Album + Soundtrack
The Columbia Masters
Rolling Stone: 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: 2012 edition (number: 486)
en: That's the Way of the World [info]
Although they were still some way off becoming chart stars in the UK, That's the Way of the World became Earth, Wind & Fire's best-selling album in the US and marked the start of their commercial dominance in the 70s. Seen as a meditation on the rules of living, the album is nothing less than a spiritual soul masterpiece.
It was a soundtrack to a film of the same name that few people ever saw, in which the band played 'The Group' and joined with producer Harvey Keitel to defeat evil forces at a record company. Although the movie sank without trace, the music thankfully didn't. Writing to the brief of the picture, leader Maurice White synthesised all the elements of the group so far - straight-up funk, African mysticism, jazz and sublime balladry, and made a brief, focused album.
Still only a couple of years into their new line-up and direction (they were underground at the start of the decade), this album showcased co-vocalist Phillip Bailey. It forged the EWF template, with Bailey's soaring falsetto complementing White's earthier vocal. Opener and US chart-topper, Shining Star can be seen as much an influence on Prince as anything by James Brown. Happy Feelin' and See the Light are the sort of confident, strident soul that blended the vocal prowess of Bailey and White with the band's accomplished musicianship.
One of the final co-productions between White and former Rotary Connection avatar Charles Stepney (who was to die the following year), the album's two ballads struck the biggest chord. Reasons became a much-covered live favourite, and the album's title-track remains irresistible: six minutes of ethereal, bossa nova-influenced soul.
Feeling that the film was something of a stinker, White released That's the Way of the World ahead of its premiere. It became their breakthrough work, resulting in EWF becoming the first African-American group to top both the US single and album charts. In the end, they did not need the accompanying movie. It became its own script - underdogs make record, it gets widely loved, and the group becomes exceptionally popular.