Chris Molanphy: Welcome to Hit Parade, a podcast of pop chart history from Slate magazine about the hits from coast to coast. I’m Chris Molanphy, chart analyst, pop critic and writer of Slate’s Why Is This Song number one series on today’s show? 50 years ago this month, the number one album in America was a smooth, sinuous slice of uncut funk. It was a soundtrack LP, but also an Auteurist album in its own right by a man already regarded as a soul legend. Curtis Mayfield. See?
Chris Molanphy: The Superfly from the Gordon Parks Jr movie of the same name was a watershed not only for the man who recorded it, but for all of popular black music in the seventies. It affirmed not only that R&B and soul had been transformed by the rhythmic form now known as funk, but that funk was commercially viable with a massive crossover audience. And there was more than one way to funk. No.
Speaker 2: Not. You never sleep. Did you know.
Chris Molanphy: That the Seventies was positively awash in funk in all of its forms? Whether Latin fusion funk from bands like War to the romantic boudoir funk of Marvin Gaye.
Chris Molanphy: Let’s get to the strutting funk of the Ohio players.
Speaker 3: Hey, What? Now.
Chris Molanphy: One seminal group even put Funk right in their name, Funkadelic. Really? It was two groups, Parliament and Funkadelic, hosting a rotating cast of some of the best players in funk music.
Speaker 3: They don’t have enough. That’s the way.
Chris Molanphy: These artists all scored massive hit singles. But crucially, they also sold truckloads of albums. All of the above acts scored number one or platinum LPs. Indeed, funk in the Seventies was perhaps best appreciated on long playing vinyl, where its grooves seemed to stretch into outer space.
Speaker 2: Laying down.
Chris Molanphy: Bands like Earth, Wind and Fire razed the LP to an art form not only routinely topping the album chart, but putting out elaborate packages that rivaled LP’s from the world of Rock.
Speaker 2: And Shining Star. No matter who we are.
Chris Molanphy: But as Funk in the Seventies competed with not only rock but disco, it found itself having to adapt to keep up with the relentless demand for dance rhythms. Bands that were once pure Funk.
Speaker 2: Django and Get It song.
Chris Molanphy: Were adapting smoother grooves into their sound.
Speaker 2: Oh it’s too hot hop They got out the shelter.
Chris Molanphy: Got a and certain seventies funk Craftsman.
Speaker 3: Brand. How how does that.
Chris Molanphy: Smooth themselves out into eighties pop song Smiths.
Speaker 3: And you are stuck with. The rain.
Chris Molanphy: To say nothing of the foundation that Funk laid for an entirely new genre.
Speaker 2: Get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, Get back down. Get on up without a funk, you know?
Chris Molanphy: Oh, sure. We know what funk became in the decades after the seventies. But the richness of funk at its peak and the ways it was consumed back in the day are vital to understanding how popular music found its groove. O.G. Funk underpins so much of what we take for granted in pop. To this day, I.
Speaker 3: Can dig rap and I’m ready. How did this happen?
Chris Molanphy: Today on the hit parade, after decades of funk paying it forward. We’re here to provide the big payback, whether delivered by established soul legends.
Speaker 3: So I bet I know my dad. I’m gonna keep trying to.
Chris Molanphy: Or rising young upstarts.
Speaker 2: Tell me something good. One.
Chris Molanphy: Tell me Funk was the lingua franca of the seventies. Not only for dancing, but for appreciating at length. And it took one particular soul legend who had shaped several waves of black art to establish that funk would fuse with psychedelic soul and shape the decade to come.
Speaker 2: We can deal with rockets and dreams, but reality. What does it mean? It’s. Calls many states.
Chris Molanphy: And that’s where your hit parade marches today, the week ending October 28th, 1972, when Freddie’s Dead. The lead single from Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly soundtrack broke into the top ten on Billboard’s Hot 100 and reached its number two peak on the Soul singles chart the same week the Superfly album settled into a month long run at number one on the Billboard album chart. On Superfly, Mayfield sang about trying to get over, but Funk had already gotten over and taken center stage.
Chris Molanphy: While we were preparing this episode of Hit Parade, the music World Lost artist Leon Ivey, Jr, better known as nineties rapper Coolio at age 59, and I, for one, couldn’t help but reflect on how essential golden age funk was to Coolio’s breakthrough.
Speaker 2: It’s about the kitchen We Oh, the Miss Fantastic Size 75.
Chris Molanphy: Though he is best known for the chart topping 1995 single Gangsta’s Paradise. Coolio’s big break on the charts came a year earlier in 94 with Fantastic Voyage, a number three hit that borrowed its title, its chorus hook, and pretty much its entire groove from this 1980 R&B smash.
Speaker 3: The Long Goodbye.
Chris Molanphy: It’s a Fantastic Voyage by Dayton, Ohio, funk group Lakeside. And like so many funk groups. Lakeside had gotten their start in the early seventies. When they were first signed by Curtis Mayfield’s curtain record label. So many roads lead back to Curtis Mayfield.
Speaker 2: Just. Toward your destination, though you may find from time to time.
Chris Molanphy: I bring up Coolio very briefly here. First, to wish him a peaceful journey into the afterlife. But also to explain what this hit parade episode will not be. Nearly half a century past the birth of hip hop, it’s tempting to view funk largely through that lens, considering how seventies classics by the likes of same Stevie Wonder men.
Speaker 2: Spending most their lives living.
Speaker 3: In the past time bound and spending Mos Def.
Chris Molanphy: Were later transformed by rappers like Coolio into hits like Gangsta’s Paradise and sure, the entire G-funk era Coolio was a part of in the nineties. Has funk in its name for a reason.
Speaker 2: Hey yo you stuff with all that. You’re just saying.
Chris Molanphy: We could spend this entire episode playing rap classics that owe their existence to vintage seventies funk. From the De La Soul hit that samples Funkadelic and the Ohio players.
Speaker 2: It’s just me, myself and.
Speaker 3: Just a dinner party.
Chris Molanphy: To Tupac songs that are built out of old James Brown records.
