Billy Ocean,born almost 67 years ago this year in Trinidad as Leslie Sebastian Charles, decided to follow follow in his Grenadian father’s musical ambitions after his family moved him to Essex,England in 1960. He first got his taste of musical success singing in London clubs as a teenager while carving out a living for himself as a tailor. Recording his first album in 1976 in more of a Philly/Motown pop soul style,his second album in 1980’s City Limit had two songs in “Are You Ready” and “Stay The Night” that LaToya Jackson on her debut album the same here.
He broke out commercially in 1981 with the title track to his third album Nights (Feel Like Gettin’ Down. It was only a few more years before his string of new wave/disco hits such as “Caribbean Queen” and ballads such as “Suddenly” made him a superstar. In the early 80’s however, Billy Ocean was primarily a boogie funk artist with a very strong attention to song craft and keen understanding of a strong groove. His fourth album Inner Feelings was one I tracked down for a buck on vinyl. Its a wonderful album in this immediate pre-superstar boogie sound. And one of my favorite songs on it is called “Calypso Funkin'”
A jazzy synth brass chart starts off the intro to the song,which starts out as an Afro Brazilian percussion jaunt with a heavy slap bass line. This is accentuated by a slippery electric piano part along with Ocean’s vocals for several bars. And that’s when the boogie drums bring in the more straight ahead dance beat for the choruses-along with a nice fast paced funk rhythm guitar. Each chorus is accentuated by a silent break with a female sigh. There are two instrumental bridges to the song. One showcases a steel drum solo playing the changes. The other is a Vocorder solo before the chorus closes out the song entirely.
Even during his hit period,Billy Ocean never stopped expressing his Afrocentricity in different ways. He even re-recorded the lyrics to his song “Caribbean Queen” and re-titled it “African Queen” for release across continental Africa. “Calypso Funkin'” actually brings in the melodic and rhythmic influences of the vast spectrum of Calypso music deriving from Ocean’s native Trinidad-a music originally derived from West African Kaiso music with colonial French influences,into his post disco/boogie funk sound of 1982. Its another strong example of the Afrocentric musical elements still present in the boogie funk era.
During the years following the big commercial success of “Purple Rain” Prince never elected to just rest on his laurels and become a face for the jet set life or press fodder. He spent a good deal of the time almost obsessively recording in the studio and one of the projects he was working on was this soundtrack album to his second motion picture Under the Cherry Moon. This album couldn’t be any more different from his first soundtrack project which was for the most part very pop focused.
This album still finds Prince in an accessible frame of mind but still very musically daring and willing to integrate as many musical ideas into his generally funk oriented sound as he could. The fantastic thing about this album is how well the music bleeds together in terms of arrangement and not only does it feel more like a formal soundtrack with it’s heavy cinematic touches but is one of the albums of the mid 1980’s that has really aged very well for something so contemporary for it’s time in a lot of ways.
The album has a lot of artsy touches to the music such as the pretense of steel drums, accordions and other cross continental flavors that enhance the mood it was trying to achieve. Also as with any Prince album of the 80’s his use of drum machines are among some of the most adept and creative one could imagine from such an often maligned instrument. “Christopher Tracy’s Parade”,”New Position”,”I Wonder You” and the title ballad all kind of form an introductory suite of songs to introduce the album.
It starts with a fanfare of horns,strings and rhythms and working around some slippery,keyboard loop driven types of what I’d describe as neo psychedelic funk. It’s alternately dreamy,poetic and sexy and accomplishes it’s cinematic flavor well. “Life Can Be So Nice” is a very carnivalesque slice of dance-funk with a very busy top and a very tight bottom rhythmically. This album also features some of the tightest funk Prince ever recorded such as “Girls & Boys”,”Anotherloverholenyohead”.
And of course the big hit “Kiss”,all strong indications of the rhythmic influences Prince was bringing to the surface from his long standing love of James Brown during this era. This album is also home to one of those great lost Prince classic eclectic pop songs in “Mountains”;neither pop or rock,funk or psychedelia it’s one of my favorite Prince songs here and in his entire catalog. The album also contains two very French pop-jazz sounding ballads in the instrumental “Venus De Milo” and “Do U Lie”.
The album concludes with the darkly chorded jazz-folk ballad “Sometimes It Snows In April” which,driven by acoustic guitar and the somewhat bittersweet lyrical focus is at least one music nod to another of Prince’s musical influences: Joni Mitchell. This album and movie were not as well received commercially as his previous soundtrack but,than again that’s exactly what Prince was going for-to be known as a respected musician as opposed to some flavor-of-the-month hit maker. In a lot of ways he got to have both on this album because there were some successful singles here as well. But all in all this speaks a lot to Prince’s rhythmic and general creative progress.
Originally posted on May 29th,2010
LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE*
Filed under 1986, Amazon.com, drum machines, Funk, funk pop, horns, jazz funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Psychedelia, psychedelic soul, steel drums, strings, synthesizers, Under The Cherry Moon
David Byrne,Tina Weymouth,Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison had been honing their performance persona and songwriting skills at NYC’s CBGB’s for a few years before. They started as an opening act for The Ramones in the very late spring of 1975. Looking back at their early performances,the bands stripped down and precise grooves must have been very strange amidst the noisy atmospherics of mid/late 70’s CBGB’s. Their early recorded demos didn’t make of an impact until later the next year-when Seymour Stein of Sire Records signed them up and they began recording their debut album.
This first album entitled Talking Heads 77 has a very different vibe than most albums that came out of NYC’s original punk scene. The main inspiration for it’s sound wasn’t as much raggedy 60’s garage rock as it was the cleaner instrumental sounds of early 70’s soul and funk music. My personal experience with the bands music started more with their early/mid 80’s album and worked backward to this one. Not being the loud guitar thrasher type album I half expected,it’s opening song gives a good idea of the grooves that lie within. The name of this song is “Uh-Oh,Love Comes To Town”.
Byrne and Weymouth begin the song with a bass/guitar that scales up and down with each other until Chris Frantz hi hats turns over to a slow,shuffling funky drum with bouncy percussion fills. Weymouth turns out a late 60’s James Jamerson style bass line throughout in the spirit of “I Was Made To Lover Her” while Harrison deals with a sustained chicken scratch rhythm guitar line. Harrison’s organ like keyboards play a horn-like roll on the choruses which take the melody up a key. The bridge adds a shuffling steel drums solo before another refrain/choral pattern brings the song to a slowed stop.
One of the key elements of much late 60’s/early 70’s pop/rock was an imitation of the early/mid 60’s Motown sound. Now Motown has an effect on this song too. But Talking Heads were somewhat unique among funk inspired rock groups in that they were inspired by the present and the future of the music-not the recent past. So this song has the funkier melodic vibe of early 70’s Jackson 5ive style Motown-with the use of more James Brown inspired bass/guitar interaction and a light Caribbean flavor. In that way,it’s an excellent template for what Talking Heads groove would evolve into.
Filed under 1970's, CBGB's, chicken scratch guitar, Chris Frantz, David Byrne, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, James Jamerson, Jerry Harrison, keyboards, Motown Sound, New Wave, New York, pop funk, steel drums, Talking Heads, Tina Weymouth