Tag Archives: classical music

Chicago III: Singing A Mean Tune On The Lowdown

Chicago were coming into a very interesting place in American culture in 1971. They had released two successful double albums-the latter actually being so much so that it bolstered up for the success of the debut. Yet it was an uncomfortable time for America itself. The Vietnam conflict raged on. And the youth culture of the 60’s were growing into adults right between the shootings at Kent State and the Watergate scandal. For their part, Chicago were themselves weary of a 1970 spent of near non stop touring. This resulted in an album of a different kind that I wrote an Amazon.com review for in 2009.


Three years into their stellar career after the huge success of their first two albums Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago II  Chicago apparently decided that they didn’t want to be too commercial.So they decided after having three smash hit singles already they wanted to cut something they wanted to.Pretty typical story from the early 70’s right? Well maybe but there is always twists.In this case Chicago already had a commercial sound to begin with so,if an arty album is what there was going for there would still be memorable aspects.

Basically this is an album divided into suits:there are 3 of them where all the songs run together.At the same time,for the purpose of CD presentation they are separated out into 23 separate cuts. All of these song,regardless of how they are presented with a very “live in the studio” flavor;it’s almost as if Chicago just all got behind the microphone and played,with little extra stuff added. That being so it says a lot for this band’s talents because this is some of the most vital, energetic and creative music Chicago created during…well a period of heavy creativity for them.

Fact is only the first four songs stand alone. “Sing A Mean Tune Kid” has a perfect Sly Stone riff and is one of Chicago’s funkiest jams;it runs on awhile and ends up in a Terry Kath solo but it’s great regardless.The “suite” that Terry does on the album is one of the best here-he called it “An Hour In The Shower”.Terry was always represented the gruffer voiced, rockier aspect of Chicago’s sound and the five tunes he presents,in very ragged glory are consistent and hang very well together. Robert Lamm’s “travel suite” is more musically erratic but includes some excellent tunes.

There’s the jazzy funk jam “Free” is short but the closest thing this album had to a hit.”Mother” is another nice R&B rocker with some rich sonic power while the folksy charm of “Flight 602” and the light pop balladry of “Happy ‘Cause I’m Going Home” are also okay but not fantastic.The final suite,called “elegy” is the most impressive;the album cover features the familiar Chicago logo sewn into a very faded and weather damaged American flag. And the spoken word poem “When All The Laughter Dies In Sorry”,as morbid as it is make it clear the early 70’s was filled with seemingly un-resolvable issues.

One tune that makes the same point even more clearly is “Progress?”,an instrumental starting with gentle horns which get “progressively” louder and more chaotic,to the point of playing along with the inner city sound of drills and car horns:it takes a very impressionistic and implicit “united funk” era message song flavor. On “The Approaching Storm” and “Man Vs Man:The End” we’re treated to two very intense horn based jams that are equally chaotic.

Upon a brief inspection this album follows the same basic conceptual formula as the first two Chicago recordings but at the same time the rough n’ funky sound of the production as well as the virtual lack of singles potential make this a definite AOR delight.The bands flutist Walter Parazaider said of in the liner notes to this album that Chicago never made “cookie cutter” music.Lucky for them Chicago were able to reach out to their audience with their journey of musical creativity rather then alienate them with a lot of self indulgent tricks.

That’s why it’s important to acknowledge the presence of funk in their music;funk,and jazz by degrees are music’s that are able to be ambitious AND reach out and touch the human heart and pulse in different ways. The fact that Chicago were able to integrate both genre’s so successfully into their sound is a testament to how they truly understood what they were doing.


Seeing that post 60’s America begin to unfold before Chicago, both in their travels and through audience observation perhaps, is a key element to understanding what Chicago III is as an album. Even as a writer, have to acknowledge that I didn’t understand how Chicago’s sound was changing so organically. This particular album was not Chicago’s most popular one. And its somber thematic content might’ve contributed to that situation. It still showcased a band, straight out of the 60’s musical ethic of expanding public musical taste-shaping songs that set out to get people thinking about their world.

