Tag Archives: Norman Whitfield

Get It Together@44: The Jackson 5 Get A Brand New Thing

The Jackson 5 arrived at an important crossroads in 1973. Their recording career at Motown began with a string of four record breaking #1 pop and R&B hits for this literal band of brothers during 1969-1970. And the success continued fairly well over the next couple of years-with songs such as “Never Can Say Goodbye”,”Sugar Daddy” and “Little Bitty Pretty One”. By 1973, the youth appeal of the Jackson’s faded fast. These were now teenagers and young adults-with Tito Jackson already married and Jermaine engaged to be so. Was there a way for the Jackson’s to maintain their career in another way?

The mid 70’s arrived with changes to the music scene as well. The 2-3 minute,melodic and uptempo soul singles Motown had helped pioneer were giving way to a new sound. A cinematic,orchestrated sound with harder, funkier rhythms. The incoming funk era was based more on instrumentation than vocal groups singing refrain/chorus based songs. The Temptations had already taken this into account in the late 70’s-changing the base of their music to a more abstract “psychedelic soul” sound with the help of producer Norman Whitfield. Now it was time for the Jackson 5 to come of age.

The first Jackson 5 album of 1973 was Skywriter, a more musically diverse album that tried to offer more to the changing voice of 14 year old Michael Jackson. But the idea of a teenager singing so seriously about seduction on a cover of the Supremes song “Touch” went against the Jackson’s wholesome,youthful appeal. And (to me) wonderful songs such as the bluesy “The Boogie Man” and the more progressive funk/soul of the title song didn’t allow the album much success. It wouldn’t be until September 21st of that year that a change began to happen. Here’s what I wrote four years ago about it.


1973 was spelling out to be the year that would sink the Jackson 5’s thus far unbeatable luster at Motown. Skywriter and Michael’s solo album Music & Me had both been creative triumphs but huge creative failures. The brothers would all come to blame this on the fact that Motown was not welcoming their own input as songwriters and producers. In short,the Jackson’s were faltering because the realities of a music industry where artists were treated as commodities to be bought and sold had taken part of their innocence away.

Yet as the year progressed,Motown was suddenly no longer the mainstay of the pop/R&B scene anymore. The success from the O’Jays and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes had made Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records the main focus on that level all of a sudden. And this began to fascinate the Jackson’s and their creative team to an enormous degree.

Inspired by this,the Jackson’s elected to musically refocus some so it seems. And one day in the summer of 1995,I managed to find someone to locate the then extremely hard to find 80’s era cassette tape of this album-not having a clue what to expect. Now that its thankfully available on CD? I can at last illustrate to others lovers of funk,soul,R&B and Motown the many wonders that this album has to offer.

The title song opens up the album. Its filled with the string orchestrations of the Philly sound. But the primary rhythmic nature of are these powerful layers of wah wah guitar,bass lines and an almost reggae style bass/guitar bridge. Michael’s nearly matured singing is heard with all it’s James Brown styled cries and accents-his iconic future already firmly in place. “Don’t Say Goodbye Again” is another Philly type midtempo groove-with a rather more resigned and adult take on romantic loss.

“Reflections” is the only interpretation that is actually relatively close to the original song. The 8+ “Hum Along And Dance” bares hardly any resemblance to the Temptations/Norman Whitfield original. Breaking out with organ,rock guitars,intense percussion,an almost Police Siren type synthesizer line, the song is a psychedelic funk/soul/dance behemoth-closing with a rather Spiritual/gospel West Indian drum style and choral vocal harmonies-with a mild Native American influence as well.

“Mama I Got A Brand New Thing” is another elongated number punctuated by a strumming acoustic style guitar and zig zagging and melodic synthesizer lines. “It’s Too Late To Change The Time” is right on time with Leon Ware acknowledging the rise of the reggae genre musically with the melodic,harpsichord led hook of a classic Jackson 5 number.

