Category Archives: rock ‘n’ roll

Women’s History Month: Yoko Ono and the Invention of Feminist Rock

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The last few years have seen a much-deserved critical rehabilitation for Yoko Ono: once reviled as the Woman Who Broke Up the Beatles (whatever that’s supposed to mean), she’s now widely recognized as a key figure in conceptual art; even her avant-garde music has entered the canon as an inspiration for punk and alternative rock. But one facet of Ono’s artistry that I think remains underrated are the more commercially-minded albums she released in the 1970s, while married to (and in collaboration with!) ex-Beatle John Lennon. These albums were not only, in many cases, more interesting than the records Lennon himself was releasing around the same time (yeah, I said it); they were also arguably the first serious attempts to marry rock music and radical feminism–decades before the riot grrrl movement, and using her famous husband’s musicians, no less.

On “Yang Yang,” from her 1973 masterpiece Approximately Infinite Universe, Ono takes a grinding blues-rock arrangement by the Greenwich Village street band Elephant’s Memory (with a certain “Joel Nohnn” sitting in on guitar) and pairs it with lyrics that make “I am Woman” sound like “Stand by Your Man”: “No kick is good enough for lifetime substitution / No brick will give you a lifetime consolation / And whether you dig it or not / We outnumber you in population / And leave your private institution / Get down to real communication / Leave your scene of destruction / And join us in revolution.” This is the stuff of radical women’s liberationist pamphlets, not mainstream rock albums released by the wives of former Beatles. And while, predictably, Yoko never got her proper due for inventing feminist rock, at least we can appreciate it now.

If this post has piqued your interest, check out the full-scale guide to Ono’s discography I wrote last year; last month, my sister and I also recorded a podcast about her larger influence as an artist. And of course, we’re writing about important contributions by women in music all March on our blog Dystopian Dance Party. And, if you’d like to start seriously getting into Yoko’s music, you’re in luck: Secretly Canadian Records is currently reissuing her albums on vinyl and streaming services, from 1968’s infamous Lennon collaboration Two Virgins to 1985’s Bill Laswell-produced (!) Starpeace. It’s quite the journey, but well worth checking out!

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Filed under John Lennon, New York, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, The Beatles, Women

Controversy@35: Funk For Those Who Don’t Want To Die So They Can Be Free

Controversy

Controversy,released on this day in 1981,is one of my very favorite albums of Prince’s immediate pre-crossover period. It came along at a time when he was heavily building his musical persona. Everything from his stripped down instrumental approach,the name Jamie Starr and around this period the introduction of The Time. First time I saw the album on vinyl,it was the basic Prince image I saw on the cover staring hard at me in front of some captivating faux newspaper headlines. The purple trench coat with the studded shoulder and his Little Richard inspired hairstyle were there-as well as the thin mustache.

Picked the album up on vinyl upon seeing this from Dr. Records,in its old location in Orono Maine.  Happily it still had the original poster inside showing Prince posing in the shower, wearing nothing but black bikini underwear.  Its also important to note I heard Prince’s albums almost in order,so heard this fourth in that line. The title track in its full version really got my attention. Especially where Prince is reciting the lords prayer over the pumping rhythm and funkified rhythm guitar before his chant at the end. My boyfriend told me this was the very first Prince song he heard while living Scranton,Pennsylvania.

That chant at the end of course was “people call me rude/I wish we all were nude/I wish there was no black or white/I wish there were no rules”. The albums major funky moments come in the slap bass and synth brass groove of “Lets Work”,one of his finest slices of funk of that time. He also provides one of his major funk ballads in the elongated workout of “Do Me,Baby”-written by Andre Cymone and featuring some lustful vocals and slap bass. “Sexuality” ably mixes a rockabilly rhythm and melody,chicken scratch guitar and new wave synthesizers. Lyrically it also provides a bit of the albums social manifesto.

