Tag Archive: Marvin Gaye

Last night I attended The Gig Of The Year (for a little town like York at least) when I went to watch The Midnight Hour at The Crescent Community Venue in York. For those of you who don’t live in the UK I should explain that York doesn’t get bands like The Midnight Hour playing even in the town biggest venues. The city of Leeds is just half an hour down the road and when a tour misses out Leeds the next nearest stop is Manchester just over an hour and half to the West of York. There is no need for a band like The Midnight Hour to play York and yet local Promoter Ouroboros pulled off this amazing booking.

The evening began with support act Jack Waterson who had just released his album “Adrian Younge Presents… Jack Waterson” two before hand. The guitarist wasn’t on stage for long but played an explosive slice of psychedelic rock from his album before handing over to an off Adrian Younge’s cohorts Loren Oden who sang an epic long song while playing Fender Rhodes electric piano I picked up on hints of Marvin Gaye in his voice during this song.

After a brief break between sets it was time for the main event, The Midnight Hour took to the stage with a drummer, viola player, violinist, trumpeter, alto saxophonist, Waterson on guitar, Oden would rejoin the fray later in the set. Adrian Younge played the Fender Rhodes with Ali Shaheed Muhammad playing an incredible looking purple Fender Jazz bass. What followed wasn’t at all what I’d expect from the band. I had listened to their self titled debut album for the first time in months earlier in the day and it’s pretty much a smooth Jazz album, that’s no bad thing but it doesn’t prepare you for the live versions of those tracks. What we got instead was what my friend Paul Lowman described on Twitter as “not just the best psychfunkjazz band around, but they did ‘s Excursions, aka maybe the greatest opening of any LP, ever. Anybody who wants Hendrix fuzz & Fender Rhodes funk in their face, catch ’em live” and I couldn’t put it any better myself. The band so tight and were able to segue from song to song and change styles on a six piece all while keeping the vibe Friday night not the reality of a Sunday night. In a lot of ways the live versions of the album tracks were a better representation of the other material Adrian Younge has put out both as a solo artist and in collaboration with Ali Shaheed Muhammad.

The other members of the band were equally impressive with the drummer able to switch from delicate Jazz right through to all-out Funk-Rock breakbeats, the horns were both capable of punchy stabs and expressive emotive soloing, the strings add melancholy flourishes and Loren Oden showed not only could he get into Marvin Gaye territory but also could also pull off a Curtis Mayfield style falsetto. The bands talents were acknowledged throughout the set by both Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad who got everyone up at the front of stage to thank them and give a great speech about their family (the band), never giving up on your dream and never forgetting their are no barriers between us and Love is real. All-in-all an incredible experience, I even got to meet Ali Shaheed Muhammad after the band finished. 

You owe to yourself to check out The Midnight Hour’s music, their live show and anything else that the individuals involved our involved now and into the future.  

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Sly and The Family Stone – “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” (Epic Records, 1971)

This month’s selection for Classics Critiqued is one of those albums that always feature in Greatest Albums of All Time polls, it’s acknowledged as a watershed moment in black music. In this article I will explore the following ideas that are frequently discussed about the album, its creation and its reputation, I will talk about its murky production job, pioneering use of drum machines, the steady collapse of the Family Stone, Sly’s decent into cocaine hell and challenge the album’s status as a classic.

The album came out a few months after Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” Gaye’s personal reaction to his brother’s experience’s in Vietnam, after this album was released Sly decided to change the album’s title from “Africa Talks to You” to “There’s A Riot Going On” to reflect the sense of political and racial unrest America was experiencing at the time. The album had been two years in the making with Sly working alone recruiting members of the Family Stone and musicians such as Billy Preston (electric piano), Booby Womack and Ike Turner (both guitar) as and when they were needed. The band even lost drummer Greg Errico early in 1971 as a rift formed between Sly and the other members of the band, fuelled by the influence of the Black Panther Party who Sly had joined in 1969 and wanted to the band to pursue a more militant sound and lyrical content and shed the white bands of the band (Errico was one of these) and manager David Kapralik. The album’s long gestation period has been put down to a combination of this rift, Sly’s spiralling cocaine and PCP habit and his insistence on recording the album alone, using a drum machine over a drummer and overdubbing the instrumentation onto tape, thus causing the record’s often commented on murky sound quality and atmosphere.

A lot is of the album’s title and socio-political content; however it seems that this is something that has been overstated during the album’s reassessment in the years after its release, it initially received a lukewarm critical response and unfavourable comparisons with previous album “Stand” (1969). In fact, some songs don’t feature vocals or only melody sung with vocal adlibs “yeah”, “oh”, “la, la” etc underlining the lack of socio-political content. Equally the album has been acclaimed as a classic and pivotal moment in the development of black music, especially funk. However, I’d argue it’s not a classic though it does serve fit in to a set of Afro centric and politically charged albums that came out in 1971 such as “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic, “Roots” by Curtis Mayfield and the aforementioned “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. Instead of an emblem of Black Power it’s an album that represents Sly and the Family Stone’s failed mission to create and sustain a band made up of male and female and black and white members, it was the beginning of end. As the 60’s hippie dream of peace, love and understanding turned into the 70’s cocaine induced nightmare of excess in both alcohol and drug use, sexual exploitation, the band disintegrated with bassist and key member Larry Graham following Errico out the exit door. “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” also represents the overly indulgent music that went with this life style and dominated the early 70s, the key guilty genres being funk and progressive rock. Many of the songs on the album meander and lack of clarity and purpose of both the band’s earlier work and of the other similar albums mentioned in this article, though Funkadelic could stray occasionally into guitar lead wig outs on “Maggot Brian” .

“There’s A Riot Goin’ On” turned the band’s formula in its head, “it was stripped of the effervescence that flowed through even such politically aware records as “Stand!”. The “is idealism soured, as hope is slowly replaced by cynicism, joy by skepticism, enthusiasm by weariness, sex by pornography, thrills by narcotics”. The production and pacing of the album slowly to almost a crawl, as if the music’s “moving through hot molasses”, a hot and humid feel hangs over everything, tense and irritable, just waiting for the explosion of riot, though it never seems to come weighed down by the heaviness of the production. In my mind’s eye I picture Sly sat in his L.A. high on cocaine and PCP staring blankly out the window expecting or imagining a riot to erupt outside, a solitary figure disturbed by the effect of the drugs and the voices of the Black Power elite in his ear. For me this isn’t an album of revolutionary ire but of a man’s world slowly collapsing around him as he grows ever more paranoid.

I can understand why many critics and magazines have placed this album in their Best Albums of All Time lists as it is an album that though some of lyrical content, its iconic cover and its unique sound marks its self from those other similar albums of the time. However, I feel that all of this is an elaborate mythology constructed by these critics and magazines to give “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” a greater level of perceived importance that on closer inspection it doesn’t deserve. If you feel differently let me know in the comments below or via our Twitter.

Listen to “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” here.

Liam Flanagan

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