Category Archives: UK Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Weave Your Spell” by Level 42

Level 42 are one of those bands along with Earth Wind & Fire,Heatwave,Sly & The Family Stone,James Brown and Kool & The Gang where I could write about their songs for a month. And not get board doing so. Even though Level 42’s identity didn’t become known to me until 12 years ago or so,their four piece jazz/funk sound was approached in such a wonderful way. And one that was very suited for its time as well. This is especially true with Level 42’s first six albums-from their self titled debut in 1981 to 1985’s breakout album World Machine.

Right around the time I was first getting into Level 42,Polydor reissued Level 42’s first eight studio albums on four 2 CD sets. These sets not only included informative notes,but also the addition of unreleased demos and 12″/7″ single mixes of some of the songs. The most fascinating of these sets were the first two-especially the second volume. That one began with Level 42’s second proper studio release The Pursuit Of Accidents. This particular album represents the height of the band’s instrumentally inclined,contemporary jazz/funk approach. A perfect example is its opening track “Weave Your Spell”.

Mike Lindup’s synthesizer and Phil Gould’s cymbal kick provide the intro to the song. After that the rest of the band,especially Mark King’s bass,enter the mix in full musical motion. On the refrain,the percussive drums and King’s bass provide an ultra phat rhythm. Lindup’s different synths provide both high and low call and response to his and Mark’s vocal harmonies. This is especially true on the musically and vocally thick chorus. There is a musical bridge where King’s slap bass becomes the star of the show-with Lindup assisting on synth brass before the chorus fades out the song.

“Weave Your Spell” might be the definitive musical example of Level 42’s general sound. At its core,its an uptempo jazz funk song filled with a lot of dancability. Mike Lindup’s synthesizer’s have that strong new wave quavering reverb about them too. King’s slap bass and Phil Gould’s progressive fusion drumming give this song its own kick. The loose jamming feel of it,especially on the instrumental bridge,remind me of a sleeker version of Prince’s approach to funk-especially with the synth horn responses. So over the years,this has become one of my very favorite Level 42 grooves.

 

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Filed under 1980's, drums, jazz funk, Level 42, Mark King, Phil Gould, slap bass, synth brass, synthesizer, UK Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “To The Top” by Omar

Omar first came to my attention via the Lenny Henry starring “brit-com” entitled Chef, with its theme song “Serious Profession” performed entirely by Omar. During the early to mid aughts,exploring Omar’s then very hard to find import albums on CD was like hunting for buried treasure. Thanks to my online friend Jeremiah,a lot more exposure to Omar’s music came my way a decade ago. What I noticed about Omar’s music was that,very different from American neo soul very much based in live instrumental hip-hop beats,Omar’s variety of the music concentrated heavily on ornate arrangements.

Born Omar Lye-Fook in London in 1968,he grew up in Canterbury,Kent. He was classically trained trumpet,piano and percussion at two separate conservatories in London and Manchester. He worked as a computer programmer for Microsoft before pursuing music full time. His first single and album There’s Nothing Like This became his first chart hit. And established him as a founding father of neo soul. Over the years his sound swelled to incorporate elements of Brazilian jazz,dance hall reggae and cinematic funk. On the latter end,one of my favorite songs from him is 2000’s “To The Top” from his album Best By Far.

A swinging mix of hollow percussion and piano walk down introduce the song. This kicks off into a sea of strings and melodic flute harmonies before Omar himself begins duetting with his swelling backup vocals. This represents the chorus of the song,for all intents and purposes. The refrains of the song find Omar’s lead and backup vocals playing more call and response to a shuffling,funky snare drum and piano. There are two repeating chorus/refrain bars of this song. On the final chorus before the song fades,Omar’s lead and back-round vocals become the full focus of the song over the instrumentation.

