Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music were something that I only began to explore within the 2010’s. Henrique Hopkins and myself have discussed Bryan/Roxy a great deal. And these conversations have tended to emphasize their unique place on the rock scene. My personal feeling from all this talking and listening was that Roxy were British glam rock’s answer to Steely Dan. Their songs rhythmic and melodic structures were based more in contemporary soul and funk than allusions to amplified blues. And this was reflected in their visual attitude,which in the end comes down to Ferry.
There was somewhat of a choice to be made in terms of writing this article. Whether or not to overview a Roxy Music classic such as “Love Is The Drug”,or focus on Bryan Ferry’s solo career. Both Roxy and Ferry alone have their fair share of sleek grooves to choose from. Both from the 70’s and 80’s. In the end,seemed best to focus on Ferry as a solo artist. His initial solo career ran concurrent with Roxy Music’s first run. These albums consisted primarily of cover material. His first solo album of all original material In Your Mind contained a fantastic example of Ferry’s groove in “Tokyo Joe”.
A gong like cymbal opens up the song. The intro consists of a processed keyboard melody in close unison with plucked orchestral strings. All to the best of a swinging,hi hat heavy drum rhythm. After that the orchestra begin flat out playing the same melody-assisted by some rhythmic fuzz guitar. The rhythm then falls into a heavy 4/4 disco beat with the fuzz guitar,strings and several layers of keyboards (including what sounds like a Clavinet) playing deep inside the groove. On the choruses,the plucked strings of the intro return before the refrain closes out the song with the same gong like cymbal from the intro.
Its been awhile since I’ve really given this song a listen all the way through. But with the keyboards,drums and guitar delving so deeply into the groove,”Tokyo Joe” really showcases all the special qualities about the Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music sound. Ferry’s sleek,somewhat adenoidal vocal croon adds its distinctive character to this groove. Being from the final two Bryan Ferry solo albums of the 70’s,this song and others in a similar vein help write the musical map for what was to occur on Roxy Music’s three following comeback albums-from 1979’s Manifesto to 1982’s Avalon.
Note from Zach: As you may or may not know, I’ve spent the last several weeks writing about the songs from Prince’s debut album on my chronological Prince blog, dance / music / sex / romance. In the process, I’ve been struck by the many contingencies that exist around For You, and Prince’s early career in general. If things had gone even slightly differently; if his label–or, for that matter, Prince himself–had shown even a little less confidence in his artistic development; then we would be looking at a very different musical landscape in 2016. There’s also the fact that, as I’ve noted several times in my track-by-track posts, it’s difficult to look at For You in retrospect without seeing it as just the first, not-entirely-successful glimpse at a talent and vision that would find its full expression in years to come. But what if that perspective wasn’t the default? What if For You wasn’t the first step in a long career by Prince, but in fact his first and last album? This post is my attempt to think my way through this situation: think of it as a look back at For You from a possible alternate timeline. I don’t know if I will do this for other albums in the future–or, like, ever again–but I thought it was an interesting exercise to examine Prince’s earliest days as a recording artist through a completely different lens. I hope you find it interesting, too.
The reclusive multi-instrumentalist known only as “Prince” may not be as much of a household name as, say, Shuggie Otis; but to serious aficionados of 1970s funk and soul, he inspires a kind of hushed reverence normally reserved for the likes of Stevie Wonder. In fact, Prince’s mainstream obscurity and his cult notoriety are two sides of the same coin: both stem from his having released only one album, 1978’s For You, before he disappeared from the music scene completely. Thanks to a decades-long process of discovery by collectors and rehabilitation by critics, however, in 2016 he stands as one of the great “what-ifs” of 20th century pop music.
The story behind the making of For You is fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. An introverted musical prodigy from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Prince signed a multi-million dollar contract with Warner Bros. Records when he was just 17 years old–which unsurprisingly made waves in the recording industry trades at the time. Also remarkable was the fact that, as a 1978 press release put it, “Prince did it all. Composed the music, produced the sessions. Played the instruments (drums, guitars, pianos, bass synthesizers and more) and sang all the lead and background vocals. He even wrote the string parts.” He was, according to legend (and the press release), the youngest producer in W.B.’s history as a label.
