Category Archives: call and response

Prince Summer: “Housequake” (1987)

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.

 

 

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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.

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sexy Dancer” by Prince

 

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.

 

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Filed under 1970's, call and response, drums, electric piano, Funk, multi instrumentalists, naked funk, Polymoog, Prince, rhythm guitar, slap bass, synth brass, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove 4/10/2015: “Earth Mother” by Todd Rundgren

Soul and funk music have consistently been intertwined into Todd Rundgren’s solo career. It’s gone hand and hand with his ability to fuse his capabilities as a multi instrumentalist and working with other musicians with strong creative personalities-such as Utopia’s Roger Powell and Kasim Sulton. Celebrating an near half century in the music business? Rundgren is about to launch into a brand new tour with the boogie/electro funk revivalist Dam Funk as guest artist. His new album Global showcases how this has musically influenced him. Especially on one of it’s songs entitled “Earth Mother”.

A didgeridoo effect begins the song that goes into a hand clap powered rhythm as Rundgren does a call and response with female backup singers (including his wife Michelle) that goes into an isolated bass Vocoder vocal that goes into an organ sounding one before a slow,loping digitized go-go style drum stomp comes in accompanied by a round and again digitized bass synthesizer. This accompanies both the main lyrical body (where the synth bass line is expressed very subtly) of the song as well as the refrains. And in each refrain? A similar call and response vocal comes into play even up to when the song concludes on the Vocoder based statement.

Musically speaking? Rundgren does some amazing things with this song. He goes right for the jugular of the DC based go go funk sound-celebrating the idea of funkiness coming from slowing down a danceable tempo. Yet he also presents it in a song under four minutes as well. Instrumentally several things are happening here. The same gospel type call and response of the go-go/new jack era funk scene is present in the vocal arrangement. As well as the very strong aspect of the gritty “video game” style electronic bass synthesizer and digitized funk groove of early 80’s P-Funk that artists such as Dam Funk have bought into their musical orbit as well.

On the lyrical end Rundgren is paying serious tributes to woman’s right along racial and educational lines. The song itself references the Pakistani student activist Malala Yousafzai as well as the iconic historical story of Rosa Parks. This gives birth to my personal favorite lyrics from this song: “Rosa sat in the front of the bus/the driver start to make a fuss/the end result was so unjust/but she was sitting in front for the rest of us”. For his part, Rundgren clearly sees the entire matter of civil rights and racial justice as the ultimate service humanity can do itself. His frank yet thoughtful manner evokes genuine affection for the Curtis Mayfield’s,Stevie Wonder’s,Marvin Gaye’s and Gil Scott Heron’s who came before. And provides a modern day industrial electro go-go funk “people music” message song for 2015!

To learn more about Malala Yousafzai’s and Rosa Park’s importance in the history of human rights? Please click on the links provided below:

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2014/yousafzai-facts.html

http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/rosa-parks

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Filed under 2015, bass synthsizer, call and response, civil rights, Dam Funk, electro funk, go-go funk, Kasim Sulton, Malala Yousafzai, message songs, Michelle Rundgren, Rosa Parks, synth funk, Todd Rundgren