*Talk about a gift that keeps on giving.
Little did Charles Wright know that a song inspired by college students at a gig would not only become a huge hit upon its release in 1970, but continue on in the 80s and 90s to help other songs become hits; and serve to this day as a go-to ditty on Madison Ave, where it’s been used to promote more than 30 products – from Coffee-mate to Burger King.
Plainly put, the song will not die.
“I’m thankful that it won’t die, because I don’t know what I’d be doing if it would,” laughs Wright in a recent phone interview with EURweb.
From 1967-1971, Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band generated nine hit singles for Warner Bros; four of them – “Do Your Thing,” “Loveland,” “Express Yourself” and “Your Love” – made the Top 20 on the pop charts.
But it was “Express Yourself” that would become a ubiquitous presence in pop culture for the next 40 years. “It’s in four television commercials now, and has been in over 30 television commercials and even more movies,” says Wright, now in his early 70s.
The song has its roots in the Lone Star state, notes the Mississippi -born musician and songwriter. He and his original seven-member band, based in the Watts section of Los Angeles, were performing “Do Your Thing” at Texas A&M one night and got to the song’s abrupt end — only to see the students continue the song by themselves.
“When it stopped and the kids kept clapping their hands and stomping their feet, I don’t know what made me say it, but I just said, ‘Express yourself!’ And these kids went wild,” said Wright. “I said it a few other times and they got even more raucous. So I said, ‘Oh, this is gonna be my next song.’
“I went to the hotel that night and started working on it. Got on the plane the next morning, and by the time I got home about 12 o’clock that next day, I had finished it.”
To date, “Express Yourself” has appeared in spots for Hanes, Chrysler, Gatorade and in Nike ads for the 1994 NBA playoffs. It has been featured in the films “Come Back Charleston Blue” (1972), “Adams Family Values” (1994), “Panther” (1995) and “Remember the Titans” (2000) – to name a very few.
Perhaps most famously, it was the “dope beat” referred to by Dr. Dre in NWA’s 1988 hit “Express Yourself.”
Wright said he knew he had a hit record on his hands in 1970, but had no idea it would be just as popular decades after its release. He believes its lingering popularity has to do with the message in the lyrics.
“I think everybody wants to and needs to express themselves,” he says, “Most people just walk around and never really get off what’s really on their chest.”
These days, Wright continues to do concerts and is looking to team with Sly Stone for a tour. But in the meantime, he’s released a brand new single titled, “That Funky Thang,” in hopes of bringing back that vintage, scrunch-up-your-nose funk of the late 60s/early 70s that he helped to pioneer.
“It has that old James Brown funky groove going for it,” he says of the title track from his new album. “I’m hoping with all my heart it’ll catch on because as far as I’m concerned, there’s a lot of things that are similar to the music we’ve done in the past, but it’s not the real thing because it’s done through computers. This music has the spirit that I prefer to fly. And I want to bring that back.”
Watch the video below.