Graham Central Station
Now Do U Wanna Dance/My Radio Sure Sounds Good To Me/Star Walk
Released 27th January 2017
2CD collection encompassing 3 prime late 70s albums by the Funk aggregation Graham Central Station, who were led by ex-Sly and the Family Stone bass player Larry Graham….LTW’s Ian Canty testifies to the full force of the Funk…………….
I don’t think anyone could seriously describe the curriculum vitae of a certain Mr Larry Graham as “shabby”. He was a member of Sly and the Family Stone from 1966 to 1972 and during that time played on all of their ground-breaking records, which still sound as fresh and vital as the day they were made, with his bass playing being a firm fixture in their success. He also recorded with the amazing Betty Davis, Miles’ better half and (more recently) the late Prince Rogers Nelson. Added to that he is credited with the invention of one of Funk’s key innovations, the “slap bass” (also used widely in 80s Pop Music, but not always wisely).
This is all even before we start to consider the fine work he did with his own very popular band Graham Central Station, whose late 70s albums are featured in this new collection. With his new outfit he would quickly help set the standards in Funk as the new decade dawned, while GCS also sported strong Soul, Gospel and Doo Wop influences that set them apart from the crowd.
Although the band were past their high watermark with regard to chart action in the US by the time of the first album featured here ,“Now Do U Wanna Dance”, they sound right at the top of their game when it came to the express delivery of quirkly but extremely danceable, low-down Funk. There is no doubt that this anything other than a strong, confident record from a band with enviable “chops” and a knack for crafting catchy floor-fillers. Starting up with the joyous acapella of “Happ-E-2-C-U-A-Ginn”, this and the later “Stomped, Beat-up and Whooped”, very like a piece of honey-dripping 50s Rock ‘n’ Roll, both turns expectations on their head.
More typically what you might expect to hear (but no less enjoyable) are tracks like the vocoder-crazed title song and the James Brown-inflected “Last Train”. These build up to the album centrepiece “Earthquake”, a real live monster slab of Funk shakedown, with explosions, Heavy Metal guitar histrionics and of course Graham’s mightily impressive flashy bass player high in the mix. It kicks heavy duty booty alright! “Have Faith In Me”, which ends the set shows their gift for a great Soul ballad, something which Graham would later fashion into a whole new career. Though a very good album it didn’t make the Billboard Top 40, but as a compensation did reach number 12 in the US Soul charts.
The follow-up, “My Radio Sounds Good To Me” came along in 1978 and is probably the pick of the three featured here, every track is a killer with nods to P-Funk (“Boogie Witcha Baby”), Doo Wop (the title track) and Soul (the lovely ballad with a hint of Disco “Is It Love?”). “Pow” which leads off this album, is just incredible. One of the best pure Funk recordings ever in fact, in this writer’s opinion, a quite delicious novelty too. It’s packed full of fabulousness with ray guns, synths and that elastic bass powering this fast paced Funker, with jokey stop/start sections that casually drop in a little Country, Gospel and even Classical motifs, but all the time going back to that irresistible beat. There’s so much humour in the approach too and just try standing still to it! I felt the kind of mixture of joy, excitement and bafflement that you only get when you hear a truly great tune for the first time, thus I can only conclude that the title is a correct description of what is on offer, a terrific KO punch.
The third album here, 1979’s “Star Walk” was an attempt to crossover into the now very lucrative Disco field in an effort modify their sound to arrest fading chart positions. Disco had been bossing the US charts for a while by this point in time so Graham and his cohorts finally relented and dived right into the mix so to speak….
To this end they hooked up with “Philly Sound” producer Bobby Martin and his cohorts to cash in on the Disco 12″ market that was huge at the time. The title track is the best attempt here at the dancefloor, Proto-Electronic Dance with a sassy vocal and pumping bass (naturally). Overall though it is the weakest of the three sets here but not without things to recommend: “You’re A Foxy Lady” (here with also as a bonus track in its single edit – “Star Walk” and “Is It Love” also get the same treatment) has echoes of the JBs with some great horns and “The Entertainer” has the same kind of jerking rhythms that the Blockheads backed Ian Dury with. GCS could evidently “do” Disco but lost a little of what made them special in the process. It does bring what is a fine collection to a slightly bittersweet conclusion, but there’s a whole wealth of stuff to enjoy here so let us not look back in such a downbeat fashion.
Graham Central Station seem to have slipped through the cracks in Funk history a bit – not sure why that should be, as judging by this excellent set they carried as much invention and verve as the more revered trail-blazers of that genre. The recordings here still buzz with energy, moulding good time vibes, dance rhythms and out-and-out nuttiness to great effect. Larry Graham and his ever-changing line up were masters of Funk and here is the proof.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here