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”
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”
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”
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”
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.