While Teena Marie’s 1983 album Robbery was a creatively strong label debut? It was not a commercial success. The sound of it might’ve been a bit to instrumentally transitional for that. The following year Prince & The Revolution had a major breakthrough with the Purple Rain soundtrack. This was a very new wave inflected album that showcased the Minneapolis Sound-basically replacing horn and string arrangements with various synthesizers. With this burgeoning sound and Teena’s talents as a multi instrumentalist? Her music had new possibilities.
While adding strong synth rock elements on her aforementioned Epic debut? Teena probably realized that her career (as a white artist advanced forward by the black community) meant she needed to understand the progression of soul/funk music with the advent of newer technology. The result was her 1984 album Starchild. Along with it’s debut single “Lovergirl”? It crossed Lady T over onto the pop charts-the one and only time she’d ever do so. Still it’s the title song of this album that personally caught my attention.
The beat gets going with a brittle,funky proto hip-hop drum machine rhythm-accompanied by Brazilian jazz styled percussive whoops and hollers. Then a mid toned electronic bass kicks into gear-accompanied by the quavering,higher pitched synthesizers playing the horn style accents. All this being emphasized by a strong rhythm guitar. On the choruses,Teena is echoed by a Vocorder singing the song’s title. On the bridge? The quavering synth plays the ancient Egyptian snake dance melody as Teena raps loosely surrounding it.
While very clearly her variation on the Minneapolis sound? The overall production of the electro/boogie funk sound is actually much cleaner. And strongly emphasizes writer Rickey Vincent’s point about how the chugging rhythm guitar survived the synthesizer based 80’s funk sound intact. Instrumentally it’s in the vein of Chaka Khan’s “This Is My Night” from the same year. Teena’s lyrics take on a classic Afro-Futurist space funk flavor-inserting sexual innuendo about “drinking from the milky way cup” as well. So it’s a very well rounded electro funk exercise.
Filed under 1980's, Brazilian Jazz, drum machines, elecro funk, Epic Records, funk guitar, Minneapolis, New Wave, Prince, space funk, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizers, Teena Marie, Uncategorized, vocoder
Teena Marie was leaving Motown behind at a critical time for funk/soul artists in general. In the United States anyway? That genre was mired in what myself and friend Henrique referred to as the post disco freeze out. The synth pop/New Wave genre that had come up in Europe during this time,itself an extension of Eurodisco and funk,seemed to be a good new direction to go into for radio play. Meanwhile,this was colliding with the synth accented boogie sound. And basically Lady T was as caught up as anyone in this shift of instrumental priorities.
Lady T signed with Columbia subsidiary Epic Records in the fall of 1982-with the promise of more autonomy over her business career. The result was her own publishing company known as Midnight Magnet. This event plus the dissolution of her romantic affiliation with Rick James became the centerpiece of her concept album Robbery from September 1983. While it integrated the synth rock elements of the era with her jazzy ballad framework? There was still plenty of time of strong funky grooves. My favorite of which is called “Playboy”.
Another strong drum kick introduces the song into it’s powerful stop/start Afro-Cuban rhythm that is mixed high and defines the song. What comes next is an elaborately arranged mixed of instrumental melody and harmony. The horn charts basically define the sound-while a round,mid toned synthesizer takes over the minor chorded elements that might’ve normally been done with strings. On the refrains,the synth becomes more brittle and the rhythm more strident. On the final chorus,Teena gently raps the lyrics over the original rhythm and a subtle electric bass line.
Something about this song’s arrangement perfectly encapsulates it’s lyrical concept. It’s a complex series of instrumental solo an rhythmic changes,and it goes along with Lady T’s uncertain mood throughout the song itself. As she questions her position as being closer to Rick James mistress than apparent fiancee? Her own little private soap opera unfolds via this uniquely urbane,Latin hued funk groove. It’s one of the most well rounded examples of the boogie funk sound. And a wonderful example of the new type of funk Teena Marie was giving up for the people.
