Category Archives: 1985

An Apologia for One of My Secret Favorite Bowie Performances: “Dancing in the Street”

Tomorrow would have been the 70th birthday of David Bowie, whose passing last year just after turning 69 was among the first of many signs that 2016 would be one long, miserable slog. I knew I wanted to commemorate the occasion in some way, but  I wasn’t sure how. My initial idea was to write a bit about Bowie’s forays into funk- and soul-based music; that felt a bit disingenuous, though, as realistically the majority of the credit for his surprisingly great experiments in “plastic soul” needs to go to esteemed collaborators like Carlos Alomar, Luther Vandross, and Nile Rodgers. It’s also a solid time to look back at Bowie’s (excellent) final album, last year’s Blackstar, but I don’t think I have much to say about the record that either I haven’t already said or Andre didn’t cover in his post from yesterday.

It was while mulling over these options that I remembered a post I wrote soon after Bowie’s death last year, about a performance so infamous and unloved that I felt someone had to speak up on its behalf. I’m talking, of course, about his performance with Mick Jagger in their 1985 cover version of Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street.”

To be fair, there’s a reason why nobody tends to mourn Bowie with “Dancing in the Street”–that reason being that it’s pretty much universally considered to be the nadir of Bowie’s (and, for that matter, Jagger’s) substantial oeuvre. Bowie scholar of the moment Chris O’Leary describes it as “a rotten record for which everyone involved should be embarrassed” on his blog Pushing Ahead of the Dame. I myself have been unkind to the song and its accompanying video in the past. I’ve frequently called it a waste of a Bowie/Jagger collaboration that, in some superior alternate reality, would have been a jointly-recorded version of 1974’s “Diamond Dogs.” Back in 2006, I described it as “easily a career low point for both artists, complete with campy and ill-choreographed dance routines, an utterly soulless musical arrangement, and a concept (Dave and Mick, you guessed it, ‘dancing in the streets!’) that was about as rock-bottom as the video’s budget.” Last year, I was more concise, and simply dubbed it “execrable.”

And yet. The fact of the matter is that there’s not another Bowie performance in all five-plus decades of his work that has given me as much joy as has “Dancing in the Street.” I mean real, belly-laughing, hysterical joy. Every time I see the video, I have to see it through to the end–often freeze-framing, rewinding, or just pausing to collect myself at my favorite moments.

© EMI, helpfully screencapped by Noisey

And oh, those favorite moments. I don’t even have to watch the video to name them. There’s the bizarre, unidentifiable accent Bowie adopts when he yells “South Americaaaaaaaa!” during the opening roll-call of countries and continents, foreshadowing the voice he would use the following year while singing as a Muppet in Labyrinth’s “Chilly Down.” There’s his actual first appearance in the video: doing some kind of weird back-and-forth skip (see the screenshots above), before leaping from a balcony and silently screaming like a feral, pouncing cat–presumably the same one he skinned for those pajamas he’s wearing under his khaki trenchcoat.

The list of highlights just goes on from there. The way he nonchalantly enters the frame behind Jagger, doing some kind of “walk like an Egyptian” move with his hands. The middle school talent show-grade choreography in which his legs suddenly emerge kicking into the frame from an open door in the foreground, followed by his whole body as he pops in and out to sing his lines. That inexplicable shot (see below) where he appears behind Jagger with his back to the wall, twirling his fingers roughly in time with the music before busting out the jazz hands and spinning around to join in on the chorus.

© EMI

There is also, of course, the “Dancing” video’s rampant homoeroticism–or rather, its absurd grotesque of homeroticism–which might seem like a coy nod to Angie Bowie‘s claim that she had once caught David and Mick “in bed together,” were it not for the fact that that salacious story wouldn’t enter the popular imagination for about five years. The pair mince about like a demented pair of cartoon queens, routinely placing their faces mere inches from one another’s and mugging for the camera; the video ends with a freeze frame of their wiggling butts, for Christ’s sake. As O’Leary points out, it’s a weird tack for Bowie to take after his own, controversial rejection of a carefully-cultivated queer identity in an interview with Rolling Stone just two years earlier. But it’s also in many ways the least remarkable part of the whole thing. After all, anyone even vaguely familiar with Bowie’s 1970s peak has already seen him play gay–and, frankly, do it a lot more convincingly than he does in “Dancing in the Street.”

