Beyonce’ is figure who,interestingly enough has spawned a surprising amount of controversy and downright hostility in a specific circle around me. Having had little luck relating musically to my peers in the past? It has continued to be my mother and father who remain my main guides in terms of music. Beyonce’ represents a point where that began to change. For their part? My parents are not Beyonce’ fans. She has provoked far more dislike from them than Prince ever did during his prime. My father seems to see her as unimaginative and uninteresting. Whereas my mother views her as nothing more than a performing prostitute-someone sacrificing their very real talent merely to make a quick buck and get attention. At first I was completely with them on that. And truthfully? I still feel those are valid points. Yet Beyonce’ is a character with more to her than her flamboyant onstage persona would suggest.
The most obvious element for an instrumentally inclined music lover about Beyonce’s sound would be the fact that so much of her music is rather non Western based rhythmically. From her years in Destiny’s Child on through her solo career,songs such as “Jumpin’,Jumpin”,”Survivor” and “Naughty Girl” were based in an Arabic sound while “Get Me Bodied” and “Single Ladies” admittedly were inspired by the Nigerian Highlife sound of Fela Kuti. In short,Beyonce’s sound is very ethnically Afrocentric. That’s of course taken outside the contemporary production settings of the given songs. By embracing many elements of her African (not merely African American) roots,yet embracing some of the nastier elements of modern American performance ethic? She has got many people talking-some in a positive way and some not. The song I am discussing today found Beyonce’ in another sort of groove. It is her song “Love On Top” from her 2011 album 4.
She begins with a finger snapping vocalese of “ba,ba,ba,da,ba,ba ba”,accompanied by both a high pitched keyboard melody and,just as the song is joined by an sizzling bass synthesizer Beyonce frankly asks to “bring the beat in!” The beat in question is very much a slow,slogging type of funk drumming with a similar attitude to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. At the same time,a chunky and solid guitar line shows up playing a lowly mixed yet sonically powerful and funky lead line. Beyonce meanwhile is singing of a relationship that’s matured to the point where the love grows stronger after conflict and may inspire others-so long as she has her “love on top”. The high pitched synthesizer melody,its accompanying keyboard accents and the bass keyboard line all support the main guitar riff. And that maintains itself throughout the song. Its Beyonce’s vocals that provide the majority of chordal changes. That is,until the final refrain when the instrumentation all climbs up a whole chord until the song comes to a stop.
The uptown,funky urban bump of the song was said to have been inspired by Michael Jackson’s late 70’s/early 80’s sound when working with Quincy Jones and his Westlake studio crew. While I can hear that to a degree? Somehow I feel that may have been just a little bit of a patronizing gesture to certain contemporary music listeners who are perceived to have not developed an ear for listening to music of that era. From the first time I ever heard this song? First thing I thought of was George Benson’s “Turn Your Love Around”-with that R&B rhythm shuffle. That Quincy/Westlake production style of the post disco years was widely influential on many people. And when I hear this? The post disco/boogie oriented sound with that production sheen about it instantly bought to mind just how spacious that studiocentric soul/funk-pop sound became during the early 80’s. This level of funk sophistication was something I’d never really heard out of Beyonce’-who usually went (and often still goes) for rhythmic excitement over instrumental cleanliness. This is a sound the Crusaders first perfected,Quincy’s Westlake crew managed to cross over and has become part of the American pop/R&B lexicon of music. And it’s a tribute to Beyonce’s talents that she’s come to understand it’s importance and vitality.