Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rolling Stone 500: (493) That's the Way of the World by Earth, Wind and Fire [1975]

Finally, some funk and soul! You can tell just from the fantastic album cover that these songs will groove along. And they do, but what sets That's the Way of the World apart as a funk/soul record is the song writing and musicianship. Not only a fun record, Earth, Wind & Fire succeed in making an interesting one as well. There are certainly some elements of jazz here. Fortunately, the band manages to almost completely avoid the self-indulgent side effect of most records which blend jazz and pop, soul, rock, etc.

Right off the bat, the bass and horns steal the show on "Shining Star." It broke Earth, Wind & Fire in a big way, winding up at number one on the charts. And, simply put, funk doesn't get too much better than this.

The second big hit comes next with the title track. A little slower and with no horns, "That's the Way of the World" is anchored by a melodic bass part and great singing. It ends up being the best song on the album and one of the best soul songs of the 70's.

The next two songs continue on where the title track leaves off. "All About Love," in particular, is beautiful. I imagine Leon Phelps advising men to play it for their special someone (and it would actually be good advice this time). Since the songs are longer there is always the chance they could become boring. However, that is avoided by creativity and the band working together, sharing the spotlight, so there is nothing stagnant.

"Yearin', Learnin'" picks up the tempo with a cool, funky Sly & the Family Stone feel. Yet another hit, "Reasons," follows that. The falsetto gets to be too much after awhile; the only thing keeping "Reasons" from being as good as "That's the Way of the World."

Listening to "Africano" reminds me of the theme songs to 70's tv shows (I watch a bunch of reruns) crossed with a blaxploitation soundtrack. Apart from the very nice minute-long flute solo intro, it is probably the funkiest song. Most certainly it has the longest solo (essentially half the song is a really good sax solo).

Closing the record is the average "See the Light." I think the rest of the album sets such a high bar that the final number just can not reach it.

I highly recommend That's the Way of the World. The first time I listened to it I thought it was okay. Apart from the singles I already knew, nothing really stood out apart from the general musicianship. By the second and then third listen though, the songs really started to sound pretty great. Nothing is boring, despite the length of some. Hopefully it gets better with each listen. You know, like the way every viewing of Arrested Development is better than the last.

That's the Way of the World

Shining Star

All About Love

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