One thing I’ll say for Aretha Franklin in the late 60’s: she managed to record almost constantly and churn out one classic after another. Didn’t matter if it was an original or an interpretation. Everything felt so soulfully brand new with her then. Hard to talk about Aretha without mentioning soul all the time. She surely didn’t invent the genre. Nor was she the only soul artist of her day making a gigantic musical statement. . But her identity could be felt a mile away. And with her key year of 1967 having come to an end? 1968 arrived with the lady not losing a single step in her stride.
“Chain Of Fools” starts out the album in all it’s bassy, bluesy gospel/soul glory. She throws in the stomping uptempo gospel soul for a version of James Brown’s “Money Won’t Change You”. Not to mention her version of PJ Proby’s “Niki Hoeky”, the horn based funkiness of “Since You’ve Been Gone “Sweet Sweet Baby” and the rave up of Ray Charles “Come Back Baby”-all Southern fried uptempo funky soul of the highest degree. Of course you have her iconic take of Carole Kings “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”-that rich string drenched,Sweet Inspirations honeyed vocal gospel/soul ballad treasure.
Good To Me As I Am To You” goes down into the belly of the blues while ‘Ree pumps out every last drop of the gospel soul from the Rascals “Groovin'” before taking on her sisters Carolyn’s souring soul ballad “Ain’t No Way”. Listening to this reminds me of the very strange way I actually got into Aretha’s music: it was very lopsided. It started in 1985-86. And thinking at the time she was a new artist. Of course, it was a year or so that I discovered oldies radio and there was “Respect”, “Chain Of Fools” and “Think”. Same goes for James Brown.
It was more recently that I realized albums like this were also the start of three very important factors in the soul genre. There was the move from balladry to melodic, horn driven uptempo numbers. There was also the idea of crafting albums in mind of being something you’d want to listen to all the way through. Rather than skip to popular radio hits. Not to mention the thematic assertions this made for female artists in general. So as with most of Aretha’s late 60’s Atlantic albums? This was a big time game changer that’s still a delight to look back on.
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.
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 6 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.
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.