[Today: Funk dressed up for the dance floor…]
Its title track provided one of the signature hits of the Disco era, but the Car Wash soundtrack stands as a powerful repudiation of the idea of Disco as a truly distinct genre from Funk and Soul. This 1976 double-LP went Top 20 in the US (and Top 10 in the UK), and ‘Car Wash’ went to the top of the singles chart behind a totally catchy combo of hand claps and strings. But the entirety of this album is a tour de force of Funk and Soul, and in its brags and boasts, skits and come-ons, and general party vibe, it suggests several directions that Hip-Hop would eventually take.
Go beyond the title track and Car Wash is in league with funk albums by the likes of the Isley Brothers and George Duke. ‘6 O’Clock DJ (Let’s Rock)’ has wah-wah thick enough to put hair on Isaac Hayes’ head, and is a solid contender for the opening song on your next funk mix tape. ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’ prefaces the put up or shut up attitude of hip-hop, while ‘Zig-Zag’ provides ready-made beats for a world of turntabulists. ‘I Wanna Get Next To You’ is Smokey Robinson-styled Soul, in both sound and quality.
In his excellent 1997 book The Accidental Evolution Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, music critic Chuck Eddy opines that “…to anybody outside of New York City, ‘funk,’ ‘disco,’ and ‘rap’ were basically indistinguishable, or at least they all belonged to the same genre – as late as 1984…” The Car Wash soundtrack proves that the lines between those genres were never that pronounced to begin with. And a quick listen to any compilation of early Disco songs spun by DJs like Larry Levan or Nicky Siano shows that Disco was never more than Funk and Soul dressed up for the dance floor, through better production values and musical flourishes like strings.
In the movie Car Wash, the character Duane looks into the camera and says “If you are watching this in the future, know that time has had its way with us, and that we knew it would. And it will with you. There is no escaping this. In a strange way, it’s what makes life so beautiful and strange, that nothing alive stays the same.” Funk begat Disco begat Hip-Hop, but the Car Wash soundtrack takes you back to a time when music was just music, and every whitewall was spotless…
Listen: Car Wash
Listen: 6 O’Clock DJ (Let’s Rock)
Listen: I Wanna Get Next To You
Listen: Zig Zag