Category Archives: Synth Pop

‘1999’: 34 Years Of Dance,Music,Sex,Romance

1999

1999 is celebrating its 34th anniversary today. Its understood as the album that really helped Prince cross his music over to a more pop oriented audience. A lot has been said about the album. Such as how the album was musically almost entirely the work of Prince himself. Also,how it helped establish the clearest headed example of the electronic based Minneapolis sound that he was pioneering at that time. Not to mention that it came right along with his first proteges in Vanity and (most importantly) The Time. Now I’m really realizing just how important this album was in terms of Prince’s entire musical history.

Prince debuted in the late 1970’s,fresh out of his teens as a disco era version of Stevie Wonder: a youthful funk wunderkind. As Henrique and myself were discussing at the time of writing this,he was first coming out when so much was happening around him. Stevie Wonder’s  Songs In The Key Of Life  still churned out hits,P-Funk were dropping “Flashlight” and “One Nation Under A Groove” while Dayton,Ohio’s Slave was hitting with an R&B #1 smash in their song “Slide”. And than came Prince,a young musical genius who played all the instruments and produced his own music so expertly.

When the post disco radio freeze out occurred in the early 80’s,the enormous level of pioneering and trailblazing by funk and disco artists disappeared overnight. On the other hand,it remained very present overseas in the UK with some rock and electronic elements added. This sound became known as new romantic/new wave/synth pop movement. In the very beginning of the 80’s,most black artists were integrating electronics into what was still a standard funk/soul rhythmic framework. By 1982,Prince suddenly became his own innovator as really the only black American new wave/synth rock oriented artist.

The 1999 album is endowed with some amazing funk such as the title song,the instrumentally organic “Lady Cab Driver” and the driving “DMSR”. In fact,the idea of the album being a double LP set with full,elongated mixes made it an idea format for his Minneapolis funk. At the same time,it was songs like the albums other major hit “Little Red Corvette” along with “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”,”Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” and “Automatic” showcase Prince as doing for the synth pop/new wave sound what Little Richard  and Ray Charles did for rock ‘n roll  and soul in the 50’s.

Prince infused his rockiest music,even the rockabilly hit of “Delirious” with tons of gospel influences and attitude. And brought those same elements into his ballads on here “Free” and “International Lover”. This also began the period when Prince was concentrating heavily on developing his single B-sides as musical works of art all their own. Songs such as “Irresistible Bitch” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” (covered famously by both Stephanie Mills and later Alicia Keys) represent the first time other artist realized even a Prince flip side was ripe for another artist to be really successful with them.

As of this writing,Prince enthusiasts await the official release of “Moonbeam Levels”,a well known outtake from this era. So interest in 1999 era Prince is still growing. For me,its an album that represents his finest mix of funk and rock music in terms of an album. The extended lengths gave the grooves room for a lot of expansion. For the heavy funkateer, 1999 is far more funk endowed than its blockbuster followup Purple Rain. On a personal note,it was my aunts favorite Prince album too. In many ways,1999 might be the most defining moment of Prince’s Minneapolis sound.

 

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Filed under 1980's, 1999, classic albums, electro funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, Prince, Synth Pop

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sexuality” by Prince

Prince-Sexuality-single-cover

Prince’s thematic persona was always about freedom of expression-especially on the sexual side. This was in fact what attracted me to his music from the outset. The man viewed physical intimacy as a loving,even spiritual act. With his  bold musical and lyrical frankness,Prince created a distinctive persona that opened the door for the liberating attitude of the sexual evolution as he was funking up the post disco American musical landscape of the early 80’s. He would wiggle and wobble in and out of his own concept throughout his career. But it never stopped being there.

This afternoon while doing errands with my mom, I was playing Prince’s fourth album Controversy  in the car CD player. It was actually one of my favorite pre-superstar Princ albums. Especially the way it really pushed Prince’s budding sociopolitical agenda. Even if the concept was hit or miss on the album,one song on the album actually revealed itself to be an anthem for Prince’s entire musical and thematic persona from a bit earlier even then “DMSR” from a bit later. And it’s one that I’ve been loving for just as long a time as well. This jam is called “Sexuality”.

