Tag Archives: drum machines

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five Staring Grandmaster Melle Mel

Melvin Glover,the Bronx native known as Melle Mel,is known today as one of the first MC’s of hip-hop. He teamed up with another hip-hop innovator in the best known early hip-hop DJ Joseph Sadler-known to most as Grandmaster Flash. While they had their first single pressed with 1979’s “Superrappin”. After they moved to Sugar Hill Records shortly thereafter,they found themselves at the mainstay of recorded hip-hop. Which by 1980-81 was still considered largely a live medium-dances in city parks or after hours MC/DJ battles after a night at the discos.

Interestingly enough,it was a member of the Furious Five,Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins,is credited to have first coined the word hip-hop. The term came as a jest to a friend who was about to join the Army- mimicking of the sound soldiers make while marching. Seems pretty apropos as the Furious Five more or less became the first hip-hop army of the recording era. Their biggest (and often best known) contributions to hip-hop came from a record I first heard about in my mid teens. It was the title song to the groups 1982 album release entitled “The Message”.

A delayed drum machine with percussion effects opens the song-as a hi hat effect with lots of echo. That same rhythm sustains itself throughout the song. Addtionally, a pulsing synth brass sound keeps time with the delayed rhythm. At first,its accompanied by a very digitized synthsizer playing a reverbed,psychedelic sound and accompanied by brief rhythm guitar flourishes. After condensing down to the basics of the rhythm and pulsing synth brass,the main musically theme continues-with brief flourishes of synth bursts here and there before the song fades out after just a little over 7 minutes.

What amazed me about “The Message” upon first hearing it is that musically,it was still a straight up electro funk groove. It was sparse,the drum machine and percussion weren’t totally on meter and everything was set up to emphasize Mel’s rapping. The song is best known for being the end of hip-hop’s lyrical obsession with partying and upsmanship-as it presents different character vignettes about the harshness of young black American life in the ghetto during the early 80’s.  The he instrumentation follows Mel’s rap about “trying not to lose my head” in a world of people and music that was totally changing.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Hanging On A String (Contemplating)” by Loose Ends

Loose Ends were formed in 1980 as a trio consisting of vocalist/guitarist Carl McIntosh, songwriter and keyboardist Steve Nichol and lead singer Jane Eugene. They started out as Loose End,recording a pair of singles in 1982 produced by the Emoo brothers from the UK soul group The Real Thing,who themselves had been successful in the 70’s. Their first three singles “In The Sky”,”We’ve Arrived” and “Don’t Hold Back Your Love” were all excellent live instrumental oriented boogie funk. But it wasn’t until their debut album in 1984 did their sound fully coming together and they became successful.

The debut album in question is entitled A Little Spice. This album had a stripped down electro element to it,along with the trio’s jazzy songwriting that made their sound so distinctive. It was something I found preowned at my local record store Bullmoose for literally a few bucks. Remembering having some vague knowledge about the band. But the CD cover had me interested enough to pick it up. From the first moment I heard it,wanted to here more by the group. And later sought out other albums by them. The song that motivated me most from that debut was “Hanging On A String (Contemplating)”.

A drum machine kick into an electronic Afro-Latin percussive drum machine kicks in. McIntosh provides an echoed rhythm guitar swell,along with higher alarm like tone while Nichol provides a round synth bass for fattened support at the bottom. By the time the refrain and Eugene’s vocals emerge,McIntosh’s six not guitar line and Nichol’s synthesized melody take over.  On the chorus,electronic orchestration join up with McIntosh and Eugene’s vocal harmonies. On the last bars of the song,a Clavinet like keyboard along with a spiraling guitar solo take over as the song fades out.

“Hanging On A String (Contemplating)” is one of the most rhythmically and harmonically complex songs and grooves to come out of the electro/boogie funk era. McIntosh and Nichol truly deliver on a mix of highly Afrocentric drum machines and synth bass,along with very jazzy guitar and orchestral keyboards. Jane Eugene’s vocals have a strong jazzy ranginess and an extremely soulful,passionate delivery that matches the music to a tee. Loose Ends are known for few other key songs. Yet this song is likely the one they’ll always be best remember for. And for very good reason too.

