Category Archives: electro funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Glad To Be Here” by Bernard Edwards

Bernard Edwards was a bassist who truly left his musical footprint in time. Even long before his best known audio footprint came along with Chic’s 1979 jam “Good Times”. This essentially showcased the exact transition from disco to hip-hop-by ‘Nard’s iconic bass line also being the basis for Sugarhill Gangs equally iconic “Rappers Delight”. Edwards style was based is economy with style,especially on his bass lines/solos on Chic hits such as “Dance,Dance,Dance”,”Everybody Dance” and of course “Good Times”. This was a major aspect in how Chic innovated their disco style through some heavy funkiness.

Some years ago,I became familiar with the first two solo albums by Chic guitarist/ songwriter /producer Nile Rodgers. I only found out that Bernard Edwards recorded a solo album in 1983 (around the time Chic ended its original run of albums)  following his death 20 years ago now of pneumonia. It was entitled Glad To Be Here. It was reissued on CD roughly around the time as they reissued Chic’s early 80’s catalog. Only recently have I began to explore the songs from by listening to them via YouTube. The tune that really epitomized the album was the closing title song.

A heavy drum kick opens the song before the Vocorder  comes in to introduce a melody. That’s when the main body of the song comes in. This consists of a tight,dripping higher pitched rhythm guitar. Edwards bass accompanies this sometimes to the letter,other times with stick slapping lines. This is accompanied by  quavering bursts of synth brass. Edwards raps seem to count down to the next section of the song. There are two instrumental bridges. One is built around a thumping synth bass solo. The other is a stiff,hiccuping higher pitched synthesizer that begins the refrain that fades out the song.

It comes as now surprise to me that,for all intents and purposes,this is still a complete Chic song. Tony Thompson provides the drums,Bernard Edwards is carrying on the bass while the guitar is from Nile Rodgers himself. The only thing it does is strip out the strings and lead/backup female vocals. So this represents Chic in its core rhythm section. And it becomes clear how funkified that sound is. This is heavy,naked electro funk. Basically what Chic might’ve sounded like going through the Minneapolis funk filter of the day. And it showcases how vital Edwards’ sound was as a part of Chic. Even on his solo material.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Bernard Edwards, Chic, drums, electro funk, Funk Bass, naked funk, Nile Rodgers, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Tony Thompson, vocoder

‘1999’: 34 Years Of Dance,Music,Sex,Romance

1999

1999 is celebrating its 34th anniversary today. Its understood as the album that really helped Prince cross his music over to a more pop oriented audience. A lot has been said about the album. Such as how the album was musically almost entirely the work of Prince himself. Also,how it helped establish the clearest headed example of the electronic based Minneapolis sound that he was pioneering at that time. Not to mention that it came right along with his first proteges in Vanity and (most importantly) The Time. Now I’m really realizing just how important this album was in terms of Prince’s entire musical history.

Prince debuted in the late 1970’s,fresh out of his teens as a disco era version of Stevie Wonder: a youthful funk wunderkind. As Henrique and myself were discussing at the time of writing this,he was first coming out when so much was happening around him. Stevie Wonder’s  Songs In The Key Of Life  still churned out hits,P-Funk were dropping “Flashlight” and “One Nation Under A Groove” while Dayton,Ohio’s Slave was hitting with an R&B #1 smash in their song “Slide”. And than came Prince,a young musical genius who played all the instruments and produced his own music so expertly.

When the post disco radio freeze out occurred in the early 80’s,the enormous level of pioneering and trailblazing by funk and disco artists disappeared overnight. On the other hand,it remained very present overseas in the UK with some rock and electronic elements added. This sound became known as new romantic/new wave/synth pop movement. In the very beginning of the 80’s,most black artists were integrating electronics into what was still a standard funk/soul rhythmic framework. By 1982,Prince suddenly became his own innovator as really the only black American new wave/synth rock oriented artist.

The 1999 album is endowed with some amazing funk such as the title song,the instrumentally organic “Lady Cab Driver” and the driving “DMSR”. In fact,the idea of the album being a double LP set with full,elongated mixes made it an idea format for his Minneapolis funk. At the same time,it was songs like the albums other major hit “Little Red Corvette” along with “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”,”Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” and “Automatic” showcase Prince as doing for the synth pop/new wave sound what Little Richard  and Ray Charles did for rock ‘n roll  and soul in the 50’s.

