I say children, what does it all mean?
It’s hard to convey just how astonishing Double Dee and Steinski’s three lessons were when they appeared. I was lucky enough to have them on an nth generation cassette back in the day, as the vinyl versions were only pressed up as promos due to the impossibility of clearing every copyright on every sample used. More recently they’ve appeared on CDs of dubious providence, but now they’re out in all their glory together with another eleven tunes and a bonus BBC mix.
Buchanan and Goodman popularized the cut and paste technique of making records back in the fifties, most notably with their “Flying Saucer” which used snatches of contemporary hits to move the story along. These were done purely as comedy records. Double Dee and Steinski kept the humour, but moved the whole thing to another level. Turntablism had arrived.
“The Payoff Mix” (Lesson 1) was famously submitted for a Tommy Boy sponsored competition to remix a track by G.L.O.B.E. And Whiz-Kid. It’s starts off straight enough, but by the end has taken in such unlikely bedfellows as Culture Club, Humphrey Bogart, the Supremes and Herbie Hancock. It was an immediate sensation, but was unreleasable. The same went for “Lesson 2 (James Brown mix)” and “Lesson 3 (History of Hip Hop)”. The pair’s advertising background, especially Double Dee’s jingle work, is obvious as slogans and soundbites pop up all over the place. There’s never a sense that they get too clever for their own good, and even today they sound totally fresh and witty.
After another couple of mixes in the same vein (“Jazz” and “Voice Mail”), Double Dee aka Douglas Di Franco bowed out. Steve Stein, although far from prolific (this has always remained a hobby for him), continued. “The Motorcade Sped On”, an altogether more serious affair, used contemporary reportage of the John F Kennedy assassination to spin a montage that was part news report, part dance record. It was probably Steinski’s most widely heard track in the UK owing to its appearance on a cover-mounted seven inch EP given away by NME (not a flexi as the sleeve notes state).
The more recent stuff obviously lacks the shock of the new. The techniques were commonplace by the nineties thanks to Steinski acolytes like Coldcut and others. But the quality is almost uniformly extremely high. The Bush I Gulf War reportage of “It’s Up To You” and the Chuck D fronted “Is We Going Under?” are particularly good. Disc one ends with “Number Three On Flight Eleven”, a response to 9/11. Seemingly a risky, perhaps foolhardy thing to do. But it’s sombre, dark and moving with Flight Attendant Betty Ong’s phone call to air traffic control providing a chilling centrepiece. It was that plane that hit the first tower. It’s not an easy listen, and shouldn’t be, but is an absolutely magnificent piece that conveys the full horror of the moment without any hysteria.
The second disc is given over to a mix called “Nothing to Fear” that was recorded for Coldcut’s Solid Steel radio show on BBC Radio London. Not as frenetic as Coldcut’s own “70 minutes of Madness”, but equally as inventive. By turns stoopid and inspired, it’s one hell of a trip.
Anyone with more than a passing interest in hip hop, sampling, turntablism, mixing or just plain madcap genius really ought to own this collection. Without Steinski it’s arguable that there would have been no Coldcut, no DJ Shadow, no Emergency Broadcast Network, no Hexstatic and any number of other names who’ve moved hip hop and sampling into various new and strange directions over the past two decades. Not bad for a retired New York ad man.
1-1 The Payoff Mix 5:23
1-2 Lesson 2 (James Brown Mix) 4:23
1-3 Lesson 3 (History Of Hip Hop) 5:03
1-4 Jazz 5:04
1-5 Voice Mail (Sugar Hill Suite) 5:35
1-6 The Motorcade Sped On 4:00
1-7 It’s Up To You (Television Mix) 5:05
1-8 I’m Wild About That Thing 4:46
1-9 The Big Man Laughs 4:19
1-10 Vox Apostolica 4:38
1-11 Is We Going Under? 6:38
1-12 Ain’t No Thing 6:33
1-13 Everything’s Disappeared 4:12
1-14 Number Three On Flight Eleven 7:48
2-1 Nothing To Fear 59:00