Prince’s high pitched variation of the James Brown screech begins the album-providing an accessory rhythm to the rumbling gated drums. That screech is re-sampled as a siren like echo into the brittle bass synthesizer,which is accented by breezy synth orchestrations. After that Prince’s high on the neck rhythm guitar chug moves in. This is the main body of the song. On the choruses,the synthesizer is in a higher key. On the latter part of the song,the strong strips back down to the pounding drums under Prince’s spoken word rap. By the end of the song,Prince is whispering the chorus over his own rhythm. guitar.

Instrumentally speaking,this song almost perfectly blends the brittle new wave/synth pop and Prince’s Minneapolis naked funk sound. Much of the song finds Prince taking on what amounts to the funk/soul equivalent of the socially rebellious punk attitude. Lyrically speaking,I now read this song as a dog whistle metaphor regarding a racially bias media and educational system. He referred to such people as “tourists”-teaching children to “cuss,fight and breed”. These would be themes Prince would elaborate on for the rest of his career. And he delivered it hear with some of his most explosively purple punk-funk.

 

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Filed under 1980's, drums, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, Prince, punk funk, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, Synth Pop, synthesizers

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Twilight Clone” by Herbie Hancock (1981)

Herbie Hancock’s four pre Future Shock albums in the early 80’s albums have always been very special to me personally. They may not have been massively successful commercially, but were some of his most potent jazz/funk masterpieces of his electric period. One of my favorite albums of this period was his third released from the 1981’s entitled Magic Windows. The album was by and large a heavy funk set including heavy participation from Ray Parker Jr.,who’d been working with Hancock for six years and for whom  Hancock composed the song “Tonight’s The Night” for his Raydio project a year before-during which Hancock released two albums of his own in Monster and Mr.Hands.

This album was recorded at David Rubinson’s Automat studio’s in San Francisco,a studio known for it’s early embrace of automatic mixing technology as well as some of the biggest producers and musicians who recorded there. Perhaps realizing how his using synthesizers to play horn charts was influences the oncoming 80’s boogie/electro funk sound,Hancock touted this album as having no strings,brass or other orchestral elements on this album outside his electronics. Having been inspired by Talking Head’s electronic Afro-Funk explosions on their Remain In Light album,Hancock bought in Adrian Belew from their band for the his new albums finale entitled “The Twilight Clone”.

The song builds from the funky shuffle of Hancock’s drums and Paulinho da Costa’s percussion (along with a host of others) accents. Louis Johnson chimes in with one of his thickest slap bass lines before Hancock comes back in with a brittle LinnDrum beat and  bubbling,mechanical and percussive synths. George Johnson joins in for chugging rhythm guitar,and all of this is accented by Hancock’s own synth bass line. Belew’s trademark “zoo guitar” sound plays the lead line with a very Arabic style melody. Shortly after the song goes up in pitch melodically,the bridge showcases a guitar/percussive breakdown between Da Costa, Johnson and Belew before fading out on it’s own main chorus.

On many levels,this is my favorite Herbie Hancock song of the 1980’s. It’s a perfect example of the electro funk process functioning strongly on the rhythm of the one. Hancock sets the pass as the drummer on this song,as well as providing his synthesizers as a percussive element in much the same way as he had on “Nobu” eight years earlier. He brings in the Arabic melodic tones of Adrian Belew’s horn-like guitar into the Afrocentric percussion Paulinho Da Costa brings to it. Of course the heavy funk element is locked down tight by the Brothers Johnson. So this song essentially acts as the total nucleus of what Hancock’s mid/late 80’s sound would be on a technological and structural level.

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Filed under 1980's, Adrian Belew, Boogie Funk, Brothers Johnson, David Rubinson, drums, elecro funk, George Johnson, guitar, Herbie Hancock, Linn Drum, Louis Johnson, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, rhythm guitar, San Francisco, synth bass, synth brass, Synth Pop, synthesizer, The Automat, Uncategorized

Andre’s Amazon Archive 4/11/2015: ‘So Excited (Expanded Edition)’ by Pointer Sisters

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I had this album for a long time on vinyl and while it was in excellent shape when I got,it wasn’t after a time. Reason being is because I used to play it from beginning to end over and over again because this happens to be one of those pop albums (honestly another in this style that comes to mind is Pet Sounds) where once you start it it’s likely you won’t want to skip cuts because these well crafted little pop-soul mini masterpieces just flow so well from one to the other your either dancing and/or singing along so much you just won’t want to be bothered shutting it off. And on CD this album is made even better (if Amazon allowed ten stars I’d give this eight to be honest) because you simply don’t have to switch sides. As with all albums some cuts are less perfect than others but when the weakest cuts are merely very good,one knows something greats going on.