Speaker 2: In all, your performance will never forget. So the third piece from Richard, it’s a patrol.
Chris Molanphy: To the big Punisher hit that interpolated a deep cut from Earth, Wind and Fire.
Speaker 2: You know, a lot of play offs. You know what you’re looking for. I want a.
Chris Molanphy: Bush. And by the way, while we are now decades past the G-funk era, even the charts of 2022 are living in a world funk created. For example, this chart topping single by Silk Sonic, the duo of Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak called Love’s Train, a summer 2022 number one song on Billboard’s adult R&B chart.
Speaker 2: Sugar.
Speaker 3: Honey, Darlin, I Really Want to see.
Chris Molanphy: Is a remake of an old hit by this seventies eighties funk group can function.
Speaker 3: Like a time.
Speaker 2: Not just on my part.
Chris Molanphy: As much as I love all of this R&B and hip hop heritage wrought by first wave funk, to me, it’s a little unfair to regard funk music as merely a blueprint for music that came later. Funk isn’t just for deejays, producers and crate diggers. In its day, funk was pop music’s. Dominating the charts nearly as reliably that decade as rock and disco.
Chris Molanphy: In this episode, I want to talk about how funk music was consumed at the time and how it came to define what pop sounded like. And no decade was ever as good to funk as the 1970s. But of course, first funk had to be invented, and for that we briefly need to travel back to the 1960s and the man known as Soul Brother Number one. You had to know we’d be covering him. The self-proclaimed hardest working man in show business, James Brown, who codified the very concept of the one.
Speaker 3: I’m on commercial flight.
Chris Molanphy: And few records are as epical as Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag. James Brown’s first top ten pop hit and the dividing line between how rhythm was understood in soul music before and after. In his book, The Heart of Rock and soul critic Dave Marsh writes, quote, No record before Pop has got a brand new bag. Sounded anything like it. No records since has been unmarked by it, unquote.
Speaker 3: Pop has got a brand new band.
Chris Molanphy: As I touched on briefly in our fifth anniversary episode of Hit Parade, Brown’s innovation was to lead his band toward what he called the one that is placing the rhythmic emphasis on the first beat in a measure rather than the second and fourth beats, which is more typical in rock and other traditional pop songs. Pappas, which reached number ten in the summer of 1965, was the hit that effectively introduced this concept, and it became the bedrock of funk and other forms of rhythmic music. Brown refined this approach on later tracks on his 1967 number seven hit Cold Sweat, for example. You can really hear how James has distilled the one down to its essence.
Speaker 3: I got. And I’m gonna spot. Now.
Chris Molanphy: By the dawn of the seventies, Brown had boiled down this highly syncopated approach to the point where his band was essentially a pure funk rhythm section. Listen to his seminal 1970 single Sex Machine, a number two R&B, number 15 pop hit. This groove is the blueprint for much of seventies funk.
Speaker 3: Get on up. Do you know who? The guitar.
Speaker 2: Bass, guitar. Bass guitar.
Chris Molanphy: Who is running parallel to James Brown’s Funky Revolution was another innovator who seemed to hear things differently. The North Carolina born New Jersey raised George Clinton, later known as the prime minister of Funk, Uncle Jam and Dr. Frankenstein. Clinton and his funky adventures couldn’t be contained within just one band.
Speaker 3: You will win a bet. Find out. You can drink. I’ll get you.
Chris Molanphy: I’ll bet you was the first chart hit for Funkadelic. A number 22 R&B. Number 50 pop hit in 1969 that fused psychedelic soul with rumbling basslines. Clinton formed Funkadelic while his original band, The Parliaments, were fighting off a trademark lawsuit on their name. When the parliaments won their lawsuit, George converted them to just Parliament, and they too shifted in a much funkier direction.
Chris Molanphy: Both of these bands, Parliament and Funkadelic, continued to record for more than a decade, with George Clinton switching names and sets of players from album to album. The lines between them blurred enough that most fans referred to Clinton’s exploits as Parliament Funkadelic or simply P-Funk.
Chris Molanphy: Generally, Funkadelic was the more experimental band. Among its signature innovations was the seminal 1971 funk rock instrumental Maggot Brain with searing crying guitar by Eddie Hazel Funkadelic. Maggot Brain is still considered one of the greatest guitar songs of all time.
Chris Molanphy: We will hear plenty more from P-Funk later in this episode. If James Brown and George Clinton were funk innovators, other late sixties hitmakers, were popularizers shifting their soul music hard in the direction of funk. New Orleans instrumentalists The Meters scored with a swampy take on funk as early as 1969, when they landed their number four R&B number 23 pop classic Cissy Strut.
Chris Molanphy: Sly Stone, whom we’ve discussed in several prior hit parade episodes, shifted his psychedelic soul sound steadily toward funk over several albums and singles on 1968. I Want to Take You Higher. Sly and the Family Stone were already pretty funky. Then at the end of 1969, Sly and the Family Stone dropped. Thank you for letting me be myself again.
Chris Molanphy: A 1970 number one single built around bassist Larry Graham’s cutting edge slap funk bassline. A year later, Sly dropped his acclaimed There’s A Riot Going On LP, which we discussed in our hits of 71 episode. By then, the Family Stone had fully transitioned to a murky funk sound as on their irresistible number one smash family affair.
Speaker 2: It’s a family affair. A family affair. It’s a family affair.
Chris Molanphy: Also in our hits of 71 show, I talked about Isaac Hayes, whose greatest funk innovation was arguably about song length. Hayes produced evocative, slow burning cuts that took up most of the side of an album, such as his 12 minute version of the Dionne Warwick hit Walk On by which Hayes punctuated with languid funk bass.
Chris Molanphy: Although Isaac Hayes breakthrough hit in 1971, his Oscar winning number one theme from the seminal blaxploitation film Shaft was one of his shorter recordings. It kicked off with a relatively long instrumental funk jam that took up half the record before Hayes even started singing.
Speaker 2: Who’s the Black.
