Tag Archives: Uptown Funk

The Funky History Lesson of Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic

bruno-mars-24k-magic

I have a confession to make: I like the new Bruno Mars album, 24K Magic. I like it a lot, actually. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s maybe the most pure, uncomplicated fun I’ve had with a record all year.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, that isn’t such a controversial statement. A lot of people like 24K Magic: it debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200 when it was released last month, and the accompanying world tour sold over a million tickets less than 24 hours after they went on sale. A lot of people like Bruno Mars, too: the dude’s already performed at the Super Bowl twice, and he’s barely over 30 years old. But in today’s hyper-segmented pop music market, there’s a kind of shame that comes with admitting you like an artist with such mass appeal. Bruno Mars is the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte of music; by admitting I like him (or PSLs), I forfeit the air of aesthetic superiority that is the lifeblood of every hipster and amateur critic alike.

But hey, like all amateur critics and hipsters, I have a fragile ego, so let me try to explain myself. 24K Magic is a fun, hooky record, but it’s also a history lesson; and, as it turns out, making musical history lessons fun and hooky might just be Bruno Mars’ calling. Mars is a talented songwriter, singer, and (especially) performer, but his real brilliance is as a mimic: think back, for example, to his 2012 appearance on Saturday Night Live, when he became a human Pandora playlist with spot-on impersonations of everyone from Michael Jackson to Green Day. That skit was basically a microcosm for Mars’ whole schtick; his influences are as heterogeneous and easy to pick out as they come, from the Michael Jackson and James Brown moves he spent his early career pilfering to his more recent, post-“Uptown Funk” incarnation as a post-hip-hop Morris Day.

The beauty of 24K Magic is that its influences all sound fresh and contemporary, despite the fact that they’re of anywhere from 25 to 40 years vintage. The title track, for example, is pure Zapp, right down to the little synthesizer drop on the chorus (a direct quote from the beginning of 1982’s “I Can Make You Dance“). “Finesse” is straight out of the Bobby Brown/New Edition playbook. And the delightfully cheeky “Perm” is James Brown filtered through the aforementioned Morris Day and the Time. All of these sounds are perfectly viable for contemporary listeners; I should know, I listen to them pretty much exclusively every summer. But they’re all sorely missing from the current music landscape, and I for one am thrilled to see somebody bringing them back to the mainstream.

Of course, the typical critical backhand against this kind of “throwback” music is that it’s stultifying nostalgia, more interested in looking back at the past with misty eyes than in pushing things boldly forward. But I think the “history lesson” term I used earlier is more apropos. Bruno Mars’ take on ’80s and ’90s R&B never sounds stodgy or conservative; it lacks even the grumpy-young-man purism that is sometimes evident in Dam-Funk‘s work. Mars is clearly just having a blast, and making sure the listener does too; I guarantee that there’s a sizable segment of his audience that neither knows nor particularly cares that he isn’t doing anything Roger Troutman didn’t already do. Pop music is a young person’s game, and it is (for now, at least) inseparable from capitalism’s endless parade of novelty. There are, of course, plenty of obsessives out there willing to dig through its history–several of them either reading or writing for this very blog!–but the truth of the matter is, the only way to introduce most listeners to sounds from the past is to deliver them again in a shiny new package. 24K Magic is new, and it’s as shiny as the gold alloy from which it takes its name. And if it gets even a handful of millennials to do a little digging in their local record store’s R&B section, then that’s even better.

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Filed under 2010's, 2016

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 11/30/2015: “Someday” by The Gap Band

Much as injecting personal affairs into this blog has been controversial on many different ends? It’s unavoidable in this case. 2015 has proven to be a year consisting of many hardships, challenges and often misery for humanity. On the creative end of that? It was deeply soul destroying for me when Ronnie and Charlie Wilson sued both Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars for credit in their massive hit “Uptown Funk”. Unsure what upsets me more: that the surviving Wilson brothers were negating their own possible comeback over greed? Or because of the fact that they themselves could be accused of musical plagiarism of P-Funk with their 1979 hit “Oops Upside Your Head”.

The matter was so distressing on this end that it became one of a bucket list of reasons why I took a six month hiatus from this blog to begin with. And why it may not be as it was again in the future. Still? Nothing in creativity is carved in stone. Not funk music,not the Gap Band and not even the future of either. And it reminded me of a time (the late 1990’s) when I was collecting Gap Band CD’s with great enthusiasm. And noticing the  resemblance of the vocal timbre of “Uncle” Charlie Wilson and Stevie Wonder. At the conclusion of their 1983 release Gap Band V: Jammin’? A collaboration between the Wilson’s and Wonder finally occurred with a song entitled “Someday”. And it had a lot more to say beyond even that.

