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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sweet Freedom” by Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald emerged out of his native Ferguson, Missouri (and his first band Blue) to become one of the most important building blocks of the west coast pop/soul/funk sound out of LA-during the late 70’s and early 80’s. His first gig was in singing backup on Steely Dan’s 1975 Katy Lied. And he brought his distinctively jazzy soul way with the Rhodes piano to The Doobie Brothers when he joined them shortly thereafter. In doing so, he totally reshaped their southern rock sound into west coast funky soul such as “Takin’ It To The Street”, “It Keeps You Runnin'” and of course “What A Fool Believes”.

Turning 66 years old today, McDonald has had an equally varied solo career. Especially with his soulfully, distinctively slurred vocal delivery and raspy falsetto. He even made a more  popular comeback in the early aughts with two separate CD’s of classic Motown covers. Both with and without the Doobie’s, McDonald’s career has many exciting moments that got my attention. Especially 1982’s G funk building block “I Keep Forgettin'”. The song that I’m talking about today was from the 1986 movie Running Scared. And its the late Rod Temperton written “Sweet Freedom”.

A snare/tom based drum kicks into a percussion based intro with two corresponding synths-one playing a marimba like sound and the other introducing the main melody with McDonald’s refrain. Other layers of synth, including a brittle bass line come in as the drums fatten up. On the choruses, the rhythm guitar of (likely) Paul Jackson and the horn arrangements of Larry Williams beef up the arrangement. After a re-harmonized bridge ending with a pitch bent synth solo, an extended version of the chorus closes out the song.

“Sweet Freedom” is one of those songs I’ve personally enjoyed, sung and danced around to since childhood. And it makes sense now that its another Rod Temperton composition. It really brings to life that danceable, Caribbean inspired funky soul injected into the mid 80’s American pop landscape. It all had just the right mix of melodic sweetness and rhythm heft to make it work very well. And in terms of keyboards and vocals, this is some of McDonald’s finest work-with Temperton making the most of the artists jazzy twists as well. A wonderful meeting of two soulful icons in a very enjoyable setting.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Freddie’s Dead” by Curtis Mayfield

Superfly is a film I’ve never seen. Nor have the soundtrack to. One of the oddest omissions in my collection. The reason having the album never seemed a priority to own is because my father had the 2 CD special edition in the early aughts. A set complete with radio spots for the album from Curtis himself. And it was played to death. So there was a lot of exposure to the music from this 1972 classic soundtrack for the Gordon Parks Jr’s drug scene related epic staring Ron O’Neal as the dealer Priest-so as I understand a character planning on retirement after a final “sweet” drug deal.

Apparently Mayfield wasn’t particularly pleased by Parks’ movie after seeing a screening during the film scoring process.  He was said to have described it as an “infomercial for cocaine”. Being the socially conscious man that Mayfield was? He decided to write a series of songs that not only ran thematically counter to the film. But also added depth based on different perspectives of Superfly‘s seemingly pro crime themes. The film itself can be debated. But what cannot be so easily is how Mayfield fleshed out one particular “flunky” pusher from the film in one of its classics called “Freddie’s Dead”.

Tyrone McCullen’s ultra funky drums start of the song accompanying Mayfield’s lead melody on a punchy fuzz guitar,with a layer of wah wah in the back round. As the song comes into itself,that bluesy melody the song starts out of with the countering orchestral strings,dreamy glockenspiel and big band horn charts accentuating the melody. All along with Henry Gibson’s percussion. Especially as the song jumps up a chord on the chorus. As the song progress,muted horns and psychedelic guitars and all, a bridge with a bass/string/percussion delay goes into extended chorus fading out the song.

“Freddie’s Dead” is one of those masterpieces of early 70’s cinematic funk for what became known as the “blacksploitation” genre of cinema at the time. It was famously covered by the ska/funk band Fishbone 16 years after the original due to its iconic status. Heard only as an instrumental in the movie, it gives a seemingly minor character an identity of people having “misused him,ripped him off and abused him”. Curtis then advises “Freddie’s on the corner now,so you wanna be a junkie wow,remember Freddie’s dead” in a beautiful example of funk working cinematically to help heal society’s ills.