Instead, what comes as a shock, and what I think explains the video’s unremittingly dire reputation, is how goofy he comes across. After all, the one link between the manifold Bowie moments being shared across social media in the wake of his death was that all of them were, in a word, cool: be he Ziggy or the Thin White Duke or even Jareth the Goblin King, we like our Bowie aloof, poised, and impeccable, hovering seemingly far above us mere mortals in the splendor of his otherworldly stylishness. In “Dancing in the Street,” however, Bowie is the opposite of cool; he’s the distant, middle-aged relative on the dance floor at your friend’s wedding reception. And, for me at least, that makes the video both endearing and weirdly affirming. It’s a disarmingly human moment, from a man who spent his best-remembered years trying doggedly to convince the world that he was something other than human; it’s the kind of thing that should never be allowed to happen, but did, and is thus precious and rare.

© EMI

So please, if you’re mourning David Bowie on the anniversary of his passing, I humbly request that you not forget this strange and wonderful footnote to his musical history. It’s only natural that when confronted by something like “Dancing in the Street,” one’s first reaction is to ask how and why it exists. But especially now, as we strive to make sense of a world without Bowie, perhaps the more poignant reaction is to reflect on how lucky we are to have lived in a time when two aging rock stars could unleash their poorly-made lip-syncing video on an unsuspecting fanbase, spawning 30+ years of unabated hilarity in the process.

This post was originally published on Dystopian Dance Party.

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Filed under 1985, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, pop rock, soul pop

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Switch On Your Radio” by Maurice White

Maurice White,one of the musical icons who passed away this year,it best known as the founder of Earth Wind & Fire-the most commercially successful of the 70’s funk bands in terms of crossover. On the other hand,the band broke up in 1984. And one of the many reasons brought up was that White had it in his mind that Columbia (the bands record label) were looking for him to do a solo album. This album got released in 1985. Its biggest single was with a (mostly) uptempo version of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”. But it still remains something of a footnote in EWF history.

When I first heard the album on vinyl album around 18-20 years ago,am not 100% sure it came off as anything all that exciting. Of course,that could’ve just been a case of seeking something different from it than what it was. And what Maurice White’s self titled (and sole) solo debut does is present a series of electronic,pan African rock/funk/soul fusions with a mild melodic pop new age vibe about them. The EWF message is still intact. Its just going more for an attitude than a sound by a large. The one song that always got my attention strongly was the opener “Switch On Your Radio”.

A totally electronic synth orchestration fades slowly on the intro. Than suddenly the song bursts with a bluesy funk melodic statement. And it has all the instrumental elements of the song itself. The drum machine and Paulinho Da Costa’s percussion play off the guitar,electronic hand clap and slap bass lines with this melodic electro funk wall of sound. This represents the choruses of the songs. On the refrains and the bridge,the mix is somewhat more stripped down to focus on the vocals a bit. An extended chorus with vocal ad lib’s finish out the song as it fades.

“Switch On Your Radio” has a sound that crosses a lot of musical bridges. The overall drum programming of the song has the bigness of sound that was very much of its time. Yet the live percussion accents along with Martin Page slap bass,Marlon McClain’s rock guitar and the ethereal synthesizers of Robbie Buchanan  make for a powerful sound that basically amounts to a progressive dance/funk sound. And the melody has that strong song construction White and Page are so noted for. Its an extension of the EWF sound for sure. And it also pointed to a possible future solo direction for White which didn’t continue.

 

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Filed under 1985, dance funk, drum machine, Earth Wind & Fire, elecro funk, Marlon McClain, Martin Page, Maurice White, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Robbie Buchanan, rock guitar, slap bass, synthesizer

Anatomy of THE Groove: “A Love Bizarre” by Sheila E

Sheila E has been written about so well by blogger on here Zach Hoskins,in his segment about Prince’s female protege’s. Her back story is so well known,and that pulled it all together. It was my mom who gleefully encouraged me to pick up Sheila’s debut The Glamorous Life on CD on a 1997 visit to Rochester,New York. She has never been someone too emphatic about recommending music. But on this one,she was very insistent. Hearing the song had me interesting in hearing as much Sheila E as existed at the time. And luckily within the next 6-7 years,I had all her output up to that point.

