Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Review of Sly & The Family Stone’s Fresh Album

Sly & The Family Stone released their sixth studio album Fresh on June 30, 1973. It was the band's much-anticipated follow-up to their groundbreaking and highly influential album There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971). The band stunned the music world with Riot and introduced a whole new type of minimal funk/soul sound. This new sound featured electronic drum-machine beats (very cutting-edge at the time), stripped-down arrangements and more complex rhythms. And the album had a more cynical, darker outlook than the band’s previous recordings. Riot has been widely praised for its innovation and superb songwriting and arrangements. And it frequently turns up on greatest-albums-of-all-time lists by noted music publications.

Fresh continued with the band’s new sonic direction and features sparse arrangements, drum-machine beats and intricate rhythms. However, Fresh is a bit lighter in tone than Riot and has a more optimistic outlook. And like Riot, this collection is highly introspective, with Sly Stone drawing heavily from his own personal experiences and life lessons for song inspiration.

It should be noted that Larry Graham was no longer a member of Sly & The Family Stone when Fresh was released. He left the band in 1972 to form Graham Central Station. Bassist Rustee Allen joined Sly & the Family Stone as Graham’s replacement that year. In fact, it was Graham who recommended the 21-year-old Monroe, Louisiana native as his replacement. Allen’s playing throughout Fresh is fluid and very funky. His style is less dynamic than Graham’s, but he more than gets the job done. Graham did play on two Fresh tracks right before his exit from the band: “If It Were Left Up To Me” and “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will be).” 

In addition to Allen, the other two new band members on Fresh were saxophonist Pat Rizzo and drummer Andy Newmark. Newmark was brought in as a replacement for Gerry Gibson, who joined Sly & the Family Stone after founding member Greg Errico quit the band in 1971.

Fresh kicks off with the electrifying “In Time.” The syncopation on this groove is off the charts. Allen serves up a furiously funky bass line that’s complemented by Newmark’s supertight drumming. The groove is accentuated by nasty guitar licks, dope horn lines and soulful organ. Sly reflects on how bad decisions, harmful habits and a defeatist mindset will ultimately bring a person down and leave them with feelings of deep regret later in life. The song advocates self-motivation and to actively work toward improving yourself and making the most of your time while you’re here. Sly doesn’t let himself off the hook either and touches on his ongoing battle with cocaine abuse: “I switched from coke to pep and I'm a connoisseur/Mmm-hmm ’bout time.” 

Sly contemplates all of the blessings in his life on “Thankful N’ Thoughtful.” This is one of his most personal songs. The slow, bluesy groove features funky wah-wah guitar licks and a marvelous horn arrangement. And the haunting Maestro Rhythm King beat enhances the track’s somber tone. Sly’s introspective lyrics almost feel like a prayer or deep confessional. They touch on some of the things that he’s gone through in his life and how he fell headlong down a destructive path after becoming a huge star. He had lost himself in the poisonous vortex of rock superstardom and was pulled deep into its many temptations and vices. He feels incredibly blessed that he’s still alive and was able to  break free from that path. And he’s thankful that God (“the Main-man”) has given him another opportunity to grow, learn from his mistakes, and move forward in a more positive direction. You can feel Sly’s church background on this deeply spiritual track. 

“Frisky” is an irresistible funk groove that features some great bass work, a cool horn arrangement and percolating keyboards. This is another inward-looking song in which Sly gives the listener a peek inside his world and some of the things he does to keep himself centered and prevents him from going down a destructive path again: “That's why I keep music/All around the bed/So I can call Frisky/Very hard to be led in the wrong direction.” 

“If You Want Me To Stay” is one of the finest examples of the band’s new stripped-down sound, and it also showcases Sly's gift at creating really unique grooves that are also pop-radio friendly. There’s a graceful simplicity about it that made it stand out among other popular tracks of the day. It boasts a brilliant bass line–played by Allen with some added touches from Sly. Melodic, infectious and funky, it’s one of the best bass lines in the band’s discography, which is quite a feat in itself. And it nicely frames Sly’s strong vocal performance. The song also features a fantastic horn arrangement and some sweet keyboard work.

