Tag Archives: protest songs

‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’- Sly Stone And Another Kind Of Family Affair!

Sly & The Family Stone made key contributions to the overall musical landscape of the late 1960’s. And those contributions are still somewhat under explored in professional literary terms. Sly Stone himself took the funk of James Brown, then blended in a helping of Bay Area California psychedelic pop/rock. The results were enduring hits such as “Dance To The Music”, “Stand”, “I Wanna Take You Higher” and the full on funk breakthrough “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf”. It was a racially and sexually integrated group too-with female instrumentalists and black and white members.

The Family Stone WERE the musical face of the American social revolutions of that late 60’s period. As the 70’s came in, the band and their times remained deeply connected to one another. Sly’s drug use, and resulting isolationism, impaired the bands ability to perform with him. In America at large, the all inclusive mass social protests of the late 60’s were giving way to a form of activism known by some as the “single issue cause”. Women, LGBT people and the black community were now each demanding to have their own voices heard as individual groups.

By the early 70’s some notions of sharing, peace and love became diminished as these individual groups fought for their own recognition. The same occurred within The Family Stone. As often happens with heavy drug users, Sly’s focus became more focused on his creativity. So for his 1971, originally titled Africa Talks To You, Sly utilized the talents of himself along with the late Ike Turner, Bobby Womack and Billy Preston more than the members of his band.  This sense of isolation and disconnect from the world around Sly changed his creative focus for the late 1971 release of There’s A Riot Goin’ On.

“Luv ‘N Haight” starts out the album with a rumbling, motor like drum which is powered by heavy wah wah guitar/bass interaction. Its deeply funky groove wise. But the chorus scales up and down in the manner of classic Family Stone. “Just Like A Baby” is a slow, bluesy shuffle. Its melody is Clavinet based-played in its higher registers. That gets a bit lower with the economic bass and…what I’d guess would by Womack’s soulful guitar accents. Sly’s strained voice, also with a high pitched tone, flows in and out as an almost ghostly presence.

“Poet”s stop/start rhythm utilizes the Maestro Rhythm King 2 drum machine-along with layers of call and response Clavinet/bass/guitar interaction. “Africa Talks To You “The Asphalt Jungle”” takes on a very similar flavor-with Womack’s guitar again being a key melodic element-with some pulsing Moog bass assisting the live on towards the end. “Family Affair” again features the MRK2 drums playing a more steady rhythm-with the wah wah and Rose Stone singing the hook to Sly’s low,drunken sounding delivery along with a melodic electric piano counterpoint.

“Brave & Strong” uses both the MK2 drums and live ones-depending on how advanced the rhythms are. Cynthia and Jerry’s horns play their classic counterpoint to the bass/ guitar/ Clavinet interaction remaining at the center of the song. “(You Caught Me) Smiling” begins with a live drum/electric piano/Clavinet led pop/jazz type melodic statement before the slap bass and horn rises play the bluesy funk based vibe of the rest of the song-balancing the songs hesitant conceptual mood with separate musical statements. And it says a lot that the “title track” is merely a silent second of audio.

“Time” has a deeply slowed MK2 allows for Sly’s bluesy/soul jazz inspired organ and Clavinet melodies to accompany to fill in the vastly empty spaces of rhythm within the song-all along with his own vocals. The drum machine on “Spaced Cowboy” has a bossa style rhythm , while the live drum rocks right along to a wah wah/Clavinet based sound. Essentially, its a satire of blues tinged country/bluegrass type of song.  “Runnin’ Away”s chorus has a steady drum, bass and organ sound to it. The refrain has the drums and bass get more rhythmically complicated-with the horns and guitar providing the melody.

“Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa” operates as a slowed down remake of “Thank You Falettine Me Be Mice Elf”-recorded for but not released on this album, with the bass, guitar and organ playing over the empty sections of the drum’s rhythm. That approach to Sly’s major funk innovation of the previous year showcases how, even there, his thematic focus was growing more paranoid. Especially as throughout this album, there are constant lyrical references to “feeling so good inside myself”, “frightened faces on the wall” and even declaring that “the brave and strong survive”.

