Although as the 80s dragged on, they eventually became a talented, yet sometimes bland pop group, this was not how Earth Wind and Fire started. Many would be surprised to know that the roots of this group go back to Chicago’s avant-garde AACM, and their first album was the soundtrack to the outsider classic, “Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song”, on which EW&F played furious psychedelic fusion in the style of Herbie’s Sextet. After this rather obscure beginning, founder Maurice White decided to keep the creativity intact, but also aim for some radio play too. With all this in mind, EW&F grew to be a powerhouse in the world of RnB, fusion, rock and pop during the 70s, and many would agree that they hit their first major peak with the 1975 studio masterpiece, “That’s the Way of the World”.
In the mid 70s, no other RnB or rock band carried as much pure talent as EW&F, their horn section could outplay many jazzers, their rhythm section could hold their own against WAR, Santanna or Weather Report, vocally they took arrangements to new heights in harmony and range, and finally, their compositions were modern, complex and way ahead of the field. Throughout the 70s, EW&F’s compositional approach was more influential on fusion artists than most other jazz artists. All through “That’s the Way”, EW&F tops driving syncopated African rhythms with floating abstract harmonies that recall Ellington and Debussy.
Almost every song on here is a classic, with only one sore thumb, the rather cliché ballad, “All About Love”. Modernist ballads with soaring harmonies were EW&F’s trademark, so its hard to understand how this less than stellar cut made the grade, but its all made up when it is followed by a short and attractively bizarre synth instrumental. For fans who already like this album, you need to check out the album “Gratitude”, on which the band plays these songs live and takes their mix of Ellington, Beatles, Stevie Wonder and Ohio Players, to new levels. As mentioned earlier, as the 80s dragged into the 90s and beyond, EW&F, much like their musical compadres Chicago and Genesis, became more wind and earth, and much less fire.