Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Girl Callin’ by Chocolate Milk

New Orleans funk/R&B band Chocolate Milk lit up the airwaves with this super-smooth cut back in 1977. The chill, laid-back groove just kind of pimp strolls and has an understated swag to it. The first thing that caught my attention about this track was the infectious piano part that’s played throughout the song. It’s just a simple two-chord progression, but it's very effective and really pulls the groove together.  Kool & the Gang used a similar keyboard part for their 1979 dance-floor smash “Ladies’ Night.” The song also has some terrific horn work and a sweet sax solo from Amadee Castenell, Jr. In addition, the vocals on this track are topflight, particularly the silky falsetto background harmonies.
“Girl Callin” was a single from Chocolate Milk’s fourth studio album We’re All In This Together, which was released in 1977. The song was written and produced by renowned songwriter/producer/arranger Allen Toussaint, who also helmed the album. It’s one of the band’s biggest hits, climbing all the way to #14 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart.  The album also performed quite well on the charts, climbing to #34 on the Billboard’s soul album charts.

Chocolate Milk was formed in New Orleans in 1974. The band’s core members began playing together while still students at St. Augustine High School. The original lineup for the band was the following: Amadee Castenell, Jr. (tenor saxophone, flute, percussion, vocals); Frank Richard (lead vocals, percussion); Joe Foxx (trumpet), Mario Tio (guitar); Robert Dabon (keyboards); Dwight Richards (drums, percussion, vocals) ; Ernest Dabon (bass);  and Ken “Afro” Williams (percussion).

And in the tradition of many fledgling young musicians in NOLA, Chocolate Milk started out playing for tourists on world-famous Bourbon Street and at Club 77. The band was soon cutting demos at Sea-Saint Studios in hopes that they would be heard byToussaint or his business partner the late Marshall Sehorn, who was a songwriter, producer, entrepreneur and music publisher. Toussaint eventually heard their demo for the song “Action Speaks Louder Than Words” and was quite impressed.

Sehorn negotiated a deal with RCA for Chocolate Milk to sign with the label. After the band signed with RCA, Toussaint got them into the studio to record their debut album Action Speaks Louder Than Words, which was released n 1975. He co-produced the album with Sehorn. The LP’s title track is a wickedly funky synth-driven protest song.  It’s one of the Chocolate Milk’s biggest hits and probably their most recognized song. The track peaked at #15 on the R&B singles chart in the U.S. and climbed to #69 on the pop singles chart in the states. The breakbeat on the song has been sampled by numerous hip-hop artists, including Eric B. & Rakim (“Move The Crowd”) and Stetsasonic (“Don't Let Your Mouth Write A Check Your Ass Can't Cash”).

Toussaint produced or co-produced five of Chocolate Milk’s eight albums and occasionally wrote songs for the band. Throughout the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Chocolate Milk dropped a ton of great funk and R&B tracks. And in addition to Girl Callin’ and “Action Speaks Louder Than Words,” some of  their other R&B hits included “Groove City,” “Blue Jeans,” “Say Won’t Cha,” “Take It Off” and “Hey Lover.”

 Chocolate Milk was made up of an extremely talented group of musicians who possessed tremendous studio chops.  In addition to working on their own albums, the band members were in-demand session players; they have played on tracks by many celebrated artists, including Aaron Neville, Lee Dorsey, Patti LaBelle, Paul McCartney and Irma Thomas. They were also Toussaint’s regular studio band as well as his touring band on the road.

After nine productive years, the band broke up in 1983.  Chocolate Milk left behind a wealth of great music and made a name for itself as one of New Orleans’ finest funk and R&B outfits.

Over the years, Chocolate Milk has reunited for special events and concerts. And the band has been performing together more frequently in recent years.  In April of this year, they performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which is one of the premier music festivals in the United States. That must have been quite a treat for old-school fans of this super-talented band to watch them performing together onstage again; and the performance no doubt earned the band some new fans as well.

