Monthly Archives: March 2016

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Going Down Slowly” by The Pointer Sisters

The Pointer Sisters-Anita,the late June and today’d birthday girl Ruth Pointer (also the eldest of them) have always stood to me as an example of a truly democratic group. Aside from the 1977 departure of sister Bonnie,the remaining three sisters developed a vocal approach that focused on the importance of groups in vocally centered funky music. Their 3 part harmonies assisted one or the others sisters’ vocal lead generally. Ruth’s voice has always stood out very strongly for me. Her gospel powered husky tenor calls to mind what I’ve heard from the iconic Mavis Staples and more recently Lalah Hathaway. So Ruth and her sisters have really prioritized uptempo music in their repertoire.

Diversity seemed to be the key for the Pointers while recording for the Blue Thumb label in the mid 70’s. Their first three albums on that label were a mixture of swinging jazz,jump blues and even country/western. Vocally they performed everything as if  each was their chosen approach to music. Of course each of these albums got seriously funky at one time or another. And for me that’s where their musical soul really shined through. Their 1975 album Steppin’ is the best such example-containing contributions from Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. It was their classic writing partner of the era Allen Toussaint who provided Ruth’s shining groove on here called “Going Down Slowly”.

The drum and Melvin Ragin’s high pitched wah wah guitar give the basic beat a heavy reggae like skank to it. There are several layers of wah wah guitar-some of which trickle like falling rain while others burst forth like a revving engine. The piano comes down equally as hard while the bass line scales up and down as a strong,phat support system. Sharing the lead with her sisters Anita and June’s gospel/jazz style harmonies,Ruth even sometimes double tracks her own leads. After a brief bridge where the sisters “doo doo wop” harmonies scale up a pitch,the chorus repeats as the drums,guitar and piano to a fevered frenzy before fading down for the piano bring the song to an abrupt end.

One thing I love about this number is how it incorporates some of the static rhythm of reggae,itself a new and developing genre at that time,into it’s frenetic funk stew. The instrumentation of the song is pretty thick from the very start. But as the song evolves,the reverb and some more rocking guitar layers really thicken right up. In a more stripped down sort of way,this has a somewhat similar reggae/funk/rock approach that could be found a year later in the Rolling Stones “Hot Stuff”. Ruth’s voice has a power and elasticity that’s ideal for uptempo material. And she truly shines as the vocal lead on this example of musically powerful and lyrically assertive funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Allen Toussaint, Anita Pointer, Bonnie Pointer, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, funk rock, June Pointer, Pointer Sisters, reggae funk, Ruth Pointer, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar, Wah Wah Waston

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Funky Broadway” by Wilson Pickett

Wilson Pickett is yet another artist whose music was extremely familiar to me before even knowing his name. “Wicked Mr. Pickett” started out in a gospel group during called The Violinaires in the mid 50’s.  This led him to fame with the soul group The Falcons,who helped popularize gospel music to a broader audience. Pickett eventually got signed to Atlantic Records in New York where he recorded sides such as “If I Need You”,a ballad that the labels’ Jerry Wexler ended up giving to Solomon Burke. Burke himself liked Pickett’s version,but he had a huge hit with the song. So a dejected Pickett decided to focus less on soul ballads and more on uptempo numbers once officially signed to Atlantic.

Pickett’s mid/late 60’s recordings at the Stax in Memphis and Fame.in Muscle Shoals have become iconic songs. Especially in terms of marking soul music’s evolution from gospel based balladry into uptempo funk. Songs such as “In The Midnight Hour”,”Mustang Sally” and “Land Of 1000 Dances” came out of this era. One thing however that stands out to me is when an artist making funk music shows a lot of positive pride in declaring themselves to be funky. One such song from Pickett came courtesy of a band known as Dyke & The Blazers,written by it’s leader Arlester Christian in 1967. And the name of this song was”Funky Broadway”.

