Tag Archives: Philly Soul

Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Games People Play” by The Spinners

The Spinners were a Detroit band who at one point were actually co credited with the name of their home city-the Detroit Spinners. Also as the Motown Spinners at times because original members Billy Henderson, Henry Fambrough, the late Bobby Smith and Pervis Jackson recorded a number of singles for the famous Detroit label. Their biggest hit on the label was of course “Its A Shame”,sung by GC Cameron. Cameron was succeeded by the late Phillipe Wynn. Wynn was part of a three lead singer lineup of the band at Atlantic Records-for a series of albums produced by Philly maestro Thom Bell.

That period of the Spinner’s recording from 1973-1976 was their most commercially successful. While they’d go on to make some superb records after that,its that early/mid 70’s period that defines them in the public consciousness. Pervis Jackson was one of the three lead singers of the band. Though he passed away from cancer in 2008, his bass vocals were a key part of their five part vocal harmonies. There was one time where his vocals became more the star of the show. And that was on another huge smash hit for them from their 1975 Pick Of The Litter album called “Games People Play”.

A spacious drum thump starts out the song. A high pitched rhythm guitar,filtered piano and close knit bass line provide the basic melody along with accompanying horn lines. A string riser segues into that intro extended out into the refrain of the song. A second statement of the song extends out into a different chord-focusing on the horns and strings playing along with the lead vocals,which include female guest singer Evette L.Benton. The chorus of the song finds the groups vocal harmonies singing the the melodic string and horn orchestration. Its on this chorus that the song fades out.

“Games People Play” is one of my very favorite Spinners song. Its some of the finest produced mid tempo cinematic soul of the mid 70’s Especially the vocal exchanges. For Pervis Jackson’s part,his moment on this song occurs during the beginning of the third refrain where his bass voice sings “12:45”. As I understand it, that lyrical phrase became his nickname for a time. The end result is one of the best vocally oriented musical studio soul sounds of its era. Thom Bell was a master of highly musical vocal productions. And this is one of many fine examples of this from the Spinners during the 70’s.

 

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Teddy Pendergrass’s Self Titled Debut Album Is About To Turn 40: A Blue Note Goes Solo

Image result for Teddy Pendergrass debut album

Teddy Pendergrass’s debut album will be 40 years old this coming June 12th. It was a huge part of the Philly soul renaissance that peaked during the late 70.s 1977 alone was also one of the red letter years,along with 1977,where funky and soulful album masterpieces seemed to dominate the music world in general. Since this coming Sunday would’ve Teddy’s 67th birthday,it seemed fitting to give his classic debut album upon leaving Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes an overview. And luckily I already wrote one via Amazon.com,shortly after his passing in early 2010,that can be presented here.


Well here I go copping out lol. Teddy Pendergrass has just passed and here I am reviewing him for the first time. Interesting how when someone isn’t with us anymore that sometimes our thoughts about their artistry really come to the surface. In this case it’s a good thing because this is Teddy’s debut solo album and it was and still is a joyous occasion all around. This is one of those albums that,among it’s eight tracks you’ll be hard pressed to find a dud in the bunch.

Between the writing,production and lyrics of Gamble & Huff and the unmistakable sound of MFSB there is a level of consistency and musical potency here that so many people making their solo debut outside a group setting can hope to achieve. It wasn’t as if Teddy hadn’t already achieved a brilliant level of quality with the Blue Notes but at the same time he only outdid himself here. With the varying rhythms,tasty orchestration weaving in and out of the songs and Teddy’s elastic shouts and gruff coos not only made him a huge star with this release but made huge creative strides as well.

The tempo is raised on “You Can’t Hide From Yourself” and again,there’s a message in the music: let what that message is be a surprise when you hear it. Not only that but the percussive groove and the instrumental rhythms within them cross the boundaries between soul,funk,Latin,pop and disco music with such an ease you may in fact forget that the very nature of the Philly Sound embraces all of those flavors into it’s own sound with the musicality of those involved running on all thrusters.

“Be Sure”,the hit “I Don’t Love You Anymore” and “The More I Get,The More I Want” are all equally shimmering jams all emphasizing the same type of idea and all with the same catchy and well arranged tunes as well. As with many albums of this era the the mid tempo tunes really give singer and musicians the opportunity to stretch out in different ways. The soulful “Somebody Told Me” and the Latin inflected groove of “Easy,Easy,Got To Take It Easy” both allow the heavy,easy and mid range of Teddy’s vocal instrument to announce the versatility he was capable of.

“And If I Had” and “The Whole Town’s Laughing At Me” of course give you two of those great Teddy ballads,building on the same foundation as the uptempo tunes he does here. On this album Teddy sings about the ins and outs of romance,the twists and turns of the sexual revolution and the social concerns of people at the time-all embodying the strengths of the Philly Sound and few solo performers pulled it off quite the way Teddy did. In the end you have as astonishing a debut as anyone could possibly ask for.


