Category Archives: psychedelic 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: “Special” by Shuggie Otis

Shuggie Otis represents what I refer to as a “new old artist” who defined my musical interests just after the turn of the millennium. His only knowledge to me before that was a passing reference as the composer (and original recorder of) the Brothers Johnson hit “Strawberry Letter#23”.  It was through a Luaka Pop label reissue of his under sung 1974 album Inspiration Information that got my attention,through my father of course. My first thoughts hearing it was “this was a Prince/Stevie Wonder type musician who never was”.

Otis’s father Johnny was a very famous musical impresario,known in the lingo of his day as the “white negro” singer/musician/arranger/talent scout/DJ out of the Bay Area of California. Shuggie began playing with his dad in the end of the 60’s. But his own career never truly took off. In fact,he spent over 33 years tinkering with his follow up to Inspiration Information. The album was finally released in 2013 and was entitled Wings Of Love. Recorded over several decades,the first full song on the album (recorded around 1980) really caught my own ear. It was called “Special”.

A wooshing sound drives in the fuzz/ringing rhythm guitar combo of the intro as Otis responds to his own echoplex vocally. Than the main rhythm of the song kicks in-driving both the refrain and chorus whose changes are carried largely by Otis’s vocal changes. The drums have a heavy Brazilian march approach. The bass line loops around several guitar parts. One a phat wah wah,the other a light chicken scratch and another playing a quavering,high pitched ringing melody. On the refrain parts,Otis singing’s in a higher and calmer voice. And on the refrains,with a heavier shout along with the ringing guitar part.

Again,this was a song that seemed to be recorded in the early 80’s. Yet its origins seems to come out of the psychedelic/cinematic funk sound of the late 60’s/early 70’s. The production is very trippy-full of echo and fuzz filter on nearly every sound. Yet the groove is strong and funky all the way. In the intro especially,it reminds me a bit of Curtis Mayfield’s “(If There’s A Hell Below) We’re All Gonna Go”. Needless to say,this is generally punchier and more stripped down than that song was. Still,its one of the finest grooves I’ve heard Shuggie Otis throw down since the mid 70’s.

 

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Filed under 2013, chicken scratch guitar, cinematic funk, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, fuzz guitar, guitar, lead guitar, psychedelic soul, rhythm guitar, Shuggie Otis, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar

Isaac Hayes & The Red Summer Camp: First Impressions Of Black Moses

Isaac Hayes Article

Isaac Hayes’s music first entered my life in the mid 1990’s. It was not through crate digging or hip-hop samples. It was through my own father,my very first musical inspiration. This is going to be the story about how I first learned of Isaac Hayes. Its also the story of a little summer camp house,built in the late 1950’s,on a rural Maine lake known as Pushaw. Its not so much a memory based in sentiment. Its a memory that has shaped the way I’ve listened to music,and what I’ve looked for in it for the 21-22 years since this all began.

The summers of 1993-1995 were my final years at this camp. It was where my father (and later my mother and I) would go. It wasn’t actually ours,it was my grandparents. It had no shower,no heating,mosquito’s often invaded us out of our sleep early in the season. But it was beautifully comfy and rustic somehow. It was a pretty fun place for me to be. And it was a source of great meditative solace for my nature loving father. He and my mom both had records they generally kept only at the camp. These have been mentioned in other articles on here. Its where I first heard Heatwave,for example.

I had a neighbor friend named Joseph (whose family summered at the blue camp seen partly in the above photo). He was deeply into the Jacksons/Michael Jackson then The Rolling Stones as well. And we loved listening to them together. Talking about them too. As for my father,new music appeared all the time. It was always changing from year to year,when CD’s and tapes just came out before there was a designated new music release day. Almost all of this music was easily digestible to me from the first listen. One summer,possibly in 1994,there was one major exception to this.

This camp was located generally at a 30-40 minute car drive from our home. We generally listened to music on the car cassette deck. One day,on a rather hot hazy afternoon travelling back in from town after doing errands,my father played a new tape in the car. First thing I heard was a slow rhythm,dragging organ and hazy horns. Then a deep,echoed bluesy guitar. It sounded very Southern to me. And the rural fields,houses and trailers that probably looked about the same as they had in the late 60’s sped by as we drove,and listened. I asked my father what I was hearing. It was “Walk On By” by Isaac Hayes.

The album itself was Hot Buttered Soul. Today,I realize what a classic it is. Something about the visuals surrounding me the first time I heard it though provided a total aural experience. That unspoiled rural landscape,with a human presence ranging from regal to raggedy,reminded me very much of how I felt many areas of the South were like. Hayes’s cover of this Burt Bacharach classic had that same vibe. Rural yet urbane,sweet yet psychedelic, slow and powerful. He played the entire album that day on the car ride. But that first song just stayed with me. And even today,its often playing out somewhere in my mind.

Isaac Hayes would have turned 74 this Sunday if he hadn’t passed away in 2008. Upon reflecting on Hayes’ music,this is the experience that came most to mind. It actually wasn’t even the first time I’d heard his music. Already heard “Theme From Shaft” some years earlier,perhaps even in the late 80’s but oldies radio being what it was,the names of the artists weren’t announced too often. This was one of those few occasions in my life where there was an ideal first understanding of a musical genre. That’s because my first experience with Isaac Hayes’s cinematic soul was indeed cinematic.

