Monday, November 9, 2020

"System of Survival" by Earth, Wind & Fire

Song#:  3313
Date:  10/31/1987
Debut:  93
Peak:  60
Weeks:  13
Genre:  R&B, Electro-Funk

Pop Bits:  EWF's synth-leaning 1983 LP Electric Universe was the band's first to not at least reach gold level sales since 1972. It was also their first album since then to not generate a Pop Top 40 entry. It seemed that the band was having a difficult time navigating the waters of early 80s music, so band leader Maurice White decided a break was needed. Over the next four years, White and other EWF members like Philip Bailey would do other projects that included solo albums and production work. When '87 rolled around, White thought it was time to get the group back together. They convened in the studio to record their fourteenth album Touch the World. For the LP, White brought back EWF's horn section, which had been eliminated on Electric Universe in favor of synths. This first single got things started and it was welcomed with open arms at R&B where the song reached #1, their eighth and final one to top that chart. It also got to #1 on the Dance chart. However, the news wasn't so good over at Pop where the single stopped before reaching the halfway point. Still, the album did better than their previous one by making it to #33 Pop and #3 R&B. It would return them to gold level sales, but unfortunately it would be their last LP to do so. 

ReduxReview:  I guess this is sort of a message song. It basically talks about how crappy politics and human beings can be, but you just got to keep on surviving - by dancing, of course! The track has a Jam & Lewis feel, so Maurice White was certainly keeping a close ear to trends of the day. It still leaned heavy on synths like their previous album, but you could kind of hear that there was a band underneath it all. I can't say that if I heard this on the radio I'd know it was Earth, Wind & Fire, but it was better than some of their previous singles. At least they sounded more vested and engaged. The break did them good and it resulted in a #1 R&B hit, however it wasn't as mainstream-friendly as their earlier hits and it couldn't get a leg up at Pop. It was a pretty good return to form even though the tune wasn't one that was going to rank alongside their best tracks.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  EWF's 80s albums included more contributions from outside writers than their multi-platinum 70s output and Touch the World continued that trend. It received assistance from hit songwriters like Robbie Nevil, Allee Willis, Danny Sembello, and Glen Ballard. This particular track was written by a guy that went by the singular name of Skylark. Not much can be found about him, but it seems that he was born in the Netherlands to a US service man and a Dutch woman. He was mainly a bass player that worked with several bands in the 70s. He also began writing songs and somehow his "System of Survival" made it over to the EWF camp. The #1 R&B/Dance hit raised his profile and it led to him writing/producing for other artists like Deniece Williams, The Whispers, and the jazz fusion band Hiroshima. In 1995, Skylark became the bass player for The Doobie Brothers. He remained with them until a stroke sidelined him in 2010.


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