Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Classic Material: Eddie Kendricks - He's A Friend

pressed for time? just listen to the tune... hearing music is way more important than reading about it!

If you have a few minutes... please allow me to share.

Taken as a whole, I think that American popular music is a human achievement that stands up there with the Pyramids and the Library at Alexandria. It is truly, truly majestic. You can't talk about American popular music without talking about the music of Black Americans... and you can't talk about the music of Black Americans without talking about the influence of religious music such as spirituals and gospel.

Now, before you go thinking I'm about to write about Buildin' me a home or Get Away Jordan, I'm not. (Not that there's a damn thing wrong with talking about either of those songs, mind you)

No, I mention gospel because it provides the thematic underpinning for Eddie Kendricks' deep-house banger He's A Friend.

The title track of Kendricks' 1976 Tamla/Motown album, He's A Friend is a wonderful blend of the Philly Soul and Mid-period Motown vibes. That I call it a deep-house banger speaks to my own initial exposure to the tune. Although it rose to #2 on the Billboard R&B chart in the year it was released, I was about 5 years old then... so it didn't enter my consciousness until I was a teenager and heard Ron Hardy bang it at the Warehouse in the late 80s... it's what us DJ types would call a "5am track"... the track you'd play when only the hardest of hardcore dancers were on the floor. Interestingly, it seems that a lot of 5am tracks have a spiritual/gospel flavor. Maybe it's something about celebrations and sunrise... I remember my mom and her friends sitting around singing church songs in our living room at 5 or 6 in the morning after her and my step-dad's world-famous halloween parties (which I DJed, thank you very much).

But, back to the matter at hand... although Jesus and/or God never get shouted out by name, by the end of the first verse, there's no doubt about the "He" that's being referred to. It's an easy pun, but it is truly an inspired vocal performance by Eddie Kendricks.

Vocals alone do not a classic make however, and producer/arranger/guitarist Norman Harris and the other players on the tune lay down an absolutely killer groove. Soaring string and horn arrangements are anchored by a rock solid rhythm section... for the life of me I'm still trying to figure out how the drummer can be locked-in and swing like that at the same time... guess that's why I'm a DJ and not a drummer! Don't even get me started on the rhythm guitar work. This thing has a bridge (2:17) that lesser songs would kill for as their main theme. And the break (3:29)... my god, the break... well, if I were ever in a debate about the why disco edits are wonderful things... this break would be the only argument I'd need.

If you take the time to dig into the biographies below, you won't be surprised by the massive number of hits the personnel have contributed to. Classic.

Eddie Kendricks - He's a Friend
From Album "He's A Friend" Tamla/Motown 1976 T6-343S1

Written by:
Allan Felder, Bruce Gray, T.G. Conway
Produced & Arranged by: Norman Harris

Earl Young - Drums
Norman Harris - Guitar
Vincent Montana - Vibes (note: my ears don't hear vibes on the track, but Montana's a multi-instrumentalist and I just know in my heart-of-hearts he played on this)
Allan Felder - Percussion
Ron "Have Mercy" Kersey - Keyboards
Don Renaldo - Strings, Horns


Norman Harris

Vince Montana

Allan Felder

Earl Young

1 comment:

Justo-Man said...

Brother, When I first found that MFSB did an album with Eddie Kendricks it was the most important thing to me to get that album. Norman Harris produced some of the best disco tracks. His arrangement skills are great. But this album proves to me that MFSB kept their sound crisp this late in the 70's, especially with the Trammps and with Double Exposure.

This Album is no joke. He's A Friend sends us a strong message as Black people. We are our brother's keeper. The whole message of the track tells us that since God is a He, then he must look like you and me! And by this logic, if God is your friend and he looks like your Black brother, then treat your Black brother as your friend.