No party would be complete without a few classic Kool & the Gang hits on the turntable, but what’s the story behind this eternally popular, legendary disco band?
How it all began
Back in 1964, New Jersey brothers Ronald and Robert ‘Kool’ Bell teamed up with high school buddies Dennis Thomas, Charles Smith, George Brown, Robert Mickens and Ricky West to form a band. Originally calling themselves names such as the Jazziacs, The Jazz Birds, The New Dimensions, The Soul Town Band and Kool & the Flames, they finally settled on Kool & the Gang.
The band’s self-titled debut album and single were released in 1969, uniquely blending jazz, funk and soul instrumental sounds and finely tuned horn arrangements. Commercial success came their way in 1973 with their third album, Wild and Peaceful, which spawned the top ten singles, Funky Stuff, Jungle Boogie and Hollywood Swinging.
It wasn’t until the band collaborated with vocalist James Taylor and musician Eumir Deodato in 1979 that they really started to enjoy mainstream success. The album Ladies Night was released in 1979, closely followed by albums Celebrate! and Emergency, producing classic hit singles such as Ladies Night, Celebration, Get Down on It, Joanna, Fresh and Cherish. Celebration topped the charts for an impressive six weeks, while the popular 1984 hit Fresh made it to the number one spot on the R&B and Dance charts. Arguably one of the band’s most iconic tunes, Fresh gave a new meaning to the words cool or original. This single from the Emergency album has since been covered by the Beat System and Liberty X.
Singles from Kool & the Gang have also featured on top movie soundtracks, Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, Pulp Fiction and Wreck-It-Ralph. Overall, the group has achieved 25 top ten R&B hits, 9 top ten pop hits and 32 gold and platinum-selling albums.
A unique sound
Although Kool & the Gang experimented with different styles of music over the years, they have become famous for their unique disco sound that harmoniously blends with funk, soul, pop, jazz and R&B. They became an innovator in black music during the 80s and charted more pop singles at this time than any other act. Regarded as the most sampled band of all time, hits such as Celebration, Fresh and Get Down on It regularly feature at parties and events today.
With the band’s catchy tunes boasting evergreen appeal, it’s easy to see why Kool & the Gang has earned a bevy of awards over the years. As well as two Grammy Awards to their name, they’ve won seven American Music Awards and have been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame and gained a Hollywood Walk of Fame star. A road in their native Jersey City has even been named after the band. Kool & the Gang was also the only American band to take part in Band Aid’s 1984 charity hit, Do They Know It’s Christmas?
Kool & the Gang today
After more than 20 studio albums, almost 70 singles, and album sales in excess of 70 million worldwide, Kool & the Gang still wow fans all over the world today with their timeless hits.
The band’s last studio album Kool for the Holidays was released in 2013, and their latest single, Sexy (Where’d You Get Yours) was released in 2016. Over the years, they’ve toured with the likes of Kid Rock, Elton John and Van Halen, and in 2014, they embarked on a 50th-anniversary tour.
Kool & the Gang continues to record and tour to this day, with worldwide performances already earmarked for the rest of this year and well into 2019.
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