Prince infused his rockiest music,even the rockabilly hit of “Delirious” with tons of gospel influences and attitude. And brought those same elements into his ballads on here “Free” and “International Lover”. This also began the period when Prince was concentrating heavily on developing his single B-sides as musical works of art all their own. Songs such as “Irresistible Bitch” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” (covered famously by both Stephanie Mills and later Alicia Keys) represent the first time other artist realized even a Prince flip side was ripe for another artist to be really successful with them.

As of this writing,Prince enthusiasts await the official release of “Moonbeam Levels”,a well known outtake from this era. So interest in 1999 era Prince is still growing. For me,its an album that represents his finest mix of funk and rock music in terms of an album. The extended lengths gave the grooves room for a lot of expansion. For the heavy funkateer, 1999 is far more funk endowed than its blockbuster followup Purple Rain. On a personal note,it was my aunts favorite Prince album too. In many ways,1999 might be the most defining moment of Prince’s Minneapolis sound.

 

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Filed under 1980's, 1999, classic albums, electro funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, Prince, Synth Pop

Grooves On Wax: 1-9-8-4 Albums And 12″ Inch Singles

Ghetto Blaster

1984 was far from the Orwellian dawn of “big brother” in reality. As a matter of fact,artistic expression was such a diverse blend of older and newer influences. Music was feeling this most heavily. Synthesized new wave and electro styles had taken over in a major way. Yet there were still many live instrumental post disco/boogie funk offerings where electronics were mainly there as an accompanying sweetener. As much as many seem to dislike it,the Crusaders Ghetto Blaster is a superb example of this. It has both their strong live camaraderie and many of the newer synth funk elements as part of their brew.

Key Jams: “Dead End”,”Gotta Lotta Shakalada”,”Night Ladies” and “Zalal’e Mini”

Junie

This solo album by Walter Junie Morrison is one I’ve had since I started crate digging heavily in the late 90’s. And knew his name only because of his involvement with P-Funk. In keeping with mid 80’s recorded P-Funk,this album has a very pronounced electronic flavor-especially considering P-Funk helped pioneer electro funk to start with.

Key Jams: “Stick It In” and “Techno-Freqs”

Shalamar

Post disco veterans Shalamar went totally Minneapolis on their first album following the departure of Jeffrey Daniels and Jody Watley. Keyboardist/songwriter/singer Delisa Davis and guitarist/songwriter Micki Free (later referenced as part of a gag on the Dave Chappelle show about Prince and Charlie Murphy) give the album a more thoroughly electronic sound,yet filled with Shalamar’s customary melodicism.

Key Jams: “Dancing In The Streets” and “Melody ( A Melodic Affair)”

Human League

Human League are an excellent example to me of how many synth pop/new wave bands of the early/mid 80’s made very funk/soul structured music. Especially with the advent of the equally new wave/synth pop oriented funk of the Minneapolis sound during this same time. This was certainly their most danceable,funky and pop oriented record they had yet made. And with the production of Jam & Lewis right around the corner,it would only get even more so from here.

Key Jams: “Rock Me Again (Six Times)” and “The Sign”

Patti Austin

Patti Austin’s sophomore album for QWest  is a very different musical affair than her first from 1981. This album featured writing from Narada Michael Walden,and many of his musicians along with Quincy Jones. Overall the album generally has a more synthesized new wave rock flavor to it,especially on the first half. On the flip side however,Austin’s soulfulness and jazziness is given much more musical space to work with.

Key Jams: “Hot! In The Flames Of Love”,”Shoot The Moon” and “Fine Fine Fella (Got To Have You)”

One Step Closer

The Dells were a group I was first exposed to through…well my first exposure to vinyl collecting in 1994 when the local college radio station WMEB was giving away all their vinyl for free-seeing no future in the format (little did they know). From what I know of them now,this mildly jazzy boogie funk album is not the sound that The Dells are generally known for. But its still an excellent mid 80’s comeback for this classic Chicago soul group.

Key Jams: “Love On”,”Come Back To Me”,”Don’t Want Nobody” and “Jody”

Bonnie Pointer

Bonnie Pointer’s third (and until 2011 final) solo album was revealed to me as being a main cause of her retirement from music. Considering her personal situation,that is likely untrue. And its an unsung album at that since it very much mirrors the strong focus on electro funk and soul that her other three sisters were doing at the time. Of course in this case,with more of Bonnie’s own flavors added to the mix.

