Tag Archives: synthesizer

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Street Kids” by Kool & The Gang

Kool & The Gang’s period of being produced by Brazilian jazz funk Eumir Deodato represented the third stage of their musical evolution. The Jersey band started out with their heavy jazz funk style of such albums as Wild & Peaceful and Spirit Of The Boogie.  Than they made a series of albums that reflected a growing disco funk vibe from Open Sesame on through their first Deodato production in 1979’s Ladies Night. After that, the band embraced a more post disco/boogie funk oriented sound with radio friendly pop elements. By the mid 80’s, the band were basically radio friendly dance pop.

Dealing with K&TG as album artists in the early 80’s was a daunting task for me,having long accepted them as a singles act during that era. One day while looking through the cutout CD bins at a record store called Strawberries in the mid 90’s, I came across a K&TG album from 1982 entitled As One. I recognized the song “Big Fun” on it. And was happy to be able to hear it on the car CD player on the way home. The very first song that played upon popping it in helped me to really understand K&TG’s 80’s funk variant very well. And the name of this particular song was “Street Kids”.

George Brown’s drum kickoff begins the song before he puts himself into an in the pocket dance friendly beat for the remainder of the song. Deodato’s bubbling synth bass then proceeds to play call and respond to a two note synth-likely an OBX played by Ronald Bell. On the chorus, JT Taylor’s falsetto vocals play to the tune of Charles Smith’s liquid rhythm guitar-along with the bands powerful and melodic horn charts. There’s a B section with a sustained orchestral synth plays in the back round. This repeats somewhat later in the song as an extension of the chorus,which fades the song out in the end.

“Street Kids” is, to me, a superb example of Kool & The Gang adapting their sound for the post disco/boogie era. The horns,guitars and drums are still all the way live. But orchestral and bass elements are now electronic. The lyrics about street kids who “like to play Captain Video” and “doing the motor roller” go right with it. And the groove itself is squarely in the classic funk framework-right in the pocket and right on the one. JT Taylor has a tremendous vocal showcase here. You get his usual smooth tenor, his breathier falsetto and even his rapping. Part of a strong post disco reboot for this iconic funk band.

 

 

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Together We Can Shine” by Linx

Linx were a a Brit funk/soul/disco group with a rather short lived career. It was a six member band featuring keyboardist Bob Carter, drummer Andy Duncan, guitarist Canute Edwards, bassist Peter Martin,backup vocalist Junior Giscombe and lead singer David Grant. The group split up in early 1983-after Junior had left to begin a solo career and Grant was about to do the same. After a moderately successful solo career, Grant became a successful backing singer for people such as Rick Astley and The Lighthouse Family. He later became a judge on the UK TV show Pop Idol with his second wife Carrie.

Linx recorded two albums during 1981, the first of which I picked up four years ago on vinyl. Their major hit on it was “Intuition”, a Caribbean flavored post disco number became popular to its accompanying music video being played so often on the British music program Top Of The Pops. And all due to a technicians strike. The overall album is a superb example of how the post disco/boogie funk sound thrived,prospered and evolved along with new romantic/synth pop during the early 80’s. One fine example of this was the song “Together We Can Shine”.

A dance beat begins the song with a pulsing Fender Rhodes and a bluesy funk rhythm guitar break. As the main song kicks in, Martin’s slap bass line kicks in heavy. The dance beat becomes more steady. Carter adds spacey synthesizer flourishes-which become very high pitched on the choruses along with the melodic, liquid rhythm guitar bubbling right along. On the bridge of the song, the vocals of the refrain move aside for Carter’s piano solo before Grant’s vocals return. Before the fading refrain, the song breaks off into a percussive Brazilian funk breakdown.

