KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – EARTH, WIND & FIRE “ALL ‘N ALL”

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.

 

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31 comments on “Forty Year Friday – EARTH, WIND & FIRE “ALL ‘N ALL”

  1. Pingback: Forty Year Friday – EARTH, WIND & FIRE “ALL ‘N ALL” — KamerTunesBlog | your tuesday afternoon alternative

  2. Nice piece about a superb band. Interviewed in Paul Zollo’s ‘More Songwriters On Songwriters’ just before he died, Maurice White said that ‘Love’s Holiday’ was his second favourite EW&F composition (after ‘That’s The Way Of The World’).

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    • Thanks, Matt. That’s interesting to hear which songs Maurice picked as his EW&F favorites. They are two great ballads & among my favorites, but some of their funkier songs are just as great.

      Like

  3. Alyson
    April 8, 2017

    I just loved EW&F as they produced such feel-good music that was also good to dance to much of the time. Great ballads from them as well. I have written about them twice over at my place, once when Maurice White died and another time when the date was the 21st of Sept (for obvious reasons).

    Didn’t have this album but did have the next one, I Am. Know Fantasy well of course but not so much the other tracks featured here. Only discovered after he died that Maurice pretty much was EW&F as he wrote the songs, sang the songs, produced the songs etc.

    Loved the Egyptian themed album covers by Shusei Nagaoka. Maurice was a very spiritual person by the sound of it and even named the band after the elemental qualities of his star sign.

    Yes this is a great review as ever from you and it’s another thumbs up from me. It’s taken me while to click but when you started this series I took it to be that these were albums you had bought in 1977 and I was jealous that your pocket-money had obviously been a lot more generous than mine. I have now realised that they are probably albums you have bought over the years and these just happen to be the ones from that year. As for me it’s pretty much all digitalised nowadays so concentrate more on individual songs. Can see how you needed a music room with all these albums to store!

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    • Hooray, Alyson & I have another one in common. I agree that EW&F made a whole lot of feel-good music, which is maybe why they don’t get the accolades that they deserve. Their blend of all the genres I mentioned with Maurice’s spirituality made them so unique. I think his death was overshadowed by some bigger names but he was every bit the equal of the other musicians who died too soon.

      I turned 11 in 1977 so I didn’t have the kind of pocket money you mentioned for album purchases or anything else. I only owned a handful of the albums that appear in this series (unlike last year’s series on the music of ’86, more than half of which I owned at the time), but I discovered all of these incredible ’77 releases over the course of the last four decades. This is such a fun project for me. I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I will look up your EW&F posts when time permits. Thanks for letting me know about them.

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      • Alyson
        April 8, 2017

        It’s sad isn’t it that producing feel-good music rules you out of the accolades business. Oh well, it was still pretty big news even over here when he died but it came straight after so many others so the story became that phenomenon rather than his death maybe. I see you also mentioned I Am below – when I said I “did” have that album of course I meant to say I still have it and as I bought myself a new turntable last year for occasional use I will have to give it a spin again. (Just listened to In The Stone online just now and took me right back – revisiting these songs in later life means you get just so much more out of them.)

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      • That’s a great point about how Maurice White’s death became more about the phenomenon of celebrity deaths in 2016 than about the loss of a musical (I don’t use this term lightly) genius. It didn’t help that it happened just a few weeks after Bowie died.

        As for your last statement about getting so much more out of songs when you revisit them later in life…I couldn’t agree more.

        I hope your week is off to a great start.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I forgot to mention how much I love their next album, I Am, which has what might be my favorite EW&F song: “In The Stone.” Thanks for mentioning that one.

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  4. kevin
    April 8, 2017

    Can’t say I’m a fan. However, I believe “Shining Star” is one of my favorite all-time songs, “September” is pretty great and their Beatles cover might be my favorite of all the millions of Beatles covers. None of which are on this album. 🙂

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    • Kevin, it sounds like you’re well on your way to being an EW&F fan. Since you like those songs I know there are plenty of others you would enjoy just as much. I highly recommend picking up at lease one of their compilations, even if you never get the individual albums. I agree that their version of “Got To Get You Into My Life” is one of the best Beatles covers, if not THE best. They certainly made it their own.

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  5. Phillip Helbig
    April 19, 2017

    Inspiration for Maiden’s Powerslave? 🙂

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    • Quite possibly. Certainly the artwork.

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      • Phillip Helbig
        April 20, 2017

        Probably only the artwork.

        The new Maiden album has a song (a tribute to Robin Williams) called “Tears of a Clown”. Some familiar with Motown at first thought it might be a cover of “The Tears of a Clown” (note the definite article) by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Now that would have been interesting. (Will be seeing Maiden a week from Saturday!)

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      • I didn’t realize that Maiden’s “Tears Of A Clown” was about Robin Williams. That’s interesting. I know they’ve recorded a lot of covers throughout their career but I just can’t imagine them tackling that Smokey Robinson tune (or any Motown, soul or blues).

        Where is the Maiden show that you’ll be attending?

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      • Phillip Helbig
        April 21, 2017

        ” I know they’ve recorded a lot of covers throughout their career but I just can’t imagine them tackling that Smokey Robinson tune (or any Motown, soul or blues).”

        Connecting to another recent thread, they have of course covered Tull.

