You have arrived when you become an integral part of the cultural fabric and framework of your society. Such was the case for Kool and the Gang in January 1981 when their hit “Celebration” greeted the American hostages who had just returned home from 444 days of captivity in Iran. “Celebration” was just about to settle in for a two-week run atop the “Billboard” singles chart, and the upbeat groove and uplifting lyrics made it the perfect song for a nation that had grown weary of the tense and seemingly endless Iranian hostage crisis. It was no coincidence that America made that the number one song just after the hostage nightmare ended. It was a relief to “celebrate good times, come on.” “Celebration” was also the theme song for the 1981 Super Bowl and is played at sporting events, parties and weddings to this day.
Fast forward two years from its chart peak and the song was still resonating with yet another cultural reference. On the “Take My Finals, Please,” episode of the hit sitcom “The Facts of Life,” the character Tootie, played by Kim Fields, is singing along to the song “Celebration” that is playing on her headphones as she studies. Her friend Natalie, played by Mindy Cohn, is trying to study for her finals and grows annoyed by the noise and commotion Tootie is making. Exasperated, she snaps Tootie’s pencil in half. Tootie demands to know what the problem is and Natalie replies, “No problem, if my test was on Kool and the Gang.”
Kool and the Gang was that ubiquitous in the early 1980s. Although they started in jazz, they crossed the boundaries into boogie, pop-funk, rock, soul, R & B, disco and dance-pop. Similar bands like Parliament-Funkadelic; Earth, Wind and Fire; and Sly and the Family Stone have all been elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Kool and the Gang arguably was more successful and just as creative and influential as any of those groups. Kool and the Gang had 12 top 10 hits, according to “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits.” They have sold over 70 million albums worldwide and they have had tremendous influence on the generations that followed them.
They were constantly changing styles and focus, for instance, going from the frenetic sounds of “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging” in the mid 1970s to the calmer “Ladies Night” and “Too Hot” in the late 70s and early 1980s. They could do mellow and romantic songs like “Joanna” and “Cherish” and also up-tempo dance tunes like “Fresh.”
This dynamic band from New Jersey is certainly worthy of induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, 5th Edition,” Fred Bronson, Billboard Books, 2003
“The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 9th Edition,” Joel Whitburn, Billboard Books, 2010
“The Facts of Life, the Complete Fourth Season,” DVD, Shout Factory, 1982, 1983, 2010