Locally we have a radio station that has a classic lunch hour—meaning, they play some songs from the sixties through the early eighties from noon to one o’clock. Yesterday, I heard “Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire. That song just so happens to be their biggest R&B hit-topping the chart for eight weeks back in 1981. At the time, I loved that song so much—as a big fan of Earth, Wind & Fire (they were my favorite band at that time)—they could do no wrong. But now, in the cold light of history, I feel bittersweet about the song. Because I can see now, what I couldn’t see then—”Let’s Groove” was the last real high point for the group. Everything that followed signaled the decline of my favorite band—not that they didn’t have any hits. There were a few more hits that followed—but nothing that reached the highs the group once scaled.
My love for EW&F began when I was in elementary school. My cousin who was in the Air Force came home, and in tow he had a large pile of records with a state of the art (for the mid ’70s at least) stereo system. It was nothing for me to peek through his record collection and play some of the albums (when he let me). Ordinarily, he played the music, and I listened. One of the albums he frequently played was the “Gratitude” album by the group. I loved it, and from there, I started working backwards. Hearing That’s The Way Of The World really set things off for me, and it wasn’t long before I heard all of their albums to that point. I was so much a fan, I asked for the Spirit album for Christmas. Imagine my glee when I found the 8-track tape under the tree—along with a portable 8-track tape player.
The mid to late seventies was the band’s commerical and artistic peak. Hit record after hit record, great album after great album, and live shows filled with magic acts and pyrotechnics. By the time of the Faces double album in 1980, there was some slippage occurring, but only a true critic would notice. So when Raise! was released in 1981, there were some in the crowd who wanted to see what one of the great bands had in store. And then “Let’s Groove” happened. It was a high point, but little did I or anyone else know at the time, it was going to be the highest high point. Or that there was nowhere to go but down.
Two years later, Electric Universe was released, and it did not perform as well as previous albums did. It was after that album that EW&F took a four-year break. Group leader Maurice White and featured vocalist Philip Bailey focused on solo releases (with Bailey hitting the pop charts with “Easy Lover”) during that time. The group reunited for Touch The World, which yielded two top ten R&B singles (including the #1 “System Of Survival”), but it was a different group in a different time.
I would say that as of right now, “September” and “Let’s Groove” are probably Earth, Wind & Fire’s best known songs. With good reason, they have resonated throughout the decades with a wide audience of people. For me, though, the two of them are of a piece with a group that I loved immensely when I was younger. As far as “Let’s Groove” goes, the song still thrills, but it isn’t quite the same. Guess that happens when you grow up.
Here’s this week’s Flashback Friday song. Enjoy.