Subtitled with typical Music De Wolfe functionality “Percussive rhythm tracks with a minimum of orchestration,” UK composer Keith Papworth’s Hard Hitter is one of the funkiest specimens in the wonderful world of library music, which has enjoyed a bonanza of key reissues over the last decade. (Blessedly, US label Fat Beats re-released Hard Hitter in 2022. The lone original copy on Discogs is going for €219—plus shipping from Italy! I mean, it’s probably worth that kind of money, but few mortals can afford it.)
Why has Hard Hitter become such a coveted artifact in the rarefied realm of library music? Because nearly all of its 15 tracks are sample gold mines (see this review’s first sentence). Opening track “Speed Trap” immediately lets you know you’re in for a drum orgy, with a busy, robust opening break over which savvy hip-hop producers will salivate. That foundation’s soon joined by a suspense-building bass line and swashbuckling wah-wah guitar action. Music De Wolfe’s terse description on the back cover—“fast, driving, racy”—is on point.
“Track Record” captures Hard Hitter‘s dominant mode: slower-tempo’d funk with bongos and flute, always a lethal combo in this genre. It’s a serious head-nodder, with bonus fuzzed psych guitar. Akin to “Track Record,” “Fun Seeker” purveys methodical funk with more bongos and flute, a groovy, laid-back acoustic-guitar riff that you can imagine Beck sampling, and a slightly fried psychedelic electric-guitar solo. As it turns out, I just played “Track Record” in a DJ set last week at my Obscenely Obscure event in Seattle—the only such night in town dedicated to library music.
“Hair Raiser” follows in Papworth and crew’s deep, sexy, and slow funk style, which is very ripe for sampling. Eventually, the track accelerates into a beat frenzy that UK electronic artists such as Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, and Propellerheads took to the bank in the ’90s. “Big Dipper” and “Decisive Action” offer yet more variations on Keith’s purposeful, penetrating funk theme, providing a full menu of tasty samples. “Hard Hitter” is perhaps the platonic ideal of the momentous, car-chase-scene soundtrack, with a bass line that’s deeper than Larry Graham’s voice. You can hear its influence on Propellerheads’ 1997 Big Beat club smash, “Take California.”
Some deviations from the prevailing downtempo grooves include “No Way”’s oddly stilted, military funk that’s somehow an earworm; “Stay With It”’s brisk martial rhythm on snare and cymbal; the bongo-powered jazz stepper in 6/8, “Three’s A Crowd”; and the debonair bossa nova of “Challenger.”
Papworth is best known for music that appears in Monty Python skits and movies, but Hard Hitter is no joke among crate-diggers, DJs, and sample-reliant producers. (On a side note, it’s scandalous that the label listed no credits, as the musicians here just kill.) -Buckley Mayfield
Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.