“Private Joy” is a sleek post disco new wave pop number build around drums and synthesizers-plus a peppy,sexy falsetto chorus. “Ronnie Talk To Russia” is a short,punky new wave number with a rather narcissistic anti nuclear message asking the president to talk to Russia “before they blow up my world”. “Annie Christian” is a striking art rock type number metaphorically dealing with the issues of violence and gun control in the early 80’s. The album ends with sexually playful “Jack U Off”,which is a straight up synthesized version of 50’s rockabilly.

Musically speaking,this album really finds Prince solidifying his sound. The musical pallet is similar to its predecessor Dirty Mind. Production wise however,Controversy is a pretty slick sounding album that doesn’t have the previous albums raw demo like quality. The album also integrates funkiness into its instrumental approach. Many times in the general rhythm of the songs,a lot of them still fall into the retro 50’s rock n’ roll/rockabilly style Prince was dealing with at this time. At the same time,he showcased how R&B,funk and modern synth pop/new wave would represent a major part of the Minneapolis sound.

Conceptually this album is one of his most telling. The Prince of Controversy emerged as a concerned,conscious citizen who also had a mildly unknowing,socially conservative streak. A lot of it is Prince walking the classic soul music line between the secular and the spiritual. In one song alone for example he’s saying “sexuality is all we’ll ever need” and turns around to say “don’t let your children watch television until they learn how to read/or all they’ll know how to do is cuss,fight and breed”.  This mix of sexual freedom and social paranoia is a close early glimpse of Prince’s then developing social conscience.

Prince of course is no longer with us. And with a released catalog almost 40 albums strong in his lifetime,he’s told many different stories both musically and lyrically. My friend Henrique warned me not to try to chase Prince’s motivations because of how intentionally elusive the artist tended to be. For me,this album is probably the closest he came in the 1980’s to laying his soul bare. His feelings on sex,violence and religion are something he’s trying to reconcile throughout this album. Don’t know if he ever did fully reconcile them before he died. But the questions he asked here may be more important than the answers.

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Filed under 1980's, ballads, classic albums, Controversy, gun control, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, Prince, rhythm guitar, rock 'n' roll, slap bass, synth brass, synth funk

Revolver At 50: A Musical Revolution Enters Middle Age

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Writing about The Beatles for me (especially on a blog that isn’t essentially rock focused) proved to be grounds for a lot of reflection. Also,how much more writing and analysis can really be done about the Fab Four by anyone? In the end,The Beatles remain a band who always seem to engender new impressions of them. Only half of the band that defined a generation are alive today-namely Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. Yet no matter what the two of them are doing today,whether doing albums of standards or performing in Maine with Todd Rundgren,its The Beatles that tend to always define them.

There’s one Beatle album I tend to view more as their definitive statement. And its not Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band-now itself an adjective describing any artist/band’s album masterpiece. The album I’m talking about is Revolver. It came out on August 5th,1966 in the UK. It represented for the Beatles a change in their performance ethic. The band members wished to concentrate more on their musicality as opposed to simply rocking hard for a sea of screaming fans in Beatlemania. So they stopped touring after this album. Which dovetails into the major revolution this Beatle album brought about.

Over the years,many rock musicians have tended to view their art in a rather more conservative way. Namely the idea of “rock is being able to pick up a guitar in a garage and just play 3 chords”. Rock ‘n roll is basically a very simplified variation of the 12 bar blues anyway. From the get go,The Beatles always had other things in mind. Songs such as “And I Love Her”,”If I Fell” and “In My Life” showcased the Lennon/McCartney talent for modulation-featuring unexpected chord progressions that were often very jazz and Brazilian in nature. Revolver took all of this to the next level.

McCartney for his part used his fascination with musique concrete by integrating backwards tape loops into many of the songs on this album-which came into play on Lennon’s Tibetan based psychedelic blowout album closer of “Tomorrow Never Knows”. These were fashioned in very melodic ways,not for showiness. Songs such as “Elenore Rigby” showcased producer George Martin’s symphonic strings as opposed to the Beatles rhythm section. John Lennon’s usually simple,almost punk style attitude about music began to change on the jazzy chord progressions of “I’m Only Sleeping”.

