While Teena Marie’s 1983 album Robbery was a creatively strong label debut? It was not a commercial success. The sound of it might’ve been a bit to instrumentally transitional for that. The following year Prince & The Revolution had a major breakthrough with the Purple Rain soundtrack. This was a very new wave inflected album that showcased the Minneapolis Sound-basically replacing horn and string arrangements with various synthesizers. With this burgeoning sound and Teena’s talents as a multi instrumentalist? Her music had new possibilities.
While adding strong synth rock elements on her aforementioned Epic debut? Teena probably realized that her career (as a white artist advanced forward by the black community) meant she needed to understand the progression of soul/funk music with the advent of newer technology. The result was her 1984 album Starchild. Along with it’s debut single “Lovergirl”? It crossed Lady T over onto the pop charts-the one and only time she’d ever do so. Still it’s the title song of this album that personally caught my attention.
The beat gets going with a brittle,funky proto hip-hop drum machine rhythm-accompanied by Brazilian jazz styled percussive whoops and hollers. Then a mid toned electronic bass kicks into gear-accompanied by the quavering,higher pitched synthesizers playing the horn style accents. All this being emphasized by a strong rhythm guitar. On the choruses,Teena is echoed by a Vocorder singing the song’s title. On the bridge? The quavering synth plays the ancient Egyptian snake dance melody as Teena raps loosely surrounding it.
While very clearly her variation on the Minneapolis sound? The overall production of the electro/boogie funk sound is actually much cleaner. And strongly emphasizes writer Rickey Vincent’s point about how the chugging rhythm guitar survived the synthesizer based 80’s funk sound intact. Instrumentally it’s in the vein of Chaka Khan’s “This Is My Night” from the same year. Teena’s lyrics take on a classic Afro-Futurist space funk flavor-inserting sexual innuendo about “drinking from the milky way cup” as well. So it’s a very well rounded electro funk exercise.
Filed under 1980's, Brazilian Jazz, drum machines, elecro funk, Epic Records, funk guitar, Minneapolis, New Wave, Prince, space funk, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizers, Teena Marie, Uncategorized, vocoder
Teena Marie was leaving Motown behind at a critical time for funk/soul artists in general. In the United States anyway? That genre was mired in what myself and friend Henrique referred to as the post disco freeze out. The synth pop/New Wave genre that had come up in Europe during this time,itself an extension of Eurodisco and funk,seemed to be a good new direction to go into for radio play. Meanwhile,this was colliding with the synth accented boogie sound. And basically Lady T was as caught up as anyone in this shift of instrumental priorities.
Lady T signed with Columbia subsidiary Epic Records in the fall of 1982-with the promise of more autonomy over her business career. The result was her own publishing company known as Midnight Magnet. This event plus the dissolution of her romantic affiliation with Rick James became the centerpiece of her concept album Robbery from September 1983. While it integrated the synth rock elements of the era with her jazzy ballad framework? There was still plenty of time of strong funky grooves. My favorite of which is called “Playboy”.
Another strong drum kick introduces the song into it’s powerful stop/start Afro-Cuban rhythm that is mixed high and defines the song. What comes next is an elaborately arranged mixed of instrumental melody and harmony. The horn charts basically define the sound-while a round,mid toned synthesizer takes over the minor chorded elements that might’ve normally been done with strings. On the refrains,the synth becomes more brittle and the rhythm more strident. On the final chorus,Teena gently raps the lyrics over the original rhythm and a subtle electric bass line.
Something about this song’s arrangement perfectly encapsulates it’s lyrical concept. It’s a complex series of instrumental solo an rhythmic changes,and it goes along with Lady T’s uncertain mood throughout the song itself. As she questions her position as being closer to Rick James mistress than apparent fiancee? Her own little private soap opera unfolds via this uniquely urbane,Latin hued funk groove. It’s one of the most well rounded examples of the boogie funk sound. And a wonderful example of the new type of funk Teena Marie was giving up for the people.
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, concept albums, Epic Records, Funk, Funk Bass, New Wave, post disco, Rick James, Teena Marie, Uncategorized
While Teena Marie’s fourth album in 1981’s It Must Be Magic was her most successful release commercially up to this point? It was also to be her last on Motown. Though they’d mentored her artistry? Their unwillingness to let Lady T out of her contract while withholding her new material led to the very pro artist law known as the Brockert Initiative. This made it illegal to do what Motown had done to her and,while not intentional was one of the many forward thinking marks she made on the music world during this time
While her huge hit single from the album “Square Biz” was a very innovative mixture of live band funk and rap that symbolically precipitated new jack swing by about half a decade? Another song on the album leaped out at me due to the then recent murder of John Lennon. As a baby boomer experiencing late childhood just in time for Beatlemania? Teena Marie would up having a great deal to say about the Fab Four’s enormous influence on the artistic and cultural ethic of popular musicians of their time. The result was called “Revolution”.
A slow ballad style gospel piano solo accompanied by a probing slide guitar introduces the song. A horn blast gets it all going into the basic grooves which finds the piano bouncing,the rhythm guitar jumping in high melody along with the horns and a jazzy funk shuffle. Lady T sings her own back round vocals almost as different aspects of her personality responding back to the others. On the refrains the song kicks into a big band era swing rhythm with a kicking drum roll. And the main chorus extends a verse before the song finally fades away.
Instrumentally speaking? This song is one of the finest examples of swinging jazziness and melodic funky soul that I ever heard coming from Teena Marie. Everything is crisp,bright and full of vitality all the way. She is having a conversation with her “bestest friend” named Mickey Boyce,who originally signed to Motown with her,about how the Beatles history and innovations to pop musicians had seemed blown away with the slaying of Lennon. Yet she begins with the lesson she gained from it all: that it’s time to put an end to war and start anew.
Filed under 1980's, Brockert Initiative, funk guitar, jazz funk, John Lennon, Mickey Boyce, Motown, piano, Teena Marie, The Beatles, Uncategorized
It would seem that a year before her passing? Teena Marie pronounced her third album Irons In The Fire to be her personal favorite. And that’s very interesting because it’s the first of her original albums I ever encountered on CD-back in my rack digging days at Borders Books & Music in the late 1990’s. Just under a decade? Ended up getting it online as part of my introduction to her music. As far as her love of the album? It was her first self produced album. And one to be proud of. One song on the album did catch my ear very strongly.
The general spectrum of Lady T’s music ran between torchy jazz and smoldering funk. It was ideally suited not just for her vocal range, but her style of composing as well. One song from this album turned out to be a fully formed version of an acoustic guitar demo she’d made a year after she first arrived at Motown in 1975. Of course when I heard it? The song just leaped out at me. Yet another case of funk being it’s own reward. So the song in question is called “First Class Love”. And even to this day? I’m still surprised by it’s overall power and energy.
The groove goes into heavy gear with a big horn intro. The rhythm is thick,steady and slow in fine funk style. A big chunky splendor of electric slap and accompanying brittle sounding synth bass. All having an instrumental conversation with the horns along the way. On the refrains,a higher pitched version of this brittle synthesizers drips into the melody like a musical fondue. There is a potent instrumental bridge that reduces the song down to a slamming beat and a phat,processed slap bass before returning to the main theme to end the groove.
Something about this song just cooks the essence of feminine focused funk down to it’s base roux. Every rhythmic element of this song,from it’s drums to it’s bass line, is thickened up by Teena’s production of it. Lyrically it’s probably her most sexually charged songs to this point. Her “first class love” is presented as an endless journey to the moon, and blue skies six months out of every year. Everything about the music tonally reflects the crawling,thrusting nature of physical intimacy. And ends up to be first class funk for you and for me.
Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Borders Books & Music, CD's, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Motown, synthesizers, Teena Marie, Uncategorized
It doesn’t seem like five years since Mary Christine Brockert-known to most as Teena Marie,passed away from concussion related seizures. A few days ago? My good online friend Steve passed away of brain cancer. Seems as if every time the holiday season comes around in the last decade or so? Death hangs in the air-whether it be a mass gun shooting, the death of a friend or a great talent. For the next week however? Want to try to begin a healing process by celebrating the music of Teena Marie,and thereby the life that motivated that artistry.
Teena Marie first came to my attention through the Pure Disco compilation in the late 1990’s. This amazing and distinctive vocal talent was also connected to a strong cultural component. Lady T,as many called her, was one of very few Caucasian artists whose career was helped along by the black community-rather than the other way around. Decided to pick some personal favorites out of the funkiest music in her catalog. Today wanted to start out with her debut single from her second album titled Lady T from 1980. It was appropriately titled “Behind The Groove”.
The groove starts out with a sizzling salsa based percussion and bassy piano part. That percussion soon builds into a thick rhythm build around heavy bass/guitar interaction,punctuating horn charts and occasional bursts of high pitched,spacey synthesizers. The horns and synths come to a frenzied climax on the vocal refrains of the songs. On the following chorus? The feeling continues as T’s vocal adlibs mesh with the frenzied buildup of the instrumentation-from the horns to disco whistles as the song fades out.
Focusing the instrumental talents of the Westlake studio crew for the music? This song takes the funkiest elements of MJ’s Off The Wall to it’s strongest conclusions. It also emphasizes it’s similarity to Rick James Stone City Band-especially as James had a huge hand in introducing Teena to the world in 1979. As the era of boogie/electro funk began to emerge? “Behind The Groove” represents the most sleekly produced variation of the disco era funk sound that I’ve ever heard thus far. And for me at least is among the strongest of her early jams.
Somehow I clearly remember first hearing jazz/fusion icon Lenny White as solo artist first. And never even having heard him as the drummer for Chick Corea’s Return To Forever from 1973 through 76. My first impression,through DJ/musician Nigel Hall’s radio show at the University Of Maine,was via White’s debut solo album Venusian Summer from 1975. Had to warm to that album. At the time? The Wounded Bird label was reissuing White’s 70’s solo catalog on CD. So it was exciting to know I’d be hearing more of his music.
Now eventually ended up with all of those reissues. But the one that caught my years most was a 1978 album called The Adventures Of Astral Pirates. It blended some of the sci fi elements of RTF’s music,not to mention the spirituality of EWF and the narrative style of P-Funk with it’s comic strip style liner notes. However there was one song on this wonderfully space funk/fusion recording that really caught my ear in a big way. It was sung by the late Don Blackman,soon to be part of White’s group Twennynine. And it was called “Universal Love”.
It all gets started with Blackman’s piano and and Jeff Sigman’s Brazilian style rhythm guitar,which quickly morphs into a thick and fat funky bass/guitar interaction to sequel into Blackman’s first vocal refrain. The first chorus begins with a falsetto vocal that goes into a sleek,electric piano led late 70’s jazz/pop melody before going into an instrumentally chunkier version of the refrain before going into an extended version of the chorus and the intro itself. And it all concludes with very final crescendo’s for each of the songs musical themes.
This song stands as a fine example of the dreamiest end of the space funk sound. The atmospheric jazz/fusion element that comes from bassist Alex Blake and Don Blackman’s touches put this right tune with what I call “people music”. Even with the talented Lenny White’s fast paced,spasmodic progressive style of drumming? It’s impressive to hear how much he seems to have learned from Clyde Stubblefield about what not to play as a funky drummer. The space White puts into this song really allows the powerful groove and melody to be at it’s most expansive.
Filed under 1970's, Alex Blake, bass guitar, Don Blackman, drums, Funk Bass, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Lenny White, Uncategorized, Wounded Bird Records
Today Earth Wind & Fire founder Maurice White is turning 73. Out of all the funk bands to emerge out of the early 1970’s? EWF have always managed to maintain and enduring love and popularity. Even today,some of their lesser known albums are undergoing a slow reissuing process. Been thinking about finding an import CD version of the band’s debut album at the old Borders Books & Music 18 years or so ago. And about how I’ve kept going back to it again and again as my understanding of the bands history and significance developed.
It’s been over 44 years now since Maurice and Verdine White bought the original EWF sextet to Warner Brothers to record. And to their first show at Maverick’s Flat-courtesy of NBA great Jim Brown. Story goes their performance was so raggedy? The stagehands at Mavericks had to turn the lights down on them. That history actually had the effect of helping me to really appreciate their pre superstar sound, and because of how different it was. So in tribute to Mr.White? I’m going to talk about the very first song from the very first EWF album entitled “Help Somebody”.
A chunky rhythm guitar groove from Michael Beal introduces the drum and horn salvo. The we’re onto a thick blend of fast paced percussion with both wah wah and JB like rhythm guitar. It’s a phat,funky gumbo in which Maurice trades off vocal leads with two band members in Wade Flemmons and Don Whitehead. The refrain of the song spins off into a slower Brazilian salsa rhythm before cycling back to main theme of the song for two additional choruses. One features the group all chanting “reach out your hand and help somebody”,the other featuring a trombone solo from Alexander Thomas before another horn salvo closes out the song.
It would appear that critical reaction to EWF’s debut has significantly improved with time. That being said? This particular lineup of the band had a very different focus for their funk. Considering their participation in the soundtrack for Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song? This song has a strong blacksploitation flavor-with it’s fast chase scene pace and up front wah wah guitar. Yet Maurice’s Brazilian influence also comes into play on the refrain. And the bands renowned humanistic message of kindness and fellowship oozes out of every lyric. Both vocally and instrumentally? It is a far looser sound than they’d be known for. But there’s no doubt the funk was already percolating right out of the box!
Filed under 1970's, blacksploitation, Borders Books & Music, Brazil, classic funk, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, funk guitar, Jim Brown, Maurice White, Mavericks Flat, percussion, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar
Of course? I have to credit reading the credits on Michael Jackson albums in mid adolescence for my awareness of Greg Phillinganes’ music in my life. In addition to that? A book about the man called Michael Jackson: An Illustrated Record by one Adrian Grant tipped me off to this album’s existence. That’s because it started out with “Behind The Mask”,a song written by Mike. It was quite a few years later that I managed to locate the album itself-first on vinyl,than an import CD. Yet it led me down another unexpected path as well.
By the time the mid aughts rolled around? I’d become deeply immersed in the funkiest end of the west coast pop sound. Namely the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. Of course the lead singer/keyboard player and general architect of the latter groups sound was Donald Fagen. Since Phillinganes was an enormous part of Fagen’s solo debut The Nightfly as an instrumentalist? Fagen returned the favor a couple years later with a song he wrote but had never recorded or performed. The collaboration between the two fellow keyboard players was called “Lazy Nina”
It gets started with a slogging post disco style drum solo,which is also similar to the one on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”-before the jazzy shuffle of the bass synth kicks into the song itself. It’s that bluesy,electric piano based groove that Steely Dan admirers will know very well. On the choruses,he melodies and orchestral synth become brighter. On the final refrain? It becomes a straight instrumental right out of the Minneapolis school of the day. With the quavering DX7 digital synthesizer playing the horn charts as the song fades out.
Each time I’ve listened to this song? Something new leaped out at my ear hole from behind the groove. First impressions revealed a composition directly from the Steely Dan/Donald Fagen school . Especially with the nostalgic fantasizing of the lyrics. Phillinganes adds a much more electronic flavor to the overall song.. This comes to bare on my most recent observation: how the concluding instrumental break brings in the Prince/ Jam & Lewis synth horn element. Overall? It’s reflectively cheery transitional funk filled with flair and vitality.
Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, blues funk, disco funk, Donald Fagen, drums, electric piano, Funk, Greg Philinganes, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Michael Jackson, post disco, Prince, Stevie Wonder, synth funk, synthesizers, Uncategorized
Out of the same melting pot of funk from which Slave and Heatwave emerged? Dayton,Ohio band Lakeside were the premier large funk band on Dick Griffey’s Solar label from 1978 up through 1984. One key element of this band that’s come up in the conversations I’ve had with Henrique is how committed Lakeside were to being a funk band. Truthfully, I didn’t fully understand everything in that particular discussion . Still there’s no doubt that Lakeside were vital in funk’s transition between the disco era funk and the post disco/boogie sound to follow.
The one thing I always loved about Lakeside was how their album jackets (in a similar manner to the Ohio Players) helped visually conceptualize their funk. Each one featured the band members acting out a particular event related to their album titles. Their 1981 release Keep On Moving Straight Ahead is a superb example as it features Lakeside as jockey’s-at the Kentucky Derby perhaps. And that one is riding a Zebra and being chased by a black bird showcases strong Afrocentricity. What actually caught my attention most was the last song on side A of the vinyl copy I had called “It’s Got To be Love”.
It’s a groove that starts moving with a powerfully percussive rhythm,with a sunny melody played within it by a round and high pitched synthesizer. Then a heavy acoustic piano chimes in as a bass line while a playfully liquid rhythm guitar plays the changes. On the refrains of the song? The bright synth that opens the song returns as an orchestral element. The soulful growl of lead singer/composer Mark Adam Wood Jr. is accompanied by the beautiful multi part harmonies of the bands other vocalists. After returning briefly to the stripped down percussion that opens it? The melody scales up in pitch before the song itself fades out.
This is a very strong representative of the type of funk I tend to be drawn most to. And again? Have noticed how much of it derives from either Ohio or California. It’s both a very singable,hooky song and a strong groove all at the same time. It mixes the churchy vocals,harmonies and melodies of the Philly sound with the bright,optimistic late 70’s/early 80’s boogie approach. Yet the live instrumental end is much more prominent here. So in the end? It’s the post disco era’s equivalent of the funky soul sound. One that was actually used often,and seldom discussed.At the end,it’s one of Lakeside’s finest and more unsung jams.
Filed under 1980's, Afrocentrism, albums, Boogie Funk, dance funk, Dayton Ohio, Dick Griffey, Funk, funk guitar, funky soul, Lakeside, Philly Soul, post disco, Solar Records