10 stellar throwback tracks from frank ocean's radio show
Ocean has used "blonded RADIO" as a platform to premiere his own fresh tunes, and support some of 2017’s most exciting emerging talent. But "blonded" isn’t just about the new, now, and next. From Aphex Twin to Outkast, Arthur Russell to Rexy, here are...
Back in February, Frank Ocean bestowed on us a slightly belated, very mysterious Valentine's Day gift: the first episode of a previously unannounced show on Apple's Beats 1 Radio. Titled "blonded RADIO," the two-hour-long segment is regularly hosted by Vegyn (a London-based producer who contributed to Ocean's Blonde and Endless albums), and Roof Access (a London-based DJ who has mixed for Balamii Radio). Federico Aliprandi, a car enthusiast who contributed to Frank's Boys Don't Cry magazine, has also made some selections.
So far, "blonded" has aired five episodes, and all of them have been so good. Most notably, the show has premiered a handful of Ocean's own tracks, including the gorgeous "Chanel," the Jay Z and Tyler, The Creator-featuring "Biking," two versions of "Lens," and a new take on the Vegyn-produced "Slide On Me," re-upped with an assist from Young Thug. The show also cycles through some of contemporary music's freshest releases. We've been treated to cuts from Kodak Black, Steve Lacey, Thundercat, SahBabii, Kehlani, Playboi Carti — and that's just the stuff that's been released this year. More recent heat from Teen Suicide, Alex G, Young Fathers, Actress, and Father has been rocking in the rotation, too.
While "blonded" is a great way to get hip to the best new music, its hosts have also spun an amazing variety of older music, from religious jazz to ambient electronica. "Frank, Roof Access, and myself have all chosen songs for the show," Vegyn told The Fader. Some of Ocean's picks are more apparent than others (the first episode's 16-minute block of pure Prince has Frank written all over it). "We wanted the project to be as eclectic and broad as possible, and so we spent a while sequencing and selecting which tracks we'd use and where, to give the music the most impact," Vegyn added. So far, "blonded" has been a wonderful window into Ocean's ever-expanding world. Here, we revisit 10 of its best throwback tracks.
Julee Cruise, "Falling"
With Twin Peaks's feverishly anticipated return on the near horizon, is it any wonder the "blonded" crew indulged in the glory of its iconic theme song? Composed by longtime Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti, this version is complete with haunting, thrilling vocals by ethereal siren Julee Cruise. Lynch confirmed Cruise's involvement with the show's new series when he released a monster list of the 200-plus actors and musicians participating in its return. Cruise's best-known number closed out "blonded" 004, right before new Frank single "Lens" made its glorious premiere.
Arthur Russell, "Place I Know / Kid Like You"
I would very much like to think that this selection was made by Ocean himself. It's from World of Echo, the only full-length album the prolific experimental cellist Arthur Russell released under his own name in his lifetime. Russell died of AIDS-related complications in 1992, and left behind hundreds of hours of unfinished material, much of which has been released in the years since his death. The genre-hopping Russell — who released both country-inflected acoustic tunes and popular disco tracks — remains a celebrated figure among fellow musicians and queer people. Dev Hynes is a devoted Russell scholar; Kanye West sampled him on The Life of Pablo's "30 Hours." Ocean has been an Arthur fan for a while. According to Pitchfork, he played a few seconds of Russell's "Just a Blip" to test the sound system at his channel ORANGE listening party in 2012. That song has a very similar melody to "Place I Know / Kid Like You," which played during the tail end of "blonded" 005.
UGK, "Feds in Town"
This 1994 cut is lifted from Super Tight, Underground Kingz's sophomore album. The Texas rap duo — the almighty union of Bun B and the late Pimp C — proved majorly influential far beyond the world of 90s Southern rap. Pimp C produced the entire record, which contains samples from songs by Eazy E, Parliament/Funkadelic, and Hall & Oates. Notes from the 80s duo's lite-rock ballad "Sara Smile" helped form "Feds in Town." This one aired mid-way through "blonded" 002, right between some Confessions-era Usher and a little chat about European cars.
Suicide, "Frankie Teardrop"
The celebrated minimalist electronic duo's debut album celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Though "Frankie Teardrop" sounds like the name of a 50s greaser, it's actually one of Suicide's most iconic, unsettling compositions. The late Alan Vega's lyrics speak of a destitute factory worker; driven insane by cyclical poverty, he murders his wife and child. "Oh, my God! That's one of the most amazing records I think I ever heard. I love that record," Bruce Springsteen told Rolling Stone of the primal, harrowing tune in his 1984 cover interview. It proved too much for a few "blonded" listeners, though. "This song is scary as shit lmaoooooo," one wrote in Ocean's subreddit as the episode aired. "10 minutes and 30 seconds of terror," another replied.
