Category Archives: Michael Jackson

Dangerous 25:Ain’t Too Hard For MJ To Jam!

When Michael Jackson’s Dangerous hit the record racks on November 25th of 1991,I was very aware that it existed. All the videos for the album were premiering on the Fox television network. And tunes like “Jam”,”Remember The Time’ and “Black Or White” were part of the general pop culture soundtrack of the early 1990’s. At that point,my family didn’t have cable TV. And for that matter,little interest in pursuing new music by Michael Jackson at all. And neither did I. Recently,seeing the collectible 3-D diorama of the CD jacket painting purchased by my boyfriend brought back more memories.

On a family day trip to the city of Portland,Maine during 1994 I located  Dangerous on a brand new cassette tape,cannot recall the store exactly. But it was inexpensive. And I decided to pick it up. On the 2 1/2 hour trip back home from Portland,I listened to the 70+ minute album on my old Walkman via headphones. It was during MJ’s public trial by fire,so my first thoughts hearing it was that this would be the last new Michael Jackson that would ever be recorded. Luckily,that wasn’t the case. Yet during the internet age I was able to better articulate my views on the album via one of my Amazon.com reviews.


While not sure I entirely agree on this point. However there is a school of thought that,while containing many excellent songs and performances,Bad has often been viewed in revision as an album that was a bit musically behind the times. All I knew was that between there and here? Michael Jackson parted company from the production of Quincy Jones. Sure there were numerous reasons for this. One of them is why the two matters I just mentioned were interrelated.

Seems Mike had wanted to bring in Teddy Riley-the pioneering new jack swing producer,leader of Guy and by than already producing hits for Keith Sweat and Al B. Sure,to help out with his 1987 release. One can just imagine if MJ had songs like “Night And Day” or “Teddy’s Jam” on the radio during the time. But I can see Quincy’s side of it too. Why have too many cooks in the kitchen? Quincy and Bruce Swedien were almost too much on their own.

The project that eventually became this album began in the late 80’s-with Mike independent to choose Riley as producer but retain master engineer Swedien as well. But not only was Mike’s post record breaking status alienating him from the music loving public. But he was also about to branch off into a totally new,and perhaps even unexpected musical direction.

As usual,an enormous marketing campaign ensued between Mike and Epic-with the Fox TV network even agreeing to air a new MJ video as they came out. So MJ was all set for yet more record breaking for sure. And this time he was going to do so with music that was breaking some new ground as well.

Opening with a smashed glass and deep voiced countdown,”Jam” opens with the album with a spare,MIDI horn accented new jack funk masterpiece where along with a guest spot from Heavy D.Lyrically Mike is battling optimism and cynicism,from within and without,on this song. “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”,with MJ’s beat boxing part of the percussion along with Teddy’s ultra funky guitar and keyboard riffing suggests that,just perhaps,there were broader issues for people in the world to think about than Michael Jackson’s eccentric personal life.

“In The Closet” is a rhythmically amazing number. Mike’s acapella vocalese,beat-boxing and sensually hushed vocals make up the core of this number until Teddy’s popping synthesizers come into the sexually tense chorus. “She Drives Me Wild” is the most musically busy number here-instrumentally the melodic equivalent of being in a highway traffic jam of engines,car horns,breaks-the sounds of which are all heard as rhythmic elements as Mike sings of being extremely sexually aroused.

“Remember The Time” has the most slippery music and melody here-a very clean and typically Teddy Riley uptempo new jack number full of MJ’s trademark composition elements. “Can’t Let Her Get Away” is another highly funked up number-with Mike as a sexual pursuer.

“Heal The World”,a proclamation for his soon to launch foundation is a hyper melodic smooth jazz-pop type mid-tempo ballad while “Black Or White” takes a Stonsey,guitar fueled yet polyrhythmic rock/funk direction. While racially ambiguous on some levels,the bridge where Mike growls “I ain’t scared of your brotha’/I ain’t scared of no sheets” tells a whole other story entirely.

“Who Is It” is a rhythmically heavy,stripped down and very slow grooving funk groove with Mike as “the other man” whose contemplating his lover being unfaithful-and of course nervous it might be someone he knows well. “Give Into Me” is a slick,darkly hued rocker where Mike begs for sexual release over a chorus of loud power chords. Beginning with a vocal choir from the Andre Crouch Singers “Will You Be There”,of course to become the famous theme song to Free Willy is a beautifully orchestral blend of American gospel and South African choral music

The song not only shows African/African American musical connectivity instrumentally, but also lyrically has an aural vastness about it-with Mike himself emerging with a powerful vocal crescendo at the songs conclusion. One song I always personally loved from this album,and which I feel may be underrated by some, is “Keep The Faith”. This song starts off seeming like a melodic ballad. Until Mike sings “’cause you can climb the highest mountain” and suddenly the song transforms into melodically and rhythmically powerful modern gospel.

He’s not singing of any particular religion exactly. In his trademark pleas for univeralism Mike suggests here that faith isn’t necessarily something of a religious nature. One area where his univeralist attitudes may have had a really solid point to make. “Gone To Soon” is a very slow orchestral ballad (not written by Mike) and dedicated to his young friend Ryan White,the teenage boy who died after years of suffering from AIDS. The title song ends the album-with similarly powerful (if musically fuller) groove that begins the album-again focusing on Mike’s dejection when a lady is playing him for a fool.