Chris Molanphy: Private? The Shaft soundtrack also reached number one on the album chart, an indication that music fans were consuming Isaac Hayes simmering funk at length. Hayes LP topped the album chart for only one week, which could have been a fluke. But one year later, Curtis Mayfield affirmed the commercial viability of blaxploitation soundtracks with his own smash LP and Mayfield, like James Brown, Sly Stone and George Clinton had made a fairly radical musical shift from the sixties into the seventies.
Speaker 2: Now. Maybe some day.
Chris Molanphy: In the sixties. Curtis Mayfield was a member of The Impressions, a group that started as a gospel inflected doo wop troupe showcasing the vocals of Jerry Butler. When Butler departed, Mayfield stepped forward as the group’s de facto leader and main songwriter for The Impressions. Mayfield penned some of the most indelible songs of the civil rights era, including the R&B chart toppers Keep On Pushing, We’re a Winner and the Now Standard. People get ready.
Speaker 2: So people get ready for the train to join. Passenger car.
Chris Molanphy: Already an iconic voice in sixties black pop. By the end of the decade, Curtis Mayfield became a budding mogul, founding his own custom label first to showcase his final albums with The Impressions before he then transitioned into a solo career and a much funkier sound.
Speaker 3: He sat down with. He said, Don’t worry.
Chris Molanphy: The early 1971 hit, don’t worry if there’s a hell below, we’re all going to go, which reached number three on the R&B chart and number 29 on the Hot 100. Found Mayfield adapting his socially conscious sound for the era of P-Funk and Sly Stone. It laid the groundwork for the soundtrack he would write and record a year later.
Chris Molanphy: Not long after Isaac Hayes topped the charts with Shaft Blaxploitation, film directors like Gordon Parks, director of Shaft and his son Gordon Parks, junior director of Superfly, liked having one artist record an entire soundtrack to give their film a signature sound. Hayes’s Shaft album had consisted largely of his film score, with just a couple of vocal tracks like Theme from Shaft. But what Mayfield turned in for Parks Junior’s film, Superfly, was exceptional, a funk album with mostly vocal tracks that stood apart from the film and told a story all its own.
Speaker 2: Everything that is in the thing.
Speaker 3: You push a move.
Chris Molanphy: From Pusher Man, which set the tone for the album to the lead single, Freddie’s Dead Man The Smell.
Speaker 2: I’m sure that has come.
Chris Molanphy: Superfly was an amalgam of funk and soul, rhythm and melody, story and groove. It didn’t hurt that Superfly, the movie starring Ryan O’Neal, was a smash, the highest grossing blaxploitation film to that date. But Mayfield’s album developed a life of its own. Debuting on the album chart in late August 1972, a few weeks after the movie arrived. Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly took eight weeks to reach number one on Billboard’s Top LPs chart, and it rode the chart for nearly a year.
Speaker 3: Full of superfans. You to make it. But if you lose, go, guys, No questions.
Chris Molanphy: Superfly was more hip packed than any funk album before it. With Freddy’s dead reaching number four on the Hot 100 and the title track reaching number eight. Though Curtis Mayfield would never again reach the pop top ten. He spent the rest of the decade scoring hits on the R&B chart like Future Shock. From the number one Soul Chart album back to the world.
Speaker 2: Subdued. Just shy.
Chris Molanphy: And the trend hopping Top 40 pop. Number three R&B hit Kung Fu Kong.
Speaker 2: I’m just dropping like this guy. Wow.
Chris Molanphy: More important, Mayfield had helped open the floodgates to a new wave of deep funk and. At first, many of the big funk crossover hits came from Motown veterans of the sixties.
Speaker 3: Well, that was all.
Chris Molanphy: Including the Temptations who went to number one in late 1972, just weeks after Superfly broke with their bass Heavy Papa was a Rolling Stone, or Marvin Gaye, who melded his soul balladry with a sexy strut on the 1973 number one hit. Let’s get it on. Come on.
Chris Molanphy: And of course, Stevie Wonder recently emancipated from his teenage Motown contract and producing albums independent of the Motown system. His early seventies tracks like Superstition and Maybe Your Baby, were built around thick keyboard lines from Stevie’s Clavinet.
Chris Molanphy: Moreover, acts that came from the smoother end of seventies R&B tilted toward funk in their arrangements. The O’Jays, for example, were the premier vocal group of Philadelphia Soul, which was heavily orchestrated and generally much fluttery, higher than funk. Nonetheless, you could hear the imprint of funk on the trio’s highly syncopated hits. Songwriter John Whitehead called 1970 Two’s Backstabbers. A number three pop number one R&B hit, quote, A heavenly feel against that funk, unquote.
Speaker 3: What they do in your face all the time, you ought to take your place.
Speaker 2: US.
Chris Molanphy: By 1974, the O’Jays had gotten even more bass heavy on the rumbling for the love of money. A number nine pop. Number three R&B hit.
Chris Molanphy: Besides these artists that alluded to funk, it was now possible for groups that focused largely on the music to score, both on the singles and album charts. One of the biggest of the early seventies was the Long Beach, California Latin funk combo war in 1970. Their career had been reinvented when the former leader of British group The Animals, Eric Burdon, took war under his wing and scored the number three psychedelic funk hit. Spill the Wine.
Speaker 2: She said While. Oh, my God.
Chris Molanphy: After that rock and soul breakthrough. By 1972, war began scoring on their own with hits like the number 14 Slippin Into the Darkness.
Speaker 2: And then it died.
Chris Molanphy: That set up war for their 1973 magnum opus, The World is a Ghetto.
Speaker 2: That’s true. And four year old boy.
Chris Molanphy: The album topped Billboard’s Top LPs in February 1973, hung around the chart all year and produced multiple hits, including the number seven title track and the number two smash, The Cisco Kid. Go.
Speaker 2: Go, go!
Chris Molanphy: The World Is a Ghetto wasn’t just a singles collection Wars LP connected with rock and pop fans as an album length statement. There were tracks with the sprawl of album oriented rock, like the ten minute city, country, city. At the end of 1973, Billboard named The World is a Ghetto, the year’s number one album. It established war as regular seventies hitmakers. Years later, they were still cracking the pop top ten with the reggae tinged funk of Why Can’t We Be Friends?
