Cat Stevens, now known as Yusef Islam, was born Steven Demetre Georgiou in London. He was from a Greek and Sweedish back round, from a family of restaurateurs. Adopting the name Cat Stevens by 1966, he began singing in coffee houses before recording a pair of popular albums and singles such as Matthew & Son in the late 60’s. After that, he contracted tuberculosis. And his long recuperation encouraged him to seek holistic therapies to improve his health. This not only effected his spiritual life, which would lead him to the Muslim faith later. But a change in his music focus.
By 1970 Cat Stevens was the UK’s top representative of the signer/songwriter movement. For the next several years songs such as “Lady D’Arbanville”, “Wild World”,”Moon Shadow”,”Peace Train” and “Oh Very Young”. By the mid/late 70’s, Cat Stevens was growing restless with his music and identity yet again-prompted by a near drowning in 1976. A year later he released the album Izitso, which added synthesizers to his musical mix. The hit off the album was “Remember The Days of The Old Schoolyard”. What popped off the album for me though was an instrumental called “Was Dog A Doughnut?”.
A deep electronic pulse that evolves into a spacey synthesizer wobble provides the intro to the song-almost like an introductory fanfare. After that,a four note synth bass melody comes in,at first unaccompanied,to be joined shortly by a spacious 2 beat drum pattern that repeats on the second. A high pitched digital sequencer accompanies this until it evolves into a mid range one playing an extension of the bass part. The sound of a dog part plays a percussive role in between. Chick Corea plays an electric piano solo on the bridge before an extended chorus leads to the song closing with the dog barking sound.
“Was Dog A Doughnut?” is unlike anything I’d personally have ever associated with 70’s Cat Stevens. First heard the song as part of a CD mix by New York DJ Danny Tenaglia that my mother picked up in the early aughts. It got the perhaps expected accusation of being “too robotic” by some rock oriented critics of the late 70’s. But basically, along with Kraftwerk, it provided a jazzy funk tinged addition to the European end of the proto hip-hop/electro sound to come in the 1980’s. Strange a it might seem to some, this very quality make it one my personal favorite Cat Stevens songs.
Peter Brown’s early history in his native Illinois (in the Chicago area to be more exact) almost seemed set up for him to be a major musical player in the future. His mother was artistically and musically talented enough to give him music lessons from an early age. His father’s career as a electronic engineering inspired young Brown’s interest on the technical end of music. He provided his son with different tape records. By the time he was an adult, Brown became a pioneer of the ARP synthesizer. Even becoming a spokesman for the instrument for a time.
Brown was fortunate enough to begin his musical career during the 70’s-when the psychedelic stew,funk and later disco era made for a much more diverse variety of popular music in America. Brown ended up with the Miami based TK label. There he met his first circle of musical cohorts-including his first producer Cory Wade. In 1977 Brown released a 12 inch single that would go on to become the first gold single in history. It would be included in another version on this debut album A Fantasy Love Affair a year later. It was called “Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me”.
A low,thundering burst of ARP synth bass and a higher textural tone begin the song over a pounding 4/4 disco beat. Then the main groove of the song comes in. The four on the floor beat is accented by spicy percussion,a slow rhythm and a thick bass popping/wah wah rhythm guitar interaction on the refrain. The choruses bring back the higher pitched ARP. On the bridge,the percussion is a slow Brazilian grind with a bumping synth bass,female vocal and synth brass accents. This groove holds together for 3 whole minutes until the refrain/chorus goes up in key to fade out the entire song.
“Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me” is one of the best examples I’ve heard of what my friend Henrique calls “funk functioning as disco”. The 4/4 dance beat is locked down tight for sure. The percussion also has a hard driving Latin vibe. And the synth/guitar/bass interaction-along with Brown and his backup singers screams, are out of the school of straight up hard funk. The use of synthesizers for the brass section over a hard funk groove reminds me of a less condensed version of Prince’s late 70’s sound as well. Major record that I’m happy to have had the pleasure of recently hearing for the first time.
