Kool & the Gang still knows how to party. In fact, the Grammy Award-winning group is preparing for its biggest party of all to date: its 60th anniversary in 2024. Following its April 13 performance on Good Morning America and the release of its latest single, “Let’s Party” featuring Sha Sha Jones, the R&B, soul and funk band is now announcing the arrival of its 34th studio album, People Just Wanna Have Fun.
Helmed by the group’s founding namesake Robert “Kool” Bell and original member George “Funky” Brown,” Kool & the Gang recorded a lively 15-track album that will arrive July 14 through Astana Music Inc, distributed by BFD/The Orchard. The set features some of the last studio work from the group’s stellar founding horn players: Kool’s brother Ronald “Khalis” Bell and Dennis “D.T.” Thomas, who passed away in 2020 and 2021, respectively. In addition to Sha Sha Jones, lead vocals on the album include Shawn McQuiller, Lavell Evans, Dominique Karan, Rick Marcel and Walt Anderson, plus rappers Ami Miller & Ole’.
People Just Wanna Have Fun is a fitting next chapter in the Kool & the Gang legacy. Founded in 1964, the band is behind a string of timeless hits that include “Celebration,” “Ladies Night,” “Get Down on It,” “Summer Madness” and “Hollywood Swinging.” A release announcing the new project also notes the group being “the most sampled R&B band of all time” by stars such as Madonna, Jay-Z, Beastie Boys, Janet Jackson, Cypress Hill and Diddy. Their music has also been featured on various film soundtracks including Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, Pulp Fiction and Wreck-It Ralph.
“You’ve got the funk, the jazzier tracks; we have a few ballads on there,” said Bell in the release about the new album. “Then there are songs that cross over to a pop sort of thing. We go from the ‘70s, the ‘80s, right into now. It’s old school, it’s new school — we kinda captured it all here. With all our music over the years, people have had fun. So I’d say this album just about sums it all up.”
Kool & the Gang are also hitting the road this summer on the Kool and the Gang Rock the World Tour. Sponsored by Bell’s own Le Kool Champagne, the tour kicks off May 5-6 in Las Vegas, and wraps in Saratoga, Calif., on Sept. 24. Stops along the way include London (June 1), Cambridge, Great Britain (June 11), Plovdiv, Bulgaria (June 12) and Los Angeles (July 14-15). More tour information is available on the group’s website.
Keyboardist and drummer George “Funky” Brown produced People Just Wanna Have Fun, recorded at his Alley Cat Studio in Woodland Hills, Calif. He also has a book coming, Too Hot: Kool & The Gang & Me (July 11), in which he shares “my memoirs and cautionary tales.” During a recent phone interview with Billboard, Brown talked about the genesis of the new album, the loss of revered bandmates and extending Kool & the Gang’s estimable legacy.
Getting the recording party started for the project: We started the project five years ago with Sha Sha Jones. Right away, it was like hand in glove and we came up with the “Let’s Party” track. All the original horns are on that track. So we put that away and started coming up with more original material like “We Are the Party,” once again with all the original members. So that’s very special. Also on the 15th track, “99 Miles to JC,” you hear Ronald Bell on a sax solo and [the group’s late trombonist] Clifford Adams; this one has a real jazzy feel. The album also has pop, neo-soul, funk. … It’s a compilation of all the things that we are as Kool & the Gang. We worked on quite a few songs before we got down to the point of naming the album. And People Just Wanna Have Fun is very apropos after the pandemic and with what’s happening in the world right now. In fact, the album has three different sections that we call romance, dance and heart and soul. There’s also a young groove on the album with tracks like “I Want It All” featuring Sha Sha and Shawn McQuiller. Another track, “That’s What I Love About You,” reminds me of Anthony Hamilton, whose work I love. We use a lot of different harmonies on this album too, more than you’ve ever heard from Kool & The Gang in the past.
Shooting the “Let’s Party” video: I have no one favorite song on the album whatsoever. I love them all. I also just love putting together a project that comes together nicely. And you can see that in the video for “Let’s Party.” Everybody’s having a great time in the video, which was shot at my home. But it wasn’t just shoot the video and go home. We had a free bar set up and a catered dinner. So you can genuinely see that everybody’s really grooving and getting into it.
His mindset in the studio while putting the album together: My mindset was about broadening and extending the legacy of Kool & the Gang. We’re a great entity that has put a few rungs in the ladder of musical history. We went from being young jazz musicians to funk then to pop and of course soul. Our music fits in so many genres and that’s fairly rare. But by jumping into other niches, we got more fans. And It’s grown and grown. It worked for us but we didn’t do it purposely. We did it because it was something we wanted to write, something we could feel. It was nothing contrived; it’s about the raw sound philosophy that we have. Our music has truth and a lot of workmanship that we put into it. I’m floored by and happy about the musicianship that’s on this new record. I hope the public worldwide will feel the same. Also, what more can you ask for after a career that’s been so successful — and that’s still growing after all these years. Of course, there’s been plenty of sadness with the passing of group members. Sometimes you get a little weepy in the studio. But we’re keeping the legacy alive and pushing it forward. And when it’s all said and done, we’ve done our job well.