There’s A Riot Goin’ On musically established Sly’s 70’s era sound. Its a spare one that’s based heavily in the organ styled MRK2 drum machine he was using-along with the bursts of different electric pianos with the bass/guitar interaction. Only on two occasions (in the albums hit songs “Family Affair” and “Runnin’ Away”) did the more brightly melodic singalong style of late 60’s Sly & The Family Stone shine through strongly. Otherwise, the album (both musically and lyrically) emphasizes that connection between both Sly and politicized Americans as turning inward as the 70’s began.

Riot isn’t a Sly album that I personally take out and listen to very often. While musically its very innovative in terms of how the funk genre was progressing? The album’s psychedelic element lacks a sense of musical form and structure that functions so well for Sly Stone-both before and after this album. Yet as an aural psychedelic funk work of art, There’s A Riot Goin’ On might be its own self contained 45 minute musical sub genre. The fact that its an album that exists in its own musical world goes right with its reflection of Sly’s shift from talking to the people to talking more as an individualist.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Funky National Anthem: Message 2 America” by Sheila E.

 

Sheila Escovedo was written about very well last summer by my former blogging partner Zach Hoskins. She came up in Oakland,California. And of a Creole,black and Mexican heritage. Not to even mention a childhood taking place during the summer of love in Frisco. And the ascendance of the Black Panther Party in her own hometown. She was only 19 when she made her musical debut as percussionist on jazz-funk bassist Alphonso Johnson’s sophomore LP Yesterday’s Dreams. It was a dry run from there to her work with the George Duke man,her time as a session ace and her hit making time with Prince.

On the first of September, Sheila is releasing a new album entitled Iconic Message 4 America. This album appears similar in concept to the Isley Brothers and Santana collaborative album Power Of Peace. Mainly in that it consists of covers of progressive message songs of the late 1960’s. Sheila however is collaborating with artists such from as Ringo Starr,George Clinton and Sly’s brother Freddy-just to name a few. A few days ago, Sheila uploaded a video she did of one for one of the new songs on the album to YouTube. Upon seeing it, the musical and visual concept was mind blowing. The song is called”Funky National Anthem: Message 2 America”.

The song starts out with a straight ahead version of the Star Spangled Banner. After this, the music suddenly goes into a re-recorded version of The JB’s “Doin It To Death”. It starts out maintaining the shuffling boogie and rhythm guitar of the song. And on the choruses, a heavy gospel organ comes in-all to Sheila and a number of other singers singing the Star Spangled Banner in its original tune. The next part of the song features a version of Maceo Parker’s sax solo,the organ plus samples of speeches from Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama.

Sheila’s musical concept for this song is personally exciting. It takes America’s national anthem, ironically composed by staunch slavery advocate Francis Scott Key, and mixes it with the famous JB’s funk anthem from 1973. Both songs maintain their melody-with the JB’s soloing kept intact. Visually, the concept is a woman being interrogated seemingly for just having hope in a better future. The samples from MLK, FDR and Obama speeches feature multi racial American children lip syncing to their inspiring words. In an era when American must again confront hardcore racism, this song is right on time.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Gospel” by Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys is an artist whom myself and Henrique both have similar thoughts on. Both of us agree that she possesses the musical talent and understanding to be a major soul/funk/ jazz force for the new millennium. That being said,her albums have generally focused on instrumentally dressed up pop piano ballads-with simplistic notes that (quite frankly) do disservice to Keys’ musical abilities. Since this is such a common approach now with artists such as Sam Smith,Adele and John Legend,it even came as a surprise to me that on her November 2016 album release HERE,Alicia Keys musical vision has begun to change.

