Real Ax Band

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: We’re talking about songs we heard once and then had to seek out.

Real Ax Band, “Pick Your Feet Off The Ground” (2004)

“It’s kind of like late-’70s prog, but the jazzy kind, and there’s a female vocalist and vocal harmonies. It sounds like a psychedelic Manhattan Transfer, or like The Sylvers’ more experimental stuff.”

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That’s a direct quote from an e-mail I sent near the end of 2005 to an acquaintance with a massive vinyl collection and deep knowledge of esoteric artists and forgotten sub-genres. I was drum-rolling the audio clip I sent him, which came from a song I heard while listening to one of Madlib’s Mind Fusion mix tapes. Madlib drops about two minutes of the song into his mix of vintage jazz-fusion grooves, then it bleeds into the next track. With no track listing available, there was no way of determining the artist, or even the song title, but I had to find it. I tried searching the web for the lyrics (“She left your mind in a mess, and you didn’t catch the new address”) but nothing popped up. I used an audio editor to trim the song out of the mix and sent the clip to every musically inclined person I could think of. Everyone was stumped, and but I knew someone could tell me more about the song: It was just a matter of finding that person.

I later wound up interviewing Madlib, which I was excited about both as a fan of his work and because if anyone could help identify the mystery song, it would be the man who selected it for inclusion in his mix. After I finished asking him real questions, I asked if he’d be so kind to name the song for me. He was gracious enough to listen to the clip, but he politely told me he couldn’t remember what the song is called. At that point, I began to lose faith. Madlib was my last, best hope at identifying the song, and not even he could conjure up the title.

A couple years later, after purchasing a dismal pre-Apple touchscreen phone, I got a copy of MusicID, which was Shazam before Shazam was a thing. I did the first thing everyone does with music identification software: I tried to stump it. It correctly named everything I threw at it, but I figured the Madlib snippet would be sure to end its winning streak. I was wrong. About 20 seconds later, MusicID told me the name of the song I spent two years hunting down. It was “Pick Your Feet Off The Ground,” the first track from Move Your Ass In Time, the first and only release from a little-known German prog-rock outfit called Real Ax Band. According to the album’s liner notes, Move Your Ass In Time was recorded in Switzerland in the summer of 1976, then released in December 1977. The album sold a reported 2,000 copies, almost exclusively at shows and to friends and family of the band members. Three decades later, I bought a digital copy of the album, as I was clamoring for more of Real Ax Band’s fusion of krautrock, funk, and samba.

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I can’t begin to guess how Real Ax Band wound up on iTunes and Spotify, but Move Your Ass In Time is on both platforms along with the other artists from Schneeball, the German indie label that released the record. All I can do is thank Madlib for including it on his mix and the folks in Silicon Valley who sit around thinking of solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems, like not being able to find out the name of a song you like.

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