Category Archives: Merry Go Round Music

Reviews and musical analysis of single songs

The ’87 Sound: “Fake” by Alexander O’Neal

“Fake”, from Alexander O’Neal’s second album, “Hearsay”, written and produced by the legendary team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, is on the shortlist for my absolute favorite songs of 1987, the ’80s as a whole, and songs in general. The relentlessly pounding dance groove and O’Neals sharp, accusatory vocals and ad-libs were a sound I heard all the time that year, on the radio, from cars, on Soul Train, and from the stereo system in my own home. Jam and Lewis were coming off the success of Janet Jacksons’ “Control” album and taking their place as the preeminent production team in the business when this song was recorded. It’s well known that O’Neal was slated to be the lead vocalist for The Time until he questioned Prince Rogers Nelson about the business side of that group’s existence. Although he lost that gig to Morris Day, Jam and Lewis never stopped believing in O’Neal, which led to them producing his albums. “Hearsay” was an absolute smash in ’87, producing big singles such as “Fake”, “Criticize”, and another in his series of duets with Cherelle, “Never Knew Love Like This.” The smoking dance songs and duets were appropriate for a singer that Jam and Lewis viewed as a throwback to the male soul singer as exemplified in the ‘690s and ’70s by artists such as Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass and many others. This was very important for the 1980s because as the decade developed, that type of gutsy soul singing took a backseat to younger artists, female diva’s, and Hip Hoppers.

“Fake” is a song that is so appropriate for its era because it deals with the type of woman you might meet in Los Angeles or any big city where people are doing a lot of social climbing. This also was a big theme for Black men and particular then and since because the ethic in the ’80s aesthetically veered long ways from Aretha Franklin’s “Natural woman” of the late ’60s. The woman Alex sings about has different aliases for her name, wears weaves, calls him by other men’s names, and has different eye colors everytime he sees her. He sings, “Whenever I go out with you/I find out something new.” When I was younger, not being of dating age at the time, I thought this was just a funny story, like the scene with Anna Marie Johnson in “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka.” But as the years passed I came to hear other subtexts of changing relationships, social climbing, vanity and even white aesthetic standards in this song.

“Fake” has an angry, strong, paranoid tone that goes very well with the other, more political songs of the era such as “Skeletons” by Stevie Wonder, “System of Survival” by Earth, Wind & Fire, and “Sign O’ The Times” by Prince, not to mention the political Hip Hop released in that and the next year. “Skeletons” in particular has a theme very close to “Fake”, both being about deceptions on one level or another. It also has much in common with Public Enemy’s “Sophisticated Bitch” from their debut album. Now of course, “Fake” wasn’t written to be political, but the seething, pounding energy of the song was perfect for its era, just as in the early ’70s there were popular songs in Black music such as “The Backstabbers”, “Smiling Faces”, and “I Heard it Through The Grapevine”, that, while being about love matters, also revealed something about the political subtext of the Nixon era.

Plus on a groove level, “Fake” is a monster, built on a punishing, pounding beat that hits you like a boxer’s body blows. On top of that, there is a growling synthesizer bass, mixed with percussive live bass. The synth claps are loud enough to warn you a hurricane is coming while the synths hit you on the “One” like a Tyson uppercut, seeming to say “FAKE” in a way that supports O’Neal’s story. Behind that Jam and Lewis layer ominous harmonies that linger and sustain and sing almost like a choir. All of this is broken up slightly by a theme song worthy synth horn break before Alex gets a chance to once again violently state, “You’re a FAKE!/Baby!!!!”

“Fake” seems to dominate my musical memories of ’87, it seems that every time I watched Soul Train, for about two or three months, this song played on either a dance segment or a Soul Train line. Alexander O’Neal delivered a fine singing performance over Jam and Lewis’s punishing Funk beat. In fact, this might be the very finest dance/funk hit by a soul singer of it’s era. The interesting thing about the ’70s was it’s musical diversity, so that a singer like Al Green who was masterful at “ballads” also could riff over barn burning Funk as well. As the music business progressed things got a bit more segregated, but on “Hearsay”, Alexander O’Neal was a real true soul man who could do it all, including the hardest of hard funk. Jam and Lewis have stated that working with him holds a special place in their oeuvre, as they see it as akin to working with the great soul singers, though he didn’t have that sustained success. “Fake” for me is one of the funkiest soul songs of it’s era and one I will forever associate with that time period!

