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Funk for Friday: Funkadelic – Funky Dollar Bill

From Funkadelic’s second studio album, Free Your Mind… And Your Ass Will Follow (1970). Rock critic Robert Christgau said of this album, “Not only is the shit weird, the weirdness signifies.” The weirdness has its shit together most solidly on this track, which still melts my face.

Filed under: Song of the Day,

Funk for Friday: Curtis Mayfield, Superfly

So obvious there doesn’t seem any point in spinning it. So funky there is no way not to.

Curtis Mayfield, “Superfly” – from Superfly-The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Song of the Day, , ,

Funk for Friday: Sly & The Family Stone, If You Want Me to Stay

The Washington Post recently published an opinion piece arguing that the Kennedy Center should honor Sly & The Family Stone:

There’s no band more deserving. Sly and the Family Stone’s multi-race, mixed-gender lineup epitomized the social idealism of 1960s America, and the group’s protest songs melted genres with a funky, euphoric electricity that has never been matched.
via Kennedy Center should honor Sly and Family Stone, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell – The Washington Post.

Of course I agree, and I was particularly pleased to see the emphasis on Sly’s melding of genres, and of races.  Musical genres in general seem to have metastasized in recent years in a seemingly endless proliferation of variations of house-this, garage-that and most especially indie- and alternative-everything.  But the barrier between black and white still seems to me to remain fairly strong. Look at the faces of the alternative and indie crowd, of the bands (in whatever increasingly fine-grained genre they have been sorted) and to a somewhat lesser extent their fans.

On the other side, R&B – by whatever name it is going by – also still seems fairly unmixed, though perhaps less so than rock, depending on how you define it.  Britain seems to regularly throw out soul singers of often tremendous talent who happen to be white. Amy Winehouse is of course the obvious example, but there’s also Adele – currently topping charts all over (and check out her NPR Tiny Desk concert) – and Duffy, who made a big splash a couple of years back with the single “Mercy” from her album Rockferry.

Leaving aside international hip hop, the R&B and rock scenes in the US seem less multiracial now than they promised to be back in the 1970s, when you had bands like Sly and War.  Of course, I could be completely wrong – there are so many bands out there doing so much that it is impossible to keep up with it all these days.  But when you look at what is big and obvious, you don’t see too many bands like Sly & The Family Stone. So this is kind of my pet peeve and I won’t keep flogging it, at least right now, but rather dish up the track I am spinning, that’s got me grinning, just at the moment.

Sly & The Family Stone, “If You Want Me to Stay” – from Fresh (1973)

Coming as it did on the heels of the utterly whacked There’s a Riot Goin’ On, 1973’s Fresh surprised a lot of Sly fans by actually living up to its name. The weariness and paranoia of Riot are totally missing in action, replaced by a relaxed optimism that seems to shine from every note of tracks like “If You Want Me to Stay” and “In Time.” The band–newly buttressed by the rhythm section of Rusty Allen and Andy Newmark–plays it loose and funky, and Sly’s oddball sense of humor resurfaces on a cover of Doris Day’s “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).” Sadly, Sly would never again make a record even half as fresh as Fresh.

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

Funk for Friday: Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul, (I Got) So Much Trouble in my Mind

Another one-hit wonder / cult classic:

Joe Quarterman & Free Soul, “(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind” – from their self-titled album (1973)

“So Much Trouble” is one of the best funk songs of the 1970s. I think we need a new category – for one-hit wonders that are supremely awesome and among the best songs around.

And check out the Funky16Corners Friday Flashback podcast– F16 Radio v.15 So Much Trouble featuring “So Much Trouble” as the opening track

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day,

Funk for Friday: Sly & The Family Stone, Family Affair

Another Sly tune from their dark and drug-addled days in Los Angeles – which again sounds much more positive than their biography of the time would lead one to expect…

Sly & The Family Stone, “Family Affair” – from There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971)

The beat is great and I love the keyboards,  but it is the vocals that really make the song for me –  Sly’s raspy voice, and also the intimacy of it, the way it’s is pushed forward in the mix. Listen to it on headphones and it sounds like Sly and his sister Rose are right there next to you, singing to you.

