The Funk Age (1967-’82) produced arguably the greatest hits in the history of popular dance music. Specifically, as pertains to black dance music, the hits from this era still contain the power they had at the time they were out. Unlike music from the early days of rock ’n’ roll, Funk Age music didn’t date at all.
The peak of the Funk Age was 1972-’76. It just seemed that everything you heard on the radio was baad. One of the baadest bands producing black dance music was the Average White Band.
When AWB broke onto the scene with their monster hit “Pick Up the Pieces,” nobody black I knew thought the band was white. They sounded black and we embraced them with no regards to color. It was their sound that mattered.
They solidified their status with their next album’s hits of “Cut the Cake,” “School Boy Crush” and their brilliant interpretation of “If I Ever Lose This Heaven.” (I yearn for the days when a cover meant an interpretation as opposed to a replay of the original.)
For my money, “Soul Searching” was their apex and most consistent effort, although they didn’t have the monster hits from that piece.
AWB’s hits usually featured their two saxophones’ sound spiraling some hip shit in and around the beat. Just as baad is the interaction between the guitars... plus the back and forth between lead vocalists Hamish Stuart (pictured below) and Alan Gorrie.
But dig the twin bass interplay on the cut “Love Your Life.” (Click here to listen.) That’s Hamish Stuart playing lead bass filtered through a flanger and wah-wah. The dramatic horn break-down was sampled on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check the Rhyme.”
The twin bass breakdown afterwards with Hamish’s scream in the background is simply nasty. The slow pace of the cut emphasizes the disciplined musicianship bands from that era displayed. Ask any musician, playing slow is much harder than playing fast.
Speaking of slow, “slow cuts” (black-radio term for “love song”) can be funky too. AWB took it to the next level on “A Love of Your Own.” (Click here to listen.) The lead sound seems like another flanger but on the guitar this time. That was the thing in the ’70s, baad musicians playing with these effects toys. Roger Ball, who doubled as the keyboard player, plays a beautifully romantic solo on the alto saxophone.
And if you have the album or desire to purchase it, please check “Queen of My Soul,” which is my theme song when I get depressed. Malcolm Duncan tears it up on the tenor saxophone. Hamish is at his best expressing how critical music is to all of our lives. This song displays the versatility of 70s bands and how funky jazz (or how jazzy funk) could be.
I would recommend that any serious lover of Funk Age music purchase AWB’s “White Album” (“Person to Person” is a muthafucka), “Cut the Cake,” “Soul Searching” and their live album “Person to Person.”
(What happened to live albums anyway? They end with MTV’s Unplugged series? And talk about disciplined musicianship, check this live album and you’ll know how baad a band AWB is.)
When it comes to music, don’t discriminate. If you’re baad, you’re baad. By the way, the Average White Band used that label to diminish how baad they were. Hailing from Scotland, they felt they were performing on an “average” level compared to their black American soul music heroes. More than I can say for the Osmond Brothers, New Kids on the Block and Michael Bolton.
– DeAngelo Starnes