Tag Archives: Chic

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Est-Ce Que C’est Chic” by Chic

Nile Rodgers had a colorful life long before being the one of the founding members of Chic. This native New Yorker was born to a teen mother who, like his father, was a beatnik and heavy drug user. More importantly, it was an environment filled with music. Being drawn to the guitar at an early age, Nile began as a session player with the Sesame Street band-which was led by the iconic composer Joe Raposo. He gained much of his experience as the guitarist for the Apollo Theater house band. With them, he backed up acts as diverse as Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King and P-Funk.

It was while working for a  Sesame Street stage show that he met up with bassist Bernard Edwards.  Together they formed the Big Apple Band, who became the backup musicians for the vocal group New York City. After seeing a Roxy Music concert, Rodgers was inspired to change the name of the band to Chic. Their self titled debut helped establish disco as a genre of dance music-with songs such as “Dance,Dance,Dance” and “Everybody Dance” leading the way. The album also showcased what strong composers and musicians they were. Especially with album tracks like “Est-Ce Que C’est Chic”.

The song starts right off with an instrumental version of its chorus. This consists of Tony Thompson’s pocket dance beat with Nile and ‘Nard’s classic bass run/chunky rhythm guitar based rhythm dynamic providing the base of the song. Over that, there’s a chromatic walk down on piano. A glockenspiel and what sounds like an ARP string synth provide the harmonic sweeteners to the bottom of the song. The refrain take the song up a key slightly-emphasizing Nile and ‘Nard’s bass/guitar and closer piano riffs higher in the mix. After a barer version of it on the bridge, an extended chorus fades out the song.

“Es-Ce Que C’est Chic” showcases many examples of different trademarks this disco outfit would have in their time. One was the use of their name in song titles-along with a chorus that was sung partly in French. Instrumentally, it takes older black American ideas from bluesy soul jazz and R&B. And really stylizes them with a lot of sonic polish and elegance. The song lyrics about about an actress seducing people to get to the top, sung sweetly by Norma Jean Wright, showcase the witty (sometimes topical) story songs that reflect the disco era realities of which Chic were part of the soundtrack to.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Chic, Nile Rodgers

Sister Sledge Album Review for Their First Decade: A Tribute To The Late Joni Sledge

Sister Sledge Albums

Sister Sledge were a Philly family group who still have their firm fan base of course. And I consider myself among them. Still,most casual 70’s music lovers know them primarily for “We Are Family”,”She’s The Greatest Dancer” and “All American Girls”. Those are three very noteworthy and important disco era songs to be known for. At the same time, the music of Debbie,Joni,Kim and Kathy Sledge had a huge impact both before and after their big crossover period in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The passing of Joni Sledge at the age of 60 a few days ago put me in the mind of doing this tribute to them in this way.

One of the most important things I ever learned about Sister Sledge,thanks to the Wounded Bird label’s reissues-as well as through the kind help via Twitter from the sisters on my overview here of their 1998 song “African Eyes” on this blog,that Sister Sledge were far more of an album oriented soul/funk/disco group than many may realize. So today,to celebrate the living Sledge sisters and the departed Joni,wanted to celebrate Sister Sledge’s first eight albums from 1975-1985 through my Amazon.com reviews of them which I’ve written over the last decade or so.


Circle Of Love/1975

In 1975 these teenage sisters cut this album. Kathy,Debbie,Kim and Joni sure have their sisterly harmonies down pat,and they know just what to do with their voices. The music on this album is definitely rooted in early-mid 70’s Philly soul and Motown The title track is a superb example-upbeat and catchy as they come.The same goes for the fairly funky soul of “Protect Our Love”,’Pain Reliever” and the clever closer “Fireman” with a really cool,eerie horn solo at the end.

One thing the Sledge sisters are intent on doing is is exercising their fine intervening harmonies on a set of finely crafted soul ballads very much in the Philly style too but also rooted in classic 60’s Atlantic soul-these songs truly make excellent use of the over 30 musicians (including John Tropea’s mildly psychedelic turns on guitar) who play on this album.

