June 25: Chic, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Parliament, Prince, Sly and the Family Stone, War

I hear this week’s choice of albums is a bad mother-

Shut your mouth!

But I’m talking about funk!

Then we can dig it!

This week, we’ll be getting on the dancefloor with some of the funkiest platters in the box, so I hope you’re ready to shake your ass.

Chic, ‘Risque’

Our second and final visit to Nile and the gang opens with immaculate evergreen ‘Good Times’, and if you don’t like that then I can’t do nothing for you. There’s two other singles on the album, ‘My Forbidden Lover’ and ‘My Feet Keep Dancing’, which follow a similar template of cool guitar chopping, elastic bass and string section. Meanwhile, this week’s most apt song, ‘Warm Summer Night’, drifts at the same sort of tempo I was operating at all week in zillion-degree heatwave temperature. As with ‘C’est Chic’, the album’s B-side has a dull experiment in repetition, although at least ‘Will You Cry (When You Hear This Song)’ is only four minutes compared to seven minutes of ‘At Last I Am Free’. One of the great singles bands, this is the better of their two albums on the list.

Isaac Hayes, ‘Shaft: Music From The Soundtrack’

The private dick who’s a sex machine with all the chicks is probably better known from this song than the film series in which he appears, and ‘Theme From Shaft’ is Hayes’ best-known song. Only three vocal tracks over four sides here, with the majority being instrumental soundtrack pieces based around horns, Hayes on keyboards and vibraphone and rhythms that often feel Latin in flavour. Second disc standout ‘Do Your Thing’, nearly twenty minutes long, accelerates tempo and guitar dissonance like a rock song, before crumbling into organ solo exhaustion. I didn’t mind having this on, but it’s no ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ is it.

Curtis Mayfield, ‘Superfly’

Mayfield’s best-known solo album is certainly better known than ‘Super Fly’, the film which it soundtracks. I’ve never seen ‘Super Fly’, which had a perfectly acceptable amount of commercial success (and 91% on Rotten Tomatoes), but I can see why this great record was much more successful. The film tracks a drug dealer, which allows Mayfield to incorporate social themes (i.e. drugs and their consequences) into a fusion of funk and soul which marries strong rhythm sections with orchestral strings, making for a soundtrack as groovy as it is dramatic.

Parliament, ‘Mothership Connection’

I’ve heard these goofballs a few times in their alternate incarnation as Funkadelic, a more guitar-heavy, leftfield take on funk. Here, they create a mythology of black guys in UFOs (although wasn’t that part of Sun Ra’s whole deal?) and leave most of the instrumentation to Bootsy Collins, he of the star-shaped bass, who also contributes guitar and drums. This took a couple of tracks to warm to, but I was onboard from ‘Unfunky UFO’ onwards. The album was fun, but I bet it’s more entertaining live, where the ebuillence of the musicians is more likely to be infectious.

Prince, ‘1999’

Guys I know you all like Prince, but his albums haven’t done a whole lot for me yet: for every stone-cold classic, there’s a lot of waffle on the Fairlight and the Linn, and sections where nothing happens. The title track is a classic of course, a bit of Cold War four-minutes-to-midnight paranoia which was reclaimed as a party anthem by the time we actually hit the year 1999. Yet it’s ‘Automatic’ that feels like the more representative microcosm of the album: ten minutes of Prince yowling like Red Dwarf’s Cat, weird synthesizer squeals and long instrumental passages. Just one more of the Purple One’s albums on the list, ‘Purple Rain’.

Sly and the Family Stone, ‘Stand!’

‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On’ is the album always considered the classic: a gloomy bit of bleak drum machine funk which sounds smothered due to a master tape ruined by endless erasing and overdubbing. Yet ‘Stand!’ feels like the drugs were better, with a upbeat first half, ‘Everyday People’, a thirteen-minute jam with a lengthy drum solo which somehow manages to avoid boredom, and more. The first half sounds vaguely like the Temptations or the Drifters, while the second half pushes the boat out into looser and more abstract waters. Still, this is less oblique than I was expecting.

War, ‘The World is a Ghetto’

I only knew a few things about War – Eric Burdon, ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends?’, ‘My Mate Marmite’ – none of which are on this record. ‘The World is a Ghetto’ is probably the most rock-orientated of this week’s cuts, with a faint nod to ‘Voodoo Chile’ in second track ‘Where Was You At’. The third song, ‘City, Country, City’ is 13 minutes long, but mostly concerns itself with maintaining the beat, whereas last week’s prog albums were only bothered about the beat if it was 13/8 or something. The B-side is boring, floating woozily through the summer evening like a bee drunk on nectar and at the same sort of pace.

Next week: It’s time to check out some of the bands with three albums each on the list, including some artists making their blog debut!

Status update: 548 listened to (55%), 453 remaining.

 

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March 14: Brian Wilson, Chic, ‘Bryter Layter’

Brian Wilson, ‘Smile’.

The doomed Beach Boys album was the ‘Apocalypse Now’ of music, in that its cursed development became more interesting than the product. Coppolla finished his film, though, whereas the Beach Boys never got ‘Smile’ out. 38 years later, Wilson finally released a version, re-recorded without the rest of the band. The vocals are great and the melodies are strong throughout, but I’m not sure such a bitty album would have held up, even with ‘Heroes and Villains’ at the start and ‘Good Vibrations’ at the end.

Chic, ‘C’est Chic’.

A rare band where the musicians are more famous than the singers, and rightly so: the phenomenal trio of Nile Rogers, Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson are dream session hands. Their second album revolves around wonderful singles ‘Le Freak’ and ‘I Want Your Love’, has a few cheap-sounding but decent album tracks, and is let down only by the B-side-ruining ‘At Last I Am Free’, which drags one idea out for seven interminable minutes.

Nick Drake, ‘Bryter Layter’.

A copy of this album must have been distributed to every household in Scotland, considering the obvious shadow cast on Belle and Sebastian, The Delgados and others. I hadn’t heard any of Tanworth-In-Arden’s most famous son before, but the melancholy folk is brilliant. Two more albums of his are on the list; in other words his entire discography.