While Teddy Riley should continue to get a big applause for being able to effectively modernize MJ’s production,it it Mike himself who really came through on this album. Musically speaking,this might well be the most successfully forward thinking and ambitious album Michael Jackson ever recorded in his entire career. One huge reason for that is that Mike,a man with an enormous amount of different ways he can musically utilize his voice,uses that element of his talent as a huge instrumental element on much of this album.

On the Teddy Riley produced uptempo numbers that begin this album,Teddy’s digitally sampled/synthesized instrumental effects are undoubtedly a big part of it. But also the fact that the percussion tracks come from Mike embracing the aural tradition from hip-hop,such as from rappers like Doug E. Fresh,of beat-boxing with their voice to provide both the main and counter rhythms as well. This created an entirely new (and very very funky) template for Mike’s uptempo music here.

Even when the tempo slows,and the subject matter becomes more trepidatious  on the second part of the album? Mike’s singing approach is also different. His voice here is almost exclusively in its lowest possible tenor range-growling and pounding out the lyrics,again rhythmically in the finest James Brown tradition. This is my personal favorite side of Mike’s vocal style.

One which he’d maintain for the rest of his musical career. Sadly,both personally and professionally,the years after this represented a sad and slow decline for MJ. With the smothering arrival of alternative rock on the pop scene later in 1991,this was probably the last time the public hung on every word about what Michael Jackson would do next. And is a rhythmically powerful,and sadly cut off new direction for MJ.


As indicated by my review,Dangerous was really the final time a Michael Jackson album happily stopped the world. The releases of his later albums,not to mention his death,also had mammoth effects on people. But at the time,they tended to come across as the surprise of a fallen cultural icon making major headlines. Even still on its quarter century anniversary,Dangerous  found MJ making his own musical history again. And for one last time perhaps,doing so in a manner that was as based in creative energy as it was trying to sell an album. So happy anniversary ,Dangerous!

 

 

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Filed under 1991, 25th anniversary, Amazon.com, Bruce Swedien, Michael Jackson, Music Reviewing, New Jack Swing, Teddy Riley

Rod Temperton: The Star Of A Story I Love So Well

rod-temperton

Rod Temperton is my personal favorite composer of the last four decades. The funk and disco era he was a part of is generally thought of to be all rhythm based-simply to make you want to dance. But along with people such as Stevie Wonder,Con Funk Shun’s Felton Pilate and Earth Wind & Fire’s Maurice White,Temperton showcased how to write funky music with very singable,jazzy melodic scaling and modulation. He is yet another one of those figures who not only inspired this blog itself. But also the entire way I listen to music. And probably how I’ll continue to listen to it.

Temperton sadly passed away on October 5th,2016. Sources say of cancer,at the age of 66. His family wishes to protect his privacy. Which is totally logical as he lived as pretty much of a recluse. He was born in post WWII Lincolnshire,England. He apparently described his family,particularly his father,parenting him more with a radio by his bedside than their own presence. That began his lifelong love of music. From spending time as a drummer,working in the office of a frozen food company in Grisby he continued his fascination with music. This eventually landed him in Germany as a keyboardist.

In 1974,he answered the personal ad of Johnnie Wilder for the new band his was forming called Heatwave. He  became the chief songwriter for the band-honing his craft with hits such as “Boogie Nights” and “The Groove Line”. This earned him the attention of Quincy Jones. He than became a household name as a composer for Michael Jackson,namely the song “Thriller”.This is what Temperton is best known for. He wrote with the Westlake Studio crew for The Brothers Johnson,George Benson,Patti Austin and maintaining a songwriting relationship with Heatwave until they stopped recording after 1982.

The late Johnnie Wilder described Temperton’s personality as possessing a good sense of humor and a friendly attitude. This naturally made him a good musical partner for Quincy Jones. The man composed so many funk/soul/dance classics in the 70’s and 80’s that it would be too long to go through all of them. So today,I’m going to run down only the Rod Temperton songs that personally moved me the most. And chances are,many of them are being played on a radio station in your town at this very moment too. And that level of popularity is part of what makes many of these songs so enduring and distinctive.


Heatwave

“Boogie Nights” (1976)

The very idea of putting a swinging drum/jazz guitar opening and closing to the Moog bass led funky disco of this song gave it a strong and thoroughly musical sense of continuity.

“The Star Of A Story” (1978)

This might very well be my very favorite ballad of the late 70’s. With it’s processed electric pianos and orchestral sonics,its essentially a jazz tune with some tremendous multi tracked harmonies from Johnny Wilder. It was such a strong song,George Benson covered the song two years after Heatwave originally recorded it.

“The Big Guns” (1982)

In a lot of ways,this song became the instrumental prototype for what Temperton would do with Michael Jackson on the song “Thriller”. What this has is a slower,more complex percussive rhythms,jazzy scat singing and even a synthesizer solo from Herbie Hancock.

The Brothers Johnson 

“Stomp” (1980)

Temperton really know how to compose melodies spacious enough for both vocalists and instrumentalists. This song does both as a collaboration with Louis (also deceased) and George Johnson. Its a total bass/guitar showcase of course. But it also allows space for George Johnson’s vocal leads as well.

George Benson

“Give Me The Night” (1980)

This song is instrumentally a fairly close cousin of MJ’s “Rock With You”. Difference being the rhythm is far leaner-allowing Benson’s different guitar and lead vocal/scat playing parts to be more prominent in the mix.

“Off Broadway” (1980″

Oddly enough I first heard this as incidental music on a rerun of SCTV. Its built around Moog bass and horn/string interactions-all allowing Benson to shine on an evolving solo on this fine instrumental.