Key Jams: “Your Touch”,”Johnny” and “Tight Blue Jeans”

Windjammer II

Windjammer are a fairly obscure post disco band,who recorded three albums on MCA records between 1982 and 1985. This is their second album. This New Orleans based band had a musical approach similar to  Earth Wind & Fire,Con Funk Shun and Heatwave. That is in the sense that they emphasized a blend of strong vocals,melody,arrangement and top shelf musicianship in their mixture of funk and soul ballads. Makes me wonder what forces didn’t allow this very commercially viable group to take off they way they deserved to.

Key Jams: “Call Me Up”,”You’re Out The Box” and “Sneak Attack”

Shannon

Shannon’s “Let The Music Play” has become something of a classic in what is referred to as the Latin freestyle genre of techno dance music. That is blending synthesizers and drum machines with percussive Afro-Latin rhythms and melodies. And there’s no way I’ll disagree with that. Still this album isn’t one that generally lets up on the party atmosphere either-adding only the occasional slow ballad to change things up.

Key Jams: “Let The Music Play” and “Give Me Tonight”

1984 were a tremendous year for 12″ inch singles. One that I recently got a hold of was the one for the Jacksons’ 1984 song “Torture” from their  Victory album. The extended remix really brings out that funky synth bass pulse on the intro,which is also prominent on the instrumental version on the flip side.

Interestingly enough,one of these singles is just a 7 inch 45. And its for Sade’s ‘Hang Onto Your Love”. For me anyway,that particular song needs no introduction for its stripped down sophistifunk vibe. I brought this because it had a non album flip side called “Should I Love You”,which turned out to be a melodically sunny pop/funk uptempo number of the highest order.

Herbie Hancock really got the “electric Afro-pop” sound flowing on his 1984 album Sound System. And this 12″ incher for its song “Metal Beat”,given to me for my birthday one year by Nigel Hall,really emphasizes this aspect with the very tribalistic aspects Hancock and Bill Laswell bring to this extended dance mix.

“The War Song” is one of my favorite Culture Club songs. It blends their Caribbean soul/funk sound with a social message that sounds silly on the chorus,but during the refrain becomes quite dramatically poetic. This single is very interesting is that each extended mix it has,from vocal to instrumental,bring in an strong sense of Afrocentric tribalism as each progresses.

The first time I heard The Police’s Andy Summer’s remake of “Also Sparch Zarathustra” was on a local cable access music video program hosted by local DJ Chuck Foster in the late 90’s. The video to this song was once used on the closing credits for that show. Being a lover of science fiction and the two films in Arthur C Clarke’s “space odyssey” series,Summer’s dance/funk remix really caught my ear. The flip is the brittle new wave rock of “To Hal And Back”,which a very strong jazzy melody to it.

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Filed under 12 inch singles, 1984, 45 records, Also Sparch Zarathustra, Andy Summers, Bonnie Pointer, Culture Club, electro funk, Herbie Hancock, Human League, Human Leagye, Let The Music Play, Patti Austin, Sade, Shalamar, Shannon, The Crusaders, The Dells, The Jacksons, Vinyl, Walter Junie Morrison, Windjammer

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Victory” by Larry Graham

Larry Graham was described by Bootsy Collins one time on a PBS Rock N Roll documentary I saw as being “definitely” the innovator of funk bass. A lot of times,new instrumental ideas in music are an organic,collaborative process. In this case,Graham brought out a new approach for,what was in the late 1960’s the relatively new bass guitar. A lot of people who help write the musical vocabulary for a key part of a whole musical genre (as Graham did for funk) simply rest on their creative laurels .Graham didn’t. Upon leaving Sly & The Family Stone,he continued to innovate as the bandleader of Graham Central Station.

When I first began seeing Larry Graham solo albums while crate digging in the late 90’s and early aughts during summertime visits to the coast of Maine, the thoughts of both myself and my dad was “these albums must’ve really funked up the early 80’s”. It wasn’t until hearing “One In A Million You” did I realize that Graham’s initial solo focus was as a bass voiced soul balladeer. Then I  discovered  a vinyl copy of Graham’s 1983 album Victory,which I later got on CD. Its rich with rhythmically fat,often horn heavy post disco and boogie funk. What really hooked me in was the closing instrumental title song.

A high pitched synth brass plays a 12 bar blues type horn chart as the intro to this jam. After that,shuffling drums kick in. The main bass line of the song is a synth bass line playing its own 12 bar blues accompaniment to the higher lead line. On the refrains of the song,the melody becomes a bit more complicated and jazzy. The synth bass introduces a rocking electric guitar solo playing a driving,bluesy solo yet again. After another refrain,the song reduces down to bass and percussion-with Graham’s slap bass sololing being assisted by the high pitched synth brass as the song fades out.

