Pete Townshend is best known as the lead guitarist of The Who-one of the most long lived 60’s rock bands next to The Rolling Stones. Townshend is often regarded for his onstage theatrics. He is also a talented multi instrumentalist. And an early proponent of synthesizers in early 70’s rock. The best example of this is the bands 1971 hit “Baba O’Reiley”,which was built around a European classic style melody played on the ARP 2600 synthesizer. After a very successful 60’s and 70’s, Townshend and the bands lead singer Roger Daltrey began to pursue solo careers at the start of the 1980’s.
Still The Who weren’t over quite yet. This came to my knowledge with a question I never got answered until learning about it online a few years back. From the mid 90’s onward,I’d often hear this song with an intro that had a terrific groove to it. Sounded like a prog/fusion style song,but it was during an era when classic rock radio didn’t often announce the names of artists for those not in the know. It wasn’t until hearing the song in a TV commercial that I was able to research it online through that stated what the song was. It was a song from The Who’s 1982 album Its Hard entitled “Eminence Front”.
A percussive drum box opens the song as a solo sound. The main groove of the song gradually builds in during the into. First it brings in a highly digitized,arpeggiated synthesizer. This is followed by a lower synth riff, as well as a jazzy Fender Rhodes solo floating over the higher notes. The main groove of the song adds a slow crawling drum groove,Townshend’s bluesy guitar. The chorus of the song brings John Entwistle’s thumping,fuzz toned bass in-along with a guitar build up on the outro of it. The Rhodes drives everything in the groove until the song finally fades itself out.
“Eminence Front”,written and sung by Townshend, deals lyrically deals with how the drug end of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle holds back creativity. And I can respect that alternate side of the coin. What really gets me is everything from the instrumentation to the vocal choruses of this song have a special musical interconnection. The song has the theatrical melodies of progressive rock opera (which The Who helped pioneer),but also a thick groove and harmony vocals of hardcore funk. It brings to mind the way the Stones embraced funk in their rock music: based on funk and soul’s current incarnations.
Billy Joel is at the core of how I tend to relate to pop/rock music. A Bronx native, Joel’s music career was less inspired by his father being a classically trained pianist than in his mother pushing him into taking piano lessons. This cost him the credits to graduate from high school-playing in a piano bar just a bit too long so it seems-trying to earn money to support his family. He eventually joined up with a band called The Hassles. He and the bands drummer Jon Small ended up forming Atilla and releasing one album in 1970. After the duo broke up,he began his solo career with the 1971 album Cold Spring Harbor.
As his music developed,particularly after early hits such as “Piano Man” and “Captain Jack” after being signed to Columbia,Joel’s sound began to take on even stronger elements of the Broadway show tune and pre rock jazz styled pop that had always been an influence on him. This culminated in his 1977 release The Stranger,produced by the late Phil Ramone. Its followup 52 Street was part of my moms 8 track collection. And upped the jazz influences even higher. One song from the album that stood out for me on that particular musical end is a tune called “Zanzibar”.
After an opening piano flourish, Joel is dueting with himself on both a melodic and a bass piano arpeggio-with Liberty DeVito’s drums keeping in time with the rhythmic piano for the refrains. Dancing around this are a high electric piano and round bass line. The chorus returns to the more rhythmic piano style and bursts of rock guitar from Steve Khan. Joel duets with piano and a backwards keyboard loop before the bridge goes into a straight swinging bop jazz arrangement with Freddie Hubbard soloing on flugelhorn and trumpet. After a choral/refrain repeat,this swinging solo fades out the song as well.
After hearing this song enough for so many years, it has a quality of the progressive jazz rock being done by both Gino Vannelli and Steely Dan during the late 70’s. That Steely Dan influence-especially Hubbard’s trumpet solo,has been discussed by many people. Joel’s elaborate melodicism and way with a strong,funky rhythmic groove also maintained the Steely Dan like cryptic lyric regarding trying to pick up a sexy waitress at a sports bar. It also showcases,with both its writing and choice of musicians, how funky and soulful an artist like Billy Joel can be with a strong jazz base to their musical sound.
