Category Archives: Stevie Wonder

Crate Digging in Reykjavik, Iceland

For the last several days, I’ve been on vacation in Iceland. Mostly, that means the usual things: visiting hot springs and gorges, eating overpriced (but delicious!) food, traipsing around landscapes that look straight out of Game of Thrones. But for a remote island nation with a relatively small population, Iceland also has a surprising amount to offer for the travelling pop music fan: including several record stores as good as any I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Here are my thoughts about two of them.

We visited the aptly-named Reykjavik Record Shop on our first day in the city, and it was a highlight of that (admittedly dreary, jet-lagged) day. Located downtown near the main restaurant strip, it belongs to the “small but curated” school of record stores, with a selection of new and used vinyl that is much more diverse than one would expect from a shop of its size. We picked up a very nice pressing of Parliament’s Chocolate City, complete with a misprint of Bootsy Collins’ name (“Bootsie”) that I initially assumed was European in origin, but upon further research seems to be a worldwide error:

It’s probably worth noting at this point that records (among other things) are expensive in Iceland, owing in large part to the fact that pretty much everything in the country is an import. New records seem to cost upwards of 5000 kroner (approximately $50), which is steep even by 2016 vinyl standards. But even in Iceland, it’s possible to score some sweet deals–like this German Colonel Abrams 12″ we picked up for less than the equivalent of a fiver:

There were even more finds to be had at the following day’s stop, Lucky Records on Rauðarárstígur. If Reykjavik Record Shop belongs to the “small but curated” school, then Lucky is the opposite: it’s a sprawling beast of a store, which I have to admit is slightly more to my taste (it’s also heavier on used than new–another completely subjective preference of mine). Honestly, Lucky Records might be my favorite record store I’ve ever visited. It’s the only record store I’ve seen where the soul section is as large or larger than the pop/rock section–plus there’s a whole separate room devoted to 12″ singles, where I found this beauty:

We also picked up some very reasonably-priced copies of Hotter Than July by Stevie Wonder and Don’t Be Cruel by Bobby Brown; and despite leaving with a bag full of eight records, I still felt like I’d barely even scratched the surface.

My personal preferences notwithstanding, both Lucky Records and Reykjavik Record Shop are world-class stores, and I’d love to visit them again if I’m ever back in Iceland. If anyone out there is considering a visit, consider both shops highly recommended. And for more on vinyl shopping in Iceland, look out next month on Dystopian Dance Party for new entries of my “Wrecka Stow” video series.

4 Comments

Filed under 12 inch singles, Bootsy Collins, Parliament, record collecting, Record Stores, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized, Vinyl

Songs In the Key Of Life@40: Stevie Wonder Living In A Future Paradise

songs-in-the-key-of-life

An artists musical focus isn’t required to match up to their lyrical concepts. And vice versa. Yet when those two creative aspects come together,especially in the hands of a great musical talent,the results can often defy description. One such case is Stevie Wonder. He had matched musical and lyrical concepts beautifully through singles during the 60’s. In the early 70’s,he crossed this ethic into the age of the album. His 1976 release Songs In The Key of Life is the finest example of how Stevie Wonder was innovating AOF-a term I’m coining for album oriented funk.

Songs In The Key of Life was his most long winded productions up to this point. It took him 2 1/2 years to complete this album. With a list of musicians that would take up several paragraphs and his fascination with Yamaha’s polyphonic duel keyboards instrument the GX-1,Stevie Wonder and the group of musicians who recorded this put a lot of blood,sweat and joyful tears into the album. It was likely intended as a triple album set. But was whittled down to a double album plus an EP 45 packed into it. Until this time,the only genre of music  that was really give this lavish presentation was progressive rock.

It was actually the first Stevie Wonder album (not counting radio hits) I’d ever heard. Though only part of it at first. On a dark,balmy night sometime in 1989-90 my mom was at our summer camp washing dishes. We had an old silver Emerson turntable/ cassette/ radio/8-Track player to listen to music on out there. My mom had ordered SITKOL on 8-Track from Columbia House Music Club. It was a double tape set,but she’d given one half of it to her friend Billy Ray while still living in NYC.  It was several years later that I finally heard the entire album on vinyl from my mom and dads record collection.