* Bonus Material: I was delighted when one of my favorite shows, the British/Netflix show “Black Mirror” had a great episode, “San Junipero”, set in ’87 ,where “Fake” was featured, which was the first time I’ve come across it in popular culture in a very long time

Here is a scene I will always associate with this song, from Keenan Ivory Wayans “Im Gonna Git You Sucka”

Alexander O’Neal on Soul Train!

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Filed under FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music for the Next ONE, The '87 Sound

The ’87 Sound….A Riquespeaks Curation

Despite the abundance of classic material I write about on this blog, my purpose in writing and posting is not nostalgia. I talk about classic music and people involved with Funk, Hip Hop, Jazz, Soul and other genres in order to curate various things from the past that somehow shaped who I and my community are in the present. But this particular project, “The ’87 Sound”, is personal enough to me to contain an element of nostalgia.

It just so happens that as I look back on my life, the year 1987, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017, just might be the year I achieved something close to musical consciousness. On a personal level, it was a very good year, I was in the 1st grade, friends and family who have long since passed on were still around, and things looked up. My Dad was returning to Liberia, West Africa that year, for the first time since our family left in 1980, and he wanted to tape the latest in American popular sounds to take back with him. ’87 was also the year I became a fan of Soul Train, which I used to watch right before WWF wrestling on local Bay Area channel 2 television.

On a larger scale though, 1987 represented an interesting time in popular music. It seems through an unscientific survey that by ’87, Black popular dance rhythm infected mainstream popular music in a way not seen since the late disco era. ’87 saw huge monster albums by Prince, Michael Jackson, George Michael, Jody Watley, Terrance Trent D’arby, and many other artists. It also saw Rock and Pop stars like INXS and Sting release albums that were on the cutting edge of Black urban contemporary rhythm and production techniques. Teddy Riley’s rise was also a factor, as he began to introduce more and more of the sound that would define R&B and pop in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It was a time of Babyface going solo as well as producing the monster, “Rock Steady” for The Whispers along with his partner L.A. Janet Jackson’s Jam and Lewis helmed “Control” LP was still placing #1 hits on almost ALL the charts. And Hip Hop was standing on the verge of its Golden Era, with first albums from legends like Public Enemy, BDP, Eric B & Rakim and N.W.A, at the same time Funk/R&B veterans like Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Barry White gave us some of the best music they’d delivered since their 1970s heyday’s.

At that age, music was only one of my concerns, but just like sports, ’87 was the year I truly became interested in it for myself. And we documented all of that music of the time, mostly on yellow Memorex cassette tapes. What I think of when I think of songs in that year is an aggressive, tough, street-oriented beat, accented with synthesizers. The influence of Prince and Michael Jackson had now become a formal part of popular music, but so had the influence of Hip Hop. The music had shed some of the brittle, big beat coldness of mid-’80s industrial and synthesized sounds but retained their power.

Enjoy with me then, this trip back down the lane of late ’80s music. After losing my father and many other friends and relatives from that time, this music has taken on a special relevance for me as the sound of times past. But that does not take away the vitality and the good feelings in them! For some readers, these tunes will be nostalgic, and for some, they will be new! But I think that most will agree at the end of this trip, the year Nineteen Eighty-Seven A.D was a special one for musical grooves!

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Oakland-Bay Area, Uncategorized

“The Band is his Orchestra/The Sounds of Delight”- A Riquespeaks feature series on Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones turned 84 earlier this month, in a year that has already seen the passing of such musical luminaries as Junie Morrison, Clyde Stubblefield, Al Jarreau and most recently, the cornerstone of Rock & Roll Chuck Berry. It is going on eleven years since we lost James Brown, who Quincy was three months older than, and we just lost Prince last year. It is now seven years since we lost the man who’s career is seen as Quincy’s foremost musical legacy, Michael Jackson. A few years ago, Quincy’s close friend and Montreaux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobbs passed on in a skiing accident. But Quincy remains a unifying figure, one who speaks to the history of African American music in the 20th century and how that tradition can be carried on into the future and recognized as a key contribution to world heritage.

