The Music Issue

Detroit's greatest hits that should have been

Nov 10, 2010 at 12:00 am

Timing is everything in this life, and if you're off you just might flounder for the rest of your days. It's a dictum that rings particularly true if you're a musician who has made great records that were, for whatever sad or freakish reason, ignored, either by the public or critics or both — or had success with some audiences but should have been known to the world.

Here we've compiled our very own Top 40 list of Detroit songs or albums that were overlooked or undervalued — which naturally includes, to a lesser extent, the overlooked or undervalued artists who created them. These are songs that not only give up the goose bumps, or teach us something that we didn't already know, but records that hook us and make us want to share them.

This wasn't the easiest thing to compile, to be sure. There are certain artists whose albums got little love and were ignored upon release, such as anything by the Gories, or Rodriquez's brilliant Cold Fact, or the Stooges and the MC5 Elektra albums, but earned wide appeal later. We pretty much disregarded those. We included J Dilla's Donuts because, though the album was popular, it didn't make him a huge star, as it should've. Yusef Lateef's Detroit did well in jazz circles, but didn't become the crossover success it should've been, and so on. And there are so many overlooked artists in hip hop, from Esham and Champtown to A.W.O.L. and Doc Chill, that we considered doing a second list. Instead, we chose those singular moments that might've defined the scene for many, in all genres.

We also hit up area music stars, crate-diggers and song heads for input. We'd be remiss not to. We included some of their individual lists, but it should be noted that their choices weighed in on the overall tally. —Brian Smith

Other than Metro Times staffers W. Kim Heron, Brian Smith and Travis R. Wright, and freelancers Brett Callwood, Jonathan Cunningham, Laura Witkowski, Ricky Phillips, Jim Gallert, Kent Alexander, Carleton Gholz and Doug Coombe, we'd like to toast Ben Blackwell from the Dirtbombs and Third Man Records, blogger Marsha Cusic, Matthew Smith of Outrageous Cherry and the Volebeats, Brad Hales at People's Records, DJ Houseshoes, DJ and producer Todd Osborne, rock star Tino Gross, DJ Brian Gillespie and drummer and DJ Dave Shettler.

40. Merciless Amir
"Day Without a Rhyme"

Possibly the breakout joint for Detroit. One of the first local hip-hop songs to be heavily played on the airwaves, it showed local artists that if you created quality material, you could be heard, not just in the streets, but on the radio as well.—DJHS

39. Aaron-Carl
(Wallshaker Music) 2005

Detroiter Aaron-Carl's mid-1990s 12-inch record "Down" is one of the most astute executions of bootyness that ever dripped lovingly into shellac and spun in clubs around the world. However, for this fan, it is his full-length album Detrevolution — an album filled with bass but also poetry, simultaneously demanding from its auditor club-like intensity and home-headphone attention — that America should have been banging during the ascendance of Norah Jones. But since when has Detroit's working class, black, queer family ever been embraced by America in toto? Luxuriously funky and deeply personal, Carl's lyrics ping-pong from pain and anger ("If I can't find love/ I guess I'll hate"), to humor and civic double-entendre ("Pull out your bus card/ take a transfer/ get on the bus"). Living check-to-check and highway-to-highway, Carl's sonic personality will live on — he died this September fighting cancer — through his music. Bump his songs and join the legacy.—CG

38. Trash Brats
Out of the Closet
(Circumstantial Records) 1996

Out of the Closet is one of those classic wrong-place, wrong-time albums. Hell, there was no place for the band except in the hands of hundreds of Trash Brats fans around the country and world. In Detroit, you either loved the Brats or you hated them entirely, a fate that, you'll note, befell many rock 'n' roll greats, including the New York Dolls.

Some got the Brats, and their irony; they began in the '80s as a kind of send-up of glam (a reaction to the goofy Republican rock of the Sunset Strip, bands such as Poison, Warrant, etc.). Kid Rock understood 'em, tapped them once to open a show in which the Brats played in a hail of spit, beer spray and insults. It was brave, for both rock and the Brats.

This album collected everything great about the band, the wit and hummable hooks, the walls of guitars and sugary swagger, the self-mockery and, still, the certain innocence of kids born and raised in Detroit who saw rock 'n' roll as the only way out. The album should've been huge like Sponge's Rotting Pinata, which, by the way, featured ex- Brats drummer Jimmy Paluzzi.

This band actually meant it — though that part was hard to see beneath the kohl and colorful fringe, which made them all the more charming. Why else would anyone crisscross America so many times in busted-down vans with no money, get their lives threatened at every damn stop along the way, only to return and live hand-to-mouth in Detroit? Because they wanted to look like a star (on the dole)? Hardly. —BS

37. Thornetta Davis
Sunday Morning Music
(Sub Pop) 1996

These days she's a great blues belter working the tradition — for instance, the representative and worthy ... Covered Live at the Music Menu from 2001 mines such classics as "C.C. Rider" and "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On" — but her debut disc deserved to be more than a blues hit and deserves to be remembered as such. Davis had sung backup with the late, lamented Big Chief, and with former Cheiftans and others (from the Black Crowes' Eddie Harsch to Kid Rock), Sunday Morning Music suggested an entirely new beyond-grunge aesthetic for Seattle's Sub Pop records. To note a couple of high points, the cover of Stevie Wonder's "You Haven't Seen Nothing" got a thumbs-up from Entertainment Weekly; and "The Deal" put a pile-driver beat behind great lines ("I showed you how to fly/ you showed me how to feel"). When "Cry" was revived in The Sopranos, it was a moment of belated vindication. —WKH