(Photo removed at request of rights holder.)
But Prince’s inexperience and perfectionism proved to be his undoing. The story goes that he blew through all $180,000 of his three-album recording budget on For You alone: holing up in the Sausalito Record Plant for days on end, tinkering obsessively with the songs. When it was finally released, the album was a modest success: lead single “Soft and Wet” even reached Number 12 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles Chart (though it peaked at only Number 92 on the Hot 100). But the second single, “Just as Long as We’re Together,” stalled at Number 91 on the R&B charts; the album itself also dropped rapidly, peaking at only Number 163 on theBillboard 200. Prince did get some positive press from African American teen magazines like Right On!, where his soft, almost feminine good looks and ineffable air of mystery made him marketable as a pop idol. But the mainstream largely passed him by, and Warner ultimately decided that another album wasn’t worth the investment; after Prince made an awkward, tentative live debut at Minneapolis’ Capri Theatre in January 1979, the label cut their losses.
Which is a shame, because if nothing else, For You positively bristles with potential. The aforementioned “Soft and Wet” is futuristic funk, streamlining the pioneering synthesizer sound of earlier acts like Parliament with an added dose of fey, flirtatious sexuality. Closing song “I’m Yours” starts as a lite-funk workout, then transforms abruptly into full-blown arena rock. The opening title track, meanwhile, is lush baroque soul–not to mention evidence of how Prince managed to blow almost $200K on a single record–with a blissed-out a cappella chorus of multi-tracked Princes singing in unison. It’s like an R&B “Good Vibrations”; the kind of bold, hubristic statement you’d expect from an established artist with multiple successes behind them, not an upstart teenager who came out of nowhere and would return to obscurity just as soon.
There are also more predictable pleasures, albeit always with a subtle tweak. “Baby” is a note-perfect Philly soul simulacrum (had Prince ever even been to Philadelphia?), with lyrics about the decidedly unconventional subject of an unplanned pregnancy. “My Love is Forever” is chirpy disco, but with guitar leads more muscular than even Nile Rodgers would dare attempt. “In Love” also sounds decidedly of-its-time, but with lyrics (“I really wanna play in your river”) that are disarmingly frank in their eroticism. And on the soft songs–“Crazy You” on Side One, “So Blue” on the eccentrically-named “The Other Side”–the 18-year-old shows a depth of musical range and vocal dexterity far beyond his years. For You isn’t earth-shattering, per se–there’s a reason why it didn’t set the world on fire when it came out in 1978–but its subtle blend of musical styles and Prince’s oddly demure lustfulness belie an inventive artistic persona that isn’t quite like anything else, before or since. It’s little wonder that several influential members of the new school of “alternative” R&B, including Frank Ocean and Janelle Monáe, swear by this relatively obscure debut record from the late ’70s.
The afterlife of For You is even stranger than the story of its birth. Prince, as mentioned above, seems to have disappeared after he was dropped by Warner: presumably back to his hometown of Minneapolis, though conflicting reports also claim he became a successful session musician in L.A. It’s certainly difficult to imagine an artist as bold and ambitious as Prince clearly was leaving music behind entirely; there are thus numerous rumors of later maneuvers from behind the scenes. The tracks “Do Me, Baby” and “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” from the 1979 debut album by André Cymone–Prince’s fellow Minneapolitan, and his bass player at the ill-fated Capri Theatre show–are both heavily rumored to have been written by Prince; though they don’t sound quite like anything on For You, so whether it was actually him is anyone’s guess. There’s also been speculation that he played the guitar part on Lipps, Inc.’s 1980 single “Funkytown”: still the biggest hit ever to come out of the Twin Cities. Otherwise, all pop cryptologists have to go by is a string of little-known B-sides from Minneapolis-based artists like Sue Ann Carwell and Alexander O’Neal, with writing credits from suspiciously pseudonymous-sounding names like Joey Coco and Alexander Nevermind.
