Tag Archives: Prince

Barry White/Miles and Prince 1987 into 1988-2017 into 2018

Well, I’ve had a fantastic time chronicling some of the best records of 1987 on Riquespeaks, and just as 1987 moved into 1988, 2017 is moving into 2018. I still have a few lose ends to cover in the music of ’87 that I will complete this January, including talking about Stevie Wonder’s wonderful, “Characters” album. But for New Years Eve 2018 I wanted to bring something a little special from New Years 1988. Two of my favorite artists, Barry White and Prince, did very special shows on NYE 30 years ago. Barry, bouyed by his comeback album, “The Right Night & Barry White, performed a concert in one of my absolute favorite places, Paris, France on NYE ’88. I’m including a clip of it here, but the full concert can be enjoyed on YouTube.

Prince also played a New Years Eve show on the last day of 1987, at his own, then brand spanking new Paisley Park complex. The concert was notable, coming off the triumph of his 1987 “Sign O The Times” album. Also, the audience that night was graced with the presence of the great Miles Davis, resplendent in a Purple suit and playing on top of Prince’s brand of Purple Funk!

I share these concerts in appreciation for reading Riquespeaks in 2017 and in partying anticipation of an even better 2018. Here’s to health, prosperity, and funk!!!!

Here is Barry White’s triumphant ’87 comeback single, “Sho You Right”, live from Paris

Miles and Prince Jamming over music from Prince’s “Madhouse” album!!

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under The '87 Sound

The ’87 Sound: “Tina Cherry” by Georgio

One of the defining features of the R&B sound during the 1980s is the absorption of the musical innovations of Prince. The year 1987 was no different. “Tina Cherry” by Georgio is a fine example of the type of Funk that was inspired by Prince and The Minneapolis sound. Georgio Allentini is a Bay Area native, to the extent that one of my best friends went to High School with him. The word is that Prince pursued him for Paisley Park, which is a rumor many Prince fans vehemently deny but those close to the situation confirm. He ended up signing to Motown and seeing success on the dance charts with his album “Sex Appeal.” The influence of Prince is reflected in “Tina Cherry” through the synthesized dance groove topped off with an incredibly funky, furious guitar lick. It’s also reflected in the title characters name, “Tina Cherry.” So much so that when I was a kid and used to hear this on local Bay Area radio, I thought it was Prince! At that time I did not know “Funk” was a musical genre of its own, but I did know the word “Funky” and I knew what was “Funky” when I heard it! And this song definitely passed the funk test and has remained in my memory banks from that time till now.

Coming out as it did during the heyday of the 12″ club mix, there are many versions of “Tina Cherry.” But the one I selected here is the one I first heard on the radio all those years back and the one I feel brings the funk the hardest. The song begins with a big drum beat that has lots of air around it. On top of this they give us a phat ’80s horn stab, which revs up like an organ before slapping the groove. Also prominent is a cowbell methodically marking out all four beats of the groove. Georgio tells the doorman or his handlers to send her up to his room on the intro. When the whole beat comes in, its marked by a busy synth bass line, and those guitars, a high up the neck, hammer on and off funky blues guitar lead supported by a chocked chicken scratch that brings the funk to your face.

Georgio uses that funky base to tell a story about a girl whose name is Tina that “plays a cherry game.” He sings about how she “Works and works”, her hair, eyes, clothes, everything she has in the name of sex appeal. The guitar takes over on the chorus to the point that it sounds like Georgio is singing in support of the funky guitar. Georgio goes on to tell us that Tina is a Creole woman, which of course, in Black American folklore makes her a very dangerous woman in as many ways as you could imagine! Over the dance groove he goes on to spit double entendre like, “Tina baby/Dont make it hard/we’re almost there/let me park my car.”

This jam has fond memories for me because of the mesmerizing guitar groove. I can also recall a commercial for Georgio doing an in-store appearance at a now defunct local record shop, the Black owned “T’s Wauzi Records.” As it is “Tina Cherry” is a great jam from a lesser-known artist that exemplifies state of the art funky dance music in 1987, made under the influence of Prince and the Minneapolis Sound. In a decade of the ’80s that had few funk bands that were strong and was touched by the influence of emerging musical technologies and new genre’s, it was no small thing to bring the funk, and Georgio did it very well on this song and his album “Sex Appeal.” Definitley one to check out from ’87 if you’re unfamiliar with it!!!!

