Gary Anthony James Webb was born into a working class family in the Hammersmith area of West London. Interestingly enough, his bus driver father brought him his first guitar. And after playing in a number of bands, he became the lead singer/ songwriter/ producer of the pioneering British new wave band Tubeway Army. His biggest success with them was the #1 hit “Are Friends Electric” in 1979. Later that year, his solo career kicked off to a major start with his internationally successful song “Cars”-from his debut solo album Pleasure Principle. These songs both helped kick off the synth pop genre.
Numan’s music began to take on a more orchestral based sound as the 80’s drew in. Albums such as 1981’s Dance even took on elements of jazz into the musical mix. With bands such as Level 42, Duran Duran and Heaven 17 deriving their sound from American funk and disco, Numan looked to the driving rhythm and expert playing of the funk genre as part of his 1982 album I, Assassin. Numan himself felt this change was important for his music-as he saw many synth pop artists at the time being stuck in a rut. And this 1982 album got right off with the funk on the song “White Boys And Heroes”.
A brittle drum machine and a dark, prickly synth bass tone build up into the refrain. This consists of Chris Slade and John Webb’s heavy Afro Cuban drum/percussion interaction. Pino Palladino’s thick, grooving fretless slap bass completes that part of the song. On the chorus, Numan takes off on a chorus with his swelling synth/guitar orchestral parts. With Pallidino’s bass taking off on runs more. After an couple choral/refrain rounds, the bass led refrain of the song becomes an instrumental bridge for the song. And it all ends on an extended chorus featuring “Mike” on sax as the song fades out.
“White Boys And Heroes” explores one of early 80’s new wave/synth pop’s most interesting elements. Part of it was the turn to funkiness-its combinations of brittle beats and synth washes with The Who’s Pino Palladino’s fretless slap bass and percussive groove made it very complimentary to what Talking Heads and Prince were doing at the time. The songs theme-seeming to parody the jingoistic, white male macho image also works with the mechanized rock end of new wave with the Afrocentric funk groove. So Gary Numan hit on a compelling musical and thematic mixture on this song.
1999 is celebrating its 34th anniversary today. Its understood as the album that really helped Prince cross his music over to a more pop oriented audience. A lot has been said about the album. Such as how the album was musically almost entirely the work of Prince himself. Also,how it helped establish the clearest headed example of the electronic based Minneapolis sound that he was pioneering at that time. Not to mention that it came right along with his first proteges in Vanity 6 and (most importantly) The Time. Now I’m really realizing just how important this album was in terms of Prince’s entire musical history.
Prince debuted in the late 1970’s,fresh out of his teens as a disco era version of Stevie Wonder: a youthful funk wunderkind. As Henrique and myself were discussing at the time of writing this,he was first coming out when so much was happening around him. Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life still churned out hits,P-Funk were dropping “Flashlight” and “One Nation Under A Groove” while Dayton,Ohio’s Slave was hitting with an R&B #1 smash in their song “Slide”. And than came Prince,a young musical genius who played all the instruments and produced his own music so expertly.
When the post disco radio freeze out occurred in the early 80’s,the enormous level of pioneering and trailblazing by funk and disco artists disappeared overnight. On the other hand,it remained very present overseas in the UK with some rock and electronic elements added. This sound became known as new romantic/new wave/synth pop movement. In the very beginning of the 80’s,most black artists were integrating electronics into what was still a standard funk/soul rhythmic framework. By 1982,Prince suddenly became his own innovator as really the only black American new wave/synth rock oriented artist.
The 1999 album is endowed with some amazing funk such as the title song,the instrumentally organic “Lady Cab Driver” and the driving “DMSR”. In fact,the idea of the album being a double LP set with full,elongated mixes made it an idea format for his Minneapolis funk. At the same time,it was songs like the albums other major hit “Little Red Corvette” along with “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”,”Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” and “Automatic” showcase Prince as doing for the synth pop/new wave sound what Little Richard and Ray Charles did for rock ‘n roll and soul in the 50’s.
Prince infused his rockiest music,even the rockabilly hit of “Delirious” with tons of gospel influences and attitude. And brought those same elements into his ballads on here “Free” and “International Lover”. This also began the period when Prince was concentrating heavily on developing his single B-sides as musical works of art all their own. Songs such as “Irresistible Bitch” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” (covered famously by both Stephanie Mills and later Alicia Keys) represent the first time other artist realized even a Prince flip side was ripe for another artist to be really successful with them.
As of this writing,Prince enthusiasts await the official release of “Moonbeam Levels”,a well known outtake from this era. So interest in 1999 era Prince is still growing. For me,its an album that represents his finest mix of funk and rock music in terms of an album. The extended lengths gave the grooves room for a lot of expansion. For the heavy funkateer, 1999 is far more funk endowed than its blockbuster followup Purple Rain. On a personal note,it was my aunts favorite Prince album too. In many ways,1999 might be the most defining moment of Prince’s Minneapolis sound.