*”Walk On By” as performed by Isaac Hayes

 

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Filed under cinematic soul, Hot Buttered Soul, Isaac Hayes, Maine, Memphis Soul, psychedelic soul, Pushaw Lake, rural south, summer, Walk On By

Prince Summer: “Pop Life” by Prince & The Revolution (1985)

Prince was recording a lot of music during 1983 and early 1984 in preparation for his feature film debut that was Purple Rain. This included his own recordings with his band the Revolution. But it also included songs intended for the debuts of Sheila E and a second Vanity 6 album that grew into sessions for what became the Apollonia 6. Not to mention a huge cluster of B-sides. There were also many additional songs recorded during this period,some of which are still unreleased to this very day. And which add to the mythos about Prince’s legendary vault of unreleased music.

One of the first things I learned about Prince when really getting into his music was about his lifelong fascination with the career of Joni Mitchell. Having achieved fame in the early 70’s as a singer/songwriter,she left that behind to pursue a jazzier style of music. Prince was aware that his highly electronic new wave funk/rock based Minneapolis Sound was really catching on. But he himself wanted to diversify his own approach. One such song for his 1985 album Around The World In A Day was recorded during the Purple Rain sessions in early 1984. It was called “Pop Life”.

Layers of tape loop like pitch bent synthesizers begin the song,just before a thick slap bass brings in the rest. The song has three different counter melodies-all very vocal in nature over a steady funky drum. One is a thick, funk slap bass line mixed up high. The other are big block piano chords Prince is hammering out. The  final one are two counterbalanced synthesizers-playing a high melody and the other a lower one. These elements all make up the refrains and choruses of the song-both of which are rather similar. There’s a bridge of audience sound before the song fades back in for a final chorus before fading back out.

A little history on the audience sounds during the bridge of this song: they are from a 1981 concert where Prince opened for the Rolling Stones. A restless and unsatisfied crowd had among them someone yelling “THROW THE BUM OUT”. Prince exited the stage with his band,only to return to a more reasonable crowd-though there was still some booing. This songs lyrics do stand with the same share of ambiguity as a lot of Prince’s songs did. Yet at the same time,this sampling of the Rolling Stones tour incident might well  be pointing to a lot of the points this song makes about Prince’s  mindset at the time he recorded it.

In a lot of ways,this is one of my very favorite Prince songs of the 80’s. It has that Larry Graham slap bass in your face funkiness-mixed with a cinematic jazzy soul flavor that’s very pop friendly and hummable. It showcases how Prince’s more musically ambitious ideas could still be funky and pop friendly too. Lyrically it could be taken two ways. I recently heard it was written about his departed girlfriend Vanity. As I personally read it,its Prince dealing with how super-stardom can have the effect of making artists take themselves for granted. So on all levels,it was an important hit song for him to have.

 

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Filed under 1985, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Jazz-Funk, piano, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, psychedelic soul, synthesizers, Uncategorized

Prince Day 2016: Prince In The 1990’s

Prince In The 90's

Prince’s musical output during the 1990’s represented a complex period for him. Personally,these albums were his newest statements when myself and other members of the late 70’s/early 80’s born age group were really beginning to explore Prince as teenagers. Heard many of his songs on the radio and in videos over the years. But it was during the middle of the 90’s that I began going back and listening to his albums all the way from the beginning to his newest releases of the era. As with most things that came from the 1990’s,it was a soul searching period where Prince was reinventing his identity.

When Prince changed his name to O(+> in 1993,he was the butt of jokes and accusations of going over the edge. Even I did my share of giggling more or less over how it was portrayed by the media. Of course today as a grown adult dealing with the difficulties creative must face myself, it has become clear that what Prince was doing in the mid 90’s was no joke. As he explained to Tavis Smiley in 1998, he had come to see more of the word “con” in contract. That they allowed for a musician essentially  to be a type of slave to a middle man who peddled their musical wares like watches from a trench coat.

Not that Prince ever mentioned anything specifically about watches or trench coats. But he did write “Slave” across his face during this time. His reason for changing his name had to do with his real name Prince being “owned” by Warner Bros. And since they weren’t allowing him to release his massive volume of music as he wished,he needed an outlet to do that. He began putting together a new label imprint in NPG Records-eventually recording artists like Chaka Khan and Larry Graham without the use of any recording contracts. This actually put him on the cutting edge of truly indie music.

Prince released nine official studio albums during the 90’s decade. The deal he had with Warner’s at the time specified that albums credited to the name Prince could only consist of music from his vault of unreleased music. In all honesty,I don’t feel the albums credited to the O(+> were as consistently strong as what he’d done in the 80’s. In terms of full length albums,it’s interesting his 90’s output that I prefer were the ones under his own name. So here is a look back at my four favorite Prince albums that came out during his second full decade as a recording artist.