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, concept albums, Epic Records, Funk, Funk Bass, New Wave, post disco, Rick James, Teena Marie, Uncategorized
While Teena Marie’s fourth album in 1981’s It Must Be Magic was her most successful release commercially up to this point? It was also to be her last on Motown. Though they’d mentored her artistry? Their unwillingness to let Lady T out of her contract while withholding her new material led to the very pro artist law known as the Brockert Initiative. This made it illegal to do what Motown had done to her and,while not intentional was one of the many forward thinking marks she made on the music world during this time
While her huge hit single from the album “Square Biz” was a very innovative mixture of live band funk and rap that symbolically precipitated new jack swing by about half a decade? Another song on the album leaped out at me due to the then recent murder of John Lennon. As a baby boomer experiencing late childhood just in time for Beatlemania? Teena Marie would up having a great deal to say about the Fab Four’s enormous influence on the artistic and cultural ethic of popular musicians of their time. The result was called “Revolution”.
A slow ballad style gospel piano solo accompanied by a probing slide guitar introduces the song. A horn blast gets it all going into the basic grooves which finds the piano bouncing,the rhythm guitar jumping in high melody along with the horns and a jazzy funk shuffle. Lady T sings her own back round vocals almost as different aspects of her personality responding back to the others. On the refrains the song kicks into a big band era swing rhythm with a kicking drum roll. And the main chorus extends a verse before the song finally fades away.
Instrumentally speaking? This song is one of the finest examples of swinging jazziness and melodic funky soul that I ever heard coming from Teena Marie. Everything is crisp,bright and full of vitality all the way. She is having a conversation with her “bestest friend” named Mickey Boyce,who originally signed to Motown with her,about how the Beatles history and innovations to pop musicians had seemed blown away with the slaying of Lennon. Yet she begins with the lesson she gained from it all: that it’s time to put an end to war and start anew.
Filed under 1980's, Brockert Initiative, funk guitar, jazz funk, John Lennon, Mickey Boyce, Motown, piano, Teena Marie, The Beatles, Uncategorized
It would seem that a year before her passing? Teena Marie pronounced her third album Irons In The Fire to be her personal favorite. And that’s very interesting because it’s the first of her original albums I ever encountered on CD-back in my rack digging days at Borders Books & Music in the late 1990’s. Just under a decade? Ended up getting it online as part of my introduction to her music. As far as her love of the album? It was her first self produced album. And one to be proud of. One song on the album did catch my ear very strongly.
The general spectrum of Lady T’s music ran between torchy jazz and smoldering funk. It was ideally suited not just for her vocal range, but her style of composing as well. One song from this album turned out to be a fully formed version of an acoustic guitar demo she’d made a year after she first arrived at Motown in 1975. Of course when I heard it? The song just leaped out at me. Yet another case of funk being it’s own reward. So the song in question is called “First Class Love”. And even to this day? I’m still surprised by it’s overall power and energy.
The groove goes into heavy gear with a big horn intro. The rhythm is thick,steady and slow in fine funk style. A big chunky splendor of electric slap and accompanying brittle sounding synth bass. All having an instrumental conversation with the horns along the way. On the refrains,a higher pitched version of this brittle synthesizers drips into the melody like a musical fondue. There is a potent instrumental bridge that reduces the song down to a slamming beat and a phat,processed slap bass before returning to the main theme to end the groove.
Something about this song just cooks the essence of feminine focused funk down to it’s base roux. Every rhythmic element of this song,from it’s drums to it’s bass line, is thickened up by Teena’s production of it. Lyrically it’s probably her most sexually charged songs to this point. Her “first class love” is presented as an endless journey to the moon, and blue skies six months out of every year. Everything about the music tonally reflects the crawling,thrusting nature of physical intimacy. And ends up to be first class funk for you and for me.
Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Borders Books & Music, CD's, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Motown, synthesizers, Teena Marie, Uncategorized
It doesn’t seem like five years since Mary Christine Brockert-known to most as Teena Marie,passed away from concussion related seizures. A few days ago? My good online friend Steve passed away of brain cancer. Seems as if every time the holiday season comes around in the last decade or so? Death hangs in the air-whether it be a mass gun shooting, the death of a friend or a great talent. For the next week however? Want to try to begin a healing process by celebrating the music of Teena Marie,and thereby the life that motivated that artistry.