Sly infuses his vocals with a sense of weary resignation. He sounds like a man who’s reached a point in his life where he’s tired of all the drama and headaches and just wants some peace of mind. The song’s specifically directed at his lady, letting her know that he needs to be himself or he’ll have to exit the relationship. Apparently the song has its origins as an apology letter to his future wife Kathleen Silva following a big argument. However, taken in a broader context, he’s addressing his audience and the music business in general–letting them know that behind the flashy costumes and his bigger-than-life image is a real person, with flaws and all. He’s no longer going to put up a front and pretend to be someone he’s not; and if they can’t accept that, then Deuces. Sly gave out this musical ultimatum in order to maintain his sanity and soul in a business where one can easily lose both, especially at his level of fame.

“Let Me Have It All” is a gritty funk cut that features some wicked  bass-poppin’ and sizzling horn charts. And Little Sister lights up the track with their forceful background vocals. Sly expresses his deep love for his lady with whom he shares an almost spiritual connection: “You turned into a prayer/I can feel you almost there.” But the two have been having some communication problems lately, and he hopes they can get past that and back to the way they were before. He doesn’t just want a portion of her love; he wants it all. You can feel his great passion in the strong chorus.

Sly and his crew serve up an incredible rendition of Doris Day’s “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).” The band completely overhauls the Oscar-winning song and transforms it from the delightful classic we all know into a baptismal sonic experience. Rose Stone delivers a beautiful lead vocal performance, and the powerful gospel-infused chorus will stir even the most hardened hearts. And Larry Graham further elevates the track with his sterling bass work. This soulful, emotionally-charged version of the song really brings home the meaning of its lyrics. 

And here’s a bit of interesting related trivia: Sly once performed an impromptu duet of the song with Doris Day. Sly was friends with her music producer son Terry Melcher. One day when Sly was visiting Melcher’s Beverly Hills home, he saw Day coming down the stairs and began performing “Que Sera, Sera” on the piano. She joined in, and the two sang a few verses together. This was perhaps the inspiration behind the band covering the song for Fresh. There were also rumors that Sly and Day dated, but those rumors turned out to be false. 

“Babies Making Babies” touches on how a lot of young people are irresponsibly procreating when they’re not emotionally or financially prepared. Teen pregnancy and unwed motherhood were serious concerns back then and still are today, which makes this song as relevant and timely as ever. Sly succinctly summed up the problem with the song’s title, illustrating what a clever lyricist he is. The song also touches on the cycle of life: “From the womb to the tomb.” The groove features an irresistible horn arrangement and some groovin’ bass provided by Sly.

“If It Were Left Up To Me” is a callback to the band’s pre-Riot sound of the late ‘60s.  It makes you feel a bit nostalgic for the band’s more hopeful, idealistic era. It also evokes the sense of camaraderie the band shared before all the craziness and internal friction took hold. 

On the bittersweet “Skin I’m In,” Sly reflects on his life and ponders if he would have done anything differently if he had to do it all over again. The track boasts a sensational horn arrangement and an extra-funkfied bridge. And Sly serves up some killer bass.

“Keep On Dancin’” is a dirty gutbucket groove. It boasts some loafin’ bass and wicked guitar licks. Sly and Little Sister deliver bucketloads of soul on vocals. The song is a nod to the band’s 1967 hit “Dance To The Music.”

Sly delivers a passionate vocal performance on “I Don’t Know (Satisfaction).” He speaks on the need to change and improve the flawed system that we live in. In one verse, he speaks directly to black people’s struggle in America: “I see abuse, what’s the use/Time must let my people loose/We tryin’ - I don’t know.”  This moody funk groove features bumpin’ bass, dirty guitar licks and tight horns.

Sly produced Fresh, which was released on Epic Records. He wrote all of the songs except for “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).” Here’s the full list of all the players on the album: Freddie Stone (vocals, guitar), Cynthia Robinson (trumpet), Rose Stone (vocals, piano, keyboards), Rustee Allen (bass), Jerry Martini (saxophone), Andy Newmark (drums), Pat Rizzo (saxophone), Little Sister (Vet Stone, Mary McCreary, Elva Mouton)  - vocals, Larry Graham (bass on “Que Sera, Sera” and “If It Were Left Up To Me”) and Sly Stone (vocals, piano, harmonica, organ, bass, guitar and more).

Fresh peaked at #7 on the Billboard 200, and it topped Billboard’s R&B album chart. It was the band’s last of three consecutive #1 albums on Billboard’s R&B album chart and their final album to make the top 10 on the Billboard 200 album chart. And it climbed to #17 on Canada’s album chart. Fresh went gold with more than 500,000 units sold. 