Graffiti Bridge/1990

This soundtrack to his third and final motion picture is somewhat of a revue of some of the artists signed to Paisley Park and/or working with Prince at the time. Of them the young singer Tevin Campbell got a big hit from the song “Round And Round”. A couple of my favorite numbers on here come from The Time in the frenetic funky drumming of “Release It” and the brittle rock ‘n soul of “Shake”. As for Prince,it has his epic pop rocker “Thieves In The Temple”,the electronic blues of “The Question Of U” and the slamming funk of “New Power Generation”

The Love Symbol Album/1992

Personally I feel this album really put the funk/house/hip-hop hybrid of Diamonds And Pearls into fuller focus. It has the Hi NRG hip-hop opener of “My Name Is Prince”-as well as the James Brown funk jam “Sexy MF”.  “7” really mixes his mid 80’s psychedelic touches into a trance like modern funk/rock sound. “The Sacrifice Of Victor” mixes early 90’s funk with a potent post Rodney King racial consciousness and he even brings in some reggae for “Blue Light”. The flow of the entire album makes it likely the most consistent of his early albums with the New Power Generation.

Come/1994

When I first read about this album,it was actually Prince’s newest at the time. And it was described as a record he did solely to fulfill a contract. Listening to it recently,it’s actually one of his most adventurous albums for the time. The title track and “Letitgo” explore his raw sexuality through some horn heavy jazz hip-hop/funk. “Loose” throws down some intense industrial dance rock while the psychedelic soul/funk of “Papa” frankly discusses the ineffectiveness of child abuse. In a way,it almost sounds and looks like an album where Prince is seeking to shed every element of himself in favor of his new persona.

The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale/1999

According to the liner notes,these songs were written between 1985 and 1994. And that Prince and the NPG recorded them on the latter end of that period “4 personal use only”. On a personal level,this comes across as Prince’s most consistently strong album from the 90’s. It has a very strong live band flavor not dissimilar to his latest release Hitnrun Phase II-with club friendly jazz/funk jams like “It’s About The Walk”,”Extraordinary”,the title song and of course “She Spoke 2 Me” really showcasing Prince more as a bandleader and less as a puppet master.

One of the overriding themes I’ve been discussing with my friend Henrique Hopkins lately is how significant Prince was to keeping the funk alive in the 1980’s. To turn a phrase, Prince did spend much of the 1990’s looking to catch up with newer artists such as D’Angelo who’s greatest achievement at the time would likely be to catch up with Prince. A lot of this had to do with Prince’s rhythms. During his 80’s heyday,he could take the Linn drum and throw down jazz and Afro Latin rhythms on songs like Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” and The Time’s “777-9311”.

While the 1990’s soul/funk/R&B scene became influenced by the drum programming Prince pioneered,it wasn’t quite the same. A lot of producers of the early/mid 90’s simply didn’t bring the excitement or drama out of the drum machine as Prince once had-opting for a more formulaic shuffle.  When Prince followed that formula on the drum machine,his rhythms also began to sag. However Prince did use some of the newer ideas that derived from his sound to re-invent himself. And allow for him to remain prolific and maintain his creative longevity for what would turn out to be his final two decades.

 

 

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Filed under 1990s, drum machines, Funk, hip-hop jazz, jazz funk, New Powe Generation, NPG Records, Prince, psychedelic soul, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, The Time, Warner Bros.

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Parade (Music From Under The Motion Picture Cherry Moon)’ by Prince & The Revolution (1986)

Parade

During the years following the big commercial success of “Purple Rain” Prince never elected to just rest on his laurels and become a face for the jet set life or press fodder. He spent a good deal of the time almost obsessively recording in the studio and one of the projects he was working on was this soundtrack album to his second motion picture Under the Cherry Moon. This album couldn’t be any more different from his first soundtrack project which was for the most part very pop focused.

This album still finds Prince in an accessible frame of mind but still very musically daring and willing to integrate as many musical ideas into his generally funk oriented sound as he could. The fantastic thing about this album is how well the music bleeds together in terms of arrangement and not only does it feel more like a formal soundtrack with it’s heavy cinematic touches but is one of the albums of the mid 1980’s that has really aged very well for something so contemporary for it’s time in a lot of ways.

The album has a lot of artsy touches to the music such as the pretense of steel drums, accordions and other cross continental flavors that enhance the mood it was trying to achieve. Also as with any Prince album of the 80’s his use of drum machines are among some of the most adept and creative one could imagine from such an often maligned instrument. “Christopher Tracy’s Parade”,”New Position”,”I Wonder You” and the title ballad all kind of form an introductory suite of songs to introduce the album.

It starts with a fanfare of horns,strings and rhythms and working around some slippery,keyboard loop driven types of what I’d describe as neo psychedelic funk. It’s alternately dreamy,poetic and sexy and accomplishes it’s cinematic flavor well. “Life Can Be So Nice” is a very carnivalesque slice of dance-funk with a very busy top and a very tight bottom rhythmically. This album also features some of the tightest funk Prince ever recorded such as “Girls & Boys”,”Anotherloverholenyohead”.

And of course the big hit “Kiss”,all strong indications of the rhythmic influences Prince was bringing to the surface from his long standing love of James Brown during this era. This album is also home to one of those great lost Prince classic eclectic pop songs in “Mountains”;neither pop or rock,funk or psychedelia it’s one of my favorite Prince songs here and in his entire catalog. The album also contains two very French pop-jazz sounding ballads in the instrumental “Venus De Milo” and “Do U Lie”.