The lovely “Cross My Heart”,”Don’t Miss Him Now”,”Love Don’t Go Through No More Changes On Me” and “You’re Much Better Off Loving Me” will certainly please any fan of the soul balladry that was coming out of Natalie Cole and Aretha at this time but the vocals that these sisters thrown onto them are purely icing on the cake.

For fans of Sister Sledge during their Nile Rodgers/Bernard Edwards produced We Are Family era will definitely want to check out ‘Circle Of Love’.Not only does it show how Sister Sledge got started but showcased them in the days when disco was just starting to boil over and was still just under the ground;the Philly and (late day) Motown production used on this album are very much part of the disco-funk-pop sound that would soon make Sister Sledge famous.So this comes very highly recommended.

Together/1977

Well it’s 1977,Saturday Night Fever is out and the disco era is in full swing. On their second time around the Sledge’s have jumped ship to the Munich scene,but it’s not Giorgio Moroder and Pete Ballotte;they’ve hooked up with producers Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay,who was also the keyboard and sax player on this album. So this album allowed them to not only stay contemporary and embrace eurodisco to a degree but also diversify their musical pallet. Unlike Circle of Love this album focuses on uptempo and dance tunes with a larger amount of variety.

The punchy “Blockbuster Boy”,two Stevie Wonder covers in “I Was Made To Love Him” and “As” as well “Moondancer” and “My Favorite Song” certainly fit right into the then highly popular disco sound and,as always,the sisters inject more then enough of their own personalities and spunk to give these tunes a timeless feeling. But the sisters also get down with some heavy funk-namely on Kathie Sledge’s self penned “Do The Funky Do”-with it’s punching keyboards and seriously deep beats it actually qualifies as a funk classic along the same lines as The Bar-Kay’s “Holy Ghost”.

They add a little more disco stylings to the same general pallet on “Funky Family”,which could actually be seen as a somewhat more rowdy and less tame prelude to “We’re A Family”.A cover of “Sneaking Sally Through The Alley” is with little doubt one of the funkiest things on this album,and his made even more of a surprise since the sisters didn’t alter the lyrics to a mans point of view as they did on their Stevie Wonder cover. One of the finest overall tunes here is “Can’t Mess Around With Love”-a Brazilian pop tune with a look and vocal very much out of the Sergio Mendes school.

The two ballads that are here “Hold On To This Feeling” and “Hands Full Of Nothing” even seem to have a more urban feel to them and a newfound sophistication. This would be their final album before the pair of Chic productions that would make the Sledge’s superstars and it will be obvious even on the first listen that the future starts here and the changes are coming fast.

We Are Family/1979

Isn’t it interesting that,after all these years of listening to and collecting albums by Chic and Sister Sledge alike,that this was the very last hole I had to fill in my collection of the latter. And it’s the album which contains the songs I personally identify most strongly with them. Recently? That changed on a family trip to Portland. I’d seen this album,even cheaply.

And still avoided picking the CD up. Lately it seems as if Nile Rodgers and the Chic Organization have again become the focus of funky dance music. And as another reviewer here pointed out? With their ability to work well with female singers? This 1979 represent something very important not just to the artistic collaboration. But to the musical era itself.

The uptempo songs on this album are classic Chic disco/funk classics-with their chunk style bass/guitar interaction and heavy strings that even somehow got transformed into a rhythmic element. That goes for the electric piano decorated “He’s The Greatest Dancer”,”Lost In Music”,”Thinking Of You”-with it’s opening percussion along with the bass/guitar duel and the closer “One More Time”.

Listening to the title anthem for an umpteenth time? This 8+ minute version stands out with an extended bridge showcasing Kathy’s gravelly,soulful voice calling out to Bernard Edwards for “more bass”-right in tune with the music. “Easier To Love” is a percussive mid tempo message song-asking for peace for over war (A LOT more complex an idea than it actually sounds) while the two ballads have their character.

“Somebody Loves Me” is classy and elegantly orchestrated. While “You’re A Friend To Me” takes that touch of class a notch higher with it’s dynamic,jazzy blusiness. While the two remixes of “We Are Family” and the one of “Lost In Music” are interesting in a percussive disco/house sort of way? The manner in which Nile and Nard simply expand the original music and vocal line of the latter on the 1984 remix really says more for what the song itself had to say from the get go.