In the immediate post Purple Rain period,Prince began pursuing a far jazzier style of music. He began augmenting the Revolution with horns-starting with sax player Eric Leeds. And the music he was producing for (and with) his proteges was really starting to reflect this. The songs continued to stretch out in length too. One such song was one Prince had recorded in August 1985. And it was actually done in very close collaboration with Sheila as well. It was the final track on the first side to her 1985 LP Romance 1600. It was called “A Love Bizarre”.

Prince’s classin LINN LM-1 with the flanger filter effect starts out as the main rhythm for the entire song. Than his round,popping synth bass comes in just before Sheila’s percussion. Eric Leeds’ presence on the song takes two forms. First there’s him playing the main vocal chorus of the song pretty much by rote. Than he continues with a jazzy improvisation throughout the rest of the song. Matt Bliston joins him of a very Sly & The Family Stone pitch dip on some of the rhythmic accents of the song. Prince provides a West Montgomery like guitar solo as the song finally fades out.

The central rhythm to “A Love Bizarre” is very basically funky. But its the many instrumental touches that add the bite to this driving groove. There are musical ideas from all across the spectrum of classic funk in the 60’s and 70’s. There’s the jazzy soloing on the final half of the 12+ minute opus. Also Prince’s guitar solo starts playing the melody for “Frere Jacques” on the bridge of the song. That rounds out to this being a strong collaborative effort between Sheila E.,Prince and his growing band. At the same time,its got that Minneapolis funk touch that just never quits.

 

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Filed under 1985, Eric Leeds, horns, jazz funk, jazz guitar, Linn Drum, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Saxophone, synth bass

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Endicott” by Kid Creole & The Coconuts

August Darnell got my attention instantly when I first heard Dr. Buzzard & The Original Savannah Band’s “I’ll Play The Fool For You” in the late 1990’s on CD compilation Pure Disco. The first thought I had was that it reminded me of what Duke Ellington’s orchestra would’ve sound like had Duke been alive for the disco era. The song had a heavy swing in with the dance beat to it. And it had that street level mix of wit and elegance so common in the swing era. It instantly got me seeking anything related to Dr. Buzzard or Darnell’s followup ground Kid Creole & The Coconuts.

Darnell himself is something of a man of mystery. He’s a native New Yorker all the way. The Bronx native even went as far as developing the fictitious back round of his Kid Creole character during the 70’s and 80’s,as he become more involved with different musical and theater related projects. Conceptualizing himself as a Caribbean Cab Calloway,his music had the funky eclecticism and conceptually obscurity of both Prince and P-Funk. Only with more if an island twist. One song on the groups 1985 album In Praise Of Older Women And Other Crimes really encompassed this beautifully. It was called “Endicott”.

A round percussion line kicks the song off. The groove itself is pretty much defined by a straight vamp throughout most of it. Its all the funky sweeteners that make it so exciting. The vamp itself is built on a stomping drum,a melodic vibraphone,chicken scratch rhythm guitar and a thick jazzy slap bass line playing very close to that guitar. These are accnted by Darnell’s soulful screams. Darnell’s lead vocals are accented by big band horn charts throughout the song. On brief bridges throughout the song,the female “coconuts” sing lead over the percussive drums. The original vamp of the song then fades it out.

Instrumentally speaking,this song has a Caribbean big band Prince vibe about it all the way. Especially on the rhythm guitar parts. Though the bass line is far thicker than most of Prince’s. Lyrically,this song is so hilarious to me. Endicott is a conceptual character Darnell sings about the whole song. He is willingly self sacrificing to his wife,and is considered an upstanding man. The Coconuts ask Darnell “why can’t you be like Endicott?” to which he sings “because I’m free,free of any made to order liabilities”. Its a wonderfully funky romp through the world of male/female domestic schisms.

 

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Filed under 1985, August Darnell, big band swing, Caribbean Funk, drums, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, Kid Creole & The Coconuts, New York, rhythm guitar, vibraphone

