I have always been fascinated by record players and records. I was given my first record player when I was three years old. It was a children’s toy with an acoustic tone arm…the kind that used a steel needle (a nail) for a stylus. When I was five, I was given a real record player, the kind with a speaker, a volume control, and even a tone control. My parents didn’t have many records, and I wanted my own records. I once went door-to-door asking (begging) the older teens for any old 45s they no longer wanted.
As my interest in music and in records grew, it became clear to my parents that I was going to want to buy lots of records. They (very wisely) decided I would have to earn my own money to do so. In second grade, I took on a paper route delivering a weekly newspaper to a small group of about ten teachers and neighbors. I earned seven cents per paper. A 45 cost 69 cents plus two cents tax. I saved and started buying my own records. Sometimes one each week.
By the 1970s I was doing well with my larger paper route, but I needed real money to buy real records…albums. The law in Kansas was that you had to be 16 years old to get a job. I was 15 in the summer of 1973 and could not wait another year so I lied, said I was 16, and was hired as a stock boy at the local TG&Y Department Store. Most of our TG&Y stores were smaller, kind of like a Woolworth’s store, but they had a larger department store in KC that carried clothing, some appliances, and had a record department.
A black girl named Rhonda worked in the record department (we were the only two blacks working in the store). She was a BSS (bold soul sister) built like a brick house with a HUGE afro (I had a huge afro as well). The album she continuously played that summer of 1973 was ‘Head To The Sky’ by Earth Wind & Fire.
There was a brief period during the early 1970s, after the love children movement of the mid to late 1960s, after the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and on the tail end of the Black Power movement, in which music, black music in particular, began to take on themes of spirituality, unity, and cosmic love. As teens, we knew the civil rights movement had not brought full equality, but somehow we felt more free than we had before. This came out in the music, in our dance, and in our dress. This album epitomizes that period for me.
The song ‘Head To The Sky’ spoke to the new generation of black kids who saw themselves as powerful and free in a way previous generations had not. These were lyrics for a new generation of freedom fighters. Not religious, but spiritual. Righteous. Guys in bands at my (all black) high school learned to play this song while girls wanting to join the bands tried their best to hit those impossibly high falsetto notes at the end of the song…Seeking freedom through music.
I got to listen to each and every track every day at work that summer. It is as much a part of me as anything else residing in my psyche.
The album’s opening track ‘Evil,’ is a righteous jam, a cosmic brew of hard funk, latin jazz, and African keys. A call to repent, to turn to love, ‘Evil’ is epic righteous spiritual party music. Here is a video of the Soul Train line dancing to ‘Evil.‘
Here is a video of a live performance of Evil from 1973.
This album, with only six tracks, is barely 37 minutes long. And not one extraneous second among them. “Build Your Nest’ is a funky exhortation to love, ‘The World’s A Masquerade,’ a hymn admonishing us to be real. ‘Clover’ is a soaring carpet ride with an instrumental rock/soul jam at the end. ‘Zanzibar’ is the band’s interpretation of a composition by Brazilian composer Edu Lobo. A thirteen-minute rock/funk/jazz sermon, this is perhaps my favorite cut on the album. This song speaks to me of power, freedom, spirit, and possibilities.
Earth Wind and Fire – Zanzibar
Written by: Carled