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Yellow Light” by Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams has had four years since the summer of 2014. That was the summer that almost every town in America had people making YouTube videos to his stripped down soul jazz styled dance number “Happy”. Thus far,its likely the anthem for the 2010’s. And a somewhat unexpected one at that. Since that time,Williams has immersed himself in supporting social causes along with his usual production work. Among them was the 7 continent ‘Live Earth’ concert done with Al Gore to help raise awareness of and pressure governments to act on climate change.

Considering the recent global climate change conferences and the phenomenal response to “Happy” four years ago, Williams is fast proving the cynics wrong. That music can actually change the world-one song at a time. Recently Universal has released the sequel film Despicable Me 3. The 16 song soundtrack is set to feature seven songs from Pharrell Williams. One of them is a song which I heard via a Vevo search, for the very first time, just a couple days ago. And something about it just hit me over the head. The name of the song is “Yellow Light”.

Williams’ vocals popping along to the popcorn style synthesizer make up for the intro. The then main body of the song comes in. For the most part,its made up of a brittle and funky drum machine beat with a number of fills-accented on the final beat with a hi hat sound. In between that is a thick, bassy wah wah style,higher pitched synth wobble. Between each section of the song, there’s a break where an electric rhythm guitar accompanies William’s gospel like vocal shouts exactly. A vocal sample of someone saying the word “yo” fades out the song.

Musically speaking “Yellow Light” speaks to Pharrell Williams putting his special touch on his ever growing musical fusions. His basic style here is based on 80’s electro funk/hip-hop: instrumentally condensed and focused directly on the groove. At the same time, non of the mans soulful passion and love of humanity is lost on the song. Its an anthem for what he calls  “the united states of uncertainty”-praising sunlight as the “best disinfectant”-even throwing subtle shade at modern Hollywood with the line with “everyone’s overdosing the blue light use”. All and all,another one of Pharrell’s finest.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Little Ghetto Boy” by Donny Hathaway

Donny Hathaway was one of the earliest musical figures I remember hearing by name. Though at that time,it was seven years late to the party that was his musical life. He committed suicide over a year before I was born-apparently after suffering with paranoid schizophrenia during what would’ve normally been the peak of his career. An alumni of Howard University,the Chicago native first took up with Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label. He began producing and doing session playing for the likes of Aretha Franklin,the Staple Singers and The Impressions before embarking on a music career of his own.

Hathaway only recorded three studio solo albums in his lifetime. There were also a pair of live albums as well. Another project that Hathaway was involved with was a 1972 film score recorded with Quincy Jones entitled Come Back,Charleston Blue.  The album was brought to my attention by DJ,musician and Donny Hathaway admirer Nigel Hall. He encouraged me to seek the record out. And I finally discovered a vinyl copy online. It sat in my collection until several months ago when I dug it out for a vinyl based segment on this blog. And the song that stood out for me was called “Little Ghetto Boy”.

A funky conga drum shuffle begins the song with Hathaway’s bluesy,heavily reverbed Fender Rhodes piano serves as the intro to the song. As his vocal comes in,so do the climactic string arrangements and the stirring bass line. This essentially provides the choruses of the song-which provides the bed for the vocal narrative. Woodwinds come more into play for the refrains of the song-which lyrically serve to ask rhetorical questions of what was illustrated in the choruses. And its on this extended refrain that the song finally fades itself out.