Songs In The Key Of Life is one of a handful of albums that provided the blueprint to how I listen to music up to this very day. It had some amazing and funky hits such as “Sir Duke” and “I Wish”. On the other hand,being conceived as a powerful album statement with zero filler material,its an album that contains some songs that are just very special to millions the world over. If asked to mull it over,each of them probably can make a list of those special songs from this album to them. Today,I offer you my own journey through the songs of Wonder’s keys of life that had a profound effect on my own life.


“Have A Talk With God”-I am not a religious man. But the way Stevie Wonder talks about the positive effects prayer and faith have on him makes a deep impact. With its space funk synthesizers,bluesy melody and slow dragging vocals it offers up god as “the only free psychiatrist”-contrasting with the 12 bar blues form’s typical association with secular humanism.

“Pastime Paradise”-This might very well be the most expansive song instrumentally and lyrically to come out of the mid 70’s. The Arabic style melody,Afro Latin percussion,synthesized orchestration and Hare Krishna bells/chants make for an early example of what would one day become world/pop fusion. Which makes sense since the song talks about people with a progressive emotional understanding versus those with a more conservative one. And its place in post hip-hop history is assured  through Coolio’s 1994 remake “Gangsta Paradise”

“Summer Soft”-Stevie Wonder is an artist who is defined by melodic modulation. This song provides a beautiful tone poem in that regard. He discusses the advantages of the season with a wistful mid tempo ballad sung in falsetto. Then he talks about the seasons being gone in his powerful low voice over a powerful,uptempo gospel/funk revelry.

“Ordinary Pain”-Another fine example of modulation. It starts out with a slow ballad about dealing with the ordinary and apparently “necessary pain” coming from the end of a romance. This is a common thread in Wonder’s romantic songs. This song comes to an end,then returns as a hard core,Moog bass driven funk song from a female perspective sung by Wonderlove’s Shirley Brewer.

“I Wish”-With its bouncing Fender Rhodes piano,ARP synthesizer,bass line along with the hot horn charts,this nostalgia based piece of funk is one of Stevie Wonder’s most enduring hit songs.

“Black Man”-Seeing before my eyes the way this song was layered in recording studio on the relatively rare Classic Albums Series DVD documentary on the making of this album only enhanced my appreciation of this brilliant funk opus. The mix of brittle space funk synthesizer layers with equally brittle,electric horns make this history lesson on the many races of people who built America (with a strong black focus) one of Wonder’s finest pieces of funky music.

” Ngiculela-Es Una Historia-I Am Singing”-On this song,Wonder presents an Afro Latin type of tango done in his electronically orchestrated style. In the languages of Zulu,Spanish and English he sings of true love coming from the heart. Likely relating to individual romance and love of humanity as well.

“As”-This song is one of Stevie Wonder’s masterpieces on the Fender Rhodes electric piano alone. Essentially a mid tempo jazz-funk ballad,it was interpreted by many key figures in that genre during the late 70’s. One can see why as its among Wonder’s most melodically challenging songs ever. Even though I’ve later read commentary that the lyrics of this song were lazily written,its clear that few can have the same high level of emotional expression in their love songs than Stevie Wonder does on such occasions as this.

“All Day Sucker”-This is a hardcore funk jam taken from the EP that came with this album. Using brittle synthesizer accents to accompany the scaling vocal modulations of the song itself,this is one of a handful of fine slices of the funky pie that Stevie Wonder serves up throughout the double album in general.


One thing about Stevie Wonder and this album is that,along with the Motown Monday radio marathons the local oldies radio stations used to have,is that it kind of gave the preteen Andre the impression of Motown as being almost like a fairy tale kingdom. One that omitted sounds and melodies unlike any other. After learning the reality of the hard work and talents that really went into all of it,I did hear of Richard Pryor’s comedy monologue on 1983’s Motown 25 that indeed viewed the label and its artists as being like Detroit’s knights of the sound table.