One of the first steps towards this change was Alicia Keys decision to not wear makeup for the time being. She saw the focus on the affectations of her appearance as getting in the way of her musical talent. As a natural beauty both without and (most importantly) within, Keys’ choice is a very admirable one. This year,with the Knowles sisters Beyonce and Solange both making powerful pro black album statements,Keys made a comeback with a very similar vibe to it overall. Generally a rather stripped down jazzy album, HERE  is also home to a very powerful opening song called “The Gospel”.

Keys starts singing to a piano riff that,while playing in the European classical meter,is deep in the blues pentatonic scale. She adds some honky tonk style reverb when the drums kick in. These drums are mixed somewhat higher than the piano-playing a very strident march. Keys sings the song in a fast,modern rap type rhythmic style. On the refrains,she chants “yeah yeah yeah” in the gospel soul style similar to the vocal harmonies on Funkadelic’s 1971 groove “You And Your Folks,Me And My Folks”. This is the pattern within the song that repeats until fade out.

“The Gospel” is a tense,brittle song. And its about tense times. Musically,its very much like a modern early 70’s funky soul inspired hip-hop record-especially with it being based around a pounding,extended vamp. Lyrically,its very much of a revisit of similar themes to Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City”. Since this is not an instrumental opus with many complex parts,it focuses on a lyrical setup that doesn’t so much offer hope. But rather it paints a picture of lower class black life and a call to protest-asking “if you ain’t in the battle,how you gon’ win the fight?”. This makes it a very different type of Alicia Keys song.

 

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If You Don’t Vote,You Don’t Count-A Message From Andre’ Cymone.

America is,as if today,about to come upon the most critical presidential election I’ve personally lived through. The frightening presence of Donald Trump as a candidate as raised many uncomfortable questions about what sort of people Americans are. 2016 is also a year that saw the death of Prince. His close childhood friend and lyrical inspiration Andre’ Cymone wrote this rockabilly style number a few years ago encouraging people to vote. For today,I’ll just post this video above with its lyrics printed below. All in hopes you,the reader,will be encouraged to exercise your most important American right tomorrow.

Vote to make a difference…If you don’t vote, you don’t count…
lyrics

VOTE

I come from a neighborhood
They won’t spend
No money to make it shine
The rich
With all the power
Buy off politicians
And leave the common folk behind
That’s why you gotta

Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote, you don’t count
Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote
Then you can’t complain

I, I need an answer
Why is it so hard
To treat the people right
The populations changin
All across our nation
And we don’t need no guns
To be the winner in this fight
That’s why you got to

Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote, you don’t count
Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote
Then you can’t complain

Let me ask you a question
Which party started a 12 year war
Here’s another question
Who always opens the window
While the other one closes the door

Last vote
We got Obama
But he can’t pass
These laws all by himself
He needs a team
Who understands all our needs
And won’t let corporations
Put our dreams up on a shelf
That’s why you got to

Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote, baby you don’t count
Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote
Then you can’t complain

Man what you mean
You ain’t gon vote… man
Don’t you realize that’s how they win….Who’s they?
They’s the corporations, The rich, the ones that don’t wanna
See the average person make the same kinda money so they can quit workin for them.
You seen what happened in Ferguson, they didn’t vote, five per cent turn out, no you gotta do better than that, you wanna see representation that looks like you , feels like you, does the things that you wanna see done in your future… You gotta get out there and vote.
If you don’t vote, you don’t count.

The time is now
To take control of your life
Too many people died
For us to win that right

Ain’t nothin cool
About sittin elections out
You wanna save this world
Sign up and join the fight

Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote, baby you don’t count
Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote
Then you can’t complain

 

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Filed under 2016, America, Andre Cymone, Donald Trump, message music, message songs, political songs, presidential elections, progressive music, voting

Prince: I Rock Therefore I Am

prince-symbol-guitar

Prince’s music enviably would end up being the Minneapolis sound. It turned out to be a rather variable form where soul,synth pop,blues,rock ‘n roll and even jazz would all combine through a particular sonic framework. Personally speaking,the basis of Prince’s sound was always funk. He did however grow up listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix,Carlos Santana and Joni Mitchell too. Whether it be on electric or acoustic guitar,Prince also enjoyed rocking out. Be it on a possible hit single or to let his virtuosity on guitar have it’s way. So here are my personal favorite rock oriented numbers from ”

“I’m Yours” from For You (1978)

Prince always insisted that Carlos Santana was a major influence on him as a guitarist. Mainly because “Santana played prettier” to quote the man on the subject. With his use of sustains and Latin style melodies,this powerfully produced number from his debut album (with it’s heavy reverb and echo) is the earliest released example of his lead guitar chops.

“Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” from Prince (1979)

It was Prince’s childhood friend and fellow band mate in his earlier touring group The Rebels, Andre Cymone, who played bass and sang backup on this tune. This is where Prince really showcased his ability to write and perform radio friendly,hook filled rockers. With this one having that sleek West Coast production flair of his late 70’s albums.

“When You Were Mine” from Dirty Mind (1980)

Warner Bros executives have been said to have commented that “we signed the new Stevie Wonder,and he’s giving us the new Ric Ocasek” upon hearing Prince’s third album for the first time. And it likely has a lot to do with his song. Prince’s brittle,low rhythm guitar pump and melodic keyboards have The Cars’s musical flavor written all over it. With it’s hook filled singability and classic new wave guitar riff (not to mention becoming a hit agai with Cyndi Lauper covering it four years later),this might be one of Prince’s very finest rockers ever.

“Private Joy” from Controversy (1981)

While not a guitar rocker,this song really showcased Prince and his band the Revolution evolving into itself with synth pop/new wave based dance music. It has a simple rock style melody performed on the Linn drum machine plus a few layers of synthesizers. So it showcased Prince’s ability to rock even without guitar soloing.

“Let’s Go Crazy” from Purple Rain (1984)

With it’s gospel style theatrics,fast tempo,brittle guitar and keyboard? This song might just be the moment when Prince’s rock side fully matured musically. With rock ‘n roll really being divided along racial lines after the late 60’s,this song finds Prince “bringing it back to church” by joining Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix in re-introducing rock ‘n roll with a very heavy black American musical subtext.

“I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” from Sign O The Times (1987)

Prince really bought out the hand clap powered,orchestral melodic guitar sound of Phil Spector via Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street band in this extraordinarily catchy heartland style pop/rock number. This is one of Prince’s catchiest rock songs since the days of “When You Were Mine”.

“Thieves In The Temple” from Graffiti Bridge (1990) 

Prince actually did something rather unique with this song. It has a mysterious,late 80’s arena rock flavor about it’s production and guitar sound during the main choruses. But the melodic construction has a theme similar to the type that a mid 60’s jazz musician might improvise off of. That probably has a lot to do with why Herbie Hancock did an acoustic jazz version of it on his The New Standard album seven years later.

“Cream” from Diamonds And Pearls (1991)

With it’s rhythmic mix of Southern soul and countrified blues rock, this Prince hit actually hits on a very similar musical vibe to Bonnie Raitt’s hit “Something To Talk About” from the same era. Prince also takes the instrumental sound he gets with the NPG and allows the melody to just drip with that rascally,old school blues sexuality.

“Cinnamon Girl” from Musicology (2004)

Been listening to this song lately. Since the turn of the millennium,Prince began writing hook filled protest rockers more than he ever had. This one has a similar acoustic texture to his more recent song “Baltimore”. This one tells a very significant story America is still dealing with today: post 9/11 racial profiling and discrimination against those with a Muslim back-round. Prince did himself a lot of good by being one of the view high profile musical voices taking a bold lyrical stance against America’s dog whistle heavy “war on terror” of the early aughts.

“Rock And Roll Love Affair” from Hitnrun Phase 2 (2015)

Actually a couple of years old at the time of it’s album release, this song has a similar vibe to “Cream” from a quarter century ago-in terms of it’s country/blues-rock approach. Prince adds dramatic Minneapolis style synth brass to this one though. Since there’s a good possibility this might’ve been among the very last rock numbers Prince recorded,it finds this element of his sound seeming to come full circle.

