Showdown was recorded in 1978 as the follow up to the Isley’s Go for Your Guns, which followed through with the fast paced funk style of the three previous 3+3 era Isley Brothers’ releases. On the Showdown album, everything had begun to change for this family band . In focusing more on slowing the funk down to this smoldering hot crawl of a groove,even the uptempo stuff has a sleeker (and less brittle) approach in their instrumentation. This resulted in a certain lushness that mildly hinted at the disco/dance sound in some of its rhythmic pattern.
The title track is about as great an example of this sound as one could ask. And the Isley’s of course work the groove straight into the subconscious, whilst talking full advantage of the slower tempo. In the end, that makes the bass/guitar interaction all the funkier. “Groove With You” is another case where the Isley’s do their best type of bedroom groove,setting up the most romantic imagery and of course the music just melts like caramel. “Ain’t Givin’ Up No Love” is type of funk jam that’s like a fist slamming down slow and hard onto a table and leaving an enormous crack.
The simple fact that Chris Jasper seriously throws down with his bass synth on this one right along with Marvin’s bass guitar just throws out all kinds of extra punches. “Rockin’ With Fire” and “Love Fever” are all two part Ernie Isley funk/rockers that all showcase his guitar work and the power of this rhythm section. All are taken at the faster pace of this album. “Take Me To The Next Phase” is just about the most glorious funk jam the Isley’s ever did. In the funk tradition of James Brown, “Next Phase” is a studio recording overdubbed with applause and band banter to sound like a live stadium performance.
“Take Me To The Next Phase” ends up capturing the flavor of both their own sound along with a bit of Stevie Wonder style funk chords (not surprising since they both utilized the electronic sounds of TONTO at the time) and despite it’s lengths leaves you hoping for more. ‘Coolin’ Me Out” is a more pop crafted variation of the same sound and still turns out to be an incredible jam-probably one of the most unsung on this album. “Fun And Games” harnesses a bit of a West Coast jazz-pop influence in the melody along with the peppy groove.
Showdown is an album that I felt for years was a bit of a letdown compared to its predecessors. In terms of funk, what has been revealed over many listening’s is that its actually an album with one great, iconic song (“Take Me To The Next Phase”) and seven other good to very good songs with…good to very good grooves. That is somewhat what happened upon listening to Funkadelic’s final two 70’s releases with me as well. At four decades old now, this album remains as another potent reminder of how unique the 3+3 era Isley Brother’s were with their take on the funk/rock hybrid.
Michael McDonald emerged out of his native Ferguson, Missouri (and his first band Blue) to become one of the most important building blocks of the west coast pop/soul/funk sound out of LA-during the late 70’s and early 80’s. His first gig was in singing backup on Steely Dan’s 1975 Katy Lied. And he brought his distinctively jazzy soul way with the Rhodes piano to The Doobie Brothers when he joined them shortly thereafter. In doing so, he totally reshaped their southern rock sound into west coast funky soul such as “Takin’ It To The Street”, “It Keeps You Runnin'” and of course “What A Fool Believes”.
Turning 66 years old today, McDonald has had an equally varied solo career. Especially with his soulfully, distinctively slurred vocal delivery and raspy falsetto. He even made a more popular comeback in the early aughts with two separate CD’s of classic Motown covers. Both with and without the Doobie’s, McDonald’s career has many exciting moments that got my attention. Especially 1982’s G funk building block “I Keep Forgettin'”. The song that I’m talking about today was from the 1986 movie Running Scared. And its the late Rod Temperton written “Sweet Freedom”.
A snare/tom based drum kicks into a percussion based intro with two corresponding synths-one playing a marimba like sound and the other introducing the main melody with McDonald’s refrain. Other layers of synth, including a brittle bass line come in as the drums fatten up. On the choruses, the rhythm guitar of (likely) Paul Jackson and the horn arrangements of Larry Williams beef up the arrangement. After a re-harmonized bridge ending with a pitch bent synth solo, an extended version of the chorus closes out the song.
