Forever No. 1: Kool & the Gang’s ‘Celebration’

Forever No. 1 is a Billboard series that pays special tribute to the recently deceased artists who achieved the highest honor our charts have to offer — a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single — by taking an extended look back at the chart-topping songs that made them part of this exclusive club. Here, we honor the late Khalis Bayyan of Kool & the Gang by diving into his group’s only Hot 100 No. 1, the eternal party anthem “Celebration.” 

Think of the definitive hitmaking bands of the ’80s, and your mind likely goes either to new wave-era pop groups like Duran Duran, Culture Club and The Cars or hair metal-era arena-rockers like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses. But a group of funk veterans had more top 40 hits in the period than all of ‘em: Kool & the Gang, the New Jersey fusionists who’d first broke out in the early ’70s, notched a stunning 16 top 40 entries on the Billboard Hot 100 over the course of the ’80s, tied with AOR mavens Journey for the most of any band that decade. (Duo Hall & Oates had the most of any artist with their 22.)

Still, of those 16 top 40 hits blanketing the Greed Decade, only one topped the Hot 100: “Celebration,” penned primarily by group co-founder Ronald Bell (who later adopted the name Khalis Bayyan), who died on Wednesday (Sept. 9) at age 68. “Celebration” reached No. 1 the week of February 7, 1981, taking over from Blondie’s calypso cover “The Tide Is High,” and lasted for two weeks at the chart’s apex.

Though the song has come to be synonymous with nearly every type of private and public celebration in the four decades since its release, the idea for the enduring and immediately recognizable party perennial first came to Bayyan when he was reading the Qu’ran. “I was reading the passage, where God was creating Adam, and the angels were celebrating and singing praises,” he told Al Jazeera in 2014. “That inspired me to write the basic chords, the line, ‘Everyone around the world, come on, celebration.'”

It also helped the song’s overall spirit that it was the first time in a while that Kool & the Gang had much to celebrate. Started by Bayyan and brother Robert “Kool” Bell as teens in 1964, the group first hit the Hot 100 in 1969 with their self-titled debut single, reaching No. 59. They grew that success in the mid ’70s, with the consecutive smashes “Funky Stuff” (No. 29, 1973), “Jungle Boogie” (No. 4, 1974) and “Hollywood Swinging” (No. 6, 1974). But as their brand of fire-starting funk fell out of favor in the latter half of the ’70s as disco rose to ubiquity, the hits dried up, and neither 1977’s The Force or 1978’s Everybody Dancin’ LPs spawned a single that even managed to crack the Hot 100.

However, the group’s comeback began in earnest with 1979’s Ladies Night, produced by Brazilian studio whiz Eumir Deodato (who’d scored a surprise No. 2 hit earlier in the decade with a jazz-funked rendition of the classical piece “Also Sprach Zarathustra”) and fronted by James “J.T.” Taylor, hired to be the group’s lead vocalist. Together with their new singer and producer, the band more fully embraced disco’s pulse, and Ladies’ Night spawned a pair of top 10 hits in 1980 with “Too Hot” (No. 5) and the title track (No. 8). The latter in particular helped set the table for “Celebration,” not just with its handclap-assisted energy and generally convivial spirit, but with its outro, in which the backing vocalists proclaim, “Come on dance and celebrate.” (“That was the key to finishing ‘Celebration,'” Bayyan told Adam White and Fred Bronson for The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits.)

By the time of “Celebration,” the group had been re-established as pop stars — Kool even told the Los Angeles Herald Examiner that the idea for the song “came from our celebration of our return to the music business” — and indeed, the single sounds like a victory lap from its opening drum fill. Subsequent instruments (guitar, horns, bass) each take turns strutting in from there, as background voices subtly chatter and whoop in the background, before affirming their presence with one gigantic “WA-HOO!” And then, the immortal chant-along chorus — “Celebrate good times, come on!” — which serves as both an invitation and demand, unequivocal enough to be unignorable, but also open-ended enough in its phrasing to be universally applicable.

