Oops Upside Your Funk
Superstar DJ and British record producer Mark Ronson has earned both praise and popular success for his throwback, funk-influenced work with a range of diverse and international artists and musicians. From Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Paul McCartney, to Adele, and more, Ronson has forged a trail of magnetic tunes, in his own right. In addition to winning Grammy Awards for Producer and Record of the Year, he also topped the charts with his fourth solo jaunt, Uptown Special, and its multi-platinum lead single, "Uptown Funk," which peaked at number one across the globe in 2015. Ronson, alongside lead vocal Bruno Mars, and a slew of additional song writers, took from the soul and funk sounds of the past to brew up a toe-tapping beat that everyone, all 3.5 billion YouTube views, thoroughly enjoyed!
What we geek out over in this episode: The Gap Band Albums II, III, IV, V, VI, etc!, the incomparable Charlie Wilson, Redman “Blow Your Mind” (1992), British DJ & Record Producer Mark Ronson, Nikka Costa “Everybody Got Their Something” (2001), Here Comes the Fuzz (2003), Monty Norman - James Bond Theme Song (1962), “Toxic” Remix, Amy Winehouse “Back to Black” (2006), Trinidad James “All Gold Everything” (2012), Collage “Young Girls” (1983), The Sequence “Funk You Up” (1979), Dua Lipa “Electricity” (2017), Miley Cyrus “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” (2018) and Grammy & Oscar winning Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper “Shallow” (2018).
Bonus Material: Who sampled The Gap Band “Yearning for Your Love” (1980)?
Oops Upside Your Funk
Joe: Hello and Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the collision of original and sampled tracks and the artists who made them. I’m your host, Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell. What’s up Toby?
Toby: Not much man! Good to be here!
Joe: Together, we listen to the legendary tracks and the timeless — but sometimes not-so-well-known — songs they sampled from. Toby, what are we listening to today?
Toby: This is a track called “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. Let’s hop in the Delorean and find out what track was sampled to produce this hit.
Toby: Joe, what are we listening to?
Joe: This is “I Don’t Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops!)“ by the Gap Band, from their 1979 album The Gap Band II. The single was released with the shortened title “Oops Upside Your Head.”
Toby: Definitely one of my favorite groups of yesteryear! I’ve been looking forward to having an excuse to research this band. Joe, can you please do the honors?
Joe: My pleasure buddy. The Gap Band is comprised of the three Wilson Brothers, Charlie, Robert, and Ronnie. They grew up in a religious household in Tulsa, Oklahoma and sang and played at their father’s church. Which totally makes sense, since music lessons were mandatory. I guess the brother’s actually hated the lessons, but I’m sure they looked at them later on as being a blessing.
Toby: It sure looks like it, Ronnie started his own band at the age of 14. A few years later Charlie joined a rival band until Ronnie convinced Charlie to join his band. Robert joined soon after and they named the band The Greenwood, Archer and Pine Street Band after streets in their neighborhood. That was changed to the G.A.P. band with GAP spelled in all capitals due to issues they had with advertising such a long name. A typographical error led to them just scrapping the initials and just going with The Gap Band with Gap the letters “a’ and ‘P” being in lower case.
Joe: After some time performing in clubs around Tulsa, Charlie left for LA to find success and eventually convinced his brothers to do the same. There the Wilson’s met Lonnie Simmons, a local business man and nightclub owner. Simmons signed the Wilson Brothers and their bandmates.
Toby: The Gap Band released their first album entitled, Magician’s Holiday in 1974, but it missed the mark as far as chart topping success. In 1977 their self-titled second album was released and featured several notable names including Les McCaan, D.J. Rogers, Leon Russel, Reverend James Cleveland and Chaka Khan. Despite the talent of their features and the Wilson’s talent, they still didn’t have any big hit songs.
Joe: So have you ever done something artistically and just wished you could get a do over? Maybe a decision you made, felt good at the time, but after some time, you totally changed your mind?
Toby: Yeah, I’ve been there before. I got tons of stories!
Joe: I can only surmise that the Gap band went through something like this.
Toby: What makes you say that?
Joe: Well, in 1977 their 2nd album was called The Gap Band and was released through Tattoo records, no hits…
Joe: Well apparently they wanted to pull a mulligan. They actually recorded another album in 1979 with Mercury records and, get this… they entitled the album the same thing.