Maurice White,one of the musical icons who passed away this year,it best known as the founder of Earth Wind & Fire-the most commercially successful of the 70’s funk bands in terms of crossover. On the other hand,the band broke up in 1984. And one of the many reasons brought up was that White had it in his mind that Columbia (the bands record label) were looking for him to do a solo album. This album got released in 1985. Its biggest single was with a (mostly) uptempo version of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”. But it still remains something of a footnote in EWF history.
When I first heard the album on vinyl album around 18-20 years ago,am not 100% sure it came off as anything all that exciting. Of course,that could’ve just been a case of seeking something different from it than what it was. And what Maurice White’s self titled (and sole) solo debut does is present a series of electronic,pan African rock/funk/soul fusions with a mild melodic pop new age vibe about them. The EWF message is still intact. Its just going more for an attitude than a sound by a large. The one song that always got my attention strongly was the opener “Switch On Your Radio”.
A totally electronic synth orchestration fades slowly on the intro. Than suddenly the song bursts with a bluesy funk melodic statement. And it has all the instrumental elements of the song itself. The drum machine and Paulinho Da Costa’s percussion play off the guitar,electronic hand clap and slap bass lines with this melodic electro funk wall of sound. This represents the choruses of the songs. On the refrains and the bridge,the mix is somewhat more stripped down to focus on the vocals a bit. An extended chorus with vocal ad lib’s finish out the song as it fades.
“Switch On Your Radio” has a sound that crosses a lot of musical bridges. The overall drum programming of the song has the bigness of sound that was very much of its time. Yet the live percussion accents along with Martin Page slap bass,Marlon McClain’s rock guitar and the ethereal synthesizers of Robbie Buchanan make for a powerful sound that basically amounts to a progressive dance/funk sound. And the melody has that strong song construction White and Page are so noted for. Its an extension of the EWF sound for sure. And it also pointed to a possible future solo direction for White which didn’t continue.
Filed under 1985, dance funk, drum machine, Earth Wind & Fire, elecro funk, Marlon McClain, Martin Page, Maurice White, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Robbie Buchanan, rock guitar, slap bass, synthesizer
Morris Day has a long and storied history with the Minneapolis sound. Again,blogging partner Zach Hoskins pulled this all together so well in his overview of The Time. He was originally in the local band Grand Central with Prince and Andre Cymone. After that,he was a member of a band called Enterprise. During the early 80’s,he was considered to be part of Prince’s spin off band The Time-at which time he went from being a drummer to being a lead singer for the group. Needless to say his persona as the flashy,pimped out OG helped give The Time their performance personality.
After The Time originally broke up in 1984 (they’d reunite 7 years later),Day began a solo career starting in 1985 with his debut album The Color Of Success. A couple of years later he released his follow up sophomore solo album entitled The Color Of Success. Had this album for years on vinyl but never listened to it much,until earlier this year. It was also around that time that I learned it didn’t do too well commercially. Still,there were a handful of songs on the album that still stood out as highly funkified moments. One of them was actually a hit entitled “Fishnet”.
A heavy,kicking drum shuffle starts out the song. A mix of synthesized and electric slap bass segue right into the main chorus of the song. That consists of a high pitched orchestral synths along with lower synth horns. On the refrains of the song,those are stripped out for what sounds like a low organ style rumble. This is accompanied by a piano playing a bouncing chromatic walk down up with Day’s vocals. There’s a heavy rock guitar solo that comes in as kind of a bridge on the middle chorus. The synth brass,Day himself and the piano all improvise in and out of that chorus until the song ends on applause.
“Fishnet” is one of my favorite Morris Day solo jams. Part of the reasoning for that is how it spans two eras of funky music. At the end of the day,its a Minneapolis take on the DC go go sound. And then cut down to a 6 minute song rather than the sometimes hour long go go jams. On the other hand,it has a jazzy vibe that kid of goes along with some of the jazz/hip-hop styled new jack swing songs that would become huge in a couple of years.Still,its synth brass and phat (often punishing) funky rhythms keep it going along with the most cutting edge Minneapolis funk of 1987.
Prince really did create a technical and musical marvel with his debut album For You. Still out of Prince’s two albums of the late 1970’s,its his second self titled effort that proved to be his commercial breakthrough. That is in the sense he had a tremendous hit with it. That hit was “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. This was late 70’s sophistifunk at its sauciest-with a sleek groove that’s both sweetly melodic,but has a full on chunky bass/guitar groove about it. It started off this album. And its also the song that many mainstream pop music listeners pre 1980 might cite as the very first Prince they’d remember hearing.