36. Binary Star
Masters of the Universe
(Subterraneous) 2000

The hip-hop world spins. Sometimes it spins fast and sometimes slow. It spins records, of course, and sometimes it spins on its head. It also spins when a slickly syncopated verse is spun with just the right brand of bravado. In 2000, it was spinning out of control. There were street and commercial divides, dance-club anthems and I'm-gonna-club-a-mofo ones too. Back then, some rappers were on a culturally conscientious tip and others were starting to fully embrace the pop music strain. Others hid in the underground. Of course, some acts, such as Pontiac's Binary Star, weren't necessarily trying to hide there. For them, it was ill-fated timing. They recalled beautifully hip hop's golden age. Had it been 1992, these guys would've been legends, and Masters of the Universe would've been the record to bridge the gap between Wu-Tang and Mos Def. Straight out of Yacktown, the duo, Senim Silla and OneManArmy (who'd later take on the name OneBeLo and conquer the region as a solo emcee) became local legends. But it could have and should have been more than that. The record contains tinges of disenfranchised Gen X angst. The record also boasted "Fellowship" and "K.G.B.," each featuring other would-be varsity rappers such as Buff 1 (solo and with Athletic Mic League) and Elzhi (solo and with Slum Village). Considering the furious title cut, supported by the always-killer "Wolfman Jack," "New Hip-Hop," "Honest Expression" and others, Masters includes some of the decade's best hip hop. —TRW

35. Fortune and Maltese (and the Phabulous Pallbearers)
"Leave No Stone Unturned" / "Time Has Gone"
(Get Hip) 1997

Fortune and Maltese were a great Michigan garage rock group that took the art form to new levels in the '90s, then split up right before their kind of music suddenly became fashionable. F&M wore the styles and captured the sounds of the '60s with total conviction, reaching a level of obsession that was so intense that you wouldn't dare call them "retro." They seemed to be living inside these concepts, like characters from a Monkees episode let loose on the Detroit streets. "Leave No Stone Unturned," and
especially the B-side, "Time Has Gone," are as good as anything by the Byrds or the Turtles (though the A-side does sound a lot like the Partridge Family). It's one of singles that sounds like it belongs on the radio in any decade. —MS

34. Tamion 12 Inch
"Paper Airplane (Disaster Relief)"
(Ersatz Audio) 2004

Hearing back, Tamion 12 Inch channeled the incessant, paranoid squeal of Bush-era NSA wiretaps: all fearful, angry cosmic id mediated through Kerry Biernott's remember-I-hate-you vocals. However, in our "like/dislike" world, the discussion of such things will only matter to the 150 individuals who have joined the "Tamion 12 Inch Reunion" page on Facebook or, perhaps, the 2,000 individuals who bought the split Adult./Tamion 12 Inch single featuring "Paper Airplane," just one of a handful of bouncy, single-note guitar, bash-and-pop hits that kept us fretting after-hours in Detroit in the '00s. Tension-lined tragicomedy that's that strong rarely escapes the void, and T12, despite the black magic on stage, were not Houdinis. The beat goes on however: In NYC, Sam Consiglio continues with Perfect Wieners and Butts and/or Sammy & the Supremes, Michael Kearns plays in Detroit with Bad Party, and Ms. Biernott — well, I am still awaiting a friendship confirmation. I hope she doesn't spoil my memories by accepting. —CG

33. Kaos & Mystro
"Mystro on the Flex"
(World One Records) 1989

This was one of the first Detroit hip-hop albums I copped. It showed me, at the beginnings of my path, that we could make albums that could compete on a national scale. But it's crazy that this one never spread outside of the city. —DJHS

32. Joint Effort
Two Sided Country Blues
(Homemade Records) 2002

Joint Effort were three Wayne State hippies who recorded one of the best acid-folk records ofall time in Detroit around 1970. They were great musicians, could sing exquisite harmonies, wrote strange lyrics, and ran it all through lots of tape echo. For an acoustic-guitar-based group, they have a whole lot of Detroit rock 'n' roll attitude. There doesn't seem to be much influence of the whole Laurel Canyon thing anywhere in sight, which is unusual for this type of record from that era. In fact, "The Longest Tongue in the East" sounds like a lost Stooges acoustic jam. They mostly sing songs about drugs. In fact, they probably took so many drugs that they forgot to tell anyone they'd made an album. This vinyl rarity was finally re-released 30 years later. It's an obscure but essential Detroit folk-rock artifact. —MS

31. Little Willie John
"All Around the World"
(King) 1955

John's version of "Fever" topped the R&B charts; afterward, Peggy Lee's version topped the pop charts; the song eventually becoming a standard. But it seems that glow of "Fever" has, over the years, cast more than a little light back on its originator, and some of his later tunes did cross over to the pop audience. For a real lost gem, we'll go back to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's debut recording, itself a cover of an earlier R&B tune, which Titus Turner had released under the title "Grits Ain't Groceries." John's voice brims with a sexy vitality, so much so that the song's chorus becomes not only a punch line, but also a hyperbolic, bended-knee testament: If I don't love you/ Grits ain't groceries/ Eggs ain't poultry/ And Mona Lisa was a man. —WKH

30. Norma Jean Bell
"I'm the Baddest Bitch (In the Room)"
(PandaMonium) 1996

Back in the '70s, Norman Jean Bell played with Zappa, Parliament, Narada Michael Walden and others, did sax solos in Tommy Bolin's band, on his records. By the mid-'90s, Bell was home and working with ace Detroit house man Kenny Dixon Jr. (Moodyman).

