Over 45 years after their first release, Kool and the Gang remain synonymous with party music and delicious dancefloor grooves, from “Celebration” to “Ladies Night.” Big Break Records has recognized the band’s legacy with an ongoing series of reissues, of which the recent Emergency is the ninth. Originally released on De-Lite Records late in 1984, Emergency has been expanded by BBR into a deluxe, 2-CD set with a full complement of sixteen bonus tracks!
Emergency continued Kool and the Gang’s winning streak after 1983’s In the Heart (reissued just last year by BBR) restored the group to the upper reaches of the Billboard 200. Produced by Ronald Bell and the band with veteran engineer Jim Bonnefond, the LP yielded the U.S. hit singles “Joanna” (No. 2 Pop & AC, No. 1 R&B) and “Tonight” (No. 13 Pop, No. 7 R&B). Across the Atlantic, the double A-side “Joanna” and “Tonight” made it to No. 2 Pop, with “In the Heart” and “Straight Ahead” also charting impressively. How could Emergency top that? Amazingly, it did, becoming the group’s biggest seller ever and earning a Double Platinum certification.
The album, again produced by Bonneford with the band, marked a number of changes for Kool and the Gang. It took the guitar-driven rhythms of In the Heart (evident on tracks such as “Tonight”) one step further, emphasizing rock as well as the group’s famously danceable brand of R&B. Emergency also saw the group introduce drum machines into the musical mix, a perhaps-necessary concession to the prevalent sound of the 1980s. Opening salvo “Emergency” might be the band’s most driving track ever, highlighted by the contributions of guest guitarist Rick Iontosca. “Fresh,” co-written by veteran songwriter Sandy Linzer (“Native New Yorker,” “Working My Way Back to You”), incorporated cutting-edge delays and loops in an uptempo R&B setting. The lithe, electronics-and-guitars sound of “Misled” made it clear that Kool and the Gang had fully embraced the decade without sacrificing their jazz-influenced musicianship. All three songs became R&B Top 10 hits in the U.S., with “Fresh” making it to No. 1. “Fresh” and “Misled” also hit the Top 10 on the Hot 100. But this trio of major hits would ultimately be eclipsed by the LP’s fourth track.
“Cherish” was a smooth respite from the upbeat rhythms – a seductively mellow, shimmering ballad awash in melody and heartfelt sentiment. An instant classic, “Cherish” took radio by storm in a unique single version that upped its breezy atmosphere with additional guitar (reminiscent of the sound of seagulls) and percussion. (The 12-inch version differed even more, adding yacht rock-ready saxophone.) It peaked at No. 2 on the U.S. Hot 100 and topped the R&B and Adult Contemporary countdowns. In the U.K., it also became the most successful single off Emergency, peaking at No. 4 Pop. (“Cherish” is featured here in its album version, single version, 12-inch remix and largely-instrumental “Saxophone Edition,” making for fun comparisons!)
Those four hit singles weren’t all that Kool and the Gang had to offer with the tight, seven-song album, however. Few would have resisted the enticement to “Surrender” on the electro-funk track of the same name, while the story of a “Bad Woman” harkened back to classic soul with a current touch. The infectious, keyboard-driven “You are the One” closed Emergency on a high note with its graceful, spiritual message.
BBR has pulled out all the stops for its Deluxe Edition. The first disc adds five 7-inch single versions including all four U.S. A-sides and “You Are the One,” the flipside of “Emergency.” The second disc boasts eleven remixes. Aside from the remixed versions of album tracks such as “Cherish” and “Emergency,” it has a 12-inch melding of “Fresh” and “Misled” as well as the eight-song “Throwdown Mix” medley which stretches back to include the likes of “Ladies Night” and “Celebration” as well as Emergency tracks.
Big Break’s reissue of Emergency is housed in an attractive digipak and features a lengthy, definitive history of the album by Christian John Wikane drawing on interviews with Ronald “Khalis” Bell and Jim Bonneford, plus a note from founding member George “Cleveland” Brown. Nick Robbins has splendidly remastered all tracks. Sound the alarms; this is a deluxe set not to be missed.
- Bad Woman
- You Are the One
- Fresh (Single Version) (De-Lite single 880-623-7, 1985)
- Misled (Single Version) (De-Lite single 880-431-7, 1984)
- Cherish (Single Version) (De-Lite single 880-869-7, 1985)
- Emergency (Single Version) (De-Lite single 884-199-7, 1985)
- You Are The One (Single Version) (De-Lite single 884-199-7, 1985)
- Fresh (12-Inch Remix) (De-Lite 12-inch single 880-623-1, 1984)
- Misled (12-Inch Remix) (De-Lite 12-inch single 880-581-1, 1984)
- Emergency (12-Inch Extended Remix) (De-Lite 12-inch single 884-199-1, 1984)
- Cherish (12-Inch Remix) (De-Lite 12-inch single 880-947-1, 1984)
- The Throwdown Mix (Hits Medley): Get Down on It/Ladies Night/Fresh/Big Fun/Straight Ahead/Celebration/Misled (Intro)/Emergency (Club JABXR47, 1986)
- Fresh/Misled (12-Inch Special Mix) (De-Lite 12-inch single 880-947-1, 1984)
- Emergency (12-Inch Alternative Dance Mix) (TBD)
- Cherish (Saxophone Edition) (De-Lite single DE 20, 1985)
- Fresh (12-Inch Dance Mix) (De-Lite 12-inch single 880-623-1, 1984)
- Emergency (12-Inch Remix) (De-Lite 12-inch single 884-199-1, 1984)
- Emergency (12-Inch Dub Version) (De-Lite 12-inch single 884-199-1, 1984)