Sunday, 28 February 2021

The Brothers Johnson

The Best Of The Brothers Johnson

They were underrated late seventies funkers, The Brothers Johnson. This is probably the best compilation of their work. I’ll Be Good To You is a lovely, slow-burning piece of seductive soul-funk. Free And Single is typical grinding late seventies funk fare while the spacey, jazzy Land Of Ladies mines that old cheesy "ladies man" seam from the same era.


Get The Funk Outa My Face is a marvellous (if a little short) piece of pure Parliament-Funkadelic funk and one of their two best-known tracks is the quirky vaguely psychedelic funk of Strawberry Letter 23, the other, of course, is the dare I say stomping pop funk of Stomp, with its truly infectious chorus. 

Tomorrow and Q are gentle, easy jazzy instrumentals (the latter is funkier) while Runnin' For Your Lovin' is a laid-back, appealing serving of late night soul-funk.

Right On Time bubbles over with Parliament-style funk too, as is BlamAin't We Funkin' Now's title gives the game away doesn't it?

This compilation is a nice mixture of upbeat funk and slower, romantic soul-funk.

Look Out For # 1 (1976)

I’ll Be Good To You/Thunder Thumbs And Lightning Licks/Get The Funk Out Of Ma Face/Tomorrow/Free And Single/Come Together/Land Of Ladies/Dancin’ And Prancin’/The Devil

This was The Brothers Johnson’s debut album and one that I was vaguely familiar with. It is an impressive serving of quality, understated guitar-driven soul-funk and quite ahead of its time, soul-funk wise, in 1976.

The gentle funk of I’ll Be Good To You is one of the album’s best known tracks and starts their recording career in fine style. It is full of hooks and subtle but catchy funk.

The semi-instrumental Thunder Thumbs And Lightning Licks is sumptuously funky in the brothers’ melodic way. The thumping Get The Funk Out Of Ma Face is as funky as its title suggests. 

Tomorrow is a quiet, romantic sweet soul number, although it is an instrumental. Free And Single gets the funk back, though, big time, in most convincing fashion.

Come Together is a swampy, bluesy cover of The Beatles’ shuffler. The brothers make a good, guitar-dominated fist of the much-covered song. Land Of Ladies is just classic smoochy seventies disco-soul fare, isn’t it? Dancin’ And Prancin’ is a mix of a lively funky chorus and slower, soulful verses. 

I remember a friend of mine being really into this and playing it in his car as we drove around at night. So, whenever I hear this album I think of dashboard lights and dark streets.

The Devil is a slow burning number, loaded with wah-wah guitar and an intoxicating groove of a rhythm. It cooks on medium heat, as does this classy, late night album.

Right On Time (1977)

Runnin’ For Your Lovin’/Free Yourself, Be Yourself/“Q”/Right On Time/Strawberry Letter 23/Brother Man/Never Leave You Lonely/Love Is

Produced by Quincy Jones, this was said by some to have been Jones’s warm-up for Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, and it certainly pioneered that kind of slickly-produced, smooth soul-pop-funk that would become all the rage as the eighties approached. In 1977, though, it was still pretty original. 

It was several light years away from the punk that was all around at the time but it tapped into the contemporary disco craze but with a more classy, coolly detached groove about it. It wasn’t just all about gettin’ down, it was about feeling good about yourself and loving your lady too. There was, even back then, when I was an angry young punk, something reassuringly classy about this. I had a friend who really liked it, and I had to go along with that - I liked it too, without properly admitting it in certain company at the time. I was a punk who had the funk - a rare thing. Also, being into this got you the girls.

Runnin’ For Your Lovin’ is an absolutely lovely piece of pop funk of the sort that was so popular in the late seventies. Free Yourself, Be Yourself is breezily poppy, while still retaining a gentle funk. “Q” was, as mentioned on the “best of” review, a smooth instrumental, while Right On Time had a nice funk to it, albeit augmented by some odd, squeaky backing vocals.

Strawberry Letter 23 was a pre-Prince piece of psychedelic-ish freaky funk. Everything about it is delicious - the firm beat, the dreamy lyrics, the vocal and instrumental hooks - an excellent track. This was the one I really liked back then. 

Brother Man is another instrumental, this time a grittier, funkier one. Never Leave You Lonely combines late-night smoochy Soul with a solid, funky chorus and Love Is is a blissed-out acoustic ending to an album that only lasted thirty-one minutes but both invigorated and relaxed over its short running time. 

Blam!! (1978)

Ain't We Funkin' Now/So Won't You Stay/Blam!!/Rocket Countdown-Blastoff/Ride-O-Rocket/Mista' Cool/It's You Girl/Streetwave

By the end of the seventies, The Brothers Johnson's brand of sweet soulful funk (genre-branded as "quiet storm") was really popular, providing a classy, funkier side to disco. Other acts included in the sub-genre were the one time hard-funkers Kool & The Gang, Rufus & Chaka Khan, The Crusaders, The Average White Band, Heatwave, Chic and The Whispers and they were the other side of the funk genre to harder, grittier funkers like Parliament-Funkadelic, Graham Central Station and Rick James. There should be no underestimating just how popular this sort of funk-lite was, particularly with those who had no time for punk, new wave or heavy rock. 

This was the last of three really good albums from the group that stand up as examples of their best work and of the afore-mentioned sub-genre in general. It was, at thirty-one minutes, very short, though.

Ain’t We Funkin’ Now is, unsurprisingly, a charged-up, brassy serving of funk that features some brief individual instrument soloing near the end. Unusually, the tempo immediately drops for the saxophone-backed smoocher, So Won’t You Stay. The smooth funk returns, however, with the slick “get up offa that stuff” groove of Blam!!. It has a few hints of subsequent Talking Heads funk-influenced material about its vocal at the end, too.

Rocket Countdown-Blast Off leads into the lively funk pop of Ride-O-Rocket. The mainly instrumental Mista’ Cool has a nice, rubbery bass sound and some quirky keyboard sounds. It’s You Girl is relaxing, chilled-out soul funk and Streetwave ends proceedings with another instrumental (albeit a pleasant-enough one)which leads me to feel that they were short of material - there simply isn’t enough on here, or indeed enough of any stand out quality. You are basically looking at three solid funky tracks and the rest has the feel of filler about it. 

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