In this ΔY Funk Collection I chose a batch of influential early 70s soul records. These records are often characterized by powerful voices delivering profound messages. But although the lyrics can be deep, the songs themselves are easy for the ears. This music is what I call “cooking music”, it really sets an easy atmosphere.
William De Vaughn – Be Thankful For What You Got (1974)
The first track is by William De Vaughn, not by Curtis Mayfield, as people on the internet often mistakenly assume. As the title suggests, it tells us to appreciate what we got and where we come from. William wrote the track in 1972, when he was still a part-time singer. He gave it ‘A Cadillac Don’t Come Easy’ as working title, but updated it later to ‘Be Thankful For What You Got’. The record went on to be a world hit, and sold nearly two million copies on its release in spring 1974.
The track was sampled and covered loads of times, most notably by Massive Attack, known for the hit singles ‘Teardrop‘ and ‘Unfinished Sympathy‘. The line “with a sunroof top and a gangsta lean” got referenced a lot in old, but also contemporary hip hop singles.
Gil Scott-Heron – The Bottle (1974)
This song by Gil Scott-Heron serves as a social commentary on alcohol abuse, talking about the various effects of “The Bottle“.
The song was issued as the first and only single for Gil Scott-Heron’s and Brian Jackson’s album Winter in America (1974). It became an underground and cult hit upon its release. Similar to other works by Scott-Heron, this song has been sampled extensively by hip hop artists. It also has been covered under the name ‘La Botellita‘ by Joe Bataan, a Filipino-African American Latin soul musician from NYC. Bataan replaced the flute solos by Brian Jackson with a saxophone and gave it a more danceable beat to appeal to a Latino crowd. Both the original and this version were big influences in the early disco scene.
Donny Hathaway – The Ghetto (1970)
Donny Hathaway scored a modest hit with the track ‘The Ghetto‘ on his debut album ‘Everything is Everything‘ released on Atlantic Records. The track is mostly instrumental and has a very jazzy sound to it. In contrast to the other soul songs on here, the lyrics are very slim and non-profound. Hathaway basically just chants the phrase “The ghetto, talkin’ ’bout the ghetto” a lot. But what the track misses in profoundness in lyrics, it definitely makes up for in buildup and song texture.
Hathaway went on to score many hits and he got the chance to do many collaborations with great artists like Roberta Flack. In 1973, he won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Nonetheless, the successful story of Hathaway didn’t have a happy ending. At the height of his career, Hathaway was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was known to not take his prescribed medication regularly enough to properly control his symptoms. In 1979, nine years after his debut album, Hathaway committed suicide due to his illness.
Leon Haywood – I Want a Do Something Freaky To You (1975)
Leon Haywood was an American funk and soul singer, songwriter and record producer. ‘I Want a Do Something Freaky To You‘ was his biggest hit. Hip hop heads might link the beginning of the track to the sample used in ‘Nuthin‘ But a G-Thang‘ on the classic Dr. Dre album ‘The Chronic‘.
Leon Haywood has had a quite long career, starting out as a keyboard player for Sam Cooke in the sixties until his death and evolving to a vocalist after that. Haywood did not have much success in selling music at that time, but tracks like ‘Baby Reconsider‘ became some of the first top sounds on the still very much underground Northern US soul scene in the early 70s. During the 70s, he emerged as a star in that same geography by modifying his style to incorporate the emerging funk and disco idioms. Leon Haywood also reached the overseas charts, but there he was considered to be more of a one-hit wonder. Haywood kept making music for the rest of his days and he past away just recently in 2016. Rest in peace, Leon.