A reissue of Express Yourself, the 1970 album by Charles Wright and the 103rd Street Rhythm Band, includes sunny pop-soul hits and extended gospel-tinged psychedelic jams.
Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
Real Gone Music
31 January 2020
Express Yourself, the 1970 album by Los Angeles-based Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band has a curious history. First released in 1970, the album was re-released almost immediately with a slightly different track listing. Both issues shared the self-empowering hit single, "Express Yourself", which has risen to the level of soul classic in subsequent decades. Now, Express Yourself has been reissued, with the tracklisting of the second edition, which will give listeners a chance to hear the Watts band as both catchy hitmakers and expansive musical trip takers.
The album takes a left turn with the third track, "High as Apple Pie – Slice I", a jammy, gospel-tinged tune that hints of things to come. The album's title track follows, with its sunny sound and tongue-twisting lyrics, such as "It's not what you look like when you're doin' what you're doin' / It's what you're doin' when you're doin' what you look like you're doin'." Try to sing that line three times fast. Just try to sing it once and see what happens.
Surprisingly, "Express Yourself", which reached #12 on Billboard's Hot 100 in the fall of 1970, was not Wright and company's biggest hit – "Do Your Thing" charted one notch higher in early 1969. But "Express Yourself" has become the band's most beloved and enduring song, sampled most famously by N.W.A. in a rap (also called "Express Yourself") that has subsequently been sampled on "Droppin' Seeds" by Tyler, the Creator, featuring Lil Wayne, as recently as 2017.
Another enjoyable and relatively conventional song, "I'm Aware", follows "Express Yourself" before the album culminates in "High as Apple Pie – Slice 2". Picking up where "Slice 1" left off, "Slice 2" continues the journey. It is an expansive track that melds gospel choir vocals with Wright's soulful piano playing, along with occasional punctuations from the horn section and vaguely psychedelic effects and handclapping/percussion that swirl throughout the song.
Wright and the group are seemingly in no hurry as they meander through this second slice of "High as Apple Pie" for 17 minutes, arriving in a place that feels close to where they started, but light-years away at the same time. It's soul; it's gospel, but, yeah, it's a little bit of psych-rock as well. Mostly it's the sound of a great loose-but-tight band taking its own advice and expressing itself.
Some listeners might find themselves getting bored with the lengthy "High as Apple Pie – Slice II", and that's fair enough. Not everybody, after all, has an extra 17 minutes to hear where a song is going to go, especially when "Slice I" itself is nearly seven minutes long. But including a lengthy, improvisational piece, in addition to the pop hits, is a testament to the versatility of Charles Wright & the Watts 103 Street Rhythm Band. And a testament to musical self-expression.