Omar does something that really gets to me musically on “To The Top”. Most neo soul/proto neo soul male artists who hailed as “the next Marvin Gaye” in the beginning. And truth be told,Omar’s style of arrangement and love of backup vocals singing lead is straight out of the Gaye school of cinematic funky soul on this particular song. What Omar does is brings in the heavy funk. As with most neo soul,its lacking in any synthesized electronics. What it does have is less of a stripped down sound,and more emphasis on orchestral production. That makes Omar one of the funkiest neo soulers of his generation.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 2000, arrangement, backing vocals, cinematic funk, cinematic soul, drums, flute, funky soul, Neo Soul, Omar Lye-Fook, percussion, piano, strings, UK Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Tokyo Joe” by Bryan Ferry

Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music were something that I only began to explore within the 2010’s. Henrique Hopkins and myself have discussed Bryan/Roxy a great deal. And these conversations have tended to emphasize their unique place on the rock scene. My personal feeling from all this talking and listening was that Roxy were British glam rock’s answer to Steely Dan. Their songs rhythmic and melodic structures were based more in contemporary  soul and funk than allusions to amplified blues. And this was reflected in their visual attitude,which in the end comes down to Ferry.

There was somewhat of a choice to be made in terms of writing this article. Whether or not to overview a Roxy Music classic such as “Love Is The Drug”,or focus on Bryan Ferry’s solo career. Both Roxy and Ferry alone have their fair share of sleek grooves to choose from. Both from the 70’s and 80’s. In the end,seemed best to focus on Ferry as a solo artist. His initial solo career ran concurrent with Roxy Music’s first run. These albums consisted primarily of cover material. His first solo album of all original material In Your Mind contained a fantastic example of Ferry’s groove in “Tokyo Joe”.

A gong like cymbal opens up the song. The intro consists of a processed keyboard melody in close unison with plucked orchestral strings. All to the best of a swinging,hi hat heavy drum rhythm. After that the orchestra begin flat out playing the same melody-assisted by some rhythmic fuzz guitar. The rhythm then falls into a heavy 4/4 disco beat with the fuzz guitar,strings and several layers of keyboards (including what sounds like a Clavinet) playing deep inside the groove. On the choruses,the plucked strings of the intro return before the refrain closes out the song with the same gong like cymbal from the intro.

Its been awhile since I’ve really given this song a listen all the way through. But with the keyboards,drums and guitar delving so deeply into the groove,”Tokyo Joe” really showcases all the special qualities about the Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music sound. Ferry’s sleek,somewhat adenoidal vocal croon adds its distinctive character to this groove. Being from the final two Bryan Ferry solo albums of the 70’s,this song and others in a similar vein help write the musical map for what was to occur on Roxy Music’s three following comeback albums-from 1979’s Manifesto to 1982’s Avalon.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bryan Ferry, disco funk, drums, funk rock, fuzz guitar, keyboards, Roxy Music, strings, UK Funk

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Body Talk’ by Imagination (1981)

Body Talk

My history with this trio of Lee John,John Ashley Ingram and Errol Kennedy began with hearing a song (actually from this album) on a disco compilation in the late 1990’s. Though I was reading about Imagination in music literature? Learning about their transitional music from Eurodisco into the electro/new wave funk era? Their music was next to impossible to locate. This was a group whose CD’s came into my life entirely through my earliest exposure to the internet. I ordered this hear in fact,started right from the beginning. And am still finding different things to enjoy about it all these years later.

The title song opens the album with it’s slow burning stomp built around a metallic keyboard,flowing piano and accompanying melodic synthesizer. “So Good,So Right” brings a Caribbean feeling to a similar style groove-only this time putting the focus more on the bass synthesizer. With it’s medium tempo disco beat,repeating rhythm piano and lightly psychedelic electronic effects,”Burnin’ Up” is basically straight up house 7-8 years before the music’s peak. “Tell Me Do You Want My Love” is a spare,Steely Dan like precision jazzy funk dance number while “Flashback” comes right out with the phase filtered hi hat based stop/start Rhodes piano fueled dance/funk groove.

“I’ll Always Love You (But Don’t Look Back)” is a tender piano ballad with a sad and spacious melody while “In And Out Of Love” returns to the spare Caribbean flavored groove of the opener. I’ve heard the musical style of this album referred to as many things. Post disco,Euro dance,synth funk and many other variations. With Imagination? It’s their musical personality distinctions that really make this band work so effectively with what they do. The instrumental approach is consistently stripped down,yet harmonically full. The arrangements don’t sound complex. But the playing of all three members is fluid,slick,clean and very expert. It’s again solid proof,as Miles Davis ones said in a nutshell,that the caliber and personality of the musicians were what made or broke electronically derived music.

