Tag Archives: 1980s Funk

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Mechanical Emotion” by Vanity

Only a few moments ago,I received the official word from my friend Henrique that Denise Matthews,better known as Vanity passed away today. It was very likely to do with the kidney dialysis she lived with for years that derived from her drug use during the 80’s. It isn’t always the best move to talk about someone the moment they pass away. But Vanity is someone I’ve been wanting to talk about for some time. In a similar fashion to the also late Rick James, there was a time when I used to get the singer confused with the song with Vanity. Her romantic complexities with Prince,her troubled life and her cooing vocals often got in the way of the excellent Minneapolis grooves that she was involved with.

I first heard the Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” through the soundtrack for the Spike Lee Joint Girl 6 in in the late 90’s. It was right around the time I was heavily studying Princ and the Minneapolis sound’s history. While crate digging one day,I located a Vanity solo album from 1984 entitled Wild Animal. It was her first solo album,and was released on Motown. The album itself had the new wave/dance friendly grooves of Minneapolis. But there was a good dose of funk on it too. One track however caught my ears at the time. And it’s wonderful to have some further understanding of it today. And apparently the song was a decent hit too. It was called “Mechanical Emotion”.

A brittle,heavily percussive drum machine rhythm opens the song and keeps up without a break throughout the song. The melodic content of the song consists of several layers of heavily orchestrated synthesizers. The first is a flowing,low toned string tone. The other is a classic Minneapolis horn line tickling the rhythm while the last one is a rather jazzy synth bass line. Vanity’s lead vocals of the song are soon joined by the Time’s Morris Day,who sings the chorus of the song. Following each refrain,the lead synth plays scaling arpeggios while the next to last chorus features a synthesized rock guitar solo. Than Morris’s extends on his chorus along with this as the song fades out.

Multi instrumentalist Bill Wolfer gave this song an interesting take on the Minneapolis sound. As I often find the case looking back on different music, he combined rhythmically brittle electro funk with Gothic European classical melodic content. Vanity’s vocals are very operatic in this song-in the manner of a yearning cabaret diva. Morris Day’s vocals add the soulfully funky vocal flavor to this compelling combination of structured orchestration and controlled,funky rhythm. Wolfer had previously worked with Stevie Wonder,Teena Marie,Michael Jackson,Diana Ross and Shalamar. And the combination of approaches he utilized here made this a compelling number for Vanity.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Bill Wolfer, Denise Matthews, drum machine, electro funk, Minneapolis, Morris Day, Prince, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, Uncategorized, Vanity

Anatomy Of THE Groove Presents Teena Marie Week: “Playboy” (1983)

Teena Marie was leaving Motown behind at a critical time for funk/soul artists in general. In the United States anyway? That genre was mired in what myself and friend Henrique referred to as the post disco freeze out. The synth pop/New Wave genre that had come up in Europe during this time,itself an extension of Eurodisco and funk,seemed to be a good new direction to go into for radio play. Meanwhile,this was colliding with the synth accented boogie sound. And basically Lady T was as caught up as anyone in this shift of instrumental priorities.

Lady T signed with Columbia subsidiary Epic Records in the fall of 1982-with the promise of more autonomy over her business career. The result was her own publishing company known as Midnight Magnet. This event plus the dissolution of her romantic affiliation with Rick James became the centerpiece of her concept album Robbery from September 1983. While it integrated the synth rock elements of the era with her jazzy ballad framework? There was still plenty of time of strong funky grooves. My favorite of which is called “Playboy”.

Another strong drum kick introduces the song into it’s powerful stop/start Afro-Cuban rhythm that is mixed high and defines the song. What comes next is an elaborately arranged mixed of instrumental melody and harmony. The horn charts basically define the sound-while a round,mid toned synthesizer takes over the minor chorded elements that might’ve normally been done with strings.  On the refrains,the synth becomes more brittle and the rhythm more strident. On the final chorus,Teena gently raps the lyrics over the original rhythm and a subtle electric bass line.

Something about this song’s arrangement perfectly encapsulates it’s lyrical concept. It’s a complex series of instrumental solo an rhythmic changes,and it goes along with Lady T’s uncertain mood throughout the song itself.  As she questions her position as being closer to Rick James mistress than apparent fiancee? Her own little private soap opera unfolds via this uniquely urbane,Latin hued funk groove. It’s one of the most well rounded examples of the boogie funk sound. And a wonderful example of the new type of funk Teena Marie was giving up for the people.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, concept albums, Epic Records, Funk, Funk Bass, New Wave, post disco, Rick James, Teena Marie, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove 11/21/14 Rique’s Pick : “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars

I have a confession: when I came to Andre with this blog idea, I was not sure there would be enough songs released this year to fill it out. Oh, there has been plenty of funky songs released from the turn of the millenium on, as well as from the ’80s and ’90s to cover. But the past four years or so had been so fruitful in terms of new funk recordings, I just couldn’t be sure we’d have the funk bomb in 2014 as well. Unfortunately, a funkateer can no longer take new funk for granted. But if Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars combustible new single “Uptown Funk” continues to get the reception it so richly deserves, we should have plenty of funk in the near future. Mark Ronson, the celebrity D.J slash musician-producer, has done plenty of funky songs over the years, like his “Pretty Green” featuring Santigold, or “Glass Mountian Trust” featuring D’Angelo. Not to mention his soulful Afrobeat inflected remix of Robin Thicke’s “Magic.” Add to that Bruno Mars and his performing and musical acumen, including a full band that is a dedicated part of his package, and you have the makings of something very stank indeed. But did I expect them to drop this Morris Day and the Time cum Roger and Zapp sprinkled with Earth, Wind & Fire (its in the horns man, the horns!) funk in the twilight of 2014? NO! Just like that, Ronson reserved a top spot for the “Blurred Lines” award, which I’m gonna start giving to the over 30 dance record of the year, every year. This thang is that potent.

The jam kicks in from the very beginning, with a bass clef voice singing a bass line on the one. The bassline being sung is a very funky one, hitting hard on the one and leaving plenty of space. The technique itself harkens back to funky songs like Jimmy Castor’s “Bertha Butt” and Roger and Zapp’s “Doo Waa Ditty”, on before that to the bass voices in doo wop, back before that to choral musics in Europe and vocalizing in Africa. Yeah, that far back. When u establish some funk that boldly, you have to have something backing it, and Ronson chooses some loud, brash handclaps hitting on the two and four beats, with some shifting effects coming in and out. After that funky four bar intro, the rhythm guitar comes in. The guitar is playing small chord voicings, high up the neck, in the ’80s funk style of players like Prince and Roger Troutman. A voice comes in bellowing “ow”backed by the horn section, which introduces Bruno Mars vocals. Bruno comes in, bragging in the self referential funk style, “This is that ice cold/Michelle Pfifer/That white gold.” Those vocals are backed by a solid funk beat. Bruno goes on to brag “I’m too Hot!/Call the Police/and the Fireman!” A single note, low register, insistent funky guitar line is introduced, with funky guitar chords backing it up. This all builds up to a pre chorus that says “Uptown Funk gonna give it to ya!” The pre chorus is backed by double time hand claps and a sound effect that sounds like a jet taking off and Bruno borrows the hook line from Trinidad James 2012 hit “All Gold Everything”, “Don’t believe me just watch!”

From there the song goes into a high powered Earth, Wind & Fire style horn led chorus, with a line that also is reminiscent of the horns on Michael Jackson’s classic, “Jam.” This is also backed by a funky early ’80s funk cum new wave synth pad.

The video is also very funky, with Bruno, Mark Ronson and the band strutting through an old school street scene, hitting funky poses and drinking ‘yac. The fellas take up the old school image of super sharp, super hip players, getting their hair done under the blow dryer, and getting their patent leather shoes shined. They also dance down the street in front of a stretch Lincoln.  Bruno himself is hilarious in the video, hitting all of the prissy, narcissistic, affected motions of the type of player he’s potraying in the song, reminding one instantly of such funky egomaniacs as Morris Day.

This is a record that speaks for itself. One of George Clinton’s central contributions to funk as a music was his branding of it. James Brown was a pioneer in that regard, naming tunes “Aint it Funky Now”, and “Funky Drummer” and “It’s Too Funky in Here.” But it was George Clinton who used the word and term “Funk” for all aspects of his music as well as worldview. One of the frustrating things about Funk is its seeming low name recognition. Many times that is as it should be because even when the head does not know the funk, the hips and ass generally do. But until hips and asses speak the Queens English, it’s the mouth that must testify to the musics greatness. So Mark Ronson and Bruno are doing a big thing here by naming this cut “Uptown Funk”, they’re not hiding it, nor being coy, nor trying to be new. If you’re ashamed of the funk the funk will be ashamed of you, right? Of course, the word “Uptown” brings various things to mind, from Prince’s utopian “Uptown”, to Harlem, New York which is “Uptown”, which extends to the general characterization of the black part of any city as “Uptown.” That word also conjures up a certain slick, strutting sophistication that is the finest mixture of city and country, modern and ancient. Kind of like the Funk itself. By digging up these energies with some funk for right now, Ronson and Bruno will most definitely increase their own success, as “funk is it’s own reward.” But it’s the music lovers of the world who will reap the greatest benefits!

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Filed under 1980's, 2014, 2015