Friday, June 20, 2014

Album Review of Kool & the Gang’s Wild and Peaceful

Kool & the Gang’s fourth studio album Wild and Peaceful (1973) was the band’s big breakthrough LP. Prior to the album’s release, the talented R&B/ funk/jazz outfit had been putting out great music for several years and had already built a substantial following among black record buyers. But Wild and Peaceful helped the band significantly expand their pop fan base with the crossover hits “Hollywood Swinging,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Funky Stuff.”  The album is a sterling collection of R&B, funk and jazz tracks and is now regarded as a classic.

The album, which was produced and arranged by the band, kicks off with the good-time funk jam “Funky Stuff.”  The raucous track is one of the best party grooves released in the ‘70s. There is just so much to like about this cut: the tight, in-the-pocket syncopation; the super-funky bass line; the sassy chicken-scratch guitar licks; the unison group lead vocals; and the marvelous horn arrangement. And the loud whistles throughout the song really add to the fun party vibe of the track.  The song performed extremely well on the charts, reaching #5 on the R&B charts and #29 on the pop charts.  The funk continued with “More Funky Stuff,” the part two of “Funky Stuff.”

The Arabic-influenced “Jungle Boogie” is another great funk track from the album.  It’s not only funky but has a lot of humor as well, with the band’s roadie, Don Boyce, performing the spoken-word lead vocals complete with jungle-man grunts.  The bumpin,’ hook-filled track blew up on the airwaves and was hugely popular at clubs and parties. It’s superbly arranged, with killer horn lines and wicked guitar riffs. It’s one of the band’s most recognized ‘70s tracks. It shot up to #2 on the R&B charts and #4 on the pop charts. And in 1994, a new generation of music lovers discovered the song when it was featured in filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s classic crime/thriller Pulp Fiction.

Things get mellow on the jazzy title track “Wild and Peaceful.” The band displays its deep jazz roots on this smooth, majestic instrumental. The track got a lot of play on jazz stations, and it still does. It’s a great cut to just kick back and chill to.

 “This Is You, This Is Me” is a dynamic soul-jazz track with a positive social message about improving your situation and breaking out of the cycle of drugs, crime, prostitution etc. that many who live in poor urban communities get caught up in.  It’s also about raising awareness about the plight of those who live in these communities, and how it’s everyone’s personal responsibility to work toward the betterment of the world around them. The track features two stellar sax solos from Ronald Bell (later known as Khalis Bayyan), and the urgent, soulful background vocals were provided by New Jersey funk group Tomorrow’s Edition.

The album’s biggest hit was the anthemic “Hollywood Swinging.” The irresistible funk/pop smash was the band’s first #1 single, climbing to the summit of the R&B charts in June of 1974. It also had a very impressive showing on the pop charts, peaking at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.  The groove is anchored by Robert “Kool” Bell’s circus-funk bass line, and it boasts a terrific hook with the indelible chant, “Hey, hey Hey/What ya got to say?” The track also has a very memorable chorus: “Hollywoooood, Hollywood swinging!” The song was inspired by the band’s experiences in Hollywood during the recording of their Live at P.J.’s album, released in 1971. The lead vocals are sung by band keyboardist Ricky West, who brings a self-deprecating charm to his vocal performance. The song went on to sell a million copies and is now considered a funk/pop classic. And it has been sampled by a number of hip hop artists, including Mase (“Feel So Good”), DJ Cool (“Let Me Clear My Throat”) and Too Short (“Money in the Ghetto”).

“Life Is What You Make” it is an infectious funk track that will have you immediately bobbin’ your head. The song has a really tight, percolating groove with some cool guitar work from Claydes Smith. It’s a really dope cut and probably the most underrated song on the album.

“Heaven at Once” is another message song in which Kool has a conversation with his little brother, Rory, about bringing more positivity into the world and what they can do to make the world a better place to live. It’s a bit corny and heavy-handed, but the music is on-point, with a soothing, jazz-tinged groove.

All the tracks on Wild and Peaceful were penned collectively by the band members, with some having more input than others on certain songs. The album went gold (500,000 copies sold) and peaked at #3 on the R&B charts and #33 on the pop charts.

The band’s lineup at time of the album’s release was as follows: Robert “Kool” Bell (bass, vocals); Ricky West (electric piano, vocals); Claydes Smith (guitar); George “Funky” Brown (drums, vocals, percussion); Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas (alto saxophone, flute, congas, vocals); Khalis Bayyan (tenor and soprano saxophone, vocals) and Robert "Spike" Mickens (trumpet, vocals).

Kool & the Gang may have achieved bigger commercial success in the late ‘70s and throughout the ‘80s when they adopted a more sleek, pop-radio-friendly sound, but Wild and Peaceful remains the band’s strongest and most consistent album, capturing the band at the top of their game. There is a real sense of camaraderie among the band members on this collection and the feeling that they were having a blast the entire time they recorded it.  The album has stood the test of time and sounds just as good now as it did when the band first released it 41 years ago.

"We are scientists of sound/We're mathematically puttin' it down" - Robert "Kool" Bell from "Heaven at Once."

Wild And Peaceful at Amazon

"Funky Stuff"

"Wild and Peaceful"

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