Tag Archives: 1977

Donna Summer’s ‘I Remember Yesterday’ LP at 40: So Good,So Good To Feel The Love

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Donna Summer was someone whose full musical impact didn’t hit me at all until I was a grown adult. The discovery of her music recorded with Giorgio Moroder in the mid to late 70’s also helped me to alter my perception of disco. It wasn’t merely a medium of elongated singles meant for dancers of one particular generation. It was also utilized in different album length concepts reflecting the mainstream social revolutions of the 60’s and 70s-both real and fantasy based. Summer’s late 70’s with Moroder were among the most prominent disco albums reflecting this particular ethic.

I Remember Yesterday is an album of Summer’s with Moroder that interested me because it ended with “I Feel Love”,a song I first heard at the exact same time I was just starting to listen to Kraftwerk. Wanted to know what concept Summer,Moroder and Pete Bellote came up with together for an album with ended with what still often sounds like a totally futuristic song in 2017. A few years ago,I wrote a review on Amazon.com that goes deeper into how each individual song on the album. And how it all comes together into its overall concept.


Representing the final installment of what turned out to be a trilogy of concept albums released by Donna Summer on Casablanca records in 1976 and 1977,this album took a slight different approach to it’s music. Generally speaking musical concept tend to work on a floating timeline. Dream sequences,memories of the future,etc all work their way into lyrics at different times.

Well it doesn’t work that way here. Donna and Giorgio both were aware their musical interests worked on a timeline,even extending a bit before they were born. So the concept of this album wasn’t as much lyrical as it was cultural and moreover musical. It’s a journey from music’s past to an anticipated future. And as a musical timeline?I’m sure no one knew how spot on it would turn out to be.

The title song starts out the entire album…well in the best possible place: the big band swing era. As seen through the filter of the 4/4 beat,this brassiness (similar in flavor to Dr.Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band) showcases the origins of what they call Broadway disco. On the very catchy “Love’s Unkind” we’ve entered what sounds like some girl group/brill building type wall of sound.

And on “Back In Love Again” it’s total Holland/Dozier/Holland style Motown memories for Donna in a Supremes state of mind. By “Black Lady” there’s some fuzzed keyboards and we’re more into the 70’s blacksploitation funk era. “Take Me”,with it’s mix of dance rhythms and bass moog synthesizer and the lush ballad “Can’t We Just Sit Down (And Talk It Over)” are very much at present tense.

Of course the most talked about song here is “I Feel Love”,the closer representing the future. And especially now one realizes this is probably the birth of the electropop genre. Pulsing electronics inspired by the German dance music scene along with the repetitive vocal lines from Donna and flavor of an almost robotic orgiastic atmosphere,it’s the direction the parade was headed especially with new wave and even people as recent as Lady Gaga.

If Donna Summer never goes down in history for anything else it’ll be singing that one song. It’s also important to note this album also kind of takes you on an entertaining history through the eyes of the “black lady”. On the title song,she wants to dance the night away on a romantic adventure. By songs such as “Black Lady” and even “I Feel Love” she wants to experience life and sex on her own terms. And deal with the sensations on her own. It’s cultural marker,as well as musical ones are what makes this a very special album for 70’s era Donna Summer.


I Remember Yesterday remains one of my favorite full Donna Summer albums of the late 70s. One reason is how the albums takes a journey through time as an elongated musical continuum. It showcases how the 4/4 beat,an oft criticized element of the disco era, actually was part of music extending up through the different tributaries of rock n roll. This album focuses on music that has made people want to dance over the last few decades of the 20th century before it came out. And as such, I Remember Yesterday may be one of the most important musical statements of the disco era.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Time” by Deniece Williams

Deniece Williams was born in Gary,Indiana-also the home town of the Jacksons. And is very close in age to the musical family’s eldest member Rebbie. Very much like EWF’s late founder Maurice White,she initially had her eyes on the medical profession-in her case in becoming a nurse and anesthetist. She dropped out after one year at Morgan State University in Baltimore. She then recorded as a singer for a number of small labels until she joined Stevie Wonder’s band Wonderlove during the early 70’s.

