Sometimes the synergy of two instrumentalists/composers can create exceptionally powerful music in much the same way as a big band. Having both played with Stevie Wonder together as part of Wonderlove during the artists salad days? Keyboardist Greg Phillinganes and guitarist Michael Sembello both took a similar directions as session people by both playing for The Jacksons/Michael Jackson one after the other. And both making solo debuts in the early 1980’s.
Greg Phillinganes was the first to make his solo debut with the Significant Gains album for Richard Perry’s Planet label in 1981. The album featured Greg working with a number of crackerjack musicians such as Paulinho Da Costa,Paul Jackson,fellow Stevie Wonder alum Ronnie Foster,Herbie Hancock and indeed Michael Sembello as well. His main collaboration with Sembello from this debut was a song called “Big Man”,which makes it’s own sort of musical statement altogether.
Opening with a bluesy scaling clavinet,Greg’s keyboard is soon joined by a closely unison guitar solo from Sembello before the songs main chorus comes in. This chorus is instrumentally built around layers of bass clavinet and electric guitar soloing accented by higher pitched melodic synth bass. On the vocal bridge,the very processed vocal of Phillinganes is accented by his own higher pitched harmonies before he vocally growls his way into a flamboyant guitar like synthesizer solo before returning to three repeated choruses of the refrain before Phillinganes declares “I won’t go back on my word at all!”
Musically and lyrically? This song bridges the time gap between Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”-both a decade apart and both by artists with whom Phillinganes had worked with. The combination of Phillinganes clavinets and Sembello’s guitars and strong bluesy composition makes this a wonderful black American take on the mechanized new wave dance/rock style of the early 1980’s. Lyrically obscure as it seems to be? The song seems to be warning the black community about despotic hucksters seeking to violently take advantaged of oppressed and misrepresented people. It’s probably the best (and likely most hidden) politically charged funk/rock fusion of the early 80’s and brings the powerful 60’s activist spirit into the new decade