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Switch On Your Radio” by Maurice White

Maurice White,one of the musical icons who passed away this year,it best known as the founder of Earth Wind & Fire-the most commercially successful of the 70’s funk bands in terms of crossover. On the other hand,the band broke up in 1984. And one of the many reasons brought up was that White had it in his mind that Columbia (the bands record label) were looking for him to do a solo album. This album got released in 1985. Its biggest single was with a (mostly) uptempo version of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”. But it still remains something of a footnote in EWF history.

When I first heard the album on vinyl album around 18-20 years ago,am not 100% sure it came off as anything all that exciting. Of course,that could’ve just been a case of seeking something different from it than what it was. And what Maurice White’s self titled (and sole) solo debut does is present a series of electronic,pan African rock/funk/soul fusions with a mild melodic pop new age vibe about them. The EWF message is still intact. Its just going more for an attitude than a sound by a large. The one song that always got my attention strongly was the opener “Switch On Your Radio”.

A totally electronic synth orchestration fades slowly on the intro. Than suddenly the song bursts with a bluesy funk melodic statement. And it has all the instrumental elements of the song itself. The drum machine and Paulinho Da Costa’s percussion play off the guitar,electronic hand clap and slap bass lines with this melodic electro funk wall of sound. This represents the choruses of the songs. On the refrains and the bridge,the mix is somewhat more stripped down to focus on the vocals a bit. An extended chorus with vocal ad lib’s finish out the song as it fades.

“Switch On Your Radio” has a sound that crosses a lot of musical bridges. The overall drum programming of the song has the bigness of sound that was very much of its time. Yet the live percussion accents along with Martin Page slap bass,Marlon McClain’s rock guitar and the ethereal synthesizers of Robbie Buchanan  make for a powerful sound that basically amounts to a progressive dance/funk sound. And the melody has that strong song construction White and Page are so noted for. Its an extension of the EWF sound for sure. And it also pointed to a possible future solo direction for White which didn’t continue.

 

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Filed under 1985, dance funk, drum machine, Earth Wind & Fire, elecro funk, Marlon McClain, Martin Page, Maurice White, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Robbie Buchanan, rock guitar, slap bass, synthesizer

Anatomy of THE Groove: “I Gitt Around” by Chuckii Booker

Chuckii Booker is one of those artists whose intricate history is equal to the seeming few who have a strong knowledge of him. He was perhaps better known as the musical director,producer and opening act for Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation tour at only 23-24 years old. His talents as multi talented singer/songwriter/producer/multi instrumentalist got him signed as a solo artist to Atlantic in 1988. Not because of his original talents as primarily a bass player. But because execs accidentally listened to the other side of the demo tape that featured his vocals.

If funk/soul music had followed a totally straight line in the late 80’s/early 90’s,Chuckii Booker would likely have been the intermediary step between Prince and D’Angelo. After a couple Top 10 R&B smashes,Booker became regarded as a producer. In that respect touching on the work of artists ranging from Vanessa Williams,his godfather Barry White and EWF alumni Phillip Bailey. It took me a couple decades to go out and pick up Booker’s two solo CD’s. One of them (and his final one to date) was 1992’s Niice ‘N Wiild. One of the songs that’s really gotten my attention off of it is called “I Git Around”.

After a brief moment of party dialog,the main groove of the song sets in. This is a pounding drum machine that hits a very strong,electrified snare drum sound on the second beat. Along with that are two bass lines. One is a pulsing synth bass,the other is “possibly” a live one playing a “duck face” funky wiggle. Booker brings explosive synth strings,horn lines providing a strong “video game” sound along with the bluesy accents of the chorus. Not to mention a chromatic piano walk down playing in and out throughout the song. Just before the song fades,Booker brings in a tough chicken scratch guitar.

