Various Artists

Actual Sounds: Street & Gangland Rhythms

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If this album was going to be rated on notoriety alone then the sky would be the limit. This is a release that never fails to come up if the topic of discussion is strange records. It has also had quite an interesting history since it was first released in the late '50s, and in most cases this was accomplished just sitting in the collections of various weird record fiends, because it is not a recording that gets played a lot. In the '60s and '70s this record, subtitled "Beats and Improvisations by Six Boys in Trouble," was mostly listened to for laughs. Not that there is anything funny about boys in trouble, but to supposedly record the made-up poetry, street patter, and whatnot of a bunch of '50s hoods and have it sound as clean as this could only be accomplished in two ways. One would be some kind of divine intervention from the recording gods, which would be doubtful. Another would be some kind of contrived censorship, which considering that it was the late '50s and a government-sponsored recording label is probably the case. There are those who think the voices and sounds heard on this record are not "boys in trouble" at all, but rather performers of some sort doing a shtick. They remain anonymous probably to help push the idea of them being dangerous hoodlums; they gather together here in front of microphones, plopping on bongo drums, knocking sticks together, and working through a variety of philosophical, action-packed themes that inevitably end up with the all-encompassing demand "I Want Some Food." Which is the best track on the record, probably because its the last. For many years this record was just considered cheesy, like the hoods in the "Blackboard Jungle." Then along came rap music, and musical scholars were looking everywhere for obscure clues that might have predicted such an intense, communicative, and ferociously popular art form. That's how this recording has gotten passed off as some kind of early influence on rap, an opinion that has to be weighed against the fact that very few listeners will be able to get through the entire program without winding up throwing something at their turntable. The liner notes, however, are well-worth reading from beginning to end, including as they do classic comments such as "in particular, the boys take pride in their accomplishment on the bongo drum" and "bongo drumming is an accepted art." For bongo drummers, this album is something of a small payback for years of being accused of ruining everyone's parties.

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