A Moodyman production, this song is pure soul-disco beautiful, a tongue-in-cheek call to arms for haters in love, released on Bell's own label. It oozes Giorgio Moroder, urbane and hip-swaying smooth, and is pulled along by Bell's spirited sax playing. "I'm the Baddest Bitch" should've at least hit with the trannies and the drag queens, and in all manner of subterranean karaoke.—BS

29. Harold McKinney
Voices and the Rhythms of the Creative Profile
(Tribe) 1974

A collective of musicians who recorded as individual leaders with overlapping lineups for a record label (that was also a magazine), Tribe discs have become legendary since the brief early '70s period of their recording. They've been coveted by DJs, sample-hunting producers and crate-diggers alike. UK DJ Gilles Peterson borrowed a cut for his Gilles Peterson Digs America disc, hailing "Ode to Africa" as an "eccentric ensemble piece" as "part funk mixed with spiritual jazz and tempered with operatic vocals." —WKH

28. Destroy All Monsters
(IDBI Records) 1978

You've got the prototypical pop hottie, seditious as hell, a Stooge and an MC5 together on a record and it wasn't the Motor City's biggest export in the late-'70s? And it boggles the mind how Ron Asheton had to wait until just before he expired to be recognized as a true, trailblazing guitar hero.

Here Ron Asheton's guitar is about as Ron Asheton as you can get — his patented, slightly odd right-hand rhythm imbues the relentless power chording on verses; his little leads circle choruses like underfed boa constrictors. There's the inventive, nearly annoying sax counterpoint and Michael Davis' galloping bass.

There's singer Niagara's voice, all feral sex and sass, purposely monotonic on lyrics that pretty much negate every meaningful aspect of (her) life. It's a fun, subversive sing-along that PJ Harvey wishes she wrote, or one you wish Evanescence would cover. It's punk-rock nihilism too, but authentic because it says that you're a goner if you settle too long in Detroit's gray, dirty-snow sightlines. That rocks. —BS

27. Eddie Burns
"Orange Driver"
(Harvey Records) 1961

In 1961, Harvey Records was started by Gwen Gordy and her husband Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows. Their first release, by Eddie Burns, was a funky, world-weary blues jam about the dangers of Orange Driver wine, which, you'll note, had more than 20 percent alcohol content. Now, Burns, who was also known as the harp-playin' sidekick with John Lee Hooker at countless Detroit house parties, steps up and absolutely kills this track. In fact, Fuqua had pieced together a monster band for the session that included Popcorn Wylie, Shorty Long, Eddie Willis and an up-and-coming drummer named Marvin Gaye! Gaye was dating Anna Gordy, played drums on the road for the Miracles, as well as in-studio for the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman." This session was soul dynamite, with Eddie Burns' biting, razor-guitar weaving over Gaye's free-funky style, and it's all groove. Definitely buries the needle on the Detroit Bluesmeter. Weirder, the J. Geils Band covered "Orange Driver" in 1975. —TG

26. Amp Fiddler
Waltz of a Ghetto Fly
(Genuine) 2004

The (seemingly) ageless and notoriously composed Joseph Amp" Fiddler graduated magna cum loud from George Clinton University; he held down keyboards for both iconic funk outfits Parliament and Funkadelic in the mid and late '80s and went on to record sessions with P-Funk, Prince, the Dramatics, Jamiroquai, the Brand New Heavies and Too $hort. Locally, he collabed with Detroit techno maestros. After working with producers Carl Craig and Kenny Dixon Jr. (Moodymann), and releasing a string of solo singles in the early '00s, came the game-changing solo full-length, Waltz of a Ghetto Fly. But Fiddler is one of those Detroit dudes who gets more acclaim overseas than he does here. Not to say he doesn't tear the roof off the mutha in Detroit — he does — but not often enough. Still, Waltz is a testament worthy of a re-examination and reissue — hopefully one that'd include Dilla's "I Believe In You" remix. Not that there's anything wrong with the original. Moving into heartfelt R&B, "If You Can't Get Me Off Your Mind" has a classic sway, "Love & War" sounds like raised black fists and bellbottoms. But "Superficial" — a track almost as superlative as Steve Wonder's "Superstitious" — is Fiddler's quintessential shakedown. —TRW

25. The Keggs
"To Find Out"
(Orbit Records) 1967

In July 1967, four guys from Garden City walked in to B.A. Starr studio at 13305 Dexter and recorded the songs "To Find Out" and "Girl." Yolanda Owens offered up her imprint, Orbit Records, for the release. She told them to come back in two weeks for their records.

The band returned later only to find rubble; the studio was completely decimated by the '67 riots. Owens managed to press 100 copies of the single. She gave the band 75 and sent the rest to local DJs and star-makers. The record was effectively dead in the water.

Fifteen years later, the rascally Tim Warren discovered a copy of said single in Los Angeles. He made his way to Detroit and reportedly camped outside a band member's house for three days in order to scrounge up more copies. He included both sides on his Back from the Grave series of compilations.

To date there are approximately 10 copies known in collections. A completely wrecked, cracked copy sold last year for $373. I bought a copy in 2005 for $2,561 with no regrets.