Prince (Protégé) Summer: The Family

thefamily

Unlike Sheila E., the Time, or even Vanity/Apollonia 6, the Family aren’t exactly household names (unless, that is, your household still has a subscription to the NPG Music Club). Among those in the know, however, their self-titled 1985 album is a buried gem. It’s certainly of interest to fans of the group’s svengali, Prince: with its mix of post-psychedelic whimsy, sweeping Classical Hollywood glamour, and organic jazz-flavored funk, it’s effectively the missing link between His Purple Majesty’s 1985-1986 albums Around the World in a Day and Parade.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Family were born out of the Time‘s acrimonious mid-1984 split: Andre has aptly described them as the Led Zeppelin to the Time’s Yardbirds. With the majority of the band now fired or resigned, Prince retained drummer Jellybean Johnson and dancer/comedic foil Jerome Benton, promoting “St. Paul” Peterson, who had joined the group less than a year earlier on keyboards, to the role of co-lead singer. The other frontperson was none other than the twin sister of Revolution guitarist Wendy (and Prince’s then-fiancée), Susannah Melvoin. Finally, the lineup was rounded out with saxophonist Eric Leeds, with additional support by Sheila E.’s guitarist Miko Weaver.

Arguably the real star of the Family, however, was never actually part of the group–and, in fact, never even shared the same room with them. Prince had long been a fan of jazz keyboardist, composer, and arranger Clare Fischer: specifically, his more pop-oriented work with Chaka Khan and Rufus from the mid-to-late 1970s. And though they would share a fruitful partnership of their own throughout the rest of the ’80s and into the ’90s, it was The Family that marked their first-ever collaboration. Fischer’s orchestrations add a layer of musical sophistication to the album, particularly on slower, dreamier tracks like first single “The Screams of Passion” and the Bobby Z.-penned “River Run Dry.”

Elsewhere, more conventional funk tracks like “High Fashion” and “Mutiny” betray the Family’s origins in the Time; while two instrumentals co-written by Eric Leeds, “Yes” and “Susannah’s Pajamas,” prefigure Prince’s growing interest in jazz fusion, to be explored more thoroughly in side projects the Flesh and Madhouse. Today, probably the best-remembered track on the album is “Nothing Compares 2 U“: the original recording of the classic Prince ballad later made famous by Sinead O’Connor. I go back and forth on which version I prefer, but I can definitely say that the Family’s is the more “Prince-like”–and Fischer’s arrangement, of course, is gorgeous.

Even in the volatile world that was Paisley Park in the mid-’80s, the Family were especially short-lived. Sales for the album were weak compared to Prince’s other projects at the time–it reached only number 14 on the Billboard R&B chart, missing the “mainstream” charts entirely–and St. Paul chafed under Prince’s micro-management, opting to ditch the group for a solo career in late 1985. In the end, the original incarnation of the Family played only one live show, at Minneapolis‘ First Avenue in August of 1985. Perhaps that’s why, more than any of the other “spinoff” acts, the Family tends to be thought of more as an extension of Prince’s solo work than as a separate entity. Certainly, that’s a point of view Prince encouraged when he absorbed Susannah, Jerome, Eric, and Miko into an expanded version of the Revolution in 1986, even performing his own version of “Mutiny” onstage–not to mention reappropriating the group’s whole velvet-jacketed aesthetic for his film Under the Cherry Moon.

Still, like their evolutionary ancestors the Time, the Family would later return for a second act without Prince’s involvement. A one-off charity gig in late 2003 eventually blossomed into a full-blown reunion, as “fDeluxe,” in 2009; since then, they’ve released two studio albums, a disc of remixes, and a live recording from Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. The fDeluxe records obviously aren’t up to quite the same standard as The Family, but still well worth listening to for anyone who wants to hear more of their uniquely baroque take on the Minneapolis Sound. Most recently, like Sheila E., the Family/fDeluxe have found new vitality in the wake of their onetime mentor’s death: on May 4, 2016–exactly seven hours and thirteen days after Prince passed away–they reunited once again to record a new version of “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Next week…well, to be honest I haven’t 100% made up my mind about what to tackle next week. It’s between Mazarati–more of a “Prince protégé protégé,” I suppose, but one with an interesting history–and Jill Jones. Any preferences out there? Let me know. And as always, you can see more of my writing on Prince at dance / music / sex / romance, and more of my writing in general at Dystopian Dance Party.

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Filed under 1980's, 1985, 1986, 2010's, 2016, Eric Leeds, Jerome Benton, Miko Weaver, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Paisley Park, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Susannah Melvoin, The Time, Time, Uncategorized, Wendy Melvoin

Prince Summer: “Pop Life” by Prince & The Revolution (1985)

Prince was recording a lot of music during 1983 and early 1984 in preparation for his feature film debut that was Purple Rain. This included his own recordings with his band the Revolution. But it also included songs intended for the debuts of Sheila E and a second Vanity 6 album that grew into sessions for what became the Apollonia 6. Not to mention a huge cluster of B-sides. There were also many additional songs recorded during this period,some of which are still unreleased to this very day. And which add to the mythos about Prince’s legendary vault of unreleased music.

