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‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’- Sly Stone And Another Kind Of Family Affair!

Sly & The Family Stone made key contributions to the overall musical landscape of the late 1960’s. And those contributions are still somewhat under explored in professional literary terms. Sly Stone himself took the funk of James Brown, then blended in a helping of Bay Area California psychedelic pop/rock. The results were enduring hits such as “Dance To The Music”, “Stand”, “I Wanna Take You Higher” and the full on funk breakthrough “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf”. It was a racially and sexually integrated group too-with female instrumentalists and black and white members.

The Family Stone WERE the musical face of the American social revolutions of that late 60’s period. As the 70’s came in, the band and their times remained deeply connected to one another. Sly’s drug use, and resulting isolationism, impaired the bands ability to perform with him. In America at large, the all inclusive mass social protests of the late 60’s were giving way to a form of activism known by some as the “single issue cause”. Women, LGBT people and the black community were now each demanding to have their own voices heard as individual groups.

By the early 70’s some notions of sharing, peace and love became diminished as these individual groups fought for their own recognition. The same occurred within The Family Stone. As often happens with heavy drug users, Sly’s focus became more focused on his creativity. So for his 1971, originally titled Africa Talks To You, Sly utilized the talents of himself along with the late Ike Turner, Bobby Womack and Billy Preston more than the members of his band.  This sense of isolation and disconnect from the world around Sly changed his creative focus for the late 1971 release of There’s A Riot Goin’ On.

“Luv ‘N Haight” starts out the album with a rumbling, motor like drum which is powered by heavy wah wah guitar/bass interaction. Its deeply funky groove wise. But the chorus scales up and down in the manner of classic Family Stone. “Just Like A Baby” is a slow, bluesy shuffle. Its melody is Clavinet based-played in its higher registers. That gets a bit lower with the economic bass and…what I’d guess would by Womack’s soulful guitar accents. Sly’s strained voice, also with a high pitched tone, flows in and out as an almost ghostly presence.

“Poet”s stop/start rhythm utilizes the Maestro Rhythm King 2 drum machine-along with layers of call and response Clavinet/bass/guitar interaction. “Africa Talks To You “The Asphalt Jungle”” takes on a very similar flavor-with Womack’s guitar again being a key melodic element-with some pulsing Moog bass assisting the live on towards the end. “Family Affair” again features the MRK2 drums playing a more steady rhythm-with the wah wah and Rose Stone singing the hook to Sly’s low,drunken sounding delivery along with a melodic electric piano counterpoint.

“Brave & Strong” uses both the MK2 drums and live ones-depending on how advanced the rhythms are. Cynthia and Jerry’s horns play their classic counterpoint to the bass/ guitar/ Clavinet interaction remaining at the center of the song. “(You Caught Me) Smiling” begins with a live drum/electric piano/Clavinet led pop/jazz type melodic statement before the slap bass and horn rises play the bluesy funk based vibe of the rest of the song-balancing the songs hesitant conceptual mood with separate musical statements. And it says a lot that the “title track” is merely a silent second of audio.

“Time” has a deeply slowed MK2 allows for Sly’s bluesy/soul jazz inspired organ and Clavinet melodies to accompany to fill in the vastly empty spaces of rhythm within the song-all along with his own vocals. The drum machine on “Spaced Cowboy” has a bossa style rhythm , while the live drum rocks right along to a wah wah/Clavinet based sound. Essentially, its a satire of blues tinged country/bluegrass type of song.  “Runnin’ Away”s chorus has a steady drum, bass and organ sound to it. The refrain has the drums and bass get more rhythmically complicated-with the horns and guitar providing the melody.

“Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa” operates as a slowed down remake of “Thank You Falettine Me Be Mice Elf”-recorded for but not released on this album, with the bass, guitar and organ playing over the empty sections of the drum’s rhythm. That approach to Sly’s major funk innovation of the previous year showcases how, even there, his thematic focus was growing more paranoid. Especially as throughout this album, there are constant lyrical references to “feeling so good inside myself”, “frightened faces on the wall” and even declaring that “the brave and strong survive”.

There’s A Riot Goin’ On musically established Sly’s 70’s era sound. Its a spare one that’s based heavily in the organ styled MRK2 drum machine he was using-along with the bursts of different electric pianos with the bass/guitar interaction. Only on two occasions (in the albums hit songs “Family Affair” and “Runnin’ Away”) did the more brightly melodic singalong style of late 60’s Sly & The Family Stone shine through strongly. Otherwise, the album (both musically and lyrically) emphasizes that connection between both Sly and politicized Americans as turning inward as the 70’s began.

