An epic title for an epic song. Grandmaster Flash released this single in 1981, but with sales centered primarily in New York, a lot of people—mostly people in the middle of the country, like me—didn’t discover “Wheels Of Steel” for a couple more years.
As breakdancing slowly made its way across America in the early 80s, a need arose. A need for funky, cutting edge dance music—mostly because you couldn’t really breakdance to John Cougar Mellencamp. (You probably could now if you wanted to be ironic, but back then you would have looked like a dweeb.) In the heartland, we had to wait for the Breakin’ soundtrack and Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit.” My favorite cassette to play while busting my awesome moves was a K-tel compilation simply titled, Breakdance, and the best song by far was “Wheels Of Steel.” I didn’t realize its historical importance at the time. I just thought the music was totally rad.
Here’s what I knew about Grandmaster Flash when I was a kid: absolutely nothing. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered he was a pioneering DJ who revolutionized cutting, mixing, and scratching. In the process, he became one of the godfathers of turntablism, the art of manipulating sounds from multiple records to produce something new.
“The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels of Steel” was assembled using at least 10 different records, including Queen, Blondie, and Chic. Amazingly, Grandmaster Flash recorded the song live, using 3 turntables and changing out the records while the others played.
So break out your parachute pants, your black & white checkered Vans, and your silver-mirrored sunglasses. It’s time to take a trip to the early days of hip-hop. It’s a funky fresh joint.
Note: Nobody uses the term ‘breakdancing’ anymore. But I will. I’m defiant.