Author Archives: dunderbeck1980

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Yellow Light” by Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams has had four years since the summer of 2014. That was the summer that almost every town in America had people making YouTube videos to his stripped down soul jazz styled dance number “Happy”. Thus far,its likely the anthem for the 2010’s. And a somewhat unexpected one at that. Since that time,Williams has immersed himself in supporting social causes along with his usual production work. Among them was the 7 continent ‘Live Earth’ concert done with Al Gore to help raise awareness of and pressure governments to act on climate change.

Considering the recent global climate change conferences and the phenomenal response to “Happy” four years ago, Williams is fast proving the cynics wrong. That music can actually change the world-one song at a time. Recently Universal has released the sequel film Despicable Me 3. The 16 song soundtrack is set to feature seven songs from Pharrell Williams. One of them is a song which I heard via a Vevo search, for the very first time, just a couple days ago. And something about it just hit me over the head. The name of the song is “Yellow Light”.

Williams’ vocals popping along to the popcorn style synthesizer make up for the intro. The then main body of the song comes in. For the most part,its made up of a brittle and funky drum machine beat with a number of fills-accented on the final beat with a hi hat sound. In between that is a thick, bassy wah wah style,higher pitched synth wobble. Between each section of the song, there’s a break where an electric rhythm guitar accompanies William’s gospel like vocal shouts exactly. A vocal sample of someone saying the word “yo” fades out the song.

Musically speaking “Yellow Light” speaks to Pharrell Williams putting his special touch on his ever growing musical fusions. His basic style here is based on 80’s electro funk/hip-hop: instrumentally condensed and focused directly on the groove. At the same time, non of the mans soulful passion and love of humanity is lost on the song. Its an anthem for what he calls  “the united states of uncertainty”-praising sunlight as the “best disinfectant”-even throwing subtle shade at modern Hollywood with the line with “everyone’s overdosing the blue light use”. All and all,another one of Pharrell’s finest.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Tin Foil Hat” by Todd Rundgren featuring Donald Fagen

Todd Rundgren has been one of those DIY singer/songwriter/musician/producer’s who was successfully able to meld his many talents into collaborative projects. Coming out of The Nazz into his own solo career,through Utopia and onward. Yet it wasn’t until his most recent solo album White Night,released just over a month ago. The majority of the album concentrated on collaborations with a diverse range of artists. Among them old friend Daryl Hall and one particular partnership that really got me personally interested: one with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen.

This particular collaboration came during a time when America and to a degree much of the Western World is in great turmoil. It was turmoil that actually stopped me from writing this blog for a week or so. Unlike the post 9/11 years happily, very few American artists have any fear in challenging the disastrous presidency of Donald Trump. In fact,Rundgren made news (even on Fox) regarding his desire not to have Trump supporters in his concert audiences causing trouble.  All of this is presented as part of his collaboration with Fagen entitled “Tin Foil Hat”.

A bluesy,vibraphone like two note keyboard line opens the song unaccompanied. Following that,electronic drums come in playing what seems to be a slow jazzy swing in 6/8 time. After that another keyboard comes in playing an organ type part-with that opening line assisting a swinging bass keyboard and guitar (or guitar like) tone. On the choruses,the chord changes to a slightly higher one before descending back into the refrain via a brief re-appearance of the organ style solo. By the final choruses, a bluesy piano joins the affair before the songs comes to an abrupt stop.

“Tin Foil Hat” is a song that addresses the entire Trump fiasco so well. Instrumentally,its a classic R&B/jazz/blues shuffle in Fagen’s classic style-with Rundgren’s vocal effects and own musical touches going right alongside it. Presented here is an accompanying music video,which has the songs wry and biting humor but also has a mild dire element of conspiracy theorists in high positions constantly foreseeing a coming apocalypse. Its an example of a funky,bluesy and soulful type song in 2017 delivering a message for the American people with both humor and effective social commentary.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Skatin'” by Deodato

Deodato was one of the first major artists I had a experiences with during my early crate digging exercises. So much so that looking back, I wonder if the people in charge of stocking their 50 cent-$1 used vinyl bins had any idea who Eumir Deodato was. The history of this artist is something I thoroughly addressed last year with an overview of his 1978 song “Area Code 808”. This year, wanted to share a song connected to a one of these crate digging sessions that occurred in the early 2000’s. One that really taught me how to better scope out vinyl.