The new jack swing style could (and often was) made extremely generic by many in its commercial heyday. Yet Chuckii Booker used this song (along with many of his others) to point out the sub genres roots in 80’s funk. And even with the mildly new jack friendly rhythm,the instrumental toughness and electronic flamboyance is straight up P-Funk. Everything from the instrumentation to the lyric is pretty much a direct extension of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” from a decade before it. Makes one wonder how different 90’s uptempo music might’ve been had it followed this ultra funky model.

 

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Filed under 1990s, chicken scratch guitar, chromatic walkdown, Chuckii Booker, drum machine, drums, Funk Bass, New Jack Swing, P-Funk, piano, synth bass, synth brass

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Fake” by Alexander O’Neal

Alexander O’Neal’s importance to the Minneapolis music scene of the 1980’s probably hasn’t been as documented as it should be. The Mississippi native migrated to the twin cities by age 20. During that time,he became a member of two bands who’d eventually come together through the late Prince Rogers Nelson to become The Time: Enterprise (of whom Morris Day was a member) and Flyte Tyme (first home of Jimmy Jam,Terry Lewis and Monte Moir). O’Neal was to have been The Time’s original lead singer. He and Prince didn’t seem to have gotten along. So he was dropped in favor of Morris Day.

What O’Neal did do,with the help of Jam & Lewis’s production,was to conceptualize the Minneapolis sound on a solo career he launched in 1985. Cherrelle’s 1985 album (on which O’Neal appeared as a duet partner on “Saturday Love”) and his own sophomore album Hearsay two years later both followed loose concepts revolving around romantic issues of the mid/late 80’s such as artifice and honesty. As far as O’Neal’s album went,one of the best examples of how this concept dovetailed so well into the funkiest of his music came with the 1987 UK hit single “Fake”.

A pounding,cymbal heavy,percussive drum machine starts out the song. A synth piano scale down gets right into the rest of the song. Another main rhythmic feature of the song comes in-a thick,brittle (and possibly double tracked) synth bass part. Over this is a sizzling synth string orchestration. A higher bass tone accents this on O’Neal’s vocal parts. On the brief bridges before the choruses,big melodic synth brass plays call and response to O’Neal’s vocals. The chorus and refrain both maintain the same similar backing even to the fade out of the song itself.

Friend Henrique Hopkins described this as being a type of funk that’s “punishing”. And that description fits extremely well. This is hardcore,cutting edge industrial funk of the highest order-similar to Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” only with an even thicker funk bump to it. Lyrically it goes well with the albums concept as O’Neal is attracted to a lady who does little more than put on series physical airs just to get attention. The song on the other hand makes no apologies for how funky it is. It manages to be stripped down and sonically dense all at the same time. And its probably my very favorite piece of funk from O’Neal.

 

 

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Filed under 1987, Alexander O'Neal, drum machines, Industrial funk, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, string synthesizer, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, The Time

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.

 

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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: “Do It To The Music” by The Love Unlimited Orchestra

Barry White is probably best remembered as soul’s ultimate baritone. And as it were,one of the founding fathers of “baby makin’ music”. And on that level,he stands possibly only alongside Isaac Hayes. One of the things that has been bought more and more since his passing is that White was a brilliant arranger. When it came to combining percussion, piano and strings with a rhythm section,he was able to create some of the most defining arrangements of the funk AND disco era. And among his collection of side projects,this side of him came out most strongly on albums by the Love Unlimited Orchestra.

One of the things about Love Unlimited Orchestra that fascinated me is that,like Barry White himself,they recorded under that name with White long after their commercial peak was thought to have passed. The final Love Unlimited Orchestra to drop came out in 1983 and is called Rise. This was an album that I was unable to track down on CD,and missed out on one occasion in the vinyl format. When I finally did hear it from an MP3 copy,I was amazed what a strong and unexpected album it was. One song from it that stood out to both me and my mom is called “Do It To The Music”.

