Wipe Off The Dust: Tropical Gangsters Is 'A Wonderful Thing, Baby'
Thursday, May 3, 2012
So who is ready for Summer? Yours truly is tired of this whishy-washy Spring weather, as the need to hit the beach has been rattling in my bones since putting up the Christmas tree. Plus Summer is usually the time when I begin to get really creative with my playlists, and begin to clog it with summery grooves that are meant for just maxin' n' relaxing...tunes that can fry your brain cells, depleting them of any real use. Kid Creole & The Coconuts are prominent in my Summer playlists and for good reason. Underneath all the sing-song-y Samba-Big Band-Funk that made you feels as if you slathered on Hawaiian Tropic and put the lime in the coconut and drank it all up, the band was unlike anything being emitted in the 80's. Contrary to their humorous style, they did have things to say---just that they didn't take themselves too seriously.
This is sort of my gripe about artists now...they are so tortured and serious. Every song is a manifest destiny of self-importance, even when they try to be fun, it fails because you shouldn't try to have fun---you should just well, do. Sure some acts today get it, and enjoyable they are, but we've sort forgotten to poke fun at ourselves in music, we've forgotten even to really enjoy it when it is for fear of it being too trite, too easy to just slip in like a worn pair of sneakers. Celebrating 30 years, Tropical Gangsters is an underrated 80's classic as it is fun, fun, fun, and a comfort it is to slip into. Blending in the sounds of Funk, Post-Disco, New Wave, Calpyso, and whatever else August Darnell and Co. could cram into a record, Kid Creole and his Coconuts were not your run-of-the-mill act (thank goodness).
A spin-off from the eccentric and addictive prog-Disco outfit Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band (whom scored a hit in 1976 with the out-of-time, "Cherchez La Femme"), Kid Creole & The Coconuts set forth in similar fashion as they mixed new with the old, with a satirical slant and wild stage shows. Brooklyn-ite Darnell became the Kid Creole persona in perfect homage to Cab Calloway, as he adopted a similar style and boisterous stage presence as the legendary band leader. With his 'Coconuts', the three bemused faced background singers, the group released as sizable amount of records on that kooky ZE label throughout the 80's (in fact they just released new album, I Wake Up Screaming last year---but I prefer KC&C's 80's hey-day).
Hard to categorize the group is as they tend to take the road less traveled. If you're on the one for fun, then the best of their efforts comes together on 1982's Tropical Gangsters. In turn the album spurred interest in the group, as well as three hits, "Stool Pigeon", "Annie, I'm Not Your Daddy", and "I'm A Wonderful Thing, Baby". Formally called, Wise Guy, Tropical Gangsters rotates on a quasi-concept that dealt with how a couple of shipwrecked survivors were "forced to play some music" in order to not go fully insane---so this isn't some Gillian's Island retreat, more like this is a party we're all invited too and someone just needs to bring the drinks and the shrimp (or scrimps).
The whole set screams summer and it's loaded to the brim with rump shakers, especially if you hear the horn peppered "Loving You Made A Fool Out Of Me" and the "Peter Gunn Theme" interpolation of "Imitation". Big hit "Stool Pigeon" is so funky that it hurts---a good kind of hurt thanks to its bass-lines, and "I'm Corrupt" is super silly and will have you doing the limbo in no time. My personal favorite is the smug, "I'm A Wonderful Thing Baby", and if you want to know where the (dreaded) term 'swag' came from---this is it's birthplace.
Also long before Maury makes an angel lose it's wings every time "You are not the father!" is utter, "Annie I'm Not Your Daddy" follows a man denying paternity from a one-night stand because 'if he was in her blood his supposed daughter wouldn't be so ugly'---sunburn. Lots of humor and neat word play fly out of the Kid Creole collective, and even when they get serious (the socio-political "No Fish Today") a dull moment is never had with Tropical Gangsters.
After Kid Creole had their say there have been quite a few other nostalgia oriented bands that came about to rekindle interest in vintage styles. Least we forget the Swing movement in the 90's and of course the Motown-sound groups that came by the truckloads in the mid-to-late 2000's. Yet, while a lot of these bands and collectives that were sort of 'shtick/niche' groups fell by the wayside, Kid Creole maintained the fun and flavor for an extended period of time---proving that out-of-the-box can be lucrative. It's just a shame that Kid Creole is apart of the last gasps of this kind of act that sticks around and continues to ignore the year on the calendar and what's playing on mainstream radio. So revisiting Tropical Gangsters and other Kid Creole favorites is nothing but nostalgia---and a wonderful thing it is, baby.