Category Archives: Philly Soul

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Am I Black Enough For You” by Billy Paul

Billy Paul is another of far,far too many music icons of the 20th century who passed away during 2016. The Philly native grew up listening to jazz based singers such as Nina Simone,Carmen McCrae and Billie Holiday. After a stint in the army,where he was was stationed in post WWII Germany in the late 50’s along with Elvis Presley. Using this as an opportunity to further his love of music,he launched a jazz trio while in Germany. After getting out of the army,he became part of the burgeoning Philadelphia International Records,eventually releasing his debut album in 1970.

As with most people in America,my primary knowledge of this artist was via the ballad “Me & Mrs. Jones”. My father purchased a compilation of Billy Paul’s music. And after that,it became clear that this man did some amazingly cinematic uptempo tunes. Many of them with a very strong pro black sociopolitical bent lyrically. It was about a year ago when watching a documentary about Oakland’s Black Panthers that I heard a very funkified song with a very familiar voice. Turns out that voice belonged to the late Billy Paul. And the song (from 1972) was called “Am I Black Enough For You”.

A bluesy Clavinet riff dovetails into the percussive accented funky march of the drums. That Clavinet maintains itself throughout the song. At first,this is assisted by a bluesy rhythm guitar. The song has a rather elaborate,jazzy bass line holding the rhythm section together. The horns are both melodic and climactic-scaling upward on each of the songs choruses. Towards the end of the song,a fuzzed out guitar plays an eerie sustain in the back round as the percussion and a bluesy organ and guitar take over on the bridge. Then the songs main chorus takes over until it all fades out

“Am I Black Enough For You” is a psychedelic,bluesy funk number musically. One featuring a dense,thick instrumental sound. The melody is very overtly blues based too. Lyrically,the song speaks as much to the present day as it did for 1972. In both cases,an unpopular and widely disliked politician had become president. And anti black attitudes were a causal factor in both cases. This song lyrically suggests that strength in numbers will help black Americans to have power and dignity of person. And with Billy Paul no longer with us,that’s as fine a musical concept for him to heave us with as any.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Billy Paul, blues funk, civil rights, clavinet, drums, Funk Bass, fuzz guitar, horns, message songs, organ, percussion, Philadelphia, Philadelphia International Records, Philly Soul, pro black, psychedelic soul, rhythm guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “All Night Long” by Dexter Wansel

Dexter Wansel first became known to me as one of the Philly PIR team who worked on the 1976 debut album by the Jacksons. Being more broadly aware of the Philly soul sound now,Wansel seems to have a very different approach to music than Gamble & Huff and Thom Bell did. With disco era classics such as the Jones Girls “Nights Over Egypt” and “Keep On Dancing”,one of my favorite Jacksons’ songs off that Epic label debut,Dexter Wansel’s arrangements were based in his keyboard and guitar playing. Therefore his productions seem to have some of the funkiest bottoms of 70’s Phily funk and soul.

One thing Wansel also did was maintain a solo presence on PIR concurrent to his productions. One of these albums,which I never managed to pick up on vinyl despite seeing it all the time,was 1978’s Voyager. The album cover always stood out to me as a Trekker/sci fi admirer because of the prominent Star Trek model kit bash featured as some sort of robot riding through the desert. Through MP3 and YouTube,I’ve been fortunate enough to hear this album all the way through.And its an album that starts out with a funky bang with the jam “All Night Long”.

An otherworldly space funk Moog bass starts the song off. Then the drums come in playing a disco era friendly dance/funk beat. This is accompanied  by a mid toned rhythm guitar sustain,accenting horns and a SERIOUS slap bass thump. With the addition of an accompanying Fender Rhodes piano and Wansel’s falsetto/tenor vocal leaps this represents the choruses and refrains of the song. On the last part of the song,a major horn chart segues into a percussive,jumping beat over which a sassy,rocking blues guitar riffs with the phat slap bass and keyboard lines before scratching hard as the song closes out.

Without any hesitation, this is one of the hardest straight up funk jams to come out of the PIR camp. The beat has a swaggering,percussive shuffle. The keyboard/synthesizer parts are layered in a manner that lays somewhere between early 70’s “united funk” and mid/late 70’s space funk. And Wansel’s vocals (I’m pretty sure they’re his) have some of the slyly sexy attitude of his particular musical camp. Honestly I tend to think of Philly soul as the breezy,string laden proto disco sound of the 70’s. This helps showcase Dexter Wansel as a major player in the harder groove based element of the Philly sound.