Donny Hathaway has recorded some of the most amazing soul/funk standards over the years. Among them “Everything Is Everything” and the holiday favorite “This Christmas”. This song,with its Afro-Latin soul jazz shuffle is somewhat reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues”. Hathaway really set two different modes on this song too. He starts off talking about the title character with low expectations and opportunities. Then asks those ever important questions as to what will become of the “little ghetto boy” in the future. Its one of Hathaway’s finest message songs consequently.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Chicago, Donny Hathaway, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, funky soul, message songs, percussion, Quincy Jones, Soundtracks, strings, woodwinds

Prince Summer: “Computer Blue” (1984)

In taking to a lot of people with a casual knowledge of Prince,Purple Rain is often their favorite album. And song. Its the period most associated with him. And it isn’t hard to see why. The man had a blockbuster album and motion picture out in a year dominated by Michael Jackson,Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen. It was Prince’s most thoroughly rock album but to that point. At the same time,it was a new wave/synth pop record with a lot of black American musical content-such as jazz and gospel melodic/rhythmic references. As for myself,I do have personal favorite songs on the album.

One of these songs was a song Prince conceived in a very grand way. It would seem that he conceived this song as a 14 minute opus-likely with multiple complex parts. But it does seem interference from Warner’s had him edit the song down intensely. One possible reason for its length was the co-writing credit for his father,John L. Nelson on an element he referred to as “Father’s Song”. This still ended up in the song. Conceptually the song dealt with Prince’s love triangle between himself,Apollonia and Morris Day in the film. The name of this song was called “Computer Blue”.

A classic Minnapolis Linn LM-1 drum clap opens the song-over which Wendy and Lisa have a bit of mildly S&M inspired dialog about hot water in the bath tub. Over this,the main keyboard melody plays over which Prince plays some shrieking guitar flourishes. His piercing scream breaks into the main song. This consists of a quavering,high pitched digital synthesizer,that Linn drum rhythm that opens the song and call and response rock guitar from Prince. On an instrumental bridge Prince plays a fast paced,hard rocking guitar solo before segueing into the “Father’s Song” sequence.

“Fathers Song” is more or less the instrumental bridge of the song. It finds Prince playing his father’s melody on a jazz-rock style guitar solo-accompanied by equally jazzy acoustic piano touches. Prince’s guitar solo begins to rock harder again. And the song returns to its main theme-ending with the same shriek with which it began. This might be the most thoroughly musical song on the Purple Rain  soundtrack. The “Computer Blue” part an economical,brittle new wave synth rock. Than Prince brings in his father’s jazzier tones over his Linn for that bridge. This takes “Computer Blue” to its own unique musical level.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1984, jazz rock, John L. Nelson, Linn Drum, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, piano, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, rock guitar, Soundtracks, synthesizers, Wendy Melvoin

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Do Do Wap Is Strong In Here” by Curtis Mayfield

There was a concept perpetuated in much literature I read for years about Curtis Mayfield’s music. This had to do with Curtis’s music going on something of a slow decline after the mid 70’s-in similar manner to Stevie Wonder during the mid 80’s. Looking back on it all now,a lot of this might come from a popular/commercial standpoint. As independent as Curtis Mayfield was creatively,nothing he did stopped radio and chart formats from being racially divided. As based in Chicago blues,funk and soul as his music was Curtis continued to maintain his ceaselessly committed following among the black soul/funk listeners.

Curtis dealt with this head on when recording his second soundtrack album for the movie 1977 ‘Short Eyes’. This was a Robert W. Young adaptation of the Miguel Pinero. The film’s story revolved around the racial divide in a largely Hispanic and black men’s prison in New York-centering around a white middle class pedophile. Curtis himself made a cameo in the film as an inmate-performing the hit single taken from the film. It’s a song I first heard as an edited single on the compilation CD The Anthology 1961-1977. The name of the song in any version was “Do Do Wap Is Strong In Here”.

A grinding percussion accented funky drum opens the album-punctuated by an approaching wah wah guitar and a down scaling bass. The vocal part of the song opens with the refrain-finding the wah wah and bass accenting the vocal lines with a thick bed of fuzzed out blues/rock guitar in the back-round. Suddenly the song reintroduces itself with an orchestra of up-scaling strings. Then the song cuts down to the percussion and drums with that rocking fuzz guitar playing a spicy,bluesy solo over it. Then the chorus comes in,the backup singers doing leads with Curtis as the refrain/chorus repeats to it’s fade out.