One very interesting project that Q had on the table during the administration of President Barack Obama was to get music and American culture in general cabinet level recognition in the United States. He was not able to get that project accomplished, though I’m sure he gave it his all. Although that particular project was not successful, Quincy has used his own music and albums as a platform toward that very same aim.

Respect and appreciation for Quincy Jones was something I grew up with, outside of his production for Michael Jackson. His work with M.J might have been the main reason I was checking for this “old jazz guy” as a kid, but the facts are, my father was a serious Quincy Jones fan. I grew up hearing albums like “Quincy Jones plays the Hip Hits”, and “The Quintessence.” My father highly respected Q as somebody who took the mantle from the great jazz composers and arrangers such as Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Carter, Gil Evans, and so many others. Q was highly proffesional, had trained at the future Berklee School of Music back when it was called “The Schillinger House”, and has also trained in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. He also was one of the first Black arrangers to be involved on an ongoing basis with film scoring.

Through all of this, Q was developing a particular brand of musical magic that prepared him perfectly to deliver three of the best selling, most incredible examples of American popular music ever assembled, namely, “Off the Wall”, “Thriller”, and “Bad.” Now I don’t mean to make these three albums the focus of Q’s entire career that encompasses so much of whats good in American music, from Count Basie, to Frank Sinatra, to The Brothers Johnson, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn. But what I will do with this series is talk about how the unique musical, experiential and spiritual gifts of Quincy Jones were present throughout his career on his solo albums, which really meant Michael Jackson was stepping into a rolling train when he and Q began work on “Off the Wall.” Which also made possible the later star studded success of “The Dude” and “Back on the Block.”

The different musical approaches of Q’s albums, from his skillful use of guest stars, his choice in cover songs, his incorporation of his portage’s compositions, his usage of tones such as flutes mixed with synthesizer leads, his dipping into the old blues and African styles, his jazz based pop language, and his strong rhythm sections manifest themselves on his pre “Off the Wall” and “The Dude” albums. So this particular series will focus on how Q innovated this genre of the producer led album, which is a genre that would later give us great musical works such as Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.” Q really brought “The Producer” out as a star and musical artist in a way few have done. His skills as a producer were based in his skills as a composer and arranger, but when he reached the peak of his career he no longer needed to write or even arrange the tunes on his album. He mastered the very modern musical skills of setting the right tempos, choosing the right artists, both instrumentalists and vocalists, choosing the right songs, and a million other musical details that went beyond the magic of simply sitting at the piano or holding a guitar and writing a song. This magic of the producer is one that has been appreciated more and more by the music industry and the public at large in recent years. And it’s one I intend to explore in depth, from “Walking In Space” all the way to “Juke Joint”. Q’s success with MJ and his other R&B/pop hybrids in the 1980s was definitley not a fluke, but something masterminded by one of the greatest social musicians we’ve seen, the great Quincy Delight Jones!!!

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Give me My Flowers While I'm Alive, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month Special

Black History Month is admittedly one of those things my opinion of has vacillated on through the course of my life. When I was a young child in school I enjoyed it more than anything else in my school curriculum. I have always been the type of individual who views the acquisition of knowledge with the attitude of exploration and discovery. And Black history, both in Africa and America having the “Hidden” quality that it does, due to suppression, ignorance, arrogance the profitability of subjugation and domination. My parents always had a strong sense of Black history simply from their backgrounds, my father being born in the Depression era south and being active in the Civil Rights movement, and my mother being a Liberian with a rich understanding of both Africa and her country’s roots in being established as a haven from American slavery and white supremacy. Still, I don’t think the majority of Black parents want to overburden their children with sad and negative messages. So even with my parents having the knowledge of things that they did, some of the most substantial information would come out when they were watching and responding to news items.

