Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Missy Elliott/Timbaland
 Melissa Arnette Elliott and Timothy Zachery Mosely, met while attending high school in Virginia. Both born in 1971, separately Elliott/Timbaland have endured serious strife, yet when they have come together to collaborate the sweet sounds they create have soared into the stratosphere of success.
As a child Elliott knew she wanted to go in to the performing arts. An IQ test revealed Elliott was gifted and she was skipped ahead two grades. Yet the loneliness that came with that promotion prompted Elliott to purposely fail and she was re-placed in her age appropriate class. Living in a squalid shack, her Marine father was frequently abusive.
"We left my father with a fork, a spoon and a blanket," Elliott told the Observer in 2001. "That was the scariest time of my life. I thought he would find us and he would kill us. I lived in fear for a long time."
Elliott and her mother, Patricia, moved to Portsmouth, VA. and there she met a teenage DJ who went by DJ Timmy Tim or DJ Tiny Tim.
Timbaland began his musical career concocting hip hop tracks on a Casio keyboard. Besides Elliott, fellow classmates of Timbaland's included Melvin Barcliff, also known as frequent Timbaland producing partner Magoo, and members of Clipse. While working as a dish washer at Red Lobster in 1986, Timbaland was shot by a local nemesis. The bullet passed through his neck and Timbaland was partially paralyzed for months. During his recovery he taught himself to DJ with his left hand. Bullet fragments remain in his body to this day.
In the early '90s, after hearing his production work Elliott asked Timbaland and Magoo to accompany her rap group, Sista, to New York to an audition for DeVante Swing. Swing quickly signed Sista to his Swing Mob label. Unfortunately Swing Mob folded and Sista's debut was shelved. Upset, Missy turned to Timbaland who invited her to help produce Aaliyah's One In a Million. That record would go on to sell three million copies in the US and eight million copies worldwide.
The massive success of One In a Million spurred the very same record companies who initially turned Elliott down to now come knocking at her door.
"They'd broken my heart," Elliott said. "They said I could sing, I could write, but that I looked wrong. That was the lowest thing you could say. I didn't forget."
Instead of signing with the labels who spurned her, Elliott held out until Elektra offered her the chance to start her own label, Gold Mind Inc, with the stipulation that she would retain all creative control.
Elliott/Timbaland continued to work with a plethora of artists and in 1996 released Elliott's platinum selling debut, Supa Dupa Fly. The album contained the singles The Rain, which sampled Ann Peebles' 1973 ditty, and Hit 'Em Wit Da Hee. Beastie Boy Mike D has said that the album not only changed the face of hip hop, but saved it completely.  
Next came 1999's Da Real World and in 2001, Miss E... So Addictive. So Addictive features the European club hit, and one of my Elliott/Timbaland favorites, 4 My People featuring Eve.
2002's Under Construction moved 2.1 million units and is Elliott's best selling solo album to date. Under Construction featured hits like Gossip Folks and Work It and was nominated for Album of the Year at that year's Grammys. Timbaland and Magoo would release Under Construction II in 2003.
Timbaland would also produce Elliott's next effort, 2003's This Is Not A Test! That album's biggest hit, Pass That Dutch, took samples from War and De La Soul. This Is Not A Test! sold just under 700,000 copies.
Elliott's 2005 album, The Cookbook, saw Timbaland producing only a couple of tracks and was considered a commercial disappointment. The upcoming The Block Party will see Timbaland returning to his usual role as main producer.
"It's called that because there are a lot of dance joints on there. It's one of those albums you can play out in the streets," Elliott said. The album's first single will be a track titled Blow Ya Whistle.
As for Timbaland's solo production work, he is reportedly in talks with Steven Tyler to produce a rap album. Tyler was apparently impressed by Timbaland's work on Chris Cornell's Scream.
The multi-talented, multi-faceted duo of Elliott/Timbaland continue to cast a wide net, lending their skills to artists in need. But it's their work together that proves to be the best catch in this ocean we call hip hop.
"There's a chemistry between us that will never leave. Like Janet Jackson and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Like Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones - that kind of chemistry," Elliott proclaimed to Billboard in 2008.
"People always ask if we're still working together and the answer is we will always work together. He's always going to be involved, even if it is just on one record. That's my brother. I respect and honour what he says."

