‘Rio’@35: Duran Duran Do It There Own Way With A New Wave Religion

Rio

Duran Duran are perhaps my favorite of the new wave/synth pop bands of the 1980’s. Although my first experience hearing them new was via the song “Notorious”,their 1982 album Rio was unavoidable throughout the 80’s. Especially having access to any show that aired music videos. And that leads as to why Duran Duran were such an important band in the 1980’s. For one,though Australian,they were part of a second “British Invasion” during the new wave era. For another,they were able to mix style and substance in a time where music began to require strong visual appeal.

Henrique and I both share a love of Duran Duran and the Rio album. One part of this relates to the visual nature of it all-in particular the art deco style album cover as painted by Malcolm Garrett. The major part of the of it for us is how this album relates to the musical changes of the early 80’s. There may have been an anti disco radio freeze out in the states. But the bands bassist John Taylor discussed that his main inspiration during the time Rio was recorded was Chic’s Bernard Edwards. So as such,the entire musical sound of the album is a direct decedent of the funkiest end of American disco.

The grooves on all the songs on this album are equally as strong and vital as its melodies and vocals. The major hit songs such as “Hungry Like The Wolf” and the opening title song defined their sound using call and response reverbed rock guitars and arpeggiated Jupiter 8 synthesizer, the latter a then very new instrument. It helped create the pop sound of that era on that level. Several years ago,I did a review of the album on Amazon.com that went a bit further into Rio‘s relation to disco and funk. So would like re-post it here as part of this overview.


1982 was a very interesting year for pop music development in that decade as well as it was for Duran Duran. Their self titled debut album was already out and that was just mildly tentative looking back. And one of the reasons that first album seems that way is because of this. Many times a bands second release is a huge step up for them but,as if their first album wasn’t that strong (it was very good in many ways) this album was so potent it almost seemed like the work of another band entirely. One of the main differences here is that the bands rhythmic priorities had completely changed.

Whereas the album tracks on the first album favored an ambient electronica flavor this album went right for heavy funk polyrhythms,percussion effects and some of the most harmonically complex synthesizer riffs courtesy of Nick Rhodes. This is not only their breakthrough album but was great for the band as a whole because on every song on this album you get to see how incredible these guys are as musicians. John Taylor is one of the funkiest bass players in the new romantic movement after Mark King and every single one of these songs are percolating with his emotionally charged and varied bass lines

That goes from high to fret-less tone,onto slapping and walking lines: they guy puts it all into the music and it clicks appropriately with whatever song it’s accompanying. The first four songs on the album,including the mega hit title track and of course “Hungry Like The Wolf” are an example of the heavily Chic/ABC style funkiness this band appropriated for it’s own uniquely flavored sound not to mention the potency of “My Own Way” and “Lonely In Your Nightmare” where John’s bass lines get free reign to leap up and down where they want.

Personally these guys may have been young and full of it but lyrically (as well as musically) they certainly had a smart minded wit and imagination that would make Nile Rodgers proud. On “Hold Back The Rain” and “Last Chance On The Stairway” there is something of a poppy variation of the rock/funk sound,even if lighter on the jazz influence of Stanley Clarke’s School Days era that Level 42 dealt with too and Duran Duran put their complex pop style melodies with these songs. Every song here is brimming with melodic and harmony ideas you wouldn’t believe and that’s probably why it’s so popular.

It’s an excellent example of intelligently thought out and funky 80’s pop and yes: intelligence and funk usually HAVE to go together to make it all work out in that genre of music. The hit “Save A Prayer” is a pop song that does have a mildly more pronounced jazz influence with these unusually chorded synthesizers and harmonics as the same goes for “New Religion” and the pocket symphony of the closing “The Chauffeur”. Unfairly dismissed as being too easy an 80’s pop throwback for years this album has continually reasserted it’s strong musical values,as well as it’s sense of flair and invention that goes into the very best of pop music of any sub genre in any era.


