Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Higher Love"
Yes, the Stevie Winwood track, the one that took him from rock credibility to the mainstream, that made him an MTV dancing fool, that gave him twenty-odd years of touring goodness, despite having so many classic credentials in his back pocket before this...can you say GIMME SOME LOVIN'? Never mind "I'm A Man" and "Dear Mr. Fantasy"?
So who do we want to credit?
Maybe Steve and Will Jennings, who wrote it.
Better yet, Russ Titelman, who produced it. Check Russ's credits, there may be commercial failures, but never artistic ones. Even without his partner Lenny Waronker, Titelman was a fountain of excellence, he goosed artists to give their best, whether it be Clapton, McVie or Winwood. Ultimately, I think Russ is the winner here, he put the players together, he had the vision. But vision doesn't make a hit track.
Maybe credit should go to Chaka Khan who is doing her best emotional/sexual singing/screaming, it sounds like she's about to come, and that's a GOOD THING!
Then there's Carole Steele on the congas. They add a feel, a vibe, that makes the song unique. But they're just part of the stew, a minor element, not the key.
Or maybe Philippe Saisse, with the synthesizer bass. Yup, one can argue strongly that "Back In The High Life" is the album that brought this sound mainstream, that made keyboard players the bottom as opposed to pickers. And maybe Mr. Saisse should not be underestimated, since he's part of the rhythm section, the foundation.
Then there are those synth horns. So exuberant. Programmed by David Frank.
But also playing synth, but this time drums, is Mr. Winwood himself. Yes, we keep coming back to the rhythm section, anchored by...John Robinson. The same John Robinson underlying Daft Punk's monstrous "Random Access Memories"? YES!
But he's not the only one...
When I think of "Higher Love," there's a single part that always comes to mind, the one that begins right after the first verse...yes, that's when the unmistakable playing of Nile Rodgers begins. It sounds like he's cracking pistachios, running his fingers over soft rocks, the sound is uniquely his without dominating, just adding a dollop of essence, a spice that makes the whole track come alive.
Are you getting this? IT'S THE SAME GUYS!
Have we come full circle? Is not only the sound of "Random Access Memories" reminiscent of the seventies, but the whole damn paradigm? In other words, will records become expensive once again, played by humans with tons of experience?
This would be a sea change. It would require everybody to do what no one in America will, never mind the music business...and that's RESET! Yup, adjust their vision downwards. Think about music instead of money. Maybe making records is no longer about getting rich, but getting it RIGHT!
Maybe no more bitching about theft.
Maybe no more comparison to the titans of tech and banking.
Maybe no more questioning what happens to the songwriter.
Maybe just playing.
And despite all the bitching, I'm telling you now, people are gonna pay for music in the future. If you're thinking about piracy, you're thinking wrong, because stealing is just too difficult, it's easier to just pull up Spotify and listen, just like you pay for convenience in so many other areas.
So there will be money...
For the winners.
And the winners will be a small coterie of people who write and play at the level of the past. That's right, now you've got to be BETTER than ever before. Because the rest of recorded history is just a click away.
This is a good thing.
The playing field is now level. There's no issue of getting your effort into the retail shop, of getting paid. Now you can focus on what you do best, making MUSIC!
Nobody involved in "Higher Love" was a newbie. From Titelman to Winwood to Robinson and Rodgers, they'd all paid their dues, something that's anathema today, where everything must be instant.
But music is not like MySpace, it's not even like Facebook. When done right, music is forever, it's made to last.
Like "Higher Love." Which sounds as fresh today as it did when it was released back in 1986.
"Back In The High Life" was not made overnight. It was not cheap.
But it was right.
That's what we're interested in today. What's right.
Ladies and gentlemen...START YOUR ENGINES!
P.S. Yes, I know other people played on this track too. They deserve kudos, it's definitely a team effort.