Teddy Pendergrass: 1950-2010

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Sister Sledge Album Review for Their First Decade: A Tribute To The Late Joni Sledge

Sister Sledge Albums

Sister Sledge were a Philly family group who still have their firm fan base of course. And I consider myself among them. Still,most casual 70’s music lovers know them primarily for “We Are Family”,”She’s The Greatest Dancer” and “All American Girls”. Those are three very noteworthy and important disco era songs to be known for. At the same time, the music of Debbie,Joni,Kim and Kathy Sledge had a huge impact both before and after their big crossover period in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The passing of Joni Sledge at the age of 60 a few days ago put me in the mind of doing this tribute to them in this way.

One of the most important things I ever learned about Sister Sledge,thanks to the Wounded Bird label’s reissues-as well as through the kind help via Twitter from the sisters on my overview here of their 1998 song “African Eyes” on this blog,that Sister Sledge were far more of an album oriented soul/funk/disco group than many may realize. So today,to celebrate the living Sledge sisters and the departed Joni,wanted to celebrate Sister Sledge’s first eight albums from 1975-1985 through my Amazon.com reviews of them which I’ve written over the last decade or so.


Circle Of Love/1975

In 1975 these teenage sisters cut this album. Kathy,Debbie,Kim and Joni sure have their sisterly harmonies down pat,and they know just what to do with their voices. The music on this album is definitely rooted in early-mid 70’s Philly soul and Motown The title track is a superb example-upbeat and catchy as they come.The same goes for the fairly funky soul of “Protect Our Love”,’Pain Reliever” and the clever closer “Fireman” with a really cool,eerie horn solo at the end.

One thing the Sledge sisters are intent on doing is is exercising their fine intervening harmonies on a set of finely crafted soul ballads very much in the Philly style too but also rooted in classic 60’s Atlantic soul-these songs truly make excellent use of the over 30 musicians (including John Tropea’s mildly psychedelic turns on guitar) who play on this album.

The lovely “Cross My Heart”,”Don’t Miss Him Now”,”Love Don’t Go Through No More Changes On Me” and “You’re Much Better Off Loving Me” will certainly please any fan of the soul balladry that was coming out of Natalie Cole and Aretha at this time but the vocals that these sisters thrown onto them are purely icing on the cake.

For fans of Sister Sledge during their Nile Rodgers/Bernard Edwards produced We Are Family era will definitely want to check out ‘Circle Of Love’.Not only does it show how Sister Sledge got started but showcased them in the days when disco was just starting to boil over and was still just under the ground;the Philly and (late day) Motown production used on this album are very much part of the disco-funk-pop sound that would soon make Sister Sledge famous.So this comes very highly recommended.

Together/1977

Well it’s 1977,Saturday Night Fever is out and the disco era is in full swing. On their second time around the Sledge’s have jumped ship to the Munich scene,but it’s not Giorgio Moroder and Pete Ballotte;they’ve hooked up with producers Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay,who was also the keyboard and sax player on this album. So this album allowed them to not only stay contemporary and embrace eurodisco to a degree but also diversify their musical pallet. Unlike Circle of Love this album focuses on uptempo and dance tunes with a larger amount of variety.

The punchy “Blockbuster Boy”,two Stevie Wonder covers in “I Was Made To Love Him” and “As” as well “Moondancer” and “My Favorite Song” certainly fit right into the then highly popular disco sound and,as always,the sisters inject more then enough of their own personalities and spunk to give these tunes a timeless feeling. But the sisters also get down with some heavy funk-namely on Kathie Sledge’s self penned “Do The Funky Do”-with it’s punching keyboards and seriously deep beats it actually qualifies as a funk classic along the same lines as The Bar-Kay’s “Holy Ghost”.

They add a little more disco stylings to the same general pallet on “Funky Family”,which could actually be seen as a somewhat more rowdy and less tame prelude to “We’re A Family”.A cover of “Sneaking Sally Through The Alley” is with little doubt one of the funkiest things on this album,and his made even more of a surprise since the sisters didn’t alter the lyrics to a mans point of view as they did on their Stevie Wonder cover. One of the finest overall tunes here is “Can’t Mess Around With Love”-a Brazilian pop tune with a look and vocal very much out of the Sergio Mendes school.

The two ballads that are here “Hold On To This Feeling” and “Hands Full Of Nothing” even seem to have a more urban feel to them and a newfound sophistication. This would be their final album before the pair of Chic productions that would make the Sledge’s superstars and it will be obvious even on the first listen that the future starts here and the changes are coming fast.

We Are Family/1979

Isn’t it interesting that,after all these years of listening to and collecting albums by Chic and Sister Sledge alike,that this was the very last hole I had to fill in my collection of the latter. And it’s the album which contains the songs I personally identify most strongly with them. Recently? That changed on a family trip to Portland. I’d seen this album,even cheaply.

