Unless you're one of those fanatical, foam-drooling collectors who searches out long-lost records of the 1960s and '70s, or you lived in New York City in the '60s and kept your radio spinning all over the AM dial, it's doubtful you've heard of a band called The Moon People. And yet The Moon People were back on the airwaves last year, playing on Christina Aguilera's latest hit. The funny thing is, The Moon People never set foot in the studio with her.
To begin this tale, let's go back to the mid 1960s. Throughout most
of the U.S. rock 'n roll and soul music are ruling the Top 40, but in
the Latino neighborhoods of New York City - in Spanish Harlem, Washington
Heights, Jackson Heights - rock and soul are being fused with Cuban and
Puerto Rican styles, creating a Nuyorican (from "New York" +
"Puerto Rican") concoction, sung in English, called Boogaloo.
Joe Cuba had a hit with "Bang! Bang!", as did Ray Barretto with
"El Watusi", and a wave of 45s and LPs begin to pour out of
labels like Fania, Cotique, Speed, Tico, Ghetto, Swinger and Allegre (with
majors like Columbia, Decca, Tower and United Artists also getting into
the act for an album or two).
Tilling this fertile musical landscape was a group of musicians known,
for just one record, as The Latin Blues Band. While they were all working
musicians in the Latin clubs of the greater New York area, in the studio
they were comparable to the in-house bands at any indie label, a sort
of Latino Booker T & the MGs if you will. Featuring the arrangements
of pianist/vibraphonist Louie Ramirez and the English-language lyrics
of Bobby Marin, they would back up vocalists as often as they cut instrumental
tracks. For their debut album, Take A Trip Pussycat, a 1968 release on Morty Craft and Stan Lewis's Speed label which features the most psychedelic cover art of any
of the Latin soul LPs, they backed vocalist Frankie Delgado on many of
the tracks, the best of which was a song called "(I'll Be A) Happy
Man". With its scorching horn riffs, funky breakbeat drums on the
verses that switch off to strict Latin percussion on the chorus, mad bassline
and infectious vocals, the song was a hit in New York's Latin clubs, as well as some soul joints and on
the radio show of the legendary jazz DJ Symphony Sid, who by now
had gravitated to playing Booglaoo and the nascent salsa.
Retitled "Happy Soul (With A Hook)" and now credited to Dave Cortez with The Moon People, the single was released
in late 1968. A few months later, in 1969, yet another re-edit of this
track, this time titled "Hippy, Skippy, Moon Strut (Opus #1)"
and credited simply to The Moon People, was released on Roulette. The
organ was now gone, replaced by vocalists chanting the song's title, backed
by psychedelic waves of wah-wah guitar.
Which all adds up to a big mystery: Why all these
different composers for what is essentially the same song? And how did
Morris Levy end up putting this out on his label? Could it be that someone
owed the partners of this archetypal record industry gangster some money,
and this song was the payoff? Or had Roulette, having somehow gained control of
the Speed catalog (considering that they had already bought the Tico catalog),
suddenly decide, "Yup, this is the hit!"?
When I heard Christina Aguilera's song "Ain't No Other Man" playing on MTV sometime last summer my ears perked up, as the song is based on samples of "Hippy, Skippy Moon Strut". Aguilera's producer, DJ Premier (formerly of the genre-bending hip hop act Gang Starr), is famed for dropping samples of little-known or otherwise lost recordings into his tracks. Billboard's chart listing for "Ain't No Other Man" credits Harold Beatty as one of the composers, so Dave Cortez, Morty Craft, Bobby Marin and the Moon People themselves have all apparently been tossed overboard, royalties-wise. I'll bet, though, that the ghost of Morris Levy is still somehow getting its cut.
The Speed label is long since gone, but the sound of Latin Boogaloo is as fresh today as it was in the mid 1960s. If you missed it the first time around, there are plenty of reissue CDs and LPs that feature these infectious recordings. In fact, "Happy Soul (With A Hook)" is included on the new CD El Barrio - The Bad Boogaloo Nuyorican Sounds, 1966-1970, and "Hippy Skippy Moon Strut" and "(I'll Be A) Happy Man" are both included on vol. 1 of Big Ol' Bag O' Boogaloo, a highly recommended three-LP collection of Speed and Ghetto releases.
Piggybacking on the Xtina release, the newly-revived Fania label has issued "Happy Soul (With A Hook)" on a gloriously mastered 12" single, including the originals of that and "Hippy, Skippy, Moon Strut" along with a few alternate mixes and edits. See http://www.7digital.com for more info, or check out your favorite vinyl emporium.
As Symphony Sid once put it in one of his liner notes, "The Latin-funky
music of Americana ... will put you on a psychedelic, underground trip".
PRESENTED BY PHIL MILSTEIN & THE SPECTROPOP TEAM