Earth, Wind & Fire: Gratitude (Columbia, 1975);
composed by Clarence Scarborough
I have loved this group to pieces ever since “Shining Star” hit and never once worried about whether they were just all too smooth and cosmic. Sure – pretty heavy on the astrology and other such Reasons for playing the Love Game – but their sound was unique and that is even more obvious now. Their groove was The Funk the way Count Basie’s 1930s band had it if you hear it right – not just the horns, but a top-to-bottom interlock keyed as much to Maurice White and Philip Bailey’s vocal trade-offs up top as to the White Brothers’ rhythm change-ups down below. Even when they slowed down, they sounded like an idling dirigible. I would not say this track is typical of anything, but as one of the rare hits they did not write, the inscrutability of its construction raises all the right questions. The horn part that opens it sounds as if a first half has been deliberately omitted, while almost the entire second half of the track is fade-out. The song itself is great, but the fade is the charm: repeating the same four-bar cadence with different inversions until the substitutions take over completely.
Note: 25 secular essays (each one exactly 200 words long) about 25 songs, to appear one per day during Advent (or so) from Nov. 27 through Dec. 21.