Riot isn’t a Sly album that I personally take out and listen to very often. While musically its very innovative in terms of how the funk genre was progressing? The album’s psychedelic element lacks a sense of musical form and structure that functions so well for Sly Stone-both before and after this album. Yet as an aural psychedelic funk work of art, There’s A Riot Goin’ On might be its own self contained 45 minute musical sub genre. The fact that its an album that exists in its own musical world goes right with its reflection of Sly’s shift from talking to the people to talking more as an individualist.


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Anatomy of THE Groove: “White Boys And Heroes” by Gary Numan

Gary Anthony James Webb was born into a working class family in the Hammersmith area of West London. Interestingly enough, his bus driver father brought him his first guitar. And after playing in a number of bands, he became the lead singer/ songwriter/ producer of the pioneering British new wave band Tubeway Army. His biggest success with them was the #1 hit “Are Friends Electric” in 1979. Later that year, his solo career kicked off to a major start with his internationally successful song “Cars”-from his debut solo album Pleasure Principle. These songs both helped kick off the synth pop genre.

Numan’s music began to take on a more orchestral based sound as the 80’s drew in. Albums such as 1981’s Dance even took on elements of jazz into the musical mix. With bands such as Level 42, Duran Duran and Heaven 17 deriving their sound from American funk and disco, Numan looked to the driving rhythm and expert playing of the funk genre as part of his 1982 album I, Assassin. Numan himself felt this change was important for his music-as he saw many synth pop artists at the time being stuck in a rut. And this 1982 album got right off with the funk on the song “White Boys And Heroes”.

A brittle drum machine and a dark, prickly synth bass tone build up into the refrain. This consists of Chris Slade and John Webb’s heavy Afro Cuban drum/percussion interaction. Pino Palladino’s thick, grooving fretless slap bass completes that part of the song. On the chorus, Numan takes off on a chorus with his swelling synth/guitar orchestral parts. With Pallidino’s bass taking off on runs more. After an couple choral/refrain rounds, the bass led refrain of the song becomes an instrumental bridge for the song. And it all ends on an extended chorus featuring “Mike” on sax as the song fades out.

“White Boys And Heroes” explores one of early 80’s new wave/synth pop’s most interesting elements. Part of it was the turn to funkiness-its combinations of brittle beats and synth washes with The Who’s Pino Palladino’s fretless slap bass and percussive groove made it very complimentary to what Talking Heads and Prince were doing at the time. The songs theme-seeming to parody the jingoistic, white male macho image also works with the mechanized rock end of new wave with the Afrocentric funk groove. So Gary Numan hit on a compelling musical and thematic mixture on this song.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Save Your Love (For #1)” by Rene & Angela

Angela Winbush has had an astounding musical journey. Its started in churches in her native St. Louis.  After a time singing to finance architectural studies, she began studying  with gospel legend Richard Smallwood. It was from there to stints with Mtume and Stevie Wonder’s Wonderlove. That proved a training ground for Winbush’s talents at songwriting/composition-as well as producing and arranging. She teamed up with fellow singer/producer Rene Moore, the brother of Rufus’s bassist Bobby Watson. The duo recorded four albums together between 1980 and 1985 before perusing solo careers.

Before the (eventually) legal recriminations that broke the duo up, Rene and Angela also embarked on a career of writing/producing for other female talent. Namely the first four songs on Janet Jackson’s self titled debut album in 1982. The duo’s final album, 1985’s  Street Called Desire is their post popular. And features contributions from Quincy Jones alumni in producer Bruce Swedien and Paulinho Da Costa. As well as Jeff Lorber and the majority of Rufus. The albums opening song is one of my favorites on the album. Its entitled “Save Your Love (For #1)”.

An industrial sounding orchestral synth riser opens up the song-just before its basic groove kicks into heavy gear. That groove is based around a brittle 808 drum machine-with ringing cowbell effects. Not to mention guest star Kurtis Blow rapping the chorus. Along with a 3 note synth bass line and pulsing, razor like synthesizer. This makes up most of both the refrains and choruses of the song-with Winbush and Moore’s vocal exchanges making up for most of the melody.  On that chorus,  Da Costa’s percussion and some gigantic swelling synths take over before the song fades out on an extended chorus.

