Song Of The Day 3/24/2013: David Porter - "Hang On Sloopy"

There's a new mixtape out there called The RZA Presents Shaolin Soul Selection: Volume 1, containing two and a half hours of music from the Stax Records vaults, all of which influenced the sound of Wu-Tang Clan, from whence the RZA came. I recommend this compilation as much as I advocate respiration, food and hydration. Of particular interest are the sides by 24 Karat Black, the Emotions (before Maurice White got to 'em), and a couple epics from David Porter.

Porter partnered with Isaac Hayes in the mid-60's. They co-wrote and co-produced some of Stax's best numbers, including all of Sam & Dave's biggest hits ("Hold On I'm Comin'," "Soul Man," etc.). In their first few solo releases, both Porter and Hayes took the same intriguing approach to cover versions. They'd take a somewhat recent hit song -- usually under three minutes, and frequently by a marquee pop songwriter -- slow it down, stretch it over a downtempo soul groove, insert their own extended, spoken-word sub-narrative, and wind up with ten-minute-plus versions that nearly obscured all traces of the extracted originals.

Hayes' most famous examples of this process are from the great album Hot Buttered Soul: Burt Bacharach's "Walk On By" (just over twelve minutes) and Jimmy Webb's "By The Time I Get to Phoenix" (more than eighteen and a half minutes). But the biggest contrast between original source material and a Hayes and/or Porter reinterpretation is the latter's version of "Hang On Sloopy," the classic '60s anthem from the McCoys and the official rock song of the state of Ohio.

Porter's version retains only the first verse and the chorus from the original. He changes the mode from major to minor key, slows to a smoky groove, and issues an eccentric five-minute rap, before resolving as a mid-tempo jam to fadeout.

The spoken part is kind of unbelievable. I don't want to sketch out all the details. Just a couple. First the speaker loses three fingers in some sort of accident, but Sloopy stays by his side. Some time later they head to a dance at a club, but in his present state of mind he can't recall who was playing that night. "May've been James Brown... or Tom Jones... or even Sam & Dave could've been there." No offense and all deference, but if I'd seen James Brown at any point in my life, I would've remembered it.

Then there's a wardrobe malfunction.

That's all I'm going to say. Just set aside 11 minutes, pour yourself a snifter or a glass of something, try to make the room as amber-hued as possible, and sup up this magnificent track.

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