After leaving Wonderlove in 1975,she released her solo debut This Is Niecy on the Columbia label,in the company of Maurice White and much of the Earth Wind & Fire musical crew. Her epic song “Free” really broke her into hit status,even getting her an appearance on Soul Train. She continued her association with EWF on through her followup album in 1977’s Song Bird. Discovered the album last year in the vinyl bins and became really entranced with every song on it. One particular song from the album that got my attention was the opening song entitled “Time”.

The Phenix Horns are fanfarring call and response style with the marching call like drum breaks on the intro of the song. After that,the entire musical flavor of the song thickens up with this big rhythm with a three note snare drum hit around the middle. Al McKay’s heavily reverbed guitar and Verdine White’s extended bass runs play musical hide and seek with Niecy’s vocals along with Larry Dunn’s electric piano and the Phenix horns. While the chorus merely changes the chord of the refrain a bit higher,the final part of the song finds the drums playing a more stop/start beat until it all fades out.

“Time” is the kind of intricately structured song EWF delivered in such a consistent,well oiled way during their mid/late 70’s salad days. Williams’ high and often quite loud voice literally does seem to sour and fly in her fine gospel drenched style throughout the entirety of this song. EWF were a band who had mastered their ability to be highly daring musically,often very jazzy and still leave room to accomodate singers with big voices. Like The Emotions,Deniece Williams was another such singer. And this song was a total funk triumph for her in her years recording with the members of EWF.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Move Me” by Allman And Woman

Gregg Allman was of course married to Cher from 1975 to 1978. The union of course produced their only child,Elijah Blue. But just learned shortly after Allman’s passing that it produced a duo album for the couple in 1977. Credited as Allman And Woman,the album was entitled “Two The Hard Way”. They also went on a mini tour to support the album-also titled after the name of the album. The album was not a commercial success. And was even called “worthless” by one critic. Allman was part of the rock music scene. And Cher more general pop. This may have led to some of the album’s poor reception.

For her part,Cher could basically do whatever type of material she desired due to her long back round in pop and 60’s era musical sensibilities. Allman was a Southern rock innovator-always expected to be daring,rebellious and somehow “authentic”. Still with classic pop/rock songwriters such as Jimmy Webb and the versatile classic funky soul session bass player Willie Weeks on board,the album actually has its share of powerful musical moments. Among them was the first single (and the first song on the album) that was entitled “Move On”.

Steve Beckmeier’s ringing,higher pitched guitar grooving opens the song before Bill Stewart’s drum and Bobbye Hall’s conga  fanfare leads right into the basic horn fanfare of the intro. The chorus is a steady dance rhythm accompanied by a heavy mix of flangered electric piano and Clavinet riffing playing close to Week’s bass line. The horn charts basically serve to glue the songs extended choruses together. The intro basically repeats itself for the bridge-with a brief electric piano solo before hand illustrated by the horns building into the mix. The final chorus of the song shows up to fade out the song.

“Move Me” is a wonderful song. What’s interesting about is that Cher, now a renowned diva, sings either call and response or in total unison with Allman throughout the entirety of this song. The production has a very uptown, Philly soul inspired groove to it. Filled with horns,punchy keyboards and high stepping rhythms. Allman’s gruff vocal delivery compliments Cher’s husky,tremolo laden approach extremely well on this song. Its basically a Philly style dance/soul groove out of the disco era though. Its not a pop /rock styled record at all. That’s important to consider with this musical pairing too.

 

 

 

 

 

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Go For Your Guns: 40 Years Of A Funky Voyage To Atlantis With The Isley Brothers

Go For Your Guns

Go For Your Guns is an album whose 40th anniversary occurred over a month ago. And it was something that pretty much demanded to be over viewed here. My interest in the Isley’s 70’s music flowed from Rickey Vincent’s book on funk during that time. He referred to them as the epitome of funky manhood-with Chaka Khan as the female equivalent of the time. How I ended up with a CD of  Go For Your Guns is a story in and of itself. And has a good deal to do with my great appreciation of this album over the years. Its actually included in my Amazon.com review I’ll include here.