Originally posted on June 23rd,2015

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

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Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, elecro funk, Errol Kennedy, Fender Rhodes, Imagination, John Ashley Ingram, Leee John, post disco, synth funk, synthesizers, UK Funk

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Ji’ by Junior

Junior+Ji+316937

During the early 1980’s the UK was unleashing many R&B oriented acts such as Second Image,Level 42,Spandau Ballet and,yes even soon-to-be huge pop acts such as Wham! and Culture Club. There is one artist that stands out,not only racially but musically from the 80’s “Brit-Soul” pack. That would be Norman “Junior” Giscombe. In this review I am not only discussing the music but bringing attention to this sadly obscure artist and album. Junior himself was a UK “club kid” of Jamaican descent who dropped this debut in 1982 and had an (at least temporary) international sensation in “Mama Used To Say”,an uptempo contemporary funky soul delight.

While the percussion and horns are straight out of late 70’s Motown the message about the potency of both youth and old age was right on time and will strike a chord with any listener-son,daughter,parents,even grandparents perhaps. Although this album is primarily devoted to uptempo material the musicians,such as keyboardist and co-writer Bob Carter,bassist Keith Williamson and drummer Andy Duncan are probably unknown to the American R&B scene they show on this album they should’ve been a major force! Musically Junior’s sound borrows a lot similar influences as Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.

Same goes for Junior’s vocals,although in that arena there is also a very heavy Howard Hewett influence. What results however is an stripped down and very artful sound that makes use of a horn section at times-a sound that makes heavy use of other music styles,jazz and Caribbean rhythms in particular for an extraordinarily funky mix.”Love Dies” has a really stark and edgy feel for a dance tune-chilly,spare synthesizers and the clank of percussion abound.”Too Late” is another popular tune and,although presented on this CD as an edited version of the 7+ minute original vinyl.

I own that vinyl and that version is an incredible bass driven and dark look at the sorrows of poverty-with it’s minor chords and mournful vocals it is nothing short of chilling. “Is This Love” puts Junior even higher in the vanguard as he presents a pop-fusion style midtempo slow jam sung like melting caramel over a dreamy bed of electronics,showing that he learned that critical quality from Stevie Wonder (and to an extent Jan Hammer) how to draw real lyricism,melody and beauty from synthesizers. On “Let Me Know” we’re treated to a keyed up dance-funk jam straight out of the Michael Jackson school.

It features some melodic melismas that are so astonishing it’s surprising they’re even…singable.But Junior,with his great hiccupy phrasing pulls it off without a hitch. My personal favorite song here is “Down Down”,one of the most frightening emotional depictions of a dissolved relationship next to Marvin Gaye or Ray Charles. The music however is very close to the lyric-a mean dance beat splits apart every so often into near total psychedelic incoherence;the music genuinely sounds as if it’s spiraling down. Anyone who can pull that kind of thing off rates through the roof in my book!

“I Can’t Help It” (not the Stevie Wonder song sung by Michael Jackson) continues in the sound of “Mama Used To Say”,only with slightly less catchy results but it’s still an incredible jam no matter how it goes down. “Darling You (Don’t You Know)” is the only other slow jam type of song here,even still it’s very rhythmic.With it’s use again of minor chords on piano and dreamy synths and guitar lines it points to both the darkness and the light of love.

Now all this taken together one will hear this album and ask themselves why this album didn’t knock the socks off the charts on both sides of the Atlantic,never mind the possibility of a huge pop career for Junior. Well perhaps the arty,jazzy production of this album or the music industry recession during this time contributed to that. Even so this was Junior’s most successful and most remembered album,that is….if he is remembered hardly at all. His follow up,1983’s more abstract and reggae/funk inflected Inside Looking Out [LP VINYL] failed to gain a hit or any commercial attention,nor has it ever been released on CD

.Neither did a pair of excellent albums with the glossy pop-funk of 1985’s Acquired Taste,the freestyle dance style of 1988’s “Sophisticated Street or the highly new jack/hip-hop inflected ‘Stand Tall’ could turn heads around. So aside from duets with Kim Wilde and a contribution to the huge commercial success of the Beverly Hills Cop: Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack soundtrack this artist is largely a footnote,if that outside Europe.That’s a fate very undeserved of an artist of this caliber. So with the reappearance of this album on CD we can now sit back,listen,groove and think what might have been.

