Music Musicians Songwriting

Perfect Song #5: A Taste of Honey “Boogie Oogie Oogie”

I have been debating for the past few days as to list this song as part of the Perfect Song series, or simply a guilty pleasure. It is both for me, so let’s proceed.

A Taste of Honey was one of many one-hit wonders of the disco era. Record companies were looking for anything that they could throw out on vinyl that would get people dancing at the discotheques. However, this band was different. The band actually had been around since the early 1970s doing USO tours and corporate shows in the Los Angeles area. The core of the band was bassist/singer Janice Marie Johnson and keyboardist Perry Kibble. The original guitarist Carlita Dorhan left in 1976, and Helen Payne replaced her. It was these three musicians (along with producers Fonce and Larry Mizell) that made “Boogie Oogie Oogie” the classic song that it is today, over 40 years after its release.

On the surface, the song is typical disco. Basic 4/4 beat with a dance tempo, moving bass line, and simple lyrics. However, there is a reason (in fact, a few reasons) why “Boogie Oogie Oogie” is still relevant today while thousand of other disco songs gather dust in the used vinyl bins at the local record store. First off, this was performed by the band, not a bunch of studio musicians backing a molded and shaped singer. When you have musicians that have worked together for a number of years, whether it is a tight-knit studio ensemble or a group like The Beatles, a good listener can distinctly tell that groove.

Turning to the song itself, it was written by Johnson and Kibble. Again, no record company tampering here. In the pop music world, having a team of songwriters is the norm. However, the Mizells and the A&R people at Capitol Records had a good ear this time.

Now, let’s look at probably the most important piece of this song – the bass line. Johnson laid it down herself. There was no bringing in a studio pro bassist for the recording, and that is a good thing. This bass line is beyond the disco dance groove. It is a line so catchy, that any beginning bass player HAS to learn it! For anyone that studies music production (like me), it is so damned refreshing to know that she got carte blanche with her bass playing. It is beyond a groove – it is a statement. I also love that, at the end of the second chorus, she sings, “listen to my bass, now!” Yes, I am listening!

Next, let’s check out the rhythm guitar. Again, laid down by Payne, not some studio guitarist. The intro has that slide that is sensual, then once the song kicks in, the staccato picking followed by the jangly Bb chord. What makes this sound so special is that the guitar sound is so clean. No distortion, delay, or dated effects like phasing or flanging. Just the guitar straight into the amp. Yes, there is that heavy-fuzz lead at the end of the first chorus, but it can be expected to create a different kind of tension. But Payne makes playing rhythm guitar sexy.

As for the lyrics, there is nothing that is literary here. Simple words that people can sing along to. Johnson has a sweet voice that makes the verses flow smoothly. Then, when the chorus kicks in, Payne’s gritty backup harmony singing is beautiful. The vocal climax here is at the end of the chorus, when the words “more — boogie” is sung, it goes from two-part harmonies to a full, lush sound. THAT is a great production ear!

“Boogie Oogie Oogie” is sexy without being sexual. The arrangement is timeless, and again, that bass line makes anyone that picks up an electric bass want to learn that groove. Because the disco era was not kind to most artists, a group like A Taste of Honey felt the wrath of the recording industry. Fortunately, knowing that the song is still being played on classic R&B radio stations as well as appearing in a number of commercials and soundtracks, royalties are still going to Johnson and Kibble’s estate (he died in 1999). A wonderful thing would be to see Janice Marie Johnson receive more recognition for her amazing bass playing.

Chew on it and comment (and listen to her bass, yeah!).

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My Latest Addiction: Flash Mobs

I do love watching flash mobs performing at public places. The spontaneity of bringing joy to people who could use it as they plod along in their lives. I have never experienced one first-hand, but I know of people who have, and was friends with members of the band Those Darn Accordions, which used to walk into McDonald’s restaurants in California, play a quick song on their squeeze boxes, then abruptly leave before management called the police on them.

Just like most other activities, COVID put a halt on seeing flash mobs appear at shopping malls and town squares. Sad, really. Music brings such warmth to the heart. I love watching videos of flash mobs from around the world. I may not know what the people are singing about, but it is such a pleasure to see the facial expressions of the people watching, and to watch little children dancing to the music.

So here’s a few examples of flash mob performances that I have fallen in love with over the past few years.

First, this is at some shopping mall, the number of singers grows with each new Christmas tune performed. Once the final song commences, the entire crowd becomes part of the performance, The surprise ending will move anyone watching.

Here was a unique way to promote an upcoming concert. A bassist stands still until a young girl puts a coin in his hat. Then, she gets the surprise of her (and the rest of the crowd’s) life.

On the subject of classical music, here’s a shopping mall version of Ravel’s “Bolero.” Watching the little child plucking the cello for a few seconds is what makes this type of concept beautiful – getting people not familiar with music to be a part of it. I also love that the musicians are spread out in the mall area.

This is a pretty unique one from Poland. The Polish cast of Les Miserables performs a song in a mall, but while some shoppers are entertained, others seemed bothered.

If there is one thing that all Poles love and respect, it is the music of Chopin. While this is not exactly a flash mob, it is unscheduled performances at the Chopin Airport during a celebration of the composer’s work.

Performed in a Ukranian train station, this flash mob performs “Katyusha,” a war song that I am sure you have heard the melody before. People not part of the mob are inspired to join in. Listen to that reverberation from the train station walls!

Yes, the flash mobs of Eastern Europe are the ones that I enjoy the most. The top ones come from Russia. I love seeing these young people take over a department store. They sing an old folk song, and seem very proud of their heritage. That’s something that you don’t see in the US, unfortunately. My God, those voices are amazing!

I conclude with probably my favorite of all flash mob videos. This was filmed in a train station in the far eastern Russian city of Blagoveschensk, a few men start singing a Ukranian folk song called “Pidmanula,” which is about a girl that continually turns down a boy’s request for a date. It is comparable to a campfire song here in the States, where everyone knows the words and melody. Seeing these men motivate everyone in the train station to sing is beyond impressive.Young, old, men, women, EVERYONE knows the song and joins in! It’s also wonderful that they respect the sound of an accordion more than Americans, who tend to look at it as a comical instrument.

Chew on it and comment.