Category Archives: MFSB

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: : “Mysteries Of The World” by MFSB

Time and again,instrumentalists who make hit songs function as they do take a faraway back seat to the performers in front of them. This is especially true for session musicians. But it happens in self contained bands as well. One such case was T.J Tindall,the guitarist for the Philadelphia International Records house band MFSB. He not only played on the Soul Train theme song “TSOP”, but contributed that famous down home guitar solo from The Jackson’s “Enjoy Yourself” which I recently overview’d on this blog. The news came to me yesterday from my friend Henry Cooper that Tindall had passed away at age 65. Saddest part is that I’d never heard of this musician before in my life.

MFSB had a similar musical function on the East Coast that Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra had on the West Coast. That is fusing a string orchestra with a hard grooving rhythm section and backup vocalists. Both bands had records of their own out. The difference was that MFSB were not focused on backing up a single artist,much as Stax’s Booker T & The MG’s and Motown’s Funk Brothers had been before them. And they allowed for that ethic to transition from the earlier funk/soul age into the disco era. One song that struck me strongly  came from later in their career-their 1980 swansong in fact. And it’s the title track to that final album called “Mysteries Of The World”.

Starting out with a synth phaser’d hi hat accompanied by sweeping cinematic string arrangements,the uptempo rhythm sections kicks right into gear after this intro. It features the drums accentuated by dancing percussion. The bass line has a harmonically rich jazziness about it with a strong thump-with the liquid guitar popping along like musical dewdrops falling on top of it. The processed keyboards providing the melody are accompanied by high pitched,bell like synthesizers on the choral refrains. On the second refrain,a synth solo duets with the strings and extends into a Brazilian style bridge where everything comes together before a more rocking guitar solo fades the song out.

Admittedly I have not heard a lot of MFSB in terms of their full length albums. A lot of what I did hear of them focused on the big orchestration. This song is very different. It strips the song right down to the drums,bass and guitar. On that groove,T.J Tindall’s sound on this seems like a small one-accenting the bass line mainly. But it actually provides a key part of the instrumental flow. Generally speaking I’ve noticed that rhythm guitarists seldom reach out to listeners the way the lead “guitar heroes” who step out front do. Still this proto post disco/boogie number is among my favorites that MFSB put to wax. And a fitting tribute to a now passed instrumental icon in Tindall.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, Brazilian Jazz, disco funk, Funk Bass, MFSB, percussion, Philly Soul, post disco, rhythm guitar, synthesizers, T.J. Tindall, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of The Groove: “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead

Gene McFadden and John Whitehead had a significant musical legacy before going from being creators to becoming performers of their own.  Along with Philadelphia International Records house band MFSB,this pair of songwriters were responsible for some of the labels biggest and most enduring hits-among them “Back Stabbers” for the O’Jays and “Bad Luck” for the Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. As such,they were major melodic architects for the music of the burgeoning disco era. The fact that their legacy touched on even Motown acts of the era showcases the extent to which their synergy went while working primarily in the musical backwaters.

Towards the end of the 1970’s, the post disco era seemed to be beginning in earnest. Albums such as Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall came to represent that transition in black dance music. The Philly sound was still doing fairly well at the time. But many of the original groups were re-focused as some of their lead singers went solo in the manner of Teddy Pendergrass. At this point,the strong voiced singers McFadden & Whitehead decided to make the leap from songwriter to artist with their self titled 1979 debut album. It’s first song was one that I personally knew of on a more peripheral level long before I knew of the albums existence. It was called “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”.

The slower tempo four on the floor dance beat gets the groove cooking up with the spacey keyboard washes and PIR’s climactic string arrangements. That same beat seems to develop a high swinging bump about it when the female backup singers began the chorus duetting with fan-faring call and response horns-then the bubbling Brazilian jazz style bass line really gets going in the song. The chorus actually strips down a bit,with less arrangement for the vocal parts as the intro becomes a prelude to the additional choruses of the song. On some of the latter chorus,the bubbling electric burble of the early drum machine adds yet another percussive element into the groove.