Patti Austin

“Razzmatazz” (1980)

This is probably one Patti’s most vibrant uptempo songs. The song is very stop heavy with horns,strings,guitar,keyboards and drums all playing the high key melody and rhythm. On the other hand,its a dance funk masterpiece where everything seems to fit just where it needs to go.

“Love Me To Death” (1981)

This album track from Austin’s Qwest debut  Every Home Should Have One is a gurgling mid tempo jazzy post disco groove with a deep,liquid guitar riff. To me a wonderful example of the clean production,molten instrumentation and harmonically powerful melody.

Michael McDonald

“Sweet Freedom” (1985)

This sonically heady dance/pop song from the 1985 comedy Running Scared is a song I remember singing to when I was 6 years old. So whether I knew it or not,Temperton’s songwriting style was deeply impacting on me before I even knew who he was. It has all the hallmarks of his writing and production style-emphasizing a rhythmically heady uptempo number with vast (in this case more electronic) instrumental sonics.

James Ingram

“One More Rhythm” (1983)

This song from Ingram’s debut album Its Your Night has an extremely singable melody. And uses modern production touches such as bass synthesizers and dancable refrains to what essentially amounts to a big band swing jazz revival. One of my all time favorite Temperton compositions-showing his understanding of Quincy Jones’ outlook on the musical continuity of black America.

Michael Jackson

“Rock With You” (1979)

One of the songs that helped launch MJ into a popular musical force of the early 80’s,”Rock With You” has such mellow instrumental sonics (including bass from Rufus’s Bobby Watson) that this steamy uptempo disco pop groove seems more like a ballad. And that’s probably not an easy quality to achieve.

“Thriller” (1982)

This is of course the song Temperton is best known for. It sounds like it sprang from a late in the day Heatwave demo. Its led by light percussion,hefty synth bass lines and a brittle liquid rhythm guitar on its bridge. Instrumentally,its one of Temperton’s finest compositions.


2016 is reminding me of the fact that today,most casual music listeners are again associating songs with singers. That instrumentalists,arrangers and composers are often afterthoughts. That’s because of the non stop parade of death this year of big musical icons. On a happier note,the internet and newer documentary films are bringing the creative history of these icons to live on a broader level. For me,Rod Temperton is such an artist. I could mention him in the same sentence as Nat King Cole and Burt Bacharach as one of the greatest mid/late 20th century musical composers.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Brothers Johnson, Funk, George Benson, Heatwave, James Ingram, Michael Jackson, Michael McDonald, Patti Austin, Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, songwriting, UK

Anatomy of THE Groove: “She Drives Me Wild” by Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s passing is still being felt seven years on. With him not being with us anymore,its getting easier to see beyond the idolatry (which both helped and hindered him) to the essence of his musical and performance artistry. This artistry was very much defined by MJ’s performance ability. This included his distinctive variety of rangy vocal hiccup. And it was also defined by his aggressive,brittle mixture of Broadway show dancing and the James Brown moves with which he began on as a child at Motown. By the early 1990’s,Jackson’s persona was becoming  more defined by his personal eccentricities.

Now this brings MJ up to his fourth post Motown solo album Dangerous. Quincy Jones was jettisoned as a producer,for among other reasons that Jackson wanted to update his sound in a different ways than perhaps Quincy did. One of the biggest success in the soul/funk world in the late 80’s/early 90’s was Teddy Riley. He’d helped pioneer the new jack swing variant of danceable funk music. Jackson was recording this fourth album during this time,and enlisted Riley to help out. Teddy Riley would up producing seven songs on the album,including the first six. My personal favorite of which is “She Drives Me Wild”.

Traffic sounds begin the song. Then a car horn effect playing an actual horn chart introduces the refrain. The refrain consists of a shuffling uptempo new jack drum machine,with each second beat seemingly played backwards. Synthesized MIDI effects are used to create digitized sounds of bells,clocks,more car horns,the sound of walking along with other effects one would expect to hear on the urban street in mid day. On the chorus,the growling vocals of Jacksons throughout the song return to his whispery falsetto as the drums and keyboards play it straighter. Its on such a note that the song fades out.

Personally,I tend to see new jack swing as being (which was also the case with some types of disco) as having potential to be somewhat cookie cutter and generic. In the hands of talents such as Teddy Riley and Michael Jackson,that brought out the very best the genre had to offer. These industrial electronics on this song sound much like an early 90’s extension of James Brown’s concept: turning digital MIDI sound effects and synthesizer layers into a drum. Wreckz-N-Effects perform an equally rhythm rap that appears on the instrumental bridge of the song

Henrique Hopkins and myself have had many discussions about how,while a strong album on a musical level,1987’s Bad  album wasn’t particularly innovative for its time. Susan Fast discussed in her excellent 33 1/3 volume on Dangerous that this was an album that actually found MJ very much on the cutting edge musically-along with keeping his strong sense of pop craft and funky dancibility. Listening to it today, its not an album that’s short on exciting and strong songs-especially the uptempo material. But this song really goes to another level for me.

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Filed under 1990s, dancing, Dangerous, drum machines, Industrial funk, James Brown, Michael Jackson, MIDI, New Jack Swing, synthesizers, Teddy Riley, Wreckz-N-Effects

Off The Wall At 37: The Album That Forever Changed Michael Jackson’s Career

MJ Off The Wall

Yesterday,Michael Jackson’s 1979 album Off The Wall celebrated its 30th anniversary. The album was reissued on CD with its full cover art for the first time in the new millennium in the US. A special bonus edition also features Spike Lee’s documentary film ‘Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown To Off The Wall’. Personally I’ve come to view Off The Wall this way: the people who love MJ’s most musical aspects love this album,whereas those who appreciate him more as a commercial phenomenon showcase his finest album as being 1982’s Thriller.

