Genesis began their career in the early 70’s as a progressive rock outfit,whose lead singer was the charismatic performer Peter Gabriel. Up until 1975,the bands sound was based in different forms of European classical music. Phil Collins succeeded Gabriel as a vocalist as well as being the drummer and one of the writers for the group with 1976’s Trick Of The Tail. Gradually, Genesis began to take on elements of jazz/rock fusion of a type Collins was playing in his other band Brand X. By the time of Genesis’s 1981 album Abacab,elements of modern funk and soul became an aspect of their sound as well.
That same year,Collins released his solo debut album Face Value. It was a very diverse album that’s now considered a classic. And also had its share modern funky/soul uptempo numbers. For both Collins’ solo effort and Genesis’s,Earth Wind & Fire’s Phenix Horns. They consisted of trumpeters Rahmlee Michael Davis and Michael Harris-along with the late,greats in sax player Don Myrick and trombonist/bassist Louis Satterfield. As a drummer,Collins musically related very well to the horn sections combination of melody and rhythm. This really showed in Genesis’s big hit from 1981 called “No Reply At All”.
The song starts out hot. The refrain consists of Collins’ percussive,fast paced rhythms with Tony Banks’ equally percussive synthesizer melody adding to Mike Rutherford’s phat,jazzy funk bass line. The Phenix Horns accent hard on every second beat. On the chorus,Collins’ drum roll brings in the refrain where the keyboard,guitars and bass line play along with a fuller horn chart-until another drum roll bridges each refrain/choral exchange. Banks on a solo piano with a Wall Of Sound style drum from Collins’ represents a bridge that leads into the choral/refrain exchange the closes out the song.
In terms of an English band mixing progressive pop/rock with Afrocentric,percussion/ horn based funk,”No Reply At All” is one of the finest examples at the beginning of the decade. The sound is not at all overcooked,which is a frequent aspect (and to some writers and critics,a complaint) about Phil Collins’ own solo combinations of the styles. Because this is coming as a collaborative writing effort from Genesis,a power trio band,each member deals with the combinations of rhythm,melody and arrangement extremely well. That makes this probably the funkiest moment Genesis had up to this point in time.
One of those fascinating coincidences in the history of soul and funk music is the tendency of the British music scene to fill in significant gaps when the music is experiencing a low popularity and audience in the United States. Funk oriented new wave era groups such as Level 42,Heaven 17,Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet provided this during the US post disco radio freeze out. Some maintained this style through mid decade even. Sade,Simply Red,George Michael and Soul II Soul continued this tradition later in the decade. Aside from American adoration’s such as Prince and Talking Heads,the popularity of funky soul grooves seemed to be in a strange holding pattern on this end of the pond. In the mid 1990’s onward through the post 9/11 world? This pattern came back in play-with 2006-08 being the height of this ethic. Years after his debut in 1991,English soul/funk artist Kenny Thomas emerged in 2006 with a song that showcased this impulse entitled “I Will”.
Starting off with a fan faring drum roll and a plast of joyful,gospel inspired horns the song gets started with thickly grooving mix of high stepping drums,highly melodic electric piano chords and the fantastically vital horn section providing the life force that keeps the entire song alive. With a chunky bass/guitar interactive holding the keyboard riffs all together, Kenny himself sings lyrics with the same level of joy expressed in the horn parts and melody revolving around the most optimistic outlook on newfound romance that one could possibly ask. On the refrains,the melody changes to include a few minor chords but when going back into the main theme of the song,the melody rises up into the major chord as Kenny declares “I WILL” on the chorus. His voice-a passionate cross between Teddy Pendergrass,Michael McDonald and Heatwave’s Keith Wilder,provides an almost ideal reflection of the songs overall joyousness.
From my own personal observations, the era in which this song was recorded was not among the happiest or secure time for the planet Earth, A never ending war on terror was going on,people were divided even more than they were in the 1960’s and that 90’s era cynicism prevented a great deal of action from occurring to counter this. Music was in a great need for empathy over apathy,release instead of tension. And for those who followed the music of Kenny Thomas (which I unfortunately wasn’t at the time),this song in particular provided just what a proverbial Dr. Funkenstein might want. Its another one of those songs defined by a hybrid sound-in this case a mixture of the Chi-town funk of Earth Wind & Fire and the sleek West Coast style of late 70’s Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. Also there’s a strong element of Phil Collins’ early 80’s Brit-funk approach as well. This song is a perfect example of,on a purely musical level of what Mick Jagger sang in 1969: you can’t always get what you want,but sometimes you just might find that you get what you need.