The bluesy guitar riff of Chip Moman opens the song. The rhythmic body of the entire is based on a thick,cymbal heavy  beat from drummer Roger Hawkins,a rhythmic organ from Spooner Oldham and the crunchy bass of Tommy Cogbill.  On the second chorus of the song, the horn section comes in playing call and response to Pickett’s vocals. They raise up in intensity as Pickett’s vocals grow even more powerful. There’s a bridge where Hawkins’ funky drumming is singled out with the bass/guitar interaction-with Pickett grunting along rhythmically. The horns are huge,thick and heavy on the final choruses of the song before it fades out.

This song fits pretty neatly into the vein of Wilson Pickett’s other mid/late 60’s uptempo numbers. They were all starting to move heavily toward funk. This song came out in 1967. It was the same year Aretha dropped “Respect”,and James Brown bought uncut funk to the masses with “Cold Sweat”. So Pickett and Chip Moman’s band were really bringing the gritty,countrified,slower tempo Southern soul dance thump into the funk process as it was actually happening. Again it cannot be stated enough how important having the word “funky” in the title of this huge hit song was to funk as a genre,rather than a mere musical term. So here Wilson Pickett officially earned his place in funk history.

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Filed under 1960's, bass guitar, Chip Moman, drums, Funk, horns, Muscle Shoals, organ, rhythm guitar, Southern Soul, Stax, Uncategorized, Wilson Pickett

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Jungle” by War

War’s music has always fascinated me from the moment I heard it. Primarily a group of black LA musicians who came out of the Latin rock school,they began their recording career as the backing band for Eric Burden before launching out on their own. Their music became key to the development of what Rickey Vincent calls the “united funk” era-especially with their emphasis on percussive rhythmic bounce. This was helped out by the late percussionist Thomas “Papa Dee” Allen and drummer Harold Brown. It’s Brown’s birthday today. And since I view him as part of what makes War so special to me as a band,wanted to discuss a song of theirs I loved before they became the Lowrider Band.

Even though some of War’s commercial success tapered off in the late 70’s and early 80’s,I find their albums from this period to be some of their most significant creatively. During this era,a lot of the original members began to leave. And the newly regrouped War left their label of their salad days MCA in 1981. A year later the new lineup,including among others former Sly & The Family Stone saxophonist Pat Rizzo,released a new album entitled Outlaw. As a commercial entity War leaped back into life with songs such as “Cinco de Mayo” and “You’ve Got The Power”. It was an 8+ minute album closer that really got my attention,and it was called “The Jungle”.

The song begins with a snaky,multi tracked cinematic synthesizer orchestration at the beginning from Lonnie Jordan. This segues into a more blippy,digitized line. After this the main body of the song literally fades into itself. It finds Brown providing a heavy drum thump with Allen’s percussion accents. Howard Scott plays a rocking low guitar throughout along with wah wah,chimes and the squiggly “video game” synthesizer of Jordan adding to the rhythmic intensity. The spoken word/rapped lyrics are accompanied by the bands harmonizing backup choruses. A bridge of the song is held up by newcomer Luther Rabb’s sliding bass line before the song goes back to itself to fade out.

This extended song,presenting itself in a medley form thematically,is one of the most powerful slices of P-Funk to come from outside George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. It’s more than just an influences. It fully embraces the hard grooving musical ethic and instrumental futurism to make a potent sociopolitical point-one that resonates very strong today. The lead vocal rap presents a theme similar to what Melle Mell was saying on The Furious Five’s “The Message” during the same year-that for poor black people lower class neighborhoods had become violent reservations. This combination of a driving groove and topical lyrics showcased War were still on funk’s forefront in the early 80’s.

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Filed under 1980's, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, Harold Brown, Howard Scott, Lonnie Jordan, Luther Rabb, message songs, P-Funk, Papa Dee Allen, percussion, rock guitar, synthesizer, Uncategorized, wah wah, War

Anatomy of THE Groove: “After The Dance (Instrumental)” by Marvin Gaye

Wanted to start this by giving thanks to two people who helped make today’s Anatomy of THE Groove occur. First is Brandon Ousley. It was through a Facebook post of his that I was made aware that today was the 40th anniversary of the release of Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You. When I first heard this album,it was a literal love affair for me in terms of appreciating it musically. It was an equal source of heartbreak after reading David Ritz biography of Marvin entitled Divided Soul. That book overly personalized  Marvin’s 70’s albums for me to the point where the lyrics became uncomfortably subjective. It was my friend Henrique who I wanted to thank most for helping me on that level.