 

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Filed under 1970's, dance funk, Dexter Wansel, drums, Fender Rhodes, horns, Moog bass, Philadelphia, Philly funk, Philly Soul, rhythm guitar, rock guitar, slap bass, synthesizers

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

The O’Jays: My Favorite Jams From On Board The Philly Foursome’s Love Train

O'Jays Painting

The O’Jays have always been a part of my musical core. And so much personal understanding of the Philly sound came by way of this vocal trio. From the first time hearing “Back Stabbers” on the radio and singing along with my mom all the way to ringing in the new millennium to the tune of their song “The Year 2000”. When looking upon a single song or album to break down,it didn’t quite feel right. So with Eddie Levert turning 74,and so many his generations music peers dying off this year,I decided to break down my favorite O’Jays uptempo grooves-song by song. So here come the Philly jams!


“Back Stabbers”/1972

Henrique Hopkins and I once discussed this and the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” as being Watergate era cinematic soul anthems of paranoia. With the sauntering,theatrical proto disco Philly soul “Back Stabbers” made the darker social climate of the early 70’s wiggle and wobble with a type of excitement and joy.

“For The Love Of Money”/1973

The first time I heard this song,it reminded me of the song “Poppy Girls” from Quincy Jones’s production of The Wiz.  Turns out that was an instrumental recasting of this song’s classic bass line. The original hear is a whole different thing-a frank bit of people funk declaring “some people gotta have it/some people really need it”. No irony is lost that the group performed this song one time on Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice.

“I Love Music”/1975

Always loved this fast paced slice of ultra fast tempo’d Philly dance music. It’s an anthem to the disco era of funk as representative of the love of music for both dancing to and playing it as well as for singing. The most humorous part is the first did I heard it-as part of a VH1 bumper featuring a stereotypical female librarian listening to it on an MP3 player on a subway. Really showcased the funky power of this groove.

“Travelin’ At The Speed Of Thought”/1977

The sheer drama of this Afro Cuban percussion/disco bass driven jam made an immediate impact on my ear holes. Hearing the trio sing to the tune of some serious space funk synthesizer’s  lyrics like “Come with me/unsolve the mystery/the mystery of you and  me” alone made my hairs stand up on end with funky emotion.

“Strokety Stroke”/1978

So Full Of Love was an album that was always available brand new from Borders Books & Music since they opened in 1995. That very same copy was still there when I finally picked it up on closeout when the Borders chain closed 15 years later. It was a big surprise to hear this hardcore rocking funk on the same album that delivered the sleek Philly jump of “She Used Ta Be My Girl” and the harmony drenched ballad “Brandy”. One of my favorites in a funk context on this wonderful 1978 album.

“Out Here In The Real World”/1981

This song probably has the most personal resonance in my personal life. Musically,it’s light shuffle isn’t too big a deal for me. Vocally it has some of Eddie’s strongest vocals and the trios fine harmonies. Lyrically,this was a song my own mother often referenced to me (via my own record collection-this song turned into a favorite of hers at the time) when I was facing the difficulties of employment and a future on my own. Long story short,it’s an ongoing journey of many unexpected challenges. Still it’s sometimes good to hear Eddie Levert’s opening line of “oh man,I’ve got to get myself together” for perspective.

“Can’t Slow Down”/1985

The only reason I found out about the O’Jays 1985 album Love Fever was because I found it in the $5.99 bin,again at Borders. Much to my surprise it showcased the O’Jays doing a style of music I’d never have expected to hear from them at that time: brittle synth/electro funk. The opener “Can’t Slow Down” was my favorite. Showcases how some of soul finest harmony singers can bring out at the best in vocal samplers and other mid 80’s technology.


There are many O’Jay’s albums that are not represented with songs on this particular list. That’s because the O’Jays discography is so large,I have yet to hear all of their studio albums. These are just some of the ones that stuck out to for me. What the O’Jays have always represented to me is Gamble & Huff parlaying their talent for writing message songs. Than utilizing their most powerful vocal trio to preach the gospel of humanism. And on Eddie Levert’s birthday this year,that is what I want to celebrate most about them.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, cinematic funk, disco jazz, Eddie Levert, Funk Bass, Gamble & Huff, message songs, Philly Soul, The O'Jays

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Show Must Go On” by The Four Tops

The Four Tops have always represented the ultimate human success of Motown. From before they signed with Berry Gordy’s now famous record label in the early days to the day lead singer Levi Stubbs passed on in 2008,the vocal quartet were an example of enduring together through the good and not so good times. Until each member died,the Four Tops never had a change in lineup. This might’ve lead to their longevity as hit makers too. With post Motown smashes such as “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)” and the Top 10 R&B smash hit in the Philly inspired uptempo number “Catfish” in 1976.