Normally I tend not to do this. But there’s a personal connection with this album in my own life surrounding this album. During the Ice Storm of 1998,power was half out and everyone everywhere in the state of Maine was snowed in and/or iced in. It was an uncomfortably claustrophobic environment. The second day out,the driveway was cleared out just enough so people could get in and out of it. So we all ended up taking a drive to the nearby Borders Books & Music where,in their music section,they’d actually open and re-package a brand new CD if you wanted to listen to it.

I was in the R&B/soul section,where I always went first and say this album. I’d never heard any 70’s era Isley Brothers. Read about them during that period in Ricky Vincent’s Funk: The Music, The People, and The Rhythm of The One but had only heard them at that time via their newest album at the time Mission to Please. So I listened to the album and,since the price was exactly right for me that’s what I took home that night. I put my headphones on and listened. Listened in a context of great risk that the power might go out again and the family would swing into instant emergency mode. That didn’t happen. Yet this album made me feel very confident that better things were coming. Now,I’ll tell you why.

“Pride” starts the album out with some high octane wah wah and electric piano as Ron declares “when you finally break it on down/it’s your pride”-the Isley’s crowning manifesto of masculine consciousness that I think of as their most self defining funk jam of that era. With it’s creamily textured guitar and keyboard lines,the complicated melodic exchanges of the ballad type funk in “Footsteps In The Dark” evoke the lyrical imagery of a mature yet tentative romantic relationship with an uncertain future.

Chris Jasper’s pulsing synthesizer seems to call out from both above and below the spongy and melodic funk of “Tell Me That You Need It Again”-with Ron’s strong minded seduction oozing out of both the music and lyrics as well as the Isley’s ever did during this era. “Climbin’ Up The Ladder” goes right for the jugular of Ernie Isley’s guitar for a furious rocker with a clean,tight bluesy melody-again with Ron in his powerfully growling lower vocal range.

“Voyage To Atlantic” is a slower rocker focusing on an elaborate romantic fantasy. “Livin’ In The Life” and the instrumental companion title song are some of the most flat out amazing music the Isley Brothers ever made. It is the probably the most effective heavy metal funk ever made. The groove is solid and tight. Yet the synthesizers and Ernie’s guitar on the title song assault the music with a heavy biting steel. So the song accomplishes everything by embodying both funk’s instrumental cleanliness and rock’s instrumental passion.

Overall the one quality that defines this album is complete and utter confidence. It isn’t all necessarily testosterone fueled male ego by any means. Ron Isley goes out of his way to try to bring the feminine characters in this song to understand where he’s coming from-tending to respect their intelligence rather than demean them. More over however,on both an instrumental and vocal level,this album comes at the listener with the fervor of a sociopolitical musical preacher.

Some of the messages are non specific enough to be appealing to just about everybody,but the message is that love of the world begins with self confidence you can bring out in others. And the Isley’s all had plenty of reason to be confident with this album. As the 70’s wore on they gained progressively more and more control over every aspect of their music-from writing,producing and arrangement. Of course it wouldn’t be long after this that this would turn into some ugly ego regarding the generational differences of how the two sets of brothers conducted creative matters.

I do think that the strong level of confidence this album projects gives the listener the most positive overall view of the funk era. It certainly affirmed my appreciation of the music during a tense time for those around me even. And even at times when my confidence in funk itself was swayed for whatever reason? This album reminded me of what I loved about the music that no one could ever mistaken the sentiments of. So in that context along with the high quality music,this is one of a handful of funk albums I recommend as downright essential.


Go For Your Guns is album that hit me the moment I heard it,had the same effect when writing this review and its likely it always will. The Isley Brothers,especially during the 3+3 era combining the two generations of brothers in the family,dominated their funk in the recording studio much the same way they dominated the stage when performing live. Their music and persona was always a smoldering,passionately poetic funky fire that burns very strongly on every song on this album. Encourage all of you reading this who haven’t yet heard the album to check it out. You might just have a similar reaction.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “So Good” by The J.Geils Band

With the passing of J. Geils several days ago at the age of 71, have been thinking a lot about the J. Geils Band. Most of my life,they came across as New England’s answer to the Rolling Stones. They played a party hardy mix of soul,rhythm & blues and rock as a heavy touring group for most of the early to mid 70’s. Between native New Yorker John “J.Geils” Warren’s versatile guitar style along with Peter Wolf’s stage theatrics and powerful voice, the band expressed a strong sense of a rock band who knew how to stay in the groove rather than simply making songs that had grooves.

