Thursday, August 22, 2019

“School Boy Crush”: Average White Band’s Much-Sampled Classic That Forever Made Sleigh Bells Funky

The founding members of Average White Band in 1974 
The 1970s were the golden age of funk music. The explosive rhythm-driven style that James Brown birthed in the 1960s became a major force in contemporary music by the ‘70s. And funk wasn’t just music for people to shake their rumps to on the dance floor. It was also a powerful political statement. Funk was a sonic expression of freedom, protest and cultural identity for black Americans. And the ancient tribal rhythms of their African ancestors were apparent in funk’s potent grooves. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why rap artists were so drawn to funk.

A slew of amazing funk bands emerged in the ‘70s. And one of the top funk outfits from that decade was the ironically named Average White Band. When the band dropped its 1974 smash “Pick Up The Pieces,” many funk fans were initially shocked to learn that a group of white musicians from Scotland were able to capture the essence of funk music so accurately and with so much passion and soul. AWB’s predominately black following and the band's genuine love and appreciation for funk and R&B illustrated once again that music is the true universal language and has the power to break down racial, social and cultural barriers.

AWB released a lot of great music back the day, including the massively funky “School Boy Crush,” a single from the band’s Grammy-nominated third album Cut The Cake (1975). Although it was only a moderate hit on the Billboard singles charts—pop (#33), R&B (#22)—it went on to become a funk classic and huge sampling source for many hip-hop and R&B artists. It has been sampled on a total of 151 songs.

The track’s monstrous bass line and dead-in-the-pocket beat caught the attention of young artists and producers in search of strong grooves to sample. “School Boy Crush” also boasts nasty rhythm guitar licks, punchin’ horn lines and super-funky clavinet. And let’s not forget those dope sleigh bells! Sleigh bells never sounded so funky. Just that little touch added so much to the track and took it to a whole other level. It also enhanced the song’s childlike vibe of a kid experiencing his first crush.

Grammy-winning songwriter/producer Dallas Austin sampled those funky sleigh bells to maximum effect on TLC’s platinum-selling debut single “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg.”  The sleigh bells also turn up on Nas’ “Halftime,” a single from his landmark debut album Illmatic. Producer Large Professor did a masterful job of seamlessly incorporating the sleigh bells into the track’s powerful beat. And legendary hip-hop duo Eric B. & Rakim sampled the sleigh bells and the main guitar riff from “School Boy Crush” for their iconic track “Microphone Fiend.” Also, famed West Coast rapper Too $hort’s track “Life Is… Too Short” features a dynamic interpolation of the bass line, main guitar riff and other sonic elements from “School Boy Crush.”

In addition to “School Boy Crush,” a number of other AWB tracks have also been sampled, including their biggest hits “Pick Up The Pieces” and “Cut The Cake.” In all, their music has been sampled on a total of 447 songs, making them the fifteenth most sampled act of all time.

Average White Band had a big impact on both funk music and hip-hop. The creation of sampling enabled the band to reach a whole new audience of young listeners who missed the '70s funk revolution.

"Schoolboy Crush"

"Schoolboy Crush" at Amazon

TLC's "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg"

Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg at Amazon

"Microphone Fiend" by Eric B. & Rakim

"Microphone Fiend" at Amazon

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