Songs In The Key Of Life has a sound that could seem magical to the musically unknowing. And even with knowledge,the magic created ON it never truly goes away. The writer John Hamilton is currently tracing the racial double standard of 20th century pop musically. Namely how veteran (generally white) rock artists are seen as aging with grace while black soul/funk artists are generally placed mainly in the context of the past. On Songs In The Key Of Life,Stevie is not only looking towards the future conceptually. But successfully paved the way for it on a musical level as well.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 'Songs In The Key Of Life', 1976, Afro-Futurism, ARP synthesizer, classic albums, Fender Rhodes, Funk, Gospel, message songs, Motown, progressive music, Stevie Wonder, synthesizers, Yamaha GX-1

Anatomy of THE Groove: “We’ll Have It Made” by The Spinners

The Spinners were a group who had two of the most distinctive lead singers in 70’s soul. During their years in Philly,their main lead singer was Phillipe Wynne-a master of powerful vocal idiosyncrasy. In their Motown years,their final lead singer of that era was George Curtis “G.C.” Cameron. He was a Vietnam vet who recorded a couple of solo albums for Motown after his years with the Spinners. In 2003,he became one of the lead singers of the Temptations. Today at age 71,Cameron has had a rich and varied career celebrating music on both a creative and political level in the state of New Jersey.

In 1970,The Spinners recorded their second and final Motown album entitled 2nd Time Around. Story goes that they were not creatively prioritized on the label. On the other hand,Stevie Wonder felt the opposite because he wrote two songs for the group which were featured on this album. The first was “Its A Shame”. This went on to become their biggest hit for Motown. And is probably the song most people associate with G.C. Cameron. The other song Wonder wrote didn’t perform as well commercially,but to me stands on equal level musically. The name of this song is “We’ll Have It Made”.

A deep honky tonk styled (though not honky tonk sounding) piano opens the song. The bass drum kicks into the main rhythm-which is a big percussive sound marked by epic hi hat hits. These are accented by screaming,melodic horn charts. These instrumental parts mark both the chorus and the refrain of the song-using different chord modulations for each segment. After the chorus,there are these jazzy bridges where Cameron goes into his smoothest low baritone. Towards the end of the song,all the musical elements come together for a huge chorus that closes out the song.

“We’ll Have It Made” is a song that instrumentally bridges a hot,heavy uptempo and a stomping country soul sound beautifully. Even more so,Stevie Wonder’s jazzy modulations give the song its complex character. Cameron sings each vocal part as different characters. On the refrains and choruses he’s a huge soul shouter. On the jazzier bridges, he’s a smooth and almost poppy crooner. The moment I heard this song,it made me think about what might’ve happened to the Spinners on Motown had Stevie Wonder worked more fully with them. This and “Its A Shame” still stand as shining moments of this collaboration.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, country/soul, drums, G.C. Cameron, honky tonk piano, horns, Motown, Motown Sound, piano, soul jazz, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners

Anatomy of THE Groove: “I’ve Been Waiting” by Incognito feat/Maysa Leak

Maysa Leak is an artist who came to my attention after first hearing her expert,smokey alto in the early aughts. The Baltimore native graduated from Morgan State University with a degree in classical performance.  She performed in the Morgan State Choir. It was there she met Stevie Wonder,who brought her in to be a backup singer in his late 80’s/early 90’s edition of Wonderlove. She was most prominent on his soundtrack for the 1991 Spike Lee Joint Jungle Fever. She released her solo debut in 1995 as well. While performing with different groups over the years,its a clear memory where I first heard her.

During the same time I was deep into bands like Jamiroquai,discovering Rufus/Chaka Khan,Miles Davis and the jazzy side of funk my mom picked up a CD called No Time Like The Future  by Incognito. This is the first time I ever heard Maysa singing on songs such as “Get Into My Groove”,which I’ve already covered here. Her jazzy style permeates much of her life,so much so that she named her daughter Jazz. And that jazzy groove attracted me to more and more Incognito albums over the years. Their 2008 album  Tales From The Beach  contained one of my favorite songs sung by her on “I’ve Been Waiting”.

Maysa begins the song by saying “if my heart should betray my emotions,I hope you understand just what it is I’ve been feeling”. Following that,a VERY Stevie Wonder like major/minor jazz chord progression played on a high and bass toned Oberheim synthesizer begins the musical end of the song. This consists of a flutter wah wah guiter and light cymbal/bass drums kicking off a thick slap bass line playing along three chords. After a couple bars of that the slow,funky drums come in along with the Fender Rhodes electric piano and Bluey’s liquid rhythm guitar.

