Tag Archives: 1988

Jesse Johnson’s ‘Every Shade Of Love’ Turns 30: Jesse’s Third Solo Album & The Changing Face Of Funk In The 80’s

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Jesse Johnson really stood out among the musicians who came in and out of Prince’s purple circle during the early/mid 1980’s. As a matter of fact, he was the only musician on the Minneapolis scene who could be a full on rival to to Prince’s talent. Both were writers, singers,producers and multi instrumentalist performers of their own material. And both were amazing guitar players as well. Feeling quite subordinated in the Time,as if Prince were somehow hogging all the glory he left in 1984 to put together the Jesse Johnson Revue.

His debut album under that name the following year was very much patterned after Prince’s own sound. However his followup in 1986 Shockadelica showcased a harder, more consistently funk oriented sound with horns and a guest appearance from Sly Stone. Again a couple years later,Johnson continued to develop his strong musical talent on this his third solo release. “Love Struck,”So Misunderstood”-with its JB like “good god” chants”,”I’m The One”-the only song featuring another musician in keyboardist Jeff Lorber and “Color Shock” represents half an album of non stop funk of the highest order.

The grooves are thick and strong,the rhythms kick right along and the guitar playing, which commands the listener to be moving to these songs with their romantically desirous yet thought provoking lyrics. The title song is a percussive new jack/hip-hop jam that again deals with interracial romance, which The Time had already covered on their Ice Cream Castles. “I’m Just Wanting You” is a dynamic ballad that otherwise has a more urban contemporary twist- while “Stop-Look-Listen” has new wave era variation of the gospel/funk sound of Graham Central Station with some clever lyrical wordplay.

Ever since I first heard about this album, it was often touted as one of Jesse Johnson’s best albums. And I cannot disagree with that viewpoint. However it was always presented to me as a hard rock album. So of course it was a bit surprising to hear that this album is probably the hardest full on funk release he ever made during the 80’s. The rock element I hear is primarily in some of the Hendrix like,amplified blues guitar solos on some of these songs-a technique Jesse shares with Prince. Difference is Jesse is perfectly willing at all times to cite his guitar influences.

And you can hear them loud and clear on these songs. Overall this is one of the finest examples of strong and live oriented funk being produced during the late 80’s. There is more of a live drum and bass/guitar interaction here. And the synthesizers play more of a harmonic than a leading role instrumentally. That’s pretty amazing for a multi instrumentalist in this era. Though they were sometimes at odds, Jesse and Prince were often following different paths on the same basic road. Every Shade Of Love is a powerful  80’s funk album from an artist who contributed a lot to the grooves of that era.

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Taking Heads Naked- The Bands Grand Finale At 30

Talking Heads spent a good deal of the 1980’s concentrating on different aspects of what was basically guitar oriented pop. It was done in a purposefully simplistic manner. By the time the decade approached, it was apparent Talking Heads would soon be no more. David Byrne’s musical fascination had always remained in African type polyrhythms and funk. And in basic terms that is the approach he returned to with this album. On the other hand it was a combination of changes in the pop music world in the late 80’s and the maturity of the band that made the big difference here.

Production was no longer considered the be all and end all of crafting a good pop record. This resulted in a surge of creative energy that lasted the final few years of the decade. And decamping to Paris to bring this sound to life, Talking Heads made much use of this. Boiling it down to basics this album is a loose follow up to Remain in Light. The difference is the sound isn’t so penetrating and aggressive. This album is defined by rather spare and very live musical productionalmost devoid of the electronic sounds of that 1980 release.

“Blind” is a perfect example. It’s a great opener and some of the best funk the band made. But it’s out of the horn based James Brown school- with some great bass/guitar interaction. On “Mr.Jones”, “Totally Nude” and “(Nothing But) Flowers” there is a strong taste of South African pop mixed with the Afro Brazilian sounds Paul Simon dealt with at this time. “Ruby Dear” is a potent reminder how deeply the Bo Diddly’s “hand jive” beat was from old African dances. “The Democratic Circus”, “Mommy Daddy You and I”, “Big Daddy” and “Bill” all add more depth to these musical textures and darker melodies.

“The Facts Of Life” and “Cool Water” are the only songs that use any electronic effects. And it’s uses sparingly and more texturally. Conceptually, Naked is lyrically rather delightful. It finds a livable and reasonable alternative to the faux middle American nightmare presented in that metaphorical way on Remain in Light. In this case,that alternative would seem to be the African based music and their very way of life.

