Category: funk

Behind The Grooves:

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On this day in music history: December 6, 1982 – “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” by Indeep is released. Written by Mike Cleveland, it is the debut single release and biggest hit for the dance music group from New York City. Formed in 1980 by musician Mike Cleveland, Indeep also features lead vocalists Réjane “Reggie” Magloire and Rose Marie Ramsey. In the post-disco era, the group create a unique musical hybrid that include sung vocal hooks, rap lyrics and built on a foundation of minimalist, but highly funky instrumentation. For their first single, Cleveland writes “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life”. Its narrative describes a woman who’s home alone, and is upset and frustrated that she can’t reach her man. On the verge of leaving him, she changes her mind when she hears a song on the radio that makes her reconsider, proclaiming in the chorus “Last night a DJ saved my life from a broken heart… Last night a DJ saved my life with a song…”. The track is recorded at Eastern Artists Recording Studio in East Orange, NJ, with Ramsey on lead vocals, Cleveland on guitar, bass, and rap vocals, and drummer Dave Reyes (Young & Company, Aurra). “DJ” is recorded by a young engineer named Andy Wallace, who goes on to greater fame later on working with Run DMC, Nirvana, Sheryl Crow and many others. It is mixed by Club DJ legend, remixer and producer Tony Humphries. Co-produced by Reggie Thompson (Mtume, Philip Bailey, Stanley Clarke), the single is released on the Sound Of New York Records label, founded by executive producer Gene Griffin (Guy, Wrecks-N-Effects). “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” quickly becomes a dance floor smash, entering the Billboard Club Play chart at #60 on December 25, 1982. It enters the Billboard R&B singles chart at #83 on the R&B singles chart on January 8, 1983. It peaks at #2 on the Club Play chart five weeks later on January 29, 1983. The record holds for six weeks in the runner spot, unable to budge Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album from the top spot. “DJ” peaks at #10 on the R&B singles chart nine weeks later on March 12, 1983, holding for three consecutive weeks. Though it doesn’t make the US pop chart, bubbling under at #103, Indeep’s record is a big hit across Europe, in the UK (#13), Spain (#7), The Netherlands (#2). Belgium (#2) and Germany (#10). The group follow up their breakthrough with “When Boys Talk” (#32 R&B, #16 Club Play), “Buffalo Bill” (#81 R&B) and “The Record Keeps Spinning” (#45 R&B). Though regarded as a one hit wonder, Indeep’s “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” has enjoyed enduring popularity, being covered most notably by Mariah Carey on the “Glitter” Soundtrack in 2001. The song has also been sampled numerous times, also being featured on the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and the television mini series The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.

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On this day in music history: December 5, 1984 – “Sugar Walls” by Sheena Easton is released. Written by Alexander Nevermind (aka Prince), it is the thirteenth US (sixteenth UK) single release for the pop vocalist from Bellshill, North Lanarkshire, Scotland. Making a conscious effort to shed her “sweet and innocent good girl” image, Sheena Easton looks to shake things up with her sixth album “A Private Heaven”. While working on the album with her producer Greg Mathieson, Easton receives an unexpected message from Prince. At the time, he’s putting the final touches on the “Purple Rain” soundtrack and film. On January 20, 1984, Prince records the basic track for a new song he has written titled “Sugar Walls” at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, CA. The track is originally intended for singer Jill Jones, but the musician changes his mind when he sees Sheena that same night on television, performing on The Tonight Show. Impressed by her performance, the musician will say to himself, “Ya, I gotta write something for that girl”. The next day, Prince contacts Easton through recording engineer David Leonard, whom both are working with at the time. Sheena likes the track immediately, and agrees to work with Prince on the song. Easton records her vocals at Sunset Sound’s sister studio The Sound Factory on January 22, 1984. Getting on well immediately, Easton and Prince finish recording the vocals in one session. Following up the sexy first single “Strut” (#7 Pop), the even more provocative “Sugar Walls” is issued next. Poppy and undeniably funky, laced with Sheena’s equally sexy vocals, it draws immediate attention from fans and radio. Credited to the pseudonym “Alexander Nevermind”, it doesn’t take long for the public to realize that Prince, is the one behind this sexy musical confection. It also doesn’t take long for listeners to figure out the title is a euphemism for a woman’s privates. However, this doesn’t stop it from becoming an across the board smash on pop and R&B radio, as well on club dance floors. “Sugar Walls” enters the Billboard Hot 100 at #60 on December 22, 1984, peaking ten weeks later at #9 on March 2, 1985. It’s an even bigger hit on R&B stations, peaking at #3 on the R&B chart on March 9, 1985, and topping the Club Play chart for one week on February 23, 1985. After it peaks on the charts, “Sugar Walls” is the subject of further controversy and infamy, when it is singled out by the PMRC (Parents Music Research Center), as one of its “Filthy Fifteen” along side Prince’s “Darling Nikki”. The success of the collaboration between Sheena Easton and Prince leads to future musical collaborations. Easton later appears on the hit “U Got The Look” (#2 Pop, #11 R&B), co-writing the “Sign ‘O’ The Times” B-side “La, La, La, He, He, Hee”, and “The Arms Of Orion” on the “Batman Soundtrack”.