“Save Your Love (For #1)” is naked funk of the most transitional kind. Its sound anticipates the stripped down, beat based sound of second generation recorded hip-hop. While in terms of the rhythm, it maintains a heavy freestyle funk ethic that’s tonally sharp and cutting. Of the two voices, Winbush delivers the husky soul vocals. While Moore comes at it from the higher pitched, romantic croon. On the musical, vocal and conceptual level, “Save Your Love (For #1)” brings together different approaches to soul and funk that make its very approach fairly unique and special.


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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: “Staying Power” by Queen

Queen have proven to be among the most enduring of the mid to late 70’s rock bands. Their densely layered rock opera based style came into its fullest flower on “Bohemian Rhapsody” from 1975’s A Night At The Opera. Known for their blend of musical professionalism and theatrical stage shows, it was the bands lead singer/songwriter Freddie Mercury who helped to conceptualize Queen’s musical adventure. And it took them through many different musical forms-from opera,rockabilly,hard rock and disco, to maintain their sense of drama. Even after Mercury’s early passing from AIDS in 1991.

In 1980/81, Queen had a huge dance hit with the heavily Chic inspired Another One Bites The Dust. During the early 80’s, Michael Jackson was a close friend of the bands. This likely spurred Mercury onto the possibility of Queen re-fashioning their music into a funkier dance/rock based form. This led to the 1982 release of the album Hot Space. Its regarded by many hardcore rock writers and fans as their worst album. Especially coming right in the middle off the anti disco radio freeze out. For me however, the albums first track instantly got my attention. Its appropriately called “Staying Power”.

A percussive drum machine, Roger Taylor’s live drums and a round, fat sounding synth bass and John Deacon’s rhythm guitar begin the song with Mercury’s grunts and vocal ad libs. On the second part of the intro, horn charts arranged by Arif Mardin play call and response to Mercury’s vocals, Brian May’s guitar and the synth bass. This also represents the B section to the chorus, where Mercury’s sings along with Deacon’s guitar and a whooshing synth riser. After an extended big band horn chart on the bridge,an extended chorus continues until Mercury ends the final horn fanfare with a whispered “gotcha”.

“Staying Power” is a great defining way to begin an 80’s Queen album. Its heavy duty post disco funk-full of big brassy horn charts. Both vocally and musically, its also pretty much Freddie Mercury’s show. He plays many of the instruments on this song-from the drum machine,synth bass to the big windy synth wash.  So the rhythmic and melodic base of the song is his creation. Even if many in Queen’s classic rock style dislike them doing horn based electro funk without any lead guitars, Queen and Mercury’s musical power comes through both instrumentally and melodically on this hefty funk number.





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Swing Out Sister: “Blue Mood” by Swing Out Sister

Swing Out Sister began life as a UK trio in 1985. This consisted of keyboardist Andy Connell, drummer Martin Jackson and lead singer Corinne Drewery. While both Connell and Jackson had been in the bands A Certain Ratio and Magazine prior to this point, Drewery came from the world of glamour-being a fashion designer and model. This likely helped with their suave image. It was a member of another group called 52 Street, Diane Charlemagne. Connell’s association with her label Factory helped get the band signed.  Charlemagne sang on Swing Out Sister’s original demos as well.

The bands debut album Its Better To Travel came out in the spring of 1987. Its jazzy,horn fueled and very catchy debut sing “Breakout” had become a major UK hit in the autumn and early winter of 1986. It happened exactly a year later in the US of course. It was actually only several years ago that I picked up the record on CD. Did so because,while vinyl copies were available to me, the CD contained four bonus tracks. Heard “Breakout” while growing up. And enjoyment of that groove helped me to appreciate another song on the album-their non charting debut single from 1985 called “Blue Mood”.

A theatrical,orchestral crescendo beings the song. Then the popping synth bass line pops in-along with the digital percussion that is soon joined by the electro funk styled drum machine. Bursts of rhythm guitar and MIDI horns leap in and out of the mix on the refrains. For the chorus, the chord changes key to a jazzy,keyboard based melody-coming after a leaner B section of the refrain. There is a bridge of sorts that showcases a frenetic rhythm guitar playing on where the vocal line. An extended chorus closes out the song until it all fades out.

