Teenagers Robert and Ronald Bell formed their first act with high-school friends, playing local jazz clubs in the Jersey City area as the Jazziacs. Already accomplished funkateers in 1964 they became one of the first acts to sign to Gene Redd’s De-Lite Records label in 1968 having now become Kool and the Gang officially. They moved to New York and recorded their debut with Redd helming, establishing a blueprint of classy soul jazz funk with pop licks and plenty of brass and rhythm. Their self-titled single ”Kool and the Gang" made inroads into the R&B and Pop charts and so they arrived in style.
Live at the Sex Machine (1971) was quite a revolutionary sound. Hard core funk items like “Pneumonia” and “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?” hit all the right urban R&B buttons. The track “Funky Man” was sampled by The Prodigy much later on “Smack My Bitch Up” but then K and the G have provided a generous amount of no-brainer samples for golden era Hip Hop artists.
Still mixing originals with classic pop and soul material Live at PJ’s Hollywood saw them returning to jazzier roots with a version of Charles Lloyd’s “Sombrero Sam” while mixing their own grooves to Isaac Hayes’ “Ike’s Mood” and the wall of sound Spector classic “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” which they treated to an almighty funk work out.
1972’s Music Is the Message saw a change of direction as the band concentrated on mostly brand new compositions with the outstanding "Love the Life You Live Part 1 and 2)” and “Soul Vibrations” moving them to the forefront of emerging disco.
The first breakthrough is Good Times, a #34 smash. Now they were set for the big time and Wild and Peaceful is a place where anyone with an interest in pure funk could start their discovery. It contains “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging”, massive hits that made Kool a household name. Now producing themselves they made the experimental Light of Worlds album in 1974, incorporating synths, Vibraphone, Mellotron, Kalimba and superb backing vocalists. The key track “Summer Madness” has been used in movies (Rocky) and sampled a-plenty (Gang Starr, Boyz 11 Men, Erykah Badu and Mad Skillz have made best use of the signature licks). Also check “Higher Plane” and “Rhyme Tyme People” both are definite precursors of Hip Hop and still deserve maximum respect for their innovative productions.
Spirit of the Boogie allowed for greater improvisation and took a few left-field turns that wowed the writers in 1975 although it was Love & Understanding (partly recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London) that cemented their European appeal. Open Sesame and The Force didn’t find so much favour, though both are excellent recordings, slick and spacey. Everybody’s Dancin’ was a similar sleeper but is now seen as the calm before the storm of Ladies' Night where disco comes to town and blows everyone away. Every cut here was a hit with the title track, “Too Hot” and “Hangin’ Out” being the main charm. Ladies' Night was a clever piece of business too because the Bell brothers honed their sound towards an area where black funk freaks and white disco kids could meet and share floor space. This is a classic. Simply put: discover!
With huge sales racking up by the turn of the decade 1980’s Celebrate! merited that exclamation mark. With Deodato providing early programming, orchestration and production Kool made another quantum leap into post-disco, hammering out razor sharp R&B pieces like “Night People” and “Take It to the Top”. The #1 hit “Celebration” is a timeless classic (they have plenty of others) and has achieved the rare distinction of going Platinum as a physical 45rpm single and as a download.
Something Special and As One continued the Deodato connection and gave us brilliant hits: “Steppin’ Out”, “Take My Heart” and the party cut “Get Down on It” perfected urban disco again. There’s a bit more rock to In the Heart and Emergency, both albums that remain hugely popular in the UK thanks to “Joanna”, “Cherish” and “Fresh” - three of the most influential tracks in any self-respecting New Romantic DJ’s box. With “Fresh” entering the street lingua franca as new coinage for “good thing” Kool and the Gang’s reputation soared again.
A switch to Mercury for Forever produced the hit “Stone Love” while Sweat moved them into a synth and dance area. The Gang are back on our turf on Gangland where the Kool players back a cast of rappers. It’s a hip and funky affair of course with three different remixes of “Jungle Boogie”.
The most recent release is available here: Kool for the Holidays is a Christmas offering while Still Kool (2007) goes back to their funk sources and is highly recommended for discovery. Check it with the Bonus Disc extras where you get a fistful of hits for your hard earned. Nice.
The Hits-Reloaded is also a very intriguing release. Kool feature a list of other talents here: Blue, Liberty X, Ashanti, Lisa Stansfield, Jamelia, Jamiroquai, Big Brovaz, Beverley Knight, Blue Cantrell, Sean Paul/Spanner Banner, Youssou N’Dour/Lauryn Hill and Blackstreet. You can’t get more eclectic than that fan club!
