Archives for posts with tag: The Style Council

Feature: 20 Albums 

A friend of mine nominated me on facebook to post 20 album covers in 20 days of albums that really had an impact on me. While I’m not big on facebook chain letters, I do find the idea inviting so I thought I’d explore it here instead.

Here we go in no particular order…

Live at the Bijou, Grover Washington Jr. (Kudu, 1977)

First heard in the late 80’s on Paul E. Lopez and Mike Tull’s excellent radio program, Vibes & Stuff on CIUT 89.5FM, the track “Funkfoot” immediately struck me as a perfect combination of jazz and funk. It took years for me to find the record and it remains in high rotation for me to this day.

 

Arias & Symphonies, The Spoons (Ready, 1982)

This album was released in 1982 as I was just awakening to my own musical consciousness and taste. I became a faithful fan of this local band for a good part of 40 years. This album in particular set the bar for me when it came to 80’s new wave. In an older post, I dare to argue that it was the best album of the 80’s.

 

My Ever Changing Moods (Cafe Bleu), The Style Council (Polydor, 1984)

In adolescence, we all look for “our thing.” In the 80’s, cliques formed around musical taste. There was the Duran Duran bunch, the Pink Floyd bunch, The Cure bunch and so on. Like many teenagers, I fancied myself an original and adopted this enigmatic and short-lived group that sprung out of The Jam and the rise of Brit soul. The Style Council was my gateway to jazz, a genre that influences virtually all music I listen to today.

 

Places and Spaces, Donald Byrd (Blue Note, 1975)

I just love the sound Donald Byrd cultivated in his long partnership with producers Fonce and Larry Mizell (a.k.a. the Mizell Brothers). They created a body of work in the 70’s that bridged jazz and popular music. This album is the apex of that sound and is definitely on my desert island list.

 

Headhunters, Herbie Hancock (Columbia, 1973)

I first heard the opening riff of “Chameleon” when i was in my 8th grade brass band at school. The 9th grade stage band (the cool kids) were warming up and the bassist started playing the iconic clavinet line from this seminal album. Herbie Hancock is one of my musical heroes and I’ve been fortunate to see him live on a couple of occasions.

 

 

Togethering, Kenny Burrell & Grover Washington Jr. (Blue Note, 1985)

This is one of those records I owned on cassette and listened to so much, it wore out. By the time the CD revolution came around, the album was out of print. Years later, I bought the vinyl on Discogs and digitized it. It still appears to be out of print at Blue Note and maybe was never highly regarded but Burrell’s and Washington’s virtuosity and chemistry sealed it as one of my all-time favourite jazz records.

Minute by Minute, The Doobie Brothers (Warner Bros., 1978)

I was never a rocker and was generally unaware of country and folk rock growing up. This album was in my sister’s collection and was The Doobie Brothers’ foray into an R&B sound. I still love the lush keyboards, Michael McDonald’s vocals, and the songwriting.

 

 

Brown Sugar, D’Angelo (EMI, 1995)

This album was my introduction to R&B and more specifically neo soul. It opened a new appreciation for me for R&B from every decade prior and since.

 

 

Baduizm, Erykah Badu (Kedar, 1997)

If D’Angelo introduced me to R&B, Erykah Badu locked me in as an eternal fan. This album has become my yardstick for songwriting, style, and performance for an R&B record.

 

 

Lover’s Rock, Sade (Epic, 2000)

Sade was huge in the 1980’s but I was too preoccupied with new wave to take them seriously. By the time this album dropped, I was all in. It was also a treat seeing them live in 2011.

 

 

Brother Sister, The Brand New Heavies  (Delicious Vinyl, 1994)

This group introduced me to “Acid Jazz.” As a genre, it is still illusive to define but The Brand New Heavies merged pop, jazz, and soul to form what would be coined as Acid Jazz. Ambitious multi-instrument arrangements and dance-influenced beats won me over. It wasn’t until later in life that I came to appreciate Earth, Wind, and Fire as the pioneers and all-time masters of this sound.

