Tag Archives: Atlantic Records

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Game Number Nine” by Ray Charles

Ray Charles represents soul music’s very beginnings to such a degree,I really have yet to meet anyone who wouldn’t associate him with that word. Probably why he’s referred to as the Genius Of Soul.  The man’s 12 original Atlantic Records album from 1957 through 1961 still remain testaments to the genre as it was developing itself. He even helped create the framework for funk along with James Brown on his Wurlitzer electric piano solo on the song “What’d I Say”. While his ABC label albums were often ballad heavy country/western oriented concept albums,Brother Ray always burned brightly when the tempo went up.

In 1977,Ray Charles decided to sign back with the Atlantic label. Times had changed since he’d left them 16 years earlier. The funk was in full throttle,and disco was coming in fast. Now when I first discovered these albums from Ray’s second Atlantic tenure even existed, there didn’t seem to be much said about them. But a few years ago,they started showing up more often at flea markets and used record stores in my area of Maine. So decided to pick a few of them up. That includes the first of them in 1977’s True To Life. It’s a great album,but the one song on it that really caught my attention was “Game Number Nine”.

A thick polyphonic synthesizer opens the song playing a straight up 12 bar blues breakdown. Then the slow crawling drum kicks in with the simmering,complexly noted Moog bass bubbling underneath-itself accompanied a higher pitched synth tone. This represents the main body of the groove itself. On the choral breakdowns, Ray sings call and response to bleeping space funk synths and his own groove Wurlitzer soloing. By the time the song is nearing it’s end,Ray is accompanying that electric piano soloing with some very nasal blues synth accents as the song fades out.

Billy Preston had been a member of Ray Charles’ band in 1967. The one thing I find most interesting about “Game Number Nine” is how close it was with Preston’s then current approach to funk. The song brims with Ray’s own personality-from his electric piano style and sly,girl chasing lyrics. Him bringing in that chunky rhythm and blues approach into the heavy funk groove did remind me of Preston’s approach. Especially the way Ray also used synths to play the guitar and bass parts. It’s a great and  unsung example of Ray Charles not only giving up the funk,but keeping current with the progress of the genre.

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Filed under 1970's, Atlantic Records, blues funk, drums, electric piano, Ray Charles, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizer

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Rock Steady” by Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin,having turned 74 today,has been alive during one of the most significant musical periods in terms of soul’s transition towards rhythm-towards funk.Her signature song at Atlantic was a version of Otis Redding’s “Respect”,which really showcased how the Southern soul style she embraced was edging towards that funky timing. Now Aretha has had some amazing uptempo songs,many of which were major hits,over her time as a recording artist. And they’ve all showcased how despite understandings to the contrary, that uptempo music can be just as timeless as balladry. Of course as with any artist,there were peaks and valleys for her. Some of those peaks were also pretty high ones.

Focusing to a degree on gospel soul/R&B ballads during the early 70’s,Aretha was becoming very well aware that the musical tide was shifting towards the more uptempo sound she’d pioneered in the late 60’s. So at some point in 1970-early 71 Aretha had a basic piano sketch of a groove that she presented to some of the new musicians she was working with. They were drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie,future Stuff guitarist Cornell Duperee and electric bass extraordinaire Chuckrh Rainey. This trio allowed for this song to be built directly from the rhythm up and become huge early 70’s hit for her. The name of the groove was “Rock Steady”.

Pops Popwell and Dr.John provide a hot Brazilian percussion accent to the bluesy organ of Donny Hathaway. From here Purdie’s drums really get going within this bed of percussion shaking along. Cornell get’s his James Brown rhythm guitar going on in a serious way in the center of this groove while Rainey’s bass is patted in with the sound of a deep, pulsating heart. On the choruses,Aretha’s vocals are echoed along with the backup harmonies from the Sweethearts Of Soul. Each refrain is buffeted by the very jazzy Afro pop charts from The Memphis horns. On the bridge,Purdie provides a percussive drum back that’s now one of the most famous in history before the song fades out.

There are times where the funkiness of a groove has to be discovered by listening closely. “Rock Steady” is not one of those grooves. It’s a song that demands moving and heavy booty shaking. With it’s strong Afro-Latin horn and percussion vibe,this is actually one of the songs that help inaugurate the “united funk” era of the early/mid 70’s.  Everyone playing in on this song act in the manner of JB as one rhythm machine. The song construction is so advanced,it thickens the whole sound. Aretha even lets us know to “call this song exactly what it is” before declaring it “a funky and lowdown feeling”. So as with Wilson Pickett’s “Funky Broadway”,this  groove really assumes it’s funkiness proudly.