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

Funk for Friday: Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Express Yourself

The biggest hit for Charles Wright, but what a hit – frequently sampled in recent years, but why not go to the source…

Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, “Express Yourself” – originally from the album of the same name (1970); here from Express Yourself: The Best of…

This song and Wright’s other big hit, “Do Your Thing” (1969), both date from the fourth incarnation of Wright’s band. In its first version, one of the band members was Daryl Dragon, better know to people in their mid forties to early fifties as the silent male half of “The Captain & Tennille.” The band was later reformed as a backing band for the comedian Bill Cosby, and it was this connection that landed them a record contract and their first album. But Wright didn’t really hit his stride until a couple year later, and after he’d left the Cosby connection behind. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

Music To Clean House By

In Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Science in the Capital” series (Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, Sixty Days and Counting) – one of my favorite reads of the last few years – one of the main characters, Charlie, likes to do his housecleaning with Beethoven playing on stereos on both floors – as I recall, “The Pastoral Symphony” on the ground floor and the “Grosse Fuge” upstairs. Both at maximum volume.

I’m cleaning the house today and I was flipping through my iPod playlist trying to find the right mood music. I tried Neil Young – no good, too slow – then some late 70s/early 80s punk – too frenetic. Distraction is required, and volume, but pacing is also crucial. The Rolling Stones worked a bit better – I got some traction with Let It Bleed in particular. But predictably it was old school funk and r&b that served me best, James Brown in particular, like…

Get up Offa that Thing
Sex Machine
The Payback
Papa Don’t Take No Mess
Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag

Honestly, I don’t know why I faffed around with all that other stuff. I still want to try Charlie’s approach – it does seem like Beethoven might have the right stuff for housecleaning – but for now I’m still a funk soul brother.

I’m going to have to work up a proper playlist for this, though, rather than jumping over to the iPod all the time to skip tracks that don’t work as well. And I suspect such a playlist would have other uses – like working out at the gym maybe.

If you have any suggestions for songs to include on a “housecleaning” playlist – even if they stray from the funk fold – let me know and I’ll try them out. If you have your own “housecleaning” playlist, send it to me or post it somewhere. Much as I would wish it otherwise, housecleaning is one of those things that comes around fairly frequently and my playlists will need to be long and varied.

If you are running a James Brown deficit, there are a couple of collections that will give you what you need: 20 All-Time Greatest Hits! has as many of the indispensable tunes as you can fit on one disc, in their single rather than album versions; while the Star Time 4-disc box set has pretty much every major James Brown song you could ask for.

But not all of them, even on four discs – I was just looking through the contents just now and it is missing “The Boss,” originally from the Black Caesar soundtrack, a funk favorite of mine and a song which I should certainly post as my “Funk for Friday” one of these days – but here it is now, to hold you over:

Filed under: Music, ,

Funk for Friday: Eddie Kendricks, “Keep on Truckin'”

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…

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, , , , , ,

Funk for Friday: Sly and the Family Stone, Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

Huge then, but seemingly more of a cult taste now – for reasons that completely escape me – Sly and the Family Stone are amazing…

Sly and the Family Stone, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” – released as a single and then on Greatest Hits
(1970)

Ranked 402 on the Rolling Stone list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

Sly and the Family Stone are an American rock, funk, and soul band from San Francisco, California. Active from 1966 to 1983, the band was pivotal in the development of soul, funk, and psychedelic music. Headed by singer, songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist Sly Stone, and containing several of his family members and friends, the band was the first major American rock band to have an “integrated, multi-gender” lineup….

After moving to the Los Angeles area in fall 1969, Sly Stone and his fellow band members became heavy users of illegal drugs, primarily cocaine and PCP. As the members became increasingly focused on drug use and partying (Sly Stone carried a violin case filled with illegal drugs wherever he went), recording slowed significantly. Between summer 1969 and fall 1971, the band released only one single, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” / “Everybody Is a Star”, released in December 1969. Although “Star” was another positive song in the vein of “Everyday People,” the single’s lead side featured an angry, bitter Sly and the Family Stone, who declared in unison that they could no longer pretend to be something they were not (peaceful, loving, and happy) and disrespectfully thanked the audience “for letting me be myself again.” “Thank You” reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1970…” (via Wikipedia.)