In between this refrain,there’s a brief musical bridge which brings in the tight horn charts-which play call and response to Maysa’s vocals. The Rhodes also plays a strong counter melody to this as well. When the chorus comes in,Maysa is multi tracked within a sea of percussive drums,wah wah guitar,dancing horn charts and the even snakier slap bass line. Just before the second round of choruses and refrains,the keyboards take over for yet another short bridge on the outro. The music strips down to its most percussive elements on the final choruses as the song closes out on a breezy Rhodes coda.

One day,I’m hoping Incognito will be somewhat more recognized worldwide for their often ingenious continuation of 70’s jazz funk in the modern age. Again as has been a continuing theme with me lately,this is a complexly arranged composition. The chord progressions and melodic changes,along with the changes in instrumental soloing throughout,make this one of the most sleekly arranged jazz-funk jams of the new millennium. Maysa’s strong personality and determined “grown folks” outlook on sensuality really make this one of 2008’s major jams of the year for me,anyway.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 2008, Baltimore, drums, Fender Rhodes, horns, Incognito, jazz funk, Maysa, Morgan State Choir, Morgan State University, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Stevie Wonder, synthesizers, wah wah guitar, Wonderlove

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Move It,Do It” by Syreeta Wright

Syreeta Wright had a long and fascinating musical journey. She started as an aspiring ballet dancer from Pittsburgh who landed a receptionist job at Motown. Settling in Detroit,her backing vocals for latter day Supremes hits led her to be considered as Diana Ross’s replacement in the group. She met Stevie Wonder around that time. He encouraged her to begin writing songs. They two eventually married and recorded together for Wonder’s 1971 album Where I’m Coming From. Though the marriage ended in divorce,her and Wonder continued to collaborate creatively throughout the decade.

Syreeta had another short lived marriage a few years later,moving to Ethiopia in the mid 70’s to teach transcendental meditation. She returned to her solo career on Motown in the late 70’s and early 80’s Her second album of the 80’s decade was called Set My Love In Motion. I picked it up on vinyl in NYC around 1998 or so. Finally picked up a CD copy through the Funkytowngrooves reissue label. Its actually a very unsung classic in what I now understand to be the post disco/boogie funk genre. And the one song this album that signifies this most for me is called “Move It,Do It”.

This is a song dominated by instrumental layering. It starts out with a high pitched synth wail,a round bass one and an orchestral one right in the middle tone. These sweeten up the thick,slow rhythm guitar and equally slow funky drumming. On the vocal refrains of the song,the higher pitched synth plays a sunnier melody as the rhythm guitar goes up a bit in pitch. The song returns to the main chorus after this. The bridge of the song reduces that chorus down to the drums,rhythm guitar and synth bass before the main one returns to close out the entire song.

One conversation that Henrique and I had onetime had to do with the different musical courses Wonder and Wright were taking at the start of the 1980’s. Syreeta embraced the futurist synth funk/post disco boogie sound Wonder had helped to innovate in the 70’s during these years. Wonder meanwhile returned to a live band oriented sound during this period. “Move It,Do It” makes me wonder how Wonder’s sound might’ve been circa 1980-81 if he’d elected to base his sound of the time more on his one man band approach. Still the slinky sensuality of Syreeta’s attitude brings her own musical flavors right up front.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Boogie Funk, drums, Motown, post disco, rhythm guitar, Stevie Wonder, synthesizers, Syreeta Wright

Grooves On Wax: 12″ inch Singles On The One!

Upon starting this new feature on Andresmusictalk, the subject of 12″ inch singles was something that was always intending to be covered. With their extended,often remixed versions of the original album versions,the 12″ inch single is a format that derived from the disco era. And actually started in it with DJ’s playing the records for dancers as opposed to live bands. It was about a year or so ago that I started collecting these 12″ inch extended/remix singles again. So here is the first ones of this semi regular aspect of this feature. And it actually starts out just as the disco era had peaked.


On Your Knees (1979) is a very funky Eurodisco number,whose single featured  eye catching cover art by Bronx born art/fashion photographer Richard Bernstein. The B-side “Don’t Mes With The Messer” deals more with the Broadway musical style of theatrical disco Grace was so known for in her 70’s era music. So you hear two sides of Tom Moulton’s late 70’s disco productions for Grace.

Listening to Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein 84 remixes from…1984,it becomes clear just how much this early 70’s glam rock classic makes a lot more sense in a mid 80’s electro funk setting. With the used of sequencers and Vocorders,Winter creates a break beat/hip-hop friendly variation on himself. Especially when his very strong,often outright growling,rap comes in on the “Monster Rap” mix.

