as a way of thinking about it as a way of revisiting that and reprocessing it?

I think that could be it, in terms of reprocessing. Guilt is definitely a theme that appears over and over again, and it appears in Our Indian Boy and Burstner and the Baby. To your point, it’s very logical to have those melodies recycled in again and again, circling the same theme and same sort of obsessions over again and again. One thing I really love – and I hate how this will sound out loud – but James Joyce does this amazing thing where throughout his different work the same characters appear. What he’s doing is he’s stitching together a continuity between the different works, he’s sort of creating a universe. That’s what it feels like what I’ve been trying to do with the work.

Our Indian Boy is different; it’s in a different place with different characters from Burstner and the Baby, but by repeating those melodies again and again we are reminded that we maybe are on the same plane and that you’re living in the same dream as you were last time.

Sort of like in a musical, when a character has a theme.

Right. It also helps you trace the growth and the arc of an artist or a piece of art when you see the same melody, but in a way that shows the artist is moving towards different things or new instruments and things like that. So yeah I love doing that, it’s an idea that I have taken from other people and I really adore. Even Sufjan Stevens does that in a very interesting way – the melody at the end of one of the songs in Seven Swans ends up becoming the horn part of “Chicago”.

Before you mentioned a love of people and you feel this love and fascination in the record –you’re watching and observing and there are these characters in Our Indian Boy who I assume were based on real people from India, and I was wondering what sort of obligation you felt to them as you were writing this record and making it and thinking about that experience.

That’s very interesting. Like a moral obligation?

Maybe not a moral obligation, but maybe a moral obligation. I mean, something I think a lot about is street photography — I would feel so awkward taking photos of strangers on the street, just so awkward. And from the flipside I would feel very weird if someone I didn’t know walked up to me and took a photo of me on the street. I think about, how is that photo being used, how is that part of myself going to be recycled, is it going to be truthful. You have these snapshots of these people you knew and engaged with and to invent a totally different hypothetical, I’m assuming you wouldn’t want to make a play about some experience you had and use someone’s name and not represent who they are in an accurate manner. If that makes sense. Sort of the obligation of portrayal.

I tried to be very accurate. For instance in “June 2nd” there’s the figure Kaliani, who literally was the woman who was sort of the housekeeper running the place where I lived. She was the one who cooked every meal for me she was this tiny tiny tiny little woman and that was her name and her and her house. I didn’t want to fictionalize the entire thing, I wanted there to be real relics and remains of people and the boy’s head on the cover of the album was a picture I took while I was there of one of the boys that at the orphanage.

But at the same time as soon as I say that it feels very gross and very immensely self-serving and even in sort of imperialistic when I look at that and how I used that experience. It feels pretty gross to me, and in retrospect I’m so sentimental about the album but I’m also aware it’s very insensitive and cannibalistic. I got to chew on those people for a couple months and then spit it out as “art” and it’s dehumanizing in a way that I’m not happy about. They’re both real and inherently unreal because they’ve been filtered a million times through my own self-serving memory.

I guess from my perspective, listening to the record, I didn’t feel like it was a disrespectful to anyone, they very much felt like real people outside of your guilt and narrative and I’m not sure forgetting them and pretending you weren’t there would be any better than incorporating them. But I was sort of curious about whether or not the ethics of something like that crossed your mind while you were writing it.

No, it didn’t. I really think I was naive not only in my ability to record music but I think I was also very emotionally naïve. I really appreciate it and I’m glad it doesn’t seem disrespectful to them, but in retrospect on the whole it feels like voluntourism.  It’s like that, let me go and I’ll go take photos with all the locals and the kids in my village and make it my profile picture. I used these people as props in my play, and that was my way of creating anything usable or thinking about the experience. I was very naive culturally about that, and I feel quite ashamed about that.

I wanted to talk about genre as well, I feel like you’ve self-described through most of your records as baroque pop and I’m curious about how you approach the genre. You mentioning Regina Spektor was helpful because as I was approaching this, I was thinking, who is a contemporary, piano-based musician and all I could come up with is like Tori Amos and Billy Joel, and I hate Billy Joel but I love what you do with it and how intricate and carefully composed it all sounds.