The courser,soulful voices of Sister Sledge were probably the closest that Chic ever came to finding a group of female vocalists who had similar sounds to the women who sang in Chic themselves. And the excellent performances from the sisters,plus some of Nile and Nard’s finest material make this a disco era classic not to be missed out on.

Love Somebody Today/1980

This is Sister Sledge’s follow up to their massively successful 1979 outing We Are Family. Again Bernard & Nile are producing the their band Chic is playing backup-also featured,notably on the title song is Meco Monardo on sax. And the music is set firmly in their standing tradition of classy disco-funk grooves and punchy melodies. This album is home to some truly incredible grooves such as the title song,”You Fooled Around” and (my favorite) “Reach Your Peak”.

Another two great grooves are the funky “Easy Street” and the whimsical groove of “Let’s Go On Vacation”. On “Pretty Baby” the message of family solidarity is again re enforced and Kathie Sledge’s great singing really shows up in fine style on “I’m A Good Girl”.So musically this album is totally up to par. Non of the lyrics have quite the same punch as the first outings the Sister Sledge/Chic combo did and that might’ve played some part in the Sisters turning to Narada Michael Walden next time around,or maybe it didn’t I don’t know.

Either way this might be musically more artistic,with it occasional improvised sax solos from Meco then We Are Family was. But no matter how you cut it this was Sister Sledge’s final collaberation with the Chic family for a little bit. They would meet up with Nile Rodgers again later but this more or less concluded that period of their musical career.

All American Girls/1981

Jettisoning the Chic production team for Narada Michael Walden proved a pretty wise choice,considering the similarity in sound. The main difference is Narada and Sister Sledge were not out to create a samey disco album with arty flourishes this time. They were out to create a funky dance-rock album with a lot of variety and to a large extent they succeeded. The title song is a classic-VERY much Narada and very drum oriented nonetheless and very much in keeping with the hits Sister Sledge had with Chic,especially Randy Jackson’s wonderful bass “breakdown”.

“He’s Just A Runaway” is definitely the big surprise;more of a new wavish dance-rock number that really introduced Sister Sledge to the new decade with ease. This team of Sledge and Narada do not shy away from the mirrored disco ball here as “If You Really Want Me”,”Ooh,You Caught My Heart”,”Make A Move” and “Music Makes You Feel Good” certainly fit into that category. But the “bottom” on these songs is a bit phatter and therefore funkier. Disco is basically a form of lite funk anyway and this just really emphasizes that disco-funk hybrid a little more.

There is a peppy pop tune here in “Happy Feeling”,one of those little surprises commonly found on the best albums out there.”Next Time You’ll Know” and “I Don’t Want To Say Goodbye” are very nice ballads but really don’t need to be here;this album is really strongest when the tempo goes up and it would’ve worked just as well if a couple different kinds of uptempo songs were added instead of the ballads. Other then that I have no complaints.This is a great album in a string of excellent releases from Sister Sledge and we should all be lucky that it’s now out there again for us to enjoy.

The Sisters/1982

The year is 1982 and after being produced by Chic then Narada Michael Walden the Sledge’s decide to give a stab at the production themselves. The result is this very soulful album that,for the date is very strong based in late 70’s funk-pop and even makes a go of the gestating hip-hop movement with the super funky “Super Bad Sisters” featuring the sisters rapping very much in the Sugarhill style!”My Guy” is pleasant enough but doesn’t add much that Mary Wells didn’t to the original.

Much more unique are the original and somewhat experimental funk grooves of “Lighttfootin'”,”Get You In Our Love” and “Il Macquillage Lady”,all of which showcase the Sisters desire to make a detour from their patented disco-pop sound that made them stars and show they too could give up the funk with the best of them. There are a few great ballads here too,one of which is the mid tempo “Grandma”,very much in their tradition of celebrating family and how sometimes there is no school like the old school.

“Everybody’s Friend” is very reflective and features the creamy voiced Debbie Sledge singing lead. The album closes with the peppy “Jackie’s Theme:There’s No Stopping Us”,a great possible hit-that-never-was. This album will make you wonder why the Sledge’s didn’t produce themselves more often;they’d obviously absorbed everything they’d seen Nile Rodgers and Narada do in the past and found a style the they could work well with. This tends to be one of their more forgotten albums but it showed they did have a lot more talent then just their voices.

Bet Cha Say That To All The Girls/1983

On paper the collaboration of Sister Sledge and George Duke looked awfully good. Commercially this was a miserable failure despite the promise but that is not the case artistically. The guest list on this album is incredible:Michael Sembello,David “Hawk” Wolinski,Louis Johnson,Paulinho Da Costa,Jeffrey Osbourne,Al Jarreau and Ronnie Laws are featured.

But the focus is on the Sledge’s personality and Duke’s contemporary funk sound. “B.Y.O.B”,”Lifetime Lover”,”Shake Me Down”,the title track,”Gotta Get Back To Love” and “Thank You For The Party” are great uptempo tunes and not much I can think of shout ‘early 80’s George Duke-style pop/funk’ louder then these songs!

The ballads are also very trademark George Duke and everything even further removed Sister Sledge from their classic sound. Al Jarreau’s rapping and the cute lyrics of the title track should’ve spelled a great new beginning for Sister Sledge but it was not to be. The George Duke collaboration fizzled quickly and after this release Sister Sledge opted to return closer to more comfortable home turf.

When The Boys Meet The Girls/1985

It was ten years since Sister Sledge debuted with Circle of Love and five years since Nile Rodgers had spun pure musical gold with them.And fresh off of work on Chic’s unheralded Believer and Madonna’s blockbuster Like a Virgin Nile officially brings Sister Sledge into the mid 80’s with this album’s strong new wave funk overtones. The title song,”Dancing On The Jagged Edge”,”The Boy Most Likely”,”Following The Leader” and “Peer Pressure” capture that spirit which finds the flourishes of DX7 and Synclavier synthesizers colliding with live drumming for a sound that’s very MTV generation friendly.

“Frankie”,a bouncy little pop ditty makes a brief detour from this sound with a slightly more organic feel to it. Same can be said for “Hold On Poppy” and all the songs here are packed with unbeatable hooks and vocals. Strangely enough this never got a follow up for more then a decade;by 1985 Sister Sledge’s sound had been eclipsed by modern day female singers,some of whom were Prince proteges so the Sledge’s were starting to be seen as a bit over the hill. So again I am glad Wounded Bird reissued this and allowed this album to be enjoyed by a new generation who’ve been separate from it long enough to appreciate it’s charms.


Its amazing when running down Sister Sledge’s first run of recording just how much breadth and scope their albums covered. It ran the gamut from Philly soul,funk and disco in the mid to late 70’s to the ever evolving post disco,boogie and electro sounds of the early to mid 1980’s. As with any artists,there were peaks and valleys throughout this time. All the same,felt Sister Sledge don’t always get their due for their longevity and relative consistency in their first decade. For sure that period invited it. Still,it couldn’t work without talented people. And wish to thank the Sledge’s for the contributions to that era.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Sister Sledge

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Glad To Be Here” by Bernard Edwards

Bernard Edwards was a bassist who truly left his musical footprint in time. Even long before his best known audio footprint came along with Chic’s 1979 jam “Good Times”. This essentially showcased the exact transition from disco to hip-hop-by ‘Nard’s iconic bass line also being the basis for Sugarhill Gangs equally iconic “Rappers Delight”. Edwards style was based is economy with style,especially on his bass lines/solos on Chic hits such as “Dance,Dance,Dance”,”Everybody Dance” and of course “Good Times”. This was a major aspect in how Chic innovated their disco style through some heavy funkiness.

Some years ago,I became familiar with the first two solo albums by Chic guitarist/ songwriter /producer Nile Rodgers. I only found out that Bernard Edwards recorded a solo album in 1983 (around the time Chic ended its original run of albums)  following his death 20 years ago now of pneumonia. It was entitled Glad To Be Here. It was reissued on CD roughly around the time as they reissued Chic’s early 80’s catalog. Only recently have I began to explore the songs from by listening to them via YouTube. The tune that really epitomized the album was the closing title song.