1987’s Characters  album is my favorite Stevie Wonder album of the 1980’s. On his 12″ inch single for “Get It”,his duet with Michael Jackson from that album,the drums shuffle more than on the album. And the break beats are re-sampled heavier. This gives it a flavor closer to the then emerging new jack swing variety of funk coming out of people such as Teddy Riley and Chuckii Booker.

The 12″ inch single for “Skeletons” from the same Stevie Wonder album is it’s own matter entirely. The DX-7 synthesizer on the intro is replaced with a thick,funky rhythm guitar for one. Also on the drum and synth bass interludes,Stevie’s call and responses of “hmm hmm hmm” and “oh wow” are set to samples of Ronald Reagan speeches. It really showcases what Stevie means singing”somebody done snitched on the news crew/it’s gettin’ ready to break”.

It was somewhat surprising to find a 12″ inch vinyl single from 1999. But on this set of remixes of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name”,you get Rodney Jerkin’s original hip-hop/pop version,a Daddy D remix that has an Afrika Bambaataa style electro funk groove while Maurice’s Last Days Of Disco has a late 70’s dance/early 90’s house flavor. It showcases how the song might’ve sounded in three different eras of time.


One thing about 12″ inch singles that I’ve forgotten about is how much they bring out that punchy,analog sound that vinyl is so renowned for. Some of these were actually 33 RPM,but the majority were 45 RM so that probably helped out a big in that regard. It also lasted far longer than I knew-about up to the advent of the MP3 and today they are making a comeback with the big vinyl revival. Creatively speaking,they allow remix producers, sometimes even the artists themselves,re-imagining their own work in new,unexpected ways. And this makes the 12″ inch vinyl single a format worth expanding on.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under 12 inch singles, 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Destiny's Child, Disco, Edgar Winter, elecro funk, extended mixes, Grace Jones, remixes, Rodney Jerkins, Stevie Wonder, Tom Moulton, Vinyl

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Love Enter” by Michael Henderson

Michael Henderson is right up alongside Larry Graham in terms of cracker jack bass player/composers with his baritone singing voices. As a Detroit native,he was most influenced by  Motown Funk Brother (and bass guitar icon) James Jamerson. Jamerson played a lot of jazzy riffs-especially backing up Stevie Wonder. So it made sense that Henderson,a pioneer fusion jazz bassist,would bring his own bass complexity to Wonder’s music in the late 60’s/early 70’s along with session work for Marvin Gaye,Aretha Franklin, The Dramatics and Dr. By then,Henderson was moving further into his jazz chops.

Henderson transitioned from a soul session player into a jazz one during the early/mid 70’s. Working with drummer/talent scout Norman Connors and jazz pioneer Miles Davis found Henderson helping both artists transition into a soul and funk based approach-especially with  Miles’ On The Corner in 1972 and Connors You Are Starship in 1976. That same year Henderson inked a solo deal with Buddah records. His solo debut Solid is a masterpiece of his multiple talent-with its strongly funky title song. For me,another song that pulls together Henderson’s talents on the album is “Let Love Enter”.

Muruga Booker’s conga drum roll and percussion introduces the the song. It features the acoustic piano,Henderson’s bass and the ongoing percussion playing a funky variation of the Brazilian samba rhythm. The melody of it all,as illustrated by Henderson’s scaling voice and lyricism,is based in Brazilian jazz with it’s major and minor chord changes. A straight up percussion part bridges the similarly themed refrain and choruses together. On the bridge,trumpeter Marcus Belgrave delivers a succinct accompanying horn solo as Henderson’s backup singers improvise the melody with him to the songs fade out.