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On this day in music history: December 5, 1980 – “Trombipulation”, the ninth studio album (tenth overall) by Parliament is released. Produced by George Clinton, William “Bootsy” Collins, Ron Dunbar and Ron Ford, it is recorded at United Sound Studios and Super Disc, Inc. in Detroit, MI, The Power Station and Sigma Sound Studios in New York City from Late 1979 – Mid 1980. After more than a decade, it is clear that the mothership is rapidly running out of gas. In spite of achieving major success, the P-Funk Thang is dogged by various lawsuits and financial disputes. Numerous key members including Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, Grady Thomas, Eddie Hazel, Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey, Glenn Goins, DeWayne “Blackbird” McKnight and Walter “Junie” Morrison have all left. Adding to the chaos, Casablanca Records is in also flux as their greatest ally, founder Neil Bogart is ousted for his reckless spending and management. With Clinton still at the helm, he comes to rely more on Bootsy Collins who plays nearly all of the instruments on several tracks. Ron Dunbar and Ron Ford also co-write songs and co-produce. Musically, “Trombipulation” breaks no new ground, feeling like a rehash of Parliament’s past glory, though there are bright spots. The first single, the punning “Agony Of Defeet” (#7 R&B) musically recalls Funkadelic’s classic “One Nation Under A Groove”. Clocking in at six and a half minutes on the album, is also released in its full uncut version (running 9:05) as a promo only 12" single in the US. “New Doo Review” also features new P-Funk recruit Lige Curry on bass. It spins off a second single with “Crush It” in early 1981. Originally packaged in a gatefold LP sleeve, the front and back covers feature photos of George Clinton, hair styled in a pompadour and wearing an elephant trunk. Past elaborate extras like posters or comic books are eliminated for this release. Instead, the inner sleeve features illustrations by artist Overton Loyd. Though it gets off to a decent start, interest tapers off quickly and is the first Parliament album not to go Gold in the US since “Chocolate City”. Not surprisingly, it is the band’s final release before finally parting ways. Several years later, “Trombipulation” is rediscovered when its grooves are sampled by numerous Hip-Hop artists, most notably Digital Underground. The Oakland, CA based group use the track “Let’s Play House” as the basis for their smash “The Humpty Dance”, and “Agony Of Defeet” on “Doowutchyalike”. “Defeet” is also sampled by Ice Cube on “How To Survive In South Central”, “Step Daddy” by Too Short" and “Buss ‘N Rocks” by Snoop Dogg. First reissued on CD in 1990, the album is remastered and released as a SHM-CD by Universal Music Japan in 2015. “Trombipulation” peaks at number six on the Billboard R&B album chart and number sixty one on the Top 200.

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On this day in music history: December 4, 1965 – “I Got You (I Feel Good)” by James Brown hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 6 weeks, also peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 on December 18, 1965. Written and produced by James Brown, it is the third R&B chart topper for the artist known as “The Hardest Working Man In Show Business”. The “hit” version of the song is recorded by Brown on May 6, 1965 at Criteria Studios in Miami, FL. He had previously recorded the song in September 1964 for release on Smash Records. Brown’s label King Records blocks the release of the earlier version, though that does not stop the momentum of the record. Alan Leeds, then a disc jockey at WANT-AM in Richmond, VA (later James Browns’ road manager and also later works in the same capacity for Prince), dubs the song off of TV when Brown performs the song on the variety show “Where The Action Is”. Demand for the record  skyrockets, forcing King Records to rush out the newly recorded second version of the song as a single. Released in October of 1965 on the heels of his breakout crossover smash “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”, “I Got You” quickly races up the R&B and pop charts simultaneously. Brown also performs the earlier version in the Frankie Avalon film “Ski Party” released earlier in 1965, which is recreated in the James Brown biopic “Get On Up”. In later years, The song is featured in the films “Good Morning Vietnam”, “The Nutty Professor” and quoted by actor Chris Rock (as Rodney the Guinea Pig) in “Dr. Dolittle”. James Brown’s recording of “I Got You (I Feel Good)” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2013.

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On this day in music history: December 2, 1978 – “Le Freak” by Chic hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 5 weeks, also hitting #1 on the Hot 100 for 6 weeks (non-consecutive) on December 9, 1978. Written and produced by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, it is the first number one single for the New York City based R&B/Funk band. The song is inspired by an incident when Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, are denied entry into Studio 54 on New Year’s Eve 1977, after being invited by Grace Jones. The duo encounter the discos’ notoriously brash doorman Marc Benecke, who brusquely tells them that they are not on the guest list. Upset at the rebuff, the pair go back to Rodgers apartment around the corner and jam, coming up with the song, which is initially titled “F*** Off”. Realizing that they’re on to something, the lyric is changed, from “f*** off” to “freak out”. Taking into mind the current popular dance “the freak”, they re-title the song “Le Freak”. Released in late September of 1978 as the first single from the bands’ second album “C’est Chic”, it becomes the largest selling single in the history of Atlantic Records, shifting an astounding six million copies in the US alone. The single is such a massive seller, eventually it is taken out of print for a time, with Atlantic and Chic fearing that it will impede on sales of “C’est Chic”, which sells nearly two million copies. “Le Freak” makes further history on the Hot 100 when the record hits number one three times during its run on the charts. After it hits the top of the pop chart on December 9, 1978 it is bumped from the top by “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” by Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond returning to the top (on December 16, 1978) after being displaced by “Le Freak”. It holds on to the top spot for two more weeks over the Christmas holiday before being bumped from the top by the Bee Gees’ “Too Much Heaven” on January 6, 1979. Startlingly, two weeks later, Chic return to the top for the third and final time on January 20, 1979 for three more weeks. Regarded as a definitive recording not just of the Disco Era, but of 70’s music period, it is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2015. “Le Freak” is certified 3x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: December 2, 1972 – “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also peaking at #2 on the R&B singles chart on the same date. Written and produced by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, it is the fourth and final number one pop single for the veteran Motown vocal group. The song is originally recorded by The Undisputed Truth (“Smiling Faces Sometimes”) in 1971 with their version peaking at #24 on the R&B singles chart and #63 on the Hot 100. When The Temptations hear the track for the first time, initially they are unhappy with the songs’ extended intro (the first vocal doesn’t begin until nearly four minutes into the LP version and nearly two minutes into the single version). The opening lyric (“It Was the third of September, that day I’ll always remember, yes I will. ‘Cause that was the day, that my daddy died.”) is particularly upsetting to lead singer Dennis Edwards. Though Edwards father died on the third of October (not the third of September as was the often repeated legend), it still hits a little too close to home. Ever the hard driving perfectionist in the studio, Whitfield has the group recut their vocals numerous times much to their annoyance, though it results in the performance captured on the finished record. The twelve minute long album track is edited down to just under seven minutes for single release. In spite of its length, the record is an across the board smash. “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” wins three Grammy Awards including Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group, Best R&B Instrumental Performance, and Best R&B Song in 1973. “Papa” is covered numerous times over the years including a version by musician Bill Wolfer in 1982 that features Michael Jackson on background vocals. George Michael also perform the song as part of a medley with Adamski and Seal’s song “Killer” in 1992 at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert and released on the EP “Five Live”. “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: December 1, 1987 – “The Black Album” by Prince is withdrawn from release. Written and produced by Prince, it is recorded at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen, MN and Sunset Sound Studios in Hollywood, CA from Early 1986 – Late 1987. Recorded in response to critics who feel his music has become “too pop oriented”, Prince comes forth with an album that features stripped down funk jams, tempered with often darkly humorous and profane lyrics. It is to be released with no title, text, or graphics on the front or back of the plain black cover (with only the catalog number printed on the spine). Originally scheduled for release on December 7, 1987, the eight track album (coming just nine months after “Sign ‘O’ The Times”) is pulled from release at the very last minute, after the artist has requested that it be rush released. Warner Bros Records ends up destroying several hundred thousand copies of the album before it can be shipped to record stores. However, enough copies survive (most originating from WEA’s West German pressing plant and advance promo cassettes to label personnel and the music press) becoming one of the most heavily bootlegged albums of all time. Prince never publicly gives a reason for the withdrawal, but it has been rumored that he felt the record was “evil” or that he had experienced a bad trip after taking the drug Ecstasy. He goes as far as to insert a subtle message into the music video for “Alphabet St.”, stating “don’t buy The Black Album, I’m sorry.”. Prince allows it be officially released on a limited basis on November 22, 1994. The album is then pulled from the marketplace on January 27, 1995. The vinyl LP version scheduled for reissue by Warner Music Group in December of 2016, is abruptly cancelled (along with several other Prince albums) and at the present time, no new release date has been given. In December of 2017, original US vinyl LP copies of “The Black Album” surface. Former Warner Bros Records executive Jeff Gold, discovers five sealed copies of the LP in his closet at home. Still in the original cardboard LP mailers, and manufactured at WEA’s Specialty Records Corp. pressing plant in Olyphant, PA, Gold finds the still factory sealed albums tucked away in a box. The copies go up for auction through Record Mecca.com, with three of them selling for $15,000 a piece, matching the price of one sold on Discogs in April of 2016. The last of Gold’s five copies sells for a record breaking $42,298 in 2018. In August of 2018, what is believed to be the only surviving Canadian pressed copy of the album is found. Rescued from destruction by an employee at the CBS pressing plant in Toronto, it sells at auction for $27,500 on the Discogs website. “The Black Album” peaks at number eighteen on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number forty seven on the Top 200.

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On this day in music history: December 1, 1979 – “I Wanna Be Your Lover” by Prince hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #11 on the Hot 100 on January 26, 1980. Written and produced by Prince, it is the first chart topping single for the multi-talented Minneapolis born musician. Following his modestly successful debut album “For You”, Prince returns to the studio in the Spring of 1979 to record his sophomore release. Recording at Alpha Studios in Burbank, CA and Hollywood Sound in Hollywood, CA in April of 1979 (final overdubs and mixing in May and June 1979), Prince plays all of the instruments and performs all of the vocals, completing the project in just six weeks. Issued as the first single from his self-titled second album on August 24, 1979, “Lover” quickly becomes a break out hit on club dance floors and crossover to R&B then pop radio airplay. The single firmly establishes Prince as a commercially viable artist, laying the groundwork for his mainstream pop success in the 80’s and beyond. Two music videos are shot for “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. The more common and widely seen clip features Prince by himself, singing the song and playing guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. The second and rarer version not broadcast at the time, features the musician with his original band line up, including Andre Cymone (bass), Bobby Z. (drums), Dez Dickerson (guitar) and Gayle Chapman (keyboards). The success of the single leads to Prince making his first television appearance on The Midnight Special, and his only appearance on American Bandstand in January of 1980. During the latter show, the notoriously shy musician gives awkward responses when replying to host Dick Clark’s questions, leading to him not appearing on television again until performing on Saturday Night Live in February of 1981. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: November 30, 1986 – “In Your Face”, the full length debut album by Fishbone is released. Produced by David Kahne, it is recorded at Sunset Sound Factory in Hollywood, CA, Ocean Way Recording Studios in Los Angeles, CA from June – September 1986. Having found success with their self-titled EP released in September of 1985, Columbia Records options a full album from Fishbone. Working once again with producer David Kahne, the L.A. based band write all of the material on their full length debut, drawing on all of their musical influences from funk and R&B, to ska and punk rock. Fishbone’s musical versatility along with their over the top energy and wry sense of humor produce another solid set. However, with CBS Records unsure of how to properly market the band, and with radio’s propensity to segregate artists based on color and musical style, the album largely falls through the cracks and fails to reach a wide audience. In spite of this, Fishbone continue to build a loyal following in part by landing a spot as the opening act for then label mates the Beastie Boys in early 1987, who are touring in support of their hugely successful album “Licensed To Ill”. “Face” spins off two singles including “It’s A Wonderful Life (Gonna Have A Good Time)” and “When Problems Arise”. The latter is accompanied by a memorable music video by Saturday Night Live short film director Gary Weis and choreographer Toni Basil. The video of “It’s A Wonderful Life” features performance footage of the band, inter cut with scenes from the classic holiday film of the same name, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. The album’s cover artwork features close up photos of the band on the front and back (taken by photographer John Scarpati). The original LP release features the artist, title graphics, track listing and a UPC barcode on both sides, making it difficult for fans and record store retailers to tell which side is the front and which is the back. Though it does include a “Parental Advisory” sticker on the outer shrinkwrap of the sleeve, indicating it is the front side. “In Your Face” does not chart on the Billboard Top 200.

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