As with many 80’s children,I primarily know them for their hits “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame”-incidentally both on the same album from 1983. And those were actually two of their best songs,even aside from being big hits. Years later,I started to hear about a 1977 album they made that didn’t do too well commercially called Monkey Island. About a year ago,found a vinyl copy of it and upon the first listen,it became more than clear that this was one of the most soulful boogie rock bands at that point. One song that really stands out from the album for me is entitled “So Good”.

Stephen Bladd’s tambourine accented,clapping drums and Seth Justman’s piano provide the intro to the song. The Brecker brothers Michael and Randy soon join in as part of the horn section that plays the melodic changes throughout the song. On the refrains, J. Geils lays a funky high pitched rhythm guitar along with Danny Klein’s bopping bass line. On the choruses,the horns play a huge part in the melody. After J.Geil’s guitar is heavily flanger pedaled for the bridge,the bands harmonica player takes a spirited solo before a reprise of the chorus fades out the song.

“So Good” really hit me hard with its upbeat,bouncing funky soul flavor. Between the harmonica solo and Wolf’s slightly raggedy lead vocals,there was something about it that reminded me of what the band War were doing in the mid 70’s.  At the same time,it had a more conventionally poppy focus with its accessible melody. The bands R&B attitude also gives this song a strong bite as well. There’s certainly a lot more J.Geils for me to explore in the future. All the same,this has to be the funkiest thing that I’ve heard from them up to this point.

 

 

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‘Free As The Wind’ At 40: Joe,Wilton,Stix And Larry Feeling The Funky,Funky Love

Free As The Wind, released at some point in early 1977, is one particular album by The Crusaders that is kind of special to me. Over the years,its come to my understanding how important jazz-funk was to the funk genre as a whole. Most classic “united funk” derived from a strong jazz influence anyway. In terms of a sax and bass/guitar oriented variety of jazzy funk,mid to late 70’s Crusaders were simply hard to beat. Especially the way Joe Sample colored them with his piano and Fender Rhodes based compositions. And Free As The Wind exemplifies this so much.

Its an album that’s been part of my whole life from very early on. From it being part of the vinyl library at WLBZ TV where my father worked (along with other fusion records used as back round music in promos in the early 80’s) to seeing it in every used record store I visited as a teenager. Its been a huge key point in Henrique and my discussions on The Crusaders. Especially when he purchased a Crusaders wind chime of ebay which was used to promote Free As The Wind. Here’s an Amazon.com review I did 12 years ago about my initial enthusiasm upon first picking it up on CD.


The Crusaders are a band you just can’t go wrong with during this era and this album is no different.The funky beat just doesn’t give out on this record until just about the end.The jazzy ‘It Happens Everyday” is a gentler showcase for Joe Sample’s piano and it is the smoothest thing you’ll hear on this album.’Free As The Wind’ is dominated by the hefty jazz funk that these guys do so well-for a genre not noted for great collective musicianship (by some CRITICS anyway) The Crusaders always have that under wraps.

But spaces for solo’s such as on the speedy “Sweet ‘N Sour” gives Larry Carlton a chance to shine and solo while the highly memorable “Night Crawler” gives Wilton Felder the same chance.”Feel It” is my favorite on the record-like everything here it grooves and grooves HARD but it has an unusually hard funkiness that I appreciate.The title cut is the most arranged tune here but still-nothing to scoff at.

Even by the most obviously hard core of snobbish jazz critics and journalists,most of whom are quick to condemn jazz musicians for making funky music give ‘Free As Wind’ a five star review,same as most of The Crusaders catalog.That may be because,as stated earlier The Crusaders were one of a unique group of jazz-funk artists (aside from The Blackbyrds perhaps) who kept a sense of collective soul-jazz improvisation and superb musical chemistry while also playing highly electric funk.And no critic I have heard of could possibly scoff at that and these guy’s memorable compositions!I can’t,can you?