This instrumental was written,produced and performed entirely by Larry Graham. Its a powerful song for me because it’s essentially a classic 50’s style rhythm & blues shuffle totally updated for the early/mid 80’s electro/boogie funk era. It uses modern synthesizers and drum machines. But the general feeling of the melody and rhythm is very much of the juke joint and the 60’s proto funk shuffle. Instrumentally,its all very powerful. The synths are played very intensely. And the slap bass is some of Graham’s finest thumping on the outro. Its a wonderful and unsung example of Larry Graham’s early 80’s solo funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, blues funk, Boogie Funk, drum machines, electro funk, Larry Graham, musical innovators, rhythm & blues, rock guitar, slap bass, synth bass, synth brass

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

Grooves On Wax: Black Wax In Black Music Month

James Brown Showtime

James Brown’s albums up to the beginning of the mid 60’s seem to be helpful in showcasing what was influential on the future Godfather Of Soul. This 1964 album,his debut for Smash,is an excellent example of this. JB starts out with a spirited cover of the R&B classic “Caledonia”,originally by Louie Jordan & The Timpani Five. As a studio album overdubbed with applause,these songs find JB singing the blues on a number of rhythm & blues shuffles-removed for the most part from his typical live show of the era.

Key Jams: “Evil” and “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”

Mirium Makeba

Miriam Makeba is an artist I’ve always interesting in hearing more from. This is an excellent album from 1967 for her. It really does a lot to bring out the sound of African soul-with a lot of elements that would eventually go into the world fusion sound in the future. Especially with the songs not all being sung in English. She even adds a folk song called “A Piece Of Ground”-which runs down the horrid inequity of apartheid in South Africa.

Key Jam: “Pata Pata”

Odyssey Of Iska

Wayne Shorter made this 1971 avant garde jazz album as he was transitioning from Miles Davis’s second quintet of the mid/late 60’s onto fusion pioneers Weather Report. And it really shows as Gene Bertoncini’s guitar-with it’s rhythmic overdrive along with former quintet made Ron Carter’s bass and Alphonse Mouzan’s drumming give this album the kind of Afro-Brazilian jazz/funk process sound Miles himself was already diving headlong into.

Key Jams: “Storm”,“De Pois Do Amor,O Vazio” and “Joy”osibisa-woyaya(16)

Osibisa are a  British,mostly Ghanan Afro pop group who were first described to me as being called “Obsidica”,and sounding like the Isley Brothers. Neither of those things being true of course,this 1971 album is in the Afro-Latin funk/rock/soul collection jamming much in the style of Mandrill and Santana.

Key Jams: “Beautiful Seven” and “Move On.

robertaflack-quietfire-cover

Roberta Flack is someone who today could almost be considered the godmother of neo-soul. Her understated vocal approach and naturally based instrumental style was a precurser of that. Especially on her earlier albums.  On these records though,they caught some heavily funky fire on a song or two. This 1971 release actually has a bit more than others-especially her ultra gospel drenched version of the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody”.

Key Jams: “Go Up Moses” and “Sunday And Sister Jones”

Edwin Birdsong

Edwin Birdsong,keyboardist and songwriter for the Roy Ayers Ubiquity who later worked with Stevie Wonder,really put himself out on this ultra funky 1972 debut album. He was a heavy purveyor of sociopolitical “people music” message songs as well. Even the lone ballad “It Ain’t No Fun Being a Welfare Recipient” tells the kind of story you generally don’t hear on too many slow jams. Birdsong’s holds-no-barred approach to humanitarian lyricism really inspires my personal funky emotions.

Key Jams:”The Uncle Tom Game” and “When A Newborn Baby Is Born,The Gets One More Chance” 

Open Sesame

Kool & The Gang totally reinvent the chemistry of their groove on this 1976 album,in their positions as The Scientists Of Sound. The jacket folds in half on the front to find portraits of the band members in the garb of Morrish royalty. From the casting of the “genie of sound” on the title song onward,this album finds their sound in direct transition from the heavy jazz/funk based sound of their earlier music to the disco era soul/funk melodicism of their under appreciated late 70’s pre JT Taylor period.

Key Jams: “Open Sesame”,“All Night Long” and “Super Band”

brick------_goodhigh-_101b

Brick’s sophomore album was where I discovered this heavily jazz based disco funk band. This 1976 debut album for them really helped put together their “disco jazz” type of music very well-with songs that featured more instrumental oriented jamming on many of the songs rather than the more heavily constructed pop type songs they would be known for on their following recordings.

