SOME STUFFS: Earth, Wind & Fire “Head To The Sky” gets the audiophile treatment from Audio Fidelity

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Audio Fidelity recently did a hybrid SACD of Earth, Wind & Fire’s fantastic Open Our Eyes album and they’ve dipped into the EW&F discography again, this time by going back a year before for another classic gem. This time it’s the 1973 album that arguably sparked the beginning of what would be years of incredible music making from the band, and the last album to feature vocalist Jessica Cleaves. Head To The Sky is the album that has so much great songs, from “Build A Nest” to “Clover”, “Zanzibar” to “Evil” and the fantastic “Keep Your Head To The Sky”. This hybrid SACD will feature the original stereo album remastered by Steve Hoffman while the SACD portion goes back to the original quadraphonic mix which makes its digital debut here. This will be released next month.

DUST IT OFF: Earth Wind & Fire “That’s The Way Of The World”… 40 years later

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Little did Earth, Wind & Fire know how powerful their sixth album would be when it was released on Friday, March 14, 1975. That’s The Way Of The World was not only their 6th LP but the fourth for Columbia Records, which must’ve showed the label that they are more than willing to continue the music they had made since the release of Head To The Sky and Open Our Eyes. The group did have their share of soul hit singles from each album but it seems they wanted to take things higher with help from Charles Stepney. Stepney did work on their previous album, Open Our Eyes, as an associated producer with Joe Wissert handling the production chair but it seems Maurice White needed a much stronger captain. White was more than capable of doing it himself, especially after years of handling some of the work at Chess Records, but he also knew how Stepney could do with his work at Chess and with the Rotary Connection (some of which White played drums on). It may not have been a “make or break” album, as bands did have the luxury of easing up at the pace they wanted to, but if you listen to how the album flows from one song to the other, they were running eagerly somewhere stronger. Look at the album cover. Maurice White is looking as if he’s saying “welcome to my kingdom” while Ralph Johnson has a slight head nod and a “how you like me now?” attitude. Bassist Verdine White has a glare, saying “you’re gonna love this, come inside with us.” Philip Bailey is just getting down to the groove while keyboardist Larry Dunn is flying or levitating in the air, just happy to get off on whatever they were listening to at the time. Meanwhile, Andrew Woolfolk, Al McKay, and Fred White are just taking in the rise while guitarist Johnny Graham is smiling, saying “i don’t know what’s going on, man, but I’m digging it.”

  • That’s the attitude the band had on That’s The Way Of The World, where they’re not standing outside in Colorado near the recording studio where they recorded Open Our Eyes, freezing their asses off and just wanting back in an air conditioned studio. They were in a room, dressed to impress and ready to make some music, and they began with the incredible “Shining Star”, which begins not only with one of the best introductions to any song, but their group philosophy and perhaps what they were intending to do:
    When you wish upon a star
    dreams will take you very far, yeah
    when you wish upon a dream
    life ain’t always what it seems, oh yeah

    The double guitar groove from Graham and McKay offers a wonderful groove, while Verdine White’s basslines dance as if he’s on his own path but knows whose foundation he is on.

  • The title track is easily one of the best songs Earth, Wind & Fire not only recorded, but one of the best songs Maurice White ever wrote. The mood of the song sounds laid back, features a horn and string section, is very jazzy, but the lyrics deserves much attention, talking about what makes us tick as people and why sometimes we can’t tick together:
    We come together on this special day
    wing our message loud and clear
    looking back, we’ve touched on sorrowful days,
    future pass, they disappear
    you will find peace of mind
    if you look way down in your heart and soul
    don’t hesitate ’cause the world seems cold
    stay young at heart, ’cause you’re never, never old

    For me, the core of the song is centered in two lines which basically doesn’t answer why we are the way we are with one another, but it makes us think how to change, if at all possible:
    child is born with a heart of gold
    the weight of of the world makes his heart so cold

    It could be considered a church sermon of sorts, made very clear in the song’s last minute when it sounds as if he is testifying. You hear the sweet vocals of Bailey and you just don’t want that feeling to end, but does fade out.

  • If “Shining Star” wasn’t a song to get the crowd jumping, then “Happy Feeling” was very much the energy that kept listeners dancing and jumping like the band on the cover. What I always loved about the song is that despite the fact there’s a united mood/feeling throughout, it is divided in ways that let people know where they’re at or where they need to be. We hear a passage that sounds like the bridge could be there before getting into a chorus, then a verse here and then, and builds up for Maurice White’s kalimba solos, with the last one being the funkiest point on the album as the band is very much down on the one, complete with the horn section understanding what’s going on and Verdine White’s bass work speaking in tongues.

    “All About Love” ends Side 1 in a beautiful way, a ballad written by Dunn and White that allows a bit of personal reflection about things, be it about self or everything within the vicinity as Maurice White raps with us about spirituality, or the inner self which leads about the expression of what becomes our outer selves. As White says in the song, he’s talking about beauty and perhaps if all of us are beautiful in our own way, we become what we want to see in the world, the way it is not at times.

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    “Yearnin’ Learnin'” begins Side 2 almost in a way that sounds like the introduction to the 1970’s TV show Battle Of The Network Stars or an energetic scene for a movie. Basically, this is a song that had deserved to be a hit as it has a feeling that could make anyone dance but perhaps the understanding of the lyrics may have been difficult, or if not the lyrics themselves, the manner in which they vocalized. The next song on the album would do its share of positive damage.

    There are many ways to describe what Stepney brought to the group but if there’s a perfect example of his contributions to the group, it’s “Reasons”. Listen to the song and imagine what it would sound like without the horn and string arrangements. Then listen to it again with everything blended in. The vocal harmonies are wonderful too, the band are making things mellow, but you can tell that this was done as Bailey’s centerpiece, which he would do in Earth, Wind & Fire concerts for the next 40 years. The song is symphonic in a David Axelrod manner, if not better, for while the song sounds romantic and sensual in the right spots, there’s another layer where you may feel longing, you may feel hope, you may feel engaging, there’s something but you’re uncertain even as the song fades, which happens at the right moment. Stepney genius.

    If older fans were feeling the group were losing their jazz roots and origins, “Africano” showed they always kept their feet planted into the ground, rooted with their ancestors. The percussion and horn section tigthened up to show why Earth, Wind & Fire were a band to not mess with but for people who were turned on to their music for the first time, they wanted to let people know why they should stay around. The group kept on doing instrumentals as they moved from Warner Bros. Records to Columbia, with songs like “Spasmodic Movements”, “Runnin'”, and “Biyo” that showed everyone if they wanted to let loose and just jam, they were more than capable. “Africano” would become a staple of the band for years.