 Unfortunately I’m tone-deaf and I don’t have a sense of rhythm and all this stuff, so I can’t really ask you interesting questions about that – it’s just not something I’m capable of. Oh and bonus question, what do you think of straight pop music? Do you listen to pop, do you like pop?

There’s some pop I really really like.  I’m trying to think. A lot of 80s pop in particular. Through a very strange series of events ZZ Top is a band I’ve seen many many times, more than almost any other band I think. “Crash,” by Dave Matthews Band, I don’t care how much you know about music, I don’t care how many vinyl records you have, if you talk shit about that song you don’t know what you’re talking about because it’s unbelievable.

My understanding of baroque pop would be basically like, pop structures with an emphasis on more orchestral or classical instruments. I agree with you, piano-centric artists are certainly not a thing, we get the occasional Vanessa Carlton and random people pop up, but probably Regina Spektor is probably enduringly the most prominent and rightly so, she’s so brilliant person who does that. And because I was listening to her so much at the time I think she factored in on the piano.

The piano I use on that record is the same piano I always use, it’s an old Baldwin piano that belonged to my grandparents. My grandma bought it and I never got to meet her, she died before I was born. But I like the sound of it and it’s the piano I learned to play on growing up, that’s how I learned music.

And baroque pop – the horn arrangements are definitely descended from the line of Beirut, Neutral Milk Hotel, those guys. And then you have songs that don’t really fit that – the last song on the record is choral, people singing with a lot of reverb and a couple chord progressions – that’s not baroque pop at all. I also have a real big interest in renaissance music and medieval music, the big washed out choral stuff, it’s very beautiful to me and I was channeling that. I don’t know if it makes sense with the rest of the record.

I’m realizing now why it makes me think of the Microphones — even the intro to the record is this warbling unidentifiable (to me) instrument that shifts between ears, and it’s very destabilizing and I was wondering what instrument that was and how you decided on that to be the beginning.

Oh yeeeeaaaaah – the beginning of the record. The first instrument you hear, I have this old keyboard at my house called an Oasis fusion, they don’t make them anymore but it’s this huge bulky thing and it has a bunch of different effects including this synth pad that’s called windmills or something like that. It’s this forlorn, wispy – you’re right, I don’t know how to describe it but it’s this really creative beautiful sound that these guys programmed. It sounds like ghosts talking in the other room and I liked that a lot.

And later in that song when you hear the stomping and the ukulele and the stuff like that – in the prelude or whatever – I was really struggling with the arrangement orchestration of that song and it sucked so one night I went up to my shower and I closed the door and I was stomping and playing the ukulele and I got this really boxed in sound.

At any point were your parents like PJ, what are you doing, can you stop stomping in the shower?

I’m curious if they knew what I was doing at the time because I was just goofing around. There were periods when they were out of the house and I was able to have nights to myself and have these recording sessions till very late at night where I was able to play a tom drum or a snare and it was very freeing. So they weren’t there for the worst of it luckily.

Charlotte Murtishaw is an American.

PJ Sauerteig runs the boutique label Massif Records, and has published poetry and criticism in various magazines. He releases dumb music as Slow Dakota, and is currently enrolled at NYU Law. Tweet him @PJ_Sauerteig.

Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” is a cover. Now What?

On August 23rd, 2017, Twitter user @VilinskiKonjic fired off a post that yanked the mask off of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” airing the song’s true identity like a befuddled Scooby Doo villain.

A quick history: “Torn,” Imbruglia’s magnum opus, is a cover of a song originally written by members of a band called Ednaswap in 1993, though they didn’t immediately record it. The earliest commercially available recording of “Torn” comes to us by way of Lis Sørensen, who sang the song in Danish under the title “Brændt,” also in 1993. Then two years later, Ednaswap put their own version of the track to tape. Imbruglia got her hands on “Torn” two years after that, in 1997, and was even backed on the recording by members of Ednaswap.