Key Jams: “Dazz” and “Brick City”

Melba Moore

Melba Moore’s Broadway experience really helped her theatrical variety of heavily orchestrated soul balladry and disco/dance records she recorded during the 70’s. This 1978 album from her,produced by the Philly team of McFadden & Whitehead,contains one of my very favorite songs by her in the funkified “You Stepped Into My Life”.

Key Jams: “You Stepped Into My Life” and “It’s Hard Not To Like You”

Ohio Players - Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee -

The Ohio Players final album for Mercury from 1978 has gotten very mixed views from fans of this classic funk band. Yet from the very beginning,they make it more than clear that the then burgeoning disco sound was not yet effecting their heavy funkiness. As a matter of fact,this particular album is home to some of the hardest hitting funk the band ever made.

Key Jams: “Funk-O-Nots”,“Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee” and “Dance (If You Wanta)”

Pleasure

Pleasure’s jazz-funk sound out of Portland,Oregon is one that I am just beginning to explore. This 1980 album of theirs has become something of a big deal in recent years. With their sophistifunk production and jazzy instrumental solos,the band seem to have made their mark in the annals of funk as it transitioned from the 70’s onto the 80’s.

Key Jams: “Now You Choose Me” and “Yearnin’ Burnin'”

brass-construction-attitudes-20120328040716

Brass Construction’s title song for this 1982 album was one I thought came from Cameo due to a mislabeled MP3 sometime ago. It led me to the vinyl album,which is now recognizable as the bands transition to the stripped down,electro/naked/boogie funk sound of the early 80’s. It’s almost completely uptempo funk based saved for the jazzy mid tempo ballad “ETC”.

Key Jams: “Can You See The Light”,“Forever Love” and “Attitude”

slave-bad-enuff-1089025-1437603644

Slave were the last and youngest of the classic Dayton,Ohio funk bands,and were some of the architects of the boogie funk sound. That’s very prominent on this 1983 album,their first album of the 80’s without Steve Arrington. Actually,it’s a strong transition from their original live band approach to their more electro funk oriented sound that was about to come.

Key Jams: “Steppin’ Out” , “Turn You Out (In & Out)” and “Show Down”

isley-jasper-isley-broadways-closer-to-sunset-blvd-bonus-track-version-5954759-1448546073

Ernie and Marvin Isley along with Chris Jasper struck out as their own trio in 1984. This debut album from the same year is actually one of the strongest boogie funk albums of its era. That’s because the brittle drum machines are accented by the same powerful percussion the 3+3 Isley Brothers were known for.  That rhythmic approach mixed with layers of synthesizers,bass and guitar make this an superb extension  of the Isley sound as heard on the Between The Sheets from a year earlier.

Key Jams: “Serve You Right” and “Break This Chain

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Afro Funk, avant-garde, Blues, Brass Construction, Brick, Edwin Birdsong, electro funk, Funk, funk albums, Isley-Jasper-Isley, James Brown, Kool & The Gang, Melba Moore, Miriam Makeba, Ohio Players, Osibisa, Pleasure, rhythm & blues, Roberta Flack, Slave, Uncategorized, Vinyl, Wayne Shorter

Purple Rain at 32: Remembering The Day Prince Gathered Us Together To Get Through This Thing Called Life

purple-rain

Purple Rain is probably the big reason why most people are still discussing Prince. That was one of his major motivations for making the film and it’s soundtrack-to bring a broader audience into his sound. Interestingly enough,there is nothing in this album that Prince hadn’t been building to in some way since 1980’s Dirty Mind. Even Revolution members Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin felt there was less of Prince’s trademark funk sound on this 1984 soundtrack. What this album did do was give the American public that impression that Prince was a full on rock star who served up an order of funk on the side.

That being said, Purple Rain comes out of his peak musical period. One in which he was brimming  with instrumental and melodic ideas. The key element of this album was drama. It’s accompanying film was a dramatic,semi autobiographical musical. There are plenty of Bic lighter raising moments on this album for sure. There are also some uptempo songs that still get people dancing even today. Growing up,I only knew one song from it well. But upon first hearing it 20 years ago,it felt like music I’d grown up on. That’s how dramatic it actually was-the sonic familiarity to engender false memories of it.