So seldom does a record live up to its initial expectations. As there seemed to have been absolutely no expectations for the Keggs, it makes their status all the more exciting. The girl-done-me-wrong lyrics of "To Find Out" are coupled with absolute howling all over the place while the inept and outta-tune guitar squeals for its life. "Girl" continues on the theme of love gone bad, but in a more somber, ballad-y way ... as much as a ballad can exist with guitars intoxicatingly out of tune. The whole thing is utterly captivating.

Without the Keggs, there'd be no Gories, no Blues Explosion, no Black Lips. The fact that there is no bass on the record (legend has it the bassist traded his ax for a pair of beetle boots the day before the session) also lends particular importance to the likes of the Gories, who'd make "no bass" their raison d'etre. The Keggs' legend, output and overall aura has everything one could ever ask for. —BB

24. Ted Lucas
Ted Lucas
(Om Records) 1975

There's a tuneful melancholy on this album befitting the tragedy that this record and singer-songwriter went completely unnoticed in the mid-'70s. Lucas, who had area psychedelic bands in the late '60s, studied with Ravi Shankar and actually played sitar on Motown recordings — he was the label's so-called exotic instruments specialist — can work the tunings like Nick Drake, and work tunes like Skip Spence solo. He can tell complicated personal scenarios in simple, economical ways — which is always a master's signifier. Lucas was a model for sad ambience and folk-pop refrains, of storytelling and subtle humor. His was a speak-easy ruse. —BS

23. Griot Galaxy
(Black and White) 1981

Jazz fusion was a decade old circa 1980, and undergoing strange, new twists with Ornette Coleman, James Blood Ulmer and the like on major labels — and lots of action on smaller imprints. Detroit's Griot Galaxy had been around for years and had settled into a quintet of three horns, bass and drums, and expanded their avant predilections with a mysterioso stage presence (silver face-paint and all) and the handle as a "science fiction" band. If they weren't a fusion group, they were avant-populists, unafraid of a funky bass and slapping beat (even if they preferred twisted meters) while otherwise evoking Coltrane, Sun Ra and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. This disc on the one-off Black and White label would become their first and last studio disc before their acrimonious disintegration later in the decade. Of the members, saxophonists Faruq Z. Bey and Tony Holland still play hereabouts; ditto saxophonist Dave McMurray, who has since played with Was (Not Was) and the Stones; bassist Jaribu Shahid and Tani Tabbal, having decamped from the D, have played with the likes of David Murray and the late David "Fathead" Newman. —WKH

22. Black Merda
Black Merda
(Chess) 1970

Black Merda is often cited as one the first all-black psychedelic rock band, which meant they had to come from Detroit. It also means this record was wholly overlooked by white American audiences into rock. Too bad.

While the Black Merda guys were more soul than rock, they definitely jotted down notes as they watched Cream and Blue Cheer explore the boundaries of pop. Guitarists Charles and Anthony Hawkins' slinky riffs echoed Hendrix and maybe even Funkadelic's Eddie Hazel — the bluesy, guitar-driven instrumental ballad "Windsong" sounds a lot like an amalgamation of Hendrix's "Little Wing" and "Maggot Brain," a tune Hazel recorded with Funkadelic a year later. Many Black Merda songs stick within the realm of funk drenched in wah. "Good Luck" sounds like Sly Stone sideways, while "That's the Way It Goes" comes off like an answer to "Love or Confusion" (allusions to Hendrix abound on this album). The best moment is the closer, the dark and sultry "I Don't Want to Die," taking everything that was good about early funk and condensing it into three minutes. Killer band. Certainly helped that they looked like four of the coolest mofos to ever walk the planet. —KA

21. Rationals
(Genesis) 1969

Said to be Ron Asheton's favorite Rationals song, and a fitting exit for the band, inspired by looming adulthood, Detroit riots and that precise moment when you can feel the culture shift. If innocence was with the band before, there's no trace of it here; the edges are sharpened, and you can sense teeming, dirty throngs. The psyched-up leads and choruses hang around like some redeeming angel with a bottle of something strong and a pack of Kool smokes, as if the sun will set, as if there's some gentle respite ahead. It's an incredible song, weighty, reflective and wholly underrated. —BS

20. Sonic's Rendezvous Band
"City Slang"
(Orchid Records) 1978

This loud, aggressive, soulful, sneering, slouching slice of unhinged late '70s rock 'n' roll is the only recording Sonic's Rendezvous Band released in its short, turbulent career. As numerous archival releases have revealed, SRB were prolific enough that they could've easily cranked out several LPs worth of solid material. Made up of members of the MC5, Stooges, Rationals and the Up, their obscurity in their own time seems impossible now, but they were indeed a struggling band on the local scene when this was recorded. The riffs and solos drone and roar in that weird Ann Arbor-based Chuck Berry meets Ravi Shankar sort of way, while Fred "Sonic" Smith's deadpan vocal delivery projects an attitude of eternal Midwestern post-teenage delinquency. It wasn't exactly punk rock, but it does have a scary edge to it, ideal for zero airplay in the late '70s. —MS

19. Dwele
(Self-released) 1998-99

All Dwele did was press up 100 tapes. Soon everyone was making tapes for their friends and lovers and it spread. Common came to his house trying to sign him and then he got the deal with Virgin Records. He couldn't press up more copies of Rize.

