THE BREAKS-ORIGINAL B BOY STREET FUNK AND BLOCK PARTY CLASSICS.

THE BREAKS-ORIGINAL B BOY STREET FUNK AND BLOCK PARTY CLASSICS.

Recently, I reviewed one of the compilations Harmless Records released to commemorate their fifteenth anniversary, Mellow Mellow. However, that wasn’t the only compilation Harmless released to celebrate fifteen years of releasing quality music. Three other compilations were released, Jumpin’  was a collection of true disco classics. Pulp Fusion: The Return of the Original Ghetto Jazz and Funk Classics, was a retrospective collection of tracks from their highly successful Pulp Fusion compilation series, bringing together some of the series’ many highlights. The final release in this trio of releases, was The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics. It features thirty-one tracks over two discs, with songs that contain some of the best breaks in the history of hip hop. These breaks were the part of the song that the b boys waited for, and when the breaks kicked in, they started dancing as if their lives depended it. Eventually, when DJs like Afrika Bamabaataa, Kool Herc, and Grandmaster Flash realised that when the break was over, the b boys stopped dancing. He decided to lengthen the break, by cutting between two copies of the same record. This required real dexterity and lightning reflexes. Quickly, DJs hit on the idea to make one track out of a number of these breaks and one of the most important genres in modern music was born…hip hop. Included on The Breaks are tracks by Cyamide, Manzel, Al Green, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Aaron Neville and Funkadelic. These are just a few of the thirty-one b boy classics on The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics, which I’ll now tell you about.

DISC ONE.

Disc One of The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics features fifteen tracks, which are a mixture of funk and soul. Some of these tracks feature some of the most recognizable breaks in hip hop history, from some of the biggest names in funk, disco and soul. This includes The Meters’ Same Old Thing, Cymande’s Bra, Manzel’s Space Funk, M.F.S.B.’s Get Down With the Philly Sound and Al Green’s Love and Happiness. Although you can just sit back and enjoy some soulful and funky music, part of the fun is working out which hip hop artists “borrowed” which sample. For any old b boy or girl, this is a trip down memory lane, to the early days of hip hop culture in the Bronx, when Kool Herc, Afrika Bamabaataa and Grandmaster Flash helped invent a new musical genre…hip hop. I’ll now pick some of the best tracks from Disc One of The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics.

My first choice from Disc One of The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics, is Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul’s 1973 track I’m Gonna Get You, from their Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul album. This is a much sampled track, with 3rd Bass sampling it on Oval Office. With blazing, punchy horns, rhythm section, chiming guitars and organ driving the arrangement along, an emotive vocal enters. Backing vocalists, enveloped in braying horns, the funkiest of rhythm sections and organ all combine to provide the perfect backdrop for Sir Joe’s emotional delivery. They all contribute towards making this funky, driving track, one that’s not just loved by b boys, but loved by funk fans alike. 

One of my favorite tracks from Disc One of The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics is Manzel’s Space Funk. It was taken from Mazel’s Midnight Theme album released in 1977 on Fraternity Records. It’s a track that was sampled by Grandmaster Flash in the late seventies, mixing disco with funk. It has joyful sound, bursting into life, with the rhythm section, searing keyboards and the unmistakable sound of a Hammond organ driving the track along. Fast, funky chiming guitars, blazing horns and later, a funk masterclass on the Hammond organ help make this a true b boy classic. After that things get even better, making you realize that music doesn’t get funkier or sweeter than this.

It’s not just soul and funk that feature on this compilation, with Instant Funk’s disco classic I Got My Mind Made Up just one of several disco delights that feature on the two discs. Hailing from New Jersey, Instant Funk backed Loleatta Holloway, The O’Jays and Curtis Mayfield. The track reached number one in the US R&B Disco charts in 1979, on the Salsoul label. Released from their 1979 Instant Funk, I Got My Mind Made Up was sampled by De La Soul on A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturdays. Over nearly ten minutes, where a proliferation of percussion, a loping bass line, punchy drums and backing vocals, the track combines Latin, funk and disco music. With breathy backing vocals, accompanying a really soulful lilting lead vocal, this was Instant Funk’s biggest hit. Not only that, but it’s a highly memorable, timeless classic from the Salsoul label, the home of some great disco music.

Another track from the Salsoul label is Gaz’s Sing Sing, released in 1978, from the album Gaz. Although maybe not the best known track ever released on Salsoul, it’s a highly underrated, hidden gem of a track. Pounding drums, furious chiming guitars and bouncy, bass line are joined by swirling strings and rasping horns, before giving way to the sweetest of female vocals. It’s accompanied by backing vocals, while percussion kicks in, while the rhythm section drive the track along. With swirling strings and blazing horns, the track is a mixture of funk, soul and disco. It’s hook laden, catchy, feel-good sound totally irresistible and is one of the highlights of Disc One The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics.