This  song reveals itself as having taken a lot of influence from both Norman Connors and Miles Davis. Most of the playing has Miles and Norman’s  light musical touch. It also  celebrates that Brazilian flavor that Stevie Wonder often had. What bridges these influences is that jazzy funk/soul attitude. It has a strong,melodic groove to it, and its not a simple song either. The chord progressions can be sung and hummed. Yet they offer a lot of challenge for musicians and vocalists who wish to do so. As such,its something of a defining musical moment for Michael Henderson from the beginning of his solo years.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, Brazilian Jazz, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Marcus Belgrave, Michael Henderson, Miles Davis, Muruga Booker, Norman Connors, percussion, piano, samba funk, session musicians, Stevie Wonder, trumpet, vocal jazz

Michael Jackson-The First Solo Career

Photo of JACKSON FIVE and Michael JACKSON

Michael Jackson shared one major thing in common with fellow Motowner Stevie Wonder: both of them had two distinct solo careers. Stevie’s was as a child prodigy musician who mostly played harmonica and bongos. And only singing a little bit. Of course his breakthrough was still on the Motown label. But on independent, fully adult terms. Michael had his first career in his early/mid teens on Motown as well. He differs from Stevie mainly in that his adult solo breakthrough came through the guidance of Quincy Jones and his crew of musicians. And it happened on the Epic label rather than Motown.

Michael’s solo career on Motown was linked very closely to the Jackson 5ive’s. His brothers often continued to sing backup for him during this time. And he continued to work with the writers and producers who made up The Corporation-the creative team who helped to create the Jacksons’ sound while they were on Motown. In addition to providing the teenage Michael with fresh new material,they also developed his strong vocal ability into that of an interpretive singer-even as his voice began to change. And it’s that first solo career (from 1972 to 1975) that I want to represent Michael Jackson with today.


“I Wanna Be Where You Are”/1972

This is probably my personal favorite of Michael’s solo hits from before his voice really changed. The rhythm guitar/harpsichord heavy uptempo funkiness has a strong J5 flavor still. But Leon Ware and T-Boy Ross’s songwriting has a lot of those jazzy chord changes,from major to minor,that Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson were using at the time. Michael handles the melodic complexity of the song with seeming ease and emotional power.

“Ain’t No Sunshine”/1972

With it’s fuzzed out guitar and slow shuffling beat,this Bill Withers cover comes instrumentally right out of the early P-Funk albums from Funkadelic in 1970-71. But it’s raw blusiness is slickened up far more than anything George Clinton was doing at this time. Always loved Michael’s spoken intro where he says “you ever want something that you know you shouldn’t have? The more you know shouldn’t have it,the more you want it”.

“People Make The World Go ‘Round”/1972

One thing that really makes this song stand out as an interpretation is how much different it is from the Stylistics original. Thom Bell’s slow tempo is raised up a notch,and the music is a more less orchestrated. Not only that but the lyrics are simplified,to the point of being totally altered,to make more sense that a 14 year old is singing it. It was a moment when someone else’s song was tailored more to Michael’s maturity level-rather than the more experienced and adult sociopolitical elan of the original.

“Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day”/1972

This Stevie Wonder interpretation is amazing. It sounds based more on the faster,more clavinet driven live versions Stevie performed in the late 60’s than the studio original. Also Michael begins utilizing more of the vocal hiccups and ad libs from his Epic era solo career here. What shocked me is to hear the chorus at the very beginning sung in Michael’s fully changed adult voice,but the rest in his higher childhood one. Almost as if vocal parts were recorded at totally different times.

“All The Things You Are”/1973

Michael Jackson became fascinated with the Philly soul sound of Gamble & Huff during his mid teens. And this interpretation of the Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern showtune really showcases the orchestral proto disco funkiness spirit of the city of brotherly love. Michael utilizes his changing voice beautifully here-singing the more dramatic parts in his childhood voice and the more nuanced ones in his mature voice.

“Euphoria”/1973

Leon Ware provided this jazzy,cinematic mid tempo Clavinet/string orchestration based funky soul to Michael Jackson at a time when he was right on the cusp of finding his identity as a solo performer for Motown. He’s spelling the words out of the song title in the manner a parent might  do for a child. Yet the choruses make it clear Michael is really beginning to understand the meaning of the word euphoria.

“We’re Almost There”/1975

Michael’s voice had fully matured by the time his final Motown album Forever,Michael dropped in early 1975. This amazingly cinematic groove from Brian and Eddie Holland-with it’s funky wah wah and high stepping Afro Brazilian dance rhythm really allowed Michael’s voice to soar to the romantically hopeful revelry of the lyrics.

“Dapper Dan”/1975

This album track from the Forever,Michael is the one song from that album that you won’t find on any of the many Motown era solo Michael Jackson best of compilations out there. But it is by far the funkiest song on the album. Written primarily by Hal Davis,it channels the sort of New Orleans stomp that an Allen Toussaint might cook up for Dr.John at that time. And showcases Michael getting down hard with some super heavy funk.