Toby: So you’re telling me that there are actually 2 albums by the same band, 2 years apart, that have the same exact album name.
Joe: Yep. Maybe they were inspired by Joe Cocker, who did the same thing, but at least he put an exclamation point on one of ‘em.
Toby: That sounds like a nightmare for publishing and for record sale tracking. Who’s idea was that?
Joe: Yeah, well whatever happened, this was the album that the Gap Band actually found some success on the charts. Their song ”Shake" reached the Top 10 on the R&B chart. Let’s take a listen to that:
Joe: Another hit from this album was a song called “Open Up Your Mind (Wide).” A funky tune with a great message to explore different ideas and challenge your present thinking. Let’s take a listen.
🔊“Open Up Your Mind”
Toby: Great song man. Apparently these guys were on a bit of a roll, because later that year they released another album entitled GAP Band II which contains our feature song “I Don’t Believe You Want to get up and Dance.” And just in case you forgot, let’s play that track again for you!
🔊“Oops Upside Your Head”
Toby: Their album, Gap II, went gold and there was no denying that the hits kept coming.
Joe: In order to have that kind of success, you have to be driven. You have to be consistent. You have to get up early in the morning.
Toby: Nice partner! Let’s take a listen to that hit from the Gap Band IV album. “Early in the Morning.”
Joe: And let’s not forget another big hit from that album, “You Dropped a Bomb On Me.” Excuse my while I go into my home run trot.
🔊“You Dropped a Bomb”
Toby: The Gap Band recorded 15 albums before retiring in 2010 when Ronnie Wilson died of heart attack. In the later years, I got to be more familiar with Charlie Wilson. But there is no way that we can have a discussion about Charlie Wilson or the Gap Band and not play one of my favorite hits from them. This next track is called “Outstanding” and it’s off of the Gap Band IV album.
Joe: That track has been sampled over 150 times and used by artists like Tyler the Creator, Da Brat, Ashanti, Ice Cube, and even Shaquille O’Neal. That’s a long list. I’m not trying to put you on the spot, but I’d love to hear what is your favorite use of “Outstanding.”
Toby: That’s easy… it has to be my man Reggie Noble aka REDMAN with his track called “Blow Your Mind…” Let’s take a listen to that:
🔊“Blow Your Mind”
Joe: Charlie Wilson has a ton of talent and a personal story that totally illustrates what it takes to win despite challenges. He overcame drug and alcohol addition which led to him being homeless for a couple of years. In addition he’s also a cancer survivor and after he got healthy he has proved to be more than relevant in today’s music.
Toby: I couldn’t have said it any better my friend. He has worked with a number of talented artists like Kanye West, Snoop Dog and Justin Timberlake. He’s noted for influencing the vocal style of artists like Aaron Hall, R Kelly, and Keith Sweat. There are few artists whose career has spanned over as many years as Charlie. To all of that, all I can say is “Salute.”
Joe: Well said. And I’ve got one more little tidbit for you. Guess who Charlie Wilson’s cousin is? I’ll give you a hint — he’s funk royalty and the man we have to mention in every episode.
Toby: Bootsy Baby! Thanks for getting our Bootsy Collins reference into this episode. That dude really is connected to everything. Alright, speaking of funk let’s move on now to our next featured track, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars.
Joe: I think a lot of people associate this track with Bruno, but it was actually a single off of Mark Ronson’s fourth studio album, Uptown Special. This album became Ronson’s first number one on the UK Albums Chart, and reached number five on the US Billboard 200.
Toby: I love Bruno and how his music spans several genres — Pop, R&B, funk, soul, hip-hop — but lets save Bruno for a future episode and instead focus on the work and influence of Mark Ronson. Joe, give me a little background.
Joe: Sure thing. Mark Ronson was born in London and raised in New York, and from an early age he was surrounded by music. His father was a real-estate guy and music manager, and after his parents’ divorce, his mother married Mick Jones, guitarist for the band Foreigner. When they moved to Manhattan, he was playmates with Sean Lennon, son of John and Yoko.
Toby: It certainly seems Mark was on his way to becoming a Juke Box Hero at an early age.
