WTF?! Wednesdays: Terry Riley, “You’re No Good” (1967)

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Oh no, not the 1974 Linda Ronstadt hit. Not even close.

Rather, it’s a non-hit from 1967, by Latin soul godfather and vibraphonist Harvey Averne with the lead vocal sung by doo wop specialist Kenny Seymour cast against female backup singers in a bit of tough urban soul that was not “no good” but good enough to deserve the chart action it never got.

No wait, it’s not quite that recording, either. It’s Averne’s song given the Terry Riley Treatment.

Riley of avant-classical and minimalist music renown took this then-new single and did some things to it that were trippy even for 1967. There’s no sign of it when the 20 minute experiment begins, just a buzzy drone from an early Moog synthesizer, with the pitch gradually rising. You can sense something’s coming up, but it’s not what anybody could anticipate. At two minutes and 39 seconds mark, Averne’s song abruptly replaces the electronica, and begins innocently enough, unaltered. And then there’s a little panning from left to right…is that my stereo? Yeah, must be. But then the girls seem to repeat singing “You’re No Good” an awful lot, and then for an instant get slowed down like someone tapping their finger on the running tape reel. Soon, refrain is repeated with about a one second delay, creating an out of sync cascade of female backup singers, Seymour and everything else caught in that ten second loop. Riley moves on to perform this trick on another loop.

At 13:43, the recycled piece of RnB suddenly gets nearly bleached out by jolting digital alarm sounds and various Moog whirring and buzzing noises until it’s almost entirely disintegrated. When the Moog hounds are finally called off at around 17:30, “You’re No Good” is put right back into the looping/phasing/panning torture chamber. In the last minute, the blender is set to “purify” and synth drones accompany it to fade out.

Put together on commission from an experimental Philadelphia nightclub “You’re No Good” came from around the time Riley was setting the whole minimalist music movement into motion with his electronic masterpiece A Rainbow In Curved Air. Techniques such as looping, sampling, phasing and panning — all commonplace today — were still in its infancy when Riley, Steve Reich and a handful of others were messing around with these things in the early and mid 60s. What made Riley choose “You’re No Good” as his victim subject for this tape tinkering session isn’t clear; the nightclub probably chose it, but Averne’s version didn’t appear on an album until his Viva Soul LP was released during the following year.

Riley’s “You’re No Good” didn’t start the whole sampling sub-industry, because the recording wasn’t released until 2000. But as he was, by far, the first known sampler of an RnB song, does that make him the first hip-hop artist? Riley would likely chuckle at the suggestion. But he thought far ahead about what became a basic tool for that music form, and really, 21st century pop in general.

Yet, “You’re No Good” remains way far out of the mainstream. We still hadn’t quite caught up to what Terry Riley was doing forty-five years ago.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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