Having "the groove" is a prerequisite for anyone with plans of becoming an artist when you're singing the rhythm and blues. And what makes that trait so valuable is that it can't be defined within a single sentence, let alone at all. It's a certain distinct aura and swagger that one exudes through the performing arts that is the epitome of cool. Legendary R&B band Earth, Wind & Fire are a classic example of musicians and vocalists that embodiy the true meaning of what "the groove" sounds and feels like.
Founded in 1969 by Maurice White, an accomplished drummer and former member of the Grammy Award-winning Ramsey Lewis Trio, Earth, Wind & Fire was comprised of a slew of talented artists including Wade Flemons, Michael Beale, Don Whitehead, Leslie Drayton and Maurice's brother, Verdine White, among others. The then 10-man group released their self-titled debut in 1971 to mild reviews and success. But Earth, Wind & Fire wouldn't hit their stride until adding singer and percussionist Phillip Bailey, who would prove to be the key ingredient that had been missing in the EWF formula.
By the mid '70s, the group had transformed from just another good band to one of R&B's most beloved groups and were in the middle of a historic run that netted them two No. 1 albums and multiple Top 10 hits. By the end of the decade, Earth, Wind & Fire was nothing short of a well-oiled machine that churned out classics at the pace that other bands released songs.
1980 would be a big year for the group since they released their 10th album, Faces. A double album that was one of the more ambitious efforts out of the group's discography, Faces contained multiple hit singles and achieved gold certification. The album is regarded as a favorite among EWF die-hards and band members alike, with Maurice White dubbing Faces his personal favorite of the Earth Wind, & Fire catalog. "Probably Faces because we were really in tune, playing together and it gave us the opportunity to explore new areas," he said of his favorite album.
Today (Oct. 14) marks 35 years since the album was gifted to the world. Check out Five Best Songs From Earth, Wind & Fire's Faces Album below.
Earth, Wind & Fire slow down the tempo on "You," a dreamy ballad that is as polished and nuanced as they come. Opening with piano keys and strings, "You" finds group founder Maurice White taking lead vocal duties. "She was naive and never knew / Back against the world her dreams came true / There is a mirror in her eyes / All the world with cherry painted skies" before being joined by his EWF brethren on the bridge. White, Bailey and company may impress, but saxophonist Don Myrick's resounding solo manages to give the group a run for their money. Co-written by Davi Foster, Brenda Russell and Maurice White, "You" would be the second single released from Faces and peak at No. 48 and No. 10 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and on what was then known as the Black Singles chart.
The fight to spew verbiage is in full effect on "Let Me Talk," a funky cut that is sure to get the most tame wall flower in tune with the groove. Powered by guitars and percussion, the instrumentation is a bit more contained than other songs on the album, but provides the perfect sonic punch for Earth, Wind & Fire to maneuver over and get their point across with socially-conscious lyrics. "50 million voices mumbling from the street / Talking bout the '80s and who it will mistreat / Now Joe is working hardy, checking out the jive / Glancing at his pocketbook, inflation is alive," they sing. "Let Me Talk" would be the album's biggest hit, peaking at No. 8 on the Black Singles chart and No. 44 on the Pop Singles chart and played a big part in ushering the EWF sound into the '80s.
"Turn It Into Something Good"
The Chicago-bred band cook up a healthy serving of slick with the standout, "Turn It Into Something Good." This is a mid-tempo affair that finds the musical collective giving listeners the smooth sounds that they came for, which includes crisp live instrumentation to go along with the vocals of EWF's dynamic duo, Maurice White and Phillip Bailey. Both shine individually as well as a unit. Employing everything from horns, bass guitars and drums, Earth, Wind & Fire take their talents and do exactly what this tune's title suggests for our listening pleasure.
Faces hits a sweet spot with "Back on the Road," a jubilant record demonstrating the group in full swing and at the top of their game. Listeners are met with an electric guitar solo, courtesy of Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, who dominates the record in between Phillip Bailey and crew's infectious vocals. Speaking of Bailey, the gifted singer shows plenty of spunk here, singing, "Time to get back on the road, gonna leave these troubles behind / Time to carry the load, oh but my life is a true design" and other lyrics of purpose. Begging their women "Don't ya cry when I say goodbye," EWF puts business before pleasure on this track and craft one of the better selections on the album.
Gloomy guitar strings await listeners on "Take It to the Sky," a selection on Faces that features the group harmonizing as a unit as opposed to the sums of their parts, but with the usual positive results. Larry Dunn, Garry Glenn and Maurice White co-wrote this tune, which features introspective lines like, "I remember when as a child I used to stop and stare / Looking in the sky wondering why how did my life compare." The crew set aside the sweet talk and opt to inspire the people. Released as the B-Side to "Back on the Road," this song may have gotten lost in the shuffle in the States being that it was only serviced as a single in the U.K., but it remains an incredible offering and boosts Faces approval rating.