Before 1979,Michael Jackson was mainly the charismatic lead singer for The Jackson 5/Jacksons. He had a four album solo career on Motown in the early/mid 70’s too. Still,that album was very much connected to the music he was doing with his brothers. It was becoming more apparent as he grew that he would again have a solo career. Not sure if anyone anticipate that after 1979,MJ would become the Sammy Davis Jr. of his day-only one where the post civil rights era really allowed him to shine more as performer. On that musical level,here’s the content of a review I wrote about it six years ago.


In terms of someone like Michael Jackson,different phases of his career will impact on people differently. For some reason this album pretty much locks into my own brain as his general peak of his career. Despite the record breaking success he’d have in the 80’s,this album stands as one that says the most about his musical character. We all know the history. Mike meets up with Quincy Jones during the production of [[ASIN:B000XUOLNO The Wiz]],they begin recording this album with the help of some of the biggest musicians and songwriters of the era and so begins a new chapter for him.

No longer would Mike’s solo career be an adjunct to that of his brothers. And while still a functional member of The Jacksons at the time of this recording,his own self identity was being developed here as well. This album has some very unique hallmarks. It’s heavy on production but musically focused. It’s sophistifunk of the highest degree but heavier on the funk than the sophistication. Most important,pop considerations are very important here but Mike is not yet defining himself as the King Of Pop.

“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”,which despite may hearings flaunts it’s obvious late 70’s Barry White influence heavily couldn’t be a better way to start this album.”Rock With You” of course owes it’s grooving sleekness in part to Rufus’ Bobby Watson’s fluid bass line as much as it does to Mike’s elastic vocal. Now “Working Day And Night” is one of the most inspired and strong minded funk jams Mike ever made. He’d never quite got on the one in the same way before or after this.

“Get On The Floor” and the title song both work the disco floor,the former heavier on the funk end and the latter more on the urban dance side moving to the post disco era a bit more. Over the years I always say his cover of McCartney’s “Girlfriend” as a week link but it’s a vital straight ahead pop piece with some modern R&B/funk production elements for a little spiciness. “She’s Out Of My Life”,a very sad ballad Mike actually cannot keep a dry eye to himself is a rich interpretation of an orchestral,non rhythmic ballad.

Of course to my ears the finest ballad tune here is the more mid tempo “I Can’t Help It” from Stevie Wonder-featuring both Wonder’s unique way with chord progressions and electronics that Mike takes to maximum vocal effect. “It’s The Falling In Love”,a mid tempo pop/soul type duet with Patti Austin comes to “Burn This Disco Out”,a steamy horn funk closer finding Mike throwing down his best and underused bass vocals.

There are many people who to this day contest that this is Michael Jacksons finest solo album for a musical perspective. And I cannot say there isn’t a point there. Something about the music he made with and without his brothers circa 1978-1981 had a certain flavor to it that I don’t honestly think he ever fully recaptured. This period,culminating in a way with this and The Jacksons [[ASIN:B001BKMC9K Triumph]],recorded around the same time but released the following year, really allowed Mike to fully take command in interpreting  his own compositions

But it also let him be the most involved with the creative environment provided via Quincy Jones and his engineer Bruce Swedien. This wasn’t a Michael Jackson who wasn’t very concerned about breaking records,media attention,adulation of fans or indulging in potentially scandalous behavior. This WAS a Michael Jackson who had matured into adulthood creatively. And on that front was in a similarly energized state as he was a decade earlier when the J5 first debut for Motown. As such this album is as much as the conclusion of something as it was a new beginning. And that enthusiastic quality drips from every pore of the music you’ll find here.


Off The Wall  winds up being one of those albums where one’s perception of it evolves with time. Its instantly lovable,especially for any funk and post disco enthusiast. Considering the artist itself and the primary bass player here Louis Johnson aren’t with us anymore,I now look at the album this way. It represents the era when each Michael Jackson/Jacksons album was distinctly different. This album really prioritized live strings,horns and a rhythm section. The same personnel also produced the more electronic boogie sounding number “Sunset Driver” for this session. Shows just how distinctive MJ hoped this to be.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bobby Watson, Bruce Swedien, classic albums, disco funk, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Off The Wall, post disco, Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, Spike Lee

Grooves On Wax: Summer Madness ’16

Ray Charles

Ray Charle’s early 50’s sides,recorded before his Atlantic years, were reissued by the Coronet label in 1963. They find the future Genius Of Soul finding his own voice through his earlier influences. These song sound a lot closer to Charles Brown and earlier jump blues/R&B songs than the gospel and country influenced soul sound Ray would become an icon with. It’s still wonderful to hear a very youthful Ray croon some blues here though.

Key Jam: “Misery In My Heart”

out-of-our-heads-us-600x600

My father gave me his vinyl copies of several of his mid 60’s Rolling Stones albums. This one is a classic album of spicy,bluesy rock ‘n’ soul that showcased the Stones really reaching their commercial and creative peak. Mick Jagger’s vocal personality,Keith Richard’s down ‘n dirty guitar and Charlie Watts’ righteous rhythm make the punchy sound of the original Mono mix of this 1965 album something not to be missed out on!

