Monthly Archives: January 2016

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Tommy’s Groove” by The Gap Band

Charlie Wilson has gained a great deal of popular acclaim in the last decade as a solo artist known as Uncle Charlie-a contemporary electro soul balladeer in a manner similar to Ron Isley’s Mr Biggs character. Following his 90’s era struggles with addiction and eventual homelessness, Wilson had already made a huge name for himself with his brothers Ronnie and Robert in the Gap Band. Their grooves such as “Oops Upside Your Head” and “Burn Rubber On Me” were enormous P-Funk inspired classics in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Many admirers of the bands music often think of this peak period of popularity as the beginning of their career. In reality,it was really their commercially fortunate mid point.

Forming in 1967 as the Greenwood Archer And Pine Street Band in their native Tulsa Oklahoma, the Wilson brothers’ first big taste of fame came in 1974 when they joined Leon Russell as backup musicians on his Stop All That Jazz album. Later that year,Russell’s label Shelter signed the rechristened Gap Band and released their debut Magician’s Holiday. At the time the group was a septet consisting of the Wilsons,percussionist Carl Scoggins, drummer Roscoe Smith,guitarist O’Dell Stokes and a horn section consisting of Buddy Jones,Chris Clayton and trumpeter Tommy Lokey. It was Lokey who wrote the groove I’m talking to you about today entitled “Tommy’s Groove”.

The jam gets a stone cold start with a thick,fast paced mix of wah wah guitar and Clavinet duetting together in tonal unification. This along with bursts of organ as a percussion life effect. The horn section leads the melody into the a fan faring chorus that begins on the same theme-both separated by a powerful funk break. As the rhythm section lays the foundation,the horns serve to carry the vocal parts of the song. Then a powerful gospel/soul organ solo gives way to another horn fanfare taken at a somewhat higher octave than the first. After a straight replay of the original theme,the song fades out on composer Tommy Lokey’s jazzy trumpet solo.

Primarily Charlie Wilson is known as the Gap Band’s lead vocalist-his fruity and somewhat idiosyncratic Southern drawl laying the groundwork for the vocal approach of the new jack swing genre of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Even during the groups prime hit period however,Charlie was still their keyboard player as well. Since Total Experience’s Lonnie Simmons wanted to showcase his vocals, it was up to early instrumentals such as this to showcase Charlie’s talents as a musician. Here he’s a unified participant in heavy duty jamming in the united funk era. His strong organ solo and Clavinet riffs showcase what a gifted keyboard groove master Charlie Wilson actually is.

 

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Filed under 1974, Charlie Wilson, classic funk, clavinet, Funk, Gap Band, horns, Leon Russell, organ, Robert Wilson, Ronnie Wilson, Tommy Lokey, Uncategorized, Uncle Charlie, wah wah guitar

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: : “Mysteries Of The World” by MFSB

Time and again,instrumentalists who make hit songs function as they do take a faraway back seat to the performers in front of them. This is especially true for session musicians. But it happens in self contained bands as well. One such case was T.J Tindall,the guitarist for the Philadelphia International Records house band MFSB. He not only played on the Soul Train theme song “TSOP”, but contributed that famous down home guitar solo from The Jackson’s “Enjoy Yourself” which I recently overview’d on this blog. The news came to me yesterday from my friend Henry Cooper that Tindall had passed away at age 65. Saddest part is that I’d never heard of this musician before in my life.

MFSB had a similar musical function on the East Coast that Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra had on the West Coast. That is fusing a string orchestra with a hard grooving rhythm section and backup vocalists. Both bands had records of their own out. The difference was that MFSB were not focused on backing up a single artist,much as Stax’s Booker T & The MG’s and Motown’s Funk Brothers had been before them. And they allowed for that ethic to transition from the earlier funk/soul age into the disco era. One song that struck me strongly  came from later in their career-their 1980 swansong in fact. And it’s the title track to that final album called “Mysteries Of The World”.

Starting out with a synth phaser’d hi hat accompanied by sweeping cinematic string arrangements,the uptempo rhythm sections kicks right into gear after this intro. It features the drums accentuated by dancing percussion. The bass line has a harmonically rich jazziness about it with a strong thump-with the liquid guitar popping along like musical dewdrops falling on top of it. The processed keyboards providing the melody are accompanied by high pitched,bell like synthesizers on the choral refrains. On the second refrain,a synth solo duets with the strings and extends into a Brazilian style bridge where everything comes together before a more rocking guitar solo fades the song out.