Speaker 3: Why Did I get.
Chris Molanphy: And their most iconic single 1970 Fives horn inflected car, Anthem Low Rider.
Speaker 3: And Go Ride does it a little higher.
Chris Molanphy: Another all funk combo. Jersey City’s Kool and the Gang had a similarly auspicious emergence. Their 1973 album, Wild and Peaceful, generated three Top 40 hits. The number 29 Funky stuff hanging out.
Speaker 3: All that is stuff.
Chris Molanphy: The number four hit Jungle Boogie, which decades later would be revived in Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction. I’m gonna go get it. Jungle Book and Hollywood Swinging, which also cracked the pop top ten and went all the way to number one on the R&B chart. Hollywood. But Kool in the gang’s path would take a very different turn later in the decade. We’ll come back to that by 1974 and 75. Funk was fusing with everything and everything it touched turned to gold. Godfather of Soul James Brown recorded his own blaxploitation style anthem, The Payback.
Speaker 3: Hey. Got to got to pay back. Rubin.
Chris Molanphy: Which was originally intended for the soundtrack of hell up in Harlem. When the filmmakers rejected the song, Brown released it himself as a kind of shivery funk murder ballad. It not only returned him to number one on the R&B chart, it cracked the pop Top 30 and was his first gold single in two years.
Speaker 2: Get down with my husband Buddy.
Chris Molanphy: Right down the Jammy Brooklyn combo Mandrill were a fusion of Latin jazz and rock with a funky edge, previously too esoteric for the charts. By 73 and 74, they were regularly making Billboard’s Soul singles chart with tracks like Fence Walk and their Composite Truth. LP cracked the Pop Top 30. Even deeper into jazz. Herbie Hancock’s seminal funk fusion LP Headhunters, reached number 13 on the pop album chart in early 1974.
Chris Molanphy: And as we discussed earlier this year in our R&B Queens episode of Hit Parade, the Chicago band Rufus, fronted by Chaka Khan, finally broke big in the summer of 74 after pivoting away from rock toward pure funk, scoring their first big hit with the Stevie Wonder penned and produced. Tell me something.
Speaker 2: Tell me something good. One. Tell me that you love me.
Chris Molanphy: Get out of the funk. Sound was not even limited to America. Average White band. A Scottish instrumental group produced an R&B sound so credible on pick up the pieces. They topped the hot 100, went top five on the Soul singles chart, and their album AWB topped both the pop and R&B lists. In early 1975.
Chris Molanphy: Sharing space with average white band near the top of the album chart in February of 75 was an even quirkier funk super combo. Their album was called Simply Fire, and they hailed from Dayton, Ohio. They called themselves The Ohio Players.
Speaker 2: God bless. Oh, my God. Oh, God.
Chris Molanphy: The group had both great grooves and great gimmicks. What made the Ohio players exceptional commercially was their marketing of funk as glossy, jovial party music. Best consumed an album at a time. And like Herb Alpert, Roxy Music or Chic, the Ohio players knew the value of a gorgeous female model on a vinyl dust jacket.
Speaker 2: There’s a worm in the ground just. 6.0.
Chris Molanphy: In 1973 when they broke out with the hit Funky Worm, a number one R&B number 15 pop hit. The Ohio players were known both for the track’s so-called granny vocals delivered in character by Walter Junie Morrison. Think of this trope as the media of its day.
Speaker 2: Cannot win it again and then come out with it.
Chris Molanphy: And the cover of the LP. It came from Payne, which featured a bald whip wielding female dominatrix in a bikini. The Ohio players repeated this sexy gambit on subsequent LPs called Pleasure, Ecstasy and Skin Tight, each of which sported a provocative cover and each of which sold better than the last.
Speaker 3: Skin ties, That ties.
Chris Molanphy: It all culminated in the late 1974 LP Fire, whose cover featured a buxom model clad in a fire helmet and not much else holding a phallic hose. Sexy as it was, that LP jacket wouldn’t have mattered if the album’s title track hadn’t been, well, The Bomb Fire.
Chris Molanphy: Fire and fire topped the hot 100 in February 75, the same week the fire album hit number one on top LP. The song was no less funky than prior Ohio players releases, but halfway through the seventies, the record buying and radio listening public was, you might say, at its most funk.
Speaker 2: Philip sleigh can resurrect my dad’s. I’m.
Chris Molanphy: And as gimmicky as those LP photos were, you couldn’t hear a loo breathless album cover on the radio. America loved the songs. Later, in 75, taking advantage of their combustible momentum, the Ohio players dropped a follow up LP Honey. Yes, there was a sexy cover and yes, it involved the sweet sticky stuff. The lead single was a disco fied funk Fantasia called Love Roller Coaster. It, too, reached number one on the Hot 100 and the LP reached number two.
Speaker 3: What does that.
Speaker 2: Mean?
Chris Molanphy: About as big as the Ohio players got in 1975. The year’s more pivotal breakthrough came from an even larger scale, more commercially dominant Hall of Fame level combo. They were based in funk, but more than funk. Their sound included jazz, soul, gospel, rock, folk, Afrobeat and yes, disco. Indeed, they would navigate the peak disco years better than any of these other early seventies acts. But even when their music was smooth or slick, it was still funky. And you might say elemental, earthy, windy, fiery and black featured as they disappeared.
Chris Molanphy: Five. A fun footnote about Earth, Wind and Fire. They recorded a blaxploitation movie soundtrack even before Isaac Hayes or Curtis Mayfield. They were the uncredited backing band to Melvin Van Peebles on the 1971 soundtrack to the director’s seminal film Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song Ground Zero for Blaxploitation. Frankly, you can barely tell. Earth, Wind and Fire are playing on that soundtrack, which all music calls, quote, serviceable period funk soul.
