The Sound of Solar records was a Los Angeles based company co-founded by Dick Griffey and Leon Sylvers (more of the latter in a future review) that came about during the end of the disco era, combining elements of that genre with soulful collective harmonies. In the case of Dayton, Ohio, band Lakeside, however, that groove had a tougher funk-tinged edge and it is their sound between 1978 and 1980 that is the focus of this mini retrospective of the band’s output over a three year period. The group were founded back in 1968 and were called the Ohio Lakeside Express which was quite a mouthful. That name was truncated to Lakeside Express when they signed to Motown in 1975. Unfortunately for the band, they were signed at the same time as the Dynamic Superiors who comfortably fitted into the expanded Motown sound of the 1970s and Motown simply did not know what to do with the Ohio band. Thankfully, Solar records did and the name was reduced further to simply Lakeside. They debuted with ‘All The Way Live’ (1978) and it was the heavy funk bass line meets space invaders sounds, couple with chanted harmonies that first attracted attention, and on the title track this resulted in an immediate impact, the single climbing all the way into the top five of the R&B chart. That said, the band were fully capable of a more soulful output and, ‘Hold On Tight’, is a lovely mid-tempo number that borrows from the Earth, Wind and Fire sound prevalent at the time. Groups such as the Ohio Players were adaptable to dance and ballad numbers and this made eminent sense when they were performing live, even if funk fans wanted only the grittier songs. Close vocal harmonies are also a feature of ‘One Minute After Midnight’, which acted as a first statement of intent from a self-contained group that did not really conform to what became known as the Solar sound. That the group were listening carefully across the R & B spectrum is indicated further in the ballad, ‘Give In To Love’, which to these ears owes a large debt to Barry White.
Less immediate than its predecessor, ‘Rough rider’ (1979), was in retrospect too hastily recorded to follow up on the success of, ‘All the way live’, and there was no obvious contender for a chart entry. At least one number had a dose of the funk about it, though, hinting at Rick James, and, ‘Pull my strings’, became a second top ten R&B hit for Lakeside. A final recording on this selection, ‘Fantastic Voyage’ (1980) pulled together the soulfulness of the first album and still managed to come up with an uptempo funk number in the title track. The single went straight to the number one spot in the R&B chart, while the album crossed over into the top twenty of the Billboard pop chart and it could easily feature on any best of funk cuts from the 1970s or 1980s, with a highly distinctive bass line growl that caught on with pop fans. As a whole, this is the strongest album for dance material, even if nothing matches ‘Fantastic Voyage’ itself, and the soul ballads are still up to par with ‘I Need You’ and ‘I Love Everything You Do’, the pick of the bunch. Historical notes on the band come courtesy of the pen of Christian John Wikane and there is a plethora of bonus 7″ cuts of the singles, with the 12″ funk tracks being the album ones. Lakeside followed in the tradition of other like-minded groups such as Cameo, Con Funk Shun and even The Gap Band, though it would be the former and the latter that would enjoy the biggest success with a pop audience, especially in the UK.