“Do Do Wap” definitely has a stripped down funk aestetic all the way. The orchestral strings have a very menacing quality about them that advances the cinematic quality of the song. It’s also a strong reminder of the fact that the songs on Curtis Mayfield’s two soundtrack albums often tended to be on the stripped down side rhythmically. Especially when it came to the uptempo,funkier ones. In a lot of ways,this is my favorite Curtis Mayfield song of his solo career during the 70’s. And the continued re-use of it’s rhythmic break over the years showcases just how musical an impact it made.

 

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Filed under 1970's, blues funk, Chicago, cinematic funk, Curtis Mayfield, drums, Funk Bass, message songs, percussion, rock guitar, Short Eyes, Soundtracks, strings, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar

Miles Again: Don Cheadle and Robert Glasper Being Very Musical About Selim Sivad

Miles Again!

Miles Davis was possessed of a character that was elusive to biographical translation. When Don Cheadle began work on his largely crowd funded motion picture Miles Ahead,the best approach to Miles’ story would be more a personal ambiance than informational. Cheadle imagine Miles Davis as he would like to have seen himself. Along with bits of half remembered personal history and playing witness to fragmented pieces of himself.

Robert Glasper is a modern day pianist who feels exactly the same as Miles did about music in general. That the improvisational art of jazz consistently has to be re-invented with new themes,new standards all the time. And that’s it’s the musician, not the writers/ critics, who sets that tone. Since Cheadle worked with Glapser on  the music surrounding the film,it seemed appropriate to explore the full spectrum of this musical project.

Miles Ahead-Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Over the years,I’ve generally avoided soundtrack albums. It seems all too easy for someone to simply pile a series of songs onto the CD and call it a soundtrack. Don Cheadle’s film Miles Ahead takes a more cinematic approach to the Miles Davis attitude as opposed to being a straight biographical narrative. Cheadle was joined by 80’s era Miles alumni in drummer Vince Wilburn and the defiant pianist Robert Glasper in terms of producing this album. The selection of songs for the project could’ve been exhaustive-considering the breadth of Miles’s recorded catalog of music. So instead of going with the traditional method of soundtracks that keeps me away from most,this takes another sort of approach.

Songs that represent Miles’ modal period such as “So What” flow along into “Solea”,the uptempo “Seven Steps To Heaven” and “Nefertiti”. These represent his acoustic period on this collection It goes from there into what Miles referred to as his “directions in music” with songs like “Frelon Brun” and the 6th take of “Duran”. His full blow fusion sound is represented by “Go Ahead,John”,an edit of “Black Satin” and “Back Seat Betty” from 1981. Glasper provides the sax heavy jazz-funk of “Juniors Jam”,the orchestral electric piano heavy ballad “Francessence”. “What’s Wrong With That?” is a flowing fusion/funk jam with Cheadle actually playing trumpet with the surviving members of Miles second quintet of the 1960’s.”Gone 2015″ ends the album with an big horn fanfare of a jazz/hip-hop number from Glasper and rapper Pharoahe Monich.

This album traces the musical legacy of Miles Davis from 1959 through his early 80’s comeback-the time period dealt with in the film. What really makes it a standout motion picture soundtrack is that it takes the Spike Lee approach in telling a story through the full album format. Moments of Cheadle portraying Miles’s famous quotes and statements are put into the mix as interludes between songs. This allows for the soundtrack to feel like a journey one is taking through the mind of Miles. Which essentially reduces down to an audio version of the films intent. Ending with Miles inspired new numbers from Robert Glasper makes this perhaps the sonic film soundtrack experience of 2016.