I had this album for a long time on vinyl and while it was in excellent shape when I got,it wasn’t after a time. Reason being is because I used to play it from beginning to end over and over again because this happens to be one of those pop albums (honestly another in this style that comes to mind is Pet Sounds) where once you start it it’s likely you won’t want to skip cuts because these well crafted little pop-soul mini masterpieces just flow so well from one to the other your either dancing and/or singing along so much you just won’t want to be bothered shutting it off. And on CD this album is made even better (if Amazon allowed ten stars I’d give this eight to be honest) because you simply don’t have to switch sides. As with all albums some cuts are less perfect than others but when the weakest cuts are merely very good,one knows something greats going on.
Predating their major league success with Break Out by exactly one year this album expands on the sleek mixture of live musicianship,extremely rich vocal harmonies and dashes of synthesizers in just the right places. It is far,far from the heavy electronic production if the next album but up to this point qualifies as their slickest. The title track (the single version without of course the drum intro at the beginning)as well as “See How The Love Goes”,”Heart To Heart” and a very close to the original rendering of Prince’s “I Feel For You” two years before Chaka Khan’s famous hit version (the liners claim the Sisters considering Chaka’s the far superior version) all blend that 80’s pop/new wave sound of reverbed rhythm guitars and keyboard lines with some wonderfully soulful pop melodies. And those are actually the WEAKER cuts if you can imagine it.
“All Of You” is a sleek mixture of dreamy mid tempo Latin pop/funk and a modern country/pop type refrain-the combination works great and it’s easily one of the albums highlights. “Heart Beat”,a Ruth Pointer sung number and I find her voice one of the most husky and unique next to Mavis Staples and is definitely one of those “hits that never were” type of songs,again with that new wave/funk pop flavor. Now for SERIOUS GROOVES “If You Want To Get Back Your Lady” is a hefty naked funk gem,again with plenty of that country refrain on the vocal only and even a synthesized reference to “Purple Haze” towards the end I never noticed before. There’s also a remix as part of the bonuses that really extends the rhythmic aspect of the groove. Ditto for the title track. “American Music” is kind of a self homage to their own melting pot outlook on pop and has this retro soul/pop shuffle to it-sort of a slicker “Should I Do It”. Again I ask why this wonderful and highly consistent album hadn’t made it to CD before this. But I suppose the important thing is it’s here now and a strong reminder of just how high quality and consistent the Pointer Sisters were during this most successful time for them.
Originally Posted On May 16th,2011
Link to original review here*
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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Anita Pointer, Big Break Records, Chaka Khan, Funk, June Pointer, Music Reviewing, naked funk, Pointer Sisters, pop funk, Prince, reissues, Richard Perry, Ruth Pointer, soul pop, Synth Pop
It was actually bands like Tangerine Dream,along with the innovations of funk synthesizer pioneers such as Stevie Wonder and P-Funk’s Bernie Worrell and Walter Junie Morrison,who helped to develop the new wave/synth pop genre that was becoming the dominant form of dance,rock and pop music for the first several years of the 1980’s. Edgar Froese,Chris Franke and Johannes Schmoelling were still operating and going very strong by the time 1981 rolled around. And for their second non soundtrack studio album of the 80’s,the band were in a state of musical adaptation to the very approach they’d played a part in creating.
“Kiew Mission” marches along with a lightly rocking beat with more textural synth lines this time and a pounding,deep orchestral line that sounds similar to the one utilized a year later as the intro to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. “Pilots Of Purple Twilight” features a full range of synthesizers providing multiple rhythms,bass lines and melodies to create a full on,flat out electro pop extravaganza. “Choronzon” is a similar type of song only with each synth line marching along in a very strident,forward style. The title song is a very spare and probing number with a basic bass line and melody while “Network 23” has a very busy set of multiple rhythms,bass and melody parts again that sounds very much like something that could be used for the opening of a television news broadcast with it’s sense of tense drama.
“Remote Viewing” concludes the album with a a longer and sparer song where both the melodic and bass synthesizers respond to each other in a very similar musical language that one might hear from a horn section. When I learned of the passing of Edgar Froese today,it took my friend Thomas Carley to help me connect the name with Tangerine Dream. And one thing I realize about the late Froese’s synthesizer work is how much call and response there is to it. Especially on this album. At a period of time when almost every strain of popular music was becoming electronically derived,albums such as this one helped to showcase WHY things worked in electronic music’s instrumentation. And this might be a far more influential Tangerine Dream album than most realize purely on that level.
Originally Posted on January 23rd,2015
Link to original Amazon review here*