So now, he's "unofficially" on the Kanye West label doing vocals for most of West's music, and it all started off with Rize. A hundred copies. It should've have been way larger; it's the record that got him the record deal, sure, but it's the one everyone should've heard. —JC

18. Mutants
"So American/Piece of Shit"
(FTM Records) 1978

Sure they could have been some "all-American," or the all-Detroit band, but even cooler, they were the Hamtramck band. And if you understand Hamtramck, then you "get" the Mutants, so you might understand why they never made out beyond the 313. Rivaled in the late '70s only by New York City's fantastic Dictators — another coulda-shoulda brother from another mother — the Mutants may have been silly, but they weren't D.U.M.B., especially when it's about smart-ass humor and junk-culture hooks. "So American" is the national anthem that, um, wasn't. Pride without guilt and catchy enough for everybody to sing along to. Anyone who has ever suffered in a rock 'n' roll band can relate to the flipside "Piece O' Shit" (I make a thousand bucks a year and I blow it on cocaine!). The Mutants truly knew where they stood, and that's not easy to do.

The rock 'n' roll band embodiment of CREEM magazine, one wonders what could have happened had they been in NYC at the height of the CBGB frenzy. Perhaps all the hipster art punks may still not have gotten it. —RP

17. P-Funk All Stars
"Hydraulic Pump"
(Hump) 1982

What's a George Clinton organization record (by another name) doing on this list, given all his success? Well, this is something a lost single, released on something akin to a DIY label, at a time when the Clinton star had fallen — he'd gone from being the next Berry Gordy to industry persona non grata briefly, and his organization was falling into disarray. But following the mantra "Without humps, there'd be no getting over," Clinton and a crew of regulars — with no less than Sly Stone among credited writers — cut this single, which presages an idea or two that would show up in "Atomic Dog," a key part of his career rebound. Later, someone got the idea of marrying the EP U.K. Virgin release to a sexercise-style tape, ensuring immortality on YouTube. —WKH

16. Detroit (featuring Mitch Ryder)
(Paramount) 1971

A star-fueled and debauched sextet up from the shadow of the Detroit Wheels, featuring singer Mitch Ryder and drummer Johnny "Bee" Badanjek, guitar heroes Jim McCarty and Steve Hunter and bassist Ron Cooke, among others. Managed by CREEM publisher Barry Kramer (until John Sinclair took over for a short time in '72), the band was very Detroit rock 'n' roll, even rehearsed down on Cass Avenue, so it stands to reason they'd never last. Produced by Bob Ezrin, the band's only album rumbles like an oil-stained, R&B-pestered monster, and highlights include beautifully whacked covers of Lou Reed's "Rock 'n' Roll," which was a near-hit, "Gimme Shelter," plus the glorious "Long Neck Goose" opener and the piano-riffic "Is It You (Or Is It Me)." This album should've shoehorned Ryder's fame into the '70s; instead, Ryder killed off the band by relocating to Colorado later in 1972, discouraged as hell. Then singer Rusty Day (Cactus, Amboy Dukes) stepped in to front a group in shambles, as numerous musicians passed through the lineup. (At one point, Detroit featured guitarist Steve Gaines, who famously joined Lynyrd Skynyrd, only to die in that band's 1977 Mississippi plane crash.) The group disintegrated in 1974. —BS

15. Marcus Belgrave
(Tribe) 1974

As noted earlier, Tribe records have become legendary. In addition to numerous reissue packages, there's been at least one studio tribute (in Ropeadope's The Detroit Experiment) and a Carl Craig-arranged Paris reunion gig of the surviving principals. Wendell Harrison- and Phil Ranelin-led sessions were likewise contenders for this spot on the list (their respective An Evening With the Devil and Vibes from the Tribe are much lauded), but we'll go with Belgrave's Gemini II, which delivered particularly sharp horn arrangements (he'd been with Brother Ray, Mingus and the Motown organization), grooves from funky to swinging, and one good dose of electro freakiness on the lead-off track "Space Odyssey." —WKH

14. Death
"Politicians in My Eyes" / "Keep on Knocking"
(Tryangle) 1976

It should be of no surprise that in a city where the Stooges still aren't classic-enough to get mainstream radio airplay, Death's first 7-inch, arguably the greatest rock single in Detroit history, would arrive, stillborn, to a wall of indifference. Heather Thompson's book Whose Detroit? (2001), a critical narrative of the post-1967 period, featuring, among other tales of struggle, the story of militant auto workers forced back to work by their own union, also speaks to Death's laboring. Started by brothers Dave, Bobby and Dannis Hackney, the group self-released the shattering political power-rock anthem "Politicians in My Eyes" during this transition and the height of disco. The band, minus Dave, who died in 2000, recently released their '70s United Sounds recordings on Drag City and, with new guitarist Bobbie Duncan, reunited for triumphant shows. A movie documentary and unreleased material are on their way, and "Politicians" is heralded for the high punk art that it is ... except on Detroit radio, or radio anywhere. —CG


13. New Holidays
"Maybe So, Maybe No"
(Soulhawk) 1969

Richard "Popcorn" Wylie was in on the ground floor of the birth of Motown. He was the bandleader for the first Motown Revues and played piano on the recordings of "Please Mr. Postman" and "Shop Around." In 1962, he set out on his own and cut a number of singles for the classic Northern Soul label Golden World. He went on to start two labels of his own — Pameline and Soulhawk.

Popcorn wrote a number of Northern Soul classics — two of his better-known jams are "I Spy (For the FBI)" and his 1971 "Funky Rubber Band" Motown single. His best song arguably is 1969's "Maybe So, Maybe No." Lovelorn words, sweet vocal harmonies and a brilliant arrangement shows why Detroit is the home of soul music. Crate-digging soul cognoscenti Mayer Hawthorne covered the song for his 2009 debut album. —DC

12. Dennis Coffey
Hair and Thangs
(Maverick) 1969

By the time Dennis Coffey released his first solo album in 1969, he'd become the go-to soul session guitarist in Detroit. His visionary and pioneering use of fuzz and wah became as important as the innovations of Jimi Hendrix in changing how the electric guitar sounded forever — and making it a whole lot heavier in the process.

For his Hair and Thangs, Coffey put together a killer band with some of his best collaborators from the Motown and Detroit soul scene — Lyman Woodard on organ, Bob Babitt on bass and even Melvin Davis on drums for a few songs. The result is, to this day, one of the heaviest slabs of soul jazz ever. While vinyl reissues of Hair and Thangs are easily found, this has never appeared on CD, and an original will probably set you back more than $200. His subsequent records on Sussex are every bit as great as this as they are funky. This is Dennis at his hardest.—DC

11. Yusef Lateef
Yusef Lateef's Detroit
(Atlantic) 1969

Yusef Lateef doesn't stand still. Brought up on swing and steeped in bop, he was on the forefront of incorporating Eastern influences, and he won a New Age Grammy, but he's long made clear he doesn't like labels other than the one he came up with: "autophysiopsychic music." Detroit is a high-water mark for Lateef, cut during a period when he was also bringing sophisticated pop-soul elements in the big house of his music with a cast of musicians here including the quintessential soul-session drummer Bernard Purdie, guitarist Eric Gale and bassist Chuck Rainey; Detroit "drummist" Roy Brooks and pianist Hugh Lawson are among the others in on the action. And the soulful string and horn sections ice the cake on cuts like "Eastern Market." You can hear the ongoing relevance of this when it's sampled by MF Doom — or better yet in The Lateef LP, where rapper B.L.A.K.E Eerie and producer Hugh Whitaker build every tune around a sample from Lateef's masterpiece. —WKH

10. The Clark Sisters
"You Brought the Sunshine"
Sound of Gospel (1981)

This year, NPR's music heads are culling thousands of nominations to celebrate 50 great voices — not claiming them as "the greatest," but to make the case for "awe-inspiring vocalists from around the world and across time." Along with voices as well-known Ella Fitzgerald and Enrico Caruso, and as obscure to most Americans as Istanbul's Sezen Aksu, there've been three Detroit-related artists among 39 named so far: Iggy Pop, Jackie Wilson and Elbertine "Twinkie" Clark, a star in the gospel world (which is probably as far from most MT readers as Aksu's Istanbul). The lead singer and main writer for the Clark Sisters — daughters of the late Detroit gospel singer Dr. Mattie Moss Clark — is shown off elsewhere to even better advantage as a vocalist — and you don't hear her "Queen of the Hammond B3" persona here — but this single ran high on the gospel charts, crossed over to the R&B charts, found a dance-club berth, and should have kept on marching to the pop charts the way Edwin Hawkins' "Oh, Happy Day" did in the late '60s. —WKH

9. Brother Will Hairston
"Alabama Bus Pts. 1 & 2"
(J-V-B Records) 1956

One of the greatest storefront singles of all time, this record just oozes Detroit karma. Brother Will Hairston was nicknamed the "Hurricane of the Motor City" because when he gave a sermon to his congregation he got so riled up it was like a hurricane hit the church. The song is about the 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recorded by Joe Von Battle at his Joe's Record Mart, located at 3530 Hastings St. in Detroit's famous "Black Bottom," this Civil Rights jam — with Washboard Willie on percussion — rocks so hard that it has the power to reach through decades and grab you, a reminder of just how powerful music was and can still be. No joke.

The construction of I-75 uprooted many black-owned businesses, forcing Von Battle to move his record store to 12th St. The '60s came, music styles changed, and the '67 riots destroyed what was left of JVB Records ... but the Alabama Bus will roll forever. —TG

8. Billy Mitchell Quintet
"Blue Room/The Zec"
(DeeGee) 1953

The combo was the now legendary Blue Bird Inn house band in the early 1950s. Truly a superband, it consisted of trumpeter Thad Jones and his drummer and kid brother Elvin alongside piano ace Terry Pollard, "Beans" Richardson on bass and Mitchell on tenor sax. They recorded the above extended-play 45 and one other ("Cumpulsory/Alone Together") at United Sound Studio for local jazz activist Dave Usher (also DeeGee's co-owner, along with Dizzy Gillespie) that are models of disciplined yet exciting bebop. Problem was, the records weren't distributed too far beyond the city limits; folks slept on the band and especially its remarkable Jones brothers. Later Mitchell and Thad would join Count Basie (check the hit "April in Paris" for Thad); Pollard would shine in a too-brief career with Terry Gibbs and others; and Elvin, in 1960, completed John Coltrane's quintessential combo lineup, which created a jazz tsunami, aftershocks of which are felt today. —JG

7. Number of Names
(Capriccio) 1982

We know that "Sharevari" was originally released on Capriccio in '81. But it really needs to be examined in the context of the only other song A Number of Names ever released, "Skitso."

As the story goes, Electrifyin' Mojo heard an early version of "Sharevari" and invited them on his already-influential radio program. In the process, he'd christened the group A Number of Names, and when the band tried to sell him on their other track, "Skitso," he replied, "'Sharevari' is the song I'm going to play."

Which is understandable, as "Sharevari" is undeniable. With a name taken from local party crew Charivari (who'd taken their name from a chain of hip fashion stores in NYC) the lyrics lazily tout the finer things in life in a quasi-braggadocio tone — Porsche 928s, L'uomo Vogue, fine white wine — all married to a future disco heretofore unheard of from Detroiters, and heavily indebted to Giorgio Moroder and the Italo disco scene.

The whole thing germinated from the burgeoning local high school party scene (including the club Gables and DJ crews Direct Drive and Deep Space) and achieved reasonable local success, with features on after school dance show The Scene (worth checking out on YouTube) and selling a couple thousand copies locally.

That was enough to draw attention to Quality Records, a Canadian imprint specializing in danceable electro music. It wouldn't be until 1982 that they released their 12-inch of "Sharevari" with "Skitso" on the flip.

"Skitso" is equally weird and brilliant, like some sort of amalgam of the B-52s' campy new wave with the noir funk of Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me," and seemingly about a pet rat in the style of Michael Jackson's "Ben." The song really has no contemporaries and probably suffered for it, although it seems almost too obvious that it could've been massive if it had the push of Mojo behind it. Either way, A Number of Names released only two songs during a brief career and both are breathtaking in their own way. —BB

6. Paris
"Rock Down (Schoolboy Rap) Parts 1 & 2"
(Blue Rose) 1981

Darryl Nicholson placed an order for 500 copies of this record at Archer Record Pressing on April 2, 1981. That much we know. What we don't know is why there are so few early rap records from Detroit. For perspective, Sugarhill Gang released "Rapper's Delight" in 1979, and that was a worldwide hit. Until someone provides proof otherwise, it took Detroit until 1981 to respond with this 21-year-old McDonald's employee's "Rock Down."

Behind a truncated bastardization of the "Delight" bassline and an assortment of wheezing keyboard runs, Paris (aka Nicholson) drops verse after verse of formidable rhyme. He shoots dice, gets kicked out of school, is whipped by his parents and engages in general tomfoolery. "Rock Down" is classified as disco rap — devoid of samples, primarily with instruments performed live, just about as old-school as it gets. To find an earlier rap record from Detroit would be difficult — but to find a better one is damn-near impossible. —BB

5. Cybotron
"Alleys of Your Mind"
(Deep Space) 1981

Recent high school grad Juan Atkins and shell-shocked 'Nam vet Richard Davis met at Washtenaw Community College and formed Cybotron in 1980. With more than a little inspiration from Ultravox's "Mr. X" (let's face it, they pretty much stole the song) they released "Alleys" on their own Deep Space imprint, and the world hasn't been the same since.

The thick, syncopated synthesizer punch and the bleak, paranoid lyrics set the tone for the rest of Atkins' recorded output but seem perpetually overshadowed by his work as Model 500. To start your career with the words "Who'll cry for modern man?" is impressive. To have it be the touchstone for the entire techno genre is epic. It sold 10,000 copies between here and Chicago and still sounds as fresh today as it must've back then.

But what's the first Detroit techno record? Based on its QCA mastering number, "Alleys of Your Mind" was mastered in July of 1981 while "Sharevari" by A Number of Names doesn't turn up in Archer Record Pressing's invoices until early October. Case closed. —BB

4. Frank Wilson
"Do I Love You, Indeed I Do"
(Soul/Motown) 1965

This incredible unreleased '60s Motown side is an absolute No. 1 American hit that was never released. It's a perfect pop song, dance-ready, replete with classic Motown song motifs including half-time beat, anthemic major-minor chord changes, anxious strings and soaring horns. Its optimism is cathartic.

Frank Wilson, it's said, recorded this in 1965 for a Christmastime release on Motown's "soul" imprint. But Wilson "decided" that he was better-suited to produce and write, so the single was shelved and hundreds of the advance-pressed 45s were destroyed, all but two.

Years later, a Motown archivist discovered one of the copies. After some bootlegging involving wrong names and different playback speeds, it finally got the rescue it deserved and was reissued in the U.K. where it earned classic status among the Northern Soul cognoscenti. In fact, it's a Motown-defining moment for soul-pop fans everywhere — but here.

Some say this is one of the most valuable singles in existence, a "Holy Grail for vinyl collectors." Brad Hales, owner of Detroit's People's Records says there are "two known test copies that exist," and that an original is easily worth $30,000 or more. —BS

3. SRC
(Capitol) 1968

It's an absolute mystery why these guys didn't explode. They had Scott Richardson's voice, Gary Quackenbush's guitar and his brother Glenn's killer Hammond, and great, evolved songwriting. The band was sometimes brilliant live — very outdoor-show Michigan in skinny torsos, Jesus hair, flares and rock star carriage — and had a deal with Capitol Records. More, they were far more accessible and commercially viable than the Stooges, the MC5 (neither of whom exploded out of here either, not until years after each imploded) and the Amboy Dukes. But it all kind of petered out. Three great albums, though. The self-titled is the best, followed closely by Milestones. Look for the recent 2010 reissues on Micro Werks.—BC

2. J Dilla
(Stones Throw) 2006

Dilla. Donuts. It's the best-known title from the list. But it deserves to be here because J never had a bona fide hit, and he's certainly not some household name.

