Let The Music Play by Steven Vass is a detailed look at how artists and producers used synths and other new music tech to reinvent R&B, concentrating on the period from 1978-86. Covering a wide range of artists, genres and scenes, including disco, LA/Solar Records, Minneapolis/Prince, boogie, New York electro/post-disco, Britfunk, Jam & Lewis, movie/promo influence and mid-80s pop. As well as covering big stars like Prince, Sade and Janet Jackson, it looks at many great artists who are often forgotten, such as Skyy, Loose Ends, Imagination, Colonel Abrams, Princess, Gwen Guthrie, Lillo Thomas, Zapp, Jonzun Crew and Yarbrough & Peoples.
“When anybody talks about 80s synth, they’re usually talking about British invaders like The Human League and Soft Cell, the beginnings of Detroit techno/Chicago house, or early hip-hop,” says author Steven Vass. “Now, these are all fantastic, but so much has been written about them already! We tend to ignore that generation of mainly black stars in America and the UK who used synths, drum machines and sequencers to bombard the charts with a new futuristic R&B. Sure, you can read books about Prince or Janet Jackson. Or you can read about how some of these R&B songs shaped techno or hip-hop. But what’s missing is a book about this music in its own right.”
“Between about ’75 and ’85, maybe 80% of black music used synths, but it was not really noticed. With a Heaven 17 or a Human League, writers focused on the synths and they often seemed like the originators. But you look back at Stevie Wonder, Prince, Loose Ends, Jam & Lewis – did anybody credit them?” Junior Giscombe
“A lot of synth came out of jazz and evolved into pop and R&B. Guys like Kashif and Hubert Eaves were innovators. Guys like Leon Sylvers, Gil Scott-Heron, Ray Parker Jr – they absolutely need more recognition.” James ‘D-Train’ Williams
“The boom in music technology was like AI for the early 80s. Synthesizers highlighted the sub-rhythms of R&B. Particularly when MIDI and sequencers came along, it was such an exciting time.” Paul Laurence