This 1976 Marvin Gaye album featured two of it’s songs in instrumental reprises. Including one of my favorites “After The Dance”. In an effort to stop getting the singer confused with the song,focusing on Marvin as a musical figure is a good way to go. And the subtext Henrique provided for me courtesy of Michael Eric Dyson’s book on Marvin called Mercy Mercy Me. It would seem that while recording this instrumental with writer/producer Leon Ware,Marvin had intended flutist Ernie Watts to play the main melodic solo. But he noticed the horns and strings were out of tune in some spots where he Watts’ solo wasn’t quite enough to compensate.

One Motown engineer Marvin was working with at that time was named Calvin Harris. He had a Moog synthesizer. Apparently Marvin was fascinated by the range of sounds this electronic instrument was capable of if multi tracked in the same way he did his vocals on the sung version of the song. Initially he did this only in order to cover the out of tune orchestrations that weren’t settling well with him. Then he realized he could use it to create his own musical world where Ernie’s solo’s just hadn’t worked for him. In the end,this was a totally different way of re-imagining the song on both the harmonic and melodic level. And it just opened up a whole new groove as it went along.

A slow crawling,percussive samba opens the album with rather Asian sounding chimes playing a similar melody to Marvin’s round and bubbling synthesizer. The chorus develops into a mix of jazzy piano voicing’s,elaborate string arrangements and the equally complex bass improvisations-so much so they aren’t always easy to hear for some people. On these choruses,Marvin’s Moog solos play in and around the chords of the melody in a similar manner to a bop jazz era pianist. As the intro to the song repeats,the Moog is really pushed up as a boiling round bass line until the main chorus fades out the song-this time with the Moog solo accompanying Watts flute soloing.

While I always loved the “sea of Marvin’s” vocal harmonizing that was present on the vocal hit version of this song,understanding the lyrics as I do now make them come off more as a tortured inner dialog than a beautiful vocal statement. This version focuses in on Marvin as an instrumentalist. And by using unusual melodic voicing’s that are more chord oriented,the range of emotion projected through the instrumentation allows the lyric of the song to be a lot more open to interpretation than the original words might’ve been. Hearing the instrumental made me fall in love with this musically sensuous Latin jazz soul/funk groove all over again. And that makes it all the more special.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Afro-Latin jazz, Calvin Harris, Ernie Watts, flute, Leon Ware, Marvin Gaye, Moog, Motown, multi tracking, percussion, slow funk, synth bass, synthesizers, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Loose Booty” by Sly & Family Stone

Life seemed to be turning around for Sly during the mid 70’s. Though his albums with the Family Stone were continuing to be more or less solo albums featuring mainly Sly’s instrumental input, there were changes for him on many levels. Drugs had become a major factor in both his life and that of the other band members during the early 70’s. This led to the band being known for  continually missing gigs. And it also added to his isolation as an individual. While this had the effect of producing some very creative grooves this 60’s icon of peace,love and soul power was seemingly running out of steam when it came to reaching the people.

Sly himself attempted to turn this around by marrying actress/model Kathleen Silva. Their wedding took place as part of a big performance at Madison Square Garden in June of 1974. They had a child together named Sylvester Jr. A month later Sly released the album Small Talk. While it features the same idea of the band being overdubbed into his own instrumentation basically,the addition of strings on some tracks made for a somewhat slower and pop oriented album. Of course there was still a lot of funk to be heard here. One of these grooves that always stood out to me came in midway through the album,and is entitled “Loose Booty”.

