This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to spend time with a sizable chunk of the Popdose family. I mention this summit for a couple of reasons. Not only is this week’s column a direct offshoot of a conversation that I had with Jeff Giles and Michael Parr (Jason Hare and/or Mike Duquette may have also been present during this conversation, but I’m not sure, and they may or may not have paid me to absolve them of involvement), but mentioning them will hopefully take the heat off of me in case someone, realizing that I’m devoting wasting precious site space to Kenneth Gorelick, goes on an Angry Man Rampage and decides to crack some heads open.
Believe it or not, there was a time when not only was it not completely uncool to like Kenny G., but the guy had a little bit of funk in him. You could actually dance to one of his records. In light of his eventual success as the textbook definition of musical milquetoast and the best-selling elevator music artist of all time, that might be hard to believe, but I have proof of this!
Ladies & gentlemen, I bring you the video for 1983’s “Hi, How Ya Doin’?”
Back in the Eighties, it was not uncommon for instrumental music to be played on urban radio. Everyone from George Howard to Najee scored major success in those days, and occasionally a song in what we now know as the smooth jazz format (like, for example, Herb Alpert’s “Rise”) would cross over onto the pop charts. Initially, Kenny G. was cut from this cloth. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Keep in mind, folks, this was a man who cut his teeth playing for Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra. I can imagine The Maestro himself listening to Breathless in the early Nineties, proclaiming “I taught this fool better than this! Sho’ you right!” in that booming bass voice, and tossing the CD across the room. I have a fertile imagination.
Anyhow, Kenny’s first couple of albums on Arista were aimed squarely at the urban contemporary crowd, featuring vocalists like Tower of Power’s Lenny Williams and production by Kashif, who was one of the hottest artist/producers of his day. His work with artists like Evelyn “Champagne” King and Melba Moore was all over the radio, and “Hi” is pretty recognizable as a song that came from his camp.
Even if you don’t dig the G man (and I imagine that many of you too-cool-for-school types don’t), you’ll at least be able to appreciate the fact that this video is HIGH. FUCKING. COMEDY. From the ridiculous premise (Kenny plays a cook/waiter who finds himself infatuated with some moderately attractive ’80s babe. She ignores him but then finds herself intrigued when Kenny pulls out his…saxophone) to Kenny moonwalking in the video (I wonder why the camera never pans down to his feet), this clip must be seen to be believed. It’s also worth mentioning how much Kenny favors Bob Saget in this video. I can TOTALLY picture Danny Tanner rocking out to some sax-y goodness. I don’t know if I can picture him with a curly mullet, though.
At any rate, this song (and video) demonstrates that Kenny had a fairly strong hold on the urban community, one he retained well after he sold out (Breathless was not only a pop sensation, but peaked at #2 on the R&B albums chart in early 1993, sidling up next to albums like Dr. Dre’s The Chronic…G, meet some “G”s…) These days, he’s a good sport about his cheesy legacy and has appeared in songs or videos by modern-day artists like Foster the People and Katy Perry, but as this video clearly shows: even when he was “cool”, Kenny G. was never, ever cool.