Tag Archives: synth pop

‘Rio’@35: Duran Duran Do It There Own Way With A New Wave Religion

Rio

Duran Duran are perhaps my favorite of the new wave/synth pop bands of the 1980’s. Although my first experience hearing them new was via the song “Notorious”,their 1982 album Rio was unavoidable throughout the 80’s. Especially having access to any show that aired music videos. And that leads as to why Duran Duran were such an important band in the 1980’s. For one,though Australian,they were part of a second “British Invasion” during the new wave era. For another,they were able to mix style and substance in a time where music began to require strong visual appeal.

Henrique and I both share a love of Duran Duran and the Rio album. One part of this relates to the visual nature of it all-in particular the art deco style album cover as painted by Malcolm Garrett. The major part of the of it for us is how this album relates to the musical changes of the early 80’s. There may have been an anti disco radio freeze out in the states. But the bands bassist John Taylor discussed that his main inspiration during the time Rio was recorded was Chic’s Bernard Edwards. So as such,the entire musical sound of the album is a direct decedent of the funkiest end of American disco.

The grooves on all the songs on this album are equally as strong and vital as its melodies and vocals. The major hit songs such as “Hungry Like The Wolf” and the opening title song defined their sound using call and response reverbed rock guitars and arpeggiated Jupiter 8 synthesizer, the latter a then very new instrument. It helped create the pop sound of that era on that level. Several years ago,I did a review of the album on Amazon.com that went a bit further into Rio‘s relation to disco and funk. So would like re-post it here as part of this overview.


1982 was a very interesting year for pop music development in that decade as well as it was for Duran Duran. Their self titled debut album was already out and that was just mildly tentative looking back. And one of the reasons that first album seems that way is because of this. Many times a bands second release is a huge step up for them but,as if their first album wasn’t that strong (it was very good in many ways) this album was so potent it almost seemed like the work of another band entirely. One of the main differences here is that the bands rhythmic priorities had completely changed.

Whereas the album tracks on the first album favored an ambient electronica flavor this album went right for heavy funk polyrhythms,percussion effects and some of the most harmonically complex synthesizer riffs courtesy of Nick Rhodes. This is not only their breakthrough album but was great for the band as a whole because on every song on this album you get to see how incredible these guys are as musicians. John Taylor is one of the funkiest bass players in the new romantic movement after Mark King and every single one of these songs are percolating with his emotionally charged and varied bass lines

That goes from high to fret-less tone,onto slapping and walking lines: they guy puts it all into the music and it clicks appropriately with whatever song it’s accompanying. The first four songs on the album,including the mega hit title track and of course “Hungry Like The Wolf” are an example of the heavily Chic/ABC style funkiness this band appropriated for it’s own uniquely flavored sound not to mention the potency of “My Own Way” and “Lonely In Your Nightmare” where John’s bass lines get free reign to leap up and down where they want.

Personally these guys may have been young and full of it but lyrically (as well as musically) they certainly had a smart minded wit and imagination that would make Nile Rodgers proud. On “Hold Back The Rain” and “Last Chance On The Stairway” there is something of a poppy variation of the rock/funk sound,even if lighter on the jazz influence of Stanley Clarke’s School Days era that Level 42 dealt with too and Duran Duran put their complex pop style melodies with these songs. Every song here is brimming with melodic and harmony ideas you wouldn’t believe and that’s probably why it’s so popular.

It’s an excellent example of intelligently thought out and funky 80’s pop and yes: intelligence and funk usually HAVE to go together to make it all work out in that genre of music. The hit “Save A Prayer” is a pop song that does have a mildly more pronounced jazz influence with these unusually chorded synthesizers and harmonics as the same goes for “New Religion” and the pocket symphony of the closing “The Chauffeur”. Unfairly dismissed as being too easy an 80’s pop throwback for years this album has continually reasserted it’s strong musical values,as well as it’s sense of flair and invention that goes into the very best of pop music of any sub genre in any era.