Missy Elliott - Pass That Dutch (writer: Elliott, producers: Elliott/Timbaland) from This Is Not A Test!

Jimmy Page/Robert Plant
 Page and Plant first came together creatively as the New Yardbirds in 1968. The Yardbirds had been a revolving door of musicians for years. When Keith Relf left the band, Page considered Terry Reid to take over the microphone. When Reid was unable to join he recommended Plant, who was singing for Hobbstweedle at the time. John Paul Jones and John Bonham joined soon after Plant and after completing the New Yardbirds tour the quartet re-branded themselves as Led Zeppelin. Their debut was recorded in under 30 hours and reached #10 in the US. 1969's Led Zeppelin has since been certified diamond (1,000,000+) in Canada and eight times platinum (1,000,000 x 8) in the US.
The band refused to release any singles, spearheading the concept of album-oriented rock. They also had a mutual disdain with the music press of the era and did not give many interviews. This allowed fans to connect with the band solely through their music and live shows, which consistently sold out.
Led Zeppelin II, also released in 1969, was produced entirely by Page and engineered by Eddie Kramer who had previously worked with Jimmy Hendrix. Written while on tour Led Zeppelin II was recorded at various studios around the world including a studio in Vancouver known as The Hut.
"We did that album piece-meal," Kramer told Classic Rock Magazine. "We cut some of the tracks in some of the most bizarre studios you can imagine, little holes in the wall, cheap studios. But in the end it sounded bloody marvelous. There was a unification of sound on Zeppelin II because there was one guy in charge and that was Mr. Page."
Led Zeppelin II features the well-known hit Whole Lotta Love and the album hit sales of over twelve million in the US. 
Advance sales for their next album, the uniquely titled Led Zeppelin III, reached close to one million. The band placed an ad in Melody Maker writing: "Thank you for making us the world's number one band."
1970's Led Zeppelin III was heavily criticized by the press yet went on to be certified six times platinum in the US by 1999.
For their next album, 1971's Led Zeppelin IV,  Page decided not to include any written information in response to the lashing Zeppelin III had endured.
"An untitled album struck me as the best answer to all the critics — because we knew the way that the music was being received both by sales and attendance at concerts," Page told the Times in 2010.
(See my previous post on album art for the story behind Led Zeppelin IV's cover.)
Zeppelin IV would feature the band's best known song and perhaps one of the best known songs of all time, Stairway to Heaven.
"We were able to do, collectively, so much," Page said of the album. "It was a wonderful vehicle to be able to develop."
The band would continue to see success with 1973's Houses of the Holy, 1975's Physical Graffiti and 1976's Presence.
Their 1979 album, In Through the Out Door, was inspired by the death of Plant's six-year-old son Karac. The title also refers to the taxation exile many British bands were forced into by the Wilson and Callaghan administrations. Unable to tour the UK for over two years; trying to regain popularity was like "trying to get in through the out door."
During the recording of In Through the Out Door, Bonham and Page's addictions, to alcohol and heroin respectively, spiraled out of control. 
"There were two distinct camps by then, and we [myself and Plant] were in the relatively clean one," Jones said. This led to most of the music on In Through the Out Door being written and recorded by Jones and Plant.
On September 25 1980 Bonham was found dead of aspiration. It was later revealed that in the 24 hours before his death he had consumed more than forty shots of vodka.
The remaining members decided not to continue on with the band, writing:
"We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep respect we have for his family, together with the sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were," signed "Led Zeppelin."
All members continued to work in various musical incarnations, then in 1994 Page/Plant joined forces once more to record a segment for MTV Unplugged, or UnLedded. The session was packaged as the album No Quarter. Jones was very unhappy with this title as No Quarter was largely his work and he was not invited to participate.
In 1998 Page/Plant would release an album of new material, Walking into Clarksdale. The album was recorded by prolific producer Steve Albini (see the Pixies entry of musical duos part I.) The song Most High won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance.
Many critics lambasted the album for not reaching it's potential and Page seems dissatisfied with the result as well.
"I felt kind of marooned," Page said. "We were still surrounded by the protective shield of who we were, and it meant we were playing big arenas around the world. And I realized once again there had to be another way."
As for the future of Page/Plant, Page says it was Plant who has decided to sever the partnership.
"I certainly had about a dozen numbers written for a third album. Robert heard them and said that some of them were really good, but he just wanted to go in another direction. That's fair enough."