While the majority of the group’s early singles were largely free-form, often with just a gang-vocal hook or two and few other lyrics to speak of, by the time of “Celebration” most of Kool & the Gang’s hits followed a more traditional verse-chorus structure. But the band still carried over the frenzied party energy of their earlier work, with brain-sticking musical licks and audience-participation refrains at every turn, to the point where the revelry is already in its highest gear by the time it gets to the first verse. “Ladies’ Night” was the song’s most immediate precedent, but it also carries the DNA of another turn-of-the-decade disco smash in Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” which is also bursting with life-affirming hooks, and which repeats its merrymaking chorus until it practically becomes an incantation.

“Celebration” keeps its mission simple: It really, really wants you to just celebrate already, dammit. The word “celebrate” not only anchors the song’s unforgettable five-word chorus, but forms of of it also pop up throughout the verses and the pre-chorus, never letting you get too far without a reminder about the reason for the season. But as forceful as the band are on “Celebration” in ensuring you’re getting the party going, they’re equally insistent on leaving the terms of said party up to you: On the pre-chorus, Taylor even explicitly asks, “It’s up to you — what’s your pleasure?” Kool & the Gang don’t demand to be the center of attention at the festivities, they’re merely here to help: “We’re gonna celebrate and party with you,” Taylor offers in the verses.

It’s that sort of equal-opportunity approach to party-starting that’s allowed “Celebration” to soundtrack pretty much any joyous festivity imaginable in the 40 years following its release. In 1981 alone, it was used both as the theme song to Super Bowl XV between the Oakland Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles, and the song that heralded the return of the 52 American citizens to U.S. soil at the end of the Iran hostage crisis. Over the decades, it not only endured as an anthem for such moments of victory, but also became a go-to DJ jam at nearly every wedding, bar mitzvah, confirmation and other large-scale gathering in which there was, indeed, cause for celebration.

Coincidentally for such a definitive pop song about partying, after two weeks on top of the Hot 100 “Celebration” gave way to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” possibly the definitive pop song about working. Together, the two songs represented more than opposing parts of the week’s schedule — they also represented two of the dominant forms of early ’80s pop music. Kool & the Gang’s breezy post-disco R&B could also be found around the top of the charts courtesy of Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, both alums of ’70s hitmaking outfits themselves in the Jackson 5 and the Commodores, respectively. Meanwhile, Dolly’s brand of pop-accessible country would also be taken to No. 1 in the early decade by fellow crossover stars Eddie Rabbit and Kenny Rogers. But by 1982, musical tides were turning, and the top of the charts would soon start to greater reflect the synth-driven new wave and mega-pop favored by the MTV generation, with disco’s influence fizzling out and country largely receding to Nashville.

But even through this, Kool & The Gang continued to prosper deep into the decade, with a combination of funk floor-fillers and crossover-friendly love songs. The group topped Billboard’s R&B Songs chart four more times over the course of the ’80s, and not only did they score 13 more top 40 Hot 100 hits, they hit the top 10 with seven of them, including two pop ballads that peaked at No. 2: “Joanna,” which was blocked by Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” in early 1984, and “Cherish,” which got stuck behind Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” for three weeks in late 1985. “We all feel so positive about our direction and success,” Kool told Fred Bronson in the mid-’80s for The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits. “It’s been a long time coming.”

‘Saturday Night Live’ Returns to Studio for 46th Season

Saturday Night Live is getting back into the studio to start its 46th season on NBC.

The sketch comedy series has set Oct. 3 for its season premiere, once again airing live across the country at 11:30 p.m. ET/8:30 p.m. PT. NBC says the show will return to its home base in Rockefeller Center’s Studio 8H to kick off the season.

The premiere will mark the first in-studio edition of SNL in nearly seven months. The show’s last episode before the coronavirus pandemic shut down production aired on March 7, with Daniel Craig hosting. Three remote editions of the show, with cast members and musical guests all performing from their homes, closed out the season in the spring.

In keeping with the show’s usual m.o., little else about the season premiere is known. SNL typically doesn’t announce its first list of hosts, or which cast members are returning and who’s joining the ensemble, until closer to its airdate.

The show’s return to in-studio production follows that of a number of other late-night programs. NBC’s Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night With Seth Meyers have both resumed taping at 30 Rock, and CBS’ Late Show and Late Late Show have done the same at their respective studios — although Late Show host Stephen Colbert is filming from a replica of his office at New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater rather than in the theater itself. Jimmy Kimmel is set to return to his ABC late-night show on Sept. 21 after a summer break.

