The Case for KC...or...Why The Sunshine Band Still Matters in the 2010s
When music historians and fans alike remember the music of the '70s, a few names keep coming up over and over again. Led Zeppelin. The Bee Gees. Al Green. Elton John. Chicago. Paul McCartney and Wings. All great artists, and all worthy of tributes.
Everyone seems to forget about KC and the Sunshine Band, though, and that's a shame. They forget how many records they sold, how many hits they had, how many school dances featured their 45s, how many people were affected by the music, and how many people still enjoy seeing this band live today. I think this is because of a few inaccurate perceptions people have about KC and the Sunshine Band. I'd like to clear some of those up now.
1. KC and the Sunshine Band were a disco band that played disco music.
People identify KC and the Sunshine Band with disco because they played up-tempo, danceable music in the mid and late '70s, when all such music was labeled "disco." The Sunshine Band's stuff was R&B, similar to that of Rufus or Earth Wind & Fire. It was miles from the electronic sounds of Donna Summer, Cerrone or Sylvester, true disco artists all. The Sunshine Band was an actual band, playing instruments on stage; unlike the Village People who performed to taped backing tracks.
If you don't believe me, here's what respected Boston DJ Barry Scott wrote in his 1994 book "We Had Joy, We Had Fun: The "Lost" Recording Artists of the Seventies:" "The dance music of KC and the Sunshine Band transcended most of the disco music that came out of the mid-seventies. It was based on heavy rock'n'roll guitar, complete with pounding bass and drums. The tunes were completely original and refreshing, setting them apart from most of the retread disco that pervaded the decade. While disco remakes of 'Never Can Say Goodbye' [actually, I like that one!] and 'What a Difference A Day Makes' took the genre no further, KC and his crew were able to provide constant freshness to dance music. Indeed, KC and the Sunshine Band were truly masters of rhythm and blues and to label them as a disco band is to underestimate their importance in the history of Top 40 music. They influenced all of the dance music that followed as well as the way record companies released singles. Up until KC and the band, releasing an album that contained four or more hits was completely unheard of; now, it's an expectation."
If you still don't get it, consider this: Even James Brown compared the Sunshine Band to the Ohio Players, Parliament, and his own band...and if that's not an R&B endorsement, I don't know what is.
2. Their lyrics were mindless and stupid.
I'll be the first to admit Harry Casey was no Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Bernie Taupin, or Robert Hunter. There will never be a published illustrated coffee-table book of KC and the Sunshine Band lyrics. But think about this. Each of these lyricists has their own place in music history. Dylan wanted you to think about the problems of the world and your place in it. Joni Mitchell was more introspective, Robert Hunter wrote words to trip out to, and Bernie Taupin, well, I have no idea what he was trying to say sometimes! Sure, "Shake Your Booty" had a silly chorus with a silly word, but have you ever listened to the verses? KC's lyrics encouraged people to get up and dance, go out and have fun, go out and not lead a life of quiet desperation.
3. Their songs were too repetitive.
Yes, the songs are repetitive, but for a reason. KC used to work in a record store as a teenager, and recalled customers coming in who couldn't remember the names of the songs they wanted. He vowed that every fan would know the name of his songs, and certainly made good on that promise. Not that repetitiveness in itself is a bad thing. Consider the two most famous pieces in the classical music repertoire: Handel's Hallelujah Chorus and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, both of which are built on repetitive phrases. Were they the "That's The Way I Like It" of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?
4. They were all white guys playing "black" music, or, they were all black guys except for KC.
Only Harry Casey and bass player Rick Finch were American-born Caucasians. The percussionist, Fermin Goytisolo, was born in Cuba and traces his ancestry directly to Spain. (Just like Jerry Garcia.) The rest of the original band, including drummer Robert Johnson, guitarist Jerome Smith, the horn players and the backup singers, were African-Americans. KC and the Sunshine Band were multi-cultural when multi-cultural wasn't cool.
5. The only person who would enjoy a KC show is someone in their 40s.
KC and the Sunshine Band is a musical act that people of all ages enjoy. At one show, I saw two little girls, one African-American and one white, obviously best friends, who couldn't have been more than ten, dancing up a storm and enjoying the music as much as someone who had been there in the '70s. Then at another show, I talked to a woman who told me her grade schoolers made her bring them to the concert! They knew all the songs. Finally, a friend's three-year-old nephew came to one of the KC shows in the Chicago area, and the next day was singing "I'm Your Boogie Man" at the dinner table! You're never too young - or too old - to enjoy great music and this is a good example.
6. There's no reason to go to a KC and the Sunshine Band show in the 2010s-thousands.
"Becky," you're thinking, "What relevance does a '70s band who hasn't had a chart single since 1984 have today? I have seen this band several times over the past few years, and have never been disappointed. I have never seen them give anything but a high-energy, professional, tight performance. The voices, the playing, the dancing, all ads up to a satisfying presentation. But don't just take my word for it. Go see them yourself, and notice the people dancing and enjoying themselves. You will, too.
And that's the way I like it.
(c) 2010 Becky Banfield for Dos Gardenias Productions