Whether you know it or not, if you listen to indie or hip-hop, nearly everything you hear these days has its roots in the productions of one man. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But it's not far-fetched. Because two songs form a primary basis for both schools of music, and both came about under the tutelage of one Arthur Baker.
I'm talkin' about "Blue Monday" by New Order and "Planet Rock" by Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force — two of the most influential tracks in the history of popular music. You dig any band that employs deadpan vocals, drum machines, and dance beats? Well, you couldn't do that if it weren't for New Order. Okay, so Baker didn't actually produce the band's biggest hit (he coproduced its next single, "Confusion"), but because the man is responsible for the New York club sound that New Order nicked, he might as well have.
It's the club sound found, of course, in "Planet Rock," which Baker did produce. The first hip-hop song to use a beat box, Bambaataa's breakbeat classic also happens to be the first to weave strands of Kraftwerk into its composition. "Planet Rock" is also credited as being the song that launched a style called electro, which means you can blame Baker for all the techno and trance that came in its wake.
Arthur Baker: At Poplife's Spin the Vote rally. With special guests John Robie, DJ 360, Shawn Rudnick, Sandman, and Vertigo. Saturday, October 18. White Room, 1306 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Doors open at 11 p.m. Admission is $10. Ages 21+ with ID. www.epoplife.com
But 1982 is a long time ago, even for a legend, and Baker never let a legendary effort keep him from stirring up new dimensions in sound, be it through dance mixes of mainstream acts such as Hall and Oates ("Big Bam Boom") or Bruce Springsteen ("Dancing in the Dark"). Later he even produced the oddest in Britpop (Ash) and the latest in London hip-hop (Wiley). And now with Ministry of Sound about to release a three-disc set of some of Baker's early mixes, even the man's pre-"Planet" action is getting recognized.
This weekend, under the umbrella of Spin the Vote and in conjunction with Poplife, Baker and a gang of Miami's best DJs will gather to rally 'round the cause that is Obama. Even living in London, the legend has "an excellent view of what's going on in the USA," he says, including the doings of McCain and the "Cheney in a skirt" that is Palin.
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"We are starting to see how much of a 'maverick' McCain is by how low he's willing to go to get elected," Baker says. "That's why I'm flying back home to help. If everybody steps up, even a little, Obama will become president and we can get our country back — and our country can get back on track." Let's hope the producer has the same prescience now as he always has.