The album concludes with the darkly chorded jazz-folk ballad “Sometimes It Snows In April” which,driven by acoustic guitar and the somewhat bittersweet lyrical focus is at least one music nod to another of Prince’s musical influences: Joni Mitchell. This album and movie were not as well received commercially as his previous soundtrack but,than again that’s exactly what Prince was going for-to be known as a respected musician as opposed to some flavor-of-the-month hit maker. In a lot of ways he got to have both on this album because there were some successful singles here as well. But all in all this speaks a lot to Prince’s rhythmic and general creative progress.

Originally posted on May 29th,2010

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE*

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Filed under 1986, Amazon.com, drum machines, Funk, funk pop, horns, jazz funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Psychedelia, psychedelic soul, steel drums, strings, synthesizers, Under The Cherry Moon

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: ‘Lovesexy’ by Prince (1988)

Prince_-_Lovesexy

It was during the era of Sign O the Times that Prince was by far at his most musically exploratory and vital. He had one of his greatest bands during this period-the “Revolution Part 2” as I personally tend to call them in drummer/percussionist Sheila E.,longtime keyboardist Matt “Doctor” Fink,the late vocalist/organ player Bonnie Boyer,bassist Leaver Seacer Jr. and on sax and trumpet Eric Leeds and Matt “Atlanta Bliss” Bliston along with vocalist/dancer Cat. They not only provided an exciting stage presence for Prince during this era,but also expanded his musical sound.

 On the other hand? Prince was inwardly troubled. He recorded an album following the tour for his previous album. It had no title or name attached to it. And when it finally came out eight years later? It had been widely known (and bootlegged) as The Black Album. Prince apparently dream’t one night of a field with a shadow spelling out the word ‘god” written on it. Somehow this motivated him to shelve the rather profanely lyric’ed funk of that for an entirely different musical concept.

By posing on the album cover tactfully naked in front of three Georgia O’Keefe styled lilies-in the manner of Botticelli’s The Birth Of Venus? Prince not early earned a degree of censor from record stores. But also the perception his notorious narcissism had transgressed to full fledged megalomania. As with most things involving Prince? The entire conceptual tract of this album was nothing remotely that simplistic.

“Eye No” starts out by declaring “rain is wet/sugar is sweet/clap your hands/and stomp your feet”. After Prince himself declares over a psychedelic chorus that his voice sounds so clear because “there’s no smack in his brain” this intensely percussive funk groove-built around a dancing high bass line and Atlanta Bliss’s joyous muted trumpet solos. After this,with an echoed “OWW!” Prince goes into “Alphabet Street”,one of my personal favorite songs of his and this albums main hit.

Starting with some of the greatest funky drum/rhythm guitar I ever heard,a bluesy bass line introduces one of the many breaks which define the song. On the third break? There’s a brief wall of rock guitar before returning to the funk until fade out. “Glam Slam” starts out with a lightly percussive Arabic type melody with a Latin rock style guitar solo before going into a more new wave rock style melody that isn’t at all far removed from Little Red Corvette. “Anna Stesia” is a pensive,piano based jazz/pop type number with some unexpected major/minor chord transitions.

“Dance On” has a wild,high octane funk drumming and again a wall of rock guitar and bass seeming to bubble from below,but never to the front of the song with it’s gospel/soul organ led vocal chorus. The title track itself is an instrumentally thick contemporary synth funk number-again like an updated 1999 while the tender “When 2 R In Love”,the only holdover from the unreleased (at the time) Black Album is really the only stripped down number here. “I Wish You Heaven” is a somewhat ethereal arena rocker type with a powerful chorus while the closer “Positivity” is a jazzy,cinematic psychedelic soul/funk number with a gospel-type chorus at the end.

Throughout this album? Prince is completely playing the preacher. “Lovesexy” would seem on the surface to be some sort of “sexuality being next to godliness” type philosophy. He never defines it here. Lyrically there are constant references such as “I know there is a heaven and I know there is a hell” and “Love Is God/God Is Love/Girls and boys love god above” that reflect Prince’s embrace of the soul singers conflict between the secular and the spiritual. So its nothing unique in that respect. However on a more personal level it does seem that Prince was unsure what to make of his own revelation.

Prince seems to imply lyrically,throughout this album,a complete embrace of cynical paranoia where he is frightened of too much money,frightened of loosing it and frightened of the forces of evil. And those forces he combines into a character he describes in the end of the album as being called Spooky Electric. Musically speaking? Prince plays out his spiritual crisis to music that is far more loose than anything he’s done so far. His typically tight arrangements are replaced by a thick band oriented sound that can change in rhythm and melody almost on a whim.
In a way? That type of instrumentation is ideal in expressing the lyrical confusion this album seems to have. For reasons of which there are many interpretations,Prince also presented all nine songs on this CD onto one track. So the listener cannot jump between the totally different songs. Its one of his very best albums musically and is filled with memorable,highly funkified and even pop friendly songs. On the other hand,the lyrical confusion and aforementioned song presentation make this one of his less approachable albums.
Originally posted on June 8th,2014

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Filed under 1980's, Atlanta Bliss, Bonnie Boyer, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, horns, Lovesexy, Matt Fink, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, percussion, Prince, psychedelic soul, Sheila E., spirituality, Uncategorized

Prince Rogers Nelson 1958-2016: The Musical Legacy Of The Purple One

Prince 1980's

Now that a day had passed since Prince’s rather sudden death,there’s been some time to absorb everything a bit better. Henrique Hopkins and myself have been discussing Prince’s music in a funk context for years now. Everything from the strong influence of Curtis Mayfield on his falsetto voice and high on the neck guitar playing,down to his bass playing being influenced by his guitar style. Earlier I ran down some of Prince’s most influential albums throughout the years. As the man himself said last year,,albums matter.

