Unlike many of their peers, Kool & the Gang transitioned effortlessly into the 1980s, augmenting the funk-jazz fusion they pioneered with a smoother pop sound that yielded hits like “Celebration,” “Misled,” and “Fresh,” among many others. Much of that shift can be attributed to the hiring of vocalist James “J.T.” Taylor in 1979, who can be heard on most of the band’s most famous songs of the decade.
But while the group’s perennial earworms have soundtracked weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and other life events for decades, their boisterous, exuberant live shows often get forgotten. In 1982, they appeared on West German show Musikladen for a wild 45-minute set spanning 1979’s Ladies’ Night (“Too Hot,” “Ladies’ Night”) through 1982’s then-recent As One (“Big Fun,” “Let’s Go Dancing”).
Following the death of Kool & the Gang co-founder Ronald “Khalis” Bell Wednesday night at the age of 68, it’s worth looking back at how potent the band was at their peak. The entire set is worth watching, but on “Get Down On It,” the band speeds up the tempo to a dizzying clip and turns the already-jovial song into a manic frenzy.
This clip has everything: Matching white and gold outfits, choreographed funk dancing, Curtis Williams’ screaming keytar solo, furious congas, Robert “Kool” Bell’s walrus mustache, a random female fan hopping onstage to dance, and Taylor flipping another member over his head in sheer bliss.
We’re living in terrifying, uncertain, and morose times where with each passing day, it becomes easier to forget what it’s like to be in a crowd and experience unbridled happiness. Here, for five-and-a-half-minutes, every second of the escapist joy of “Get Down On It” offers both a memory and harbinger of a more optimistic future.