Shea Stadium, July 13, 1977. 9:30pm. A 28-year-old slugger best known for punching out his former manager steps up to the plate against the Cubs. Bottom of the sixth, Mets are losing. Suddenly – POOF.
The New York City blackout of 1977 would become notorious. In the 24 hours of darkness, the city was ridden with looting, fires, arrests and a neverending din of blame. But what of Lenny Randle, the batter left at the plate?
Evidently, in 1983, Lenny Randle teamed up with fellow Major League Ballplayer Thad Bosley—they both had afros, they both loved music. They chipped off some of their pro sports salaries and went into the recording studio. They released three records, which somehow caught the ear, 25 years later, of People’s Potential Unlimited, who have just re-released four songs on Ballplayers, a 7″ EP. It sucks so bad that it doesn’t suck, if you get what I mean.
1983 was a weird time in music—the sound of electronic synthesizers, especially, was in flux, hovering between the modular analog Arp sound and the now-classic Casio sound. Funk music in 1983? Forget about it. Disco had leveled the scene. Those who tried failed in spectacularly awkward fashion, which is why now, of course, everyone wants to hear the stuff. Enter PPU, who’s been reissuing the era, and Ballplayers.
“American Worker” kicks things off with a Springsteen anthem via drunk O’Jays and terrible lyrics. If this is the theme for the American worker, then c’mon, unemployment. “Bos Music” is basically some drum machines with a poorly-played outtake from the War Games soundtrack. But things pick up on Side Two, with “Universal Language”—boogie handclaps by just one guy, hand drumming on a plastic bucket, space disco, wah-wah guitar, and the cruddiest breakdown of the early ’80s! (There’s competition.) There’s also no way, on top of it all, to resist “Jam With Us,” wherein Bosley and Randle repeat over a totally killer bassline, “Don’t you wanna jam with us?” Of course, the answer’s yes, because though they might have been intimidating ballplayers, their musicianship is on a level that just about anyone could join in, no prob.
As for that postponed game at Shea Stadium in 1977? The game was resumed—two months later. The Mets still lost.
If you decide to order Ballplayers and wanna pick up some other People’s Potential Unlimited releases while you’re at it, here’s a few good ones:
Sir Bentley, “Sir Bentley Street Shuffle” – The sound of a slicked-out player in a polyester suit sliding down a 1976 side street, giving breathy directions. Whether they’re to the listener or himself, it’s hard to tell, and hardly matters. There’s a bitchin’ conga solo, and backup vocals that sound like they’re sung by iguanas. B-side is the extended version.
Crunch, “Cruise” b/w “Funky Beat” – Totally unbelievable analog entanglement, enjoyable at both 33 and 45 rpm. Kinda like if Liquid Liquid were more into meth. Every single fret buzz and pick sound is audible on the bass—a Hohner? a Rickenbacker?—and when the vibrato synthesizer hits near the end it’s like the arrival of the Zyklon droids. “Funky Beat” finds Crunch fucking around with the portamento switch and rapping in a horny Dracula voice about how funky the beat is, in spite of the fact that the beat is not really funky.
George Smallwood, “Lady Disco” b/w “Mr. Sunshine” – A man describes his plight: His girl cannot stay away from the disco floor. How can he keep up? Especially when she is the type of girl who warbles “III Liiikee Myyy Dannnncceiinngg!” after every chorus? Hence, the eternal struggle. Her man, or the disco ball? He accuses her of making “disco babies,” and the song fades with no resolution. (How many songs start with a hi-hat solo?) “Mr. Sunshine” gets a genius shuffling drum beat, at times totally rushed and wrong. But I get it. Sounds like something DFA would put out, except they’d make it slick and perfect. This isn’t even close to perfect, and it’s beautiful.
Tags: 45, Ballplayers, Crunch, disco, Funk, George Smallwood, Lenny Randle, People's Potential Unlimited, PPU, Sir Bentley, Soul, synthesizers, Thad Bosley