Also on that last article,mention was made about a good deal of Prince’s most creatively satisfying works having not been mentioned in favor of the highlights. So in this article I plan to remedy some of this. As my friend Calvin Lincoln had implied,Prince’s music has been overdressed by some. And in all truth,his album’s after the early 90’s could be extremely uneven in quality. But the key element of his musical ethic was the element of surprise. When one thought he was out of steam,couldn’t rock and had lost the funk,he came back with vigor. So here are some albums that reflected this for me anyway.

Prince 1979

Prince’s sophomore album provided him with his first major pop hit in “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. Songs such as “I Feel For You”,later done by the Pointer Sisters and most famously by Chaka Khan as well as the churning funk of “Sexy Dancer” are stand out funky grooves on an album that leans heavily towards west coast style pop/rock and mildly country influenced ballads. As Prince himself said it,the album was for the radio more than for him. But in the end it balanced his musical approach and sense of pop craft very well.

I’m listing these albums together because Prince’s third album Dirty Mind  from 1980 and and fourth Controversy from 1981 could almost be part one and part two. The former album has a rougher demo like musical quality-with “Partyup”,”Head” and “Uptown” having an anti authoritarian punk funk vibe about them. The latter album was a bit sleeker musically. And an interesting attempt for Prince to address socio political concerns as they were developing. “Sexuality” and “Annie Christian” address everything from censorship to gun violence while the title song deals with his sexually and musical free outlook. He also pulls out some heavy funk on “Let’s Work” as well. These are two albums that really lend themselves well to be heard together.

Purple Rain

Prince knew this 1984 album was going to be his commercial breakthrough album. In hindsight it’s also the album that still has a lot of radio oriented music lovers convinced (incorrectly,really) that Prince was primarily a rock based artist. And probably on purpose. That’s because this album doesn’t have much funk/soul content on it. At the same time,it could best be described as progressive new wave/synth rock at the cutting edge instrumentally-with the bass-less classic “When Does Cry”,the brittle “I Would Die 4 U” and “Computer Blue” leading the way. That plus the fierce gospel hard rocker “Let’s Go Crazy” and the arena anthem title cut really gave Prince the huge audience he has today. And it served to musically illustrate the semi autobiographical feature film of the same name.

Parade

Parade was Prince’s second soundtrack for his second film in 1986 called Under The Cherry Moon marked the ethos of a massive change in musical priorities for Prince. The electronic orchestrations of the Minneapolis sound are replaced by the sweeping strings of Claire Fischer and the sax of newcomer Eric Leeds. These shows up on the cinematic “Christopher Tracy’s Parade”,”Life Can Be So Nice” and “Mountains”. Still Prince throws down some of his most powerful funk with “Girls & Boys”,”Anotherloverholeinyohead” and the iconic hit “Kiss”-with it’s Curtis Mayfield style falsetto and that high up on the neck guitar.

Sign O The Times

Perhaps this is Prince’s most personally defining album in his career. The history of this 1987 album is enough for at least one whole article. Started as a whole other type of project during a massive period of recording the year before,it eventually became a double album. It has the uneven quality of a greatest hits album,with songs sounding as if they come from totally different sessions. But the strength of all the material make it all work.

It has it all-from soul ballads like “Slow Love”,pop/rockers such as “Play In The Sunshine” and “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” to the proto alternative/grunge sound of “The Cross”. The funk comes in many varieties from the full on JB groove of “Housequake”,the slow grinding “If I Was Your Girlfriend” to the danceable hit “U Got The Look”. There’s also two more distinctive numbers in the jazzy funk of “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker” and the dreamy melodic piano pop of “Starfish And Coffee”.

The Black Album

Prince apparently recorded this album in 1987 to be played at a birthday party for drummer Sheila E,who was playing in his band Madhouse at the time. From “Le Grind” to “Rockhard In A Funky Place” at the end,this album is almost a non stop hard funk stomp. Save for the sweet ballad “When 2 R In Love”. Prince is basically playing up one big sexual orgy on all these lyrics-allegedly to showcase he hadn’t sold out. He abruptly shelved this album and didn’t put it out until 1994. But it’s a great party funk album if one is in a particularly rascally mood.

Graffiti Bridge

Prince’s third soundtrack to his final and least successful motion picture isn’t a full Prince album per se. It features many productions of his from Paisley Park signed artists such as George Clinton,Mavis Staples and the revived lineup of The Time. As for Prince’s contributions,he has some mutant funk/rockers here such as “Elephants & Flowers”,”Tick Tack Bang” and the epic,jazzy arena rocker “Thieves In The Temple”,his first hit of the 1990’s.

Love Symbol Album

This very elusive concept album from 1992 actually focuses a great deal on the funk side of things with another JB sendup with “Sexy MF” leading the way. “The Sacrifice Of Victor” keeps the funk stripped down in classic Prince style as he waxes nostalgic on the Civil Rights movement. With the psychedelic soul/gospel of “7” leading the way,this largely hip-hop inflected album finds Prince as a bandleader for the NPG “taking it back to Church” as they say in fully rediscovering his black American musical roots.