Many of Prince’s albums over the years deserve a rundown of it’s overall affect. As well as one that breaks it down song by song. Reviewing these albums on Amazon.com usually does the trick on that level for me. Today I’m going to do something a little different in analyzing Prince’s major breakthrough album. Purple Rain had nine songs on it. This article is going to give you that description of each song as it appears on the album. This is especially important as these relate to the plot of the film and the concert footage to be found within. So here we go with Andre’s rundown of the songs from Purple Rain.


“Let’s Go Crazy”

They key to this hard guitar rocker is fast paced,gospel joy. He even uses the synthesizer like a church organ in the intro-declaring that “we are here today to get through this thing called life”. Prince delivers several major guitar solos in the songs-including a slow dragging,feedback laden Jimi Hendrix-like grind at the end of the song. The 12″ inch take of this song is also worth checking out-with it’s stomping,chromatic walk of a piano bridge as heard in the film when Morris Day is first introduced.

“Take Me With U”

The big beat of the drums and orchestral synthesizer of this song leads you into thinking the song will be one thing-just before Prince segues into an acoustic guitar derived psychedelic pop/rock mid tempo number with Apollonia as his duet partner. It’s actually a very close relative instrumentally to other Prince songs such as “Manic Monday” and “Raspberry Beret’. It’s unexpected stylistic shifts match how it’s place in the movie shifts from Prince admiring a custom guitar in a shop window to driving with Apollonia through rural Minnesota on his motorcycle.

“The Beautiful Ones”

Basically this song is a very theatrical synthesized version of a European classical derived ballad. Prince sings and screams this song in a shaky falsetto. It’s one of the concert scenes of the film-one where the looks exchanged between himself and his leading lady Apollonia Kotero really help visualize all the electrified instrumental color of this song.

“Computer Blue”

This is actually one of my favorite songs on this album. It’s generally a very robotic synth rock number-very similar in style to the chilly electronic approach of his previous album 1999. On the bridge,the melody shifts as Prince plays a rather more jazzy melodic theme known as “Fathers Song”-actually composed by his real life father John Nelson. That juxtaposition of new wave/synth pop and electronic jazz bring this to life.

“Darling Nikki”

Prince unintentionally ushered in the age of the “Tipper sticker” on albums with this particular song. Again,it’s a very European classical styled rock opera number-heavy on the drum pedal at the end with Prince screaming “COME BACK NIKKI,COME BACK!” at the top of his lungs. His vivid tale of an encounter with a nymphomaniac was intended to repel Apollona in the film. Again,Prince writhing shirtless on his piano as Apollonia wells up with tears (and stomps out of the First Avenue during the songs performance) illustrates one of the darker,most hurtful elements of “The Kid’s” personality.

“When Doves Cry”

This was the first I ever heard of Prince. Never noticed it had no bass line. Didn’t know what a bass line was at age 5. It’s still not an easy song to describe. It’s very close to Prince’s earlier stripped down Minneapolis funk/rock sound. There’s also a synth playing a straight up European classical string section on the outro. Lyrically it’s a very dark song-with Prince musing on domestic discord/abuse as depicted by his parents in the film as being antithetical to peace: “why do we scream at each other/this is what it sounds like when doves cry”.

“I Would Die 4 U”

Prince spends the first half of Purple Rain as a very self centered character,with strong overtones of misogyny thrown into the mix. By this point,his film father’s suicide attempt has led him to understand himself and those around him. This is one of the more funk structured songs on this album-with brittle bass synth and synth brass playing call and response all the way down-with Prince declaring “I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/I am something that you’ll never understand”

“Baby I’m A Star”

Prince is back with the straight up tent show style uptempo gospel attitude on this song. With the synth horns on the latter half,this is likely the funkiest thing on the whole soundtrack-very similar in musical character to what The Time did on the soundtrack. It also has some strong singalong moments on the chorus.

“Purple Rain”

Most people who know Prince know of this song. With it’s live sound-especially Prince’s highly echoed voice and the string arrangements,it’s one of those arena rock ballads that’s always sure to get the Bic lighters raised by the audience. Hearing Aretha Franklin sing it recently on PBS,it reminded me how much gospel/soul still remains a part of this song-originally his apology to Apollonia for his poor treatment of her in the film.