And still avoided picking the CD up. Lately it seems as if Nile Rodgers and the Chic Organization have again become the focus of funky dance music. And as another reviewer here pointed out? With their ability to work well with female singers? This 1979 represent something very important not just to the artistic collaboration. But to the musical era itself.

The uptempo songs on this album are classic Chic disco/funk classics-with their chunk style bass/guitar interaction and heavy strings that even somehow got transformed into a rhythmic element. That goes for the electric piano decorated “He’s The Greatest Dancer”,”Lost In Music”,”Thinking Of You”-with it’s opening percussion along with the bass/guitar duel and the closer “One More Time”.

Listening to the title anthem for an umpteenth time? This 8+ minute version stands out with an extended bridge showcasing Kathy’s gravelly,soulful voice calling out to Bernard Edwards for “more bass”-right in tune with the music. “Easier To Love” is a percussive mid tempo message song-asking for peace for over war (A LOT more complex an idea than it actually sounds) while the two ballads have their character.

“Somebody Loves Me” is classy and elegantly orchestrated. While “You’re A Friend To Me” takes that touch of class a notch higher with it’s dynamic,jazzy blusiness. While the two remixes of “We Are Family” and the one of “Lost In Music” are interesting in a percussive disco/house sort of way? The manner in which Nile and Nard simply expand the original music and vocal line of the latter on the 1984 remix really says more for what the song itself had to say from the get go.

The courser,soulful voices of Sister Sledge were probably the closest that Chic ever came to finding a group of female vocalists who had similar sounds to the women who sang in Chic themselves. And the excellent performances from the sisters,plus some of Nile and Nard’s finest material make this a disco era classic not to be missed out on.

Love Somebody Today/1980

This is Sister Sledge’s follow up to their massively successful 1979 outing We Are Family. Again Bernard & Nile are producing the their band Chic is playing backup-also featured,notably on the title song is Meco Monardo on sax. And the music is set firmly in their standing tradition of classy disco-funk grooves and punchy melodies. This album is home to some truly incredible grooves such as the title song,”You Fooled Around” and (my favorite) “Reach Your Peak”.

Another two great grooves are the funky “Easy Street” and the whimsical groove of “Let’s Go On Vacation”. On “Pretty Baby” the message of family solidarity is again re enforced and Kathie Sledge’s great singing really shows up in fine style on “I’m A Good Girl”.So musically this album is totally up to par. Non of the lyrics have quite the same punch as the first outings the Sister Sledge/Chic combo did and that might’ve played some part in the Sisters turning to Narada Michael Walden next time around,or maybe it didn’t I don’t know.

Either way this might be musically more artistic,with it occasional improvised sax solos from Meco then We Are Family was. But no matter how you cut it this was Sister Sledge’s final collaberation with the Chic family for a little bit. They would meet up with Nile Rodgers again later but this more or less concluded that period of their musical career.

All American Girls/1981

Jettisoning the Chic production team for Narada Michael Walden proved a pretty wise choice,considering the similarity in sound. The main difference is Narada and Sister Sledge were not out to create a samey disco album with arty flourishes this time. They were out to create a funky dance-rock album with a lot of variety and to a large extent they succeeded. The title song is a classic-VERY much Narada and very drum oriented nonetheless and very much in keeping with the hits Sister Sledge had with Chic,especially Randy Jackson’s wonderful bass “breakdown”.

“He’s Just A Runaway” is definitely the big surprise;more of a new wavish dance-rock number that really introduced Sister Sledge to the new decade with ease. This team of Sledge and Narada do not shy away from the mirrored disco ball here as “If You Really Want Me”,”Ooh,You Caught My Heart”,”Make A Move” and “Music Makes You Feel Good” certainly fit into that category. But the “bottom” on these songs is a bit phatter and therefore funkier. Disco is basically a form of lite funk anyway and this just really emphasizes that disco-funk hybrid a little more.

There is a peppy pop tune here in “Happy Feeling”,one of those little surprises commonly found on the best albums out there.”Next Time You’ll Know” and “I Don’t Want To Say Goodbye” are very nice ballads but really don’t need to be here;this album is really strongest when the tempo goes up and it would’ve worked just as well if a couple different kinds of uptempo songs were added instead of the ballads. Other then that I have no complaints.This is a great album in a string of excellent releases from Sister Sledge and we should all be lucky that it’s now out there again for us to enjoy.

The Sisters/1982

The year is 1982 and after being produced by Chic then Narada Michael Walden the Sledge’s decide to give a stab at the production themselves. The result is this very soulful album that,for the date is very strong based in late 70’s funk-pop and even makes a go of the gestating hip-hop movement with the super funky “Super Bad Sisters” featuring the sisters rapping very much in the Sugarhill style!”My Guy” is pleasant enough but doesn’t add much that Mary Wells didn’t to the original.

