Category Archives: UK

Rod Temperton: The Star Of A Story I Love So Well

rod-temperton

Rod Temperton is my personal favorite composer of the last four decades. The funk and disco era he was a part of is generally thought of to be all rhythm based-simply to make you want to dance. But along with people such as Stevie Wonder,Con Funk Shun’s Felton Pilate and Earth Wind & Fire’s Maurice White,Temperton showcased how to write funky music with very singable,jazzy melodic scaling and modulation. He is yet another one of those figures who not only inspired this blog itself. But also the entire way I listen to music. And probably how I’ll continue to listen to it.

Temperton sadly passed away on October 5th,2016. Sources say of cancer,at the age of 66. His family wishes to protect his privacy. Which is totally logical as he lived as pretty much of a recluse. He was born in post WWII Lincolnshire,England. He apparently described his family,particularly his father,parenting him more with a radio by his bedside than their own presence. That began his lifelong love of music. From spending time as a drummer,working in the office of a frozen food company in Grisby he continued his fascination with music. This eventually landed him in Germany as a keyboardist.

In 1974,he answered the personal ad of Johnnie Wilder for the new band his was forming called Heatwave. He  became the chief songwriter for the band-honing his craft with hits such as “Boogie Nights” and “The Groove Line”. This earned him the attention of Quincy Jones. He than became a household name as a composer for Michael Jackson,namely the song “Thriller”.This is what Temperton is best known for. He wrote with the Westlake Studio crew for The Brothers Johnson,George Benson,Patti Austin and maintaining a songwriting relationship with Heatwave until they stopped recording after 1982.

The late Johnnie Wilder described Temperton’s personality as possessing a good sense of humor and a friendly attitude. This naturally made him a good musical partner for Quincy Jones. The man composed so many funk/soul/dance classics in the 70’s and 80’s that it would be too long to go through all of them. So today,I’m going to run down only the Rod Temperton songs that personally moved me the most. And chances are,many of them are being played on a radio station in your town at this very moment too. And that level of popularity is part of what makes many of these songs so enduring and distinctive.


Heatwave

“Boogie Nights” (1976)

The very idea of putting a swinging drum/jazz guitar opening and closing to the Moog bass led funky disco of this song gave it a strong and thoroughly musical sense of continuity.

“The Star Of A Story” (1978)

This might very well be my very favorite ballad of the late 70’s. With it’s processed electric pianos and orchestral sonics,its essentially a jazz tune with some tremendous multi tracked harmonies from Johnny Wilder. It was such a strong song,George Benson covered the song two years after Heatwave originally recorded it.

“The Big Guns” (1982)

In a lot of ways,this song became the instrumental prototype for what Temperton would do with Michael Jackson on the song “Thriller”. What this has is a slower,more complex percussive rhythms,jazzy scat singing and even a synthesizer solo from Herbie Hancock.

The Brothers Johnson 

“Stomp” (1980)

Temperton really know how to compose melodies spacious enough for both vocalists and instrumentalists. This song does both as a collaboration with Louis (also deceased) and George Johnson. Its a total bass/guitar showcase of course. But it also allows space for George Johnson’s vocal leads as well.

George Benson

“Give Me The Night” (1980)

This song is instrumentally a fairly close cousin of MJ’s “Rock With You”. Difference being the rhythm is far leaner-allowing Benson’s different guitar and lead vocal/scat playing parts to be more prominent in the mix.

“Off Broadway” (1980″

Oddly enough I first heard this as incidental music on a rerun of SCTV. Its built around Moog bass and horn/string interactions-all allowing Benson to shine on an evolving solo on this fine instrumental.

Patti Austin

“Razzmatazz” (1980)

This is probably one Patti’s most vibrant uptempo songs. The song is very stop heavy with horns,strings,guitar,keyboards and drums all playing the high key melody and rhythm. On the other hand,its a dance funk masterpiece where everything seems to fit just where it needs to go.

“Love Me To Death” (1981)

This album track from Austin’s Qwest debut  Every Home Should Have One is a gurgling mid tempo jazzy post disco groove with a deep,liquid guitar riff. To me a wonderful example of the clean production,molten instrumentation and harmonically powerful melody.

Michael McDonald

“Sweet Freedom” (1985)

This sonically heady dance/pop song from the 1985 comedy Running Scared is a song I remember singing to when I was 6 years old. So whether I knew it or not,Temperton’s songwriting style was deeply impacting on me before I even knew who he was. It has all the hallmarks of his writing and production style-emphasizing a rhythmically heady uptempo number with vast (in this case more electronic) instrumental sonics.

James Ingram

“One More Rhythm” (1983)

This song from Ingram’s debut album Its Your Night has an extremely singable melody. And uses modern production touches such as bass synthesizers and dancable refrains to what essentially amounts to a big band swing jazz revival. One of my all time favorite Temperton compositions-showing his understanding of Quincy Jones’ outlook on the musical continuity of black America.

Michael Jackson

“Rock With You” (1979)

One of the songs that helped launch MJ into a popular musical force of the early 80’s,”Rock With You” has such mellow instrumental sonics (including bass from Rufus’s Bobby Watson) that this steamy uptempo disco pop groove seems more like a ballad. And that’s probably not an easy quality to achieve.

