22 December 2016, No. 224, Average White Band, ‘Pick Up the Pieces’

Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces” at No. 224 is so pervasive in the popular culture that when I first came across it on a K-Tel compilation many years ago, I recognized it even though I’d never collected much funk music before. Probably because of its inclusion on pop compilations, it’s one of those go-to songs films use to represent a funky good time, and that’s probably why it rang my bell. Swingers, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Private Parts, Bowfinger, and Undercover Brother are all movies inclusive of the song that I would have seen before I started buying K-Tel comps. Not that I buy K-Tel comps anymore, cheap pieces of junk. But when I was first starting out, they carried the only James Brown cuts in the dollar bins. You find the funk where it festers, and then it follows you around.

There are other Average White Band (a.k.a. AWB) songs that are ill—“Cut the Cake” shows up on compilations sometimes too—but I haven’t added any of them to this list. I’ll put “Cut the Cake” on the next list. It has a nice open guitar intro, and I should remember to play it occasionally instead of always cueing up No. 224. AWB also has a sexy logo. The W takes the form of shapely hips and buttocks, and so does the B if one tilts one’s head 90 degrees…

The “Pick Up the Pieces” horn riffs are engaging from the start, and the structure of the song enhances both the effect of the variations and the satisfaction of the repetitions. The first section of the song is fourteen bars long rather than the expected twelve or sixteen, which enhances its attention grabbing. The horns are exactly two bars on and two bars off for ten bars, playing two phrases, the first of which repeats. In fact, the second bar of each two-bar horn riff is also repeated. At the conclusion of the third horn riff there are four bars of vamp instead of the usual two, and then the fourteen-bar segment repeats. At the end of the opening 28 bars, the horns soar higher than they have so far and attempt successfully to resolve the questions posed by the opening phrases.

Later in the tune the band chants the song title, but it’s unimpressive and seems tacked on, afterthoughtish, the only words left to say after every syncopated part has fallen into the groove. The directive is clear, but a question remains: If the pieces are that funky, can one even pick them up?