The lyrics have a reflective observation of the world at that time as well. “You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You)” is a bassy, hand jive led funk number with a driving bass and harmonies that segues into the original full version of “Dancing Machine”-which led the way towards what would soon become the disco era of course.

Not too long after this album was released,the title song became a decent sized hit-though not to the level I feel it deserved. That being said? The albums last song “Dancing Machine” is the song that,when released as a single edit the following year ended up completely changing the Jackson 5’s commercial fortunes and bringing them their first top of the charts single since their 3 hit punch in 1970,really. In a way,this would become the last album of the Jackson 5 as part of the Motown family.

The two albums released in the two years following this album were released during a period of legal battles as they sought to split themselves from Motown for the purpose to gaining the creative control they felt they required for their music to succeed and grow further. This albums elements of funk,orchestrated soul and different world music/psychedelic instrumental turns led to this not only being something of a fully unified album statement for the Jackson’s.

But also heavily reflective of the transition from the funk era (in which this album was released during) and the disco era which would come later in the decade,and in which the by then creatively liberated Jackson’s would be a huge part of. But the road to that album starts right here-probably the Jackson brothers first fully formed and mature creative musical statement.


Get It Together was, and continues to be, possibly my very favorite full length album by the Jackson 5. I emphasize albums because of a conversation with my father when I first purchased this album. He wondered why I was at all interested in a full Jackson 5 album that wasn’t a greatest hits set. When I asked him why, he described the band as inconsistent. I didn’t know what the term meant then. But now, it does bring up an important point about how the Jackson 5 were perceived then. This was a carefully crafted cycle-with all songs flowing into the other for a strong album funk sound.

In terms of the Jackson’s music for Motown, Get It Together might’ve been the beginning of the end in terms of the bands love affair with what the label could offer them. Still, this was truly their coming of age album. Mike’s vocal hiccups, a trademark of his blockbuster solo career, first showed up on this album. Norman Whitfield helped put the album together-utilizing future Commodores arranger/producer James Anthony Carmichael in the process. Members of Motown’s LA session musicians-among them Crusaders such as Joe Sample and Wilton Felder, played on the album as well.

What I personally remember most about Get It Together the intersection between myself and the Jackson’s at the time of first hearing it. I was about the same age at the time as Michael Jackson had been during the time he and his brothers recorded this album. And as with Mike, my own creative outlook (especially with music) was growing independent from that of my family and social acquaintances. That experience with Get It Together taught me that sense of creative independence is key to growing up. And I have the impression this album has impacted many others in similar ways.

 

 

 

 

 

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In Full Bloom Approaches 40: Rose Royce Do Their Dance On This Sophomore Success

 

Rose Royce had a massive hit right out of the box with their 1976 soundtrack to the motion picture Car Wash. In fact, it marked the beginning of funk functioning for the disco scene. And Rose Royce retained their crown for the rest of the 70’s as part of the funkiest royalty of the disco era funk bands. Between Norman Whitfield’s productions on them and the very strong caliber of the band themselves, it all made it possible for their second album, 1977’s In Full Bloom to retain the hit status of its predecessor. Here’s an Amazon.com review I did about the album seven years ago.


Rose Royce made it clear on this album that not only was their life after Car Wash for them and producer Norman Whitfield but that they fully intended to forge ahead with their sound. By the time the 70’s was at it’s midpoint synthesizers and electronics had become an enormous part of funk music,especially in the hands of people such as Stevie Wonder and Billy Preston.

While that had come into play to a certain degree on previously,the fact that Rose Royce were one of the few bands ever to debut on a soundtrack recording meant that they were going to save certain types of experimentation for their next album,if any. Turns out they were so big from the start a sophomore set was almost guaranteed. So it was basically on this album that Rose Royce…well basically became Rose Royce as it were.

While very even keel in terms of fast and slow songs,this album is primarily devoted to funk. It showcased that this was what they intended to base their sound in. But right away the bands unique sense of reinventing their influences within their groove became apparent when they unconventionally opened this album with the ballad “Wishing On A Star”. It’s one of the finest crafted slow numbers they ever did and deservedly one of their classic songs. “Ooh Boy” and “You’re My World,Girl” are the two other ballads here.

