When it comes to R&B from this era, everybody has their favorite. The music of these special few, however, constitutes highly memorable art.
Why Was R&B Music From the 70's So Good?
Everybody has their favorites but the average R&B fan can agree upon the fact that music from that era was inspired on another level. I suspect it had to do with the fact that humanity truly felt that they were staring into the face of extinction and needed an aural panacea... But when you listen to songs like "Visions" by Stevie Wonder off of his Innervisions album, which... If your a fan of African American R&B from the seventies I suggest you download ASAP it's highly underrated, you understand that these people were on a plane of reality far distant from what the average human being was dealing with and they were trying to enrapture you into their level of perception. When Stevie says " I'm not one who makes the leaves. I know that leaves are green. They only turn to brown, when Autumn comes around." The poignant message is clear as day to the astute listener. He doesn't have to scream at you and the fact that he's making you think moves you to appreciate his artistry. Everybody knows at least a little something about Mr. Wonder, but here's his bio.
"Blind since shortly after his birth, Wonder was a child prodigy known as Little Stevie Wonder, leading him to sign with Motown's Tamla label at the age of 11. In 1963, the single "Fingertips" was a number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 when Wonder was 13, making him the youngest artist ever to top the chart. Wonder's critical success was at its peak in the 1970s. His "classic period" began in 1972 with the releases of Music of My Mind and Talking Book, the latter featuring "Superstition", which is one of the most distinctive and famous examples of the sound of the Hohner Clavinet keyboard. His works Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness' First Finale (1974) and Songs in the Key of Life (1976) all won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, making him the tied-record holder for the most Album of the Year wins, with three. He is also the only artist to have won the award with three consecutive album releases."
The Isley Brothers Take You On A Voyage To Atlantis
Another example of a composition relevant to the time is "Footsteps in the Dark pts. 1&2" by the Isley brothers, especially if you can find a recently mastered copy. You don't have to be an audiophile to appreciate the difference, but the cryptic subject matter, meaningful lyrics, and Ronald Isley's silky smooth voice make for serious relaxation music with lyrics like;" My mind, just now and then, Looking down dark corridors and wonders what might have been. Something's up ahead, Hey, should I keep this same direction, Or go back instead?" Just make sure you don't get too close to your lover. You can hear the unbridled passion in his voice and just know that even if he wasn't a contractually signed superstar he would be in some small venue exercising his art with the same hyperbolic passion. In my mind that is the benchmark that distinguishes an artist from a star, albeit entirely true that the two terms are not mutually exclusive, and if your audience is niche... You have to be a little bit of both. A short biography off of Wikipedia.
"The Isley Brothers are an American musical group originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, that started as a vocal trio consisting of brothers O'Kelly Isley Jr., Rudolph Isley and Ronald Isley in the 1950s.With a career spanning over seven decades, the group has been cited as having enjoyed one of the "longest, most influential, and most diverse careers in the pantheon of popular music".
Another song off of The Very Best of the Isley Brothers, named "Voyage to Atlantis," maintains the cryptic tone that his best songs are known for; "Can I go on my way without you? Whoa, how can I know? If I go on my way without you. Whoa, where would I go? Set sail with me, Misty lady, set my spirit free. New love to find. And though I leave another behind." You get the impression that this man is seriously infatuated with the ladies, but wait, "She's my lady, now and ever, Whoa, how can I know? Can we go all the way together? Whoa, let it be so. So we'll say our last goodbye, And we'll make it this time. Ho-oh, oh, set sail with me. To a paradise out beyond the sea." Does that plant the seed in your mind that Ronald Isley prays to a female divinity... if not exclusively, in addition to the male divinities that we in the west arrived on these shores worshipping. Some of us of their own volition, let's not have this conversation. But, some of us of their own volition. But does this call into question the male archetype of God we've been taught as dogma every since we were children? This, as far as typical female gender roles are concerned, iconoclastically goes against the beliefs of a good portion of the planet and that's a crying shame. The possibility also exists if you're a horrible skeptic that he's just a Godless womanizer, but I like to assume the former. Call me crazy cause in my punk way I kind of am.
A Horse With No Name
Now that I've pidgeonholed myself conclusively, let's talk about subsets of R&B music such as Folk which capture my imagination in the same fashion as the music that I've previously mentioned. My opinions are just biased to African American R&B artists first and foremost because that's what I am, an African American child of the eighties. As an adult though I began to branch out and appreciate A Alikes hidden in clever guises like the group America. I doubt you've heard their music, but you need to. I recommend any of the "very best" collections of their music that you can find, there not hard to get, most are available digitally. Songs like "A Horse With No Name." or even "Ventura Road," which is actually about a highway that doesn't exist, are rife with meaning and lyrical poetry. They challenge you to think, even look up a reference or two. For example, from "Tin Man,"; "But Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man. That he didn't, didn't already have. And Cause never was the reason for the evening. Or the tropic of Sir Galahad." You big brained geniuses have probably already studied Sir Galahad of the Round Table but I will allow everybody else to reference, and think, it's a crime I know. They enjoyed limited commercial success God knows why so their Wikipedia bio will probably be the most informative of the three I have listed unless your not a fan of African American R&B artists from the seventies;
"America is an American rock band that was formed in London in 1970 by Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek and Gerry Beckley. The trio met as sons of US Air Force personnel stationed in London, where they began performing live. Achieving significant popularity in the 1970s, the trio was famous for its close vocal harmonies and light acoustic folk rock sound. The band released a string of hit albums and singles, many of which found airplay on pop/soft rock stations."
The sentiment of this group of men is golden, the melodies, as much as I consider my father's classic R&B, are breathe taking time twisting excellence and the lyrics of these icons, like so many of the time, in the right hands and minds, are the material of Ph.d. theses.
Where Is the Relevance?
How is this relevant at all to our position in time and space?.. Seriously, we are once again staring extinction in it's crazed eyes as we have time and time again searching for hope. Hope through medicine, through religion, through politics, through grass roots movements and, when we relax in our homes, which vary in their level of comfort, we seek respite... In literature, in televised media, and in music. Me... I'm hopeful, pessimists and false prophets have been proclaiming the demise of humanity since Jesus walked the earth. The trend of our music and musicians though must change, more than murdering eachother in the streets like animals and on the polar opposite of that slippery slope not posing as actors to affect change, but being catalysts to inspire it. Musicians must accept responsibility as molders of malleable young minds. Where's our Stevie Wonder? Where's our Ronald Isley? Where's our America?.. I'm asking because we need you right now.#BlackLivesMatter #AllLivesMatter
© 2020 Jeremy Artise Williams