With this song,one of Philly’s finest songwriting teams come out on their own with what basically sets the stage for the immediate post disco era. The heavy string and horn orchestrations are still there,as well as the 4/4 dance beat. But the bass lines and additional drum kicks have an extra added spice about them. It all goes right along with the songs lyrical ode to optimism itself. It’s become such an important anthem for many black Generation Xers that Barack Obama used this song during his original campaign for president in 2008. And a part of me would like to hope his last eight years in office owe something to this fine dance floor friendly funky soul/disco classic.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now, Barack Obama, Disco, disco funk, Funk Bass, funky soul, Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, McFadden & Whitehead, MFSB, Philly Soul, post disco, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove Special Tribute To Eddie Levert-‘The Year 2000’ by The O’Jays

They say every picture tells a story. And this is actually a story I’ve told before on my previous blog. Personally? I found the 1990’s in my area anyway culturally and socially trying. Sometimes insurmountable. Towards the end of the decade along with the Y2K conspiracy theory? A Christmas gift from my parents,a twofer O’Jays CD on The Right Stuff label,ended up on my CD player on that dark,snowy Maine morning of January 1st,2000. The title of the 1980 CD was The Year 2000. And the title song was the first thing that came on.

It all starts off with a hi hat drum roll-into which emerges a heavily processed Fender Rhodes electric piano. Like the rhythm guitar which accents it? The piano is playing a short,bluesy melodic phrase. Following this twenty seconds of spare musicality? There is a brief pause before the swinging,percussive Philly medium tempo dance rhythm comes with the Rhodes still leading the way with the strong,fruity vocal harmonies of the O’Jays kick in for the chorus. On the melodic refrain? The strings that swell and fall climatically throughout the song are themselves phased through a futuristic,Leslie type filter. And this all sustains itself until the song itself fades out.

Before and after this? I’ve heard a lot of The O’Jays music from the 70’s and 80’s. There are many personal favorites of course. Yet something about this particular song sticks out for me as a musical statement. It goes far beyond any selfish form of nostalgia on my part. From what I’ve heard? This song is basically one of the final representatives of the early to late 70’s Philly dance sound pioneered by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. It continues a very futurist,cinematic space funk theme courtesy of MFSB,with many jazzy melodic and rhythmic accents that I could already hear with the O’Jays on late 70’s numbers such as “Travellin’ At The Speed Of Thought”. So it was instrumentally extending on a strong idea.

Lyrically? The the song is both beautiful,telling and on a personal level mildly haunting. Andresmusictalk is a blog whose most essential ingredient is hope. Hope for an instrumentally and thematically sustainable future for music. This is also a blog that celebrates and advocates for well rounded assessments. And sometimes that means that this hope may arrive from a questioning point of view. On this song? Eddie Levert sings the line “Will there still be wars/I hope and I pray they will cease to be/look at the time we’ve wasted/this is one of things that got the world in such a mess”. It looks back on a troubling recent past and towards a more human and joyous future.

What troubled me for some time is that 21 months after adopting this song as my personal anthem for the new millennium/new century? 9/11 occurred. And the weary “war on terror” lingered on for over a decade after. So in all frankness? No-Eddie’s prayer’s were definitely not answered. What does seem to be happening now though is that millions of Americans are starting to ask the same questions this song,which arrived at the tail end of what I call the “people music” era of the 60’s and 70’s,was striving for answers to. Would war continue to be the only way to protect freedom? Would poverty be the defining aspects of so many lives? If one can ask the question? Especially as this song did at or at least near the start of the Reagan era? Than Eddie Levert,The O’Jays and Philly soul did their good deed very well with this song.

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Filed under 1980's, 9/11, message songs, MFSB, Philly Soul, The O'Jays, The Year 2000, Y2K