Monday, August 02, 2010

8/2/10 - Songs of the Summer, #37-38: "Shake Your Booty" and "The Best Of My Love"

The Master List

Top Song of 1976: "Shake Your Booty" by KC and the Sunshine Band

Disco, for all of the perceived faults, hits a particular kind of transcendence when it's done well, best summarized by the Funkadelic slogan/album title/life philosophy of "one nation under a groove."

No one embodies this more than KC and the Sunshine Band, who managed to write songs that will play at roller rinks and bowling alleys and in "wacky" movie previews from now until the end of time. "Shake Your Booty" is like a guided disco missile aimed right at the pleasure center. Each couplet it simple and catchy, and the chorus is both a titanic hook and a directive to do exactly what the music makes the rhythmically inclined listener want to do. The rhythm section is locked in to the point that it almost sounds mechanical. By the end of the song, when KC is intoning "Shake, shake" over the endlessly repeating horn riffs, the song reaches a kind of incantatory power, becoming more of a mantra or chant than a song. It's like dance as transcendence, with KC and the Sunshine Band serving as the guiders of the meditation.

Lyrically, there's not much there to speak of, in fact, the song is saying about as much as "Do The Hustle" with more words. Listening to disco now makes me think of house music, where the song itself matters far less than locking into a particular kind of groove. It may in fact have hurt disco as a musical form to have to shoehorn itself into the pop song format; in three minutes or so, it's hard to reach the state of dancefloor ecstasy that KC and the Sunshine Band are reaching for.

At the same time, the band has to be recognized for putting out three of the most enduring songs of the disco explosion. Between "Get Down Tonight", "Shake Your Booty", and "That's the Way I Like It", you've got a holy trinity of songs that can (and sometimes do) function as shorthand for an entire musical movement. The only other band I can think of that serves as such quick sonic shorthand for a musical era is the Cars, who similarly provide an easy template for new wave rock with "Just What I Needed" and "My Best Friend's Girl". Even those, though, pale in cultural ubiquity next to the disco triforce of KC and the Sunshine Band's nigh-interchangeable massive hits.

Top Song of 1977: "The Best of My Love" by the Emotions

This song, to me, is more interesting musically than "Shake Your Booty", even if "Shake Your Booty" fascinates me more as signifier of a cultural phenomenon. The difference between the two songs is that "The Best Of My Love" fits much better into the framework of the three minute pop single. Unlike "Shake Your Booty", "The Best of My Love" has peaks and valleys, with lead singer Sheila Hutchinson winding her way through the horns and bouncing disco bass on the verses and then rising up into the top of her range as she gets near the chorus, the back-up singers rising to join her.

The backing vocals are reminiscent of doo-wop, as they "doo-doo-doo" their way to the climactic three part wordless peak of the song, where the instruments drop out and the vocals climb and climb to the top. That peak is the key to the song, and what makes it more of a pop song in the classic sense than the KC and the Sunshine band hits. The rest of the song is all building up to that moment, and once it happens the rest of the song is winding down. The song has plenty of funk, without a doubt, but never hits the hypnotic repetitive groove that "Shake Your Booty" does.

Both of these songs bring us back to the realm of the great chorus. After the mostly-instrumental "Do The Hustle" and the wispy Smokey Robinson refrain of "Rock Me Baby", both of these songs have clear, bright choruses that lodge in head and don't leave. If you want #1 in the summertime, it's as close to an ironclad prerequisite as you can get by this point.

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