I first became aware of this record through a handful of its songs making the cute of Prince’s first anthology set The Hits/B-Sides. So its probably best to discuss those songs first. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” is a very mainstream rock tune with some glistening,melodic power chords from Prince on this song written by Andre’ Cymone. The other is a classic Prince one man band version of “I Feel For You”. This is the first version I heard. And due to that reason,much as I love Chaka Khan’s far more famous cover,that’s pretty much its own thing next to this version.
Whats so interesting about this album for me is 3/4 of it is slow ballad oriented. When I first picked up the CD pre-owned,all there was to listen to CD’s were undependable bar code scanners some stores had. So it was a surprised that some songs such as “When We’re Dancing Close And Slow” and “Still Waiting” were rather country western/pop flavored ballads. “With You” has a 1950’s doo wop flavor to its slow ballad flavor. Of the slow songs on the album,my personal favorite is “It’s Gonna Be Lonely”-which has a then contemporary progressive soft rock flavor about it with its processed guitar reverb.
My favorite song on this album of course is “Sexy Dancer”. This is almost an instrumental. Prince’s panting becomes a percussive element to this lean,mean bass/guitar extravaganza that points to Prince’s signature early 80’s funk sound. Not to mention the jazzy Yamaha electric piano solo he takes on the bridge. “Bambi” is the other rocker here. This is a crunching hard rock number too. The focus of the song is on Prince having a crush on a woman who turns out to be a lesbian-spending the chorus trying to convince her “its better with a man”-seemingly for his own physical benefit only.
In the end,I have to agree with Prince on this album. It served its function very well in getting more people interested in his music. And as he implied,it did what it he intended it to do by featuring some strands of late 70’s pop music. On the other hand,Prince’s frank take on the sexual revolution of disco era and the albums general emphasis on funk made it clear the type of musician Prince would be. He would make melodies,rock out but never totally give up on the funk. In as much as it laid the blueprint for his commercial approach of the early 80’s,this album is a very significant one for Prince.
Prince’s history in terms of his unreleased vault material,shrouded in mystery as it is,does have a vital history all its own for the artist. He recorded during most of his free time. And loads of songs for each album project. One period that myself and many admirer’s of Prince’s music love to dip into is his huge 1986 production. In the early 80’s,Prince was seeking to make a name for himself as a new wave/synth pop artist with heavy rock overtones. And his funkiness would be a side dish. By 1985,Prince added The Family’s sax player Eric Leeds into the Revolution. And funk would no longer be a side dish for him.
There were two Prince projects that came and went in 1986. There was a Revolution album Dream Factory, a three album set called Crystal Ball (not to be confused with the self released 1998 outtake collection) and an album credited to the name Camille. This would feature Prince singing in a chipmunk-link voice he slowed down,then sped up. Many tracks from this album found their way onto albums and as B-sides. One,”If I Was Your Girlfriend” became a major hit later. One very exciting song I’ve heard from this album that hasn’t been widely distributed is “Rebirth Of The Flesh”.
An ultra sound like synth pulse starts out the song. And remains the primary percussive element throughout the song. Within a minutes time,Prince adds a brittle fuzzed out guitar and big,funky drums with tons of space in it as part of the mix. As the song progresses,with Prince’s vocals having a rangy and tonally complex conversation with itself,the horns of Eric Leeds and Matt Bliston accentuate the melody JB’s style. On the refrains,the deep fuzzy guitar and Leeds’ sax merge into a heavy sounding sustained melody. At the end of the song a goulish,thundering sound brings it to a halt.
“Rebirth Of The Flesh” was one of those songs that brought every element of Prince’s musical artistry together. Its got a hard driving funky rhythm-with some of the most intense horn lines Leeds and Bliston ever provided. It also has a very industrial rock tone-with some Hendrix like bluesy guitar licks. Its also got some of the melodic and rhythmic dissonances of jazz greats such as Duke Ellington. It lends much credence to George Clinton’s comment that Prince would be “one of the baddest out there if he released some of what he had in the can”. So here we have Prince’s funk at its hardest and most daring.
