“Listen – Opportunity MP3″
How’s it going?
I hope everyone’s digging that Olympics track (though nobody’s saying a word…).
I’m here in Jersey – as always – suffering from the seasonal onslaught of pollen and whatnot, and wondering at the bizarre weather, in which the leaves are turning (and, God help me, falling…) but somehow when I go out back to take out the garbage at 9:00 at night it’s still positively stifling.
What’s up with that?
I’m all set for autumn, with some nice new hoodies, but the atmosphere isn’t cooperating so I’m still wearing shorts every day.
Anyway…today’s selection is an object lesson in how even a seasoned (some might say jaded) collector like myself encounters music in the strangest places.
A while back, on one of those rare Saturday nights when the wife and I weren’t hitting that familiar brick wall that comes at the end of every week with two small children, we were watching the film ‘The Last Days of Disco’ somewhere in the hinterlands of basic cable. I normally wouldn’t have been inclined to sit still for a flick like this, however I had just finished reading Peter Shapiro’s ‘Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco’, and I vaguely remembered enjoying an earlier Whit Stillman film, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. Despite the presence of Chloe Sevigny – an actress who’s charms continue to elude me – I found myself enjoying the film (somewhat).
At one point a group of friends leaves a club that seemed constructed as a fictional Studio 54 proxy, and find their way to a small bar with a jukebox. Not long after they arrived an absolutely fantastic song starts playing, some of them get up and dance and I jetted over to the computer and started a-Googling.
The song – encapsulated in the ones and zeros you are presently pulling down off the interwebs was ‘Opportunity’ by the Jewels.
The name of the group was vaguely familiar (I couldn’t remember why at the time), and I started looking for a copy. I was unable to locate a decent copy at a decent price (at least that night) so I found the track on iTunes and downloaded it, subsequently giving it several listens.
So….flash forward some months (to a few weekends ago, in fact) and DJ’s Prestige and Prime and myself are picking away at a table full of 45s like a pack of hyenas set upon an antelope, and Pres – who’s working the opposite side of the table from me happens to pull a copy of ‘Opportunity’ out of a box and asks me if I know it.
“Hey!” says I, ‘The Jewels ‘Opportunity’! I WANT THAT!!’
I could scarcely believe those word were spilling out of my mouth, and apologized immediately for the horrifying breach in etiquette (digger or otherwise), explaining to Pres that that particular 45 had been on my wantlist for a while. I described the 45 to him, and (very) graciously he let me toss the record on my ‘keeper’ pile (I owe you one pal).
Not long after I got home, I got to work digi-ma-tizing some of the day’s haul, intent on getting the Jewels 45s up onto the blog for your delectation.
That said, the Jewels (originally the Four Jewels) got together in their native Washington, DC in the late 50’s as the Impalas. Via an association with Billy Stewart (cousin of group member Grace Ruffin) they recorded at Bo Diddley’s studio (Bo was living in DC at the time, where he hired Stewart as the pianist in his band) and the results became their first 45 for Checker in 1961.
They went on to record several 45s as the Four Jewels for the Start label, as wel as backing Stewart on his 1962 classic ‘Fat Boy’. They recorded another 45 for Checker before signing with Dimension in 1964 and releasing ‘Opportunity’, their first record as ‘The Jewels’*. The tune was a minor hit that year and the group went on to record a few more 45s for Dimension, as well as a James Brown-produced side for Federal.
In 1965 the Godfather brought the Jewels in as part of the James Brown Revue (which is where I had heard their name before). They recorded a number of sides for Brown, including the ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’ “answer” record ‘Papas Left Mama Holdin’ The Bag’.
‘Opportunity’ is a fantastic mix of soulful grit and a girl-group vibe. The arrangement – opening with some deceptively sedate piano chords – combines heavy drums and handclaps for a high level of danceability, and the vocals have an inspired looseness. The record is an explosive invitation for the listener to get out on the floor and sing along.
Props to Whit Stillman (or whoever picked the music for the ‘Last Days of Disco’ soundtrack) because the insertion of the joyous ‘Opportunity’ into the otherwise dry goings on was an inspired choice, momentarily changing the tone of the film drastically (I think deliberately).
Though the tune has been reissued a number of times, I’m not sure where it’s currently available on CD.
*Not the same ‘Jewels’ the recorded for Imperial