Here is the video for “Tina Cherry” which featured the song with a different mix, the guitar part is still there but the overall groove doesn’t work for me as much as the one I heard on the radio back in the day

1 Comment

Filed under A Riquespeaks Curation, FUNK, The '87 Sound

The ’87 Sound: “Sign Your Name” by Terrance Trent D’Arby (Sananda Maitreya)

Terrance Trent D’Arby (who now goes by the Buddhist name of Sananda Maitreya)’s 1987 LP, “Introducing the Hardline According to Terrance Trent D’Arby”, was one of those albums that totally rocked the International musical community in its time. D’Arby’s skillful mix of Funk, Soul, Rock and Pop flavors seemed to introduce an essential new artist, and D’Arby himself was not afraid to let you know this. When I was young, not knowing the full story, just by listening to the music and observing the artist, I thought him to be a part of the wave of UK Soul coming back to America from across the pond, along with groups like Loose Ends, Five Star, Central Line, and the great Sade. And this 1987 classic, “Sign Your Name”, has all the deep, brooding lovelorn groove of Sade at their peak. The writer Nelson George began to identify a style of music he typified as “Retro Nuevo Soul” during the late ’80s. This was the first stirrings of a Soul/R&B music that attempted to recapture the songwriting and sound of the classic soul records of the height of the ’60s and ’70s. D’Arby’s music was one of the prime examples of this impulse, and it would be seen again during the 1990s with the “Neo Soul” movement of D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and others. But “Sign Your Name” and the rest of D’Arby’s album would be a very early warning shot in 1987 of a return to a Black musical impulse deeply rooted in instrumentalism and songs of great emotional depth and substance, otherwise known as Soul.

The song begins with an irresistible groove, with a synthesizer bass patch laying a bass part based on an Afro Latin Clave rhythm, outlining a two bar chord progression. Underneath this bass groove is a grooving Conga drum pattern, and over the top is a synthesized string type of sound playing a deep blues, pentatonic melody. What’s amazing is that I always associated this song with being played live, but when one listens to it, you discover its actually a spare, human sounding, and very funky usage of synthesized instruments. The bass and groove modulate to some tense chords to lead you into D’Arby’s singing verse.

D’Arby sings his song in that unique vocal tone I remember from way back then, full, rich and chesty while also being fairly high up in the register. When he reaches the lead in line to the chorus, “We started out as friends….” the arrangement moves to those tense, questioning chords that sustain and decay on top of the Afro-Latin rhythmic break, to be picked up by the chorus, “Sign Your Name/across my heart/I want you to be my baby”,on which D’Arby and producer Martyn Ware lay down two parts of D’Arby singing in different octaves. The song progresses from there with D’Arby delivering impassioned, earnest vocals, and his vocal performance rising in intesity over the same sensous, undulating rhythmic groove.

“Sign Your Name” is one of my favorite songs from ’87 and it seemed to herald a new artist at the time. D’Arby seemed to be another uniquely talented artist in the mold of Prince, who could deliver Afro American music with the kind of idiosyncratic pop-rock edge that could attract a wide pop audience. And he did, with “Sign Your Name” in particular going all the way up to #4 on the U.S pop charts and his album selling platinum in a mere three days. D’Arby, like Jackie Wilson and James Brown, had a background as a boxer, and it showed in his physical, acrobatically macho performance style, in particular when he’d perform soul-funk classics such as “Soul Power” during his shows. D’Arby’s album was one that seemed to satisfy all sides at the time, from the contemporary fans to some of the old soul heads, to the critics, to the teen idol crowd, to the general pop crowds. Such success would not last for D’Arby, and he would take his life in a more spiritual direciton while also continuing to do music. Though he was not British himself, he did spend time there and end up crossing back over to the states by recording in British studios with British musicians, which in itself represented a unique crossover of American Soul, from an adopted country back to its homeland. So no matter what other intersting turns the career of Sananda Maitreya has taken, “Sign Your Name” still stands tall for me as one of the most passionate and deeply rooted Soul songs we were introduced to in the year of 1987!