“Blue Mood” combines a number of musical threads of the mid/late 80’s. The base of it comes out of the post disco, techno based club music.  Rhythmically however, the song is structured more like an Afro-Latin jazz funk number. Tons big,bouncy percussion and freestyle drums. Accordingly, the melody is strongly based in jazz as well. It goes right in with the jazzier end of the post disco UK club scene-not dissimilar to the work of Basia/Matt Bianco in that regard. Its the emphasis on groove,from both the groove and the singer, that make this song do distinctive for Swing Out Sister.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Me See Your ID” by Artists Against Apartheid featuring Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel, Duke Bootee and Gil Scott-Heron

Kurtis Blow, starting life in 1959 Harlem as Kurtis Walker, graduating from becoming a student of communications and ministry to becoming the first major hip-hop MC to have a substantial hit with 1980’s disco based rap classic “The Breaks”. He had a string of hits in from the early to late 1980’s. By 1994, he’d become an ordained minister. He was also noted as an early example of hip-hop interpreting itself when Nas made a cover version of Blow’s “If I Ruled The World” in 1996. It was Blow’s strong pro black stance against racism that led him into perhaps the most socially significant projects of his career.

In 1985, E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt put together an album project called Artists Against Apartheid, which featured over 50 musicians,singers and rappers in protest against the oppressively racist South African government. Artists such as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and percussionist Ray Buretto signed on. Along with rappers Grandmaster Melle Mel, Kurtis Blow,Duke Bootee,the late Nigerian musician Sonny Okosun and also late iconic jazz/funk poet/singer Gil-Scott Heron got together for a massively topical collaboration from this album “Let Me See Your ID”.

The percussive drum machines and turntabling of the late Jam Master Jay begin this song-with Melle Mell and Blow’s rapping before Miles’s impressionist trumpet textures plays over Gil Scott Heron’s poetic sections of the song. By this point in the song, Miles’ bassist of the time Doug Wimbish throws down some heavy duty funk slap bass. During the bridge of the song, Sonny Okosun sings his own lyrics while the conga’s of Ray Buretto come in and provide an extra rhythmic kick to the song for its final versus and chorus before it all comes to a stop.

“Let Me See Your ID” is one of the most superb early jazz/Afro-pop/hip-hop collaborations of its time. Musically, it showcases how vital heavy rhythm is linking all of these elements together. As for the songs lyrical cause, it has Melle Mell and Kurtis Blow earnestly rapping against racist government systems. Whereas Gil Scott-Heron’s poetic narrations provide his mixture of down home scholarly wit to the lack of knowledge many Americans have of the third world itself-never mind its problems. Its a song that, especially in light of today’s political climate, should be gone back to in a serious way.


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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Zeebop” by Zoe Zawinul

Joe Zawinul had moved from Cannonball Adderley onto Miles Davis. Than straight into founding the iconic fusion band Weather Report. He began a solo career in 1959. And during the same time as Weather Report,he released a fourth solo album entitled  Zawinul. Weather Report broke up in 1986. And Zawinul was completely devoted to that group from its very beginning to its very end. In the same year he released his fifth solo album and first one in 16 years. It had a pan ethnic conceptual arc that was similar to Duke Ellington’s Afro Eurasian Eclipse. The album was called Dialects. 

Zawinul stated on the CD reissue of Dialects that it was his favorite album because he felt (unlike a lot of musicians) that his concept for tone poems based on his world travel over the decades left itself better to him playing everything on it. That made Zawinul a non conformist in the jazz world of the time-celebrating electronics and new compositions at a time when the more neo conservative jazz movement of the Young Lions had taken a stronghold. When I got the CD during my days hanging out with musician/DJ Nigel Hall,the song  that caught my attention most on the album was called “Zeebop”.

The song gets a complete cold start. That consists of what amounts to three heavily industrialized sounds. One is a pounding,percussive drum machine. The other is a flat,constant synthesizer tone. And all are topped of with a layer of white noise static that is mixed just as high as the drum machine. At first Zawinul’s melodic improvisations are on a steel drum sounding synth that is buried fairly deep in the mix. As the song goes along,several layers of synth brass accompany each other in call and response harmony. And it is that aspect of the song that continues right into its fade out.