Three and a half decades after the fact,Rio began a precedence for how pop music would present itself to present day. Decades of “replicative fading” with pop music hopefuls attempting to recreate this mixture of synth based funky rock mixed with fantastical musical videos,which is now the mainstream,has thankfully not take anything away from what made this album so strong.  The album was so much the opposite of a sophomore slump that the bands self titled 1981 debut,at first unsuccessful in the US, was reissued after Rio’s success and succeeded off the heels of it.

With its post punk and disco/funk influences still being so close in time period to it, Rio managed to pull together everything the late 70’s indicated 80’s music would go. And where it would continue to go after it. Because the most creatively successful music of the 2010’s has been the synth/new wave based nu-funk/boogie/disco spectrum, Rio also showcases how an album that can totally influence two ends of a future generation in very different ways. And that may continue to be Rio‘s most enduring legacy as an album.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Zanzibar” by Billy Joel

Billy Joel is at the core of how I tend to relate to pop/rock music. A Bronx native, Joel’s music career was less inspired by his father being a classically trained pianist than in his mother pushing him into taking piano lessons. This cost him the credits to graduate from high school-playing in a piano bar just a bit too long so it seems-trying to earn money to support his family. He eventually joined up with a band called The Hassles. He and the bands drummer Jon Small ended up forming Atilla and releasing one album in 1970. After the duo broke up,he began his solo career with the 1971 album Cold Spring Harbor.

As his music developed,particularly after early hits such as “Piano Man” and “Captain Jack” after being signed to Columbia,Joel’s sound began to take on even stronger elements of the Broadway show tune and pre rock jazz styled pop that had always been an influence on him. This culminated in his 1977 release The Stranger,produced by the late Phil Ramone. Its followup 52 Street was part of my moms 8 track collection. And upped the jazz influences even higher. One song from the album that stood out for me on that particular musical end is a tune called “Zanzibar”.

After an opening piano flourish, Joel is dueting with himself on both a melodic and a bass piano arpeggio-with Liberty DeVito’s drums keeping in time with the rhythmic piano for the refrains. Dancing around this are a high electric piano and round bass line. The chorus returns to the more rhythmic piano style and bursts of rock guitar from Steve Khan. Joel duets with piano and a backwards keyboard loop before the bridge goes into a straight swinging bop jazz arrangement with Freddie Hubbard soloing on flugelhorn and trumpet. After a choral/refrain repeat,this swinging solo fades out the song as well.

 

After hearing this song enough for so many years, it has a quality of the progressive jazz rock being done by both Gino Vannelli and Steely Dan during the late 70’s. That Steely Dan influence-especially Hubbard’s trumpet solo,has been discussed by many people. Joel’s elaborate melodicism and way with a strong,funky rhythmic groove also maintained the Steely Dan like cryptic lyric regarding trying to pick up a sexy waitress at a sports bar. It also showcases,with both its writing and choice of musicians, how funky and soulful an artist like Billy Joel can be with a strong jazz base to their musical sound.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” by Captain & Tennille

Captain & Tennille were a pop act that defined the late 70’s. They mixed singable,radio friendly melodies with a keyboard based sound. Daryl Dragaon was a former LA surf musician and keyboardist for the Beach Boys in their early 70’s. Toni Tennille-native of Montgomery Alabama,she attended Auburn University there and studied classical piano. After her family moved to California,Tennille was commissioned to write music for a rock musical called Mother Earth. It was on tour with this production in San Francisco that she met her future husband/musical partner Daryl Dragon.

Their first and most iconic song was the Neil Sedaka penned “Love Will Keep Us Together” in 1976. One thing I’ve realized over the years is how much talent Tennille possesses as a composer and vocalist-with her elaborate melodies and soulful belt of a voice.  By the end of the 70’s,the Captain & Tennille arrived at Casablanca records-to pursue a more soulful,funky sound.  One of the songs from their 1979 album Make Your Move reflected this. It was their version of the song Crusader Stix Hooper penned for B.B King called “Never Make A Move Too Soon”.

The sounds of a small nightclub audience opens up the album just before Ralph Humphrey’s five not,percussive drum kickoff chimes in. That along with Abraham Laboriel’s thick,spacious five note slap bass riff. Dragon’s organ like keyboards accent this before the first bars of the song begins. It starts out with a stripped out funky dance drum stomp with the bass hitting the end of every bar. It builds into a bigger mix with a consistent slap bass line,organ and horns. These horns accompany Dragon’s synthesizer solo on the bridge before a repeated refrain closes out the song with huge horn fanfare.