George Harrison even incorporated his newfound love of East Indian classical music into the song “Love You Too”. He combines Tabla drums and sitar with a melody that showcases that he is not writing a three chord pop song with Indian instruments. That he has come to understand the basics of the Indian classical forms fairly well. McCartney really shines strong on this album overall. One of my favorites is his melding of English marching band horns with a contemporary American soul shuffle in “Got To Get You Into My Life”,which inspired a hit cover version by Earth Wind & Fire twelve years later.

There’s little denying that all 14 songs on this album are amazing. But the ones I discussed merely reflect the level on which the Beatles were innovating rock. And at a time when the genre was entering its preteen years. This album contains a series of catchy pop songs,yet ones with unexpected chord changes. It also contains melodically strong music based in non Western forms such as Indian and middle eastern modalities. Above all,it does so with the keen understanding that what a rock band “rock” over is potentially the most enduring aspect of the music. And that’s what I feel as Revolver  turns 50.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1966, classic albums, European Classic Music, George Harrison, Indian Classic Music, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, pop rock, Psychedelia, Ringo Starr, rock 'n' roll, rock and soul, rock guitar, The Beatles

Grooves On Wax: Summer Madness ’16

Ray Charles

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

Key Jam: “Misery In My Heart”

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

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

Love Child

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

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

Spiral Starecase

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

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

Come Back Charleston Blue

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

Key Jam: “Little Ghetto Boy”

Nuff Said

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

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

I Wrote A Simple Song

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

Key Jams: “The Bus” and “Outta Space”

Nightbirds

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

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

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

Key Jam: “Happy”

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

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

I Love My Music

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

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

Off The Wall

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

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

Sweat Band

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

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

Hiroshima Odori

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

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

Pieces Of A Dream

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

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

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

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

 

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

Prince: I Rock Therefore I Am

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Prince’s music enviably would end up being the Minneapolis sound. It turned out to be a rather variable form where soul,synth pop,blues,rock ‘n roll and even jazz would all combine through a particular sonic framework. Personally speaking,the basis of Prince’s sound was always funk. He did however grow up listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix,Carlos Santana and Joni Mitchell too. Whether it be on electric or acoustic guitar,Prince also enjoyed rocking out. Be it on a possible hit single or to let his virtuosity on guitar have it’s way. So here are my personal favorite rock oriented numbers from ”

“I’m Yours” from For You (1978)

Prince always insisted that Carlos Santana was a major influence on him as a guitarist. Mainly because “Santana played prettier” to quote the man on the subject. With his use of sustains and Latin style melodies,this powerfully produced number from his debut album (with it’s heavy reverb and echo) is the earliest released example of his lead guitar chops.

“Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” from Prince (1979)

It was Prince’s childhood friend and fellow band mate in his earlier touring group The Rebels, Andre Cymone, who played bass and sang backup on this tune. This is where Prince really showcased his ability to write and perform radio friendly,hook filled rockers. With this one having that sleek West Coast production flair of his late 70’s albums.

“When You Were Mine” from Dirty Mind (1980)

Warner Bros executives have been said to have commented that “we signed the new Stevie Wonder,and he’s giving us the new Ric Ocasek” upon hearing Prince’s third album for the first time. And it likely has a lot to do with his song. Prince’s brittle,low rhythm guitar pump and melodic keyboards have The Cars’s musical flavor written all over it. With it’s hook filled singability and classic new wave guitar riff (not to mention becoming a hit agai with Cyndi Lauper covering it four years later),this might be one of Prince’s very finest rockers ever.

“Private Joy” from Controversy (1981)

While not a guitar rocker,this song really showcased Prince and his band the Revolution evolving into itself with synth pop/new wave based dance music. It has a simple rock style melody performed on the Linn drum machine plus a few layers of synthesizers. So it showcased Prince’s ability to rock even without guitar soloing.