Filed under 1986, Atlanta Bliss, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, funk rock, horns, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, rock guitar, Saxophone, synthesizer, unreleased
Prince was the topic of a conversation between myself and Henrique for much of this past summer. One of the big related topics had to do with an episode of Calvin Lincoln’s TV show Soul School TV out of Vallejo,California. The Prince tribute had a subtext involving its guest about Prince being the prime musical of all time. Henrique,Calvin and myself all ended up agreeing that Prince’s was the prime musical figure,but of the 1980’s-not of all time. The album that probably epitomizes this,as well as Prince’s main persona,came in the very first year of the 80’s decade Dirty Mind.
Last week,this album celebrated its 36th anniversary. Hard to believe Prince’s third album is the same as as I am. So no irony is lost on me that I’m a little late to the party over-viewing this album here. Most of the songs on this particular album came to me by way of their inclusion on the compilation The Hits/The B-Sides. Upon finally hearing the album in its entirety on vinyl,it became clear that this represented the beginning of an ongoing process on Prince’s part to gain the attention of the rock audience. His first two albums in the late 70’s were funk/soul with a West Coast soft rock twist. Dirty Mind changed all that.
The main characteristic of Dirty Mind is the stripped down instrumental approach. As well as the raw demo style production. From my understanding and research,the post disco radio freeze out of black American music had a key tenant: using the than often maligned term of “disco” as a musically racist slur to keep uptempo hits from black artists from crossing over. Brittle,jerky guitar/synthesizer based new wave rock was the order of the day in the very early 80’s on pop radio. And for all intents and purposes Dirty Mind is Prince’s new wave rock album.
Most of the songs showcase pulsing synthesizers,stiffly grinding guitars with like minded bass lines and punkish “rage against the machine” attitude. What Prince added to this mix were melodic structures that were still very much in league with the funk/soul genre from which he came. He was still singing exclusively in his falsetto vocal register. The lyrical content also reflects elements of the sexual revolution from the disco era. The difference came from the explicit “punk” attitude with which Prince expressed what was generally only implied during the disco era itself.
Actually,this album is not particularly funky throughout. Even its ballads have more of a 1950’s doo-wop flavor about them. “Head”,with its naked electro Minneapolis funk,essentially set the stage for numbers such as The Time’s debut single “Get It Up” and his own “Controversy” from a year later. “Partyup”,with Morris Day on drums,closes the album with a tight new wave funk hybrid that lyrically sets the stage for his song “1999” a couple of years later. In the end Dirty Mind found Prince re-imagining his sound for what the decade required of it. And trying to reconcile the relationship between funk and rock.
With his next two albums Controversy and his breakthrough 1999, Prince pulled more funk into his mix of Minneapolis new wave. Sometimes even hybridizing for an entire song. This is the sound that Prince would make famous. Both of these albums were sleeker and had a hotter mix than anything on Dirty Mind. And of course Prince’s major breakthrough as a rock star would come in 1984’s Purple Rain. After that,Prince was primarily funk with some rock mixed in. Still Dirty Mind shows how Prince would still come into his own-even when the general music tide seemed to work against his style.
Filed under 1980's, classic albums, Dirty Mind, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, post disco, punk funk, rock guitar, sexual revolution, synthesizer
Writing about The Beatles for me (especially on a blog that isn’t essentially rock focused) proved to be grounds for a lot of reflection. Also,how much more writing and analysis can really be done about the Fab Four by anyone? In the end,The Beatles remain a band who always seem to engender new impressions of them. Only half of the band that defined a generation are alive today-namely Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. Yet no matter what the two of them are doing today,whether doing albums of standards or performing in Maine with Todd Rundgren,its The Beatles that tend to always define them.
There’s one Beatle album I tend to view more as their definitive statement. And its not Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band-now itself an adjective describing any artist/band’s album masterpiece. The album I’m talking about is Revolver. It came out on August 5th,1966 in the UK. It represented for the Beatles a change in their performance ethic. The band members wished to concentrate more on their musicality as opposed to simply rocking hard for a sea of screaming fans in Beatlemania. So they stopped touring after this album. Which dovetails into the major revolution this Beatle album brought about.