Back on the road at time of writing and clutching a Grammy Hall of Fame award for the excellence of “Celebration” Kool are still making news, treading boards and creating great music. Second only to James Brown as source for samples in rap-music they are an extraordinary act that should be never be underestimated. But then if you’re about to stick on “Misled”, “Let’s Go Dancing”, “Fresh” or any of their host of hits you already know what it means to be Kool and the Gang…
Words: Max Bell
Discussing Kool & the Gang in the early '70s, James Brown enthused, "They're the second-baddest out there...They make such bad records that you got to be careful when you play a new tape on the way home from the record store. Their groove is so strong you could wreck." And that really says it all. Kool & the Gang were funk's kings in 1975, and Spirit of the Boogie was the finest album they ever recorded -- the staggering climax of their development thus far. The record-buying public thought so too -- the album gave the band their first Top Five R&B hit. Spirit of the Boogie may have been first and foremost a funk masterpiece, but it was also so much more. From the African art on the foldout sleeve to the spiritual and musical purity of many of the songs, this album not only bound the band's reverence for their roots to a blistering, street-smart funk, but also demonstrated a keen awareness of their own role in their musical odyssey. "Ancestral Ceremony" pays homage by quoting from Kool's earlier songs, while "Jungle Jazz" tracks back to the original pounding jams that imbibed 1973's "Jungle Boogie." The title track, meanwhile, is quintessential Kool & the Gang -- fiery funk which is kept in check by rhythm and chant. It gave the band a springtime number one on the R&B charts -- their third. This is a phenomenal set, a superlative album. And because the grooves are so strong, it's easy to forgive weak moments -- most especially the mawkish "Sunshine and Love." Kool & the Gang were outstanding during this period, before they caught the disco bug. Spirit of the Boogie remains a proud achievement. Words: Amy Hanson
Prior to James "JT" Taylor adding pop flavor vocals, which help garner a handful of top selling albums, this was Kool & the Gang's most successful album, spawning three bonafide R&B hits. Produced by Robert Bell, and featuring Donal Boyce's incredulous vocals, these songs have held up well. The fast, chugging "Jungle Boogie" was a club favorite, while "Funky Stuff," with its "whoa whoa whoa" hook, was slower and spacier than "Jungle Boogie." The band formerly known as the Jazziacs got their first R&B number one with "Hollywood Swinging," a slightly faster than mid-tempo song with whistles, festive ambiance and lead vocals by keyboardist Ricky West. All three hits were inspired by Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa," and were recorded in one night at a studio in midtown Manhattan. The title cut flash backs to their prerecording jazz days, when they dazzled New Jerseyites with their playing skills.
Words: Andrew Hamilton
Although disco was well dead by the end of the 1970s, Kool & the Gang nevertheless unleashed a chart-topping, dance-club rattling monster that proved there was still life on the Excess Express. Celebrate, released in fall 1980, further gelled the exquisite relationship between the band and Brazilian fusion guru Deodato and, with equal nods to fusion, funk, and, yes, disco, the album gave the band a massive hit. Reaching into the Top Ten on both the R&B and pop charts, it furthered the comeback commenced with Ladies Night. But it was Celebrate's first baby, the unstoppable "Celebration," that provided the band a comeback of unparalleled heights. Ronald Bell predicted that the song would "be an international anthem," and he was proved right. Not only did it slam to the top of the U.S. charts, it was quickly adopted as a symbol of freedom -- first to welcome home the hostages released from Iran, then to laud Democrat Walter Mondale's presidential nomination. The downside was that this one song not only grossly overshadowed the album, but also set an unreachable standard for the rest of the set, which lost steam in its wake. Although "Jones Vs. Jones" crept into the charts, it was the thumping bass and drums on "Love Festival" and the disco ghosts of "Night People" which emerged as club favorites in the early part of the decade. And Celebrate itself marked the end of an era for Kool & the Gang, as the band would slip even farther from their funk roots and adopted dance grooves into the realms of smooth soul. But what a way to go! Words: Amy Hanson
Kool & the Gang closed out the 1970s by edging the door shut on their classic sound. Ladies' Night marked the band's initial shift from their dirty funk to a more mainstream pop -- a lighter groove that primed clubbers for dance-'til-you-drop style partying. With the Brazilian fusion musician Eumir Deodato stepping into the production helm with a shared vision of "keep[ing] it simple and basic and clean," Kool & the Gang added a hot new spark to their sound, best illustrated across the title track, which topped the R&B charts for nearly a month. This ideal was also furthered on the downtempo soul of "Too Hot." The former was a jangly, spangly slab of pure dance that quickly became a club favorite, the latter a 180 degree shift that focused instead on vocalist James Taylor's rich timbre, a ballad of lost love where his vocals are smoother than even the sax solo. With the rest of the record falling into step behind these two giants, Ladies' Night kicked off Kool & the Gang's new musical era and, even though it certainly distanced some of their more funk-minded fans, it picked up a faithful army who'd keep the band in the charts for nearly a decade to come.