Musically speaking, “Together We Can Shine” showcases the vitality and diversity within the UK post disco/boogie scene. Many American groups/ soloists  emerging from that were primarily disco and funk based from the get go. In terms of Linx, its a different story. Bob Carter and Canute Edwards play in a manner very indicative of jazz oriented instrumentalists. Bassist “Sketch” Martin and drummer Andy Duncan have a strong Brazilian funk flavor to their playing. So this song is a superb example of the post disco sound coming from a diverse level of musicianship from the sound of things.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Act Like You Know” by Fat Larry’s Band

Fat Larry’s Band are a name that goes back to the pre internet days of reading the few funk/soul review books (now torn to bits in my collection from many page turnings) in the late 90’s and early aughts. The Philly natives got lost in the transition of my own crate digging to such a degree, there are presently no LP’s or CD’s of theirs in my collection. Thanks to the presence of YouTube and social media in general,was able to listen to some of the music made by the late singer/drummer “Fat” Larry James,who was born today in 1949 and passed on 30 years ago this December 5th.

In their decade as a recording entity, Fat Larry’s Band recorded nine albums starting in 1976. Their first album to chart was 1982’s Breakin’ Out. As one of many late 70’s funk bands to survive the disco backlash and continue on innovating the boogie/post disco sound, Fat Larry’s Band not only had their only (mid way in the charts) R&B hit album in 82, but also one of their biggest charting hits. It was part of the soundtrack CD to the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The name of this particular song, and the one being discussed today, is “Act Like You Know”.

The song opens with Larry’s slow dragging,high key drum stomp with Larry La Bes’s shuffling,complex bass line providing the intro. The song then kicks into heavy gear with a a bouncing,high pitched bent synth squiggle and a liquid rhythm guitar-all along with the percussive kick on the drum’s rhythm. On the choruses, a melodic horn/string arrangement accent the choral vocals. On the bridge of the song, the drum/bass interaction of the intro is accompanied by a mildly Afro beat style horn chart. A talk sung outro to that goes into another refrain/chorus exchange that fades out the song.

“Act Like You Know” is one of those funk songs that has a very familiar opening. Certainly was to me-especially having never heard the song. As such, it has one of those hooks that a funk audience could respond very well and easily to. Its also very much out of the 70’s style of funk too. The boogie synth is a decorative element with the horns,drum and bass line remain the instrumental starts of the show. Larry’s smooth lead is also served well by the sweet harmonies that come along on the chorus. As a whole, the song showcased the live instrumental vitality of the post disco/boogie era.

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Anatomy of THE GRoove: “Sammy-Joanne (One Half Woman,One Half Man)” by Vernon Burch

Vernon Burch  is a musical figure who is relatively obscure to me. Born in Washington DC, Burch is a guitarist whom its hard to find a great deal of personal information about. What could be found out about him was that he played with The Bar Kays during the time they recorded their Do You See What I See? album in 1972. He embarked on hissolo career starting in 1975-at first at United Artists and Columbia. He finally signed to Casablanca subsidiary Chocolate City in 1978,best known at the time as the label for funk stalwarts Cameo.

This was the disco era. And Burch’s place in music history was cemented in funk.  In 1979,he released his second album for the label entitled Get Up.  On the album he had arrangement help from Tom Tom 84 and funk icon Fred Wesley of the JB’s and P-Funk. Wesley arranged the horns on three of the songs on this disco funk album. While pursuing some of its songs on YouTube,one of these Fred Wesley arranged tunes leaped right out at me-for a number of different reasons both musical and otherwise. The name of the song is “Sammy-Joanne (One Half Woman,One Half Man)”.

A hard hitting disco beat from non other than James Gadson starts the song-along with a ticking keyboard from Michael Thompson. Burch’s rumbling,rocking guitar provides a string orchestra like effect as the intro slides into the main song-along with David N. Shields slap bass. As a descending synth and descending horns enter into it, the drum/ rhythm guitar/Clavinet/slap bass interaction all lock in  for the refrain of the song. The stripped down bass/drum/synth sound of the intro provides the chorus. A bluesy guitar solo from Burch on the bridge extends into an extended,fading refrain.