One of the first things I learned about Prince when really getting into his music was about his lifelong fascination with the career of Joni Mitchell. Having achieved fame in the early 70’s as a singer/songwriter,she left that behind to pursue a jazzier style of music. Prince was aware that his highly electronic new wave funk/rock based Minneapolis Sound was really catching on. But he himself wanted to diversify his own approach. One such song for his 1985 album Around The World In A Day was recorded during the Purple Rain sessions in early 1984. It was called “Pop Life”.

Layers of tape loop like pitch bent synthesizers begin the song,just before a thick slap bass brings in the rest. The song has three different counter melodies-all very vocal in nature over a steady funky drum. One is a thick, funk slap bass line mixed up high. The other are big block piano chords Prince is hammering out. The  final one are two counterbalanced synthesizers-playing a high melody and the other a lower one. These elements all make up the refrains and choruses of the song-both of which are rather similar. There’s a bridge of audience sound before the song fades back in for a final chorus before fading back out.

A little history on the audience sounds during the bridge of this song: they are from a 1981 concert where Prince opened for the Rolling Stones. A restless and unsatisfied crowd had among them someone yelling “THROW THE BUM OUT”. Prince exited the stage with his band,only to return to a more reasonable crowd-though there was still some booing. This songs lyrics do stand with the same share of ambiguity as a lot of Prince’s songs did. Yet at the same time,this sampling of the Rolling Stones tour incident might well  be pointing to a lot of the points this song makes about Prince’s  mindset at the time he recorded it.

In a lot of ways,this is one of my very favorite Prince songs of the 80’s. It has that Larry Graham slap bass in your face funkiness-mixed with a cinematic jazzy soul flavor that’s very pop friendly and hummable. It showcases how Prince’s more musically ambitious ideas could still be funky and pop friendly too. Lyrically it could be taken two ways. I recently heard it was written about his departed girlfriend Vanity. As I personally read it,its Prince dealing with how super-stardom can have the effect of making artists take themselves for granted. So on all levels,it was an important hit song for him to have.

 

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Filed under 1985, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Jazz-Funk, piano, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, psychedelic soul, synthesizers, Uncategorized

Grooves On Wax: 1985-Albums & 12″ Inch Jheri Curl Funk

High Priority

1985 best epitomizes the presence of what my newest blogging partner Zach Morris of Dystopian Dance Party refers to as “Jheri Curl Funk”. True,there was a lot of flat synth pop on the same landscape. Still the electro funk and soul that came out during this year was some of the toughest and most daring of the sub genre. This album by Charrelle on the Tabu label is a great example. It’s a thematic/musical romantic concept album-utilizing Jam & Lewis’s cinematic synth funk touches on this gospel drenched,Deniece Williams like soulstress.

Key Jams: “You Look Good To Me”,”New Love” and “High Priority”

Samurai Samba

The Yellowjackets were an 80’s band who,like soloists such as Herbie Hancock and Paul Hardcastle,were able to great a strong electro funk/dance context for their jazz/funk fusion approach. This album is one of the best examples of this that I’ve heard so far, particularly when the heavy Afro-Brazilian percussion comes in.

Key Jams: “Homecoming”,”Dead Beat” and “Samurai Samba”

Mary Jane Girls

The second release for Rick James’ Mary Jane Girls was not only another in a pair of two very strong albums for them,but brought them the major smash hit “In My House” which,as my friend Henrique pointed out,has some of the thickest layers of deep rhythm guitar Rick had done during this period. The album maintains itself strong with one hard funk and brittle new wave number after another.

Key Jams: “In My House”,”Break It Up” and “Wild & Crazy Lover”

Masterpiece

Ron,Rudy and the late Kelly Isley re-emerged as a trio after over a decade in the groups 3+3 singer/instrumentalists sextet with their two younger brothers and Chris Jasper. Employing session aces such as Paulinho Da Costa,Paul Jackson and John Robinson,this album employs a sleeker version of their early 80’s sound,with a strong tendency towards rhythmically heavy mid tempo ballads. Still the original Isley’s trio still love their uptempo songs too.