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Filed under 1970's, Aretha Franklin, Atlantic Records, Bernard Pretty Purdie, Chuck Rainey, Cornell Dupree, Donny Hathaway, Dr.John, drum breaks, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Memphis Horns, organ, percussion, Pops Powell, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk for 5/4/2015: “Supernatural Thing” by Ben E. King

For much of my life? I have,as is the case with many,known former Drifters leading man Ben E. King for one song. The song was of course “Stand By Me”. It was re-purposed so many times over the years. Including the 1986 Rob Reiner/Stephen King film of the same name. On the other hand? That narrowness of perception on my part led me to neglect some very important music King made during the 60’s and beyond.

Having recorded for a variety of labels in the 60’s,many spin-off’s of a parent,King began recording for that main label Atlantic in the mid 70’s. By then the label was both iconic and legendary for it’s rich history in bringing soul music and it’s many tributaries to the American public-with artists such as Ray Charles. At this point? The focus of King’s music was changing. And it was very strongly reflected in the title song to his 1975 release Supernatural Thing.

This is one one of those songs that just starts it’s groove right off the bat. It’s a slow tempo drum with conga accented dance rhythm. With that is a higher pitched rhythm guitar-with a liquid high bass line playing the bluesiest of changes. Right in the middle? A subtle organ basically extends deeply on the bass. After King’s main vocals receive the call and response treatment from the female backup vocalists? There’s a repeated,jazzy swing drumming on the bridge before the song fades on the main theme.

With Ben E. King’s sad recent passing at the age of 76? This song came up in my conversations with Rique. Never heard it before though. One thing I noticed about this song is that it adds a light Latin percussion flavor to what basically amounts to the same sort of cleanly produced “united funk” one might hear with James Brown on “The Payback” or Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead”. Especially with the higher pitched bass playing the blues. Only unfortunate thing for me personally is that I never heard this song while the man was alive. Still it’s a very very strong groove from the funk era and showcases another side of this artist.

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Filed under 1970's, Atlantic Records, Ben E. King, Curtis Mayfield, Drifters, Funk, Funk Bass, James Brown

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: Aretha Franklin

                   Celebrating the birthday of Detroit’s Queen of Soul  Aretha Franklin, I am making my first of a series of sporadically posted Amazon Archive postings devoted to special occasions such as this. What can I say about Aretha on a personal level? It was her powerfully grooving “Freeway of Love” from 1985,produced with Narada Michael Walden than first introduced me to her music. Only heard “Respect” and “Chain Of Fools” several years later, actually. Personally I feel that was just as powerful an introduction to her music. Right now,today I have to say Aretha symbolizes the human assumption of being able to communicate verbally with honest and soulful eloquence of heart and mind. We live in a society that often seems to value keeping its mouth closed,even on important matters unless its stated with cynical,sarcastic humor.

                   Aretha has always demanded “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and generally got it since. So her lyrics come out of the classic blues orientation of being open about the desire for freedom and a more positive life. And most important,maintains that ethic properly by indicating that there is either hope or resolution. Since her music always comes from the gospel joy end of the soul spectrum, very little of her music has the capacity of getting the listener into a better frame of mind. While its true that something of a rivalry had existed between Aretha and the late Etta James as far as being the Queen of Soul? I generally take both artists as they are. Here I am presenting two key Aretha Franklin album reviews I wrote yesterday for her two albums from 1970. Thank you!

The Girls In Love With YouAretha Franklin epitomized the new-found spirit of not only black women of her era, but also the women’s liberation movement that was to come in the late 60’s. Her music on the Atlantic label, produced with Jerry Wexler is not only some of the most iconic soul of its era but also instrumentally paved the way for many female solo artists in that genre. During this time of great pioneering on her part,all she really had to concentrate on outside her music was her whirlwind family life-which included a rocky marriage to Ted White-one mired in controversy that allegedly included physical abuse. This gave the impression that Aretha’s lyrics were somewhat autobiographical. Between her early 1969 release Soul 69 and this album,there was a near exact one year time span-an extremely long time period between albums at a time when artist were generally expected to deliver at least an album per year,preferably two. That meant that her next album would not only be a long awaited one, but also her first of a new decade. As something of a New Years treat to soul music lovers? This album was pretty much right on time.