Before J left us, he left us this. His return to the essence. Chopping records. And this collection of beats said more to us than he ever said on the mic. He knew he was leaving, and the way he manipulated these records to tell us that is just another example of why he was the best to do it. Ever. —DJHS

1. Lyman Woodard Organization
Saturday Night Special
(Strata) 1975

Moody and funky, the late organist-pianist Lyman Woodard captured the romance and menace of the scene that centered around Cobb's Corner in the Cass Corridor. It was the bustling epicenter for music. (And it was apparently a scene of more than music: The club's proprietor, Henry Normile, would be murdered a few years later in what many speculated was a drug-related hit. But back to the music ...) At the organ, his main keyboard, Woodard took the influence of Jimmy Smith and other Hammond B-3 pioneers, but he established his own sort of pacing that built to sweeping crescendos. Guitarist Ron English, saxophonist-flutist Norma Jean Bell, drummer Leonard King and percussionist Lorenzo Brown all lock in to the session's feel. Wax Poetics Records — an off-shoot of the esteemed magazine — reissued Saturday Night Special, appropriately calling it "a unique amalgamation of organ funk, sophisticated soul, and straight-ahead jazz, which has garnered an enormous cult following in the years since its release." —WKH




Wendell Harrison Organic Dream
Yusef Lateef Jazz Mood
Phil Ranelin Vibes From the Tribe
The Detroit Motor City Singers Lift Thy Savior Up
Michael Orr Presents Spread Love
Lyman Woodard Organization Saturday Night Special
Travis Biggs Challenge
1st Down "A Day With The Homiez"
Two Sisters From Bagdad Two Sisters From Bagdad
Rodriguez Coming From Reality


Kaos and Mystro "Mystro on the Flex"
Esham "Sunshine"
Merciless Ameer "A Day Without a Rhyme"
Smiley "Smiley but not Friendly"
AWOL "You Don't Want None of This"
X-Change "Yeah, I'm Freaky"
The Breakfast Club "Nothin' Goin' On"
Bugz These Streets
Emixo "Ankle Bracelets and Escalators"
Da Enna C "Throw Ya Hands In the Air"
Bonus: Slum Village Fantastic Voyage Volume One (Cassette)


Viv Akauldren Old Bags and Party Rags
The Ultimate Lovers Rock and Roll Fight
Ted Lucas (1974 solo LP)
The Third Power
Joint Effort Two-Sided Country Blues
Sonic's Rendezvous Band "City Slang"
Fortune and Maltese "Leave No Stone Unturned"/"Time Has Gone"
Power of Zeus The Gospel According to Zeus
Troy Gregory Sybil


Barrett Strong "Misery"
Little Ernest Tucker "Too Small to Dance"
Eddie Burns-Harvey "Orange Driver"
Dizzy Gillespie/Joe Carroll "School Days" (Dee Gee)
Nolan Strong and the Diablos "Mind Over Matter"
Lonnie Smith "Move Your Hand"
Mutants "So American/Piece of Shit"
Yusef Lateef Detroit
Brother Will Hairston "Alabama Bus Pts. 1 & 2"
Doctor Ross "Industrial Boogie"
The Five Dollars w/Little Eddie Hurt "How to Do the Bacon Fat"
Detroit featuring Mitch Ryder "Long Necked Goose"
Enchanters "Spellbound by the Moon"


Richard's People "Yo Yo" 1968
Superlife "Go Bananas" 1982
Rufus Knightwebb & Derrick May "Silent Revolution" 1999
Reel By Real "Surkit" 1990
Dabrye "Gimme Lowlands" 2002
Violent Ramp "Violent Ramp" (Freedom From) 2002

(Ed. Violent Ramp was a skate punk band featuring Aaron Dilloway of Wolf Eyes on guitar, John Olson of Wolf Eyes on drums and Michael Troutman of Awesome Color on bass. They'd play live with a skate ramp in front of them.)

Clarence G "Data Transfer" 1991
Musk "Cobra Gold"
Frank n Dank "Marajuana" 2003
Randy Barlow "Willow Run" 1980
Especially Good "Room Downstairs" 2010


Frank Wilson "Do I Love You, Indeed I Do"
Isley Brothers "My Love Is Your Love Forever"
Chris Clark "Love's Gone Bad"
New Holidays "Maybe So Maybe No"
Rationals "Sunset"
Rodriguez Cold Fact
Lyman Woodard Organization Saturday Night Special
MC5 Kick Out the Jams
Stooges Stooges
Model 500 "Night Drive (Thru-Babylon)


Paris "Rock Down Parts 1 & 2 (Schoolboy Rap)"
Ted Lucas "Plain and Sane and Simple Melody"
The Keggs "To Find Out"
Clone Defects "Scissors Chop"
The Up "Just Like an Aborigine"
Detroit Sex Machines "Rap It Together"/"Funky Crawl"
Unrelated Segments (any of their singles)
Critics Choice "Party Rap"/"Young Boyz"
A Number of Names"Sharevari"
R.U.R. "Go Baby


Recloose "Deeper Waters" feat. Joe Dukie
Tammi Terrell "All I Do Is Think About You"
Todd Osborne "Detroit Seduction"
Cybotron (Tie)"Alleys of Your Mind" and "Cosmic Cars"
Black Lagoon "Stars"
Elzhi Everything
Bass Association "Drive That Thing"
Slum Village "Climax (Girl Shit)"
Slum Village Fantastic 2
The Lyman Woodard Organization Saturday Night Special
Brian Gillespie "Sweet Butter Hot Sauce"
Starski & Clutch "East to West"
The 24-Carat Black Ghetto Misfortune's Wealth
Ju-Par Universal Orchestra Moods and Grooves
Johnny Griffith The Geneva Connection
Doni Burdick "Candle (In the Window)"/ "Whatcha Gonna Do"
Pat Lewis "Geni"/"Love's Creepin' Up on Me"
Margaret Little "Love Find a Way"