Everything’s Beautiful/Miles Davis & Robert Glasper 

Over the last several years,Robert Glasper has been seeking to change the vocabulary of jazz. His approach has always seemed to me very similar in that regard to the late Miles Davis. He often has made similar references that jazz needed to look outside itself for new standards on which to create new improvised art. From what I’ve heard of Glasper,he’s largely looked to hip-hop as a musical medium for the nu jazz sound of which he’s a major player. He ended up being the musical directer behind the new Don Cheadle film Miles Ahead. So it was very exciting for me to see Glasper create an entire project based on the man whose musical ethnic most shaped his own.

“Talking Shit” opens the album with a rhythmic sample of Miles’ 1969 discussion with drummer Joe Chambers that sets up the album title-the trumpet players view on music itself basically. “Ghetto Talk” features the soaring vocals of longtime Glasper collaborator Bilal and while “They Can’t Hold Me Down” brings in rapper Illa J. These songs all have blunted hip-hop beats with jazzy funk atmospherics. “Violets” brings in the Foreign Exchanges’ Phonte in for a brooding,slow swinging piano based groove. “Maiyshia (So Long)” has Erykah Badu dealing with an electronic bossa nova with a sassy rhythm. “Little Church” and “Silence Is The Key” deal with a modern electronica reboot of Miles’ classic modal sound.

“Song For Selim” takes on the same effect of re-imagining modality in a current context while Georgia Anne Muldrow sizzles up the electro swing big time for a makeover of “Milestones”. “I’m Leaving You” is one of my favorites here-thick bluesy funk sampling Miles himself with Ledisi’s vocal leads and John Scofield’s guitar. Stevie Wonder comes in for the closer “Right On Brother”-looking Miles’ solo from “Right Off” into a synth bass heavy funk/house context. Glasper didn’t want a trumpet based tribute to Miles here. He knew the man wouldn’t have wanted that. Instead,he showcased Miles Davis’s influence on musicians as a whole. And did so by again re-inventing the nu jazz sound in the most funky possible manner.

Everyone involved in both of these projects understood very well the creative daring and self absurdness that defined Miles Davis’s music during his lifetime. When it came to Robert Glasper creating his own music based on the Miles attitude and musical school,he did so with the maximum amount of strong,extended melody and funkiness wherever it was needed. So for what would’ve been Miles’ 90th year of life,this is a special occasion.

 

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Filed under 2016, Amazon.com, Don Cheadle, hip-hop/jazz, Jazz, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, nu jazz, Robert Glasper, Soundtracks, trumpet

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Alaskan Pipeline” by Gladys Knight & The Pips

Gladys Knight & The Pips have always been a favorite of mine at Motown. Aside from the uniqueness of their setup (more on that later), their sound had that Southern soul vibe that set them apart from whatever else was happening at Motown in the late 60’s. After they left Motown in the early 70’s,they signed up with Buddah and had success right out of the box with 1974’s “Midnight Train To Georgia”. Three years later,Gladys night got a chance to have be the leading lady in the Stephen F. Verona film Pipe Dreams. She and the Pips would be the ones performing on the movie’s soundtrack.

The only reason I ever saw Pipe Dreams was due to an accident. My parents went to a video store to look for a copy of the then very rare film That’s The Way of The World,with Harvey Kietel and Earth  Wind & Fire,on VHS in the late 90’s. They got me a pre-owned tape of Pipe Dreams instead-knowing how much I enjoyed Gladys Knight’s music. The film is a romantic drama set against a good deal of historical info on the then under construction Alaska pipeline.  So it was only appropriate that the song that stood out most for me,as well as coming from the pens of Motowner Ivory Joe Hunter,was called “Alaskan Pipeline”.

A jingling chicken scratch rhythm guitar starts out the groove. The groove itself has a drum beat that clips along at a relatively slow 70 beats per minute for so. A Larry Graham style deep bass thump and a thick wah wah guitar set the stage for the rhythm too. The song also has a heavy bluesy piano that comes down really hard on the keys. The horn charts come in hot and heavy-accenting the choral vocals and harmonic “shoop shoops” of the Pipes,who actually sing the lead line for the backup. Interestingly enough,this song has no instrumental chorus per se. It just keeps grooving along until it fades.