“Zeebop” is the only song I’ve heard whose sound could be likened to a full electrical charge of sound through the body. Its not noisy rock theatrics or an ambient type atmosphere. Its meditative,tribal and highly Afrocentric. The sound of it all may be a bit frightening with its sonic intensity at first. Especially since its the only fusion number I’ve heard with pure static as a main element of its sound. This goes right along with the world fusion sound of the mid/late 80’s very well. It just happens to be,perhaps,the most intense and driving examples in terms of its sound sonic’s.



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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Love Will Save The Day” by Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston became the first female artist in the US to enter the album chart at #1 30 years and two days ago. That reminded me of that element of Whitney’s success that always had me torn. Nobody can deny Whitney’s pipes. Yet even early on in her recording career, artist development on the musical level wasn’t always considered too heavily. Her output was uneven across her albums as a result. That being said, along with her huge commercial success went through the roof, some came to view her as a natural born sellout later on.

This matter led to my mother,an early fan of Whitney,basically abandoning any and all interest in her after Whitney’s self titled 1985 debut album. So it wasn’t for decades after did I go back and rediscover her second record. Whitney basically polishes up the sound of her debut album-mixing dance numbers with heavily arranged “big ballads”. There was one song on the album that instantly got my attention-both musically and lyrically. It featured jazz/funk vibraphonist Roy Ayers (a personal favorite of mine) as well. The name of the song in question was “Love Will Save The Day”.

A gated drum opens the song,after which the rhythm turns to a steady dance one accentuated by ringing Latin style bell percussion-along with a thick rhythm guitar held together by a slippery synth bass line and Pitch bent synthesizers.intro. By the refrains, that synth is replaced by one with an Asian type melody to it. On the choruses,the synths begin the match the bell like percussion more. After a few rounds of this, Roy Ayers improvises on the vocal melody right along with Whitney’s vocals on the bridge. The song then climbs up an octave for the final chorus which brings the song to a dead stop.

“Love Will Save The Day” is, to me anyway, where everyone from producer Narada Michael Walden and musical guest Roy Ayers actually seemed to understand what Whitney Houston required in an uptempo song. The base of the song is synthesized Latin freestyle, with that jazzy funk flavor on the solo.. The lyrics set up a serious of emotional situations and emotions. With Whitney offering comforting words not to “panic when you hit the danger zone”. Honestly, if Whitney’s music had forged ahead in this manner consistently? She’d probably be more of a musical icon than a mere celebrity one.




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#princeday LIVES: “The Dance Electric” (1984)

Prince’s expanded edition of  his breakthrough album Purple Rain is said to have been the last full musical project he ever worked on. My former blogging partner Zach Hoskins went into beautiful detail on the early reported contents of the album. There is one aspect to this 1984 album I brought out before though. The original albums contents,even according to some members of the Revolution,was a new wave dance/rock album with very little funk or soul influence. With the inclusion of vault material recorded during these sessions, the expanded addition of Purple Rain has changed that.

In August 1984, Prince recorded an 11+ piece just two days before “The Screams Of Passion”,which would eventually be given to The Family.  Its been said Prince gifted the song to Andre’ Cymone after his mother asked him if Andre’ could record it-Andre’ apparently being “too proud” to do so. Andre’ then recorded his vocals for the song and released it on his AC album in 1985. It became a major success for Andre’. For years, Prince enthusiasts I’ve talked to have been hoping to hear Prince’s original version of the song. And now they can. The name of this song,of course is “The Dance Electric”.

A thick set of combined Linn Drum rhythms-filled with Minneapolis style flanger,shuffle and echoed claps begins the song cold. No decisive intro. And it stays there for the entirety of the song. Each clap is accompanied by a round synth bass tone. On the first chorus, high pitched and brittle synth strings are accompanied by a wiry wah wah guitar and laser beam like space synths moving between each segment. Every few choruses, the song strips back down to the the drum and synth bass intro. On the bridge,the laser synths and rhythm guitar take precedence before the extended chorus fades it all out.

There’s a distinct possibility that “The Dance Electric” is the most powerful piece of funk to emerge out of the sessions for the Purple Rain. I have no doubt Prince had every intention of releasing his version,even as a B-side,if his childhood friend hadn’t asked for it. The song is reminiscent of Alexander O’Neal’s 1987 number “Fake”. The overall rhythm of the groove is a punishing kind of funk. Its an end of the Minneapolis sound that finds the one right off. And lets that take the song exactly where it wants it to go. Its a great funky delight to hear Prince’s version of this officially available now.


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