When I consider the music that I enjoy listening to, it gives me pause when I realize that even though I am deeply committed to diversity and pluralism most of the music is created by white men. Of the 52 songs I will write essays about in this one year span, women only play a prominent role in 11 of the songs I’ve selected. People of color only play a prominent role in 2 out of the 52 songs. (A remarkable similarity to Unitarian Universalism in many ways.)
The band Fishbone first formed back in 1979. The story goes that the core members of the band were friends who were bussed to school from the underprivileged inner-city of Los Angeles to the white suburbs. Musically inclined, these friends developed a musical style that combined the soul, gospel, and nascent rap of their urban home-life with the punk, ska, and heavy metal they encountered at their predominantly white, sub-urban school.
The result: a band whose music is a fusion of funk, punk, ska, soul, metal, rock, and R&B. Their instrumentation consists of shared vocals, electric guitar, funky bass, keyboards, drums, saxophones, trumpets, and even a theremin! If this issn’t enough, the band members are also known for their eccentric, Mohawk-themed, hair-dos.
Fishbone’s breakthrough album came with the 1988 release of Truth and Soul. This record kicked off with a heavy metal cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead.” From this daring track the album went on to provide a tour through funk, soul, ska, and rock styles with lyrics addressing the afflictions of the ghetto. Truth and Soul also featured the unsurpassed funk number, “Bonin’ in the Boneyard.”
Fishbone is an amazing live band. They play long shows, often for more than two hours and sustain a level of energy that borders on mayhem. The majority of the band members perform shirtless. I witnessed this first-hand when I managed to get on the guest list for a Fishbone show at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom in the spring of 1997. Yes, I did crowd surf. Yes, I did stage dive.
To get a sense of what their live shows are like, check out this clip of them playing a 15 minute version of “Everyday Sunshine” in Japan. (Make sure you check out the lead singer stage-diving at about the 9-minute mark, getting carried to the back of the venue, singing and mingling while standing on the sound and light board, and then diving back and getting passed back to the front stage.)
“Everyday Sunshine” was one of the two singles released off Fishbone’s most commercially successful album, 2001’s The Reality of My Surroundings. This diverse recording included several “skit” tracks, a common feature on rap albums. The record kept with the successful formula of blending several musical styles and the lyrics addressed social issues like racism and characters such as pimps and drug-dealers make frequent appearances in the subject matter of these the songs. Besides “Everyday Sunshine” this album is noteworthy for the track “Housework” which I have been known to put on repeat whenever I clean my home.
But “Everyday Sunshine” is the truly outstanding song on the album. The song begins with blaring brass, a funk bass groove, and plenty of keyboards. It starts out as a smooth soul number that slowly grows in intensity to have the feel of a call-and-response gospel tune. It is a song that gets your blood pumping and makes you feel good. It is far and away the most hopeful song from this fantastic album.