“Sammy-Joanne” is a hard driving stomper- a perfect example of a funk song functioning as disco. What surprised me in the song is how it focused on a healthier and perhaps less hedonistic aspect of the disco era. The Sammy-Joanne character in the song is a hermaphrodite who finds acceptance and love as an implied transgender’ disco dancer. The character is celebrated,not made fun of and hated. And with gender related matters being a strangely controversial matter in 2017, this 1979 song celebrates sexual difference with some of the most funkified disco-dance music possible.

 

 

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Kate Bush & 35 Years Of ‘The Dreaming’

Kate Bush’s 1982 album The Dreaming will be coming up to its 35th anniversary this coming September 13th. For years,I personally knew her only for her collaboration with Peter Gabriel. But none of her own music. It was from a YouTube anthology series Oddity Archive,hosted and created by my Facebook friend Ben Minnotte,did he process his love of the music of Kate Bush. So I sought out an album mentioned in one of his videos called Never For Ever. Interestingly enough, obtained The Dreaming for free in a CD grab bag I purchased earlier. Here is an Amazon.com review I wrote about it four years ago.


During a period where many of the record companies were desperately pleading with musical artists not to release any non commercial material? The age old plea from the artists themselves came into play: how to be creative and commercial at the same time. That wasn’t really a concern for Kate Bush.

Her first three albums tended to be singer-songwriter oriented as their core was focused on the material. With each release however her arrangements become far broader and more dynamic. So for her fourth album in 1982? She just flew with her own creative heart. “Sat On Your Lap”,”Pull The Pin”,”Leave It Open” and the title song, interestingly enough a single,are all built around percussively gated drumming and a number of digitally derived,synthesized effects creating vast seas of different tonal melodies.

Often times Aboriginal Australian and African rhythms come into play on the refrains of these songs as well. “There Goes A Tenner” and “Suspended In A Gaffe” are far closer to the piano based musical hall oriented uptempo 60’s type Brit-pop sound similar to her earlier music. “Night Of The Swallow”,”All Of Love” and “Houdini” all start out slower,piano based ballads before building into more stripped down rhythm intensity. “Get Out Of My House” is full of emotional fire-with an extremely percussive set of poly-rhythms.

It would seem that when this album first came out? It wasn’t exactly very well received. On the other hand later Bjork,an artist who is very clearly influenced by Kate Bush’s musical approach from even my under-trained ears,cited this as a favorite of her albums for her. Of course OutKast’s Big Boi also cited this album as a favorite. And listening to this album its easy to see how that interest is far from merely generational.

With today’s emphasis on pan ethnic rhythm oriented trip/trance-hop and different cinematic electronica/hip-hop hybrids? All of a sudden music such as what Kate Bush did,and wasn’t fully understood for in it’s time,suddenly made a lot of sense. Yet another example of how artists are often a bit creatively ahead of the listener.

So perhaps the pop/rock audience of the early 80’s weren’t sure what to make of these rhythmically and harmonically complex songs that populate the majority of this album. But another generation of musicians,as somewhat disconnected from the side of musical culture to which Kate Bush might’ve come from,heard something in what she did here that they could swing their own way. And in the end,that only makes this album all the more wonderful in terms of standing on its own merits.


With The Dreaming, Kate Bush brought in the then very new Fairlight CMI synthesizer computer to help her with this self produced album. One that took her original musical approach into the expansive world of world fusion. As well as accompanying musical tribalism. With one of its songs “Sat In Your Lap” originally inspired by Bush having attending a Stevie Wonder concert, The Dreaming stands as an example of an album that was (to some degree) an unexplored direction for early electronic sampling on a rhythmic level in what could be described as an early 80’s proto alternative album.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Brain Damage” by Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express

Brian Auger has been, much like Americans Art Blakey and Norman Connors, a great assembler and cultivator of talent during the 60’s and 70’s in his native England. His first band was The Steampacket in 1965,which included a young and then unknown Rod Stewart. As a session musician and famed player of the Hammond B-3 organ, Auger worked with everyone from Tony Williams to Jimi Hendrix. Formed in 1970, his Oblivion Express represented when Auger became such a talent cultivator. In particular with members of what became the Average White Band.