Meanwhile, the stature of Prince’s sole official release has only grown with time. The album was out of print for most of the 1980s, until it received a spike of notoriety among crate-diggers in the hip-hop era: see, for example, the sample of “Soft and Wet” in RBL Posse’s “I Ain’t No Joke.” This led to the album being reissued in the early ’90s, along with a renewal of interest from critics and musical historians. Today, as noted above, it’s a bona fide cult record, feted among artists and listeners on the left field of R&B, pop, and hip-hop for its unique, genre- and gender-fluid sensibility. Prince, meanwhile, has remained reclusive, though he’s presumably still alive: with the album’s 40th anniversary fast approaching in 2018, it would be great to see him come out of retirement and play some of these old songs for his new and growing fanbase. The world might not have been ready for For You in 1978, but I think it just might be ready now. Hopefully, wherever Prince is today, he realizes that.
(All right, that’s it, y’all…thanks for indulging me in this little A.U. fan fiction exercise. I’m actually taking next weekend off from Andresmusictalk, but I’ll be back on October 8 with something that will almost certainly not be about Prince. See you then!)
Les McCann was,in terms of my own personal musical exploration,an artist I was introduced to by my father exactly between my explorations of Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis. And that actually isn’t a bad way to describe the middle ground McCann’s sound had in terms of Miles’s harmonic richness and Stevie’s unusual melodic senses. After all,both artists were pretty equally jazz in terms of composition. Les McCann was a brilliant composer in his own right. So much so his album Invitation To Openness was one which my father kept out at our old family summer camp at Pushaw Lake the entire year round.
Les McCann is probably most famous for his song recorded by electric sax pioneer Eddie Harris (another important jazz/funk story I’ll get into another time) called “Compared To What”. That song was written by another frequent collaborator in Eugene McDaniels. McCann just seemed to be bursting with creative energy as a pioneer of synthesizers along with Herbie Hancock in the emerging jazz/funk idiom during the first half of the 1970’s. Albums such as Layers explored this most fully. Both musically and conceptually,the Les McCann song that says it all for me is the title song to his 1972 album Talk To The People.
A gentle electric piano melody from McCann starts off the song before a ringing,bell like percussive rhythm comes in on the drums. As McCann raps,his band are whispering the song title in rhythm in the back round. That turns to lead and backup singing (McDaniels included) as the song begins. A heavily filtered bluesy wah wah rhythm guitar and a thick,bouncing bass line joins in as a huge swell of backup vocals joins in on the choruses. As each refrain and chorus progresses,the instrumentation builds to climactic intensity. And it gradually fades out until only the sound of people talking exists as it fades.
In today’s age of reactionary racism,sexism and general prejudice,”Talk To The People” exists in the world as almost an anthem for a possible solution. Its slow funk,penetrating rhythms and emotionally charged jazzy modulations do indeed speak a very important message for the human race. McCann talks about how a lot of the worlds problems even then stemmed from lack of communication and empathy. Lyrically he comes to the conclusion,even before the song gets going,”lets hate all that does not allow us to love”. That makes this a shining example of why jazz/funk is such an important music.
The Spinners were a group who had two of the most distinctive lead singers in 70’s soul. During their years in Philly,their main lead singer was Phillipe Wynne-a master of powerful vocal idiosyncrasy. In their Motown years,their final lead singer of that era was George Curtis “G.C.” Cameron. He was a Vietnam vet who recorded a couple of solo albums for Motown after his years with the Spinners. In 2003,he became one of the lead singers of the Temptations. Today at age 71,Cameron has had a rich and varied career celebrating music on both a creative and political level in the state of New Jersey.
In 1970,The Spinners recorded their second and final Motown album entitled 2nd Time Around. Story goes that they were not creatively prioritized on the label. On the other hand,Stevie Wonder felt the opposite because he wrote two songs for the group which were featured on this album. The first was “Its A Shame”. This went on to become their biggest hit for Motown. And is probably the song most people associate with G.C. Cameron. The other song Wonder wrote didn’t perform as well commercially,but to me stands on equal level musically. The name of this song is “We’ll Have It Made”.