Teena Marie first came to my attention through the Pure Disco compilation in the late 1990’s. This amazing and distinctive vocal talent was also connected to a strong cultural component. Lady T,as many called her, was one of very few Caucasian artists whose career was helped along by the black community-rather than the other way around. Decided to pick some personal favorites out of the funkiest music in her catalog. Today wanted to start out with her debut single from her second album titled Lady T from 1980. It was appropriately titled “Behind The Groove”.
The groove starts out with a sizzling salsa based percussion and bassy piano part. That percussion soon builds into a thick rhythm build around heavy bass/guitar interaction,punctuating horn charts and occasional bursts of high pitched,spacey synthesizers. The horns and synths come to a frenzied climax on the vocal refrains of the songs. On the following chorus? The feeling continues as T’s vocal adlibs mesh with the frenzied buildup of the instrumentation-from the horns to disco whistles as the song fades out.
Focusing the instrumental talents of the Westlake studio crew for the music? This song takes the funkiest elements of MJ’s Off The Wall to it’s strongest conclusions. It also emphasizes it’s similarity to Rick James Stone City Band-especially as James had a huge hand in introducing Teena to the world in 1979. As the era of boogie/electro funk began to emerge? “Behind The Groove” represents the most sleekly produced variation of the disco era funk sound that I’ve ever heard thus far. And for me at least is among the strongest of her early jams.
One of the major things I wanted to do with this blog is to promote new funk bands and soloists with my blogging partner Rique. Particularly indie funk bands,who often need the sort of word of mouth campaign to bring awareness of their music to the people. Last month a lady named Sheli Casana contacted me about a new song that she (under the professional name Baby Funk) had put together called the Original Stone city Band. Featuring members of George Clinton’s P-Funk and the late Rick James’ Stone City Band? They dropped a song called “Turn It Up”. And after repeated listening on my part? Just had to tell you all about this groove.
Starting with a voluminous synthesizer wash from Eddie Fluellen,Nate and Lenise Hughes chime in with a meaty conga based percussive groove after which a big drum kick launches into the main body of the jam. This body consists of a thick and phat interaction between Fluellen’s bass synthesizer and the high up on the neck rhythm guitar/slap bass of Jerome Ali and Tom McDermott. The interaction of the jazz oriented Baby Funk herself and the bluesy funk growl of Mark Love coalesce on a lightly percussive rap where Baby Funk evokes her admiration of the late Teena Marie before going back to the main instrumental themes-now punctuated rhythmically and melodically with ascending/descending horn charts and a rocking lead guitar solo to close out this groove.
It feels important to note that as this blog is being written? Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” is still the #1 pop record in America. As I just told Rique in a comment on his blog on this topic yesterday? What matters most to me is not chart statistics but how records like that,as well as Pharrell Williams associated productions like “Happy”,”Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky”,manage to connect with the people. This song is not only a wonderful example of the massive public appreciation of indie funk in the past half decade or so. But also how it brings together two key players in funk’s transition from the 70’s to the 80’s into it’s actual instrumental orbit-drawing in the influence of George Clinton and Rick James with the channeling of Sly Stone and the Ohio Players horns and vocals into their own distinct flavor of the groove.
Personally? I am extremely proud that a song like this represents the full realization of the original dreams and goals of this blog. Especially the single song oriented weekly feature Anatomy of THE Groove! As Michael Jackson once sang in 1977? Music is a doctor that can cure a troubled mind. Like to hope these grooves not only move,but remove as wel. I would like to give my greatest thanks to my talented and knowledgeable blogging partner Rique for the efforts and inspiration he manages to put into this blog with an extremely busy schedule of his own to upkeep. Would also like give a very special thanks to Sheli Casana for providing me with detailed information on the personnel of her band and all available musical information on them. Stay tuned for Baby Funk/Original Stone City Band’s upcoming website and full album release-available at some pout this spring or summer on CD and MP3. And don’t forget to check out their live show when and if they travel through your home town. Thank you!
Filed under Baby Funk, bass synthesizer, Funk, Funk Bass, Jerome Ali, Nu Funk, Original Stone City Band, P-Funk, percussion, Pharrell Williams, Rick James, Teena Marie