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That's the Way of the World
Earth, Wind & Fire

Columbia 33280
Released: March 1975
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 55
Certified 2x Platinum: 11/21/86

Maurice WhiteLousy production works to this LP's detriment -- Maurice White has surprisingly chosen to have the entire album sound "hot." It easily befits such uptempo numbers as "Happy Feelin'" and the popular single "Shining Star," helping them glow with an incendiary charge that once moved record producer Sandy Pearlman to term EW&F "the closest thing to a black heavy-metal band." But numbers like "Reasons," "All about Love" and the title cut -- ballads cut from the Four Tops/Tavares mold -- are allowed no room to develop breadth as subtle, tender passages are both overvolumed and forced to compete with what should by rights be background instrumentation. Great tunes (particularly the dynamic "Africano") and great musicianship are not what this one lacks -- hopefully next time out White will be able to tone things down accordingly in the places where a little understatement is appropriate.

- Gordon Fletcher, Rolling Stone, 7-3-75.

Bonus Reviews!

Earth, Wind and Fire often stylistically resembles Sly and the Family Stone in the days when that group was worth our attention. They have enjoyed a number of soul-disco hits in the past, and there's at least on, "Shining Star," in this album. The set is consistent with the group's previous Columbia output; the lyrics are forgettable, but the music and performance are moving.

- Chris Albertson, Stereo Review, 9/75.

A very tightly produced and performed package by a group that is coming closer and closer to stardom. EW&F has some of the finest musicians in any band and the compositions are all top-notch. They also have a number of directions to turn from rock to soul to Latin to gospel, because each vocalist is capable of conveying a different kind of music. Many new listeners should be gathered in from this record, especially since it is the soundtrack from the movie of the same title. Best cuts: "Shining Star," "Happy Feelin'," "All About Love," "Yearnin' Learnin'," "Africano."

- Billboard, 1975.

Earth, Wind and Fire - That's The Way Of The World
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.

Trailing Parliament-Funkadelic in my personal post-Sly sweepstakes, but ahead of War (bombastic), Kool & the Gang (culturally deprived), and hosts of others, this unit can do so many things it quailfies as the one-man band of black music even though it has nine members. Here ethnomusicology and colloquial homiletics are tacked onto the funk and soul and doowop and jazz, which makes for an instructive contrast -- the taped-in-Africa Matepe Ensemble, whose spontaneous laughter closes out the coda, versus Maurice White, whose humorless platitudes prove there's more to roots than turning a mbira into an ersatz vibraphone. B+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Among the sleekest seventies funksters, Earth, Wind and Fire created some of the most uplifting and joyous pop music of the decade. Glorious arrangements, crescendos of sound anchored by a tight danceable beat produced truly irresistible musical moments: "That's the Way of the World" and "Shining Star" being the prime examples from this album. The words are empty, but the energy is contagious. The music is a compelling amalgam of jazz, gospel, R&B, and pure pop. The sound is clean, nicely detailed, and punchy, but still compressed. B

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

Sleekly produced '70s pop/R&B, highlighted by the stirring "Shining Star" and the atmospheric title track. * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

That's the Way of the World boasts the seminal hits "Reasons" and "Shining Star." * * * 1/2

- Steve Holtje, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

A stew of all the best elements that make up the universe, this amazing group is the real deal, delivering seminal galactic funk via a rocking horn section, matched by moving ballads from legendary shining star Philip Bailey. The deep sounds span the test of time -- decades later, today's hip-hop generation is still sampling this fun stuff. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review: Gratitude

Album Review: All 'n All

Album Review: I Am

Single Review:
"Shining Star"

Maurice White Tribute

Earth, Wind & Fire Lyrics

Earth, Wind & Fire Videos

Album Reviews:
"70's Black Music -
A Consumer Guide"

Maurice White Mugshots

Before he got into African thumb piano and otherworldly philosophizing, founder Maurice White was a session drummer at Chess studios (that's him on Fontella Bass' "Rescue Me"). EWF's seventh album is make-out music of the gods; its title track is one of funk's most gorgeous ballads.

That's the Way of the World was chosen as the 493rd greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

Earth, Wind & Fire were becoming such hot R&B properties by the mid-1970s that when Superfly director Stig Shore was looking to cast a credible group for a new movie they seemed natural choices.

The film in question, That's The Way Of The World, in which Shore aimed to expose the payola-ridden music business, spectactularly bombed at the box office, but the accompanying album of the same name set the nine-piece outfit on a path to superstardom that would continue for the rest of the decade.

Recorded over nine months in Nederland, Colorado, the album skillfully blends soul, rock and Latin rhythms across its eight tracks, all overseen by the band's founder and leader Maurice White. Its lead-off single "Shining Star," showcasing a magnificent falsetto performance from the track's co-writer Philip Bailey, became the group's million-selling singles' breakthrough, the first of eight Billboard R&B chart number ones and their only Hot 100 chart-topper. It hit the top just a week after That's The Way Of The World started its own three-week run as number one in May 1975, making them the first ever R&B act simultaneously to top both singles and albums countdowns.

As of 2004, That's The Way Of The World was the #81 best-selling album of the 70s.

- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.

Few remember the movie. Directed by Stig Shore, That's The Way Of The World told of a record producer torn between the desire to break a new band and the need to follow orders and cut a blandly commercial hit. Harvey Keitel, fresh from Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, took the producer's role, while the band were played by a young-ish soul group with a few minor hits under their belts. The movie tanked, but the soundtrack was a blockbuster, singlehandedly lifting Earth, Wind and Fire from relative obscurity to the top of both the U.S. singles and albums charts.

Despite the casting, they were not novices. That's The Way Of The World was the group's sixth album (seventh if you include their music for blaxploitation flick Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song); while none had set the charts alight, their preposterously over the top stage shows showed they were not a band short on self-belief. From "Shining Star"'s irrisistible groove to the six-minute shuffle of "See The Light," such confidence is writ large all over the music; a glory-be hybrid of soul, disco, funk, and Latin, it is driven by bassist Verdine White but dominated by bandleader Maurice White's sparkling brass and vocal arrangements. The lyrics are frequently facile -- "Loving is a blessing/Never let it fade away" is a typical couplet -- but the sheer joy with which they are delivered by Philip Bailey is hard to knock. Several terrific albums and a half-dozen huge hits followed, among them "Boogie Wonderland," "After The Love Has Gone," and "Fantasy," but this was their greatest moment.

- Will Fulford-Jones, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

EWF's sixth LP is cosmic make-out music, incorporating doo-wop, jazz, and African music; the title track is one of funk's most gorgeous ballads, and "Shining Star" sets a self-help seminar to one of the Seventies' sweetest grooves.

That's the Way of the World was chosen as the 420th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.

- Rolling Stone, 10/20.

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