It offered a type of wisdom and knowledge that could enhance, rather than detract from Western society. This is told here in different type stories which ask questions about everything from materialism to organized religion. And it’s all done up in that distinct ‘Talking Heads’ way. So if this is the way in which the David Byrne led lineup of the band would have to go out,there was nothing to disappoint.

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88 On The Longplay: ‘Giving You The Best That I Got’ by Anita Baker

Anita Baker’s music always felt (to my childhood self ) like what it might’ve been like to be an adult. The music and lyrics came off as so learned and experienced in life. This is one of the key qualities of Baker’s music that I share a common interest in with my friend Henrique. Another quality that Baker’s 1988 album Giving You The Best That I Got is that it presents a relatively small group of musicians. With a sound that’s immaculately produced and compositionally strong all at once. As the follow up to the blockbuster album Rapture this album often suffered from unfair comparisons.

After all, when you have an album like that? Its usually a nearly impossible act to follow. Now I’ve been hearing this album in one way or another since the day it came out? I have to say that this album is packed with great songs and as always Anita’s distinctive voice. Between the styles of Sarah Vaughn, and several years later with Toni Braxton, has any female vocalist been able to almost instrumentally work their way around a song the way Anita does on songs such as “Priceless” and the title cut.  These are vital R&B/jazz compositions.

These compositions are to strong grooves Anita made famous beforehand. But on tracks like “Rules”, the barrier that developed between jazz and R&B melted right away. The instrumental  sound of these songs are both concise and elegantly produced. And that’s no small feat to accomplish. Michael J. Powell, founder of Baker’s former band Chapter 8, did a masterful job in that regard for this album. Critic/writer Nelson George described the kind of music Anita Baker specialized in as “retro nouveau” in his book The Death of Rhythm and Blues. And I suppose it fits as well as any.

Songs such as “Lead Me Into Love”,”Good Love”,”Just Because”,”Good Enough” and “You Belong To Me” assure this album has no filler at all. The level of songwriting consistency is maintained throughout every one of these songs. Elektra was really and sound popping with some of the best fusions of jazz-pop, quiet storm and R&B/funk during the course of the 80’s. That tends to be what happens when musicians such as Omar Hakim, Nathan East and the late George Duke get together with a talent like Baker’s.  And if that period of music was a living being? It should be grateful to have had Anita Baker around.

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88 On The Longplay: ‘Stronger Than Pride’ by Sade

Sade’s first two albums Diamond Life and Promise were both enormous successes. Their respective hits being all over the place-that former album even ending up represented on a breakfast cereal premium sticker I had growing up. It was hard to believe that the band themselves-including the regal beauty of their lead singer Sade Adu herself, were very much unlike most hit musicians of their time period. They were straight out of the same UK jazz/funk scene that had spawned Loose Ends, Incognito, Level 42 and Spandau Ballet.

Despite succeeding on a level that perhaps exceeded the best that any of their contemporaries did, Sade always kept themselves just a little bit behind their own public face. Which was almost totally related to their music. And their music videos with a strong cinematic scope and stylish live performances. They had always possessed a very distinctive quality about their music-almost to the point where they deserved a genre all their own. When this third album, and final of their first decade, arrived in 1988 I have vivid memories of Sade albums somehow being an event.

Over the years I’ve actually had to do much growing into this album-somewhat like a pair of shoes that were just a tad too big for me. “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” itself is nothing like any Sade song I’d ever heard up to that point. There is a wide, empty void in the middle of the songs rhythm-extremely subtle percussion with only a stronger little heartbeat on the choruses. With its atmospheric,ethereal keyboards and sustaining melody it very much encompasses the feeling of a humid, sensuous encounter. Maybe even a mildly distant one at that.

Of course the rhythm is entirely absent from “I Never Thought I’d See The Day”,which flows right along with its moody melody as far as it can take it. “Paradise”,”Nothing Can Come Between Us”,”Keep Looking” and the closing instrumental “Siempre Hay Esperanza” all embody this grooving, heavily stripped down funk sound that has since become most strongly associated with Sade. They are filled with heavy percussion and some of the fattest and locked down bass lines Paul S. Denman has ever thrown down. And he’s thrown down many.

“Turn My Back On You” is a particular favorite of mine-built on a strong,subtle variation of the James Brown-like bass/guitar interaction following each vocal and instrumental chorus. “Haunt Me” is a pretty Flamenco flavored Spanish guitar ballad while “Clean Heart” takes a jazzier pop mid tempo ballad cue-a bit like a more stripped bare variation of some of the music on their debut. When I first heard this album? I didn’t really understand it. Though relatively intelligent by the age of 8, this album contains more adult oriented outlooks on romance. And melodies that were somewhat harder to hum.