M.F.S.B. played on so many of the Philadelphia International hits, and later, would go on to form the Salsoul Orichestra. Get Down With the Philly Sound was from their 1975 album Philadelphia Freedom album on Philadelphia International Records.While the track only reached number eleven in the US Dance Charts, the album reached number fourteen in the US R&B Charts and number thirty-nine in the US Billboard 200. This track features the classic M.F.S.B. line-up, with the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section joined by guitarist Bobby Eli and Don Renaldo’s horns and strings. As the track opens, Earl Young’s inimitable drum sound is to the fore, before the blazing horns and sweeping strings enter, courtesy of Don Renaldo. Meanwhile, Larry Washington contributes percussion and Vince Montana Jr. vibraphone. Quickly, M.F.S.B. get into the tightest of  grooves, horns blazing, before a saxophone solo drifts gloriously above the arrangement, as the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section provide the track’s heartbeat. What this track demonstrates, is that not only were M.F.S.B. the hottest house bands in soul and funk music, but one of the hottest bands during the early to mid seventies per se.

The last track I’ll mention is Cymande’s Bra, one of the best known tracks on Disc One of The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics. Cymande were a British funk band from the seventies, whose sizzling brand of funk music can be found on their debut album Cymande, released in 1971. Bra was sampled by De La Soul on their debut album 3 Feet High and Rising, and was featured on the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s 1993 movie Crooklyn. When the track opens, that unmistakable sound hits you. The rhythm section, percussion and braying horns combine with Ray King’s vocal. Quickly, a saxophone solo kicks in, while the rhythm section and percussion combine. Although I’ve heard the track literally hundreds of times, I’m still mesmerized by its sound. Later, when Ray’s vocal reenters, it’s impassioned and emotive, while the bass and hissing hi-hats accompany pounding drums. It’s five minutes of the finest funk from one of the finest purveyors of UK funk music.

Of the fifteen tracks that feature on Disc One of The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics, the music is of the highest quality. Although I’ve only reviewed six of the six of fifteen tracks on Disc One, there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with the other nine tracks. With tracks by Al Green, Liquid Liquid, Taana Gardner and The Meters, the emphasis here is on the finest funk and soul music. This music is from labels like Salsoul, Philadelphia International Records, Hi Records and Brunswick and was released during the sixties and seventies. Of the fifteen tracks, my favourites are Mazel’s timeless classic Space Funk, M.F.S.B.’s Get Down With the Philly Sound, plus two true disco tracks from Salsoul Instant Funk’s I Got My Mind Made Up and Gaz’s Sing Sing. However, given the high standard of music on Disc One of The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics, will the music on Disc Two of The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics, keep up the same standard of music?

DISC TWO.

Looking at the track listing for Disc Two of The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics, it looks as if the quality of music on Disc Two is even better than Disc One. With tracks from Al Green, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, The O’Jays, The Stylistics and Lowell Fulson, this is a feast of the funkiest and most soulful music. Many of the tracks are from Philadelphia International Records, Hi Records, Westbound and Brunswick, some of the biggest, most influential and innovative labels of the seventies, which featured talented producers like Gamble and Huff, Willie Mitchell and Eugene Record. These producers, helped create some of the best music of the seventies, which I’ll now tell you about.

My first choice is Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ You Know How To Make Me Feel So Good, from their 1975 album Wake Up Everybody. This was the group’s most successful album, reaching number nine in the US R&B Charts and number one in the US R&B Charts. Although the album was certified platinum, it was the last to feature Teddy Pendergrass’ lead vocal, and the group’s last album for Philadelphia International Records. It’s a slow track, opening with the rhythm and string sections combining with gentle backing vocals. The track meanders along, the arrangement’s beauty gradually revealing itself. When Teddy’s vocal enters, it’s tender, accompanied by Sharon Paige. Her voice is equally gentle and tender, and with the addition of the backing vocals, a gorgeous track unfolds. Strings play a large part in the arrangement, dropping in and out of the track. There’s a subtlety in the playing, with chiming guitars and keyboards making their presence felt gently, while the rhythm section give an understated performance. This allows the vocal to take centre-stage, with Teddy and Sharon Paige’s voices a perfect match for each other, on what is a beautiful track.

The O’Jays were an other group who recorded on the Philadelphia International label, with Cry Together, a track from their 1978 album So Full of Love. It reached number twenty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number six in the US R&B Charts, resulting in the album being certified gold. When the track opens, the tempo is slow, the sound understated, just sweeping strings, drums and chiming guitars, providing the backdrop for the half-spoken vocal. This gives way to a sweet, then hugely emotive, sad vocal, sung against a backdrop that now includes keyboards. It’s a hugely powerful track, one that’s drenched in emotion and sadness, sung with passion and feeling by The O’Jays against a classic Gamble and Huff arrangement.

