Today in Music History (March 15): Earth Wind & Fire creates an all-time classic

March 15, 1975 – Earth Wind & Fire creates an all-time classic

It is difficult to look back at the 70s and early 80s Soul music scene without marveling at both the groundbreaking music and the breadth of influence of Earth, Wind & Fire. A group revolutionary in its amalgamation of soul, jazz, funk and African music into an attractive, universal sound, EWF influenced an entire generation of self-contained Soul/Funk bands.  And on this day in 1975, the group issued an album that would take it to incredible new heights and firmly establish it as one of the greatest bands of the era.

March 15, 1975 – Earth Wind & Fire creates an all-time classic

It is difficult to look back at the 70s and early 80s Soul music scene without marveling at both the groundbreaking music and the breadth of influence of Earth, Wind & Fire. A group revolutionary in its amalgamation of soul, jazz, funk and African music into an attractive, universal sound, EWF influenced an entire generation of self-contained Soul/Funk bands.  And on this day in 1975, the group issued an album that would take it to incredible new heights and firmly establish it as one of the greatest bands of the era.

Formed in Chicago in 1969 by jazz drummer Maurice White, EWF was the personification of White's desire to mix a variety of seemingly incongruent musical styles into a unique, singular sound, and to use this sound as a backdrop for positive lyrical themes of unity, empowerment and universalism. However, it took several years and multiple lineups (the only constants being White and his brother Verdine) for the group to find its sound and its audience.

In 1970 the group landed a contract with Warner Brothers and released two albums, Earth Wind & Fire and The Need of Love, both which were middling Soul charters. By 1973, a more stable lineup was established, including singers Philip Bailey and former Friends of Distinction member Jessica Cleaves (who would be gone by 1975), and band members Al McKay, Ralph Johnson, Larry Dunn, John Graham, Fred White and Andrew Woolfolk. That year they released Head to the Sky, their first top 10 Soul album, and followed it in 1974 with Open Our Eyes, their first #1.

But the group's across-the-board breakthrough came on this day in 1975 with their soundtrack album for the little known movie That's the Way of the World. The album's lead single, the bright, horn-laden, funky number "Shining Star," took the Soul and Pop worlds by storm, topping both charts and taking the album with it. The midtempo title track was a worthy follow-up single, and, with the outstanding album cut "Reasons," established EWF as a popular musical force.

From there came a decadelong run Imperial Period, where EWF clearly became one of the greatest and most influential R&B bands of all time. And today we celebrate the release of the album that became a signature moment for this tremendous group.

By Chris Rizik

 

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