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love don't live here anymore (part 2)
where have all the great r&b groups gone?
by jason gilmore (@JasonGilmore77)
11.17.04
music

Last time, we spoke about three components as to why the concept of rhythm-n-blues bands (as best seen in the 1960s and 70s) is dying a slow death. This time, we will continue to look at more of the common denominators of their demise, in the hopes of inspiring action.

4. The Visionary Producer
Most of the groups I mentioned earlier were produced by one guy or one group of guys, whose singular vision helped bring out the best of a particular band. Usually, this producer was some classically or jazz-trained cat who hired a flawless team of songwriters (or was the flawless team of songwriters) and grew as the group grew. Names like Smokey Robinson, Norman Whitfield, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Gamble & Huff, Thom Bell, Maurice White and Curtis Mayfield come to mind immediately.

Today’s music producers, the few who are actually capable of this sort of thing, are too ADHD to commit their focus to an entire project. (And too driven by money.) So you end up with R&B albums that have a couple of chart-worthy hits but are largely uneven. It’s kind of like a low-budget version of the early years at Motown, before they figured out that one production team is usually best. Those neo-soul cats, guys like Musiq and D’Angelo (wherever he is) understand this idea. But in order to talk about them, we have to go back to point #3.

5. Industry Rule #4080...
...Record company people are shady... © A Tribe Called Quest, 1991
There are different levels of shadiness within the entertainment biz. There’s the music and movie shadiness of the mid-20th century, where record execs genuinely knew what good product was and did whatever was possible to create it -- except, of course, pay their acts (but that’s a whole other discussion). Then, there’s the type that is in exhibition today, where it’s more about the marketing than the music, and no one has enough job stability to devote themselves to creating a career for a group.

Several pieces have to fall in line for a group to have any hope of being successful. Groups like The Isleys, Gladys Knight & the Pips and The Spinners toiled in obscurity for years on Motown before finding their niche at other labels. Today, neither artist nor industry is taking the necessary steps to get to that special place.

6. Love
Even among the so-called R&B groups of today, this last element -- the most important one -- is noticeably absent. Recently, one of my friends asked me, “Really, when was the last time you heard an R&B dude bleed on a song?” In other words, there is an ingredient of passion, commitment, soul, original style that reigns supreme in most great R&B groups’ bodies of work. You got the impression that they really loved that girl, that they felt remorse about that break-up, that they were stricken by the social ills of the time.

There is more pure emotion in the first few lines of the Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain” than in the majority of the songs I’ve heard since 1977. New Edition had that urgency but they ran right into hip-hop‘s prime era. Boyz II Men had it, but they lacked the necessary charisma. Jodeci had the charisma, but they were crazy. So now, we’re talking about consistent, groundbreaking hits that extend over decades. And that is certainly a tough act to follow.


ABOUT JASON GILMORE

Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.

more about jason gilmore

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COMMENTS

tracey kelley
11.17.04 @ 1:46p

Oh wow, you are so right about the loss of the love.

When you think of "Let's Stay Together" or "Let's Get it On" or, holy cats, anything by Barry White, nothing any of these young kids do comes close. Why? Because how can you sing about the joy, pain, confusion, and highs of love when you're frickin' 19 and pushing to make the next TRL segment?

I just went to Def Poetry Jam last night, and the poets had a feature segment on love/lust/emotion. All of them had interesting perspectives, but two in particular, Lemon and Shihan, just broke the audience down with their unabashed feeling.

And the world -needs- that right now.

jason gilmore
11.18.04 @ 1:06a

You went to Def Poetry Jam? That's a trip I have to make someday.

tracey kelley
11.18.04 @ 10:26a

Poetri has a big slam thing in LA, doesn't he?

It was awesome. My next column will be about it.



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