I was fortunate enough to have Asian and white teachers in Oakland, California who were very responsive and understanding of the predominantly Black demographics of their school, under the guidance of Mrs. Kelly, a strong Black Principal, to inject Black and multi cultural information into the curriculum. I still remember my kindergarten Teacher Ms. Huen giving us red envelopes for Chinese New Year, which is also this month, and marks the return of my birth sign, the Rooster!

So I always enjoyed learning about Carter G Woodson, Lewis Latimer, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Phyllis Wheatley, W.E.B DuBois, Madame C.J Walker, and the numerous other luminary figures who against all odds contributed to America and kept Black people alive to get to the point we are today. Many of their inventions and discoveries proved to me a truth my father related to me from his experience down south, that a great many things were invented by very hands on Black people who were tasked with getting the work done and took it upon themselves to find an easier way to get those tasks accomplished.

Then when I grew up, in the Def Comedy Jam ’90s, I got innundated with the same jokes as everybody else, about how they “gave Black people the shortest month.” Which totally overlooks the contributions of Carter G Woodson and the fact that Black History Month is a BLACK invention. More recently the line has been “Black history is all year round”, which is one that I wholeheartedly agree with and try to practice on this blog and my other writing activities. However, just as with holidays, wedding anniversaries, birthdays and other events, there is a reason Human beings choose dates to commemorate things. There is a great power to Human ritual that we sometimes forget in our modern fragmented world, a certain purification of purpose and inspiration. And it’s in that spirit that I’m adding a supplement to “Music 4 the Nxt 1” in honor of Black history month. I will still review funky songs but the scope will expand in terms of era, genre, and locale. I will cover songs of inspiration, songs in honor of Black historical figures, and songs that were just breakthroughs or inspiring to Black people at any given point of time. These grooves will come from Reggae, Soul, Funk, Rock, Gospel, Spirituals, Jazz and many other genres. I hope that my readers enjoy it and that it reminds you of the struggles, accomplishments, joys, pains and exultations of peoples of African descent and why it is critical our position continue to be strengthened for the good of all.

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

riquespeaks Inaguration Day Music Special

Friday January 20th, 2017 marks the Inaguration of the 45th President of the United States. It is clear from the divisive, childish, rude campaign he ran, and the den of thieves he has appointed to his cabinet that he is coming in with very clear plans to undo many positive things that have taken place in this country over the last 50 years. For me personally, this is one of the most dramatic political events of my life, following the election of Barack Obama, and the drama over George W Bush’s election in 2000. But this new Administration poses a greater threat to what I hold dear in both style and content than that of GWB. Times like this demand that I go back into what brought me here to understand whats going on and how to go forward, and that is the social and political information distilled in some of my favorite music! So I’d like to take this opportunity to share some music with you today that will be uplifting, informative, insightful, and useful on the first day of the Trump “Error.”

“Party for Your Right to Fight” by Public Enemy

Public Enemy is one of my favorite musical groups and their music and the lyrics of Chuck D have been a guiding force for most of my life. “Party for Your Right to Fight” is a lesser played track from their classic second album, “It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.” The title inverts The Beastie Boys classic rebel without a cause anthem, “Fight For Your Right to Party” into a rousing call to arms, with the “Party” in the title being synonymous to political action, especially that of the Black Panther Party. In a unique production move for P.E, Chuck and Flavor rap the whole song together, with one voice slightly delayed behind the other, in a break from their usual style of Chuck raps and Flavor interjections. The song itself minces no words, attacking the U.S Government’s COINTELPRO operations during the 1960s. It also features a great sample from prime period George Clinton, saying, “Aint nothing but a party ya’ll, lets get it on!”

