Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mr. Mike's High School Record Collection: Kool & the Gang - Emergency (1984)

No, it's not the cast of X-Men 4 it's Kool & the Gang!

C'mon! Raise your hands in the air and wave them like you just don't care!! The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!!! Every once in a while I like to hear something funky or from R&B and one of my favorite bands of this style is Kool & the Gang. They just had that right mix of melody and bumpin' jams for me. Even rhythmless people like me need to move to the music on occassion.

In the 70's, horn bands were "tight", meaning they were really popular (I'm trying to remember my 70's slang here). Bands like Kool & the Gang or The Commodores laid out wicked funk grooves punctuated by swinging horns. However all things must end, with the 80's synthesizers and drum machines replaced analog dance beats as horns were limited to the occassional sax solo. With all this technology ten or eleven member bands busting out "Jungle Boogie" or "Hollywood Swinging" just weren't needed. The kids wanted to dance to Michael Jackson and there was just one of him moonwalking around.

That's the predicament Kool and his Gang were in. So with their audience dwindling, Kool did what had to be done: change with the times. In 1979 the group added lead singer J.T.-James Taylor, whose smooth voice took them into a pop and ballad direction. A slew of hit songs followed and with Wacko Jacko's successful Thriller their new style was validated. To capitalize, Kool & Gang released what would be an 80's high school dance classic - Emergency.

1. Emergency

Yes, the memories. Memories of me awkwardly dancing because I never did figure out how to do that right, the red Police light swimming across the gym floor and a DJ shouting things like what started this post. There were certain songs you could depend on to hear at a dance- A Ha's "Take on Me", Mary Jane Girls "In My House", Klymaxx's "Meeting in the Ladies Room" and this chestnut. I've never seen the video until now and all I can say is...uh, now I've seen it. Everything in it is second hand MJ, the clothes sparkle excessively and heavy dance choreography. But the choreography in "Emergency" is really, really bad. Not Michael Jackson "Bad" either. Just awful. That bow down move on the line "Thank you girl" is silly but that's what happens when your horn section is forced to dance for their money instead. At least musically, I can say this mildly funky jam is...

2. Fresh

We as a people were stuck in a moment between "Rad", "Gnarly" and "Fly", searching for some new way to explain the coolness of whatever. In this intense vacuum of needing a catch word, "Fresh" was born. Everything was Fresh, LL Cool J was fresh, wearing a bandana on your leg was fresh, Miami Vice was fresh, Pillbury Doughboy muffins were fresh, just saying the word fresh was fresh. And Kool or his Gang, somebody, had their ear to the ground. It was a catch word waiting for a song. They would give us that song. Right up to today, this chorus sticks in my head "She's Fresh (Fresh!) / Exciting / So exciting to me (she's so Fresh, she's so Fresh)." Sleek R&B served up with relaxed confidence.

3. Misled

The song that convinced me to buy the record, Kool covered the bases by tossing in this fine slice of Pop Rock. Sure, there's shades of The Gloved One in the song and video that looks like a poor man's "Thriller". But that didn't change the fact that this is a catchy tune, when the guitar starts up and that circular chorus begins it pure awesomeness. And the enunciation on the beat "Miss - Led" is great in itself. Check out the smoke coming out of people's mouths in the video, that is one cold night out there!

4. Cherish

Where the title track dominated the dance floor, "Cherish" got the kids slow dancing under the disco ball with one of the most fantastically sappy songs of all time. Not just the 80's, but any decade. Seagulls, the waves of the beach and J.T. getting vaguely spiritual about his romantic love (Though I often thought the line about the girl "receiving her calling" in the night was an odd reason to Cherish the love, it's like, what if you die instead dude? It's only Cherished if you're around, is that it? Could you imagine this conversation? "Oh girl, if anything happened to you while we're sleeping, like if you should somehow die, that would be pretty rough on me."). Anyone who thought they couldn't top the beautiful mush fest that was Joanna was totally proven wrong. A guilty pleasure, this song has more sugar than a C&H factory yet I can't resist it.

5. Surrender

You mean there's more to this record? Side one of the record stopped after "Cherish" so I didn't hear these songs that followed that often. Why flip over the record if you're done? A bit of a rewrite of their smash Ladies Night, this is OK filler.

6. Bad Woman

See what happens when you don't Cherish the love? J.T. laments his relationship gone wrong to a quiet storm groove. Stop it Bad Woman, stop doing...whatever makes you...bad? The song doesn't really tell you what she did wrong, maybe she confused Kool & the Gang with a different group and asked them to play You Dropped The Bomb On Me by mistake? That probably didn't happen, I just like that song and wanted to include it here.

7. You Are The One

All right! An upbeat piece of slightly urban pop, a soundtrack song in search of a movie. You know the type of song that usually plays when small town people hit the flashy big city? Ooh it's the Capitol Records building! Aah it's the Empire State building! It's that song. I bet this was a favorite on Andrew McCarthy's mix tapes.

Kool and the Gang had one more Victory (1986) left before their career hit the skids. "Selling Out" are dirty words with creative ventures yet like many 70's bands trying to add years to their lifespan (the aforementioned Commodores, Chicago, Heart...the list goes on) the ends justify the means. Kool's sell out led to a hot streak of pop and dance hits that still have people like me Celebrating. Or at least giving pleasant memories of teenage kicks. Yaa-hoo!

And now, just because I like it, "Jungle Boogie"! Get down, get down. Get down, get down.

Kool & the Gang "Jungle Boogie"


Jeannie said...

I used to go outside and turn the giant antenna to watch Spanish MTV. I'd hurry back in so I wouldn't miss anything and it always seemed like the first video playing would be "Emergency" (no, not dubbed in Spanish). I'd have a great time getting the funk out by trying to keep up with JT Taylor's dance moves. That's a great song!

I'd have to say though that my favorite song from this album is "Misled". The song has some pump to it and is one of the songs on my exercise playlist.

Mr. Mike said...

I love that story honey! The only copy of "Emergency" on ITUNEs is the video, so now it's on my IPOD.