When writing this review,it seemed important to challenge the perception of the jazz funk/fusion genre as being based totally on selling records. Free As The Wind is very important to jazz funk because not only does it it keep the Crusader’s brilliance at soloing intact. EWF alumni Roland Bautista even guested on two of the albums most particularly powerful tunes in “Feel It” and “River Rat”.  In terms of its string arrangements, Joe Sample did a superb job of supplementing the grooves songs melodically by giving the songs exactly what they need for string and horn orchestration.

But it also showcases some of the most consistently strong grooves they ever put onto an album. And it is very much an album experience-without any dull moments that would take away from the strong melodies and grooves of Joe Sample,Wilton Felder and Stix Hooper. Many individual songs stand out too-such as Larry Carlton’s amazing “Night Crawler”. That song was so strong that Carlton elected to record his own version of it for his self titled solo album released the following year. At the end of the day, Free As The Wind really helped to give late 70’s jazz funk one of its strongest voices.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “What About It?” by Eddie Hazel

Eddie Hazel was a true pioneer of funk guitar. His approach is so pervasive since his death in 1992,his artistry and essence have never exactly passed away with him. Born in Plainsfield New Jersey, Hazel was part of the original backing group for The Parliaments in the late 60’s. When the group became Funkadelic in 1970,Hazel was part of the first tier lineup including Tiki Fullwood,Tawl Ross,Bernie Worrell,Billy Bass Nelson and George Clinton. Hazel’s most iconic guitar solo for Funkadelic is on the title song to their 1971 album Maggot Brian.

Even though he contributed to Funkadlic’s music occasionally during the rest of the 70’s, Hazel and Billy Bass quite the group following Maggot Brain. Hazel ended up having far more of a hand in putting together the revitalized Parliament on their 1974 reboot album Up For The Downstroke. After an 11 month arrest due to a drug charge and an incident with a flight attendant, Hazel embarked on a solo career. This resulted in the 1977 Clinton produced album Games,Dames & Guitar Thangs. The song on it that gets my own attention most is an instrumental called “What About It?”.

Bootsy Collins and Jerome Brailey’s drums start with a pounding bass drum attack with what sounds like Mike Hampton (credited as guitarist on the song) playing a grooving,ascending line. The snares kick in with Hampton’s playing countered by Hazel’s higher on the neck,psychedelic washes of sound. The bass sounds of Bootsy,Billy Bass and Cordell Mosson keep up the rhythm right along with the drums. After these refrains, the opening bass drum funk march continues with a wah wah solo from Hazel. And he does an ascending,psychedelic rock solo on the final refrain before the song fades.

“What About It?” is a song I heard sometime before I heard Hazel’s entire album via a sampler of my fathers. It has stood out for me because it really showcases (as a joint Hazel/Clinton composition) Hazel’s post Hendrix psychedelic funk guitar style working within the framework of the far more polished later 70’s P-Funk sound. Hazel is soloing on a song out of the P-Funk of “Flash Light”,”Aquaboogie”,”One Nation Under A Groove” and “Knee Deep”. The blend of the different musicians doing unexpected things make this not only a great comeback for Hazel. But for him as part of P-Funk’s peak years.

 

 

 

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Con Funk Shun’s ‘Secrets’ Album Turns 40: The Anti Sophomore Slump Funk Classic

Con Funk Shun (since they’ve recently reunited) remain a band with a strong personal connection to both me and friend/co-founder of Andresmusictalk Henrique Hopkins. For Henrique,it was a being childhood friends with Dameion Harrell-son of the bands sax player/flutist Paul Harrell. For me,the personal connection came from their 1979 jam “Chase Me” being part of that often discussed first long form exposure to funk via the compilation The Best Of The Funk Essentials. Somehow or other,the bands sound (along with Earth Wind & Fire) became a strong criteria for 70’s funk in my listening tastes.

