TLC are a group that I never thought would come back. After all in terms of membership,its all come down to Chilli and T-Boz. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was in many ways the heart and soul of the 90’s trio. Since the time of Left Eye’s passing, the remaining two members have made some appearances,collaborations and been the subject of a biopic here and there. But even with all the trials,tribulations and financial ruin of their heyday,it didn’t seem that the passing of a key member would ever find them re-emerging in a huge way in terms of new studio material.
All of a sudden in early 2015,T-Boz and Chilli announced they were going to be releasing and fifth and final studio album using a Kickstarter campaign. Other artists such as Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake made major donations to their crowdfunding effort. The new self titled album was released June 30th of 2017. A couple of years earlier, the duo format of TLC went on tour with the New Kids On The Block and Nelly. And they released two new singles from their forthcoming album in Japan the next year. One of them is what I’ll be talking to you about today. Its called “Joy Ride”.
A three beat,echoed drum with a four note descending/ascending bass line provides the intro. A horn blasts gets into the funky shuffling drums,the bouncing pop of a rhythm guitar and the continuing bass line from the intro. Along with a three note,descending hip-hop style piano. As the song progresses,with little melodic changes from refrain to choruses,the rhythm alternately shows down as silences,horns and hand claps all join the instrumentation in different parts of the song. An extended chorus of the song concludes it all with the duo’s harmonies echoing the song to its fade out.
“Joy Ride” is a superb arrangement for TLC. Its based in their classic mix of live instrumental funky soul with a hip-hop friendly twist. The melody and harmonies of the group are just as locked down too. Written by Rebekah Muhammad, the song certainly understands the history of whose doing it. As I said to Henrique, its not something that shows TLC’s sound as changing all that much. But in as much as the original trio kept the funk and soul alive in their hip-hop based music in the 90’s, its just a really comforting thing to be back on the TLC tip. Even if it is just for one last time.
As readers of this blog may have noticed? I’ve done previous little coverage of the 1990’s in Anatomy Of The Groove. My reasons for that,complex and subjective as they are,can be found over a number of my music reviews on Amazon. At the same time? I was very caught up in loving the music of TLC: T-Boz,Lisa Left Eye and Chilli. These were a trio of very funky divas who came around just after En Vogue with their own particular take on the music of that era.
Beginning with a loping drum shuffle and round keyboard warble,the music takes shape into a wah wah guitar playing the basic melody of the sung accented by a horn section of muted trumpets playing a jazzy counter accent. T-Boz throws down her best Sly Stone style vocal drawl into this and with all three singing the chorus together of “don’t go chasing waterfalls/just stick to the rivers and the lakes that your used to/I know your gonna have it your way or no way at all/but I think your moving too fast” before the song fades on the same instrumental phrase on which it began.
One of the deepest things about this song for my personally is that 1994 was the year in which I had totally embraced the funky soul jazz spectrum of music as the sounds which influenced my own creative heart,mind and soul. Even than I recognized that this song,completely contemporary for it’s time,was completely embracing all the elements of that music. The vocal delivery was directly out of the trio’s Southern fried funk roots and it actually had a live instrumental backing of wah wah guitar and horns-which were just as distinctive and memorable to the song as the vocals and melody.
Thematically it is only recently that the wonders of this songs virtues actually revealed themselves to me. In a very poetic 70’s funky soul style? It finds TLC rhapsodizing the tale of a contemporary male urban teenager from a good family whose mother has concerns about the secrecy about his life,yet remains in the dark about the gangsta lifestyle he’s become involved in. It’s basically an image right out of what Maya Angelou refers to as “the thirteens”-seemingly a specific word for black American Generation X’ers. This song takes the street sounds of mid 70’s hard funk,mixes it with a hip-hop style beat,live instrumentation and a message to young black men in particular what it might really to keep it real.
Jody Watley’s life and career literally started out riding on the Soul Train. She started out there as one of the most famous of the line dancers along with future Michael Jackson choreographer Jeffrey Daniels before they became the founding members of Shalamar-the group Don Cornelius helped to build. Eventually marrying Prince’s former musical partner Andre’ Cymone she had some wonderfully funky dance hits at the end of the 80’s such as “Looking For A New Love” and “Some Kind Of Lover”.
By the mid 90’s Wately’s commercial success on her label MCA had began to try up. A lot of this had to do with the fact that her music trajectory was talking her in much more of a creative and soulful direction. Music during the mid 90’s had definitely taken a turn towards slower paced,often funkier grooves depending on the music personalities for those involved. She than recorded her fifth album in 1995 for the Avitone label and proceeded to take more control over her creative career with songwriter/multi instrumentalist Derrick Edmonson. Thus the album Affection and it’s title song were born.
Starting out with the ringer of an answer phone where Watley speaks of her new song and asks the answering party to “fill in the blanks”,the song kicks into gear with a slow funky drum and three layered keyboard lines. The melody is a round high pitched synthesizer,followed closely by a hissing electronic harmony. The other is a popping high bass line that punctuates both the harmony and main melody. Jody sings the body of the song with a lower,Sly Stone like drawl and the chorus in a high,sexy gospel inflected tone. The instrumental bridge features a bluesy guitar,turntabling and a sax solo from Edmonson that comes directly from the melodic horn line of Maceo Parker’s from James Brown’s “Cold Sweat”.
Jody describes this song at the beginning as being “a little Sade,a little James Brown a little Miss Jody Watley”. That in a nutshell describes the groove she gets on this song. It has the sleek,rolling,sexy shuffle groove,jazzy harmonics and thick layers of rhythmic keyboard tones overall. That also gets her into the Mary J Blige/TLC vein of hip-hop/soul friendly contemporary pop-funk grooves of the mid 90’s. A longtime AIDS/human rights supporter,Watley even gives this sexually themed song a broad social message with the chorus of “doesn’t matter if your young or old,doesn’t matter if your straight or gay,everybody needs to feel loved”. It’s total funky,all inclusive sexuality. Where everyone can be who they were born to be and sensuality comes without fear. For me? It’s the culmination of Jody Watley’s strong musical and lyrical assertions of the groove!
Filed under "Sexual Healing", 1990s, Derrick Edmonson, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Jazz-Funk, Jody Watley, Mary J. Blige, pop-funk, TLC