Saturday Night Music, March 6, 2010: Ramsey Lewis with Earth, Wind & Fire, “Sun Goddess,” 1974
I remember the first time I heard this in a reunion with my high school girlfriends, Sharon and Liz, and we danced and swayed along, popping our fingers with the music. And it was a Saturday night, too. It wasn’t winter anymore, and spring had arrived and was seguing gently into summer. (Sharon had also just rediscovered Johnny Mathis, who was also going through a second wind during the disco era.) It was a delicious moment.
Ramsey Lewis had gone electric and fusion, like other jazz performers did during the Seventies. But he had hooked up with Earth, Wind and Fire, reuniting with Maurice White, his former drummer, now the founder and the leader of the popular supergroup. Sun Goddess was the title of this collaborative album as well as the name of this particular, beautiful cut. Sun Goddess was certified RIAA gold in 1975, and was a highlight of both men’s careers, as Lewis related on his website. Apparently the album seemed to take off when he, White and the band joined forces:
After those three days of polishing and perfecting, Maurice mentioned that he had another song that might be fun to record. It was a tune that was good for “blowing” as musicians say: a song with a relatively simple form conducive to improvised solos. We spent all of six hours recording this “fun little song.” As promised, it was perfect for “blowing.” Donald Myrick played wonderful saxophone and I had some fun playing Fender Rhodes. The song sounded like it needed voices, but there were no lyrics. Again with little planning and perfecting, Maurice and Verdine White along with Philip Bailey harmonized on some wordless vocals that went “way-oh, way-ay oh, bop-bop way-oh.” After that the song was complete, except for the title. Someone asked Maurice while he was on his way out of the studio, “What should we call this one?” His response was, “I don’t know…how about ‘Sun Goddess?’”
[…]At the same time, the full-length LP was selling much better than expected. Columbia Records did a little research and found that the moderate airplay “Hot Dawgit” received was not responsible for this. It was something unexpected: word of mouth. People were talking about another song they loved on the new LP. They were walking into record stores and asking where they can find this new song that goes “way-oh, way-ay-oh, bop-bop-way-oh.”
We were delighted to find out people were connecting with this song and pleasantly surprised it was this “fun little tune” we did almost as an afterthought to the big hit single. Columbia Records edited the original seven-minute recording of “Sun Goddess” down to a four-minute radio friendly version and that became a hit single in its own right. […]
Of these tunes the title track, an eight-and-a-half-minute ode to the light of our world written by Maurice White and featuring members of EW&F (including Phillip Bailey), is probably the most memorable. With a wordless vocal hook, a cascade of high-pitched synth-strings-and-whistles, simmering Rhodes notes, popping hand-drums and a sax solo on the bridge, the rolling, bass-driven track is a fusion of the Jazz-Funk sound as exemplified by the Mizell Brothers‘ catalog, the slick, sun-drenched West Coast Soul & Funk of acts such as EW&F, War, Bill Withers & Tower of Power and the refined rhythms & melodies of Philadelphia’s MFSB-fueled dancefloor Soul. As such it’s as much a lazy Soul/Jazz classic as “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” and a sweaty Disco/Soul classic as “Love Is the Message,” while retaining all the accessibility of any Earth Wind & Fire hit.
It was also the first–and last–time that Lewis had expanded his trio to that of an orchestra with EWF, especially when they toured twice after the album was so well-received. He didn’t feel like a pianist any more and felt that he was more like a bandleader. So thereafter, Lewis performed primarily with his trio, or in quintets or septets, and even as a soloist, but never again in the grand manner he had been with EWF.
But this song is a keeper. Enjoy.