Chris Molanphy: About the only telltale sign is when E.W. EFF leader Maurice White plays the Kalimba, the African style thumb piano White was probably the most famous kalimba player of all time. Maurice White started as a session musician playing drums on countless recordings for Chess Records, But he had greater ambitions.
Chris Molanphy: Founding his own band in Chicago in 1969, White named them Earth, Wind and Fire after his astrological chart, which had no water signs. The group signed to Warner Brothers Records and 2ewf albums came and went along with that Sweetback soundtrack to only modest success. White disbanded the group retaining only the Earth, Wind and Fire name, and his brother, bassist Virgin White signed to a New deal with Columbia Records in 1973.
Chris Molanphy: The year funk really began to blow up on the charts. DWF finally caught a wave. Head to the sky. Earth, Wind and Fires 1973 LP generated two R&B Top 40 hits, cracked the top 30 on the pop album chart and went gold even among their funky peers.
Chris Molanphy: In 73, he W.f. had a more expansive, eclectic sound played by a jazzy nine piece band and fronted by the falsetto vocals of Phillip Bailey and Morris and Virgin White. It was an ethereal, airy sound, but the next year, on a much bigger single E! DWF brought the uncut funk.
Chris Molanphy: Mighty, mighty. A number for R&B. Number 29 Pop hit Distilled the Earth, Wind and Fire sound for radio domination and set a template for the band. Melodic funk with brassy, intricate playing and stacked vocals. DWF had a good 1974 there. Open Our Eyes LP cracked the top 20 on the pop album chart and spun off three sizable hits. But 1975 was even better. Much better.
Speaker 2: No matter who you are. You seem to be a.
Chris Molanphy: Shining star was the lead single of That’s the Way of the World. Earth, Wind and Fire is sixth studio album. And by the way, the soundtrack to a Harvey Keitel movie that’s largely forgotten today. E w f didn’t need a boost from that flop film because world, the album was a world beating blockbuster. Their most acclaimed and best selling LP, it topped the album chart in mid-May 1975, and one week later, Shining Star topped the hot 100.
Speaker 3: Yeah. But. Now I’ve got about. Oh, no. Yeah.
Chris Molanphy: Percolating and danceable with mystically minded lyrics about being born. A man child of the sun shining star may be the quintessential E W.f. funk song. It has the heavy bottom and the pillowy top elsewhere on That’s the Way of the World. E w f further showcased their breath. The lilting title track was a number 12 pop. Number five R&B hit.
Chris Molanphy: The album also kicked off a stunning chart run for Earth, Wind and Fire from 1975 through 79. E.W. Alpha scored a top five platinum album every year. These included gratitude, another number one LP in early 76 that generated the ebullient top five hit Sing a Song.
Chris Molanphy: Thanks. And the late 76 album Spirit, which reached number two and spun off the hard charging number one R&B number 12 pop hit Getaway.
Chris Molanphy: Again, these were hit albums, not just hit songs with gatefold sleeves, elaborate Afrocentric imagery, and slick photos of the band assembled in artful arrangements. E w f albums even more than the sexy covers from the Ohio players upped the ante for R&B and funk iconography. They looked more like progressive or hard rock albums, and they sat comfortably in the collections of seventies LP buyers next to the likes of Led Zeppelin’s. And.
Chris Molanphy: Yes. The elaborate imagery also matched E.W. Jeff’s live show, which Maurice White stacked with lavish costumes, special effects and pyrotechnics, sometimes even stunts designed by magician Doug Henning. And the band was augmented onstage by their regular brass combo, the Phoenix Horns, who would later back Phil Collins on his brassy solo album.
Chris Molanphy: Through all of this elaborate production and instrumentation, the core of Earth, Wind and Fire, as music was still funk best exemplified by Serpentine Fire, a number one R&B number 13 pop hit in 1977 and the lead single to yet another platinum album.
Chris Molanphy: All in all. If Earth, Wind and Fire represented Funk’s heightened super ego, you might say Parliament-Funkadelic was the it Rolling Stones Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll positions P-Funk as e w f’s quote ideological rivals down and dirty, but equally eclectic, unquote.
Chris Molanphy: Indeed, George Clinton’s dual axis of bands never scored the major pop crossover e w eff enjoyed. Neither Parliament nor Funkadelic ever landed a top ten hit on the hot 100. But away from the spotlight of pop listeners. Clinton had been mounting his own elaborate, crazy funk revolution with equally splashy LP covers for deep seventies funk fans.
Chris Molanphy: P-Funk were the prototype for everybody. Get up. Putting parliaments up for the down Stroke became the P-Funk Collective’s first R&B Top ten hit in 1974. Its chanting rhythmic chorus. Get up for the down stroke, everybody Get Up. Was quintessential George Clinton gibberish with a sense of purpose from a man who once titled an album. Free your mind and your ass will follow.
Chris Molanphy: Each P-Funk album was high concept. Though some of George’s concepts were more legible than others. Titles included Cosmic Slop and Funk, Intellect versus the Placebo Syndrome, one of the more accessible concepts. On 1975, Chocolate City imagined a nationwide takeover of the levers of government by Black America.
Speaker 2: Richard Pryor, Minister of Education. Stevie Wonder as Secretary of Fine Arts and Miss Aretha Franklin and the First Lady. Are you out there?
Chris Molanphy: See, George Clinton’s not so secret weapon was the towering bassist Bootsy Collins, a veteran of James Brown’s jabs at their early seventies peak.
Speaker 2: I got something that makes pink ball shout. I got the thing and tell me what it’s all about. I got faith.
Chris Molanphy: Bootsy permanently joined the P-Funk collective in 1972, standing six foot two, clad in outrageous spangled outfits and glasses with stars on the lenses, popping his bass and singing pinched high harmony vocals. Bootsy became both a musical and a visual icon of Clinton’s band, and he was instrumental to the success of Parliament’s most successful album.
Speaker 2: Make make mad the people. I’m gonna get my stuff here, people. I want to get this.
Chris Molanphy: Mothership connection released At the very end of 1975. Became the first platinum P-Funk album in 1976 and their biggest crossover moment. Bootsy Collins was among the highlights on the second single, Give Up the Funk. Tear the Roof Off the Sucker. His percolating bassline is considered definitive.
