Sometimes,there are songs discussed on this Anatomy of THE Groove feature that have a little extra excitement in terms of me writing about them. Many of these are songs often discussed between myself and blog co-founder Henrique Hopkins on Facebook. So many of his ideas come across in them. Today is such an occasion. Its taken a long time for me to actually locate this particular content. As with any song from Prince,it has its share of rich history all on its own. And as usual before getting into my rundown of the song,wanted to share some of that history with you.
Following the release of his second motion picture Under The Cherry Moon,Prince embarked on a year long recording session throughout 1986 and early 1987. These songs were originally intended for three separate album projects. Seems Warner Bros weren’t keen on Prince’s prolific nature forcing his albums to actually compete with each other on the charts. One of these projects was to be released under a pseudonym known as Camille-sung in a sped up voice.. It was a very funky album,a handful of whose tracks appeared on 1987’s Sign O The Times. The one I’m talking about today is called “Housequake”.
A loud,halting screech beings the song. Then the drum intro kicks in-a nine beat drum machine rhythm with the four notes after the third in a faster cluster. A live drum and a breezy synth horns come in over the call and response vocals. Then the refrain takes over for most of the rest of the song. Its the basic live drum beat with a mid range rhythm guitar playing the changes. There is also an electric and synth bass both playing the same six note line. The horns of Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss come in to accent on the second part. Eric solos on the bridge before playing a jazzy unison with Bliss on the jam’s outro.
The key point that Henrique and I discussed so much is that if James Brown had continued innovating his 70’s era funk sound with 1980’s instrumental innovations,it would likely have sounded somewhat like “Housequake”. The horns are there,and the opening drum break was even used to open a song by Stevie Wonder in a concert during the same era. Still the production style still has Prince’s touches of instrumental subtlety. So even though the instrumentation and lyrical references to “green eggs and ham” are totally JB derived, Prince still managed to maintain his own touches on this driving funk groove.
Filed under 'Sign 'O The Times', 1987, Atlanta Bliss, call and response, drum machines, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, Funk Bass, James Brown, Prince, Saxophone, synth bass, synthesizers, trumpet, Warner Bros.
Prince’s 1978 debut album For You really helped establish the Minneapolis sound instrumentally. At least as far as I’m concerned. What made it different from Prince’s albums that would come along in the next half decade was that everything from the synth brass to the percussion was full and heavily orchestrated. Just after being asked by Warner Bros. to follow up this album,Prince began recording his sophomore album. As with his debut,he was still in a complete one man band approach in terms of the instrumentation. But seemed to be thinking more in terms of a distinctive instrumental approach.
Personally? I tend to be somewhat partial to the sound of For You in terms of projecting a very futurist,dreamy funk and soul soundscape. Prince’s self titled second album seemed heavy on slow,West Coast style ballads upon first listening to it. Over time,it became clear how much funk was actually present on this album. As Prince himself felt that this 1979 album was actually pretty contrived for hit singles. There is one song from this album that my friend Henrique Hopkins and I are often referencing in terms of typifying Prince’s entire approach to funk. And the name of this song was called “Sexy Dancer”.
A trumpet like blast of Polymoog synthesizer opens up the song. Following Prince’s sustained falsetto wail,the main rhythm of the song gets itself going. This consists of a driving 2 on 1 live drum beat holding down the fort. Above that is Prince playing his trademark high up on the neck rhythm guitar playing,with his slap bass solo mixed close and essentially acting as the lower end of the guitar tone. On the chorus of the song,Prince’s vocals play call and response to the synthesizer-with the break that opened the song separating each refrain/choral part of it.
The song itself features two separate bridges. The first one takes out all the instrumentation save for the drums-with one of the rhythm accents removed as well. Prince breaths and pants as a percussive element-again in call and response style to the synth brass. After another play of the chorus/refrain,there’s a snare heavy segment showcasing Prince’s bass/guitar interaction before the second bridge comes in. This one deals more with the bass backup up a very Ramsey Lewis style soul jazz/hard bop solo on what sounds like a Yamaha electric piano before the refrain closes the song right out.
Perhaps more than any song on his two late 70’s album,”Sexy Dancer” really points towards what would be his classic 80’s era sound. As with most of the uptempo music on this album,the instrumentation is very stripped down. Here it’s down to just spare rhythm-most importantly with his bass playing being primarily a low adjunct of his high pitched guitar approach. Using sexual panting as percussion also helped provide the song with the intense rhythmic bit it has. It was a major dance hit in the UK as well. In the end,the Prince sound that made him so famous probably started right here.
Filed under 1970's, call and response, drums, electric piano, Funk, multi instrumentalists, naked funk, Polymoog, Prince, rhythm guitar, slap bass, synth brass, Uncategorized