Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month I: “March of the Panther” by Mongo Santamaria

Mongo Santamaria is the one of the best artists to talk about during Black History Month because the cultural forces behind his music cover such a large part of the African diaspora. A native of pre Revolutionary Cuba, he learned music in his community based on rhythms that had come directly from Africa. It was said one of his grandfathers had in fact been a Yoruba priest. His composition, “Afro Blue”, was considered to be the first jazz standard based on an African “3 over 2” rhythm, and was popularized by John Coltrane. In the ’60s he moved from a straight Afro Latin jazz to a Boogaloo based melange of Afro Latin rhythms interlaid with the popular sounds of Soul and Funk. One album I grew up with during that period was an album he did called “Soul Bag”, that featured an incredible version of “Cold Sweat.” Today’s Black History Month special is a song from his 1970 LP, “Mongo 70”, entitled “March of the Panther.” This song was composed by guitarist Sonny Henry, who was the composer of Carlos Santana’s breakthrough hit, “Evil Ways”, which he originally recorded with Willie Bobo. “March of the Panther” is a funky, strident, striving number with the electric energy of the Black Panther Party in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

The song begins with an old school military march theme, featuring snare drum, tuba, flutes and horns playing in a style straight out of the Revolutionary War period. The allusion is very clear as the song transitions from music for that old school revolutionary army to a groove for the new school revolutionary army, The Black Panther Party, as the drummer plays a snare fill that leads to the groove. Bass Player John Hart plays a funky two note baseline supported by two pickup notes in the classic late ’60s, early ’70s style. There is a call and response relationship between the bass line and the electric piano, as the piano plays a syncopated rhythm chord figure after the bass plays its eighth notes. The drums play two strong kick drum notes in harmony with the bass but besides the cracking snare drum hits the drums are partially obscured by Mongo’s powerful African percussive figures, which are both pattern setting but also communicate in an improvisational way. These provide the setting for the rousing horn fanfare, which is a national anthem type melody that plays long, sustained notes, in the style of marching/military music, but also reminiscent of horn sections in African and Afro Latin bands, playing horn lines in unison. The bass and horn melody goes between two chords, as the bass line walks down to second chord sequence and the horns follow. After playing through that sequence the arrangement goes to a change part where the whole arrangement seems to come together in unity for the chorus, which is then followed by another vamp/statement of the main melody, with more attention paid to the trumpets, followed by another chorus that is again, heavier on the top end of the horns. After that a tenor sax solo is introduced, under which the bass player is given more freedom to improvise funky lines that support the solo. After the solo ends, Mongo’s conga playing becomes more pronounced, as he varies his rhythm and begins to take more of a leadership role, introducing the sections of the song with his drum flurries. The song grooves on and fades out, shifting back to a straight military march at the end.

“March of the Panther” took up the call that was made during the 1960s for new forms of Black art that would be the new symbols of the New Black Nation. In this case, it envisions itself as the theme for The Black Panther Party as the military arm of that nation. Mongo always foregrounded African/Black identity in his music, naming songs after Yoruba Gods and Black figures such as Malcom X. It was amazing for me to discover this funky song that took the idea of a military march and remade it for the age of The Panthers. The song itself is a good example of uptempo, super rhythmic, boogaloo inspired early 70s funk, in fact it would work very well over a montage movie scene about The Panthers or activists set in that time period. It was said that Herbie Hancock played his classic “Watermelon Man” for Mongo after Mongo had said he couldn’t see the connection between Afro Cuban and Afro American music. Upon hearing the funky tune, Mongo immediately got excited and began playing along with it. Of course, in Mongo’s hands, “Watermelon Man” went on to become one of the biggest hits in jazz history. It was this ability to connect the African roots, modern Afro Cuban music, jazz, and the then current funk and soul vibes that gave Mongo the unique place in Black music history and Black culture that he occupies. And that is one reason, along with his excellent musicianship, that a figure like Mongo deserves more consideration when contemplating the bonds of Africans in the Americas. And “March of the Panther” stands tall as an anthem for the Party that is no longer that brings together the energy of the whole African diaspora for the long waged fight for total prosperity and liberation!

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Filed under All That Jazz, Black Issues, FUNK, Music for the Next ONE, 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

Music 4 the Next 1: “Diamond in Da Ruff” by Matt Martians

It’s no secret to anybody who’s been following my blogging the past couple of years that Los Angeles band The Internet is one of my favorite up, coming, and HERE musical entity’s of the current moment. Which is why I was somewhat worried when I heard that lead singer Syd the Kid would be pursuing a solo career, as I want her to be successful but I don’t want to lose the band. A few days ago, my friend Dimitri posted a song on Facebook that made me feel much better about that proposition. This song, “Diamond in Da Ruff” is by The Internet keyboardist producer Matt Martians. From the sounds of this first tune, Martians will be very successful from a musical perspective. “Diamond in Da Ruff” is my kind of music, grooving, funky, with a sweetly romantic, slick vocal.