“Thriller” (1982)

This is of course the song Temperton is best known for. It sounds like it sprang from a late in the day Heatwave demo. Its led by light percussion,hefty synth bass lines and a brittle liquid rhythm guitar on its bridge. Instrumentally,its one of Temperton’s finest compositions.


2016 is reminding me of the fact that today,most casual music listeners are again associating songs with singers. That instrumentalists,arrangers and composers are often afterthoughts. That’s because of the non stop parade of death this year of big musical icons. On a happier note,the internet and newer documentary films are bringing the creative history of these icons to live on a broader level. For me,Rod Temperton is such an artist. I could mention him in the same sentence as Nat King Cole and Burt Bacharach as one of the greatest mid/late 20th century musical composers.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Brothers Johnson, Funk, George Benson, Heatwave, James Ingram, Michael Jackson, Michael McDonald, Patti Austin, Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, songwriting, UK

Prince Summer In Full Swing: ’20Ten’ turns 6!

20ten

20Ten is one of my favorite Prince albums of the new millennium before his 2014 comeback on Warner Brothers. Questlove wrote an article in Wax Poetics magazine five years ago about the 33 reasons why Prince was hip-hop. The 20Ten album provided a possible 34th reason-that being most contemporary hip-hop/R&B music with it’s stripped down drum machine/synthesizer sound is based on the same early/mid 80’s Minneapolis sound that Prince pioneered,and then returned to with this album. This is also one of very very few times I saw Prince return to the musical sound that made him so famous.

This was a difficult album for me to find. It was released shortly after Prince received a Lifetime Achievement Aware at the 2010 BET Awards. But in the UK only. And even for that as a covermount CD on British magazines like the Daily Mirror. My local record store Bullmoose would’ve had to ordered the magazines themselves to even sell copies of this. And that seems that they did because I managed to pick it up. After jamming to the first album a couple of times during that first week of having it,I went over to Amazon.com and had the following to say about it:


On his previous release Mplsound Prince was making it abundantly clear that he was reaching towards his classic one-man-band Minneapolis sound as a means of progressing into the future. This is actually a move he made on a number of occasions when his music and career seemed in question. Well right now his career isn’t in that state at all. He’s musically revered by many in this generation and was recently given a tribute on the BET Music Awards this past year. Prince himself also seems to obsessed with some strange form of eternal youth in which his music doesn’t age but his lyrical themes mature.

You will not find any explicit lyrics on this album for sure,same as you won’t find them on any of his albums since 2001. That doesn’t mean that effects the music at all because these are the most energized,lively,funky and musically sophisticated songs Prince has done in the new millennium. The album opens and ends on the same basic musical note with “Compassion” and “Everybody Loves Me” embracing the shuffling LINN drum led rockabilly styled funk with lyrics that alternately speak of both selflessness and selfishness. “Beginning Endlessly”,the amazing “Sticky Like Glue” and “Lavaux” all embrace the classic Prince all encompassing funk groove with some delicious synthesizer squiggles and layered drum and percussion tracks.

He hasn’t lost his touch as a multi instrumentalist in the least bit and actually has expanded on it to include light rhythmic nods to both hip-hop/R&B and contemporary 80’s dance revival (itself based on his own original music) without shamelessly surrendering to either style and still being himself. Songs like “Future Love Song”,”Walk In The Sand” and “Sea Of Everything” also embrace Prince’s touch with the slow jam to it’s absolute best effect. Typical of Prince he makes you flip through 75 separate 2-4 second empty tracks before we get to cut 77,which is the title song offered as a very hidden bonus selection. This is very much a TAFKAP era sounding funk/rap styled number but still his one-man-band style is very much in attendence. After all these years Prince obviously has no intent on being a fossil. He wants to keep being himself and now that he’s in his 50’s he also refuses to musically look down on those younger than them and also embraces many of their ideas into his own.


The summer season is already a few weeks in as I’m writing this. But wanted to officially inaugurate this as Prince Summer here on Andresmusictalk. It’s been underway for a few months now already. But there will continue to be a consistent emphasis on Prince’s own music here for a long time to come-as well as a continuing emphasis on the enormous influence of the many forms of the Minneapolis sound. Even if Prince himself didn’t always realize it,he is likely the last artist to really innovate musically in the funk/soul genre. And the album 20Ten is more than solid proof of this.

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Filed under 2010's, Amazon.com, funk albums, Hip-Hop, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, Questlove, synth brass, synthesizers, UK, Uncategorized, Wax Poetics magazine

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 5/2/14 Andre’s Pick: “I Will” by Kenny Thomas

One of those fascinating coincidences in the history of soul and funk music is the tendency of the British music scene to fill in significant gaps when the music is experiencing a low popularity and audience in the United States. Funk oriented new wave era groups such as Level 42,Heaven 17,Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet provided this during the US post disco radio freeze out. Some maintained this style through mid decade even. Sade,Simply Red,George Michael and Soul II Soul continued this tradition later in the decade. Aside from American adoration’s such as Prince and Talking Heads,the popularity of funky soul grooves seemed to be in a strange holding pattern on this end of the pond. In the mid 1990’s onward through the post 9/11 world? This pattern came back in play-with 2006-08 being the height of this ethic. Years after his debut in 1991,English soul/funk artist Kenny Thomas emerged in 2006 with a song that showcased this impulse entitled “I Will”.