1 Comment

Filed under The '87 Sound

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!

1 Comment

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

The ’87 Sound: “Rebel Without a Pause” by Public Enemy

“Rebel Without a Pause”, Public Enemy’s breakthrough single, is a perfect example of the changes music, Hip Hop and otherwise, would go through in 1987. P.E released their first album, “Yo! Bum Rush the Show” on February 10, 1987, after recording it in the summer of 1986. By the time it was released, it’s DMX drum machine dominated sound already sounded dated, next to the new, sleek James Brown samples of Eric B & Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul.” Writer Christopher R Weingarten put it this way, “Tempos became quicker and peppy drum licks zipped around the sluggish elephant stomps of 1986’s DMX drum machines.” Bomb Squad lead producer Hank Shocklee said that by ’87 he heard the DMX in so many songs he was tired of it himself. These newer, sleeker beats, which in actuality were closer to Hip Hop’s breakbeat party origins in the days of DJ’s Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa, also enabled new, more complex rhyme styles, pioneered by Rakim, KRS ONE, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane. The inspiration for “Rebel Without a Pause” on a musical and technical rapping level came from Eric B and Rakim’s Funkadelic and Bobby Byrd sampling “I Know You Got Soul”, which itself would inspire Chuck to say in this song, “I got soul too!” Chuck and Hank Shocklee speak of going to a party and being dejected by the brilliance of “I Know You Got Soul”, which inspired them to go into the studio and concoct “Rebel Without a Pause.”

A James Brown sample would power “Rebel” the same way it did “Soul”. Interestingly enough, just like Eric B and Rakim’s record, they found their J.B sample, not in James Brown’s catalog, but in his extended catalog of artists he released and produced, this time from The Bootsy and Catfish Collins lead original incarnation of the J.B’s, from the song “The Grunt.” Ironically for those who feel sampling is theft, “The Grunt” itself is an almost wholesale interpolation of an Isley Brothers song called, “Keep on Doin.” But what the J.B’s had that the Isleys didn’t, was the wild, wailing, almost atonal sax playing of Robert McCullough, which The Bomb Squad would utilize as the sound that occupies the high end on “Rebel.” When Chuck D took the record home, his mother wondered if he had a tea kettle going off in his room. It’s interesting that that horn part came from a player Fred Wesley describes as “inferior to any horn player the James Brown band had before him”, but it had a raw vibe that was perfect for the alarming note Public Enemy was sounding in the late Reagen age.

The record itself begins with alarming sounds, first, the strong, southern voice of Jesse Jackson at WattStax, introducing the Soul Children’s record, “I Don’t’ know what this world is coming to”, which he began with a booming, now legendary “Brothers and Sisters!” Which P.E then follows with another alarming sound, the horn hits of James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing”, which had been used before in Boogie Down Production’s “South Bronx.” “Get Up Offa..” is one of JB’s angriest records, made at a time when he felt his commercial relevance was slipping. Also interestingly enough, Jesse Jackson himself was launching his second run for President in ’87. Chuck begins his legendary rap verses with a thundering, “Yes!” He goes on to say in the verse, “They played the music/this time they play the lyrics” which is a reference to how Public Enemy’s first single, “Public Enemy No.1” was rejected by New York Hip Hop D.J Mr. Magic. “Bum rush the sound/I made a year ago” was a reference to the fact that the album P.E had just released some months earlier was actually made in 1986, a kind of apology as P.E dropped this brand new bag. He ends the verse speaking of “Panther power/on the hour/from the Rebel to you”, which is an even more explicit embrace of Public Enemy’s “Black Panthers of Rap” position they’d been slowly cultivating during their time in the music.”

In between the verses, Flavor Flav provides his Bundini Brown, Bobby Byrd, boxing cornerman hype, which was in itself a radical new sound in Hip Hop at the time. Chuck begins the next verse with the classic and often sampled, “Radio/Suckers never play me/on the mix/they just okay me”, which was a clear protest at the way Hip Hop was treated as a whole on urban radio and Public Enemy in particular by the New York Hip Hop elite. Chuck’s goes on to rap in the new style, using shorter sentence lengths and multiple rhymes to lay out the points through which Public Enemy’s whole career would rest on, such as stating he was “old enough to raise ya”, a reference to P.E’s late 20s ages at the time and the older mindset they brought to Hip Hop. He also proclaims them “Supporters of Chesimard”, a reference to Assata Shakur, who is still in the news today as Conservative forces call for her extradition from Cuba.