Emancipation

This 1996 triple CD set was the newest Prince album to come out when I was first getting into exploring his albums. From “We Gets Up”,”Get Your Groove On”,”Sex In The Summer” and the big band sounding “Sleep Around” represent some of his most massive funk of the 90’s decade-along with the synth heavy Minneapolis groove of “New World” and the jazzy opener “Jam Of The Year” and the witty hip-hop of “Style”. Some of the music on this album,as with much of Prince’s output at the time,hasn’t musically aged well. But when the grooves cooks,it cooks up a storm!

Musicology

Prince made a huge statement towards his music being based in funk with the title track of this 2004 album-another James Brown influenced number in the vein of “Housequake” and “Sexy MF”. This is an album of mostly pop/rockers and 60’s style soul ballads generally. Of the rockers Prince does provide a powerful message song in “Cinnamon Girl”,in which he discusses how the post 9/11 events are leading to discrimination of Muslim Americans.

MPLsound

Prince packaged this 2009 album with another of his entitled Lotusflow3r and female protege Bria Valente’s debut Elixer-exclusively at Target stores at the time. With songs such as “Chocolate Box” and “Dance 4 Me”,Prince began the reboots the 80’s Minneapolis sound this album is named for with it’s use of the Linn drum machine and synth brass. While the album itself represent Prince making his music harder to find by seeking new distribution methods,it paved the way for it’s harder to find follow up 20Ten and represents him re-embracing a sound he was in on the ground floor with.

Art Official Age

This 2014 albums turned out to be one of Prince’s final studio albums. Released after a five year hiatus from releasing any new material publicly,it also found him back on Warner Bros. after years of fighting them over artists rights. It’s something of a ground zero for Prince-donning an Afro as he did at the very start of his career and working with a younger producer Joshua Welton. The album is home to two major funk blowouts in “The Gold Standard” and the jazzy “Breakfast Can Wait”-along with some sincere efforts to embrace modern pop and rock production techniques.

I am sure there are many people who’d have very different content in such a list. As much as Prince effected me in terms of his championing of creative freedom for artists? It’s hard to get away from the fact that he died having not effectively been able to embrace online streaming and video (such as YouTube and Vimeo),and became a hostile litigant against anyone who shared his music online in lieu of him doing it. The history of the physical music media he embraced is unknown. But as long as his music exists in some form,it’s important for young people (especially aspiring musicians) to listen to and learn from his grooves.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2000s, 2010's, Funk, Joshua Welton, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Psychedelia, psychedelic soul, Purple Rain, rock 'n' roll, Uncategorized, YouTube

Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk for 6/1/2015: “Blood Donors Needed (Give All You Can)” by David Ruffin

Ever since my earliest days of listening to music more seriously? I developed a strong interest in 70’s Motown. This was a record label with a musical sound so distinctive? An entire sub-genre of pop/soul was named after the label itself-the first time I’ve ever heard of such a thing. One of the most fascinating bridges between the sunny melodies of Motown’s classic sound and the funk/psychedelic soul excursions to come was the burgeoning solo career of former Temptation David Ruffin.

For his part? Ruffin never got the chance to be the lead singer on Temptations’ game changers such as “Cloud Nine”,”Ball of Confusion” or “Psychedelic Shack”. But in the (at the time) long gap between his second solo album and his third? Ruffin had to be noticing the changes in music heavily-because he turned to Philadelphia soul producer Bobby Miller to helm his self titled 1972 comeback album. His new sound was typified wonderfully with the song “Blood Donors Needed (Give What You Can)”.

Opening with a dim wah wah and percussive intro,the rhythm guitar kicks into gear with a high pitched bluesy intonation. The bass also kicks with right in along with it-a higher bass line extremely reminiscent of the one on Aretha’s “Rock Steady” from the same year. The main drum beat of the song has a strident march while,on the ultra bluesy choruses,a melodic organ solo kicks into gear before Ruffin’s distinctive powerful,gravelly pipes are echo plexed. The song ends segues into the sound of an out of tune music box before returning to a melodic trumpet call to end out the song.

Instrumentally this is a wonderfully thick funk/blues/soul jam with a very unusual quality of sound about it. Everything on this song sounds extremely tinny and metallic . The wah wah in particular sounds recorded far away from the microphone. And the general production sounds purposefully sent through a hollow metal tube.With the mixture of modern stylistic signatures high on the funk? The stark,unpolished sound holds up just right with the harrowing lyrics about urban decay,violence and the need for medical assistance in the lower class communities. It’s a bit more overt and earnest than the Tempts more abstract takes on serious topics. But it’s a high water mark (if unsung) for David Ruffin’s 70’s era solo career.

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Filed under 1970's, Aretha Franklin, Bobby Miller, David Ruffin, Funk, Funk Bass, Motown, psychedelic soul, Rock Steady, The Temptations

Funky Firsts: Andre’s Look Back On Key Moments Of Putting The Grooves On His Record Racks

Reading the autobiography of Amir Questlove Thompson entitled Mo Meta Blues has been very inspirational to the way in which I present my blog. Especially in the fact the book presents interstitial chapters between the main ones. These shorter chapters illustrate classic funk and soul albums Questlove heard growing up. As well as how they intertwined with different events in his personal life. This has long had me brainstorming about a similar concept as to how this music has been involved with my own life story.

