Not a Grateful Dead song–that’s just “Truckin’.” Not your typical city involved in a typical daydream. But it’s interesting to think about the willingness of this song, of an R&B singer, to engage with the whole hippie/freak thing…
Eddie Kendricks, “Keep on Truckin'”—originally on his self-titled 1973 album
But is it a hippie/freak thing? The Dead’s “Truckin'” has had so much airplay over the years that it sort of owns the word (in its shortened n’ form). (But remind me to post the speed-freak version of it by the Bay Area punk band, Pop-o-Pies.) And the origins of the title phrase also suggest that hippie/freak connection—it had been popularized a few years before this song came out in a pretty famous underground hippie comic, in an illustration by R. Crumb (above):
Keep on Truckin’ (comics): “Keep on Truckin'” is a one-page comic by Robert Crumb. It was published in the first issue of Zap Comix in 1968. A visual riff on the lyrics of the Blind Boy Fuller song “Truckin’ My Blues Away”, it consists of an assortment of men, drawn in Crumb’s distinctive style, strutting confidently across various landscapes. The strip’s drawings became iconic images of optimism during the hippie era. Like most underground comics, “Keep on Truckin'” was not copyrighted, and images of it have been widely reproduced on T-shirts, posters, and other items. (via Wikipedia.)
But maybe despite all of that, the phrase “Keep on truckin'” had a wider currency during the 70s than I recall, and was used equally by hippies and hipsters… Whether or not this is a song with a hippie engagement—a freak meets funk kind of thing—it certainly has a nice funky groove, at times reminiscent of The Jackson 5, which makes sense since it was coming out of the same Motown hit machine.
It’s also got a transitional sound, moving from the Motown R&B sound of the late 60s/early 70s to the disco sound of the later 70s. Compare this song with the other Kendricks tune I posted a little while back, “My People… Hold On,” from just a year earlier. While I like “Keep on Truckin’,” I think this comparison shows that the move to a more disco sound didn’t do Kendricks any favors. That earlier song is a minor masterpiece; this one is just good, and Kendricks never got any better in his subsequent disco numbers. Still, it was a huge hit when it came out, Kendricks’ first real hit as a solo artist since leaving The Temptations, of which he was one of the founders.
The most prominent freak meets funk moment was almost certainly Sly & The Family Stone, who were featured in last week’s “Funk for Friday.” I’ve also written about Funkadelic’s engagement with a style of psychedelic rock that was definitely more associated with white boys. All of this is of interest for the ways in which black music—music by African Americans and coming out of the African American community—and white music have interacted in the United States, coming together, moving apart, borrowing/ stealing/ learning from each other, but for the most part retaining somewhat separate identities. Separate Billboard charts. Separate radio stations. In an earlier time, “race records.” Separate communities of listeners. Lots more to say on this topic, obviously…
- 20th Century Masters: Eddie Kendricks – Amazon.com
- Eddie Kendricks – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Eddie Kendricks The Ultimate Collection – Download from rapidshare.com – Filestube.com
- A small selection of whatever fills my head!: Eddie Kendricks – The Ultimate Collection
- R. Crumb on Amazon.com
- The Official R. Crumb Website.