It was around 1995 or so that I began exploring Motown acts beyond their reputation as “hitsville”. One day during that summer I was visiting an antique store with my family. And they had a selection of used vinyl. Among them were two ABC lable era Four Tops album in 1976’s Catfish and it’s followup from the next year entitled The Show Must Go On. Both of these records were filled with singable and highly danceable songs. Played both to the degree that they’re both new fairly scratchy. The song that’s continued to endure so strongly for me is the title song from the 1977 album The Show Must Go On.

A dramatic,descending horn fanfare opens up the song-just before the accompanying strings and hard swinging 4/4 drum beats kick in to the tune of a jazzy three by three not bass line. On the refrain of the song,Stubb’s customarily powerful voice thunders in with a highly rhythmic piano,Clavinet and and pumping disco bass propel the groove forward. The intro appears as a buffer between each refrain-only with a vocal part. The bridge of the song strips down to the drums,slapping bass and Clavinet before slowly building the horns and strings back into the musical conversation before it fades away.

With group member Lawrence Payton helping out with the arranging on this song, it’s right up there with some of the finest Philly style funky disco records of the mid to late 1970’s. The strings,horns and other instrumental sweeteners have a strong power that draws the listener into the intensely powerful rhythm section. The rhythmic Clavinet on this song is a funkified beast all of it’s own-played so low and so heavily it almost sounds like genuine percussion. As time had marched on,my appreciation for this groove after learning so much about what goes into creating music has only increased!

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, clavinet, disco funk, drums, Four Tops, horns, Lawrence Payton, Levi Stubbs, Philly Soul, piano, slap bass, strings

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Funky Music” by Patti Labelle

Patti Labelle shares the grown of 70’s funky diva’s as it were. Right up there with Aretha and Chaka. A Philly soul sister who’d started as the lead singer of the Bluebells,as well as almost marrying Temptations member Otis Williams,the group changed their name to Labelle. This trio of Patti,Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash started off backing up singer-songwriter Laura Nyro on her soul/R&B based 1971 album Gonna Take a Miracle. Several years later,the trio unleashed a major hit in “Lady Marmalade”,written by Allen Toussaint. It became a key number in ushering New Orleans funky soul straight into the disco era.

The trio began having creative difference,coinciding with their music declining in commercial success. After Hendryx suffered a nervous breakdown after a show in Baltimore,Patti decided to fulfill her own career and be a diplomat all at once by suggesting the trio begin perusing solo projects. Patti signed with producer David Rubinson,then working with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and who’d also helmed Labelle’s final 70’s album Chameleon. Patti Labelle’s self title solo debut came out in 1977. My favorite song on it, written by Motown’s Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, was called “Funky Music”.

A thick bass line starts off the song playing with a rocking verve about it. It’s soon totally accompanied by a slow crawling chicken scratch guitar. The drum then kicks in with with a medium tempo,snare heavy hit. Throughout the song,a round and bumping filtered “duck face” slap bass keeps a steady percussive vibe going. The horns on this song play in harmonized unison to the choruses and refrains. On the choruses,Patti is joined by a group of all star female backup singers for a strong gospel/soul choir. On the bridge,the drum starts swinging low on the cymbals before coming back up again before the song fades out.

Marrying Patti Labelle’s soul shouting dramatic soprano voice to the songwriting of Norman Whitfield was just about as ingenious as her groups pairing with Toussaint several years earlier. As the disco era was at it’s peak,Patti threw down a song that was raw and bass heavy funk as anything Sly Stone had done earlier in the decade. And the slow,punchy groove of it all really allowed the gospel joy always present in Patti’s voice to sour and groove high with the chunky bass/guitar/horn interaction. It’s one of the earliest and best examples of Patti Labelle giving up the funk during her solo career.

 

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Filed under 1970's, chicken scratch guitar, David Rubinson, Disco, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Norman Whitfield, Patti Labelle, Philly Soul, slap bass

Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Tight Money” by Leon Huff

Leon Huff is,along with Kenny Gamble one of the two production architects of the Philly Sound in the 1970’s. As such he represents the last time in the 1970’s that uptempo music was having enormous commercial success during that decade. During the earlier part of Gamble started the ‘Clean Up The Ghetto” projected,which had theme songs through a number of PIR message songs and allowed for the youth of impoverished communities  to help repair damaged and neglected residences. Following a payola scandal involving Gamble in the mid 70’s, Huff decided to record a solo album under his own name in 1980 entitled Here To Create Music.