SNL has a much larger cast than any of those shows, and more moving parts with multiple sketches and musical performances. NBC isn’t yet sharing details on how the show will accommodate COVID-19 safety precautions.

This story originally ran in The Hollywood Reporter.

A Timeline of Cardi B & Candace Owens’ Political Debate

With the Nov. 3 presidential election coming up, Cardi B and politically conservative commentator Candace Owens have launched into a debate of their own.

Owens went on The Ben Shapiro Show Sunday (Sept. 6) to discuss how the rapper’s interview with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for Elle on Aug. 17 was “pandering” to Black American voters by appealing to their music taste. But Cardi fought back on Twitter and Instagram with claims that as one of the hottest rappers with a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 “WAP” collaboration with Megan Thee Stallion last month, she had the right to use her platform to encourage her fans to vote and be politically active.

Billboard compiled a timeline of Cardi vs. Candace below.

September 6, 2020: Owens slams Cardi on The Ben Shapiro Show, sparking a Twitter feud. And Cardi fires back in impromptu Instagram Live.

Owens tweeted a clip of her interview with fellow conservative commentator Ben Shapiro on his show Sunday, where she expressed their mutual disregard for Cardi following her No. 1 hit “WAP” and her interview with former Vice President Biden.

“If Black Americans aren’t insulted by the fact that Joe Biden, who has been hiding in his basement for the entire year, made an appearance and came out because he was going to do an interview with Cardi B, do we have nothing better to offer?” the 31-year-old figure argued. “I mean, this would be akin to Donald Trump saying, ‘I’m going to give no interviews,’ but he came up and he decided to give an interview to Justin Bieber…. Justin Bieber, I am sorry, I know you are Christian and I don’t want to put you in the same boat as Cardi B, but it would be absurd…. It’s because you’re pandering.”

She proceeded to call the 27-year-old rapper “illiterate” by mimicking her signature “Okurr” catchphrase and claimed the interview with Biden was carefully handled to appeal to young Black American voters.

The two fired back at each other on Twitter all Sunday night, with Cardi (real name Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar) sharing a video of her sister Hennessy Carolina and her girlfriend being harassed by Trump supporters “because they are a Afro/Hispanic gay couple.” The “WAP” rapper spoke on the incident further during an Instagram Live in response to Owens’ The Ben Shapiro Show segment. “No matter how much money I make, no matter how hard I work, I can’t be a f—ing free American. My sister can’t be a f—ing free American. You got this f—ing Trump supporting family harassing two lesbians. The f—?” she argued.

“You’re saying Joe Biden is pandering because he’s using a popular figure like me,” she continued. “But your president, the guy that you f—ing love so much, he panders as well too…. I’m gonna keep telling my millions of followers to vote until we get your president out of here.”

And in an effort to have the last word, Owen filmed her own IG Live response video. “You continually keep saying you have a No. 1 song. It means s—,” she said. “Nobody cares about a song about your ‘wet a– p—y.’ Excuse my language for my followers… That has nothing to do with Black America and whether or not you are helping or hurting.” She also listed demands for Cardi in her caption, including, “Stop using your platform to call for more black deaths. Stop lying about Trump. Stop supporting Joe Biden who supported segregation and the mass incarceration of black men.”

September 7, 2020: Owens claims she “broke” Cardi with slam-dunk memes. 

The following day, Owens declared herself the champion of her feud with the “Bodak Yellow” rapper and decided to showcase her win on Twitter with a Michael Jordan meme captioned, “I broke @iamcardib.” After one Twitter user supported Owens as the winner of the Twitter and Instagram battles by writing, “…she destroyed Cardi B. Total bodybag. Candace walked circles round her. RIP,” the conservative commentator played along and tweeted, “To those asking— no, I was not invited to speak at Cardi B’s funeral.”

September 9, 2020: Owens continues slamming Cardi on Tucker Carlson Tonight, but Cardi & co. pull out the receipts on Twitter. 

Fox News political TV host Tucker Carlson brought Owens as a guest on his show to discuss her fiery feud with the rapper, which she stoked the flames on TV once more.

“I did not mean it as an insult to Cardi B. If anything, it was me calling out the DNC and the Democrats for insulting Black America by platforming her and her nonsense and her ignorance as someone viable to give a sound interview to Joe Biden,” she said, while continuing to critique her as “barely literate.” “She could not obviously argue with me from an intellectual standpoint.”