Michael Jackson has been dead for seven years as if this writing. I was motivated to explore this side of Michael’s artistry because it showcased his personal interests guiding those people still guiding Michael. And his first four solo albums recorded on Motown helped prepare him to develop his focus in terms of the kinds of writers,producers and musicians he’d work with as a grown adult. His second solo career is well illustrated in the Guinness Book Of World Records. But his solo trajectory really took off while still on Motown.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, cinematic funk, Funk, Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, Motown, Motown Sound, Philly Soul, Stevie Wonder, The Corporation

Paul McCartney: The Cute Beatle With A Bag Of Many Grooves

Paul McCartney

People have had discussions about who their favorite Beatle was. Each had their own distinct creative personality that made them work so well together. Yet if someone asked me which former Beatle appealed to me most musically,it would be Paul McCartney. As a composer/singer/multi instrumentalist,Sir Paul is possessed of the same multi faceted creativity of people such as Todd Rundgren and the late Prince Rogers Nelson-worthy of their mutual Gemini stars. He has his own distinctive approach to melody and groove-extending across hard rockers,easy going pop ballads as well as his most soulful side.

That soulful side of McCartney is what I’d like to talk about today. One of the key factors of him in general is how well he understands the importance of groups to his music. Between The Beatles and his second band Wings, McCartney always realized what other musicians from John Lennon to Denny Laine could offer him instrumentally than if  he just played everything. Between arranging horns and working with musicians such as fellow bassist Stanley Clarke,Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart, here are some of my favorite of the soulful,funkier songs from Paul McCartney.


“She’s My Baby”/1976

On the album Wings At The Speed Of Sound,the members of Wings all contributed their songs to the mix. This had mixed results,but one of my favorite contributions from McCartney himself was the stripped down melodic funk of “She’s My Baby”. Especially with it’s somewhat jazzy Fender Rhodes electric piano solos.

“Arrow Through Me”/1979

This dramatic blend of reggae rhythms and West Coast style jazz/funk was the song that caught my attention most. From the reverbed snare drum traps to the processed electric piano,it’s no wonder that this imaginative and melodic groove became the basis for Erykah Badu’s “Gone Baby Don’t Be Long” over three decades later.

“Coming Up”/1980

McCartney played everything again on this song,while channeling his inner James Brown. In this case,turning his one man band (including his chicken scratch guitar) into a drum. Not to mention having one of the snappiest melodies of McCartney’s career to boot.

“Secret Friend”/1980

This is another very early 80’s song from McCartney’s second proper solo album that truly blew my mind. It’s a technological carnival of Brazilian percussion,funky bass/guitar interactions and a very psychedelic East Indian type melody. And keeps it all going for well over ten minutes as well.

“What’s That Your Doing”/1982

Instrumentally speaking,this thickly bassy and percussive hard funk jam seems to be more the work McCartney’s duet partner on this song Stevie Wonder. But it leaves plenty of room for McCartney’s bass and guitar abstractions. Especially when the chorus of his Beatles classic “She Loves You” appears on the extended outro. My absolute favorite song from the McCartney/Wonder collaboration.

“Dress Me Up As A Robber”/1982

A superbly composed piece of Brazilian jazz/funk from Paul on his 1982 album Tug Of War. The rhythm guitar and synth bass are some of the hottest McCartney had done up to this point. Especially on the breakdown on the bridge of the song that reminds me Gap Band songs from that same period.

“Hey Hey”/1983

Stanley Clarke’s early 80’s collaboration with Paul McCartney continues on this expansively melodic jazz fusion instrumental from McCartney’s underrated 1983 album Pipes Of Peace. It starts out as a kinetic Afro-rocker almost,then mellows into a jazzy reverb laden keyboard and bass driven bridge. One of my favorite instrumentals from McCartney.

“Tug Of Peace”/1983

McCartney pulls out a full blown electro Afro funk percussion extravaganza on this song. Structurally,it’s a lyrical reboot of the title ballad of his previous album “Tug Of War”. But the feeling is much more revved up rhythmically-almost as if to say that peace is a source of joy while war slows you down. And this is all aside from McCartney delivering one of the finest bass like low rhythmic guitars of his career.


