For The Gap Band, commercial success didn’t come overnight. Quite the opposite. Instead, it took three albums. Neither 1974s Magician’s Holiday nor 1977s The Gap Band charted. Then when The Gap Band signed to Mercury Records, their third album The Gap Band reached number seventy-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number ten in the US R&B Charts. This was just a taste of the commercial success that was about to come The Gap Band’s way.

Starting this run of commercially successful albums was The Gap Band II, which was The Gap Band’s second album for Mercury Records. Not only did The Gap Band II reach number forty-two in the US Billboard Charts and number three in the US R&B Charts, but was certified gold.

This success was surpassed with 1980s The Gap Band III, which reached number sixteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Having sold over one million copies, The Gap Band III was certified platinum. Ironically, just as The Gap Band were about to become one of the biggest bands of the early eighties, they left Mercury Records.

Having left Mercury after The Gap Band III, next stop for brothers Ronnie, Robbie and Charlie Wilson was Lonnie Simmons’ Total Experience Records. Things started well for The Gap Band at Total Experience Records. The Gap Band IV was their most successful album. It reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. This gave The Gap Band their second platinum disc. A year later, in 1983, The Gap Band V-Jammin’ reached number twenty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts, resulting in a second gold disc for The Gap Band. However, this proved to the beginning of the end of the commercial success The Gap Band had enjoyed.

Although 1984s The Gap Band VI reached number one in the US R&B Charts, it stalled at number fifty-eight in the US Billboard 200. This meant there was neither a platinum, nor gold disc for The Gap Band. The Gap Band’s ninth album, The Gap Band VII, which was recently released by BBR Records, this found a group at the crossroads. Was The Gap Band VI just a minor blip, or was the beginning of the end of The Gap Band’s popularity?

For The Gap Band VII, much of the the same personnel that had worked on their two previous albums for Total Experience Records would play an important role in the album. This included Jonah Ellis and Oliver Scott. Not only were they producers, but songwriters. Jonah Ellis penned three of the nine tracks on The Gap Band VII. This included Desire, Ooh, What A Feeling and I Want A Real Love. Oliver Scott wrote I Need Your Love, while Jerry Peters penned Going In Circles and Raymond Callhoun wrote I Know We’ll Make It. The Wilson brothers cowrote Bumpin’ Gum People, while Charlie Wilson, Anthony Walker and Billy Young cowrote Automatic Brain and Lil’ Red Junkin’ Hood. These nine tracks became The Gap Band VII, which was recorded at Total Experience Recording Studios in Hollywood, California.

When recording began at Total Experience Recording Studios in Hollywood, California, Charlie Wilson took charge of lead vocals, keyboards, percussion. Ronnie Wilson played horns, keyboards and percussion, while Robert Wilson played bass and percussion. Accompanying them were some of Total Experience Records’ house-band, including producers Jonah Ellis and Oliver Scott. Once the nine tracks that became The Gap Band VII were recorded, the album was released in December 1985.

On the release of The Gap Band VII it stalled at number 159 in the US Billboard 200 and number six in the US R&B Charts. This was The Gap Band’s least successful album since their third album The Gap Band. Desire was released as the lead single in November 1985. It reached number forty-six in the US R&B Charts. When Going In Circles was released in January 1986, it reached number two in the US R&B Charts. Automatic Brain was the last single released from The Gap Band VII, and stalled at number seventy-eight in the US R&B Charts. The Gap Band VII was The Gap Band’s least successful album since their third album The Gap Band. This wasn’t just a minor blip. Indeed, it looked like it was the beginning of the end of The Gap Band’s popularity. However, why didn’t The Gap Band VII match the commercial success of the Gap Band’s earlier albums?

Opening The Gap Band VII is Desire. Subtle chiming guitars proved to be something of a curveball, as the arrangement bursts into life. Soon, The Gap Band kick loose. A driving rhythm section, featuring pounding drums and Rolling Stones influenced guitars provide the heartbeat. They’re joined by keyboards and washes of synths. By now the arrangement is a busy combination of synth-funk and rock. There’s just enough space in the arrangement for Charlie’s lead vocal. It’s equally dramatic, feisty and confident.

A bluesy harmonica and slow, moody rhythm section open Going In Circles. Straight away, you realize this track is something special. Charlie’s vocal is heartfelt, tender and filled with hurt. The Gap Band are totally transformed. You hear another side to their music. No longer are they an eighties synth-funk group. Instead, they combine balladry with blues, resulting in one of The Gap band VII’s highlights.

Automatic Brain is a dance track with a sound that’s reminiscent of Cameo. Drums crash, while synths weave their way across the arrangement. Anthony “Baby Gap” Walker and Billy Young lay down raps against a backdrop of searing, rocky guitars and harmonies. Combining synth funk, rap and rock guitars, the result is a track that’s infuriatingly catchy.

L’il Red Funkin’ Hood sees The Gap Band seek inspiration from George Clinton. That’s where the P-Funk sound comes from. Synths, harmonies, percussion and an uber funky rhythm section combine. Then the arrangement reveals its surprises. Rather than a vocal, it’s more akin to a rap, laden with quick-witted witticisms. Its augmented by sweet, soulful harmonies. They’re joined by screaming rocky guitars, thunderous drums and a funky bass line. The finishing touch is a carefree, uplifting, melody and you’ve a track that’s full of surprises and curveballs.

Ooh, What A Feeling is another track penned by Jonah Ellis. R&B and funk meet head on as the track opens. Buzzing synths, stabs of keyboards and crashing drums provide the dramatic backdrop for Charlie’s vocal. He matches the arrangement for drama, his vocal a mixture of power and emotion. Urgent harmonies accompany him, before sweeping elegantly in as soul, funk and R&B combine seamlessly.

I Want A Real Love sees the tempo drop, and Charlie Wilson deliver one of his best vocals. Impassioned, emotive and wistful describes Charlie’s delivery. Charlie demonstrates he’s equally at home on ballads on uptempo, funky tracks. The arrangement sees a slow, rhythm section, synths and keyboards accompany his soul-baring vocal.

Bumpin’ Gum People has similarities with L’il Red Funkin’ Hood. Both tracks have been influenced by P-funk. Percussion, rhythm section and synths combine as Charlie lays down a vocal that’s full of hollers, chuckles and one-liners. The best is: “even ET bumped his way home.” Backing vocals accompany him, while Charlie’s vocal veers between ad-libs, raps and scats. This he does against a P-funk inspired backdrop.

I Know We’ll Make It is best described as a post-disco track. It shows that there was life after disco. This is a dance track that takes its inspiration from disco, boogie and eighties pop, it’s a captivating and eclectic combination. Stabs of piano, crashing drums, percussion and squelchy synths provide a hypnotic backdrop for Charlie’s heartfelt, but assured vocal. Dance-floor friendly, hypnotic, soulful and captivating, this track’s all these things and more.

Closing The Gap Band VII is I Need Your Love. As the track reveals its secrets, its reminiscent of something Chicago or Foreigner would’ve released. Having said that, it’s still a very beautiful track. With just piano, cascading harmonies and an understated rhythm section for company, Charlie’s vocal is needy, emotive and filled with loneliness. Although very different from other tracks on The Gap Band VI, it’s a very beautiful, emotive track, which demonstrated how versatile a group The Gap Band were.

During the nine tracks on The Gap Band VII, The Gap Band veer between P-funk, ballads, synth-funk and soul. Add to that, eighties electronica and rock and you’ve an album that’s truly eclectic. Taking inspiration from numerous musical influences and genres, The Gap Band VII is filled with surprises and subtleties aplenty. This allowed The Gap Band to demonstrate just how versatile a group they were. While other eighties groups were one-trick ponies, you certainly couldn’t accuse The Gap Band of that. The nine tracks on The Gap Band VII are proof of this. Despite being an accomplished and eclectic album, The Gap Band VII didn’t replicate the commercial success of earlier albums.

The Gap Band VII didn’t replicate the success of the four albums The Gap Band released between The Gap Band II and The Gap Band V-Jammin.’ Having said that, The Gap Band VII still reached number six in the US R&B Charts and featured some quality music. However, by 1985, when The Gap Band VII was released, The Gap Band’s most successful era was behind them. Sadly, 1983s The Gap Band V-Jammin’ proved to be the end of an era for The Gap Band. After that, The Gap Band never ever, replicated the commercial success of that four year period. Although they released six further albums, they only released two more albums for Lonnie Simmons Total Experience Records. Neither 1986s The Gap Band 8 nor 1988s Straight From The Heart were commercially successful and saw The Gap Band’s popularity continue to decline. 

However, between 1979 and 1984, The Gap Band were one of the most successful groups in America. Two of their albums were certified gold, two platinum and three reached number one in the US R&B Charts. Although The Gap Band VII, which was recently rereleased by BBR Records, didn’t match the commercial success of their earlier albums, it’s an album that demonstrates just how talented and versatile The Gap Band were. Whether its synth-funk, ballads, P-Funk and soul, The Gap Band VII features all that and more. Standout Tracks: Desire, Going In Circles, I Want A Real Love and I Need Your Love.


1 Comment

  1. Tyree McKelton

    The reason why Gap Band VI, VII and 8 sound so bland is because they weren’t truly Gap Band albums. The Wilson brothers had a falling out with Lonnie Simmons during the recording of Gap Band V- Jammin’ and were trying to leave Total Experience. The material that made up their mid 80’s work were either songs that Charlie was recording for a solo album, or outtakes and songs that didn’t make the cut on the earlier albums. And the songs “Automatic Brain” and “Lil’ Red Funkin’ Hood” were songs intended for the “Billy and Baby Gap” album that didn’t make it.

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