A heavy drum kick opens the song before the Vocorder  comes in to introduce a melody. That’s when the main body of the song comes in. This consists of a tight,dripping higher pitched rhythm guitar. Edwards bass accompanies this sometimes to the letter,other times with stick slapping lines. This is accompanied by  quavering bursts of synth brass. Edwards raps seem to count down to the next section of the song. There are two instrumental bridges. One is built around a thumping synth bass solo. The other is a stiff,hiccuping higher pitched synthesizer that begins the refrain that fades out the song.

It comes as now surprise to me that,for all intents and purposes,this is still a complete Chic song. Tony Thompson provides the drums,Bernard Edwards is carrying on the bass while the guitar is from Nile Rodgers himself. The only thing it does is strip out the strings and lead/backup female vocals. So this represents Chic in its core rhythm section. And it becomes clear how funkified that sound is. This is heavy,naked electro funk. Basically what Chic might’ve sounded like going through the Minneapolis funk filter of the day. And it showcases how vital Edwards’ sound was as a part of Chic. Even on his solo material.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1980's, Bernard Edwards, Chic, drums, electro funk, Funk Bass, naked funk, Nile Rodgers, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Tony Thompson, vocoder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “It’s All In Your Hands” by Nile Rodgers

Nile Rodgers remains one of my musical heroes to this very day. He’s survived the anti disco backlash his band Chic received,drug addiction and most recently a cancer scare. He’s also done so with gusto,a confident smile and strut,and plenty of new musical activity. Among them (so I hear) working with Janelle Monae on her upcoming album. His rhythm guitar style became one of the most identifiable and influential of the final quarter of the 20th century. That guitar style also shaped his second career as a producer for some of the 80’s biggest  acts such as Duran Duran,Inxs and Madonna.

On another level,he actually had a third musical career. And its one that didn’t earn him quite the accolades that he had with Chic or as a producer. That was,irony aside,his own solo career. It all occurred when Chic petered out following their final album  Believer. That same year Rodgers embarked on his solo career-presenting himself primarily as a multi instrumentalist/writer/producer/singer. This first solo album was a wonderfully conceptualized package called Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove. One song that stands out strongly for me is called “It’s All In Your Hands”.

A brittle yet rolling drum machine beat starts out the song unaccompanied-sounding very in keeping with early 80’s hip-hop spareness. After 10 seconds of this,a lead melodic synthesized piano comes in-along with a brittle synth bass line. Rodgers brings in a smooth,reverbed rhythm guitar repeating a rather jazzy melodic theme over this. This acts as the primary body of the entire song. The sexual surrender expressed in the lyrics also remain on the one throughout. The bridge of the song emphasizes Rodgers’ rhythm guitar riffing before that ongoing chorus fades out the song.

Listening to this song outside the context of the wonderfully grooving album its from,it becomes clear how many bridges this song actually crosses. It has the hard break beats and stripped down ethic of period hip-hop-along with the rhythmic instrumental exchanges of funk. Not to mention some of the smoother production values of new wave pop/rock of the mid 80’s. This song represented the transition between Chic’s funky,often jazzy type of disco to the rock friendly dance productions of Nile Rodgers career of the 80’s. And is a superb example of his solo sound.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1980's, Chic, dance funk, drum breaks, drum machine, hip-hop funk, Nile Rodgers, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synthesizers

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/17/2015: “I’ll Be There” by Chic featuring Nile Rodgers

The contributions to every sub-genre of instrumental oriented funky dance music owes a great debt of gratitude to Nile Rodgers and the Chic Organization. Ever since his major commercial comeback in 2013 with creatively promising most millennial nu funk/disco icons Daft Punk Pharrell Williams on “Get Lucky”. Back in the game of hit production work with new artists such as Tensnake and Sam Smith? Nile began fine tuning some discarded tapes recorded originally for Sister Sledge and featuring the late bassist Bernard Edwards and singer Luther Vandross on vocals, and re-introduced his much anticipated comeback with Chic on a new groove entitled “I’ll Be There”.

