How many funk groups out there can claim Tulsa, Oklahoma as a home base?
The Gap Band hailed from that unlikely town, and wound up being one of the most successful R&B groups of the Eighties. Consisting of brothers Charlie, Robert and Ronnie Wilson, the group took their name from three streets in their home city-Greenwood, Archer and Pine. Featuring Charlie’s distinctive vocals (reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s,) the group broke through in 1980 with the George Clinton-esque “I Don’t Believe You Want To Get Up & Dance (oops Upside Your Head.)” Over the next couple of years, they developed a more unique sound with dance tracks like “Burn Rubber” and “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” as well as ballads like “Yearning For Your Love.” They also developed a unique visual style, as the members posed for photos and album covers in cowboy-esque gear.
1983’s “Party Train” was the lead single from their fifth album, entitled Gap Band V: Jammin’ and it boasts one of the more memorable videos of the era. The backdrop is a California beach, and there’s tons of people in swimsuits, musclemen flexing their biceps, and, unsurprisingly given the time frame, lots and lots of popping and locking. Although the song inexplicably missed the Billboard Top 100, it became a #3 smash on the R&B chart and helped Jammin’ attain Gold status.
The Wilson brothers continued to score hits on the R&B chart through the remainder of the decade, even as the pop chart placements dried up. The Gap Band’s influence was heavily felt during the new jack swing/hip-hop era–particularly in the form of the group Guy, a trio whose lead singer, Aaron Hall, bore an uncanny vocal resemblance to Charlie Wilson. The band went on hiatus in the early Nineties, while Charlie battled drug addiction and made a couple of solo albums. The band officially retired upon Robert Wilson’s passing in 2010. More recently, Charlie has undergone a creative renaissance, appearing on records with Snoop Dogg, Justin Timberlake, Boyz II Men and others, while reigniting his own solo career-he scored a handful of Grammy nominations earlier this year.
Warm weather is approaching, and this video makes me antsy for some beach time. Rest assured, though, I won’t be rocking the cowboy hat OR a Speedo. I will be looking to join the party train, though.