With its smooth and relaxed intro, Marvin Gaye’s 1971 hit “What’s Going On” was a departure from the glossy and neatly orchestrated Motown Sound his audience was so used too. Gaye had reached a point in his life where he felt the needed to sing about the ills of society, war, poverty, and racism rather than sing dreamy love songs. His decision to do so was well received in “What’s Going On.” Gaye self-produced his song combined elements of classical music and R&B to create a unique sonic backdrop for a powerful message addressing the problems of the early ‘70s.
Sit back and take a listen to the masterful recording “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye!
AAMAM is always smooth!
The close out of the ‘60s era ended with the release of a song that examined the experience of trying to fit in to a society that struggled to accept individuality to say the least. Sly And The Family Stone released “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” in December 1969.
“Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” became a hit and remained high on the music charts for the first half of 1970. Sly And The Family Stone was famous for pushing social and cultural messages through their songs. They forced the listener to bop their head, snap their fingers, and stomp their feet to the most current social concerns of that era. “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” was indeed such a song. Filled with personal experiences from Sly, the song created an image of a person struggling with overzealous authority, the awkwardness of high society, and the price to be paid for being different all the while being both thankful and resentful for the experience as ones true self. If you can get past the funkiest of grooves provided by the band (take note of Larry Graham’s ground breaking thumb slapping technique) the message in the lyrics are loud and clear.
Just to mention–upon listening to the first verse, one will notice a seemingly prophetic image of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman take shape:
Lookin’ at the devil, grinnin’ at his gun. Fingers start shakin’, I begin to run. Bullets start chasin’, I begin to stop. We begin to wrestle, I was on the top.
However, this is not prophetic in the least; this type of imagery has been a constant in American society before Sly’s era, during Sly’s era, and sad to say, certainly since Sly’s era.
Take a listen.
Curtis Mayfield. (1942-1999)
The year1970 witnessed the released of Curtis Mayfield’s album Curtis. On it Mayfield acutely addressed the social climate of urban America. Facing forward with the ‘60s in his rearview mirror, Mayfield’s Curtis headed down a highway of new musicality robust in optimism—new found humanity for a people in search of their just rewards for a battle well fought.
Mayfield’s Curtis musically ushered in a bright new future with its uplifting lyrics and music, which could be heard on his single “Move On Up.” Tom Maginnis, music reviewer for Allmuisic .com, best describes the texture of “Move On Up” as he says,
The optimistic atmosphere can be heard from the very opening joyous horn riff, signaling a kind of feel-good fanfare as the song’s brisk rhythm is quickly sustained by a grooving percussion section of congas, Don Simmons’ rollicking drum kit, and a steady strum of clean electric guitar. Mayfield uses a variety of horn and string riffs as an ingenious call and response device to his silky smooth vocal performance at various points throughout the song’s intricate arrangement of a multitude of instruments. The overall effect is one of a unstoppable wave of positive sound, rolling forward, moving on up, as Mayfield offers words of encouragement, of progress through hard work and perseverance.
With that being said, have a listen!
You have a bright future with AAMAM!
Were you “cool like dat” in the early ‘90s? Digable Planets was. They hit the hip hop scene like no other rap group of the era. Combining elements of cool jazz and richly dense, positive, and melodic lyrics they established new boundaries for hip hop music.
Digable Planets, founded by Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, Mary Ann “Ladybug Mecca” Vieira, and Craig “Doodlebug” Irving, carried with them new and bold ideas for hip hop into the recording studio. Luckily, recording their hit single “Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” on their first album Reachin’ (A New Refutation Of Time And Space ), the group was afforded the grand opportunity to work solo in terms of producing their single as well as their entire album. As such, they were able to explore the parameters of their ideas and ultimately solidify their distinctive sound. Their unique ground breaking crossover hit “Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” became part of the groundswell of positive hip hop of the ‘90s, later known as the Golden Age of hip hop.
“Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” ultimately won a Grammy for best rap performance in 1994.
Yeah, AAMAM is cool like dat, too!
Today I dedicate the song “We Shall Overcome” to the grieving family and friends of the victims of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. What happened there was a horrible and sad event perpetrated by a lost and hate filled individual. I pray for the healing and the restoration of hope for the city as well.
The song “We Shall Overcome” has served as the hope-filled anthem of the Civil Right movement. Its message contains a powerful sentiment of hope and redemption for those in crisis. The song was popularized by the civil rights activist and folk singer Pete Seeger who taught the song to just about everyone he met. The song “We Shall Overcome” was derived from gospel music composer Rev. Charles Albert Tindley’s song “I’ll Overcome Someday” written at the turn of the century.
Coincidently, research suggests “We Shall Overcome” was first sung in Charleston S.C. by churches and striking food and tobacco workers in the late 40s. As such the song must continue to be sung in the city of Charleston. In fact all of our collective voices should sing in unison to usher in a feeling of hope all across America. Hope is what we need.
We shall overcome, Charleston!
The Power of AAMAM is real!
On March 2, 1959, Miles Davis recorded “So What” at Columbia 30th Street Studio in New York, with legendary musicians Paul Chambers (bassist), Bill Evans (Pianist), John Coltrane (tenor saxophonist), Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (alto saxophonist), and Jimmy Cobb (Drummer). “So What” is the best song ever recorded on the best album ever recorded in the history of recording, Kind Of Blue. Kind Of Blue is consistently among the top 10 non debut jazz albums purchased every year since 1960. You have this album, right?!
“So What” is the supreme model for modal chord structure. “So What” is uncanny in that every solo is perfect—every note is in the right place. “So What” changed the sound of jazz for the entire decade of the 60s.
Sit back, turn it up, and listen. Happy AAMAM!
L to R: Big Bank Hank (1956-2014), Master Gee, and Wonder Mike
In 1979, “Rappers Delight” was released by the rap group Sugar Hill Gang. The song was an instant success, which opened the door for rap music and hip hop culture to enter the main stream. Prior to its release, rap music was commonly created in the moment with DJs spinning records and providing musical spaces and back beats for budding MCs to rap over. It was rarely recorded and truly an underground genre.
“Rappers Delight” was the first rap song to top multiple music charts around the world. It was also the first rap song recorded that extensively used samples to create a back beat and as such made the Sugar Hill Gang the first rap group to face a law suit for illegally sampling songs (The group sampled the band Chic’s song “Good Times” without permission–they ultimately gave credit to Chic). Furthermore, they were the first rap group to be bilked out of millions by their management. (See I Want My Name Back documentary)
Historically, the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rappers Delight” utilized the African oral tradition of rhythmic storytelling over drum beats, which is the defining element of hip hop.
Take a listen to “Rappers Delight!” Some of you may remember all the lyrics and the rest of you can learn the lyrics for the first time here.