Prince’s expanded edition of his breakthrough album Purple Rain is said to have been the last full musical project he ever worked on. My former blogging partner Zach Hoskins went into beautiful detail on the early reported contents of the album. There is one aspect to this 1984 album I brought out before though. The original albums contents,even according to some members of the Revolution,was a new wave dance/rock album with very little funk or soul influence. With the inclusion of vault material recorded during these sessions, the expanded addition of Purple Rain has changed that.
In August 1984, Prince recorded an 11+ piece just two days before “The Screams Of Passion”,which would eventually be given to The Family. Its been said Prince gifted the song to Andre’ Cymone after his mother asked him if Andre’ could record it-Andre’ apparently being “too proud” to do so. Andre’ then recorded his vocals for the song and released it on his AC album in 1985. It became a major success for Andre’. For years, Prince enthusiasts I’ve talked to have been hoping to hear Prince’s original version of the song. And now they can. The name of this song,of course is “The Dance Electric”.
A thick set of combined Linn Drum rhythms-filled with Minneapolis style flanger,shuffle and echoed claps begins the song cold. No decisive intro. And it stays there for the entirety of the song. Each clap is accompanied by a round synth bass tone. On the first chorus, high pitched and brittle synth strings are accompanied by a wiry wah wah guitar and laser beam like space synths moving between each segment. Every few choruses, the song strips back down to the the drum and synth bass intro. On the bridge,the laser synths and rhythm guitar take precedence before the extended chorus fades it all out.
There’s a distinct possibility that “The Dance Electric” is the most powerful piece of funk to emerge out of the sessions for the Purple Rain. I have no doubt Prince had every intention of releasing his version,even as a B-side,if his childhood friend hadn’t asked for it. The song is reminiscent of Alexander O’Neal’s 1987 number “Fake”. The overall rhythm of the groove is a punishing kind of funk. Its an end of the Minneapolis sound that finds the one right off. And lets that take the song exactly where it wants it to go. Its a great funky delight to hear Prince’s version of this officially available now.
Jamiroquai were a band who,two decades ago now,were the musical lifeblood of my personal interest in funk and disco. Its a story that’s been told on this blog at least once. They’ve had their lineup changes over the years for sure. Even still over the years,their mid to late 90’s albums are ones that I still continue to return to many times. As a matter of fact,they tend to define how how I view the contemporary nu funk movement as a whole. That being said,never been one to give into blind idolatry of any musical figure either. And Jamiroquai have been no exception to that rule.
Following their (unintended) 9/11 release of A Funk Odyssey, Jamiroquai album releases became less and less frequent. Albums such as 2005’s Dynamite were promoted with the over modulated hip-hop influenced single “Feels Just Like It Should”. And with their 2008 album Rock Dust Light Star fading seemingly as quick as it came, Jamiroquai seemed to have faded into the annals of the past. Early this year,they announced the release of their 8th studio album Automaton. The title track was released first. But this EDM influenced song didn’t speak so much to me as the newest lead off single from the album “Cloud Nine”.
A deep piano chord,an ethereal synth and vocal pulse provide the intro to the song. A string burst opens into the refrain of the song. This consists of a thick disco beat-with a polyphonic synth playing the lead melody. And assisted by a pulsing rhythm guitar and bubbling synth bass line playing the higher ends of the changes. The rhythm guitar and bubbling bass are higher in the mix on the choruses-along with the string burst that leads into the heavily echoed bass/synth line on the bridge. The refrain and chorus are lightly improvised upon until it fades-accompanied by a jazzy synth solo before it ends.
“Cloud 9”, as far as I’m concerned ,is Jamiroquai’s strongest single since “Little L” came out 16 years ago. It showcases the band moving in their own career arc much the same as funk did during its first generation. Much as Jamiroquai were a live percussion/horn based jazz/funk band with extended jams and instrumentals when they started out,they are now a post disco/boogie funk group with strong jazz/funk melodic influences by the time their 8th album is about to drop. Only the future can tell if Jamiroquai’s future is going to remain in this strong progression. But “Cloud 9” is an excellent step in this direction.