During my earliest years of adulthood, I rediscovered this album By that time of course having absorbed a lot of Prince, Crusaders, Miles Davis and an entire myriad of jazz/Afro/Funk hybrids. So one day I found this album on CD,with my father having had the cassette for years and listened to it-as some point near or around the summer of 2003. All of a sudden this album leaped out at me in a way that it never had before. While present this album doesn’t focus in on the horns and piano as much as the first two Sade albums.

The entire album is very much oriented around a very spare type of funk. It was a groove which emphasized Sade’s singing as well as bringing the bass/guitar accents more out front. What I didn’t realize at the time was this Sade were laying the groundwork for all the music they’ve since created on this particular. And for the most part? That hasn’t been a bad thing at all. So in the context of where this took Sade rather than in comparison to what came before,this album is a resounding,romantic and hard grooving success.

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’88 On The Long Play: ‘Festival’ by Lee Ritenour

From the late 70’s onward, Lee Ritenour had focused primarily on developing his music in somewhat more of a jazz-rock fusion context. While it seemed that  music was starting to fade into a much softer sound, Rit managed to reflect that with a light instrumental touch that somehow managed to embrace great rhythmic and melodic strength to it. He became very in demand as a session guitar player too. Nearly a decade following his Rio album, Lee Ritenour makes a return to the music world playing solely the acoustic guitar.

And of course, this took him right back to the Brazilian music he never lost his affinity for. This album is home to two urban funk numbers in the opener “Night Rhythms” and “Rio Soul”. Neither blast you over the head with a hard groove,but present themselves as “fine wine”  type jazz-funk grooves of the era. It’s Marcus Miller, Omar Hakim and Anthony Jackson from NYC that bring these to life as well. The Brazilian musicians have a chance to really catch fire on the rich samba of “Latin Lovers” which, much like the deeply rhythmic “Odile, Odila” features Brazilian scat singer Joao Bosco.

On the Latin soul of “Linda”,another vocalist Caetano Veloso sings the lead in Portuguese. “Humana”,”New York/Brazil” and the closer “The Inner Look” all focus in on the melodic end of Rit’s acoustic playing. I’ve heard it said in reference to Earth Wind & Fire that their music is sweet as funk can be. Lee Ritenour’s music reflects a similar impulse as he too has been heavily influenced throughout his career by the Brazilian musical bug. And again,he’s been able to zero in on that crucial spot in his musicianship where he can play softly and melodically while at the same time reflecting a hard driving rhythmic groove.

This same musical ethic applies to the instrumental powers of the other musicians playing with him. Also by playing also as accompaniment to different types of vocalists-both from New York, Brazil and LA he was at least able to bring the sometimes divergent musical interests of northern,western and southern America together by virtue of the musical kinsman ship of the personal involved. And the end result is a resounding success.

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Anatomy Of 1988: “Shanghai Confidential” by Donald Fagen

Donald Fagen is turning 70 today. It has only been a short while since his partner in Steely Dan, one Mister Walter Becker, passed away. And it just occurred to me what a revival Fagen/Steely Dan’s music began to have during 1988. After five or six years of semi retirement, and only occasionally writing/producing for other acts, Fagen re-emerged with the song “Century’s End”-made for the Michael J. Fox movie Bright Lights, Big City. Last summer, I developed a love for the songs B-side entitled “Shanghai Confidential”.

This song is actually one of the very few instrumentals that Fagen ever recorded. And after the cassingle of “Century’s End” being in the family household so long? Am honestly surprised I’m hearing this song just now. Did want to credit music writer S. Victor Aaron’s article about the song for more musical information about the song. And even that was difficult for me to come by. Being that its largely the musicality of Donald Fagen that endears his music to me, this particular song really speaks to that end of his creative personality. So just what is the musical anatomy of “Shanghai Confidential”?

A clapping drum machine starts out the song-playing a sleek urban funk beat with  Manolo Badrena’s percussion ringing along with a bell-like rhythm. The bass/guitar interaction of Steve Khan and Marcus miller take over with Fagen’s flute like synth part playing a very Asian style melody. The main melody is a cooperative affair-with a classic Fagen jazzy walk down with the lead synth, Fender Rhodes and the bass/guitar riffs playing off the other. Khan and Miller even get a substantial soloing space for a minute long bridge before the song fades out-again with the flute like synth leading the way.

“Shanghai Confidential” has a musically conceptual theme that Steely Dan had been playing with since Aja. One that flows back to Duke Ellington’s idea from his Afro Eurasian Eclipse that the entire world was taking on an Asiatic atmosphere. The drum machine, which I’d never heard used in anything Steely Dan related before this, as well as the bass and guitar are based slick jazzy funk sound. Yet the melody and mode of the song seem based heavily in the pentatonic scale. This makes for a song that provides a possible (and under explored) new direction for Donald Fagen’s music.