Twenty years after that, in the replies to @VilinskiKonjic’s post, baffled Millennials verified the original tweet’s claim after skimming Wikipedia. The post went viral. News outlets picked up the story, which is less about Imbruglia’s non-sole-ownership of “Torn” than it is about the reaction to Imbruglia’s non-sole-ownership of “Torn” itself. It was a near-universally run puff piece. Even Fox News ran a piece, taking a break from irreversibly scaring shitless and poisoning the brains of your grandparents to point out that their grandchildren are a part of an entire generation of dumbasses who feign outrage over this sort of thing.

That “Torn” is a cover really shouldn’t come to us as that big of a shock. And that our social cohort–extremely online twenty-somethings–didn’t know “Torn” was a cover should come as even less of a surprise. There is simply no reason at all for anyone to know that. Imbruglia’s iteration of “Torn” peaked at #42 on the Billboard Hot 100. The fact that it’s even still a staple of Nineties Nights and receives regular air time on adult top 40 radio stations nationwide feels like a fluke.

But the commodification of nineties nostalgia has kept relevant songs that would have otherwise slipped into the pop cultural ether, and “Torn”, benefiting from this phenomenon, finds itself frozen in time and artificially boosted in significance. As such,the faux-nostalgia many of us affix to “Torn” is completely misassigned.

I personally adore the song, but I was also nine when it reached its apex of popularity, not old enough to associate it with usual nostalgic triggers (reaching a key sexual milestone, experiencing heartache, coughing a lot while smoking weed for the first time, etc.). No, the key memories I have of listening to “Torn” contemporary with its brush with commercial success involve sitting in the middle row of my mom’s minivan, feeling mortified and embarrassed when Imbruglia sings about “lying naked on the floor.”

I’m going to unfairly assume my earliest experiences with “Torn” are par for the course for folks of my age and similar suburban upbringing. This is all to say that there is no reason for a song that never cracked the top 10 on Billboard (a song which most of us probably associate with our varying levels of budding sexual repression) to have a universally known origin story.

Blinded by the Light,” the #1 hit that propelled Manfred Mann’s Earth Band to chart-topping heights, is a Bruce Springsteen cover. (Bruce’s version is far superior, but that’s for another post.) This is a song that still lights up classic rock radio, and demolished “Torn” in terms of commercial success. But still, it’s not that widely known to be a cover, even by old-timers who probably performed unspeakable sexual deeds while on unfathomably cool drugs while rockin’ out to it. I’ll give us all a pass for not being privy to “Torn”’s status as a cover.

But this isn’t an article about the public reaction to the revelation. At this point, all that matters is this: Does the version of “Torn” we love kick the shit out of the two other versions we only just learned of?

Let’s listen.

It’s only fair to start with the OGs, Ednaswap. They may not have recorded it first, but there’s no denying the songwriting is top-notch. Ultimately, this version relies too heavily on what we now consider ‘90s alt-rock tropes. The sparse, opening guitar riff falls somewhere on the spectrum between “Yellow Ledbetter” and really any Stone Temple Pilots song. And the lack of bass or drum until nearly the two-minute mark screams “Glycerine.” No shots at the Edna-heads out there, but at this point, the 15 or so ‘90s bands that get a pass on sounding identical to one another are canon, and Ednaswap is simply not one of them.

Up next, we have Lis Sørensen and her Danish language “Torn,” “Brændt,” which translates to “burnt.” “Brændt” is way closer to the solid studio gold struck by Imbruglia and her backing band. Sonically, it’s more fleshed out, which is nice from a pop music perspective. Danish sounds very nice when sung, and being “burnt” in the context of a relationship gives the song a sort of different meaning. But ultimately Sørensen loses points for her gratuitous employment of out-of-place Spanish guitar licks and general disjointed instrumentation. That, and for some reason Sørensen wears a bindi in the music video. Sure, 20 years ago maybe that was okay, but it’s tough to not watch it through the lens of modern cultural understanding, and Sørensen’s schtick smacks of appropriation.