Mary Lou Williams, "Saint Martin de Porres"
Mary Lou Williams is widely considered the first lady of jazz — a still heavily male-dominated genre the pianist, vocalist, and composer began exploring at the age of four. By 13, she was playing with Duke Ellington, and by 15, had won praise from Louis Armstrong. Over the course of her illustrious career, Williams would arrange for and mentor greats like Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, and Charlie Parker. After taking a decade-long hiatus from performing throughout the 1950s, Williams's return to jazz in the 60s was informed by her conversion to Roman Catholicism. Though steeped in the blues, her work incorporated religious elements. In 1963, she composed a hymn in honor of Martin de Porres, the Peruvian patron saint of mixed-race people and those seeking racial harmony, barbers, public health workers, and innkeepers. The hypnotizing choral composition opens Williams's album Black Christ of the Andes, and opened "blonded" 002.
Aphex Twin, "Flim"
One of the sunnier compositions from Aphex Twin's Come to Daddy EP played during the tail end of "blonded"'s inaugural episode. We learned Ocean is a Richard D. James fan last summer, when his Boys Don't Cry magazine included "Aisatsana " on a list of his all-time favorite songs. "Aisatsana " closes James's 2014 album Syro, his first release in 13 years. In many ways, it sounds like one of the sublime piano lullabies on 2001's Drukqs, the album that preceded Syro, and has notable fans in Kanye West, Sofia Coppola, and Spike Jonze. Ocean and James will share two major bills this summer: both have been named headliners for the upcoming Primavera Sound, and Flow Festival in August.
OutKast ft. Erykah Badu, "Humble Mumble"
As anyone with ears should be, Frank is an OutKast fan. "Vibrate" — from the iconoclastic Atlanta duo's blockbuster double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below — is on his aforementioned list of all-time favorite songs. So imagine how stoked he was to collaborate with André 3000 on channel ORANGE's "Pink Matter." The first episode of "blonded" featured a cut from Stankonia, the 2000 album widely considered OutKast's supreme opus for its ambitious experimentalism and ever-poignant lyrical themes. Where other tracks touch on sexaulity, parenthood, and politics, "Humble Mumble" speaks about the importance of socially conscious lyrics, and not letting preconceived notions limit your understanding of what hip-hop can be.
Rexy, "Don't Turn Me Away"
We got hip to elusive 80s Brit-pop duo Rexy when former Friends frontwoman Samantha Urbani re-released its only album Running Out of Time on her record label URU last year. The long out-of-print record has achieved a kind of cult following among oddball pop enthusiasts, so Urbani did everyone a major solid when she tracked down Rexy's members, who hadn't spoken with each other in almost 30 years. She also recruited talented folks like Connan Mockasin and Zoë Kravitz to record covers of Rexy songs. Kravitz teamed with Nite Jewel and Urbani for "Don't Turn Me Away," but Ocean's camp stuck with the minimal original for "blonded" 003.
Babyface, "Whip Appeal"
On "blonded" 003, Ocean revealed that this 1989 Babyface track is the first song he ever sang. "In my whole life, bruh. The whole shit, bruh. Picture your boy in Cross Colours, with the nylon shorts and shit, ashy ass ankles, singing that Babyface with a baby face. Nothing more apt." One of Ocean's own early tracks shares the same title. It surfaced on Ocean's Tumblr in 2012, a few months before channel ORANGE's release. Ocean described it at the time as "something to drive, or jog to."
Prince, "When You Were Mine"
This one played during "blonded" 001's three-song block of Prince songs. It arrived between "Adore" and Purple Rain standard "The Beautiful Ones." "When You Were Mine" is lifted from the Purple One's 1980 album Dirty Mind. A new-wave pop cut reportedly inspired by John Lennon, the song has had an interesting afterlife in the past four decades. While Japanese rock bands and folk musicians have put their own spins on the tune, its most notable cover is by Cyndi Lauper. It's also been sampled by The Spice Girls and Roxy Music. Ocean is a self-proclaimed Prince stan for life, and proud of it. The song also appeared in his list of favorites in Boys Don't Cry, and he wrote about the track specifically in his heartfelt Tumblr eulogy. "It's a simple song with a simple melody that makes you wish you thought of it first, even though you never would have — a flirtatious brand of genius that feels approachable."
Text Emily Manning
Photography Todd Cole
[i-D, The Royalty Issue, No. 318, Spring 12]