About 14 years ago, I was visiting the city of Portland Maine with my family. We found a new shop there-one we often still visit to this day. Its called Strange Maine. They sell old video games,books,movies and used vinyl. On the first visit,the store had a sizable jazz section. Flipping through it, I came across a 1980 Deodato album called Night Cruiser. Upon turning it over, the back cover proclaimed it featured a sax solo from Khalis Bayyan. Which made sense since Deodato was producing Kool & The Gang at the time. The song on the album that leaped out at me upon hearing it is called “Skatin'”.

A slow dragging 4/4 beat starts off the song with a flange filtered slap bass line and processed Fender Rhodes as the intro. The high pitched rhythm guitar joins in halfway through-with the scaling up strings getting into the main chorus. This showcases the rhythm section of the intro with a horn like synthesizer playing the leads. On the refrain,an ascending synth bass provides the backup to a melodic trumpet solo and string synthesizer.  As each chorus goes on,the lead synth becomes more bell like in tone. Even the pitch of the song goes up on the last chorus before it fades out.

“Skatin'” is a song that truly plays up to both Deodato’s talents as both a funky musician and a cinematic,melodic arranger. This was a mixture that extended from the blacksploitation soundtrack to the extended disco mix. Its surely a disco era song if there ever was one. At the same time,the groove is slowed down to give it a deeply funkified crawl. And the fact that the song is as driven as much by a punched up slap bass as well as string and horn orchestrations makes this as strutting a jazz funk jam as The Crusaders “Street Life” in a way. Very much an unsung musical treasure from Deodato.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Love Will Find A Way” by Lionel Richie

Lionel Brockman Richie’s life journey has a lot of twist and turns. Growing up on the Tuskegee campus of the famous black college right in his home town, he dropped out of the university after his sophomore year. After a brief time considering becoming an episcopal church, he devoted himself to music fully by the mid 60’s. He became the lead singer and sax player of the Commodores in 1968. After a brief stint at Atlantic, the Commodores struck gold at Motown as a major funk band during the mid 70’s. By the late 70’s, Richie’s contributions to the band were mainly as a singer/songwriter.

In 1982, Richie released his self titled solo debut. It turned out to be a 4x platinum hit for him. But mainly on the strength of ballads like “Truly” and the uptempo pop of “You Are”. At this point, the funkiness he displayed in the Commodores would be album tracks for him. His next album,1983’s Can’t Slow Down was a major crossover success for him-a diamond charting album in the vein of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Musically, the hits he was getting were a lot more diverse-from the Caribbean pop of “All Night Long” to the new wave rock of “Running With The Night”. Then there was “Love Will Find A Way”.

A slow,gated drum starts out the song. Then the close bass/rhythm guitar interaction. At the beginning, a Fender Rhodes is carrying the minor chorded lead melody. The rhythm guitar perfectly accents that-with the strings rising just as Richie’s first vocal chorus arriving. There’s also a light synthesizer part featured on the end. On the refrains of the song, the melody becomes a brighter and more major chorded one-with the strings leading back into the choruses.  A slippery,pitch bent synthesizer joins the mix just as the song begins to fade out on its final choruses.

“Love Will Find A Way” is, as my friend Henrique pointed out, a quiet storm groove ballad that also functions as soulful, immaculately produced “sophistifunk” as well. As it turns out, its very mature take on romantic advice dovetails very well into another hit song (and one of my personal favorites from Lionel’s solo career) called “Love Will Conquer All” from his next album-1986’s Dancing On The Ceiling. Same goes for the music of the song as well. Lionel Richie’s solo music, despite its success, has never been based in funk. But “Love Will Find A Way” does bring out that very functional middle ground.

 

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Donna Summer’s ‘I Remember Yesterday’ LP at 40: So Good,So Good To Feel The Love

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Donna Summer was someone whose full musical impact didn’t hit me at all until I was a grown adult. The discovery of her music recorded with Giorgio Moroder in the mid to late 70’s also helped me to alter my perception of disco. It wasn’t merely a medium of elongated singles meant for dancers of one particular generation. It was also utilized in different album length concepts reflecting the mainstream social revolutions of the 60’s and 70s-both real and fantasy based. Summer’s late 70’s with Moroder were among the most prominent disco albums reflecting this particular ethic.

I Remember Yesterday is an album of Summer’s with Moroder that interested me because it ended with “I Feel Love”,a song I first heard at the exact same time I was just starting to listen to Kraftwerk. Wanted to know what concept Summer,Moroder and Pete Bellote came up with together for an album with ended with what still often sounds like a totally futuristic song in 2017. A few years ago,I wrote a review on Amazon.com that goes deeper into how each individual song on the album. And how it all comes together into its overall concept.