(one more time)

Oh baby. Now it’s time for the real thing. By now you know where my biases lie, but you also probably also knew deep down in your heart of hearts that Natalie Imbruglia may not have written “Torn,” but she sure as shit owns it. Damn. Just listen to this thing. It’s pop perfection. Imbruglia is Australian but like nearly all great pop songs from this era, it sounds like she’s from Des Moines, singing in a near-accentless, generic American affect. The jarring guitar hits from “Brændt” have been ironed out, and in their place is a track that relies more heavily on the drive of the drum machine and rather sexy–if I do say so–bass line. The angelic backing vocals. The guitar solo outro that doesn’t even try and is just like, three sustained notes. It’s perfect.

At the end of the day, history will not remember that Imbruglia did not originally pen “Torn.” In a few month’s time, Ednaswap will be again relegated to the dregs of Spotify. Between the cover-er and the cover-ee, somebody’s done a better job, and in the case of Natalie, here, she retains her status as rightful voice behind “Torn” because she takes the song to a new level. Sure, this and all other claims of sonic superiority are potentially disputable. But at the end of the day, it’s like what long-dead Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said, and I’m paraphrasing here: “I know the better recording of a song when I hear it.”

Paul Snyder is on Twitter as @danieldingus. Please pay him to do things.

‘Who will survive in America?’: Gil Scott-Heron, in samples

Who will survive in America?

A pertinent question, at this time and all times. If you asked it surreptitiously, under your breath while you read the news at work or at school this week, your colleague might have looked up, pointed at you, and said, “Kanye. Nice.”

The question is a quote which from the first album of musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron, sampled in the final moments of the epic backhanded apology that is Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010).  What began as “Comment #1” (1970), the war cry of a young black man looking to distance himself from white allies-until-graduation, was recontextualized as “Who Will Survive In America,” a cry-for-help from an overserved ubercelebrity.

To his own generation, Gil Scott-Heron was predominantly a writer and a poet who had a successful decade-long turn as a recording artist. Others know him through his infamous turn of phrase, “The revolution will not be televised.” To a few, he was the estranged artist son of Gil Heron, the first black player on Glasgow’s Celtic Football Club. But to many artists, journalists, and crate-diggers, he was the undisputed father of the Hip-Hop movement.

Whether Scott-Heron agreed or not (he didn’t), there is no denying the influence of his sound in rap nor the presence of his actual sounds in 21st century beats. Gil Scott-Heron is, if not the most often-sampled, then perhaps the most significantly sampled artist in recent Hip-Hop music.

No producer has been a more direct (or perhaps a more obvious) purveyor of Scott-Heron samples in Rap than Kanye . If you hadn’t heard Scott-Heron before 2005 then your first experience was probably “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” off of the 1971 album Pieces Of A Man. On a track called “My Way Home” (2005), West recorded Common over a loop of the original tune. Then, when Common didn’t want the track for his own Be album, West included it in his own somewhat underrated sophomore album Late Registration (and amazingly didn’t include himself on the track at all). Years later, DJ Rashad would also sample the track on the bittersweet “I’m Gone” (2011).

In another case of West and Common collaborating over a Scott-Heron anti-drug ballad, Kanye flipped the supremely funky “Angel Dust” into The Game’s “Angel” (2008, featuring Common). The original came from 1978’s Secrets, which Scott-Heron recorded with his most frequent collaborator, Brian Jackson.

To this day, “We Almost Lost Detroit” remains one of Scott-Heron’s and Jackson’s most celebrated songs. The two recorded it for their essential 1977 album Bridges in response to a 1966 nuclear meltdown in Detroit that writer John G. Fuller drew attention to in his 1975 book of that same title. Common’s “The People” (2007) includes West’s most creative Scott-Heron sample – a pitched-up loop of the singer’s trademark glottal melisma – and producer J. Rawls sampled the song more literally for “Brown Skin Lady” (1997) off of Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s equally essential collaborative album Black Star.

