When I completed my post earlier this morning, I realized there were a number of recordings I left out in the category of that which I wish I’d made but didn’t-of course. Thought about going back to revise the list I’d already made. However since I’d shared that list with fifteen Facebook friends and groups as well as in Twitter,thought that I would continue here. These albums are equally important of course not only in terms of their influence on me,in the self centered sense but also due to the fact that if an album has such a positive impact on someone that they wish it was created by them? Cannot think of any higher compliment to come from that mirror of art into our own lives.
There was a time in my life where I perceived the Beatles as little more than a four headed hit parade-seemingly cranking out pop standards more in the manner of a factory than as human beings. I felt a bit too close to them. So many books and television shows that delved into that awkward human peep show that was called Beatlemania. Revolver was the first time I ever heard Beatle songs in it’s original context. And many of the songs where completely new to me. Hearing songs such as “Taxman”,”Eleanor Rigby” and “I’m Only Sleeping”,for example coming back to back in that order humanized this four talented musical craftsmen from Liverpool. Especially hearing John Lennon stating “Everybody seems to think I’m lazy/I don’t mind,I think their crazy/Running everywhere at such a speed/till they find there’s no need”. It reflects the Beatles attitude of wanting to stop the uncontrollable train that was their career juggernaut,trying to regain their footing as artful musicians as opposed to a travelling sideshow. Really gave me a glimpse into the artists mindset in terms of music.
Somewhere between the ages of seven and seventeen,instrumental music had been an extremely minuscule aspect of my life. As with many people my musical mindset was trained to listen for human vocalizing. And the music would be excellent accompaniment to that. I knew a little about Miles Davis during my adolescence. However the first album of his I heard was not Kind Of Blue,Miles Ahead or even Bitches Brew. It was this album. The cover art got right to the heart of my funk era interests of that time. When I listened to it? Well I then and have not now quite heard anything like it. Even as an adamant non drug user this album gives off the idea of funk music cooked down to its base. It’s almost pure rhythm:percussion and vamping all come together to create a series of deeply tribal and communal harmonies. I know upon hearing it that it would (and did) go completely over the head of most jazz admirers. And it even went deeper into funk than James Brown and George Clinton had gone. This album retrained my thought process how to perceive rhythm in instrumental music. And though I still listen to it a great deal,nothing prepared me for that first experience.
By the time I had entered into my rising adulthood,I’d become very much aware of the strong Afrocentric undertones present in the most potent of funk era music. This was mainly through literature such as Ricky Vincent’s. When I first heard this album on CD almost a decade later,it proved to me the personification of that ethic. The Mati Klarwein styled artwork-expressing that Afrocentrism though the filter of psychedelia,is one of a number of times where the cover art expressed the musical spirit within. By the time of this 1975 album the Bell brothers within Kool & The Gang had all taken Islamic names and embraced the African side of their ancestry. Most potent on this album is “Ancestral Ceremony”,a song I’ll likely always have uppermost in my heart and soul. The sturdy percussion and the Earthly spirituality of the Moog bass tones the band declare themselves to be “scientists of sound mathematically puttin’ it down”. Hearing this helped me to realize my own perception of funk was actually very accurate: that the stereotype of it as an obscure novelty dance music for the ghetto was not even half the story. This album helped me as a biracial man to take a longer look at my own African American roots-on the side of rhythmic grace and beauty.
As is probably the case with most people I had completely misunderstood Edgar Winter’s musical elan. It was all based on “Frankenstein”-viewing Winter as pure Southern glam rock who was more theatrics than nuance. This album perhaps more than any showcases the true essence of his musicality. True there are a number of bluesy Southern rockers here one might expect from Winter in the commercial sense. On the other hand on numbers such as “Tell Me Tomorrow”,the heavy keyboard funk of “Little Brother”,”How Do You Like Your Life”,”I Always Wanted You”,the jazzy scat explosion of “All Out” and most of all “Tell Me In A Whisper”,covered a year later by Sergio Mendes & His Brasil 77 Edgar Winter emerged as someone finely in tune with the soft/hard sensuality and social inclination of the funk era. If anyone had any doubts about being able to find meaningful funk era music in the rock sections of their record store,as I did,this would quickly change their minds.
At the time I first heard this vinyl,a relic at the end of a local radio station vinyl LP giveaway in 1994, I didn’t know who the Sylvers were. Never even heard “Boogie Fever” before. But this album,which I later learned was produced by the Crusaders Wayne Henderson,proved an important reminder as I began to learn more about this duel sexed version of the Jackson’s singing siblings ethic: that sometimes appearances can be very deceiving. The cover art was very transitional disco era funk-a space age equivalent of the Jackson’s Destiny album from the following year. And that is what it was too: a declaration of creative independence. This rather jazzy hard funk album,closing with the beautifully atmospheric groove of “Star Fire”. From this I learned the importance of viewing music on its own terms-that sometimes starting to listen to a band/soloist on their less popular material can actually be a good and instructive thing.
There’s very little doubt in my mind that Ronnie Laws made some tremendous jazz/funk masterpieces on Blue Note following his departure from Earth Wind & Fire in 1972. Many of them were produced by former band mate Larry Dunn. Especially on this album,Laws comes off as the saxophone equivilent of George Benson: an instrumentalist who plays and sings with a soulfully romantic sensibility. This 1978 album stands uppermost for me because,musically it combines jazz/funk-pop with this cosmic electronic synthesizer flavor extremely well. One song that I find most inspiration to me in terms of both writing lyrics and learning about composition is the closing “Live Your Life Away”. Not only does it poetically warn of getting too caught up in the fast lane,but it’s cross section of sleek sophistipop and heavy bluesy funk sensibilities perhaps makes that particular song (and in general this entire album) the precise type of funk era music I would personally want to create. Interesting how that tends to happen with music that people involved in Earth Wind & Fire have musically touched.
Most funk admirers I can name would likely find it all too easy to fill up a list such as this with music from the P-Funk lexicon. It was a situation I faced because each album,each song that George Clinton touched is as much a part of a huge musical continuum as it is stand alone music unto itself. After much difficulty in deciding this 1978 Parliament album was included for a number of reasons. For one it is probably the one P-Funk album that epitomizes the entire purpose of this blog. As with a lot of people growing up,learning to swim was for me a lifelong challenge as-in concert with Clinton’s gift for metaphor,life for me has also been very much about dancing underwater without getting wet. So as quintessentially P-Funk as “Aquaboogie” may be,it’s lyricism seemed to reflect my budding understanding of myself as a world participant when I heard it. Of course I was a bit emotionally broken upon learning that the lyricism of the wonderfully grooving “Liquid Sunshine” was likely a cocaine reference. Of course as with any art,P-Funk is the expression of theirs for the listener to create their own interpretation from. And it is never carved in stone.
By all measures this 1979 Jay Graydon produced album by the Manhattan Transfer should’ve a musical straight line: flawless in execution but without any sense of adventure. Not in the hands of Tim,Alan,Janis and Cheryl it wasn’t going to be. Manhattan Transfer had this unique combination of sentimental nostalgia and Greenwich Village bohemianism-even to the point of dedicating this album to Eddie Jefferson,the little known innovator of the vocalese style that this group had embraced. From flamboyant takes of Joe Zawinul’s fusion classic “Birdland” to pioneering electronic explorations such as “Koo Koo You” this album showcases that communication with an audience doesn’t instantly translate to the death of art. This album actually has had an implicit yet enormous influence on the way in which I approach all of my creative endeavors.
Many years after becoming interested in the music of Frankie Beverley And Maze,it became apparent that their music was not exactly embraced by funk admirers. They claimed Maze’s music wasn’t funk at all. Looking into their music from the perspective of opinion,Maze were probably closer to early neo soul pioneers similar to what Terence Trent D’Arby would do later in this decade. Their music was in a groove. But it wasn’t a soul or a funk groove. It occupied a non definable space in between. This album expresses both through artwork and music the changing musical tides as the post disco era of 1980 commenced-the transition in creative sensibilities,the interpersonal ennui creeping into society with the onset of Reaganomics . “Changing Times” and the title song reflected that lyrically,but also musically as well. This is rather spare music,and rather non aggressive. Ricky Vincent referred to them as a “soul band”-good a term as any I suppose. Maze created a unique musical sound that referenced elements of jazz,soul and funk more like an ethereal force rising as a mist of sound from the musical waters-rather than as a heavy title wave of sound. Maze showed me that any groove,in music and life,could expressed with toughness without being defined by it. They exhibited vitality in a way that was hard to define. And this is one of the few albums where when I hear it,I get something different from it.
Oddly enough this is is often too easily dismissed as Chaka Khan’s sophomore slump as a solo artist. It contains nothing as iconic as “I’m Every Women”,nor is it as expansively jazzy as her following albums produced by Arif Mardin would become. This album did possess one thing that her debut did not-a strong musical evenness. While that may be part of what earns it its detractors,when I first heard songs such as “Clouds”,”Get Ready,Get Set” and the beautiful version of “Move Me No Mountain” it became obvious this album exudes class. The glittery keyboard sounds,the extremely well arranged horns and crackerjack playing with Chaka’s uniquely expressive and jazzy soul vocalizing. To me this album represented a certain sense of style. That you could look great,have a keen intellect,be as cool as they come and still be able to remember “that time in life when Foxy was the dance” as Chaka puts it here:maintain the groove in your life and present yourself well while your doing it.
For much of my adult life I’ve sought out any variety of psycho-emotional balance that could possibly be maintained by the human psyche. Its quite a chore in such a chaotic and disorganized culture as today-defined by nothing but deadlines,anxiety and flat out fear. What Donald Fagen did on this 1982 solo debut has done much to put my sense of balance into perspective when it’s nearly lost. Taking that cleanly produced jazz/funk production of Steely Dan into crystal clear focus,Fagen lyrically takes on his childhood in the suburbs. JFK’s new frontier,the Cuban Missile Crisis and just about every variation of puppy love one could imagine is laid bare here. The way he presents it-balancing nostalgic sentimentality with a biting wit and attitude,make this quite possibly one of the best realized albums ever recorded overall-from one song to the next. Always a good thing to have your musical comfort food with a little added spice.
Motivated partly by Andy Partridge’s burgeoning stage fright, this album is quite literally XTC”s Sgt.Pepper; an innovative pop/rock band leaving behind the rigors of touring to concentrate on studio work. One of the things I love about this album is that it never substitutes the cliches of darkness and gloom for it’s dreamy atmosphere and sense of mystery. Both Partridge and Colin Moulding present songs on here that are incredibly beautiful and complex such as the soothing ambient electronic dance groove of “Wonderland” to the pastoral (and very Beatlesque) music hall piano oriented “In Loving Memory Of A Name”,one of the most understanding and sensitive anti war songs ever recorded. This album helped me understand that where was an emotion floated somewhere above both discouragement and joy-the twin ethic of the post punk pop/rock era. This emotion may have no name. But it represented a very imaginative state of mind. And whatever it is,this is one of those albums that really showcases how their was another side of the alternative music ethic of the early 80’s outside the EMO cliches.
While just about every album I’ve heard by Klaus Doldinger’s Passport is a wonderful musical experience, this 1983 album was a personal safety valve if there ever was one. Through a number of circumstances I was living with my first boyfriend,in a one room efficiency apartment which today legally qualifies as only suitable for us as a walk in utility closet. The year was 2003. My life and the country’s was in a logistical mess. Going to the local public library I began studying up on this band whom I only knew via my dads vinyl copy of their 1974 album Looking Thru, I decided to pick up this album-one of my first online purchases. During the icy cold winter of that year,this albums combination of chilly early 80’s electronics and a bass/guitar/horn heavy jazz/funk fusion perfectly reflected my own hopes for coming out of this dismal atmosphere. The title song,in no way related to Michael Jackson’s song,had a lyric that said it all: “When the man in the mirror starts to look kind of strange/more over it’s over/it’s time to make a change”. Basically said it all for the basic needs in that intimidating time and environment.
The very fact that electric violinist Jean Luc Ponty did equal musical time under the banner of both the interrelated Frank Zappa and George Duke showcases the musical line that Ponty walked-which is the very reason why this album means so much to me. Recorded in 1984,this particular album showcased in a similar manner to Passport’s Man In The Mirror this interesting combination of period electronics with a strong bottom. In this case,it blended the virtuoso bluesy jazz guitar licks of George Benson on “Modern Times Blues” yet maintained a sense of swaggering groove and whimsy over the type of seemingly ethereal electronic pan-ethnic arrangement that I suppose would be labeled as new age. This album began a significant journey which I am still on: the journey not to so readily label music. Whatever combinations of instrumental sounds and melodies this album had about it,I would always listen to it as I drew and painted. The musicianship bought to mind the feeling of painting colorfully with sound and textures. One of the few albums I’ve heard that I would embrace during creative activity.
In a way the journey I began about eight years ago with Jean-Luc Ponty’s Open Mind album came to something of an impasse with this album-the most recently released album that fit into this particular category. Paul Hardcastle is an artist I only knew from his 1985 hit “19”,which wasn’t fair since from the 1990’s onward he has been pursuing a musical direction that is difficult if next to impossible to label. Blending the rhythms and melodic ideas of jazz,funk and electronic trance music the sound of this album creates a uniquely imaginative atmosphere that metaphorically both flies above the clouds yet is firmly rooted in the Earth. At a time in my life where my search for balance seems to be something worth pursuing with great earnestness, the music on this album really goes a long way to show that even a musician as creative as Hardcastle is looking to achieve the same balance of creativity and level headedness that I am.
So there: the list is at last complete. I hope that this unintended double dip article has provided whoever reads it with what might be some much needed clarity of thought the way all of this music,in its many different kinds of ways.did for me. Thank you!