There’s no particular rhythm or reason here. This isn’t a list of all of my first exposures to specific artists. Nor is it just musical events that personally impacted me. It includes both,yet what I’m focusing on here is all about the synergy of life and this particular art form and how it effected my outlook on music. All the way up to this blog here. There’s going to be a mixture of different stories and emotions here. And of course some important things might not get covered-possibly to be done as they come back to mind on another,similar post. But for now? Enjoy these stories!

First Album I Purchased On Cassette Tape

Music Of My Mind

I’d been listening to Stevie Wonder for many years before this. But I was deep into a literary research through the All Music Guide and read a description of this album as being Wonder’s first artistic breakthrough but that compared to what came after quote on quote “it paled just slightly”. Often times writing can cloud a music’s listener’s judgement on the auditory musical experience. At the time however? That’s exactly how I felt about this album. Musically my tastes and understanding had to grow into this album,rather than the album accommodate me.

First Album I Purchased On CD

The Jacksons

Actually this is by no means the first CD I ever owned. But it was the first one I purchased with my own money. 1994-1995 was ‘the year of the Jackson’s’ as it were for my life. The story of how the brothers signed to Epic Records to gain creative control was really fascinating me,something I was feeling inwardly as an artistic adolescent. So one day I was browsing the old Strawberries Records with my friend Joseph Stone and came across this album for $9.99. That’s just what I had in my wallet. For the next few weeks? Felt like “Think Happy”,”Show You The Way To Go”,”Enjoy Yourself”,”Living Together” and “Style Of Life” were the only songs I wanted to hear. And all were (and still are) very positively effecting on my day to day life.

First New Music I Purchased Through A Record Club

Isley Brothers Mission To Please

Turns out in writing this? I discovered several important musical firsts for me in the year 1996. While an active member of the BMG Record Club? They offered a featured selection that,if purchased at full price,would allow you to get a number of free CD’s.  This was one of them. I was reading a lot about the Isley Brother’s in Rickey Vincent’s book Funk at the time. And his description of the Isley’s as “the epitome of funky manhood” made this an easy choice. At the time? I was not keen on contemporary R&B at all. But something about the vibe R.Kelly created for this album is still appealing to me.

First Album Recommended To Me

Travelling Without Moving

Technically it was my mother who ended up purchasing this album. But I remember she and I had taken a rather long bike ride to Strawberries. And ran into a friendly young sales associate named Jeb. We got into a conversation about P-Funk and George Clinton. He mentioned in the conversation that a new band who were in a similar funk vein were Jamiroquai. And this was their newest album out. At the time I didn’t see how this had any resemblance to P-Funk at all. Of course I had yet to hear The Electric Spanking Of War Babies. Still as a channeling of psychedelia with the live instrumental boogie funk sound began a continuing interest in newly recorded funk music.

First Multi Album Set I Ever Had

Emancipation

1996-1997 was when I was seeking out any and all things Prince related. From his own music to his famous (and infamous) protegee’s. Seeing Prince and than wife Mayte on Oprah performing songs from this album,talking about his art and life,went right along with the appeal of this album. It is such a sprawling 3 CD set that,to this very day,I have yet to have heard the entire album. Something that I intend to change in the very near future.

First Piece Of Used Vinyl I Remember Purchasing

Earth, Wind & Fire - Faces

When Dr. Records was still in it’s original basement location in the college town of Orono,Maine? I remember having $5 dollars in my pocket and seeing this album on vinyl-yet again at just the right price. Had been collecting EWF’s 70’s classic on cassette tape already and was at this point upgrading to CD’s. This one was a bit expensive for me at the time. But the vinyl of this album was a different story. On the way home from the store? I remember feeling the raised gold letters of the bands name on the cover,and staring at the random photographs of people on the inner sleeve-not to mention the members of the band members and the Phenix Horns,which were proudly stated on the vinyl sleeves. The happiest surprise was to get home to find the album also contained the original poster of the band in full EWF regalia. Still have the poster,later picked up the CD but none of it eclipses the excitement of that 15 minute car ride home from picking this up as a vinyl album. Almost a brief history in how a classic funk band presents itself.

First CD I Purchased After The New Millennia

Alicia Keys

After the arrival of the year 2000,in those 500 or so days between then and 9/11? I kept feeling like the world of futurism was just about ready to happen. Flying electric cars,sustainable ergonomic homes,all of it. Another exciting event during the winter and spring of 2001 was seeing the face of this 19 year old singer/songwriter/musician from NYC who was about to break out almost exactly the same manner as Whitney Houston had, with Clive Davis and the whole deal. In all honesty? The albums contents were so far removed from my musical journey at that time,it didn’t quite live up it’s hype for me. In a lot of ways it still doesn’t.  But it succeeded in whetting my musical appetite for a promising new and popular musician. Something that was extremely rare in an era saturated with performers.

