Earth, Wind and Fire were on the R&B and Pop charts consistently for 15 years, allowing for occasional gaps. And even then, vocalist and percussion player Philip Bailey pursued a solo career that produced the hit “Easy Lover,” with Phil Collins, so they were represented at least in part when the group was laying low. They were one of the most successful groups (of any kind) of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with a mixture of dance records like “Let’s Groove” and ballads like “After The Love Has Gone.” They are remembered as much for the costumes and space imagery they adopted, and the special effects pageantry they used in concert as for their music. And I mean that comparison to be complimentary to the imagery, not derogatory to the music.
Led by songwriter/producer/singer/percussionist Maurice White, they influenced dozens of groups that came after them, but there’s a drawback to being both influential and long-lasting. When the folks you influenced come up around you, it can be difficult to see your tree for the forest. The same thing happened to The Artist Known as Prince Once Again For The Moment and, in another media, to Charles Schulz with “Peanuts.” “Turn On [The Beat Box),” a bonus track added when this collection was first released in 1988, is a good example of this. There’s nothing really wrong with it. It’s got nice, light keyboards, a good beat and a catchy melody. It also sounds very much like two or three other pop/R&B records of the time.. At their most soulful, Earth, Wind and Fire’s hits sounded like no one else (though Level 42 made a good go of approximating their sound for one or two hits in the ‘80s, but that’s another story).
“Best of” collections were designed so that casual fans of a group might be able to find all the familiar material in one place. Those who enjoy hearing their singles on the radio but don’t feel compelled to buy a full-fledged album. To attract the die-hard fans, well, that’s why record executives created bonus tracks. As such, ...Earth, Wind & Fire Vol. II can’t be reviewed so much as announced. If you want this CD, you know what at least some of it sounds like, if not, you don’t. It gathers almost all the records from their late-‘70s heyday with which most people will be familiar. Though their cover of “Got To Get You Into My Life,” from 1978, is on Vol. I for some reason.
For myself, this will go nicely on my CD shelf next to Soul Train: The Dance Years 1979 (well, not right next to it, since I alphabetize my CDs, but you know what I’m saying). I’m especially glad to finally have the lovely hit “Fantasy,” which got into my head through it’s use in a film in 1980 and has stayed there ever since.
// Notes from the Road
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