The Music Issue
Detroit's greatest hits that should have been
Published: November 10, 2010
36. Binary Star
Masters of the Universe
The hip-hop world spins. Sometimes it spins fast and sometimes slow. It spins records, of course, and sometimes it spins on its head. It also spins when a slickly syncopated verse is spun with just the right brand of bravado. In 2000, it was spinning out of control. There were street and commercial divides, dance-club anthems and I'm-gonna-club-a-mofo ones too. Back then, some rappers were on a culturally conscientious tip and others were starting to fully embrace the pop music strain. Others hid in the underground. Of course, some acts, such as Pontiac's Binary Star, weren't necessarily trying to hide there. For them, it was ill-fated timing. They recalled beautifully hip hop's golden age. Had it been 1992, these guys would've been legends, and Masters of the Universe would've been the record to bridge the gap between Wu-Tang and Mos Def. Straight out of Yacktown, the duo, Senim Silla and OneManArmy (who'd later take on the name OneBeLo and conquer the region as a solo emcee) became local legends. But it could have and should have been more than that. The record contains tinges of disenfranchised Gen X angst. The record also boasted "Fellowship" and "K.G.B.," each featuring other would-be varsity rappers such as Buff 1 (solo and with Athletic Mic League) and Elzhi (solo and with Slum Village). Considering the furious title cut, supported by the always-killer "Wolfman Jack," "New Hip-Hop," "Honest Expression" and others, Masters includes some of the decade's best hip hop. —TRW
35. Fortune and Maltese (and the Phabulous Pallbearers)
"Leave No Stone Unturned" / "Time Has Gone"
(Get Hip) 1997
Fortune and Maltese were a great Michigan garage rock group that took the art form to new levels in the '90s, then split up right before their kind of music suddenly became fashionable. F&M wore the styles and captured the sounds of the '60s with total conviction, reaching a level of obsession that was so intense that you wouldn't dare call them "retro." They seemed to be living inside these concepts, like characters from a Monkees episode let loose on the Detroit streets. "Leave No Stone Unturned," and
especially the B-side, "Time Has Gone," are as good as anything by the Byrds or the Turtles (though the A-side does sound a lot like the Partridge Family). It's one of singles that sounds like it belongs on the radio in any decade. —MS
34. Tamion 12 Inch
"Paper Airplane (Disaster Relief)"
(Ersatz Audio) 2004
Hearing back, Tamion 12 Inch channeled the incessant, paranoid squeal of Bush-era NSA wiretaps: all fearful, angry cosmic id mediated through Kerry Biernott's remember-I-hate-you vocals. However, in our "like/dislike" world, the discussion of such things will only matter to the 150 individuals who have joined the "Tamion 12 Inch Reunion" page on Facebook or, perhaps, the 2,000 individuals who bought the split Adult./Tamion 12 Inch single featuring "Paper Airplane," just one of a handful of bouncy, single-note guitar, bash-and-pop hits that kept us fretting after-hours in Detroit in the '00s. Tension-lined tragicomedy that's that strong rarely escapes the void, and T12, despite the black magic on stage, were not Houdinis. The beat goes on however: In NYC, Sam Consiglio continues with Perfect Wieners and Butts and/or Sammy & the Supremes, Michael Kearns plays in Detroit with Bad Party, and Ms. Biernott — well, I am still awaiting a friendship confirmation. I hope she doesn't spoil my memories by accepting. —CG
33. Kaos & Mystro
"Mystro on the Flex"
(World One Records) 1989
This was one of the first Detroit hip-hop albums I copped. It showed me, at the beginnings of my path, that we could make albums that could compete on a national scale. But it's crazy that this one never spread outside of the city. —DJHS
32. Joint Effort
Two Sided Country Blues
(Homemade Records) 2002
Joint Effort were three Wayne State hippies who recorded one of the best acid-folk records ofall time in Detroit around 1970. They were great musicians, could sing exquisite harmonies, wrote strange lyrics, and ran it all through lots of tape echo. For an acoustic-guitar-based group, they have a whole lot of Detroit rock 'n' roll attitude. There doesn't seem to be much influence of the whole Laurel Canyon thing anywhere in sight, which is unusual for this type of record from that era. In fact, "The Longest Tongue in the East" sounds like a lost Stooges acoustic jam. They mostly sing songs about drugs. In fact, they probably took so many drugs that they forgot to tell anyone they'd made an album. This vinyl rarity was finally re-released 30 years later. It's an obscure but essential Detroit folk-rock artifact. —MS
31. Little Willie John
"All Around the World"
John's version of "Fever" topped the R&B charts; afterward, Peggy Lee's version topped the pop charts; the song eventually becoming a standard. But it seems that glow of "Fever" has, over the years, cast more than a little light back on its originator, and some of his later tunes did cross over to the pop audience. For a real lost gem, we'll go back to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's debut recording, itself a cover of an earlier R&B tune, which Titus Turner had released under the title "Grits Ain't Groceries." John's voice brims with a sexy vitality, so much so that the song's chorus becomes not only a punch line, but also a hyperbolic, bended-knee testament: If I don't love you/ Grits ain't groceries/ Eggs ain't poultry/ And Mona Lisa was a man. —WKH