Page & Plant - Most High (Page/Plant/Jones/Lee) from Walking into Clarksdale

Thurston Moore/Kim Gordon
 It is universally recognized that Sonic Youth's guitar-toting married duo of Moore/Gordon set the precedent for late '80s punk. The DIY band formed in 1981 with guitarists Moore and Lee Ranaldo and Gordon on bass. Early names for the outfit included Red Milk and Male Bonding. Eventually they combined the nickname of one of their heroes, MC5 guitarist and Patti Smith's husband Fred "Sonic" Smith, with "Youth" as many reggae bands of the time featured that word.
"As soon as Thurston came up with the name Sonic Youth, a certain sound that was more of what we wanted to do came about," Gordon recalled in Michael Azerrad's 2001 book Our Band Could Be Your Life.
Initially inspired by proto-punk and the no wave genre; their early compositions were coarse and unmelodious, incorporating feedback and aspects of noise rock. The band continues to explore these avenues yet during the three decades since inception they have gained the ability to create uniform songs with traditional structures. On most occasions they will combine dissonance with discipline, making for coherent tracks peppered with chaos. In their early days Moore and Ranaldo began cross-tuning their cheap guitars, a process called scordatura, to produce abnormal, arresting sounds. They still implement this method and as they can now afford many guitars, one guitar will be tuned for a particular song. 
Sonic Youth has featured ten individuals and produced sixteen studio albums. Some do not consider their self-titled 1982 EP an official album and point to 1983's Confusion Is Sex as their first full-length release. Bad Moon Rising and EVOL appeared in 1985 and 1986 respectively. During the break between Confusion Is Sex and EVOL, Moore/Gordon were married.
Murmurs of greatness began following the release of Sister in 1987. 1988's Daydream Nation is frequently acknowledged as the band's preeminent album. The album features seven minute songs like Teenage Riot and 'Cross the Breeze and was chosen by the American Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry as an album that is "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform[s] or reflect[s] life in the United States." (You can read about the history behind Daydream Nation's cover in my post on album cover art.)
Their next effort, Goo, was released in 1990 and marked the band's first release on a major label, Geffen's DGC. Goo features a guest appearance by Chuck D on Kool Thing, which remains one of the band's most widely known songs.  
The band would work with producer Butch Vig, of Garbage and producer of Nevermind, for their next two albums 1992's Dirty and 1994's Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star. Dirty was voted Best Album of 1992 by Entertainment Weekly and while it peaked at #82 in the US, it eventually went gold.
Next came 1995's Washing Machine and 1998's A Thousand Leaves. Both albums were well-received by fans and critics alike. 
2000's NYC Ghosts & Flowers was inspired by beat poetry and marked a back step into unkempt, noisy music. Many saw the creative departure as a response to the theft of much of the band's irreplaceable equipment, which was stolen in 1999. Pitchfork critic Brent DiCrescenzo rated the album 0.0.
With 2002's Murray Street Sonic Youth began delivering more accessible music. Murray Street features great, grown up songs like Disconnection Notice and The Empty Page. Next came Sonic Nurse in 2004 and, my personal favorite, 2006's Rather Ripped. Their latest, The Eternal, saw the band leave Geffen for Matador Records. The Eternal marked the band's best chart position to date, reaching #18 on the Billboard 200.
Moore/Gordon also founded the SYR label allowing themselves and their friends to release records without pressure from big time labels.
Now in their 50s, Moore/Gordon continue to tour and parent their 16 year-old daughter, Coco. One might think being in a band with your spouse would be a rigorous road to travel, yet Moore says there's no secret to their longevity.
"We've never sold each other out on anything," Moore said to Spin in 2007. "I can easily follow the allure of wanting to go out and be with the boys, and play industrial noise and smoke pot and drink, but nothing replaces the reality of our relationship. I can't trade that for anything. I can't think of how or where I'd be without Kim's influence. And we're like any couple that's been together for close to 30 years. There's a genuine psycho-physical connection. Sometimes I feel things happening in me, and I know that something's going on with her. When you're married and you have that kind of connection, you become really spiritually, psychologically connected. We grew up together, in a way."