Over the years,many rock musicians have tended to view their art in a rather more conservative way. Namely the idea of “rock is being able to pick up a guitar in a garage and just play 3 chords”. Rock ‘n roll is basically a very simplified variation of the 12 bar blues anyway. From the get go,The Beatles always had other things in mind. Songs such as “And I Love Her”,”If I Fell” and “In My Life” showcased the Lennon/McCartney talent for modulation-featuring unexpected chord progressions that were often very jazz and Brazilian in nature. Revolver took all of this to the next level.
McCartney for his part used his fascination with musique concrete by integrating backwards tape loops into many of the songs on this album-which came into play on Lennon’s Tibetan based psychedelic blowout album closer of “Tomorrow Never Knows”. These were fashioned in very melodic ways,not for showiness. Songs such as “Elenore Rigby” showcased producer George Martin’s symphonic strings as opposed to the Beatles rhythm section. John Lennon’s usually simple,almost punk style attitude about music began to change on the jazzy chord progressions of “I’m Only Sleeping”.
George Harrison even incorporated his newfound love of East Indian classical music into the song “Love You Too”. He combines Tabla drums and sitar with a melody that showcases that he is not writing a three chord pop song with Indian instruments. That he has come to understand the basics of the Indian classical forms fairly well. McCartney really shines strong on this album overall. One of my favorites is his melding of English marching band horns with a contemporary American soul shuffle in “Got To Get You Into My Life”,which inspired a hit cover version by Earth Wind & Fire twelve years later.
There’s little denying that all 14 songs on this album are amazing. But the ones I discussed merely reflect the level on which the Beatles were innovating rock. And at a time when the genre was entering its preteen years. This album contains a series of catchy pop songs,yet ones with unexpected chord changes. It also contains melodically strong music based in non Western forms such as Indian and middle eastern modalities. Above all,it does so with the keen understanding that what a rock band “rock” over is potentially the most enduring aspect of the music. And that’s what I feel as Revolver turns 50.
Filed under 1966, classic albums, European Classic Music, George Harrison, Indian Classic Music, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, pop rock, Psychedelia, Ringo Starr, rock 'n' roll, rock and soul, rock guitar, The Beatles
Prince got away with as much on his 1982 album 1999 as he did on his budget blowing debut from 1978. For one,he managed to convince Warner Bros to release a double album at the price of a single one. Not only that but he filled it with 12 songs that were mostly between 5 and 10 minutes long. This was an approach closer to that of an early 70’s James Brown/JB’s record than a pop directed album of the early 80’s. Yet it showcased the way in which Prince was looking to have his music marketed. And also spoke to a lot of his maverick spirit on that level that would come to full flower a decade later.
My first exposure to 1999 came in…well 1997. I decided to pick up Prince’s first four albums of the 80’s (Purple Rain included) on vinyl. 1999 was the coolest visually because you could see the closeup photo of Prince’s eye spinning on the custom labels spinning while playing the album. That summer my Aunt Deb came to visit us. We began talking about our mutual admiration for Prince. We both agreed 1999 was our favorite album by him. When we discussed our favorite song on the album,she said hers was “Little Red Corvette”. I said mine was the song I’m over viewing today: “Lady Cab Driver”.
A Linn drum beat thumping along with the sound of traffic sounds begins the song,as Prince is heard hailing a cab. After this,the main groove of the song comes in. This features a live funky drum,with Prince playing the rhythmic changes on a equally funky rhythm guitar. When the lead vocals come in,each vocal part features a low toned synth brass part. There are several sections to this song. One features Prince and said cab driver involved in a vocally intense sexual encounter. The other showcases thick slap bass,bursts of rock guitar and squiggly synths before fading out on traffic sounds just as it began.
“Lady Cab Driver” stands very much in contrast to the synth based Minneapolis sound permeating the rest of the 1999 album. Its strong live drum/bass/guitar oriented funk with the MPLS synth brass used as accents only. Conceptually,it seems like a fetish setup at first. Until during the mock sexual encounter,Prince reveals his envy of his brother,his disdain for rich people who don’t know how to give,and so on. I also realize now that the main chorus of the song is also a possible origin of Ready For The World’s Prince ripoff song “Oh,Sheila”. Even today,its still one of this albums most powerful slices of funk.
Filed under 1980's, 1999, drums, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, rhythm guitar, rock guitar, slap bass, synth brass, synthesizers