Thursday, January 10, 2013

"Express Yourself" /
Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band

Sure, I got hooked on this because of the Windows 8 commercial. Wanna make something of it? The same thing happened with the HP printer commercial that featured the Kinks' "Picture Book," and that triggered my 2005 Kinks renaissance, perhaps the third most significant musical revelation of my life. So why on earth should I look down on such serendipitous connections?

And at least I can say that I already had some of this group's tracks on my iTunes. Who could resist their mellow funk groove?

 Ah, 1970. The British Invasion had finally loosed its hold on my musical tastes, and Top-40 radio was giving way to the labyrinthine charms of album-oriented rock. A generation's musical tastes were truly up for grabs as they had never been before. As soul music morphed into free-form funk, it didn't matter whether listeners were black or white. Somewhere between Sly and the Family Stone "("Dance to the Music") and Parliament/Funkadelic ("Give Up the Funk"), here came the genial shuffle of Charles Wright's 103rd Street Watts Band.
Just as psychedelia was exploding the form of pop music, funk was exploding the boundaries of R&B, throwing in extended solos, jazz riffs, and a renewed focus on instrumentals rather than the vocals that had dominated Motown-style soul. Move it to the West Coast and let everything hang out.  
I really dig the shambolic charm of this track. What a kick it was when this thing came on the radio back in 1970. You could never quite predict all those "the-spirit-moved-me" oohs and grunts Wright throws in, but who cares?  It's all about the syncopated call-and-response of the horns, and that hip-shifting rhythm track. Lose yourself in the music and everything will be all right.
Lyrics? Need you ask? "Express Yourself" is actually a remarkable assemblage of Zen-like koans. "You don't ever need help / From no one else / All you got to do now / Express yourself" -- words to live by. "Whatever you do / Do it good" -- I swear, I want to needlepoint that on a sofa pillow.   
Or how about, "It's not what you look like when you're doing what you're doing / It's what you're doing when you're doing what you look like you're doing."  I am quite serious when I say, we'd all profit from making this our mantra. 
And how about this one: "Some people have everything that other people don't / But everything don't mean a thing if it ain't the thing you want." Solipsistic? I don't think so.
I suppose we could get all incensed about this power-to-the-people track being used to flog a computer operating system, but frankly, I'm past that. Time to get up off the couch and shake a tailfeather.   Nice if this puts a bit of change in Charles Wright's pocket; he deserves it. 

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