Nickelodeon may now be owned by a division of Viacom known as The MTV Networks Kids & Family Group, but the station’s roots can actually be traced back to 1977 (then, under the name of “Pinwheel”), 4 years before MTV ever hit the airwaves. It’s official relaunch under the Nickelodeon moniker arrived on April fools day in 1979, and from those early beginnings, the network set out to not only focus on educational programming for the toddler set, but to appeal to the slightly older pre-teen and early adolescent demographics, as well. One such program crafted with that intention was the CableAce Award-winning Livewire, which was constructed around a standard talk show format and recorded with a live studio audience comprised of about 2-to-3 dozen teenagers. Livewire began airing in 1980 and, after a short initial run, would replace the original host with Fred Newman, who would remain as the face of the show until it went off the air in 1985. A sound effects wizard and former standup with a Phil Donahue coiffure, Newman would later go on to co-host the Mickey Mouse Club reboot (feat. a young Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Keri Russel, JC Chasez, and Ryan Gosling) from 1989-94, along with finding an impressive amount of sound effects and vocal work in highly successful film and television projects–currently as regular performer on Garrison Keillor‘s Peabody Award-winning live radio variety program, A Prairie Home Companion. But, back in those Livewire days, it was all about bringing the hippest new trends to the youth of the day. One particular episode even featured legendary hip-hop pioneers Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Jazzy Jay of the Soul Sonic Force as guests.
While Livewire was a fairly basic and, by all accounts, semi-cheesy program targeted at suburbanite youth, they actually booked some fairly surprising, impressive, and unorthodox musical guests over their 5 year existence. Such acts included The Ramones; post-punk gothic supergroup, The Lords of the New Church; and the power-metal outfit Manowar, who would later go on to break Guinness world records for both the loudest performance and the longest concert performed by a metal act (over 5 hrs). The Nickelodeon talk show has also been credited with providing R.E.M. with their very first television appearance ever, which came on October, 30th 1983. I’ve located footage from that R.E.M. appearance on Youtube and, based on the audience members shown, as well and their and Newman‘s clothing, that episode appears to have been recorded on the exact same day as the Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay segment featured below.
I don’t really have the time or inclination to go into every single thing that the “Master of Records“/”Amen Ra of Hip Hop Kulture,” Afrika Bambaataa has accomplished in this one simple post, but please know that no individual has played a larger role in the development or the widespread appeal of DJ, rap, and hip hop culture across the globe. Additionally, his positive effects on lowering violence as an activist in his community and his impact on the music world at large, are equally as immeasurable. By the time of this Nickelodeon TV appearance alone, Afrika had already formed the Universal Zulu Nation collective, helped lay the groundwork for hip hop, pioneered turntablism itself, and spread the culture overseas by embarking on the very first European hip hop tour ever. The year prior to the Livewire taping, saw Afrika Bambaataa and The Soul Sonic Force–a group which included Jazzy Jay–releasing “Planet Rock,” a seminal hip hop track which included that classic sample from “Trans Europe Express” by the groundbreaking electronic/krautrock outfit Kraftwerk. Mirroring the beat from another Kraftwerk cut–“Numbers,” from the 1981 album, Computerworld–by incorporating the future hip hop staple, Roland‘s T-808 drum machine, “Planet Rock” has been credited as ushering in and developing the entire electro-funk genre. Another influence for the song was derived from experimental, Japanese electronic innovators, Yellow Magic Orchestra, who are famous for being the first ones to really utilize the 808, after it’s 1980 release 2 years earlier. This pastiche of musical styles to create something fresh and new came to define hip hop and continue to influence a number of genres, in various degrees, to this day.
Although an early protégé of “The Godfather” Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay became an extremely influential force in his own right. An impressive scratch DJ and producer, it’s been said that he was the one who first introduced Def Jam records founders Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons to each other,and helped to lay the groundwork for the influential hip hop label. He’s also the featured DJ–first with the Soul Sonic Force, then solo– during the infamous Roxy dance battle scene from Beat Street (1984). [Side note: I met Jay about 10 years ago and asked him if he still had the coonskin headband from the film. He told me that it was hanging on his wall.]
After discovering that Bambaataa was coming back through Seattle, last month, I stumbled across the Livewire video featuring him and Jay. Watching them respond to questions about deejaying and hip hop to square-ass Fred Newman and a handful of oblivious youth seems pretty hilarious now that it’s 2014 and the culture has already been so fully integrated into the public consciousness, but there’s something to be said for shows like this even being open to trying to understand and acknowledge the underground at that point in time, over 30 years ago. And while watching some young uncoordinated white girl in a skirt and sweatshirt named “Pipi,” get DJ lessons from a hardcore Bronx originator like Jay is entertaining, the real highlight of the clip for me comes in at the 4:20 mark, when a young Adam “Ad-Rock” Horowitz from the Beastie Boys pops up in the audience to plug his own record under the guise of a fan, who simply “just heard [that song] on the radio.” Ad-Rock looks like he’s only about 14-or-so at the time, but if the date of the recording is correct, this clip actually takes place the day before his 17th birthday–still pretty young. Check it out, y’all…
As if there wasn’t already enough hip hop history jammed into this little Nickelodeon segment already, the song “Cooky Puss” which Ad-Rock references, is the group’s debut single and part of the first recordings that the Beasties created after he joined the group and they began changing direction, transitioning into hip hop and out of their roots as a punk rock outfit. The original 12″ release of the single also featured the wacky reggae-inspired “Beastie Revolution,” which was later used without clearance in a 1984 commercial by British Airways. The story goes that the Jewish rap trio settled out of court with the airline for something like 40 grand, and went to put the settlement toward rent while they honed their skills leading up to their breakout, Licensed To Ill (Def Jam). Ironically enough, their follow up to the full-length debut, 1989‘s Dust Brothers-produced Paul’s Boutique (Capitol), was a landmark release in the art of sound collage, containing a record number of samples (many cleared, others not) and remaining one of the primary albums cited whenever sampling milestones and legalities are debated. Also of note is the fact that Afrika and Soul Sonic were “forced” to settle out of court with Kraftwerk for the samples used in “Planet Rock.” Sometimes, breaking a few eggs, means breaking some new ground. [If anyone’s planning on bringing up that bullshit Goldieblox fiasco, where the corporation continues to steal artists” material to “break stereotypes” by selling pink and lavender blocks to little girls, please don’t even bother.]
Here’s the audio for the Cookypuss EP in its entirely, for those interested in hearing it.