Discussing the music of Paul McCartney in a soul,funk and even jazz context might seem atypical. But it really isn’t when one considers the way in which musicians intermingle. In Liverpool,most of McCartney’s musical acquaintances were playing the same type of music basically. He the man traveled the world and gained more experience,the newer musicians he became associated with continued to expand his stylistic and rhythmic repertoire beyond even where the Beatles had take their music. And it’s his creative flexibility that is the core of the man whose turning 74 today.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, 1980's, bass guitar, chicken scratch guitar, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, funk rock, jazz funk, Paul McCartney, pop rock, rhythm guitar, Stanley Clarke, Stevie Wonder, Wings

Anataomy of THE Groove: “I Wanna Talk To You” by Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder’s musical artistry is completely effected by the 60’s social explosions. These changes in American society defined the baby boomer generation,of which Wonder was a member of. The 70’s emerged finding the civil rights and black power movements influencing that entire 60’s era counterculture. One issue,bought up again by Prince three decades later,was the idea of recording contracts as a form of artistic slavery. Wonder’s music had grown behind what Motown expected him to create. And just prior to his 21st birthday,Wonder decided to do as Curtis Mayfield had done and take control of his music.

This April 12th was the 45th anniversary of Stevie Wonder’s album  Where I’m Coming From. This album represented a time when Wonder insisted his contract to Motown be voided until they worked out a deal that gave him full creative autonomy. The album featured a sound that represented the funk process,and Wonder’s use of it to advance his own musical independence. The themes of the songs dealt with anti war ideas ,drug abuse, racism and his new marriage to Syreeta Wright,who collaborated with him on the album. Today,one song on this album rings through my head very loudly: “I Wanna Talk To You”.

Wonder starts out the song with a down and dirty 12 bar blues piano solo straight out of the Ray Charles school of soul. He responds to this vocally on his refrain-just him and the piano. Than Stevie imitating an older voice comes in for the chorus,solo at first. During the rest of the chorus,layers of fuzzed out Clavinet and huge,percussive soul/jazz style drums come into play. After a few rounds of this literal refrain/choral conversation the music comes to an instrumental bridge. This extends into an elongated chorus of these reverbed,heavy groove keyboards until the song breaks apart lyrically and fades out.

Musically, Stevie Wonder is speaking the same musical language here as Sly & The Family Stone were with their Stand album from a couple years earlier. It brings in the raw R&B attitude out of the 50’s blues clubs and juke joints into the slick,churchy use of reverb and instrumental filters. This is what the funk process was all about. And by having fully realized the strong instrumental influence of the Ray Charles comparison that made his childhood career,Wonder was able to bring the then recent musical past into a new and evolving future. And right around the time Marvin Gaye put out What’s Going On at that.

On the lyrical end, I was inspired to write about this song was by seeing a meme that showed members of Black Lives Matter and saying “the most racist people are the ones crying ‘racist’ all the time’. This meme was posted to the Facebook timeline of a friend of mine whose not only gay,but works in a mental health facility. It got me to thinking that perhaps,racism is indeed a form of mental illness. It encourages irrational,murderous behavior. For years “I Wanna Talk To You” was presented in literature as being a song about the generation gap. In a way it is. But it actually goes far deep than that in content.

As it stands,the reason this occurrence inspired me to think of this songs lyrics is how Wonder plays it out. It’s essentially a one man show-style musical theater production,if one were based in straight up post WW2 black American attitude and funkiness. Wonder plays himself singing about the frustration of being black in America. He also plays the voice of an old Southern (most likely white) bigot who insists “my world can be true if you do what I tell you to”. At the end,it all breaks down when they character calls out “ah Stevie boy” and Wonder responds with “hey I don’t need you for nothin'”.

Stevie Wonder throws down an amazing ethic on this song. What amazes me is that Where I’m Coming From is the only one of his adult albums not domestically in print on physical media. In terms of this song in particular,it finds Wonder coming into rising adulthood at the dawn of the post civil rights era in America. Between the black American revolutionary music of funk and the message of organizations like the black panthers, Wonder completely realizes the connections between the two factors. And he plays out American’s racist default setting beautifully on this song with maximum soul and funkativity.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, Black Lives Matter, blues funk, clavinet, drums, funk process, message songs, Motown, piano, racism, reverb, Stevie Wonder