Another 2 weeks and… Well I guess you coming regularly to this site should have an idea about the rest. At least as far as Miami is concerned. As for the rest, it’s another story soon to be revealed, like the subject of this week’s feature (eurgh… someone hailing from Chicago, I’ve been said!!!) as well as the thema of our Politics Of Dancing column. But shush, let’s put the words/lyrics aside with our Issue#113 goin’ (instru)mental under the Back2DaRoots banner.
Oops by the way, big ups to Canadian lighting designer/photographer Hugh Conacher for allowing us to come up with this wonderful pic of his as an illustration to this week's display (hughconacher.com). No doubt how this man should love music as well…
BACK 2 DA ROOTS (DISCO, FUNK, SOUL & OTHER ILLICIT GROOVES)
To many observers, the main reason why contemporary dance music has lost the status it used to have 20 to 30 years ago is the lack of relevant lyrics. Is this to say then that this would be why so many tunes over the last years have been built around simple loops??? Answer remains yours as far as this specific matter is concerned. This said, music is first and foremost music regardless the presence of vocal parts and exemples are notorious of works which, although being purely instrumental, have remained unforgettable along the years (decades). This bringing me back to the purposes of the Barry White some 15 years ago when being asked what between music and lyrics was the most important. No doubt, music, coz’ it’s what comes first, he said to me. You may have an instrumental hit. I doubt you would do it as easily with lyrics only…
As a matter of fact, if these are two people who knew how to write lyrics, it’s without a single doubt Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, as brilliantly demonstrated by cuts such as ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ - which would be sung by Diana Ross and the late Marvin Gaye and later on by Jocelyn Brown while fronting Inner Life on Salsoul at the beginning of the 80’s – but also ‘Don’t Cost You Nothing’, ‘Over & Over’ and ‘Found A Cure’ to name but a few. But our 2 peeps also happened to be awesome composers and arrangers. Remember their stunning ‘Bourgie Bourgie’ which is currently the subject of heavy battles between auctionners on Internet. Should it be on its original version, backing ‘Love Don’t Make It Right’ on its UK only release, but also as retouched by John Davis & The Monster Orchestra or vocalised by Gladys Knight (WB).
Another of those pieces of art which has been reinterpretated many times along the years is Kool & The Gang’s vibrant & moody ’Summer Madness’ (De Lite) ; its most valuable revamps being the work of Jerald Daemyon 10 years ago with remixes courtesy of ‘Little’ Louie Vega although on an uptempo tip, as well as what stands more as an extrapolation under the form of Opaz’s 'When We’re Making Love’ produced by Londoner Ray Hayden. Speaking of Kool & The Gang, you may remember that this group had in fact 2 periods ; the first seing them exploring jazz fusion, before becoming one of the most succesful outift during the disco/funk era. Responsible of much of their recognition alongside Ronald ‘Kool’ Bell is Brazilian arranger composer Eumir Deodato whose versatility allowed him to be remembered by a whole bunch of # crowds. Check out for instance his jazzy rearrangement of Richard Strauss ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ which happened to be the main theme of 2001, Space Odyssey OST, but also the booming funk ‘S.O.S. (Fire In The Sky)’ released in 1984. Not to mention the unmissable ‘Whistle Bump’ which would become one of Larry Levan’s absolute favourite at the Paradise Garage back in the daze (WB).
One of the most talentuous music makers of all the times is no doubt Vincent Montana Jr, from his early works for Philadelphia International Records before switching to Salsoul to his notorious contribution on Nuyorican Soul’s album 10 years ago. But the man also scored successes on his own such as ‘Heavy Vibes’ whereas you may feel the extreme subtility of his arrangements (Philly Sound Works). Another good exemple is provided by MFSB… Not me alas, but those genious people from Philadelphia also known as Mother, Father, Sister, Brother with the anthemic ‘T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia)’ produced by PIR heads Gamble & Huff, with the addiction labelmates the Three Degrees doin’ background vocals on it (Philadelphia International Records). As a matter of fact, the biggest common point between all this material is the emphasis. I then wonder how it could have been different with so many talents or should I say musicians being united at the time! A comment which naturally applies to Barry White’s works with the Love Unlimited Orchestra as well as on his own as illustrated by the notorious ‘Love’s Theme’ (Unlimited Gold).
This leads me to another chat which I had a couple of years ago, this time with Dimitri from Paris. Him telling me how sort of surprised he was by the said expectations of today’s crowd as compared to 30 years ago whereas you was up to have really elaborated music as themes for the cinema and the TV by the likes of peeps such as Quincy Jones and Lalo Schiffrin to name but another very few! None of us though would have forgotten themes such as The Street Of San Francisco, Bullitt, The Thomas Crown Affair or Red Handed unless living on another planet and that’s about the same regarding Isaac Hayes emblematic ‘Shaft’ (Stax). Meanwhile the amateurs of the seventh art may remember the theme of Lipstick OST written by French singer Michel Polnareff (Atlantic).
Things sometimes occure far differently from what you’d have primarly thought. It’s exactly what happened to Virginia hailing band Mass Production who, although being a vocal group, scored their most memorable work on the instrumental tip. Don’t hesitate to check works such as ‘Cosmic Lust’, ‘Strollin’’ and ‘Shante’ on Cotillion.
Impossible to put an end to this reader’s digest without a vibrant tribute to the late DC born Van McCoy. A man responsible of the writing/co writing of more than 700 pieces of music who would eventually work with some of the biggest stars at the time such as Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight amongst others. If the late Marvin Gaye was always kind of fearin’ the exercice of public performance, McCoy simply didn’t want to be a vocalist. He then formed his own combo – Soul Symphony Orchestra - alongise singers Faith, Hope & Charity and came to massive attention in the mid-70’s with ‘The Hustle’ taken from the aptly named Disco Explosion album (H&L Records/Avco). Alas, this sudden stardom and what such as situation suggest may have been too much for him at the end of the day. McCoy died of a heart failure July 6, 1979. He was 39. Another phenomena of the likes is no doubt Detroit born jazz guitarist Dennis Coffey. A man still in activity after more than 40 years whose name remains firmly associated to some of the best pieces of music ever made in the 70’s such as his partnership with Mike Theodore who would give birth to productions for Westbound groups CJ & Co and Detroit Emeralds. But also on his own account with ‘Calling Earth’ and the devastating ‘Wings Of Fire’ ; the latest sounding to me like a treatise of jazz/funk fusion. Not to mention his numerous contributions for Motown label, in the same vein/spirit as what Vincent Montana Jr would succesively accomplish for PIR then Salsoul.
The contribution of jazzmen is, of course, indeniable, as far as instrumental works are concerned. Other notorious examples being provided by guitarist Earl Klugh who’s worked with George Benson amongst many others. But also Bruce Johnston who, apart from being the 6th member of the Beach Boys til 1972, dropped the unmissable ‘Deirdre/Pipeline’ makin’ waves on the dancefloors in the middle of the same decade. His label at the time (Columbia) getting some extra incomes with California born fusion keyboardist Rodney Franklin who would score his biggest success to date with ‘The Groove’ from the You’ll Never Know album. Last but not least, let’s not forget the late flautist Herbie Mann whose collaborations with producer Patrick Adams such as ‘Etagui/Superman’ are still in mind of many record collectors today (Atlantic). One of the biggest surprises at the time coming from Brazil by the likes of Azymuth (now signed on UK label Far Out) with the explosive organ led ‘Jazz Carnival’ on Milestone. Memphis and the legendary Stax label signing one of its biggest successes under the form of the evergreen ‘Melting pot’ courtesy of Booker T & The MG’s.
Like it or not, Italy has always provided us with solid productions along the years. Probably due to the fact that those peeps have a particulary sense of aesthetics, should it be in architecture, fashion, cinema, food and car design. Music was no exception, as brilliantly shown by OST maker Ennio Morricone. Let’s not forget their consistant contribution during the disco days such as Silvetti’s’Spring Rain’ on Salsoul, but also K.I.D. and Harry Thumann both originally on Baby Records. Emphasis again, that’s all it was about then. Arrivederse, MFSB (the other!!!)
BACK2DAROOTS HOT 20
ASHFORD & SIMPSON Bourgie Bourgie (WB)
MFSB featuring THREE DEGREES T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia) (PIR)
EUMIR DEODATO Whistle Bump (WB)
BARRY WHITE Love’s Theme (Unlimited Gold)
ISAAC HAYES Theme from Shaft (Stax)
KOOL & THE GANG Summer Madness (De Lite)
DENNIS COFFEY Wings Of Fire (Atlantic)
BOOKER T & THE MG’s Melting Pot (Stax)
VAN McCOY The Hustle (H&L/Avco)
VINCENT MONTANA Jr Heavy Vibes (Philly Sound Works)
HERBIE MANN Etagui (Atlantic)
MICHEL POLNAREFF Theme from Lipstick (Atlantic)
SILVETTI Spring Rain (Salsoul)
HARRY THUMANN Underwater (Baby Records)
AZYMUTH Jazz Carnival (Milestone)
K.I.D. Hupendi Muziki Wangu?! (Baby Records/SAM)
BRUCE JOHNSTON Pipeline (Columbia)
MASS PRODUCTION Shante (Cotillion)
EARL KLUG Twinkle (Liberty)
RODNEY FRANKLIN The Groove (Columbia)