The album’s biggest hit was “If You Want Me To Stay,” which peaked at #3 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart and #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. It was certified gold. The song was the band's final top-20 hit on the pop singles chart. “In Time” had a strong showing on the R&B charts, peaking at #10, and it rose to#32 on the pop singles charts.

Fresh received a lot of praise from music critics and fans upon its release. Stephen Davis from Rolling Stone magazine called the album a “masterpiece” and said it was “a growing step for Sly.” Additionally, Fresh has been lauded by notable artists such as George Clinton, Brian Eno and Miles Davis. Clinton listed it as one of his favorite albums. Eno claimed the album signaled a shift in the history in recording “Where the rhythm instruments, particularly the bass drum and bass, suddenly become the important instruments in the mix.” Davis was so blown away by “In Time” that he made his band listen to it on repeat for 30 minutes straight. 

The album had a significant impact on funk and R&B music. Its wide-ranging influence can still be heard today in different genres, including R&B, hip-hop, pop, alternative and neo-soul.

Fresh is among Sly & The Family Stone’s best works, sitting right alongside Stand! and There’s a Riot Goin’ On. However, it doesn’t get near the love it should. Its 50th anniversary is coming up next month, and hopefully this will compel people to revisit it and listen to it with fresh ears and finally give it the love and appreciation it sorely deserves.

"In Time"

"If You Want Me To Stay"

"Thankful N' Thoughtful

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Legendary Calypso King, Actor and Civil Rights Champion Harry Belafonte Dies at 96

Singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte died Tuesday, April 25, at his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The cause of his death was congestive heart failure. He was 96.

Belafonte popularized calypso music worldwide in the 1950s, earning the sobriquet “The King of Calypso.” He brought his rich baritone to classics such as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” “Jamaica Farewell,” “Jump in the Line” and “Matilda.” His groundbreaking album Calypso (1956) was the first LP to sell over a million copies, and it spent an amazing 31 weeks atop Billboard’s album charts. In 2018, Calypso was chosen by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry as being “culturally, historically or artistically significant.” Calypso was Belafonte’s second album to top Billboard’s album chart. His previous album, Belafonte (1955), also reached the summit of Billboard’s album chart, where it remained for six weeks. In addition to calypso, Belafonte's musical oeuvre included blues, gospel, folk, show tunes, mento and American standards. He won two Grammys and received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2000. And he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year.

Belafonte smashed through racial barriers in both music and film. He became a big star in both mediums and was one of Hollywood’s first black leading men, starring in films like Odds Against Tomorrow, Island in the Sun, The World, the Flesh and the Devil and Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones. And he had supporting roles in notable films such as Robert Altman's Kansas City, Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman and Uptown Saturday Night, which was directed by his good friend and fellow actor Sidney Poitier.

Belafonte also made his mark in television and on the stage. In 1960, he won an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series for “The Revlon Revue: Tonight With Belafonte” on CBS. He was the first black person to win the prestigious award. And his work in the musical revue John Murray Anderson’s Almanac (1953 - ‘54) earned him a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

Harry Belafonte and his close friend Dr. King
Belafonte was also a fierce and outspoken civil rights activist. Throughout his career he dedicated himself to civil rights causes. He was a fundraiser, mediator and strategist for the civil rights movement and was a close friend and ardent supporter of Martin Luther King Jr. Belafonte helped finance the 1964 Freedom Summer voter registration project in Mississippi led by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He also helped fund the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was founded by King and other civil rights activists and young ministers.

Additionally, Belafonte helped organize the 1963 March on Washington. The singer/actor even flew in a planeload full of big-name Hollywood actors to participate in the historic march. Moreover, Belafonte often provided funds to help bail King and other civil rights activists out of jail. And his palatial apartment served as a refuge for King and his family whenever they were in New York. Belafonte performed at the civil rights leader’s 1967 fundraiser in Houston, Texas. It took place at the Sam Houston Coliseum, and more than 4,000 people attended. Aretha Franklin was the other featured performer at the event. It was King’s last visit to Houston.

Belafonte was also involved in civil and human rights campaigns outside of the U.S. For instance, he was heavily involved in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and even joined apartheid protesters outside the South African embassy in 1985. He and the other protesters were arrested. Belafonte also organized the 1988 concert to honor and call for the release of imprisoned South African anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela. The 10-hour concert took place at London’s Wembley Stadium with 70,000 people in attendance. The concert was broadcast globally and was viewed by 750 million people in 60 countries. 

Additionally, Belafonte was the brainchild behind USA For Africa. The famine-relief project brought together 47 prominent music artists to record the benefit song “We Are The World.” The single sold 20 million copies worldwide and raised millions for famine relief in Africa–specifically Ethiopia.

Belafonte was a cultural advisor to the Peace Corps and a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. In 2013, he founded the civil rights organization, which works toward eradicating systemic injustices in the United States.

Belafonte has received a host of honors and awards for his many humanitarian and civil rights efforts. In 1989, he received the Kennedy Center Honors, and in 1994, he was the recipient of  the National Medal of Arts, which is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government. Amnesty International honored Belafonte with its 2013 Ambassador of Conscience Award, and that same year, the NAACP awarded him its Spingarn Medal. It’s the NAACP’s highest honor. In 2014, he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 6th Annual Governors Awards.

Belafonte was born in Harlem, New York on March 1, 1927 to Caribbean immigrants. His father, Harold George Bellanfanti Jr., a chef, was from Martinique, and his mother, Melvine, who worked as a housekeeper, was from Jamaica. He spent much of his youth in his mother's home country of Jamaica.

Belafonte not only had a massive impact on the entertainment world but also on civil and human rights. He recognized the immense power and influence that fame bestowed upon him. And he fully utilized it to try to improve the world around him. He represents the kind of celebrity that others should aspire to–one that uses their fame and platform to speak out against injustices whenever they can. Harry Belafonte set the standard for socially conscious celebrities and will be remembered just as much for his civil rights work and humanitarianism as his art.

Harry Belafonte performing "Jamaica Farewell" on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956

"Jump in the Line"

Harry Belafonte performing "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" live in Tokyo in 1960

Monday, April 17, 2023

"Cotton Candy" by Nik West

Acclaimed music artist Nik West released her funkalicious new single “Cotton Candy" in late January. This hard-bumpin’ cut displays West’s formidable talents as a musician, vocalist, songwriter and producer. The super-tight groove has a lot of Prince flavor, and West's soulful falsetto-laced vocals evoke The Purple One’s vocal work on classic tracks like “Kiss,” “Head” and “Let’s Work.” West anchors the groove with a funky pile-driving bass line that’s complemented by some sizzling guitar riffs. The song also boasts an irresistible chorus, and West goes full P-Funk mode on the outré bridge. The playfully naughty lyrics use cotton candy as a metaphor for sex.

Just prior to the release of “Cotton Candy,” West played a snippet of the song on her Instagram and Facebook pages and asked her followers to guess which two artists were its sonic inspiration. And a few keen-eared funk fans got the right answer: Prince and George Clinton. She’s had the opportunity to work with both music legends and cites both as major influences on her as an artist.

West is gearing up for a world tour that will kick off in early June. She has concert dates lined up at venues throughout Europe and North America. Visit her website for more tour details.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Beyoncé Serves Up Some Retro Funk On “Work It Out”

This super-funky retro groove is one of Beyoncé’s most underrated tracks. The 2002 single seems to be all but forgotten these days, even among her most ardent fans. It has a great old-school feel to it. It sounds like something legendary funk divas like Marva Whitney, Betty Davis or Lyn Collins might have recorded back in the late 1960s or early’ 70s. This track features a cold bass line, a wicked beat and nasty guitar licks. And it boasts a killer bridge. Beyoncé brings grit, soul and tons of attitude to her fiery vocal performance. She absolutely bodies this cut. 

Beyoncé co-wrote “Work It Out” with celebrated hip-hop/R&B production duo The Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo). Sheila E. handled all the percussion on the track, and Pharrell and Chad provided the rest of the instrumentation. Beyoncé even gives Chad a shout-out for his funky sax work: “Chad, blow your horn now!” The Neptunes also produced the track, which was released on Columbia Records. 

“Work It Out” was the lead single from the soundtrack for the 2002 spy comedy Austin Powers in Goldmember, in which Beyoncé co-starred with Mike Myers. She plays sexy FBI agent Foxxy Cleopatra who assists British spy Austin Powers as he takes on bad guys Dr. Evil and Fat Bastard. The character is an homage to badass heroines from ‘70s blaxploitation films–Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) and Cleopatra Jones (Tamara Dobson). This role was Beyoncé's theatrical film debut.

“Work It Out” was Beyoncé's debut single as a solo artist. It topped Billboard's Club Songs chart, but failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. However, it performed really well overseas. It climbed to #7 on the UK singles chart and peaked at #6 in Scotland, #14 in Denmark, #3 in Norway, #2 in Belgium and #12 in Ireland. And it enjoyed major chart action in several other countries. The song was critically well-received with music critics lauding its authentic throwback funk sound. 

“Work It Out” was also featured on international versions of Beyoncé's solo debut album Dangerously in Love, released in 2003. 

The song’s official music video was directed by Matthew Rolston. The video showcases Beyoncé's considerable gifts as a performer. She lights up the video with her electrifying dance moves–shimmying and shaking her way through several wardrobe and set changes. She even channels a bit of Tina Turner in some parts and also shows off her impressive hula-hooping skills. The video also includes brief clips from Austin Powers in Goldmember. It was nominated for Best Video From a Film at The MTV Music Video Awards Japan 2003 but lost to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” from the film 8 Mile

"Work It Out” has been sampled on five songs and has six remixes.

Beyoncé shuts it down with a dynamic performance of “Work It Out” at Party in the Park 2003

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Imagine Dragons’ "Believer"

Alternative rock quartet Imagine Dragons’ “Believer” is one of those songs that immediately locks into your consciousness and doesn't let go. This indelible track is an earworm of the first order. Its unique musical arrangement distinguished it from the other top-10 hits released in 2017. It’s anchored by a dynamic 12/8 beat, which is complemented by an elegant guitar part. And the incredible chorus gives the song its anthemic power. Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds delivers a strong and impassioned vocal performance. He even raps on one part, serving up his verses in a staccato, rapid-fire fashion. 

The song addresses Reynolds’ near lifelong battle with depression and his later struggles with ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory arthritic disease that he was diagnosed with in 2012. He discussed the song’s meaning in a 2017 interview with People magazine: “The song is about how pain made me a believer,” he said. “It’s made me a believer in myself, it’s made me a believer in my art and work. I wouldn’t have my art if it wasn’t for pain.” 

The writers credited on “Believer” are Reynolds, Justin Tranter, Robin Fredriksson, Mattias Larsson and the other three members of Imagine Dragons: Wayne Sermon ( guitar, backing vocals), Ben McKee (bass, backing vocals) and Daniel Platzman (drums/percussion, backing vocals). It was the first single from the band’s 3x platinum-selling album Evolve, released on June 23, 2017 on Interscope Records. The song peaked at #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and topped Billboard’s Rock Airplay, Adult Top 40 and Hot Rock & Alternative Songs charts. It reigned atop the Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart for 29 weeks. 

The song also enjoyed major chart action in other parts of the world. It landed in the top 10 in 12 other countries, including the top spot in Canada. It was the fifth best-selling song in the U.S. in 2017, selling 1,598,000 copies that year. And it’s one of the best-selling songs of all time, boasting sales of more than 30 million copies worldwide. Also, it currently has 2.4 billion streams on Spotify. 

“Believer" was used in the season finale for the first season of the popular CW series Riverdale; the finale originally aired on May 11, 2017. It has also turned up in a number of advertisements, most notably on the Nintendo Switch Super Bowl LI commercial. Additionally, the song has been featured in several movie and TV trailers, including the trailer for the 2017 film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s famous detective novel Murder on the Orient Express, which boasts a star-studded cast. 

The official music video for "Believer" was directed by Matt Eastin and features Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, Universal Soldier, Creed II), who’s depicted as a boxer engaged in a boxing match with Reynolds. It currently has 2.4 billion views on Youtube and 20 million likes. 

In early 2019, the band released another version of the song that featured rap superstar Lil Wayne, who serves up some blazing bars.

“Believer” has been sampled on nine songs, and it has been covered by numerous bands and artists. Some of the noteworthy covers of the song include Alex Boyé’s epic cover featuring Southern Virginia University Allstars, J.Fla’s exquisite rendition, and One Voice Children’s Choir's brilliant take on the song.

The official music video for "Believer"

Imagine Dragons performing "Believer" at the 2017 Pinkpop Festival in Landgraaf, Netherlands

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Nashville Band Mutual Groove Drops Funky New Track "Tough Gets Goin'," Featuring Joel Forlines

Independent funk/rock/retro soul band Mutual Groove recently dropped their new track "Tough Gets Goin’". The talented Nashville quartet displays its impressive musicianship on this funky high-octane groove. The track boasts kinetic guitar riffs, dynamic horns, phat bass and a scorching beat. It's about pushing forward through hard times and not allowing setbacks to discourage you from trying to reach your goals.

"Tough Gets Goin’" is one of the tracks from the band’s latest release “Feature 45: Joel Forlines.” The other song from the digital 45 is the inspirational “Started Livin’". This irresistibly soulful stroll features some sweet sax work and groovin’ bass. The song was inspired by featured vocalist Joel Forlines' story. Upon being released from jail, he felt that he couldn't make any of his dreams happen, but he eventually adopted a more positive outlook. The song is about breaking free from a despairing mindset and being grateful for what you have–to celebrate it in fact.

Forlines–a singer-songwriter and musician–was the the featured vocalist on "Tough Gets Goin’" and "Started Livin’". He served up heaps of gritty soul on both tracks.

Mutual Groove was formed in Nashville, Tennessee. The members are Ryan Swinehart (saxophone), Sam Woods (guitar), David Martin (drums) and Pat Graves (bass). All four members contribute to group vocals. 

The band is steadily building a strong discography, and they're an exciting live act. They have performed at a number of notable festivals and events, including Kaboo Fest (Cayman Islands), Kaboo Fest (Del Mar), Kaboo Fest (Dallas), American Authors, 3OH!3, DogwoodArts Fest, Cha Wa, Waka Flocka, Alana Royale, Three Star Revival and Roots of a Rebellion.

Some of Mutual Groove’s main influences include Funkadelic, Tower of Power, Vulpeck, Bruce Springsteen, The Meters, Steely Dan, Kool & the Gang, Silk Sonic, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Band and Herbie Hancock.

Learn more about the band at their official website

Tough Gets Goin'

"Started Livin'"

Monday, February 27, 2023

“If You Really Love Me” by Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder dropped this exquisite soul gem in July of 1971. The song was co-written by Stevie and his first wife singer-songwriter Syreeta Wright. Stevie also produced the track, and he and David Van De Pitte arranged it. The song is about a guy who’s deeply in love with a capricious romantic partner who constantly runs hot and cold on him. He doesn’t really know where he stands in the relationship and is questioning whether his partner truly loves him or just toying with his emotions and stringing him along. 

Stevie played piano, drums and Moog bass synthesizer on this amazing track, and legendary Motown house band the Funk Brothers provided the rest of the instrumentation. It’s superbly arranged–boasting majestic horns, bustling bass and terrific piano parts. The song opens with the exuberant chorus, and then the mood and style abruptly shift on the jazzy, sensual verse section. The music is stripped down to just the piano, bass and Stevie’s vocals in this section, which gives it a really intimate feel. Here, he unleashes an impassioned vocal performance that completely catches you off-guard with its emotional power. It feels as though you're eavesdropping on someone’s most personal and intimate thoughts. This unique and unexpected section showed that Stevie was starting to take more risks in the studio and becoming a much more daring and innovative artist. Syreeta also shines on this track. Her sweet, soothing background vocals nicely complement Stevie’s and significantly help elevate the gorgeous chorus.

“If You Really Love Me” performed well on the charts, peaking at #4 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart, #8 on Billboard’s Hot 100, #4 on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart and #10 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary singles chart. And it climbed to #20 on the UK singles chart. It was a single from Stevie’s self-produced thirteenth studio album Where I’m Coming From, which was released on April 12, 1971. All of the tracks on this collection were co-written by Stevie and Syreeta. It was his first album to contain all original songs that he had a hand in writing. The album is considered a transitional work as it’s much more experimental than Stevie’s previous efforts and was a significant departure from Motown’s typical sound. And he even took on important social issues on the album, such as “Do Yourself a Favor” and “I Wanna Talk To You.” This ambitious but somewhat uneven collection signaled what was to come in Stevie’s celebrated “classic period,” which would kick off with his next album Music of My Mind.