“Rebel Without a Pause” is a landmark record of 1987 for many reasons. Public Enemy and their producers The Bomb Squad were able to react with almost Internet era speed to the changing tides of Rap music at the time, away from the drum machine sound to the funkier, more supple samples of actual funky musicians playing on wax. Also, lyrically, Chuck and Flav introduced a strong, Pro Black, radical message, through the voice of the young people’s music, Hip Hop, that would provide a touchstone for the Afrocentric explosion of the late ’80s and early ’90s. As we will see as our series on 1987 continues, even older socially conscious musicians like Stevie Wonder and EWF would get back to their commentary as a rejoinder to the Reagen administration, but Public Enemy here does it for the younger set. This song and others like it would basically form the attitude of young Black people from the late ’80s to about the mid-’90s. This was born out of a New York City that was full of racial tension in the ’80s, often times aided and abetted by the man who is President as of this writing, Donald J. Trump. But Public Enemy also succeed here in changing the musical side of the times, taking the innovations of Marley Marl and affordable samplers and grounding the James Brown beat as the foundation of Hip Hop. In fact, when you put “Rebel” and “I Know You Got Soul” with Prince’s “Housequake” and many other records, the late ’80s may be one of the best times the James Brown sound has ever had in the business. This sound would not only be big in Hip Hop but it would also go on to influence the realms of European and American sample-based dance music as well. And this was the first truly landmark, revolutionary record in a career that has taken P.E all the way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Panther power on the hour from the Rebels to you!!!!

* A little bonus material, Public Enemy’s performance of this song on Soul Train, and the diss from Mr. Magic that inspired some lines on this song and much of P.E’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back”

1 Comment

Filed under Black Issues, Music Matters, Rappin' about Rappin', The '87 Sound

“The ’87 Sound”: “Sign O the Times” by Prince

Of all of the songs that come to mind when I think of the music of 1987, Prince’s “Sign O the Times” shines among the brightest. It’s slightly delayed, knocking rhythm groove, and bluesy synthesizer bass, slurred like the speech of old men drinking cheap liquor, was the perfect seasoning for the meat of the matter, Prince’s late Reaganomics, state of the world address, sung in a plaintive falsetto very close to the moan of the old spirituals.

It’s clear that for Prince, those words were the thing, evident in the lyric video he produced for the song and the posters with the full song reprinted as if he wanted us to learn and take heed to each and every word. On this particular song he once again achieved the lyrical poignancy of his musical role models such as Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon and many others. He also succeeded in updating the blues for the age of Digital R&B and Hip Hop in much the same fashion Marvin Gaye did for the age of Funk with 1971’s “Inner City Blues.”

Prince’s singular ability to take all of the wonderful music he knew, could play and imagine, and distill it into their most vital elements, is essential to the musical success of this piece, which caught my ear coming from my Dad’s stereo system. It starts off with four kick beats from the drum machine, answered by a delayed percussion sound, in a digital African call and response pattern. No snare drum, no vocals, no bass line, until Prince lets out a soulful “Oh Yeah”, which is the cue that brings in the reverberating snare drum and that bass.

That bass. Oh, that bass. The bass line was one of my early attractions to the song, it is a synthesized tone with a very human, vocal quality. The spareness of this arrangement is part of what makes it stand out, as other musicians and producers of the time such as Quincy Jones, Teddy Riley, Jam and Lewis or even The Bomb Squad might have added more delicious layers to the track, Prince simply let it be so that he could bring his message across. And of course, Prince had a musical history of making the most of simplicity, as seen in previous classics such as “When Doves Cry”, and “Kiss.” This also helped him in the climate of a rising nation of Hip Hop music that focused solely on the rhythm and made him an influence on that side of music.