Three and a half decades after the fact,Rio began a precedence for how pop music would present itself to present day. Decades of “replicative fading” with pop music hopefuls attempting to recreate this mixture of synth based funky rock mixed with fantastical musical videos,which is now the mainstream,has thankfully not take anything away from what made this album so strong.  The album was so much the opposite of a sophomore slump that the bands self titled 1981 debut,at first unsuccessful in the US, was reissued after Rio’s success and succeeded off the heels of it.

With its post punk and disco/funk influences still being so close in time period to it, Rio managed to pull together everything the late 70’s indicated 80’s music would go. And where it would continue to go after it. Because the most creatively successful music of the 2010’s has been the synth/new wave based nu-funk/boogie/disco spectrum, Rio also showcases how an album that can totally influence two ends of a future generation in very different ways. And that may continue to be Rio‘s most enduring legacy as an album.

 

 

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‘1999’: 34 Years Of Dance,Music,Sex,Romance

1999

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 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.

 

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Filed under 1980's, 1999, classic albums, electro funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, Prince, Synth Pop

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sexuality” by Prince

 

Prince’s thematic persona was always about freedom of expression-especially on the sexual side. This was in fact what attracted me to his music from the outset. The man viewed physical intimacy as a loving,even spiritual act. With his  bold musical and lyrical frankness,Prince created a distinctive persona that opened the door for the liberating attitude of the sexual evolution as he was funking up the post disco American musical landscape of the early 80’s. He would wiggle and wobble in and out of his own concept throughout his career. But it never stopped being there.

This afternoon while doing errands with my mom, I was playing Prince’s fourth album Controversy  in the car CD player. It was actually one of my favorite pre-superstar Princ albums. Especially the way it really pushed Prince’s budding sociopolitical agenda. Even if the concept was hit or miss on the album,one song on the album actually revealed itself to be an anthem for Prince’s entire musical and thematic persona from a bit earlier even then “DMSR” from a bit later. And it’s one that I’ve been loving for just as long a time as well. This jam is called “Sexuality”.

Prince’s high pitched variation of the James Brown screech begins the album-providing an accessory rhythm to the rumbling gated drums. That screech is re-sampled as a siren like echo into the brittle bass synthesizer,which is accented by breezy synth orchestrations. After that Prince’s high on the neck rhythm guitar chug moves in. This is the main body of the song. On the choruses,the synthesizer is in a higher key. On the latter part of the song,the strong strips back down to the pounding drums under Prince’s spoken word rap. By the end of the song,Prince is whispering the chorus over his own rhythm. guitar.

Instrumentally speaking,this song almost perfectly blends the brittle new wave/synth pop and Prince’s Minneapolis naked funk sound. Much of the song finds Prince taking on what amounts to the funk/soul equivalent of the socially rebellious punk attitude. Lyrically speaking,I now read this song as a dog whistle metaphor regarding a racially bias media and educational system. He referred to such people as “tourists”-teaching children to “cuss,fight and breed”. These would be themes Prince would elaborate on for the rest of his career. And he delivered it hear with some of his most explosively purple punk-funk.

 

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Filed under 1980's, drums, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, Prince, punk funk, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, Synth Pop, synthesizers

Andre’s Amazon Archive 4/11/2015: ‘So Excited (Expanded Edition)’ by Pointer Sisters

pointer-sisters---so-excited_-_expanded-edition__9025_0

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*

Visit the BBR Records site here for more expanded and remastered funk and soul titles:

http://www.cherryred.co.uk/bigbreak.asp

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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

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 1/24/2015: ‘Exit’ by Tangerine Dream-Dedicated To The Memory of Edgar Froese

Exit

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*

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Filed under 1980's, Bernie Worrell, Edgar Froese, Electronica, New Wave, Stevie Wonder, Synth Pop, Tangerine Dream, Walter Junie Morrison