Kool & The Gang - Give It Up
Kool & The Gang
Kool & the Gang and I have a long and interesting history (aside from the fact that we both hail from NJ). Back in 1974, when I was doing time in the 6th grade, the funk entered my life in a lasting way. I grew up in the suburbs about 40 miles out of New York City. Developers had taken a rural farm community bordering a major highway and inserted a number of developments. When we moved there – in the mid 60’s – the new developments were largely white, and almost exclusively Catholic and Jewish (I don’t remember meeting a Protestant kid until I was 10 or 11) - most of the families having been transplanted from NYC and its outer boroughs. Aside from the recent arrivals, most of the remaining population was rural white and black kids, generally less well off than most of the kids I knew. Sadly, over the years, the black population in the schools decreased sharply – the children of the existing families aging out of the school system and new families unable or unwilling to move into the area – to the point that when my youngest sister graduated from high school (nine years after I did) there were almost no black faces in her yearbook. Anyway...I tell you this because back in 1974, there were still a lot of black kids around, and they introduced me to pretty much the first black music I’d ever heard that wasn’t jazz. The middle school I attended in 6th grade had just opened, and had fairly “modern” attitudes toward the student body, up to and including the presence of a record player in the cafeteria. The black kids, who for the most part hung together (at least in the lunchroom) brought more records in than most, and the one they brought in the most that year– was ‘Wild and Peaceful’ by Kool & The Gang. For the entire year, while I ate my liverwurst sandwiches, I was treated to repeated plays of both ‘Hollywood Swinging’ and ‘Jungle Boogie’, two extremely funky songs that I loved then, and still love now. Most of the kids from my neighborhood were sports fiends who had no musical taste to speak of. If I hadn’t heard that particular record when I did, there’s no telling what I would have ended up listening to. So, flash forward a few years to the summer after my freshman year in college. It was the second of two summers working food service in the local theme park. It was also by and large one of the worst jobs I ever had (and I had a LOT of crappy jobs). That year I had been promoted and relocated to the pizza stand in the center of the park. Let me tell you there’s nothing quite like shoveling pizza in and out of a 400 degree oven when it’s 85 degrees and humid. I’m guessing that the poor slobs that dug the Panama Canal experienced conditions like that. Anyway...the pizza stand was directly across from a gazebo that featured live bands all day long. Unfortunately they were the kind of bands that filled the bars at the Jersey shore, cranking out approximations of Top 40 pap for drunken secretaries. That summer, the “band” ended every half-hourly set with a rendition of ‘Celebration’ by Kool and the Gang. I already disliked the song for its general insipid-ness, and hearing it sung 15 times a day by a bunch of moonlighting elementary school music teachers turned dislike into hatred. A few years before, Kool & the Gang had taken on a new lead singer – James “JT” Taylor – and had moved firmly into the middle of the road. “Celebration” was both a symptom of that change, and a confirmation (for the band anyway) that they had made the right move (it was a huge hit). All it did for me was sour me on Kool & The Gang in a big way. So...taking another huge leap forward, into the 1990’s and I pick up the CD ‘The Best of Kool & The Gang 1969 – 1976’, mainly to get my hands on ‘Jungle Boogie’ and ‘Hollywood Swinging’ again, and I discover that prior to ‘Wild and Peaceful’, Kool & The Gang were working in the genre of the “funk 45”, and quite successfully at that. I was very pleasantly surprised the first time I heard tracks like ‘Chocolate Buttermilk’ and ‘Funky Stuff’. By the time I started digging for 45s, I had my eyes peeled for Kool & The Gang. Despite the fact that their 45s were not too hard to come by, most of the copies I found were, as the 45 collectors say “skated” and I decided to hold out for decent copies. Jump forward with me one more time to two Sundays ago, and I’m selling 45s and LPs at a record show/swap meet at Asbury Lanes with my buddies DJ Prestige and Big Spliff, and I’m going through Spliff’s crates and pull out a shiny gold album, simply titled ‘The Best of Kool & The Gang’. My curiosity was piqued, so I flip the jacket over to see what tracks are on it and discover that the good folks at De-Lite records had decided to print the track listing in gold ink only infinitesimally darker than the gold leaf of the cover, rendering them almost illegible. So I slip the record out of the jacket and discover that this ‘Best of” is composed entirely of funky tracks. I dip into the handy dandy record guide and discover that this particular LP was released in 1971, after the groups earliest chart successes, and only contained tracks from their first three albums. There in my hands were all of the best funky Kool & The Gang 45s and LP tracks, carefully assembled in a single, comprehensive album. Spliff and I agreed on a price, and I carted the LP home with a couple of other very nice, very cheap finds. Today’s selection was strangely enough never released on 45 and appeared as a track on the groups 1969 debut LP ‘Kool & The Gang’. ‘Give It Up’, in addition to sporting a couple of very tasty breaks is a perfect distillation of the Kool & The Gang sound. While ‘Give It Up’ features familiar elements of urban funk from the late 60’s, it also bears the mark of a band of musicians with jazz roots. The chord changes are sophisticated, the horn charts right on the money, and the groove a little groovier than your average 45. The arrangement has a lot of fantastic touches, especially the pulsing electric piano, and guitar/bass interplay. Drummer ‘Funky’ George Brown lives up to his nickname working a Clyde Stubblefield-worthy beat and the aforementioned breaks which have been sampled numerous times (Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys, Cypress Hill, Eric B & Rakim, X-Clan et al) . If you can get your hands on OG copies of the early Kool & The Gang LPs (which can be a pricey proposition), do so. If not track down the 45s, or pick up the reissues, place on turntable and play repeatedly until all traces of ‘Celebration’ have been erased. You’ll thank me in the morning.