If “Steve Of Internet” was the top Heron-flipper in the aughts, Dilla Of Internet has the title in the teens. Knxwledge got to sampling Scott-Heron early and often in his now-widely-celebrated beatmaking career. One particular gem is “inamerika” (2012), which loops the frequently sampled title track off of Scott-Heron’s and Jackson’s 1974 album Winter in America.

Undoubtedly the most jaw-dropping, hand-over-heart sample of Scott-Heron ever is Knwxledge’s use of “The Bottle,” also off of Winter in America, to make the beat for his rhetorical pimp anthem with Anderson .Paak, “Suede” (2015). (N.B.: The songs have very different messages for the children.)

Completing the trifecta of Knwxledge samples from Winter in America is “Peace Go With You, Brother,” which the producer turned into “Dryice” in 2011. Most Knwxledge fans will also likely recognize the Rhodes keys from Freddie Joachim’s “Waves” which Joey Bada$$ used for his breakout track of the same name. And more attentive listeners may catch the segment of the song that was looped by Willie B for Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 cut “Poe Man’s Dreams” (I’m not going to tell you where exactly – listen for it ).

Gil Scott-Heron polished the instrumentation and production considerably for the sound of his 1980’s solo work. Yasiin Bey and producer D-Prosper harnessed the glittering keys of “Legend In His Own Mind” off of 1980’s Real Eyes for the reference-heavy “Mr. Nigga” with Q-Tip.

Scott-Heron also made an album with Jackson in 1980 called 1980, inevitably featuring the song “1980.” That title track includes lyrics that eerily seem to anticipate the poet’s impending downfall: “it’s 1980, and there ain’t even no way back to ’75.” Similarly, the 2Pac song “Ready For Whatever” (c. 1997) which samples “1980,” finds Pac wondering aloud if he will survive or die in the streets. That song was produced by Johnny J, who also died a tragic and early death.

Gil Scott-Heron was dropped by his long-time label Arista Records in the mid-80’s and descended into addiction and relative obscurity until more than ten years later, when he returned with the jazzed-out Spirits in 1994. The album finds Scott-Heron revisiting “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” in a series of variations titled “The Other Side,” which Jamie xx would later sample on the track “Home” for his album celebrating the poet and musician, We’re New Here (2011). The standout track of Spirits, however, is the Protean, mood-shifting “Give Her A Call,” which some may recognize from the Pro Era track of the same name.

Alignment with XL Recordings would bring Scott-Heron back to relevance – to serious hype, really – by combining the artist’s poetry and pared-down blues renditions with subtle UK bass production to create his 2010 album I’m New Here. The clap loop from the project’s title track made it an instant classic and has helped to do the same for the songs that have sampled it since – particularly Jamie xx’s “Rolling In The Deep” remix (2011) and Angel Haze’s “New York” (2012).

The Gil Scott-Heron canon of music and words strips and lays bare one of the deepest and darkest souls in 20th century music, not unlike that of Leonard Cohen in its scope. It’s difficult to say with confidence what song is Scott-Heron deepest, but it’s easy enough to say that this is his darkest. It certainly slaps, though: Flatbush Zombies rapped over it once and XL’s Everything Is Recorded just put Grime-lord-cum-OVO-darling Giggs on it for this year’s Close But Not Quite EP.

A swansong of sorts on a swansong-album – and itself a cover of an old Blues standard – Scott-Heron’s love ballad for no one would become his biggest hit after 1980 due in large part to Jamie xx’s We’re New Here remix, “I’ll Take Care Of U” (2011). Between the release of that remix and Drake’s co-opting it for his single “Take Care” (2011) Gil Scott-Heron would pass away in New York City in May of 2011. Though Drake very safely replaced Scott-Heron’s vocals with Rihanna’s for the song, a small and fast loop of the soul singer’s iconic melisma was included toward the end of the song and could be heard everywhere for months after his death. Few may have known that it was Gil Scott-Heron, but he was always a man who existed in pieces.