Originally posted on January 17th, 2009

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

 

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Funk Bass, horns, Junior Giscombe, Music Reviewing, post disco, synthesizers, UK, UK Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “It Didn’t Matter” by The Style Council

Dee C. Lee did backing vocals for Wham! during the early 80’s during the period when their debut album  Fantastic came out. She left the band in 1983 to begin recording solo material-releasing her first singles that year. She finally joined with the new group being put together by The Jam’s Paul Weller known as The Style Council,which also included keyboardist Mick Talbot. She sang on a couple of songs on the groups first and second full length studio albums Cafe Bleu and Our Favorite Shop in 1984-1985. Later in the decade,she would marry Weller and the couple would have two children during decade together.

The Style Council were a group that always fascinated me. Weller,Talbot and Lee favored a sound that explored much of the black American musical spectrum-from jazz, R&B,soul to funk. Perhaps because the groups celebrated cleanly production and sweeping instrumental arrangements, Style Council earned the ire of many hard rock/punk admirers who are often still convinced that Weller abandoned his edge and sold out. Their next to last album The Cost Of Loving from 1987 came out during the height of this perception. It also contained one of my favorite songs by them in “It Didn’t Matter”.

A hand clap led drum machine beat begins the song before the high pitched violin like synthesizer chimes in-and proceeds to buffet every refrain of the song from then on. The main body of the song consists of Weller’s funky,low pitched rhythm guitar and a slamming synth bass bubbling underneath. On the bridge, Dee C. Lee sings over the refrain of the song played in more of a major key melody before returning to the main theme. Weller then plays a bluesy guitar riff before going into a higher pitched chicken scratch solo as the song fades out-with Lee and Weller singing the title line.

What makes this song so wonderful is that it is thoroughly late 80’s hard synth funk. One trap a lot of bands who just dabble in soul and funk music fall into is sounding almost totally retro. Much as with the American Boz Scaggs,the Style Council were totally contemporary with what was happening with soul/funk music in their time period. And that’s why this song has continued to live with me as a vital and important one-along with a good deal of the Style Council’s other recorded catalog of music. On it’s own this song blends the synth and sophisticated funk ethics almost perfectly.

 

 

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Filed under 1987, Dee C. Lee, drum machines, jazz funk, Mick Talbot, Paul Weller, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizers, The Style Council, UK Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Club Tropicana” by Wham!

Over the years my understanding of Wham! and the role they played in the UK post disco scene of the early 80’s had become so much more pronounced. Today they are primarily known for their mid decade hits such as “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and even the now iconic holiday favorite “Last Christmas”. George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley also made for the prototypical boy band in terms of their image. Still they came to prominence in a period where such labels didn’t create such a negative stigma for anyone. As a result, both of these men had plenty of chance to hone and polish their craft even before they came into the public eye in such a huge way.

When I was a young adult about a decade and a half ago, there was a record store in my area called Summit Sound. A pre owned copy of Wham!’s debut album Fantastic was something of a fixture there until I finally picked it up when the store was closing out a few years later. Turns out the album was recorded over the course of three years. The album was actually very impressive as well as being very catchy and radio friendly for it’s day. The songs are also very soulful and have a strong groove to them as a whole. One song on the record stood out as…well at least to me one of the finest pieces of music Wham! ever made. And it was called “Club Tropicana”.