The last in a trio of tracks from the Philadelphia International label, is Hurry Up This Way Again by The Stylistics. This in from one of group’s later albums, Hurry Up This Way Again, a really underrated album, which only reached number 127 in the US Billboard 200. After a lengthy introduction where the rhythm section, keyboards and guitars combine, with short bursts of drama as the arrangement meanders along, slowly revealing itself, a thoughtful, sad vocal enters. As the track progresses, the use of synths becomes noticeable. Although they don’t sound quite as dated as some albums of this time, they sound of their day. Their addition means it’s possible to tell the song’s musical DNA, accurately placing it at circa 1979-1980. However, although it would be a better track without them, it doesn’t hugely detract from the heartache, drama and emotion in Russell’s vocal on this almost epic track, lasting nearly six minutes. 

Two Al Green tracks feature on The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics, with I’m So Glad You’re Mine opening Disc Two. This was the title track from Al’s fifth studio album. It reached number five in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts, giving Al another platinum album. The track opens with just drums, before the Hammond organ enters, along with blazing horns, giving the track a real Southern Soul sound. Strings cascade while Al gives a beautiful heartfelt vocal, accompanied by backing vocalists. From there on, the Hi Rhythm Section, Memphis Horns and Strings, give a masterclass in Southern Soul music along with the sensuous sound of Al Green. What more could you ask for in a soul song?

Syl Johnson was on the same label as Al Green, Hi Records, recording four albums for Hi. One of these was Back For A Taste of Your Love, which features I Hate That I Walked Away.  Swathes of the lushest strings, a wailing Hammond organ and slow rhythm section combine before Syl’s vocal enters. He’s full of regret and despair, having left his girlfriend, and realizing his mistake wants her back. As the emotion results in his voice rising, Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes enter, their united vocals swoop in, sympathetically accompanying Syl. With the strings sweeping and swirling, sometimes adding drama, the Hammond adds to the atmospheric slightly bluesy sound. Full of remorse and regret, Syl pleads forgiveness, his voices soaring as he apologizes. This is hugely effective and seems so realistic. That’s testament to both Syl’s vocal and Willie Mitchell skills as a production.

My final choice from Disc Two of The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics, is Lowell Fulson’s Tramp, a true classic from one of the biggest stars of blues music. Tramp reached number five in the US R&B Charts in 1965, and since then, its recognizable strains are known worldwide. The tempo is slow, the sound moody, guitars grinding away, while the rhythm section augment the arrangement. Lowell’s vocal is a combination of half-spoken, to a much more emotive, powerful style. When he unleashes a guitar solo, this demonstrates his talents as guitarist, the grinding, driving sound driving the track along, for three highly memorable, magical minutes of blues’ brilliance.

Earlier on, I wondered whether the music on Disc Two of The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics, I wondered whether the standard of music would be as good as that on Disc One. Well, considering the variety of music on Disc Two from the Southern Soul of Al Green, Syl Johnson and Jean Plum, to the Philly Sound of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, The Stylistics and The O’Jays. Add to this the funk of Funkadelic, Cymande and Funk Incorporated, and the blues sound of Lowell Fulson, you’ll see just how eclectic the music is on Disc Two of The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics. Each of these sixteen tracks have two things in common, quality and that they’re all b boy classics. These tracks include some of the most recognizable samples in the history of hip hop. In fact, the thirty-one tracks on The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics are a veritable feast of material for hip hop fans looking for a source of quality samples. What I like about this compilation is that it’s a combination of familiar tracks and hidden gems. Compiler Dean Rudland has dug deep, eschewing some of the more obvious tracks by artists like Al Green, Funkadelic, The O’Jays and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes for less obvious choices. Among the hidden gems are Gaz’s SIng Sing, Manzel’s Space Funk and The Skullsnaps. So if, you love hip hop, and want to hear some of the tracks that the pioneers of hip hop like Kool Herc sampled, then The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics is a must-have album for you. However, if you’re a fan of soul and funk music, then The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics is an unmissable compilation. It also acts as a good introduction to the various soul and funk compilations released by Harmless throughout their fifteen year history. Like Mellow Mellow, which also helped Harmless commemorate their fifteenth birthday, The Breaks-Original B Boy Street Funk and Block Party Classics is a compilation of some fantastic which helped give birth to a new genre of music…hip hop. Standout Tracks: Manzel Space Funk, Gaz Sing Sing, M.F.S.B. Get Down With the Philly Sound and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes You Know How To Make Me Feel So Good.

THE BREAKS-ORIGINAL B BOY STREET FUNK AND BLOCK PARTY CLASSICS.

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