Dean Van Nguyen lives in Dublin, baby.
Dr. Dre keeps a tight grip on his legacy. Last year’s Straight Outta Compton (which Dre co-produced), opens with the beat from his “Talking To My Diary” and ends with the Good Doctor dramatically exiting the bleakness of Death Row towards the light of Aftermath . Dave Chappelle once joked that making a movie about your own life brings the temptation to lie. Dre might not have been totally dishonest, but he lasered away the warts.
The future headphone hawker’s introduction in the movie is just as telling. Teenage Dre is seen laying on the floor of his Compton bedroom, entombed in the records that supplied an extensive musical education. Ringing through his headphones is Roy Ayers’ smooth classic “Everybody Loves The Sunshine.” As the track spins, Dre closes his eyes and drifts away. The band’s cool piano chords, spaced-out key riffs and lazily-rapped congas offer a refuge from the chaos and violence of previous scenes. It connected the sound of seventies Los Angeles to NWA’s Molotov cocktail set to hit eighties South Central.
“Everybody Loves The Sunshine” has been sampled so regularly, it’s got its own chapter in the hip-hop playbook. Dre himself flipped Ayers’ groove into the unreleased circa-1995 joint “My Life,” seeing Doc fill his glass with Hennessey, spark a blunt, and reminisce over the same period of time the glossy Hollywood movie would depict two decades later. The California sun is under his skin, embedded in his DNA. “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” is a song so intertwined with his memories of the palm-treed pavement of his home city, it’ll forever be intertwined with Dre’s legacy.
Summer. When the sun isn’t frying you to ash, the low cloud and humidity is baking you to a crisp. The bugs are out in force, public transport is hell, and my garden looks like something out of Jumanji. But has there ever been a more blissful sales pitch for the season than “Everybody Loves The Sunshine?” Roy Ayers could probably sell you seafront property in Nebraska. In his hands, summer is paradise. “Just bees and things and flowers,” he sings smoothly, his voice flanked on both sides by Las Chicas and Chano O’Ferral. Lyrics don’t come fully-formed when your buzzed on the hot sun and cold Heineken.
Ayers should have his own stamp by now. He’s done everything from free-wheeling jazz to lean R&B. He’s carved a mean score for blaxploitation joint Coffy (1973), and cut the joint classic with Fela Kuti, Music of Many Colors (1980). But “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” is by far Ayers’ most famous song, and the album of the same name–which turns 40 this year–might be his most cherished LP just by association. It’s a record as quintessentially California as the Hollywood sign, from an LA-raised, Brooklyn-adopted artist who as far back as 1963 was debuting with an album called West Coast Vibes. Regardless of what concrete and steel pressure cooker you happen to live in, these are ten tracks as refreshing as a cannon ball dive into a outdoor public swimming pool.
The album sounds less like actual paradise than it does the Utopian fantasy of summer through the lens of an urban prism. It’s an album you need when stuck in traffic on a scorching hot day, almost as vital as air conditioning. If D-Fens, Michael Douglas’s unstable stiff from Falling Down, had hit play on Everybody Loves The Sunshine, Whammy Burger would have been a much safer place to grab lunch in.
Starting from opener “Hey, Uh, What You Say Come On,” Ayers takes the lead as a singer, multi-instrumentalist and Ubiquity band leader. There are squelching key riffs and funky guitars and mournful harmonicas. It’s the starship groove that laid the foundation for west coast rap, but in Ayers’ hands, the hard angles are as smoothed out as his silk jackets.
“It Ain’t Your Sign It’s Your Mind” repeats its title to the point where makes perfect sense—personality always trumps astrology. How seriously you take it is on you. Elsewhere, the snappy “Lonesome Cowboy” sees Ayers fully clowning, weaving in and out of character as he tells the story of a lone wolf and his bride to be. The breaks could launch a thousand rap beats. Budding producers should already know.
The highpoint might be the “The Third Eye,” a near-six-and-a-half minute elevator ride to paradise that embodies that record’s drowsy brilliance. It’s jazz club cool at its best, where free drinks are in band’s takeaway, and they aren’t in a rush. The song moves at its own pace. Tinkling piano solos last minutes. Ayers’ voice is hazy and soothing.
At 75, the master is still doing his thing. Last year he solidified his rap legacy with a whole new generation by appearing on Tyler, The Creator’s “Find You Wings.” Listening to the track is like staring into a mirage and seeing Ayers’ seventies self looking back at you. And for three minutes more, summer is worth having.