    The album ends in a song that begins on a 7/4 time measure and the arrangement sounds complex with a statement that becomes part of the moral of the album’s story:
    Lookin’ through the clouds, what do you see?
    sky of gases, child in need
    troubles everywhere, more than I can bear
    so I’m searchin’ from within

    The band switch up a bit, getting into a melody that sounds similar to “Feelin’ Blue” from Open Our Eyes to allow a bit of continuity from one album to the next, complete with similar vocal harmonies and Dunn’s synth solo. While Bailey has always been a spiritual man, with him releasing a series of gospel albums over the years, this was a song where he was allowed to see and share the light he feels, and to let people know that they too can be inspired to feel the light within, however you want to interpret that.

    Looking back, the album is solid from start to finish but it’s also easy to hear it as an album that didn’t get to the power it was trying to achieve. Then again, the album does end with African chanting and Dunn’s keyboard interludes that works as a continuation of the dialogue the group has always shared with people, and a bit of nerdery that ahd them saying “I’m going to doodle a bit, thank you for listening, please come back next time.” For me, I didn’t get this album until long after I had Spirit when I was six and All-N-All at 7. That’s The Way Of The World was always the album a lot of people had when I went to their house. I always wondered why they would have That’s The Way Of The World and not have Open Our Eyes, All-N-All, or Head To The Sky, which my auntie had. It seemed that if families had Earth, Wind & Fire in their collections, it was either That’s The Way Of The World or The Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire or both. Yet when I saw someone had Gratitude, I knew they were deep listeners. That was a double album, which meant they had taken time to listen to it deeply. Everyone may have had Frampton Comes Alive but Gratitude made me feel as if they were good people. That’s The Way Of The World released two very successful singles that are played on pop radio 40 years later: “Shining Star” and the title track, and due to the short length of “Shining Star” (under three minutes), it is often played alongside “That’s The Way Of The World” back to back, similar to what Queen would have with “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions”. For Queen, that was a double-A sided single while EW&F came out with two separate singles yet radio often plays it together as one. As big as the song seems to be, “Reasons” only released as a promotional single to radio, which could mean Columbia had considered to release it as its own single and held it back, or merely pressed it to radio was a way to promote the strength of the album.

    As huge as the album is and how powerful it resonates with listeners, I still prefer Head To The Sky, Open Our Eyes, Spirit, and All-N-All. I am more than aware that without That’s The Way Of The World there would be no Spirit, and All-N-All. It is due to the success of That’s The Way Of The World that lead them to a massive North American tour that lead to the release of the double LP live album Gratitude. I have always felt That’s The Way Of The World is penultimate compared to the majesty that is All-N-All due to all of the great songs that are on it. At this point, I’m talking about personal preferences and I shouldn’t take away from the success That’s The Way Of The World achieved. The album was #1 on both Billboard’s Pop and Black music charts, the first time for Earth, Wind & Fire. They now had pop success and would remain there for the next six years and considering all of the songs that were high on the pop charts, that’s a lifetime. That’s The Way Of The World remains on a number of critic charts and remains the first choice EW&F newbies choose if they are to pick out an album, alongside The Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire Vol. I. The group may not have been aware of the goodness they were about to achieve when they shot the cover but it looks like they just were given gold record awards, with the platinum award that didn’t exist until 1976. The weight of the world can make all of us grow cold but with powerful music, it can lead to brighter and better days.

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  • SOME STUFFS: America, Earth Wind & Fire to get the audiophile treatment from Audio Fidelity

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    If you enjoy your audiophile CD’s as I do, you are going to like the next two releases Audio Fidelity will be releasing on March 31st.

  • The first one is America’s second album released in 1972, Homecoming. This is the one that features the big hit “Venture Highway”, but also featured “Don’t Cross The River” and “Only In Your Heart” which were released as single, although FM radio did give other songs a shot. Some fans will also know this album for Hal Blaine playing drums on it. The album went as high as #9 on Billboard, went gold and was certified platinum after 1976.
  • After a few jazzy adventures with their first two albums, Earth Wind & Fire moved from Warner Bros. Records to Columbia and started changing their momentum with the addition of vocalist Philip Bailey. 1973’s Head To The Sky was the first hint of what was to come but it was 1974’s Open Our Eyes which showed how determined the band were to create hit songs and albums. The band were involved with two albums to be released in 1974, with Open Our Eyes getting a release in February of that year. It’s the album that offered songs like “Devotion”, “Kalimba Song”, “Fair But So Uncool” and the funky “Mighty Mighty”. While the group would share a bit of their jazzy roots, there was a worldly influence too. The other album that band were involved with that year was Ramsey Lewis’ Sun Goddess, released in the fall and that would help take Lewis to the high end of the charts. These two albums would help lead EW&F to higher realms with the release of their follow up, That’s The Way Of The World but Open Our Eyes remains my favorite EW&F album and one of my favorite records of all time.

    Outside of the new remastered versions, the hybrid SACD’s come with surround sound mixes, with America’s Homecoming getting the 5.1 treatment while EW&F’s Open Our Eyes is pulling out the original 4-channel quadraphonic mix, the first time this has ever been released digitally.

  • BOOK’S JOOK: Earth Wind & Fire’s “Mighty Mighty”

  • Book’s Jook is a column dedicated to placing a record within my dream jukebox, if I were to have one. The Seeburg jukebox shown below is similar to the one I have wanted since I was a kid. To read more on why I started this column, click here.

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    It is uncertain what was the first Earth, Wind & Fire song I heard but considering that we only had the Open Our Eyes album in our house until Spirit was released, it’s safe to guess that it would be the opening track to Open Our Eyes, “Mighty Mighty”. The song has a groove and a wicked sense of funk, what a way to begin a fantastic album. Sure, I got into the band more as they released That’s The Way Of The World, Spirit and All-N-All but Open Our Eyes was my album, it was a must, it became necessary for me to listen to.

    As a kid, I wasn’t paying attention to the lyrics for “Mighty Mighty” but I knew the chorus “we are people of the mighty, mighty people of the sun” because it seemed to represent my upbringing in Honolulu, for me at least. When I heard the second half of the chorus which said “in our heart lies all the answers to the truth you can’t run from“, I wasn’t sure what they were singing about, and it would take me awhile, and living life where I’d be able to relate to it completely, did I know its meaning.

    The first chorus had Maurice White and Philip Bailey singing about keeping true to yourself, whether it’s with a spiritual sense or whatever you choose to believe in because “how’s your faith? ’cause your faith is you/who you kiddin’, to yourself be true“. What I never understood was the second chorus, but once I started living as an adult and got a job, then it all became perfectly clear:

    The eagle flies every seven days
    still cryin’ blue all about your pay
    what ya gonna do ’bout your living thing?
    will ya make it better or just complain?

    everyday is real, don’t run from fear
    ’cause better days are very near
    there are times when you’re bound to cry
    one more time, head to the sky

    The song was about working a 9 to 5, having to deal with the powers that be and feeling stuck within certain boundaries. If you stick to your intentions and what you enjoy doing, you’ll be happy. After that point, Bailey starts reading the high notes of the song, but he doesn’t even stop there. He goes higher during the chorus and that has got to be the brightest sound of jubilation ever heard on wax.