Key Jams: “Mercy Mercy”,“Hitch Hike” and “Satisfaction”

Love Child

Berry Gordy himself was part of a writing team he called The Clan,who came up with much of this matter following the iconic Holland/Dozier/Holland team left Motown. The title song of this album felt very different for the Supremes alone-it had a grittier cinematic funky/soul flavor. Even if most of the album,especially the second side followed the groups iconic Motown girl group sound,this 1968 release sure began with a bang.

Key Jams: “Love Child” and “Keep An Eye”

Spiral Starecase

Always enjoyed the horn heavy,soulful shuffle for the title song of this 1968 album whenever it came on oldies radio. I eventually found their full length debut album. With the reliance on interpretations, they do sound very much like an R&B/soul cover band from the time period. One thing they do with them,especially when the source material was a ballad,is add their uptempo horn based approach to it. That makes this a very satisfying listen overall.

Key Jams: “More Today Than Yesterday”,“Our Day Will Come” and “No One For Me To Turn To”

Come Back Charleston Blue

Donny Hathaway and Quincy Jones coming together to record a film score/soundtrack was a masterstroke for its time. It was musician Nigel Hall who recommended this albumf or me to seek out over a decade ago. It definitely has Quincy exploring his long of jazz history-from dixieland through modal on the scoring elements. Hathaway on the other hand delivers some of his most expansive funky soul on this album as well.

Key Jam: “Little Ghetto Boy”

Nuff Said

This 1971 album found Ike & Tina Turner in their prime period of creativity. Ike Turner had an approach similar to James Brown where earlier songs spun off into new ones-with at least one of these songs baring a strong resemblance to the then recent hit “Proud Mary”. Even though they duo were seeming to tire a bit creatively at this point,they could still rock up some heavy funky soul with their guitar and vocal might.

Key Jams: “What You Don’t See (Is Better Yet) and “Moving Into Hip Style-A Trip Child”

I Wrote A Simple Song

Billy Preston really came into his own on this 1971 debut album for A&M. It brought out the versitility across soul,blues,rock and hard funk that this organ virtuoso and vocalist brought to his music. Especially when adding the guitar like effects of the Clavinet electric piano to his renowned organ work as he did here-not to mention his abilities to deliver message music that could really stick. Billy Preston albums used to be pretty easy to come by in used vinyl crates in my late teens/early 20’s. Saw this over and over before finally picking it up. And wondered why I didn’t sooner.

Key Jams: “The Bus” and “Outta Space”

Nightbirds

In 1974,the song “Lady Marmalade” from this record really helped to bring the talents of Patti LaBelle and future new wave funk/Talking Head member Nona Hendryx firmly into the public eye. Producer/musician/songwriter Allen Toussaint really helped bring the high stepping and stomping New Orleans funky soul sound and gospel soul drenched ballads to this revived Philly trio on this album.

Key Jams: “Lady Marmalade” and “Don’t Bring Me Down”

Horizon_(Carpenters_Album)

Perhaps it was due to personal problems that made this Carpenters album from 1975 so depressing in parts. Richard and Karen Carpenter both came out of a jazz back-round. So on this album of finely crafted balladry as they did best,there’s a reality based soulfulness that would begin to influence their more complex later work together. Even though this has it’s flaws,notably in the cover material,at least one of it’s two uptempo numbers has it’s moments. Again as it points to it’s Brazilian flavored jazz orientation of some of their later 70’s faster songs.

Key Jam: “Happy”

T-Connection-On-Fire-524801

T-Connection reveal themselves to be a highly underrated band. This 1978 found the groups stylistic versatility keeping up the soul and funk through journey’s into disco,West Coast pop,some scorching rockers and even a couple country inflected numbers.

Key Jams: “Lady Of The Night”,“Groove To Get Down” and “Playing Games”

I Love My Music

Even in 1979 when this album came out,this Pittsburgh band were known for their 1976 hit “Play That Funky Music,White Boy”. And during the height of the disco era,the bands focus was still on hefty funk grooves and harmony driven soul ballads. So this album was more than a pleasant surprise for me.

Key Jams: “Lana” and “If You Want My Love”

Off The Wall

Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones’ work on this 1979 masterpiece resulted in so many strong musical performance,listening to this vinyl passed down to me from my parents turned me onto the instrumentalists here. People such as Greg Phillinganes,Jerry Hey,Louis Johnson and Paulinho Da Costa. Which…in turn led me to starting this blog really. Bringing out this old vinyl to check out was mainly based on nostalgia. But also brought out that with songs such as “Rock With You” and “Get On The Floor”,very different mixed were used on the mid 90’s CD reissue I have. So it was fascinating to hear those differences come alive again through vinyl on this iconic album classic from the late MJ.

Key Jams: ALL of the first side. Plus “I Can’t Help It” on the flip side.

Sweat Band

Bootsy Collins came out of the lawsuit that barred him from using the Rubber Band name on George Clinton’s Uncle Jam label with this 1980 album of 100% P-Funk power! Having some of the bands finest players such as Mike Hampton,Garry Shider and Maceo Parker aboard allowed Bootsy’s iconic funksmanship to shine through in a way that…well actually impacted heavier on me by the second listen.

Key Jams: “Body Shop” and “Hyper Space”

Hiroshima Odori

Hiroshima are among the most fascinating jazz fusion groups to emerge from the late 70’s. This sophomore album of theirs from 1980 showcases their Sansei Japanese founder/woodwind player Dan Kuramoto,along with his Koto virtuoso wife June,creating a pan ethnic jazz/rock sound that blended many Japanese instrumental approaches into that fusion framework. And while their 1979 was extremely strong,this second album made an even bigger musical statement.