Much more unique are the original and somewhat experimental funk grooves of “Lighttfootin'”,”Get You In Our Love” and “Il Macquillage Lady”,all of which showcase the Sisters desire to make a detour from their patented disco-pop sound that made them stars and show they too could give up the funk with the best of them. There are a few great ballads here too,one of which is the mid tempo “Grandma”,very much in their tradition of celebrating family and how sometimes there is no school like the old school.

“Everybody’s Friend” is very reflective and features the creamy voiced Debbie Sledge singing lead. The album closes with the peppy “Jackie’s Theme:There’s No Stopping Us”,a great possible hit-that-never-was. This album will make you wonder why the Sledge’s didn’t produce themselves more often;they’d obviously absorbed everything they’d seen Nile Rodgers and Narada do in the past and found a style the they could work well with. This tends to be one of their more forgotten albums but it showed they did have a lot more talent then just their voices.

Bet Cha Say That To All The Girls/1983

On paper the collaboration of Sister Sledge and George Duke looked awfully good. Commercially this was a miserable failure despite the promise but that is not the case artistically. The guest list on this album is incredible:Michael Sembello,David “Hawk” Wolinski,Louis Johnson,Paulinho Da Costa,Jeffrey Osbourne,Al Jarreau and Ronnie Laws are featured.

But the focus is on the Sledge’s personality and Duke’s contemporary funk sound. “B.Y.O.B”,”Lifetime Lover”,”Shake Me Down”,the title track,”Gotta Get Back To Love” and “Thank You For The Party” are great uptempo tunes and not much I can think of shout ‘early 80’s George Duke-style pop/funk’ louder then these songs!

The ballads are also very trademark George Duke and everything even further removed Sister Sledge from their classic sound. Al Jarreau’s rapping and the cute lyrics of the title track should’ve spelled a great new beginning for Sister Sledge but it was not to be. The George Duke collaboration fizzled quickly and after this release Sister Sledge opted to return closer to more comfortable home turf.

When The Boys Meet The Girls/1985

It was ten years since Sister Sledge debuted with Circle of Love and five years since Nile Rodgers had spun pure musical gold with them.And fresh off of work on Chic’s unheralded Believer and Madonna’s blockbuster Like a Virgin Nile officially brings Sister Sledge into the mid 80’s with this album’s strong new wave funk overtones. The title song,”Dancing On The Jagged Edge”,”The Boy Most Likely”,”Following The Leader” and “Peer Pressure” capture that spirit which finds the flourishes of DX7 and Synclavier synthesizers colliding with live drumming for a sound that’s very MTV generation friendly.

“Frankie”,a bouncy little pop ditty makes a brief detour from this sound with a slightly more organic feel to it. Same can be said for “Hold On Poppy” and all the songs here are packed with unbeatable hooks and vocals. Strangely enough this never got a follow up for more then a decade;by 1985 Sister Sledge’s sound had been eclipsed by modern day female singers,some of whom were Prince proteges so the Sledge’s were starting to be seen as a bit over the hill. So again I am glad Wounded Bird reissued this and allowed this album to be enjoyed by a new generation who’ve been separate from it long enough to appreciate it’s charms.


Its amazing when running down Sister Sledge’s first run of recording just how much breadth and scope their albums covered. It ran the gamut from Philly soul,funk and disco in the mid to late 70’s to the ever evolving post disco,boogie and electro sounds of the early to mid 1980’s. As with any artists,there were peaks and valleys throughout this time. All the same,felt Sister Sledge don’t always get their due for their longevity and relative consistency in their first decade. For sure that period invited it. Still,it couldn’t work without talented people. And wish to thank the Sledge’s for the contributions to that era.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Am I Black Enough For You” by Billy Paul

Billy Paul is another of far,far too many music icons of the 20th century who passed away during 2016. The Philly native grew up listening to jazz based singers such as Nina Simone,Carmen McCrae and Billie Holiday. After a stint in the army,where he was was stationed in post WWII Germany in the late 50’s along with Elvis Presley. Using this as an opportunity to further his love of music,he launched a jazz trio while in Germany. After getting out of the army,he became part of the burgeoning Philadelphia International Records,eventually releasing his debut album in 1970.

As with most people in America,my primary knowledge of this artist was via the ballad “Me & Mrs. Jones”. My father purchased a compilation of Billy Paul’s music. And after that,it became clear that this man did some amazingly cinematic uptempo tunes. Many of them with a very strong pro black sociopolitical bent lyrically. It was about a year ago when watching a documentary about Oakland’s Black Panthers that I heard a very funkified song with a very familiar voice. Turns out that voice belonged to the late Billy Paul. And the song (from 1972) was called “Am I Black Enough For You”.

