Tag Archives: Fame

Young Americans, Fame & David Bowie Finding The Funk 43 Years Ago Today

David Bowie’s embrace of the soul/funk musical genre has become caught up in several cultural mythologies. One is the rock community derived notion that soul and funk are “commercial” genres without much staying power. Especially on the uptempo side of it. Another was Bowie’s association with the early 70’s glam rock sound-with classics of the genre such as “Changes”,”Jean Genie”,”Rebel Rebel” and of course “Ziggy Stardust”. But when I first heard David Bowie’s Isaac Hayes inspired uptempo cinematic soul of “1984”, from his album Diamond Dogs from 1974? It was clear the man had a plan.

Bowie himself referred to this period of his career as “plastic soul”. He seemed to see himself as a white rock artist wanting to embrace a music outside of his culture. And that the burgeoning funk sound represented “squashed remains” of Afrocentrism in Western music. What helped to sooth his initial cynicism was the presence of the Nuyorican guitar maestro Carlos Alomar, the guitarist whose lines inspired many of the songs on what would become David Bowie’s 1975 album Young Americans. And indeed, the result was one of Bowie’s most dramatic musical and conceptual reinventions.

The title song starts the album-very much a stomping gospel inspired uptempo 70’s soul number. Its David Sanborn’s melodic sax solo that carries Bowie’s vocal melody. But between Mike Garson’s piano walk down-along with the bass/guitar interaction between Alomar and Willie Weeks. “Win” is a string laden ballad full of heavily revered rhythm guitar and Sanborn playing rather modal style sax flourishes. “Fascination” gets deep into the funk-with the bass, guitar and sax all heavily processed for a huge and meaty groove.

“Right” is a mid-tempo sax/percussion/Clavinet/guitar based groove-with the emphasis on a number of repetitive choruses. “Somebody Up There Likes Me” is a relatively balanced uptempo soul rocker-with a bluesy guitar break on the refrains and the use of synthesized string orchestration. John Lennon joins Bowie on a rocking soul version of Lennon’s Beatle classic “Across The Universe”-which has a country blues guitar flavor about it. “Can You Hear Me” is a very similar country soul type ballad where Lennon returns for “Fame”, the classic James Brown style funk hit, for the albums conclusion.

Young Americans has remained somewhat controversial over the years. Its often considered a classic album today. But Young Americans did bare out some of Bowie’s concerns about doing  funk and Philly soul. These songs all have a strong  groove. But some of the uptempo songs don’t have multi faceted structures-mostly repeated melodic choruses. And Bowie’s voice had a ragged rock style on the sleeker numbers. Some of the ballads had a more 60’s style country/soul flavor-showcasing how Bowie still had some catching up to do with what was happening in black American music by the mid 70’s.

Basically, the big hits in the title song and “Fame” are the two big occasions where the strong grooves and strong melodies come together. And the musicianship on all the songs is exciting and first rate. The presence of a young Luther Vandross as a backup singer here helped get the him (deceased along with Bowie today) a shot at his future solo career. In terms of funk, songs such as “John, I’m Only Dancing” and “Golden Years” a year later would solidify Bowie’s funk sound a bit better. But this album represents the important slow beginning for the funkiest, most soulful aspect of David Bowie’s sound.

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Andre’s Amazon Archive for 5/16/2015: ‘Dream Street’ by Janet Jackson

Dream Street

A truly amazing album and,with little doubt in my mind THE BEST of Janet’s pre Control recordings. At this point in her life Janet was officially entering adulthood and breaking away from her families control by marrying (then leaving) James DeBarge. On this album Janet has found her musical niche and is starting to put her sound together. She wasn’t all the way there but was edging closer and closer to the sound of her breakthrough only a year and a half later. Produced alternately between her brother Marlon,The Time’s Jesse Johnson and Donna Summer’s former producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Ballotte the sound of this album is dominated by uptempo tunes with a far more aggressive musicianship,sharper sonic’s and top notch songwriting as well.

The opening is the slamming electro funk of “Don’t Stand Another Chance” which really shows you how underrated Marlon Jackson is as a producer and how much of the early electro/hip-hop/funk sound he’d actually assimilated,especially hearing some of Janet’s growls and snarls in the vocals. “Two To The Power Of Love” is the lone ballad here and is the only song that really doesn’t quite fit,with a very corny arrangement not that different from something you might heard sung by a Jem doll at that time frankly. “Pretty Boy” gets the mood up very quickly. Prince,“Purple Rain” and the Minneapolis sound in general was super hot at that point and here you see the reason.

Janet and Jesse Johnson JAM out this song that completely exposes the nucleus of the sound she’d soon make famous only in a somewhat rawer Minneapolis funk context with some screaming synthesizers and Janet’s call and response “PLAY THOSE FUNKY HORNS!”. On Giorgio Moroder’s title song,with a video that was snuck into one of her appearances in Fame definitely finds Janet maturing on every front,singing a very bittersweet tale of the realities in the struggle for celebrity to one of Moroder’s patented euro/Italo disco style arrangements.

“Communication” and “Hold Back The Tears” are his other two productions and find Janet succeeding much better in the new wave/rock style she’d attempted less successfully at the end of her previous album. Jesse returns again for the very break dance/electro friendly mid 80’s street funk of “Fast Girls”,another driving and amazingly effective groove. Marlon returns with “All My Love To You” which very much echoes the flavors of the first song on this album.

The record closes with another Moroder tune in the potent new wave-soul-dance hybrid of “If It Takes All Night”. You’d think with all the cooks in the kitchen on the production of this album that Janet’s identity would remain very submerged-it didn’t. If anything on this album Janet’s actually began to develop a persona driven by intense,funky 80’s style dance jams and some unbeatable hooks and breaks as well. For those looking into early Janet for music that points to her big breakthrough later in the decade this album would be the sure fire place to find it.

Originally Posted On March 31st,2010

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, elecro funk, Fame, Giorgio Moroder, Italo disco, James DeBarge, Janet Jackson, Jesse Johson, Marlon Jackson, Minneapolis, Music Reviewing