Sonic Youth - Teenage Riot (live) (Moore/Gordon/Ranaldo/Shelley) from Daydream Nation

Sonic Youth - Dirty Boots (Moore/Gordon/Ranaldo/Shelley) from Goo

Sonic Youth - Incinerate (Moore/Gordon/Ranaldo/Shelley/Ibold) from Rather Ripped

Tegan Quinn/Sara Quinn
  Canadian twins Tegan/Sara have blazed their own path in the indie music scene. With their trademark nasal voices and repetitious, usually peppy, rock songs; they have achieved international success without selling out to major labels or hiding who they are when confronted with homophobia.
Born in Calgary in 1980, Tegan/Sara began writing music at age 15. The duo originally called themselves PLUNK, until they deemed that title too silly.
"Basically, we thought we were a punk band, but without a rhythm section we were light punk: Plunk," Sara recently told Spin.
"We knew we wanted to change it and decided to use our own names, thinking it would be a placeholder until we came up with something better. We never did. There's a reason that it's Tegan and Sara instead of Sara and Tegan, though. Ten years ago or so there were all these Sarahs in Canadian music. There was Sarah Harmer, Sarah McLachlan and Sarah Slean. We thought people would pay more attention to us if we put Tegan first."
They also briefly flirted with the prospect of calling themselves Tegan Vs. Sara.
In 1998 Tegan/Sara won Calgary's "Garage Warz" competition, receiving the highest score in the event's history.
The duo usually write independent of each other, then come together to polish off the song as a team. The principal writer will sing lead on their song. They attempted to write together for their latest album, Sainthood, yet all the tracks they wrote together while staying in a New Orleans mansion were scrapped.
Their first release was 1999's Under Feet Like Ours and the album was originally released as Sara and Tegan. These editions are now sought after collector items for die hard fans.
After hearing Under Feet Like Ours, Neil Young signed them to his own Vapor Records. Their first release on Vapor, 2000's This Business of Art was produced by Hawksley Workman and recorded at Hawksleytown Studios.
Next came If It Was You in 2002, which featured energetic indie-hits like Monday Monday Monday (written by Sara), Living Room and I Hear Noises (both written by Tegan.)
Their mainstream breakthrough came with 2004's So Jealous. Critics noticed the shift to a more pop-punk sound and tracks off the album have appeared in numerous television shows and movies.
2007's The Con was produced by Death Cab For Cutie's Chris Walla and featured personal lyrics dealing with the girls' respective relationships.
Sainthood, also produced by Walla, has been shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize and contains songs co-written by AFI bassist Hunter Burgan.
In addition, Sainthood, The Con and So Jealous were all nominated for Best Alternative Album at the Junos, yet the duo (very surprisingly) remain Juno-less.
On the topic of sexuality, Tegan says it's another label slapped on them that they don't attempt to peel off.
"When we put out our second album, so much focus was on us being twins, girls, gay, Canadian. I was like, 'Holy shit, that's a lot of labels!' We spent the last two records trying to shake off the limitations. But I didn't think the gay label was the biggest; I thought being a girl in a rock band was," Tegan told Spinner. "The gay thing doesn't bother me. I think it's important to our demographic. Our fan base is getting really young, and it's important to me to make sure that we're spreading a very honest message. I'm glad there's no part of us that has been reluctant to share who we are. There's still so much homophobia, sexism and racism in younger generations, and yet these kids love us anyway. I think we have a very progressive message. I haven't seen [being gay] as a limitation."

Tegan & Sara - Living Room (Tegan/Sara) from If It Was You

Tegan & Sara - Northshore (Tegan/Sara) from Sainthood

Tegan & Sara - You Wouldn't Like Me (live acoustic) (Tegan) from So Jealous


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