A bluesy Clavinet riff dovetails into the percussive accented funky march of the drums. That Clavinet maintains itself throughout the song. At first,this is assisted by a bluesy rhythm guitar. The song has a rather elaborate,jazzy bass line holding the rhythm section together. The horns are both melodic and climactic-scaling upward on each of the songs choruses. Towards the end of the song,a fuzzed out guitar plays an eerie sustain in the back round as the percussion and a bluesy organ and guitar take over on the bridge. Then the songs main chorus takes over until it all fades out

“Am I Black Enough For You” is a psychedelic,bluesy funk number musically. One featuring a dense,thick instrumental sound. The melody is very overtly blues based too. Lyrically,the song speaks as much to the present day as it did for 1972. In both cases,an unpopular and widely disliked politician had become president. And anti black attitudes were a causal factor in both cases. This song lyrically suggests that strength in numbers will help black Americans to have power and dignity of person. And with Billy Paul no longer with us,that’s as fine a musical concept for him to heave us with as any.

 

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My Life with You I Share: An Alternate Timeline Review of Prince’s For You

Note from Zach: As you may or may not know, I’ve spent the last several weeks writing about the songs from Prince’s debut album on my chronological Prince blog, dance / music / sex / romance. In the process, I’ve been struck by the many contingencies that exist around For You, and Prince’s early career in general. If things had gone even slightly differently; if his label–or, for that matter, Prince himself–had shown even a little less confidence in his artistic development; then we would be looking at a very different musical landscape in 2016. There’s also the fact that, as I’ve noted several times in my track-by-track posts, it’s difficult to look at For You in retrospect without seeing it as just the first, not-entirely-successful glimpse at a talent and vision that would find its full expression in years to come. But what if that perspective wasn’t the default? What if For You wasn’t the first step in a long career by Prince, but in fact his first and last album? This post is my attempt to think my way through this situation: think of it as a look back at For You from a possible alternate timeline. I don’t know if I will do this for other albums in the future–or, like, ever again–but I thought it was an interesting exercise to examine Prince’s earliest days as a recording artist through a completely different lens. I hope you find it interesting, too.

The reclusive multi-instrumentalist known only as “Prince” may not be as much of a household name as, say, Shuggie Otis; but to serious aficionados of 1970s funk and soul, he inspires a kind of hushed reverence normally reserved for the likes of Stevie Wonder. In fact, Prince’s mainstream obscurity and his cult notoriety are two sides of the same coin: both stem from his having released only one album, 1978’s For You, before he disappeared from the music scene completely. Thanks to a decades-long process of discovery by collectors and rehabilitation by critics, however, in 2016 he stands as one of the great “what-ifs” of 20th century pop music.

The story behind the making of For You is fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. An introverted musical prodigy from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Prince signed a multi-million dollar contract with Warner Bros. Records when he was just 17 years old–which unsurprisingly made waves in the recording industry trades at the time. Also remarkable was the fact that, as a 1978 press release put it, “Prince did it all. Composed the music, produced the sessions. Played the instruments (drums, guitars, pianos, bass synthesizers and more) and sang all the lead and background vocals. He even wrote the string parts.” He was, according to legend (and the press release), the youngest producer in W.B.’s history as a label.

(Photo removed at request of rights holder.)

But Prince’s inexperience and perfectionism proved to be his undoing. The story goes that he blew through all $180,000 of his three-album recording budget on For You alone: holing up in the Sausalito Record Plant for days on end, tinkering obsessively with the songs. When it was finally released, the album was a modest success: lead single “Soft and Wet” even reached Number 12 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles Chart (though it peaked at only Number 92 on the Hot 100). But the second single, “Just as Long as We’re Together,” stalled at Number 91 on the R&B charts; the album itself also dropped rapidly, peaking at only Number 163 on theBillboard 200. Prince did get some positive press from African American teen magazines like Right On!, where his soft, almost feminine good looks and ineffable air of mystery made him marketable as a pop idol. But the mainstream largely passed him by, and Warner ultimately decided that another album wasn’t worth the investment; after Prince made an awkward, tentative live debut at Minneapolis’ Capri Theatre in January 1979, the label cut their losses.

Which is a shame, because if nothing else, For You positively bristles with potential. The aforementioned “Soft and Wet” is futuristic funk, streamlining the pioneering synthesizer sound of earlier acts like Parliament with an added dose of fey, flirtatious sexuality. Closing song “I’m Yours” starts as a lite-funk workout, then transforms abruptly into full-blown arena rock. The opening title track, meanwhile, is lush baroque soul–not to mention evidence of how Prince managed to blow almost $200K on a single record–with a blissed-out a cappella chorus of multi-tracked Princes singing in unison. It’s like an R&B “Good Vibrations”; the kind of bold, hubristic statement you’d expect from an established artist with multiple successes behind them, not an upstart teenager who came out of nowhere and would return to obscurity just as soon.