Their 1977 album Secrets,which celebrated its 40th anniversary on March 25th, was reissued on CD during the mid 90’s funk reissue boom. I found it at the local Borders Books & Music. They’d let you listen to CD’s in a player behind the counter-since they had equipment to reseal opened media at the time. Having just learned that this had been the bands second album,hearing it really went against the film/music/literature cliche of the sophomore slump. All nine of the songs on this album were consistently excellent. And that was heavily reflected in my Amazon.com review of the album.


On their sophomore release these Vallejo California natives actually sharpen up a good deal of the harder edged elements of their sound found on 1976’s Con Funk Shun and develop something of a new flavor to their sound. Seen by many people who,as I was at first familiar with the band through compilations as something of a fully west coast answer to EWF.

Now that has some truth to it and not too. While bandleader Felton Pilate and Michael Cooper have similar vocal exchanges to Maurice White/Phillip Bailey and their harmony based,melodic groove sounds do have a passing similarity Con Funk Shun don’t concentrate as much of their concepts as they do instrumental exchanges and songwriting. And this particular album features endless examples of their new style.

Despite the hard driving nature of the hit “Ffun” and “ConFunkShunIzeYa” these two horn heavy grooves are by no means indicative of the entire album as a whole “DoWhaChaWannaDo”,with it’s elegent mix of melodic arrangements,on time rhythm and strong craft showcases this as music that stands directly in between th earlier,classic “united funk” and the pre disco sophistifunk style.

This also shows up on the smoother,more midtempo grooves of “Who has The Time” and the title cut,both powered by wah wah’s,heavily reverbed rhythm guitars and sultry harmonies. The outright ballads “Tear In My Eye” and “I’ll Set You Out OK” have all the sitar/orchestration effects of classic Northern soul with all the melody intact. “Indian Summer Love”,an uptempo instrumental showcasing the jazzier end of the bands sound has a George Benson/Wes Montgomery/Bobby Broom style guitar exchange between Michael and Felton that is pure icing on the cake.

Honestly have purchased this during the time I was really thoroughly exploring the funk genre I’d recommend this and other albums like it to those people who think they don’t like funk or find it “annoying”,an all too common phrase I hear sadly. It’s melodic enough to show how wonderful music in the groove can be. Also the instrumental ability of the band is more than strong enough to make this great for more serious listening as well.

Always mildly ignored and under praised when compared to some of their contemporaries with more name recognition (The Commodores,Ohio Players, Kool & The Gang and The Bar Kays come to mind), Con Funk Shun had a definite niche carved out as among the smoother of them all. But smooth FUNK,not just smooth grooves and that’s important to distinguish. So one will likely just put this on and take the ride with them because it will be a happy surprise for anyone pretty much.


Con Funk Shun’s Secrets album was part of a huge array of funk classics that came out in 1977. To use writer Rickey Vincent’s terminology, albums of this kind stood as a transitional one between the early/mid 70’s “united funk” era and the later 70’s “dance funk” one. It was definitely a melodic album that was extremely catchy and singable. At the same time the combinations of rhythms,horns,synthesizers and bass/guitar interaction really typified the junction right between these two eras of funk music’s development. That makes Secrets one of the most important funk albums of its era.

 

 

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‘Ask Rufus’ At 40: Lifting You Up With An Everlasting Love

Image result for Ask Rufus

Ask Rufus was actually the original name of the band-named from an article in Popular Mechanics. It was a long road from their original lead singer Paulette McWilliams to her young friend Chaka Khan taking over. On January 19th,1977 that original name for Rufus was used for the title of their fifth studio album. Personally,I wasn’t sure if I much enjoyed it after first picking the vinyl up at a Boston record store in 2001. Perhaps the terrible quality of the record played into it. Especially upon hearing it on CD some years later,the album revealed itself as perhaps the bands strongest album from a musical standpoint.