And the most soulful of them too,very much in the spirit of Chicago and Philly styles of 70’s soul balladry. On the funk numbers,needless to say it really comes to a head. On “Do Your Dance” and “It Makes You Feel Like Dancin” represent Rose Royce’s signature funk sounds where every part of the band became a purely rhythmic element-chugging like a freight train with the percussion,synthesizers,bass,guitar and cosmic vocal harmonies. It’s very much a futurist concept to how modern hip-hop producers such as Timbaland and The Neptunes approach their style of funk as well.

“You Can’t Please Everybody”,”Love,More Love” and “Funk Factory” are potent reminders of their more straight ahead,horn based danced funk sound they already showcased on their debut. Weather on cosmic electronic/space harmony based funk to chunky,hardcore brassy grooves and ballads this outfit proved to be one that had it all,could do it all and did it all when it came down to it. Gwen Dickey proved the master of funky femininity,wrapping her very girlish but very confident voice.

Even though she would come to represent some interpersonal issues within the band in the coming years,at this point she was very much part of the “funk factory” the band were starting to become. One wonders,if things had been different if Whitefield records could have had Rose Royce be part of a movement that would do for funk what Motown had done for R&B. They were very innovative and experimental in their genre of music. But also were very commercially viable. In many ways that style seemed to end with them rather than begin with it as Ricky Vincent’s “united funk” era was coming to an end with albums such as this. But still,the deed was done.


In Full Bloom represented something very important for the all important 1976-77 period of disco era funk. Just as much as it represented that potential unexplored direction at Motown (through Norman Whitfield while he was still there) as well. One element is the bands combination of thick slap bass lines combined with heavily rounded Moog bass. That gave the grooves an enormous and up front bottom to work with-along with the wah wah guitars,strings and the sweet voice of Gwen Dickey. As such, it might very well be one of the most important disco era funk albums of its day.

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Anatomy Of The Groove: “Miss Busy Body (Get Your Body Busy)” by The Temptations

The Temptations had been a fixture at Motown for 20 years by the time the labels silver anniversary rolled around. They’d only left for a brief few years in the late 70’s. And returned with the mammoth  uptempo hit “Power”,one of the few late in the day disco era songs with a tough political message. A year and a half later,the band did a reunion tour  and album with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks. Neither former member of the (sadly) revolving door group stuck around very long. As messy as the Temptations personnel and personal situation continued to be,they continued on with their recording career.

1983 turned out to be a pretty big year for The Tempts. They had a memorable faux “battle of the bands” with the Four Tops,and also released two albums. While neither were a commercial success,both were very strong and contemporary musical statements.  The first was the boogie funk/new wave influenced Surface Thrills,often criticized for sounding more like a solo album for lead singer Dennis Edwards. The second album was the more harmony laced soul ballad oriented Back To Basics. The album also reunited them with producer Norman Whitfield for songs such as “Miss Busy Body (Get Your Body Busy)”.

A heavily reverbed and echoed drum,heavy on the cymbal hits provide the basic rhythm to the songs intro. Soon a bass and higher synthesizer duet with a Vocorder before Edward’s voice kicks in with a classic Whitfield bluesy juke joint piano backing him up. On the choruses,the rest of the Temps join him along with a pounding funky beat and electric slap bass thumping away. A rhythm guitar accompanies bass singer Melvin Franklin before the second refrain of the song gets started. Just before the bridge,the Temps all rap in harmony before the closing chorus fades the song out.