A resonant,buzzing synthesizer starts out the song. Then the drum machine kicks in playing a danceable Afro-Latin type beat-right along with a clean,round synth bass. On the chorus,the orchestra itself plays a spicy and melodic horn chart. The first three notes descend,while the final four ascend upwards. Throughout the song,the funky sounding vocal group The Voices Of Love sing call and response to the horns and buzzing synth that weave throughout the entirety of the songs. On the refrains,they mainly sing with the rhythm section. And its on the powerful chorus that the song fades out.

This is an excellent example of high octane Latin funk to come out of the Barry White musical camp in the early 80’s. With its prominent use of synthesizers and horns as opposed to strings,musically this song did for Barry White what “You’ve Got The Power” did for War a year earlier. It took the basic framework White had made famous,and updated the instrumental approach in an extremely positive way. And its solid proof that a lot of Barry White/Love Unlimited Orchestra’s music of the early/mid 80’s is a lot more obscure than it deserves to be.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Barry White, drum machine, horns, Latin Funk, Love Unlimited Orchestra, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizers

Prince Summer: “Housequake” (1987)

Sometimes,there are songs discussed on this Anatomy of THE Groove feature that have a little extra excitement in terms of me writing about them. Many of these are songs often discussed between myself and blog co-founder Henrique Hopkins on Facebook. So many of his ideas come across in them. Today is such an occasion. Its taken a long time for me to actually locate this particular content. As with any song from Prince,it has its share of rich history all on its own. And as usual before getting into my rundown of the song,wanted to share some of that history with you.

Following the release of his second motion picture Under The Cherry Moon,Prince embarked on a year long recording session throughout 1986 and early 1987. These songs were originally intended for three separate album projects. Seems Warner Bros weren’t keen on Prince’s prolific nature forcing his albums to actually compete with each other on the charts. One of these projects was to be released under a pseudonym known as Camille-sung in a sped up voice.. It was a very funky album,a handful of whose tracks appeared on 1987’s Sign O The Times. The one I’m talking about today is called “Housequake”.

A loud,halting screech beings the song. Then the drum intro kicks in-a nine beat drum machine rhythm with the four notes after the third in a faster cluster. A live drum and a breezy synth horns come in over the call and response vocals. Then the refrain takes over for most of the rest of the song. Its the basic live drum beat with a mid range rhythm guitar playing the changes. There is also an electric and synth bass both playing the same six note line. The horns of Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss come in to accent on the second part. Eric solos on the bridge before playing a jazzy unison with Bliss on the jam’s outro.

The key point that Henrique and I discussed so much is that if James Brown had continued innovating his 70’s era funk sound with 1980’s instrumental innovations,it would likely have sounded somewhat like “Housequake”. The horns are there,and the opening drum break was even used to open a song by Stevie Wonder in a concert during the same era. Still the production style still has Prince’s touches of instrumental subtlety. So even though the instrumentation and lyrical references to “green eggs and ham” are totally JB derived, Prince still managed to maintain his own touches on this driving funk groove.

 

 

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Filed under 'Sign 'O The Times', 1987, Atlanta Bliss, call and response, drum machines, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, Funk Bass, James Brown, Prince, Saxophone, synth bass, synthesizers, trumpet, Warner Bros.

Anatomy of THE Groove: “She Drives Me Wild” by Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s passing is still being felt seven years on. With him not being with us anymore,its getting easier to see beyond the idolatry (which both helped and hindered him) to the essence of his musical and performance artistry. This artistry was very much defined by MJ’s performance ability. This included his distinctive variety of rangy vocal hiccup. And it was also defined by his aggressive,brittle mixture of Broadway show dancing and the James Brown moves with which he began on as a child at Motown. By the early 1990’s,Jackson’s persona was becoming  more defined by his personal eccentricities.

Now this brings MJ up to his fourth post Motown solo album Dangerous. Quincy Jones was jettisoned as a producer,for among other reasons that Jackson wanted to update his sound in a different ways than perhaps Quincy did. One of the biggest success in the soul/funk world in the late 80’s/early 90’s was Teddy Riley. He’d helped pioneer the new jack swing variant of danceable funk music. Jackson was recording this fourth album during this time,and enlisted Riley to help out. Teddy Riley would up producing seven songs on the album,including the first six. My personal favorite of which is “She Drives Me Wild”.

