While jheri curl music is most often associated with the Minneapolis Sound, the Ohio funk scene can definitely be cited as another important influence. Ohio was a hotbed for funk music in the 1970s: Bootsy Collins, the Ohio Players, Zapp, the Isley Brothers, the O’Jays, and many others. But one of the lesser-known, and highly underrated, bands that came out of Ohio during this era was Slave. Sure, their musical evolution more or less followed the run-of-the-mill trail from hardcore, horn-heavy funk to disco-influenced funk, to a (sort of) mellower R&B funk, and of course, to the synthesizer-heavy sound of the mid-’80s. But Slave managed to develop their own, super-funky, inimitable style even while sticking with the status quo, and they are one of my personal favorites.
By 1980, Slave, though still sounding very much like a ’70s funk outfit, had embraced a sleeker, more melodic sound. In “Watching You,” from their 1980 album Stone Jam, the hard-hitting horn section had been replaced with a doodling synthesizer riff. This, along with bassist Mark Adams’ signature heavy slap bass line at the forefront of the mix, makes this a very smooth, funky early jheri-curl groove.
So smooth and funky, in fact, that it wasn’t until about the fourth or fifth time listen that I realized the song was creepy as hell. There are plenty of songs about men watching women and falling in love, sure, but this song crosses that line. First of all, drummer and vocalist Steve Arrington is getting a little too into it, particularly at the end. And call me jaded, but “I’m staring at your heart, baby, hoping you can tell” is not exactly the most romantic line. How convenient that the heart is situated in the chest–you know, behind the boobies. And “You’re far away but I can still see you clearly”; I can only imagine this means he has binoculars. Although in the previous line he claims to be “watching you with the naked eye,” so who knows. The motherfucker can also stare directly at my heart, apparently, so he must be superhuman. But maybe I’m looking a little too deeply into this. Forget I said any of that and just sit back, relax, and allow a grown-ass man who calls himself “Stevie” to do a little dance for you.
Enjoy the playlist, and we’ll see you again tomorrow: