Narada Michael Walden,who got his current first name from guru Sri Chimnoy in the early 70s,was probably one of the busiest musician/producers of the 1980’s. The Kalamzoo,Michegan born drummer/vocalist started out as the successor to Billy Cobham in the Mahavishnu Orchestra-working with Cobham later on his solo dates as well as playing with the late guitar hero Tommy Bolin. In the mid 70’s he began making solo records. While his 1976 debut Garden Of Love Light followed in the jazz-rock fusion mode he’d been in,his solo works veered towards funky soul by the late 70’s. These albums had a big Quincy Jones type arrangement style,often with a pronounced rock edge.
His theatrical style of melodic funk transitioned from the disco era to the electro/boogie one with ease as his solo career continued into the 1980’s. During that time,he began a career as a producer of largely female talent in a similar vein to Luther Vandross. This went from working with Sister Sledge in 1981 to his stellar work introducing Whitney Houston to the world in the mid/late 80’s. His work with Stacy Lattisaw and Johnny Gill got him hooked up with Aretha Franklin for her big comeback. In 1983 he recorded his third solo album of the decade called Looking At You,Looking At Me. One song it really achieves full funkiness in “Shake It Off”.
Walden and Sheila E open up the brittle, polyrhythmic drums/percussion of this song on the intro. Walden asks a musician named RJ to “play it right” before a thick slap bass line comes churning in scaling down and around the melodic chord changes. “RJ” turns out to be bassist,arranger and more recently American Idol talent scout Randy “The King” Jackson. This combination of drums,percussion and phat slap bass holds in the funk heavy by the time two densely arranged horn charts from Jerry Hey come in. That along with glossy synthesizer washes of Frank Martin and some churning chicken scratch guitar of Carrado Rustci. There’s also a vocal bridge where Walden provides a full jazz scat.
The adenoidal talk singing approach of Walden plays call and response with the rhythm for most of the song. On the chorus and it’s refrains,he’s in direct contact on that same level with the darting horns. On the bridge,the horns subside for Jackson to thump out his thick slap bass solo over the rhythm before the choruses re-emerges to close things out. All of these qualities make this song perhaps one of the most unsung examples of how the boogie funk era blended together both the live band flavors of the 70’s with newer synthesized/electronic touches. The instrumentation is brittle while still keeping deep in the Afro-Latin rhythmic clave. For me,it’s one of Walden’s finest funk numbers ever!