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.
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
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.
Filed under 1990s, dancing, Dangerous, drum machines, Industrial funk, James Brown, Michael Jackson, MIDI, New Jack Swing, synthesizers, Teddy Riley, Wreckz-N-Effects
Janet Jackson released her third album Control 30 years ago today. Yes that does feel like it’s aging me a bit,though I was technically five years old when it first came out. Years of looking at the past,present and possible future of black American music bring out just how important Janet’s first big moment in the sun actually was. Not only did it do a lot for her career wise. But with the level of consistency producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis bought to it, the album focused attention back on full albums as a prime medium for uptempo funk and dance oriented music in the late 1980’s. Needless to say,my ongoing journey with Control is full of personal reflections as well.
First time I ever heard of Janet Jackson was a gift of the first 45 RPM records in my collection in 1987. They were Janet’s “Nasty” and “When I Think Of You” from this particular album. It wouldn’t be for another decade or so that I’d finally hear the entire album. It’s yet another in that special CD rack reserved for my very favorite albums. Am sure many of you reading this have similarly nostalgic memories of when they first heard this album. Of course I was also hearing this while almost simultaneously getting seriously into The Time. So just the idea of the Minneapolis sound meeting up with Janet Jackson let me to talk about the song “Control” itself.
Opening up with wind chime effects,whirring electronic hums and liquid guitar-like accents,the main groove opens with some brittle hand claps/drum machine percussion effects. The song’s sections is separated out by distinct breaks. The first is an instrumental chorus with Minneapolis funk’s trademark of (by this time) digital synthesizers playing the strong grooving horn lines. Janet’s vocals duet call and response style with her own harmonies on the main chorus. The bridge has a sunny melody with digitized bells. The final choruses of the song Janet’s lead and harmony vocals play in beautiful harmony with the percussion and synth horn lines with a playful synergy.
Rhythmically,this song has a very strong industrial and hard hitting sound that is right on time with the dance music coming out of Japan and Europe during that time. Yet even with the hard slamming electronic instrumentation, “Control” is still structured entirely in the mold of a James Brown style funk jam. The big beat on the one,with it’s many breaks continues to drive the groove. Also Janet’s budding confidence in singing about if it has to do with her life,she wants to be the one in control in response Jam & Lewis’s synth horns. Whatever musician and/or producer was personally involved,this showcased how Minneapolis was a major source for revitalizing a hard funk attitude for the late 1980’s.
Filed under 1980's, albums, drum machines, electro funk, funk breaks, Industrial funk, Jam & Lewis, James Brown, Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Minneapolis, Nostalgia, synth brass, The Time, Uncategorized