For the first six years of the 70’s, Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express released on album every year. The last of this series of albums released prior to 1977 was the 1975 album  Reinforcements. Seen it on vinyl once,never picked it up and have come to regret it. This album helped to cultivate the guitar/percussion/vocal talents of soon to be Santana band member Alex Ligertwood as well. Being a jazz-funk innovator, this would seem to be an album based upon online listening that delved very strongly into funkiness. And one of its finest examples is the opening song entitled “Brain Damage”.

Ligertwood’s rhythm guitar,and soon percussion provides the intro the song. Auger himself comes in on electric piano along with bassist Clive Chaman’s thundering,jazzy line. Dave Dowle’s drums come into the arrangement-along with the biting lead guitar of Jack Mills. The refrains A section is a thick funky grind with a heavy Moog synthesizer providing the melody,while the B section goes into a heavier electric piano part. As this pattern continues, the B sections often serve as forums for solos. First for Auger’s electric piano,than his organ and Mills’ guitar before fading out on the main melody.

“Brain Damage” is a hefty jazz funk jam of the finest sort-very solo based and full of instrumental excitement. Not to mention its confident strut. The A-section of the main melody has a bass/guitar/drum/percussion interaction that reminds me somewhat of mid/late 70’s P-Funk to some degree. At the same time, its the instrumental soloing (all of which is very clear and beautiful) that relates it to the jazz/funk fusion sound of that period so strongly. Brian Auger is someone I’ll personally have to be checking out more of in the future. Simply based on hearing music like this from him.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Heartstroke” by Calvin Harris featuring Pharrell Williams,Ariana Grande and Young Thug

Calvin Harris is yet another example of a European DJ/producer/multi instrumentalist in the 2010’s who have wound up keeping strong funkiness in their club oriented music. As a matter of fact, many of them (Harris included) have taken many contemporary singer/performer’s along for the ride with them. Hailing from Dumfries, Scotland, Harris is the son of a biochemist. Calvin himself had a very working class trajectory after high school-working odd jobs to buy DJ gear to develop his craft further.  By 2011, Harris was working with pop artists such as Rihanna. And had several major albums on his own too.

Last week Harris, whose generally EDM based releases have generally veered about as far as nu disco in the past, released his fifth studio album entitled Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1. It is his first to include no instrumental pieces. And is heavy on collaborations with contemporary singers and rappers. The album first came to my attention riding around town with my mom and hearing the song “Feels” from it on the local new music radio. Very much enjoyed it but upon listening closer, I found Big Sean’s language in it too profane. On the song I’m doing today “Heartstroke”,its a somewhat different story.

A cymbal and jazzy electric piano melody opens the album,with Pharrell Williams deepened voice being soon joined by light percussion and rhythm guitar. When Young Thug’s lead vocals coming,the songs post disco beat and grinding,popping bass line comes in to join it for the first verse of the song. Pharrell joins Young Thug in call and response harmony on the choruses. The song changes octave a bit when Ariana Grande comes in as vocal lead-again duetting with Pharrell. After a bridge with a more sustained synthesizer part, it all fades out on a psychedelic Latin funk wah wah/percussion tone.

What “Heartstroke” actually does musically is very interesting. It showcases the most condensed groove present in the (in its day) somewhat necessitated lower budget of early 80’s post disco/boogie music. Yet it also has some the jazzy electric piano and Brazilian style percussion flavors of late 70’s jazz funk. The type that found its way into Quincy Jones’s late 70’s/early 80’s productions as part of the “LA sound”. Young Thug’s language has its issues here for sure. But he presents it with a Jamaican dancehall style vocal that makes this a strong mixture of older and newer funky musical ideas.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Too Funky” by George Michael

George Michael celebrated his first posthumous birthday yesterday. His death came very sadly and suddenly on Christmas day last year. Since that time,I have learned (along with my boyfriend) just to how important George Michael and Wham were to the post disco UK dance/funk/soul scene of the 1980’s. Wham were one of the “big four” bands on the UK’s major music program Top Of The Pops.  As for Michael’s solo career, it operated from 1987 through 1991 before his record company conflict began. Yet that five years had Michael as part of a huge growth period for cutting edge,funky dance music.

