During their career, Chocolate Milk recorded with both Allen Toussaint and Paul McCartney and released eight albums. Of these eight albums, their debut album Action Speaks Louder Than Words is probably the best known. Released in 1975, Action Speaks Louder Than Words is a mixture of funk and soul. Since then, it’s become a favorite of hip hop artists, sampled by Eric B. Rankin, Move the Crowd and Stetsasonic. However, there was much more to Chocolate Milk than just soul and funk.

During their career, Chocolate Milk also recorded a number of disco hits. including their 1981 hit Blue Jeans. Sadly, disco was one of the reasons the group split up in 1983. Along with the decline in popularity of disco, as well as changes in producers and personnel, Chocolate Milk split-up in 1983. Although they’d only been formed in 1974, Chocolate Milk had packed a lot into just nine years.

Formed in 1974 by saxophonist Amadee Castenell Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, the band headed to New Orleans, where they became the house band for legendary songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint. In doing so, they replaced The Meters, so had a hard act to follow. Signing with RCA Records, the band started recording what would become their debut album Action Speaks Louder Than Words which will be rereleased by Nature Sounds on 13th April 2015 on CD or limited edition LP.

Recording of Action Speaks Louder Than Words took place at the Sea-Saint Recording Studio in New Orleans. With Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn producing the album, a total of ten tracks were written by Chocolate Milk were recorded. To do this, they used a mixture of traditional and the nascent technology that was available, the group recorded a combination of soul and funk tracks.

On Action Speaks Louder Than Words, Chocolate Milk’s tight rhythm section of drummer Dwight Richard, bassist Ernest Dabon and guitarist Mario Tio combined with a brass section of saxophonist Amadee Castenell and Joseph Smith III on trumpet and flugelhorn. The rhythm and brass section were joined by Kenneth Williams on percussion and congas, while Robery Dabon played Fender Rhodes, clarinet, Minimoog and ARP. Chocolate Milk were one of the pioneers of new technology like the Moog Bass and Minimoog. The Moog bass can be best heard on the opening track, Actions Speak Louder Than Words. On that track, Chocolate Milk revealed an important side to their music, politics. Like many groups, some members of Chocolate Milk were schooled in jazz, and with this jazz background went a political angle. Chocolate Milk, like many artists before them, released music with a message. Around this time, Gil Scott Heron, was making music with a political message, and like his music, their debut single seemed to strike a chord with  people, and proved to be popular when released as a single.

Released in June 1975, Action Speaks Louder Than Words reached number thirty-eight in US R&B Charts. This was pretty good for a group that had only been formed a year ago. Adding to this success, was their debut single, Action Speaks Louder Than Words. When it was released as a single, it reached number fifteen in the US R&B Charts and number sixty-nine in the US Billboard 100. Sadly, the follow-up single My Mind Is didn’t fare so well, failing to chart. However, overall, Action Speaks Louder Than Words had been a success for the newly formed group, who’d go on to release a further seven albums.

Chocolate Milk’s next album was their eponymous album Chocolate Milk, released in 1976. 1977 was a busy year for Chocolate Milk, releasing two albums We’re All In This Together and Comin.’ On We’re All In This Together, was one of their best known singles Girl Callin’. 

After a gap of two years Milky Way was released in 1979. It featured another classic Chocolate milk single, Say Won’t Cha. This was the last Chocolate Milk album to feature Allen Toussaint as producer. He and Chocolate Milk went their separate ways in 1980.

With a new producer George Tobin in tow, Chocolate Milk recorded their sixth album  Hipnotism. It was released in 1980 and featured another of the group’s best known singles I’m Your Radio. 

Blue Jeans was Chocolate Milk’s penultimate album and was released in 1981. It saw another new producer working with the group, Allen A. Jones. The album saw a change in style from Chocolate Milk, demonstrated in and one the group’s singles, disco. For some time Chocolate Milk had been releasing disco tracks, and Blue Jeans was their biggest disco hit. However, with disco starting to become less popular, changes in the group’s personnel and losing Allen Toussaint as producer, the group would only record one further album.

Friction was released in 1982, and was maybe an apt title, given the band would split up a year later. Again the album was produced by Allen A. Jones, his second album as producer. However, after the release of Friction, the band decided to call it a day in 1983. Like I said earlier, they’d packed a lot into just nine years. After all, how many modern bands record nine albums in seven years, never mind nine albums in their career? Chocolate Milk managed to do so, and of these eight albums, one of the best is  Action Speaks Louder Than Words, which I’ll now tell you about.

Action Speaks Louder Than Words opens with the title track, Action Speaks Louder Than Words. It’s funk, but funk with a political message. The track has a slow moody sound, built around a Moog bass line, with percussion, funky rhythm section and searing guitars accompanying the punchy vocal. With Frank Richard’s vocal almost a call for action not dialogue, the track starts to build. While keyboards, Moog bass and the rhythm section envelop his vocal, the rest of the group contribute backing vocals. Both the lead and backing vocals float in and out of the track, a mixture of frustration and anger, while the funkiest of backdrops brilliantly reveals itself. Like the music of Gil Scott Heron this is music with a message, a message that’s still relevant over thirty-six years later.

Time Machine has a very different slightly spacey sound. It’s a much more soulful sounding track, one about escapism, with a haunting, emotive vocal from Frank. The rhythm section combine with horns while percussion and guitars combine. Stabs of keyboard punctuate the track, while the track reminds me slightly of Andy Bey’s Experience and Judgement album. Later, blazing horns combine with the rhythm section, guitars and keyboards, revealing the jazzy side to Chocolate Milk. This demonstrates the versatility of the group, that they can flit from funk to soul and jazz seamlessly. Add Frank Richard’s vocal to the equation, and this spacey sounding track that merges soul, funk and jazz is truly something to behold.

The second single released from Action Speaks Louder Than Words was My Mind Is  Hazy, which amazingly failed to chart. This seems strange, given just how great a track it is. It demonstrates the funky side of Chocolate Music, and is some of the best mid-seventies funk you’ll hear. What makes this such a great track, is how tight and talented a group they were. It’s got a real searing funky groove, that brings to mind vintage Sly and The Family Stone. The dirtiest of funky grooves is exploited by the rhythm section, while rasping horns drench the arrangement, and Frank sings about the intoxicating charms of a woman he knows. Augmenting his vocal are breathy backing vocals, while wah-wah guitars, punchy horns and a plentiful supply of percussion combine with a driving Sly Stone influenced rhythm section. As the track progresses, Frank’s vocal is transformed into a howl, so intoxicated is he. It’s a mesmerising and indeed intoxicating track, that’ll have you totally transfixed.

On Confusion the group’s jazz schooling is very noticeable. During this breakneck funk drenched jam, Chocolate Milk use their jazz background to good use. The track has a complicated structure, with the track having more twists and turns than the average maze. Up and down the keyboards and fretboards the band go, funk and jazz combining, in what almost resembles a high speed car chase, with Frank’s vocal sitting atop. Driving the track along are the rhythm section, while keyboards and blazing horns combine with searing guitars. You can’t help but admire Chocolate Milk’s talent and versatility, in being able to cope with such a complicated track, and managing to play it with such ease. 

Pretty Pimpin’ Willie sounds like something you’d expect in a vintage Blaxploitation movie when the track opens. With the sound of traffic and horns a hooting, Pretty Pimpin’ Willie makes his strutting appearance, to a funk laden backdrop of braying horns, rhythm section and wah-wah guitars. Frank’s vocal is full of charisma and bravado, all roars, hollers and bluster. While other members of the group contribute backing vocals, a meandering and moody slice of funk reveals gradually itself. It’s a track that’s one part funk track, one part Blaxploitation movie waiting to be made.

Tin Man is a track originally recorded by America. The track’s inclusion was an attempt to give the album crossover appeal. Although the track has a lovely sound, opening with keyboards, percussion and rhythm section, giving way to a flute and then Frank’s emotive vocal, it’s quite different in style from the other tracks. However, the track has a floaty, laid-back sound, with the lyrics having a somewhat quaint folky sound, with its mention of Sir Galahad. Having said all that, Frank’s vocal really suits the track, and with a more understated arrangement, we see a different side of Chocolate Milk.

It’s a case of from the sublime to the ridiculous, with Chocolate Pleasure being as far removed from Tin Man as you could get. From folksy lyrics, to lyrics about a lover’s sexual ability, how different can you get? This track might have sat better next to Pretty Pimpin’ Willie, given the two track’s similarities. Here, a searing bass line, punchy drums, keyboards, flute and guitars combine, to create a repetitive groove that they seek to exploit fully. Having discovered a driving catchy groove, they build upon it, adding Frank’s preening vocal to it, while the group contribute tight harmonies. Above the arrangement floats a flute, which adds another dimension and sound to the track. Although it’s the complete opposite of its predecessor, it’s a catchy, albeit repetitive slice of strutting, preening funk.

People sees Chocolate Milk combine elements of funk and soul with a gospel tinge. Imagine a driving funk track with a New Orleans influence and gospel influenced lyrics that open the track. A chant of “ask God forgiveness,” opens the track. Later Chocolate Milk sing “if you want saved,” demonstrating the track’s gospel influence. Meanwhile,  rasping horns, funky wah-wah guitars and rhythm section, combine with squelchy keyboards as the track meanders along. Above the New Orleans influenced arrangement is Frank’s impassioned vocal, as he pleads forgiveness. Together the arrangement and Frank’s vocal combine to make a track that got made in New Orleans written all over it. Not only is it a track that’s made in New Orleans, but it’s one of the album’s highlights.

A really squelchy keyboard opens Ain’t Nothin’ But A Thing, opens another track with a message. It’s about poverty, unemployment and trying to survive in the face of it all. Complete with New Orleans’ Dixieland marching band backdrop, this laid-back, loping slice of funk meanders jauntily along. With the rhythm and brass sections combining with keyboards and guitars, it’s another track with a real New Orleans sound and feel. It demonstrates the funky side of Chocolate Milk, but rather than the breakneck style of Confusion, or the steroid pumped Pretty Pimpin’ Willie or preening Chocolate Pleasure, this is a quite different, laid back and jaunty funk track.

Sometimes, groups keep one of the album’s highlights to the closing track of an album. This is the case with Chocolate Milk and Action Speaks Louder Than Words, with Out Among the Stars. To call this laid-back would be an exaggeration, it’s totally chilled out, with a lovely understated and beautiful arrangement. Add to this, an irresistible, thoughtful vocal from Frank and you realize that this is something pretty special. With cymbals gently hissing, keyboards enter, playing slowly, giving way to a thoughtful rhythm section. Frank’s dreamy, floaty vocal enters, as the track very gradually, reveals its hidden charms and subtleties. From there, a quite stunning ballad unfolds, percussion and Fender Rhodes combining, while a meandering bass line creeps along. Way above, a flute snakes along, making a brief and welcome contribution. For five and a half minutes, you’re held spellbound by Chocolate Milk during this beautiful, totally chilled out and mesmerising track, that’s my favourite track from Action Speaks Louder Than Words. What a fantastic way to end the album.

Although Chocolate Milk had only formed in 1974, releasing Action Speaks Louder Than Words the following year in 1975, this is a really mature album. The reason for this is that Chocolate Milk were made up of a really tight and talented group of musicians. With many members of the band having a jazz background, this contributed towards the group’s versatility. This meant they were able to switch between soul, funk and even jazz during Action Speaks Louder Than Words. Some of the tracks on the album are songs with a message. Nothing demonstrates this better than the title track Action Speaks Louder Than Words, which is like a call for action when dialogue has failed. While this is maybe the best known track on the album, there’s much more to Action Speaks Louder Than Words that this one track.

Tracks like Time Machine, My Mind Is Hazy, Confusion and Out Among the Stars. These are just some of this album’s highlights. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with any of the other tracks. It’s just the quality of these tracks stand out. My favorite track is the one that closes Action Speaks Louder Than Words Out Among the Stars. Of all the tracks on the album, this lovely, laid-back and chilled out track truly is a hidden gem. It demonstrates Chocolate Milk’s talent and versatility, which saw them produce some memorable and majestic music, which spanned funk, soul, jazz and latterly disco over eight albums. However, the album that started it all off, Action Speaks Louder Than Words which will be rereleased by Nature Sounds on 13th April 2015 on CD or limited edition LP. This allows you to either reacquaint yourself with or rediscover Chocolate Milk’s what I believe was their best album, Action Speaks Louder Than Words.




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