Loose Ends were formed in 1980 as a trio consisting of vocalist/guitarist Carl McIntosh, songwriter and keyboardist Steve Nichol and lead singer Jane Eugene. They started out as Loose End,recording a pair of singles in 1982 produced by the Emoo brothers from the UK soul group The Real Thing,who themselves had been successful in the 70’s. Their first three singles “In The Sky”,”We’ve Arrived” and “Don’t Hold Back Your Love” were all excellent live instrumental oriented boogie funk. But it wasn’t until their debut album in 1984 did their sound fully coming together and they became successful.
The debut album in question is entitled A Little Spice. This album had a stripped down electro element to it,along with the trio’s jazzy songwriting that made their sound so distinctive. It was something I found preowned at my local record store Bullmoose for literally a few bucks. Remembering having some vague knowledge about the band. But the CD cover had me interested enough to pick it up. From the first moment I heard it,wanted to here more by the group. And later sought out other albums by them. The song that motivated me most from that debut was “Hanging On A String (Contemplating)”.
A drum machine kick into an electronic Afro-Latin percussive drum machine kicks in. McIntosh provides an echoed rhythm guitar swell,along with higher alarm like tone while Nichol provides a round synth bass for fattened support at the bottom. By the time the refrain and Eugene’s vocals emerge,McIntosh’s six not guitar line and Nichol’s synthesized melody take over. On the chorus,electronic orchestration join up with McIntosh and Eugene’s vocal harmonies. On the last bars of the song,a Clavinet like keyboard along with a spiraling guitar solo take over as the song fades out.
“Hanging On A String (Contemplating)” is one of the most rhythmically and harmonically complex songs and grooves to come out of the electro/boogie funk era. McIntosh and Nichol truly deliver on a mix of highly Afrocentric drum machines and synth bass,along with very jazzy guitar and orchestral keyboards. Jane Eugene’s vocals have a strong jazzy ranginess and an extremely soulful,passionate delivery that matches the music to a tee. Loose Ends are known for few other key songs. Yet this song is likely the one they’ll always be best remember for. And for very good reason too.
The Crusaders were a band whom I somehow would’ve thought were out of commission by the mid 80’s. In 1983,the bands original drummer Styx Hooper left the group. And they hadn’t recorded any new studio material under their own name for a few years at that point. The core of the Crusaders,by any other name,was always Joe Sample and Wilton Felder. Neither are with us anymore. But in 1984 they rebounded as a trio with George Duke’s former drumer Leon Ndugu Chancler as the successor to Hooper. That year they released the album Ghetto Blaster,with cover art by the ever distinctive Ernie Barnes.
Ghetto Blaster is the first album to help me to realize the Crusaders were very active as a group during the 80’s. They continued to record and tour every few years during the decade. I found the vinyl copy for under a dollar about 15-16 years ago. Every song on the album was so diverse and impressive,actually decided to hunt down the original CD. It wasn’t terribly easy to find,but managed to get hold of it last year. Its an album that I always wanted to cover a song from here on Andresmusictalk. In the end,the best track I could pick to break down would be its first,entitled “Dead End”.
Ndugu and the songs composer Joe Sample get the groove started with their combination of a two bar drum that kicks heavy on the snare around the middle and the slithering 9 note synth bass. One of the five guest guitarists present on this album picks a rhythm guitar lick into another rhythm guitar lick on top of the basic groove. Sample comes back in with some heavy polyphonic synth brass-changing chords at the B section before adding his trademark electric piano solo on the first bridge. Wilton Felder takes a solo on the second bridge before the song fades on its original theme.
“Dead End” is a wonderful example of the Crusaders updating their signature well oiled jazz funk sound for the boogie/electro funk era. The lean production of the era was actually really good for the Crusaders rhythm section based sound. Where this differs from a lot of boogie/naked funk productions is that it totally maintains the jazz/funk genre’s emphasis on instrumental soloing. Sample provides a superb and very vocal lead synth brass melody. But he and Wilton also take the time to solo in their classic style. That makes this song perhaps the ideal Crusaders song for the mid 1980’s.
