Songs you've got to hear.

Songs you've got to hear.

Songs you've got to hear.

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Songs you've got to hear.
Oct. 7 2003 8:34 AM

The Real Diana Ross

A disco classic gets a makeover, plus Erykah Badu, Missy, etc.

Diana Ross
diana (deluxe edition) Listen Ross' 1980 album had two Top 10 hits—"Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out"—but many younger listeners know diana from a sample: "I'm Coming Out," as revived in Notorious B.I.G.'s "Mo Money, Mo Problems." The Ross song was produced and co-written by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers—the masterminds behind the great '70s band Chic—and it's one of their strongest moments. Thing is, the diana that came out wasn't their mix. Feeling the album sounded more like Chic than Diana, the label had it remixed from top to bottom, including new vocal takes from Ross. This reissue includes both mixes of the album, plus a second CD of dance mixes from the '70s and '80s. The music sounds essentially the same in both versions, because Chic's sound is undimmable: Edwards' bass, Rodgers' guitar, and Tony Thompson's drumming are almost obsessively tight, yet light and playful. The difference in the original mix is Diana Ross, whose original vocal takes are loose and bluesy. The album that typifies the titanium sheen of the Studio 54 era started as a much rougher piece of music. "I'm Coming Out" was the perfect song for hip-hop to sample, as it needed to come out. Now it's out. (Buy the album.)

Erykah Badu
"Danger"
Listen. Erykah Badu's brief new album sounds like it was recorded under fuzzy orange lights in the wee hours by some very relaxed people. The lacquered, bass-heavy production is body-friendly, but Badu has chosen the album's harshest track as the first single. "Danger" begins as a telephone conversation between a woman on the outside and her man in jail, but it becomes a monologue about selling cocaine. Badu starts with "Brother's got this complex occupation" and ends with "Might have to flush the yayo, might have to flush the yayo ..." (You can imagine somebody will have something to say about the video.) Badu's new production team, Freakquency, provides a beat that sounds a bit like a Mardi Gras parade float going very slowly in thick traffic. Even better, Badu uses a trick we need more of in pop—she speaks what she's been singing. After the first chorus, the music cuts out and Badu whispers: "They got the block on lock, the trunk stay locked, the Glock on cock, the block stay hot." It's almost as if she was thinking of Missy's "Work It" from last year and thought, "This may sound like a word game, but it isn't, not entirely." (Buy the album.)

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Missy Elliott
"Pass That Dutch"
Missy hasn't forgotten "Work It," either. Her new single—"Pass That Dutch," from the new album This Is Not a Test, due Nov. 25—sounds a lot like "Work It" with the pounds added back on. Not really broken, hasn't been fixed. The hand claps are a nod to the biggest beat of the year, known as Diwali, created by reggae producer Steven "Lenky" Marsden, and already a hit for two years in Jamaica. Americans have heard the beat in Lumidee's "Uh Oh" and Sean Paul's "Get Busy," though Missy's producer and co-conspirator Timbaland probably heard it the first time around on songs like Bounty Killer's "Sufferer." (Everyone borrows from Timbaland, so it's only fair.) By Tim and Missy's impossibly high standards, "Pass That Dutch" is a good song. By every other mortal's standards, it's radio manna. What in the world will we do if they stop making records?

NU
"Any Other Girl"
Listen. You could be forgiven for thinking Swedish people have some kind of inbred talent for up-tempo pop music. ABBA are the elders of Swedish skills, and teen-pop producer Max Martin is probably financing a small revolution somewhere with the royalties from Britney Spears records. Rock, though, is also deeply comfortable for Swedes, most recently demonstrated by the Hives. This year, a quartet called NU have fused the two halves of the Swedish spectrum, which is hardly a remarkable idea, but it's a job that depends on execution, not magic. Their debut AlphaBravoShockPopDisco! is solid pleasure, suggesting a smaller, colder version of Blondie. The one genius moment is "Any Other Girl," which celebrates a woman in a sea of young men, unafraid. The song itself fakes out boys and girls alike by dropping down almost an octave in the chorus exactly at the moment you expect it to go up. So, you go up, sailing, until the song catches you again and drives away. (Buy the album.)

Joe Bussard
Down in the Basement
Joe Bussard is the self-proclaimed king of record collectors. Modern collectors like DJ Shadow may give him a run for his money for music made after 1960, but chances are good no one can beat the 67-year-old Bussard for 78 rpm records made before 1940: string bands, blues, jazz, country, Cajun, gospel. Old Hat Records has just released Down in the Basement, a collection of 24 tunes chosen from Bussard's Maryland basement library of more than 25,000 records. The CD comes with a thick book detailing the background for each song and several of Bussard's favorite record collecting tales. (The basic narrative: Unsuspecting country person hands over crate of valuable 78s for nothing more than pocket change. Bussard doesn't conform to the stereotype of awkward, secretive record nerds seen in Ghost World. In fact, he is so eager to get his records heard, he'll make you a cassette tape of any 20 78s for $15. Visit his Web site and make your selections. (Buy  the album.)

Metric
"Hustle Rose"
Listen.   Metric apparently shared a Brooklyn loft with current N.Y. bright lights the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, moved to London, and then ended up in L.A. Their debut, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, sounds equally rootless, settling into no particular trend. There's a weak link to the symmetrical machine grooves of bands like Stereolab and Broadcast, but Metric push the rhythms upfront, letting the temperature rise. Singer Emily Haines has a lovely midrange voice and writes longer melodies than you expect. The whole thing hits perpetual motion on "Hustle Rose," a song that starts with Rose, a "fishnet slut," going "from limb to limb." She finds her mark and sings "now that your wallet is all lit up" to him so many times, the flirt becomes a threat and then becomes sound. When she says, "remind me not to feel a thing," the sound turns back into words. (Buy the album.)

Grafiti"What Is the Problem?" video
Watch.   Remember M's "Pop Muzik"? No? It was a novelty song that easily outclassed many of the "serious" songs around it and burned the phrase "New York London Paris Munich, everybody talk about/ pop music" into millions of cortices. Grafiti's "What Is the Problem?" could do the same, if it reaches enough people. The track is as simple as music gets, a thumping kick drum and keyboard banging out one note. A distinctly English voice comes in and starts complaining, not quite singing. He's "had it up to here with all the rows," but he can't win, because his love object "shouts louder" when they fight. (You can't help but thinking this would be the loudest person in the world.) Then the songs dips, perfectly, and our average Joe starts singing in full voice. "WHY DON'T YOU LIS-TEN TO ME/ WHAT IS THE PROBLEM, BAY-BEE?" You want to get up and cheer for him. And in the video, that's exactly what happens. Our hero marches through town collecting comrades bearing "WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?" placards. I won't give away the ending, but it's about bravery, perception, and how a song can make you feel like you can conquer the world. Or your own fears. (Buy the single.)

Sasha Frere-Jones is Slate's music critic and a writer and musician in New York.