The stage is set by the sound of crickets and a car pulling up to music behind closed doors. With the sound of the door opening,Dion Estes thumping slap bass line  and Trevor Morell’s pushing drum beat opens the groove with the sound of crowd sounds before Ridgeley’s strident,dance floor friendly rhythm guitar comes in-the Brazilian style percussion opening up the beat even further. The horns of Ian Ritchie and Roddy Lorimer come in with just the right melodic spice on each chorus of the song. The instrumental bridge isolating the slap bass and synth accents is sandwiched in between two jazzy acoustic piano solos courtesy of Tommy Eyre before George Michael literally coos the song into it’s fade out.

A key conversational point between Henrique and myself has been a tendency in the early 80’s to focus in on the more brightly melodic elements of the Caribbean pop music when it came to American uptempo funk grooves of the period. And this song does something wonderful with what Henrique referred to (in specific reference to the Earth Wind & Fire song “And Love Goes On”) as the “cruise ship sound”. The slap bass is bumping,the piano’s swinging,the horns are hot and the funk is turned right up. Andrew Ridgeley really channels Chic’s Nile Rodgers disco era guitar wonderfully on what is surely one of the funkiest jams Wham! ever threw down.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Andrew Ridgeley, Caribbean Funk, Chic, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, George Michael, Nile Rodgers, rhythm guitar, slap bass, UK Funk, Uncategorized, Wham!

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/17/2015: “U.S.A Groove” by Alan Hawkshaw

The genesis of this post began with my father. Thirteen years ago,he excitedly had me listen to a various artists compilation entitled Cinemaphonic  2: Soul Punch. It consisted of fourteen short funk/soul instrumentals created for British library albums. These were used as incidental music for different television shows and motion pictures.  Later on my friend Henry Cooper,himself a musician got me listening to more UK library music through the KPM series. Interestingly enough? One caught my ears through a different source.

One day while surfing YouTube? I came across this old Sesame Street sketch called “Walk”. The backup music thrilled me so much? I looked in the comment section for more on it. Turns out it composed and performed on such a library disc by a session pianist named Alan Hawkshaw-who had backed up acts ranging from the UK rock instrumental group The Shadows in 1969 to playing on Donna Summer’s album Once Upon A Time eight years later. It’s probably the shortest song I’ve done at only 44 seconds. And it’s entitled “U.S.A. Groove”.

It all kicks into with a chunky,bassy rhythm guitar playing the hard rocking basic groove of the song. It’s first accompanied by a short burst of conga’s and than a dramatic organ burst before the drums kick off into the body of the song itself. That body maintains it’s opening guitar riff,only as an element of a broader groove. That groove’s whole consists of a soulful organ solo from Hawkshaw-along with phat percussion pushing everything along. The song ends with a very dramatic crescendo wherein the drum and organ dramatically come to a halt.

After hearing this? It doesn’t come to any surprise to me that Hawkshaw’s music has been widely sampled by hip-hoppers. But only one particular number of his entitled “The Champ” has. Because this particular jam is short and so easily loopable? It’s just the sort of tune for such purposes. It’s also an example of how in the hands of an adept and diversified instrumentalist? As much funk can be packed into a groove under a minute as one would find in a four minute song. It’s actually one of my very favorite funk instrumentals-partly for that very reason.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Alan Hawkshaw, Funk, funk guitar, funk/rock, guitar, library music, Sampling, UK Funk, YouTube

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/1/2015: “Questionnaire” by Chas Jankel

Chas Jankel is a very key figure in the development of the UK funk scene that thrived alongside new wave in the early 1980’s. Something of a child prodigy who began learning Spanish guitar and piano at the age of 7? Jankel joined up with Ian Dury in 1977. He was a part of their group together known as The Blockheads,who expertly integrated American funk and disco into their English pub rock framework. In particular on their heavily funkified 1979 double album Do It Yourself. In 1980, Jankel decided to leave the Blockheads in order to pursue a solo career. His self titled debut album,with it’s lead-off song “Ai No Corrida” even inspired a hit remake shortly after-courtesy of non other than Quincy Jones.