James Brown Economic Plans




The Godfather of Soul James Brown always used his musical voice and powerful standing in the Black International community as a platform to speak on various issues of wide concern. Although he was reputed to be a conservative, the economic philosophy he espouses on these songs is far from the “Trickle down greed and pain” that has been Republican economic philosophy since Ronald Reagens time. “Take Some, Leave Some” for example espouses a communal, humanistic economic philosophy over a brutally crawling funk groove. JB says, “Ive never been the type of cat that has to have it all.” “You Cant Take It With You” from 1976’s “Get Up Offa That Thang” LP is a companion piece, a furiously funky B-Boy/Locking groove where JB disavows money as the full measure of a persons life because at the end of the day, theres no such thing as a rich dead person! The classic breakbeat “Funky President” is a commentary on the Presidency of Gerald Ford and the tough economic times the country was facing in the mid ’70s. Here JB unveils an economic plan of self sufficiency for Black America, inspired by Marcus Garvey, Booker T Washington, and the Honorable Elijah Muhammed, “Lets get together/get some land/raise our food like the man/save our money/like the mob/put up a factory OWN the job.” “The Whole World Needs Liberation” from the “Get on the Good Foot” LP is a track built off the earlier Bootsy Collins fired “Brother Rapp” that focuses on a topic of Third World liberation, which on the economic side is still one unfolding today. JB states strongly, “It’s neither Black or White/it’s what’s right/its neither White or Black/It’s a fact/the whole world needs Liberation.”

“We the People” by The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers used the guitar playing of “Pops”, and the wonderful voices of Mavis, Cleotha and Yvonne to provide a soulful companion in sound to the Civil Rights movement. When the tide turned to Black power, pride and identity, The Staples actually hit their peak from a popular standpoint, as their rootsy, gutsy sound was very much in league with the heart of the Black community at that time. “We The People” is a funky national anthem for the community at that time, and it’s message is very pertinent in the age of Trump. Although we have a very despicable man taking office today, it is “We the People” who “have to make the world go round.” Meaning this can not only be Donald Trumps America, the people must remain engaged and vigorous in checking his hand!

“B Movie” by Gil Scott Heron

This song is still hands down the best summation of the types of forces in American life that got us to the point a Donald J Trump could get elected, for my money. It’s that because of the cutting, insightful brilliance and experiences of Gil Scott Heron, and its also that because it was inspired by the election of a somewhat similar figure, Ronald Reagen, 36 years ago. In this epically funky poem and song Heron traces America’s enthusiasm for Ronald Reagen to the celluloid images of white masculinity and manifest destiny sold to the American public by actors such as John Wayne. Ronald Reagen himself became the stand in for John Wayne because Wayne was “no longer avaliable for the part.” Replace the Saturday matinee with television reality shows and you get an analysis of how the American forms of media speak to the dark side of American ideals and produce figures like both President Reagen and Trump. And it also makes you wonder if Americans could ever resist a half credible celebrity being sold as a political savior?

“International Thief Thief” by Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti is the artist I think of the most during the Trump error. When George W Bush won the election in 2000, a local Nigerian commentator in the Bay Area, Tunde Okorodudu, laughingly commented on a local Black news show, “So you people want to make America a BUSH huh?” Meaning in the African sense, backward, less developed and potentially chaotic. Some of the things a vote for Trump represents, ethnic strife, less world engagement, less immigration, less civil and political freedom, are exactly the type of strongman politics many people in the world have been running away from. And here we have a winning plurality in America running TOWARDS them. The voice of Fela Kuti wailing out against his own government in Nigeria and the way it had been ill set up and miseducated by the colonial powers in Britain loom large in this environment. And we must remember that the Nigeria Fela was railing against was a nation swimming in oil cash, doled out very selectively among an elite and split along ethnic lines of tribe. Fela was a tireless critic of every segment of the Nigerian society that needed change, and he always tied it back to their history of colonialism and getting away from African values. This song attacks the “International Telephone and Trust Company” which with African humor, Fela calls “International Thief Thief”. “Thief Thief” is what African people yell in neighborhood settings as a call for the community to apprehend a fleeing criminal and bring them to community justice. In this way, Fela brings the high and mighty governmental and business leaders down to an understandable level of common thieves operating on a mass scale. This is the way Trump’s cabinet seems to be shaping up, a consortium of rich buisness leaders being put into positions they can profit from.

“This is My Country” by The Impressions

Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions song end this playlist on a positive note. Curtis actually caught some flack from this song from some in the Black militant community at the time it was released. They thought it was jingoism, but in reality Curtis song is a strong, soulful declaration that he and other Black people would not cede this nation to the Bull Conners, Governor Faubeses, George Wallaces and Storm Thurmonds of the country. The reason? “We struggled 300 years or more!” This song then is a soulful rallying cry for Black people, women, immigrants, disabled people, LGBT, poor people, middle class workers, Native Americans, Muslims, and any other group that faces hatred in the Trump years. This country does not belong solely to people like Donald Trump and his “mad as hell” voters but to everybody who lives here and contributes!