Key Jams: “Colder Are My Nights” and “Release Your Love”

Life

Gladys Knight & The Pips recorded their next to last album together-continuing to work with Larkin Arnold as they had on their phenomenally successful previous album Visions. Leon Sylvers did a lot of the producing for an album that blends a charged up hard electro sound with the groups classic uptempo gospel/soul shuffles and cinematic ballads all given the mid 80’s sonic update.

Key Jams: “Strivin” and “Do You Wanna Have Some Fun”

It was Henrique who pointed out that,while on the way to work listening to it,that the lyrics to James Brown’s “Living In America” are from the viewpoint of a trucker. This was exciting for me as this was the first JB song I ever heard. Remember thinking he was a magician based on his pose for the cover. The “12 inch mixes includes a more industrial intro from producer Dan Hartman along with a great funkified instrumental.

Hearing Stanley Clarke do “Born In The U.S.A” in a Kurtis Blow style rap version gave no doubt as to the songs powerful anti war/pro working class sentiments than Bruce Springsteen’s original did when Ronald Reagan campaigned with the song. This 12″ inch expands on the songs re-sampled synthesized voices and bass lines on the extended mix.

Jermaine Jackson’s solo career during the early/mid 80’s in general is pretty underrated. He took a lot of musical chances that didn’t always get very noticed. This particular song has an industrial world funk sound,composed mostly in the pentatonic scale,similar to Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “neo geo” sound from the same era. The instrumental mix of this shows this off very well-just as much as the vocal versions shows off Jermaine’s flexible vocal range.

 

 

 

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Filed under 12 inch singles, 1985, Cherrelle, electro funk, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Isley Brothers, Jam & Lewis, James Brown, Jermaine Jackson, Mary Jane Girls, Rick James, Stanley Clarke, Uncategorized, Vinyl, Yellowjackets

Prince (Protégé) Summer: Sheila E.

sheila-e-a-love-bizarre-paisley-park

Like I said last week, it isn’t really fair to describe Sheila E. as a “Prince protegé” in the typical sense of the world. Born Sheila Escovedo, she has an impressive musical pedigree all her own: the daughter of Mexican American percussionist Pete Escovedo and the goddaughter of Latin jazz pioneer Tito Puente, her professional recording career actually predates the Purple One’s; she made her debut on Yesterday’s Dreams by former Weather Report bassist Alphonso Johnson in 1976, two years before the release of Prince’s For You. Prince was, however, responsible for introducing her to a pop audience during his mid-1980s “purple reign”; the pair were also briefly engaged, which places Sheila in Prince’s long, dubious tradition of falling for his muses, only to discard them once the next one came along. Still, theirs was much more a relationship between equals than was typical for Prince, either romantically or professionally; their mutual respect was evident in their renewed collaborations over the years, with Sheila frequently joining Prince for guest appearances and touring stints well into the 2010s.

While these distinctions are important, however, in many ways Sheila’s 1984 debut The Glamorous Life is a bog-standard Prince protegé album. Though his lead artist was a world-class percussionist in her own right, Prince still micro-managed the production almost as much as he had the Time and Vanity 6; his guitar and guide vocals are more prominent on the instrumental “Shortberry Strawcake,” for example, than Sheila’s drums. Still, he does at least give her some props: production on the album is credited to Sheila as well as the usual purple shell corporation “the Starr Company,” and she co-wrote the gauzy ballad “Noon Rendezvous.” Her influence can also clearly be heard on “Oliver’s House,” which grooves almost as hard as Prince’s “Erotic City“; and of course, the classic title track–almost an Apollonia 6 song!–finally allows her to cut loose.

The following year’s Romance 1600 picked up where “The Glamorous Life” (the song) left off, with a more pronounced jazz influence–the manic introduction to opening track “Sister Fate” prefigures Sheila’s and Prince’s work in the fusion side project Madhouse–and much more prominent contributions from E. as a percussionist. One song, the preposterously-titled “Merci for the Speed of a Mad Clown in Summer,” was recorded entirely without Prince’s input. Even when Prince is clearly pulling the strings, however, Romance is a more confident and interesting listen than its predecessor, bristling with the neo-psychedelic invention of the post-Purple Rain era. And of course, “A Love Bizarre” is one of the most indelible pop-funk jams in either artist’s discography.

The next collaboration between Prince and Sheila E. didn’t actually show up on an album at all. The faux-rap “Holly Rock,” a kind of dry run for “Housequake” on Sign “O” the Times, was a loosie for the 1985 hip-hop film Krush Groove, in which Sheila starred–and where her band’s New Romantic-inspired fashions were reportedly a figure of derision for many of the real-life B-boys on set. In the meantime, she continued to keep busy as a de facto member of the Revolution, contributing to the 1986 album Parade and joining the band on tour (that’s her drumming and, er, rapping on the live cut turned album track “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night”). After the Revolution split up later that year, she joined Prince’s band full time, supporting him for the Sign “O” the Times and Lovesexy albums and tours, as well as the aforementioned Madhouse project.

Sheila’s final, self-titled 1987 album on Paisley Park is also probably her most underrated. Produced by Prince and Sheila with David Z., much of it is firmly in the stylistic territory of Sign “O” the Times, with extensive contributions by members of Prince’s touring band at the time: including guitarist Levi Seacer, Jr., singer/keyboardist Boni Boyer, saxophonist Eric Leeds, and trumpeter Atlanta Bliss. Granted, parts of it are also a transparent bid for the adult contemporary charts, with tracks like “Hold Me” and “Faded Photographs” failing to distinguish themselves from most generic late-’80s pop/rock. But all of the Prince-related tracks–opener “One Day (I’m Gonna Make You Mine),” playful single “Koo Koo,” “Anotherlover”-esque pop cut “Pride and the Passion,” fluffy Klymaxx-alike “Boy’s Club,” and closer “Love on a Blue Train“–are all well worth a listen.

2016 BET Awards - Show

LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 26: Recording artist Sheila E. (C, holding guitar) performs onstage during the 2016 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 26, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/BET/Getty Images for BET)

After an aborted followup album that remains unreleased, Sheila E. made her departure from the Prince camp in 1989–though, as noted above, she would return frequently to his orbit, making memorable appearances on Prince’s Live at the Aladdin Las Vegas DVD in 2003 and his Coachella Music Festival performance in 2008, among others. After Prince’s death this April, she was on many a fan’s shortlist to head up the inevitable award-show tributes–which indeed she did, closing out the show at the 2016 BET Awards last month with a monster medley of “Housequake,” “Erotic City,” “Let’s Work,” “U Got the Look,” “A Love Bizarre,” “The Glamorous Life,” “Soul Salsa,” “America,” and “Baby I’m a Star.” The man himself would have been proud.

Sheila E. is currently at work on her eighth studio album: a two-disc set entitled Girl Meets Boy, comprised of half dance-oriented songs recorded prior to Prince’s passing and half tributes to his memory recorded after April. The title track, released as the album’s first single the day after the BET Awards performance, is a decidedly Prince-flavored ballad featuring Sheila solo on piano accompanied by a delicate string arrangement. Sheila recently told Billboard that her mission is “to continue [Prince’s] legacy in a way that is just about his music.” She’s been doing a fine job so far, and I can’t imagine another solo artist better-suited for the task.

This time next week, I’ll be posting about a lesser-known–and much shorter-lived–Prince spinoff act, the Family. As always, feel free to keep up with my other writing on dance / music / sex / romance (my song-by-song chronological Prince blog)  and Dystopian Dance Party (my catch-all pop culture vanity blog). Thanks for reading!

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Filed under 1980's, 1985, 1987, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “She Won’t Let Go” by Jesse Johnson’s Revue

Jesse Johnson has had been a major, if often commercial underrated, contributer to the modern funk age. From the mid 1980’s to the present day. His career arc has taken him from the Prince-derived funk band The Time to his current gig playing with D’Angelo’s band The Vanguard. No irony is lost that D’Angelo is an artist often mentioned in terms of carrying on Prince’s musical legacy now that Mr.Nelson is no longer with us. Johnson has also had a sporadic solo career over the years as well. Yet there was also his first group after leaving The Time who were vital to him getting his own groove on.

The Rock Island,Illinois native began playing guitar at 15. After moving to Minneapolis,he became a member of Morris Day’s first group Enterprise before becoming the lead guitarist in The Time. Seemingly frustrated over Prince’s lack of interest about his creative input in the group,Johnson left The Time after 1984. He signed to A&M as a solo artist. And took second tier Time members Mark Cardenas and bassist Gerry Hubbard with him-along with several others to his new band called the Jesse Johnson Revue. My favorite track on their self titled 1985 debut was called “She Won’t Let Go”.