A deep honky tonk styled (though not honky tonk sounding) piano opens the song. The bass drum kicks into the main rhythm-which is a big percussive sound marked by epic hi hat hits. These are accented by screaming,melodic horn charts. These instrumental parts mark both the chorus and the refrain of the song-using different chord modulations for each segment. After the chorus,there are these jazzy bridges where Cameron goes into his smoothest low baritone. Towards the end of the song,all the musical elements come together for a huge chorus that closes out the song.
“We’ll Have It Made” is a song that instrumentally bridges a hot,heavy uptempo and a stomping country soul sound beautifully. Even more so,Stevie Wonder’s jazzy modulations give the song its complex character. Cameron sings each vocal part as different characters. On the refrains and choruses he’s a huge soul shouter. On the jazzier bridges, he’s a smooth and almost poppy crooner. The moment I heard this song,it made me think about what might’ve happened to the Spinners on Motown had Stevie Wonder worked more fully with them. This and “Its A Shame” still stand as shining moments of this collaboration.
Walter Theodore Rollins,known primarily as Sonny,remains one of the few surviving members of the original bop era of jazz. Starting out with musicians like Jackie McLean, the native New Yorker really began to set off the hard bop/soul jazz revolution. This is evident in the song that I myself (and many others) associate closest with him: “St. Thomas”. This song brings in the Carnival styled percussive drumming and rhythmic sax playing whose roots lay in Rollins’ roots from his US Virgin Island native parents. This Caribbean instrumental vibe would always remain a staple in the saxophonists music.
Having recently been covered regarding a recent volume of his Road Shows live CD series by one of my blogging partners Ron Wynn,its come to mind just how natural it was for Sonny Rollins to evolve into the funk end of jazz. This occurred gradually on his albums for Milestone from 1972 onward. His final studio album of the 70’s was called Don’t Ask. It found Rollins strong embracing funk with the Headhunters Bill Summers along with Mark Soskin,Al Foster and bassist Jerome Harris. The one song that really says it all for the funk (to me anyway) on this particular album is its opener entitled “Harlem Boys”.
Summers and Foster get the groove heated up from the start with a grooving drum/percussion stomp-with the rhythms accented by Soskin’s and Harris’s dancing foundational bass line harmonizing piano melodies. Then Rollins starts playing the choral melody, while Soskin plays a bouncing piano solo. The bridge of the song breaks it down to Bill Summers percussion mixed high with Al Foster’s drums-featuring Rollins improvising his melody right over it. After that the songs slowly concludes with its main them. Rollins plays an atonal,bop style solo before the song closes out on his solo alone.
This song stands as a powerful,rhythmically heavy dance/funk tune performed acoustically by a group of seasoned jazz/funk players. From the piano to Rollins’ thick and phat sax tones,everything on this song manages to be melodically AND rhythmically strong (and very funky) all at the same time. Something tells me this period of Sonny Rollins musical output isn’t too well known. Yet the hard bop style he helped pioneer the entire framework for the jazz/funk sound this song embraces. So its wonderful to hear Sonny Rollins arrive at an important checkpoint of his own musical path.
Prince had a couple of other musical ventures outside himself even before he broke out. One of them was masterminding a group of proteges such as Vanity 6 and The Time in the early 80’s. And the other was a burgeoning interest in writing/producing outside his camp. The latter actually occurred even before his commercial breakthrough. Many of these songs showcased more pop oriented flavors then the funk and exploratory jazz/rock excursions he’d later go on. One thing about these songs is that generally,he hadn’t already released these songs on himself yet. There was one major exception.
Prince’s first two albums,released in 1978 and 79,had unique musical flavors of their very own. His self titled sophomore album was by far more pop oriented-with carefully crafted song structures that could easily translate to radio play. Prince knew this very well-even referring to the album as contrived later on. Still there was one song on it that became his first to be more famous as by other artists. The Pointer Sisters first did it more verbatim in 1982. Two years later,Chaka Khan and Melle Mel completely restructured it for her blockbuster solo hit. The name of this song was “I Feel For You”.