Traffic sounds begin the song. Then a car horn effect playing an actual horn chart introduces the refrain. The refrain consists of a shuffling uptempo new jack drum machine,with each second beat seemingly played backwards. Synthesized MIDI effects are used to create digitized sounds of bells,clocks,more car horns,the sound of walking along with other effects one would expect to hear on the urban street in mid day. On the chorus,the growling vocals of Jacksons throughout the song return to his whispery falsetto as the drums and keyboards play it straighter. Its on such a note that the song fades out.

Personally,I tend to see new jack swing as being (which was also the case with some types of disco) as having potential to be somewhat cookie cutter and generic. In the hands of talents such as Teddy Riley and Michael Jackson,that brought out the very best the genre had to offer. These industrial electronics on this song sound much like an early 90’s extension of James Brown’s concept: turning digital MIDI sound effects and synthesizer layers into a drum. Wreckz-N-Effects perform an equally rhythm rap that appears on the instrumental bridge of the song

Henrique Hopkins and myself have had many discussions about how,while a strong album on a musical level,1987’s Bad  album wasn’t particularly innovative for its time. Susan Fast discussed in her excellent 33 1/3 volume on Dangerous that this was an album that actually found MJ very much on the cutting edge musically-along with keeping his strong sense of pop craft and funky dancibility. Listening to it today, its not an album that’s short on exciting and strong songs-especially the uptempo material. But this song really goes to another level for me.

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Filed under 1990s, dancing, Dangerous, drum machines, Industrial funk, James Brown, Michael Jackson, MIDI, New Jack Swing, synthesizers, Teddy Riley, Wreckz-N-Effects

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Victory” by Larry Graham

Larry Graham was described by Bootsy Collins one time on a PBS Rock N Roll documentary I saw as being “definitely” the innovator of funk bass. A lot of times,new instrumental ideas in music are an organic,collaborative process. In this case,Graham brought out a new approach for,what was in the late 1960’s the relatively new bass guitar. A lot of people who help write the musical vocabulary for a key part of a whole musical genre (as Graham did for funk) simply rest on their creative laurels .Graham didn’t. Upon leaving Sly & The Family Stone,he continued to innovate as the bandleader of Graham Central Station.

When I first began seeing Larry Graham solo albums while crate digging in the late 90’s and early aughts during summertime visits to the coast of Maine, the thoughts of both myself and my dad was “these albums must’ve really funked up the early 80’s”. It wasn’t until hearing “One In A Million You” did I realize that Graham’s initial solo focus was as a bass voiced soul balladeer. Then I  discovered  a vinyl copy of Graham’s 1983 album Victory,which I later got on CD. Its rich with rhythmically fat,often horn heavy post disco and boogie funk. What really hooked me in was the closing instrumental title song.

A high pitched synth brass plays a 12 bar blues type horn chart as the intro to this jam. After that,shuffling drums kick in. The main bass line of the song is a synth bass line playing its own 12 bar blues accompaniment to the higher lead line. On the refrains of the song,the melody becomes a bit more complicated and jazzy. The synth bass introduces a rocking electric guitar solo playing a driving,bluesy solo yet again. After another refrain,the song reduces down to bass and percussion-with Graham’s slap bass sololing being assisted by the high pitched synth brass as the song fades out.

This instrumental was written,produced and performed entirely by Larry Graham. Its a powerful song for me because it’s essentially a classic 50’s style rhythm & blues shuffle totally updated for the early/mid 80’s electro/boogie funk era. It uses modern synthesizers and drum machines. But the general feeling of the melody and rhythm is very much of the juke joint and the 60’s proto funk shuffle. Instrumentally,its all very powerful. The synths are played very intensely. And the slap bass is some of Graham’s finest thumping on the outro. Its a wonderful and unsung example of Larry Graham’s early 80’s solo funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, blues funk, Boogie Funk, drum machines, electro funk, Larry Graham, musical innovators, rhythm & blues, rock guitar, slap bass, synth bass, synth brass