The song starts off with pure groove, most prominently a funky drum beat that uses its snare and kick drum to create funky, push/pull kind of feeling. On the high range is a synthesized synth melody that adds musical drama to the movement. In between those is a super clean toned, jazz/funk/neo-soul type guitar strumming a funky, laid back chord sequence, the type you would hear in a funky coffee house like the one in “Love Jones” or on a Neo-Soul, Hip Hop inflected song like D’Angelo’s “Chicken Grease” from “Voodoo.” Underneath this the drums are also playing a syncopated pattern on the ride cymbal. The guitar changes chords in a turnaround to bring us to the top as the singer assures the target of his affection, “I Just want to be with you only.” From there, a luscious, direct sounding bass guitar comes in to support the melody, right in step with the roots of the chord progression. The vocals have an airy quality to them, but also have extra heft from being multitracked. The lyrical text of the song is an old school, earnest “Appreciation love song.” “I found you out of nowhere/They want you now it’s no fair/I want to be with you and only you”, the singer earnestly entreats. Before we know it, the song is fading out and a woman is bidding a man to pick up his phone. It’s indicated this is from “an old flame.” A new groove is introduced, with a heavy drum machine beat with some Prince like tom tom action on the tail end. The bass plays a semi-Walking type of line that goes through a bright chord progression played on a digital Fender Rhodes sound. The main text of this section is “What is this I’m feeling that I can’t let go?” The song then ends on somewhat of a topical cliffhanger.

Matt Martians single was a pleasant surprise to me when my buddy ‘Mitri posted it. It was the type of song that got me immediately grooving on a Friday night. If I were to play it at a club or lounge, I could see it being a dynamite early night party starter, or a great change of pace song, the type your girl pulls YOU out to dance on, and that’s no small feat! Syd the Kid and the other members of the band have indicated that their solo projects will not detract from their group recording and touring. From what I have heard of Matt Martians album however, he and collaborator Steve Lacy have a very unique sound to share all their own, that is definitely a musical relative of what they do with the group but also is worthwhile on its own merits. That sound always has an interesting break beat type vibe that is led by the drums, a full good time groove and a positive major key feeling to the melodies and harmonies. Even though it’s being released in the winter I can see it being very powerful in summer 2017! Be on the lookout for more from the album here!

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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 4 the Next 1 “Loose Ends edition”: “Franceessence” by Robert Glasper

When Don Cheadle set out to assemble the creative team for last years Miles Davis biopic, “Miles Ahead”, he was very much concerned with assembling a creative team for the film that would reflect the ways in which the great trumpeter and musical conceptualist bandleader’s musical conceptions remain relevant in the 21st Century. After all, Miles was a musican who grew up with the blues, swing and bebop, and was collaborating with Prince and Easy Mo Bee in his last years. The films late ’70s setting also meant that someone like Wynton Marsalis with his more conservative outlook would be totally inappropriate. The musician Cheadle settled on for the film was pianist Robert Glasper, a jazz pianist who’s relative youth and involvement in Neo Soul and Hip Hop mark him as a successor to the musical and social values of musicians like Davis and his most famous collaborators, such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Michael Henderson, Mtume Heath and Reggie Lucas, and a host of others. Glasper responded with two albums, one a score of the movie, and another an album that featured modern takes and remixes of mostly unreleased Davis material. The song “Franceessence” is a song that plays underneath a tender love scene in “Miles Ahead” between Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis, and Emayatzy Corinealdi as Frances Davis. The song itself is a beautiful Fender Rhodes driven tune that in its own beautiful way harkens back to Miles ballads from albums such as “Neferetiti” and other albums in the early stages of his involvement with what would be called “fusion.”

The song begins with a beautiful downward stepping chord introduction from a lushly chorused and vibrating Fender Rhodes. The downward stepping “Call” is then responded to by the piano itself, with acoustic bass underneath, both playing a phrase that goes up an interval and comes back down. Just like that a languorous, romantic, candlelit/twilight mood is struck. In the background a sweeping, wind like effect gathers like a storm. A beautiful melody comes in, with a very complex sound playing a simple, tender melody. The melody sounds as if it’s being played by flute, flugelhorn and Rhodes together, which in itself is a very Quincy Jones like combination of sounds. After the melody makes its gentle statement, the Rhodes punches in sharp chords and a muted trumpet fills in. The next time the melody is stated the flute sound is predominant, while Glasper runs arpeggios underneath and the trumpet ornaments the phrases. The flute improvises for a while while the trumpet adds poking and pleading phrases in at sparse intervals. The short interlude plays out beautifully as a duet for muted trumpet and flute as the track floats into wonderland.

