Category Archives: pentatonic scale

Anatomy of THE Groove: “My Jamaican Guy” by Grace Jones

Grace Jones is someone who feels a bit like a creative soul sister to me. Despite the 32 year age difference,we were both born on the same day of the year. As Tauruses, both of us very much contradict our supposed astrological traits. It’s kind of fun to think about the fact that both Grace Jones and myself revel in being somewhat daring. Yet both of us exact  strong control over how said daring is projected. So far,she’s really made her controlled sense of performance art really function well for her. That’s made her something of a cultural icon for Afrocentricity from the beginning to the middle of the 1980’s.

Jones recorded three albums during between 1980 and 1982 for Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point studios. All would feature the production and instrumental talents of dub reggae pioneers Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. These albums  all fashioned a funky,pan ethnic type of new wave dance/rock music. Her final album of this triad was called Living My Life. In many ways,it was the most fully realized of her albums in terms embracing different strains of Afrocentric musicality. And it all started off with a song that really summed this sound up in “My Jamaican Guy”.

Wally Badarou starts out with a synthesizer solo deep in the Asiatic pentatonic scale. Dunbar then comes in with the 8 beat,break heavy jazzy funk/reggae skank throughout the song. On the refrain there are two more layers of keyboard-one is a lower and more bluesy one,the other of is a higher pitched synth brass/horn chart type riff.  Shakespeare’s bass and guitarists Barry Reynonds stay in chunky,syncopated interplay throughout-all the while a round,hiccuping electronic pulse adds a percussive thump. After a bridge that reduces the song back to the drum,the chorus lets the song come to a hand clapping stop.

Instrumentally speaking,this might be the most thoroughly pan ethnic funk jam of 1982. It’s got the Asian style melody,the stripped down dub funk drumming as well as the equally drum like bass/guitar interplay. Everything from Grace and Sly & Robbie’s grunts and calls to the electronic hiccups make this song one big sea of rhythm and movement along with it’s deep reggae melody and lyrics. The “laid back,not layed back” Jamaican guy Jones sings about turned out to be Tyrone Downie of Bob Marley’s Wailers. And this all makes up for one of the best examples of where the funky groove took Miss Grace Jones.




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Filed under 1980's, Afrocentrism, Barry Reynolds, Chris Blackwell, Compass Point, drums, Funk Bass, Grace Jones, naked funk, pentatonic scale, rhythm guitar, Robbie Shakespeare, Sly & Robbie, Sly Dunbar, synthesizers, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sugar Walls” by Sheena Easton

Sheena Easton came up in a working class family in Bellshill,Scotland. It was her good grades that got her a college scholarship-after which she opted for a day job as a speech and drama teacher while singing in clubs at night during the late 70’s. Having learned her vocal craft from Motown and other American soul records she heard on the radio,Sheena’s career started on the basis for a movie she was going to star in about a hopeful singer. Instead she BECAME that singer-singing to EMI in by the early 80’s. Her early hits included lightly soulful dance singles like “Modern Girl” and “9 to 5 (Morning Train)”.

Sheena’s first three albums basically found her in the mold of a West Coast pop vocalist with a lot of rather gentle,sleek production qualities. Her 1983 album Best Kept Secret showcased a more new wave inflected sound-heavier on the synthesizers. Enter Prince. His delicate yet provocative composing style was well suited to the female singers he was starting to write for,at least in his eyes. When it was time for her next album in 1984’s A Private Heaven,Sheena was poised for a major pop breakthrough at the same time as Prince’s. The result was a hit he wrote for her on the album called “Sugar Walls”.

The album starts out with Prince’s trademark Linn drum hi hats and snare hits. Then a very Asian sounding polyphonic synthesizer enters the mix. As the refrain comes in,the snares still hit hard. Meanwhile the low guitar purrs in the back-round of the mix like a low roaring lion while the synth bass line basically holds up that keyboard melody,which re-emerges throughout the song in shorter bursts. On the repeated choruses,that same guitar rocks up with more of a snarl to it. The orchestral synths come to a heated frenzy just before the music strips down into it’s own fade out.

Musically speaking,this song is written in what my friend Henrique Hopkins referred to as the pentatonic scale. This is actually a musical scale or mode with five notes per octave. It’s a common link between West African,European folk,Asian and American jazz and blues styles. The use of the brittle synthesizers showcased Prince was on the same wavelength with Michael Jackon when he wrote “Centipede” for his sister Rebbie that same year. And that was combining the brittle synth-dance grooves with a pan continental structure much like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “neo geo” style of music.

Instrumentally the combination of Prince’s pan ethnic dance groove with Sheena’s vocal tailoring to Prince’s female archetype,this song is perhaps known for the public stir it’s double entendre based lyrics created. Tipper Gore added the song to her and the Parents Research Music Counsel’s “filthy 15” list of pop songs with obscene lyrics. While this would lead to the modern day Parental Advisory sticker on some CD’s today,it tended to overshadow how Prince actually innovated the Minneapolis dance/funk sound in a very different compositional structure with this 1984 Sheena Easton hit.


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Filed under 1980's, Linn Drum, Minneapolis Sound, neo-geo, pentatonic scale, Prince, rhythm guitar, rock guitar, Sheena Easton, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizer, Uncategorized