‘Never Make Your Move Too Soon” is a superb example of a sleek blues/funk stomp in the late 70’s. And from a group associated with big pop smash hits such as the ballad “Do It To Me One More Time”,featured on this same album as well. Tennille delivers this sassy tale of a gold digging male lover with the entire female equivalent of the thick vocal growl that B.B. King had brought to the original recording. The fact that this and its 1980 followup Keeping Our Love Warm was a full on contemporary soul/funk album made one wonder where this duo might’ve gone in continuing in this new musical direction.

 

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Welcome 2 the Dawn: Grading the Purple Rain Deluxe Edition against My Own Expectations

Prince_PurpleRain_LP_SetUp.indd

Hard as it is to believe, it’s been over three years since NPG Records and Warner Bros. announced the new, expanded Purple Rain remaster–the first, one would expect, of several such projects in the years to come. One of the first pieces I wrote for my own blog, Dystopian Dance Party, was a list of demands humble requests for bonus tracks I wanted to see included in the package: a post I was able to revive here on Andresmusictalk the second time the reissue was announced, last fall. Now, six months later, we finally have a track list, and the two configurations of the album–Deluxe and “Deluxe Expanded”–are available for preorder, to be released on June 23. So, I thought, in the spirit of reissues, why not recycle this three-year-old content once again–you know, for old time’s sake? Let’s take a look at my predictions from April 2014, and see whether or not I really had my finger on the pulse of Paisley Park:

14. Dez Dickerson’s “Modernaire”

13. Vanity 6’s Version of “Sex Shooter

12. Prince’s Versions of Songs from the Time’s Ice Cream Castle

Well, I can’t say I started strong. For better or worse, the new Purple Rain contains nothing but music by Prince and the Revolution: no side projects or protégé material, even the stuff that appeared in the movie. Really, though, I can’t say I’m surprised; and as much as I love the Time and Vanity 6, I wouldn’t want something of theirs to make the cut over a proper Prince track from the Vault. Let’s save these for the expanded reissues of Ice Cream Castle and Apollonia 6 (those are coming, right?).

11. “Extraloveable”

Now this one I am actually a little disappointed by, though again not surprised–both because of the reasons I noted in my original article (it was already released, albeit in bowldlerized/Andy Allo-ized form; it’s mad rapey), and because it’s more of a transitional track between 1999 and Purple Rain: there’s still a chance that it will come out with the inevitable 1999 reissue. I still want to hear it without that awful tape chew in the circulating recordings, but now just isn’t the time.

10. “All Day, All Night”/The Dance Electric”

All right, now we’re cooking! I’m giving myself this one because I hedged my bets, and we are in fact getting Prince’s version of André Cymone’s “The Dance Electric”; and who knows, maybe there are plans in the future to release the 1984 birthday concert where “All Day, All Night” was initially recorded. Would I have liked to have gotten both? Of course; frankly, I’d have loved for this thing to be eight discs long. But if we only had to get one, as a studio track, “Dance Electric” is the logical choice.

9. “When Doves Cry” with Bass

The first real missed opportunity–though more for historical than for musical significance. We all know (assuming Susan Rogers told the truth, and/or Prince didn’t destroy it) that the bass line for “When Doves Cry” exists somewhere in the Vault. So, especially with a full third disc on the “Deluxe Expanded” edition devoted to alternate single mixes, would it have killed them to let us hear it? It’s frustrating, because I totally get the geeky completionist impulse behind that much-derided disc of alternate edits–but if NPG is going to cater to geeky completionists, why not go whole hog?

8. The Complete August 3, 1983 First Avenue Concert

Word on the street is, I was actually kind of right on this. You might recall that an earlier announcement of the set promised “two incredible albums of previously unreleased Prince music and two complete concert films,” but the final product contains only one DVD; based on rumors (and a leaked clip of the performance in previously-unseen high fidelity), it seems the Revolution’s live debut is still in the pipeline, but wasn’t ready in time for the June release date. A little disappointing, but whatever; as long as we get it eventually, I’m happy.