There are also more predictable pleasures, albeit always with a subtle tweak. “Baby” is a note-perfect Philly soul simulacrum (had Prince ever even been to Philadelphia?), with lyrics about the decidedly unconventional subject of an unplanned pregnancy. “My Love is Forever” is chirpy disco, but with guitar leads more muscular than even Nile Rodgers would dare attempt. “In Love” also sounds decidedly of-its-time, but with lyrics (“I really wanna play in your river”) that are disarmingly frank in their eroticism. And on the soft songs–“Crazy You” on Side One, “So Blue” on the eccentrically-named “The Other Side”–the 18-year-old shows a depth of musical range and vocal dexterity far beyond his years. For You isn’t earth-shattering, per se–there’s a reason why it didn’t set the world on fire when it came out in 1978–but its subtle blend of musical styles and Prince’s oddly demure lustfulness belie an inventive artistic persona that isn’t quite like anything else, before or since. It’s little wonder that several influential members of the new school of “alternative” R&B, including Frank Ocean and Janelle Monáe, swear by this relatively obscure debut record from the late ’70s.

The afterlife of For You is even stranger than the story of its birth. Prince, as mentioned above, seems to have disappeared after he was dropped by Warner: presumably back to his hometown of Minneapolis, though conflicting reports also claim he became a successful session musician in L.A. It’s certainly difficult to imagine an artist as bold and ambitious as Prince clearly was leaving music behind entirely; there are thus numerous rumors of later maneuvers from behind the scenes. The tracks “Do Me, Baby” and “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” from the 1979 debut album by André Cymone–Prince’s fellow Minneapolitan, and his bass player at the ill-fated Capri Theatre show–are both heavily rumored to have been written by Prince; though they don’t sound quite like anything on For You, so whether it was actually him is anyone’s guess. There’s also been speculation that he played the guitar part on Lipps, Inc.’s 1980 single “Funkytown”: still the biggest hit ever to come out of the Twin Cities. Otherwise, all pop cryptologists have to go by is a string of little-known B-sides from Minneapolis-based artists like Sue Ann Carwell and Alexander O’Neal, with writing credits from suspiciously pseudonymous-sounding names like Joey Coco and Alexander Nevermind.

Meanwhile, the stature of Prince’s sole official release has only grown with time. The album was out of print for most of the 1980s, until it received a spike of notoriety among crate-diggers in the hip-hop era: see, for example, the sample of “Soft and Wet” in RBL Posse’s “I Ain’t No Joke.” This led to the album being reissued in the early ’90s, along with a renewal of interest from critics and musical historians. Today, as noted above, it’s a bona fide cult record, feted among artists and listeners on the left field of R&B, pop, and hip-hop for its unique, genre- and gender-fluid sensibility. Prince, meanwhile, has remained reclusive, though he’s presumably still alive: with the album’s 40th anniversary fast approaching in 2018, it would be great to see him come out of retirement and play some of these old songs for his new and growing fanbase. The world might not have been ready for For You in 1978, but I think it just might be ready now. Hopefully, wherever Prince is today, he realizes that.

(All right, that’s it, y’all…thanks for indulging me in this little A.U. fan fiction exercise. I’m actually taking next weekend off from Andresmusictalk, but I’ll be back on October 8 with something that will almost certainly not be about Prince. See you then!)

This post is cross-posted from dance / music / sex / romance.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “All Night Long” by Dexter Wansel

Dexter Wansel first became known to me as one of the Philly PIR team who worked on the 1976 debut album by the Jacksons. Being more broadly aware of the Philly soul sound now,Wansel seems to have a very different approach to music than Gamble & Huff and Thom Bell did. With disco era classics such as the Jones Girls “Nights Over Egypt” and “Keep On Dancing”,one of my favorite Jacksons’ songs off that Epic label debut,Dexter Wansel’s arrangements were based in his keyboard and guitar playing. Therefore his productions seem to have some of the funkiest bottoms of 70’s Phily funk and soul.

One thing Wansel also did was maintain a solo presence on PIR concurrent to his productions. One of these albums,which I never managed to pick up on vinyl despite seeing it all the time,was 1978’s Voyager. The album cover always stood out to me as a Trekker/sci fi admirer because of the prominent Star Trek model kit bash featured as some sort of robot riding through the desert. Through MP3 and YouTube,I’ve been fortunate enough to hear this album all the way through.And its an album that starts out with a funky bang with the jam “All Night Long”.

An otherworldly space funk Moog bass starts the song off. Then the drums come in playing a disco era friendly dance/funk beat. This is accompanied  by a mid toned rhythm guitar sustain,accenting horns and a SERIOUS slap bass thump. With the addition of an accompanying Fender Rhodes piano and Wansel’s falsetto/tenor vocal leaps this represents the choruses and refrains of the song. On the last part of the song,a major horn chart segues into a percussive,jumping beat over which a sassy,rocking blues guitar riffs with the phat slap bass and keyboard lines before scratching hard as the song closes out.

