Lyrics for Earth Wind And Fire: The Ultimate Collection/Gratitude/All ‘N’ All/That’s The Way Of The World (Columbia) by Earth, Wind & Fire :
The snazziest, jazziest dance crew of the period. Their ‘one world’ spirituality, sunny mysticism and conspicuous musicality makes them a real genre one-off. Never as weird as Clinton, as mean as Sly or as dirty as Brown but with a pop sensibility as sophisticated and attractive as any the R&B tradition has produced, they were immeasurably more popular. With the near-perfect Hits package, two fine studio sets and one kicking live album, this music glitters with undiminished vitality.

The rhythm section could be jazz-fusion slick (‘Getaway’) or sitting deep down (‘Gratitude’), the vocals could be leering and full-throated (Maurice White’s verse on ‘Shining Star’), luminous falsetto (Philip Bailey’s chorus on ‘Saturday Nite’) or plangent harmony (the wondrous ‘After The Love Has Gone’). The songs could be one chord groovers like ‘Serpentine Fire’ or clever-di*k elaborations like ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ (the coolest Beatles cover ever) and those masterpieces of egghead disco, ‘Boogie Wonderland’ and ‘September’. And there’s no better indication of how far dance music has fallen than to compare the original ‘September’ with the needlessly included Phats & Small ’99 idiot formula ‘remix’. Like trying improve a Rembrandt with poster paints.

Some of the trademarks became clichas in the ’80s thanks to Phil Collins (who imported the stuttering virtuoso horns wholesale and even borrowed “yeow”, Maurice’s customised vocal aside) but two decades on, this stuff sounds so hip it hurts.

A chat with Maurice White

[Q:] EWF was a kind of vision of yours wasn’t it?

[A:] 1970. It was something that I saw in my future. I drew a picture of the band and put it in a book. I picked up the book about five years later and there was the band, faces and stage set-up, nine people performing. I also knew that we’d be sending out universal vibrations for a universal audience, a world wide communication. In the mid ’70s I saw it all come together like a dream being completed.

[Q:] Mysticism, spirituality, superior musicianship and immense commercial success. Who were your rivals?

[A:] It doesn’t happen very often. Mostly it’s commerciality on one side and artistic situations on another. There’s like a line drawn between the two. Commerciality challenged us to stay original and yet be true to the dream. Trends would come about but there was no one else who interested me. We were coming from a spiritual aspect. When you think in terms of the spiritual, anything is possible. So I had no rivals.

[Q:] What do you make of sampling?

[A:] Many kids are interested in sampling and that’s as far as they go. I would take a different approach. The first important thing is to learn to be a musician, then apply the technology. That’s the way I try to lead my twenty year-old son. He’s seen the impact that I’ve had on the world being a complete musician and he wants to come from that space.

[Q:] Do you ever get ‘you wouldn’t understand Dad, you’re too old’?

[A:] Ha ha! He doesn’t really say that to me but I’m sure that sometimes he might think that. Ha ha.

[Q:] You don’t tour with EWF any more?

[A:] I’m more involved in my own studio now. Thirty years on the road, I’ve put my time in. It’s a kind of a waste of time for me now. But I miss the connection with the audience. Around show time I find myself getting itchy. Around eight, nine o’clock, man, I just don’t know what to do with myself.