7. Prince and the Revolution: Live

Now here’s the concert we actually are getting in June: the Revolution’s March 1985 date in Syracuse, New York, previously released on VHS as Prince and the Revolution: Live. There’s been some complaints in the fan community about this–it isn’t the best Purple Rain show, it’s already out there, etc. Personally, though, I’m happy to have it cleaned up for a proper digital release; I, for one, haven’t seen it, because who wants to watch a VHS in 2017? Frankly, I barely want to watch DVDs in 2017, but I still look forward to experiencing this show in glorious SD.

6. “Electric Intercourse”

Another point for me–and as an added bonus, we can already hear it! When I wrote my original post, I thought “Electric Intercourse” was a long shot–this was back when it was widely assumed that the song’s “studio version” was just the 1983 First Avenue performance dressed up with a few overdubs. Turns out that it’s actually an entirely different recording, and…well, to be honest, I found it slightly disappointing. But even below-average material from Purple Rain-era Prince is decidedly above-average compared to the output of mere mortals, and I can’t overstate the thrill of finally being able to hear the song.

5. The Extended Version of “Computer Blue”

Really, I’m not even going to pat my back for this one: the extended cut of “Computer Blue” (a.k.a. the “Hallway Speech” version) was a shoo-in for any Purple Rain reissue worth its salt; if it hadn’t made the track list, there would be riots outside Paisley Park even as we speak. But I’m still glad to have it, if only because now a whole new audience can hear the whole, brilliant psychodrama. Hearing this for the first time was one of those moments that transformed me from a reasonably normal person into a hardcore Prince fan: it’s thrilling to think how many others are about to get the same opportunity.

4. “We Can Fuck” (“We Can Funk”)

Now this, on the other hand, is a genuine surprise; and, to be honest, I’m pretty skeptical that the owner of the world’s most famous swear jar would have approved of this song–one that even a pre-Jehovah’s Witness Prince saw fit to censor for 1990’s Graffiti Bridge–being released in its unexpurgated form. Not that I’m complaining, of course: I’ve been dying to hear a nice-sounding, complete take of “We Can Fuck” basically since I became aware of its existence. And if Prince, wherever he is, has a problem with it, I’ll gladly toss a few bucks in his ghostly swear jar for the privilege.

3. “Possessed”

Not quite as exciting as “We Can Fuck,” but still welcome: “Possessed” is a jam, one of those bootleg tracks that totally blew my mind the first time I heard it. There’s been some speculation that the version included on the set is different from either of the takes currently in circulation, but I’m not even going to set my expectations that high; I’ll be satisfied with just a good copy of the one I’ve been listening to for 10 years. Anything more, I’ll consider to be a pleasant surprise.

2. “Erotic City (‘make love not war Erotic City come alive’)”

Another no-brainer–but then, you’d think keeping one of the most beloved 12″ singles in the history of the format accessible for purchase would have been a “no-brainer,” too. Yet here we are, in 2017, still awaiting the first official appearance of the extended (and far, far superior) “Erotic City” on CD and digital music services. If I sound bitter, it’s because I am; but at least Warner/NPG is finally making amends. 33 years late is still better than never.

1. Something We’ve Never Even Heard About

Now this is the one I’m most surprised, and pleased, to be wrong about. Unlike most of the other tracks on this list, I have no idea what “Katrina’s Paper Dolls” sounds like. I have no idea what “Love and Sex” sounds like (though I’ve heard good things). I did hear “Velvet Kitty Cat” when it leaked recently, and…meh, but I’ll take it. The fact that the curators of the new Purple Rain collection took care to select some songs that weren’t even in wide circulation among bootleg traders–and promoted them as such!–suggests that the future is pretty bright when it comes to music from Prince’s Vault. Of course, the deluxe Purple Rain isn’t perfect: “Wednesday” and “Traffic Jam” are missing, as are the 30-minute “I Would Die 4 U” and the longer edit of “17 Days.” But when I look at what we are getting, it’s hard for me to complain. Three years ago, I fully expected to be disappointed by whatever Warner Bros. came out with; now, I’m actually excited. Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Disco Lady” by Johnnie Taylor

