Kool & the Gang had their first Top 10 hit in 1973, with “Jungle Boogie,” but had had minor funk hits for four years previously, starting with the instrumental, “Kool & the Gang” (the title track of their debut album), in 1969. The song rose to No. 19 on Billboard magazine’s R&B chart, and No. 59 on its pop chart.
The Jersey City-based group reached the peak of their popularity in the late ’70s and early ’80s, with pop-oriented songs such as “Celebration,” “Joanna” and “Cherish,” but when you listen to their early stuff, you realize just how deeply rooted they were in funk and jazz. If you heard “Kool & the Gang” today, and wasn’t familiar with it, you very easily might mistake it for a James Brown track. Check it out below.
Kool & the Gang is still active today, 45 years after that first hit, and 50 years after beginning to play together as the Jazziacs. They are still anchored, as they were on the “Kool & the Gang” album, by bassist Robert “Kool” Bell, his brother, tenor saxophonist Ronald Bell (aka Khalis Bayyan), alto saxophonist Dennis Thomas and drummer George Brown.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.