It’s actually one of the few funk,soul or R&B numbers I’ve heard that not only has a cold start both musically and vocally. But it also maintains that basic character throughout the entire song. The rhythmic body of the song is a steady drum beat accentuated by rolling percussion-that train like motion the Wilson’s tended to specialize in. The main melodic phrase is a very Wonder-like synthesized Clavinet-like baroque classical one-though likely played by Charlie himself. And this is accessorized by a slippery synth bass line. On the bridge? Wonder does provide an appropriate harmonica solo before leading into the pleasing,gospel soul vocal coda as the song fades out.

Charlie,Ronnie and the late Robert Wilson were not only successful at adapting the approach of Stevie Wonder into their own funk style on this song, but also gave up the props by gleefully collaborating with the artist himself-without whom the sound of the song wouldn’t have been so possible. This spirit of creative unity goes well with the beautifully stated tribute to the struggle for civil rights. And to the then yet unrecognized holiday in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s one of the most eloquently layered and topical of the Gap Band’s songs. It may never have been recognized due to not being a hit. But it may be one of the Wilson’s crowning musical (and proudly funky) achievements.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Charlie Wilson, civil rights, electro funk, Gap Band, Martin Luther King Jr., naked funk, Stevie Wonder, synth bass

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/6/2015-Andre’s Pick: “Turn It Up” by Baby Funk

One of the major things I wanted to do with this blog is to promote new funk bands and soloists with my blogging partner Rique. Particularly indie funk bands,who often need the sort of word of mouth campaign to bring awareness of their music to the people. Last month a lady named Sheli Casana contacted me about a new song that she (under the professional name Baby Funk) had put together called the Original Stone city Band. Featuring members of George Clinton’s P-Funk and the late Rick James’ Stone City Band? They dropped a song called “Turn It Up”. And after repeated listening on my part? Just had to tell you all about this groove.

Starting with a voluminous synthesizer wash from Eddie Fluellen,Nate and Lenise Hughes chime in with a meaty conga based percussive groove after which a big drum kick launches into the main body of the jam. This body consists of a thick and phat interaction between Fluellen’s bass synthesizer  and the high up on the neck rhythm guitar/slap bass of Jerome Ali and Tom McDermott. The interaction of the jazz oriented Baby Funk herself and the bluesy funk  growl  of Mark Love coalesce on a lightly percussive rap where Baby Funk evokes her admiration of the late Teena Marie before going back to the main instrumental themes-now punctuated rhythmically and melodically with ascending/descending horn charts and a rocking lead guitar solo to close out this groove.

It feels important to note that as this blog is being written? Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” is still the #1 pop record in America. As I just told Rique in a comment on his blog on this topic yesterday? What matters most to me is not chart statistics but how records like that,as well as Pharrell Williams associated productions like “Happy”,”Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky”,manage to connect with the people. This song is not only a wonderful example of the massive public appreciation of indie funk in the past half decade or so. But also how it brings together two key players in funk’s transition from the 70’s to the 80’s into it’s actual instrumental orbit-drawing in the influence of George Clinton and Rick James with the channeling of Sly Stone and the Ohio Players horns and vocals into their own distinct flavor of the groove.

Personally? I am extremely proud that a song like this represents the full realization of the original dreams and goals of this blog. Especially the single song oriented weekly feature Anatomy of THE Groove! As Michael Jackson once sang in 1977? Music is a doctor that can cure a troubled mind. Like to hope these grooves not only move,but remove as wel. I would like to give my greatest thanks to my talented and knowledgeable blogging partner Rique for the efforts and inspiration he manages to put into this blog with an extremely busy schedule of his own to upkeep. Would also like give a very special thanks to Sheli Casana for providing me with detailed information on the personnel of her band and all available musical information on them. Stay tuned for Baby Funk/Original Stone City Band’s upcoming website and full album release-available at some pout this spring or summer on CD and MP3.  And don’t forget to check out their live show when and if they travel through your home town. Thank you!