Key Jams: “Crusin J-Town” and “Echoes”

Pieces Of A Dream

Pieces Of A Dream’s early albums extend very well on the late 70’s/early 80’s proto smooth jazz and latter day jazz/funk scene of Philadelphia. Grover Washington Jr. did a lot of work with this trio on this 1983 album. It even adds in a hip-hop styled turntable scratching synth effect on one of it’s songs as well.

Key Jams: “For The Fun Of It”,“It’s Getting Hot In Here” and “Fo Fi Fo”

1-style-cameo-album

Cameo didn’t have just one transitional album-they had a whole transitional period. This underrated 1983 album is a major part of it. As the mid 80’s came in,Cameo’s lineup seemed to get smaller and smaller. On this album,it was a stripped down quartet. But through the many scratches on my vinyl copy,it was clear that Cameo knew how to hit the groove loud and hard during their stripped down,early 80’s new wave funk period

Key Jams: “This Life Is Not For Me” and “Cameo’s Dance”

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Billy Preston, Bootsy Collins, Cameo, Dan Kuramoto, Donny Hathaway, Funk, Fusion, Hiroshima, Ike & Tina Turner, Labelle, Michael Jackson, Pieces Of A Dream, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, record collecting, rock 'n' roll, Rolling Stones, Soul, Spiral Starcase, Sweat Band, T-Connection, The Carpenters, The Supremes, Vinyl, Wild Cherry

Michael Jackson-The First Solo Career

Photo of JACKSON FIVE and Michael JACKSON

Michael Jackson shared one major thing in common with fellow Motowner Stevie Wonder: both of them had two distinct solo careers. Stevie’s was as a child prodigy musician who mostly played harmonica and bongos. And only singing a little bit. Of course his breakthrough was still on the Motown label. But on independent, fully adult terms. Michael had his first career in his early/mid teens on Motown as well. He differs from Stevie mainly in that his adult solo breakthrough came through the guidance of Quincy Jones and his crew of musicians. And it happened on the Epic label rather than Motown.

Michael’s solo career on Motown was linked very closely to the Jackson 5ive’s. His brothers often continued to sing backup for him during this time. And he continued to work with the writers and producers who made up The Corporation-the creative team who helped to create the Jacksons’ sound while they were on Motown. In addition to providing the teenage Michael with fresh new material,they also developed his strong vocal ability into that of an interpretive singer-even as his voice began to change. And it’s that first solo career (from 1972 to 1975) that I want to represent Michael Jackson with today.


“I Wanna Be Where You Are”/1972

This is probably my personal favorite of Michael’s solo hits from before his voice really changed. The rhythm guitar/harpsichord heavy uptempo funkiness has a strong J5 flavor still. But Leon Ware and T-Boy Ross’s songwriting has a lot of those jazzy chord changes,from major to minor,that Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson were using at the time. Michael handles the melodic complexity of the song with seeming ease and emotional power.

“Ain’t No Sunshine”/1972

With it’s fuzzed out guitar and slow shuffling beat,this Bill Withers cover comes instrumentally right out of the early P-Funk albums from Funkadelic in 1970-71. But it’s raw blusiness is slickened up far more than anything George Clinton was doing at this time. Always loved Michael’s spoken intro where he says “you ever want something that you know you shouldn’t have? The more you know shouldn’t have it,the more you want it”.

“People Make The World Go ‘Round”/1972

One thing that really makes this song stand out as an interpretation is how much different it is from the Stylistics original. Thom Bell’s slow tempo is raised up a notch,and the music is a more less orchestrated. Not only that but the lyrics are simplified,to the point of being totally altered,to make more sense that a 14 year old is singing it. It was a moment when someone else’s song was tailored more to Michael’s maturity level-rather than the more experienced and adult sociopolitical elan of the original.

“Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day”/1972

This Stevie Wonder interpretation is amazing. It sounds based more on the faster,more clavinet driven live versions Stevie performed in the late 60’s than the studio original. Also Michael begins utilizing more of the vocal hiccups and ad libs from his Epic era solo career here. What shocked me is to hear the chorus at the very beginning sung in Michael’s fully changed adult voice,but the rest in his higher childhood one. Almost as if vocal parts were recorded at totally different times.

“All The Things You Are”/1973

Michael Jackson became fascinated with the Philly soul sound of Gamble & Huff during his mid teens. And this interpretation of the Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern showtune really showcases the orchestral proto disco funkiness spirit of the city of brotherly love. Michael utilizes his changing voice beautifully here-singing the more dramatic parts in his childhood voice and the more nuanced ones in his mature voice.

“Euphoria”/1973

Leon Ware provided this jazzy,cinematic mid tempo Clavinet/string orchestration based funky soul to Michael Jackson at a time when he was right on the cusp of finding his identity as a solo performer for Motown. He’s spelling the words out of the song title in the manner a parent might  do for a child. Yet the choruses make it clear Michael is really beginning to understand the meaning of the word euphoria.

“We’re Almost There”/1975

Michael’s voice had fully matured by the time his final Motown album Forever,Michael dropped in early 1975. This amazingly cinematic groove from Brian and Eddie Holland-with it’s funky wah wah and high stepping Afro Brazilian dance rhythm really allowed Michael’s voice to soar to the romantically hopeful revelry of the lyrics.

“Dapper Dan”/1975

This album track from the Forever,Michael is the one song from that album that you won’t find on any of the many Motown era solo Michael Jackson best of compilations out there. But it is by far the funkiest song on the album. Written primarily by Hal Davis,it channels the sort of New Orleans stomp that an Allen Toussaint might cook up for Dr.John at that time. And showcases Michael getting down hard with some super heavy funk.


