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November 10, 2008

Mood-Lift for the Day

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Funkiness, good humor, krazy kolors, and some of the biggest Afros ever seen -- that's right, it's 1973, and Billy Preston is stomping out "Will It Go 'Round in Circles":

Whoo! Happy music indeed.

Here's the Billy Preston Website. Billy -- who enjoyed a few years as a headliner as well as a long career as a superb sideman, performing with an amazing array of artists that included Mahalia Jackson, The Beatles, Jackie Wilson, Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, and Aretha Franklin -- would have turned 62 this year.



posted by Michael at November 10, 2008


Oh man, I lurve you! One of my all-time faves. Oddly, in the white middle class suburban rock-oriented time and place of my youth, Will It... was a guilty pleasure. I couldn't admit to my peers how much I loved that song, and would have suffered social murder if anyone had caught me bopping to its ultra-infectious thick funky loopy circular beat.

I believe it was during this time that a real cleavage between white and black music began to appear (Will It.. was popular with white kids too, I'm sure...but the cleavage was beginning to show). Preston's music is swingy, sexy, syncopated, circular, and deliciously funky in the body. But the music my peers listened to was overwhelmingly not of the body...Lordy it was even called "head music"! Genesis, Yes, Supertramp (who were immensely popular in Ottawa starting the year after Will It... and long before their American breakthrough with Breakfast in America), guitar rock in general, all of it unfunky, unsexy, unswingy, was the musical diet.

I didn't mind that music--still listen to some of it--but I just had to have my FUNK. Too bad it felt like something I had to do with a flashlight under the covers.

Were you marginalized in that way, Michael? Did you sense the growing black/white split around the early seventies that was in full bore mode by the time of Disco Sucks in, what, '78?

What a depressing development that was.

Posted by: PatrickH on November 11, 2008 11:15 AM

The Disco Sucks thing was a terrible outbreak of white male bad taste. It was an earlier indicator of the rampant homophobia that would take over the culture -- lightness, wit, and joy were deprecated as "gay". Perhaps the lowest point was when the young Prince was opening for the Rolling Stones in 1981 and "rock" fans pelted him with garbage and booed him off the stage.

Parliament/Funkadelic was probably the greatest band of the 1970s, as they seamlessly fused disco, guitar metal, funk, and soul -- a perfect blend of "head" music and "body" music.

Posted by: MQ on November 11, 2008 1:20 PM

Love this. I could write for days about 70s funk, for my money probably the pinnacle of American pop music. As much as I love and was shaped by the punk scene, it's broad rejection of black music was offputting and just plain boring. It's why I was always drawn to bands like the Minutemen, Wire, early Red Hot Chili Peppers (my God, what a fucking MACHINE that band was back then), bands that embraced punk and funk.

And yes, Parliament/Funkadelic was untouchable and their influence is HUGE. I wish I could have seen them in their prime. I have seen then a number of times in the past 10 years. At one show, at the Warfield in SF, they played for 3 and half hours, non-stop. By non-stop, I mean they did not stop playing for 3 and half hours, seamlessly transitioning from one song to another, a 180 minute motherfuckin' groove. I could barely move the next morning from dancing.

Thanks for posting this.

Posted by: JV on November 11, 2008 3:20 PM

Hey, I banished you two liberals to the Extremely Hot Hell! What are you doing here?

Oh wait, I get it. Billy Preston's funk (and Parliament/ agreement with you) were EXTREMELY HOT.

So naturally you two would show up here.

I'm getting worried, though. I've agreed with you two about far too much lately. I'm even in a great mood over Obama (the right decision, as seems obvious now...look at the McCain's final self-immolating snipe campaign against Palin).

Man, this is freaking me out.

Posted by: PatrickH on November 11, 2008 6:31 PM

I didn't know Preston played with the Beatles too. You can see his Evri profile page and explore all of his connections here -

Posted by: Chris on November 11, 2008 7:12 PM

Y'all are are doing a great job of pulling me back into the great pop music quarrels of the 1970s. I was very much on the punk side of things, but always regretted the lack of funkiness in punk. Why were they so averse to it? My first hunch is that they were asserting their own stiff-jointed, white-boy ineptness -- it was fun to let yourself spazz-dance, for instance. Funk requires actual musicianship, as well as some ease and flow in the body, and punk was to some extent anti-musicianship, and far more about being tense and cloddish but goddamit I'm going to dance anyway. But maybe I'm wrong here. Are there better theories about it? Disco per se ... Well, I have no principled objection to it, I just still find it boring and mind-numbing. George Clinton and the P-funk gang: giants.

