Twenty five top ten R&B hits. Nine top ten popular hits. Five American Music Awards. One Grammy. Seven gold or platinum albums. And one official stamp of approval from the king of cool, Quenten Tarentino.
Originally created as a jazz duo in the mid-'60s, Kool & the Gang has survived more than thirty years of perhaps the most turbulent and fickle periods in musical history. During the band's early evolution, it shifted its sound from purist jazz to R&B/funk, developing a soulful street sound, reminiscent of James Brown and Parliament.
Though critically well-received since inception, the band, formed by Robert "Kool" Bell and his brother Ronald (Khalis Bayan), reached it first peak in 1973 with the release of its Wild and Peaceful LP, which scored three top ten hits.
But it was far from smooth sailing through the '70s for Kool & the Gang. Many believed the band would be destroyed by the growing popularity of disco, which tended to be much more highly-produced than Kool & the Gang's raw funk and soulful instrumental melodies. Although Kool's Open Sesame was included on the Grammy winning Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, the rising tide of disco nearly eclipse the band, and for a period of more than two years they didn't even score one hit single.
However, in 1979 they exploded back onto the charts with new front-man, J.T. Taylor, and their latest LP, Ladies Night, which would become their first platinum album and render three chart winners: Hangin' Out, Too Hot, and title track, Ladies Night.
Kool & the Gang was suddenly big-league on the R&B scene, but the real fireworks were about to come. In 1981, the band's mega-hit Celebration, climbed the pop charts all the way to the top and reserved a spot for Kool & the Gang as one of the most well-known and sampled funk bands of all time. Celebration became 1981's signature song, used as the theme for that year's Superbowl and adopted as a welcome home anthem for the American hostages who returned from Iran on January 26.
The band then continued to release seven consecutive gold or platinum records and produce such hits as Joanna, Cherish, Fresh, and Get Down On It. They took home five American Music Awards in both the "Favorite R&B Group" and "Favorite R&B Album" categories. And in 1984 they participated in Band Aid's recording of the smash hit song, "Do They Know It's Christmas?", the proceeds of which went to famine relief efforts in Africa.
Kool & the Gang continued strong through the '80s and '90's releasing four more records, Sweat, Unite, NYC Cool, and State of Affairs. Along with Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, and Don McLean, the band took part in 1990's "Rock & Roll's Main Event," in San Bernardino, CA; and in 1995, they performed with Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, and the Isley Brothers at the "KISS-FM Classic Soul" concert at Madison Square Garden.
Kool & the Gang's sound and signature has left its mark on American pop culture. Their songs are in constant rotation and often re-mixed and sampled. Celebration has become a party standard. And twenty-two years after its release, after surviving a near-death disco experience and dozens of disparate musical trends, Jungle Boogie again hit the charts and struck a note with college students across the country in 1995, when it was featured in Quenten Tarentino's indie-hit film, Pulp Fiction. As Kool & the Gang's lasting popularity proves, true excellence will not be buried by the collection of years, nor beaten by capricious trends.
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