Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Artist: EARTH, WIND & FIRE
Album: ALL ‘N ALL
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
The funk/soul/R&B/pop collective known as Earth, Wind & Fire were on an incredible creative & commercial winning streak when they released their 8th studio album, All ‘N All, at the end of 1977. With five consecutive platinum & multi-platinum releases, four of which topped the R&B album chart (and nearly repeated that feat on the Pop album chart), and more than a dozen Top 40 singles under their belts, they were one of the world’s most popular artists in any genre. I previously explained in Part 1 of the brief series on My Gateway Compilations that I didn’t discover EW&F until I was in my early 20s, via their superb primer The Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1, but I quickly made up for lost time. The band was led by visionary singer/songwriter/producer Maurice White and the other-worldly falsetto vocals of Phillip Bailey, with incredible performances by Maurice’s brother Verdine White on bass, synth & keyboard player Larry Dunn, guitarist Al McKay and drummer Ralph Johnson. I’ve mentioned here many times how much I love a good horn section, and The Phenix Horns were the cream of the crop, equaled in popular music only by a handful of other groups like Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears and Tower Of Power. They did more than just embellish the songs; they added flavor & texture to upbeat funk, tender ballads and everything in between. Although only one song here appeared on the aforementioned Best Of album, the majority of this record stands up to their most popular material.
The biggest hit single was opening track “Serpentine Fire,” which soared to the top of the R&B chart and also reached the Pop Top 20. It’s an immensely funky dance tune with horns blazing, lots of percussion & Bailey’s voice leading the way. I was surprised to discover that one of their best-known songs, “Fantasy,” didn’t have quite the same chart success, but in the long run it’s probably become the more popular single from this album. With that subtly propulsive groove, White’s lyrics inspired by the sci-fi film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (“Take a ride in the sky, on our ship Fantasii, all your dreams will come true right away”) and Bailey’s voice scaling the heavens through the outro, it’s a definitive EW&F performance. Three incredible ballads showcase their subtlety & musical diversity. White co-wrote & sang lead on “Love’s Holiday” and album closer “Be Ever Wonderful.” The former finds him seducing his lover as he informs her that “love has found its way in my heart tonight,” while the latter is a more universal declaration to “be ever wonderful in your own sweet way.” The arrangements for both songs are silky smooth and every bit as exciting as their more uptempo counterparts. Bailey’s “I’ll Write A Song For You” is a tender love song with a sparse backdrop allowing his voice to take center stage, especially those vocal acrobatics in the final 90 seconds. “Jupiter” is simply down-and-dirty funk with a fast-and-furious horn chart, recalling their earlier hits “Mighty Mighty” and “Getaway.” The groovy “Magic Mind” would be the best song by most other bands but here it’s merely a great album track. The same can be said for the jazzy, Latin-tinged “Runnin’,” whose rhythm track surely inspired a pre-Off The Wall Michael Jackson. All ‘N All is rounded out by three brief interludes with running times between 40 & 80 seconds. My favorite of these is “Brazilian Rhyme (Beijo),” which moves from simple finger snaps to a more fleshed out rhythm track with wordless vocals throughout. There are plenty of thorough career-spanning anthologies of Earth, Wind & Fire’s music on the market that give casual fans a good idea of the vast scope of their music, but for anyone wanting to venture deeper into their discography this is an excellent entry point…although you can’t go wrong with anything they released between 1973 & 1983. They created a sound that was uniquely theirs, and none of these records have aged a day.