1971, Music

Earth Wind and Fire (1971)

Before I get to the music, I just want to say I love the album cover. It’s one of the iconic covers of its era. Is it the best part of the album? It’s possible. Just love the cover.

Earth, Wind and Fire are kind of in utero here. Many if not most of the things that would later define them as one of the best soul bands of their era are already here – the hooks, the diversity of their sound, the fulness of their sound, the gang backing vocals, and so on. But it’s all more primitive than it would be later, especially when it comes to the quality of the songs, which are significantly less catchy than they would later become. (That’s a double-edge sword of course, because if there is one criticism I can make of peak Earth, Wind and Fire, it’s that, on their poppiest songs, they leaned into the pop side too much.)

But really the big problem here is that they haven’t quite found their identity yet: way too often they sound like less rock-oriented, slightly more musically diverse Sly and the Family Stone. Their (relative) incredible musical diversity isn’t quite there yet and too many of the arrangements sound too much like the Family Stone or other bands: I hear James Brown (how could you not?) and even a less weird Funkadelic in a few moments. (Really, I’d say Parliament only they didn’t exist yet.) It’s pretty easy to play spot the influences and that can be distracting.

But it mostly still works: the band already knows what they’re doing – they’re great, versatile players and they already get funk. Like this is a band that never had trouble understanding how to sound good. The basic building blocks are all here and it’s easy to imagine a band with better songs and a little more of a distinct sound emerging out of this, even if you didn’t know it was going to happen.


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