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Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Eminence Front” by The Who

Pete Townshend is best known as the lead guitarist of The Who-one of the most long lived 60’s rock bands next to The Rolling Stones.  Townshend is often regarded for his onstage theatrics. He is also a talented multi instrumentalist. And an early proponent of synthesizers in early 70’s rock. The best example of this is the bands 1971 hit “Baba O’Reiley”,which was built around a European classic style melody played on the ARP 2600 synthesizer. After a very successful 60’s and 70’s, Townshend and the bands lead singer Roger Daltrey began to pursue solo careers at the start of the 1980’s.

Still The Who weren’t over quite yet. This came to my knowledge with a question I never got answered until learning about it online a few years back. From the mid 90’s onward,I’d often hear this song with an intro that had a terrific groove to it. Sounded like a prog/fusion style song,but it was during an era when classic rock radio didn’t often announce the names of artists for those not in the know. It wasn’t until hearing the song in a TV commercial that I was able to research it online through that stated what the song was. It was a song from The Who’s 1982 album Its Hard entitled “Eminence Front”.

A percussive drum box opens the song as a solo sound. The main groove of the song gradually builds in during the into. First it brings in a highly digitized,arpeggiated synthesizer. This is followed by a lower synth riff, as well as a jazzy Fender Rhodes solo floating over the higher notes. The main groove of the song adds a slow crawling drum groove,Townshend’s bluesy guitar. The chorus of the song brings John Entwistle’s thumping,fuzz toned bass in-along with a guitar build up on the outro of it. The Rhodes drives everything in the groove until the song finally fades itself out.

“Eminence Front”,written and sung by Townshend, deals lyrically deals with how the drug end of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle holds back creativity. And I can respect that alternate side of the coin. What really gets me is everything from the instrumentation to the vocal choruses of this song have a special musical interconnection. The song has the theatrical melodies of progressive rock opera (which The Who helped pioneer),but also a thick groove and harmony vocals of hardcore funk. It brings to mind the way the Stones embraced funk in their rock music: based on funk and soul’s current incarnations.

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‘1999’: 34 Years Of Dance,Music,Sex,Romance

1999

1999 is celebrating its 34th anniversary today. Its understood as the album that really helped Prince cross his music over to a more pop oriented audience. A lot has been said about the album. Such as how the album was musically almost entirely the work of Prince himself. Also,how it helped establish the clearest headed example of the electronic based Minneapolis sound that he was pioneering at that time. Not to mention that it came right along with his first proteges in Vanity and (most importantly) The Time. Now I’m really realizing just how important this album was in terms of Prince’s entire musical history.

Prince debuted in the late 1970’s,fresh out of his teens as a disco era version of Stevie Wonder: a youthful funk wunderkind. As Henrique and myself were discussing at the time of writing this,he was first coming out when so much was happening around him. Stevie Wonder’s  Songs In The Key Of Life  still churned out hits,P-Funk were dropping “Flashlight” and “One Nation Under A Groove” while Dayton,Ohio’s Slave was hitting with an R&B #1 smash in their song “Slide”. And than came Prince,a young musical genius who played all the instruments and produced his own music so expertly.

When the post disco radio freeze out occurred in the early 80’s,the enormous level of pioneering and trailblazing by funk and disco artists disappeared overnight. On the other hand,it remained very present overseas in the UK with some rock and electronic elements added. This sound became known as new romantic/new wave/synth pop movement. In the very beginning of the 80’s,most black artists were integrating electronics into what was still a standard funk/soul rhythmic framework. By 1982,Prince suddenly became his own innovator as really the only black American new wave/synth rock oriented artist.

The 1999 album is endowed with some amazing funk such as the title song,the instrumentally organic “Lady Cab Driver” and the driving “DMSR”. In fact,the idea of the album being a double LP set with full,elongated mixes made it an idea format for his Minneapolis funk. At the same time,it was songs like the albums other major hit “Little Red Corvette” along with “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”,”Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” and “Automatic” showcase Prince as doing for the synth pop/new wave sound what Little Richard  and Ray Charles did for rock ‘n roll  and soul in the 50’s.