Without any hesitation, this is one of the hardest straight up funk jams to come out of the PIR camp. The beat has a swaggering,percussive shuffle. The keyboard/synthesizer parts are layered in a manner that lays somewhere between early 70’s “united funk” and mid/late 70’s space funk. And Wansel’s vocals (I’m pretty sure they’re his) have some of the slyly sexy attitude of his particular musical camp. Honestly I tend to think of Philly soul as the breezy,string laden proto disco sound of the 70’s. This helps showcase Dexter Wansel as a major player in the harder groove based element of the Philly sound.

 

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Filed under 1970's, dance funk, Dexter Wansel, drums, Fender Rhodes, horns, Moog bass, Philadelphia, Philly funk, Philly Soul, rhythm guitar, rock guitar, slap bass, synthesizers

The O’Jays: My Favorite Jams From On Board The Philly Foursome’s Love Train

O'Jays Painting

The O’Jays have always been a part of my musical core. And so much personal understanding of the Philly sound came by way of this vocal trio. From the first time hearing “Back Stabbers” on the radio and singing along with my mom all the way to ringing in the new millennium to the tune of their song “The Year 2000”. When looking upon a single song or album to break down,it didn’t quite feel right. So with Eddie Levert turning 74,and so many his generations music peers dying off this year,I decided to break down my favorite O’Jays uptempo grooves-song by song. So here come the Philly jams!


“Back Stabbers”/1972

Henrique Hopkins and I once discussed this and the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” as being Watergate era cinematic soul anthems of paranoia. With the sauntering,theatrical proto disco Philly soul “Back Stabbers” made the darker social climate of the early 70’s wiggle and wobble with a type of excitement and joy.

“For The Love Of Money”/1973

The first time I heard this song,it reminded me of the song “Poppy Girls” from Quincy Jones’s production of The Wiz.  Turns out that was an instrumental recasting of this song’s classic bass line. The original hear is a whole different thing-a frank bit of people funk declaring “some people gotta have it/some people really need it”. No irony is lost that the group performed this song one time on Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice.

“I Love Music”/1975

Always loved this fast paced slice of ultra fast tempo’d Philly dance music. It’s an anthem to the disco era of funk as representative of the love of music for both dancing to and playing it as well as for singing. The most humorous part is the first did I heard it-as part of a VH1 bumper featuring a stereotypical female librarian listening to it on an MP3 player on a subway. Really showcased the funky power of this groove.

“Travelin’ At The Speed Of Thought”/1977

The sheer drama of this Afro Cuban percussion/disco bass driven jam made an immediate impact on my ear holes. Hearing the trio sing to the tune of some serious space funk synthesizer’s  lyrics like “Come with me/unsolve the mystery/the mystery of you and  me” alone made my hairs stand up on end with funky emotion.

“Strokety Stroke”/1978

So Full Of Love was an album that was always available brand new from Borders Books & Music since they opened in 1995. That very same copy was still there when I finally picked it up on closeout when the Borders chain closed 15 years later. It was a big surprise to hear this hardcore rocking funk on the same album that delivered the sleek Philly jump of “She Used Ta Be My Girl” and the harmony drenched ballad “Brandy”. One of my favorites in a funk context on this wonderful 1978 album.

“Out Here In The Real World”/1981

This song probably has the most personal resonance in my personal life. Musically,it’s light shuffle isn’t too big a deal for me. Vocally it has some of Eddie’s strongest vocals and the trios fine harmonies. Lyrically,this was a song my own mother often referenced to me (via my own record collection-this song turned into a favorite of hers at the time) when I was facing the difficulties of employment and a future on my own. Long story short,it’s an ongoing journey of many unexpected challenges. Still it’s sometimes good to hear Eddie Levert’s opening line of “oh man,I’ve got to get myself together” for perspective.

“Can’t Slow Down”/1985

The only reason I found out about the O’Jays 1985 album Love Fever was because I found it in the $5.99 bin,again at Borders. Much to my surprise it showcased the O’Jays doing a style of music I’d never have expected to hear from them at that time: brittle synth/electro funk. The opener “Can’t Slow Down” was my favorite. Showcases how some of soul finest harmony singers can bring out at the best in vocal samplers and other mid 80’s technology.