Johnnie Taylor has been a consistent conversation point between Henrique Hopkins and myself. And it was always in reference to him being a 60′ era soul singer who recorded and did consistently well with audiences up through the mid 90’s.  The West Memphis, Arkansas native got his start as Sam Cooke’s replacement in the gospel group The Soul Stirrers. In 1965, Taylor signed to Stax records. He became one of the labels major stars,leading to his nickname as “The Philosopher Of Soul”. After Stax folded in the mid 70’s,Taylor signed with Columbia-where he remained for nearly a decade after that.

Johnnie Taylor is also one of those artists who I knew about long before even knowing his name. That was from dancing around as a pre-teen to his major pop Top 10 crossover funky soul hit “Who’s Makin’ Love” from 1970-hearing it on oldies radio all the time.  In fact,that was a song I almost reviewed today. But there’s another song of his that came out half a decade later of his. One that Nelson George described the success of so wonderfully in his book The Death Of Rhythm & Blues. And musically,it has a surprising twist for me that I’ll get into after describing it. The name of this song was “Disco Lady”.

The drums kick right off into a slightly delayed 4/4 dance beat,accented by shaking bells. A high pitched melody on electric piano opens up the melody,which is accentuated by an equally melodic eight note bass line and a pulsing wah wah guitar. On each part of Taylor’s chorus,the horns accent his vocals in different ways. Sometimes with hard pulses,other times with a building sustain. On the bridge,the rhythm becomes a bouncing march before it melodically builds back into itself-complete with fanfaring horn charts and rubbery keyboards. The refrain repeats itself consistently until the song fades out.

“Disco Lady” is actually one of those fairly stripped down disco era funk songs where the instrumentation and the vocals are both designed for a slinky,sneaky attitude as opposed to a raucous one. As for that surprising twist I mentioned,it became known to me years ago that Taylor was backed up by P-Funk musicians on this song. Bassist Bootsy Collins, the late guitarist Glenn Goins and keyboard maestro Bernie Worrell and drummer Jerome Brailey play on the song. Along with backup vocals by Dawn’s (as in Tony Orlando) Telma Hopkins singing the backup vocals singing the chorus.

This song doesn’t exactly have the sound I would ever associate with P-Funk. And certainly not Tony Orlando & Dawn. But its songs such as this that have the power to help people understand how musicians function. If someone reads the liner notes to albums and look for names online,they’ll often find out that the best musicians in the funk,soul and jazz world especially have an expert sense of musical diversity. They know how to give a song what it needs-whether its based more on singers or instruments. And at least to me,that ethic is one of the major contributions of “Disco Lady”.

 

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “100 Days,100 Nights” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones hasn’t been with us for just under 7 months now. But the presence of her and the Dap Kings/Daptone Records scene of the  2000’s in general reminds me of the retro soul/funk movement of that time. It didn’t have neo soul’s obsession with all natural instrumentation or direct linkage to hip-hop. It emphasized a full band sound with horns and a hard touring ethic. Not to mention the powerful soul wail of singers such as Jones herself. Somehow I feel it even touched on Mark Ronson too when he co produced Amy Winehouse’s similarly themed album Back To Black in 2006.

Daptone Records itself is just an amazing phenomenon in itself. Its an independent funk/soul label that thrived in the immediate post 9/11 world. Its roster emphasized instrumental bands such as the Latin flavored Budos Band and Antibales,as well as other soul singers who’d had difficulty making it such as Charles Bradley.  It was Henrique Hopkins who really gave me the knowledge of Sharon & The Dap Kings music just under a decade ago now. And I remember the song that he used to introduced me to their sound. It was called “100 Days,100 Nights”.

A minor chorded big band style horn chart opens the song before the percussion accented drum rhythm kicks into gear. This deals with a tightly locked bass/guitar lick-accented just after the more brittle horn charts which represent the refrain of the song. A Hammond organ also purrs along in the back round-often slipping out of the arrangement with a soulful wait-especially after the drum break that separate each refrain/choral pattern. On the bridge,the song slows down at Sharon’s request to a 6/8 beat. After a couple bars of this,another horn chart closes out the song as it fades.

