Downtown Week: Top Ten Blanks -The Best of Bob Blank | DaysAreNumbers
It’s impossible not to mention Bob Blank when one discusses the music of New York during the seventies and eighties. A true maverick producer, Blank was the man who harnessed the creative energy of the City and channelled it through his famous Blank Tapes Studios. Having worked with an whole array of Downtown talent, Blank’s work should be celebrated and revered (Strut certainly think so) and that’s why we have dedicated a little feature to him during Downtown week. But first, here’s a quick bio…
Bob Blank moved to New York in 1973 to work as a session guitarist, but he soon found his calling as a sound engineer and producer. He opened Blank Studios in 1976; the hippest and best studio in town, it quickly became the creative centre of the New York music revolution. The likes of Sun Ra, Arthur Russell and Chic were soon vying for recording time with up and coming punk/No Wave artists, and an array of the City’s finest disco DJs. Blank’s studio and production technique was the nucleus for ideas and provided the platform for artists to experiment with sound and ideas. His side project, The Aural Exciters, was basically Blank asking musicians who passed through the studios to come and record a few tunes. This creative flexibility allowed whatever artist that walked through the famous Blank Studios’ doors to be experimental and free with their sound
The following top ten was inspired by the recently released Bob Blank Strut Compilation – The Blank Generation. An excellent collection of Blank’s works, I cannot rate it highly enough and urge you to check it out! Anyway, here’s our favourite Blank moments. Whether he produced, engineered or mixed ‘em, every moment is pure magic.
10. EXODUS – TOGETHER FOREVER
Much sought after in the late eighties due to an Dave Lee re-working (under the pseudonym Raven Maize), Exodus’ much sampled 1982 original can lay claim to be one of most influential house records of all time.
9. 8 EYED SPY – DIDDY WAH DIDDY
Bob Blank enjoyed a fruitful working relationship with the first lady of No Wave, Lydia Lunch. Together, the pair produced several No Wave masterpieces, including Lunch’s seminal 1979 album Queen Of Siam. Formed after the demise of Teenage Jesus and The Jerks, 8 Eyed Spy attempted to distort the visceral rhythms of post-punk with the stomping sensibilities of rock ‘n’ roll. This chaotic and swampy version of a Bo Diddley track, is Lunch at her howling best.
8. ORLANDO RIVA SOUND – BODY TO BODY BOOGIE
Orlando Riva Sound (commonly abbreviated as O.R.S.) was a German disco group founded in 1977 by Anthony Monn & Rainer Pietsch. Taken from the 1978 album of the same name, this wonderfully slinky piece of downtempo disco, swoons and seduces in equal measure. Also includes some lovely Bee-Gees pastiching falsettos.
7. TAANA GARDNER – WHEN YOU TOUCH ME (LARRY LEVAN MIX)
Engineered by Blank, mixed by Levan, this 1979 West End Records classic is a raunchy disco bomb. Starting slowly, Gardner’s sweet vocals softly entice before we head into a full boogie meltdown. Simply sublime.
6. NECESSARIES – EVENT HORIZON LP
The Necessaries are an often overlooked New York 80s new wave group. The quartet, fronted by Ed Tomney, briefly featured a certain Arthur Russell on keyboards*. Their short-lived career resulted in two LPs for label Sire. With Bob Blank at the helm, the group created loud, high power pop songs, with melodic and soft undertones. It’s on Event Horizon however, that that band’s driving and reflective brand of new wave really shone.
*Legend has it, when Arthur Russell decided to leave the band, he legged it out of the band’s tour bus en route to a gig in Washington! The cad!
5. CLYMAX – MUSICLAND
Mastered at Blank Studios, this rare calypso-tinged disco number was released on the Brooklyn-based LPS label in 1980. A deep and dreamy melodic ode to well, music, the languid horns, curious synths and relentless groove wonderfully combine to leave the listener spellbound.
4. FONDA RAE – OVER LIKE A FAT RAT
Sampled by De La Soul and Eric B & Rakim amongst many others, Fonda Rae’s 1982 classic bears all the hallmarks of a quintessential Blank production. Written by Leroy Burgess and released on Vanguard Records, this modern slice of soul boogie has an enduring groove and attitude that still shakes the dancefloors.
3. AURAL EXCITERS – EMILE (NIGHT RATE)
As I mentioned earlier, Aural Exciters was Bob Blank’s after-hours side-project, the likes of James Chance, Taana Gardner, Lizzy Mercier Descloux and a whole host of other downtown stars would come down and have a good ol’ muck around. This EP features Mutant Disco staples such as Marathon Runner, Spooks in Space, Maladie D’Amour and of course, Emile (Night Rate) and demonstrates Blank virtuous production skills, as well as his sense of humour.
2. CRISTINA – DISCO CLONE
Disco Clone was the first release on ZE and heralded the start of a prolific partnership between Blank and the label. Disco Clone however, was originally produced by John Cale and when he decided to leave the project, Blank took over and helped to create a bombastic camp disco classic. The bizarre pairing of Cristina’s breathy vocals with the hilarious sleazy spoken word bits from Kevin Kline, makes this a Bob Blank oddity worth revisiting.
1. LOLA -WAX THE VAN
Teaming up with his wife Lola Blank and Arthur Russell, Bob Blank created one of the best leftfield disco records of all time with this 1987 underground gem. Written by Russell in 1985, the track was to feature on Lola Blank’s solo record, but after many renditions and re-recordings, the 12” was finally released two years later when the label Jump Street decided to release it. Formidable and peerless, this is NYC disco at it’s best.
So, there you go. That was a quick glimpse at the work of Bob Blank. If you quite liked what you read/heard, be sure to check out that Strut compilation!!