The main reason I know about this albums existence was finding a somewhat beat up vinyl copy at that University Of Maine vinyl giveaway that their radio station put on 22 years ago this year. When the free vinyl we picked up was sifted through,it was my father who ended up with this album. Several years ago,I located it as a PIR CD reissue. The album itself was written,produced and arranged by Huff alone. Overall the flavor of the albums songs leans more towards the abstract,cinematic aspect of the Philly Sound with more jazz and blues influenced pieces. One song in particular stood out for me as a funk admirer. And it was called “Tight Money”.

A rhythmic up-scaling piano and upright bass line begin the song which goes from there into a slow swinging dance rhythm. On the instrumental intro a Fender Rhodes provides the solos backed up by a rhythm guitar. On each refrain,the up-scaling rhythm that begins the song repeats and something new is added to the arranged. At first it’s a female backup group providing the vocal chorus,next up it’s a spacey synthesizer wash and by the final refrain a muted trombone and a low violin are added into the mix. Just before the final few links to the refrain,there’s a mellower Rhodes solo before going into the next one before the song finally fades out.

Instrumentally speaking,Leon Huff brings to this particular song a very similar bluesy jazz/funk flavor that Marvin Gaye bought to his “Inner City Blues” nearly a decade previous to this. Interestingly enough,the lyrical theme of the song has a similar note of economic upheaval making it more difficult to advance and grow culturally. Though in this case,it’s more a repetitive chorus than Marvin’s narrative lyrics telling the story. Because the song builds on the instrumental as well,which each section adding a new musical element,it maintains Huff’s talents as an arranger. And found him doing so in a very intimately funk manner.

 

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Filed under 1980's, blues funk, Fender Rhodes, jazz funk, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, message songs, Philadelphia International Records, Philly Soul, piano, rhythm guitar, synthesizer, trombone, Uncategorized, upright bass, violin

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: : “Million Dollar Bill” by Whitney Houston

As strange as it may seem, Whitney Houston has been gone for five years as of yesterday. The tragedy of her and Bobby Brown’s only daughter Bobbi Kristina last year kept me away from writing about any of Whitney’s music on this blog. Of course with a good amount of time away from the negativity surrounding both of their passing bought Whitney’s positive musical triumphs back into perspective for me. Known primarily as a balladeer during the bulk of her career,the huge voiced singer continued to make quality comeback albums during the 90’s and early 2000’s whenever her personal situation allowed. By roughly 2004,even I had to admit she seemed to just disappear from the music scene.

In the late summer of 2009,Whitney burst back onto the scene with what turned out to be the final album she released in her lifetime. This album I Look To You was a very happy surprise for me having been recovering from the then recent passing of another 80’s era musical icon Michael Jackson. It was one of neo soul’s shinning stars in Alicia Keys and her then relatively new husband Swizz Beatz who really came through for Whitney on this album in terms of writing. And right at the beginning too because while the couple only appeared once here,it was a very memorable one at that. The result was “Million Dollar Bill”,a song that for me is one of Whitney’s musical triumphs of her latter days.

A fanfaring drum role starts off the songs 4/4 beat and accompanying chordal bass thumps. The refrain of the song features an elaborate drum solo that keeps putting itself in and out on the one with it’s brushing/cymbal work. It goes from subtle to right in your face right along with Whitney’s scaling,climactic vocals. The rhythm is kept going by a phase filtered Fender Rhodes electric piano right out of the Gamble & Huff school of mid 70’s uptempo Philly dance records. That keyboard solo occasionally takes on a higher,chiming tone on those more subtle moments.  The instrumentation takes a total break for Whitney’s final chorus before closing out with a final burst of music and vocal power.

Actually this is one of my very favorite Whitney Houston songs ever. With her huge gospel/soul pipes, I always wondered why she didn’t tend to make uptempo songs a huge priority. Especially since she had so many excellent ones anyway.  This song gave a modern production flavor to a classic disco era Philly uptempo dance groove. Especially with how Whitney’s go from nuanced to soul shouting right along with the drums-which themselves go from a light brushing sound to being heavier and higher up in the mix. It also shares a similar juxtaposition in tempo as Diana Ross’s “Love Hangover” as well. Take n on it’s own,it’s one of Whitney’s finest uptempo numbers.

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Filed under 2009, Alicia Keys, disco funk, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Philly Soul, Swizz Beatz, Uncategorized, Whitney Houston

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