    Even the small moments in the song are great, from the brief mention of “delicious” after the line “who you kiddin’, to yourself be true” to a minor “uh” panned to the left channel after the line “the eagle flies every seven days“, whatever reasons they were placed and remained in the mix, it sounds awesome. The song lasts a mere thre eminutes and yet I’d love to hear a full version of it, be it unedited or to a proper close without a fade. I want this to happen in my life, it is on my bucket list.

    Considering how much I love the drums, it makes sense that another reason why I like this 45 is because of its B-side, the song that opened side two of Open Our Eyes, “Drum Song”. It opened me to the kalimba and made me want to have one, even though I had no idea how to play one. I received it as a gift for my 7th or 8th birthday and I have it to this day, out-of-tune and everything.

    I also intended of putting other Earth, Wind & Fire songs into my dream jukebox, including “Got To Get You Into My Life”, “Serpentine Fire”, or “Fantasy” but no other song would fit perfectly into my jukebox than “Mighty Mighty”, for me at least. I remember it as one of my earliest musical pleasures. If the entire album was released as 45’s, I’d include it too but “Mighty Mighty” would have to go in there, for it represents who I am, in many ways.

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  • DUST IT OFF: Earth, Wind & Fire’s “All ‘N All”…35 years later

    Earth, Wind & Fire
    As a 7 year old, I loved Earth, Wind & Fire. They were one of my favorite groups as they were a band whose records were a constant part of my childhood. My favorite EW&F album was, and will always remain, 1974’s Open Our Eyes, and that year also gave us Ramsey Lewis’ Sun Goddess, two songs of which had EW&F involvement (in “Hot Dawgit” and the title track). Their music was always on the radio so while I didn’t get That’s The Way Of The World or their live album Gratitute until later, there wasn’t a time when songs like “Sing A Song”, “Can’t Hide Love”, “Reasons”, “Shining Song”, “Happy Feelin'”, and “That’s The Way Of The World” was not on the radio. Plus, one of my auntie’s had those albums so it wasn’t a problem to listen to it if I visited her apartment. My next EW&F experience, however, was Spirit. I remember sitting down in front of my parents’ stereo, sitting with the record, looking at the cover, and wondering what it meant for the pyramid to be there as they close their eyes with different hand gestures and body stances. The true significance of the lyrics in their music wouldn’t come clear until later, but it was obvious they were about positivity. Alongside groups like the Ohio Players, Brass Construction, and Parliament, it seemed that ideal music groups were eight members or more, it looked like they were all brothers, a family vibe, and it sounded like they were having an incredible time in the studio. By the time All N’ All was released on November 21, 1977, it seemed like there was something in the air. Yes, even at age 7 I could tell there was a bit of a musical difference between what they had done on Open Our Eyes and what I heard on All N’ All, even though I didn’t know how to put that together in words.

    For me, All N’ All was their “go for broke” album, something they had already been testing out with the surprise pop success of That’s The Way Of The World, which placed three songs in heavy rotation which continues to this day. “Shining Star” and “That’s The Way Of The World” are often played back to back, the soul/pop equivalent of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”/”We Are The Champions”, and there aren’t any soul groups who can make that back to back claim in the mainstream. I remember my dad buying All N’ All and bringing it home. He put on the record and things began with a bit of a funky groove. All of a sudden, here came the horns, the drive towards something, and with a mega blast, Maurice White, Philip Bailey, and the rest of the band sang out with passion, “OH!” It was glorious and jubilant, although at age 7 I didn’t come up with those words. It just sounded new and fresh, and hearing new music from my favorite band was awesome. Forget the fact that I had no idea what White was singing about, or that Bailey sounded like he was singing all about the “serpentine fah”, but I loved the funkiness and that was all that mattered. I would learn about the spiritual tone of the song later on, but what stood out about this song was how solid and polished it sounded compared to what they had released before. What I also loved about this song was the breakdown with the percussion, and how with headphones, there was always a little extra information going on in each channel. Nonetheless, “Serpentine Fire” was the first single to be released from the band’s new album.

    On a historical note, if you were able to track down the promotional white label 12″ single, you would find that “Serpentine Fire” was extended by an extra minute. This version has yet to be digitized officially.

  • “Fantasy” was song #2, and this was Bailey’s showcase. Lyrically, the words were a bit more easier to understand for this 7 year old. As a fan of the P-Funk, it was cool to hear that Earth, Wind & Fire were also going to head into space, with a lyric like “take a ride in the sky on our ship fantasise”. In the year of Star Wars, when all of us of a certain age now looked forward to heading to space one day, it was very cool to realize that along with the Mothership Connection, I would be able to travel to a planet and see Earth, Wind & Fire one day. While the front cover of All ‘N All was a look at African traditions and archival of the past, if you opened the gatefold cover, it showed what it would be like for the future, taking hints from Clinton and Sun Ra to let people know that perhaps, space will indeed be the place to be.

    “Fantasy” was very cool, with incredible bass work from Verdine White, the powerful string and horn arrangements, and just the thought of the song, making it possible for dreams to come true and go further than you could ever imagine. It was a very happy and positive song, or at least a song where a kid like myself could listen to and want to achieve better because the sky was no longer the limit, we could go beyond. They were inspirational songs, and upon reading the lyric sheet, I discovered that there were a few lines printed that was not in the song. “Where are the lyrics in the song?” I asked, and “is this sung, or do we talk over it?” What I also loved, and still do, is that while some songs would have a chorus, it felt like this song had four different choruses. As I got older, I realized the White was simply offering a bit of lessons and guidance through his words, and these choruses came off a bit like mantra:

    Come to see victory In a land called fantasy
    Loving life for you and me
    To behold, to your soul is ecstasy

    You will find other kind
    That has been in search of you
    Many lives has brought you to
    Recognize, it’s your life now in review

    And as you stay for the play
    Fantasy has in store for you
    A glowing light will see you through
    It’s your day, shining day, all your dreams come true

    As you glide in your stride
    With the wind as you fly away
    Give a smile from your lips and say
    I’m free, yes I’m free, now I’m on my way

    It felt as if each chorus helped the song to build until it would reach its conclusion, and you can’t help but go “yes, this is what life should be like”, a means of finding freedom. “Fantasy” would become the album’s second single.

  • Earth, Wind & Fire also were the masters of the interlude, I considered them a brief intermission in the program of an album. “In The Marketplace (Interlude)” was cool, for it had an instrument I loved the sound for, the kalimba, but instead of song, you heard about three or four, mixed in with White humming along and creating a verbal bassline. I would play this song over and over because it was only 43 seconds long and I wanted to hear more. The song would eventually slow down before White moved his thumbs furiously on the thumb piano before going right into the next track.

    If the band were giving hints about going to space, then “Jupiter” showed them finding a planet and talking about their surroundings. Even though they were in a new place with new things to see, they also explained how the two planets had many things in common. On top of that, the horn section was tight and playing incredibly, and I know I danced my ass off when I played this. What I also loved was the horn breakdown and shift in keys at around the 2:14 mark, as if it’s looking for a bridge, doesn’t find it, but wants to find a way to fit in. What also moved me was the “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah/yao!” chant at 2:39 and 2:47, and right before it could get better, it fades a bit before going into the album’s first ballad.

  • “Love’s Holiday” shows how much of a romantic White can be, with a song that became an immediate slow jam for anyone and everyone who listened. I didn’t know what a “slow jam” was or its intentions, but this was just “ooh, the band are playing slower, it’s still funky, but it sounds like a love song.” Everything about this song is perfect, from White’s ad libs throughout the chorus, the vocal arrangement, the string section, and when the song makes a shift at 2:54 before it makes its way home. Guitarist Johnny Graham takes it to a place where it needs to be, and as White sings “look into your eye”, you know something is going to happen. That “something” comes when he let’s out a powerful and soothing “hey” as Graham understands the feeling and plays the song out with endurance and strength.
  • It would normally be the end of Side 1, but Earth, Wind & Fire have other intentions: another interlude. “Brazilian Rhyme (Beijo)” would become a live favorite as it allowed the crowd to sing along to the groove, as Bailey gets a chance to scat jazz style. The drums and percussion are deep, Verdine White’s basslines color a picture that becomes clear as the song goes on, and as the song fades out before the 1:20 mark, we hear another guitar solo that is never heard. It would be great if one day this recording is released with its full cold ending.
  • Flip the record over, and Side 2 begins with All ‘N All‘s second of three ballads, another Bailey gem called “I’ll Write A Song For You”. While the strings and acoustic guitars give the song a very big deal, it can easily be compared to some of the other ballads Bailey had done before then, including “Reasons” and even some of the songs on their Last Days And Time. What I enjoyed about this song is the last two minutes, when the flutes come in and Bailey passionately sings about writing this song of love before the band get into a nice jazzy vibe. Before the song reaches its conclusion, we hear him go higher than higher as he climbs for that last note, almost to where it sounds like he’s singing two different notes at the same time.
  • “Magic Mind” is one of my favorite songs on the album, incredibly funky from start to finish. I also love the word play in the chorus, and as a kid who loved to write and put together poems, this just seemed clever:
    Take a chance as you dance
    In romance in a trance
    To advance and expand
    Got a dime and a rhyme
    Brilliant mind, still inclined
    In your prime to design

    When they repeat the chorus at the end of the song, they add a few more lines:
    Moving soon
    upper room
    paid your dues
    ‘Cause you’re through feelin’ blue

    I had no idea what an “upper room” meant at the time, but realized that the song was talking about doing what you can in this existence called life before we all eventually “move soon” to a metaphorical final resting place, which for some may be that “upper room” in the sky, or simply dealing with the eventuality of finality. It was a way of saying that in life, we have to deal with the crap and pain that exists, but when we have paid our dues, we no longer have to worry about it when we’re dead, but we must realize this before we die. What I also liked about this section too was that the reference to “’cause you’re through feelin’ blue” seemed to be a link to the band’s “Feeling Blue” song from their Open Our Eyes. The band would sometimes make subtle references to other songs in their past (i.e. “anytime that you’re ’bout to cry/one more time…head to the sky” from “Mighty Mighty” refers to “Keep Your Head To The Sky”) and this is a perfect sample of it.

  • While “Runnin'” could loosely be called an instrumental because it lacks proper lyrics, it’s another showcase for the entire band, along with Bailey and Maurice White to do a bit of jazz scat. In part it sounds like a slight update to Ramsey Lewis’ “Sun Goddess”, but with more percussion, a vibrant horn arrangement, and during the song’s second half they increase the tempo and bring in Brazilian and jazz influences to show how festive things can be in a positive world. The coolest part of the song, however, is when the song sounds like it’s coming to a close and it appears that everyone in the recording studio is just listening to the first song on the album, “Serpentine Fire”. Without knowing how a recording studio or tape recording worked at the time, I know I thought something like “how did they get “Serpentine Fire” in this song when it’s on the other side of the record?” It could have been a separate interlude on its own, and when the band have had their fill of “Serpentine Fire”, they go back into “Runnin'” before allowing the song to fade. To my ears, it sounds like the same section of “Runnin'” that starts the recording, but we’re hearing different sections of the multi-track. I would love to find out one day if this is true. The song ends with a bit of a groovy keyboard riff from Larry Dunn and sadly, another EW&F song ends.
  • The last interlude is a Dunn spotlight track, “Brazilian Rhyme (Ponta de Areia)”, a Milton Nascimento composition that, if anything, reveals one of the album’s biggest influences: the sound and spirit of Brazil.
  • The album ends with a beautiful ballad, “Be Ever Wonderful” performed in 3/4 time. After an album full of fun and festivities, it’s as if Maurice White put this on there as if to say “time to take it back home, time to go to sleep, and time to say goodbye”. Lyrically, it almost seems like a slight continuation of “That’s The Way Of The World”. In that song, they talked about how a “child is born with a heart of gold/the weight of the world makes his heart so cold”. A child can’t be a child forever, so in song, Maurice White speaks to a woman of interest and sings “Be ever wonderful, stay as you are/
    Time is right, in your life tonight/Find your place among the Broadway light/and be ever wonderful, stay as you are/
    Stay as you are, won’t you stay in your own sweet way/Don’t let the world change your mind”. In other words, no matter how much of life you have to deal with, never forget where you are from and who you are. If you don’t lose sight of who you are, you will never be lost.

  • Musically, it’s a lot to digest but I loved what I could understand. After playing this album all the time at the age of 7, my dad told me that he saw something at a record store that he’d like to show me. I went to Ala Moana Shopping Center and we went to one of his favorite record stores, and on the top level were the instruments. Behind the glass display was a kalimba. I probably had the biggest smile on my face. “A kalimba! A kalimba!” I wanted to play it so bad, but was not able to. I told my dad that I wanted it for my birthday, but considering how expensive it was, I thought maybe when I grew up, I’d get it. On my 8th birthday, I received that kalimba. I could now be like one of my music heroes, Maurice White. I could never play it like White, but it was great to be able to touch the instrument that was partly the source of some of my favorite songs.
  • Looking back, All ‘N All seemed to be the last great EW&F album before they decided to make deliberate hits. I loved “September” when I heard it, and still did, and I thought it was great that the band were not just on Columbia Records, but had their own record label, American Recording Company (ARC). A year later, they came out with “Boogie Wonderland”, which featured a group they were associated with, The Emotions. I loved that song as well, and had that in my record box. It’s hard to say if it was truly the last great EW&F, or was it for the fact that it was the last EW&F album my parents had bought. We definitely did not buy I Am although I always heard “In The Storm” and “After The Love Is Gone” on the radio, along with “Boogie Wonderland”. Nor did my parents buy the follow-up to that, a 2-record set called Faces, which had the great “Let Me Talk”. A big part of my music listening habits originally came from my parents, although by the age of 9, I was already making initiative to listen to what I wanted to hear without their interference. They bought the records of course, but by late 1979 I renewed a love for Pink Floyd when they started doing a song about not needing education, great lyrics for a 4th grade to sing. Plus, it was that song which featured the lyric “all and all you’re just another brick in the wall” and at a time when I was already trying to figure out more things about music and the fun of discovering influences, I did wonder if Pink Floyd were influenced by Earth, Wind & Fire. “All and all”, All ‘N All, both were bands on Columbia Records so… was there a link? No, but the radio would become my spot to listen to the latest Earth, Wind & Fire hits until I started buying my own records.