The sound of low church bells begin the song before Bobby Vandell’s drum kick comes in with a revving synth bass. Vandell keeps the hefty rhythm going with a steady,brittle and funkified shuffle throughout the song. There are three main synthesizer parts. One is a quavering one that simulates the bell at the start of the song,on is a deep pulsing synth bass,and the other are  Minneapolis style synth brass charts playing the changes. On the bridge of the song,Vandell’s drumming leaves more space between the beats for Jesse’s chicken scratch rhythm guitar to solo before the song fades out on it’s main chorus.

To me anyway,this song is a standout Jesse Johnson solo number because it extends on the direction he was taking  on The Time’s “Jungle Love”. This song has the trademarks of the Minneapolis sound-with the heavy use of synth brass and bass. But the sound is far busier than the lean,stripped down sound Prince pioneered earlier. So it showcased purple funk as something evolving into a bigger and more dramatic synth/electro funk sound. Jesse’s guitar playing also has a lower,more aggressive sound to it. So this song is one of many songs that represent Jesse Johnson’s contributions to the evolution of twin city funk.

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Filed under 1985, A&M Records, Bobby Vandell, chicken scratch guitar, drums, elecro funk, Gerry Hubbard, Jesse Johnson, Jesse Johnson's Revue, Mark Cardenas, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers, The Time

STEVIEWONDERLAND!: Celebrating An Icon In Three Decades-“Never In Your Sun” by Stevie Wonder (1985)

Stevie Wonder has an interesting quality in his reactions to personal relationships that’s personally relatable. While generally viewing his lack of physical sight as a gift,this view gets complicated when he is i emotional turmoil. When his first and only marriage to Syreeta Wright broke up in the early 70’s, Wonder put out two albums dealing in part with his breakup-Music Of My Mind and Talking Book. On these records,Wonder’s heartbreak seemed linked to his own vulnerability-even removing his trademark shades on the second of those albums to showcase he was blind. And at the time,even a bit in the dark.

While not blind,I too live with a very different type of disability that makes my life quite different than many around me. And when personal relationships in my life become troubled,there’s a personal tendency to feel very…disabled. Now not knowing Stevie Wonder personally,some of this is only speculation based on his lyrics and my own romantic experiences. Still when Wonder sang “things you cherish most in your life can be taken if they’re left neglected” on 1972’s “Looking For Another Pure Love”? It resonated on a number of different personal levels along with jazzy soundscape of the music.

By the time the 1980’s came along,Stevie Wonder was facing vulnerability of a different kind. Ever the musical perfectionist,Wonder found the boogie/synth funk of musicians such as Kashif and Prince were picking up where he’d left off in terms of the instrumental sounds he’d created with electronics. So rather than being a pioneer,he found himself somewhat running with the pack at the time. These factors might’ve been part of why he held onto releasing his second album of the 80’s In Square Circle for half a decade. One song from it expressed vulnerability in a very soulful way. It was called “Never In Your Sun”.

Wonder starts out the the song playing a heavily spaced two beat drum pattern-spiced with heavy Brazilian style percussion. After that,a fairly low lead synthesizer comes in playing a gentle major key melody-backed up by a deep synth bass thundering in the back-round. The takes the key of the song a bit higher-with a hollow,low horn like synth line. That sound resonates through the second refrain-where Wonder takes one of his renowned harmonica solos. After another vocal refrain,the chorus returns for a few more rounds-raising in key yet again before the song fades out.

Instrumentally,this song finds Wonder exploring his harmonically rich,jazzy style of music and songwriting in a new way. Perhaps in keeping with the innovations of the Minneapolis sound,Wonder strips the song down to a drum/percussive track and layers of synthesizers playing lead,horn and string type parts. Lyrically it’s quite a lonely song in a way-about a woman whose the opposite of a fair weather friend in comforting Wonder only in the harder times. Musically it’s assured naked funky soul for the mid 80’s. In lyrical terms,the questions it poses seem more significant than the answers.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1985, Boogie Funk, disability, drums, electro funk, harmonica, Minneapolis Sound, Motown, naked funk, percussion, relationships, Stevie Wonder, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizer