A few weeks ago I wrote about Herb Alpert’s “Diamonds”, a collaboration between the trumpet player, Pop icon Janet Jackson, and the production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. That song is one from 1987, a year in a time period that I feel was one of the best post ’70s time periods for funky music in the popular sphere. When I go back and look at it I realize I’m really talking about a four year period from 1986 to 1989. ’87 featured peak records such as “Sign O The Times” from Prince, and “Bad” from Michael Jackson. Although Janet Jackson’s epic “Control” album was released in 1986, she still had hit singles popping on the radio in 1987, including “The Pleasure Principle” and the aforementioned “Diamonds.” One of my favorite aspects of that year was legends like Stevie Wonder, Barry White, and the group Earth, Wind & Fire found new steam on the R&B charts as well, updating their classic sounds. Hip Hop also began to gain steam, building it’s increasingly complex socio-political rhymes on beds of dusty funk samples that brought the sounds of the original funk era back I to full view. Today’s Saturday funk jam, “Looking for a New Love”, by Soul Train and Shalimar alum Jody Watley, was one of the funkiest, biggest and best hits of the year, a Minneapolis inflected classic that was dropped right in January of 1987, ringing in that new year with some sassy, no nonsense funk.
This is one of my favorite songs, and it got me right from the intro, back when I was a little kid in East Oakland, California. The song was produced by Prince’s friend and one time bassist, Andre Cymone. The intro to the song caught my ear way back then by setting the scene for Jody’s break up tale instrumentally. It begins with a keyboard bass tone that has a slight acoustic bass/synthesizer flavor. The bass line hits on the one, leaves some space and then hits with a flurry of notes. U can clearly hear the bass line setting up the dark minor chord progression/vamp as it goes back and forth between bars that start on the root of the chord. In the background there is a very simple yet sonically distinctive high pitched synth part playing a simple 4 note melody hook, all of this being done without the full drum set, just the cymbals keeping the back beat on the 2 and 4. Towards the end of the 8 bar intro the bass plays a line that seems to strut upfront paving the way for the full groove to kick in in the next bar.
The groove kicks in with a cracking back beat, a loud, militant chain gang sound on the snare drum. The synthesizer bass line, one of my favorite, is an insistent, one bar repetitive vamp, four notes notes from the A minor scale with two notes that lead u back to the top, over and over again, like a girlfriend resolutely throwing things in boxes a nd she curses your tired ass out when she’s had enough. There are also some funky synthesized counter rhythms in the back and Minneapolis keyboard horns, playing an extremely loud, brash kick off of a chord voicing. Another horn sample plays Right before Jody begins to sing.
Jody goes on to sing a tough lyric about an unfaithful boyfriend. The hook “I’m looking for a new love baby/a new love/yeah, yeah, yeah” is one of the strongest in my memory. At various intervals the song returns to the sweet bass groove found at the top of the song. And the video shows off the beautiful Jody Watley doing the camel walk,what else do you need?
Back in the day, this song probably had as much or more impact on me than Janet Jackson’s great records of the time. I remember it being a mainstay of Soul Train in 1987, understandably so as Jody was one of the great dancers of the ’70s on the show made good. Her self titled debut, “Jody Watley” is one of the best albums from its era, and a great debut to boot. Jody had more success, but her career slowed down in the ’90s, which is not really as bad as it sounds when u consider she’d been so active and successful through the ’70s and’80s as a Soul Train Dancer and a member of Shalimar. “Looking for a New Love” itself was the #16 overall record on the Billboard charts for 1987, and spent 4 weeks at #1 on the R&B charts. And u can hear echoes of it in the sassy R&B/Hip Hop music of so many since then, from En Vogue, to TLC, to Lil Kim and The Spice Girls. Viva ’87!!!!