You know, it's a bit funny: music is supposed to be the great equalizer among people, and yet TODAY, it's rare to see a group with black and white members. Come to think of it, you don't see blacks playing instruments in mainstream rock groups. Maybe in indie groups (TV on the Radio, Bloc Party, Black Kids, etc.) but never anything that would be played on MTV or BET. What happened? Why don't young black kids have guitar heroes anymore? Where are today's Ernie Isleys, Jimi Hendrixes and Nile Rodgers??????
I suppose that's another essay for another week...
So, as a tribute to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr I have compiled a list of five groups who forgot about race and decided to make beautiful music together.
I’ve always found it rather unfortunate that the Doors became the superstars of Elektra records during the 1960s, and not these guys. But it seems as though Arthur Lee and company were thoroughly uninterested in fame outside of LA. In fact, the group rarely left the Sunset Strip. And thanks to constant infighting and drug use, the group would splinter, leaving Lee as the only original member.
In spite of the drama, Love was one of the best psychedelic groups to emerge during the mid 60s. Their masterpiece, 1967's Forever Changes,was dark mix of jangle-pop, proto-punk and mariachi music (really). While the album failed receive much press in the US, it was well received in the UK, where it would serve as strong influence on the so-called "quiet-pop" movement of the 1980s (See my essay on the Pale Fountains).
Sly & The Family Stone
Black and white
Men and women.
Side by side.
One nation under a groove.
The first song I ever heard by Sly and the Family stone was “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” It was featured in the closing credits of a skateboard video, Second Hand Smoke by Plan B skateboards. I thought it was amazing…until I heard it on vinyl. And Vive la difference!!! The funky bassline, the sneaky rhythm guitar (which was nicked by Janet Jackson for “Rhythm Nation”), and THOSE horns.
It’s difficult to write about Sly and the Family Stone without launching into hyperbole. So much of what they did was unprecedented and just so damn SOULFUL AND FUNKY. But because their albums were out of print for so long, a lot of people began to forget how powerful they really were. Thankfully, the folks at Epic/Legacy reissued all seven of the group’s albums (you only need the first five) in 2007.
Starting in the 1950s, large numbers of Caribbean immigrants came to cities like England to work in the factories. As a result, a large number of white kids from the Midlands were exposed to ska and reggae through their black friends.
The Specials, some of whom were children of these factory workers, were among the first to successfully combine island grooves with the DIY spirit of 1977. Lyrically, the group was in a different class. With songs like "Gangsters", "Working for the Rat Race" and the landmark single "Ghost Town", the group effortlessly described the ennui and frustration of life in Thatcher's Britain.
Talking Heads (live 1980-1985)
With albums such as Fear of Music, Remain in Light and Speaking In Tongues, Talking Heads fused African polyrhythms, gurgling synthesizers and sharp, angular guitar playing. They were, without a doubt, one of the funkiest groups (black or white) of the early 80s. In order to faithfully reproduce these albums on stage, the Heads recruited a wildly diverse eight-piece band. Among the members of the “Expanded” lineup were Parliament keyboardist, Bernie Worrell, bassist Buster “Cherry” Jones (who briefly played with Gang of Four), vocalist Nona Hendryx and Kentucky guitar wizard Adrian Belew. The result was nothing short of fantastic. Many of these people, particularly Bernie Worrell would continue to work with the band, both live and in the studio, until their breakup at the end of the 80s.
NOTE: While I do love Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense, I think it's a lot more fun to look for clips of the group's jaunt through Europe. Especially the 1980 performance in Rome that was recorded for Italian television.
Highly Recommended Listing: The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads
Vanilla Ice may’ve sold more records, but 3rd Bass had the street cred and the style that the Iceman could only dream of. This New York based trio was unique in that they had not one, but two capable white MCs. And even more importantly, they were embraced by the New York hip-hop community, which at the time was in its imperial phase. If you watch the video posted below, you’ll notice cameos by Zev Lov X of KMD (later MF DOOM), a pre-VH1 Flavor Flav, and numerous other heavy hitters.