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Red Top” by Steve Miller

Steve Miller, a Milwaukee native, had very strong connections to jazz growing up. His mother Bertha sang in a very jazz oriented manner. And his father George, called Sonny, did some record engineering in his spare time off his job as a pathologist. While attending the University Of Madison, Miller and his longtime friend Boz Scaggs formed The Ardells-eventually joined by keyboard player Ben Sidran. This began the circle of musicians who’d eventually become The Steve Miller Band. Their psychedelic blues sound evolved into a more pop friendly sound during the early 70’s.

By the early 70’s, The Steve Miller Band had a series of eclectic hits from the rock of “The Joker” to the synth pop/new wave of “Abracadabra”. After the band took a hiatus in the mid 80’s, Miller began recorded a series of blues and jazz oriented solo albums. One of them was 1988’s Born 2 Be Blue. It reunited him with Ben Sidran, who acted as a producer and keyboard player on the album. My father had the cassette of the album in the late 80’s. And there was one Lionel Hampton song Miller recorded at the end of the album that became an ear worm for both of us at the time. It was called “Red Top”.

Gordy Knudtson’s drum kickoff starts off the song-with the late sax great Phil Woods blowing away the melody before a break for Miller vocally introducing the chorus. Knudtson’s drum takes on a more New Orleans type flavor. Sidran’s synthesized organ plays a strong foundational role in this as well-along with Miller’s bluesy guitar riffs accenting it all. Billy Peterson’s bass line bounces right along with the drums. On the bridge, the rhythm all swings for Woods to take a full sax solo. After this the song has an extended chorus before coming to a stop on a reprise of the intro.

“Red Top” has been recorded by a lot of people since Hampton composed the song. There’s something about Steve Miller’s version that really brings it to a new generation. The song of course as a straight up 12 bar blues structure. But between Ben Sidran’s keys and Gordy Knudtson drumming, there’s a strong Crescent city jazz/funk flavor to this song that takes the actual melodic structure of it to another level. Miller himself seems right at home in this particular musical setting. And its actually among my personal favorite things I’ve heard Steve Miller record.

 

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Grooves On Wax: 1988 Albums,1987 12″ Inch Singles

Siedda Garret

She was the songwriter who bought us Michael Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror”,and was also his duet partner on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”. One year after all this,Siedah Garrett released her very first solo album. It featured the majority of Quincy Jones’ Westlake studio crew on board. Along with one heavily re-worked Thriller era Rod Temperton  composed MJ outtake “Got The Hots” on the ultra funkified “Baby’s Got It Bad”.

Key Jams: “Kiss Of Life”,”Groove Of Midnight”,”The Legend Of Ruby Diamond” and “Baby’s Got It Bad”

Brown Mark

The reason this didn’t wind up listed with the Prince alumni article I did was because this album has nothing at all to do with Prince,or Paisley Park. Former Revolution guitarist Mark Brown (rechristened Brownmark by Prince) released this album for Motown. As with Prince,Brown plays most of the instruments. His approach as a multi instrumentalist is closer to the harder kick of a Teddy Riley, however. And this is not an album that compromises on the funky uptempo material at all.

Key Jams: “Next Time”,”She Don’t Care” and “Stakeout”

Clyde Criner

Clyde Criner is a fairly obscure figure. The reason I picked up this album was because of how much it flaunted its personnel. Mainly MY MAIN BASS MAN Marcus Miller. His slap bass soloing is all over this album,right along with Criner’s melodic block chords on different electric pianos and synthesizers. This album is a potent combination of synth funk and electronic jazz fusion licks.

Key Jams: “Just Might Be That Way”,”Spider” and “Kinesis”

Henrique and myself have a constant conversational theme about how 1987 in particular showcased a time period where heavier funk again became the main basis for dance oriented pop records of the era. And that year was a MAJOR year for 12″ mixes. I don’t have a all of them yet. But this was the first year that brand new music really made a significant impact on me at 6-7 years old. So its a good place to speak for early firsthand experience.

It was Henrique who turned me onto Barry White’s 1987 comeback single “Sho You Right”. This song mixes the synthesized Freestyle dance sound of that era with the strong Latin samba funk attitude White used to get with his Love Unlimited Orchestra. This 8+ minute extended 12″ mix really brings out the sauntering rhythm of it all by emphasizing the drums. The instrumental B-side focuses on the Santana-like Latin rock guitar solo.

