If we’re re-booting this blog for 2021, I thought I’d start with some of my most recent vinyl acquisitions. I can’t pinpoint when I precisely fell in love with soul and funk music; I’d been exposed to it on the radio in the 70s, but rock and metal took over, and it wasn’t until high school and late nights driving around town with Parliament’s Up For the Down Stroke blasting out the windows (that’s how my friends rolled in upstate New York circa 1990) and obsessing over the wriggle of Isaac Hayes’s Shaft score that I started to identify something that spoke to my DNA. Fast-forward about 30 years and when I got the note that Real Gone Music was reissuing Kool and the Gang’s debut self titled album on yellow vinyl I was all in.
It’s possible that for many folks their introduction Kool and the Gang was via the slamming’ “Jungle Boogie” and its inclusion on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack – in 1994 that soundtrack was everywhere. But it was a less electrifying (if no less funky) band that carries forth on 1970’s Kool and the Gang.
The album opens with the eponymous title track, and I’m immediately reminded of The Meters, whose classic Look-Ka-Py Py (another constant banger in the car in 1991…we were weird) came out the year before. There’s the same sense of melody, the horns carrying a pop sensibility as the guitars and rhythm section lay down some serious funk. George “Funky” Brown puts down some fantastic percussion, and even as the tone switches gears to the more 60s pop/R&B track “Breeze & Soul” and the wonderfully titled “Chocolate Buttermilk” his fills and syncopations elevate the songs from standard sappy fare.
If side 1 moves a bit sedately after the rousing title track, side 2 brings the funk back to the front of the house. “Give It Up” has that walking down the sidewalk feeling as powerful as God from the moment the horns kick in, and the thing I’m instantly reminded of is how good this music works whether its on top of mind actively being listened to (seriously, I can hone in on those drums all day) or as simple background soundtrack to my life. In that regard there are similarities to the killer soundtracks for things like the aforementioned Shaft but also Super Fly and Trouble Man. The 1-2 kick of “Kools Back Again” and “The Gangs Back Again” so how you can take the same basic rhythm track and craft something different…for a moment I thought I was hearing the same song twice. The fact that the two were released as a single makes a lot more sense…you’re basically getting variations on a theme, and it’s a theme I have been digging since first putting this thing on the turntable.
For the vinyl heads, the yellow vinyl is sweet, indeed…