Joe: Yessir. It’s almost as if he had an urgent need to make music. While he was at NYU, he DJ’d on the club scene and made a name for himself, becoming in demand for high profile events and private parties.
Toby: In 2000 he was introduced to Nikka Costa after her manager heard one of his sets. Ronson then produced her single, “Everybody Got Their Something.” Let’s take a listen to that:
🔊“Everybody Got Their Something”
Joe: Random factoid of the day. Toby, can you guess which of The Rat Pack was Nikka’s godfather?
Toby: Hmmm. The King of Cool?
Joe: Dean Martin? Nope, try again.
Toby: Mister Show Business?
Joe: Sammy Davis Jr.? Nope, one more guess, and it’s down to three choices, so you’re odds are pretty good.
Toby: I probably should have started with the Chairman of the Board first. Ol Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.
Joe: I knew you’d get it buddy, well done. Yeah, not a bad guy to call Godfather, right? Alright, back to a modern day king of cool, Mark Ronson.
Toby: Mark began shifting into more of a producer role. He wrote and produced his own debut album, Here Comes the Fuzz in 2003. The first single was a track called “Ooh Wee,” which features rappers Nate Dogg, Ghostface Killah, Trife Da God, and Saigon. This song features one of my favorite Wu Tang members and member of Snoops Camp, and one of my favorite underground MCs. There was little chance that I wouldn’t like this track! Let’s give that a listen.
Joe: That’s a killer track, and I love the way it samples Boney M’s 1976 version of the song, Sunny. Let’s take a listen to that.
🔊“Sunny” - Boney M
Toby: Boney M was a Geman disco group, and this song hit #1 in Germany and the top ten in many other countries. But this is not the version I remember. This isn’t the original version, is it?
Joe: No sir. The original is a 1966 track by Bobby Hebb. Let’s give that a spin.
🔊“Sunny” - Bobby Hebb
Toby: Definitely a different vibe without the disco feel.
Joe: And there’s something I else I heard when I was listening to this track that now I can’t unhear. Tob, you a fan of James Bond?
Toby: Let’s just say I appreciate a good martini. Why do you ask?
Joe: Listen to this little part of the Bobby Hebb version of “Sunny.”
🔊“Sunny” - Bobby Hebb - Bond
Toby: Wait a minute, that sounds like the James Bond theme…
Joe: It does! Now I’m sure this is pure coincidence. The James Bond theme was written by a guy named Monty Norman in 1962. But this little lead in to the James Bond Theme right before the signature guitar riff is very similar to that part of “Sunny.”
🔊“James Bond Theme”
Toby: Maybe Mr. Hebb also prefers his drinks shaken and not stirred. Alright, let’s get back to our featured British secret agent, Mark Ronson.
Joe: Right. So where last we left off, Mark had just released his 2003 debut album, Here Comes the Fuzz. Unfortunately, even though the press liked it, it didn’t sell so well. And what do record companies do when your album doesn’t sell?
Toby: They drop you like a hot potato, which is exactly what Elektra did two weeks after the album came out. And what do you do when your label drops you?
Joe: You start your own! Which Ronson did with his longtime manager, Rich Kleiman. They called the label Allido, which is named after the Stevie Wonder song.
Toby: Ronson then released his second album, Verson, in 2007. It’s an album of cover songs with a retro-vibe he likes to describe as “Motown/Stax.” It debuted at number 2 in the UK and hit the top 100 around the world. The cover of the Kaiser Chief’s “Oh My God” featuring Lliy Allen charted in the top ten, and his version of The Zuton’s track “Valerie” featuring Amy Winehouse hit #2.
Joe: Definitely some tasty covers on this album, including one of my all-time favorite remakes. Toby, would you ever think to cover a Britney Spears song and feature Ol’ Dirty Bastard?
Toby: I don’t know man, that sounds like it could lead to a Toxic situation…
Joe: Indeed my friend, but it makes for some fun listening! Unfortunately, ODB’s verse is so offensive in so many ways that we can’t play any of it, but we can check out that “motown/stax” sounding version of the chorus.
Toby: That cover of “Valerie” wasn’t the only work Ronson did with Amy Winehouse, He produced much of her 2006 Back to Black album, including the title track and her hit, “Rehab.” Let’s take a listen to “Back to Black,” which Ronson also co-wrote.