“Sweet Freedom” is one of those songs I’ve personally enjoyed, sung and danced around to since childhood. And it makes sense now that its another Rod Temperton composition. It really brings to life that danceable, Caribbean inspired funky soul injected into the mid 80’s American pop landscape. It all had just the right mix of melodic sweetness and rhythm heft to make it work very well. And in terms of keyboards and vocals, this is some of McDonald’s finest work-with Temperton making the most of the artists jazzy twists as well. A wonderful meeting of two soulful icons in a very enjoyable setting.
Lee Ritenour is an excellent example of a musician who functioned equally as strong as both a session player and as a soloist. The LA guitar maestro began his session career in in 1968 playing on a Mama’s & The Papa’s section at age 16. His dexterous,often fluttering sound earned him the name Captain Fingers by the early 70’s. He continued to do session work for artists such as George Duke before launching his solo career in 1976. For the next four or five years, he continued with his session work (most popularly for Pink Floyd for their album The Wall) and releasing solo records in the Brazilian flavored jazz-funk vein.
In 1981 Ritenour released his album Rit,which added a strong pop focus and vocals than even before. The song “Is It You?”,with singer Eric Tagg,was actually part of the first rotation of music videos to be aired on the then very new MTV. Of course with other session greats who enjoyed popular acclaim such as Greg Phillinganes,Jeff Porcoro and the late Louis Johnson the album represented a turning point in the turning point from jazz-funk into what would become known as smooth jazz. One of its most defining and distinctive songs to me on the album is “Countdown (Captain Fingers)”.
A round synth riser opens the song. This segues directly into the songs intro-which also acts as its bridge. This finds Ritenour playing a bassy chugging rhythm guitar with flourishes of a higher pitched melodic line along with think slap bass lines. Combined with percussive drumming it has a strong Brazilian flavor. On the choruses,the synths play an ascending melody with a Vocorder-ized vocal chorus as the bassy chugging continues. After a few bars of this chorus/refrain exchange,the album outro’s on a melodically virtuosic duet between Ritenour’s guitar sustains and the synthesizers before it fades out.
Each time I hear “Countdown (Captain Fingers)”,it becomes apparent what an ingenious song this actually is. Its Afro Brazilian rhythmic and melodic flavor is seamlessly connected to the West Coast sophistfunk/jazz-pop vibe of the songs main melodic theme. Especially fitting is the outro where the music’s general volume lowers and the wooden percussion clavs become the main rhythm element of the song. In terms of almost flawlessly blending Brazilian fusion,jazz funk and West Coast pop elements this jam almost epitomizes the general American musical atmosphere of the early 80’s.
Con Funk Shun are among my favorite funk bands of the 70’s. Originally hailing from Vallejo,California,this band is someone whom my friend and blogging inspiration Henrique Hopkins has a good deal of musical knowledge of. Based on what I heard beforehand, Con Funk Shun were a band with many similarities to Earth,Wind & Fire. They favored well recorded grooves with strong melodies. They also often enlisted the writing/instrumental assistance of Skip Scarborough. Band founder Felton Pilate went into fame on his own by producing MC Hammer on his debut album in 1988.
This band first came to my attention via my dad’s cassette copy of the Best Of Funk Essentials compilation around 1993. Later on while browsing the cutout CD’s at Borders Books & Music,I came across a reissue of the bands 1977 sophomore album Secrets. At the time,Borders had a CD player behind the counter. And opened CD’s for customers to listen to before purchase. If they didn’t want them after,they’d reseal them. This particular CD was not one I asked them to reseal. And a big part of this was due to the fact the first song really jumped out at me. Its called “DooWhatChaWannaDoo”.
A fast snare drum kick starts out the song. After that,the drum takes on a mild Brazilian flavor-accenting a faster three hit drum on the second beat. Scarborough builds both a high pitched melodic synthesizer and an elaborate Moog bass into the mix as well. The bands horn charts play the main melody of the song-accented by climactic strings. The refrains emphasize the bluesiest aspects of the keyboard parts-while intro represents the chorus. The bridge takes it all down to a chunky high/bass synth duet with accenting strings before the chorus repeats up to the fade out of the song.