It begins with the rolling percussion of Ralph Rolle,with Jerry Barnes bass weaving itself into the mix for a colorful rhythmic tapestry. ‘Nard himself then chimes in on his iconic mid toned rhythm guitar for his always danceable,rhythmic and chunky groove along with melodic (and sometimes spacey) accenting horns.-having Barnes take over on bass as the lead instrument on the vocal refrains. Just before the bridge of the song,the music again reduces down to the bass and percussion sound before even the bass strips out-leaving nothing but the fast paced Afro-Latin percussion before the song fads out on Nile’s chorus.

First thing that I can say about this Chic groove is that it has the complete flavor of a Chic song from their late 70’s,early 80’s heyday. The emphasis is again on the rhythm instruments such as bass,guitar and percussion. These are the elements that made Nile and Chic some of the funkiest musicians of the disco era. As well as being the core element of the post “Rapper’s Delight” take on commercially viable hip-hop that used live musicians as opposed to samples. The music video featuring a then and now look at a fashion conscious lady enjoying old Soul Train episodes,and spinning Chic vinyl records while the current band perform in a contemporary club perfectly captures their modern/retro disco vibe.

Wanted to close off with a little personal story time about myself and Chic. My own adolescence in the mid/late 90’s seemed to represent a gradual change in the music world’s attitude towards disco. It started out with a very virulent hatred in the “disco sucks” mold of the early 80’s freeze out of the music. Yet it ended with huge popular rappers such as Biggie Smalls and even Will Smith sampling disco/post disco era songs with total pride. Not to mention the importance of those songs complete embrace by the public in a positive light. This reminds me of my favorite lyric in this song which says “I don’t want to live in the past,but it’s a nice place to visit”. The disco era at it’s most musically vital represented a full channeling of Afro-Latin world music,big band jazz and the long form rhythms of funk. And it’s wonderful to hear that Chic and Nile Rodgers are still able to pull it all together so wonderfully!

Leave a comment

Filed under 2015, Bernard Edwards, Chic, Daft Punk, Disco, Funk, Funk Bass, Get Lucky, Jerry Barnes, Luther Vandross, Nile Rodgers, nu disco, Pharrell Willaims, Ralpe Rolle, Sam Smith, Sister Sledge, Tensnake

Anatomy of THE Groove 03/27/15 Rique’s Pick : “Out Come the Freaks” by Was (Not Was)

It’s been fairly well documented how the Kingdoms of Funk and Disco splintered off into many different factions around 1980 or so. In truth, there were always several different approaches to both genre’s, mainly tied to region. One of the great ironies of the early ’80s era is that even after the terms “Disco” and to a lesser but signifigant degree, “Funk”, fell out of favor in the marketing and description of music, the Funk itself survived in many different guises. Early ’80s genre’s such as Post Punk, Dance Punk, New Wave, Electro, Boogie and Post Disco all kept people on the dance floors as well as the sound systems rocking. One of the primary influence’s it seemed, for anybody touching Funk in the early ’80s, was the sleek, sophisticated funky sound introduced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic. “Out Come the Freaks” by the Detroit band Was (Not Was), is a excellent stomping example of this early ’80s Funk groove. Was (Not Was) led by Motor city friends Dave and Don Was, was a very diverse ’80s group that always included the funk very prominently in it’s mix. “Out Come the Freaks” is a tight, slick funky song with a dance floor seducing beat and much more lyrical depth than most songs of it’s era.

The song begins with accapella choral vocals repeating the songs hook and chorus, “Woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks.” After several repetitions of the title, a synthesizer makes a deep resonant tone that revs up the groove. The groove that’s introduced is uptempo and dancefloor based in the tradition of Chic, with a tight bass groove that was the first thing that caught my attention. The song also features funky rhythm guitars scratching in the back in fine Chic style. The combination of solid up front bass and rhythm guitar gives the song it’s sophistifunkated Chic feeling. When the groove kicks in a prototypical early ’80s rap does as well. The rap features a smooth conversational voice with a nice rhythmic syncopation, that could almost be jazz poetry like Oscar Brown Jr, but is a little bit more rhytmically aggressive. The rap carries the idea of the song, starting off in a manner that would influence Whodini’s classic, ‘The Freaks Come Out at Night”, “When the sun comes down/they hit the streets/in the bars/the try to meet/some other stranger/to ease the pain/of living alone/till it drives them insane.” They go on to paint cautionary tales of singles playing the dating game, again highlighting the underlying danger that accompanies the night life. They paint an early ’80s landscape that features young men suffering from Vietnam War PTSD and women out chasing rich men “even if they have no hair (don’t worry she’ll get him a toupe). This slice of life lyrical imagery and lyricism is paired to very funky, well produced, clean music, with nice touches like a saxophone riffing during the dance breaks.