Evri is an amazing site, btw. Thanks to Chris.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 12, 2008 9:26 AM

A lot of disco was boring, but a lot of great music was lumped under that name and rejected, not for musical reasons, but for what MQ identified, IMO correctly, as the anti-joy homophobia (and racism) of mainstream white American youth. (And some wonderful stuff still called disco is really pre-House, pre-electronica...I Feel Love by Donna Summer anyone?)

Punk specifically rejected funkiness (except your love the Gang of Four I can't think of any bands that embraced it), with Johnny Ramone (whom I love, God Bless Him) saying outright that he wanted to create a music with nothing black in it...hence the absolute rejection of syncopation by the Ramones. (I'm not claiming Johnny was a racist, by the way. He was a genius with an objective and was unusually articulate about that objective. He never struck me as a hater...even though he was a Republican! JV? MQ?)

As for why white boys rejected funk (in the broadest sense), it's probably because we can't do it as well as black musicians. When musical culture was integrated, it can't have escaped notice that white musicians just could not F*CKING MOVE. Remember the famous TAMI show where James Brown did his incredible thang, only to be followed by Mick Jagger and the Stones? Now Mick isn't that bad a mover by the standards of spazzy white boys, but he ain't no James Brown. No Jackie Wilson. No white group could move, or sing, like the Temptations. No white group could move like the Jackson Five!

I think it is no accident that exposure of white kids to black music taught young white musicians a lesson: stay away from the have to be able to play to make that work...and stay the F*CK away from that dancing sh*t. Since dancing is a display of sexual prowess when young men do it solo in front of young women--and most white boys just can't dance--no young white man, musician or not, would get caught dead trying to compete with the masters: black musicians.

When white couple-oriented dancing--Foxtrot, Waltz, even Jive and Jitterbug--disappeared from the social agenda, where white control and discipline can shine on the dance floor, to be replaced by post-Twist solo freestyle "dancing", where whites just look spazzy and pathetic, dance music from whites was doomed.

Why wouldn't it be? We don't want to look bad, any more than anyone else does.

Posted by: PatrickH on November 12, 2008 10:07 AM

I fully agree with Patrick's assessment, here.

It's interesting to note the No-Wave bands from around '78 on, who did embrace the funk in their own spazzy way. I'm thinking of James Chance and the Distortions, Pere Ubu, Talking Heads. I still listen to those bands to this day. Really infectious, smart stuff. And yeah, Gang of Four is what I meant instead of Wire. For some reason, I always get those two mixed up.

I did know that Johnny Ramone was right-wing, and it's not surprising at all. I know MANY guys from back in the day who were more into the hardcore stuff who are now Republicans. It's a logical transition from the regimented hardcore scene.

Posted by: JV on November 12, 2008 11:28 AM

The Clash almost completely abandoned punk's linear and rigid style for a funkier reggae-infused style. I never really liked the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but they are maybe the ultimate attempt at fusing punk and funk, they were directly inspired by P-Funk and have performed with Clinton.

Johnny Ramone (whom I love, God Bless Him) saying outright that he wanted to create a music with nothing black in it...hence the absolute rejection of syncopation by the Ramones. (I'm not claiming Johnny was a racist, by the way. He was a genius with an objective and was unusually articulate about that objective. He never struck me as a hater...even though he was a Republican! JV? MQ?)

I've never said all Republicans are haters...and of course being a hater is sort of punk rock, isn't it? Anyway, I LOVE the Ramones and also think Johnny Ramone was brilliant...rejecting syncopation and creating raucous music that was rooted in the early Beach Boys rather than the blues was indeed brilliant. The Ramones managed to make the most truly joyful punk, that fully escaped the rancid bitterness and anger I personally find in a lot of punk.

The Ramones in certain ways revived some of the spirit of 50s rock -- which was blues-based at its heart, but was also influenced by everything from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway to light opera. The brilliance of early rock came from being a genuinely mulatto music, not, as is sometimes claimed, from being some kind of white debasement of black blues. Believing the latter leads to the aesthetic dead end of seeing rural blues as the only "authentic" music, which would cut off the rich interchanges that make for the best American music. Motown was a very sophisticated urban music that was extremely far from the Delta Blues.

BTW, in honor of Barack and George Clinton both, here's G. Clinton with Ice Cube in 1993, rapping about turning the White House black . Like most of George's post PFunk, it's basically rap, not funk, and not all that inspired (I think George was an impressario for a great mix of musicians rather than a great writer himself). But the video is hilarious.

Posted by: MQ on November 12, 2008 5:55 PM

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