Dr. William H. Cosby
“Listen – Funky North Philadephia MP3″
Here we are again, at the beginning of another work week. For those of us on the East coast, we’ve also exited the realm of Daylight Savings Time, gaining an hour of sleep over the weekend.
When I was a younger man, and inclined to spend my Saturday nights in pursuit of wine, women and song (as opposed to a comfortable spot on the couch, which is the bag I’m in now), gaining an extra hour of sleep on a Saturday night – and not just ANY Saturday night, but the one right around Halloween, always a bacchanal – was a rare treat. I’m not going to hand you the old rubber peach and infer that I was actually sleeping. My friends and I were more likely to add an extra hour of beer consumption (or other, perhaps less savory revelry) to the schedule.
Now, I’m in my early-to-mid 40’s, and have a lovely wife and two children under the age of three. The concept of the clock going all akimbo, throwing an extra hour into the mix is akin to tossing a wooden shoe into the machinery of life. I mean, three month old babies are finicky enough sleepers, but when you add his two and a half year old brother, and two dreadfully sleep deprived parents into the mix, nobody, I say NOBODY son, is sleeping like they ought to. I can’t sit here in good conscience and tell you that I didn’t see it coming, but I don’t have to like it either.
Anyway, in other news, this week sees us approaching the second anniversary of the Funky16Corners Blog. Next Monday (the anniversary date falls on this coming Sunday) I’ll be posting the next installment of Funky16Corners Radio, a mix of some of the best tunes that have been posted on the blog in the last year or so. This week I have some heaters lined up, as well as a bonus Halloween post tomorrow.
Today’s selection comes to you courtesy of the not necessarily well-known, but surprisingly excellent non-comedic discography of Mr. Bill Cosby.
Now, I’m as puzzled as the next cat when it comes to Mr. Cosby’s metamorphosis into one of the great curmudgeons of our time. It may be that like every other “old” person (he’s coming up fast on 70) he looks at the world around him and is astounded by how different it is from the one he grew up in.
Either way, I’m old enough to remember Cosby before he was America’s cuddly, be-sweatered proxy Dad, and was still first and foremost a great comedian (the BJP period, aka Before Jello Pudding). What he also was – and I didn’t know this until much later – was one of the great musical dabblers of his time. Starting in the mid-60’s, Cosby – who was already a successful stand-up and a pioneering TV star – began yet another phase in his career, this time as a singer.
The world of “entertainment” is filled with people who are pretty good (sometimes excellent) at one particular discipline, yet insist on attempting to prove themselves adept at something that they are not as qualified to be doing. Back in the day, the late lamented Spy Magazine had a feature in which these people were labeled ‘Refuseniks”. You know who they are: Successful actors (or writers, or musicians or whatever) who insist that they can also sing, write a novel, drive a race car etc. Most of the time, the output in the “secondary” field pales in comparison to that which made them famous, and they either skulk away in shame, humbled by the lack of public acclaim for their artistic dalliance, or (sadly) continue to crank out sub par product for their more slavish fans (and others that simply do not know any better).
I’m happy to say that Cosby, though he be no James Brown (nor James Taylor), was in fact a pretty serviceable singer, always aware of his limitations (i.e. smart enough to avoid any embarrassing ballad performances). As a result, between the mid-60s and the mid-70’s he – with the assistance of a wide variety of excellent musicians – made a series of LPs and 45s that were generally pretty good, and sometimes even excellent.
It helps that for his first couple of albums, he was ably assisted by Fred Smith and the various and sundry members of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.
His first Warner Brothers LP, ‘Bill Cosby Sings: Silver Throat’ (on which he appears clad in a sombrero and false moustache) is more of a R&B/light soul affair, which managed to produce a chart hit in ‘Little Old Man’, a humorous reworking of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Uptight’.
His second LP, ‘Hooray for the Salvation Army Band’ is a much funkier affair (see Cosby’s new Groucho Marx meets Sly Stone look on the cover). In addition to the title track (an uncredited lift of ‘Purple Haze’, the Cos does a number of covers, including yet another entry in the ‘Get Out of My Life Woman’ sweepstakes, as well as today’s selection, ‘Funky North Philadelphia’.
As he lifted ‘Purple Haze’ for ‘Hooray…’, so does the Cos lift Dyke & the Blazers ‘Funky Broadway’ for ‘Funky North Philadelphia’. A ode to his old stomping grounds (later retitled ‘Funky North Philly’ on 45 releases*), the track is a stomping workout, in which he goes on about his funky pad on Diamond Street, from which the scent of greens, fried chicken and fried fish could be smelled.
Interestingly enough, on the LP (see label above), the tune is credited to Fred Smith’s Mirwood label pal Jackie Lee (he of ‘The Duck’ and ‘African Boo-Ga-Loo’). When the tune found its way onto 45, the writing credit was changed to ‘Bill Cosby’. Why either of these guys was getting credit for a song written by one Arlester Christian (known to you and I as Dyke, he of the Blazers), is beyond me. Sure the lyrics were rewritten, but you’d have to have rolled off the soul/funk version of the turnip truck not to realize that the song you are listening to is in fact ‘Funky Broadway’.
Either way, the tune is cool, and if you get the chance you might want to pick up some of that good, good Cosby vinyl (I’ll be posting some of the funkier Cosby-related sides in the future), most of which isn’t too pricey (especially the Warner Brothers 45s which are plentiful).
* See below…