A drum roll kicks into the stomping yet simple 4/4 beat that defines most of the song. On top of this,Prince plays a thick polyphonic synth brass melody. A break leads it right into the refrain,which features a function popping bass line with round washes of synthesizer backing up Prince’s vocal lead. Just before the chorus comes in,Prince is accompanied by more synth brass-with it becoming totally call and response on the choruses. There’s a bridge where Prince is playing synthesizer like a muted trumpet. The drum breaks off into a snare heavy hit with hard synth brass accents before returning to the chorus to fade out.
As with a lot of Prince’s early work,this song is deceptively simple. Upon listening to his original version of it so many times, a degree of complex presentation reveals itself in this songs stripped down production. For one thing,this is a wonderful showcase for Prince’s synthesized horn sound that became his signature. He not only plays the horn charts right on the meter,but he also manages to get some of the calls and vibratos of horn solos as well. On each one,the melody is always very singable and the rhythm is righteous. Personally speaking,its one of the three songs on this 1979 album that I love the most.
Dexter Wansel first became known to me as one of the Philly PIR team who worked on the 1976 debut album by the Jacksons. Being more broadly aware of the Philly soul sound now,Wansel seems to have a very different approach to music than Gamble & Huff and Thom Bell did. With disco era classics such as the Jones Girls “Nights Over Egypt” and “Keep On Dancing”,one of my favorite Jacksons’ songs off that Epic label debut,Dexter Wansel’s arrangements were based in his keyboard and guitar playing. Therefore his productions seem to have some of the funkiest bottoms of 70’s Phily funk and soul.
One thing Wansel also did was maintain a solo presence on PIR concurrent to his productions. One of these albums,which I never managed to pick up on vinyl despite seeing it all the time,was 1978’s Voyager. The album cover always stood out to me as a Trekker/sci fi admirer because of the prominent Star Trek model kit bash featured as some sort of robot riding through the desert. Through MP3 and YouTube,I’ve been fortunate enough to hear this album all the way through.And its an album that starts out with a funky bang with the jam “All Night Long”.
An otherworldly space funk Moog bass starts the song off. Then the drums come in playing a disco era friendly dance/funk beat. This is accompanied by a mid toned rhythm guitar sustain,accenting horns and a SERIOUS slap bass thump. With the addition of an accompanying Fender Rhodes piano and Wansel’s falsetto/tenor vocal leaps this represents the choruses and refrains of the song. On the last part of the song,a major horn chart segues into a percussive,jumping beat over which a sassy,rocking blues guitar riffs with the phat slap bass and keyboard lines before scratching hard as the song closes out.
Without any hesitation, this is one of the hardest straight up funk jams to come out of the PIR camp. The beat has a swaggering,percussive shuffle. The keyboard/synthesizer parts are layered in a manner that lays somewhere between early 70’s “united funk” and mid/late 70’s space funk. And Wansel’s vocals (I’m pretty sure they’re his) have some of the slyly sexy attitude of his particular musical camp. Honestly I tend to think of Philly soul as the breezy,string laden proto disco sound of the 70’s. This helps showcase Dexter Wansel as a major player in the harder groove based element of the Philly sound.
Yesterday,Michael Jackson’s 1979 album Off The Wall celebrated its 30th anniversary. The album was reissued on CD with its full cover art for the first time in the new millennium in the US. A special bonus edition also features Spike Lee’s documentary film ‘Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown To Off The Wall’. Personally I’ve come to view Off The Wall this way: the people who love MJ’s most musical aspects love this album,whereas those who appreciate him more as a commercial phenomenon showcase his finest album as being 1982’s Thriller.
Before 1979,Michael Jackson was mainly the charismatic lead singer for The Jackson 5/Jacksons. He had a four album solo career on Motown in the early/mid 70’s too. Still,that album was very much connected to the music he was doing with his brothers. It was becoming more apparent as he grew that he would again have a solo career. Not sure if anyone anticipate that after 1979,MJ would become the Sammy Davis Jr. of his day-only one where the post civil rights era really allowed him to shine more as performer. On that musical level,here’s the content of a review I wrote about it six years ago.