Michael Jackson has been dead for seven years as if this writing. I was motivated to explore this side of Michael’s artistry because it showcased his personal interests guiding those people still guiding Michael. And his first four solo albums recorded on Motown helped prepare him to develop his focus in terms of the kinds of writers,producers and musicians he’d work with as a grown adult. His second solo career is well illustrated in the Guinness Book Of World Records. But his solo trajectory really took off while still on Motown.

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Filed under 1970's, cinematic funk, Funk, Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, Motown, Motown Sound, Philly Soul, Stevie Wonder, The Corporation

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

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Say You Do” by Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson is turning 50 today. It’s amazing to think her music career is 34 years old now. She was groomed by her family to be an actress-doing Mae West impressions on the Jackson 5’s Las Vegas shows in the mid 70’s and staring on Norman Lear’s Good Times as Penny,an abused child adopted the Evans’ next door neighbor Willona Woods on the show. Just before Mothers Day this year,Janet announced she was 2 weeks pregnant with her first child by her husband of five years Wissam Al Mana. Would like to wish these expectant parents all the happiness in the world for this happy event.

Growing up Janet was actually interested in becoming a horse racing jockey or an entertainment lawyer- supporting herself through acting. By her early teens,she’d become committed to being an entertainer. With the help of her father Joe,she got a contract with A&M Records in 1982. The album had an incredible array of session musicians,songwriters and producers working with an appropriate sound for Janet’s still developing vocals. The album itself did chart in the R&B Top 10. But somehow never produced any hit singles. One big potential one was the opener “Say You Do”.

Starting out with a hard hitting 5 beat pattern on the snare drum,a thunder like sound allows a thumping bass line and a cosmic space funk synthesizer to ascend in sound and pitch into the refrain. After this,a liquid rhythm guitar protects the groove with several accenting keyboard patterns. One is a horn type Clavinet accent,the other is an orchestral Fender Rhodes-themselves accompanied by aggressive Chic-like bursts of disco era strings along with Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements. These work tightly in concert with those Chic style strings arranged by Benjamin Wright.

After several choruses and refrains of Janet’s vocals-featuring the singer accompanying herself with several layers of lead and back-round choruses,there’s a thick and funky drum/Clavinet/synth bass funky bridge before a symphonic chorus of Janet’s vocals comes in. Janet’s voice is elaborately echoed in a rather psychedelic manner-again accompanying herself with her lower and higher range over the 5 beat drumming.After this, that drum breaks off into the thunder sound that started the song concluding it-with the synthesizer that fades up into the intro fading out in the exact opposite manner.

When I first heard this album 20 years ago,it came as a total surprise that so much elaborate musicality would go into an unproven teenager singer-even if she did carry the famous Jackson name. For awhile now,almost no thought goes into the majority of teen singer/boy band/girl group style musical productions. With the entire focus being on the singer’s vocal persona and the songs hook. This Rene & Angela composition that starts out Janet’s debut album takes a totally different approach-much like an early 80’s update of the sound Norman Whitfield got for The Temptation on songs like “Masterpiece”.

The incredible instrumentalists on this song might have a lot to do with this sound. Rufus’s rhythm section Bobby Watson,Tony Maiden,John Robinson AND Andre Fischer are all over this groove. Not to mention James Jamerson Jr. coming in on bass too along jazz oriented keyboardists/synthesizer players  Jeff Lorber and Frank Zappa’s Ian Underwood. Janet’s teenage voice is very impressive on this song. Her maturing vocals not only scale from a low tenor to her high mezzo soprano by turns-along with the multi tracked and echo-plexed symphony of her voice added to the mix too.

Of course there’s also the influence of her brother Michael here too. Michael Jackson was one of the biggest personalities in the music world in 1982,and only about to get bigger on that level. Janet does her own versions of his vocal hiccups and range on this song for sure. But the idea of combining a tight rhythm section of strong session instrumentalists with the horn arrangements of Jerry Hey,also working with Quincy Jones and MJ at the time,showcased her influence from her brother was as much musical as it was from the performance standpoint of her presentation.

Musically this song also bridges two generations of funk as well. It has the elaborate arrangements of the cinematic soul sound of Isaac Hayes and Barry White that inaugurated the disco era. But the clipped,stripped down presentation of the rhythm section and spare bursts of strings and horns also fall in line with the new wave influenced Minneapolis sound of Prince. Which was one Janet would embrace more fully in the next several years. This sort of instrumental thoughtfulness and funkiness stands for me as a superb model for teen singers. And stands as a highly unsung debut song from Miss Janet!

 

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Filed under 1980's, Andre Fischer, Angela Wimbush, Benjamin Wright, Bobby Waton, Boogie Funk, cinematic soul, clavinet, dance funk, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Ian Underwood, James Jamerson Jr, Janet Jackson, Jeff Lorber, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Joseph Jackson, Michael Jackson, naked funk, Rene & Angela, Rene Moore, rhythm guitar, strings, synth bass, synthesizer, teen pop, Tony Maiden, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Wondering Who” by The Jacksons

Jackie Jackson,being the eldest of the Jackson’s siblings whose turning 65 today,brings to mind an important element in the Jackson family musical dynamic. With the enormous commercial success of the late Michael Jackson,it often seems that the different musical talents of the other family members are torn down in order to build up MJ’s cult of personality. Michael Jackson was a very talented performer,and one of the most rhythmic and distinctive vocalists of his era. Yet with such a musical family,his talent was made stronger (not weaker) by the unity he had with his brothers.

