Category Archives: “Skeletons”

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/31/14 Rique’s Pick : “Creepin” by George Duke

The late great George Duke was a master of the musical approach he termed “Funny Funk” in a 1974 song on his album “Feel.” He’s not alone in this category, sharing the ability with esteemed funkers such as Rufus Thomas, The Time, Joe Tex, Jimmy Castor, Junie Morrison and of course George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and their Parlafunkadelicment Thang. In truth, most funk artists include some humorous asides in their songs, lyrics and grooves, but George Duke was a true master at it! Todays spooky funk song features Duke spinning a yarn about the type of incident that is humurous only in the tragicomic sense. “Creepin” is a tale of those folks who want to have their cake and eat it too, the people for whom “One Fun at a Time” simply will not do.

The song begins with a theatrical aside, George Duke playing some dramatic, tense, close piano intervals with a slight horror/troubled soap opera feel while the drummer John Roberts plays some simmering cymbals. George is rapping with bassist Christian McBride, telling him he saw his woman doing something she “shouldn’t be doing” recently. Before long the sinister groove kicks in, a funky riff influenced by the old horror film music. The groove weighs in as extra large on the funk scale because its played by Christian McBride’s upright bass, teh bass clef notes of George Duke’s piano, a muted guitar, some sort of synth string patch and vocals singing in their deepest bass voice about a dude creeping at the club when his girl is asleep. Duke’s groove makes the act of stepping out on your loved one sounds like the truly precarious, harrowing experience it is, both in terms of the plots one has to undertake to make it out undetected as well as the emotional, financial and even physical danger the Midnight Creeper risks.

After the basic groove slithers its way in, a brief horn riff is introduced as well. The drumming is a tight, funky and slightly swinging modern day funk/hip hop fusion, taking that hip hop swinging drum style created on drum machines and putting it back in the hand of a live player. It could also be a mix of live and electronic drums. Along with the horn riffs Duke and co also deliever wordless spooky singing. This is followed by a more meditative passage where Christian McBride’s upright bass is allowed room to play a passage. When the lyrics return we learn you have to be “Jeckell and Hyde with a strong alibi” to creep. The acoustic bass passage returns with George Duke sprinkling some piano lines on top. Around 2 minutes and fifty two seconds in George Duke comes in with a acoustic piano solo, mainly spinning single note melody lines, very melodic yet very fluid at the same time, working all the way up to the high register of the piano. After that the spooky chorus comes back with more instructions/commentary on the methods of the Creeper. The song ends with a dramatic yet rhythmically funky string interlude, essentially sealing the fate of the Creeper for us.

George Duke and his band utilize their tremendous musical skills to have fun on this song, while also talking about something very serious. As I mentioned earlier, the predicament of the Creeper is truly tragicomic, as it sometimes includes hiding in cars, under beds, in closets and various other sundry places. Yet, people have always done it and will continue to get it in. It’s a tribute to Duke’s songwriting skills, mastery of music, and understanding of the human predicament that he made a jam about Creeping both humurous and spooky at the same time, just like the activity he was funking about!

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under "Skeletons", Contemporary R&B, George Duke, Halloween, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Music Reviewing, Nu Funk, P-Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/31/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Skeletons” by Stevie Wonder

I’m going to start off this blog with a little personal story. During my childhood,my father and I would often make cassette tape recordings together that mimicked our own radio show. Actually have dealt with this in more detail on another blog last year. When we did a 1988 Halloween presentation? My father picked a Stevie Wonder song called “Skeletons” from his then latest album called Characters. I had actually chosen “Superstition” for this selection. But neither my father nor I had the song at the time,and wouldn’t for many many years actually. Unable to understand the lyrical concept of the time? It just sounded like a funky song with a holiday appropriate subtext-the very understandable concept of fear. It’s only more recently that I’ve fully made sense of this association.

The song starts out with what sounds like an 808 drum machine beat playing a mid 80’s style hip-hop/funk beat over which Stevie lays down a menacing sound bass synthesizer-with long spaces between the notes almost as if they are creeping towards you. Then some scratchy,hissing percussion effects play an equally penetrating,yet somewhat farther away sounding,rhythmic role with a bluesy lead keyboard melody played on a DX7 digital synthesizer simulating a Clavinet-giving a glossier and round tone than the actual instrument. Stevie’s lead vocals,on both the main chorus and the refrain are met with a call-and-response vocal that,unlike Stevie’s,is muffled and sung through some vocal manipulation device. Might even have been Stevie himself having some internal dialog. There is also a bridge that repeats itself twice-a variation of the bass synth part from the beginning,only more hesitant sounding.

Stevie Wonder’s outlook on romance ranges vastly across the spectrum from an almost fantastically giddy sense of joy to a sense of legitimate suspicion. That sense that a horrible secret is being kept and must be exposed in order to be released. This song explores the later end of that spectrum. Lyrically Stevie takes on the character of someone lightly scolding his character for having to clear their conscience-pointing out that “you know your mama told you ‘don’t lie'”. He’s definitely moralizing a good deal here. And does so with a playful style-almost as if he’s repeating the words of his grandma or something. The accompanying video clip showcases Stevie recalling bullying he (or his character) dealt with for his blindness. And the fact that as an an adult,he’s playing party to a clandestine affair next door in a stereotypical suburbia-without even physically being able to see it play it visually.  Surely this was one of Stevie’s most powerful funk statements of the late 1980’s. And is an easy candidate for one of his funk classics in general.

3 Comments

Filed under "Skeletons", 1980's, cassette tape, drum machine, Funk, Halloween, Motown, Radio, Stevie Wonder