In terms of someone like Michael Jackson,different phases of his career will impact on people differently. For some reason this album pretty much locks into my own brain as his general peak of his career. Despite the record breaking success he’d have in the 80’s,this album stands as one that says the most about his musical character. We all know the history. Mike meets up with Quincy Jones during the production of [[ASIN:B000XUOLNO The Wiz]],they begin recording this album with the help of some of the biggest musicians and songwriters of the era and so begins a new chapter for him.
No longer would Mike’s solo career be an adjunct to that of his brothers. And while still a functional member of The Jacksons at the time of this recording,his own self identity was being developed here as well. This album has some very unique hallmarks. It’s heavy on production but musically focused. It’s sophistifunk of the highest degree but heavier on the funk than the sophistication. Most important,pop considerations are very important here but Mike is not yet defining himself as the King Of Pop.
“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”,which despite may hearings flaunts it’s obvious late 70’s Barry White influence heavily couldn’t be a better way to start this album.”Rock With You” of course owes it’s grooving sleekness in part to Rufus’ Bobby Watson’s fluid bass line as much as it does to Mike’s elastic vocal. Now “Working Day And Night” is one of the most inspired and strong minded funk jams Mike ever made. He’d never quite got on the one in the same way before or after this.
“Get On The Floor” and the title song both work the disco floor,the former heavier on the funk end and the latter more on the urban dance side moving to the post disco era a bit more. Over the years I always say his cover of McCartney’s “Girlfriend” as a week link but it’s a vital straight ahead pop piece with some modern R&B/funk production elements for a little spiciness. “She’s Out Of My Life”,a very sad ballad Mike actually cannot keep a dry eye to himself is a rich interpretation of an orchestral,non rhythmic ballad.
Of course to my ears the finest ballad tune here is the more mid tempo “I Can’t Help It” from Stevie Wonder-featuring both Wonder’s unique way with chord progressions and electronics that Mike takes to maximum vocal effect. “It’s The Falling In Love”,a mid tempo pop/soul type duet with Patti Austin comes to “Burn This Disco Out”,a steamy horn funk closer finding Mike throwing down his best and underused bass vocals.
There are many people who to this day contest that this is Michael Jacksons finest solo album for a musical perspective. And I cannot say there isn’t a point there. Something about the music he made with and without his brothers circa 1978-1981 had a certain flavor to it that I don’t honestly think he ever fully recaptured. This period,culminating in a way with this and The Jacksons [[ASIN:B001BKMC9K Triumph]],recorded around the same time but released the following year, really allowed Mike to fully take command in interpreting his own compositions
But it also let him be the most involved with the creative environment provided via Quincy Jones and his engineer Bruce Swedien. This wasn’t a Michael Jackson who wasn’t very concerned about breaking records,media attention,adulation of fans or indulging in potentially scandalous behavior. This WAS a Michael Jackson who had matured into adulthood creatively. And on that front was in a similarly energized state as he was a decade earlier when the J5 first debut for Motown. As such this album is as much as the conclusion of something as it was a new beginning. And that enthusiastic quality drips from every pore of the music you’ll find here.
Off The Wall winds up being one of those albums where one’s perception of it evolves with time. Its instantly lovable,especially for any funk and post disco enthusiast. Considering the artist itself and the primary bass player here Louis Johnson aren’t with us anymore,I now look at the album this way. It represents the era when each Michael Jackson/Jacksons album was distinctly different. This album really prioritized live strings,horns and a rhythm section. The same personnel also produced the more electronic boogie sounding number “Sunset Driver” for this session. Shows just how distinctive MJ hoped this to be.
Joe Tex’s name first came to my attention when I read a story about a pre Motown Michael Jackson cheekily eyeing under woman’s dresses while singing Tex’s “Skinny Legs And All” in some of the raunchier nightclubs Joe had his sons playing in during the late 60’s. It was within the last year actually that Henrique and I got to talking about Joe Tex more in depth. It was during this conversation that I was informed about Tex’s rivalry with James Brown. It apparently goes back to the earliest days of their career-complete with hiss song from Tex in response to one of JB’s called “You Keep Her” in 1960.