🔊“Back to Black”
Joe: To me this is a great example of what Mark Ronson does so well. He makes songs that sound like you’ve heard them before. Whether he’s actually sampling tracks, or in this case, simply hearkening back to an earlier musical time, it all feels so familiar.
Toby: He does it so well that it’s won him a few Grammy’s, including Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album for his work on Back to Black.
Joe: In 2010, he released his third album, Record Collection, which also charted well in the UK. But it was his 2014 smash hit, “Uptown Funk” featuring Mark Ronson, that confirmed Ronson’s status as a worldwide phenomenon. Let’s take another listen to our second featured track, “Uptown Funk.”
Toby: This song is crazy popular. It reached #1 on the US and UK singles charts and had a fourteen week run atop the Billboard charts. It won a couple of Grammy’s, including Record of the Year, and the video has been streamed on Youtube over 3.3 billion times.
Joe: Besides the swagger and funk that Mark and Bruno are laying down, I can’t help but think that some of the song’s popularity is because, once again, it sounds so familiar. The first time I heard it I thought it was a cover, or at least was sampling something.
Toby: Originally, the only song that was specifically credited on Uptown Funk is Trinidad Jame’s 2012 rap hit “All Gold Everything.” That’s where Mark and Bruno got this famous line:
🔊“All Gold Everything”
Joe: But then as part of a 2015 settlement, The Gap Band was added as co-writers of “Uptown Funk.” Let’s take a listen to the obvious interpolation that is used for Uptown Funk.
Toby: This entire song is a throwback to that Minneapolis sound. You can hear some Prince, Some Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, some Morris Day and the Time.
Joe: You can hear a lot of familiar sounds, and some would argue that those sounds were lifted from other tracks. In fact, besides the settlement with The Gap Band, the funk group Collage sued Ronson and Mars for copyright infringement of their 1983 song “Young Girls.” Let’s have a listen.
Toby: The female hip-hop trio The Sequence also sued for copyright infringement, this time for their track 1979 track “Funk You Up.”
🔊“Funk You Up”
Joe: I always learn something cool when researching for this show. I had never heard of The Sequence before, but these ladies were the first women signed to the Sugar Hill label in 1979. And they got the gig by bum rushing a Sugarhill Gang performance and then singing backstage for the group and Sylvia Robinson. Crazy.
Toby: These talented ladies were pioneers for groups like Boyz II Men, who got their big break in the same way. I’m with you buddy, we always find so many interesting connections when we do this show.
Joe: And this brings us back to the Mark Ronson discussion, and the obvious connections his music has to so many great tracks that came before. Hence all the lawsuits for “Uptown Funk.” Toby, here are my thoughts. Mark Ronson has spent a lifetime as a DJ and producer. He’s heard so many songs and clearly has a love for a certain mix of old school funk, R&B, soul and hip hop. At some point, all those sounds blend together in your head and come out very similar to the songs you’re paying homage too. At worst, maybe it’s derivative, but I can’t think he ever set out to intentionally steal someone else’s song. What do you think?
Toby: I do think it’s deliberate that he’s stylistically adopted the sound of past genres of music. As long as you pay homage to the originators, then I don’t have a problem. Sampling a song is different from sampling a genre. He doesn’t even stick with one genre. To me the ultimate test on an artists validity is the public. There are elements from Adele, Amy Winehouse, Bruno, and Jurassic 5 even that have borrowed from past music. All in all I don’t have a problem with it as long as the quality of the music is there.
Joe: Regardless, there is no denying the timeless appeal and success of our second featured track, “Uptown Funk.” It’s 4X platinum. It sold almost 8 million copies in the US alone. It spent 31 weeks in the top ten. And Mark Ronson continues to churn out the hits. Who knows what other successes will have achieved by the time you hear this episode. He’s certainly a busy guy.
Toby: Sure is. He recently collaborated with fellow mega producer Diplo to form Silk City, and their hit “Electricity” featuring Dua Lipa just won the Grammy for Best Dance Recording. Let’s give that a listen:
Joe: This song also features that signature throwback style. “Electricity” has a very 90’s vibe to it, and I can see how it gets folks moving on the dance floor. And that video does not hurt, either. It’s the non-career threatening version of Billy Squier’s “Rock Me Tonite.”