His final single before these record company conflicts was originally recorded for his sophomore solo album Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1. It eventually ended up being released for the AIDS charity CD entitled Red Hot+Blue in 1992. All the proceeds from that and Michael’s accompanying single went to HIV/AIDS related causes. It was also Michael’s first extensive use of sampling-from sound clips from The Graduate and The Tony Hancock Show to a sample from Jocelyn Brown’s “Somebody Else’s Guy”. The name of the George Michael song that did all these things was “Too Funky”.

A fast electronic piano drum rundown introduces the song. Its a thick,slow drum machine rhythm with some shuffling, Brazilian style conga/percussion accents. The melodic body of the song is a round,five note synth brass part-along with pulsing electronic strings and like minded bass line. The piano/bass/drum interaction make up the refrains. With each choral variation, the synth brass returns and varies in tone. After a bridge that condenses the song down to the drums and bass line,the chorus fades the song out to a close with the piano part and the final sound sample of the song.

“Too Funky” is a song that basically pulls together all of the funkiest elements of 80’s dance music innovations. It has the the percussive shuffle of DC go go, the dramatic synthesized horns of the Minneapolis sound and the repetitive bass and piano of house music. What makes it “too funky” is not merely the sexually free (yet somehow post AIDS) lyrical content. But also the somewhat slower tempo and that percussive jump on the rhythms. George Michael wouldn’t put any new music out for four years after this. But it sure capped off the beginning of his solo career with a strong groove.

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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: “DNCE” by DNCE

DNCE, a group just introduced to me by my boyfriend Scott, are a never band who are in a somewhat complex musical position. Its a functional band of musicians consisting of bassist/keyboardist Cole Whittle, guitarist JinJoo Lee and drummer/percussionist Jack Lawless. Its lead singer is Joe Jonas,a member of the Disney based family pop/rock band The Jonas Brothers. Of course,JinJoo Lee was a member of Cee-Lo Green’s touring band in the early 2010’s. Whittle describes DNCE’s sound as being like funk and disco hits played by a good garage band. And of course,they have their influences.

70’s and 80’s funk,pop and disco of the likes of EWF,The Bee Gee’s,ELO,Hall & Oates and Prince. They also site 90’s alternative band Weezer as an influence as well. Having heard several songs from their self titled debut from 2016, this is obviously a very diverse band. And vocally,they have their modern pop ethic down pat. Still they have a strong love of a strong groove with a strong melody. There were several songs that stood out on the album for Scott and myself. The one that stood out most for me personally was basically the album and bands self titled theme song.

An acapella chant of the groups name starts out the song-just before a tougher vocal grunt gets the main melody going. Its a thick,slow drum accented by shuffling percussion. The rhythm guitar/slapping bass interaction has a rolling thickness. And the lead synthesizer plays a bright “church style” melody. On the third chorus of the song, horns (or at least horn samples come in) come into accent the melody-with each choral bridge having a a chugging guitar and percussion sound. The bridge breaks it all down to the drums,bass,horns and vocals before the chorus repeats to its abrupt final curtain.

“DNCE” is a groove that has a lot going on in it.  There’s a little bit of the Bee Gee’s “Jive Talkin'”,and the use of Prince style synthesizers to create gospel oriented melodic chords. The band are a very talented quartet. Counter to what I hear in much pop music of the 2010’s,everything on this song makes distinct musical statements. And every one of them come from the roots of the soul/funk/disco dance persuasion. The surface melodies are very strong and prominent. But the bottom has a thickness too. Should DNCE continue in this direction,they will be a nu funk to watch for more from.

 

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