Born Sigmund Esco,Jackie was part of the main vocal trade-off’s between young Michael and Jermaine during the salad days of the Jackson 5. At that time he often sang high,reedy falsetto parts. When four of the brothers,including him,teamed with youngest brother Randy at Epic,the lead vocals Jackie provided to the group found him singing in his gruff,gravelly low tenor. Between the summer of 1979 and 1980,the by that time re-christened Jackson’s began work on their sixths album Triumph. Dominated vocally by Michael,the final song was a major triumph for Jackie in “Wondering Who”.

Ollie Brown’s hi hat drum kick off starts the song off along with Michael Boddicker’s melodic Vocorder line. It then kicks off into a percussive,uptempo Latin-funk rhythm with Boddicker’s brittle synthesizers and Vocorder providing equally rhythmic accompaniment. Nathan Watts’ 2 on three note bass thump and Tito Jackson’s low,fast past chicken scratch guitar lines lead into the 4/4 dance beat of the chorus-with the synthesizer’s becoming more orchestral. Tito’s bluesy guitar riff’s buffet each choral/refrain pattern. Michael and Jackie duet on the final chorus before Boddicker’s jazzy Vocorder scat fade out the song.

The first time I heard this song,it sounded as if the Jackson’s were ending their first album of the 1980’s with a nod to the future of funk. Indeed, they were. Composed wonderfully by Jackie and Randy Jackson,this song has a strong bluesy melody. Instrumentally it is extremely compelling. It’s a full on boogie/electro funk groove. And one where the synthesizers and Vocorder play the same role as the live percussion. The frenetic power of the songs music,combined with Jackie’s matured versatility as a singer,make this one of the best examples of futurist funk that ever came out of the Jackson’s camp in it’s day.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, chicken scratch guitar, elecro funk, Jackie Jackson, Michael Boddicker, Michael Jackson, Nathan East, Ollie Brown, Randy Jackson, synthesizers, The Jacksons, Tito Jackson, Uncategorized, vocoder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Dude” by Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones has been on my mind a lot lately when thinking about music. Last week in fact,my friend Henrique pointed out something he read on the back of a vinyl album about how important Quincy was to the jazz world in general. And this was at the height of his career no less. From being mentored by Clark Terry in the 1940’s up to helping shape up and coming hip-hoppers 60 years later,the evolutionary nature of Quincy’s career had me wondering how to present his music here today. The question was would it be good to express that musical arc by overviewing several songs from several decades,or focus on one song that might tell it’s own kind of story about Quincy Jones.

Last year at this time,I posted up an older review I had done for the 1981 Quincy Jones release of The Dude. Albums released under his own name always had a specific flavor to them. For example,his early albums showcased him largely as an instrumental band leader. His releases since the 70’s have generally been showcases not only for his evolving production approach,but also with the different musicians and vocalists he was involved with or mentoring at the given time. In the case of this early 80’s album,the spotlight was on James Ingram and Patti Austin. And the title track of the album said so much about where the classic Quincy Jones sound was going to be at that time.

A pulsing,nasal synthesizer starts off the song before the drums and horns kick in. This is accompanied by opening backup that includes Syreeta Wright and Michael Jackson among a massive chorus. The horns lead into a stripped down percussion break  that’s accented by a slow crawling drum beat-over which a bluesy Fender Rhodes plays the lead keyboard line accented by Louis Johnson’s slap bass lines. The refrains start off with Austin and Ingram trading off vocals along. with Michael Boddicker’s Vocoder. Quincy himself provides a rap as the title character on several choruses after which the horns the male backup singers provide an accompanying chorus.

On the third of these choruses, the backup chorus led along by Austin sings a swinging variation of the chorus. Steve Luckather comes in to play a wah wah pedal heavy guitar line that mimics the low volume,bluesy solo on the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer that comes out of Stevie Wonder on the bridge,which basically repeats the melodic theme of the refrain. After this the fanfarring horns that generally introduce Quincy raps instead segues into Austin’s swinging vocal choruses. There’s a repeat of the refrain after this. And the song fades out on a repeat of the chorus. Only on this one,Ingram accentuates the lyrics vocally before the song comes to an end.

Getting back to Quincy’s varied musical career,there are many qualities in this song that sum up everything he had done in his then nearly four decades of creative activity. The classic Westlake studio crew including drummer John Robinson,percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,trumpeter/arranger Jerry Hey and of course Louis Johnson play on this number. On the surface,this song written with Patti Austin and Rod Temperton has that sleek west coast production matched with the deep funk groove Quincy had been perfecting over much of the 1970’s. On that level,it’s alternately stripped down and boisterous depending on the mood the song is trying to project at a given time.

On the broader level,this song totally epitomizes the musical evolution of Quincy thus far. The accessory vocal harmonies on the chorus reflect the big band swing era as do the horns. And Stevie Wonder’s synth solo additionally brings the flavor of the blusiness that came from jazz to rock ‘n roll and onto funk and soul as well. The character of “The Dude”,represented as a stone sculpture on the cover and later to become Quincy’d mascot for his media production company,is basically an elder statesmen whose philosophy could be summed up by him stating “don’t put your moth around a check that your body can’t cash”. In this instance for me,this is Quincy’s most defining song overall up to this point.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, big band swing, blues funk, Fender Rhodes, horns, James Ingram, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Quincy Jones, QWest, rap, Rod Temperton, slap bass, Steve Luckather, Stevie Wonder, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder, wah wah guitar, West Coast