“DooWhatChaWannaDoo” is one of those songs that represents the sophistifunk sound at some of its very finest. The keyboards and horns both have an equally thick,gurgling throb about them. And it all manages to accent the very singable (and also elaborate melody) as well. Its a great example of starting off an album with one of its strongest songs that could draw in the listener to its melody and groove. Con Funk Shun ably blend a harder edged Dayton style hard funk vocal and rhythm attitude with the slickness of their West Coast funk contemporaries. And it makes this song a shining example of their funk.
Earl Klugh is an artist who really changed my perception of the acoustic guitar. Growing up,I saw it as sounding a somewhat trite sound. Primarily a folk instrument to accompany singers doing verse upon verse type songs. That changed a bit when hearing my dad play records by the classical guitarist Julian Bream. But Klugh blew it out the box for me. He really brought out the gutbucket blues and jazzy licks on his guitar. And got me closer to the understanding that the earliest blues numbers were written and played on acoustic guitar.
A Detroit native,Klugh was inspired to play guitar by first hearing Chet Atkins play on TV. As he grew as a player Wes Montgomery,Ray Parker Jr. and pianist Bob James (with whom he’d later collaborate) became huge influences on him. Not just his sound,but his smooth jazz/funk rhythm section. This ethic bought him multiple Grammy nominations and wins over the years. One of my favorite grooves of his came…from his 1981 album Crazy For You-given to me on a cassette a janitor at my dad’s old job saved from the dumpster. The song on this album that keeps my attention up to this very day is called “Twinkle”.
Greg Phillinganes and Pauliho Da Costa start the song off with a percussion/Fender Rhodes melody before Raymond Pounds’ drums kick in over Phillinganes synth solo and the slap bass of Louis Johnson. The refrain adds Pounds drums to the opening melody as Klugh’s guitar is playing and improvising off the bluesy main melody. On the choruses,the same rhythm section play closer to Klugh’s melody. On the second refrain,Philliganes Rhodes takes a bit more presidents. On the bridge,Johnson’s slap bass solo is accompanied by Da Costa’s percussion Phillinganes’ synth brass and Klugh’s guitar riffs fade out the song.
With 16 years to live with this song across the tape,vinyl and CD formats,this represents as close to sheer musical perfection in the sophistifunk end of the jazz funk/fusion genre. The Westlake studio musicians bring to this song the same level of production sheen,razor sharp instrumental chops that Quincy Jones would’ve brought to his productions at the same time. Klugh’s guitar solos had a somewhat old timey blues/jazz flavor in the melodic department. Yet the modernistic early 80’s instrumental production gave the song a sparkling blend of old and new.
Filed under 1980's, acoustic guitar, drums, Earl Klugh, Fender Rhodes, Greg Philinganes, jazz funk, Louis Johnson, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Raymond Pounds, slap bass, synth brass, synthesizers, West Coast
Mayer Hawthorne’s musical vitality has continued to grow on me every time I hear his music. As many times as he’s been written about musically here,his own story as a musician is a very important one to this day and age. Born Andrew Mayer Cohen in Ann Arbor,Michigan the man came out of loving hip-hop growing up-inspired by his father Richard being a bass player in a local rock band called The Breakers and his mother Kathi having once played guitar. He took his stage name from the street he grew up on. After moving to LA, the multi talented instrumental/arranger/producer/singer/songwriter signed up with Peanut Butter Wolf’s Stone Throw Records.
Hawthorne originally recorded instrumental tracks for the label specific purpose of sampling by other artists on the label. When Wolf heard them,he decided they were worthy of a solo album for Hawthorne. After three of his solo recordings released between 2011-2013,Mayer Hawthorne teamed up with hip-hop producer Jake One for the electro funk/boogie album project entitled Tuxedo. Hawthorne was more a musician than a vocalist. But his soulful phrasing and range lends itself well to the instrumental craft he has continued to develop. His newest album is entitled Man About Town and the song that perhaps best shows off all his talents here is “Book Of Broken Hearts”.
The drum patter that opens up the album sounds (and possibly is) directly from the early 70’s drum machine the Maestro Rhythm King. Than Hawthorne’s revving bass lines opens into the song-whose main chorus is build around sunny rhythm guitar strumming. He surrounds this with several equally melodic layers of electric pianos and horn charts. On the refrains of the song,he builds this instrumentation on the pumping rhythm of the bass line. His vocals have the same propulsive quality. On a bridge of the song towards the end,Hawthorne sings with a sea of his own vocal harmonies before it all closes out on the chorus that began the song.
The fact that Hawthorne’s chief musical inspirations are producer/arranger’s such as Isaac Hays,Curtis Mayfield and Barry White it’s no surprise how he approaches his grooves. His vocal arrangements on this song come out of the Daryl Hall school. At the same time his West Coast style of funk sound has the heavy pop craft of Sly Stone and Quincy Jones’ productions for the Brothers Johnson in the mid 1970’s. Hawthorne doesn’t concentrate on trying to be new and original rhythmically,an approach which can lead to cold and boring music today. Instead he focuses on a solid pop/funk groove based on the time honored musical process that created so many of the classics of the genre he admires.
Filed under 2016, electric piano, Funk Bass, funky pop, funky soul, horns, Maestro Rhythm King, Mayer Hawthorne, Peanut Butter Wolf, rhythm guitar, Stone Throw Records, Uncategorized, West Coast
Quincy Jones has been on my mind a lot lately when thinking about music. Last week in fact,my friend Henrique pointed out something he read on the back of a vinyl album about how important Quincy was to the jazz world in general. And this was at the height of his career no less. From being mentored by Clark Terry in the 1940’s up to helping shape up and coming hip-hoppers 60 years later,the evolutionary nature of Quincy’s career had me wondering how to present his music here today. The question was would it be good to express that musical arc by overviewing several songs from several decades,or focus on one song that might tell it’s own kind of story about Quincy Jones.
Last year at this time,I posted up an older review I had done for the 1981 Quincy Jones release of The Dude. Albums released under his own name always had a specific flavor to them. For example,his early albums showcased him largely as an instrumental band leader. His releases since the 70’s have generally been showcases not only for his evolving production approach,but also with the different musicians and vocalists he was involved with or mentoring at the given time. In the case of this early 80’s album,the spotlight was on James Ingram and Patti Austin. And the title track of the album said so much about where the classic Quincy Jones sound was going to be at that time.
A pulsing,nasal synthesizer starts off the song before the drums and horns kick in. This is accompanied by opening backup that includes Syreeta Wright and Michael Jackson among a massive chorus. The horns lead into a stripped down percussion break that’s accented by a slow crawling drum beat-over which a bluesy Fender Rhodes plays the lead keyboard line accented by Louis Johnson’s slap bass lines. The refrains start off with Austin and Ingram trading off vocals along. with Michael Boddicker’s Vocoder. Quincy himself provides a rap as the title character on several choruses after which the horns the male backup singers provide an accompanying chorus.
On the third of these choruses, the backup chorus led along by Austin sings a swinging variation of the chorus. Steve Luckather comes in to play a wah wah pedal heavy guitar line that mimics the low volume,bluesy solo on the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer that comes out of Stevie Wonder on the bridge,which basically repeats the melodic theme of the refrain. After this the fanfarring horns that generally introduce Quincy raps instead segues into Austin’s swinging vocal choruses. There’s a repeat of the refrain after this. And the song fades out on a repeat of the chorus. Only on this one,Ingram accentuates the lyrics vocally before the song comes to an end.
Getting back to Quincy’s varied musical career,there are many qualities in this song that sum up everything he had done in his then nearly four decades of creative activity. The classic Westlake studio crew including drummer John Robinson,percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,trumpeter/arranger Jerry Hey and of course Louis Johnson play on this number. On the surface,this song written with Patti Austin and Rod Temperton has that sleek west coast production matched with the deep funk groove Quincy had been perfecting over much of the 1970’s. On that level,it’s alternately stripped down and boisterous depending on the mood the song is trying to project at a given time.
On the broader level,this song totally epitomizes the musical evolution of Quincy thus far. The accessory vocal harmonies on the chorus reflect the big band swing era as do the horns. And Stevie Wonder’s synth solo additionally brings the flavor of the blusiness that came from jazz to rock ‘n roll and onto funk and soul as well. The character of “The Dude”,represented as a stone sculpture on the cover and later to become Quincy’d mascot for his media production company,is basically an elder statesmen whose philosophy could be summed up by him stating “don’t put your moth around a check that your body can’t cash”. In this instance for me,this is Quincy’s most defining song overall up to this point.
Filed under 1980's, big band swing, blues funk, Fender Rhodes, horns, James Ingram, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Quincy Jones, QWest, rap, Rod Temperton, slap bass, Steve Luckather, Stevie Wonder, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder, wah wah guitar, West Coast
With the huge successes of songs such as “Three Times A Lady”,”Still”,”Sail On” and even “Lady” as recorded by Kenny Rogers? It was only a matter of time before Lionel Richie would leave the Commodores with a distinctive solo style of his own to draw on. As for The Commodores? They began the 80’s with their Heroes
album-which looked to grab a somewhat more rock ‘n soul sound on some of the more uptempo numbers. And frankly wasn’t among their more successful musical outings from a commercial standpoint. Well by 1981 things had changed a lot on the R&B/soul music scene. In the US,disco was out of fashion and the radio was freezing out anything dancebale or “black” oriented. Yes it was racist. Yes it was exlusionist. But the one thing Lionel’s hit ballads had contributed to The Commodores was a way from them to ride out that storm. And its likely that at this point? They might’ve been wondering how ,with Lionel already confirmed to be leaving how they could regain their commercial success while also recapturing some of the uptempo and funkier elements that had gradually been eroded in their sound. This was the album that would have to be the proof of the pudding in that regard.
“Lady (You Bring Me Up)” is actually one of my favorite Commodores songs. With it’s melodic electric piano intro and strong post disco rhythm and strings? This song is an almost ideal blend of Doobie Brothers/Steely Dan style West Coast pop and Motown soul/funk which likely both inspired each other from the outset. “Saturday Night” is a smoldering,smoothed out cinematic groove that is extremely funky and sexy-with McClary taking the lead vocal. “Keep On Taking Me Higher” has a strong bass line and a sleek,slinky Walter Orange synthesizer that is somewhat influenced by the then emerging boogie funk sound-only much more live band/late 70’s era funk with a strong percussive bridge. “Oh No” and in particular the epic,gospel inflected “Lucy” which closes the album are the two Richie penned ballads-again with a strong countrypoliton style flavor about both of them. “Why You Wanna Try Me Baby” is a somewhat more funk oriented variation on the catchy West Coast vibe that starts off the album. “This Love” is a heavy,soulful,Walter Orange penned soul ballad while “Been Loving You” is a thick,deep and sleekly produced funk number that,by blending more advanced studio production with the Sly Stone end of the bands vibe,anticipates the way much modern retro funk tends to sound.
On a purely musical level? This primarily uptempo and funk oriented album found the Lionel Richie era Commodores coming to a conclusion that was relatively close to how they began. Yet also taking into consideration their newer found popular success. The bands level of musicianship had consistently evolved. The funk here is of course of a more advanced recorded and lest punchier nature than the sound they started out with. But a sophistifunk record by The Commodores was certainly preferable to no funk at all. Its also become clear to me how Lionel was actually going for a country/soul sound on his ballads in a similar vein to Ray Charles. Difference was Lionel was a straighter,less individual vocalist than Ray. And he never did infuse his country/soul ballads with the same level of blues and gospel either. They always favored the pop side. But in hindsight? They were very well done in the context of this albums generally funky nature. For someone who tends to avert their eyes to latter day Commodores? Thinking their ears might get a little sticky? They might be surprised just how much grooving sweat this 1981 album is capable of creating!