“100 Days,100 Nights” is one of those songs that has it all. It has a powerful uptempo groove,heavy horns, rhythmic bass guitar and even a ballad part to it. And everything rooted in Sharon Jones gospel shouting and a melody deep in the center of the blues musical form. The Dap Kings showcase their amazing unity and instrumental vitality on this song. They know exactly how to be musically flamboyant and play for a powerful singer as well. That makes this song perhaps the definitive statement for Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings for their consistently strong career.

 

 

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James Brown’s ‘Get On The Good Foot’-An Extended Album Overview For The Godfather’s 84th Anniversary

James Brown was one of few artist who,upon first hearing the box set Star Time,made a thoroughly positive musical impression on me. Only one song didn’t then nor fully does now make a huge impact on me. And of all songs it was “Get On The Good Foot”. Its one of many 70’s funk classics of course. Just when set up with so many of his classic extended funk pieces such as “There It Is”,”Hot Pants”,”Soul Power”,”The Payback” and “Funky Drummer”? Something about the groove didn’t have the same vitality to me somehow. And that opinion seems strange to any friend or family member I tell it to.

This song is also the title song of James Brown’s second 1972 album. Its one which I saw for years on CD. Mostly at the old Borders Books & Music. Yet my lack of interested in the title song had me avoiding it. That continued onto the period when I began exploring original JB albums-always favoring The Payback or any of the Apollo live albums over Get On The Good Foot. It became somewhat rare on CD and vinyl in my area during this time. When I started to here more about what the rest of the album had on it,was luckily able to snag an inexpensive used CD of it and take the whole thing in.

James Brown seems to have presented even his studio records in much the same manner he did his life shows. You would have re-workings of classics from his catalog. And he’d take the grooves and songs he was currently working-and put them into that mix. That had the effect of making JB’s studio offerings in his salad days rather more intimate affairs than most. I personally was first exposed to the title song of this album plus “I Got A Bag Of My Own” via JB’s box set ‘Star Time’. After taking many years to track this,Brown’s first double studio album,down on CD, it became clear just how important this enormous musical statement was to The Godfather at the height of his funky innovations.

The title track of this album is one of his known classics. For unknown reasons,this particular groove is the only JB funk jam that never totally moved me. Surprising considering how bass/guitar/horn driven it is. On “The Whole World Needs Liberation” a Latin soul jazz styled groove-filled with percussion,electric piano,heavy bass and strings illustrates a vocal call for freedom. “Your Love Was Good For Me” is a beautifully orchestrated Chicago type sweet soul number. “Cold Sweat is done up as a faster,slightly more modern take six years after the original. There’s also a recitation over a cinematic soul backdrop from Hank Ballard about JB’s musical cultural importance.

“I’ve Got A Bag Of My Own” is one of JB’s most fiery funk jams-with its percussion rhythm and deep bass/guitar chord. The almost rocking intensity of “Funky Side Of Town” keeps a similar groove percolating along with “My Part/Make It Funky”. “Nothing Beats a Try But A Fail” is a 6/8 time bluesy soul ballad of determination whereas the album ends on a similar note with “I Know Its True”. “Please Please”,a retake of JB’s first hit from 1956 is a 12+ minutes musical treatise on everything from brotherly love to his bands origins in the American South. There’s also a retake of the earlier R&B shuffle of “Ain’t That A Groove”,there’s the slow jazzy blues instrumental horn shuffle of “Dirty Harri”.

Since I first began listening to James Brown intensively just over two decades ago,have been gradually exploring his original albums. Especially the ones from the early/mid 70’s. It would seem from listen to this album that 1972 was an extremely strong year along for him musically. With the classic JB lineup in full affect here,this album is assembled as something of an in studio concert. With no breaks between the songs. Some songs are cinematic soul in par with the early 70’s blackspoitation era,some are tone ballads and others are just seriously funky. Its got all sides of classic James Brown of the early 70’s-perfectly capable as keeping it just as live in the studio as he would on stage.

