If you’re over 50, you may remember exactly what you were doing when Ramsey Lewis with Earth, Wind and Fire released their signature song of happiness and ethereal lightness, Sun Goddess, early in 1974.
You might have been a teenager maybe ditching class to throw a Frisbee in the park, or you were a few years shy of 30, maybe newly married and hard at work when the fusion (rock/soul/funk) group Earth, Wind and Fire released Sun Goddess. You may even have been a soldier in the jungles of Vietnam with your buddies listening to the song break across the AFVN (American Forces Vietnam Network) air waves.
Earth, Wind and Fire were the quintessential concert-goers group of your generation and still are. They continue to sell sold out stadium concerts around the world. In 1974 they introduced what was then called “fusion” music – a combination of jazz, soul, rhythm and blues, “funk” with a little rock thrown in. When President Obama took office in 2009, he updated EWF’s “cool” to a whole new generation and reminded people how far we’ve come as a country by having EWF perform at the Governors’ Ball.
However, in 1974 America was a much different place than President Obama’s America. Sun Goddess wasn’t really for dancing even though it was the time of social glitterati like Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger (Mick’s then wife), and Mikhail Baryshnikov (Russian ballet dancer) holding court at New York’s Studio 54 disco. People lined up to dance at other disco clubs around the country, or dancing to EWF’s music on Don Cornelius’ Soul Train on television. It was an over 8:31 minute instrumental heavy on a sexy, jazzy saxophone against a kind of tropical island-flavor calypso-like beat elevated by the incredible voices of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “wayo-ing” in perfect harmony.
No, Sun Goddess was better suited for just “grooving”, as was said back in the day. It was listening and cruising, preferably with the top down, music. Yet, there was only a few “grooving” bits of news in that year – like when Mariner 10 finally approached the planet Mercury, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s batting record by hitting his 715th career home run, and the Pioneer 11 probe passed Jupiter and took photos of the Great Red Spot.
The rest of the year was a mixture of weird and historical chaos. Like when in late April, the Symbionese Liberation Army, with heiress Patty Hearst as captive, robbed the Hibernia bank in San Francisco. Ms. Heart would later “fall in love” with one of her captors and the psychological term “Stockholm syndrome” (bonding, sympathizing with your captors) would become part of pop culture.
Yet, amidst the odd and troubling news of that year, Sun Goddess seemed to represent a lighthearted, warm, golden summer day oasis amidst some very heavy, strange and dark days in American life, politics and history. Americans gathered around their TVs watching the horrors of the Vietnam War on the nightly 6 o’clock news; French acrobat Philippe Petit walked a high wire rope strung between what used to be the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center; handsome, charming serial killer Ted Bundy was on the loose; and Texas TV anchor Christine Chubbock put a gun to her head and shot herself on live television.
If those events weren’t crazy enough, Sun Goddess’s lilting and relaxing way-os also wafted their way across America on the strange winds blowing out of Washington D.C. Its uplifting golden tones belied the deceit and decay that was lurking in the highest office of our land – but not for long.
The Watergate scandal surfaced and an American President actually stood on national television and proclaimed he was not a crook. A long and engaging inquiry was aired for the American public on all-day television and culminated in the first President in American history – Richard M. Nixon – to resign in office. Later that fall, he would be pardoned by his successor, President Gerald Ford but Nixon would never recover from his fall from Grace.
Before his own personal, tragic fall with his health, Mohammed Ali would knock out George Foreman in the much-publicized Rumble in the Jungle in Kinshasa, Zaire. But Foreman wasn’t the only one getting TKO’d that year – the Franklin National Bank went belly up from fraud and mismanagement and was the largest bank disaster in history up to that time.
In addition, giant conglomerates also went down with the count when the U.S. Department of Justice filed an Anti-Trust lawsuit against AT&T and the Bell System. The suit broke them up into smaller communications companies – many of which now power the Internet.
But all the while, the Sun Goddess’s golden image and sound was everywhere playing from record shops, car radios, and “boom boxes” the new portable music system carried on the shoulders of “break-dancing” teenagers everywhere. Sun Goddess is a song that’s stuck firmly in the back of the collective mind of everyone over age 50. Upon hearing the first few notes of it, you could be transported out of the daily grind reality that was America in those days. It could take your mind to dancing with abandon around a fire under the moonlight on the white sands of Jamaica or a secluded tent-bed in your apartment.
That image of that gold-drenched lady, Susan Leigh Scott (Maxon) on the cover of the Sun Goddess album, reminiscent of the all-gold painted girl in Goldfinger, made an interesting contrast to the financial “gold” troubles that the country was in at the time. Perhaps fittingly, as Sun Goddess was nearing its “gold record” status from sales, 1974 ended on December 31st with the lifting of personal restrictions on how much gold, as a citizen, you could own. They were some memorable days for sure.