But the Grammy-winning artist and her Bardigang fanbase pulled out all the stops by showing years worth of Owens’ tweets that proved “she been knew I was that girlllll .” In 2018, Owens revealed she’s watched Cardi since her Love & Hip-Hop days and believed she would have a similar “freedom” mindset as Kanye West. Cardi also retweeted a fan who pulled out the receipts from last July when the two argued about the artist’s support for Bernie Sanders, in which Owens claimed to offer $250,000 to a charity of Cardi’s choosing if she could publicly debate her stance to her or any other Black conservative.

Lastly, she posted an image of Black Americans laying their hands on President Trump to exhibit the “pandering” Owens accused her of when she interviewed Biden in August. “I will never praise no politician not even Obama,FDR or Bernie ONLY THE LORD !This is how Trump panders with black people while Candice concerns how Joe panders with me,” Cardi tweeted.

Alicia Keys Launches $1B Fund for Black-Owned Business, Explains Why She’s Performing at NFL Kickoff

Alicia Keys will be performing at the NFL’s Kickoff event for its 2020 season Thursday (Sept. 10), a moment that she’s tying in with a bigger announcement: The league will be contributing to a new $1 billion endowment fund aimed at supporting Black businesses and communities.

The new fund will come as several crises unfold around the world, including the global coronavirus pandemic and the protests against systemic racism and injustice that have erupted following the police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others in the U.S. in recent months. Keys also penned a piece explaining her decision to perform at the NFL’s event and some of the goals of the fund (see below), and expanded on why she conceived of the fund in an interview with Billboard.

“We are already seeing the blatant injustices that are going on around us,” Keys says. “As an artist, I’m always thinking about how can I use my platform to further racial equity. This fund is one of the answers and our goal is to empower Black America through investing in Black businesses, Black investors, institutions, entrepreneurs, schools and banks in a way to create sustainable solutions.”

Keys tells Billboard that the idea for the fund came about as a way to help transform the protests and words of solidarity that have poured out in the past months into tangible action and support for the Black community, and for it to go beyond just a one-time charitable donation to continue to grow and develop over the years with the goal extending beyond the initial $1 billion endowment. Additional partners and contributors beyond the NFL haven’t been disclosed, though the aim is to create a multi-sector contributor field for the fund.

“The initial goal of $1 billion is to ensure a substantial commitment,” Keys says. “Even with that it does not come close to closing the economic gap. The next steps are to reach out to different industries to invite them to invest in racial justice and create a multi-billion dollar endowment across business sectors.”

For the NFL, participating in the fund is the latest step it has taken in its quest to support racial injustice initiatives. The league has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years following its well-publicized issue with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in the U.S. in 2016 and subsequently filed a grievance against the league, since settled, accusing owners of colluding to keep him out of the NFL.

Those tensions have begun to ease of late and the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell began to take a more committed stand against racial and social injustice last August, when it announced a deal with Jay Z’s Roc Nation — which manages Keys — to partner on social justice initiatives through the League’s Inspire Change nonprofit, among other initiatives. Following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in late May, Goodell and the NFL doubled down on their commitment to address systemic issues in American society, with some on- and off-field changes that will go into effect this year, with phrases like “End Racism” and “It Takes All Of Us” painted in end zones, for example.

“There is an urgent conversation that is happening across businesses about the importance of investing in Black America. I’m personally committed to holding corporations and institutions accountable, and in my conversations with the NFL, they reaffirmed their commitment to racial equity,” Keys adds. “The prospect of true generational wealth for the Black community is long overdue and I’m grateful to express my purpose as an artist to advance that cause. I’ve been deeply inspired by the courage of Colin Kaepernick and the determination I have to see this through is meant to honor his commitment to social justice.”

Read Keys’ full letter below.

While the streets of America are filled with rightful outrage, something has struck me deeply and I know I cannot turn away. None of us can. As Americans, we actually have to face each other, even if we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. I continue to think: what opportunity for change can I evoke? How can I help to transform a culture so ripe for reimagining?

Today, I will be doing something I never thought I would do again. I’m performing for the NFL Kickoff event. My initial reaction was to decline because of some of the NFL’s past decisions. Yet I realized I HAVE to use my platform, we all need to use our platforms, every chance we get to press for racial equity.

It’s often said football is the microcosm of America. We all can see that deep, radical change is needed for our country and together we can all work to transform it. It will take each of us to understand that racism and racial injustice rely on our individual and collective silence and ignorance. If you know that there are two Americas – one that seems safe and full of possibilities and another where a racial hierarchy allows for Black Americans to be systematically brutalized and dehumanized – and you do not act, then you are complicit.

This truth requires restorative justice now. What are we going to do to move forward?

The workforce of America has to represent the diversity of this country. We have to strive for true population parity. The NFL has already committed to ensuring Black representation across-the-board, from employees to executives, contractors, suppliers and vendors.

The league has also committed to contribute to a billion-dollar endowment.

The fund will be steered by Black leadership with a clear goal to empower Black America. The fund will create long term solutions with a focus on Black entrepreneurs, businesses, communities, Black schools, banks, and other Black institutions, while addressing persistent social, economic and environmental disparities. It’s starting here, but the intention is to build a multi-billion-dollar endowment across multiple industries. Through our collective action, we can end the needless and preventable agony created by systemic racism.

We are pushing for an aggressive agenda to meet the urgent need of proper access, opportunity and inclusion. I am personally committed to creating meaningful conversations to hold corporations and institutions accountable for their contributions to racial justice.

It’s time for sustainable action. It’s time to speak and document the truth about what Black Americans are facing and owed. The system was never set up for everyone to have an equal chance. Black creativity and labor continue to be oppressed, exploited, appropriated, and undercompensated. And it’s STILL the case today that the color of your skin can be a death sentence like the needless killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Bree Black, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others. That’s why we see people from all walks of life, races and creeds taking to the streets in fury, protesting. As a Black mother, I want my sons to grow strong and healthy with confidence and without fearing for their lives.

Four years ago, Colin Kaepernick’s resistance by taking a knee in silent protest was a brave and necessary stand to increase our awareness of the acts and consequences of police brutality. He is still way ahead of his time. What is being accomplished by this performance and these new commitments are meant to deeply honor that this moment is a direct result of his courage and prophecy.

There has been forward motion – the NFL has been working with players throughout the league to support important initiatives in the Black community, like education reform, economic empowerment, voting rights and criminal justice reform. With collective action and the truth as our guide, a new future is within our grasp. The time is now for building the America we want and desperately need. I am optimistic that if we take action and operate with a sense of urgency, together we will renew America and finally put an end to the false notion of racial hierarchy.

Moving forward we must act together with love over hate, hope over fear and action over complacency to build the America we all know is possible.

We invite all corporations, NFL clubs, and organizations to join this mission to invest in racial justice.

Look forward to my call.

With love and light,

Alicia Keys.
Artist/Activist/Mother

Wallows Announce Quarantine-Made EP, Drop First Single ‘Nobody Gets Me (Like You)’

Wallows made the most of their creativity in quarantine, and now the group is ready to share everything they’ve been working on.

The trio announced on Wednesday (Sept. 9) that their upcoming EP, fittingly titled Remote, will be arriving on Oct. 23. In celebration of the announcement, Wallows unveiled the project’s first single, “Nobody Gets Me (Like You).”

The Y2K-style accompanying video continues the story of the April 2020 music video for “OK.” The boys roll up to their friend Schaefer’s party with their beloved curly fries, and hang by the pool. When singer Braeden Lemasters admits to feeling a bit lonely, he suddenly locks eyes with the female version of himself.

“Just keep pulling me, pulling me, pulling me, pulling me, pulling me / Keep pulling me closer to you / ‘Cause nobody gets me like you,” the chorus chants as Braeden falls more and more in love with himself over the course of the party. The clip ends with a green alien chomping, of course, on some curly fries.

Remote is available to pre-save and pre-order now here, and new merch and vinyl is available at wallowsmusic.store. See the Remote track list, and watch the “Nobody Gets Me (Like You)” music video below.

REMOTE Track List:

1. Virtual Aerobics
2. Dig What You Dug
3. Nobody Gets Me (Like You)
4. Coastlines
5. Talk Like That
6. Wish Me Luck