Its kind of a funny afterthought that my friend Henrique and I both grew up during a time when James Brown’s 70’s studio albums were all back in print on CD along with his numerous compilations. As for my case,ended up passing them by for purely monetary reasons. Even though many of them were out of print by the time I could’ve afforded them,have always endeavored to hunt them down. And each time I do,there’s something to learn about the way James Brown presented his recorded music. In every way what the Star Time box set did for me when I first heard it.

Get On The Good Foot actually has the total opposite effect for me that the song first had. And even has me appreciating more hearing it in its native context. This is an album that actually pushes the JB funk sound-based on repeating phrases “on the one” and lushly orchestrated mid tempo/ballad melodies into an album length concept. And in doing so, Get On The Good Foot was a dry run for JB’s next double album opus in late 1973’s The Payback. In the end, this is an album that might’ve been the one that really put it all together for James Brown in terms of the best way to present his studio albums.

*Here’s a link to the Amazon.com review I did of this album that this article is based on. Please click on the review and click the yes or no button there if it helped you or if you liked it. You’ll be glad that you did. And it might even be good to you!

 

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Star Time At 26: Celebrating James Brown And The Grandest Record Of His Funky Legacy

Image result for James Brown Star Time

Star Time will have been around for 26 years this coming Sunday. And tomorrow would’ve been The Godfathers 84th birthday. The interesting thing about my history with JB is that for a couple of years in the 80’s,I thought that “Unity” and “Living In America’ were his very first songs. There was a huge disconnect between my youth in Maine and the musical arc of JB that still continues to run deep within the African American community. Of course by the end of the 80’s, it was important to my family that JB be appreciated beyond having been arrested for domestic abuse.

That 1988 arrest barely phased me because at the same time, I heard “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” on oldies radio for the first time. So knew this was an artist with serious history. Then almost a decade later,my father played “Cold Sweat” for me. And suddenly the music of James Brown became a necessity rather than a footnote in adolescent musical appreciation. Was deeply exploring funk music than. And JB was the one innovated that genre. Different music books I was reading then stated the definitive way to get into JB’s music was a 4 CD box set entitled Star Time.

Star Time is now a huge key notation between myself and friends online,such as Henrique Hopkins. In fact,it was part of many musical topics that helped he and I develop our friendship earlier on. Far as I’m concerned, its also one of the best multi disc compilation any artist has put together. I actually first discovered JB songs that are among my favorites such as “Think”,”Let Yourself Go”,”Funky President” and “Get Up Offa That Thing” on Star Time. And that is huge encouragement to dig deeper into the vast musical world of James Brown.

During this period, Star Time was a volume far outside the price range my  17 year old self. Luckily I was a member of the old BMG music club. And they had this particular box set on sale for half price. When I ordered it,my father wanted to borrow it disc by disc of course. It made sense. About 90% of JB’s recorded music was unknown to both of us. Of course that’s because James Brown is likely the most prolific black American recording artists in terms of released material. Even Star Time could only scratch the surface. What the box set does do is showcase exactly why James Brown was a major musical icon.

Star Time is a box set that covers JB’s music from 1956 through 1984. It starts out with he and his Famous Flames rhythmically unique take on doo-wop on “Please Please Please” and ends with the first part of his duet with Zulu Nation founder/hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa on “Unity Part 1”. What’s between that is a musical journey that you do not even need to read the wonderful essays included (by writers such as Nelson George) to comprehend. Its just 5 hours of music that showcases the many key points on the musical road of James Brown.

One of the most vital thing about Star Time is how it emphasizes how James Brown’s career wasn’t like a freight train run with a bunch of different stops. It was actually a fluid continuum. James Brown’s nickname “the hardest working man in show business” often referred directly to the almost super human level of touring/live shows he did for much of his life. During these shows,he didn’t merely present his present music of the time. All the periods of his musical progression were covered-adding newer songs as they applied to JB’s performance flow.