The album starts out with a very appropriate version of “Son Of A Preacher Man”. Aretha adds a very slinky and sexual vocal to the song-both vocally and with the approach the musicians take,than Dusty Springfield’s more sensuous insinuation. Most of the songs here such as “Share Your Love With Me”,”Dark End Of The Street”,”Call Me” and the closer “Sit Down And Cry” are very much in the spare soul ballad vein she made famous-all quite good but even with Aretha’s deserved iconic status? They are all very much of a piece instrumentally. Two Beatle interpretations are where the albums really gets interesting. “Let It Be” always had its roots in gospel but Aretha just let it all out on what more or less amounts to a full on gospel/soul number here-guitar replaced by organ on the bridge. “Eleanor Rigby” bares virtually no resemblance to the original,an uptempo funky/soul process number with the equally iconic Sweet Inspirations at top form and this is my personal favorite number on this album. The title track is of course a shuffling gospel oriented mid tempo version of the Herb Alpert/Burt Bacharach hit sung from a woman’s point of view. Another number I really like her is her take on the Band’s “The Weight”,already a fantastic soul song not entirely acknowledged for being so. Aretha gives no doubt to the songs musical origin’s on her version.

As the woman’s movement was at last getting its start with the emergence of NOW and such,the continued presence of Aretha was even more important. Especially as she provided an important symbol for the enormous African American feminist movement beginning to emerge even on its own terms. At the same time,Aretha would need to musically adapt too as the history that her music was helping to change was itself changing yet again. The underground social movements of the 1960’s started to moved into the mainstream and become more confrontational in the early 70’s. The social and creative freedom demanded by Silent generation leaders and their baby boomer followers were being adopted even by suburban nuclear families during this era. And you can bet the music of Aretha Franklin was on quite a lot of their turntables as well. However Aretha was probably more aware that,as a singer this revolutionary spirit beginning to emerge in the mainstream of America,even in its business end was going to effect music very strongly. So in a way this album is a part of an important transition from her 60’s era musical approach to that of the new decade. But for that it wasn’t even the end. It was just the beginning.

Spirit In The DarkWith the long awaited release of her This Girl’s in Love With You at the very start of the year, Aretha Franklin made it perfectly clear that she was going to keep sticking with her soul music explosion as the 1970’s officially arrived. As with much of her 60’s era music,this album more or less showcased her as an interpretive vocalist-spinning musical straw into solid gold soul at every chance she could. But between that album and this,many changes were clear to be seen on the musical home front. Itself brewing along with Aretha’s type of soul was the funk music of James Brown-music that demanded not only a more dance friendly approach but also far more interaction from the instrumentalists involved. As a singer who always made herself part of the entire creative process,the was good news for Aretha. Yet funk would have to wait because for this album,Aretha had something entirely different in mind.

“Don’t Play That Song” opens this album with very much of the feeling that it would maintain through “The Thrill Is Gone”,”Pullin'”,”Honest I Do”,”When The Battle Is Over” and “Oh No,Not My Baby”-through which Aretha handles everything from romantic regret to romantic denial: these songs range from lowdown ballad to uptempo bluesy romps,filled from top to bottom with the artists indomitable spirit. The title song is both lyrically and musically particularly amazing. Opening up with the same bluesy and reflective atmosphere,the song instrumentally evolves into a full on joyous gospel climax-complete with stomping choral vocals singing a complete Hallelujah chorus. This is reflective,along with the bluesiness of the rest of the album indicative of Aretha really getting back to her musical roots. She also provides two more self written songs of her own on “One Way Ticket”,another thickly bluesy soul reflection and “Try Matty’s”,a foot stomping uptempo number where she has a little physical fun with the lyrics. The album concludes with “Why I Sing The Blues”-very much indicative of this album and how it relates to its era.

Overall this showcases Aretha as a full on album artist. And very much contrary to the changing face of music during this era, she takes this opportunity to rediscover the blues in her music. In fact,this is probably the bluesiest album she every recorded during her Atlantic prime period. Each song clearly has a special meaning. Not only did she write nearly half of its 12 songs, but she also played piano on most of them too. And considering the bluesy jazz nature of her piano playing style? That fits right in with the musical approach of this album. So as her full on introduction to the new and more vocal social atmosphere of the early 70’s,Aretha responds here by taking every bit as much creative control of her musical output as she did over her lyrical persona in the previous decade. That leaves this album as the place where Aretha’s Atlantic era sound,which built up consistently from 1967 onward,finally and officially came into itself. This would by no means be the final triumph for Aretha during this decade. But it did put something of a capper on the first phase of her Atlantic years and began an officially transition into the next.

*Please follow the Amazon.com links inserted into this blog in order to read these and more of my reviews,as well as comment on them on site. Thank you!

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Filed under 1970's, Aretha Franklin, Soul