Representing the final installment of what turned out to be a trilogy of concept albums released by Donna Summer on Casablanca records in 1976 and 1977,this album took a slight different approach to it’s music. Generally speaking musical concept tend to work on a floating timeline. Dream sequences,memories of the future,etc all work their way into lyrics at different times.

Well it doesn’t work that way here. Donna and Giorgio both were aware their musical interests worked on a timeline,even extending a bit before they were born. So the concept of this album wasn’t as much lyrical as it was cultural and moreover musical. It’s a journey from music’s past to an anticipated future. And as a musical timeline?I’m sure no one knew how spot on it would turn out to be.

The title song starts out the entire album…well in the best possible place: the big band swing era. As seen through the filter of the 4/4 beat,this brassiness (similar in flavor to Dr.Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band) showcases the origins of what they call Broadway disco. On the very catchy “Love’s Unkind” we’ve entered what sounds like some girl group/brill building type wall of sound.

And on “Back In Love Again” it’s total Holland/Dozier/Holland style Motown memories for Donna in a Supremes state of mind. By “Black Lady” there’s some fuzzed keyboards and we’re more into the 70’s blacksploitation funk era. “Take Me”,with it’s mix of dance rhythms and bass moog synthesizer and the lush ballad “Can’t We Just Sit Down (And Talk It Over)” are very much at present tense.

Of course the most talked about song here is “I Feel Love”,the closer representing the future. And especially now one realizes this is probably the birth of the electropop genre. Pulsing electronics inspired by the German dance music scene along with the repetitive vocal lines from Donna and flavor of an almost robotic orgiastic atmosphere,it’s the direction the parade was headed especially with new wave and even people as recent as Lady Gaga.

If Donna Summer never goes down in history for anything else it’ll be singing that one song. It’s also important to note this album also kind of takes you on an entertaining history through the eyes of the “black lady”. On the title song,she wants to dance the night away on a romantic adventure. By songs such as “Black Lady” and even “I Feel Love” she wants to experience life and sex on her own terms. And deal with the sensations on her own. It’s cultural marker,as well as musical ones are what makes this a very special album for 70’s era Donna Summer.


I Remember Yesterday remains one of my favorite full Donna Summer albums of the late 70s. One reason is how the albums takes a journey through time as an elongated musical continuum. It showcases how the 4/4 beat,an oft criticized element of the disco era, actually was part of music extending up through the different tributaries of rock n roll. This album focuses on music that has made people want to dance over the last few decades of the 20th century before it came out. And as such, I Remember Yesterday may be one of the most important musical statements of the disco era.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sneak You In” by Bassel & The Supernaturals

Funk represents quite a lot more than just music. The elements of jazz,rock and soul within it expresses the 60’s era social changes that became more mainstream in the 70’s. Bassel & The Supernaturals are a superb modern example of this. Bassel Almadani, the bands lead singer and (from what I can see) founder, is a Syrian American who sees the Supernaturals’ jazz/funk/neo soul sound as holding an ethnic and social identification with the the immigrant refugee issues that are now becoming a major problem for the world. This is refreshing when so many no longer feel that music can change society.

I found out about Bassel & The Supernaturals this past Monday via local community radio station WERU’s night time funk/soul/jazz show Upfront Soul,hosted by a DJ who calls herself Sanguine Fromage. WERU often plays artists with progressive political causes to push forward. And Bassel & The Supernaturals are involved with nationally-acclaimed SXSW showcase ContraBanned: #MusicUnites- which showcases musicians from the diaspora of the countries targeted by Donald Trump’s travel ban. The song I remember Sanguine Fromage playing by them is called “Sneak You In”.

A swinging shuffle starts out the song-with a glistening electric piano and wah wah guitar in unison with a bouncing,equally shuffling slap bass line. The represents of the refrains of the song-each of which caps up with a hi hat heavy breakdown at the end. Horn charts accent the melody at its strongest points within every aspect of the song. The refrain builds,grows and changes in chord progression-in between two bridges that showcase more percussive drum fills and a jangling Latin rhythm guitar solo. The second such bridge builds up to a horn filled outro that drum brushes the song to a close.

“Sneak You In” has a rhythmic and melodic structure that brings to mind the neo soul friendly jazz/funk song structures of musicians such as Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding. Bassel has a beautiful,clear vocal style that relies on sustained phrases and controlled pauses. Conveys a lot of emotion along with the instrumentation’s probing, exploratory groove. In this song, Bassel sings of romantic love as a source of strength. And in the most poetic manner I can imagine. From hearing this, Bassel & The Supernaturals have the potential to be a leading voice in present day jazz/funk.