First CD I Purchased Online

Imagination Body Talk

Even at the time,the years 2002-2003 were weary and sad times with the dashed hopes of the immediate post 9/11 era. Interestingly enough,this was a time when I began exploring psychedelic 60’s classic rock and fusion more as well. The roots of this discovery was when I heard the song “Flashback” on a compilation belonging to my families late friend Janie Galvin called Pure Disco. It was by a British trio called Imagination. Loved the songs stripped down electronic groove. But it was when I’d just gotten online for the first time at the local public library computer.  Discovered that this album was kind of famous in post disco circles. My quest to order a CD copy led me to sign up for my first checking account so I could get a used copy off of Amazon. Body Talk turned out to be an excellent album. And was also the beginning of the end of my days as a member of the already fading mail order record clubs.

Biggest Surprise I Discovered In A Used Vinyl Record Store

Ghetto Blaster

It was on a ride home with my father after purchasing our first Toyota that I first heard the Crusaders. It was actually my first exposure to a complete jazz-funk band. One day I was crate digging at a now defunct record shop in Camden Maine called Wild Rufus. And there was this album for a dollar. On the back,it had a photo of Leon Ndugu Chancler with the band rather than Stix Hooper. Was deep into Ndugu at the time with my involvement with DJ/musician Nigel Hall,and our mutual interest in 70’s George Duke. So that actually peaked my interest as well. I had no idea the Crusaders were making records in the mid 80’s. So hearing them with a more synthesizer driven electro funk style was a very happy surprise for me,and probably my turntable as well.

First CD I Reviewed Online

Parliament (1978) - Motor Booty Affair (A)

For reasons that I don’t fully understand? Amazon.com forced me to create a totally new account with them when I couldn’t remember the password to my first one. So the reviews on that first profile are still floating around out there. So this is only my first Amazon review on this new account,the one I continue to use up to this very day. I remember posting the review on December 3rd,2004. That was also around the same time my family got it’s first PC,a Toshiba laptop to be specific. So this was also my first time dealing with that computers joint Windows account system

Link to original Motor Booty Affair review here*

First Time Hearing Questlove As A Producer

Al Green Lay It Down

Now the main reason I’m talking about this is because Questlove’s writing directly inspired this blog post. Prior to 2008? I knew of Amir not by name,or nickname. Only as the guy with the pick in his fro who drummed for The Roots. And I felt a lot of their music was rather bland for my personal tastes at the time. When my friend Henrique told me this man,named Questlove,was producing a comeback album for Al Green? I was skeptical. What I didn’t know was that Questlove was a session drummer at heart. And rather then make his own record here? He produced a total Al Green record-directly in the Willie Mitchell mold.  This significantly broadened my admiration and respect for Questlove. And for that matter other hip-hop live instrumentalists/producers who could tailor make records for iconic artists they respected and admired.

First Funny Music Buying Twist Of Fate

Rufus Stompin At The Savvoy

This could be a very long story. But it still makes me laugh at the absurdity of it all so will endeavor to condense it. 18 or so years ago when I was first getting into Rufus & Chaka Khan? I kept noticing this double CD on sale at Borders Books & Music in Bangor. With it’s $30 dollar price tag? I never gave it any thought,knowing only it was essentially a live album from the early 80’s. While that store always shuffled stock? This CD remained there at this same price into the new millennium. Finally in 2011 Borders closed down shop nationally. And all their stock,including CD’s,went on drastic mark down. I went there and bought a lot. Even saw other double CD sets marked down to $15 or less. Sure enough? Still this particular album seemed like the only one that never went on sale even at the bitter end.

Flash forward to about five years later. I’d noticed that this album was commanding prices well upwards in the double digits on Amazon and ebay.  And used no less. So one day a month or so ago while checking the website of my local record store Bullmoose? I noticed one of the stores had a used copy of this CD for under $10. So I picked it up. And as of today it’s one of my very favorite Rufus albums-with powerful live performances and great funk and jazz based studio tracks. So for an album that for almost two decades an album whose pretense in my life seemed to engender either reluctance or regret? A very happy musical experience came out of it in the end.

 


You might notice that the firsts indicated in this blog come primarily out of one spectrum of music. This wasn’t deliberate exactly. During my time online? I noticed many nostalgia based Top 10,20,50 music lists. With all kinds of subtexts. Still most people’s important experiences with music came from awkward moments with their peer group in terms of context. And the music that tends to be part of their journey is invariably punk or alternative rock of some variety. Occasionally even soul,jazz and blues too. And there’s absolutely nothing to be condemned about that. Any way that brings one to the joy of music has great meaning.

This blog actually extends into the very root of this blog. One can browse for info on the funk genre  and it’s offshoot musical children (such as disco and fusion) online. And they will album reviews,songs posted,downloads and a good deal of nostalgic comedy. But both Henrique and myself observed a void. One where there was litttle to no serious,well rounded online journalism on funk to the degree writers such as Rickey Vincent had done in the literary world. My aim with posts such as this is to help give the funk music spectrum the level of analyzation  and respect rock and jazz have received on the internet. And hopefully these personal stories will do so in an enlightening and amusing manner!

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Filed under 1980's, 1990s, 2008, 2015, Al Green, Alicia Keys, Amazon.com, Chaka Khan, classic funk, crate digging, Crusaders, Disco, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Fusion, George Clinton, George Duke, Imagination, Isley Brothers, Jamiroquai, Joe Sample, Late 70's Funk, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Nigel Hall, Prince, Psychedelia, psychedelic soul, Questlove, R.Kelly, The Roots