    But was it their last great album? Some fans and critics will say yes, that the band finally achieved what they wanted to achieve in terms of chart success, something they had gained from the success of That’s The Way Of The World. All ‘N All would push the band into the forefront, making them one of the biggest bands of the 1970’s. While they were a part of the disco era, they were not a disco band even though some of their songs were disco-tinged. They also managed to record a Beatles song better than The Beatles, “Got TO Get You Into My Life”, and have a big hit with it. They were, in 1978, bigger than The Beatles. All ‘N All showed a band who had surprise pop success and wanted more. Bailey’s introduction to EW&F in 1972 was also the introduction of a poppier side to their music, whereas before they were more than happy to get trippy with their jazz and funk. In essence, a need for pop success may have been in place all along but it would be five years after Bailey’s entry into EW&F that finally made it happen. All ‘N All is an album that shows a group who had everything in place, in the right place at the right time, managing to not only get more acceptance from the pop world, but getting hit songs that would be a bit closer to home for the band’s core audience, even though that was growing too. The album was a means to spread a universal message, as expressed in the illustration in the gatefold cover of different religious and spiritual symbols, mixed in with an image of the kalimba. Just as these symbols may have provided guidance and wisdom for those who chose to believe in them, maybe it was a way of saying that this album could be guidance and wisdom for those who listened, regardless of the path each individual would take. It did for me. The words and music of Maurice White came off like a father, an uncle, a teacher, and a preacher, along with someone who just wanted to pass you some funky jams. I will forever be grateful for the impact White and Earth, Wind & Fire made on me as a person, and my music listening habits.

    http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=thisbosmu-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B007YO71FWhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=thisbosmu-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B00138H7OUhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=thisbosmu-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B007YO8E1W

  • THE LISTENING EXPERIENCE: Dear Sony Hackers…

  • There was a bit of news this weekend that talked about hackers allegedly tapping into Sony Music‘s database and uncovering a wealth of unreleased Michael Jackson songs. As someone who has been a part of the digital/online realm for 18 years, I thought it was interesting and exciting, but I also questioned a few things about it.

    Various journalists have mentioned that it was Jackson’s “back catalog”, that it was hacked into and now everyone can hear it. If we are to speak in a legal sense, hasn’t MJ’s entire catalog, including the work he did on Motown on his own and with the Jackson 5, been hacked already? You can do a search and find everything MJ has ever released, tap into the link and go. That of course is not why this story is getting attention. The heart of the matter is that what was allegedly stolen includes unreleased material, and that has made music fans hungry for the contents of the files.

    This is what I truly question the most about this hacking story. Are Sony actually making it possible for anyone and everyone to tap into their system for a complete free for all? Why are any digital audio files linked to anyone outside of Sony? Shouldn’t those files be on a hard drive that is completely cut off from the rest of the world, or is there a loophole in the system that makes it possible for anyone and everyone to find out what lurks? If Sony indeed was hacked, why just MJ’s work? Sony owns the entire Columbia Records discography, which goes as far back as 1888 when the label started. Do the quick math, that’s 124 years of sound to tap into. According to their Wikipedia entry, Columbia is “is the oldest brand name in pre-recorded sound”. This is a label that gave the world music by Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Earth, Wind & Fire, Chicago, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan, and yet you’re telling me only MJ was of interest?

  • Let’s go back and think about someone with a bootlegging mentality. If you know there’s a demand for an artist’s music, you’re going to find anything and everything to release. Live recordings, private demos, unreleased tracks, whatever. If it’s worthy, you’re going to get it. Put that in your private vaults and find a way to release it, even if there are consequences. Bootleggers exist to fulfill the wants and desires of the diehard music fan who has to hear anything and everything, flaws and all.

    If you’re going to tap into an audio archive like Sony’s, why stop with just Michael Jackson? 50,000 files were said to have been stolen. That doesn’t mean Jackson had 50,000 songs recorded, completed, unfinished, or whatever, it might mean different vocal tracks, background vocals, drums, sound effects, guitars, or pre-sets, sound effects, and filters. Any music producer with a sense of search engine know-how can find any and all of these sound effects and filters for free, and obtaining them will not make anyone magically sound like Jackson, just as finding filters similar to the amps and equipment the Beatles used will not make your music sound like Side 2 of Abbey Road. Are these files of any real value? If not, why bother with those files when you could have tapped into whatever else was lurking on Sony’s hard drive?

    Record labels have been digitally archiving their tape library since the 1980’s, updating files with the latest in digital technology. How something was archived in 1989 is not going to be the same as one did it in 2009. What’s being archived? Master tapes for completed projects, and whatever else might be of interest to the label, basically the “intellectual properly” and “real estate” owned by the company. Many labels used to own their own recording studios, so if an artist made a few albums for label X, that would also include the multitrack tape, anywhere from 4 to 8 track, 16 to 24, 48 to 96, and digital files where there’s no limit on how many elements you want to include. For the most part, these multitracks are never made available to the general public, for it would serve no reason for anyone to hear them. In the last 10 years, as producers request to do remixes, new mixes of songs are created for movies and television, and video games like Rock Band are required to use technology similar to hearing isolated audio tracks for a specific reason, people outside of music junkies are aware of them. Some of them have leaked onto the internet, but with those available on video games, all it takes is someone who knows how to extract the audio, and it’s now possible to make your own mixes of classic songs, or to create your own music from isolated vocals, bass, guitar, drums, and create songs “featuring” someone who has been dead for 40 years, or to make some interesting mash-ups. It also allows a chance for the music fan to strip a song to the isolated element of interest. You just want to hear Stevie Wonder‘s “Superstition” with just his vocals, the synth bass, and drums? You can do that with a bit of know-how and the right audio program.

