“Can’t Get Enough … of that Funky Stuff,” sang Kool & the Gang in one of their hits from the early 1970s. During that marvelous era, Kool and the Gang was one of the finest purveyors of funky soul music in the business, and their fans could NOT get enough of their lively, addictive tunes. In addition to “Funky Stuff,” the band also scored big hits in 1973 with “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging”. The songs on early albums like Wild and Peaceful and Spirit of the Boogie were indeed quite funky, but were also infused with lots of delicious instrumental jazz grooves, a product of the band’s 60s jazz roots. After their sizzling stretch of hits in the early to mid 70s, Kool & the Gang cooled off considerably in the following years and were at a musical crossroads by the end of the decade.
In 1979 the band added a new singer, James “J.T.” Taylor (the extra initials added no doubt so there was no confusion with the singer of “Fire and Rain” fame), picked Emuir Deodato to produce their next two albums, and revived their career with the monster hits “Celebration” and “Ladies Night.” But that was only the start of another long chart run for Kool & the Gang. Throughout most of the 80s their hit streak continued with songs like “Take my Heart,” “Joanna,” “Misled,” “Cherish,” and “Fresh.” Unfortunately, those 80s hits lacked the old funky magic and free-form spirit of the group’s early material and left many longtime fans disappointed with the new direction.
When I was in Kuala Lumpur last month I found a copy of Kool & the Gang’s Light of Worlds at the Rock Corner branch in the Mid Valley Megamall. This was a studio album the band released in 1974. It didn’t yield any huge Top Forty hits at the time, but was nonetheless an excellent collection of songs, perhaps the band’s finest overall album. The instrumental “Summer Madness” was one of those evocative pieces that still can conjure up all sorts of magical memories. Another tune, “Fruit Man,” brings a smile to my face every time I hear it, reminding me of those friendly fruit vendors that ply the streets of Bangkok. I don’t know how I missed out on this album the first time around, but I’m extremely pleased to have finally discovered it, albeit a few decades late.
There are many Kool & the Gang compilations still in print, but the downside to the comprehensive packages is the fact that they usually include both the early and later period tunes, spread out over one or two discs. My favorite collection is The Best Of Kool and the Gang: 1969-1976. As the title indicates, this is the pre-JT period when the band was at their funky best. Indispensible funky stuff.