Category Archives: Babyface

A Seasonal Shout-Out to the Best Ghostbusters Song: Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own”

onourown

This Halloween season, my four-year-old son discovered Ghostbusters. That means I’ve spent much of the last few weeks sitting through endless screenings of the 1984 original (“Ghostbusters boys”), its 1989 sequel (“Two Ghostbusters”), and the 2016 reboot which is honestly not as bad as the Internet wants you to think (“Ghostbusters ladies”). But it also means that I’ve spent a lot of time in the car, driving to and from daycare, listening to the soundtracks of those films and pondering their respective merits. And I’ve come to a conclusion that may be controversial: Ray Parker, Jr.‘s theme for the original movie is not the best Ghostbusters theme song. Instead, that honor goes to “On Our Own” from Ghostbusters II, performed by Mr. Bobby Brown.

Now before you object, let me clarify a few things: this is not about the relative merits of the first two Ghostbusters films, between which I would probably still give the nod to the original (though I will say that Ghostbusters II is severely underrated). Nor is this about comparing the career-long achievements of Parker and Brown. I understand, of course, that Ray Parker, Jr. was a very accomplished session guitarist and songwriter; listen to his “Ghostbusters” purely on its own merits, however, and it’s…not that great. Even aside from the notorious similarities with “I Want a New Drug” by Huey Lewis and the News, the music is pedestrian at best (again, Huey Lewis), and as a singer, Parker is a very accomplished session guitarist and songwriter. The song has definite camp appeal, and the call-and-response chorus is tons of fun (just ask my four-year-old). I can definitely understand why it was a hit. But as far as listening to it outside of a Halloween party setting, it ranks somewhere below “Thriller” and above “Monster Mash.”

The appeal of “On Our Own,” on the other hand, isn’t strictly limited to its context. Sure, there’s the rap, which basically prefigured Will Smith’s whole late ’90s career by delivering a full synopsis of the film in a few rudimentary rhyming bars; but give or take a couple references to battling “Vigo, the master of evil,” it otherwise just sounds like a typical New Jack Swing song. And a pretty damn good one, at that: the track was written and produced by L.A. Reid and Babyface, who certainly knew a thing or two about crafting New Jack Swing hits. Sometimes I even suspect that “On Our Own” wasn’t written for Ghostbusters at all, but is just a repurposed outtake from Don’t Be Cruel; its themes of going it alone are, after all, pretty close to Bobby’s usual “My Prerogative” wheelhouse.

Some, of course, might argue that the wide applicably of “On Our Own” is what makes it a weaker Ghostbusters song: if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, there’s nothing especially spooky about it. But I think it’s worth acknowledging the fact that Reid, Babyface, and Brown gave us a song that can work both as a Halloween staple and as an R&B hit more generally. Parker’s “Ghostbusters” is fun in the month of October; but “On Our Own” is a jam all year round. And besides, even if I’m wrong, then at least we can all agree that it’s better than the new Ghostbusters song. That one is straight garbage.

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Filed under 1980's, Babyface, Ray Parker Jr., Uncategorized

Grooves On Wax: Funky Music Spinning On A Rough Week

Up Pops Ramsey Lewis

This is the first in a series exploring the vinyl records I’m spinning on my turntable. Often at the very same time these articles are being shared with the online community of soul funkateers who support this blog. This first on today’s list is the 1967 album Up Pops Ramsey Lewis.  It was during the period when Maurice White was the drummer in the band and is super heavy funk process soul jazz straight out of Chi-town.

Key jam: “Party Time”

Changing Times

Frank Wilson takes the Four Tops in a grand cinematic soul direction on this 1970 album. It was changing times for Motown,moving out to the West Coast when this was recorded. And it was changing times for America 60’s had just come to an end. The Tops mixed covers and originals here in a strong song cycle across two sides of the record!

Key Jams: “These Changing Times” and “Try To Remember”

Bautista

Roland Bautista was Earth Wind & Fire’s supplicant lead guitarist-both preceding and succeeding Al McKany in 1972 and 1981 respectively. In between that time,he recorded two albums as a leader. This is his first from 1977. It’s a wonderful mixture of funk,Latin rock and jazz fusion.

Key Jam: “Diggin’ It In”

Slick

Eddie Kendricks’ final album for Motown in 1977 finds the former Temptation  really getting into the grooves with ballads and uptempo songs bring that big band R&B/jazz flavor out in the type of melodies that Motown’s king of falsetto loved so well.

Key Jams: “Intimate Friends” and “California Woman”

Brasil 88

Sergio Mendes followed on his New Brasil 77 with a new idea the following year. Some years ago,this album cover lured me in. Not only was it a happy find on vinyl,but the fact it contained two ticket stubs to one of his concerts from 1978 was more than the icing on the cake for this bright and slick Brazilian pop jazz set.

Key Jam: “Tiro Cruzado (Crossfire)”

feel the phuff

Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds got his first band big with this Indianapolis band after a stint with Bootsy Collins,who apparently gave him the Babyface name to start with. Manchild had a very adventurous funk/blues/rock flair,not to mention a few potently arranged ballads. Edmonds really ripped on the rocking guitar solos here Ernie Isley style too on the bands 1978 sophomore set.

