In the seventies, Dayton, Ohio was funk central. Among the funk bands emerging from Dayton were The Ohio Players, Lakeside, Heatwave, Slave and Platypus. Of these groups, Platypus stood out. They were the only group to incorporate elements of progressive rock into their music and would record two albums for Casablanca Records in 1979 and 1980. The first of Platypus’ two albums was 1979s Platypus, which will be rereleased by BBR Music on 24th September 2012. Before I tell you about the music on Platypus, I’ll tell you the story behind Platypus journey from Drayton, Ohio to the release of their debut album Platypus. That journey saw them change their name, lose several members and begin recording their debut album Platypus without a record deal in place.
After making a unanimous decision, The Four Korners headed to Los Angeles to further their career. Now based in Los Angeles, The Four Korners became a popular band. Their popularity too them much further afield to Australia and Japan. After a visit to Australia, The Four Korners became Platypus, after being introduced as The Black Platypus. The name stuck and on returning to Los Angeles, The Four Korners became Platypus. On another visit overseas, Platypus would meet someone who’d help further their career…Roberta Flack
Throughout their career, Platypus were a popular band. Indeed, it was in Japan that someone finally defined what their music was “between rock and soul.” It was during a trip to Japan that Platypus would meet Roberta Flack. After hearing Platypus headline the Bottom Line in Osaka, she would become Platypus’ mentor. By the time Roberta Flack met Platypus, they were a tight, accomplished and practiced group, who when not playing together, sang harmonies on sessions for The 5th Dimension, Thelma Houston and Diana Ross, including Diana’s Love Hangover album. Arthur Stokes one of Platypus songwriters, had also written What Goes Around for Michael Jackson’s Ben album and I’m Glad It Rained for the Jackson 5. So, it’s no surprise that when Roberta Flack first heard Platypus she was immediately struck by how much talent and potential they had. After exchanging phone numbers and returning home, Roberta Flack made good on her promise to keep in contact with Platypus.
With both Roberta Flack and Platypus back home, Platypus in Los Angeles and Roberta in New York, Roberta invited Platypus to New York. Platypus joined Roberta and her band in one of New York’s most prestigious recording studios, The Hit Factory. During their time together, Platypus played with Roberta and her band and recorded Dance If You Can. Apart from that one song, nothing more came of the sessions. Despite Roberta’s best efforts, Platypus were still without a record contract. Eventually, with a heavy heart, Platypus decided to head back home to Drayton. Sadly, it was without one of the band, Dana Meyers who decided to stay in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it would fifteen months before Platypus would set foot in a recording studio again.
Back in Drayton, Platypus spent time finding the right studio. Eventually, they discovered Fifth Floor Studios, managed by Rich Goldman and where Lakeside, now signed to Solar Records recorded. By now Platypus were desperate for a record deal, so decided that they’d record something record companies would want to sign. Starting with Dancing In the Moonlight, Platypus almost invented a new genre, which fused funk, soul and disco. Figuring disco was now a four billion dollar industry, they recorded a track labels would want to sign. Soon, further songs were written, refined and then recorded. Often recordings were refined further and eventually, seven songs had been recorded. Just then, studio manager Rich Goldman was heading to Los Angeles on a business trip. Realizing that Platypus’ music was what labels were looking for, volunteered to take their music to labels. Sadly, the triumph that was around the corner for Platypus, was tempered by tragedy.
On Rich Goldman return from Los Angeles, the news was good. Labels loved Platypus and wanted to sign them. Solar Records and She Records were both interested and so were Casablanca. By 1979, Casablanca were one of disco’s biggest labels and they were interested in signing Platypus for their Chocolate City imprint. They’re was a but though…Casablanca’s Bruce Bird wanted to bring in a producer. However, when he heard of the other label’s interest, Bruce agreed that Casablanca would pay for Platypus to polish up the production and if he liked it, then they could produce their own album. Adding strings sealed the deal and Platypus were signed as artists and producers. Then tragedy struck. Larry Hines was bravely battling leukemia, and traveling to Los Angeles for treatment and to visit his son. Larry decided that after recording more song, he would leave Platypus. He sang his heart out, putting everything he had and much more into Running From Love. With that Platypus’ debut album was finished and ready for release in 1979.
Sadly, when Platypus released Dancing In the Moonlight, it failed to chart. Worse was to come when neither the album Platypus, nor the second single Love the You Funk charted. It seemed triumph and tragedy were haunting Platypus again. Platypus had at long last released their debut album Platypus, but it failed commercially. However, as regular readers of this blog will know, commercial failure doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with the music. Often the music is ahead of its time or just the result of circumstances, or the fickle finger of fate. Is that the case with Platypus debut album Platypus?
Platypus’ debut album is Dancing In the Moonlight which Larry Hines and Anthony Stokes cowrote. Straight away, you can hear elements of disco, funk and soul. The strings add to a disco influence while the funky rhythm section, percussion and flourishes of keyboards and tight, soulful harmonies see funk and soul unite. Larry Hines’ vocal is perfect for the track, and made all the better by soulful harmonies. Strings quiver and shiver, while chiming guitars, and a loping, funky bass play important parts in the track. So do the bells that ring out joyously, punctuating the arrangement. They’re in keeping with the track’s uplifting, feel-good sound, that should’ve been a huge commercial success.