Interestingly enough,Purple Rain not my favorite Prince album. Not even of his 80’s output. All the same,there’s something addictive about these songs. Each one of them has a certain allure. Some of it might just be the idea that this was the most public display of Prince’s normally somewhat shy persona.  One feels as if they know this man whose playing and singing to them. These songs are up close and personal-not distant. Often more rock then funk and soul-for certain. But it’s not music that anyone can dismiss or ignore. It got Prince noticed. And his purple musical journey was only just beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Apollonia, ballads, electro funk, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, Wendy Melvoin

Rebbie And LaToya: The Unsung Ladies Of The Jackson Family

Rebbie & Latoya

The Jackson family’s biggest female star commercially is undoubtedly Janet. However she was not the first lady of the famous family to embark on a music career. The first was LaToya Yvonne-born today in 1956. The second made her debut five years later in 1984. This was Maureen Reillette Jackson,known as Rebbie. She is the eldest of all the Jackson siblings-born in 1950 on the same day of the year as her younger sister LaToya. Both haven’t been taken very seriously-likely due to criticism they’re not talented vocalists. For their birthdays,thought I’d explore their first albums through my Amazon.com reviews.

LaToya Jackson-Self Titled/1980

Obviously not in the state of mind to be the last member of the Jackson family to record an album (that honor would go to big sister Rebbie) LaToya came out with this album in 1980 and,actually wound up becoming the FIRST Jackson girl to record rather then the last (prefiguring her little sisters debut Janet Jackson by a couple years.Even at this time LaToya was the shy and somewhat sheltered “middle child” of the Jackson family and it comes off all too clearly in her timid,restrained singing.
To some it comes of as pure vocal weakness but most of the time,that isn’t the case at all. Luckily for her LaToya chooses to begin the album in the best possible way with the “If You Feel The Funk”-it sounds not unlike a Patrice Rushen hit of the same vintage but has a lewdness in it’s lyrics I am surprised that then heavily Jehovah’s Witness LaToya could manage to project.Many of these cuts are cut from the same basic cloth as the pop/R&B/disco projects that Jermaine was cutting at this time.
Only it was without the strong sense of craft and they certainly bare little resemblance to the majestic sounds The Jackson’s were getting the same year on their Triumph album.Even Janet’s collaboration with Michael “Night Time Lover”,while a good dance tune is too much an obvious clone of a Donna Summer tune to really stick out.But this album is home to three other truly great songs-“My Love Has Passed You By” is a pretty EWF type ballad featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica (a really nice touch too).
Another great song here is “Lovely Is She”;now Wonder isn’t on this track but the arrangement of the synthesizers brings him to mind,and the light latin inflected melody is pretty infectious.”If I Ain’t Got It” ends the album the same way it begun-with hefty funk and,this time around,a more lyrically assertive LaToya.So while nothing on ‘LaToya Jackson’ qualifies as truly wretched,if this music were precious metals exactly half this album is pure gold.The other half may be good quality brass but they all shine in much the same way.And no matter what it’s nice to have this long forgotten album available for those who really want to hear it.
Since Maureen “Rebbie” Jackson was the last of her superstar family to record there were probably very few expectations;after people had been exposed to the sweet but light,whispy singing of Janet and LaToya it seemed that the talent in this family laid mainly in the boys. But after listening to this it’s clear Rebbie is the Jackson’s best kept secret. Rebbie has one HELL of a voice if I may say so:she uses a lot of jazzy phrasing and inflections and obviously possess at least a 3 octave vocal range-dropping from her materialistic high alto down to a raspy Chaka Khan-ish growl in no time at all.
Her alluring,sexy voice is married to some truly wonderful material here,most of it with a mildly exotic 80’s funk-jazz bent. The best example is the title cut.Penned by brother Michael the tune has a strong electro funk pulse which Rebbie wraps her impressive voice around…well like a crawling centipede indeed. She also gets to mix it up in much the same way on the similarly part friendly groove of “Come Alive (It’s Saturday Night)”. “Hey Boy” finds her spreading her jazzy voice along to a very 70’s style soul ballad that ups in tempo a little bit towards the end-her malisma’s and turns on this song are truly tasty.
“Open Up To My Love” is one of the best songs on this overall wonderful album-nice mid tempo soul with tasteful,80’s friendly instrumentation and a really strong catchy hook. “Play Me (I’m A Jukebox)” showcases Rebbie in a very Minneapolis-type setting-she even adds some sassy rapping to the setting;for a woman who is a devout Jehovah’s Witness this song is very openly erotic. She obviously has a strong affinity for Prince’s sound because,as Chaka Khan and earlier The Pointer Sisters had done she covered his “I Feel For You”.
Nobody can probably beat Chaka’s famous reinvention of the same vintage but like the Pointers Rebbie retains the original’s upbeat music (the instrumentation is even very similar) and the use of her higher voice and the rocking guitar solo in the middle really help that feel along. “A Fork In The Road” is beautiful with it’s 60’s soul ballad feel and Rebbie’s yearning voice throughout. The album ends in a great way with the peppy,very 80’s Jackson-sounding groove that will have you bobbing and singing right along!
Rebbie’s solo career turned out to be sadly short lived;because of the Victory tour and Michael’s huge success in 1984 “Centipede” became her only big hit-she only recorded two more albums in the 80’s after this and her long awaited fourth album didn’t come out until 1998. With the proper guidance Rebbie could’ve easily been the heiress to Michael’s throne.Sadly that never happened but we can still listen to this and muse on this legend that should’ve been.
Since writing these reviews,there’s been something of an online buzz about the growling vocal parts of Rebbie Jackson’s “Centipede” were sung by The Weather Girls’ big voiced Martha Wash. Whatever the case may be, Rebbie and LaToya Jackson both share a soft,soulfully jazzy whisper of a voice. And actually are able to utilize family members and outside musicians,writers and producers who bring in material suited to their particular style.