Key Jams: “The Phuff” and “Rowdy-Dowdy Blues”

Summertime Groove

Hamilton Bohannon,former Motown session drummer and member of Stevie Wonder’s late 60’s band, gives the drums the extreme funky workout on “Let’s Start The Dance” to get this party started. But it doesn’t stop there. Especially on the uptempo songs,the songs have a heavy and funky danceability with a distinctive kind of focus on the funky drummer himself.

Key Jams: “Summertime Groove” and “Let’s Star The Dance”

minnie_riperton_love_lives_forever

Minnie Riperton’s posthumously released final album from 1980 is a sleek,jazzy affair. Plenty of West Coast style light funk and soulful pop well suited for Minnie’s amazing range. She recorded the vocals for the this song in 1977 while people such as Greg Phillinganes,Harvey Mason,Lee Ritenour,Paulinho Da Costa,George Benson,Tom Scott,Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder helped to complete the music for this as produced by her widower Richard Rudolph.

Key Jams: “Strange Affair” and “Island In The Sun”

Learning To Love

Rodney Franklin is one of the more unheralded jazz-funk keyboard player so late 70’s and early 80’s. Known primarily as the composer and performer of the TV theme song Hill Street Blues,his 1982 album Learning To Love goes from slick,liquid pop/funk songs to exploratory fusion funk/jazz improvisations.

Key Jam: “Enuff Is Enuff”

Game Of Life

T-Connection keep getting better to my ears. And loved their grooves the first time I heard them years ago. This Nassau band really impressed me with a copy of their 1983 album The Game Of Life that I found at my local record store Bull Moose. This is a fine example of melodic,well composed boogie funk. With a jazz Afrocentric twist of course. It even delivered a “people music” message song right off the bat with the title song as well!

Key Jams: “The Game Of Life” and “I’ve Got News For You”

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Babyface, Bohannon, Boogie Funk, Brazilian Jazz, disco funk, Eddie Kendricks, Four Tops, jazz funk, Latin Funk, Manchild, Minnie Riperton, Motown, Ramsey Lewis, record collecting, Rodney Franklin, Roland Bautista, Sergio Mendes, soul jazz, T-Connection, Vinyl

Stevie Is Wonderful: Inner Visions Of Songs In The Key Of Life-An All-Star Grammy Tribute To Stevie Wonder

Janelle,Jill And India Pay Tribute to Stevie

On Presidents Day evening,the Grammy Awards association aired a television special on CBS featuring contemporary artists,many of them award winners themselves,in order to pay tribute to Mister Stevie Wonder. Not only was this a tribute to an artist I completely admire creatively. But someone who won awards and earned his success and fortune through the true innovation of sound. It was an event filled with many surprises. And today I would like to talk about what I saw,sung,laughed and danced to watching that night right along with so much of America!

ed_sheeran_beyonce_stevie_wonder_tribute_h_2015

The evening began with Beyonce performing a medley of Stevie’s first hit “Fingertips” and “Master Blaster” joined by guitar player Ed Sheeran. The highlight of this intro was from the guitarist Gary Clark Jr,who played a rocking blues electric guitar solo on a rendition of “Higher Ground”.

LL Cool J

LL Cool J was of course MC’ing the entire affair as he has the previous two Grammy Award ceremonies. He began by talking about Stevie Wonder’s effect on his life-as many of the artist this night did. Wonder was visibly moved to tears by this level of affection for his art. Towards the end of the special,LL asked the audience all over the world to close our eyes for a moment to contemplate the level of vision Wonder projects into his music. A very meaningful gesture.

Gaga doing I Wish

Lady Gaga’s performance of “I Wish” moved me perhaps the most on this special. Playing the Fender Rhodes electric piano with the help of keyboard maestro (and former Wonderlove member) Greg Phillinganes, Gaga was moved to move rhythmically to the music as Phillinganes took over the keyboard soloing. Not only was this a pronounced celebration of the instrumental ability of an artist mainly acknowledged as a performer. But was a pretext to a beautiful shout out and citation to the often very unsung talent of Greg Phillinganes himself-especially as a participant in Stevie’s ascent into iconic status in music.

Annie Lennox Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life - An All-Star GRAMMY Salute

Annie Lennox took on “My Cherie Amour”,vocally taking on a full bodied understanding of the emotional juxtaposition between passion,flirtatiousness and awkwardness expressed in this song. Jill Scott,Janelle Monae and India Arie-pictured at the top of this blog paying tribute to their favorite Stevie Wonder albums,gave a truly powerful group duet of the song “As”. Not only did they successfully pay tribute as presenter Mary Wilson indicated of the classic girl group dynamic? But each of them took a try at imitating Stevie’s famous growled vocal bridge of the song.

ryan_tedder_pharrell_stevie_wonder_tribute_h_2015

Pharrell Williams and Ryan Tedder did a spirited duet version of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”-pointing out that often a song intended as a singular expression by an individual can be reflected by two as well.