Rowan Spencer is a musician, DJ, mixed media artist, and writer from Berkeley, California. He released his first EP A Time May Come in 2016 and is now working on the follow-up. He lives in New York, working in publishing and running Truly Co. in his spare time.
Rowan’s music is on Soundcloud and Spotify. You can also find him on Instagram and Twitter.


When you think of Bruce Springsteen’s music you think of cars, factories and arena rock. But did you know that some of Bruce Springsteen’s music is also super gay? That’s right folks, there are Bruce Springsteen songs that are either explicitly or subtextually gay, and because I am both very gay, and a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, I’m going to tell you about them now.

DISCLAIMER: This is not to say, of course, that Bruce Springsteen is himself gay or queer. Springsteen often writes in character and just like he’s never fought in Vietnam or served time for statutory rape (re-listen to Working on the Highway because that’s EXACTLY what that song is about) these songs do not mean (ed. note: or…not not mean) that Springsteen himself has had any same-sex experiences.

With that said, let’s dive into Bruce Springsteen’s Gayest Hits.

1. Streets of Philadelphia

This one feels so obvious but I’ve seen straight people mistake lesbian wedding photos for photos of two friends in fun dresses, so let’s start with the obvious. Springsteen wrote this song for the movie Philadelphia, which was one of the first mainstream movies to deal with AIDS, particularly a gay character who had AIDS. The music video even has Tom Hanks, who played said gay character, in it.

But perhaps the clearest piece of evidence is the line “so receive me brother with your faithless kiss” which sounds pretty gay to me, unless the rest of you dudes out there platonically receive your friends with faithless kisses. If you do, I stand corrected.

2. Backstreets

The somewhat gender-neutral name “Terry” already has people thinking it’s about a man. Some say it could be about a romance with a woman named Terry, or a friendship with a man named Terry, or, the correct interpretation, a romance with a man named Terry. No love is quite so filled with defeat as a gay love in 1975.

These two “desperate lovers” are huddled in their cars, waiting to let loose in the deep heart of the night. The lies killed them, the truth ran them down, they saw lots of movies trying to live up to heroes they could never be. If that is not secret teenage gay love, I honestly don’t know what else it could be.

Now, one could read the line “I hated him and I hated you when you went away” as the character pining over a female lover who went to another man. But more accurately, one could read it as the character having his first love abruptly ended because of threats and prejudice from his father, or his male lover’s father, and would hate the man who split them apart.

I’m not saying that’s definitely what it means but I’m saying the evidence for both interpretations is there.

3. This Hard Land

“Just one kiss from you my brother, and we’ll ride until we fall.” That’s an actual unedited line from the song. Not to mention that the character moves out to the frontier, or whatever, with his sister. Because he couldn’t find another women to love. Because he likes dudes. Specifically the dude who he lovingly refers to as brother and wants to ride all night (sorry).

Again, this might be a platonic best friends kiss.

4. Bobby Jean

Bobby Jean is a lesbian. It’s all but spelled out in the song. She likes men’s clothes and she understands Bruce like no one else, probably because they talk about the girls they have crushes on. When she leaves, Bruce doesn’t even try to get her back (if he ever had her in the first place) he just wishes her good luck and wants to say he misses her. He knows she better off finding lesbian love in San Francisco than stuck in the one horse town they used to live in where nobody understood them.

5. Pink Cadillac/Frankie Fell In Love

This hot femme drives a pink car and she won’t let Bruce have sex with her. I bet she falls in love with the nice butch girl in Frankie Fell in Love and they live happily ever after.

6. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

Actually not gay at all, but gets a special mention for the line “closets are for hangers, winners use the door” which is a gay line in an otherwise straight song. When you’re a gay audience, you take what you can get.

Bella Pori is a state government employee and co-founder of Call Them In, an email reminder service that makes it easy to call your Senators and support progressive legislation. She loves to talk about Bruce Springsteen, so talk to her on Twitter @BellaPori.