*You can download Bassel & The Destroyers full length debut Elements here. Every donation to purchase this download from $10 or above goes to the Karam Foundation’s humanitarian efforts for Syrian families. Including the family of Bassel Almadani. https://www.basselmusic.com/store/

*More about the Karam Foundation here: https://www.karamfoundation.org/

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Bop Gun (One Nation) by Ice Cube & George Clinton

O’Shea Jackson Sr, better known as Ice Cube, had hip-hop on his mind ever since he was a teenager growing up in South Central LA. After seeing the movie Straight Outta Compton,got to wonder if the man was inspired by listening to piles of 70’s funk,soul and jazz records. After being involved in many rap battles,he soon took some demos to the late Eazy E at age 16. And the rest was history. Cube went from being involved with gangsta rap icons NWA in the late 80’s to a vital solo career by the end of the decade. The first of which is now also iconic album entitled Amerikka’s Most Wanted from 1989.

He began an acting career parallel to his solo career in 1991 with a part in the now iconic Boyz N The Hood. Five years later,he co-starred in the comedy Friday. In 1992 he married Kimberly Woodruff and eventually became a father of four. His eldest son O’Shea Jr portrayed his father in NWA’s aforementioned biopic. In between these events,Cube released his fourth album Lethal Injection. In included a duet with George Clinton,produced by Quincy Jones III called “Bop Gun (One Nation)”.

This song is basically Funkadelic’s 1978 hit “One Nation Under A Groove” slowed down to approximately 100 bpm in tempo,and then reconfigured musically. In this case, the songs percussive laced drum track introduces it. Bernie Worrell’s synthesizer squiggles are slowed down and used as random accents. The main body of much of the song is still based around the rhythm guitars and synth bass of the original’s refrain.Clinton and Cube duet primarily on the choruses,which are left somewhat similar to the original in melodic content.

“Bop Gun (One Nation)” was something I heard on a mix tape in the late 90’s made for me by a friend of my dads who learned I loved P-Funk. Hadn’t yet heard the original yet. Listening to it now, its an example of early 90’s gangsta rap turning from James Brown to P-Funk as an inspiration for sampling and general attitude. Cube is basically pointing out that he’d rather drop real guns that kill and take up a metaphoric “bop gun” that gets people to dance and live in this song. And using 90’s West Coast hip-hop’s coarser language inspired by Clinton,this is a superb example of P-Funk hip-hop in the end.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mystery Boy” by Culture Club

Culture Club are not only one of my personal favorite bands of the early 80’s. But also considered by many to be representative of the music of that period as a whole. It was formed around the occasional Bow Wow Wow singer George “Boy George” O’Dowd. The rest of the quartet included multi instrumentalists Roy Hay, Mickey Craig and Jon Moss. The conception of the band was a very funk friendly one-to bring in elements of different world musics with Western pop to create meaningful,danceable grooves. It was another element of the group that caught the worlds attention at the time a but more.

Dolled out in Kabuki makeup,flamboyantly colorful clothes and embroidered braided hair Boy George’s image,while likely reflecting the bands multi cultural musical sound to a degree,became controversial due to the openly gay George’s in your face attitude about his sexuality. He refused to hide the fact he was singing about men (perhaps his then boyfriend Moss) in his romantic songs. And flaunted his image with a nudge and swagger. The band were one of the most successful of their time. One of my favorite songs by them was actually a very early one from 1982 entitled “Mystery Boy”.

A pounding 4/4 beat with ringing,Brazilian percussion accents starts out the song-along with the high chicken scratch rhythm guitar that creates the base of the entire groove. The drum turns into a round drum machine for the rest of the song-with the rhythm guitar,vocals and pulsing synth bass-accented by a heavy heavily modulated synth horn. On the refrain,the keyboard sound is bright and more melodic while the rhythm guitar rolls along more. On the refrain,the music breaks down to the synth bass,drums, percussion and modulated synth-gradually building back into the chorus as it fades out.

Culture Club had some amazing soul/Latin/disco/funk tinged pop hits that defined them such as “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me”, “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya”, “Time (Clock Of The Heart”, “Miss Me Blind”, “Its A Miracle”, “Karma Chameleon” and “The War Song”-often with the accompaniment of big voiced female singer Helen Terry. “Mystery Boy”,which I originally heard as a B-side to my parents 45 of Culture Club’s “Church Of The Poison Mind”. Its a more brittle,driving post disco/boogie funk/New Romantic type song. And every element of the song kept the groove and melody percolating at the same time.