  • Bootleggers are the villains of the industry, but are the heroes for music fans. It is also a huge security risk, but then again, didn’t Sony have hacking issues with Playstation 3? For gamers, hacking Sony to obtain audio files that are meant to be private is not a surprise. It leads me to the reason I’m writing this. If it is “that easy” to hack into Sony and obtain things, why stop with Michael Jackson? I’m not advocating anyone to attempt to do this, and who knows, maybe this hacking for MJ tracks is a promotional tactic meant to draw attention to a forthcoming compilation of this unheard material. But, Dear Sony Hackers: if you are planning on tapping into their database again, please try to find the following:

    1) all quadraphonic pressings of albums, both those that were done for vinyl, and the 4.0 mixes released on 8-track. I would also like to have any unreleased quad album mixes or songs that were created but not used.
    2) all radio spots created for albums between 1955-1985.
    3) If any part of Miles Davis’ library is still in your hands, any and all live recordings done for official release, but were canceled.
    4) any and all classical, neo-classical, and minimalist projects you did in the late 60’s/early 70’s but were not released.
    5) any and all live recordings and radio sessions from outside labels, but were sent to Columbia/CBS for mastering, but were “lost” there. Let’s uncover the goods.
    6) dig up everything ever done by Philadelphia International and T-Neck
    7) Is this only exclusive to Sony US? If not, I’d like for someone to tap into the UK, Europe, and Japan databases to find any and all jazz, prog rock, and soundtracks that have not been released since their initial release on vinyl.
    8 ) who owns the Sesame Street masters? Sesame Street did a number of projects for Columbia, and I want anything and everything that has not been released. I want to hear the voices of Big Bird, Oscar The Grouch, Bert & Ernie break out of character so I can hear them swear.
    9) are there any unreleased/unknown material from Def Jam that remain in your hands, after they moved to PolyGram, now Universal? I would assume Def Jam have their vaulted monitored very well, but if not, I would like someone to locate everything that has never been heard: alternates mixed, flubbed vocal tracks, all of it.

    On the top of my list is this:
    10) I would like for someone to tap into the entire database of Earth, Wind & Fire recordings. Full albums, multitracks, radio spots, live performances like the one done for King Biscuit Flower Hour, demos, unreleased tracks, session work done by Tom Tom 84 and Kalimba Productions, I want to hear all of it. Make it happen.

  • It’s amazing how a tape vault can remained solid and locked from the world for decades. Once the contents of those vaults are digitized, one foolish decision to place those files on a hard drive available to the public in a manner that allegedly makes a hacker tap into the system to hear it shows you the holes of an industry that, for some, has been flawed from the start. Labels insist that they are there to protect their properties, and yet this is far worse. No one has to walk into a physical room to find the goodies. It’s just a bit of technical know how and boom: unreleased Michael Jackson music. I’ve said it before: it seems the bootleggers are better at archiving the legacy of an artist than the record label that owns their recordings, or the artist that sometimes isn’t aware of the value of their music, with all of the mistakes. If this story about the MJ recordings being hacked is indeed true, I’m curious to see how it will be distributed, if at all. A bigger question: who’s next? The music industry has no plans on being “open source”, while a younger generation of fans, artists, and producers are using the open source mindset as a lure towards making better money and arguably better music. Is Hollywood next, or are movie directors smart to not place their project footage on an easily accessible hard drive? The night is young.
  • IDEA BOX: #2 – Earth, Wind & Fire book

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    There are a lot of groups I can cite as the reason I wanted to get into music. I wanted to be an artist and have recorded music over the years. I’m a journalist and enjoy this to the fullest. I’m a record collector, and love finding out new and interesting sounds. But I can point to a small handful of groups that opened my eyes to the greatness of this thing called music. I can definitely point the finger to The Beatles. I can raise the hammer of the gods to Led Zeppelin. I can become a master in the hands of Black Sabbath. I can kiss the sky with help from Jimi Hendrix. I can find the reality of our world in the realm of Pink Floyd. I can rise above it all with help from Parliament and Funkadelic. These artists for me were and are highly influential in my approach in talking about and listening to music, and there’s another group who moved and continues to move me beyond what I can explain in a few words: Earth, Wind & Fire.

    Both of my parents loved soul music, especially my mom who loved Motown and Stax. My mom loved the fierce dance tracks while my dad was true to the ballads. My dad also loved rock so in the house there was always a fine balance in music, along with whatever my uncles and my dad’s friends might bring for drinking and smoking sessions. Earth, Wind & Fire was never far from the stereo, so for me it was never about just hearing them on the radio, and never about just the hits. I got into their albums, the covers, the imagery, the vibe they wanted to share about being “one world, one people”, united in some cool metaphysical way.

    My auntie was a fan of 1973’s Head To The Sky, so I could go to her apartment and hear that, but I was a fan of Open Our Eyes, which remains my all time favorite album by the group. My dad loved jazz so he had Ramsey LewisSun Goddess, and in the liner notes I could see it featured members of EW&F. I would get EW&F albums for my birthday, the holidays, or simply because I had good grades. Hearing All’N’All felt like an event because it was a much bolder sound than previous albums. Another event was seeing the group have their own record label: American Recording Company (ARC). I could hear the hits on the radio, but they often had their best work in these albums.

    Buying the Legacy Remasters of their albums and hearing the extras in their box set has never been enough for me. I want to hear more, I want to dig deeper. My idea for this installment of Idea Box is that I’d like to do a comprehensive book on the band, and here’s what I’d like to see covered.

  • I’d like to be able to do a book that explores all of the recording sessions the group have ever done, going as far back as when they started as The Salty Peppers. Were there any songs recorded after Maurice White left The Ramsey Lewis Trio and before The Salty Peppers? I want to hear anything and everything that still exists. I want to go through their early Warner Bros. material, and to also hear any existing demos that they may have made for Warner Bros.

    But the core of what I want to write about is what lurks in the multi track tapes for everything they ever recorded. While I could easily focus on their entire career, I’d like to focus on the period between 1970 to 1984. I want to hear and explore all existing takes, which includes outtakes, alternate mixes, false starts, unused mixes and tracks, everything. If it exists, I want to share that information with the world. I want to do it in the same way Mark Lewisohn did with his book The Beatles Recording Sessions. Any existing live shows that weren’t used for projects? I want to hear and document this.

    Because of this project, if that motivates Sony to create an EW&F project with a lot of unreleased goodies, or at least a way to focus on alternate mixes and takes, I’d like to work with them in order to make this happen. I have made attempts to write to the band’s website, and former EW&F keyboardist Larry Dunn but my inquiries have not been answered, probably due to busy schedules. I am very serious about this too, but if someone is already working on an EW&F book but has not focused on what lurks on the multi track tapes, please consider me as an addition to your project.


    One might ask “but is there a demand for an EW&F book like this?”, but I’d like to think true, deep EW&F fans would like to hear and know more than what lurks in the liner notes for their remastered CD’s. For many, including myself, EW&F were very much a group up there with The Beatles. I’m sure some will say “if not more.” If doing a project like this means having to contact people with Sony, or whomever has ownership of the tapes, let me know who I can talk to to gain permission.

