Dutch filmmaker and music journalist Bram van Splunteren has made acclaimed documentaries on Iggy Pop, Nick Cave and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, amongst many others. But rap cinefiles will forever hold him in high esteem for Big Fun In the Big Town , his brilliant 1986 documentary shot entirely in NYC featuring the cream of the era's hip-hop crop (e.g. Run-DMC , Doug E. Fresh , Biz Markie , Roxanne Shanté , Schoolly D et al). Bram and Schoolly will be presenting the film next week here in New York City as part of Filmmatic , our special documentary film night with Red Bull Music Academy. To commemorate the event, we asked this lifelong rock devotee who just happened to make one of the essential hip-hop docs about 5 of the Records That Changed His Life.
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1. Fats Domino – "Whole Lotta Loving" (Imperial, 1958)
Bram van Splunteren: It was the first rock 'n roll record that I heard. A cousin brought me three 45s when I was around 8 or 9-years-old. I remember specifically they were Everly Brothers’ “Bird Dog,” Elvis [Presley]’s “Blue Suede Shoes” and the Fats Domino one. I immediately liked the melancholy in Fats Domino’s voice. Even though the song is uptempo it has some melancholy because of the way he sings and plays the piano. That melancholy touched something deep inside me. After that I started buying 45s only by him. I had to ride on my bicycle to the next village to buy his records. I would be very excited about going to the store and thinking about the purple Imperial Records label. He was an incredible singer and musician. I saw him playing live with my father when I was 12-years-old. We sat in the second row and it was an amazing experience to see him and his band. That’s how I became a music fan.
2. Procol Harum - "Whiter Shade Of Pale" (Deram, 1967)
Bram van Splunteren: I first heard “Whiter Shade Of Pale” on the radio. It confirmed that I really liked this sort of sad music. I started saving money to buy their first album. For me it was a big thing to buy a whole album. When I finally bought the album, I heard a song, “She Wandered Through The Garden Fence,” that I hadn’t heard before. I remember hearing it and just instantly feeling tears to my eyes. The band was kind of mysterious to me, and I couldn’t really understand what the lyrics were about because they were sort of surreal. But their combination of piano and organ, plus the melody and Gary Brooker’s voice did it for me. It was almost like a holy experience because it proved how deeply music touched my soul.
3. Traffic - "Dear Mr. Fantasy" (Island UK, 1967)
Bram van Splunteren: [Traffic's] Steve Winwood was my first idol. He was my hero in the late '60s and the early '70s. At some point Traffic came to Holland in the early '70s. I was writing for a student magazine at the time. I asked the record company if I could get an interview with my idol. I was waiting at the hotel with the other journalists but I was last in line and I never got the interview. Later on I saw the drummer of Traffic on the tram. His name was Jim Capaldi. He has since passed away. He asked me for directions to the concert hall. I told him that I had been at the hotel earlier and I asked him if he would do an interview with me. He allowed me to interview him in his dressing room and that interview became my first article for a Dutch rock magazine. I became a rock journalist thanks to him, so this band definitely changed my life.
4. Bruce Springsteen - "For You" (live solo piano version)
Bram van Splunteren: I started liking Bruce Springsteen around the time of his second album with the E Street Band. It wasn’t easy getting into Bruce Springsteen. His music wasn’t so accessible. It had lots of lyrics and very long stories, but it was very intriguing. I remember he came to Holland once. It was like a religious experience. I was really touched when they opened with “Thunder Road” and the harmonica came in. It brought tears to my eyes immediately. Later on in the show, he did an acoustic version of “For You” which on the album is an uptempo dance song. It was a really dramatic version with just him and the piano. It just blew me away. To be blessed by music like that is very special.
5. Beastie Boys - "She's On It" (Def Jam, 1985)
Bram van Splunteren: I liked the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” Kurtis Blow's “The Breaks” and of course, Grandmaster Flash's “The Message.” It wasn’t really my scene, though. I was a rock fan but I remember liking those records. Somehow I missed out on the very first Run-DMC record. I was always buying imported records. There were a few record shops importing all these obscure records from New York. They were really expensive because the dollar was very strong compared to the Dutch guilder. One was called Rhythm Records, which was in the very city center, and there was another one on the outskirts of Amsterdam called Attalos Records. It was run by a Greek guy. I had a show on national radio and I was the first one to play Beastie Boys. Beastie Boys was the perfect cross over for me as a rock fan. “She’s On It” got me interested in hip-hop and thanks to the Beastie Boys I opened up and started playing some of the more hardcore hip-hop on my show. I wanted to go to New York and explore this new music and that became my documentary, Big Fun In The Big Town .