This is some of the strongest funk I’ve heard from Gladys Knight & The Pips. It’s got that slow,crunching tempo. And the rhythm section is hot as they come with the bass ,guitar, horns and driving piano. This song  reprises throughout the movie-especially in scenes of Gladys flying over the pipe line with her co star and real life husband Barry Hankerson. Lyrically the song tells the story of how the great employment opportunities the pipeline provides also open the door to massive corruption-another key component of the film. So it’s another example of strong message funk in a film soundtrack setting.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Barry Hankerson, chicken scratch guitar, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Gladys Knight, Gladys Knight & The Pips, horns, Ivory Joe Hunter, piano, Pipe Dreams, Soundtracks, wah wah guitar

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Mr. Mean’ by Ohio Players-Rest in P Marshall Jones

Mr.Mean

Considering the fact that it was sheer luck that I discovered this nearly impossible to find CD in a used CD store,it’s amazing how often I refer to and come back to this particular album. Always been fascinated by the impact of the album cover,a rare and topical group portrait in proto “gangsta” garb (something hip-hop has latched onto in many areas) as well. Interestingly enough this serves as a possibly loose soundtrack to a film of the same title,itself a rarity as well.

So basically it gave the Ohio Players a change to stretch out their music in a more cinematic arena. On the other hand,even as the membership of the band swelled from seven to nine members on this album all was not well within. Financial difficulties revolving around Clarence Satchell’s extravagant lifestyle were catching up to all of them. And…honestly it was their final album of all new material for Mercury.  All the same it is an album that,for sure get’s a very unbalanced and unfair reputation to say the least.

To clear up one of the most popular misconceptions,this is by no stretch of the imagination an “unfunky album” as so many listeners and critics charge. Quite the contrary it’s MOSTLY funk,albeit often of the more futurist and experimental variety. Mixing a strong rhythm box drum machine with almost Tangerine Dream/Kraftwerk style atonal electronic synthesizers “The Controllers Mind”,in it’s briefness in length finds Billy Beck WAAAY ahead of the game.

It was especially in terms of hip-hop’s later use of what some call the “video game” sound. P-Funk were just getting in on it too around this time and the Players took it way ahead here. On “Magic Trick”,basically a smooth late 70’s melodic dance-funk there are even more hints of that same atonal electronic jazz-funk keyboard sound. “Fight Me,Chase Me” and “The Big Score” limit the vocals primarily to the song title as the band flex their collective,cinematic jazzy funk muscles otherwise,with heavy emphasis on the jazz end of it.

The title song and the closing “Speak Easy” are the most conventionally funky numbers here. And even for that you’ll find the band driving the groove even harder into the ground than usual. The albums longest number is the nearly ten minute,moody “Good Luck Charm”,another Ohio Players bluesy style mid-tempo funk groove with some well executed use of ARP strings and a somewhat romantically tortured lyric. There’s a degree of complexity with the song,as it is on most of this album.

Actually musically stronger and FAR more ambitious than either Contradiction or Angel this album reaches out more into what was to come into and from funk music in the future more than it does deal with it’s past and present. In fact newer genres of techno dance and hip-hop might’ve benefited more from some of these musical ideas that the funk and disco of the era. In many ways I suppose we could only wonder. If this lineup of the Ohio Players hadn’t drawn to a halt and this album was a jumping off point as opposed to a conclusion……just what might’ve been.

Originally posted on July 29th,2016

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

*Listen to the title song of this album here!

*Listen to “The Controllers Mind” here!

*Listen to “Magic Trick” here!

