Mar 4 2022
The Earth, Wind & Fire Album Critics Got
“All The Way Wrong”
by Ty Cool
The year is 1980. As a whole, musically, we’re coming into a bit of a recession. We’re in the post-disco era, and the tastes of the music landscape were changing. There was a bigger focus of on the dance cuts, more intricate melodies, as opposed to the “four on the floor” that was disco (even though the sounds of early disco cuts were a bit more sophisticated.
Anyway, that’s another topic for the next piece.)
In the midst of all of this, one of the greatest bands of all time, Earth, Wind and Fire, were coming off the heels of success of their last 3 albums (All ‘N All- 1978, Greatest Hits Vol. 1-1978, I Am- 1979), and plenty of world travel and performances. Coming into 1980, it was time for the band to get back into the studio for their next LP. The challenge, in all things dealing with a band as huge as EWF, is the hunger to still make something great that will continue to touch the people.
“Faces” was released in the early fall of 1980. On this LP, the usual crew within the band, Maurice White, Verdine White, Al McKay, Larry Dunn, and Philip Bailey, had their hands in many of the arrangements. Joining in on the fun on this project as well, were Brenda Russell, David Foster, Jerry Peters, Fred Wesley, and Steve Lukather. A great deal of the vocals, lead and background, were done by Maurice White and Philip Bailey, respectively. This LP was a bit different, yet something special. Before we proceed onward, this piece is coming from the perspective of Ty Cool. This album holds a special place in my life. Okay, let us continue.
From everything that’s been read, the critics either said that “Faces” was either too long (16-song double LP), or that it didn’t fit into the pocket of the songs of its day. There are various styles on the album, yet “Faces” blends them all perfectly. For example, listen to the Schoolhouse Rock cadence and syncopation of the lead single “Let Me Talk.” Check out the mellow mood represented on “Sailaway.”
Philip Bailey brings his falsetto to the party and makes you feel like you’re enjoying this song on a yacht somewhere in the islands. One can pick any jam he/she chooses on “Faces” and come away feeling great. Of all of EWF’s ballads, the cut “You” is so underrated. Written by Maurice White, David Foster, and Brenda Russell, this slow jam speaks to the heart, and reminds us that love has/always will, make us move, and not forget whom we have in our corner. “Faces” has everything that one would expect from a EWF LP. Now, how did the critics get this album wrong?
Having purchased this album on cd back in 1994 (I still have it in my collection), I can honestly tell you that “Faces” stayed playing in my personal rotation on my 3-disc cd changer. There are a myriad of styles on this album, yet that’s always been a staple of EWF albums. The critics, on a whole, seemed to had caught selective amnesia when it came to “Faces.” On the one end, the late, great Isaac Hayes called the album one of EWF’s five essential recordings. Yet, on the other end, Stephen Holden of Rolling Stone magazine called the LP “Madison Avenue deep.” The critics misunderstood the album. The same messages of upliftment, hope, love, patience, etc., are all in explored on “Faces.” The album finished in the top 10 on Billboard for 1980, and was certified gold. That was an accomplishment, considering the times. Yet, 42 years later, this album still doesn’t’ get the credit it deserves. Unless one is listening to a mix somewhere, there are not a lot of radio stations in the USA that play any of the cuts from the “Faces” LP. Our friends from across the pond will play any of the songs from this album at the drop of a hat. In subsequent interviews over the years, you can hear Philip Bailey tell you that “And Love Goes On” is one of his favorite songs that they’ve recorded.
The critics got this album all the way wrong, simply because they didn’t bother to listen all the way through, and then put it on repeat to see what they missed before. This LP will have you upbeat, it will touch your heart strings, yet it will bring you out on the other side with some renewed vigor to keep pushing. In spite of the critics, “Faces” is undoubtedly, one of the best masterpieces of EWF’s storied career. Give it a spin, and let the rhythm take you.