This list could go on and on but I will stop here for now. I hope I’ve give you some thoughtful grooves on this Inaguration Day. Sociopolitcal music will be a strong presence on this blog in the next four years, both through classics such as these as well as highlighting newer grooves to come that will take on the ironies of the Trump error. It will be wild ride for sure, but one thing I do know is that Donald Trump is NOT God (or Godly), meaning even he will have to bow before a committed majority of freedom loving Americans.

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Politrix, Social Timing

Music for The Next ONE 9/19/15 : “O.B.E” by Dam-Funk

The lead in single to Dam-Funk’s new “Invite the Light” LP, “We Continue”, an anthemic inspirational funk banger, is one we covered a few weeks ago on “Music for the Next ONE”. Since then the full album has dropped, and with it a bunch of funk goodies, from Glide Tonight”, to “Howugonnafuckaroundandchooseabusta”, to the beautiful triumph of “Virtous Progression.” The song we are showcasing this weekend, “O.B.E”, is a body rocking, uptempo electro/disco/funk record that can get anybody moving,doing any activity, from vacuuming your house on a Saturday morning, to switching lanes on the expressway in the afternoon, to cutting some smooth steps in your best shoes that night at the club. It’s got a slick sophistication that could play at glamorous watering holes like The Buddha Bar in Paris, but also takes you back to the hood in the late ’70s and 1980’s.

The song begins with a four bar percussion break, the type that disco records used to set the dancing tempo from the get-go. The drums pound out a quick tempo’ed disco beat, kick drums banging on all fours, with a slight echo to them that creates a rolling, tribal Indian type of polyrhythm. This is supported by party time hand claps on the two and four beats. On top of it all is a sizzling hot shaker pattern, like you would find in African and Afro-Latin music. The rhythmic intensity reminds me of an electrified version of B.T Express disco-funk hits like “Express” and the Native American influenced, “Peace Pipe.” After four bars Dam brings in the beautiful California sun ray, long tone chords that are his trademark. Quite characteristic of his music is the way he gives the chords lots of room to breathe, playing on for almost fourteen bars before he brings the bass line in. The bass line wanders in, a funky, hyperactive synth line. The synth bass is jiterry sixteenth notes, very upbeat. It’s a call and response type of pattern, three notes answered by four notes. A funky rhythmic relationship is set up between the slow long keyboard tones up top, the steady pounding drums, the fast and consistent shakers, and the fast and sporadic bass line, a polyrhythmic stew that gives the body different things to move to.

In a whisper, Dam suggests phrases like “Don’t cross your legs/don’t close your eyes.” These sound like dance song type instructions but also might be instructions on the albums theme, how to “Invite the Light.” Dam’s layers of keyboard rhythm include a Rhodes or similar electric piano type sound, playing an eighth note pattern that also ends up being held as a chord. After a while the bass plays a computeristic, robot sequence type bass riff that serves as an interlude to kick the bass groove back off. At 2:54 into the track the synth bass let’s off it’s relentless intensity, playing a simpler pulsing line. Dam begins to bring his singing more to the forefront, repeating his instructions in a more audible falsetto. The groove continues on, with Dam Funk breaking it down, singing his exhortations, and revving it back up to carry us to the fade.

“O.B.E” is a good example of what I like to call “T Tops music”, music that has an early ’80s vibe that reminds me of the time cars with T-Tops were popular. Dam Funk’s lush synth pads conjure up the dreamy associations of sunshine and sun rays that make up the California of both myth and memory. When I think of his music, what usually comes to mind is slower, bumping West coast phat tracks. This joint offers something a little different, an uptempo, cyborg funk stepper that would have worked well on the soundtrack to “Tron: Legacy.” “Invite the Light” is a wonderful diverse album of funk styles that must be purchased and played for the funk of today to flourish.