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Amazon.com, Billy Beck, blacksploitation, cinematic funk, Clarence Satchell, electro funk, jazz funk, Leroy Sugarfoot Bonner, Marshall Jones, Music Reviewing, Ohio Players, Soundtracks, synthesizers

Anatomy of THE Groove 9/19/14 Rique’s Pick: “Work it Out” by Beyonce

The Queen Bee’s solo debut, “Work it Out”, was a song for the soundtrack of the Austin Powers franchise’s ’70s film, “Austin Powers Goldmember.” On this funky delight, B performs somewhat in character, the movies heroine Foxxy Cleopatra, a Foxxy Brown/Cleopatra Jones mash up that represents the “bad ass soul sister” image of 1970s blaxploitation. But, I also suspect B’s alter ego “Sasha” was in the house as well with Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo on the recording session for this one. “Work it Out” is brimming with soulful sexual confidence, with B telling her man, “we can’t wait for the bedroom, we just hit the floor.” I must admit, as a fledgling musican dying to drop the funk bomb, this joint had me kinda jelly in ’02. Skateboard P and Chad made some real true ’70s funk in 2002, and at the same time it was old school, it had the instrumental tone of the Neptunes space age funk as well.

“Work it Out” is an example of the Neptunes mastery at the song writing skill called “interpolation.” Of course, they’re being sued right now for doing the same thing on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” When I heard this song, I knew it was an arch funky riff but I couldn’t figure out where I’d heard similar. It was something about the combination of the heavy bassline that leaves space enough for God to walk through it and the rhythmically active Clavinet part. It just hit me recently: “Work it Out” is an interpolation of Herbie Hancock’s 1973 version of his song “Watermelon Man” from the “Headhunters” LP. Just dig on “Watermelon Man’s” intro. Heavy bass hitting on the one, and then jumping into the upper registers after that opening statement, with the clavinet dancing over and through the holes the bass leaves. For this song though, Pharrell and Chad make the clavinet line a little bit more repetitive and simpler, cutting it down to a one bar pattern. Of course, the interpolation is interesting because “Watermelon Man” in it’s Headhunters version was also a cut MC’s loved to rhyme over in the ’90s.

The Neptunes borrow that basic funky motif, just as a funk band would, and lay a unique track for B to show her ass performance wise over. The drum track is very heavy on snare drum, like a New Orleans beat, with very little kick drum, the kicks only thump on the upbeat leading into beat one and on beat one. On the chourus of “Work it Out”, a sax riffs behind B, which I thought was a corny synth sax sound at first but I can stomach more now. When B says, “Chad blow your horn now”, we get a taste of baritone sax, which gives the piece a James Brown vibe, reminiscent of the James Brown Orchestra (not the J.B’s), when the Baritone sax added to the bottom of the music.

B takes this funky track and goes off, singing super soulful melismas, and adding all kinds of soul ad libs, like “looka here.” At one point she says, “Now that you’ve given me a taste of your honey/I want the whole beehive.” Which might be interesting to her similarly named fans. B’s vocal performance though, is magic, confident, sexy, powerful, soulful and funky. The video is also an orgy of groovy ’70s funk band aesthetics, rivaled in that time period maybe only by Cee Lo’s unheralded classic, “Closet Freak.” Beyonce began her solo career with a bang, deep in Neptunes assisted, Herbie Hancock and James Brown derived funk, channeling strong women like Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin and strong men like James Brown. And therein lies my admiration for B, her ability to dominate on funky groove tunes while the whole world thinks R&B is simply about slow love songs. Of course, this is an avenue I’d love to see her pursue more, let Sasha out girl! Now that some 12 years have passed I have to go back on my earlier resistence to this as light funk and put it up there on the one where it belongs. And also, with the time period of Virgo drawing near its end, I have to send a big shot out to the one thing I always dug about the video, namely, the word “Virgo” written across the back of B’s low ride Jeans and her hula hooping. Whew…. we gonna work it out indeed!

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Filed under 1970's, Beyonce', Blogging, Destiny's Child, Funk, Funk Bass, Herbie Hancock, Hip-Hop, Pharrell Willaims