 

The Renaissance, Q-Tip (Motown, 2008)

This is the album that developed my taste in hip hop. Q-Tip remains one of my favourite hip hop artists. I loved the merger of R&B and hip hop on this record. Because of this record, I devoured A Tribe Called Quest’s back catalogue. Incidentally, this album is produced by the late, great J Dilla, another artist I discovered much later in life.

 

Tribes, Vibes, and Scribes, Incognito (Talkin’ Loud, 1992)

I think I heard the instrumental track, “Colibri” from this album used in a TV show and I sought it out. Incognito has a knack for songwriting and jazz performances that draw the best from R&B, Funk, and Dance genres. They are my favourite band today and this album was what brought me to them.

 

Return of the Space Cowboy, Jamiroquai (Sony, 1994)

Probably my favourite group in the 90’s (after Incognito). I think this is still their best album.

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi Trio (Fantasy, 1965)

I think one of the most perfect recordings I’ve heard to this day is the instrumental version of “Christmas Time Is Here.” The tune and the simple but enchanting treatment by this talented trio never gets old for me.

 

 

The Music Man Original Soundtrack, Meredith Willson (Warner Bros., 1962)

A guilty pleasure, yes but also a remarkable musical book. Not only are the show tunes among the most playful and enduring from that era, Willson weaves a clever consistency among the songs. The interplay during “Lida Rose / Will I Ever Tell You” is a wonderful example.

 

 

Reggae Hits, Volume 24, Various Artists (Jet Star, 1999)

In the mid 90’s, a friend of mine introduced me to the expanse of reggae music. Before then, Bob Marley was all I knew. This compilation, random though it seems, was a perfect sampling and I grew my reggae collection prodigiously from what inspired me on this record.

 

 

Heavy Weather, Weather Report (Columbia, 1977)

I was a band nerd in high school, so yeah, this album. Still holds up today as one of the finest jazz fusion albums ever. Wayne Shorter and Josef Zawinul are both disciples of Miles Davis.

 

 

 

Glengarry Glen Ross, Music From and Inspired by The Motion Picture, James Newton Howard (Elektra, 1992)

One of my favourite films and one of my favourite albums. Wayne Shorter’s genius permeates the soundscape of the film. This was another album that I wore out on cassette. It was hard to find on CD but I found a Japanese version and it is one the most coveted in my collection.

 

 

Blade Runner Soundtrack, Vangelis (Atlantic, 1994)

This is my favourite film and one of the reasons is the music. I don’t think there has ever been a film that so effectively melds music, mood, and story.

 

 

 

 

Playlist: Lovely Loops

Some songs have a repeating groove, rhythm, or melody that are so good, you could listen to them on endless repeat. I don’t mean a catchy song with a great hook – that eventually gets stale. Nor do I mean a particularly recognizable or highly sampled bassline – that in itself isn’t enough. What I mean is a vibe that takes a hold and lulls us into a pleasant trance. The closest musical term I know is “ostinato,” derived from the Italian for stubborn.

An ostinato pattern

I’ve compiled a playlist of my favourite ostinati. It is by no means comprehensive or definitive but these songs, in particular for me, have a quality that can be indulged with abandon.

  1. Summer Madness” – Kool & The Gang
  2. Blow Your Mind” – Jamiroquai
  3. People Make the World Go Round” – The Stylistics
  4. Sun Goddess” – Earth, Wind & Fire feat. Ramsey Lewis
  5. Oh Honey” – Delegation
  6. Funny How Time Flies” – Terrace Martin
  7. Chameleon” – Herbie Hancock
  8. Sweet Thing Reprise” – Build and Ark
  9. Back in the Day (Puff)” – Erykah Badu
  10. There’s Nothing Like This” – Omar
  11. Send it On” – D’Angelo
  12. Long Hot Summer” – The Style Council
  13. Please Forgive my Heart” – Bobby Womack
  14. Never Be Another You” – Lee Fields & The Expressions
  15. Tonight” – Kleeer
  16. Love Has no Time or Place” – MFSB
  17. Africa” – D’Angelo
  18. Sai” – Kanda Bongo Man