Although this is a box set of studio singles presented in chronological order, Star Time still presents that JB continuum in the same way his live shows tended to. Hence it also presents JB as an early precursor to the remix artist too. Original early 60’s versions of “I Got You” and “Its A Man’s World” are presented in the same setting as their better known hit versions as a result. This box sets nearly 30 years worth music music showcases JB going from doo-bop/R&B ballads into his funk innovation-with disco and hip-hop entering the mix later on. Not to even mention hitting on his instrumental music as well.

Even though this album was part of the huge 1990’s CD box set boom,there are few of these box sets that project the musical breadth of the given artist quite the way Star Time does. Given all that, this set doesn’t only entertain. It teaches while your dancing (and even singing) along to the music. Again that’s right in the key of what JB brought to funk: the idea that life was a soulful dance. And that everyone was living to the rhythm whether they realized it or not. So Star Time wasn’t only a musical lesson for myself and others. It can often be a live lesson at the same time.

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Music’s Takin’ Over” by The Jacksons

Goin’ Places, The Jacksons’ second on CBS/Epic records is (as are most things Jackson related) as being a commercial failure. But creatively,it was a totally opposite matter. Its an album celebrating its 40th anniversary later this year so I’ll cover it in further detail at that time. For one reason though,I wanted to go deeper into some of the individual songs from this album over the course of the year because many of them just stand out on their own merit. And one in particular,because its so in keeping with the Jacksons’ overall creative/sociopolitical ethic.

Upon leaving Motown, The Jackson’s fell under the production of Philadelphia International Records. Goin’ Places had more of a steady musical direction to it as an album than their self titled debut from a year earlier. And it all pointed towards the fact that the brothers were finding their freedom as a group. And for Michael Jackson,his freedom on his own a couple of years later-under the direction of Quincy Jones. And it all began with a song that I first heard opening up the CD of this album 24 years ago this year entitled “Music’s Takin’ Over”.

Tito’s crunchy rhythm guitar,a rolling and grooving bass line and the drum/percussion of Charles Collins and (likely) Randy Jackson provide the intro-along with a deep hollow guitar part that goes into the first refrain of the song. Each refrain of the song consists of a fluid 10 note rhythm guitar,the same slippery groove of a bass line,a steady rhythm and accenting horn charts. On the choruses, the guitar/bass/horn interaction is sustained with the vocal hook. After a bridge consisting of an extension of the intro,there’s a brief conga based take on the refrain before the main version fades out the song.

“Music’s Takin Over” is an excellent example of a sharp funk number arranged to sophisticated sleekness. This McFadden & Whitehead (with Victor Carstarphen)  really develops from the rhythm out to the melody,as high quality funk should. Lyrically,it is an enthusiastic celebration of the post 60’s outlook on music. In our time of attitudes asserting that “music could and can never change the world”,Michael Jackson’s earnest assertion of “music is a doctor that can cure a troubled mind” still burns with the emotional and physical reality of music I personally happen to follow.

 

 

 

 

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Vive la Révolution: Seeing the Revolution (Without Prince) in Silver Spring, MD

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I have to admit: when I first heard the Revolution were reuniting, I wasn’t sure what to think. The very notion of the Revolution without Prince sounded bizarre, like Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding getting together to tour as the Experience sans Hendrix. But when I read the reports from their first set of shows in Minneapolis last year, suddenly it made sense. This was, in many ways, less a conventional rock reunion than an act of collective mourning. All of us, the majority of whom never met the man in person, felt a profound loss when Prince passed; so how does one even fathom what it meant to the people who shared some of his most successful and creatively fertile years? And if listening to “Sometimes It Snows in April” helps to process our grief, can we really blame Wendy and Lisa–who were, as Wendy recalled the other night, actually present and involved in the song’s composition–for singing it to process theirs?

Yet even after I understood the reunion, I still didn’t know what to expect. I was two years old when the Revolution disbanded, so they always seemed frozen in time to me: forever lip-syncing on the First Avenue stage in Purple Rain. Did I really want to see them in their fifties–not to mention without the pint-sized whirling dervish of musical and sexual energy who had always been the group’s unambiguous focal point?

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Filed under Bobby Z, Brown Mark, concerts, Lisa Coleman, Matt Fink, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Wendy Melvoin