        “Where is the Maiden show that you’ll be attending?”

        Frankfurt am Main, which is just a few miles from where I live. Originally one show was planned, but they added a second (which I am attending) a day later. Both are sold out, of course.

        Opening act is an American group called Shinedown. Ever heard of them?

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      • Which Tull song(s) did they cover? I seem to remember hearing a version of “Crosseyed Mary” but maybe I’m mistaken. Any others?

        I’ve heard the name Shinedown but know nothing about them. I imagine that opening for Maiden is a thankless task. No matter how good you are, you’ll be followed by nearly 4 decades of classics with an amazing stage show.

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      • Phillip Helbig
        April 24, 2017

        I’m aware of only “Cross-Eyed Mary”.

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      • Okay, at least my memory is still here. That’s a great Tull song and, as I recall, Maiden did a fine version of it.

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      • Phillip Helbig
        May 1, 2017

        “Where is the Maiden show that you’ll be attending?”

        Great show. 11 songs before the encore, 6 of those from the new album. 3 songs for the encore. Almost 2 hours.

        The other 5 songs were of course classics, but the new songs are at least as good, and well received by the audience. Not many bands can do that. Maiden aren’t my favourite band, but I maintain that no band has been consistently good for such a long time. The newest album, the 16th studio album, is up there with the best of their other albums.

        They will be flying Ed Force One (a 747 piloted by Bruce Dickinson) to the States soon. Try to catch them!

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      • Sounds like a great show, Phillip. So glad they’re still delivering the goods (oops, wrong metal band). Due to scheduling & financial restrictions I won’t be able to see Maiden on this tour, but I did see them a couple of times after Bruce rejoined the band (was that ’99 or ’00?). I had only gotten into them a couple of years earlier so his return was perfect timing for me. Saw them in a theater the first time (great show but WAY too loud…the sounds was distorted and I couldn’t always hear Bruce’s voice clearly) and then a year later at Madison Square Garden. I think that was the Brave New World tour. I’ve also seen a few of their live DVDs so I feel like I’ve seen them more than I have.

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      • Phillip Helbig
        May 2, 2017

        “WAY too loud”

        Yes, it was too loud on Saturday. But this is true of almost all rock concerts. Notable exceptions: The Australian Pink Floyd Show and John Mayall. I really don’t see the point of playing so loudly that even the headbangers are wearing earplugs.

        Before the show, I had bought some of these foamy earplugs. (At a Who concert, the woman next to me, seeing me stuffing toilet paper into my ears and probably feeling sorry for me, pulled out a box of these and offered me a couple, as if they were Fisherman’s Friend mints or something.) My wife and I put them in (even out in the hallway while the opening act were playing), but after the third song replaced them with toilet paper. Toilet paper doesn’t fall out as easily and distorts the sound much less. It is also easy to adjust the volume by using more or less and/or stuffing it tightly or lightly.

        By the way: 12 songs before the encore, not 11. In all 15: 6 from the new album, one each from 7 other albums, and two from one album (The Number of the Beast). 7 albums not represented at all. 3 of these are the three previous albums, which have been featured heavily in the last few years. 2 were the two with Blaze Bayley instead of Bruce on vocals. The other two were No Prayer for the Dying (generally regarded as part of their rather weak AC/DC phase, though I think it is not that bad) and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (an album from their “progressive phase”, though the new album is also quite progressive—although I’m a fan of progressive rock, I don’t rate these albums that highly in the canon, though I was happy that they played “Wasted Years” from the other progressive album, Somewhere in Time).

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      • Sounds like an unsurprisingly great Maiden show, and I’m glad you worked out the earplug situation so you could enjoy it as much as possible. I’ve used those foam earplugs for band rehearsals since the sound in studios can be deafening, but it muffles all the high end and pretty much ruins the act of listening to music. That’s why I never use them at shows, but part of that is because I don’t go to many concerts anymore. I know they make high-end earplugs that are custom designed by audiologists, and they’re supposed to keep the harmful sounds out while not muffling the sound. A few friends of mine rave about them. Probably better (and less noticeable) than toilet paper, but a bit more expensive.

        Like

  6. alehouseaggie
    April 21, 2017

    Nice review!!! I just happened to come across your site. I love Earth, Wind, & Fire. I love Let’s Groove And September!

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    • Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words about this post. It’s always nice to find another EW&F fan. Those are two great songs, and they only scratch the surface of what the band can do.

      Liked by 1 person

      • alehouseaggie
        April 21, 2017

        Yeah, I love them. It is such a shame that Maurice White died too. Ugh!

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      • I think his death was overshadowed by Bowie’s less than a month earlier. Maurice White was a musical genius (and I don’t use that word lightly) and his loss was a huge one.

        Liked by 1 person

      • alehouseaggie
        April 21, 2017

        Do you know he wrote an autobiography? I think they quickly put it out there after he passed. It would make for interesting reading.

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      • I did see that he wrote an autobiography. I wish I had more (well any) reading time because that would be enjoyable. Perhaps one day I’ll get to it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • alehouseaggie
        April 21, 2017

        If I read it I will review it on my blog!

        Like

      • I hope you do read it and I will definitely read your blog post about it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • alehouseaggie
        April 24, 2017

        Sounds great

        Like

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