BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

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The Modernist
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BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby The Modernist » 24 Dec 2017, 11:07



I Am The Black Gold of the Sun - The Rotary Connection
Writers: Richard Rudolph and Charles Stepney
Released 1971 on the album 'Hey Love'.


First the facts. Marshall Chess, son of Leonard, had an idea for a new label, which he called Cadet Concept , which would update the traditional Chess sound for the new 'love generation'. He needed a group though to front this new label and so the Rotary Connection were formed. Comprised of the precocious vocal talents of Minnie Riperton, local rock band The Proper Strangers and the cream of Chess session musicians such as master guitarist Phil Upchurch, The Rotary Connection would be multi-racial, multi-gender and multi-genre, embodying the new 'Age of Aquarias'. The imperative here was equal parts utopian and commercial then, but the crucial ingredient was Charles Stepney, the classically trained arranger and musician, to oversee the project.

Did it work? Well sometimes. In truth, the melting pot of different musical talents was, at times, a curse as much as a blessing, as the band suffered from a clear musical direction and were over-reliant on covers. However there are brilliant moments (check out 'Magical World' or their storming cover of 'Tales of Brave Ulysses) and none more so than on "I Am the Black Gold of the Sun' which is really their masterpiece, the moment when all their ambitions are perfectly realised in all its soaring glory.

I probably first became aware of 'I Am the Black Gold of the Sun' with the 4Hero remix of The Nuyicon Soul version. As much as I enjoyed it, I became somewhat less impressed when I realised it was an almost note for note copy of the original. I began to find out more about the original, and its connection to other artists I loved such as Terry Callier and Marlena Shaw, which started an obsession for all things Charles Stepney.

'I Am The Black Gold of the Sun' takes the Afro-mysticism of Sun Ra and Coltrane, and packages it into an explosive statement of spiritual strength. Describing how it does it and why I love it so much is the hard part, given its complex and often eccentric elements, but let's give it a go.

It starts with the most beautiful classical Spanish guitar, when suddenly some scratchy percussion intrudes, driven by a fabulously funky and catchy piano riff. Then the soothing, rising choral vocals come in. This is a capsule for the whole record, incongruous musical elements meeting and melding in harmony, with each surprise being more exciting than the last. It's languid and exciting both at once, conveying some kind of spiritual bliss. When male vocalist Dave Scott comes in during the ' I am the jungle stream' (and I love the little laugh he puts in) section and it reaches a crescendo, then you are in pure heaven. It then subsides back into that delicious groove, only to take you on the ride for one more time because it wants to get even more ecstatic, more in touch with some mystical plane of bliss.

It is, for me, the greatest record of all time. An unrepeatable one-off.

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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby SUMPTUOUS SI » 24 Dec 2017, 11:29

It's always interesting when people pin down one particular song and call it their absolute favourite. Many are reluctant to even entertain the thought!

It is an absolute masterpiece. Bold, thrilling, and unique.

'Magical World' and 'Turn Me On' are the only others I rate by this lot - both create these beautifully odd little musical worlds. But this is several miles higher. And it's timeless (which those two aren't, really) - for years I thought this was some 90s London club hit. I think it was you, G, who hipped me to the fact that it had been created 30 years earlier!

I don't think I'll ever get tired of it. And it helps that it hasn't been rediscovered - as far as I know it hasn't been used in an ad campaign, or in a film, or covered (at least for a generation).
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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby Goat Boy » 24 Dec 2017, 12:08

I think I might actually prefer Magical World
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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby The Modernist » 24 Dec 2017, 12:16

Oh you!

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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby Darkness_Fish » 24 Dec 2017, 20:38

I shall have to give this a listen later (I can't interrupt Current 93, obviously), but this is the kind of thing I'm hoping for from this series, someone writing passionately about music I'm completely ignorant of. You never know, it might give me a way in, somehow. Even if I don't like it, it's a hell of a song title, you've got to be confident about something to give it a name like that.
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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby Wally Bingbang » 24 Dec 2017, 21:46

It's fantastic of course. People rarely mention the drumming, which I think is one of the best things about it.
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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby Bent Fabric » 24 Dec 2017, 21:57

Yeah, this is magnificent.

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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby Ranking Ted » 24 Dec 2017, 22:35

I discovered this through previous proselytising from G and it’s everything he says it is. Magnificent.

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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 25 Dec 2017, 00:55

Goat Boy wrote:I think I might actually prefer Magical World


I do too - which is no cut on the brilliant “Black Gold.”

I also think their cover of the Spoonful’s “Didn”t Want To Have To Do It” is a masterpiece:

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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby fange » 25 Dec 2017, 01:26

A great great track, one that never fails to find new ways to astonish me.

Harv is right, the drumming is fantastic, but then so is every part of it.
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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby toomanyhatz » 25 Dec 2017, 01:38

You nail the joy of the great stuff and the problems with the indulgent stuff, G. And I do love it, though I actually think "Turn Me On" might beat them all. What an eccentric little arrangement that is!

When it's a problem, they throw too damn much in there. Don't really think much of either of the covers there, since they seem more interested in showing off their trick bag than they do getting inside the songs. But the couple of times they reach for the stars - and this is one of them - they're unique and ecstatic.
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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 25 Dec 2017, 02:04

I have to say - Inspired by this thread, I just listened to an hour of them driving at dusk with Christmas Eve snow coming down all around. It was magical...every song. Every note.

It reminded me that there’s often a context somewhere in which things that seem too “egged” can also be absolutely perfect.
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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby Positive Passion » 26 Dec 2017, 06:07

It is brilliant.

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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby toomanyhatz » 26 Dec 2017, 06:16

This is probably my favorite cover, in part because the song lends itself so well to the kind of grandiosity they do well:



The angelic voices on the main riff are really haunting.
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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby Lord Rother » 26 Dec 2017, 11:41

Not heard that before.

Pretty decent.

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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby Darkness_Fish » 29 Dec 2017, 10:50

Hmm, it's an interesting one for me. The closest thing I can compare it to is probably Pharoah Sanders circa Karma. I like its ambition, I like the fact you've chosen something with a distinct sound that really stands out.

But I don't really like the song, personally.
Like fast-moving clouds casting shadows against a hillside, the melody-loop shuddered with a sense of the sublime, the awful unknowable majesty of the world.

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Re: BCB 100 songs: I am the Black Gold of the Sun

Postby Rayge » 10 Jan 2018, 15:51

Finally got around to this. I was mightily impressed from the start, and I'm a sucker for female chorales, but doubts started to creep in with the male vocal and ultimately it all dissolved into its constituent parts. It also sounded to me, a notoriously unreliable ear-witness, like several other things in the soul, R&B and pop fields - not all through, but in bits - and, unlike John C, thought it was very much of its time, especially the production and arrangement. In its time it would certainly have been one of the better things around, because 1971 was the beginning of the Dark Ages.
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