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson bought her powerful gospel fueled pipes to a passionate take on the renowned ballad “All In Love Is Fair”. She maintained the flavor of the song as a secularized romantic hymn until the very last note was sung. Stevie’s daughter Aisha joins Ne-Yo in a duet of “Isn’t She Lovely”-essentially paying it forward to her fathers musical tribute to her birth.

andre-bocelli

Andrea Bocelli shares physical blindness in common with Stevie Wonder and for this particular occasion? He gives his own vocally expression rendition of “I Just Called To Say I Love You”. Ed Sheeran did an acapella/guitar rendition of “I Was Made To Love Her” showcasing Wonder’s talents as a multi instrumentalist.

ariana-grande-and-babyface-stevie-wonder-tribute

Relative newcomer Ariana Grande performed “Signed Sealed and Delivered” in an acoustic bluesy soul flavored rendition with Babyface performing the vocal duet and playing acoustic guitar in accompaniment. Another example of a song intended from one person’s point of view-this time taken from a male/female dynamic.


Overall this was a very impressive tribute. All of the participants did something totally unexpected with Wonder’s songs. And most importantly? There was a great deal of understanding of the man’s musical visions from them as well. Paul McCartney made a brief guest appearance sharing personal reminiscences of knowing “Little Stevie” as a teenager. And perhaps Tony Bennett before his performance of “For Once In My Life” said one key artistic point-that Stevie Wonder’s vocal and compositional spontaneity made him one of the best jazz artist Tony’d ever heard.

Perhaps the best observations came from Stevie Wonder himself. Having been cited for his often unsung importance as the public consciousness of the crusade to make Martin Luther King Jrs birthday a national holiday in 1980? Stevie played a medley of his fusion instrumental “Contusion” and “Sir Duke”. He than spoke to the audience about how the only way humanity could deal with it’s present cultural clashes would be to come together with our differences,not use them as a wedge. The fact Stevie’s views on humanitarianism have remained consistent throughout the years says the most important thing about the interconnection between this man and his musical offerings.

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Filed under Andrea Bocelli, Annie Lennox, Ariana Grande, Babyface, Beyonce', Ed Sheeran, India.Arie, Janelle Monae, Jennifer Hudson, Jill Scott, Lady Gaga, LL Cool J, Paul McCartney, Pharrell Willaims, Ryan Tedder, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/17/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Stressed Out” by Babyface

By the time the new millennium had officially arrived? Kenneth Babyface Edmunds found himself in a position of becoming nearly a total musical cliche’. His high,soft voice matched with coaxing lyrical insinuation and an instrumental preference for very soft adult contemporary pop ballads-quite often oriented around the acoustic guitar, gave the impression of an artist barely capable of expressing either yearning sexuality or vitality of character. Inwardly the man had a very different side however. So ‘Face rounded on than new producer Pharrell Williams and The Neptunes to showcase another side of his musical talent that,even from his days as a member of the 80’s boy band The Deele,had been rather subdued. This is showcased most heavily on the song “Stressed Out” from the 2000 album Face2Face.

After a whispered declaration of “make your dreams come true” from Babyface,a keyboard/guitar oriented melodic solo kicks in with a pulsing choir sound. This melody,backed up by a marching beat,comes to a refrain of these phrase that features a straight up funky…well either it’s a guitar or a synthesizer simulating one. Due to the technological progression of the time it’s hard to tell. This stop/start funkiness is basically the instrumental bed for Babyface’s vocals on this songs-which he delivers in both straight ahead and more dragging vocal drawls that accompany the harmonic flow of the song. Toward the end of the final refrain,there is a beautifully written Stevie Wonder-like chord progression before the last verse of the song.

This song is also a case where I feel it’s important to focus on the lyrical content of the song,and how Babyface’s vocals present them. As mentioned earlier, Babyface presented himself as a man who was willing to sacrifice his own confidence to secure a given romantic association. On this particular song? Not only is physical sex more then a little implied, but Babyface is telling the lady in his life (unsure if this was written with Tracy Edmunds in mind or not) that her own fears of intimacy and distant attitude can only really be successfully alleviated if she merely relaxes (as he tells her not to “stress out”) and simply allows herself to feel some sense of joy and life in the experience. So here,Babyface is a romantically uplifting and encouraging force rather than a merely submissive one.

Musically speaking this song is not merely about Babyface changing his own approach to his craft,but also part of the ever evolving sound of Pharrel’s production as part of The Neptunes. With the success of similar minded songs to this,in particular Nelly’s famous “Hot In Here”? The sound that The Neptunes were developing during the early aughts were to become the popular R&B/dance sound of that era-spawning a number of very half baked imitations of their sound in what became known as “contemporary R&B”. This was a very similar chain of events that occurred with Teddy Riley’s innovation of new jack swing over a decade before this. But on this song and others from the source of The Neptunes? The sound had a strong,uptempo groove travelling on a vital musical road. A road right into the rhythmic nucleus of funk. And for Babyface that was just what the metaphorical Dr.Funkenstein ordered!

 

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Filed under Babyface, Contemporary R&B, Funk, Pharrell Willaims, The Neptunes