Admittedly I have not heard a lot of MFSB in terms of their full length albums. A lot of what I did hear of them focused on the big orchestration. This song is very different. It strips the song right down to the drums,bass and guitar. On that groove,T.J Tindall’s sound on this seems like a small one-accenting the bass line mainly. But it actually provides a key part of the instrumental flow. Generally speaking I’ve noticed that rhythm guitarists seldom reach out to listeners the way the lead “guitar heroes” who step out front do. Still this proto post disco/boogie number is among my favorites that MFSB put to wax. And a fitting tribute to a now passed instrumental icon in Tindall.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, Brazilian Jazz, disco funk, Funk Bass, MFSB, percussion, Philly Soul, post disco, rhythm guitar, synthesizers, T.J. Tindall, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of The Groove: “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead

Gene McFadden and John Whitehead had a significant musical legacy before going from being creators to becoming performers of their own.  Along with Philadelphia International Records house band MFSB,this pair of songwriters were responsible for some of the labels biggest and most enduring hits-among them “Back Stabbers” for the O’Jays and “Bad Luck” for the Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. As such,they were major melodic architects for the music of the burgeoning disco era. The fact that their legacy touched on even Motown acts of the era showcases the extent to which their synergy went while working primarily in the musical backwaters.

Towards the end of the 1970’s, the post disco era seemed to be beginning in earnest. Albums such as Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall came to represent that transition in black dance music. The Philly sound was still doing fairly well at the time. But many of the original groups were re-focused as some of their lead singers went solo in the manner of Teddy Pendergrass. At this point,the strong voiced singers McFadden & Whitehead decided to make the leap from songwriter to artist with their self titled 1979 debut album. It’s first song was one that I personally knew of on a more peripheral level long before I knew of the albums existence. It was called “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”.

The slower tempo four on the floor dance beat gets the groove cooking up with the spacey keyboard washes and PIR’s climactic string arrangements. That same beat seems to develop a high swinging bump about it when the female backup singers began the chorus duetting with fan-faring call and response horns-then the bubbling Brazilian jazz style bass line really gets going in the song. The chorus actually strips down a bit,with less arrangement for the vocal parts as the intro becomes a prelude to the additional choruses of the song. On some of the latter chorus,the bubbling electric burble of the early drum machine adds yet another percussive element into the groove.

With this song,one of Philly’s finest songwriting teams come out on their own with what basically sets the stage for the immediate post disco era. The heavy string and horn orchestrations are still there,as well as the 4/4 dance beat. But the bass lines and additional drum kicks have an extra added spice about them. It all goes right along with the songs lyrical ode to optimism itself. It’s become such an important anthem for many black Generation Xers that Barack Obama used this song during his original campaign for president in 2008. And a part of me would like to hope his last eight years in office owe something to this fine dance floor friendly funky soul/disco classic.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now, Barack Obama, Disco, disco funk, Funk Bass, funky soul, Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, McFadden & Whitehead, MFSB, Philly Soul, post disco, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Club Tropicana” by Wham!

Over the years my understanding of Wham! and the role they played in the UK post disco scene of the early 80’s had become so much more pronounced. Today they are primarily known for their mid decade hits such as “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and even the now iconic holiday favorite “Last Christmas”. George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley also made for the prototypical boy band in terms of their image. Still they came to prominence in a period where such labels didn’t create such a negative stigma for anyone. As a result, both of these men had plenty of chance to hone and polish their craft even before they came into the public eye in such a huge way.

When I was a young adult about a decade and a half ago, there was a record store in my area called Summit Sound. A pre owned copy of Wham!’s debut album Fantastic was something of a fixture there until I finally picked it up when the store was closing out a few years later. Turns out the album was recorded over the course of three years. The album was actually very impressive as well as being very catchy and radio friendly for it’s day. The songs are also very soulful and have a strong groove to them as a whole. One song on the record stood out as…well at least to me one of the finest pieces of music Wham! ever made. And it was called “Club Tropicana”.

The stage is set by the sound of crickets and a car pulling up to music behind closed doors. With the sound of the door opening,Dion Estes thumping slap bass line  and Trevor Morell’s pushing drum beat opens the groove with the sound of crowd sounds before Ridgeley’s strident,dance floor friendly rhythm guitar comes in-the Brazilian style percussion opening up the beat even further. The horns of Ian Ritchie and Roddy Lorimer come in with just the right melodic spice on each chorus of the song. The instrumental bridge isolating the slap bass and synth accents is sandwiched in between two jazzy acoustic piano solos courtesy of Tommy Eyre before George Michael literally coos the song into it’s fade out.

A key conversational point between Henrique and myself has been a tendency in the early 80’s to focus in on the more brightly melodic elements of the Caribbean pop music when it came to American uptempo funk grooves of the period. And this song does something wonderful with what Henrique referred to (in specific reference to the Earth Wind & Fire song “And Love Goes On”) as the “cruise ship sound”. The slap bass is bumping,the piano’s swinging,the horns are hot and the funk is turned right up. Andrew Ridgeley really channels Chic’s Nile Rodgers disco era guitar wonderfully on what is surely one of the funkiest jams Wham! ever threw down.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Andrew Ridgeley, Caribbean Funk, Chic, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, George Michael, Nile Rodgers, rhythm guitar, slap bass, UK Funk, Uncategorized, Wham!

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mean Mother” by Etta James

Etta James has one of the biggest voices,both literally and figuratively among the female blues and soul vocalists of her day. She was also a survivor. As much as many writers tend to literarily paint black artists of her day seem as if they lived within impenetrable emotional armor,Etta survived by being able to an occasional gentle laugh at some of the troubles that marred most of her life. As what could be described as a prime example of the Silent Generation OG figure at Chicago’s famous Chess Records,changes in music over the decades seemed to roll off of her. Not to mention the musicians and producers who helped her creatively reshape herself.

One of the saddest legacies of Etta’s life was the fact that so much of it was marred by periods of substance abuse. First it was heroin throughout the prime of her career. Than an addiction to prescription drugs in her final years. On the other hand,she almost always looked her best and gave her best performances outside of her personal situation. Following a 1970’s spent in and out of rehab, Etta transitioned in the next decade by teaming up with the recently passed New Orleans writer/producer/performer Allen Toussaint for her 1980 album Changes. The album begins with a bang right out of the box with “Mean Mother”.

That snarling,high pitched rhythm guitar wail that introduces many classic funk grooves gets this one going along with a powerful drum kick. Then the percussion accents kick in with thick sustained Clavinet riffing,blocky acoustic piano and the massive deep bass line holding everything up comes into play. On the rapped intro of Etta’s the drums are subordinated to the percussion. On each chorus,her vocals are accompanied by scaling down horns-which call out from the bottom up on the end of each rhythm statement of the song. The opening guitar snarl also takes a similar position on the last couple choruses of the song before it fades right out of earshot.

Etta James made some magnificent uptempo grooves and ballads over the years. The advent of funk in the 70’s seemed almost tailor made for her deep,resonant growl of a voice. This instrument of tough control and sophistication gets all it’s assistance from this song which showcase how funk is often blues played with a raw rhythm attitude instrumentally and a clean sound to top off on. The thickness of this groove is very similar in flavor to Gil Scott-Heron’s “Shut ‘Em Down” of the same vintage-only minus the synthesizer touches. It’s tale of living as “a child of god born to a family black” extends on the ever present soul power she possessed.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Allen Toussaint, Chess Records, Chicago, clavinet, drums, Etta James, Funk, Funk Bass, percussion, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Close To Me” by Bill Withers

Bill Withers became a soul/folk icon with his early 70’standards such as “Ain’t No Sunshine”,”Use Me”,”Grandma’s Hands” and his signature song “Lean On Me”. Even in their time,these tunes were popular cover material for different artists across the soul,pop and jazz spectrum. A working class hero who literally demoed his songs and recorded his album (as it’s cover indicates) while employed as an assembler for Douglas Aircraft Corporation,Withers huge early success on the Sussex label evaded him by mid decade. By 1975 he signed to Columbia. And after his debut album Making Music, he released it’s follow up Naked & Warm the next year.

It wasn’t until the release of the documentary film Still Bill in 2009 did I notice any big revival of Withers music beyond his earlier hit period. It would seem his first two Columbia albums were not the major success he would have later in the decade with songs such as “Lovely Day”. Let alone his early 80’s collaborations such as “Soul Shadows” with the Crusaders and the smash of “Just The Two Of Us” with Grover Washington Jr.  The man wrote his songs across the entire spectrum of soul-concentrating heavily on the down home 12 bar blues form in a similar manner to Gil Scott-Heron. His second Columbia album started right out of the box with another groove called “Close To Me”.

The funky drummer on this song starts right out slowly jamming hard on the one-accompanied by thick chords from the electric piano. This is soon accompanied by accenting percussion from a ringing cowbell before the thick and round synthesized bass line begins popping along with the another of the electric slap bass variety. The song itself sticks heavily to this main theme throughout-with the synthesizer emerging in higher tone generally before Withers’ vocal refrains. There is a brief bridge to the song which features a more sustained electric piano sound before the song begins a very slow fade out with Withers’ vocals going into sensuous talk singing coo.

While Bill Withers classic songs had a live instrumental naturalness that was proto neo soul in tone,this 1976 jam was something very different. His songs had always had a strong funk undertone. But it was here that his funk really emerged fully formed. The structure of the composition is pretty much the same as a “Grandma’s Hands”,”Use Me” or “Ain’t No Sunshine”. But the slow crawling beat hits right where the funk is supposed to. And the use of big round blurts of mid 70’s synth bass with electric bass slapping adds some heavy thickening of the funky stew this song generates. In a lot of ways,it’s my favorite out and out funk jam from Bill Withers.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bill Withers, Columbia Records, Douglas Aircraft Corporation, Funk, Gil Scott Heron, Grover Washington Jr., slap bass, Sussex Records, synth bass, The Crusaders, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Enjoy Yourself” by The Jacksons

The Jacksons self titled label debut on Epic is a very nostalgic one for me. For one thing, it’s the very first CD I purchased with my own money-if I remember sometime in the autumn of 1994. The history of the brothers breaking their contract with Motown,the record company who made them famous for the sake of gaining more creative control fascinated my burgeoning artistic ethic at the time. I was very interested to hear what the Jackson brothers sounded like having experienced their first tastes of artistic freedom. Even understanding they only wrote two of the ten songs on this album was still an exciting understanding to have as a teenager growing up near the turn of the millennium.

During the final years at Motown,the Jackson brothers had become fascinated by the Philly sound coming out of the PIR studios. Especially under the tutelage of Kenny Gamble,Leon Huff and Dexter Wansel. These were record producers who thought like artists-in the case of the latter two they made records under their own name. So they always approached the record from a quality control rather than a commercially geared manner. Because this was quite a different approach to the assembly line hit factory approach of Motown,it did allow for the brothers to gain a stronger uniqueness to their sound. And the result was the lead off song and single from their 1976 debut as The Jacksons on “Enjoy Yourself”.

A nasal bass pitched rhythm guitar opens with the main melody of the song. It’s accompanied with the medium tempo beat with a bouncing conga drums-perhaps from the Jacksons youngest brother Randy. The harmony’s of the brothers trading off with the leads of Michael are themselves harmonizing with a short chordal burst of electric piano and big band style horns. Those horns play more sustained phrases on the refrains. The bridge of the song is sung by elder Jackson brother Jackie in his gravely lower register along a jazzy funk electric piano part and horns that keep building in intensity up until the song fades out on an even more powerful variation of the chorus.

Conversing with my main musical inspiration right now Henrique about this song has bought me to a significant musical understanding. He describe this song, especially it’s opening rhythm guitar part as having a country sound. My drummer had me on the beat that in musical terms “country” was short hand for country/western music. In fact it referred to a very rural approach to playing an instrument-such as at a family reunion or county fair live band. Considering these brothers were taught old blues and country songs by their mom Katherine,it’s probably no surprise that Gamble & Huff would tailor an uptempo funk/soul tune for them with that strong down home instrumental flavor.

In any event this song was a wonderful way to begin the Jackson brothers adult career. The song really emphasizes them strongly as a group-with their deep,gospel drenched five part harmonies taking presidents on the choruses. The focus of the family was not yet focused so heavily as a dry run for the upcoming solo career of brother Michael. And as I listen to it as an adult with all these new musical understandings, the fact that Gamble & Huff put that country styled soul flavor into their new funk really gave the brothers more musical distinction than the production line approach Motown often used with them. In a lot of ways,it’s a song that says a lot about the Jacksons more personal musical interests.

Thematically the song also has it’s place in the creative liberation of the Jackson brothers. Basically Mike is singing about being at a party with a very insecure date whose “sittin’ over there starring into space” while everyone else is “dancing all over the place”. He’s advising this person to not obsess over what they can’t change. Finally he asks them flat out to have a good time instead of “sittin’ there with your mouth poked out just sweet as you can be”. It was recorded during the bicentennial year. Seems to have been the idea at the time of moving ahead from where the 60’s attitudes left off. And this song simply advises to live the life they’ve got and to enjoy themselves.

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Filed under 1970's, country/soul, Dexter Wansel, electric piano, Epic Records, Funk, Gamble & Huff, horns, Jackie Jackson, Katherine Jackson, Michael Jackson, Philly Soul, Randy Jackson, The Jacksons, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “People Of Today” by The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers,to paraphrase writer and my Facebook friend Rickey Vincent do come off strongly as the embodiment of funky masculinity. That not only goes for their mixture of pragmatism and sensitivity. But also to their musical approach as well. The family group’s  3+3 combination adding younger brothers Ernie and the late Marvin Isley and cousin Chris Jasper added a strong instrumental element to the vocal harmony approach of the elder brothers Ron,Rudy and the late Kelly Isley. During the mid 1970’s, they came up with a distinctive approach to instrumental vital funk and rock along with keeping the soulful bedroom ballads cooking at all ends.

During this time,the sextet began recording in the TONTO synthesizer complex. This is where Stevie Wonder was than working his own electronic funk/soul masterpieces as well. Most of the 3+3 Isley Brothers classic albums were recorded using the complex-especially with keyboard maestro Jasper in tow. In 1976 they released their album Harvest For The World. The album continued to expand on the throbbing grooves they developed,along with the lyrical themes of sensuous eroticism and strong minded brotherhood. Nothing on this album could ever be underrated from where I sit. But it’s the song “People Of Today” that really pulls everything else here together on every possible level.

A rolling drum launches into the song itself. It’s a gurgling mix of bass synthesizer and guitar with multiple Clavinet parts. One of them even contributing to the bottom end of the song as well. This huge tonal array of sound is calmed somewhat on the vocal refrains from Ron Isley. On the end of each chorus,a second refrain features Ron singing a call and response vocal line to a Vocoderized voice singing “my world is fine”. After this a fast and bluesy Clavinet riff leads back into the central theme of the song in which it all begins. This pattern of two separate refrains and repeated choruses maintains itself from beginning to the fade out of this song.

If I were to describe this or any Isley Brothers funk from this period, it would be as the musical equivilant of chunky peanut butter. It’s caramel colored cream texture with a strong crunchiness mixed into it. And has the same strong flavor too. The layering of the keyboard parts of this song are amazing. And it’s the perfect accompaniment as Ron Isley sings about getting ones head out of comfortable denialism. At one point he even responds to the Vocorderized “my world is fine” with the vocal response “ah your jivin’ me”. As implied in the title, it’s a wonderful example of the type of classic 70’s funk that I’ve dubbed over the years as “people music”.

 

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Filed under 1970's, bass synthesizer, Chris Jasper, clavinet, electro funk, Funk, Isley Brothers, Rickey Vincent, Ron Isley, TONTO, Uncategorized, vocoder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross

Diana Ross is by far the most enduring female personality to emerge from Motown’s 1960’s heyday. As the lead singer of the Supremes, she was one of the finest straight up melodicists that ever came out of the Motor City pop/soul scene the label helped to create. In the 70’s she became both a solo artist and actress on television and screen. Her musical output gradually withered away as Berry Gordy and the public became more and more fascinated by her visual appeal. After the early part of that decade,it did seem that her musical career was a very minor aspect of her celebrity. By the middle of the decade,the focus of Diana Ross’s art would return to the recording studio.

It was songwriter Pamela Sawyer and producer Hal Davis of Jackson 5 fame who came up with the song I’m going to talk to you about today. Her and Davis came up with the track with either Ross or Marvin Gaye in mind as the lead singer. Both were in need of comebacks in mid 70’s. Gaye wound up working with Leon Ware. And Diana Ross ended up with the Sawyer/Davis composition that would not only reinvent her as a musical entity,but help usher Motown into a totally different era. Especially at a time when most of the classic artists at the label were leaving it behind. The song itself,released on Diana’s self titled album  in 1976 was called “Love Hangover”.

A scaled up string arrangement intros into the songs slow funky rhythmic ballad shuffle. This is accompanied by a popping electric bass line that hits every note of the bluesy acoustic piano. That in turn is accompanied by a glassy,high pitched processed Fender Rhodes with lighter strings in the back round. About two minutes into the song,the horn phrased string parts suddenly burst the song into an uptempo percussive groove. And the bass line is turned right in the mix and plays it’s own memorable phrase throughout the remainder of the song. It continues to be chased along with the string arrangements and the jazzy electric piano parts all the way to the songs conclusion.

Repeated listening to this song amidst discussion with my friend and blogging inspiration Henrique have revealed to me that this is one of the most instrumentally fluid grooves to come out of the disco process of the mid 70’s. It’s straight up funk all the way in fact-the jazz/funk flavor of the live instrumentation and the vital 70’s Motown trait of upfront bass lines locked into a sensuous embrace with the 4/4 beat. And even that accented by Brazilian funk percussion accents.  The fact that it melds together two different tempo variations of proto sophistifunk gives it the ideal sound for the “funk functioning as disco” concept that represents a musical transition for the next half decade or so.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Diana Ross, disco funk, Fender Rhodes, Funk, Funk Bass, Hal Davis, Marvin Gaye, Motown, Pam Sawyer, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Black Man” by Stevie Wonder

Today being Martin Luther King Day brings up an event that occurred during my lifetime ,but of which I am also too young to remember fully. In the early 1980’s Stevie Wonder along with fellow musical artist/writer/poet Gil Scott Heron really championed the crusade to make Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday declared a national holiday. He even wrote a song for the occasion called “Happy Birthday”,included on Stevie’s 1980 album Hotter Than July.  It was a song that was recorded and released five years earlier,however, that’s always gotten my attention-from hearing it on 8-track at the families lakeside camp growing up to my present day discussions with friend and fellow music lover Henrique Hopkins.

With an elaborate production taking two and a half years to complete,Stevie Wonder finally managed to release his double album plus four song EP which he entitled Songs In The Key Of Life. It continued the man’s commercial and creative winning streak that had began earlier in the decade. And did so by really reaching for even more imaginative and reflective instrumental,lyrical and compositional heights. One of the songs that impacted me on this sprawling opus was another example of being deeply effected by music that was not a huge commercial hit. But to me anyway,it’s the glue that made the entire album function as a strong musical statement. It was called “Black Man”.

Rhythmic intensity defines the groove from the get go. It’s a fast marching drum rhythm-accentuated by a lightly melodic ring modulated drum sound. A deep Clavinet solo is soon joined by a brittle Moog bass solo. A wandering,higher pitched synthesizer soon joins in along with the horns of Stevie’s band Wonderlove playing the melodic accents of his lead vocal parts. The bridge strips back most the instrumentation so the only things heard are the main rhythm,the modulated one. This leads into a intertwining pair of synthesizers playing a bluesy jazz melody before going back into the main theme-with a verbalized classroom recitation along with Stevie on Vocorder illustrating the songs lyrical theme.

The first time I heard this song,my mother described this song as a history lesson. And that is exactly what this is. Time has allowed me to appreciate on just how many levels it is. Stevie’s outlook on race relations here is not merely integrationist, but understanding the vitality and difference each race present in America brings to the nations continuity. Far as it’s place in black history goes names such as Benjamin Banneker,Garrett Morgan and Dr.Charles Drew would have remained unknown to me-as well as their contributions to the country. They all played a part,as Stevie sang  of who helped make our banner wave during the bicentennial year this song was written to celebrate.

One major element that permeated the entire Songs In The Key Of Life album (especially this particular song) was Stevie’s use of the Yamaha GX-1,known as the Dream Machine. It was a double keyboarded synthesizer with a rhythm machine. It felt like a Hammond B-3 organ, but was a very tonally advanced polyphonic synthesizer underneath. It allowed Stevie to build the sound of his own sound along with Wonderlove. The most important thing one can ever say about Stevie Wonder as a musician is his contribution of innovative tonal sounds. Herbie Hancock once pointed out Stevie’s ability to deal with synthesizers on an organic level allowed it to become it’s own instrumental element of the band itself.

Instrumentally speaking,this might well be one of Stevie Wonder’s most exciting compositions. The energy level is both high enough to reach a breaking point, and controlled at a level where the excitement is totally attainable to the listener. The tempo is a lot faster than it is for most funk. Yet rhythm is locked down to a point where the multiple melodic conversations of the different keyboard and synthesizer tones that define this song express tonally the cultural diversity of America for the next almost 40 years from when this song was created to the present day. It’s one of a view songs out there with the power to get every American,of every shade to dance to it’s rhythms.

 

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Filed under 'Songs In The Key Of Life', 1970's, Black History, clavinet, drums, Funk, horns, Martin Luther King Jr., Moog, ring modulator, Stevie Wonder, synth bass, synthesizers, Uncategorized, Wonderlove, Yamaha GX-1