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Filed under Baby Funk, bass synthesizer, Funk, Funk Bass, Jerome Ali, Nu Funk, Original Stone City Band, P-Funk, percussion, Pharrell Williams, Rick James, Teena Marie

Anatomy of THE Groove 11/21/14 Rique’s Pick : “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars

I have a confession: when I came to Andre with this blog idea, I was not sure there would be enough songs released this year to fill it out. Oh, there has been plenty of funky songs released from the turn of the millenium on, as well as from the ’80s and ’90s to cover. But the past four years or so had been so fruitful in terms of new funk recordings, I just couldn’t be sure we’d have the funk bomb in 2014 as well. Unfortunately, a funkateer can no longer take new funk for granted. But if Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars combustible new single “Uptown Funk” continues to get the reception it so richly deserves, we should have plenty of funk in the near future. Mark Ronson, the celebrity D.J slash musician-producer, has done plenty of funky songs over the years, like his “Pretty Green” featuring Santigold, or “Glass Mountian Trust” featuring D’Angelo. Not to mention his soulful Afrobeat inflected remix of Robin Thicke’s “Magic.” Add to that Bruno Mars and his performing and musical acumen, including a full band that is a dedicated part of his package, and you have the makings of something very stank indeed. But did I expect them to drop this Morris Day and the Time cum Roger and Zapp sprinkled with Earth, Wind & Fire (its in the horns man, the horns!) funk in the twilight of 2014? NO! Just like that, Ronson reserved a top spot for the “Blurred Lines” award, which I’m gonna start giving to the over 30 dance record of the year, every year. This thang is that potent.

The jam kicks in from the very beginning, with a bass clef voice singing a bass line on the one. The bassline being sung is a very funky one, hitting hard on the one and leaving plenty of space. The technique itself harkens back to funky songs like Jimmy Castor’s “Bertha Butt” and Roger and Zapp’s “Doo Waa Ditty”, on before that to the bass voices in doo wop, back before that to choral musics in Europe and vocalizing in Africa. Yeah, that far back. When u establish some funk that boldly, you have to have something backing it, and Ronson chooses some loud, brash handclaps hitting on the two and four beats, with some shifting effects coming in and out. After that funky four bar intro, the rhythm guitar comes in. The guitar is playing small chord voicings, high up the neck, in the ’80s funk style of players like Prince and Roger Troutman. A voice comes in bellowing “ow”backed by the horn section, which introduces Bruno Mars vocals. Bruno comes in, bragging in the self referential funk style, “This is that ice cold/Michelle Pfifer/That white gold.” Those vocals are backed by a solid funk beat. Bruno goes on to brag “I’m too Hot!/Call the Police/and the Fireman!” A single note, low register, insistent funky guitar line is introduced, with funky guitar chords backing it up. This all builds up to a pre chorus that says “Uptown Funk gonna give it to ya!” The pre chorus is backed by double time hand claps and a sound effect that sounds like a jet taking off and Bruno borrows the hook line from Trinidad James 2012 hit “All Gold Everything”, “Don’t believe me just watch!”

From there the song goes into a high powered Earth, Wind & Fire style horn led chorus, with a line that also is reminiscent of the horns on Michael Jackson’s classic, “Jam.” This is also backed by a funky early ’80s funk cum new wave synth pad.

The video is also very funky, with Bruno, Mark Ronson and the band strutting through an old school street scene, hitting funky poses and drinking ‘yac. The fellas take up the old school image of super sharp, super hip players, getting their hair done under the blow dryer, and getting their patent leather shoes shined. They also dance down the street in front of a stretch Lincoln.  Bruno himself is hilarious in the video, hitting all of the prissy, narcissistic, affected motions of the type of player he’s potraying in the song, reminding one instantly of such funky egomaniacs as Morris Day.

This is a record that speaks for itself. One of George Clinton’s central contributions to funk as a music was his branding of it. James Brown was a pioneer in that regard, naming tunes “Aint it Funky Now”, and “Funky Drummer” and “It’s Too Funky in Here.” But it was George Clinton who used the word and term “Funk” for all aspects of his music as well as worldview. One of the frustrating things about Funk is its seeming low name recognition. Many times that is as it should be because even when the head does not know the funk, the hips and ass generally do. But until hips and asses speak the Queens English, it’s the mouth that must testify to the musics greatness. So Mark Ronson and Bruno are doing a big thing here by naming this cut “Uptown Funk”, they’re not hiding it, nor being coy, nor trying to be new. If you’re ashamed of the funk the funk will be ashamed of you, right? Of course, the word “Uptown” brings various things to mind, from Prince’s utopian “Uptown”, to Harlem, New York which is “Uptown”, which extends to the general characterization of the black part of any city as “Uptown.” That word also conjures up a certain slick, strutting sophistication that is the finest mixture of city and country, modern and ancient. Kind of like the Funk itself. By digging up these energies with some funk for right now, Ronson and Bruno will most definitely increase their own success, as “funk is it’s own reward.” But it’s the music lovers of the world who will reap the greatest benefits!

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Filed under 1980's, 2014, 2015