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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Celebration" and the comfort in revelry

Even with its title and sporting usage, Kool & the Gang's signature song embodies a more laidback form of celebrating.

Let's have a moment to soak it all in, shall we?

It's finally starting to hit me that Cal won the 124th Big Game yesterday. Both the victory and the method in which it was achieved — a thorough beating — shocked me for a host of reasons. Even as the Cal student presence made our way back across the Bay to campus, many of us could scarcely believe it.

Perhaps a lack of a pompous celebration from my end made it all a little slower to process. Sure, I did a little last night, but everyone was so damn tired from the week that was and the day's events that the function was far from an all-out bash.

In hindsight, that lack of a big commemoration is somewhat reflected musically in Kool & the Gang's "Celebration," a go-to song for just about any victory. It certainly lives up to its name, but it does so steadily and calmly, allowing for reflection in the process of relishing the moment.

Kool & the Gang establish "Celebration" as a laid-back post-disco anthem from its outset. The background conversation which fades in and continues throughout the introduction immediately gives the song a feeling of a distinct setting, at a get-together where people are simply happy to be around each other and enjoy the moment. In this respect, one can hear the song similarly to Marvin Gaye's disco hit "Got to Give It Up," another track which prominently features such conversations in back of the music.

Hearing those conversations in "Celebration," "Got to Give It Up," and other tracks definitely feels different to me as we continue to live and work through the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to vigilance in the UC Berkeley community (and with a particular thanks to the groups with which I interact), life is slowly but surely returning to a recognizable form, and group hangouts like the ones sonically embodied in those two songs feel more in the norm and safe.

Instrumentally, the musicians' restraint stands out as a major factor in "Celebration" retaining its calmness. Kool & the Gang certainly have the capacity for a big sound, especially from their horn section — their other biggest hit "Jungle Boogie" is an excellent example of such — but even in its most energetic moments "Celebration" doesn't nearly touch the dynamic peak of "Jungle Boogie" or other tracks. If I had to pin down the one instrument responsible for this more reserved sound, it would be the electric piano, which maintains its prominence despite purely playing chords.

Of course, this prominence and sonic hierarchy is not fully achieved by the players themselves. In listening to "Celebration" with a critical ear after all these years of hearing it after Oakland Athletics wins at the Coliseum, I only now come to appreciate the mixing job led by Eumir Deodato, who also produced the track and arranged and conducted the strings. An underrated name in the production world, Deodato was behind the soundboard for multiple Kool & the Gang hits among numerous others, and his particular fondness for electric pianos is always present. Check out his chart-topping disco take on "Also Sprach Zarathustra," best known as the opening music for 2001: A Space Odyssey, for another strong example.

Above it all, James "J.T." Taylor sings those iconic lyrics. There isn't really much to read in them, though it is interesting to note that group co-founder and saxophonist Ronald "Kool" Bell was inspired by the Qur'an in writing the lyrics. In this manner, both inwardly and outwardly, "Celebration" is an expression of gratitude in the world being fit, even for just a moment, for reflecting and toasting a joyous occasion.

For me and the Cal community at large, our occasion for celebration is bringing the Axe back to Berkeley. Soon enough, we'll have other matters to celebrate as the holiday season and the end of the semester draw near. Through it all, "Celebration" will be there as a track which captures the comfort in getting together and having fun with people you care about.


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