Ask Rufus doesn’t exactly sound like the four that came before it. Some of that was intentional. As Chaka Khan once said,it was her an her husband’s Richard’s attempt to “do away with the leathers,feathers and wild child act”. She wanted to focus on the band and her vocal ability. Its also the type of album that can engender many personal memories for people. Its actually an album that inspired me to begin writing my own song lyrics with jazz/funk music in mind. In his book  Mo Meta Blues, Questlove gave his own personal story about it,and I quote:

My parents were going to do an extended trip. When they told me how long they’d be away, the string breakdown of “Egyptian Song” came on. And then the story got sadder. In Louisiana, my aunt Karen met a man, and they decided to get married. She took the record with her.”

There are many things I could say about Ask Rufus after having over 16 years experience with the album. One major recent revelation was my boyfriend Scott listening to the album with me for the first time and mentioning the first side’s closer “Everlasting Love” resembling George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”. Usually a more vocally focused music listener,I deeply appreciate Scott’s musical observation on that. Of course eight years ago on Amazon.com,I managed to get a hold on the musical vibe of the album on my review there-which of course I will now re-share with you.


Rufus And Chaka Khan,aside from CK’s amazing and influential singing have always been just mildly underrated as musicians. In the years after the debut,especially with the style of the previous Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan their style had been growing from that of a conventional 70’s funk band to what they became with this album.By far this would have to be described as Rufus’s artistic pinnacle and is today justly revered. It is here that Rufus made the transformation to being a fully sophisticated band with brilliant songwriting,fully mature and reflective lyrics and plenty of jazz influences.

With a couple minor exceptions this album showcases Rufus sticking with a mid tempo jazzy soul/funk sound and a great deal of sultry. Not only is it solid proof that funk doesn’t have to be a non-stop rhythm barrage to groove like mad but it features songs that all sound like mini classics.”At Midnight” is the main uptempo song here.The production is far from slick and features probably the best use of synthesizer on a mid period Rufus Recording-the simple beat sounds deceptively like disco but on the breakdown it’s perfectly clear that it isn’t.

Lyrically it’s clear that Chaka,who participates very strongly as a writer here is content on reflecting on how her own complicated marriage and personal life at the at time is effecting her feelings on her own womanhood-strong emphasizing emotional involvement.”Close The Door” is one mournful example;Chaka’s tortured voice and the spare backdrop just drips with melancholy of the soul.

The superb orchestration of Claire Fischer (cousin of the bands drummer Andre Fischer) not only makes that tune so wonderful but dominates the equally mournful instrumental “A Slow Screw Against The Wall”;the briefly funk blowout of “A Flat Fry”,featuring Ron Wood is pretty much the last tune of that type you’ll find here.The memorable and singable “Earth Song” features a cryptic lyric that,if understood sums up Chaka’s lyrical involvement here as she sings,”Stars/what a mystical woman you’ve made me” and on “Everlasting Love” we’re introduced into a deceptively musically simple vision of romance and sensuality.

“Hollywood” is…well almost an uptempo song because it’s so sprightly even as it looks at the effect fame and surroundings of luxury effect people.”Magic In Your Eyes” is yet another excellent romantic moment whereas “Better Days”,co-written by Chaka’s then husband Richard Holland reflects on a possible optimistic future for the then faltering couple.As for the music,let’s just say I think Dido was highly influenced by this song when she did her hit song Thank You ovet two decades later. The title of “Egyptian Song” sounds like the song and lyrics will be very complicated and they are.

 

From the melody down to it’s lyrics it reflects on Chaka’s journey to discover her racial identity that was evidently at that point still very much a part of her life. Here you here a very different kind of Rufus,challenging themselves all around to be a band to contend with a very different kind of groove for a very different kind of funk. There is little likelihood you’ll ever come across an album in Rufus catalog or anyone else’s that sounds quite like this.And that really says an awful lot for this.


Today,I have Ask Rufus on both CD and a far superior vinyl copy that included the original poster. Whether or streaming this album or hearing it via any physical media, no changes in technology will take away what Rufus accomplished on this album.  As I recently learned, it was the first and only platinum album. Perhaps their change in approach to a jazzier,more mature groove had something to do with that. Andre Fischer would be ejected from the group after this album. And it ended up being a dry run for both the bands future career as session aces and Chaka’s solo career that was right around the corner for her.

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