There are many O’Jay’s albums that are not represented with songs on this particular list. That’s because the O’Jays discography is so large,I have yet to hear all of their studio albums. These are just some of the ones that stuck out to for me. What the O’Jays have always represented to me is Gamble & Huff parlaying their talent for writing message songs. Than utilizing their most powerful vocal trio to preach the gospel of humanism. And on Eddie Levert’s birthday this year,that is what I want to celebrate most about them.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, cinematic funk, disco jazz, Eddie Levert, Funk Bass, Gamble & Huff, message songs, Philly Soul, The O'Jays

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Show Must Go On” by The Four Tops

The Four Tops have always represented the ultimate human success of Motown. From before they signed with Berry Gordy’s now famous record label in the early days to the day lead singer Levi Stubbs passed on in 2008,the vocal quartet were an example of enduring together through the good and not so good times. Until each member died,the Four Tops never had a change in lineup. This might’ve lead to their longevity as hit makers too. With post Motown smashes such as “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)” and the Top 10 R&B smash hit in the Philly inspired uptempo number “Catfish” in 1976.

It was around 1995 or so that I began exploring Motown acts beyond their reputation as “hitsville”. One day during that summer I was visiting an antique store with my family. And they had a selection of used vinyl. Among them were two ABC lable era Four Tops album in 1976’s Catfish and it’s followup from the next year entitled The Show Must Go On. Both of these records were filled with singable and highly danceable songs. Played both to the degree that they’re both new fairly scratchy. The song that’s continued to endure so strongly for me is the title song from the 1977 album The Show Must Go On.

A dramatic,descending horn fanfare opens up the song-just before the accompanying strings and hard swinging 4/4 drum beats kick in to the tune of a jazzy three by three not bass line. On the refrain of the song,Stubb’s customarily powerful voice thunders in with a highly rhythmic piano,Clavinet and and pumping disco bass propel the groove forward. The intro appears as a buffer between each refrain-only with a vocal part. The bridge of the song strips down to the drums,slapping bass and Clavinet before slowly building the horns and strings back into the musical conversation before it fades away.

With group member Lawrence Payton helping out with the arranging on this song, it’s right up there with some of the finest Philly style funky disco records of the mid to late 1970’s. The strings,horns and other instrumental sweeteners have a strong power that draws the listener into the intensely powerful rhythm section. The rhythmic Clavinet on this song is a funkified beast all of it’s own-played so low and so heavily it almost sounds like genuine percussion. As time had marched on,my appreciation for this groove after learning so much about what goes into creating music has only increased!

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, clavinet, disco funk, drums, Four Tops, horns, Lawrence Payton, Levi Stubbs, Philly Soul, piano, slap bass, strings

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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Filed under 1970's, chicken scratch guitar, David Rubinson, Disco, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Norman Whitfield, Patti Labelle, Philly Soul, slap bass

Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Tight Money” by Leon Huff

Leon Huff is,along with Kenny Gamble one of the two production architects of the Philly Sound in the 1970’s. As such he represents the last time in the 1970’s that uptempo music was having enormous commercial success during that decade. During the earlier part of Gamble started the ‘Clean Up The Ghetto” projected,which had theme songs through a number of PIR message songs and allowed for the youth of impoverished communities  to help repair damaged and neglected residences. Following a payola scandal involving Gamble in the mid 70’s, Huff decided to record a solo album under his own name in 1980 entitled Here To Create Music.

The main reason I know about this albums existence was finding a somewhat beat up vinyl copy at that University Of Maine vinyl giveaway that their radio station put on 22 years ago this year. When the free vinyl we picked up was sifted through,it was my father who ended up with this album. Several years ago,I located it as a PIR CD reissue. The album itself was written,produced and arranged by Huff alone. Overall the flavor of the albums songs leans more towards the abstract,cinematic aspect of the Philly Sound with more jazz and blues influenced pieces. One song in particular stood out for me as a funk admirer. And it was called “Tight Money”.

A rhythmic up-scaling piano and upright bass line begin the song which goes from there into a slow swinging dance rhythm. On the instrumental intro a Fender Rhodes provides the solos backed up by a rhythm guitar. On each refrain,the up-scaling rhythm that begins the song repeats and something new is added to the arranged. At first it’s a female backup group providing the vocal chorus,next up it’s a spacey synthesizer wash and by the final refrain a muted trombone and a low violin are added into the mix. Just before the final few links to the refrain,there’s a mellower Rhodes solo before going into the next one before the song finally fades out.

Instrumentally speaking,Leon Huff brings to this particular song a very similar bluesy jazz/funk flavor that Marvin Gaye bought to his “Inner City Blues” nearly a decade previous to this. Interestingly enough,the lyrical theme of the song has a similar note of economic upheaval making it more difficult to advance and grow culturally. Though in this case,it’s more a repetitive chorus than Marvin’s narrative lyrics telling the story. Because the song builds on the instrumental as well,which each section adding a new musical element,it maintains Huff’s talents as an arranger. And found him doing so in a very intimately funk manner.

 

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Filed under 1980's, blues funk, Fender Rhodes, jazz funk, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, message songs, Philadelphia International Records, Philly Soul, piano, rhythm guitar, synthesizer, trombone, Uncategorized, upright bass, violin