MONDAY, MAY 18, 2015
WEEK 20: SEVENTIES FUNK & SOUL
The early seventies remained shrouded in the climate of social and political upheaval that had so dominated the sixties. Inspired by the achievements and outrages of the past, black consciousness emerged as radical Black Nationalism and Black Power to even greater effect, while visions of the ghetto, glamorised as a dark inversion of the American Dream, became the overriding image of black America.
Ultimately, that glorification would be a dead end, and no-one felt the effects or raged against the dying of the light as much as Sly Stone. While others paid lip service to such sixties ideals as racial integration, sexual equality and fighting the man, the erstwhile Sylvester Stewart put all the rhetoric into practice with some of the most galvanizing, perfectly crafted music ever.
At the same time, but with a completely different agenda, James Brown continued to economise and refine funk, the tiniest grunt coming to mean everything. Radicalised and inspired, more and more black artists began to adopt ‘black’ profiles and free themselves from the corporate chains. Whether it was Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder or Temptations producer Norman Whitfield reclaiming their artistic control from Berry Gordy, Curtis Mayfield creating the template for blaxploitation soundtracks or George Clinton’s P-Funk family, the early seventies overflowed with artist’s deconstructing soul to forge their own shapes and visions.
The last movement of the classic soul era to have any real impact was Philly Soul. Dominated by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International label, it embodied the contradictions threatening to tear black America apart: Gamble was a cultural nationalist but his music paved the way for disco hedonism; they preached about the ghetto, yet aimed their records at the emerging black middle classes, They symbolised the struggle of all popular seventies soul, a sound trying to move forward and aspire to something greater while clinging desperately to its roots.
Philadelphia International’s greatest success came in 1974 before disco emerged and the big hits dried up. As artists adopted the four-to-the-floor beat, black music was left with a huge void to fill. Even when Earth, Wind & Fire achieved the critical and commercial success they deserved, and old masters like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye released some of their finest records, there was still no cohesion or global figurehead to focus on until Michael Jackson, the biggest icon in black music history, announced his arrival as a fully-fledged adult on Off The Wall.
Although Thriller is rightly cited as the ultimate game changer, it was Off The Wall‘s lightweight disco funk that laid the groundwork for soul music’s desultory slide into pop R&B. Michael Jackson may have kicked down the walls of inherent corporate racism, so allowing black music to enter the mainstream like never before, but with his naked lust for success at any cost, he also replaced any last remaining sense of roots, relevance and rebellion with something completely fake and inauthentic. And when you consider the morally bankrupt state of eighties R&B, in many ways that was unforgiveable.
01 SYL JOHNSON ‘Different Strokes’ (Is It Because I’m Black LP March 1970)
02 THE TEMPTATIONS ‘Ball Of Confusion’ (A Side May 1970)
03 CURTIS MAYFIELD ‘(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go’ (Curtis LP September 1970)
04 BOBBY BYRD ‘I Know You Got Soul’ (A Side May 1971)
05 JAMES BROWN 'Hot Pants’ (Hot Pants LP August 1971)
06 SLY & THE FAMILY STONE ‘Family Affair’ (There’s A Riot Goin’ On LP November 1971)
07 BETTY WRIGHT ‘Clean Up Woman’ (A Side November 1971)
08 THE O’JAYS ‘Back Stabbers’ (A Side July 1972)
09 WAR ‘Me And Baby Brother’ (A Side August 1973)
10 24 CARAT BLACK ‘Ghetto: Misfortunes Wealth’ (Ghetto: Misfortunes Wealth LP November 1973)
11 CREATIVE SOURCE ‘Who Is He And What Is He To You’ (Creative Source LP April 1974)
12 SHUGGIE OTIS ‘Aht Uh Mi Hed’ (Inspiration Information LP September 1974)
13 ISLEY BROTHERS ‘Fight The Power’ (The Heat Is On LP June 1975)
14 PARLIAMENT ‘Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)’ (Mothership Connection LP December 1975)
15 BANBARRA ‘Shack Up’ (A Side December 1975)
16 STEVIE WONDER ‘I Wish’ (Songs In The Key Of Life LP October 1976)
17 MARVIN GAYE ‘Got To Give It Up Pt 1’ (A Side April 1977)
18 T CONNECTION ‘Do What You Wanna Do’ (A Side May 1977)
19 EARTH, WIND & FIRE ‘Serpentine Fire’ (All ’n All LP November 1977)
20 FUNKADELIC ‘Cholly (Funk Getting Ready To Roll)’ (One Nation Under A Groove LP September 1978)
21 MICHAEL JACKSON ‘Get On The Floor’ (Off The Wall LP August 1979)
NEXT WEEK: ROOTS & DUB