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Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vols. 1 (1978) & 2 (1988)

In 1970s, 1978, Beatles' covers, family, funk, greatest hits, movies, record collecting, records, Rich's House of Vinyl, soul on October 5, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Best of Earth, Wind & Fire (1978)

Best of Earth, Wind & Fire Vol. 2 (1988)

Sometime in July or August 1978, Dad, Mom, Lisa and I piled into the Plymouth Volare station wagon and headed over to the movie theater between Pathmark and K-mart (or was it still Grant’s?) at the strip mall in Brookhaven. We settled into our seats and took in a surreal double feature: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band and American Graffiti.

It was a pure 1970s midsummer night’s movie-going dream.

I don’t know what these two movies were doing together. American Graffiti is widely considered to be a classic film about youth and oncoming loss of innocence in the 1950s. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band is widely—no, I think universally—not considered to be a classic film about youth and oncoming loss of innocence in a mid-1970s conception of what the mid-1960s was supposed to look like. Or, it could be that I’m just totally over thinking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.

Oddly enough, we were there for Sgt. PepperAmerican Graffiti, which was originally released in 1973, was old news. We already knew all about the 1950s anyway, thanks to Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. We were ready to move boldly into the ‘60s and Robert Stigwood’s cinematic vision of mid-to-late period Beatles music was going to be our gateway drug.

As horrid as Sgt. Pepper was (and I’ve never seen it since that night in ’78), there were a few moments within it that were not completely humiliating to everyone involved (including the viewer). Steve Martin (who I worshipped at the time) was funny as Dr. Maxwell Edison; Aerosmith, playing some kind of bad guy band, snarled through a suitably raunchy “Come Together;” and the finale, while not what most people would proclaim to be good, was a rave-up on the “Sgt. Pepper” reprise, performed by a bizarre collection of whoever was hot, whoever used to be hot and whoever aspired to be hot, in 1978.

Also clearly emerging as a highlight amid the wreckage was Earth, Wind & Fire, brilliantly performing Paul McCartney’s “Got To Get You Into My Life,” the song that leads off EWF’s first Best of collection. While I’d clearly heard hits like “Shining Star” and “Sing a Song”  on the radio, Sgt. Pepper may have been the first place where I saw EWF perform. I do not remember being blown out of my seat by their cameo in the movie, but it had to have been pretty awesome, particularly when compared to other scenes from the movie.

Now, more than 30 years later, EWF’s take on McCartney’s tune still strikes me as one of the best Beatles covers ever.  I can’t help but marvel at how thoroughly EWF make “Got to Get You Into Your Life” their own tune, while simultaneously calling to my attention how much I love the Beatles’ original.

It may be though, that recording one of the best Beatles’ covers ever is just a minor point on Earth, Wind & Fire’s resume. By the time they met up with Sgt. Pepper, EWF had already recorded a series of ambitious albums (including one, 1977’s All’n’All, that made it into music writer Tom Moon’s book 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die) and some of the best pop funk singles the 1970s had to offer (and that decade offered much in the pop funk department). I’m talking here about “Sing a Song” and “Shining Star,” of course, but also “September,” “Fantasy” and others.

While I’ve yet to hear All’n’All, I can report that the singles that make up Best of… Vol. 1 and Best of… Vol. 2 sound just as good now as they did when they ruled the radio. Vol. 1 is clearly the classic of the two albums, though the second set does include EWF’s last big hits, “Let’s Groove,” “Boogie Wonderland” and “After The Love Has Gone.”

Conveniently, if you’re looking to fit the best of  both of these albums onto one CD or a tidy playlist, all you need to do is delete  “Turn On (The Beatbox)” and “Devotion” from the Best of…Vol. 2, since the former song is a minor song that was new to the ’88 set and “Devotion” is, for some reason on both volumes.

My kids know Earth, Wind & Fire from Chris Rock’s sitcom, Everybody Hates Chris, as the band that played at Chris Rock’s school the day he and his friend Greg cut class to go see Ghostbusters. Hearing EWF at their best ought to give Jimmy and Chris an idea why Chris was so bummed that he missed them (in addition to being in big trouble for cutting class).

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  1. I haven’t heard much of Earth, Wind, and Fire beyond their hits…but I love those. Particularly “Let’s Groove” and “Shining Star.”

    • Tommy, I think you’d like them a lot. They were just sort of around when I was first really getting into the radio hits of the day, so I think I took them for granted back then, but most of the stuff on these best of albums holds up quite nicely. I can get a copy of the CD to you, if you’re interested.

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