Thursday, July 29, 2021

Puts me in my world

A stack of 45s landed mysteriously in my family's suburban basement sometime during my childhood. Likely they were a pre-packaged gift my parents bought on a whim at, say, Korvettes, or perhaps one or three of them came into our possession via neighbor kids. All I knew was these singles arrived as a kind of sonic miracle, and were a blast to jam and to dance around to, and it turned out they were my gateway drug into a lifelong love affair with music. A decade or so ago my younger brother Paul burned a handful of them onto a CD-r as a gift for the family; our childhood party included Ted Taylor's "Honey Lou," Little Milton's "If Walls Could Talk," Ohio Express' "Roll It Up," Joe Tex's "Wicked Woman," Vik Venus's "Everybody's On Strike," Deodato's "Also Sprach Zarathustra"—what a bill! Among the particularly irresistible tunes were Charles Spurling's "Popcorn Charlie" and Jean Knight's "You Think You're Hot Stuff," yet the flip side to Knight's was the number that really got my and my brother's attention. With its humor, sublimely funky bass line, winking, knowing background singers, and wickedly catchy chorus, "Don't Talk About Jody" was pure catnip, sending us around the basement dancing and laughing. Now I can attach names to the musicians who delighted us, who played a tight arrangement so loosely: Jerry Puckett supplied the infectious funky guitar riff; William Laverne Robbins played bass; drummer James Carey Stroud held everything down with cool aplomb. The song was cut at Malaco Studios in Jackson, Mississippi, and Wardell Quezergue arranged and produced. These names and places mean a lot to me now.

Of course what I was too young to get beyond an understanding of who made these cools sounds was the singer's sexy confidence, her proud, dug-in defense of her man, the one "we girls know can satisfy," whose goodness, fidelity, and dependability—his dimensional, lasting sex appeal—put flashier guys to shame. And yet, somehow, much of that joy, swagger, and confidence came though to me anyway, years before the words, and my own maturity, caught up to the groove. Before my perspective widened enough to understand the playfully aggressive sexual politics at work in the song, its movement, catchiness, and joie de vivre were already saying a lot to me—I just didn't have the language to translate it into anything other than joyful movement. And I didn't need to. My kid perspective isn't cringy now when I listen to the song, and love it evermore, as is sometimes the case when you take stock of the naiveté and innocence of your childhood take on things—rather, it adds layers to the song, still. How does music do this?

I recently found "Mr. Hot Stuff," on which "Don't Talk About Jody" appeared, released on Stax in 1971, and now can listen to and truly embrace the breadth of Knight's gifts, from her fun and funny funk to her dead-earnest and powerful ballads; "A Little Bit Of Something (Is Better than Al Of Nothing)"—wow. Because we had the 45, we never saw the album—but I bet we would've had a hell of a rollicking response to the original, fabulous cover, too!

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