Classic Soul Album Spotlight: Earth, Wind, and Fire’s That’s the Way of the World

Earth Wind & Fire is one of the top soul/funk groups of all time. Their career stretches for more than forty years, which is a milestone most artists would like to achieve.

The group went through various personnel changes during their early days, but at the height of their fame, the group consisted of leader and founder Maurice White (vocals, drums, kalimba), his brother Verdine White (vocals, bass, percussion), Philip Bailey (vocals, congas, percussion), Ralph Johnson (drums, percussion),  Al McKay (vocals, guitar, percussion), Larry Dunn (piano, organ, moog synthesizer), Andrew Woolfolk (soprano, sax, flute), and Johnny Graham (guitar, percussion).

Earth, Wind and Fire’s music spoke about love, happiness, empowerment, partying, romance, spirituality, encouragement, and ethnic pride, combining elements of soul, funk, pop, jazz and African rhythms.

All of the group’s albums were standouts, but it was their album That’s The Way of The World, released in March 1975, that put the group “on the map.”

Recorded during September and October 1974, the album opens in high gear with the ultra funk of “Shining Star,” which was released as a single ahead of the album in January 1975 and became a number one soul and pop hit. This uplifting positive song ends with the group singing the song’s chorus a capella and segues into the album’s title cut, a thought-provoking mellow tune with a powerful message on not allowing the often cruel ways of people get one down, but to stay uplifted, encouraged and happy.

“That’s the Way of the World” was released as a single in June 1975, becoming a #5 soul hit and a #12 pop hit.  It remains one of the group’s all-time classic signature tunes.

The next tune was the up-tempo, motivational “Happy Feelin’,” featuring Maurice White on the kalimba. This feel good tune was featured quite a few times during the Soul Train Line.

The pace slowed down on the album’s next track, “All About Love,” a beautiful self-explanatory ballad.

It was back to funk on the following track, “Yearnin’ Learnin,” which segued into “Reasons,” one of the most classic songs in soul music history. This engaging ballad featured Philip Bailey’s powerful heartfelt falsetto vocal and is one of the most requested songs during Earth, Wind & Fire’s concerts. The live concert version of this song, on the group’s Gratitude LP released later in 1975, is also a standout and a must for the ears to hear.

The following track, “Africano,” is an instrumental funk jam showcasing the excellent musicianship of the band. The album closes with “See The Light,” a spiritual tune with a touch of jazz.

Of interesting note: the album was also the soundtrack for a low-budget film entitled That’s The Way of The World, a film about the ins and outs of the music business produced and directed by Sig Shore and starring Harvey Keitel as a record producer.  Earth, Wind and Fire played a group simply called The Band.

The album was a smash, reaching number one on both the soul and pop album charts, spending five non-consecutive weeks at number one on the former and three weeks at number one on the latter. It was also the third best-selling pop album of 1975, the number one best-selling soul album of 1975, and was certified triple platinum by the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA).

In 1999, a CD reissue of the album featured demos from the original recording sessions, including

instrumental run throughs of “Shining Star” and “That’s The Way of the World,” the first take alternate vocal of “All About Love,” a different version of “Happy Feelin’,” and a jazzy tune called “Caribou Chaser.”

This legendary album helped to establish Earth, Wind and Fire as major league platinum superstars, and they would go on to earn a well deserved place in music history.

 Stephen McMillian

In addition to being a journalist, Stephen McMillian is also developing projects within the entertainment industry.

 

 

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