Speaker 3: How about how about how we evolved on.
Chris Molanphy: The cover of Mothership? Connection featured George Clinton, a huge Star Trek fan emerging from a flying saucer legs first in platform moon boots. This imagery and the album’s strong sales paid off on P-Funk, now legendary mothership tour of 1976, which featured a full scale spaceship and a massive band of expert funk players.
Speaker 2: The first record, The Grand of the Mothership, The Mothership Connection, found in 3D.
Chris Molanphy: If possible for P-Funk Stage show was even more extravagant than Earth, Wind and Fire’s, and it attracted concert goers across the spectrum who might otherwise not have gone to a funk show. The Mothership Connection album went gold, then platinum. Within a year, George Clinton had become prime Minister of Funk by following his freaky muse without really trying to cross over.
Chris Molanphy: Which brings up an interesting point. How far would any of these acts need to go to attract a mainstream audience? Earth, Wind and Fire were finding a huge audience with their sleek, heterogeneous funk, but they were eclectic from the start and through 1976 acts as unabashedly funky as War. And the Ohio players were scoring massive pop hits without diluting their sound. How much further would they go? The answer to this question became more pressing in the late seventies, after Funk started grafting itself and then competing with other popular forms. For example.
Speaker 3: How was it Boogie singer playing in The Wild Cherry.
Chris Molanphy: A band from Steubenville, Ohio? Though you probably wouldn’t call them Ohio, players are often categorized as a funk rock band, a label that has as much to do with their race as their music. Essentially, their 1976 number one hit play, That funky music, which some classify as disco, was really straight up funk. Even with the inclusion of the self-consciously satirical lyrics White.
Speaker 3: Music. Why I talking music, right?
Chris Molanphy: Similarly, Aerosmith’s Walk This Way. The original version, a top ten hit in 1977, had a highly syncopated beat and riff that guitarist Joe Perry patterned after the Meters. A decade before, it was remade by rappers Run DMC, Walk This Way was already a white rock approximation of funk. So that was Rock appropriating Funk’s moves.
Chris Molanphy: And then, of course, there was disco, which in many cases was really just funk by another name. On their comeback slash reinvention. Single Jive Talkin number one. In 1975, the Bee Gees were openly emulating the bass sound of Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone. If not for their breezy vocals and the keening synths. Jive Talkin would probably be classed as a funk record.
Chris Molanphy: And by the way, that was true of disco hits by black performers too, such as Rose Royce, the L.A. group behind Car Wash, another hot 100 number one in early 1977. Like Jive Talkin. Car Wash was built out of a popping funk bassline. The song even came from the soundtrack of a latter day blaxploitation film car wash.
Speaker 3: Work in the car wash him singing with.
Chris Molanphy: Soul for full on funk acts, making the transition from the early seventies to the late seventies. The dilemma concerned whether to adapt, especially as disco took over the charts and by how much. One of the most interesting before and after cases was a group from Tuskegee, Alabama.
Chris Molanphy: You might say, The Commodores, a sextet of multiple songwriters and instrumentalists, had a split personality from the start. Their debut single, an instrumental called Machine Gun, was a synth funk breakdown written by keyboardist Mahlon Williams. It reached number seven on the R&B chart and number 22 on the Hot 100. In 1974, the following year, Slippery when Wet, an even funkier jam written by Commodores, guitarist Thomas McClary went to number one R&B and cracked the pop top 20 rating.
Speaker 3: You might expect.
Speaker 2: That Brown was.
Chris Molanphy: The lead singer on Slippery when Wet was also a songwriter. You’ve probably heard of him. Lionel Richie and Lionel tended toward the softer side. That. When the Commodores finally broke into the pop Top five in 1976, they did it with Sweet Love, a Richie penned ballad with both R&B and pop in its bones. Lionel excelled at this kind of soft composition. Later in 77, Richie took the Commodores back into the top five and back to number one R&B with the wistful mid-tempo saloon ballad Easy.
Speaker 3: That’s why I’m here. I’m easy. Like Sunday morning.
Speaker 2: And yet.
Chris Molanphy: Through all of this, The Commodores didn’t abandon Funk, their very next hit. To this day, one of their most popular sung by drummer Walter Orange, was the funk ode to Carla Pidgeon, Women Brick House. And it was a top five on both the pop and R&B charts.
Speaker 3: How things about how. Save my my time.
Speaker 2: Just letting it all hang out. She’s our friend.
Chris Molanphy: So, in other words, the Commodores could still give up the funk. And they didn’t have to give up on funk. But they couldn’t help but notice that Brick House accepted. The funky songs tended to fall short at top 40 radio, such as their number 39 hit Fancy Dancer.
Speaker 2: You’ll the.
Speaker 3: Living. Todd. How?
Chris Molanphy: Or the number 24. Too hot to trot now.
Speaker 2: Too hot to trot. Now, babe, I got to stop by. Well, you do have the job.
Chris Molanphy: And so at a time when songs like You Light Up My Life and how Deep is your love, we’re commanding the hot 100. The Commodores chose to lean into their secret sentimental weapon. Lionel Richie and his piano once.
Speaker 2: Time. Leader.
Chris Molanphy: Three times, a lady finally took the Commodores to number one on the hot 100 in the summer of 1978. A year later, the even gentler, more lachrymose still did the trick again.
Speaker 2: So many dreams. So. Many were.
Chris Molanphy: We did even more than on Sweet Love or Easy in these songs. The syncopation. The funk was gone. The Commodores scored just a couple more uptempo hits with Lionel Richie in the band before he left for a multiplatinum eighties solo career. By then, they had fully converted to a post disco easy listening group. Not really a funk group. Still props because, Lady, You Bring Me Up is a jam. Let’s win.
Chris Molanphy: So the Commodores shift away from hard funk was gradual and not entirely necessary. They had hits throughout the seventies for Kool and the Gang. However, the choice was motivated by a career imperative. Get down.
Speaker 2: Get the feeling, the spirit.