I had “Miles Ahead” on one day at my home when the love scene flashed on, and besides being enjoying the romantic maneuvers on screen I was struck by Glasper’s tune. I thought it was a Miles tune from those days I somehow missed, and it also reminded me of the early fusion ballad sound that Quincy Jones would use both in his movie scores and on his albums. I must admit I actually had to resort to the “Shazam” app to find out who made this song! Which was sad because I already had the CD from the week it came out! “Francessence” is a lovely mood tune in the tradition of electric jazz film music and another example of the versatility of Robert Glasper in composing music to suit many different occasions and eras.

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Music 4 the Next 1, January 3, 2016: “Leave My Curl Alone” by Lord Gord & the Posse

As the New Year of 2017 begins, its time for another funky song to set the new year off right. This week has a song I’m particularly proud to bring you, from Los Angeles California’s own Lord Gord, with his group, The Posse. It has always been my hope through my blogging activities on “riquespeaks” and “Andresmusictalk” to not only share the finest in classic Funk/Soul/R&B/Jazz/Afrobeat, but also to help introduce the public to new music in that vein as well. In the case of Lord Gord, we have a talented artist who enjoyed my funk based content on this blog and reached out to me to keep an eye out for his music. Lord Gord is a young artist from SoCal who is extremely serious about bringing back the funk! He reminds me of the attitude me and my friends had back in the ’00s. Gord would like nothing more than to see the Funk come back to its rightful position and for bands and instrumentalists to regain a prominent position in the presentation of Black popular music in particular, and in mainstream music as a whole. His first step towards that goal is his album, “This Isn’t T.V”, with its lead off single we’re featuring here, “Leave My Curl Alone.” The song is his modern funk, live band interpretation of the West Coast tongue in cheek rap classic of the same name by Hi-C. I remember when the original came out back in the early ’90s, and the way it stood as a kind of defiant anthem. Lord Gord uses it here to display both his talents for funky musical arrangements as well as his Morris Day influenced sense of funky showmanship and humor, because, to quote him, “You cant spell the Funk, without FUN!”

Hi-C’s original song was based on a sample of Brick’s “Dusic”, which was later used by Hammer in his song “It’s All Good.” Lord Gord eschews the sample of the original for his own funky arrangement. The song begins with him counting off and the drummer striking up a phat breakbeat style drum pattern, accented by high on the neck, choppy rhythm guitars and a high string like synth melody, while Lord Gord gives his introduction, “but when you’re cool from the inside out/those are things you just don’t have to worry about.” After a high pitched Mack laugh, the full groove is introduced for Gord’s verse, which adds a heavy bottom end bass guitar line that has a rolling quality to the beat, along with a Fender Rhodes electric piano line that begins on the 3rd beat and plays a nice accenting riff, alongside a single note rhythm guitar line. This is the foundation for Gord to drop the lyrical story, a humorous tale where the narrator faces rejection for his Jherri Curl. When he goes to the “Leave My Curl Alone” chorus, the song adds sharp horn blasts, while the groove keeps bubbling underneath. One interesting facet of the horn arrangement is the way it melds sharp blasts of brass on top, with more reedy sounding sustained notes underneath. Lord Gord’s appreciation of developing horn parts is confirmed by the different horn line that supports the latter half of his second rap verse. Also of particular interest is the super funky breakdown at the end with the drummer ending with a drum fill quotation from Stevie Wonder’s “I Am Singing!”

“Leave My Curl Alone” is a perfect introduction to the type of fun, energetic, modern day instrumental funk that Lord Gord is unleashing on the musical world. A Funk full of personal quirks, individuality, hearty party enthusiasm and a strong appreciation for Funk’s foundations. Support his music and sit back, and enjoy grooving to the musical journey of a new funk artist!!!