As with many of the list style Prince articles I’ve written o Andresmusictalk,the erratic presence of Prince’s music via YouTube is still a factor. Songs such as “I Rock Therefore I Am” and “Fury” are not present here for that very reason. While they will be dealt with on this blog later,and in different ways? This is really about how Prince was able to evolve as a guitar soloist and pop songwriter through the rock oriented side of his artistry. Now that the man isn’t with us anymore,the seeds he planted as a guitarist from Lenny Kravitz to Gary Clark Jr. have strong potential to carry on this particular side of his legacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2000s, 2010's, Blues, funk/rock, guitar, lead guitar, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, protest songs, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, synth brass, synthesizer, Uncategorized, YouTube

Anatomy Of THE Groove Special Presentation for 5/10/2015: “Baltimore” by Prince

Having the police related murders of Michael Brown (in Ferguson,Missouri)and most recently Freddie Gray (in Baltimore) on the public consciousness so much of late? One of the major conversations among musically minded individuals was the almost complete lack of attention paid to the issue by contemporary you musicians. Especially black American musicians such as economic powerhouses Beyonce,Nikki Minaj,Jay Z and Alicia Keys. So were civil rights related protest songs truly a dead art form in the United States?

Apparently they were not. And as it turned out? It was going to come from a source that not everyone (including myself) would’ve expected it to. Throughout his career? Prince has shown himself,at best,to be extremely fickle and unpredictable in terms of what sort of sociopolitical benefits he chooses to become musically involved in. Considering his two decade personal mission of asserting a creative end of black power on his own terms? This purple icon recorded a new song. And as typical performed the instrumental parts by himself. Later bringing in young Chicago vocalist Eryn Allen Kane to sing on this new number he called simply “Baltimore”.

Beginning with Eryn’s gospel drenched vocal cry of the title, a drum roll opens the main core of the song. This is a very basic melodic setup on that level. It’s an acoustic guitar harmony with a smooth blues lead guitar riff. On the refrain, Prince is playing a pumping bass over a steady 4/4 pop/rock beat with more rock guitar accents. This pattern repeats itself in two or three variations and building in intensity as the lyrics do. On the bridge? There’s a thick drum/percussion rhythm over which Prince declares “if there ain’t no justice, then there ain’t no peace”.

Prince comes back with another powerful bluesy lead guitar before Eryn comes in with another powerful lead. The song ends first with a repeat of the bridge-this time with 80’s Minneapolis orchestral synthesizer before ending on a gentler  version of the chorus. The two beat drum pattern is accompanied by a synthesizer and Prince’s own falsetto vocal harmonies. This leads off the song, which concludes with what sounds like a news report “interrupting your regularly scheduled program about a developing situation in Los Angeles”.

Upon my first listen to the song? It actually didn’t come off as all that moving musically. Personally? It seems a bit more instrumentally fitting to use funk as a medium for a message song. That musical genre’s strong emphasis on rhythm makes it ideal accompaniment for a song about a real life event which needs to be dealt with positively. Prince actually decided to make a very bright and acoustically tinged pop/rock number here. The sometimes elaborate and percussive drum patterns really showcases the rhythmic mastery Prince has been able to transfer from drum machines to live drums over the decades.

Taken on it’s own terms? This is one of the more upbeat rock songs Prince has made in years. From an instrumental and compositional perspective. Lyrically there’s another kind of feeling eluded to. The man is looking at the present situation from a rather broad and historical perspective. He showcases how a day and place can make all the difference in terms of perceiving racially motivated human tragedy. He even paraphrases Albert Einstein by stating “peace is more than the absence of war”. That after asking for prayer for the murders of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. So the song asks for heartfelt acts of kindness and social responsibility in a time where silent shock creates too much human inaction.

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Filed under 2015, Baltimore, bass guitar, Eryn Allen Kane, Ferguson, Freddie Gray, guitar, message music, Michael Brown, percussion, pop, Prince, protest songs, rock 'n' roll