Toby: You know, I feel like Billy and Dua are using very similar choreography, but only one is actually pulling it off!
Joe: And speaking of videos, have you seen the video for this next song? Let’s listen to “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart,” Mark Ronson’s latest hit, this time featuring Miley Cyrus.
🔊“Nothing Breaks Like a Heart”
Toby: Man there’s so much going on in this video I don’t even want to attempt to break it down. I will say that Miley has some pipes though, that girl can sing.
Joe: That is a true story. And now I have a new pet project.
Toby: What’s that?
Joe: I want to do a mashup of this tune and her dad’s smash hit.
Toby: You mean Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart?” You’re going to have to modify those luscious locks if you’re going to attempt that. More business in the front and party in the back.
Joe: Well, I’m all for throwback jams, but I can’t go there buddy. This is a mullet-free zone.
Toby: That’s probably a good idea. Let’s confine our throwbacks to sports jerseys and music. Speaking of throwback music, I love reading about how artists get their start. It’s generally all about overcoming odds and/ or being in the right place at the right time.
Joe: Couldn’t agree more my friend. Timing is such an important aspect of releasing an album and even just getting signed to a label.
Toby: It’s funny that you mentioned that. For today’s Bonus material I wanted to bring the conversation back to The Gap Band for a second. The Gap Band’s fifth album was titled Gap Band III and features a song called “Yearning for Your Love.” This song broke the Billboard Hot 100 and proved to be a fan favorite. Let’s take a listen:
🔊“Yearning for Your Love”
Joe: Now you mentioned earlier that Charlie Wilson from The Gap Band inspired a number of influential artists including Teddy Riley, the father of New Jack Swing. Teddy’s group GUY was vocally led by Aaron Hall, who’s stylistically similar to Charlie. GUY did a remake of “Yearning for Your Love” in 1990, let’s take a listen to that.
🔊“Yearning for Your Love Guy”
Toby: Now let’s connect some more dots back to hip hop. We apparently aren’t the only ones that liked this track. Hip Hop producer L.E.S. received his first production credit by sampling The Gap Band’s original version of “Yearning for Your Love” for Nas’s 4th single off his classic first album Illmatic. Due to the fact that this is a family show, I will abbreviate the track title. The track is called “Life’s a B#$%@.”
🔊“Life’s a B@#$%”
Joe: Ok two things: 1) that doesn’t sound like Nas rhyming at the beginning of the track and 2) maybe you can tell me why this song stands out to you.
Toby: You’re right, that’s not Nas at the beginning of the track. That MC’s name is AZ and I can’t tell you how many times these lines have been recited and hailed as classic. And I know that I’m not crazy because AZ reportedly got signed with EMI on the strength of this verse. The crazy thing was that this was AZ’s first time recording one of his rhymes in a studio. He essentially treated that verse like it was an interview. That’s dope!
Joe: That’s crazy. Talk about taking advantage of an opportunity. AZ, who’s real names is Anthony Cruz, went on to a successful career, but has always flown a bit under the radar.
Toby: He’s been described as “arguably the most underrated lyricist ever” and ranks #1 on the top ten list of Most Underrated Rappers of All Time. I’m just glad we could give him some love.
Joe: Absolutely. Well Tobe, that’s about all the time we have for this episode. Let’s recap, what all did we cover today?
Toby: Our first featured track was “Oops Upside Your Head” by The Gap Band, and our next featured track was “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars.
Joe: Good stuff. What do we have lined up for our next episode?
Toby: It’s going to be an All Star extravaganza. We will play some tunes that make you want to jump around, and if you have arthritic knees and need to avoid the high impact activities, you are welcome to Harlem shuffle instead.
Joe: Wow. Great tunes AND aerobic activity. Can’t wait! In the meantime, please interact with the show on Instagram @riffsonriffs and on Twitter, @riffsonriffsyo. You can find Toby on social @heiku575, and I’m @sonowats. We love hearing from our listeners! We will take you out with yet another hit from Mark Ronson, this time co-written with Lady Gaga, Andrew Wyatt and Anthony Rossomando. Of course we are referring to “Shallow” from the movie A Star is Born. This song won a couple of Grammies, and just received the Oscar for Best Original Song. We’ll catch you next time on Riffs on Riffs. As always, thanks for listening.