Originally posted on June 21’st,2014
It’s been over a year since I first heard the song being discussed here. Chicago (once known as Chicago Transit Authority) have reveled in the musicality which made them one of the most popular and acclaimed bands of the 1970’s. Their channeling of melodic pop song craft along with progressive jazz and soul instrumentation has made them a model for many instrumentally inclined bands since their heyday.
In a similar manner to Earth Wind & Fire,with whom they toured about a decade ago now,and how are about to go on the road again with the Heart & Soul tour? Founding members such as trumpeter Lee Loughnane,trombonist James Pankow,sax and flute man Walter Parazaider along with the singer/songwriter Robert Lamm have continued to keep the band going with new members and studio albums every so often. “Another Trippy Day”,presented as a bonus song on last years Chicago Now-XXXVI,stood out for me personally as a shining example of why this band is still so incredibly vital musically.
A digital percussion sound opens the song before two round,spacey synthesizers play major/minor chords before the trumpet plays a bright and melodic solo. That’s when the the body of the song kicks in. It’s all about a a stomping, funkified beat. A bluesy sound slap bass accents each rhythmic exchange. All with that spacey synth,wah wah guitar and muted trumpet weaving in and out. On the choruses,all of these elements thicken up into melodic unison. A refrain starts out with an electronic symphony of synthesized sound before a full melodic horn chart,following by a pulsing drum,slap bass,synth duet before the chorus fades the song right out.
For me this song is an excellent example of cleanly produced,modern day West Coast style funky soul. The song is defined by funk. That slow,stomping beat that has the average rhythm of the human walking pattern. Lamm takes this setting and lyrically explores the romanticism of the urban landscape-with allusions to “a hint of jazz and lovers embrace”. This song also evokes it’s strong California vibe that stands it’s own with the sassy and sweet jazz voicings of Becker/Fagen compositions with Steely Dan. And a welcomed jazzy pop/funk urban contemporary sound for the modern age.
Filed under 2014, Chicago, Donald Fagen, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Funk Bass, James Pankow, Jazz-Funk, Lee Loughnane, Robert Lamm, slap bass, Steely Dan, synthesizer, trumpet, wah wah guitar, Walter Becker, Walter Parazaider, West Coast
Like Earth Wind & Fire did a year earlier with their I Am this album finds AWB hooking up with David Foster. This truly should have represented a new beginning for the band as they add a heavy modern production gloss and strong song craft to their already established heavy funk sound. Every song on this album is extremely strong and, with some good promotion could have been enormous pop hits even stateside.
Uptempo tunes such as “Our Time Has Come”,”Let’s Go Around Again”,”Help Is On The Way”,the title track and the original version of “What Cha Gonna Do For Me”,made famous a year later in a brilliant version by Chaka Khan from her album of the same name,also worth getting. Being the kind of musicians that they are AWB cannot help but throw down at least one funky instrumental in the personification of “Into The Night”,marrying the bands chunky,rhythmic groove with Foster’s production sheen. This is also home to two of the best ballads the group ever made in “For You,For Love” and “If Love Only Lasts For One Night”.
Now there’s a double album version of this that contains bonus tracks,all five of which are as great as the rest of the album. A like minded cover of Boz Scagg’s classic “Miss Sun” is great of course as is the more electo-funk minded dance cut “Kiss Me”. There’s also another great ballad in “Growing Pains” and the peppy “Love Gives,Love Takes Away”. Another successful marrying of the bands natural grooves with Fosters style comes along in the chunky and catchy “Love Won’t Get In The Way” followed by a smoking long version of “Let’s Go Round Again”.
Overall “Shine” finds AWB successfully modernizing their classic sound without sacrificing what made them so great in the past. And the lead and back round vocals certainly have a power and soul that were only hinted at on earlier recordings. Steve Ferrone really stretches out on some incredibly funky drumming here. This is definitely a pop-funk masterpiece of the 1979-1980 era of the genre and is yet another in a long list of lost true classics.
Originally Written December 17th,2007
Link to original review here*
Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Average White Band, Boz Scaggs, Chaka Khan, David Foster, Funk, Music Reviewing, pop funk, Steve Ferrone, West Coast