Girl Callin' at Amazon

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"New Toy" by Lene Lovich

Influential new wave artist Lene Lovich teamed up with synthpop pioneer Thomas Dolby for this percolating, high-energy track. It’s the title song from Lovich’s 1981 EP. The song satirizes our consumer culture and how people often equate love with material possessions: “I don't want, I don't want your affection/But I’ve got to have the car/I need it for the weekend/I’ve got the have the stereo/And a couple of deletions.” The urgent groove has a haywire, controlled-chaos type of flow. It was written by Dolby, who also played keyboards on the track as well as sang background vocals.  He penned the song as a "thank you" to Lovich for hiring him to be part of her touring band. This was a year before Dolby struck gold with his new wave/funk smash “She Blinded Me With Science” in 1982.

“New Toy” is a brilliant marriage of two singular talents. Lovich’s quirky singing style and eccentric persona was a great fit for Dolby’s unique and kinetic synthpop sound. It’s a shame that the two didn’t collaborate on more songs—or better yet have Dolby write and produce an entire album for her. “New Toy” peaked at #29 on the Australian singles chart and climbed to #53 on the UK charts. It also saw some chart action in the U.S., peaking at #19 on the U.S. Dance Chart, and it remained on the chart for six months.

Lovich’s look and sound had a significant impact on the post-punk scene of the late 1970s and early '80s. And her outrageous attire, outré persona and idiosyncratic vocal style influenced a slew of female artists who succeeded her, including Cyndi Lauper, Dale Bozzio (Missing Persons) and Annabella Lwin (Bow Wow Wow); and she has indirectly influenced more recent artists such as Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga, among several others.  However, Lovich rarely gets the credit she deserves for being a genuine trailblazer.

As a teen growing up in Hull, England, Lovich developed an interest in art and music. She met guitarist/songwriter Les Chappell in Hull when both were still in their teens. The two shared similar interests and developed a lifelong romantic and professional relationship. The two moved to London together to attend art school. Once in London, they attended several art schools, including the Central School of Art. Lovich eventually became dissatisfied with the art scene and focused all her energies toward launching a career in music. She was involved in a plethora of different entertainment-related projects to help get her career off the ground, including a street busker; a go-go dancer with the Radio 1 Roadshow; a singer in a mass choir in a show called Quintessence; toured Italy with a West Indian soul band; played saxophone for Bob Flag’s Balloon and Banana Band and for the all-girl cabaret trio, the Sensations.

In 1975, Lovich, Chappell and some other local musicians formed the funk/disco band the Diversions. Lovich played sax in the band, while Chappell contributed his guitar skills. The band recorded some original tracks as well as a few cover songs, including Carl Malcolm’s “Fattie Bum-Bum.” The band failed to create much buzz or interest and broke up the following year. And in 1977, Lovich wrote lyrics to some of French disco star Cerrone’s songs, including his dance smash “Supernature.”

Lovich caught her big break when she contacted disc jockey/writer Charlie Gillett, who had her record a demo of the Tommy James’ 1967 pop hit “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Gillett was so impressed with the recording that he brought it to the attention of Dave Robinson, who was the president of independent label Stiff Records in London. Robinson liked the cover and signed Lovich to his label. She brought in Chapell, and they formed a band in her name.

In 1978, Stiff released the re-recorded version of Lovich's cover of  “I Think We’re Alone Now,” with the Lovich/Chappell-penned track “Lucky Number” as the B-side. A more polished version of “Lucky Number” was later released as an A-side. The track blew up, peaking at #3 on the UK charts and launched Lovich into pop stardom. The song is now considered a classic, as it’s one of the tracks that helped define the sound of early new wave music in the late ‘70s. It remains Lovich’s biggest hit and her most popular song.

In October of ’78, Lovich released her debut album, Stateless, on Stiff Records. Lovich and Chappell co-wrote seven of the album’s eleven tracks. The collection included “Lucky Number” and “I Think We’re Alone Now.” The UK version of the album contained their second hit “Say When,” which peaked at #19 on the UK charts. The band lineup for Stateless was Lovich (vocals, saxophone), Chappell (guitar, synthesizer, percussion, vocals), Ron François (bass, percussion, vocals), Nick Plytus (Hammond organ, piano), Bobby Irwin (drums, percussion, vocals) and Jeff Smith (synthesizer).

Following the release of Stateless, Lovich was soon headlining package tours and became one of the biggest names on Stiff Records’ roster. Some of Lovich’s other hits include “Bird Song” and “What Will I Do Without You.” Lovich definitely made her mark on new wave and alternative music, particularly in the late ‘70s and throughout the first half of the ‘80s. She has released five studio albums and one EP. Her last album, Shadows and Dust, was released in 2005.

Lovich is still a very active artist. She has some tour dates lined up for December in Italy, as well as some upcoming European dates scheduled in 2015.

New Toy at Amazon

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Fabulous Counts Brought Bucketloads Of Funk Back In The Day

The Fabulous Counts were a talented soul/funk/jazz outfit out of Detroit who released some top-grade funk back in the 1970s. The band never quite got the recognition it deserved. But it’s understandable why the band was somewhat overlooked, because there was so much stiff competition at the time they were active (1968-76). During this period, there was a slew of amazing funk and soul bands on the scene. As a result, the Fabulous Counts kind of got lost in the mix. Nonetheless, the band released some great cuts back in the day. For instance, they dropped the badass track “What’s Up Front That Counts” in 1971. This is some serious funk right here—sizzling organ, heavy bass, tight horns, poppin’ congas, wicked guitar licks and kickin’ drums. This cut displayed what a strong lineup of musicians the band had. It was the title track from their 1971 album, which was released on Westbound Records. The LP boasts a quality selection of funk and R&B cuts.

The Fabulous Counts were formed in 1968 in Detroit, Michigan. The band’s original lineup was the following: Mose Davis (keyboards), Raoul Keith Mangrum (drums), Demo Cates (alto saxophone), Leroy Emanuel (guitar) and Jim White (tenor saxophone). The funky quintet quickly made a name for themselves on the local scene as both headliners and a backing band for national touring acts.  They eventually caught the attention of famed bandleader, songwriter and producer Robert “Popcorn” Wylie. The band worked with Wylie on recording their first single “Jan, Jan, ”which was released on the Detroit label Moira in late 1968. It’s a cold-ass jam with dope guitar work, funky horns and smooth bass.

And although the track just missed making the charts, it went on to become a cult classic and is probably the band’s most well-known track.  The song was also the title track for the band’s 1969 debut album, which was released on Cotillion Records—a subsidiary of Atlantic records. (The band left Cotillion in 1970 to sign with Westbound Records, which was home to high-caliber acts such as the Ohio Players and Funkadelic.) The album was helmed by legendary producer Ollie McLaughlin.

Jan, Jan also contained the band’s second single release “Dirty Red,” an energetic, soulful instrumental. The record didn’t receive much attention and disappeared without much fanfare. The band finally saw some chart action with their third single, the raw, hard-driving funk groove “Get Down People,” (1970), which was included on their album What’s Up Front That Counts. Leroy Emanuel delivers a gritty, show-stopping guitar solo on this hot cut, and Davis tears it up on the organ. The song peaked at #32 on the R&B charts in the US and #88 on the pop charts.

The album also included the ultra-funky track “Rhythm Changes.” The band had a few lineup changes following their move to Westbound but didn’t lose an ounce of its funk. They also changed their name to simply the Counts at this time.

Before breaking up in 1976, the Counts had recorded a string of great tracks that are still appreciated by old-school fans of the band as well as hardcore funk and R&B aficionados.

What's Up Front That Counts album at Amazon

Jan, Jan by the Fabulous Counts

Jan, Jan the album at Amazon

Monday, October 6, 2014

Funkiest Halloween Songs

Halloween is looming, so it’s about that time to get your monster groove on to some frighteningly funky tracks.  So without further ado, here are my 22 funkiest Halloween tracks. Let’s BOOgie!

22) Everyday Is Halloween– Ministry (1984)

This fantastic electronic track is about the Goth subculture and how every day is like Halloween in this environment. Influential industrial metal band Ministry's founder and creative mastermind Al Jourgensen penned the song. He effectively sampled James Brown’s intro scream from the hit song “Get Up Offa That Thing.”

Every Day Is Halloween at Amazon

21) Frankenstein – The Edgar Winter Group (1973)

The Edgar Winter Group topped the pop charts with this ferocious rock instrumental in 1973. This track has the distinction of being the first hit song to have a synthesizer as the lead instrument. Although this is primarily a rock song, there are some dashes of funk sprinkled throughout.  Apparently world-renowned bassist Marcus Miller caught those funky bits as well. He performed a live cover of the song, which really stressed the funky parts. The track is from the band’s multiplatinum-selling They Only Come Out at Night (1972).

Frankenstein at Amazon

20) The Boogie Monster–  Gnarls Barkley (2006) 

Talented twosome Cee Lo Green and Danger Mouse get into the Halloween spirit on this creepy, baleful track. The ominous tune will have you looking under your bed and checking your closet before hitting the hay. The track is from Gnarls Barkley's Grammy-winning debut album St. Elsewhere, released in 2006.

The Boogie Monster at Amazon

19) Halloween Funk – Louis Edwards and Henry Parsley (2010)

This ghoulish track has a carnival spook-house vibe goin’ on. It also has some really cool keyboard work and a creepy Vincent Price-like spoken-word vocal. It’s a track from Edwards and Parsley’s 2010 album Kids Club.

Halloween Funk at Amazon

18) Blacula (The Stalkwalk) – Gene Page (1972)

Gene Page composed and produced this smooth R&B groove for the 1972 Blaxploitation/horror cult classic Blacula, which starred William Marshall and Vonetta McGee. The acclaimed late composer, arranger, conductor and producer scored the entire soundtrack.

Blacula (The Stalkwalk) at Amazon

17) I’m Your Boogie Man – KC & the Sunshine Band (1976)

This disco smash packed dance floors around the world back in the day. The track has an infectious groove with funky guitar licks, tight horn lines and some nice piano work. And that tambourine keeps the groove cookin’.

I'm Your Boogie Man at Amazon

16) Ghostbusters – Ray Parker, Jr. (1984)

R&B artist Ray Parker, Jr. scored his biggest hit with the anthemic title song for the 1984 comedy/fantasy/sci-fi blockbuster Ghostbusters. The catchy pop/R&B track struck a chord with a huge cross-section of listeners.  And the song’s music video was also extremely popular. It contains some fun clips from the film and is chock full of celebrity cameos, including Peter Falk, Irene Cara, John Candy, Carly Simon, Danny DeVito and Teri Garr.  However, before Parker could fully enjoy the song’s massive success, he was hit with a lawsuit. Huey Lewis of the rock band Huey Lewis and the News sued the R&B singer for plagiarism, claiming he lifted the song’s main groove and melody from the News’ hit song “I Want a New Drug.” The two parties ultimately settled out of court.

Ghostbusters at Amazon

15) Weird Science – Oingo Boingo (1985) 

New Wave rock band Oingo Boingo skillfully fused pop, rock and funk on this spastic, haywire groove. It’s the theme song for John Hughes’s 1985 teen sci-fi comedy Weird Science, which is about two high-school geeks who create their ideal woman on a computer—a bit of a computer-aged ‘80s update on the Frankenstein concept.  It was also the theme song for the television series of the same name, which premiered on the USA Network in 1994. The band included a longer version of the song on their album Dead Man’s Party (1985).

Weird Science at Amazon

14) I Put a Spell On You – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1956)

No Halloween song list would be complete without the inclusion of this spooky rhythm and blues classic. The song is by R&B legend Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, who’s often dubbed the original shock rocker. The track is included among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll and has been covered by several prominent artists, including Nina Simone, Annie Lennox, Marilyn Manson, Arthur Brown and Joe Cocker.

I Put A Spell On You at Amazon

13) Dead Man’s Party – Oingo Boingo (1985)

Oingo Boingo makes a second appearance on the list with the cool, kinetic groove "Dead Man's Party," which fits right in with the Halloween theme. Danny Elfman and his crew really had a knack for coming up with really catchy but slightly twisted songs. It’s the title track from the band’s 1985 release.

Dead Man's Party at Amazon

12) Monster – The Bar-Kays (1978)

This badass instrumental is by Memphis R&B/funk band the Bar-Kays. The dope funk groove has some great guitar work and powerful horn parts. The track is from the band’s 1978 album Money Talks and was the B-side of their funk classic “Holy Ghost.”

Monster at Amazon

11) Creature Feature – Billy Preston (1974)

The late, great keyboard maestro Billy Preston got busy with some serious synth-filled funk on this groovin’ instrumental. The track is from Preston’s 1974 album The Kids & Me.

Kids & Me CD at Amazon

10) Come Alive (The War of the Roses) – Janelle Monáe (2010)

Innovative R&B sensation Janelle Monáe showed a bit of her wild side on this brilliant track. The song has a spooky Halloween vibe to it. And the hard-driving rockabilly/punk groove gives Monáe room to really cut loose and get a little crazy. She delivers a truly inspired vocal performance. The song is from her critically acclaimed debut album The ArchAndroid, released in 2010.

Come Alive (The War Of The Roses) at Amazon

9) Ghosts – Michael Jackson (1997)

This irresistible little groove nugget is a track from Michael Jackson's 1997 remix album Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix. The track boasts a hot beat and some cool, spooky synth work. And MJ’s haunting harmonies will definitely put the listener in a Halloween mood. The pop legend co-wrote and produced the track with New Jack Swing king Teddy Riley. The song was also featured in MJ’s short film Ghosts (1997), which was directed by late special effects master Stan Winston; and MJ cowrote the film’s story concept with famous horror novelist Stephen King.

Ghosts at Amazon

8) Rigor Mortis – Cameo (1976)

"Rigor Mortis" is a monster dance groove by the super-talented funk/R&B outfit Cameo. It’s a track from the band’s debut album, Cardiac Arrest (1977), which introduced the world to their unique and dynamic brand of funk and R&B.

Rigor Mortis at Amazon

7) Thriller– Michael Jackson (1983)

Acclaimed songwriter/producer Rod Temperton penned this splendid slice of R&B. “Thriller” is one of Michael Jackson's most well-known tracks and has become the international Halloween anthem. The song’s epic video often overshadows what a terrific, well-crafted piece of music it really is. And it’s interesting to note that the song’s original title was “Starlight,” and the album was originally called Midnight Man. MJ even recorded a demo of “Starlight.” However, Quincy Jones didn’t think the title was strong enough. So Temperton came up with the new title “Thriller.” He rewrote the lyrics to fit the new title but kept the music the same. And keeping with the new horror-film theme, spooky sound effects were added to the song, such as a creaky door, wolves howling, a storm, etc. Also, legendary horror film actor Vincent Price added his iconic rap in only two takes. All involved ultimately decided that Thriller would be the better title for the album. The rest is history.

Thriller at Amazon

6)  Zombie – Fela Kuti & Afrika 70 (1976)

This percolating, high-energy track illustrates why the late, great Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti was such an acclaimed and beloved artist. The song is a blistering condemnation of  Nigerian soldiers who blindly followed orders like "Zombies" without giving thought to their actions. And in a broader sense, the song is an attack on law enforcement agencies in general that carry out the whims and agendas of a corrupt power without considering the rights of the citizens they're supposed to protect and serve. 

 "Zombie" is just an incredible piece of music, and the groove is so infectious that you can’t help but move when you hear it. The song is the title track from Fela & Afrika 70’s 1976 studio album release.

Zombie at Amazon

5) Little Monsters – RonKat Spearman (2004)

Multitalented musician/songwriter and performer RonKat Spearman dropped this massively funky cut back in 2004. The P-Funk Allstar cowrote the track with none other than Dr. Funkenstein himself, George Clinton, who contributes some cool-ghoul vocals. And P-Funk vocalists Kim Manning and Kendra Foster bring some sass and soul to the funky proceedings. The song is the title track from Ronkat’s 2004 EP.

Little Monsters at Amazon

4) Natural Born Killaz – Dr. Dre, featuring Ice Cube (1994)

Dr. Dre reunited with former N.W.A group mate Ice Cube for this chilling track. Dre lays down one of his baddest G-Funk beats on this cut. The eerie synth vamps create a truly sinister vibe that fits the song’s macabre theme of getting inside the minds of two homicidal maniacs. Dre and Cube both deliver strong raps—lyrically and execution-wise. Their horrifying, imagistic lyrics cut like a sharpened serrated edge knife. It’s raw poetry from the bowels of hell. And the music video is a bit on the disturbing side, well actually more than a bit. It has Dre and Cube playing two murderous psychopaths on a killing spree. The video is cinematic in scope and features veteran actor John Amos as a chief homicide detective heading up a huge manhunt for the killers. It also features a brief cameo appearance from Tupac Shakur as a SWAT sniper. This is probably the most genuinely scary track on the list.

Natural Born Killaz [Explicit] at Amazon

3) Superstition – Stevie Wonder (1972)

You know I couldn’t leave “Superstition” off the list. I would be derelict in my funk duty if I did. This wicked, clavinet-driven funk groove is one of Stevie's most recognized songs. It was the lead single from his landmark album Talking Book (1972); the song topped both the pop and R&B singles chart in the U.S. And it earned the music legend two Grammys, one for Best R&B Song and one for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

Superstition at Amazon

2) Dr. Funkenstein – Parliament (1976)

Dr. Funkenstein is one of George Clinton’s most well-known alter egos. He’s the mad scientist who uncovered the ancient secret of the “Afronauts,” who have the ability to funkatize galaxies. With this discovery, the good doctor went about the task of cloning these Afronauts, so there would never again be a shortage of The Funk—a most precious resource. Dr. Funkenstein is all about having a good time and bringing great uncut funk to appreciative funkateers around the world.

Clinton delivers a clever and funny rap on this track. Here’s a sampling: “They say the bigger the headache, the bigger the pill, baby/Call me the big pill/Dr. Funkenstein, the disco fiend with the monster sound/The cool ghoul with the bump transplant.” The stupidly funky groove is anchored by Bootsy Collins' nasty bass line. The track has a fantastic intro and boasts a funkalicious trombone solo from horn legend Fred Wesley. And the song has an irresistible hook on the chorus. "Dr. Funkenstien" was written by George Clinton, Bootsy and Bernie Worrell and was a single from Parliament’s 1976 album The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein.

Dr. Funkenstein at Amazon

1)  Stretchin’ Out (In a Rubber Band) – Bootsy’s Rubber Band (1976)

Mega-talented bass man Bootsy Collins shook up the music scene when he dropped this incredibly funky cut back in 1976. The syncopation on this track is just insane—not a drop of funk is wasted. The dynamic groove is powered by Bootsy’s furious bass line and boasts hot brass jolts, dirty guitar licks and a super-phat beat. And P-Funk keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell brings some ghostly ambiance to the groove through his superb synth work. Oh, and let’s not forget the funky cowbell played by Bootsy.

For this track, Bootsy channeled his alter ego Casper, who’s the chillest, funkiest phantom in the spirit world. The song was co-written and produced by Bootsy and George Clinton and was the lead single from Bootsy's superb debut album Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band (1976).

Stretchin' Out (In A Rubber Band) at Amazon