“Miss Busy Body” is a song that surprised even me. Henrique and I both discussed about a year ago how hard and heavy this funk stop was. It was extremely hard for 1983,with the electronic elements being tangy and brittle. It would’ve been heavy in the early/mid 70’s too if the Tempts had recorded it with Norman Whitfield then. Dennis Edwards always comes in at his very best on the hard funk numbers,with his thundering husky soul wail. The mixture of electro/boogie funk with earlier 70’s harder funk sounds all come out at their very hardest here-perhaps the Tempts funkiest songs of the early 80’s.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Funky Music” by Patti Labelle

Patti Labelle shares the grown of 70’s funky diva’s as it were. Right up there with Aretha and Chaka. A Philly soul sister who’d started as the lead singer of the Bluebells,as well as almost marrying Temptations member Otis Williams,the group changed their name to Labelle. This trio of Patti,Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash started off backing up singer-songwriter Laura Nyro on her soul/R&B based 1971 album Gonna Take a Miracle. Several years later,the trio unleashed a major hit in “Lady Marmalade”,written by Allen Toussaint. It became a key number in ushering New Orleans funky soul straight into the disco era.

The trio began having creative difference,coinciding with their music declining in commercial success. After Hendryx suffered a nervous breakdown after a show in Baltimore,Patti decided to fulfill her own career and be a diplomat all at once by suggesting the trio begin perusing solo projects. Patti signed with producer David Rubinson,then working with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and who’d also helmed Labelle’s final 70’s album Chameleon. Patti Labelle’s self title solo debut came out in 1977. My favorite song on it, written by Motown’s Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, was called “Funky Music”.

A thick bass line starts off the song playing with a rocking verve about it. It’s soon totally accompanied by a slow crawling chicken scratch guitar. The drum then kicks in with with a medium tempo,snare heavy hit. Throughout the song,a round and bumping filtered “duck face” slap bass keeps a steady percussive vibe going. The horns on this song play in harmonized unison to the choruses and refrains. On the choruses,Patti is joined by a group of all star female backup singers for a strong gospel/soul choir. On the bridge,the drum starts swinging low on the cymbals before coming back up again before the song fades out.

Marrying Patti Labelle’s soul shouting dramatic soprano voice to the songwriting of Norman Whitfield was just about as ingenious as her groups pairing with Toussaint several years earlier. As the disco era was at it’s peak,Patti threw down a song that was raw and bass heavy funk as anything Sly Stone had done earlier in the decade. And the slow,punchy groove of it all really allowed the gospel joy always present in Patti’s voice to sour and groove high with the chunky bass/guitar/horn interaction. It’s one of the earliest and best examples of Patti Labelle giving up the funk during her solo career.

 

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Andre’s Amazon Archive for 1/31/2015: ‘The 20/20 Experience’ by Justin Timberlake

The 20 20 Experience

Eight years ago Justin Timberlake released his second studio album FutureSex / LoveSounds,an album very much defined by uptempo funk and EDM musical ideas and hybrids. The grooves were emphasized over the vocals a lot of the times, and it was quite a creative departure from his debut. In the time since that release Justin Timberlake has taken time to star in feature films and,for awhile seemed to be joining the ranks of Elvis Presley and Whitney Houston who traded in their musical banner for shots at the silver screen. But not only did his theatrical roles turn out to be a big success, but they seemed to have inspired him creatively as well.

During mid summer my friend Henrique informed me that Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience would be followed up by the end of September by a second volume. Seems Timberlake has recorded easily enough usable material in the last seven years for a double album. But probably knowing the economy level of most music buyers he elected to release it in two parts,also releasing the two full albums as the double set it was intended for those who haven’t gotten the first part yet.

For one thing,the idea that a contemporary recording artist to think creatively in terms of double albums (or albums period) is a profound revelation. Of course it helped that the first volume on this focused primarily on a genre one could call AOS/AOF (album oriented soul and/or funk) that hearkened back to the prime of the 70’s funk era. Of course I was eagerly anticipating this album. Of course I steered clear of streaming as I wanted to allow this album to speak for itself as I listened. From what came through that was a very good idea.