Part of what Prince shared with the pioneers of Hip Hop music, as well as innovators like Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Bernie Worrell and many others of his time, was no fear about making music through technological means. And “Sign O’ The Times” is a song made possible by the Fairlight CMI synthesizer, an expensive sampling keyboard and computer system that only the richest of musicians could utilize in the 1980s. The synth sold for $40,000 back then and it amazed many musicians with its ability to put a whole orchestra at your fingertips, which is something modern DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstation) do for a fraction of the price. But Prince pulled most of the sounds you hear on this song straight from the factory settings of the Fairlight.

“Sign O The Times” is so important to me personally because it is the very first song I can say that started me on the road to being a Prince fan. Being born in the early ’80s, I grew up with songs like “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, “1999” and “Soft and Wet.” All of this was music you heard up and down the block in Oakland, California. I’m also the youngest in my family and my siblings were all teens at that time, and Prince’s music expressed what they were going through as teens and young adults. My mother and father were also fans of music, especially my father, but Prince, along with Hip Hop, is where they began to question things. Part of it was the fact they were very religious, Jehovah’s Witnesses in fact, which is ironic because Prince himself would be for the last 20 years of his life (and Larry Graham was once a member of the exact same Kingdom Hall I grew up in Oakland, California.) My mother used to say, “That boy is fine, but why does he have to be naked?. It’s funny because the outrageousness of Prince’s image and approach wasn’t itself new. In their collection they had Issac Hayes albums where Black Moses was shirtless, chained, wearing tights, they had Herb Alpert’s “Whipped Cream” with a naked lady covered in the white stuff, numerous disco albums featuring scantily clad ladies, The Ohio Players soft porn album covers, even gender benders like Little Richard and David Bowie! And certainly…LOTS of short rock stars in HEELS (James Brown, Mick Jagger, Miles Davis etc).

Now my Dad in particular, he was rigid without being rigid. He never railed AGAINST Prince, and he tapped his toes and nodded his head to several hits over the years, maybe even picked up a 45 or two, but he mainly saw Prince as an entertaining gimmick more than a musician, and Dad’s first true love was Jazz. But “Sign O’ The Times” hit him much differently. ’87 was a big year I remember because Dad was going back to Liberia, West Africa for the first time since the 1980 coup. He was excited about getting some local mining exchanges started up that would help people in the interior of the country. Now when Dad was in Africa, he was known as one of the best people to get the new American music from, and he wasn’t about to let his reputation slip in ’87! So he taped a lot of songs off our local radio stations in the Bay Area, mainly KSOL, to take with him and play for Liberian parties.

“Sign O The Times” really caught Dad, from the plaintive vocals, the modern beat, and the comprehensive state of the world lyrics, dealing with AIDS, Natural disasters, gangs and drugs, the Space Ship Challenger and many other things. In fact, here was Prince with a record that very much supported a Biblical, “end times” view of the world like the JW’s had. Also, the deep blusey nature of the song hit Dad in a deep place, because Jazz and Blues were his roots music.

It seems in 1987 though, after two terms of Reaganomics reverse Robin Hood approach (Steal from the poor to give to the rich), many people in Black music had sentiments very close to Prince on this song. In this series, I will cover other politically themed songs from Stevie Wonder, EWF, and new (at the time) Hip Hop artists like Public Enemy and BDP. In history, 1987 would see the greatest stock market crash since the Great Depression, and the fiasco of the Iran Contra affair, which left a serious stain on the Reagen Presidency. The Inner Cities were beginning to crumble as ’87 was about the second or third year of the crack epidemic.

“Sign O’ The Times” has continued to grow in importance for me, from my elementary school years in 1987 to now. Chuck D, one of my favorite artists, once said on VH1 that he was impressed by and influenced by the lyrical power of Prince’s “Now he’s doing Horse, Its June” line from the song and how much that taught him about lyrical economy and suggestion. And it just so happened 20 years after that, when I walked into a party here in the Bay Area playing Prince music, hosted by DJ’s Dave Paul and Jeff Harris, the song that was playing when we walked in was “Sign O the Times” which me and my friends knew every word two, now picture that, 8 Black men singing “Sign O The Times” in unison! Prince took the title of this song from the journal of his 7th Day Adventist religion, and it was very fitting, not just for this masterwork of a song, but for the amazing transitional, funky, grooving, urban message-oriented music of 1987 and the late ’80s!

3 Comments

Filed under A Riquespeaks Curation, Music Matters, The '87 Sound

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters