As the galaxy’s #1 pre-JT Taylor / pre-Jheri curl / pre-Eumir Deodado Kool and the Gang fan, it’s only right that I put my penmanship (or keystrokes) to use after Skeme suggested I weigh in on a digger’s phenomenon: Early Kool and the Gang 45s. I sucked in shipyard levels of asbestos hunting these things down in my youth, so at the very least I can deliver the 411 on of some of the better sides the Jersey City boys spun out in the era between rolling as the Jazziacs at Lincoln HS and their first taste of global fame with the Wild and Peaceful LP. The Hot Peas staff selected six 45s (plus one bonus) for me to pick apart; we’ll kick off the series with their first.
“Kool and the Gang” b/w “Raw Hamburgers”
Year / Label: 1969 / De-Lite
Catalog #: DE-519
Kool and the Gang loved “Joanna,” but I doubt she knew about this one. Sporting what could almost be noted as a slight Latin feel, the group’s eponymous debut single is actually a ways off from their first established trademark sound as well (which was cemented a year later with “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight?”) “Funky” George Brown’s drum kit sounds more open and bombastic than on later records. Robert “Kool” Bell’s basslines are less reliant on the e-string thump. The percussion is more out front. Their trademark horns (which feature a prototypical Ronald Bell solo) are the only feature wholly consistent with later records. The late ‘60s sound of “Kool and the Gang” is more the sibling of funky soul than the straight ahead jazz-funk they’d pin down over the course of the next seven years, and its random inclusion on their heavily post-Wild and Peaceful comp, Spin Their Top Hits, makes it stick out like a brother on a hockey team. But that doesn’t make it any less essential, dope, or party-rockin’.
The flip, “Raw Hamburgers,” epitomizes what makes 45s (and specifically, Kool and the Gang 45s) such an ill phenomenon: Alternate mixes that didn’t appear on the album. (See the Ohio Players’ 45 version of “Funky Worm” with the opening drum break borrowed from label mates, The Detroit Emeralds.) This gave funk fiends the incentive to hunt songs down in all formats. While their debut album was wholly instrumental (save the obligatory funk “party chants”) and the album version of this cut is essentially a vocal-free, extended horn drill, the 45 version of “Raw Hamburgers” clips it down by almost a minute gives us some vocals in lieu of the horns – sort of. A dialogue between a hungry, impatient, uncooked beef and chocolate buttermilk-craving restaurant patron whose gas had been cut off and a perplexed chef (played by Funky George and Ronald Bell, respectively) gives us a glimpse at the band’s sense of humor, which was often obscured by their instrumental work. The drums are a little wetter (i.e., with added reverb) and heavier and there’s an overdubbed tambourine track for added shuffle on the 45 as well.
Although their debut album is harder to find than a job in New York City, this 45 has popped up more frequently than most of the band’s early ones – at least in my travels. Although neither record has the nod factor of “Music Is The Message,” “Let The Music Take Your Mind,” the album-only “Rated X,” or “Sport” (their output as a back-up band for Lightnin’ Rod), this slice is the first in a career that’s spanned four plus decades and it sounds better fried and beat to shit than any other K&TG record.
Rating: 8.5 / 10