Starting off with a fan faring drum roll and a plast of joyful,gospel inspired horns the song gets started with thickly grooving mix of high stepping drums,highly melodic electric piano chords and the fantastically vital horn section providing the life force that keeps the entire song alive. With a chunky bass/guitar interactive holding the keyboard riffs all together, Kenny himself sings lyrics with the same level of joy expressed in the horn parts and melody revolving around the most optimistic outlook on newfound romance that one could possibly ask. On the refrains,the melody changes to include a few minor chords but when going back into the main theme of the song,the melody rises up into the major chord as Kenny declares “I WILL” on the chorus. His voice-a passionate cross between Teddy Pendergrass,Michael McDonald and Heatwave’s Keith Wilder,provides an almost ideal reflection of the songs overall joyousness.

From my own personal observations, the era in which this song was recorded was not among the happiest or secure time for the planet Earth, A never ending war on terror was going on,people were divided even more than they were in the 1960’s and that 90’s era cynicism prevented a great deal of action from occurring to counter this. Music was in a great need for empathy over apathy,release instead of tension. And for those who followed the music of Kenny Thomas (which I unfortunately wasn’t at the time),this song in particular provided just what a proverbial Dr. Funkenstein might want. Its another one of those songs defined by a hybrid sound-in this case a mixture of the Chi-town funk of Earth Wind & Fire and the sleek West Coast style of late 70’s Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. Also there’s a strong element of Phil Collins’ early 80’s Brit-funk approach as well. This song is a perfect example of,on a purely musical level of what Mick Jagger sang in 1969: you can’t always get what you want,but sometimes you just might find that you get what you need.

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Filed under Funk, Late 70's Funk, Neo Soul, New Wave, Radio, Soul, UK

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/4/14-First Month Anniversary Edition! Andre’s Pick: “Boy Racers” by Metronomy

                            I’d like to begin this by personally thanking everyone who has supported Henrique and myself by reading Anatomy of THE Groove during its initial month. This weekly segment was born of Henrique’s concept and inspiration. And at least on my end, it really helped this new collaborative blog from being all dressed up with nowhere to go. He has bought his wealth of musical experiences from Oakland,the second city of the funk to his song reviews in this particular column. And I have added the outsider-looking-in perspective that hopefully makes for a broad perspective. Please enjoy this weeks edition of this. And I strongly encourage you recruit friends and members of your family to read these. Or anyone else in your district. Support Andresmusictalk and its Anatomy of THE Groove column. Not with your money, but with your eyes and ears. Thank you!

It was my cousin Pip Hall,a fairly recent addition to my extended family, who introduced me to the musical joys of Metronomy. Hailing from Tontes,Devon,England this band has continued to pioneer a stripped down approach to new wave style electronica that,while maintaining a strong dance and pop music ethic has also proven expansive enough to incorporate elements of psychedelia and European classic music as well. Being able to maintain such eclecticism within the confines of such a stripped down sound is no simple task,and is a testement to the talents within this band that they pull it off so well. Operating under the genre of electronica with multi instrumentals Joseph Mount,Oscar Cash,Anna Prior and the Nigerian born bassist/vocalist Olugbenga Adelekan,their most recent album Love Letters contains a short instrumental that caught my ear in particular entitled “Boy Racers”.

Starting off with Anna Prior’s high hat heavy funky drumming,the main instrumental theme of the songs starts up in earnest-a bass synthesizer line playing a deceptively simple melodic line throughout the song with Adelekan’s electric bass popping right along with it in perfect unison so it sounds. This melody manages has a strong groove to the nature of the playing,yet at the same time has a classical flavor about it at the same time. There is a refrain to the song that repeats itself once. Its the same bass synthesizer riff scaling upward with a strong popping sound effect and a bouncing ball high synthesizer line that is somewhat of a cross between David Bowie’s “Ashes To Ashes” and Hot Butter’s “Popcorn”. All of this fades out as the song draws to a close-not ubruptly but in an extended instrumental cool down where Prior’s drumming which started the song concludes it in the same manner.

One of the things that came to mind instantly about this song was how strongly it was connected to the fact that,in the UK disco-dance culture received little to no backlash in the early 1980’s and evolved into new wave,house and the electronica genre. And it is that last mentioned one which acts as something of a banner genre to a lot of music that is actually new wave,house and synthesized boogie funk. That comes out in this song because,rhythmically it comes directly from the post disco dance music genre. Yet at the same time the musical sound of it and the melody itself intersect the lines that many have drawn between minimalist EDM,low fi indie pop and rhythmic funk/soul music. And that mixture also brings out it’s new wave aspect-of course a genre heavily based in disco/funk itself. So this song grooves down to the bare bones by its near endless variations on musical hybridizing.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Disco, Electronica, Metronomy, Music, New Wave, Psychedelia, UK