Prince infused his rockiest music,even the rockabilly hit of “Delirious” with tons of gospel influences and attitude. And brought those same elements into his ballads on here “Free” and “International Lover”. This also began the period when Prince was concentrating heavily on developing his single B-sides as musical works of art all their own. Songs such as “Irresistible Bitch” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” (covered famously by both Stephanie Mills and later Alicia Keys) represent the first time other artist realized even a Prince flip side was ripe for another artist to be really successful with them.

As of this writing,Prince enthusiasts await the official release of “Moonbeam Levels”,a well known outtake from this era. So interest in 1999 era Prince is still growing. For me,its an album that represents his finest mix of funk and rock music in terms of an album. The extended lengths gave the grooves room for a lot of expansion. For the heavy funkateer, 1999 is far more funk endowed than its blockbuster followup Purple Rain. On a personal note,it was my aunts favorite Prince album too. In many ways,1999 might be the most defining moment of Prince’s Minneapolis sound.

 

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Filed under 1980's, 1999, classic albums, electro funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, Prince, Synth Pop

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/4/14-First Month Anniversary Edition! Andre’s Pick: “Boy Racers” by Metronomy

                            I’d like to begin this by personally thanking everyone who has supported Henrique and myself by reading Anatomy of THE Groove during its initial month. This weekly segment was born of Henrique’s concept and inspiration. And at least on my end, it really helped this new collaborative blog from being all dressed up with nowhere to go. He has bought his wealth of musical experiences from Oakland,the second city of the funk to his song reviews in this particular column. And I have added the outsider-looking-in perspective that hopefully makes for a broad perspective. Please enjoy this weeks edition of this. And I strongly encourage you recruit friends and members of your family to read these. Or anyone else in your district. Support Andresmusictalk and its Anatomy of THE Groove column. Not with your money, but with your eyes and ears. Thank you!

It was my cousin Pip Hall,a fairly recent addition to my extended family, who introduced me to the musical joys of Metronomy. Hailing from Tontes,Devon,England this band has continued to pioneer a stripped down approach to new wave style electronica that,while maintaining a strong dance and pop music ethic has also proven expansive enough to incorporate elements of psychedelia and European classic music as well. Being able to maintain such eclecticism within the confines of such a stripped down sound is no simple task,and is a testement to the talents within this band that they pull it off so well. Operating under the genre of electronica with multi instrumentals Joseph Mount,Oscar Cash,Anna Prior and the Nigerian born bassist/vocalist Olugbenga Adelekan,their most recent album Love Letters contains a short instrumental that caught my ear in particular entitled “Boy Racers”.

Starting off with Anna Prior’s high hat heavy funky drumming,the main instrumental theme of the songs starts up in earnest-a bass synthesizer line playing a deceptively simple melodic line throughout the song with Adelekan’s electric bass popping right along with it in perfect unison so it sounds. This melody manages has a strong groove to the nature of the playing,yet at the same time has a classical flavor about it at the same time. There is a refrain to the song that repeats itself once. Its the same bass synthesizer riff scaling upward with a strong popping sound effect and a bouncing ball high synthesizer line that is somewhat of a cross between David Bowie’s “Ashes To Ashes” and Hot Butter’s “Popcorn”. All of this fades out as the song draws to a close-not ubruptly but in an extended instrumental cool down where Prior’s drumming which started the song concludes it in the same manner.

One of the things that came to mind instantly about this song was how strongly it was connected to the fact that,in the UK disco-dance culture received little to no backlash in the early 1980’s and evolved into new wave,house and the electronica genre. And it is that last mentioned one which acts as something of a banner genre to a lot of music that is actually new wave,house and synthesized boogie funk. That comes out in this song because,rhythmically it comes directly from the post disco dance music genre. Yet at the same time the musical sound of it and the melody itself intersect the lines that many have drawn between minimalist EDM,low fi indie pop and rhythmic funk/soul music. And that mixture also brings out it’s new wave aspect-of course a genre heavily based in disco/funk itself. So this song grooves down to the bare bones by its near endless variations on musical hybridizing.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Disco, Electronica, Metronomy, Music, New Wave, Psychedelia, UK