Street Babies has a tougher, edgier sound. There’s a Drayton funk sound, that can be heard in many groups of this era. Gone is the disco of the previous track. Larry’s gnarled vocal is accompanied by a pounding, funk-laden rhythm section and guitars, with percussion, keyboards and soaring harmonies accompanying him. The searing bass line on this track is one of the best on Platypus. It’s accompanied by dramatic stabs of keyboards, bursts of percussion and those falsetto harmonies that are a perfect foil for Larry’s edgy vocal. Although very different from the opening track, it has one thing in common…quality.
Love the Way You Funk gives a clue to the direction of the song. It’s funky with a capital F, and sometimes, just as soulful. Flourishes of keyboards give way Platypus’ rhythm section. They’re at the heart of the track’s sound and success and are joined by washes of synths and keyboards. Meanwhile percussion and guitars accompany Larry’s sweet and sometimes, punchy multi-tracked vocal that’s seemingly designed to sooth your soul. It’s panned from right and left effect, seemingly surrounding you. The harmonies that accompany Larry’s lead vocal range from soulful, to funky, as does the arrangement. Not only that, but the track finds a happy medium between sounding commercial, without alienating their loyal following. Sadly, when it was released as a single, if failed to chart, and like the lead single Dancing In the Moonlight, remains a hidden gem of a track.
Don’t Go Away sees Platypus incorporate some of their prog rock influences during the track. This shines through when the keyboard bass, moody tipmani and spacey guitar sound come to the fore. That spacey, dramatic sound is apparent from the opening bars. Larry’s vocal is full of hurt and regret, while the arrangement is dark, moody and dramatic. Contrasts can be heard throughout the track. There’s the drama of the searing, rocky guitars and rumbling keyboards bass, while there’s beauty in the tight, heartfelt harmonies. When they’re combined with one of the most emotive, impassioned vocals on Platypus, the result is a track where drama and beauty are ever-present in equal measures.
Arthur Stokes takes charge of the lead vocal on Dance If You Can, which sees another change in mood and style. It’s an uptempo dance track that almost bursts joyously into life. A pounding rhythm section, melodic keyboards and chiming guitars combine with Arthur’s sassy vocal. He grabs the track by the scruff of its neck and breathes life and joy into it. Accompanying him are some of Platypus quality, trademark, soulful harmonies. Given the quality of the harmonies, it’s no surprise they were so in demand for session work. Keyboards also play an important track in the track’s melodic sound. Soon, one of the catchiest, hook-laden tracks on Platypus unfolds. Even thirty-four years later, this track would still light up any dance-floor.
Running From Love is a track written by Lloyd Jones and Curtis Stafford and is the last track Larry Hines sang on. It’s one of his best vocals on Platypus and sees the spacey, prog rock sound of Don’t Go Away returning. The tempo slows with a marauding bass line testing the tolerance of your speakers. Soon, synths, keyboards, harmonies and the rest of Platypus’ rhythm section join the mix. As harmonies soar above the arrangement, while the prog rock sound is revisited. Spacey keyboards and that rumbling bass play important parts in the arrangement. Later, sizzling, dueling rocky guitar add to the prog rock influence grows and grows to its dramatic musical crescendo.
Closing Platypus is Body and Soul which is another of the dance tracks. It’s very different from the previous track, and is much more Platypus in sound. Chiming guitars, a driving, pounding rhythm section and flourishes of keyboards give way to the emotive, impassioned vocal. Harmonies augment the vocal, while the rhythm section and guitar combine disco and funk as a jazzy piano solo drifts in and out. During a breakdown, the jazzy piano, percussion and loping, funky bass combine. They give to strings that dance with delight, as the track reveals the rest of its secrets and surprises. Punchy harmonies, cascading, disco strings, percussion and a vampish vocal all play their part in this delicious fusion disco, funk, soul and Latin music.
Having spent some time listening to Platypus’ debut album Platypus, there was nothing whatsoever wrong with the music on the album. It’s a fusion of disco, funk and soul, with diversions into prog rock and Latin Music. Maybe the problem was that Platypus was released at the wrong time. By 1979, disco was no longer flavor of the month. Quite the opposite. Instead, after the events of Demolition Derby Night on 12th July at Comiskey Park in Chicago, when the Disco Sucks movement came to its ugly head. After that, disco became deeply unpopular. Disco groups, disco albums and disco labels were no longer popular. Indeed, record companies and record buyers avoided disco music, while disco went underground and reinvented itself. Disco became boogie, and even giants of disco, whether groups like Chic, or labels like Casablanca and Salsoul suffered. So if Platypus had released Platypus a year earlier, history might have been very different. Thankfully, disco is now back in fashion and albums like Platypus are now being rediscovered and appreciated. Now thirty-three years after Platypus released their debut album Platypus, it will be rereleased by BBR Music on 24th September 2012. This gives everyone who missed out on this underrated hidden gem of an album first time around to rediscover, Platypus, an album which in 1979, was way ahead of its time. Standout Tracks: Dancing In the Moonlight, Don’t Go Away, Dance If You Can and Body and Soul.