“Let’s Go Crazy” from Purple Rain (1984)

With it’s gospel style theatrics,fast tempo,brittle guitar and keyboard? This song might just be the moment when Prince’s rock side fully matured musically. With rock ‘n roll really being divided along racial lines after the late 60’s,this song finds Prince “bringing it back to church” by joining Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix in re-introducing rock ‘n roll with a very heavy black American musical subtext.

“I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” from Sign O The Times (1987)

Prince really bought out the hand clap powered,orchestral melodic guitar sound of Phil Spector via Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street band in this extraordinarily catchy heartland style pop/rock number. This is one of Prince’s catchiest rock songs since the days of “When You Were Mine”.

“Thieves In The Temple” from Graffiti Bridge (1990) 

Prince actually did something rather unique with this song. It has a mysterious,late 80’s arena rock flavor about it’s production and guitar sound during the main choruses. But the melodic construction has a theme similar to the type that a mid 60’s jazz musician might improvise off of. That probably has a lot to do with why Herbie Hancock did an acoustic jazz version of it on his The New Standard album seven years later.

“Cream” from Diamonds And Pearls (1991)

With it’s rhythmic mix of Southern soul and countrified blues rock, this Prince hit actually hits on a very similar musical vibe to Bonnie Raitt’s hit “Something To Talk About” from the same era. Prince also takes the instrumental sound he gets with the NPG and allows the melody to just drip with that rascally,old school blues sexuality.

“Cinnamon Girl” from Musicology (2004)

Been listening to this song lately. Since the turn of the millennium,Prince began writing hook filled protest rockers more than he ever had. This one has a similar acoustic texture to his more recent song “Baltimore”. This one tells a very significant story America is still dealing with today: post 9/11 racial profiling and discrimination against those with a Muslim back-round. Prince did himself a lot of good by being one of the view high profile musical voices taking a bold lyrical stance against America’s dog whistle heavy “war on terror” of the early aughts.

“Rock And Roll Love Affair” from Hitnrun Phase 2 (2015)

Actually a couple of years old at the time of it’s album release, this song has a similar vibe to “Cream” from a quarter century ago-in terms of it’s country/blues-rock approach. Prince adds dramatic Minneapolis style synth brass to this one though. Since there’s a good possibility this might’ve been among the very last rock numbers Prince recorded,it finds this element of his sound seeming to come full circle.

As with many of the list style Prince articles I’ve written o Andresmusictalk,the erratic presence of Prince’s music via YouTube is still a factor. Songs such as “I Rock Therefore I Am” and “Fury” are not present here for that very reason. While they will be dealt with on this blog later,and in different ways? This is really about how Prince was able to evolve as a guitar soloist and pop songwriter through the rock oriented side of his artistry. Now that the man isn’t with us anymore,the seeds he planted as a guitarist from Lenny Kravitz to Gary Clark Jr. have strong potential to carry on this particular side of his legacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2000s, 2010's, Blues, funk/rock, guitar, lead guitar, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, protest songs, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, synth brass, synthesizer, Uncategorized, YouTube

Andre’s Amazon Archive: “HitnRun Phase Two” by Prince & The New Power Generation

Prince hitrun phase2

What a wonderful Prince album for lovers of the funk! And on a strictly personal note, a vast improvement on it’s predecessor. As good a move it was for Prince to have hired young producer Joshua Welton for HITNRUN Phase One,I had the concern that album would stand alongside many of the artists mid/late 90’s releases in terms of not aging well. Attempts made by Prince to incorporate current production trends generally resulted in showcasing what an unhealthy state soul/R&B music was at these given times. He and the NPG were (and in the case of the band still are) hardcore funk musicians. So on Prince’s swansong,he and the band basically worked it back to the rhythm of the one.

“Baltimore” is beautifully melodic soul rocker paying tribute to young Freddie Gray due to police brutality,as well as offering some some sage advice for modern civil rights activism. “Rocknroll Loveaffair” is a bass pumping,danceable country rocker with a sleek bluesy attitude while “2 Y.3.D” a James Brown style horn heavy pop funk jam. “Look At Me,Look At U” is a rolling,mid tempo jazz/funk groove full of slap bass,Fender Rhodes and flute while “Stare” takes that bass,drums,guitar,horns and turns up the funk heavy. “Xtraloveable” turns up the bass synth and the strong pop melody for a thick boogie funk stomp where “Groovy Potential” is another slinky mid tempo jazz/funk ballad with some sexy guitar.