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Music 4 the Next 1 Tribute: “I Want Your Sex Pts 1&2” by George Michael

Christmas Day 2016 marked the death of another musical legend, George Michael, just as Christmas Day 2006 took my musical hero James Brown. As an ’80s baby I grew up with George Michaels music, and his death is shocking to me because he was a month younger than my own oldest brother. What I will always appreciate in addition to Michaels huge overall pop success is the way he always incorporated Funk and R&B into his musical palette. One of the reasons I will always be thankful to British artists of the early 1980s is their constant inclusion of elements of Funk, disco, R&B, soul and other historically Black musics into their sound palette. This was in contrast to many major Rock & Roll groups of the 1980s who seemed to be scared off by the “Disco Demolition rally” and chart freeze out of the late ’70s. The British groups, being from overseas, never had a problem saying “we’ve been influenced by Black music”, whereas American acts could often pretend to be colorblind while bowing to music apartheid on MTV. This also stretched into the British groups inclusions of their own domestic Black musics, such as Lovers Rock and all the various strains of Reggae. The funky flavors were always present in Wham!’s music but they were really prominent on George Michael’s 1987 smash hit, “I want Your Sex.” I’ve written before about how the year 1987 was one of the most important musically as the general pop scene made a strong shift back towards grittier funk. “I Want Your Sex” is a jam that hit me back then in my childhood years, and the version I want to highlight today is the 2 part version, just like the Isley Brothers ’70s funk hits, which is notable for the way it proves that behind many a brittle sounding ’80s jam, lays a flowing funk bomb waiting for a change of instrumental tones and recording techniques.

The song starts off with a strong synthesizer bass note dead on the one, supported by some percussive synthesizer blips providing a counter rhythm, slowly mixing in percussion sounds, followed by a drum fill and the groove proper. The song has an insistent ostinato, repetitive simple one note bass line on the synthesizer that bubbles under the groove and creates a heavy momentum. Behind that groove the cowbell beats out steadily on all 4 beats. When George begins to sing, the bass line goes to another chord that sets off the sequence for the verse. George’s verse begins, “There’s things that you guess/there’s things that you know/there’s boys that you trust/and girls that you don’t”, which in retrospect quite frankly sound like he was dealing with his sexual identity way back then! After the verse proper, he introduces a little pre chorus refrain sung in a higher falsetto, stripped down to just a drumbeat backing the vocals. After he swears to tell no lies to his target of affection, he gets off a great line, “Don’t need no Bible/just look in my eyes”. In true soul man fashion he ends the pre chorus by laying his desires down quite flat, singing, “A mans got his patience/and here’s where mine ends!/I want your sex!” After which the musical feature of the song that stuck out the most to me in my youth is introduced, a funky gospel organ chord played on the synthesizer that lands on the upbeats, which accentuate perfectly the slow nasty funk grind of the tune.

After another verse, an instrumental bridge is introduced, consisting of a riff that moves upward, played in unison by a pan sounding synthesizer tone and the bass. It is somewhat reminiscent of the instrumental unison riffs Stevie Wonder would introduce in songs such as “Black Man”, “Master Blaster”, and “Sir Duke.” While the unison riff plays, synthesizers provide almost wah wah like riffs in the background. The riff goes upward as the arrangement moves to another refrain from Michaels. In classic post-AIDS ’80s style, Michaels ends that chorus with, “Sex is natural/sex is fun/sex is best when its/one on one”, with the “one on one” part being sung in a deeper voice. The groove oriented nature of the song is emphasized by another percussion breakdown following that section.

On the extended Part 2, after Michaels vamps on with great vocals, the song moves from its grinding ’80s naked funk groove to something different, big band, live instrument funk. It’s as if Michaels took his song back 10 years earlier to 1977, as the bass is no longer played on the synthesizer, replaced by an electric that matches the gospel organ riff rhythm for rhythm, except the organ riff itself is now played by a powerful horn section and acoustic piano, with its sharper, more percussive tone. The rest of the song vamps on through a well arranged groove structure with many highs and lows before it vamps out on a funky note.

George Michaels smash 1987 album “Faith”, was so funky, soulful, and steeped in Black music that it reached the top of the R&B charts in its day. I remember it was a topic of discussion in Jet and Ebony Magazine at the time that so many white artists were becoming big on the R&B scene and what the ramifications of that were. On George Michaels’ behalf it was pure soulful enthusiasm and skill, and he went on to prove that many times over the rest of his career in his choice of duet partners, his cover songs, and his original material. “I Want Your Sex” reached all the way up to #2 on the pop charts. It was considered very controversial in its time for its straight up declaration of lust, which of course was well situated in the Blues and Soul tradition. The sanctified gospel chording of the song and its declaration of passion sit George Michaels squarely in the sacred/profane soul man tension that provided the fuel for great male soul singers such as Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and Prince. As for me personally it brings back fond memories of the days when there were certain songs you definitely were not supposed to let your parents hear you sing! And this song as well as Michaels entire catalog were part of the gifts he left us all to contemplate in his absence.

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