Growing up, my music was mostly my parents’ music. Billy Joel, Rush, and Cat Stevens were dominant forces. My first cassette was Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits (the one with that cool airbrushed blue horse on the cover). My first CD was given to me by my grandmother (before I had a CD player) and was Britney Spears’ debut album. When I asked her why she bought it for me she responded, “Maybe if you listened to the music kids these days listen to, you would have more friends.” Great intentions, Grandma – poorly delivered. Also, that album was terrible.
The first new music that I really liked arrived about a year earlier. I remember being home from school sick and flipping through the television channels – The Price is Right wasn’t on yet, so I had to find something to watch. While channel surfing I landed on MTV. This was in the era where the M in MTV actually meant something. There was a music video with this guy dancing around in a fuzzy, purple hat moving couches, and cockroaches – plus the music was catchy and interesting. I stuck around on the channel, which wasn’t something I frequently did because, as mentioned earlier, I was even more of a musical old man than I am now. The video was for Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity” from their massive selling Travelling Without Moving album. To date Travelling Without Moving is the best-selling funk album of all time (yes, it has even sold more than the legendary Maggot Brain by Funkadelic).
To this day I have no idea how that song, or Jamiroquai in general, found so much success. Their sound was vastly different from everything being released at the time. Funk wasn’t exactly thriving in the era of boy bands, teeny-bopper pop, and Sugar Ray. They didn’t even fit the stereotypes that funk has (or at least had): They are British, and their band leader, Jay Kay, is white. Their lyrical messages didn’t exactly jive with the times either – railing against environmental destruction, racial discrimination in the legal system, and overreliance on technology. But the band was tight, they played their own instruments, and they incorporated strings, horns, and even a didgeridoo.
To be fair, Jamiroquai’s success in the US has been spotty. The average person knows at maximum two songs – the aforementioned “Virtual Insanity” and “Canned Heat,” which was used in the dance sequence in Napoleon Dynamite. However, the group has found massive success in the UK and other corners of the world where their brand of funk/acid jazz plays better. Recently, a former member of Jamiroquai’s touring band, Sia, has found her fair share of success as a songwriter and solo artist with her most recent release, This is Acting.
Looking forward to 2016, a new Jamiroquai release is expected. Matching the worldwide success of “Virtual Insanity” or “Canned Heat” seems unlikely, but I am still excited. Maybe it is that little hipster inside me that gets excited because the first band I found for myself is still kicking and that their music is still some of the best new entries in the genre. I think the time is ripe for good funk to find a foothold in the mainstream – “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars is proof that there is an appetite. The question is whether or not Jamiroquai’s brand of funk can still please the masses.