Predating their major league success with Break Out by exactly one year this album expands on the sleek mixture of live musicianship,extremely rich vocal harmonies and dashes of synthesizers in just the right places. It is far,far from the heavy electronic production if the next album but up to this point qualifies as their slickest. The title track (the single version without of course the drum intro at the beginning)as well as “See How The Love Goes”,”Heart To Heart” and a very close to the original rendering of Prince’s “I Feel For You” two years before Chaka Khan’s famous hit version (the liners claim the Sisters considering Chaka’s the far superior version) all blend that 80’s pop/new wave sound of reverbed rhythm guitars and keyboard lines with some wonderfully soulful pop melodies. And those are actually the WEAKER cuts if you can imagine it.

“All Of You” is a sleek mixture of dreamy mid tempo Latin pop/funk and a modern country/pop type refrain-the combination works great and it’s easily one of the albums highlights. “Heart Beat”,a Ruth Pointer sung number and I find her voice one of the most husky and unique next to Mavis Staples and is definitely one of those “hits that never were” type of songs,again with that new wave/funk pop flavor. Now for SERIOUS GROOVES “If You Want To Get Back Your Lady” is a hefty naked funk gem,again with plenty of that country refrain on the vocal only and even a synthesized reference to “Purple Haze” towards the end I never noticed before. There’s also a remix as part of the bonuses that really extends the rhythmic aspect of the groove. Ditto for the title track. “American Music” is kind of a self homage to their own melting pot outlook on pop and has this retro soul/pop shuffle to it-sort of a slicker “Should I Do It”. Again I ask why this wonderful and highly consistent album hadn’t made it to CD before this. But I suppose the important thing is it’s here now and a strong reminder of just how high quality and consistent the Pointer Sisters were during this most successful time for them.

Originally Posted On May 16th,2011

Link to original review here*

Visit the BBR Records site here for more expanded and remastered funk and soul titles:

http://www.cherryred.co.uk/bigbreak.asp

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Anita Pointer, Big Break Records, Chaka Khan, Funk, June Pointer, Music Reviewing, naked funk, Pointer Sisters, pop funk, Prince, reissues, Richard Perry, Ruth Pointer, soul pop, Synth Pop

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 1/24/2015: ‘Exit’ by Tangerine Dream-Dedicated To The Memory of Edgar Froese

Exit

It was actually bands like Tangerine Dream,along with the innovations of funk synthesizer pioneers such as Stevie Wonder and P-Funk’s Bernie Worrell and Walter Junie Morrison,who helped to develop the new wave/synth pop genre that was becoming the dominant form of dance,rock and pop music for the first several years of the 1980’s. Edgar Froese,Chris Franke and Johannes Schmoelling were still operating and going very strong by the time 1981 rolled around. And for their second non soundtrack studio album of the 80’s,the band were in a state of musical adaptation to the very approach they’d played a part in creating.

“Kiew Mission” marches along with a lightly rocking beat with more textural synth lines this time and a pounding,deep orchestral line that sounds similar to the one utilized a year later as the intro to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. “Pilots Of Purple Twilight” features a full range of synthesizers providing multiple rhythms,bass lines and melodies to create a full on,flat out electro pop extravaganza. “Choronzon” is a similar type of song only with each synth line marching along in a very strident,forward style. The title song is a very spare and probing number with a basic bass line and melody while “Network 23” has a very busy set of multiple rhythms,bass and melody parts again that sounds very much like something that could be used for the opening of a television news broadcast with it’s sense of tense drama.

“Remote Viewing” concludes the album with a a longer and sparer song where both the melodic and bass synthesizers respond to each other in a very similar musical language that one might hear from a horn section. When I learned of the passing of Edgar Froese today,it took my friend Thomas Carley to help me connect the name with Tangerine Dream. And one thing I realize about the late Froese’s synthesizer work is how much call and response there is to it. Especially on this album. At a period of time when almost every strain of popular music was becoming electronically derived,albums such as this one helped to showcase WHY things worked in electronic music’s instrumentation. And this might be a far more influential Tangerine Dream album than most realize purely on that level.

Originally Posted on January 23rd,2015

Link to original Amazon review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Bernie Worrell, Edgar Froese, Electronica, New Wave, Stevie Wonder, Synth Pop, Tangerine Dream, Walter Junie Morrison