Brian Culbertson is one of the most uniquely important artists doing funk today. He was a musical prodigy who was born in 1973. He learned not only rhythm and melodic instruments but also trumpet,trombone and euphonium. Its relatively rare that multi instrumentalists also play horns as well. An Illinois native,Culbertson eventually attended DePaul university in Chicago. This was where he began working on his first CD. And eventually got a record deal. And shortly after began working with his wife Michelle on a number of jingle related projects before getting his recording/touring career fully started.
With a career that’s over 22 years old and 14 albums strong,only ever brought and listened to one Brian Culbertson album all the way through. It was 2003’s Come On Up. Even though it was several years old when I heard it,the album showcased how the stifling smooth jazz production was giving way to a return to hardcore jazz funk as far as Culbertson was concerned. A couple of his albums have been 100% funk based in concept as well as jazz. His newest one from 2016 is actually entitled Funk! There are many strong grooves here. The one that stands out for me most is called “Let’s Take A Ride”.
A hand clap powered groove with a Nile Rodgers/Prince inspired higher rhythm guitar. After that a high powered funky shuffle moves into the mix-adding dancing P-Funk synth bass along with some Sly Stone style pitch bent horn charts accenting the melody Culbertson sets up on his acoustic piano. After a few bars of choral/refrain variations on this musical theme an extended bridge comes in. That consists of Culbertson playing a dissonant piano improvisation as a variation of the intro (this time with the synth bass) rises into the final chorus of the song before it fades.
“Let’s Take A Ride” represents all of the different elements of funk Brian Culbertson listened to coming up in a single song. It has the hand claps and guitar sound of the Minneapolis sound. There’s also the electric synth bass of P-Funk and spin offs such as Zapp. There’s also the singing,rhythmic horns of James Brown and Sly. Yet at the same time,Culbertson’s melodic piano also finds a home in this hard groove mix. Really goes to show how funk is still a wonderful rhythmic blanket for jazz musicians to solo in. Especially when its in its most organic and vital forms.
Donna Summer was an artist who could’ve suffered the worst face of the post disco demolition radio freeze out. Under the guidance of Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, Summer was responsible for developing different sub genres of disco. She also helped to conceptualize disco culture with a series of themed albums that established disco as an album based medium. At the end of the 70’s,she began to slowly change her style by singing in her amazing gospel belt of a lower voice. And releasing music with a more rock oriented flavor on 1979’s Bad Girls and even more so on the following years The Wanderer.
After one final (and sadly then unreleased album) in 1981 with Moroder and Bellotte called I Am A Rainbow,the owner of her new label David Geffen hooked her up with Quincy Jones for what turned out to be her self titled 1982 album. Her working relationship with Quincy was apparently difficult,as she didn’t feel she had as much creative input with him. At the same time,it produced some of her strongest music-accompanied by Quincy’s iconic early 80’s musicians. Among them was the hit single that opened up the album that was entitled “Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)”.
Paulinho Da Costa’s fast past percussion and Michael Sembello’s rhythm guitar open the song on the intro,just before Summer’s voice chimes in. Greg Phillinganes’ bass synth and Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements open into the main chorus of the song-playing call and response with Summer’s falsetto. On the refrains,Summer’s lower voice takes hold with the music emphasizing Phillinganes Clavinet like synth. After a couple more chorus and refrain exchanges,the bridge revisits the intro-adding in a disco whistle to accent the rhythm. After this the chorus repeats to the fade of the song.
Some may not necessarily agree but for me personally,”Love Is In Control” is one of the finest examples of the Quincy Jones/Westlake studio crew collaboration this side of Thriller. Being its another song penned by the late and great Rod Temperton,the song just kicks with energy and funk with its excited horns,percussion and synth bass lines. It has a pronounced Brazilian pop/funk flavor overall. And Summer absolutely aces it vocally with vocal backup of Howard Hewett along with James and Philip Ingram. And it rightfully got her the Top 10 chart hit the strong post disco funk groove deserved.