The dark side of Motown, to a badass funky-rock beat.
In the ’70s, the Motown Sound ceased to be the Motown Sound. The label had moved to Los Angeles and the core studio musicians – aka the Funk Brothers – who had recorded the distinctive, inventive backgrounds, were largely discarded. Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye hired their own bands; ubiquitous LA session men backed Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes and the other stars who remained; Norman Whitfield followed Holland-Dozier-Holland through the out door and quit, as did four-fifths of The Jackson 5. While Berry Gordy busied himself as a movie mogul, talent scouting was not an unalloyed success, but The Commodores and Rick James ploughed genuinely fresh territory for the label. The Commodores were reliable hit-makers; James was the maverick. A guitarist, singer, songwriter, bandleader and with Neil Young a former member of The Mynah Birds, James evolved what became known as punk funk. There was no ‘punk’ as any MOJO reader might recognise the term in James’s hybrid, which was actually funk-rock-pop; while his image was more Hollywood pimp. Be that as it may, 1981’s Street Songs, his fifth album, saw everything gel. Not only was this James’s strongest set of songs, with powerful arrangements and production by the artist, there was a cohesive vision, too, leaning heavily on ‘in the life’ observation and personal experience – Ghetto Life, Below The Funk, Mr Policeman, Super Freak – and sticky lurve interest from tough funk (Give It To Me Baby) to smouldering slow grooves (Fire And Desire).
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 6:15 AM GMT 29/12/2008