Saturday, November 28, 2009
The Sweet, Sweet '70s, Part 1: The Funk.
At Thanksgiving, we were playing Apples 2 Apples, the party game where people choose nouns that should match an adjective the judge randomly selects. When I was judge the first time, the word was sweet, and among the nouns I had to choose from was "The 1970s". It was among the final nouns I was thinking of choosing, when one of the other players said, "The 70s weren't sweet. The 60s were sweet."
Allow me to retort.
Music in the 1970s underwent several interesting revolutions. One of the problems was that music was heading off in so many directions that you couldn't hear nearly everything just listening to one radio station the way you could in the 1960s, and some great artists weren't getting much radio play at all. But there was amazing stuff going on, even if young people weren't in 100% agreement about it.
This first set of ten songs explores the directions soul music took in the decade, both the smooth and the rough.
Let's Get It On Marvin Gaye
The Motown business model of a band of singers backed by unnamed musicians and songwriters who weren't performing artists was not working as well in the 1970s. Fortunately for the label, they had two superstars who wrote their own tunes and had their careers expand in the new decade, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. While Marvin famously got political in some songs, sometimes you have to sing about the sweet, sweet love, and no one did it like Marvin Gaye.
I Want You Back The Jackson Five
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Very few bands in history had as good a debut single as I Want You Back. This song is a throwback to the Motown 1960s style, where the band is just singers, the true musicians are hidden and the songwriters nearly anonymous. But when that first hook hits on the bassline, none of that matters. I Want You Back is as great a pop song as has ever been recorded.
For The Love Of Money The O'Jays
The Motown business model of offstage stars wasn't dead yet, and in the 1970s the greatest off-stage stars were Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the songwriting and production team behind the stars at Philadelphia International Records, known by most as just The Philly Soul sound. Whether it was The O'Jays or Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes or Billy Paul, it was Gamble and Huff behind the scenes, and they had the magic touch.
Get Up Offa That Thing James Brown
Okay, here is someone who is not behind the scenes. Mr. James Brown was first tabbed by producers back in the 1950s as the next Jackie Wilson, but he didn't have anything like Wilson's vocal range. What he did have was excitement and talent and revolutionary ways of tearing the music down and building it back up again. Listen as he calls out K.C. and the Sunshine Band and The Ohio Players in this song. They were hitmakers, but they were not the Godfather, and they never would be.
That would be Mr. Dynamite, The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, the man who brought you Get Up Offa That Thing... Mr. James Brown.
Come And Get Your Love Redbone
Redbone is a local nickname for people with both Chicano and Native American heritage and the band Redbone was formed by two brothers of that ethnicity, Patrick and Lolly Vasquez. This was their only Top Ten hit, but their name will live forever.
The World Is A Ghetto War
This is a brilliant slow groove, with wonderful harmonies and dynamics, but it hits hard with the central message.
Don't you know, that it's true
That for me and for you
The World Is A Ghetto.
Time Tough Toots & the Maytals
By the 1970s, the funk had traveled around the world and was coming back to America in new forms, including reggae. Bob Marley was the great ambassador, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Toots Hibbert and his band the Maytals, and this simple groove.
The Hustle Van McCoy
Disco gets a bad rap for a lot of the silliness of the 1970s, but tell me that bass and drums aren't doing their jobs?
Lady Marmalade LaBelle
And when you say bad things about disco, aren't you saying bad things about Miss Patti LaBelle?
You know you shouldn't do that, because you know it's wrong.
You know you shouldn't do it because I will hunt you down and find you.
Say nothing bad about Miss Patti.
Tell Me Something Good Chaka Khan and Rufus
There are many Khans through history. There's Genghis and Kublai. There's Nusrat Fateh Ali. Back in the middle of the 20th Century, the best squash player in the world had the last name Khan for a few generations.
Then there's Chaka Khan, who bestrides all Khans like the mighty colossus she is.
The Khans are a proud people and they might not accept this judgment.
What she's got
What she's got will
What she's got will knock
What she's got will knock your
What she's got will knock your PRIDE
What she's got will knock your pride aside.
Tomorrow: The Sweet, Sweet '70s rock out.