Weird to read that description of what was going on when they wrote this song, and to see the song described as angry and bitter. It’s never been how I heard the song. It always seemed – and still seems – more positive to me. Sly and the Family Stone seemed to be all about letting their “freak flag fly” (to use the wonderful phrase from a CSNY song), and it was in that sense that I heard “thank you for letting me be myself” – as genuinely grateful for being able to let that “freak flag fly.”

There is a hint of something darker in those lyrics about “dying young,” but the truth is I’ve never really heard/understood most of the lyrics – just the iconic title phrase. And that combined with the funky groove of the song sounds much more positive than the remarks in Wikipedia suggest. Perhaps if I read the lyrics I’d see/hear something different…

Which raises an interesting question. If most people can’t hear what’s really being said in a song’s lyrics, how much do we need to consider them in thinking about a song’s meaning or its reception? I suppose the answer is that there needs to be multiple readings – one for what most people hear, one for what we get from the song’s sound and all the lyrics no matter how hard they are to understand, another for what sense we can make of the song given what we know was going on with the band and at the time (as in the info from Wikipedia), and so on. All valid readings…

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

Soul for Sunday: Eddie Kendricks, “My People… Hold On”

A track of which I never tire.  Deep soul groove, right-on message.

Eddie Kendricks, “My People… Hold On” – from Black Power: Music of a Revolution; originally from the album People… Hold On (1972)

This is one of the songs I will put on repeat at my desk sometimes, and just let it wash over me for dozens of plays as I work away at some soul-crushing spreadsheet problem or similar task. Soul music to save your soul. Black power messages to help you keep the faith.

Kendricks was a member of that Motown supergroup, The Temptations, before leaving in the early 1970s to pursue a solo career.  This song comes from his second solo album, which was his breakthrough commercial success, mostly in the nascent disco scene.

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

Funk for Friday: Funkadelic, “Maggot Brain”

In previous music posts, I’ve brought up the issue of black music and white artists a number of times. It’s very complicated, and I want to talk about it directly in more detail at some point, but right now I just want to lay some guitar on you:

Funkadelic, “Maggot Brain” – from the album Maggot Brain (1971)

An awesome, withering, spooky/spacey, drug-addled trip down the rabbit hole from a classic 70s funk band… This song blew my mind when I heard it a couple of years ago.  I had no idea what I was listening to – though I did recall hearing it back in the day.  Who the hell is this, I thought?

Funkadelic was the second joint from George Clinton, after his doo wop band The Parliaments, but actually predates the now better know Parliament. A funk band, obviously, like Parliament, but deeply engaged in very direct ways with aspects of rock, specifically with 1970s psychedelic rock. This is a different kind of Detroit sound, one that makes me want to know more about the context that spawned it.  The only major band that is remotely like this is the Bay Area’s own Sly and the Family Stone.  Who are awesome.

So it’s black artists and white music this time, rather than the other way ’round.  But really what it points to is how phony these distinctions are, overall, more to do with marketing – and the messed-up state of race relations in the USA – than music.  Still, with the occasional exception like Lenny Kravitz or Fishbone, it seems far more common these days to find white boys rapping than black kids rocking. Which is a shame.

This track isn’t funky, so posting it as “funk for friday” is a bit of cheat. But it does melt your face off. Which is one way to begin your weekend.  Hmmm – where did I leave my drugs?

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, , ,

Funk for Friday: James Brown, “Stone to the Bone”

Ten minutes of funk awesomeness to get your groove on and move you into the weekend…

James Brown, “Stone to the Bone” – from The Payback (1974)

Sampled all over the place – by NWA and Del tha Funkee Homosapien, among others – and as funky today as it was when the single was released in 1973.

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

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Upcoming Bay Area Films of Interest

  • Vertigo (w lecture) at BAMPFA February 22, 2017 at 3:10 pm – 4:10 pm BAMPFA
  • Bitter Victory (Ray) at BAMPFA February 25, 2017 at 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2155 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA
  • One-Eyed Jacks at BAMPFA February 25, 2017 at 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm BAMPFA
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zerode

is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.

 

What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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