“When She Comes” brings out that classic 60’s southern soul ballad with that slow scaling guitar while “Screwdriver” brings in a rhythmic riffing of a driving pop/rocker. “Black Muse” is a nice,chunky down home funky soul tune-one full of hit horns and chugging rhythm that deals with how important black American music is to the history of the artistic medium itself. “Revelation” is a gentle,spare ballad that again features a strong electric piano presence along with Prince’s ethereal falsetto vocal mix. The album concludes with “Big City”. It begins with that P-funk style chromatic walk-down before getting into some wah wah heavy melodic funk.

More than anything,what this album does is showcase just how much Prince’s musical evolution came out of funk-despite the modern perception that his rockier hits represented the baseline of his entire creative ethic. On that note,even the guitar rockers here return to the happily melodic,hook filled nature of his 80’s era music of this genre-as opposed to the aloof weariness of some of Prince’s recent rock oriented music Primarily though,this album emphasis Prince as a straight up band leader-getting funkiest drums,horns and jazzy keyboards out of the NPG. Prince’s sudden and young death is still a tragedy. But especially for the funk lover,this album is one bang of a way to go out!

Originally written on April 29th,2016

*LINK TO ORIGINAL AMAZON.COM REVIEW HERE. PLEASE GO TO THE REVIEW,TELL ME IF IT WAS HELPFUL TO YOU AND COMMENT BOTH HERE AND ON THAT SITE. THANK YOU!

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Filed under 2016, Amazon.com, Baltimore, drums, Fender Rhodes, Freddie Gray, Funk, horns, jazz funk, Music Reviewing, new music, New Powe Generation, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, slap bass, 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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Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: ‘Around The World In A Day’ by Prince & The Revolution (1985)

Around The World In A Day

Prince is no longer alive for the first full day of my personal life. My Facebook friend Brandon Ousley posted up today that Prince & The Revolution’s 1985 album ‘Around The World In A Day’ turned 31 today. To quote Ousley,it truly does allow reality to set in about the loss of Prince Rogers Nelson. At the suggestion of Henrique Hopkins,among my oldest online friends, here is my Amazon.com review of Prince’s seventh studio album:

Prince was,as apparently expected catapulted into musical and theatrical super-stardom with his 1984 album and motion picture  “Purple Rain”. All of a sudden,the music charts were not only filled with his proteges such as The Time and Sheila E but also many imitation records such as Ready For The World’s “Oh Sheila”. Not to mention songs he’d penned for others such as Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls”. Having become the massive force in the music scene that he was hoping? It would seem that this had the effect of dividing Prince’s own creative ego.

While satisfied with his success,he was of course likely being pressured by the record company and the public to continue producing music of the same sort. Prince has always been a very exploratory artist. And the only way one could possibly pin him down is the fact he seems to delight in finding every different way he can be instrumentally funkified-with funk being a very broad and flexible genre in itself. According to my knowledge recording during the Purple Rain tour,this follow up album with the Revolution showcased Prince doing something that likely neither his admirers or record company would ever have expected him to do.

Starting out with an Arabic flute-type synthesizer effect,the title song begins the album with what starts out like a psychedelic East Indian type number but veers on into straight up bass/guitar oriented funk by songs end. “Paisley Park” is a carnivalesque LINN drum/guitar based romp through a lyrical tag that has the dreamy wonder of 1967 period Beatles all over it for sure. “Condition Of The Heart” is a truly wonderful song-starting out as a jazzy piano ballad and building up to a chordally complex number reflecting on the point of falling in love itself.

“Raspberry Berry” is actually similar in instrumental and melodic content to “Take Me With U” from the previous album-yet filled with cheeky and playful double entandre’s where Prince just seems to be having a little fun. “Tamborine” is a musically hard grooving number built mainly around thick percussion and a funky bass synthesizer with Prince metaphorically eluding to masturbation-so it seems. “America” is musically a potent song-starting off very much as a guitar heavy LINN based gospel rocker before getting into some seriously fast funk. But its red scare neo con lyrical content about “not saying the pledge of allegiance on a mushroom cloud” makes one wonder how arch conservative Prince’s politics really were at that time.

“Pop Life” is a dreamy slow funk number,musically one of my favorites on this album,reflecting again on whether fame is preferable to the journey of life itself. “The Ladder” is very much an epic arena rock type ballad-whose spiritually needy lyrics are presented by Prince in an echoplexed spoken narration. The closer “Temptation” is a dragging,amplified 12-bar blues which ends with Prince apologizing Scrooge style to a deep voiced figure for forsaking love for lust. And that in a word typifies the spirit of this entire album. Musically speaking? These songs are very much in the spirit of its predecessor with somewhat more of a psychedelic twist about them.

Lyrically they are totally different. Having discovered redemption on his previous album,Prince spends the majority of this album questioning his motivations and relationship with the spiritual and secular. His political and cultural views stand out in very stark contrast on this album. His melodic and lyrical concepts are reflected with clarity,but lack a resolution. In retrospect,I really enjoy this album. It showcases Prince moving away from his own Minneapolis sound and onto a much broader musical approach. On the other hand? It also showcased the uncertainty and restlessness Prince has exhibited in more recent years. Its a complicated record-akin to its predecessor as Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark would be to it’s follow up The Hissing of Summer Lawns-interestingly enough an artist Prince deeply admires. And therefore its a record that takes time to fully get into.

Originally Posted On June 6th,2014

* My review on Amazon.com can be found by opening this link

 

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Filed under 1985, Amazon.com, Blues, Funk, Linn Drum, percussion, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Psychedelia, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, synthesizer, Uncategorized

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

 

Prince Vault 1977-1984 frontWhile writing this,I am still reeling from the sudden death of Prince Rogers Nelson. He passed all too young at the age of 57. It happened on what was in my neck of the woods a warm sunny Thursday. Those were the same circumstances in which the world lost another 80’s era icon of funk in Michael Jackson almost eight years ago. My perception of Prince’s life is quite a bit different. Right now,I cannot bring you an Anatomy of THE Groove article on any of his songs due to Prince’s music being absent from YouTube. So have decided in tribute to focus on his most significant full albums of his through the decades.

For You

Prince’s 1978 debut comes across as his most creatively satisfying albums of his first (and very short) decade as a recording artist. The fact that songs such as “Just As Long As We’re Together” are very instrumental oriented make the funk of this album some of his funkiest. Above all,the fact Prince used Polymoog synthesizers to play the horn charts and string arrangements on this album make it the official beginning of the Minneapolis sound. A debut that I feel more Prince admirers would be wise to give another chance.

1999

The early to mid 80’s were generally Prince’s peak period of creativity. But on the other hand,his third album of the decade really pulled it all together. Featuring his band the Revolution featuring bassist Dez Dickerson,drummer Bobby Z and keyboardist Lisa Coleman this album contained some of the finest music of Prince in whatever genre he was embracing. The funk was on fire on the title song,”D.M.S.R” and “Lady Cab Driver”,he was getting seriously electronic on “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “Automatic” while he rocked out in style on “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious”. This album really put him on the map as a creatively and commercially successful artist.

Diamonds & Pearls

The 1990’s would be a musically mixed decade for Prince. He spent much of it being the literal symbol for musicians rights-again with mixed results. Musically speaking,his second album of the decade in Diamonds And Pearls did for this decade what 1999 did almost a decade earlier. Introducing his band the New Power Generation for the first time,Prince embraced hip-hop styled productions to a heavier extent on songs such as “Gett Off”. But also took the time out for the breezy,swinging jazz of “Strollin” along with more progressive pieces like “Thunder” and the country rock of “Cream”. Not to mention the epic soul ballad of the title song.

3121

This year will mark the 10th anniversary of this album. Prince had been making albums pretty consistently over the years. But what a surprise when 3121 burst out in 2006 and Prince was back with his first number 1 pop record in years,plus a massive single in “Black Sweat”-very much the “Kiss” in terms of stripped down Minneapolis funk for the early aughts. Coming out with the pounding rocker of “Fury” on the same album showcased Prince hadn’t skipped a beat musically.

20ten

While I could lean towards his 2014 release Art Official Age as being a strong Prince album for the 2010’s,this one actually takes the cake personally. Only released officially as a free covermount CD on a number of different European music magazines,my local record haunt Bull Moose Music actually stocked a few copies. What this album did well was present the synthesizer/drum machine heavy electro funk Minneapolis sound as a musical sub genre,rather than a passing trend. This never got an official release and is becoming a much sought after collectors items.

Prince’s released catalog of music spans 43 albums strong. This was not the easiest list for me to make. Albums such as Purple Rain,Emancipation,Dirty Mind,Musicology,Parade and especially the groundbreaking Sign O The Times were all amazing pieces of music. This actually brings me to the idea of doing a similar article on Prince’s favorite creative moments. Time will have to tell if Prince’s music will find it’s way back online after his passing. But what’s important is that funky rhythms could survive the way they did through his work and musical influence.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “On The Case” by Alphonso Johnson

Alphonso Johnson seems to me as a bassist whose contributions to the iconic fusion band Weather Report are rather under heralded. That could be because he was sandwiched in between their original bass player Miroslav Vitous and of course Jaco Pastorious. As a session man,he joined up with Billy Cobham on and off for many years. He also had stints back up Genesis/Phil Collins on multiple occasions as well playing on former LTD lead singer Jeffrey Osborne’s 1982 solo debut. The reason I personally tend to view Johnson as a rather obscure artist is because I only found out that he even had a solo career at all just under a decade ago. And have the feeling I may not be the only one.

One of the greatest things to happen in the post millennium internet age is the advent of two things: reissue record labels and YouTube. If it weren’t for those two things, this blog would be a lot different than it is. In 1976-1977 during his years with Cobham,Alphonso Johnson recorded three solo albums on the Epic label. These featured the backing of some of the major fusion instrumentalists of the time-all touched by the music of Alphonso in some kind of way. I have two on vinyl,since the CD versions were difficult to locate upon going out of print. Only his second album Moonshadows was something I was able to locate on CD. And one song that stood out on it for me was “On The Case”.

Alphonso starts off with a shuffling bass solo that has a bluesy,up-scaling melody that is very similar in tone to the electric piano solo on Steely Dan’s ” Black Friday”. Drummer Narada Michael Walden keeps that shuffle going while Dawilli Conga adds a counter melody on electric piano. Separated by progressive fusion bursts of intense drums, Alphonso’s solos expand along with the electric piano into fuzz toned psychedelia. On the second refrain,Lee Ritenour plays a mid toned rhythm guitar solo. This grows to a heavier intensity with the solo Lee takes on the third and final refrain of the song. Conga’s electric piano leads the shuffling rhythm to the songs fade out.

This particular song always stuck out to me with how much it finds the funk in the blues and the blues when it rocks. The rhythmic base of the song is in a strong groove-with Narada staying on the one primarily through the use of hi hat. And all of the musicians understanding of the jazz/rock fusion style comes out here as well. Alphonso’s funkiness on the bass gives it all a phat center that keeps the focus consistent.  I’ve started to realize that rock ‘n’ roll is often a far simpler musical form than it might like itself to be. Yet with the combination of jazz harmonies and electric funk within the fusion genre,songs like this found a great middle ground in which to rock up the funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Alphonso Johnson, bass guitar, Blues, Epic Records, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Lee Ritenour, Narada Michael Walden, Psychedelia, rock 'n' roll, Steely Dan, Uncategorized, YouTube