The Seventies were a breeding ground for a phenomenon that I like to refer to as “Anonymous Funk Band Syndrome.” You know what I’m talking about. Bands clearly influenced by outfits like War, Earth Wind & Fire, and The Commodores. Six or seven-piece ensembles that cut their teeth performing uptempo dance jams, but wound up scoring big crossovers with treacly ballads (usually.) One band that definitely fits the “Anonymous Funk Band” archetype is California’s Con Funk Shun.
Led by singer/instrumentalists Felton Pilate and Michael Cooper (not the same guy that played for the Lakers in the Eighties,) CFS blasted on the scene with the uptempo jam “Ffun” in 1977 and followed it up with a string of Gold-selling albums, a major feat considering the band had absolutely no pop success and even a good chunk of soul fans would be hard-pressed to name more than five songs by them.
After several albums of pleasant funk, the guys changed their sound several times. First, they recruited producer Eumir Deodato to score a more mainstream sound (Deodato played a large part in turning Kool & The Gang from an AFB into a Top 40 juggernaut.) That resulted in one of their bigger hits, 1983’s midtempo “Baby I’m Hooked.” However, co-lead singer (and main songwriter) Felton Pilate left the band soon after, following some disputes regarding songwriting royalties and a fistfight with drummer Louis McCall. For their 1986 album, Burnin’ Love, the fellas took their cues from Cameo, another funk band who had broken through to the pop mainstream (although they did it without the help of sappy ballads.) “She’s A Star” has Cameo’s footprints all over it, from the rap breaks to Michael Cooper’s flat top.
The video is laughably low-budget, and it certainly didn’t send audiences scrambling to the record store to buy Con Funk Shun albums. Song and album were a flop, and the band went back to the drawing board. Soon after, lead singer Michael Cooper signed a solo deal and went on to record several warmly received albums before Con Funk Shun reunited (with an abbreviated lineup) in the Nineties. Felton Pilate, these days, is best known as the force behind the hip-hop juggernaut known as MC Hammer, while the rest of the band drifted into obscurity. McCall, tragically, was murdered in 1997. You can get the full story behind the band’s triumphs and trials by checking out their episode of TVOne’s Unsung that aired just this week!