Feature: The Music of The Style Council

The Style Council were Paul Weller (vocals, guitar), Mick Talbot (keyboards), and Steve White (drums). Active from the early 1980’s to their demise as a group in 1989, The Style Council were an enigma of that decade in music. They were unclassifiable within the milleu of genres that came to characterize the decade. They were neither pop, nor new wave, nor progressive rock. And they weren’t jazz or easy listening either. They have no clear musical disciples although their influences were certainly from soul, jazz, and later, rhythm & blues.

In my view, it was this very musical conundrum that made them an important part of the Eighties.

Weller, having just disbanded The Jam after their hit album The Gift (Polydor, 1982), seemed to take a mellow turn in musical style, exploring jazz and string arrangements with Talbot’s soul-infused hammond and piano work. Their first release was a mini LP, entitled Introducing the Style Council (Polydor, 1983). It included the iconic hit, “Long Hot Summer” which put The Style Council on pop music’s radar but only charted modestly outside of the U.K.

Aside from the easy-going hit, the collection was remarkably varied in style. “Headstart for Happiness” was a feel-good pop tune with Weller’s driving vocals and soulful backing vocals by D.C. Lee (who Weller would later marry). That track, along with “Speak Like a Child” have definite Motown influences. “Money-Go-Round,” on the other hand, is proto rap. They would dabble in rap stylings in later releases but this one is the least clumsy of their outings in that genre. It was bold to include the track but not unexpected since its message was consistent with the group’s politically left leanings and their criticism of Thatcherite policies of the day.

A full length album was released a year later with 10 new songs and two from Introducing. My Ever Changing Moods (Polydor, 1984) was more consistent stylistically than their debut, with the exception of “A Gospel” and “Strength of Your Nature.” “A Gospel” was another experiment in early rap and was too brash and contrived to believe. “Strength of Your Nature” is a hard hitting number, more similar to The Jam’s style but not as melodically satisfying.

The title track and “You’re the Best Thing” were particularly successful, the latter making it onto numerous Eighties compilations and becoming one of the more recognizable love songs of the decade. The rest of the album is a mix of soul and jazz with a deliberate nod to the French jazz tradition. “The Paris Match,” featuring Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt who had recently formed Everything But the Girl, is a smokey jazz ballad. “Here’s One that Got Away” features a jazz violin lead-in that smacks of French legend Stephane Grappelli but was played by British violinist Bobby Valentino.

Strings were prominent in The Style Council’s sound in the first half of their active years, culminating in the hit Shout to the Top! released in 1984 as a single EP. The song became an anthem of sorts but once again defied classification. It enjoyed the success of a pop song but John Mealing’s exuberant string arrangement had us guessing once again whether this was jazz, soul, disco or something entirely different.

The follow-up to My Ever Changing Moods was 1985’s Our Favourite Shop (Polydor). Stylistically different yet again from what they had done in the two years prior, this album was less jazz and more pop with richer production. Two notable singles, “Walls Come Tumbling Down” and “Internationalists” continued the Council’s strong social activist messaging. “Walls Come Tumbling Down” was also a commercial hit, charting as high as number 6 in the U.K.

The overall sound of this album is more lush than their previous work, incorporating heavier bass, more electric keyboard sounds, and fuller backing vocals. Weller & Talbot’s compositions are just as strong both lyrically and musically as the Moods album.

Paul Weller is quoted as saying Our Favourite Shop was The Style Council’s culmination. Although the band would record three more LPs, including the commercially successful Confessions of a Pop Group (Polydor, 1988), I can’t help but agree with his characterization.

The Style Council’s first three releases were unique for many reasons. In a decade that gave rise to the new wave genre and mega-acts like U2, Madonna, and Michael Jackson, The Style Council quietly created a body of work that that was unmatched at the time and never really emulated by bands that followed. An anomalous spur of musical evolution, you might say. But a damned good one.