The song starts right off with a stone cold fanfare of sustained horns,organ and drums over which Little Sister harmonize the title choruses. The following refrain strips down to the bass,organ and funk drumming-with Sly grunting out “Shadrach,Meshach,Abednego” as a rhythmic lyric. After a drum break featuring a high pitched female vocal call and response-concluding with a muted trumpet,the refrain returns with Sly trading off lyrics in classic Family Stone style with Rose,Little Sister and an unknown bass voice (perhaps Freddie Stone in a lower voice). The song repeats this  chorus/refrain/break patter twice before an extended refrain closes out the song right on the one.

In a lot of ways,this is some of the most instrumentally full funk Sly had done since the salad days of the Family Stone in the late 60’s. It still has the same hard funk flavor of Sly’s 70’s music. But with the dense mix of horns,drums,bass and organ it’s not at all as stripped down as anything on There’s A Riot Goin’ On or Fresh. Sly singing a rhythmic chorus just repeating the names of three pious Jewish kings forced to walk through fire in the bible for not bowing to the image of a king may say a lot more about how he felt he’d had to pay a price for his actions somehow-either personally or musically. In terms of sheer funkiness and the popularity of it’s breaks in samples,this is prime mid period Sly funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, backup singers, drums, Funk, horns, organ, Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego, slap bass, Sly & The Family Stone, Sly Stone, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “In Time” by Sly & The Family Stone (1973)

It would seem that 1973 bought a lot of changes into the Family Stone. Sly Stone had pretty much recorded There’s a Riot Going On by himself in a state of paranoid isolation. Band members were dubbed in as needed,with some such as Larry Graham and Greg Errico barely utilized-if even at all. This combined with Sly missing gigs during this era,to the point of it being blamed for starting a riot in Chicago in 1970 meant that some serious changes were needed within the band,if it was going to endure. In 1972 Larry Graham left the Family Stone to form Graham Centeral Station,with drummer Errico leaving during the same period.

During this time Sly himself began revamping the band. He bought in Rusty Allen to play bass during the time Graham was leaving and Andy Newmark as a drummer to succeed Errico. A vocal trio called Little Sister,including future Mrs. Leon Russel in Mary McCreary also came into the mix. Sly recorded with somewhat more involvement from the band for the album that would become 1973’s Fresh. Being a musical perfectionist, Sly insisting on remixing these songs even after the album came out. While this resulted in the original US CD release of it containing some of these alternate takes,the album began with a very defining groove for 70’s era Sly entitled “In Time”.

Sly begins the song with Newmark playing a very idiosyncratic march that intertwines with his own Maestro Rhythm King,an organ based drum machine,to play an Afro Latin percussive rhythm. Freddie plays a very probing melodic guitar with Sly’s organ providing a melodic pillow in the back round. Sly’s two note bass line seems to be present on this part. On the choruses,the drumming gets seriously on the one along with the horns and Allen’s more flamboyant bass parts. And the horns also play their usual call and response role on each rhythm. On the two instrumental refrains,Jerry Martini’s sax solos accompany Sly’s organ before the song closes on it’s own repeated choruses.

What this song does is serve the best possible purposes an opening tune can on an album. It sets the state for the sound for what is to come in that regard. Fresh is an album that blends a stripped down production with a slick sound and a full instrumental approach. And this song can best be described that way. The funk on this song,especially with it’s heavy rhythmic breaks and Sly’s drawling vocals,is more fully formed than it was on the previous album. The sound of the Maestro Rhythm King on early 70’s Sly records would also find it’s way onto Shuggie Otis’s work from the same period. So again,Sly was on the cutting edge of blending innovative instrumentation with strong rhythmic funkiness.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Andy Newmark, drum machine, drums, Freddie Stone, Funk, Funk Bass, guitar, horns, Jerry Martini, Maestro Rhythm King, Mary McCreary, organ, Rusty Allen, Sly & The Family Stone, Sly Stone, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) by Sly & The Family Stone (1969)

Sly & The Family Stone had a really big year in 1969. Their fourth album Stand! is now considered a landmark for the band. It was a full on effort featuring hugely popular hits such as “Everyday People”,”Sing A Simple Song” and the title song. Up until that time,funk was relatively new as a genre (had been a musicians term for decades beforehand),and was generally a singles medium. This new Sly album showcased funk as an album medium-with many hard grooving and melodic songs with equally popular potential. Being so important to funk as he is,it’s amazing I’ve personally never covered Sly on Andresmusictalk so far.

Sylvester Stewart was an artist whom I know about long before knowing his name,or the name of his band. It started at 11 years old when recording songs off the radio during a time of schoolwork induced insomnia. That was when I first heard “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”. At the time,I personally had no idea what I hearing was funk. And despite having heard a lot of it before had didn’t even know what funk was. The song itself was released in December 1969 as a double A side single to “Everybody Is A Star”. Sly Stone was getting ready to start work on what would become There’s A Riot Goin’ On at the time. So this gave him a placeholder to again change the face of funk during the wait.

On the intro,Greg Errico’s peddling hit hat drumming plays second to Larry Graham’s bass line,which accompanies Freddie Stones  James Brown like rhythm guitar throughout the song. Here he pulled the strings away from the fingerboard for a deep,round tone. This became known as slap bass. It’ more the rhythmic foundation for this song than Errico’s drums as it’s mixed up higher. As the collective vocals of the group come in to sing the refrains,Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini’s horn lines play call and response to Larry’s bass and the vocals. They do so on the refrain by wiggling in pitch,and on the choruses in full on fanfare. These horns swell to the thickness of the bass line as the song fades out.

Lyrically speaking,this song is somewhat more weary than is usually associated with Sly’s 60’s output. He references his past hits and some of the paranoia that comes with big time show business. The title even seems to imply a whole phase of the Family Stone’s creativity has come to an end. The melody also showcases funk’s blues base more than the gospel/pop melodies of the bands previous hits. It’s Larry’s slap bass that’s the star of the show here. While this technique had already been used in rockabilly,the level of rhythmic thumping on this song allowed for the instrumental vocabulary of funk to be forever altered. As such this wound up being Sly’s final funk innovation of the 1960’s.

 

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Filed under 1960's, Cynthia Robinson, Freddie Stone, Funk, Greg Errico, horns, Jerry Martini, Larry Graham, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Sly & The Family Stone, Sly Stone, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Dude” by Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones has been on my mind a lot lately when thinking about music. Last week in fact,my friend Henrique pointed out something he read on the back of a vinyl album about how important Quincy was to the jazz world in general. And this was at the height of his career no less. From being mentored by Clark Terry in the 1940’s up to helping shape up and coming hip-hoppers 60 years later,the evolutionary nature of Quincy’s career had me wondering how to present his music here today. The question was would it be good to express that musical arc by overviewing several songs from several decades,or focus on one song that might tell it’s own kind of story about Quincy Jones.

Last year at this time,I posted up an older review I had done for the 1981 Quincy Jones release of The Dude. Albums released under his own name always had a specific flavor to them. For example,his early albums showcased him largely as an instrumental band leader. His releases since the 70’s have generally been showcases not only for his evolving production approach,but also with the different musicians and vocalists he was involved with or mentoring at the given time. In the case of this early 80’s album,the spotlight was on James Ingram and Patti Austin. And the title track of the album said so much about where the classic Quincy Jones sound was going to be at that time.

A pulsing,nasal synthesizer starts off the song before the drums and horns kick in. This is accompanied by opening backup that includes Syreeta Wright and Michael Jackson among a massive chorus. The horns lead into a stripped down percussion break  that’s accented by a slow crawling drum beat-over which a bluesy Fender Rhodes plays the lead keyboard line accented by Louis Johnson’s slap bass lines. The refrains start off with Austin and Ingram trading off vocals along. with Michael Boddicker’s Vocoder. Quincy himself provides a rap as the title character on several choruses after which the horns the male backup singers provide an accompanying chorus.

On the third of these choruses, the backup chorus led along by Austin sings a swinging variation of the chorus. Steve Luckather comes in to play a wah wah pedal heavy guitar line that mimics the low volume,bluesy solo on the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer that comes out of Stevie Wonder on the bridge,which basically repeats the melodic theme of the refrain. After this the fanfarring horns that generally introduce Quincy raps instead segues into Austin’s swinging vocal choruses. There’s a repeat of the refrain after this. And the song fades out on a repeat of the chorus. Only on this one,Ingram accentuates the lyrics vocally before the song comes to an end.

Getting back to Quincy’s varied musical career,there are many qualities in this song that sum up everything he had done in his then nearly four decades of creative activity. The classic Westlake studio crew including drummer John Robinson,percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,trumpeter/arranger Jerry Hey and of course Louis Johnson play on this number. On the surface,this song written with Patti Austin and Rod Temperton has that sleek west coast production matched with the deep funk groove Quincy had been perfecting over much of the 1970’s. On that level,it’s alternately stripped down and boisterous depending on the mood the song is trying to project at a given time.

On the broader level,this song totally epitomizes the musical evolution of Quincy thus far. The accessory vocal harmonies on the chorus reflect the big band swing era as do the horns. And Stevie Wonder’s synth solo additionally brings the flavor of the blusiness that came from jazz to rock ‘n roll and onto funk and soul as well. The character of “The Dude”,represented as a stone sculpture on the cover and later to become Quincy’d mascot for his media production company,is basically an elder statesmen whose philosophy could be summed up by him stating “don’t put your moth around a check that your body can’t cash”. In this instance for me,this is Quincy’s most defining song overall up to this point.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, big band swing, blues funk, Fender Rhodes, horns, James Ingram, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Quincy Jones, QWest, rap, Rod Temperton, slap bass, Steve Luckather, Stevie Wonder, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder, wah wah guitar, West Coast

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Instant Love” by Cheryl Lynn

Cheryl Lynn was something of a rarity of her day. Her career came through a performance of the Joe Cocker hit “You Are So Beautiful” on a 1976 episode of The Gong Show-in a manner similar to how an American Idol or The Voice contestant would today. A juggler actually won that episode of The Gong Show she was on. But record companies began courting her to sign up. She ended up on Columbia by 1978. And that same year scored her first hit,and signature song in the disco era classic “Got To Be Real”. With her strong,rangy and loud gospel/soul vocal pipes Lynn was very much creatively suited to uptempo dance/funk as well as melodically complex ballads.

One of the big male producer of female soul/funk singers in the early 1980’s was Luther Vandross. With his sensitive approach and brilliant way with a ballad,his understanding of musical femininity applied in equal measure to uptempo songs. That had a lot to do with the fact that his keyboardist Nat Adderley Jr and of course bassist/composer Marcus Miller are just about two of the funkiest instrumentalists around. In 1982,Lynn worked with Vandross as a producer and his band backing her up for what would turn out to be her fourth album release entitled Instant Love. The title song of this particular album was a real standout groove from her on this album,and the one I’ll be breaking down today.

Marcus’s thumping slap bass begins the song,which moves into the drum playing in somewhat odd time. It’s assisted by a deep piano along with higher pitched synthesizer orchestration. Than the percussion kicks in along with a more brittle bass synthesizer and the higher ones playing horn like accents. Throughout the refrains and the choruses,a JB’s style funk rhythm guitar keeps the groove going strong-both as a higher pitched sound and a deeper one. On those choruses,Vandross himself is audible singing the songs title along with Lynn and his classic team of backup singers. After a bridge featuring her vocally gliding over the stripped down intro,the song fades out on it’s  chorus.

Instrumentally this is heavy,thumping boogie funk at it’s finest. Marcus Miller has just about every musical aspect of this song playing in or around the bass line he lays out. One thing about he and Luther’s uptempo numbers is how they always seemed to equate hard funk jams with big voiced singers. And Cheryl Lynn fit the bill for that. Another thing that Miller and Adderley bring out is the influence of Prince’s Minneapolis sound. The high pitched synth lines are overdubbed to play horn lines throughout the song. So it finds Cheryl Lynn on the forefront of at least two different and exciting movements during the electro funk era.

 

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Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Boogie Funk, Cheryl Lynn, elecro funk, Luther Vandross, Marcus Miller, Minneapolis, Nat Adderley Jr, percussion, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke,Pharrell Williams & T.I.

Robin Thicke’s musical star has always shined a lot of classic soul links onto the pop charts during the new millennium. First saw the white suited Thicke on late night TV during the early autumn of 2002 performing the song “I’m ‘A Be Alright”. As time marched on and I began to explore his subsequent album,a wonderful creative evolution unfolded from him. He started out doing a lot of heavy retro styled funk and soul,with some contemporary alternative touches. As the aughts transitioned into the 2010’s,his sound began to include more contemporary hip-hop/R&B elements such as guest rappers and cut up rhythm break samples.

In 2006 Thicke’s sophomore album The Evolution Of Robin Thicke began his relationship with Pharrell Williams as producer and collaborator. He had signed to the Star Track record label,originally founded by The Neptunes-themselves consisting of Pharrell and Chad Hugo. Thicke’s sound continued to evolve it’s mixture of phat grooves and melodies over the course of his next four albums in as many years. In 2013 Pharrell found himself on a commercial role with Daft Punk and Nile Rodgers for “Get Lucky”-helping to bring instrumentally strong funky disco-dance music strongly into the public eye. And that roll continued with the title song to Thicke’s album that year called “Blurred Lines”.

The song begins as many of Pharrell’s songs do-with a re-sampled electric piano playing a three hit horn chart. That Rhodes (or Rhodes-like) solo serves as the songs bass line. The instrumental end of the rhythm of this song is basically a clanking,rolling percussion. It’s serves to accent in,on and around a shuffling drum part. The vocal call and responses from Thicke and Pharrell provide as much rhythmic content in this song as it does melodic. Especially as they talk sing in equal measure to vocalizing them melodically. After T.I’s additionally rhythmic rap,the song strips itself down to the drum/percussion line before fading out on it’s main chorus.

Analyzing this song musically really gives me a chance to try at setting the record straight on another matter relating to this song. Itself a Grammy winner,one which he performed with Earth Wind & Fire at the ceremonies themselves,there was a bit of controversy over the perceived sexism of the lyrics and accompanying music video. Still the song represented a huge upsurge in instrumentally strong uptempo funk for the 2010’s in terms of pop success. But it was a law suit the next year by Marvin Gaye’s widow Janis Hunter and adopted son Marvin III that has dogged this song. The suit alleges that “Blurred Lines” plagiarized the sound of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” from 1977.

One of the things about music that’s continued on through Africa up through hip-hop is respect for the oral tradition. A musical idea begins with one person and is passed down from parents,to child,to friend and so on. It allows for music to progress through influence as well as individual innovation. As for “Blurred Lines”,the songs only resemblance to Marvin’s “Got To Give It Up” is the clinging percussion sound and use of electric piano. This song has quite a lot less melodic vocal content. What Thicke,Pharrell and T.I. do on vocal level here is focused more heavily on rhythm as well-rather than conventional pop song structure.

Of course as of today,Pharrell and Thicke lost the lawsuit. And it seems to be that a series of similar lawsuits such as the one by The Gap Band (regarding Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk”) last year seem to have created a conflict of interest in the 2010’s #1 funk revival. Most of the songs to emerge for the past year or so from funk oriented modern artists have gone more for an electro hip-hop sound or an alternative rock one. Something that can denote a non litigious  sense of musical originality. It may not be that concerning as these things can come and go in phases. But as it stands in funk’s strong place in the musically oral tradition,”Blurred Lines” is very significant modern funk.

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Filed under 2013, copyright, Fender Rhodes, law suits, Marvin Gaye, Nu Funk, percussion, Pharrell Willaims, Robin Thicke, T.I., Uncategorized