    If a project like this has to be low key, I would not mind writing an article for my website or another website of interest, such as Okayplayer (whom I have contributed reviews for over the years). I don’t have to meet with anyone in the group, but if it leads to consulting Verdine White or even Maurice White about certain things on those tapes, or anyone who was in the studio with the group at the time, I’d like to be able to have that access.


    Is a project like this possible? Of course it is, and I’d like to be able to do it. Yet if I’m not allowed to do it, and someone else is given the chance, I am in full support of it.

    Some rough ideas for working titles:
    It’s Your Life, Now In Review
    The Upper Room
    Open Our Eyes & Ears

    Is this too big of a thing to do? Useless? I’d be willing to give this a shot. If anyone out there would like to discuss this with me, or can lead the way towards me doing this, contact me at BooksMusica [at] gmail [dot] com. Any help would be appreciated.

    http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=thisbosmu-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B00136JORKhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=thisbosmu-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B0044LEXE0http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=thisbosmu-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B00138CRPY

  • AUDIO ARCHIVES: Earth, Wind & Fire live @ St. Louis Arena, St. Louis, Missouri, August 10, 1974

    These songs were originally broadcast as part of the King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show, and they were broadcast in quadraphonic. For you youngins, this means that if you had a quadraphonic decoder while listening at home, you could experience the sensation of surround sound.

    This concert has never been formally released, only pressed up for radio stations in 1974. Keep in mind that this is EW&F in 1974, a few months after the release of their Open Our Eyes album, and they were still doing songs off of Head To The Sky. They are being made available courtesy of Wolfgang’s Vault, from the tape archives of the late concert promoter Bill Graham.

    BTW – mahalo nui (thank you very much) to ?uestlove for hyping this up via Twitter.

    http://concerts.wolfgangsvault.com/common/swf/wgv_st_player.swf

    http://concerts.wolfgangsvault.com/common/swf/wgv_st_player.swf

    http://concerts.wolfgangsvault.com/common/swf/wgv_st_player.swf

    http://concerts.wolfgangsvault.com/common/swf/wgv_st_player.swf

    DUST IT OFF: Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”

    NOTE: This is an article I wrote last year when I was a contributor to FudgeFM. The website is no longer, but I felt it would be a perfect time to revive it for those who didn’t read it the first time.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    Do you remember the 21st night of September?

    Thirty years ago, Earth, Wind & Fire released a song that for some was a new era for the group. In 1978, the band were on top of the world, higher than the Earth they featured in their logo. The group played some of the best soul music around, moving dance floors across the country and selling out concert halls. Their albums were massive sellers: That’s The Way Of The World, Spirit, and All’N’All, and what household didn’t have the double LP Gratitude? You want hits? How about “Sing A Song”, “Getaway”, “Saturday Night”, “Shining Star”, “That’s The Way Of The World”, “Mighty Mighty”, “Serpentine Fire”, and “Fantasy”. Maurice White went back to his jazz roots when he joined his former boss, Ramsey Lewis, to record the song “Sun Goddess” with the rest of Earth, Wind & Fire. Those who may not have been hip to Ramsey Lewis were able to discover a talented musician through EW&F, and vice versa. EW&F were not just the monarchs of soul and funk, but they were a pop band, with massive pop success. Their version of The Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life” was done for the massive Hollywood failure Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but the one thing EW&F were able to do is create a Beatles cover that was better than The Beatles (and I’m one of the biggest Beatles fans out there). Had the group stopped recording and touring, it would have been fine, for their successes would have been set in stone.

    Earth, Wind & Fire were appreciated by the world for they truly created world music, coming from White’s love of Brazilian music and of course always reminding people about the roots that lead to the motherland. Had EW&F made music for cartoons or oatmeal, they would have been big hits too. The band were so successful, it moved Columbia Records to give White his own label in order for him to bring in new talent. The passing of friend Charles Stepney did not slow the group down, White was able to seek such people as Tom Washington (a/k/a “Tom Tom 84”) which helped keep them on the top of the charts. But this was different. While George Clinton found it easy with his success to have contracts with multiple labels, Earth, Wind & Fire was one group with one goal, so White having his own boutique label was perhaps not as much of a surprise as it was a long time coming. The label was simply called American Recording Company, or ARC. The label’s first release was given the catalog number of 3-10854. The song: “September”.

    “You know a song is a true classic when it’s as timeless as Earth, Wind & Fire’s iconic “September” Maurice White, Philip Bailey and company nailed it down to a science. They recorded a great song about something we don’t really hear much in music today and that’s about being happy and feeling good about life. Today’s artists including myself could learn a lot from the message in EWF’s music and that goes for society at large too. “ -Pete Marriott

    I remember hearing “September” when it was first released and I had to have the 45, that was mandatory for me. As someone who loved Open Our Eyes, Spirit, and All’N’All (That’s The Way Of The World seemed to be an album a number of my relatives had, but not me, I would enjoy this album after the fact), “September” was merely a continuation of their great music. It was on a new label, and that seemed like honor of the highest order. Maybe because it was on a new label (but still distributed by Columbia), it felt like a new EW&F. The group were slowly being associated with disco even though they weren’t a disco group, and the song seemed happier, poppier, boppier at the time. If the group hadn’t thought of making music specifically for a pop (read “white”) audience, “September” seemed like it was… something. But was it? At the age of 8 I wasn’t concerned with that, but some would call it the start of the group’s downfall, a disco song, their “white” song. People seemed bitter about “September” for any and all reasons: it was too disco, too bland, too happy. Too happy? Good music can and should steer you away from the problems one has in life, and EW&F were always about the celebration of life. In fact, “September” was not only about falling in love, but with a bit of “blue talk and love” it might lead to the creation of life, to celebrate “the true love” that was shared on the 21st day of September. It was far from a negative song, and yet perhaps due to their success, people were more than ready to pop the bubble they were riding. On the Shining Stars DVD, bassist Verdine White said the song came out during a time when everyone was about indulgence, and whether you were a kid like myself growing up or an adult heading to the clubs, it was about looking at indulgence and thinking that’s what being a grown-up was about, or living and loving all of it. People associate the look and feel of “September” with what represented disco, but Verdine White said the big afros were about power, the platform shoes were about standing tall. Being black meant having to represent and prove yourself four times as hard as the next man, because the next man might be the one to bring you down. When “September” was released, there was no doubting that EW&F were the best of any league, and as a lifelong EW&F fan, it remains one of the best songs they ever recorded.