Chris Molanphy: Right. By the mid-seventies, Kool and the Gang could still be relied upon to score big R&B hits like 1970 Five’s Spirit of the Boogie. Despite the Boogie in its title, this was still their original brand of hard funk ala Jungle Boogie.
Chris Molanphy: But by 1976, with Disco on the Rise. Band leader Robert Kool Bell felt Kool and the Gang needed to get in front of the trend, so they recorded open sesame and exotic horn inflected disco funk track that had the good fortune to appear on the soundtrack to 1977 Saturday Night Fever.
Chris Molanphy: Unfortunately, this didn’t help Kool and the Gang’s sales much. The Open Sesame LP only reached number 110 on the album chart. So cool and gang leaned even harder into disco 1978. Everybody’s dancin piled strings on top of the group’s funk, bass and horns. It was an awkward hybrid. Everybody. The Everybody’s Dancin single missed the top 40 on the R&B chart and missed the hot 100 entirely. The album bubbled under the album chart at number 207.
Chris Molanphy: Disco had seemingly made Kool the Gang obsolete. They would need a total overhaul. Bandleader Bell brought in a new producer, new instrumentalists, and for the first time, a permanent lead singer. The Smooth James J.T. Taylor was too hard, too.
Speaker 2: Hard to get around the show. Got a run of shame. It’s too.
Chris Molanphy: Hot. The group was finally going to just skip over disco and aim for slick balladry and gently funky pop. This turned out to be a very wise move. Kool and the Gang anticipated the sound of eighties Pop and B Late Night and.
Speaker 2: 60 9010109 Ladies Night and the.
Chris Molanphy: Ladies Night. The title track of their late 1979 LP returned Kool and the Gang to the top ten on the hot 100 and to number one on the R&B chart. The group hadn’t entirely abandoned funk basslines or their syncopated horns. They’d just smoothed everything out while removing any obvious disco tropes. One year later, an even more ebullient party jam did even better for Kool and the Gang.
Speaker 3: It’s a breakdown.
Chris Molanphy: Celebration, which is surely playing somewhere in America as I speak, wherever more than ten people are gathered. Reached number one on the hot 100 in the winter of 1981.
Speaker 3: We go celebrate and party with you. Come on, now.
Chris Molanphy: The song was extremely danceable, but again, it did not have obvious disco overtones, making it an easier sell on the radio of 1980 and 81. It had funk guitar and deep synth bass, but it sounded like the eighties, not the seventies. Kool and the Gang would go on to mine this sound for the rest of the decade.
Speaker 3: Get down on. Get down on it. Come on. Get down on it. On it. On it.
Chris Molanphy: Scoring seven more, top ten hits, ten in total out of 13 top 40 hits. In the eighties alone, though, they had only been medium level hit makers in the seventies. Improbably in the eighties, Kool and the Gang became Kings of Pop and big crossover and they didn’t have to give up funk entirely.
Speaker 3: Now get down on it. Down on it. Come on and down on baby, baby on it. Get on it here now.
Speaker 2: I think people are.
Chris Molanphy: This choice to funk or not to funk, to cross over or go with what you know was handled differently by every seventies veteran act. As the eighties approached the Ohio players, for example, their staggering mid-seventies success turned out to be fleeting. They tried going jazzier on an album called Mr. Mean, then tried their hand at disco funk fusion in 1979 to only modest results.
Speaker 2: The things you.
Speaker 3: Do to me in. Kim Moon, making great.
Chris Molanphy: War for their part, gave Latin flavoured disco a try. 1977 Galaxie squeaked into the pop top 40 at number 39 and was their last R&B top ten hit. However, war did continue to record steadily into the eighties and 1995. I got.
Speaker 2: My.
Chris Molanphy: Fire Curtis Mayfield shifted away from funk toward a mix of stately R&B balladry and a kind of yacht soul. 1981 She Don’t Let Nobody But Me was his last R&B top 20 hit No Body.
Speaker 3: No, Not. She has no fire. No RINGO.
Chris Molanphy: In 1990, Mayfield was paralyzed when a lighting rig fell on him at a concert. That decade, he was inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Once with the Impressions and a second time on his own. Just months after that solo induction in 1999, Curtis Mayfield died at age 57.
Chris Molanphy: And what about the opposing archetypes of mid seventies funk? Earth, Wind and Fire and George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic universe? True to form, they went in opposite directions, but both approaches worked in their. George Clinton scored his biggest hits in the late seventies at the height of disco, even if other acts were abandoning uncut funk. He was going to continue to set the agenda, and 1978 was his most imperial year.
Speaker 3: And then I go.
Chris Molanphy: In March of 78, Parliament topped the R&B chart for the first time and reached an impressive number 16 on the hot 100 with flashlight. Three weeks later, Clinton effectively replaced himself at number one R&B when a track he’d produced for bassist Bootsy Collins called Boot Zilla.
Speaker 2: Yup. You get the.
Chris Molanphy: Oh, succeeded flashlight on top. Then just six months after.
Speaker 2: That until after the. Getting down for the that one day.
Chris Molanphy: Around the Moon Funkadelic scored its biggest ever single and album, both titled One Nation Under a Groove. The LP went top 20 and platinum. The single was a top 30 pop hit and number one R&B for six weeks. Clearly, P-Funk fans preferred George Clinton. Deeply funky and deeply weird. Over the next four years. Clinton would continue to top the R&B chart with such quirky jams as parliaments. Aqua Boogie.
Speaker 3: Me, too. Hey. Comprehension of strokes.
Speaker 2: Was it all.
Chris Molanphy: Funkadelic? Not just knee deep. And in the early eighties, under his own name, George Clinton would hit the top with his digital funk hip hop jam. Atomic Dog.
Speaker 2: Oh. Oh, wow. Wow, Wow. Video He followed.
Chris Molanphy: Clinton’s loopy catchphrases from these hits like Psycho Alpha, Disco Beat Up or Bow. Wow. Wow, Yippee. Yo Yerba became permanent parts of hip hop lingo. No other funk veteran was given greater permission to let his freak flag fly, and that fearlessly freaky style arguably made Clinton the greatest influence not only on hip hop but on the next generation of eighties Funk from Rick James.
