Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Get On The Good Foot (Pts. 1 & 2)" by James Brown

During his storied career, James Brown had a slew of nicknames, and one of his less-familiar sobriquets was “The Minister of New Super Heavy Funk. ”And on this insanely funky, super-energized groove, the moniker fits like a glove. The track is impeccably arranged and amazingly syncopated. Not a drop of funk is wasted here. It kicks off with Brown’s proclamation, “Can’t pass the people, can’t pass the, hit me!”  Like on Brown’s best tracks, this groove flows like a well-oiled funk engine.

The monster groove is anchored by the ace rhythm section of Fred Thomas (bass) and John “Jabo” Starks (drums). Thomas contributes a smooth, fluid bass line, while Jabo keeps on the groove on-point with his funky, rapid-fire drumming. Longtime J.B. members Hearlon “Cheese” Martin and Bobby Roach hold down the guitar parts with their usual funky flair. And it addition to his powerful vocals, Brown gets funky on the organ near the end of the song. Moreover, the track has a badass bass/drum breakdown.

The track boasts some sterling horn work that further accentuates the funk. The lineup for the horn section on this hot cut was the following: Fred Wesley (trombone), St-Clair Pinckney (tenor saxophone), Isiah Ike Oakley (trumpet) and Russell Crimes (trumpet).

The song’s main theme is about taking care of your business and endeavoring to keep your life in a positive direction (on the “good foot”).  And it has a secondary theme of racial unity and how music can bring people from different backgrounds together: “Said the long-hair hippies and the Afro blacks/ They all get together across the tracks/and they party.”

“Get On The Good Foot” was written by Brown, Fred Wesley and Joseph Mims and was released in 1972 as part of a two-part single. Brown also produced the track, which topped the R&B charts in the U.S. and peaked at #18 on the U.S. pop charts. It was also the title track for the Godfather's 1972 album.

“Get On The Good Foot” has been sampled by a ton of hip-hop artists, including OutKast (“B.O.B.”), Big Daddy Kane (“Raw”), Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (“Gold”) and Kool Moe Dee (“Gansta Boogie”). In all, it has been sampled in 173 songs, according to the website WhoSampled.

Get On The Good Foot (Pt. 1 & 2) at Amazon

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"Don’t Wanna Fall In Love" by Jane Child

Toronto-born singer, musician and producer Jane Child brightened up the airwaves with this infectious slice of synth-driven dance pop back in 1989. The track is hook-filled, replete with great keyboard riffs and shining synth lines; and it boasts an irresistible sing-along chorus. When I first heard the track on the radio back in the day, I thought for sure she was one of Prince’s protégés. It definitely has a Princely vibe going on. But it turns out Child had no affiliation with the Purple One, but you can definitely hear his influence on this cut.

The song is from Child’s eponymous debut album, released in 1989. It reached #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at #6 on the Billboard’s R&B singles chart. It climbed to #4 on Canada’s RPM singles chart and #22 on the UK singles chart. The album also had a solid showing on the charts, climbing to #49 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Also, “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love” was featured in the popular video game Grand Theft Auto V for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS4 and PC. Additionally, a remix of the song earned Child a Juno Award for Dance Recording of the year in 1991.

Child’s second single from her debut album, “Welcome to the Real World,” was a modest hit, peaking #49 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was featured in the 1988 comedy Married to the Mob, which starred Michelle Pfeiffer.

Child was born Jane Richmond Hyslop on February 15, 1967 and grew up in an accomplished musical family in Toronto, ON, Canada. Her father, Ricky Hyslop, was a concert violinist, who composed and performed contemporary classical music as well as wrote film and television scores. Her mother, Lorraine Johnson, was a vocalist/pianist/composer and music teacher.  They began grooming their young daughter for a career as a classical musician at the age of five, with a regimen of piano, voice, violin and harmony lessons. Child sang in the Children's Chorus of the Canadian Opera Company when she was 12 and was later accepted into the Royal Conservatory of Music to study piano.

 However, she dropped out of the conservatory when she was 15 to join a rock band. After touring with the band for two years, Child returned to Toronto and began performing her own songs locally. She was writing a song a day at this juncture in her career.  Eventually a demo she had produced found its way to some record labels, which ultimately resulted in her signing a deal with Warner Bros. Records. Apparently, the label had a lot of faith in Child’s talents, as they gave her complete creative control over her debut album in which she wrote, arranged and produced all the tracks.

She followed up her debut album with Here Not There in 1993. This collection melded New Jack Swing with almost hard rock elements. She released her last album, Surge, in 2001.

Also, Child’s song “Mona Lisa Smiles” was featured on the soundtrack for the 1992 sci-fi action thriller Freejack, which starred Emilio Estevez and Mick Jagger.

In addition to her music, Child is known for her bold fashion style, spiked hair with long braids and a nose chain.

Child is still very much involved in music but has been keeping a pretty low profile over the past several years, mainly doing behind-the-scenes session work and side projects.  She’s married to musician Cat Gray, who's the musical director for the television game show Let’s Make a Deal, which is hosted by actor, singer, comedian Wayne Brady.

Child plays several instruments, including guitar, synthesizers, violin, bass and piano.

Don't Wanna Fall In Love at Amazon

Related blog entry: "You, Bluebird" by Jane Child

Friday, July 10, 2015

Songs About Working

For centuries the subject of working has been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for songwriters. Tons of songs about working have been recorded over the years and in various music genres; some songs romanticize the plight of the working stiff, while others condemn the workplace as a numbing, soul-crushing environment that stifles all creative thought and individuality. So I've decided to put together a list of my 14 favorite songs about being on the grind. Here it is in no particular order:

Let It Rock – Chuck Berry (1960)

The protagonist of this hot-rockin’ tune toils away on a railroad track in Mobile, Alabama as a distant train comes bearing down. Berry’s great storytelling gifts and wry sense of humor are on full display here, as are his impressive skills as a guitarist. He even makes his guitar sound like the oncoming train at one point in the song. This track was the second single from Berry’s 1960 album Rockin’ at the Hops, which was released on Chess Records. It peaked at #64 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and climbed all the way to #6 on the UK singles chart.

Let It Rock at Amazon

9 to 5 – Dolly Parton (1980)

Buxom country music queen Dolly Parton landed a monster hit with this rousing anthem to working stiffs. Parton penned this track for the 1980 hit comedy of the same title in which she co-starred along with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dabney Coleman. The song was also featured on Parton’s album 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs (1980). It topped both the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard’s Adult Contemporary singles chart; it also reached #1 on Billboard's Country singles chart. Additionally, the song garnered Parton an Oscar nomination for "Best Original Song" and four Grammy noms, including two wins:  “Best Country Song” and “Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.”

9 to 5 at Amazon

Hard Work – John Handy (1976)

Legendary alto saxophonist John Handy lays down some smooth soul-jazz on this bumpin’ instrumental. It's the title track from Handy’s 1976 LP. The groove is bolstered by Handy’s masterful sax playing. The album performed well on the charts, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Jazz chart and #43 on the Billboard 200 album chart.

Hard Work at Amazon

Banana Boat Song (Day-O) – Harry Belafonte (1956)

Singer, actor and social activist Harry Belafonte scored a big hit with his stirring
rendition of the traditional Jamaican folk song. The song is about dock workers who labor throughout the night loading bananas onto ships. The musical arrangement is impeccable and nicely frames Belafonte’s raspy tenor. His version of the song used lyrics adapted by renowned Caribbean composer Irving Burgie and American novelist/playwright William Attaway.

“Day-O” was a single from Belafonte’s album Calypso, released in 1956. The album was a massive success and became the first LP to sell a million copies, and “Day-O" peaked at #5 on the pop singles chart and reached #7 on the R&B singles chart. Belafonte is credited with putting Calypso music on the map worldwide, which earned him the nickname “The King of Calypso.”

The Banana Boat Song (Day-O) at Amazon

Let’s Work – Prince (1981)

This gospel-infused funk burner is about putting in work between the sheets. His Royal Badness serves up one of his funkiest slap bass lines on this blistering groove. The track was blasted at parties and clubs across the U.S. back in the day. It was the second single from Prince’s 1981 platinum-selling Controversy album, and it peaked at #9 on the U.S. R&B singles chart and #104 on the pop charts. And it topped the Hot Dance Club Songs chart in the U.S. In addition to the 3:57 album version of the track, there’s an eight-minute extended version that’s definitely worth checking out.

Check out the extended version of "Let's Work" here.

