Sunday, December 25, 2011

December 25: Earth, Wind And Fire, "Shining Star"

Artist: Earth, Wind And Fire
Song: "Shining Star"
Album: That's The Way Of The World
Year: 1975

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Though it makes very little sense, the reality remains that when compared to other styles of music, the genre of funk rarely receives the credit it deserves on many levels.  Whether it is due to the unique arrangements and theories behind the style, or the fact that it influenced nearly every type of music form disco to hip-hop to heavy metal, those who deployed the funk sound the best stand as some of the most important figures in all of music history.  While there is no question that the finest songs from the "best" years of funk remain some of the most memorable in history, the names of the bands that created these amazing recordings seem to be overlooked more than any other style of music.  Standing high atop the list in terms of talent, impact, and overall importance within music, there are few groups that out-perform the mighty Earth, Wind And Fire, and their blending of r&b, funk, blues, and dance music is unlike anything else ever recorded.  It is the fact that within this massive musical mixture, the band is able to create a pop appeal that is completely unique which makes their songs so fantastic, and they were rarely in better form than on their 1975 album, That's The Way Of The World.  Filled with a number of the groups' finest recordings, there are few songs in history that are as unforgettable as Earth, Wind And Fire's magnificent 1975 song, "Shining Star."

As "Shining Star" begins, one can make the case that the song sounds like anything but the "traditional" notion of funk, as the almost country-style guitar riff seems to give a nod to the earliest days of the rock and roll sound.  It is the way that this progression smashes into a massive horn sound which sets the song into motion, and the fact that this works so well is a testament to the exceptional level of talent found within Earth, Wind And Fire.  Using the horns as a fantastic point of punctuation, "Shining Star" quickly becomes one of the finest and most upbeat grooves ever recorded, and the way that the brass plays a counterpoint to the guitar from Al McKay and Johnny Graham would become the blueprint for countless bands that followed.  It is the way that the two guitars intertwine with one another, almost giving a ska-style tone at times, which separates the Earth, Wind And Fire "brand" of funk apart from their peers.  There is also an unmistakable tone to the bass of Verdine White, and as is the reality with most funk songs, it is in his performance where much of the groove resides.  Yet it is the fact that "Shining Star" has so much going on musically that makes it such a special moment in music history, and after hearing this song, the way that the funk style would give way to the sounds of disco becomes completely clear.

Working perfectly with the overall mood and unspoken sentiments of the music, the vocals throughout "Shining Star" are nothing short of superb.  The lead vocals from Verdine and Maurice White capture the energy of the song, as they get a bit gritty at times, and yet the amount of positive feeling that flows from their singing cannot be ignored, and manages to completely captivate the listener ever after hearing the song countless times.  Beyond their fantastic lead work, when the entire group joins in for the harmonies on the bridge and chorus sections, "Shining Star" is somehow vaulted to an even higher level, and yet it is the fact that throughout all of the singing, the overall feeling remains so smooth, which marks the sound of Earth, Wind And Fire as a completely unique approach to the funk style.  However, the song separates itself from much of the rest of the bands' catalog in the way that the lyrics are presented, as well as the content therein.  Though the subject of striving to achieve your dreams has been approached countless times over the long history of recorded music, it is the unwavering sense of power and self-pride that comes forth on "Shining Star" which places it beyond most other songs on this theme.  In many ways, the song stands as the most irresistible musical affirmation of all time, and one cannot help but sing along with the extraordinary vocal performances found throughout the song.

Along with these unrivaled musical and vocal performances, "Shining Star" also over-achieved in terms of both sales and international impact, becoming one of the biggest selling singles of 1975.  In fact, the song did so well in the commercial sense, along with being an exceptional musical accomplishment, that it was given the Grammy Award for "Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals" for that year.  Yet even without such accolades, one can easily argue that the song would have become a part of many aspects of culture, simply due to the tone and talent with which every element of the song is deployed.  As the decades have passed, "Shining Star" has been used in a number of films and television shows, along with being covered by everyone from heavy metal acts to classical jazz musicians.  This latter fact shows the wide-ranging impact that the song had in terms of musical creation, and this is further supported by just how much of both disco and hip-hop one can hear within the music.  In many ways, one can see "Shining Star" as Earth, Wind And Fire taking the standard form of funk music to that point, and showing just how it could exist within the current and future world of music.  To this day, there are few songs that can compare to the amazing musical arrangement or unparalleled level of energy, and it is much the reason that Earth, Wind And Fire's 1975 single, "Shining Star" remains in a class all its own.

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