Words: Amy Hanson
With their long track record, Kool & the Gang have always offered dance-provoking rhythms and Something Special fits that bill, too. Featuring the number one single "Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It)," James "J.T." Taylor approaches the song in a cool, mesmerizing tone, closing out the vamp in his falsetto with a burst of energy while the background vocals chant the subtitle throughout the chorus. Not known to lead a song in falsetto, Taylor further utilizes this talent on the motivated rhythms of the nocturnal scenario of "Steppin' Out." It maintained a steady stride, rising to the number ten spot on the charts. The third single from the album was "Get Down on It." As the title indicates, this is a gritty funk track that worked its way up the charts to claim the number three position, selling more than 500,000 copies. Although there were no more charted singles from this album, the entire collection is deserving of recognition. On a slower note, "Pass It On" and "No Show" received regional airplay. The former encourages people to spread love to all children, and the latter is a sorrowful account of a man left standing in the rain, waiting for the love that never showed. Both singles have similar rhythm arrangements. As for inspirational songs, "Stand Up and Sing" is a moderately paced single with lyrics that are uplifting.
Words: Craig Lytle
Live at P.J.'s, the third Kool & the Gang record (and second live album in a row), betters the previous Live at the Sex Machine with a committed set balancing funky workouts ("Ronnie's Groove") with more exploratory soul-jazz ("Sombrero Sam"), and occasionally trying both on the same track ("N.T."). A night-after-night schedule of concerts all over the country had given Kool & the Gang the chops to become one of the best bands of the '70s, but it also enabled them to construct tight, interesting sets.
Words: John Bush
This album marked the end of Kool & the Gang's 15-year association with De-Lite Records. Impressively, the group charted each of those 15 years, including ten number one singles. Emergency continued that tradition, and was responsible for two of those number one singles. The first release, "Misled," with its crackin' bassline, led the charge; it peaked at number three on the Billboard R&B charts. "Fresh," an invigorating dance single with melodic verses and accented chorus chants, followed and surpassed "Misled," claiming the top spot. Mostly known for their funk and dance songs, the nine-piece band hit on a more tranquil note with "Cherish." With its adult contemporary appeal, the tender-flowing single eased its way to the top of the charts. All three of the aforementioned singles were also Billboard pop Top Ten singles. The final chapter in the group's De-Lite Records catalog came with the release of the title track, "Emergency," a rock-flavored single that crested at number seven on the Billboard R&B charts.
Words: Craig Lytle
Light of Worlds was Kool And The Gang's fifth studio album, first released in 1974, it was later remastered by Polygram. The album was a landmark in the funk/jazz fusion genre of the 1970s and included the hit 'Summer Madness'.
Light of Worlds is the fifth studio album by the American R&B group Kool & the Gang. Released in 1974, it was later remastered by Polygram and was a second success for the band, reaching number 16 in the R&B Charts and number 63 in the Pop Charts. It was a landmark in the funk/jazz fusion genre of the 1970s.
Words: JT Griffith
Following on the heels of their 1975 smash Spirit of the Boogie, Kool & the Gang hit the road to tour the album and record new material. One tumultuous show, at London's Rainbow Theatre, became the core of Love & Understanding. Three live tracks, "Hollywood Swinging," "Summer Madness," and a dreamily mellow "Universal Sound," are all excellent reminders of just how good this band could sound when they found the vibe and had the funk firmly in hand. But as good as this stuff is, there are ominous glimmers among the goods, of musical moves the band were contemplating -- heard most markedly in the bland "Sugar" and "Do It Right Now." For, despite the sureness with which they were creating driving funk, they were also struggling with the oncoming disco explosion. That push-pull was duly reflected in the album. The studio tracks are the most uneven. At their best, they are dominated by the opening title track and its near-instrumental twin shadow "Come Together," which closes. Both songs are horn heavy, an insistent call for unity, love, and peace. The rest of the album is sandwiched between this jazzy cacophony but, despite the rocky moments, Love and Understanding remains a remarkable album, recorded at a time when the band was still reveling in the grip of pure funk, uncorrupted by the mainstream.
Words: Amy Hanson