Let's Work extended version at Amazon

A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles (1964)

The protagonist of this exuberant John Lennon-penned Beatles classic works marathon hours to buy nice things for his lady, who rewards him with plenty of love and affection when he finally gets home. The song was the title track from the Beatles’ superb third studio album, released in 1964. The LP also served as the soundtrack for the film A Hard Day’s Night (1964), which starred the Beatles in their feature-film debut. The proto-mockumentary effectively captured the excitement, madness and hysteria surrounding the band at the height of Beatlemania. 

Seven of the album’s 13 tracks were featured in the film. The song “A Hard Day’s Night” topped both the U.S. and UK pop charts. Its title was inspired by one of Ringo Starr’s characteristic dry malapropisms, giving Lennon all the inspiration he needed to write the song.

Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955)

This indelible tune tells the story a coal miner who works in a coalmine in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Ford’s rich bass-baritone goes down real easy on this terrific song. It was originally written and recorded by  acclaimed country and western guitarist/singer/songwriter Merle Travis. Travis’ version was released in 1947.  Ford’s rendition of the song—released in 1955—became a huge hit, topping both the pop and country charts in the U.S.

Sixteen Tons at Amazon

Livin’ It Up (Friday Night) – Bell & James (1978)

This cookin’ groove by soul duo Bell & James is about a working slob who trudges through his boring, dead-end job each day simply for the paycheck. The only thing that gets him through the week is the thought of Friday night where he can finally lay his burden down, jump in his ride and head to where the party people hang. This cut resonated with a lot of people who could relate with the protagonist’s situation. The track boasts a sterling music arrangement and strong vocal performances from the duo. The song peaked at #15 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #7 on Billboard’s R&B charts.

Bell & James were formed in 1978 by drummer/guitarist Leroy Bell and guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Casey James. Both were formerly members of Philadelphia band Special Blend.

Livin' It up (Friday Night) at Amazon

Working in a Coal Mine – Lee Dorsey (1966)

The infectious tune by famed New Orleans R&B singer Lee Dorsey reflects on the plight of a coal miner who's forced to endure the harsh and dangerous conditions of working in a coal mine five days a week. The song even contains the sound of a pickax clinking. It was written by legendary producer, songwriter and musician Allen Toussaint. The song was Dorsey’s second biggest hit, peaking at  at #8 on the U.S. pop singles chart and #5 onthe U.S. R&B singles chart. Pioneering new  wave band Devo later covered the song, which was included on the soundtrack for the 1981 film Heavy Metal.  The 7” single of the song was packaged with Devo’s album New Traditionalists (1981).

Working in the Coal Mine at Amazon

Working Day and Night – Michael Jackson (1979)

This kinetic, high-powered track has MJ working around the clock in hopes of getting some sweet lovin’ from his girl.  The pop/soul superstar delivers a dynamic and extremely soulful vocal performance on this potent groove. It's a track from MJ’s landmark 1979 album Off The Wall. He penned the song as well as co-produced it. Surprisingly, it wasn’t released as a single. Nonetheless, it got massive play on the airwaves and at parties and clubs. And it was a crowd favorite at MJ’s concerts, and he never failed to blow the doors off the hinges whenever he performed it live.

Working Day and Night at Amazon

Work – Bob Marley & the Wailers (1980)

This powerful Bob Marley song is about working every day toward bettering the world and pushing for more positivity, love and African unity, as well as spreading the message of Rastafarianism. The song is from Bob Marley & the Wailers’ highly acclaimed 1980 album Uprising. This was the final studio album featuring Bob Marley & the Wailers to be released during the reggae legend’s lifetime. The album peaked at #45 on the U.S. album charts and #41 on the U.S. R&B album charts. It had a much stronger chart showing in other parts of the world, making the top ten on the album charts in several places, including the UK (#6), Sweden (#3), New Zealand (#1) and Norway (#6).

Work at Amazon

Chain Gang – Sam Cooke (1960)

This soul-pop gem is a poignant ode to prison chain-gangs who work along the highways and byways. The lush arrangement and Sam Cooke’s velvet-smooth vocal delivery belie the song’s harsh and depressing subject matter of chained prisoners doing thankless and grueling work. The song became one of the music legend's biggest hits, peaking at #2 on both the pop and R&B charts in the U.S., and it reached #9 on the UK singles chart.