Most popularly inclined music artists today have gone backwards to a degree to emphasizing single songs again. Mainly,as with the 45 RPM record half a century ago, that format is more in tune with the age of internet based formats such as YouTube and MP3’s. Not only is Timberlake a fan of dressing and grooming himself in a sharp,elegant manner but his time in film probably exposed him more to the medium’s dynamic way of presenting its vision. So since Timberlake bought “sexy” back last time out,he is now bringing the musical quality of the album format back in a similar fashion.

The album opens with the upbeat melody and stop and start groove of “Pusher Love Girl”,with Timberlake’s sensuously subtle vocal approaching wrapping around the hiccuping rhythms as he compares a strong relationship to an addiction. Hearing it here I’ve warmed up heavily to “Suit & Tie”,a percussively rhythmic funk piece where Jay Z’s rap is perfectly in tune with the musical setting and never intrudes on Timberlake’s melodic vocal harmonies. “Don’t Hold The Wall” blends a slower 2-step dance groove with a trance music-type harmonic atmosphere,complete with East Indian singing and flutes. “Strawberry Bubblegum” is one of my favorite songs here. It begins with a lightly pulsing,spare electro funk and builds in it’s last three minutes into a afrolatin dance/funk/percussive jam.

The enormous rhythmic dynamics of “Tunnel Vision” and the slower “Spaceship Coupe” but more of the emphasis on Timberlake’s songwriting and vocals again-as he vocally harmonizes with himself Marvin Gaye side to express both the romantic and carnal side of his personality in these songs. “That Girl” is a sweetly melodic neo soul type number-led by a fantastic jazzy guitar riff that again places the focus on his singing and melodicism. “Let The Groove In” is just amazing-a hyper kinetic funk era style jam that is heavy on a genuine African percussion/tribal dance rhythm.

“Mirrors” is a very potent mixture of modern soul and progressive pop/rock that grows stronger in tone as the song progresses-especially in terms of its melodic development. The final song “Blue Ocean Floor”-with it’s spare trance/electronica sound and backwards loops takes the overall approach of this entire album to its most basic level. “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)”,”True Blood” and “Murder” are driving,rhythmically thick funk of the highest order. Justin jams on the one throughout all of these-intersecting the related grooves of James Brown,Michael Jackson and Prince through his own distinctive vocals,beat boxing and sexually eccentric lyrical orientation.

His slyness,wit and assertions to freedom of expression permeate all of these. While both very well composed and rhythmically complex the 2-step hip-hop/dance styles of “Cabaret” and “TKO” are probably my least favorite here. Yet the fact they are not stereotypically overproduced does give them extra vitality and groove. “Take Back The Night” is a beautiful dance/funk odyssey-almost a follow up to “Rock Your Body” from Justified only with a fuller production. Its easily my favorite here,and one of my favorite Timberlake songs of all time. “Drink You Away” is a grinding,rocking and funky blues type number-with Timberlake supplying some grooving guitar work of his own.

And what is the overall approach of this album exactly? In a modern production concept from Justin and Timbaland,who produced the previous album, Justin Timberlake has managed to bring out a re-visitation of the cinematic psychedelic soul/funk/pop-rock sound that permeated music by Isaac Hayes and much of the Norman Whitfield era Temptations. The songs here are generally seven + minutes and therefore have enough space to develop instrumentally and vocally. But as opposed to relying on a backup vocalists and enormous orchestral instrumental passages with no vocals, Timberlake’s own talents in singing/songwriting are integrally linked to the conceptually dynamic instrumental approach this album takes.

And the mixture of tradition string and horn arrangements with modern day EDM/hip-hop electronics give this album the possibility of being the commercial fruition of how music in the last three or four years has began to grow out of the unsettling complacency its been in since the turn of the millennium. Considering this albums already strong commercial success, if an approach to music like this catches on in the coming years, the funk/soul album innovations of the century might reach their commercial golden age.

Originally Posted As Two Separate Reviews On April 15th And September 30th,2013

Links to the original reviews for both albums below:

The 20/20 Experience 1 of 2

The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2

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