“Out Come the Freaks” became a recurring motif Was (Not Was) would use to illuminate the absurdity of people in their life times, with the group recording three versions spanning 1981 to 1988. Every time they do it they add new lyrics and new sad yet realistic characters around the idea of “woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks.” Don Was, the bass player and co founder of the group, has moved on to being a seminally important producer, producing quality albums and songs for many artists who generally carry that high honor of being considered “legends” in the music industry. But 1981’s “Out Come the Freaks” shows that even by the early ’80s, the Funky beat was still considered a conduit for both moving people physically and describing the times in which we live in. And the image of “The Freak”, popular in disco and funk, from social dances to songs like Chic’s “Le Freak” and Funkadelic’s “Freak of the Week”, would go on to become one of the defining subject matters of ’80s urban music, from “I Need a Freak”, to Whodini’s aforementioned “The Freaks Come out at Night.” In the hands of Was (Not Was) “The Freak” was not just a supreme lover, but also, a representative of our troubled times.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Anatomy Of The Groove For 2/20/2015-Andre’s Pick: “African Eyes” by Sister Sledge

Philadelphia’s original sisters of soul Kathy,Debbie,Joni and Kim Sledge took their beautiful traded vocal leads and harmonies into the public consciousness in 1975. Five years and two albums later they began a hugely successful period with Nile Rodgers’ Chic organization-churning out songs that,among many excellent ones,include the anthem “We Are Family”. After 1985 the group had an eight year hiatus from recording  to emerge as a trio,produced by the British acid jazz outfit Incognito, while Kathy pursued a solo career.

Another seven years later the group re-emerged,again as a trio, with a brand new album called African Eyes. It was independently released,self produced,self written and the only reason I ever heard about it was because of my mother. She very much enjoyed hearing new music at the now defunct Borders Books & Music listening stations during the late 1990’s. This particular album seemed to not only surprise but very much excite her,which I know from experience is somewhat rare in this case. When I heard the title song for this album later that day? I completely understood her enthusiasm for it. And thanks to my friend from Kiev, Ukraine Andrew Osterov? I can now present this song to you.

The song begins with a pounding drum call before one of the sisters shouts out a declarative dialog in what sounds like Portuguese or Spanish. After this the percussive drum parts,speeding up and slowing down with each vocal refrain, breaks out into an intense uptempo frenzy accented by first by a steely slap bass pop from Kevin Mauch on the body of the song,and than joined by a jazzy improvised muted trumpet melody courtesy of Jessie Maguire on the choruses. The bridge of the song returns to a much cooler variation of the percussive drumming-juxtaposing the sounds of children playing with a full solo from that muted trumpet and an African flute before returning to the chorus as the song fades to a close.

Never before or since I heard or even conceived of the Sledge sisters as creating music that was so instrumentally and thematically Afrocentric. The song musically embraces the strong ethnic identification inherent in the original 70’s funk era-with it’s percussive rhythms and jazz oriented horn voicings. Even the solos and harmonies of the Sledge’s vocals have a totally rhythmic freedom in their projection. Lyrically the song boldly encourages young black American’s to see the beauty in their African roots-even declaring “civilization started near the Euphrates,when Adam and Eve started creating babies with those eyes”. Even evoking the chorus of their hit “We Are Family” with a new cultural context on the bridge of the song. To me this is the epitome of Sister Sledges musical journey. And impressed the music world so much that the African Eyes album was nominated for a best produced CD Grammy. The result is a high water mark for them in terms of funky cultural identity.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1990s, Africa, Afrocentrism, Debbie Sledge, Funk, Incognito, Jazz, Joni Sledge, Kathy Sledge, Kim Sledge, Nile Rodgers, percussion, Sister Sledge, slap bass, trumpet