Chain Gang at Amazon

Five O'Clock World – The Vogues (1965)

American vocal group the Vogues scored a top-five hit with this sterling slice of folk/rock/pop. It’s about a guy who hates his job and can’t wait for the five o’clock whistle to blow to set him free.  He doesn’t truly feel alive until the clock hits five; that’s when the world finally opens up for him. The song was written by producer and songwriter Allen Reynolds, who went on to produce country music superstar Garth Brooks’ multiplatinum albums in the ‘90s. The song reached #4 the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at #1 on Canadian RPM Top Singles

The Vogues were formed in 1960 by four high school friends from Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania. The original and founding members of the quartet were as follows: Bill Burkette (lead baritone), Don Miller (baritone), Hugh Geyer (first tenor) and Chuck Blasko (second tenor).

Five O'Clock World at Amazon

Car Wash – Rose Royce (1976)

Rose Royce blew up the airwaves with this R&B/disco smash about working at a bustling car wash. The song is spilling over with energy, excitement and fun. The percolating groove boasts some sassy guitar licks and a nice string arrangement. And Gwen Dickey (aka Rose Norwalt) delivers a strong lead vocal performance. The song was written and produced by legendary Motown songwriter/producer Norman Whitfield. It was the lead single from Rose Royce’s 1976 debut album Car Wash, which served as the soundtrack for the raucous comedy of the same name. The song topped both the U.S. pop and R&B charts and reached #3 on the disco charts. The band had a few more hits in the ensuing years, but “Car Wash” remains their most universally recognized song.

Car Wash at Amazon

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review of The Commodores’ Debut Album Machine Gun

The Commodores scored a winner right out the gate with their strong debut album Machine Gun (1974). The Tuskegee, Alabama-bred funk/soul band flexed their impressive musical chops and songwriting abilities on this terrific LP.  The collection is chock-full of gritty, hard-hittin’ funk grooves. There are none of the band’s signature ballads that would appear on their later albums to be found here—just straight-ahead, unapologetic funk.

The explosive title track is a clavinet-driven instrumental written by Commodore keyboardist Milan Williams. The groove just crackles with energy and funk. It was inspired by Billy Preston’s 1972 hit instrumental “Outa-Space,” but the Commodores put their own original flavor on the groove. “Machine Gun” was the album’s biggest hit, peaking at #7 on the U.S. R&B charts and #22 on the U.S. pop charts. The song was used to great effect in an exhilarating montage sequence from Paul Thomas Anderson’s widely acclaimed 1997 film Boogie Nights.  Also, the Beastie Boys sampled the track for their song “Hey Ladies” in 1989.

“I Feel Sanctified” is a powerful funk groove that’s anchored by a wicked bass line. The track contains some nasty guitar licks and punchin’ horn lines, which were provided by Lionel Richie (saxophone) and William King (trumpet). According to those in the know, P-Funker Billy “Bass” Nelson laid down the bottom on this track with none other than Eddie “Maggot Brain” Hazel himself on guitar. The track saw some chart action; it climbed to #12 on the U.S. R&B singles chart and made it to #75 on the U.S. pop singles chart.

“The Bump,” is an irresistible groove about the hot ‘70s dance craze. The track boasts some sweet chicken-scratch guitar licks, super-tight horns and some percolating clavinet work.  It also has cool vocal breakdown in the middle of the song. This cut no doubt had folks bumpin’ on the dance floor until their hips were bruised back in the day.

“Rapid Fire” is another great funk instrumental.  As in “Machine Gun,” “Rapid Fire” contains some smokin’ clavinet work from Williams, who also wrote the song.

And Richie was already displaying his budding songwriting abilities on the solid grooves “Superman” and “There’s a Song In My Heart.” His songwriting would become stronger with each succeeding album.

There are even a couple of socially conscious tracks to be found on this collection: “The Assembly” and "The Zoo (The Human Zoo).”

Machine Gun was released on Motown Records in 1974. The album was co-produced by James Anthony Carmichael and the Commodores. It climbed to #22 on the U.S. R&B album charts and peaked at #138 on the pop album charts. The band members had a hand in the writing of the majority of the albums' tracks.

The lineup for the Commodores at the release of this album was the following: Walter “Clyde” Orange (drums, vocals), Ronald LaPread (bass), Lionel Richie (saxophone, vocals), Thomas McClary (guitar, vocals), William King (trumpet) and Milan Williams (keyboards, guitar). This would remain the lineup until 1982 when Richie left the band to pursue a solo career.

Machine Gun captures the young band in the process finding its own voice and direction. The talent is definitely there, and with each subsequent album, their abilities as musicians and songwriters would increase exponentially until they became one of the biggest and tightest R&B/funk bands of the ‘70s.

Machine Gun CD at Amazon