Peter Brown’s early history in his native Illinois (in the Chicago area to be more exact) almost seemed set up for him to be a major musical player in the future. His mother was artistically and musically talented enough to give him music lessons from an early age. His father’s career as a electronic engineering inspired young Brown’s interest on the technical end of music. He provided his son with different tape records. By the time he was an adult, Brown became a pioneer of the ARP synthesizer. Even becoming a spokesman for the instrument for a time.
Brown was fortunate enough to begin his musical career during the 70’s-when the psychedelic stew,funk and later disco era made for a much more diverse variety of popular music in America. Brown ended up with the Miami based TK label. There he met his first circle of musical cohorts-including his first producer Cory Wade. In 1977 Brown released a 12 inch single that would go on to become the first gold single in history. It would be included in another version on this debut album A Fantasy Love Affair a year later. It was called “Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me”.
A low,thundering burst of ARP synth bass and a higher textural tone begin the song over a pounding 4/4 disco beat. Then the main groove of the song comes in. The four on the floor beat is accented by spicy percussion,a slow rhythm and a thick bass popping/wah wah rhythm guitar interaction on the refrain. The choruses bring back the higher pitched ARP. On the bridge,the percussion is a slow Brazilian grind with a bumping synth bass,female vocal and synth brass accents. This groove holds together for 3 whole minutes until the refrain/chorus goes up in key to fade out the entire song.
“Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me” is one of the best examples I’ve heard of what my friend Henrique calls “funk functioning as disco”. The 4/4 dance beat is locked down tight for sure. The percussion also has a hard driving Latin vibe. And the synth/guitar/bass interaction-along with Brown and his backup singers screams, are out of the school of straight up hard funk. The use of synthesizers for the brass section over a hard funk groove reminds me of a less condensed version of Prince’s late 70’s sound as well. Major record that I’m happy to have had the pleasure of recently hearing for the first time.
Gene McFadden and John Whitehead had a significant musical legacy before going from being creators to becoming performers of their own. Along with Philadelphia International Records house band MFSB,this pair of songwriters were responsible for some of the labels biggest and most enduring hits-among them “Back Stabbers” for the O’Jays and “Bad Luck” for the Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. As such,they were major melodic architects for the music of the burgeoning disco era. The fact that their legacy touched on even Motown acts of the era showcases the extent to which their synergy went while working primarily in the musical backwaters.
Towards the end of the 1970’s, the post disco era seemed to be beginning in earnest. Albums such as Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall came to represent that transition in black dance music. The Philly sound was still doing fairly well at the time. But many of the original groups were re-focused as some of their lead singers went solo in the manner of Teddy Pendergrass. At this point,the strong voiced singers McFadden & Whitehead decided to make the leap from songwriter to artist with their self titled 1979 debut album. It’s first song was one that I personally knew of on a more peripheral level long before I knew of the albums existence. It was called “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”.
The slower tempo four on the floor dance beat gets the groove cooking up with the spacey keyboard washes and PIR’s climactic string arrangements. That same beat seems to develop a high swinging bump about it when the female backup singers began the chorus duetting with fan-faring call and response horns-then the bubbling Brazilian jazz style bass line really gets going in the song. The chorus actually strips down a bit,with less arrangement for the vocal parts as the intro becomes a prelude to the additional choruses of the song. On some of the latter chorus,the bubbling electric burble of the early drum machine adds yet another percussive element into the groove.
With this song,one of Philly’s finest songwriting teams come out on their own with what basically sets the stage for the immediate post disco era. The heavy string and horn orchestrations are still there,as well as the 4/4 dance beat. But the bass lines and additional drum kicks have an extra added spice about them. It all goes right along with the songs lyrical ode to optimism itself. It’s become such an important anthem for many black Generation Xers that Barack Obama used this song during his original campaign for president in 2008. And a part of me would like to hope his last eight years in office owe something to this fine dance floor friendly funky soul/disco classic.
Filed under 1970's, Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now, Barack Obama, Disco, disco funk, Funk Bass, funky soul, Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, McFadden & Whitehead, MFSB, Philly Soul, post disco, Uncategorized