Category Archives: Reaganomics

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/3/2015: “Is This The Future?” by Fatback

For quite a long time now? I’ve wanted to feature a song by this band on this blog. Fatback (originally known as the Fatback Band) were extremely important in terms of funk’s stylistic evolution. One main reason is likely that the band was founded by a drummer Bill Curtis,who also acted as songwriter and producer. This allowed them to make strong and thickly rhythm heavy jams in the funk,disco and electro/hip-hop eras with an equally strong fluidity and degree of success. At the end of it these Brooklynites always knew how to give up the funk.

The early 80’s created a number of challenges for many of the large funk bands. In particular with the dominance of synthesizers. Again because Fatback were always musical survivors and able to carry on with their solid rhythmic base? They not only managed to make it through this era, but it allowed them to make some of their strongest and most inventive music as well. One particular one keeps sticking up uppermost in my mind for how it handled it’s own external circumstances. And that was their 1983 number entitled “Is This The Future?”.

It begins with the blurb of a round yet brittle synthesizer that opens the door for a slower paced drum machine groove. The riff that opens the albums becomes steady and accompanied by accents on Vocoder. The main body of the song is led along by a slippery bass synthesizer statement that concludes with that same higher pitched phrase that began the song. Meanwhile the chorus sustains that higher pitch more in the back round. The lyrics are thrown down in rhythmically spoken word rap style by NYC DJ Jerry Bledsoe.

In addition to that? The song features two instrumental breaks. The first of the songs breaks comes in the form of a very probing and melodic saxophone solo courtesy of Ed Jackson. After a series of falsetto harmony vocals? A complete rhythm break emerges in the song. This takes the form of a thick percussion solo in the classic clinging, clanging Fatback Band style. It’s accompanied only by the  space funk style synthesizer bleeps before the song concludes with the only sung lead vocals of this song provided a female singer whom I don’t know the name of.

In terms of the music alone? This song grows more astounding with each listen. It places a strong emphasis on the drum machine while not sacrificing the live drum/percussion sound on which Fatback developed their originally flavors. Bledsoe’s rap brings the song in tune with the then burgeoning hip-hop era-emphasizing the importance of DJ’s advancing the rap element of the music while providing a smooth, elegant delivery of the type one would hear on the radio-very different  from the more earnest delivery of most raps.

The songs overall sound and vocal delivery blend in perfectly with the lyrical content. Five years before EWF charted so successfully with “System Of Survival”? Fatback are asking questions for the early 80’s that Marvin Gaye asked over a decade earlier with Whats Going On? They speak in particular to the black silent generation,than approaching middle age who “use to eat steak and caviar,now it’s peanut butter in a candy jar”. It also reflects how Reagan era America was causing black Americans to lose hope-bluntly stating that “only a fool would wanna endorse this kind of future”. Bleak as it may sound? It’s truthfulness makes the question perhaps more important than the answers-even today.

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, drum machine, elecro funk, Fatback Band, Funk, message songs, New York, Reaganomics, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove 11/21/2014 Andre’s Pick: “White Collar Crime” by Grace Jones

1986 was a crucially important year for funky music in the decade. The electro/synth based sound that tended to be the dominant force in the music within the past few years were giving way to a sound where electronic instruments were being used as accents to either a fully organic or organic sounding instrumental bed. This came to prominence with songs such as Prince’s “Kiss”,’Duran Duran’s “Notorious” and the  late and  great James Brown’s “Living In America”.  After leaving her original label Island and singing up with Manhattan  Records,she took a stab at co-production with Nile Rodgers for her first album on the label Inside Story. One of the songs on it that always caught my attention was “White Collar Crime”

The song begins with a slow,rolling shuffling beat that’s accompanied by a high pitched digital synthesizer playing a rather Asian style melodic phrase. Grace’s vocals than kick in with Nile’s guitar providing a subtle accent to the lyrics which,through a series of different stories,illustrates the songs chorus of “white collar crime/you don’t have to do time/blue collar crime/you do time every time”-sung to lower volume horn chart/guitar call-and-response playing opposite melodic statements. On the bridge of the song,the horns scale up as grace asks “do they get away with it” before the drum emulator shuffle is let to solo with the horns fanfaring back into the original phrase-after which Nile himself is heard saying “it’s all the same” as Grace responds “it’s a money/power game”

Showcasing Mac Gollehon,Steve Elson and Lenny Pickett on horns and co-writer/instrumentalist Bruce Woolley on synthesizers? This song has a similar quality to Grace’s “Slave To The Rhythm” in the sense that it is what they call a runaway groove. This amounts to a form of dance/funk which has a light and understated instrumental quality-rhythmic enough for a strutting model but un-intrusive enough where it doesn’t interrupt the focus. Of course Grace Jones,being a former model,is a natural to produce a song in such a way. Not only that,but the lightness of the production and arrangement take away from how hard hitting a groove this actually is. And it’s hard hitting in more ways than one.

By this time? The Reaganomics policy of trick down economics and the Wallstreet/Gordon Gekko attitude of “greed is good” was starting to contrast with how American society actually seemed to be functioning. Especially when it came to foreign policy and black Americans. Grace Jones,twice a foreigner as a Jamaican woman having began who career out of Europe,than crossed over in the US,really made her comment very strongly here. Using tabloid/yellow journalistic expletives such as “it’s outrageous nobody cared” and “shocking,it’s all so mocking”? Jones makes lyrical points that would be made in far more direct ways by hip-hoppers such as Public Enemy and NWA in a short two years time. And that was already being explored by hip-hop by KRS-1 and Eric B & Rakim. And that’s basically the treatment of a wealthier criminal versus that of a smaller time hustler. Indeed Grace Jones and Nile Rodgers provide a very stylish groove out of the money/power game.

2 Comments

Filed under 1980's, Funk, Grace Jones, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Nile Rodgers, Prince, Public Enemy, Reaganomics