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Filed under FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters

Music for The Next ONE 8/29/15 : “Please Don’t Take Your Love” by Smokey Robinson ft. Carlos Santana

The great Smokey Robinson has inspired many people in his long and illustrious career. The scope of his inspiration stretches from lovers in the backseats of large American cars, teenagers slow dragging in basements under red light, and his fellow artists, who stand in awe of his lyrical dexterity. Dr. Funkenstein George Clinton himself has named Robinson as one of his top influences in lyrical terms. Of course, as any artist in R&B/Soul, Smokey has recorded his share of funk over the years too, from nascent grooves like “Going to a Go-Go”, to #1 pop smashes like “Tears of a Clown”, to deep ’70s funk like 1976’s “Open” and “Do Like I Do.” This weekends new funk treat, “Please Don’t Take Your Love”, from 2009’s “Time Sure Flies When You’re Having Fun”, features a fellow traveler in the art of soulful seduction Smokey has made his life’s work, Carlos Santana, with his soul piercing Afro Latin Blues guitar tone. The interplay of Smokey’s still vibrantly shimmering soulful falsetto and Carlos’s melodic fills over a blues funk beat equals a modern funky soul classic.

The song begins with a drum roll that leads into a slow, funky and chunky dark groove. The bass line is a funky two bar pattern, with a guitar playing some bass notes and then strumming funky chords. A shimmering, vibratoed Wurlitzer electric piano holds minor chords in the background. After the first four bars set the beat up, Señor Santana comes in with his sustaining, emotional wrenching guitar tones, using the slow groove as a chance to wring juice out of every note. He solos for 4 bars and Smokey comes in singing right where he stops playing.

Smokey entreats his lover en Espanol and Frances, “Por favor/s’il vous plait/please, please, please/don’t take your love away.” An extremely strong opening line that finds Smokey begging in three languages. His voice has lost none of the ethereal shimmering vibrato that is one of his vocal trademarks. As he sings his verses, Carlos Santana provides screaming guitar fills that testify to the passion of the lyrics. Smokey explains his polyglot romancing in this way: “No matter how you say it/however you convey it/it’s the same good thing/being said”, as Santana stretches, bends and distorts his guitar notes.

When Smokey sings “Por favor/s’il vous plait” on the chorus, he’s backed by a chorus of female voices. After the chorus Robinson let’s out a soulful “ow!” After which the song goes into a funky Afro-Carribean percussion breakdown. After the next verse the song stops in earnest for Santana to do his thing. He begins his solo repeating the same note over a few times with a wide vibrato, in the classic blues fashion. The percussion break comes back underneath the solo as Smokey calls out “Car-Los, Car-Los, Car-los”, encouraging the solo. Carlos plays a descending lick to go with those chants and then begins his solo in earnest.

Santana plays a masterful Santana solo, taking his time to build and going higher and higher as he hits his target notes, stopping to pause and isolate and vibrate specific notes at key emotional points. As he solos an organ tone is introduced, which holds a tense chord that provides lots of drama. His solo gets higher and higher until the end when the band hits an Afro-Latin rhythm unison lick that sounds very much like something Santana’s band would play. After the solo Smokey comes back ad libbing come ons and then saying, “Si, Si”, Oui, Oui”, with his female chorus backing him. Smokey gets them to say yes in many different languages! The song grooves out with Smokey singing and Carlos accentuating Smokeys vocals.

The combination of Smokey Robinson and Carlos Santana is a rhythmic romantic melodists dream. Carlos was a friend, student and fan of Miles Davis. And he’s a very similar musician, because while Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Van Halen, and other great trumpet players and guitarists display dazzling technique, Miles and Carlos focused on melody and emotional content and how much could be extracted from each note. Both of them then would find huge inspiration in a masterful soul singer and songwriter like Smokey Robinson, as he’s precisely the type of singer they base their instrumental approach on. And the romantic, modal moods Davis and Santana set musically are also good settings for a writer like Smokey, as this song shows. So basically, this is just a funky love song that features greats doing what they do best, and that’s what I dig about it so much.

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Filed under Merry Go Round Music, Music for the Next ONE