    “All I have to say about EW&F right now is that they were an amazing a powerful band with transformative music that I still get requests for almost everytime I DJ… in any setting. I can only hope to create what they have. Much thanks and respect for their contribution to music and listener’s souls.”Miles Bonny (artist/producer)

    “September” was a bit hit for the group, making it up to #1 on Billboard’s R&B Singles chart and #1 Billboard Pop singles. In the UK, it went up to #3, becoming their biggest UK single. “September” was also released to promote the The Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire album, which has since sold over 5 million copies (quintuple platinum). While other compilations have been released in the digital area, when it comes to offering suggestions for EW&F newbies, The Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire is generally the album that is mentioned first, for it features all of their hits up until and including “Got To Get You Into My Life” and “September”. EW&F were seeing gold and platinum, and were being honored for it in abundance.

    Man, I’ll tell you that the older I get, the more I’m coming to realize that EWF is the greatest recording group of all time. I mean seriously, the feeling that just exudes from the music they play is incomparable and just fills me with such optimism for some reason. And I know it’s not just me. I mean really, who doesn’t love them? Think about “September” – that’s like the ultimate crossover song but not not crossover in the sense of selling out. The song just appeals to everyone, from block parties to bar mitzvahs to the Republican National Convention!Cosmo Baker (DJ/record collector)

    As with any greatest hits compilation, The Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire sold enough to where the group didn’t have to worry about releasing anything else. But with success came increased pressure to equal or better the success of “September”. Maybe the pressure came more from record label executives than it did from the group, but everyone in the group must have felt that everything that goes up eventually has to come down. Maurice White moved The Emotions into the studio with them and recorded the group’s definitive disco song, “Boogie Wonderland”. The song was great, featuring all of those trademark Philip Bailey falsettos, and while it did make it to #2 on the R&B singles chart, people who were becoming disenchanted with disco merely put it into the fire during the “disco sucks” furor. The B-side to the single, an instrumental mix of the hit, was nominated for a Grammy in 1980 for “Best R&B Instrumental Performance”. Some fans, both old and new, felt at the time the group should have never conformed to mainstream pressure, with many of them looking at “September” as the beginning of the end.

    Obviously it was not the end, but again the good vibes EW&F were celebrating seemed to turn off a certain part of the population who just didn’t get it. The group would follow up “Boogie Wonderland” with the ballad “After The Love Has Gone”, which is significant for a few reasons. “After The Love Has Gone” was written by David Foster, Jay Graydon, and Bill Champlin, and perhaps because of the Foster touch it would eventually win two Grammy awards in 1980, one for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and for Best R&B song. The song was similar in feel to 1975’s “That’s The Way Of The World”, and one that touched on a part of life that isn’t always happy and celebratory. The feel of the song would eventually revive itself when David Foster would help resuscitate Chicago’s career in the 1980’s, a group co-writer Champlin (who was a member of Sons Of Champlin) would eventually join. The two bands known for their incredible horn sections would eventually tour for the first time in the 21st century, with Champlin being able to sing and play the songs he created for Chicago and one of EW&F’s biggest hits.

    The I Am album, recorded in September 1978 but released the following summer, equalled the success of All’N’All and kept the group on the top of the charts and making them a must-see group in concert. By the end of the decade, millions of fans were ready to put disco into a coffin and burn it, and fortunately EW&F were able to survive the mess and continue to make hits throuhgout the early 80’s, with “Let’s Groove” showing that the group were more than capable of keeping people heading to the record stores. “Let’s Groove” was the last pop hit for the group, and while “Fall In Love With Me” two years later did well on the R&B charts, it barely made a dent on the pop chart. Soul music was also changing significantly, with Prince’s rock influences making people take notice of what was coming out of Minneapolis, a number of other artists preferring to take mellow jazz and turn it into a bit of the quiet storm, and millions of young kids were discovering a new, more energetic sound that made it possible to dance on cardboard. It didn’t have an official name, but it would soon make a name for itself very soon.

    As for EW&F, here was a group who were on the top and were now selling mildly. 1983’s Electric Universe was a minor success, but it was hard to measure up to what Michael Jackson’s Thriller was doing on the charts. For the first time in almost eight years, EW&F were without a single, and it was then that the group decided to take a time out. Maurice White would release his self-titled debut album which offered up his cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”. Philip Bailey was able to work on a full album with Genesis vocalist/drummer Phil Collins, leading to their duet “Easy Lover” and one of Bailey’s best songs from his solo career, “Walking On The Chinese Wall”. It would be a few years before EW&F made a return with “System Of Survival”, and while not making an impression on Guns N’ Roses fans, they did reach the top of the charts. The group continues to record and tour today, and a number of tribute albums have been released in honor of EW&F, including a smooth jazz tribute and the Interpretations album featuring covers performed by Me’Shell NdegeOcello and Kirk Franklin.

    For me, “September” is a look back at my childhood at a time when I had no concerns about anything. I wanted to play, I wanted good food, I wanted good music, and I was not afraid to dance. For any of us who grew up with the music, it goes back to when things seemed a lot easier. Musically, it’s still a fun song. Lyrically, they were saying that we shouldn’t worry about those cloudy days, live life to the fullest, and live it with love. People still look fondly at that era for feel good music, when talking or even thinking “blue talk” meant hearing the jangle of your dad’s belt or getting ready to consume some chili pepper water. Even with the overabundance and availability of any and all music, you rarely hear about “feel good music”, as if it’s a bad and retro thing to experience, something only experienced in movies with 1970’s flashbacks. The music still exists, it can be heard in all genres, but people perhaps are in denial of wanting to feel good. As Sly Stone said at Woodstock in August 1969, music is not a fashion, it is a feeling, and if you embrace that feeling, perhaps it will do us some good.

    Maybe it’s time to chase the clouds away once more. And we say “ba de ah”…

    “September,” to me, will always be known as a ‘Black family reunion song.’ It’s a song that you could play around Black folks young and old, and nobody can front on it.

    My first memories of EWF come from my uncle. He was a big EWF fan and used to have all their records and play them around his house. I don’t specifically remember hearing “September” for the first time, as all of EWF’s songs kinda ran together to me at that time.

    What made me a fan of EWF’s music was the sunny, upbeat nature of their songs. (And of course, Phillip Bailey’s falsetto and those wild album covers. I’d just sit and stare at them for hours when I was little.) EWF is the group I use to counter the cliche that good music comes from pain and/or the best songs are always sad songs. It’s almost impossible to listen to an EWF joint and not feel somewhat uplifted. I sometimes wonder how and why we lost that feeling in popular Black music today and how messages of positivity and upliftment became unprofitable and ‘hard to market.’

    On a side note , the closest thing that compares to EWF in music today is the music of Blaze. They’re a house duo and their main guy Josh Milan writes and sings alot of stuff that’s very reminiscent of EWF. Really incredible stuff.Phonte Coleman (vocalist/MC, Little Brother/Foreign Exchange)

    (Thank you to Pete Marriott, Norman E. Mailer, Miles Bonny, Cosmo Baker, and Phonte Coleman for your contributions to the article.

    Eternal mahalo and gratitute to Maurice White and everyone who has ever been a part of the Earth, Wind & Fire family from the days of the Salty Peppers to today.)