It was while recording at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in New York City on a beautifully hot and sunny day that Roy Ayers would stumble upon the song that arguably defines his career. As the phrase “everybody loves the sunshine” lodged itself in his mind he began to explore and construct vibrant imagery, picturing “bees and things and flowers” as they floated across his mind. As the lyrics spontaneously and joyfully came into focus the musician knew exactly how he wanted the song to sound, envisaging a kaleidoscopic mix of piano, vibraphone, and synthesiser that would evoke the psychedelic pleasures of peak summertime. The band waited for the sun to set and the heat to fade before dipping into the famed studio to lay down the composition which was to become their most iconic jam. Ayers shared the microphone with Debbie Darby, listed on the song’s credits as “Chicas” due to her striking good looks.
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The result was a song that remains one of the archetypal summer anthems, its luxuriously slow pace and synth sun-beams evoking the hazy pleasure of a July afternoon. There was a palpable buzz surrounding the song; Ayer’s label, Polydor Records, expressed their excitement, knowing they had a hit on their hands, and later Stevie Wonder declared his love for what was evidently a classic slice of funky soul. It was a career-defining moment, and as Ayers recalls: “The song changed everything for me. It’s still the last song of my show. People always join in and it’s been sampled over 100 times, by everyone from Dr Dre to Pharrell Williams. It seems to capture every generation. Everybody loves the sunshine – except Dracula.”
Much to the scorn of jazz purists, this song and the 1976 album which shares its name cemented Ayer’s status as one of the brightest crossover stars in the genre’s long and varied history. The bandleader was now courting fans of The Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire, mirroring the likes of Herbie Hancock, who held a similarly open view of musical inspiration and a disregard for the boundaries dividing genres. Whilst not exactly breaking new ground in terms of stylistic advancement, the songs featured on Everybody Loves The Sunshine simply exemplified what was already great about Ayers work, encouraging an even wider audience to engage with the relentlessly uplifting ethos of his work.
Ayer’s ability to fuse an overall mellow vibe with the precise and sometimes gritty musicality of his players is evident throughout the album. The music fades in with ‘Hey, Uh, What You Say Come On’ in full flow: an invigorating dance-floor groove which revolves around the simple yet catchy mantra of its title swept away on a breezy synthesiser pad and scattershot hand percussion. Not only is it an exhilarating invitation to live in the moment, it’s a great indicator of the carefree attitude which permeates Everybody Loves The Sunshine.
Further expanding his impressive repertoire of cover versions, Ayers slips into a nocturnal mode for a rendition of Gino Vannelli’s ‘Keep On Walking’, singing in duet with Chicas on what might be one of their finest vocal performances ever. The song’s measured pacing and impossibly smooth instrumentation is a testament to the finely tuned slow jam skills of keyboardist Philip Woo, percussionist Chano O’Ferral, guitarist Ronald Drayton, bassist John Solomon, and drummer Doug Rhodes.
Elsewhere, Ayers enduring themes of spirituality, love, and unity are expressed on tracks such as “The Third Eye”, “It Ain’t Your Sign It’s Your Mind”, and “People and the World,” which draw on a cosmic and psychedelic aesthetic to realise what is perhaps the most jazz-influenced material on the entire album. The semi-cryptic lyrics hark back to the musician’s earlier days riding the acid-tinged zeitgeist of the late 1960s.
What Ayers achieved with Everybody Loves The Sunshine resonates not only within that bygone era but across every generation that followed. Even after sampling’s decline in the late ‘90s his music remains lodged in the DNA of modern rappers, producers, singers, and musicians. A quick survey of the contemporary landscape highlights major figures such as Pharrell Williams and Tyler, The Creator, who has not only professed his admiration in interviews but also sampled and collaborated with Ayers on several songs, as did Erykah Badu on the single ‘Cleva’ from her turn of the millennium masterpiece ‘Mama’s Gun.’ Echoes of his music can also be heard in the songs of jazz-funk quartet BADBADNOTGOOD, rapper and singer Childish Gambino, and the incredible band-leader Kamasi Washington. He even hosts his own fictional radio show, “Fusion FM” on the 2008 video-game classic Grand Theft Auto IV.
Beyond the arbitrary boundaries of jazz, Ayers remains a worthy ambassador for the creative principals of collaboration, combination, and integration. His music highlights the connections between so many genres – bridges that were once hidden in plain sight that now seem perfectly obvious and sound genuinely natural thanks to his irresistible blend of rock, soul, funk, jazz, and electronic music that makes it all seem so easy. Everybody Loves The Sunshine deserves its spot at the very top of his achievements and is a testament to his easy-going innovations. Four decades later we can still feel its heat.