Kool and the Gang ‘In the Heart’ (BBR) 3/5

kool-and-the-gangThere are two distinctive periods in the history of funk and pop-soul band, Kool and the Gang. The first from the early to mid-1970s captured the extended band as a largely instrumental outfit that fused jazz and funk rhythms and in the process earned a cult reputation with ‘Funky Stuff’,’Hollywood Swinging’, Jungle Boogie ‘ and Open Sesame’ all fine examples of classic jazz-funk that stands the test of time. The second incarnation of the band from 1979 through to the mid-late 1980s was a very different one that witnessed unprecedented chart success with the addition of a new lead vocalist, J.R. Taylor, from the ‘Ladies Night’ album onwards that spawned a major disco hit in the title track, and it is this second version of the band that is the focus of this new re-issue that supplements the original album with bonus single versions. By the time of this album’s original release in 1983 Kool and the Gang had pretty much lost the funk connection and were more of a smooth R & B/pop band, but within that idiom they excelled and scored a number two UK and US pop hit in ‘Joanna’ that went to number one in the R & B charts across the pond and was similar in message and approach to the earlier ‘Too Hot’. The formula was repeated with an additional non album 45 included here ‘When you say you love somebody) In the heart’ and the rest of the album is in a similar relaxed and melodic vein. Of note is the in-house production which took over once Eumir Deodato had departed after several successful albums produced under his name. Countless television appearance on light entertainment shows and Top of the Pops ensured that the group would remain in the public eye. That may have lost them some street cred, but the money kept on rolling in.

In 1985 ‘Cherish’ would complete the trio of ballad hits for the band that hit the higher echelons of the UK pop charts before J.T. Taylor departed in 1988. Virtually a decade of pop/R & B hits are the enduring legacy of Kool and the Gang. In recent years, especially at festivals, Kool and the Gang have returned to some of the old chestnuts from their first period and these have been extremely gratefully received by both an older generation that heard them first time round and a newer generation that now see them in the historical lineage of classic funk bands.

Tim Stenhouse