Speaker 3: Give it to the dead. It’s a.
Chris Molanphy: Better to the Gap band that. Me too.
Speaker 3: Cameo account on Bad, Bad Tommy. What’s so bad? I out? You to God.
Chris Molanphy: And what about Earth, Wind and Fire? Maurice White’s killer instinct. His unerring ear for crossover hits kept DWF in the game right through the end of the decade and beyond.
Speaker 2: Do you remember.
Speaker 3: When it was time? My love is changing by September.
Chris Molanphy: A one off single attached to a late 1978 Greatest Hits album is now Earth, Wind and Fires. Most played perennial, streamed more than 1.1 billion times on Spotify. Co-written by Maurice White, his guitarist Al McKay, and Journey woman songwriter Ali Willis, who, by the way, would later penned hits for The Pet Shop Boys and the Rembrandts.
Chris Molanphy: No kidding. September blended funk and disco into a joyous celebration. By the way, nobody really knows what body yard means. And Maurice White claimed that he picked the 21st night of September entirely at random.
Chris Molanphy: Anyway, e w f followed the disco adjacent September with Boogie Wonderland. A full dive into disco that reached number two, R&B, number six pop.
Chris Molanphy: And then. As we discussed in our yacht rock episode of Hit Parade, IWC scored with the classic yacht soul ballad After the Love Has Gone. It hit number two on both charts just as the album I Am became E.W. F’s fifth consecutive platinum studio album. It was the band’s versatility that sold all those LPs and generated all those hits.
Chris Molanphy: Songs like Boogie Wonderland and After The Love Has Gone may not have been funk per se. But they didn’t take DWF that far away from the music’s roots. The syncopation, the bass grooves, the sophisticated arrangements, and the falsetto vocals. Like Curtis Mayfield from nearly a decade before on Superfly.
Speaker 3: And I didn’t have to be. Well, I was just kidding.
Chris Molanphy: Anyway, as ever, Earth, Wind and Fire didn’t stray from straight up funk for long.
Speaker 2: Get down. Down on the ground.
Chris Molanphy: Amazingly, DWF scored arguably their biggest chart hit ever in 1981 with the synth funk banger Let’s Groove with eight weeks at number one on the Soul singles chart. Their longest R&B reign ever and five weeks at number three on the Hot 100, outlasting the endurance of their 1975 number one Shining star. Let’s groove. Summarized everything DWF had done in the prior decade for two.
Speaker 3: You can do it. Oh, right.
Chris Molanphy: Little sleek, brassy, catchy, fluttery, smooth, romantic, and most of all, funky. Let’s groove could not have been more aptly titled. It was E.W. F’s last blockbuster Go. But not their last hit.
Chris Molanphy: After a mid-eighties hiatus, the group kept scoring on the R&B chart through the late eighties and early nineties, including their final number one R&B hit 1987 System of Survival. Separately on his own. Vocalist Philip Bailey scored a massive eighties hit teaming up with Earth, Wind and Fire fan Phil Collins. Their duet, 1980 Five’s Easy Lover hit number two.
Speaker 3: She’ll take it. But you want to.
Chris Molanphy: Earth, Wind and Fire were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. That same year, it was announced that Maurice White was contending with Parkinson’s disease. He nonetheless made the ceremony and spoke briefly.
Speaker 4: Well, the first thing I can say that I’m speechless. I’ve got to go. But it’s been a long, hard road. But it’s been a beautiful road. I want to tell the musicians, along with what else to take the ride. It’s been very. And we couldn’t couldn’t have went any place without the fans and loyal fans. We thank you very, very much.
Chris Molanphy: White lived another decade and a half, continuing to mind the group’s business, even as he could no longer join them on stage. Maurice White died in February 2016 at the age of 74. Maybe among the seventies class of funk acts.
Chris Molanphy: Earth, Wind and Fire were not as influential as George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars, or certainly going back to the sixties as formative as James Brown or even Curtis Mayfield. But you could say that Maurice White’s brainchild, the band he formed half a century ago that sold about 90 million records, was the most successful product of funk. Proof of the music’s adaptability and reach. DWF music was all encompassing, versatile and joyous, and, by the way, fronted by Philip Bailey and Virgin White.
Chris Molanphy: Earth, Wind and Fire continues to tour to this day. In fact, just a month ago, in September 2022, they were on stage performing well, of course, September.
Chris Molanphy: There are no onstage pyrotechnics anymore at an e w f show, no magic tricks. The pyramid images and laser lights are now just projected onto a screen, and the band are no longer wearing wide collars, sequins and moon boots. But if you close your eyes, the groove is unmistakable, the funk undeniable. And as the song says, you’ll dance in the night. And remember how the stars stole the night away. Get back.
Chris Molanphy: I hope you enjoyed this episode of Hit Parade. Our show was written, edited and narrated by Chris Molanphy. That’s me. My producer is Kevin Bendis. Alicia montgomery is the executive producer and Derek John, the supervising narrative producer of Slate Podcasts. Check out their roster of shows at Slate.com slash podcast. You can subscribe to Hit Parade wherever you get your podcasts. In addition to finding it in the Slate Culture Feed, if you’re subscribing on Apple Podcasts, please rate and review us while you’re there. It helps other listeners find the show. Before I sign off this month, a quick promo.
Chris Molanphy: If you’re in the Columbia, South Carolina area, I’ll be making a live appearance sponsored by the University of South Carolina’s School of Information and Communications and the Richland Public Library on Thursday, October 20th at 6:30 p.m.. I’m speaking at the Richland Main Public Library and it’s free and open to the public. My talk will be about pop culture, music and South Carolina. And by the way, my discussion of a certain South Carolina musician may make it into a future hit parade episode. We’ll add a link to the show page. Thanks for listening and I look forward to leading the hip parade back your way. Until then, keep on marching on the one. I’m Chris Molanphy.