I personally first heard of the man through a book entitled Funk-The Essential Listening Companion. It mentioned Jankel with a thorough discography. But the fact that the book was highly critical of Chas’s creative choices was negated by the fact the entire book itself was very sloppily written and printed-full of typographical errors. So I sought out the man’s difficult to locate music on my own. Some years later? YouTube emerged as a huge help in this-with only his debut readily available on CD to this date. Deciding on which of his songs to discuss was like a chocoholic contemplating a Whitman’s Sampler from where I stood. Somehow? His 1981 song and accompanying music video “Questionnaire” came just a little ahead of the crowd in that regard!

The intro to this song builds up powerful musical drama by actually fading into the song in the same way most fade out. And it does so into a powerful swell of Afro-Brazilian percussion. Shortly the trumpets blare-accenting the jazzy salsa piano that changes melody in the primary chorus of the song. On the refrains,this is heavily accented by powerful bursts of Larry Graham-style slap bass-only appropriate as Sly & The Family Stone were apparently a major inspiration for Jankel getting into funk to start with The trumpets blare even louder on a chorus filled with a throbbing snare drum solo over the percussion before joining a full chorus of trumpets and organ solos. On the final instrumental refrain? A quieter and more plaintive trumpet solo leads out the song.

To my ears? This is one of the finest merging’s of Cuban jazz and poppy funk to come out of the early 80’s UK jazz/funk scene. The insertion of American funk elements such as thick slap bass goes right in perfectly with the unifying instrumental force joining Afro-Latin dance music and funk/soul together-thick and strong percussion accents. The lyrical content is simple enough. Just a single man daydreaming of a potential future lover in the form of a personal ad. Yet Jankel states it very eloquently-asking important questions of possible mates about people’s priorities in life rather than concerning himself totally with matters of economy . As the song implies? This is one musical journey that is indeed quite important!

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Afro-Latin jazz, bass guitar, Chas Jankel, Funk, Funk Bass, Ian Dury, Jazz-Funk, Larry Graham, lyrics, slap bass, Sly Stone, UK Funk

Anatomy Of THE Groove Special Presentation-Wishing A Happy Birthday To Mr. Leee John: “Music And Lights” by Imagination:

Perhaps in the US? It did seem as if the post disco backlash (and subsequent freeze out) did reduce the progress of black dance music to a slow crawl, at least commercially, during the early 80’s. Still there was boogie/electro funk,developing often rather more underground. On the UK music scene? The post punk and post disco scene were developing together,and very successful in it’s own context. There was no “death of” syndrome per se. The funky dance music scene was just allowed to evolve through the synthesizer/new wave era. Enter vocalist/keyboard player Leee John,guitarist/bassist Ashley Ingram and drummer Errol Kennedy.

The band emerged in 1981 with the album Body Talk and became a huge international success. Because John was also becoming interested in acting around this time? Their music started appearing in films-with John himself eventually appearing in the 1983 Doctor Who serial Enlightenment. A year before this in 1982? The trio of multi instrumentalists released their sophomore album In The Heat Of The Night. It continued the creative and commercial success as an album and through my personal favorite song from it “Music And Lights”.

It all begins with a round,mid toned bass synth pulse that goes into a slow,stomping rhythmic beat. Even with that? There’s also several pulsing melodic electronic keyboards each playing accompanying melodic parts. One is a straight up,bluesy melody. The other is a pulse that separates each instrumental refrain. And the final,which shows up in the first bridge of the song, is a glassy and almost otherworldly sounding jazzy piano. John’s vocals,presented both in his mid tenor and higher falsetto accompany the chorus and refrains until a complete break down of the chorus INTO the refrain near the end of the song.

To me anyway? This song represents some of the strongest musical qualities of the early 80’s electro funk sub-genre. Much in the style of the then enormously influential Minneapolis Sound pioneered by Prince,Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis? This song represents the idea of using synthesizers to replicate the horn and string parts that were still in use on some popular music even though-though for different reasons less so. While the music and lyrics have an airy space disco dressing-with it’s disco era glamour tale? The basic core of the song is a straight up blues/funk stomp-with a raw,prickly rhythm attitude. And that’s why,at least subjectively this song functions so well for me.

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Filed under 1980's, Blues, Disco, Doctor Who, electro funk, Imagination, Jam & Lewis, Jazz, Leee John, Minneapolis, post disco, Prince, synth bass, synth funk, UK Funk