Andre’s Amazon Archives for March 22nd,2014-Pharrell Williams ‘GIRL’

Pharrell  Pharrell Williams is one of a scant few who’ve emerged,both on his own and as one half of the Neptunes,that has been striving for musical eloquence in his approach to soul/funk. And as much as I admire the uniquely vital musicality of the artists I’m about to mention,for Pharrell finding that sound for himself has been largely dipping into the often under explored well of the post James Brown/pre-Prince funk era-which would encompass approximately 1977-1980. When I first heard his music with NERD,it deep seem that one challenge Pharrell might be facing in the long run was a tendency to be too self consciously eclectic in terms of his musical approach. If rhythmic and instrumental diversity flow through you organically,that’s fine. However if one is just doing it to fit in or be critically credible,it can eat up ones creativity from within. I am still not sure in Pharrell’s case here where he came from in that regard. What I do know is that last year his productions for Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience,Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and of course the Grammy winning Daft Punk album Random Access Memories demonstrated that Pharrell was strongly re-introducing pre hip-hop era funk aesthetics back into the modern soul/R&B framework. So when I learned just under a week ago he was releasing his first solo album in many years,I was very excited to hear how this funky revelation as a producer would effect his own music.

“Marilyn Monroe” begins the album with a very insistent bass/guitar oriented dance funk groove that’s bought further to life by some sumptuously soulful string arrangements. “Brand New”,featuring Justin Timberlake’s showcases the similarity in Timberlake’s and Pharrell’s approach to a groove: again in this case a very thick African inspired percussion part with a lot of breaks and slippery,catchy melodies,and of course some wonderfully bright and fan-faring horns. “Hunter” is one of my very favorite pieces on this album. It has a very thick and metallic bass line and a very steady percussive flavor which recalls some of the deepest and most authentically funk oriented songs one could ever imagine. “Gush” and “Gust Of Wind”,featuring Daft Punk on vocorder, showcase how perfectly comfortable Pharrell is in the milieu of that late 70’s disco era funk sound-when the genre’s uptempo music was retreating from the “4 on the floor” stereotype into the more streamlined and sleeker productions and instrumentation. The sounds of Chic and even the somewhat lesser known funk band Slave are all over these songs from top to bottom-along with Pharrell’s strong adhesion to staying eternally on the one. “Happy”,the big soundtrack hit from this album is a lively uptempo soul number strongly recalling the mid 60’s uptempo soul vibe of Arthur Conley and such-especially with it’s clever outlook on human emotion with it’s chorus of “Clap your hands if you feel like happiness is the truth”. “Lost Queen” goes for melding a modern hip-hop arrangement with a South African folk styled focus and percussion arrangement. Personally? I don’t really feel the meld takes on this particular musical fusion.

“Know Who You Are” is a strongly crafted and instrumentally thick soul/funk/pop number featuring a duet with Alicia Keys. Keys,not known much these days for doing live instrumental uptempo tunes,shines like a glistening crystal on this song. The last number “It Girl” features a somewhat cooler approach to the same sound,and a jazzier one at that with an instrumental electric piano section closing out the final minute or so from the song. This album completely succeeds on almost every level instrumentally. By focusing on studio production of live instrumentation,Pharrell has actually broadened his musical horizons as a solo artist quite significantly. And his non stop focus on funk,percussive rhythms and new ways of re inventing melody on this album fully explores his true musical heart. As wonderfully colorful as the funk on this album is? It is by no means a near perfect masterpiece. Sometimes,if you can imagine it Pharrell stays on the one a bit too much on some songs. This gives the effect of being more like a digitized skipping record than a fluid live band (even though that is present here quite a bit) now and then. And though he does approach the subject eloquently on many occasions,Pharrell’s constant skirt chasing here also drags on which,in the case of me being a very commitment minded homosexual is sometimes downright lyrically un-relatable. But even if one is emphasizing this albums flaws,its definitely a step in the right direction if we’re talking about funk functioning in the contemporary musical idiom. And definitely another feather in Pharrell’s musical cap and for a second time in his career,doing it with himself as the star of the show.

Originally Posted On March 4th,2014

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, Africa, Amazon.com, Funk, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Soul