The history behind the Alexander O’Neal song “Fake” is amazing in Minneapolis funk circles. It was written by AND for alumni’s of The Time. Jam & Lewis really bumped out the percussive,bass heavy funk for this number. The best part of these 12″ inch mixes is how they thoroughly explore the song. You’ve got an extended mix,a vocal remix-the “patty mix”,an a cappella mix featuring O’Neal,percussion and light synths only PLUS an instrumental with an amazing electric piano walk down. Amazing exploration of the groove and therefore one of the strongest 12″ inch funk singles I’ve heard this far.

Ray Parker Jr. is one of the most underrated guitarist/multi instrumentalists I know of. After a string of funky pop hits in the early 80’s as a solo artist,Parker emerged in 1987 with the single “I Don’t Think That Man Should Sleep Alone”. That,along with the guitar solo oriented instrumental “After Midnight” (title song of his album that year) showcase the urban contemporary jazzy funk side of his nature from his earlier session work with Herbie Hancock and Rufus. This 12″ mix of the song really showcases that.

Lisa Lisa And Cult Jam really brought the new jack swing pioneers Full Force into the limelight. Their Latin freestyle/dance club hits of the late 80’s were not only ultra catchy,but ultra funky as well. with Full Force being there to re-cut and remix  their hits “Head To Toe” and “You’ll Never Change” showcased just how deeply these songs grooves.

M/A/R/R/S’s “Pump Up The Volume” was my first exposure to both House music and sampling,though I didn’t know what either were at the time of hearing it. This is an awesomely funky house/scratch/hip-hop number out of the UK. When I heard the Bar Kays “Holy Ghost” a decade or so later,it created a flashback to the “put the needle on the record” segment of this song. Another group member AR Kane provided the B-side “Anitina”,a brittle,Bill Laswell like funk rocker that I always enjoyed.  Wanted to say a quick RIP to M/A/R/S member Steve Young,who passed away last month.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 12 inch singles, 1987, 1988, Alexander O'Neal, Barry White, Brownmark, Clyde Criner, Full Force, House Music, Jam & Lewis, Latin Freestyle, Lisa Lisa And Cult Jam, M/A/R/R/S, Marcus Miller, Pump Up The Volume, Ray Parker Jr., Sampling, scratching, Siadah Garrett, Vinyl

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 12/6/2014: ‘Guy’-Eponymous 1988 Debut Album

Guy-Album-Cover

Though unknown to me until recently, the precocious yet level headed musical genius of youth wonder Teddy Riley was by 1988 already more than well known. He had already been involved in his own group Kids At Work-not to mention working with both Doug E Fresh and Kool Moe D before he was 20 years old. In 1987 Riley got together with singers Aaron Hall and Timmy Gatling to form a trio that they called Guy. Having already worked with Keith Sweat and Bobby Brown on their breakthrough albums, Riley was on the cutting edge of a new sound that blended uptempo instrumentally rhythmic funk with the electronic swinging beats of the relatively new hip-hop genre. This music was known as New Jack Swing.

“Groove Me”,”Teddy’s Jam”,”Don’t Clap…Just Dance”,You Can Call Me Crazy”, “Round And Round (Merry Go Round Of Love)” and “Spend The Night”-more than half the album is focused on the new jack swing sound. What brings these songs to life is the groups creamy vocal harmonies,the heavy chord progression based melodies of the songwriting and the strong Charlie Wilson/Stevie Wonder like gospel soul vocal styling’s of Aaron Hall. “Piece Of My Love” and “Goodbye Love” are the two slower numbers here-which are actually fairly stripped down even for new jack type balladry to put focus on the densely chorded vocal harmonies. “I Like” is actually a very 80’s funk oriented number without the swinging hip-hop beat. That is introduced again on my personal favorite song here “My Business”,which has a very jazzy melody and a funkified popping bass line.

During the next few years to come new jack swing would quickly become the mainstream of soul/funk/R&B. Even veteran funk and soul acts from the 70’s and 80’s who made records during that period did so in that style. It became a very overused style of production as a result. And inadvertently began a reliance within the soul/funk community on hip-hop and it’s producers that continues on to this very day. In a way though, that is part of the positive aspect of this album and what it represents. Riley is very much a musician,and infuses this music with some very creative and artful instrumental turns and,most importantly, a return to the presence of strong funk electric bass lines. When this came out, this was part of a musically artistic movement. And not even intended to be an enormous sell out. Teddy Riley sought popularity through innovation,and he got it. No matter how much this albums whole format was imitated,it was really one of the earliest of its kind.

Originally Review From June 15th,2013

Link to original review here*

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