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, disco funk, electro funk, Janet Jackson, Jehovah's Witnesses, LaToya Jackson, Michael Jackson, Music Reviewing, Prince, Rebbie Jackson, synth funk, The Jacksons, Uncategorized

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Mr. Mean’ by Ohio Players-Rest in P Marshall Jones

Mr.Mean

Considering the fact that it was sheer luck that I discovered this nearly impossible to find CD in a used CD store,it’s amazing how often I refer to and come back to this particular album. Always been fascinated by the impact of the album cover,a rare and topical group portrait in proto “gangsta” garb (something hip-hop has latched onto in many areas) as well. Interestingly enough this serves as a possibly loose soundtrack to a film of the same title,itself a rarity as well.

So basically it gave the Ohio Players a change to stretch out their music in a more cinematic arena. On the other hand,even as the membership of the band swelled from seven to nine members on this album all was not well within. Financial difficulties revolving around Clarence Satchell’s extravagant lifestyle were catching up to all of them. And…honestly it was their final album of all new material for Mercury.  All the same it is an album that,for sure get’s a very unbalanced and unfair reputation to say the least.

To clear up one of the most popular misconceptions,this is by no stretch of the imagination an “unfunky album” as so many listeners and critics charge. Quite the contrary it’s MOSTLY funk,albeit often of the more futurist and experimental variety. Mixing a strong rhythm box drum machine with almost Tangerine Dream/Kraftwerk style atonal electronic synthesizers “The Controllers Mind”,in it’s briefness in length finds Billy Beck WAAAY ahead of the game.

It was especially in terms of hip-hop’s later use of what some call the “video game” sound. P-Funk were just getting in on it too around this time and the Players took it way ahead here. On “Magic Trick”,basically a smooth late 70’s melodic dance-funk there are even more hints of that same atonal electronic jazz-funk keyboard sound. “Fight Me,Chase Me” and “The Big Score” limit the vocals primarily to the song title as the band flex their collective,cinematic jazzy funk muscles otherwise,with heavy emphasis on the jazz end of it.

The title song and the closing “Speak Easy” are the most conventionally funky numbers here. And even for that you’ll find the band driving the groove even harder into the ground than usual. The albums longest number is the nearly ten minute,moody “Good Luck Charm”,another Ohio Players bluesy style mid-tempo funk groove with some well executed use of ARP strings and a somewhat romantically tortured lyric. There’s a degree of complexity with the song,as it is on most of this album.

Actually musically stronger and FAR more ambitious than either Contradiction or Angel this album reaches out more into what was to come into and from funk music in the future more than it does deal with it’s past and present. In fact newer genres of techno dance and hip-hop might’ve benefited more from some of these musical ideas that the funk and disco of the era. In many ways I suppose we could only wonder. If this lineup of the Ohio Players hadn’t drawn to a halt and this album was a jumping off point as opposed to a conclusion……just what might’ve been.

Originally posted on July 29th,2016

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

*Listen to the title song of this album here!

*Listen to “The Controllers Mind” here!

*Listen to “Magic Trick” here!

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Amazon.com, Billy Beck, blacksploitation, cinematic funk, Clarence Satchell, electro funk, jazz funk, Leroy Sugarfoot Bonner, Marshall Jones, Music Reviewing, Ohio Players, Soundtracks, synthesizers

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