“Mystery Boy” also had its origins in a song originally composed for a Japanese TV commercial for Suntori Hot Whiskey. It just used the music however,the lyrics were originally written purely to sell the products. Some of the lyrics to the song remind of gay people in England in the 70’s and 80’s often referred to each other as “boy and girl”. With George not quite becoming quite so specific in referring to men just yet. In the end “Mystery Boy” showcases not only Culture Club’s funkiness but also their high enough musical quality to produce hit worthy non album tracks.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “DNCE” by DNCE

DNCE, a group just introduced to me by my boyfriend Scott, are a never band who are in a somewhat complex musical position. Its a functional band of musicians consisting of bassist/keyboardist Cole Whittle, guitarist JinJoo Lee and drummer/percussionist Jack Lawless. Its lead singer is Joe Jonas,a member of the Disney based family pop/rock band The Jonas Brothers. Of course,JinJoo Lee was a member of Cee-Lo Green’s touring band in the early 2010’s. Whittle describes DNCE’s sound as being like funk and disco hits played by a good garage band. And of course,they have their influences.

70’s and 80’s funk,pop and disco of the likes of EWF,The Bee Gee’s,ELO,Hall & Oates and Prince. They also site 90’s alternative band Weezer as an influence as well. Having heard several songs from their self titled debut from 2016, this is obviously a very diverse band. And vocally,they have their modern pop ethic down pat. Still they have a strong love of a strong groove with a strong melody. There were several songs that stood out on the album for Scott and myself. The one that stood out most for me personally was basically the album and bands self titled theme song.

An acapella chant of the groups name starts out the song-just before a tougher vocal grunt gets the main melody going. Its a thick,slow drum accented by shuffling percussion. The rhythm guitar/slapping bass interaction has a rolling thickness. And the lead synthesizer plays a bright “church style” melody. On the third chorus of the song, horns (or at least horn samples come in) come into accent the melody-with each choral bridge having a a chugging guitar and percussion sound. The bridge breaks it all down to the drums,bass,horns and vocals before the chorus repeats to its abrupt final curtain.

“DNCE” is a groove that has a lot going on in it.  There’s a little bit of the Bee Gee’s “Jive Talkin'”,and the use of Prince style synthesizers to create gospel oriented melodic chords. The band are a very talented quartet. Counter to what I hear in much pop music of the 2010’s,everything on this song makes distinct musical statements. And every one of them come from the roots of the soul/funk/disco dance persuasion. The surface melodies are very strong and prominent. But the bottom has a thickness too. Should DNCE continue in this direction,they will be a nu funk to watch for more from.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sofistifunk” by Return To Forever featuring Chick Corea

Armando Anthony Corea,known by his professional name of “Chick”, is a native of Chesterfield,Massachusetts. Son of a former Dixieland musician from Boston, Corea took up drums and notably piano on his own. A largely self taught player who seriously sought out musical learning on his own, he began playing gigs throughout high school. While attending both Columbia and Julliard university’s later, his be-bop style piano took on avant garde elements. After a pair of solo recordings,he began working with Miles Davis on his ground breaking 1969 fusion recording In The Silent Way.

Just about every musician who touched Miles creatively became an innovator in their own right. And Corea was no exception. He formed Return To Forever in 1970-originally including the Brazilian duo of Airto Moriera and Flora Purim. By 1973 though the band consisted of bassist Stanley Clarke,drummer Lenny White and the young guitarist Al Di Meola. RTF’s albums generally focused on the more progressive,pyrotechnical variation of jazz/rock fusion. It was on their 1975 album No Mystery that the fluidity of funk flowed into their sound. Especially on songs such as “Sofistifunk”.

Corea’s computerized synthesizer riff starts off the song-followed soon by White’s nimble stop/start jazzy funk drumming. Di Meola’s guitar squawks and Corea’s extra melodic synth come into play-as well as Clarke’s very supporting bass line keeping a very funky groove. That could amount to the chorus of the song. On the refrains,the drum is fuller with more fills. And Di Meola takes on some rocking solos with Corea’s synth acting as straight up melodic support. The song has a long conclusion of the chorus before the synths and guitar fall apart into near incoherence as the songs crescendo.

“Sofistifunk”,or rather a variation of that phrase based upon this song,is actually an adjective I used to describe certain types of what’s referred to as post disco or boogie funk that’s live instrumental and well produced. This song however is nothing like that. It is melodically and harmonically complex jazz-funk-full of intense rhythmic turns and soloing that Return To Forever did so well. Still it lives up to its title by melding the intensity of all the players into a fluid musical flow. That’s not too easy to accomplish. And Chick Corea with Return To Forever really made it work very well in this case.

 

 

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