Joe Tex had a fascinating musical career of his own. Again like JB,he was a major soul singles act for the decade between 1955 and 1964. From then on to the end of the 60’s,Tex released a number of albums in the country soul vein-filled with his hard driving gospel style vocal cries and shouts. Throughout the 70’s,his music went into a funk direction that (yet again) was very similar to JB’s. He even ended the 70’s when a pair of funk based disco records before his death of a heart attack in 1982. The only song I’ve really heard from his funk period is considered a classic,and really stands out for me. Its called “I Gotcha”.
The song begins with Tex singing over a cymbal heavy drum intro in his gospel drenched soul wail. That’s when the main body of the song kicks in. This is a very thick instrumental mixture. A thick piano line more or less dominates,with a round bass line that exactly counters the melody. On each accent of the song,there’s a high pitched and very smooth rhythm guitar playing and horn blasts on the transitions between choruses. After each chorus,the song reduces back down to the drum and Joe Tex only approach that made up the intro of the song. Its all back to the instrumentally thick chorus as the song fades.
When I first heard this song,courtesy of Henrique, the James Brown influence hit me right over the head. This came mostly from Tex’s shouts and holler based vocal approach. When I actually listened to this song,it became apparent that the instrumentation and production are quite different. Joe Tex isn’t looking for his funk band to be a drum on this song. Each instrument plays its own role. The piano and bass dictate where the melody is going,while the drums serve as the beat for which Tex’s voice is the hard driving percussive element. That gives this 1971 funk classic its own spicy groove.
Prince Rogers Nelson was no stranger to recording by the time he’d signed with Warner Bros. in 1977. He was barely 19 at the time. And had already had some experience in recording with Pepe Willie’s 94 East along with his own demos from 1976. Around the time he got signed by Warner’s in 1977,he,Owen Husney and Chris Moon were putting together Prince’s official press kit (a rather unconventional one with photos and an accompanying haiku on each one) and his first proper studio recordings at Minneapolis’s Studio 80. These songs passed into legend during the years before internet.
With the advent of online music and YouTube,these unreleased songs that have been circulating for years have come to light in a whole other way. One of these songs just leaped out at me when I first heard it. As I’ve made clear many times,I have a special affinity for early Prince. Especially as it set the stage for his greatest musical moments yet to come. The interesting thing is,it would prove quite significant in years to come,even if it was never officially released. But I’ll talk about the song first,and tell you the rest of the story later. And the name of this song is “We Can Work It Out”.
Bobby Z’s drums kick off with a chime,and maintains a percussive funkified back beat throughout. On the chorus and refrain of the song,Prince’s processed bass/guitar/Clavinet interaction plays in an upbeat,melodic fashion as he sings both the lead lines and the breakdowns in his most ethereal falsetto. On the bridge,that same bass/guitar/keyboard interaction starts playing in a more bluesy funk style-playing in that loose jamming instrumental style typical of Prince’s songs from this era. At the end of the song,this musical into the sound of a thunder storm before fading out.
Musically this song is structurally very in keeping with the sound of his debut For You-the key difference being that his Minneapolis Sound synth brass style wasn’t present yet. It’s brightly melodic,disco era pop/funk sound has a very sunny atmosphere. Lyrically speaking,the song is almost an audio press kit as it’s essentially a love letter to Warner Brothers. Especially singing lines such as “Music for the young and old, music bound to be gold” showcasing his hopes as well as his self confidence. Still the album ends with another lyric that would tell another story.
Prince’s last line is spoken in his best DJ style voice saying “Makin’ music naturally,me and WB”. While it’s apparent Prince was excited about being signed to a major record label,the line also signifies some of the matters that would one day set Prince at odds with the company. Throughout the song,Prince is telling the label “hope we work it out” over and over. The fact that he adds the line “Put your trust in me, I’ll never let you down/ cause I know I can count on you to help me make it”. By ending the song with the sound of a storm,its clear even early on Prince knew his future musical road would be complex.