Earth Wind & Fire are one of those funk bands who included two guitarists and two drummers. In terms of the latter,there was Maurice White’s brother Fred and their main drummer Ralph Johnson. Johnson for his part is still an active part of EWF to this very day. Upon seeing him interviewed,he discussed his close instrumental relationship with the bands bassist (also still actively involved) Verdine White. He stated that if he didn’t play drums,he’d have been a bass player due to his close musical relationship with rhythm. And rhythm remains one of the key elements of the Earth Wind & Fire sound.
After an enormous run of successful hits from 1975-1979,Earth Wind & Fire were likely the most popular band of that time period. At the strong encouragement of Maurice White,the band traveled to Egypt among other locations the world over. When they returned to record their next album,music and not sales figures was foremost on their mind. So they cut a musically elaborate double album in 1980 entitled Faces. While it had their signature melodic sound,the rhythms were major game changers for them. The opening song really emphasized this,and it was one that Ralph Johnson co-wrote: “Let Me Talk?
Larry Dunn’s deep bass synth tone begins this song. What accompanies it are the Phenix horns riffing at hyper-speed through the musical magic of a sped up tape loop. The rhythm behind this is the same as the refrains: a danceable Afro-Brazilian samba deep in the Latin clave. As the rhythm guitar and glistening synth accents play along with the horns and vocals,the bass hugs the rhythm tightly. On the choruses,the beat becomes more conventionally funky/pop-with synth bass taking a strong roll. That musical pattern continues throughout this song until a quirky bit of recorded conversation concludes it.
“Let Me Talk” begins an album that Verdine White describes as them thinking “let’s cut something we wanna cut”. It was actually one of Maurice White’s personal favorite albums by EWF. And this song begins the album with a bang. With it’s Afro-Brazilian/Cuban rhythms and percussion,it’s structurally somewhat closer to the type of song EWF would’ve done in 1973-74. It still has their melodic pop craft that developed later further later in the decade though. Ralph Johnson and Al McKay wrote a song together here. And the rhythms of the song really showcase their instrumental interactions.
Thematically, Maurice and Philip Bailey make this song a lyrical dialog about America’s escape from the beauty of and attention to blackness as the 1980’s began. Maurice is saying that a message burns within him everyday,while Philip’s part has him countering with a request to “play your role just as you’ve been told. As I write this,America is still embroiled more than ever in this attempt to deny the potency of black culture within and without it. And for both Independence Day and Ralph Johnson’s 65th birthday,its just the right funky “people music” to project for this time and place.